As we go through the Momentum Bible study some important questions are coming up.
- Is Holiness Possible?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Humility is the gateway to all the other blessings in the Beatitudes. “We must see our own wants before we can perceive [Jesus’] wealth” (Spurgeon). To appreciate the goodness and grace of God we must first understand the condemnation we deserve (Rom. 8:1). And the more clearly we see the holiness and majesty of God the more aware of our own weakness and sinfulness by comparison. Remember the 13 Perfections of Christ and even as these virtues humble us they should move us to worship our glorious and merciful Lord.
Does this mean that holiness is unattainable? Does God demand something of us that we simply cannot reach? No! God gives us, in Christ, the very thing He demands. We are holy in Christ. This is not a “legal fiction,” but the glorious declaration of justification by faith alone (Rom. 5:1). This is the true, perfect and eternal righteousness Christ gives us as a free and undeserved gift. But there is also a righteousness to which Christ calls us (Momentum workbook, p. 77) and He also gives us the grace to keep moving toward this “upward call of God in Christ.”
“Christ’s people hunger and thirst for righteousness because although we know we’re forgiven and accepted before God on the basis of all Christ is and all He’s done, we also know how far we are from all Christ calls us to be” (Momentum workbook, p. 78). This should not lead us to despair but to a zealous pursuit of growth that is filled with hope. After all, God has already given us what He demands of us. He has given us Christ! He has set us free from the power of sin! He has filled us with the Holy Spirit!
“Our God is not a capricious slave driver. He is not hyper-sensitive and prone to fits of rage on account of slight offenses. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love… He is, after all, our heavenly Father. What sort of father looks at his daughter’s homemade birthday card and complains that the color scheme is all wrong?” (Kevin Deyoung, The Hole in our Holiness, p. 70)
So holiness IS possible. We will not reach perfection in this life, but we can and must pursue real holiness and progress in holiness. Indeed, “without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Becoming more righteous is not what saves a person, but “the pursuit of holiness is the distinguishing mark of a person who stands in grace” (Momentum workbook, p. 22).
2. Where does my effort come in?
Let’s be clear. Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end and all of it depends entirely on His grace. “Grace isn’t a stepping stone on which we rest for a moment before moving on to something else. Rather, grace is the solid foundation where we stand at the beginning of the Christian life and where we remain until its end” (Momentum workbook, p. 22).
So our efforts or works or discipline do not add to the all sufficient work of Christ. Jesus doesn’t take the job halfway and then we pick it up and carry it across the goal line. At the end of our lives we will look back and see, as in the old Footprints poem, that Jesus walked with us and even carried us every step of the way. “Christ saved you by washing. And He still does through sanctification, washing your mind and regenerating your heart. That means He gives you new affections, new interests, new inclinations, and new energy, so that over time you’ll find yourself hating the sin you used to love” (Momentum workbook, p. 115).
However, just because it’s all God and it’s all grace does not mean that we just coast along and have no part to play. We are not just passive recipients of grace but we are active participants in grace. “God is able to sanctify you, and He will, but He calls you to be actively engaged” (Momentum workbook, p. 116). The Sword of the Spirit does not lift itself, you have to pick up the Bible, open it and read it. Prayer connects us with the power of God but we must grow in the discipline of actually praying. God’s people are a wonderful encouragement and support, but we must take the time to meet with one another and invest the energy to “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24-25).
Jesus will forgive us when we stumble into sin, but He calls us to actively, intentionally and diligently fight against the remaining sin in our lives. Remember, God’s goal for us is not just to make us a little bit better, His goal is to make us perfect. (Read the previous post – on our way to perfect.) So keep learning Romans 8. Keep meditating on the truth of our freedom from the penalty (v. 1) and power of sin (v. 2). But continue on to v. 13 and be sure to obey the command to “put to death the deeds of the body.” “Be killing sin or it will be killing you” (John Owen).
Is holiness possible? Yes! Our final perfection awaits heaven, but we can make progress and we can experience real growth into the righteous image of Jesus Christ. And even our halting and stumbling efforts bring great pleasure to our gracious and merciful Father.