I returned from vacation today, and in the mail I received a package from my chaplain at school for leading Discipleship groups next year. The first thing that fell out when I opened it up was a book called, "The Pursuit of Holiness" by Jerry Bridges. With the book, he attached a note saying that we had a dinner meeting coming up in a week and he wanted us to read the first three chapters of the book by Saturday for discussion. I opened up the book and read tonight, and boy, do I have a lot to share that's on my heart from this past reading!
As people, we have responsibilities - financially, physically, emotionally and mentally; as Christians, we have even more responsibilities - spiritually and morally. Mr. Bridges used a great analogy in the preface of his book connecting farming to the pursuit of holiness. He wrote:
A farmer plows his field, sows the seed, and fertilizes and cultivates - all the while knowing that in the final analysis he is utterly dependent on forces outside of himself. For a successful harvest, he is dependent on these things from God (rain, sunshine, etc). Yet the farmer knows that unless he diligently pursues his responsibilities...he cannot expect a harvest at the end of the season. He will reap its benefits only when he fulfilled his own responsibilities.
This analogy brings us back to the "you reap what you sow" verse in Galatians (Galatians 6:7, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows"). The same is true in our walk with God. God made it possible for us to walk in holiness with him through His sacrifice of His son, Jesus, on the cross. But He has given us the responsibility of doing the walking. As Christians, we have the responsibility of living out the life of holiness that God has set ahead of us. Does that mean that we have to be perfect? No, but it does mean that we are to pursue holiness with our hearts, minds, and souls. Sadly, we avoid talking about our responsibilities and focus more-so on the victory of Christ over sin. We do this for two reasons:
- We are simply reluctant to face up to our responsibility.
- We do not understand the proper distinction between God's provision and our own responsibility for holiness.
We tend to pray for victory when we know we should be acting in obedience. I see this particularly in two categories of life: athletics and academics. In athletics, teams huddle and pray for victory over their opponent before a game, but how can they expect victory if they have not practiced to the fullest of their abilities to fulfill their responsibilities? Granted, there are some who come prepared, but not all teams that step foot on the field or court when game-time arrives are prepared. In academics, many students pray for information to be recalled that they have not fulfilled the responsibility of learning. Yes, I have been one of those students who has showed up for a test not knowing the required information, yet still prayed for the answers. That test score came down to my guessing ability (which has improved over the years), but it still wasn't a great score. The key here is that we have responsibilities to get things done in life, and these things take preparation. With that said, procrastination is actually a sin. The Bible tells us to live for TODAY (Matt. 6:34), so putting something off for "tomorrow" is actually saying that you expect God to do His part when in fact, you are not living up to your own responsibilities.
We are to pursue holiness with all of our being, for that is what God has given to us as a responsibility. Psalm 34:14 asserts, "Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (NIV). "Pursue it" is said differently in the same verse, but in the New Living Translation (NLT), "Search for peace, and work to maintain it." If to pursue means to maintain, then we are to pursue holiness all the days of our lives. This requires diligence and effort, and it is a lifelong task for the highly-accountable Christian. Being a Christian sure seems to have a lot of responsibility now when you look at it this way doesn't it? Life as a Christian isn't about making a decision, yet about maintaining a lifestyle that derives from a decision to live conformed to Biblical standards rather than worldly ones (Romans 12:1-2). Holiness is a life-long process...as we begin to conform to the will of God in one area of our life, He reveals to us our need in another area. We always need to be pursuing (as opposed to attaining) holiness in this life.
Pursuing holiness is just half of this message though to calling a spade, a spade. I've called out all Christians who are not pursuing holiness (including myself), to focus their eyes on Christ, the perfecter and author of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). After all, holiness begins and ends with God - not ourselves.
The second spade that I would like to call a spade is on sin. There are plenty of times when I make decisions that completely go against what I stand for, even completely against my heart’s desire to live an obedient and holy life leaving me confused, disappointed, and defeated. It’s moments like these that made me question whether or not there was a true answer for my problems. Soon, I discovered the hope and answers for me where located in the Bible, where they always will be. We can walk in obedience to God’s Word and live a life of holiness if we truly desire to. In fact, God expects every Christian to live a holy life; it is the promised birthright of every Christian. This statement comes from Paul’s message to Christians saying, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). If Paul wasn’t convincing enough, there is an even stronger message in Leviticus 11:44, “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.”
Constantly, people attack sin from angles such as avoiding prohibitions such as smoking, drinking, and pre-marital sex. Following this approach can lead to endless lists of trivial do’s and don’ts, and even a self-righteous attitude. Better yet, this approach normally leads to a self-centered view rather than a God-centered view. We begin to look at our problems and what we do right and wrong, our failures and our victories. In reality, Jesus Christ has already obtained victory; it is His! By taking this approach, we self-consciously begin to believe that we can fight our own problems and the battle is between sin and ourselves, when God has already fought the battle for us. At this point, we get more concerned about our own “victory” over sin than we do about the fact that our sins break the heart of our God. There’s a song out there by Hillsong that sings, “Break my heart for what break yours, Lord” at one of the choruses in the song, and I couldn’t help but think of it here. We focus on ourselves and our disappointment when we should focus on the fact that we are breaking God’s heart and grieving Him. We cannot tolerate failure in our struggle with sin mainly because we are success-oriented, not because we know it is offensive to God. W.S. Plumer said, “We never see sin aright until we see it as against God…All sin is against God in this sense: that it is His law that is broken, His authority that is despised, His government that is set at naught…” God desires for us to walk in obedience, not in victory; obedience is oriented towards God, while victory is oriented towards self. Our selfishness gets in the way of pursuit of holiness, and until we face this attitude and deal with it, we cannot consistently walk in holiness. We must focus on living an obedient, holy life, because at that point we will certainly experience the joy of victory over sin. This is because victory is a byproduct of obedience.
The Bible reiterates to us that the pursuit of holiness requires personal exertion and work as well as faith in several places, especially James, when it says, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). We face a personal responsibility to be the ones who take the steps in our walk of holiness, so anything that stands in the way is conquerable with the help of God, but we must do the walking. That’s our job. You can put away any habit that has mastered you if you truly desire to do so. Whatever blocks you from your pursuit of holiness can be put to an end, but defeat occurs by using God’s strength to battle through our problems, not by skating around them. I firmly believe that we try to “beat around the bush” with our problems because we do not take sin seriously. Somewhere along the way, we decide that we are the judge of what sins are bad and what sins are really bad. However, sin is still sin. Big or little, sin still forbids God’s law, doesn’t it? How can we live a life of holiness and still categorize sin at the same time? Ironically, it’s usually the “small” sins that we overlook and let grow like weeds in our gardens that take over our lives and turn into big sins. Song of Songs 2:15 shares a great analogy on this, “The little foxes ruin the vineyards.” Compromising on the little issues lead to the greater downfalls. My dad always said it best, “Compromise leads to collision which leads to collapse.” We are responsible for our words, thoughts, and actions, no matter how big or small. I’ve talked to several people who have said that they would never drink (at least not under the legal age limit), but have returned to me months or even weeks later saying that they now had a problem with drinking. How could this happen? It’s quite simple actually, somewhere along the way, one bad decision led to another; they got with the wrong friends, and then got in the wrong situation with the wrong surroundings and the pressure got them to cave. Then they assumed that one more night drinking wouldn’t kill them, even though it was still sinning against the same God they still worshiped on Sunday. Without realizing it, they soon had a drinking addiction. This happens in many areas of our lives, in more ways than one, but one lesson can still be taken from this…Don’t let the little mistakes drag you down; pursue a life of holiness. It isn’t our job to tell God what sins matter more than the other.
The second spade that I’m calling a spade is to say that sin is still sin; regardless of how you do it, how many times you do it, how much of it is done, sin is still sin. Yes, there are levels of sin, but regardless, you are still breaking God’s heart by sinning and it is still wrong for Christians to sin. I’m not saying to not sin…that is unrealistic. However, I am saying to take sin seriously, and to realize that you are trying to fight a battle that has already been won by God. It is not our battle, but the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:47)… We have responsibilities to walk in holiness, to be set apart from the world. Yes, we are to rebel against temptation and sin, but more so, we are to follow God and to pursue a life of holiness that can be pleasing in HIS eyes, not just ours.
To recap… here are my two spades that I am calling spades tonight, for you to challenge yourself with:
1) Sin is sin, regardless of how it’s put…
2) Pursue a life of holiness
2 Corinthians 12:9, "But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
Hebrews 4:16, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."