Is there a hole in your holiness? You see if there is one thing that could be said about the modern church – it is that there is a hole in our holiness. We love to talk about grace and we love to celebrate grace and so we should. But does that grace actually teach our hearts to fear. Does that grace propel us and transform us into people who are actually and practically demonstrating holiness in our lives? Grace should be transforming us so that we, increasingly live lives of practical real holiness. Writer Kevin Deyoung in his book on holiness puts it this way:
“My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ has saved us from, we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to.”
And Kevin’s fear is my fear as well. My fear is that as we as a church community even though we may have rediscovered the beauty and greatness of Christ and his gospel of grace – my fear is that many of us might be giving little thought and exerting little effort to pursue that to which Christ is calling us to – holiness..
So let me ask you that question again, is there a hole in your holiness? Is holiness sadly absence from your daily life? I think that there might be three reasons why there is a hole in our holiness.
We don’t understand the nature of holiness!
The first reason there might be a hole in our holiness is that we don’t understand the nature of holiness. Now I want to ask you a question – can one Christian be more holy than another Christian? My sister was once teaching this class at her church and she asked the class this simple question – who here thinks they are as holy as me? And a few hands went up. She then said keep your hands if you think you as holy as the Pope. All the hands went down except for one. Then she said, what about Jesus – who here thinks that they are as holy as Jesus? All the hands went done. No-one thought that they were as holy as Jesus. Would your hand still be up? How would you answer that question?
Well, the problem with that question is that it is a trick question. You see the answer to that question is really Yes and No. Can one Christian be more holy than another Christian? On the one hand the answer is no – no Christian is more holy than any other Christian. There is level ground at the cross. You see when God called you to himself and you believed in Jesus you were brought into union with Jesus and his perfect righteousness was accredited to your account. And so you are standing before God in the holiness and righteousness of Christ. Theologians call this positional holiness. You are positionally holy before God. So in one sense you can’t get any less holy or any more holy than you are right now because you are clothed in Christ’s perfect holiness.
And I think the reason that there is a hole in many people’s holiness is that they may be ignorant of the new position they have in Christ. For some Christian’s have never understood the significance of being “in Christ.” Richard Scribbes, an English Puritan, who did allot of thinking about the Christian life wrote these words in his book, a bruised reed, he says:
“What a support to our faith is this, that God the Father, the party offended by our sins, is so well pleased with the work of redemption! And what a comfort is this, that, seeing God’s love rests on Christ, as well pleased in him, we may gather that he is as well pleased with us, if we be in Christ!”
You see many Christians I have found try to earn from God the favor that he has already given to them by grace. They sin and they feel so guilty and ashamed of their sin. But instead of running back to God in confession and repentance they actually run away from him. They try to silence their guilty consciences by making promising themselves that they will never sin again. And they set out to prove to God that they are really worthy of his love and acceptance. But because they are doing it in their own strength for their own glory – they end up sinning again which makes them feel more guilty and more ashamed. And so they make more promises to themselves about how they are really going to change this time and how this is going to be it. But they end up sinning again and if the cycle continues for any length of time they usually end up giving up and live in the darkness with their sin and shame hidden from sight.
Maybe you can relate to what I am saying? I certainly can. But the whole thing is destined to failure because it is built on a faulty premise that you can earn God’s love and acceptance by your efforts. I hate to tell this to you but you can’t. You never were and never will be worthy of God’s love and acceptance – his adoption of you as his child was a gift. A gift that you did not earn, nor did you deserve. The only thing that you and I deserved was his judgment and wrath.
You see the process of growing in holiness begins by understanding, resting in and celebrating your new position in Christ – your positional holiness. Do you know the ACTS paradigm when it comes to prayer? Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. It is a pretty good way of organizing your prayer life. However, I found that most times when I prayed this way I never got past confession. I felt so guilty and ashamed of sin that I would give up and run away from God. I found prayer a chore. And to be honest I viewed God as a capricious slave driver who I could never please – and the last thing I wanted to do was spent time with him as he went over and over and over my sin – pointing out all my faults. But this is because I had the wrong view of God and the wrong view of my position in Christ. And as I learnt about my position in Christ I decided to change the format of my prayer life. I still had a time of confession – but before my time of confession I first had a time when I celebrated and worshiped God for all he had done for me in Christ. I reminded myself of his complete forgiveness and acceptance in Christ. I reminded myself of my adoption as his Son. I reminded myself that my battle with sin would be over because of my future hope. And I found that that when I did this my heart was drawn to love God and my faith in his salvation was strengthen and instead of running away from him I ran to him. As Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “For everyone one look at your sin, you need to take ten looks to Christ.”
Are you running away from Christ? Maybe you are hiding in the brushes and God is whispering to you and saying where are you my child? You need to run back to him – he is not a capricious slave driver but a loving Father and because of your position in Christ he will accept you and cleanse you and forgive you.
However, holiness is not just positional, it is also practical. Can one Christian be more holy than another Christian? In one sense as we have already seen no, but in another sense, absolutely yes. One Christian may have be demonstrating more faith, more hope and more love in their daily lives. One Christian may be more obedient, more self-sacrificing, and producing more fruit of God’s spirit in their life. You see holiness is not just positional, but it is also practical. It begins by resting in our position in Christ, but it grows in our daily life as respond with obedience. And I am finding that while many Christians on the one hand are ignorant of their new position in Christ, many other Christians on the other hand are ignorant of the call and importance of practical holiness. Hebrews 12:14. reads, “Strive for peace with everyone and for holiness.” Holiness is something we are to strive for – the word strive means, “to make great efforts” or “fight rigorously for.” Does that describe your life? Are you making great efforts to be holy? Are you fighting rigorously for holiness?
Now the second half of the verse is very serious. It says, “strive for holiness without which, no one will see the Lord.” Remember, in this context the writer of Hebrews is not talking about positional holiness, no he is talking about practical holiness. And he is saying clearly that if we do not have practical holiness showing up in our lives then we will not see the LORD. You see the expectation of the New testament is that positional holiness, should result in practical holiness. People who are plucked from the fires of hell, should be on fire for Jesus – striving for, fighting for practical holiness in their lives. Have you become indifferent or complacent when it comes to practical holiness? Have you been lured in a complacency when it comes to sin?
You see their is something really subtle about the Christian life that we must understand. While God accepts you because you are in Christ, and you are his adopted child, that does not mean he turns a blind eye to the way that you live. He does not accept our sin and is not pleased when we live in disobedience. In the book of Revelation Jesus wrote to the church at Laodicea and told them that he had things against them. He told that they were out of fellowship with him and he was standing at the door of their lives and knocking. And Jesus may have something against you. He may not be pleased with the way you have been living. You may be out of fellowship with him.
You see when we do not pursue lives of practical holiness and when we walk in disobedience God because he loves will discipline us to get us back on track so that we will pursue holiness. The Westminster Confession of Faith put it like this – those fully and irrevocably justified, “may by their sins come under God’s fatherly displeasure and not have a sense of his presence with them until they humble themselves, confess their sins, ask for forgiveness, and renew their faith in repentance.” Does that sound like you? Well, the reason that you can come back to God is because of your position before him. He is ready and willing to receive you back into fellowship because of your position in Christ. So the first reason that many of us may have a hole in our holiness is because we do not understand the nature of holiness – we do not celebrate and rest in our positional holiness and do not see the importance of striving for practical holiness.
We think that practical holiness is a one time event, not an ongoing struggle!
The second reason why I believe there is a hole in many Christians holiness is because we think that practical holiness is a one time event, not an ongoing struggle!
Many of us believe that practical holiness is possible as long as you are completely surrendered to Jesus and in fact if you lived a life of complete surrender you would never sin again. I have heard this many times over the years from the lips of various preachers – if only Jesus were truly Lord of your life then your problem with sin would be over. If you just “let go and let God” – then you would naturally obey him and all your struggles in the Christian life would be over. So surrender yourself completely to Jesus – and all your problems with sin and obedience will be over. Have you heard that teaching?
The problem with this teaching – is that it sets up Christians for failure. After trying again and again to obtain the secret – full surrender of their lives to Jesus – eventually, they will give up. Some will give up going to church altogether, others come to church but think that “the victorious Christian life” is out of reach for them. Most end up thinking – I am not a super spiritual christian so you cannot expect much from me. Maybe that’s where you are today?
Now in saying all this – please don’t misunderstand me – I believe that their are times when Christ speaks to us through his Word and leads us back to himself and our response should be one of repentance and submission to him. There have been times in our church in the past twelve months when God’s Spirit has been speaking powerfully through his Word to our hearts and the appropriate response was to come back to him in surrender. So there are transfiguration experiences – when we see the glory of Jesus and respond.
Further, I believe that surrender to the Lordship of Jesus is important. It is who he is. Jesus Christ is the sovereign LORD of the universe. Aligning yourself with this reality is very important. Every Sunday as we enter the gathering of God’s people I believe that we should ask the Spirit to search our hearts and we should confess, repent and in faith return to Christ giving up our idols and acknowledging his lordship and goodness.
However, the problem with this full consecration view is that promotes holiness as a once for all experience. Whereas the Bible defines the Christian life as a “walk.” It defines our pursuit of holiness as something that is progressive. It will be one in which we will:
- Wrestle against Satan his forces – Eph 6:12.
- Have to disciple ourselves for the purpose of godliness – 1 Tim 4:7
- Endure hardness like a good soldier – 2 Tim 2:3
And we will have to die daily to ourselves, and daily choose to live by faith. And therefore it is something that is not out of reach of any Christian, but something that is expected of every Christ follower. Jesus said in Mark 8:38, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” That is the normal Christian life. Not some cloud nine experience but daily dying to self, daily killing sin and daily putting on Christ.
Imagine what it would be like if you came home one day and you were going to teach your child how to ride a bike. And so you brought them everything they would need. You brought them a bike, protection gear – a helmet and some knee pads, training wheels and even were willing to come home early every day from work so you could teach them.
And you say to them – let’s go riding. But all you here back from them is excuses – it looks to hard – I don’t know if I can do it – I may not like it – it will take allot of effort – I need to wait until I am older and have the capacity. You would be disappointed right.
Well, the same is true with God. He has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of his Son. He has given us his Spirit to teach us and enable us. He has given us a new compelling hope. But we do need to get on the bike and ride. It may take time. It may take work. We may fall off. But the only way we will learn holiness is through daily practice.
So I wonder maybe there is a hole in your holiness because you are waiting until that moment of full consecration? Maybe you are waiting for the day a really spirit anointed speaker comes into town and through his ministry you are transported to another level. I hate to tell you this, but you will be waiting a long time. The only day you will be fully consecrated to Jesus is when you see him and he transforms you to be like him. Until that day you must pick up the weapons of our warfare and fight the good fight of faith. It will not be easy. Some days it will be very hard. There will be allot of failure. But press on to take hold of the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Having been burnt by legalism, we reject any talk about standards.
The final reason why there maybe a hole in our holiness is because having been burnt by legalism many of us reject any talk about standards or commands.
Some of you may have grown up in legalistic churches, or have been impacted by legalistic people where the focus was on externals. And that really burnt you and I empathize – I really do. Christianity seemed like a straight jacket that sucked all the joy out of life and left you miserable.
Holiness was judged by your performance of certain external behaviors. And if you are like me who is a bit of a rebel by nature you always wanted to go against those behaviors. Wear your hair long, wear jeans to church, listen to David Meece – which was a big sin because he used a drum kit. And so it seemed like holiness made people bitter, upset and ugly.
Now you love Jesus and you are very thankful for his grace – so you haven’t given up on Christianity. But you are so afraid of becoming one of those ugly people – that now even talking about, or trying, or striving to keep some sort of standards repulses you.
However, the problem with this is what Jesus said in John 14 verse 15 – “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” According to Jesus, commandment keeping is a way of expressing our love for him. When we take the imperatives of the new testament and seek diligently to obey them, we are demonstrating that we love him.
You see the problem with legalists is they follow this formula, “I obey, therefore I am saved.” My salvation in other words – my relationship with God – my right standing with God is based on my obedience. If I obey, then I am saved.
However, the gospel and the teaching of the New Testament is completely different. The gospel says, “I am saved, therefore I obey.” Jesus has graciously plucked me out of the fire, and therefore I obey him. I am positionally holy, so I pursue practical holiness. However, our problem is that we just say – “I am saved” and there is no therefore. There is no response of obedience. Whereas Jesus is saying – “If you love me, you will obey.” If you really appreciate the fullness of what I have done for you, you will seek to obey me.
And this obedience results in true holiness which is beautiful and life giving. One of the things that I try to do most days is pray the psalms back to God. And I came across this week Psalm 29:2 which says, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” The NIV translations say in the beauty of holiness. The holiness of the LORD is beautiful. That is why we worship God is because of the beauty of his holiness.
Now the holiness of the LORD is about two things. First, it describes his transcend majesty. It describes the fact that he is the exalted God of the universe – that he is completely different – that he dwells in approachable light. He is majestic and truly awesome. But second, the holiness of the LORD describes the full weightiness of his character. He is good, wise, righteous, loving, merciful, faithful, kind and creative. He is beautiful. But you already know this if you are truly a Christian, because your eyes have been opened to see him and to taste that the Lord is good.
But maybe if you think that holiness is ugly then you need to take sometime mediating on the holiness of God. And a great place to start is with the most holy moment in all of history – the cross of Jesus.
Because at the cross we see God’s righteousness displayed as sin is being punished, and at the cross we see God’s justice displayed as God’s just wrath is satisfied, but we also see God’s mercy, grace, kindness and love being displayed as God himself takes the place for sinners. The cross is the most holy moment in human history and it is the moment beautiful moment in human history.
And if you have come to the cross personally, then that beautiful one who hung on that cross indwells you through the person of the Holy Spirit and you will be beautiful. That one who always obeyed the will of his Father, obeying him by even going to the cross – will seek to produce the same level of obedience in your life.
You see it is the beauty of the cross that lead us to Christ, and it beauty of cross shaped Christians – holy Christians that lead others to him by their obedience.
So let me ask is there a hole in your holiness? Maybe you have been seduced by trying to be cool – that will never work – by nature we are called to be different. Maybe you don’t think holiness is possible so you don’t even try. If you are truly a Christian then God has changed you and you can attain a measure of practical holiness in your daily life life. Maybe you have been burnt by legalism, but if you have come to Christ then he lives in you and saved you so you could obey him.