Last week we learned that Sanctification is the cooperation of God and the believer working to produce actual holiness in the life of the believer.” We also said, “If you remain passive, waiting for God to do it all, you’ll be overrun.” This week I want to briefly tell us what not being passive entails and the effort, the practical steps that should be taken in our daily lives that will translate to growing in holiness.
Let’s start by reading 2 passages
1 Tim 4:7-8: “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
1 Tim 6:11: “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.”
Paul in these two passages, uses two images to describe the effort required in sanctification. It’s these two images I’ll build on in this article.
Image One: Exercise
We all know that athletic skills don’t just happen. You don’t become athletic by hard thinking and strong desire. Not even by reading how-to-books on techniques for running do you become the fastest man alive. You become athletic by consistently and repetitively practicing the techniques that are fundamental to your desired sport. You don’t focus on weight lifting if you want to be a Yoga master, nor stretches if you want to be a weightlifting champion, or do you?
It follows then that the Christian must focus on the basics of holiness and work consistently and repetitively. First on the areas of personal weakness and then solidify your strengths.
Merely reading this post or hearing about sanctification doesn’t produce holiness in your daily life-it’s a great start, definitely, but you must consciously and purposely work it out. You can start by noting your particular areas of spiritual weakness and then work to strengthen them. Just like the athlete who knows that his stomach is too big to run and first concentrates his effort on losing the excess fat, so also a Christian must concentrate spiritual effort on losing the besetting weakness.
Godliness doesn’t just happen friends, it requires discipline. Memorize this: “holiness matures through effort.”
Image Two: Pursue
We played a game when I was in primary school, usually on the large field during break time. The idea behind the game was to have one person pursue the group. Whoever he touches first becomes the next pursuer. This game was intense because it involved a lot of running to catch. Now if you were too slow, you’d be the pursuer all through the game!
Now, this was the idea Paul was suggesting here. He wants the Christian with all strenuous effort to chase down godliness and righteousness. This word carries the idea of intensity, striving, and strategy as well.
Remember the conquest of Canaan? Remember how the Israelites pursued their enemies, overtook them, and destroyed them? It’s helpful to read the conquest in light of Deut 9:3- “Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you.” (emphasis mine). This conquest was clearly wrought by God. But it wasn’t without military strategy-in the conquest of Ai for example. Nor was it without great effort- in the fight against the Amorites which lasted into the night and God had to stop the Sun from setting.
Here is a helpful quote by Michael Barrett in his book “Complete in Him”- …so must we fight with might and faith in order to win the victory, which is godliness. The chasing after godliness will take us through hostile territory and threats of ambush, but we must keep pursuing using all the armor and weapons in our arsenal.
Friends, the good fight of faith, the fight for your life so to speak is done with all effort. God has wrought the victory through Christ (1 Cor 15:57) but you are required to discipline yourself, to exercise yourself in godly things. You will rest when you’re done with the race, but for now, you fight. Fight, relying on the power of the Spirit in prayer. Fight with faith in your heart. Fight, friends, fight!
Remember Psalm 44:3-5 always. “For by their own sword they did not possess the land, And their own arm did not save them, But Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your presence, For You favored them. You are my King, O God; Command victories for Jacob. Through You we will push back our adversaries; Through Your name we will trample down those who rise up against us.”
Let me encourage us with some statements from Lord’s day 44 in the Heidelberg Catechism:
Q. But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?
A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God’s commandments. (emphasis mine)
Q. Since no one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly, why does God want them preached so pointedly?
A. …so that we may never stop striving, and never stop praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection. (emphasis mine)
Let me end with verse 4 of this hymn I love so much:
“So Spirit come put strength in every stride Give grace for every hurdle That we may run with faith to win the prize Of a servant good and faithful As saints of old still line the way Retelling triumphs of His grace We hear their calls and hunger for the day When with Christ we stand in glory” (O Church Arise, Getty Music)