by Dane Massey
(Dane Massey is the former Pastor of Mulvane Christian Church. He is now in ministry in Houston, Texas.)
To worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness is the hungry heart cry of every true believer. But how to arrive there is the pursuit of a lifetime.
As I launch out on this journey, I’m reminded of the many times I’ve set my compass on this pursuit before. Probably my first introduction to this pursuit was a book by Jerry Bridges, published by Nav Press, entitled The Pursuit of Holiness. That was over 40 years ago and still this nagging hunger to “be holy as He is holy” burns always near the surface.
There have been numerous teachings and encouraging exhortations, many tears and a deepening awareness that the flesh never reforms, sin never surrenders and both are relentless adversaries.
Why would God leave me in such a state? I am the better because of it!
True holiness requires an ever-deepening humility and dependency upon Christ and Him alone. A life of struggle, defeat, victory, pain, joy, has ground away at pride and pushed me continually to Christ and His finished work. It is only when I check out of this battle that I begin to drift into complacency.
As I start another lap on this journey, I’m reminding myself of Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians:
“And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Eph. 4:24)
Ephesians 4:17-32 is a rich passage on this journey of personal holiness. The thought that caught me this week is “true holiness.” If there is a true holiness then there is a false holiness.
The flesh is a slippery beast that loves to dress in the garments of religious accomplishments decked with jewels of false holiness. Some thoughts from this passage should be rooted deep in our thinking as we start this journey. These will, hopefully, keep us off the slippery slope of religious self-righteousness masquerading as true holiness:
1.) This battle begins in the mind/heart not in outward performance. Note Paul’s description of the lost (Gentile) world in verses 17- 19.
> Vanity (empty, abstract from reality) of their minds (v 17).
> Understanding darkened (18).
> Ignorance that is in them (18).
> Blindness of their hearts (18).
Note how the primary description centers around the mind. Paul doesn’t mention their lifestyle until verse 19. Their lifestyle is a product of their mental condition, their thinking process.
I spent many years, formative years, in this state and if I desire personal holiness it will begin in the battle between my ears! Mental moral purity, on every level, is where the war will begin and end.
Very seldom, when sin wins, am I honest with God and myself. I focus on actions, which leads to excuses (back to Adam and Eve).
The truth? I mentally set myself up!
I mentally played with sin, worked out my justification, or just became mentally weary and sloppy in my thinking. I reverted to a world mindset which leads to such things as pride, self-pity, etc., which hardens my conscience and blurs my vision.
If I’m to win I must be “renewed in the spirit of my mind” (v 23).
2.) This is a journey not a destination. I will never totally arrive. The myth of sinless perfection is just that, a myth. There is a deception here.
If I’m not careful, behind this desire for sinless perfection there is more a desire for comfort, peace, a ceasing of war, than a genuine desire for holiness.
Paul pictures this continual state of struggle as a man changing clothes (v.24 -32). In our natural lives we are constantly changing clothes. Being “renewed in the spirit of my mind”, “putting off the old man” and “putting on the new man which God has created” will look much like the natural process of changing clothes. I will look down, on a regular basis, and realize my socks don’t match! (Don’t dress in the dark!)
3.) True holiness is never an isolated journey. It can not be pursued in a self-contained monastery.
Note verses 26-32. Every issue is in the context of relationships. True holiness is a community journey. Relationships are God’s means of grinding away at my character, revealing my pride, my self-centeredness, my bitterness, my anger and calling me to a lifestyle of humility and servanthood. The idea of pursuing holiness by removing myself from relationships, from the grind of real life, from community, is a deception. This removal can happen on an emotional level as much as a physical. I must stay engaged for God is at work here. Withdrawal from reality, from life, is not the pursuit of holiness.