It is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pe 1:16)
The Old Hymn implores us:
Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.
But this call to Holiness is lost on most Christians today.
We’re afraid of coming across as “Holier-than-Thou,” a genuine concern, to be fair. We don’t want our pursuit of holiness to be seen as self-righteousness, or to become a hindrance to others hearing and believing in the Gospel. Our holiness should not be reduced to judgmentalism, nor should it be a call to works-righteousness.
But that doesn’t mean that we should call off the pursuit altogether.
We are called to be Holy. When we are born again from above, our regeneration is through the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit. We are reminded in 1 Peter 1:15–16, “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.” We know that Jesus said that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, we will never see the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20). We know that God’s design for our lives is that we would be sanctified (1 Thess 4:3), that God calls us to holiness (1 Thess 4:7), and that God has chosen us in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless (Eph 1:4).
So how then do we pursue holiness without becoming sanctimonious? How do we steer clear of the trap of self-righteousness, while still seeking holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14)?
As I’ve been reading J.C. Ryle’s book, Holiness, I thought I’d share highlights on the pursuit of holiness (and encourage you to find a copy of the book and read it for yourself).
First: a reminder of what holiness isn’t.
It is not knowledge—Balaam had that; nor great profession—Judas Iscariot had that; nor doing many things—Herod had that; nor zeal for certain matters in religion—Jehu had that; nor morality and outward respectability of conduct—the young ruler had that; nor taking pleasure in hearing preachers—the Jews in Ezekiel’s time had that; nor keeping company with godly people—Joab and Gehazi and Demas had that. Yet none of these were holy! These things alone are not holiness. A man may have any one of them and yet never see the Lord.
So what is holiness? Ryle organizes his teaching with these bullet points:
- Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find His mind described in Scripture.
- A holy man will endeavor to shun every known sin and to keep every known commandment.
- A holy man will strive to be like our Lord Jesus Christ.
- A holy man will follow after meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, patience, kind tempers, government of his tongue.
- A holy man will follow after temperance and self–denial.
- A holy man will follow after charity and brotherly kindness.
- A holy man will follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence towards others.
- A holy man will follow after purity of heart.
- A holy man will follow after the fear of God.
- A holy man will follow after humility.
- A holy man will follow after faithfulness in all the duties and relations in life.
- Last, but not least, a holy man will follow after spiritual–mindedness.
What we must remember, however, is that holiness is not that which saves us. We are saved by grace “through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). This keeps us from any self-righteous, judgmental, condescending, sanctimonious attitude, knowing that our salvation and holiness is the work of another.
God is the One who saves the sinner through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, and it is the righteousness of Christ that produces holiness within us. He is the root, our holiness is the fruit. Ryle states, “Holiness comes from Christ. It is the result of vital union with Him. It is the fruit of being a living branch of the true Vine.”
One might amend Ryle’s statement to say, “It is the necessary result of vital union with Christ.” If you are united with Christ through faith, you will, you must, produce a harvest of righteousness. If there is no fruit, are you even connected to the root?
Christian, pursue holiness. Cling to Christ, the righteous one, that you may grow in righteousness. Seek the kingdom of God now, so that you’ll know it when you see it. Remember, we must be saints on earth if ever we mean to be saints in heaven.
All quotes taken from: Ryle, J. C. Holiness: It’s Nature, Hinderances, Difficulties and Roots. electronic ed. based on the Evangelical Press reprinting, with new forward, 1995. Simpsonville, SC: Christian Classics Foundation, 1999. Print.