Recently, I decided to add a new test to my error detection system: if anyone ever says or implies holiness can be easy then they are flat out, automatically, without fail, speaking complete and utter rubbish. Thus does Keller's "if only we could be self-forgetful" and the other one "you just need to surrender to Jesus" fall by the way side, welcome victims to the keen blade of truth!
To be completely honest, I want holiness to be easy, in fact, often I like to think that increasing in holiness is some sort of magic trick - I say a prayer to God asking to be more holy and abracadabra, holiness is mine. Oh what foolishness my mind comes up with!
Fortunately, the Bible is very clear with us about holiness - "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," (Philippians 2v12) Notice the use of the word: "work." I looked up this word in the dictionary and it told me: "Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result." It made me a little glum because in my head I like to translate the verse: "Do very little and hope that things will come together for your own salvation with fear and trembling."
A couple of months ago I was reading a Puritan, maybe Ryle, and the author was talking about how holiness is hard work and he pointed out that what good thing in life isn't hard work? His point struck home, if I want to have a good meal then it involves effort, if I want to have good friendships, they involve effort, if I want to become good at a musical instrument or skill then I must work. Why then should holiness be any different? Why do we expect it to be so?
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,
Bow down before Him, His glory proclaim;
Gold of obedience and incense of lowliness,
Bring and adore Him—the Lord is His Name.
Low at His feet lay Thy burden of carefulness,
High on His heart He will bear it for thee;
Comfort thy sorrows and answer thy prayerfulness,
Guiding thy steps as may best for thee be.
Fear not to enter His courts in the slenderness
Of the poor wealth thou wouldst reckon as thine;
Truth in its beauty, and love in its tenderness,
These are the offerings to lay on His shrine.
These though we bring them in trembling and fearfulness,
He will accept for the Name that is dear,
Mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness,
Trust for our trembling, and hope for our fear.
I make no apology for quoting the entirety of the above hymn even though it’s really only the first line that I am going to dwell on for this post. As with most old fashioned hymns it puts a lot of the modern efforts to shame. But that is a topic for a different day.
_ “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,”
Romans 5 v 20
Firstly, this is not a divine license to sin, Paul says in the next chapter: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6v1-2). So if it is not an encouragement to sin what is it and why is it important?
This verse is important because we all sin, we can fight against it all we like and we may even conquer some sins but there will always remain other ones we commit. This verse should not be read: I’ll sin so that grace might increase instead it should be read: I sin, thank God that even in my sin grace increases all the more. But what grace is to be found in the darkness of sin?
In my last post I mentioned the fact that there is a spiritual war raging between God and the Devil. This comment was met with some derision which in some ways is understandable. It is rare to hear other Christians talk about this reality. Rather like Basil Fawlty it is easy for Christians to operate under a ‘don’t mention the war’ mentality. In part this stems from the fact that Christians feel as though mentioning this spiritual war will make us look weird, sorry, even weirder.
The world today is totally obsessed with the observable natural world and therefore treats any comments about the unseen spiritual world with scepticism. But that is foolishness in the extreme as I will hopefully show you.
Now if there is a war raging on around us that leads us to some very important questions…