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Pursuing Holiness

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One of the great joys of teaching and preaching the Bible is the prolonged exposure to a specific biblical text in order to understand it and then communicate it faithfully. The days spent in a single passage of Scripture reveal my own need to be changed—transformed by God’s Word. Such was the case as I had the privilege to feast upon 2 Peter 1:5–11 for this past Sunday’s sermon. I was continually challenged to make my life’s aspiration to be toward holiness, rather than happiness.


Especially in these uncertain days, I have found an interesting mix of emotions as I sort through the ever-changing landscape of our world. However you parse the current situation, there is the potential for fear to pervade. In all of this, I have found 2 Peter reorienting because it makes clear that our ultimate goal in life, to seek holiness in anticipation of Christ’s return, remains the same regardless of our circumstances.


As I had opportunity to ponder this, I recalled the 19th century English pastor J. C. Ryle’s classic work Holiness, which I commended to you on Sunday. Let me commend it to you again and invite you to read several relevant portions with me.


“Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find his mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment—loving what he loves—and measuring everything in this world by the standard of his Word. He who most entirely agrees with God, he is the most holy man.” (p. 48)


“When days of darkness come upon us, let us not count it a strange thing. Rather let us remember that lessons are learned on such days which would never have been learned in sunshine. Let us say to ourselves, ‘this also is for my profit, that I may be a partaker of God’s holiness. It is sent in love. I am in God’s best school. Correction is instruction. This is meant to make me grow.’” (p. 133)


“There is a common, worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have, and think they have enough—a cheap Christianity which offends nobody, and is worth nothing. I am not speaking of religion of this kind. But if you really are in earnest about your soul—if your religion is something more than a mere fashionable Sunday cloak—if you are determined to live by the Bible—if you are resolved to be a New Testament Christian, then, I repeat, you will soon find you must carry a cross.—You must endure hard things, you must suffer on behalf of your soul, as Moses did, or you cannot be saved.” (pp. 192–93)


So, let me encourage you to take up this classic work which has been such a rich encouragement to believers in the pursuit of holiness since it was first published in 1877. Ryle’s style is always engaging and his heart for believers to be rooted in the Bible pervades this book. I am confident you will be blessed and exhorted toward the high calling of Christlikeness.

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Tags: holiness

Preparing our hearts for Easter

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Easter is Sunday. It is likely that most churches around the world will not gather. In light of this reality I find myself wrestling with how to prepare my heart for Easter 2020. Perhaps you have found yourself in similar straits, as life has been newly cast in the shadow of a pandemic. But as I wrestled, it struck me to consider how God is preparing my heart for the celebration of Jesus’ victory over the grave.

            The entire world has in a matter of a few months been reminded of the frailty of life and the certainty of death. Of course, we know that life is frail, and death comes to all, yet in the bright days of vigor and prosperity we forget. Too easily we fall prey to the hope that human ingenuity secures the path to wellness, to wealth, to wellbeing. “Salvation belongs to man” is the cry of the unbelieving world with unrelenting confidence in all of our scientific and technological advancement. And then, comes a sickness we cannot stop, and we are beckoned to inquire if there is some other remedy for the gripping fear of death that we all live with.

This is a good place to be. Let me say it again, this is a good place to be. Isn’t this exactly where God tells us to be? Consider a few passages that call us to grapple with the brevity of life and certainty of death. 

1 “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. 2 He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not. (Job 14:1–2)

4 “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! 5Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah 6 Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! (Psalm 39:4–6)

            Both the psalmist and Job offer pointed words to us of the human experience. Job declares human life as short and strenuous. The psalmist asks that he would not fall under the allusion that he possesses power over his own life. He desires to know life as the fleeting breath that it is, that all of life’s bounty gives no lasting security. Both Job and the psalmist are thoroughly acquainted with the pervasive presence of sin’s curse, “by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken…” (Gen 3:19). Difficulty and death form the rhythm of this fallen world. Sin’s toll is felt even in the modern age of unrivaled human accomplishment.

            Take a moment now to consider in the shadow of disease and death, that these are only symptoms of a far greater problem. Human rebellion. Willful idolatry. Sin. This is the heart of the issue behind life’s futility and death’s certainty. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). Yes, this is exactly the way God would prepare us for Easter, by calling us to contemplate the wreckage of the world on account of sin. So, I invite you to consider the harm and hurt of sin. We must know this truly and deeply before we are ever to rejoice in sin’s remedy.

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