Striving for Holiness
The evangelical church in America, with its admirable zeal to proclaim salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, often fails to emphasize that the appropriate response to God’s grace is holy living (Ephesians 2:8-10).
The Bible puts great weight on pursuing holiness. The entire book of Leviticus is dedicated to the proposition that God calls us to holiness. The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7) set forth the traits of holy people. The New Testament letters are full of exhortations to holiness:
“Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (II Corinthians 7:1).
“He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4).
“Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).
“Strive for… the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
“As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (I Peter 1:15).
How important is holiness to you? Most of us are more concerned about being happy than being holy. The irony is that happiness cannot be attained by direct pursuit. It is something that sneaks up from behind when you pursue holiness. Matthew Henry wrote, “Those only are happy, truly happy, that are holy, truly holy.” The Puritan Thomas Brooks added, “Holiness differs nothing from happiness but in name…. Holiness is happiness in the bud, and happiness is holiness at the full.”
Perhaps one reason we are lax about holiness is that we have bought into the world’s caricature of holy people. The world views holy people as austere, stuffy, and censorious -- women with their hair in buns, clucking their lips; men in dark suits haunted by the fear, as H.L. Mencken put it, “that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” This is a far cry from the genuine article. Truly holy people are gracious, unassuming, and other-oriented. C.S. Lewis wrote, “How little people know who think holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing… it is irresistible. If even ten percent of the world’s population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before the year’s end?”
Strive for holiness. Use all of God’s appointed means for spiritual growth. Take time each day to pray and to read and reflect on Scripture. Sit weekly under the preaching of God’s Word and partake of the sacraments. Stay in fellowship with other believers (Heb 10:25). Set apart the Sabbath as the market day for your soul. Avoid, flee, and resist sin. Refuse to allow your eyes to wander, your mind to entertain, and your affections to run after anything that would dampen your love for Christ. When you do sin, quickly look to Christ for forgiveness. Believe the promise of I John 1:9 that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The seventeenth century Scottish pastor, Robert Traille, wrote, “O sirs, do not deceive your own souls; holiness is of absolute necessity…. It is not absolutely necessary that you should be great or rich in the world, but is it absolutely necessary that you should be holy; it is not absolutely necessary that you should enjoy health, strength, friends, liberty, life, but it is absolutely necessary that you should be holy. A man may see the Lord without worldly prosperity, but he can never see the Lord except he be holy.”
Strive for holiness.
Recommended reading: The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges.