Contend Earnestly: Pursuing Holiness Will Destroy You

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pursuing Holiness Will Destroy You

I came from a church that preached personal holiness. They used Scripture to speak of ways to become holy in our actions, to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. What they meant was here are some things you should do, some things you should refrain from so that you can be holy in conduct. My pursuit for holiness was caught up in my actions and what I was either pursuing or abstaining from each day. I thought I was pursuing holiness as I didn't watch certain movies, didn't listen to certain music, refrained from using certain words, didn't drink certain drinks, didn't smoke, didn't go to certain places, read my Bible, prayed, was involved in "church", memorized Scripture, etc. If I could just do these things, I was pursuing holiness. The issue was that I kept screwing up and could never pursue these things perfectly. On top of that, as I pursued these things, or abstained from these things, I found myself falling into the worst trap of them all...pride. I was very proud of what I was accomplishing, and it was becoming evident that I didn't need Jesus, because I was becoming such a good saviour for myself.

Here's the real issue in all of this. Every time I pursued my own holiness, I heard from Isaiah saying,

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Isaiah 64:6

Not only this, but I also found other commands to be pretty empty and I truly didn't believe them. Jesus told us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. I used to laugh at this verse. How was this easy? How was this burden light? I felt like a Jew, hoping my righteous deeds were good enough for, not only my salvation, but also my assurance of salvation. I was hoping my fruit was ripe enough so that Jesus would say, "well done good and faithful servant." I thought that John was full of it when he said, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). His commands are not burdensome? Yeah, right. What I found as I was pursuing holiness, like it was something to be obtained, was that Jesus' commands were hard, heavy and burdensome...just the opposite of what I was reading in the Bible. Then I thought...maybe it wasn't Jesus that was wrong, but the teachers I was listening to, this fake Gospel I was listening to.

Since leaving this church and pursuing Jesus, every time I hear "pursue holiness" it freaks me out some. Not because I want to "pursue licentiousness" but because I automatically revert back to this idea of sanctification, both positionally and progressive, come by my works for God, as though he needs them.

Yesterday I saw a quote by J.I. Packer that nailed it:

The holiest Christians are those who are fully focused on the Lord Jesus Christ, not on holiness.

This couldn't ring more true. If one pursues holiness, and sees holiness as a thing, instead of a Person, namely Jesus Christ, they will be destroyed, both in this life and the next. Pursuing holiness is a Person. We should be pursuing Jesus, pursuing God, through the work of the Spirit. As we pursue the Messiah, we will be pursuing holiness. As Jesus said, "you can do nothing apart from me," this includes holiness. Holiness isn't found in how much time you spend in the Bible, how much time you spend in prayer, how much time you spend in ministry, how much you abstain from sin, but it is found in how much you pursue the Person and work of Christ and understand that he has already done it for you...he wasn't joking when he said, "it is finished." He is our holiness, both now and forever.

This doesn't mean that we don't pray, read our bibles, minister to others, love our neighbors, etc., this means just the opposite. Because as we pursue more of our Saviour, the more these other things will naturally flow from us and not be a burden. It isn't a burden for me to love my wife, it is natural, because I love her.

Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”
Matthew 15:16-20

This is why Jesus spends so much time on the heart. The only thing that can turn us from a sinful people is to circumcise our hearts and replace them from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh, which only God can do.

We must trust in his work, not our own. No matter how much we work for holiness, we cannot obtain it. Only God can clothe us in righteousness through replacing our sin, with the righteousness of Jesus. This is why grace is so amazing. This is why the gospel is so simple. This is why Jesus continues to point to the faith of children. Because the harder you try to obtain righteousness through what you do, the farther you are separating yourself from the perfected work on the cross by the Christ. Do you hear that? You aren't getting closer to Jesus the harder you work for actually are growing farther apart. I can't stress this enough.

Don't pursue holiness as though it is a thing to be obtained, but pursue holiness as a Person...Jesus Christ.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.
John 6:35


Caleb said...

Nice post Seth. We constantly have to remind ourselves of the foundation of our faith, and that is Jesus. When we pursue Jesus and encounter Jesus, the way we live our lives will be impacted and we will be sanctified. Well written.

Anonymous said...

I was just thinking of this very thought today, as my pastor always reminds us...religion leads only to either pride or despair! Im dealing with a mother-in-law who is trying to constantly"save" my brothers and sisters-in-law by nagging them with behavior modification. (They are not even Christians).
I keep telling her, " why should it matter to them if they are living in sin if they are not even regenerated?" Even if they did listen to her and stop living in sin, they would then instead feel justified by their works...such a false assurance. A path that leads straight to hell.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the opposite of pursuing holiness is being a sluggard and sitting idly by expecting Christ to do all the work. There is a lot to be said of acts of faith and Jesus calls us into that....not to prove our worth, but as a means to pursue his heart.

I realize you aren't advocating it, but so often we are reactionary toward Christian culture a bit too much and come into a new realm where we are not balanced on the theology of Sanctification.

Consider giving. We don't give to be holy, but we give because we are holy. The trick here is that where our treasure is, there also our heart goes. So in other words, I may not have a heart to give to a ministry...but I do. Suddenly I have allowed my heart to be actively involved with the outcome of that ministry.

We do this as well for people. God opens doors and if we don't act on them, then it is failure on our end. He doesn't call us to sit on the sofa while he does all the work in the kitchen. It is not as if God sets up something he expects us to fail at. He puts the ball on the tee expecting us to swing according to the tips he taught us. Why? To be like his Walk in accordance to the Spirit.

Much of what you point to in your past shows that work-based pursuit of Holiness which we both agree was a Holiness based on Christian Culture, not on Christ. Equally though, I think we rob the Glory of God in someones life if we automatically squirm when they mention the pursuit of Holiness or Sanctification and find a quick rebuke of them being a subject of a work-based approach.

Seth McBee said...

I think you missed the point of the post and the Gospel here. In your comment you keep pointing to your works and equating that with repeatedly point to us...holiness isn't about is all about Jesus and pressing into him...anything else is robbing being a sluggard one is not pressing into Christ, but self...same goes for one who is pressing into their works (think ministry, the act of reading Bible, praying, etc)

in the end it's all about God, from start to finish

He started the good work in us and will finish it...

Come ye who are weary and heavy laden and rest.

Anonymous said...

I just think it is a major cop out to always point to Jesus to absolve our failures as his followers. Yes, it is all about Christ and him crucified. We all agree on that. But it doesn't end there. The Book of James is a clear on this when it points to the believers active role in response to what was done in his heart.

Our lives should merely be the exclamation point to the sentence Jesus wrote. We are not the subject nor the topic, but we are to show of the nature of Christ. This is shown in Holiness and Sanctification through our acts of faith. Christ want our "works" to show his nature. This whole New Calvinistic movement has become so worrysome over works-based theology that it has oftentimes rendered itself impotent.

Why did Christ say heal the sick, cleanse the lepers and give money to the poor? Why doesn't he do it all himself and leave us out of the equation? Because it is clear he wants his people to show his nature and that is done by our love for the Father.

Obedience implies active choice on our parts. So does "Go out and make disciples". We know God's will, yet our failure to do that task is not his fault but our own.

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