The first thing that God does when He makes anyone a new creature in Christ is to send light into his heart and show him that he is a guilty sinner.
J.C. Ryle, Holiness
Anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ must certainly have a desire to grow in holiness. There is, by nature of our fellowship with Him, and the operating of His Spirit upon our lives, a transformation of our desires; a longing to be more like Christ, to enjoy fellowship with Him, to see evidences of His grace and goodness in our lives, and to be found useful in His kingdom. This, I believe, is the heartfelt desire of every sincere Christian, in some shape or form, and it may be best summed up in one word: Holiness.
As those who have been redeemed in Christ, we are called to be holy:
- 1 Th 4:7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
- 1 Pe 1:15–16 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
- 1 Pe 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
- Heb 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
So we desire to grow in holiness, and our natural tendency, the way in which we would get the process started, is to just go and be holy. We often think that simply by doing, we will eventually become what we want to be. We start taking on good works, acts of piety and holiness, taking on more disciplines, striving to become what we’ve been called to be.
And when our holiness is produced by our own striving, it will fail.
All we’ve done is put up a flimsy façade, which can never stand the test of time. We’ve put lipstick on a pig: it’s still a pig, and it’s still not pretty.
No, if we want to grow tall in holiness, first we must dig deep and deal with our own sinfulness.
When God begins to bring growth into the life of a follower of Christ, the first thing that will come is a deepening understanding of his or her own sinfulness, and an ever growing need for God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ.
This is often a difficult providence. We ask that God would help us to grow in faith and allow us to serve in holiness, and the first thing God does is show us our own brokenness and need. We ask God to teach us to pray, and God shows us how anemic and faithless our prayer life has been. It seems like God is giving the very opposite of what we ask for, but in reality, this is for our own good.
J.C. Ryle, in his book, Holiness, writes, “People will never set their faces decidedly towards heaven and live like pilgrims until they really feel that they are in danger of hell… We may depend upon it, men will never come to Jesus and stay with Jesus and live for Jesus unless they really know why they are to come and what is their need. Those whom the Spirit draws to Jesus are those whom the Spirit has convinced of sin… Once we see that sin is far viler and far nearer to us and sticks more closely than we supposed, we will be led, I trust and believe, to get nearer to Christ.”
If your prayer is that would you grow in holiness and Christlikeness, do not be surprised if the answer to your prayer is an ever growing awareness of your own depravity and desperate need for Christ. The closer you come to the light, the more you will see.
But do not be discouraged. For as you come to the light of Christ, he stands ready to forgive, to heal, to cleanse you from all unrighteousness, to cover you in His garments, to sanctify you through the working of His Holy Spirit.