Tag Archives: jerry bridges

Holiness is your calling

Scripture is explicit when it says we should make every effort to be holy, for without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).   With so much at stake it’s a wonder we Christians are so muddy in our thinking about holiness.  But this need not be the case.  Do we really believe God is such a poor, even evil, Father that He would call His children to such heights without giving us a ladder?

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I’ve begun reading Jerry Bridges’ classic, The Pursuit of Holiness, and was struck early on by the three reasons he gives for our lackluster appearance on the grand stage (Holiness) to which God has called us.

1. Our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered.

We are more concerned about our own “victory” over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve the heart of God.  We cannot tolerate failure in our struggle with sin chiefly because we are success-oriented, not  because we know it is offensive to God.

How true! I recall my many years of trying to overcome my addiction to lust and pornography.  I was consumed with a desire to be victorious over my sin primarily because it was messing up my life and the lives of others around me.   In this way I was only experiencing worldly sorrow over my sin rather than godly sorrow.   Paul says the former leads to death, while the latter will lead to true repentance, and life (2 Cor. 7:10).

It was not until I saw my actions as offenses against a holy God that I was able to break free from those chains.  My view of sin changed from being about me and how it hurt me or others to being about God and how it grieved Him.   Bridges goes on to say,

God wants us to walk in obedience – not victory.  Obedience is oriented toward God; victory is oriented toward self.  This may seem to be merely splitting hairs over semantics, but there is a subtle, self-centered attitude at the root of many of our difficulties with sin.  Until we face this attitude and deal with it, we will not consistently walk in holiness.

I can testify to the truth of this and that learning to walk in obedience – in holiness – has with it the blessed by-product of victory over even the most besetting of sins.

2. We have misunderstood “living by faith.”

Walking in holiness is still a walk.   While God has graciously given us a ladder we must do our part and climb it.    Much of our confusion over holiness is that we are lazy, and have conveniently made “living by faith” completely God’s responsibility.   It’s as if we think a magic wand will wave and just make us holy.

Bridges gives a helpful illustration in his preface of the co-operation necessary if we are to achieve holiness in our lives.   Farming, he writes, is a joint venture between God and man.   The farmer knows that without sunlight and rain – forces totally outside his control – his garden will never grow.   But also true is that unless the farmer tills the soil, plants the seed, fertilizes and cultivates he will not have a garden, regardless of how much sun and rain come.   Cooperation between God and man is necessary in farming, and in our pursuit of holiness.

We must face the fact that we have a personal responsibility for our walk of holiness.  One Sunday our pastor in his sermon said words to this effect: “You can put away that habit that has mastered you if you truly desire to do so.”    The Holy Spirit said to me, “And you can put away the sinful habits that plague you if you will accept your personal responsibility for them.”  Acknowledging that I did have this responsibility turned out to be a milestone for me in my own pursuit of holiness.

 

3. We do not take some sin seriously.

Because we do not see God as the offended party over our sin we trivialize our own.   We fall prey to the game of justifying some sin as less egregious than others, making allowance for our own shortcomings because compared to others we think we are doing pretty well.  Would we act this way if we meditated often on how much God hates sin – all sin – all the time?

Scripture says it’s “the little foxes that ruin the vineyards” (Song of Songs 2:15).   Jesus raised the bar exceptionally higher when he said that even the intent of lust was the same as adultery, or even anger towards another was the same as murder (Matt. 5:28).   Yet how often do we go through a day harboring anger, resentment, lust, envy, and greed towards one another, all the while justifying it because we think God doesn’t care that much or will let it slide once He hears our good excuse?

On commenting on the more minute Old Testament dietary laws God gave Israel, Andrew Bonar said,

It is not the importance of the thing, but the majesty of the Lawgiver, that is to be the standard of obedience…Some, indeed, might reckon such minute and arbitrary rules as these as trifling.  But the principle involved in obedience or disobedience was none other than the same principle which was tried in Eden at the foot of the forbidden tree.  It is really this:  Is the Lord to be obeyed in all things whatsoever He commands?  Is He a holy Lawgiver?  Are His creatures bound to give implicit assent to His will?

Are we willing to call sin, “sin,” not because it is big or little, or even because of the harm we reason it may or may not do to self or others, but solely and supremely because God’s law forbids it and we would rather die than disobey?

I believe if we rightly understood these three things we would have a far better grasp on what it means to pursue holiness.   I’m looking forward to the rest of this book where Bridges promises to flesh more of this out.

See yesterday’s post inspired from one of the chapters from this book:  Obedience is the Goal, not Victory.

 

Obedience is the goal, not victory

For much of my adult life I was striving for the wrong goal when it came to dealing with my addiction or my walk with God.   My goal was victory.  Freedom.   My goal was to be free from the thing(s) wreaking havoc on my spiritual, emotional and physical life and that of others.

I can’t begin to count the number of times I prayed for victory over my addiction to pornography.   I prayed, and prayed, and prayed, crying out to God to deliver me from my desires.   I thought that being a good Christian meant that I am to have faith that God could heal me.   I thought I was to “stop trying and start trusting” in God for the victory.   If I did not wake up and feel “free” than it must be because I hadn’t prayed enough or had enough faith.

Maybe you are reading this and feel the same way today.  You want freedom from whatever is controlling you.  You long for – pray for – victory.

It’s not a bad goal.   But I’m convinced it’s not the right goal.

It wasn’t until I learned that God had already answered my prayers and it was now my responsibility to live into those prayers that I began to get some traction in my daily walk with God.   It was when I learned that my goal isn’t victory but obedience that I started to find the freedom for which I had been praying.

Victory is a by-product of obedience.   We will never know the former without the latter. 

Obedience isn’t a word we talk about much.   It means “submission to another’s authority.”   Obedience flies in the face of our natural inclination to put our desires – our flesh – first.

It’s surprising we do not talk about obedience much when Scripture talks about it all the time.   Whether this is because the Reformation did such a bang up job at deterring us from anything that smells of “works righteousness” or because we naturally hate obeying is anyone’s guess.   Whichever our reason, until we take responsibility and “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” we will continue to be lukewarm in our Christian walk.

Here are just a few of many directives Scripture gives us which place the onus on us to get to work.  There is that which the Holy Spirit enables us to do (we don’t do this alone or by our own might) but there is much that we are responsible to do.

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Rom. 8:13).

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature (Col. 3:5)

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Heb. 12:1)

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7)

Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him (2 Peter 3:14)

If you love me, obey my commandments (John 14:15)

Notice the action words/phrases giving us responsibility:  put to death; throw off; run; submit yourselves; resist; make every effort; obey.

Whenever I feel defeated it is always a result of me being disobedient.   Whenever I feel victorious is always a result of being obedient.

Perhaps it would do us well to stop counting days that we are sober and instead ask ourselves at the end of each day, “Was I obedient today?  Where was I disobedient?   How can I be more obedient tomorrow?”    When we make our goal obedience, victory is sure to follow.

I want to close with some words by Jerry Bridges from his classic, and highly recommended book, The Pursuit of Holiness.

It is time for us Christians to face up to our responsibility for holiness. Too often we say we are “defeated” by this or that sin.  No, we are not defeated, we are simply disobedient!  It might be good if we stopped using the terms “victory” and “defeat” to describe our progress in holiness. rather we should use the terms “obedience” and “disobedience.” When I say I am defeated by some sin, I am unconsciously slipping out from under my responsibility. I am saying something outside of me has defeated me. But when I say I am disobedient, that places the responsibility for my sin squarely on me.  We may, in fact, be defeated, but the reason we are defeated is because we have chosen to disobey. We have chosen to entertain lustful thoughts, or to harbor resentment, or to shade the truth a little.

We need to brace ourselves up and to realize that we are responsible for our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We need to reckon on the fact that we died to sin’s reign, that it no longer has any dominion over us, that God has united us with the risen Christ in all His power, and has given us the Holy Spirit to work in us. Only as we accept our responsibility and appropriate God’s provisions will we make any progress in our pursuit of holiness (80-81).