One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a Christian is assuming that holiness is an automatic process. It is an easy mistake to make; we know that Jesus has saved us and "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion." (Philippians 1v5) And it fits our natural laziness, our want of the Christian life to be easy, we want holiness to just happen.
Holiness never just happens. The natural route we follow, even as Christians, is decline. If holiness is not our main priority then we will swiftly find that we begin to slip back into old ways and old habits. We have to strive for holiness; we cannot sit and wait for it to find us. I speak from personal experience when I say that holiness is not a progressive linear function - it is entirely possible to become less holy in your Christian walk.
Yet, because of the work of the Lord Jesus and because we have the Holy Spirit within us then it is possible to become more holy. And it should be the aim of every Christian to become increasing holy as the years go by for as Jesus said: "Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5v48). This deals with the latter part of the title: increasing holiness.
Now to skip to the beginning: increasing holiness will be painful. This is, regrettably, a much neglected lesson in the church today. Becoming holy is painful and it's painful for many reasons the first is that it is hard work:
"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling."
"but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come... For it is for this we labour and strive," 1 Timothy 4 v 8,10
Notice Paul says that we strive for godliness, we work out our salvation, we labour, we tremble and fear - hardly a walk in the park! As J.C Ryle put it: "No one has achieved anything good without hard work." Why then do we think holiness is anything different? We need to be as realistic as the Bible is: holiness is painful work.
Think about it: our enemy the devil prowls around us like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5v8); the world hates us and tries to lure us away with it's empty illusions and vain promises and our own flesh fights against us. The evil we do not want to do; that is what we do.
"For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want." Galatians 5 v 17
No wonder holiness is painful! We're in a great battle, a battle that will not end until we are with Christ in glory. The devil, the world and the flesh unite against us, the reason we have to put on the armour of God is that we are called to fight against sin and to fight for holiness.
Why then does the Christian fight such a battle? Why strive for holiness? Why go through the painful toil of working out our salvation with fear and trembling? As the next part of the title for this post suggests we go about it for the joy of holiness. As Christians our hearts have been made anew and they now beat to the drum of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has given us new loves and new hates and one such love is a love for holiness and a hate against sin. There is no more miserable Christian than the one who is not striving for holiness. I've been there; it was soul crushing, a low point of my life.
The joy of holiness is the joy of obeying Christ, the joy of freedom from whatever sins we have put off, the joy of sweeter communion with Jesus, the soul satisfying happiness of walking close with God. Happy is the Christian who earnestly strives for holiness.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12 v 2 -3
For the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross. For the same joy set before us we strive for holiness.
Increasing holiness means an increasing awareness of our sin, holy people think very little of their holiness, and it means an increasing delight in the grace and mercy of God. It means greater obedience, more faith, more love, more hope, a greater willingness to distrust ourselves and rely on God, a greater hatred for sin, a greater seeking after God. I do not think it wrong to say that holiness leads to holiness.
But finally, increasing holiness is always a gradual experience.
"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3 v 18
As the above verse says we are being transformed from one degree to another. It is a slow process, the oh so slow process of sanctification. Yes, the Holy Spirit dwells in us and empowers us to change. Yes, God by his grace works in us and with us and through us. Yes, Christ will see the good work through to completion. But it will be slow for we are slow to learn, slow to grow, slow to change, slow to be transformed. Mark the patience of God that he still perseveres with us despite our perversity. For every step forward we take it is all too easy to take half a step back.
Ask any mature Christian and they will ruefully agree that they are not what they could be, not what they should be, not what they want to be but at the same time they will thank God that they are not what they once were.
Holiness is hard, it involves painful toil on our part. It is gradual and will involve many failures. But it is always and will always be a joy. The least effort to be more holy the Lord does not despise. indeed, his Spirit is behind every inclination to work out our salvation. The battle may be hard, the way may be tough, but victory is certain, our future joy secured and no effort is wasted.
It is my hope and prayer that each one of you (and myself) would know the painful joy of gradually increasing holiness.