Holiness is possible

I heard this sermon at St Helen’s Bishopsgate when I visited London in February 2016. I remember that God spoke loudly to me that day, and made a few notes on a scrap piece of paper then. It has only taken me 3 years to finally dig out that piece of paper to revisit what I learnt and share it on this blog…

Romans 12: 1-8 (By Kevin DeYoung)

You can be holy.

Christ doesn’t just save us from sin’s penalty, but also from sin’s power.

Don’t just wax lyrical about what Christ has saved us from. What about what Christ has saved us to?

To be passionate in our pursuit of holiness, we must first establish that holiness is possible, that we can present ourselves holy and acceptable as God’s children.

Why do we not take being “holy and acceptable to God” seriously? Is it because we equate obedience to “sinless perfection”? (and as a result not believe that holiness is possible) Don’t. You can be holy and acceptable by works that are TRULY good, albeit not PERFECTLY good.

Our good works are accepted through Christ because God is a loving Heavenly Father. Consider a child who promptly and cheerfully responds to requests to clean up his/her room- the corners of the bedsheets are not properly tucked in, the toys are dumped messily together in a box, the clothes are folded but wrinkled. Yet, despite the imperfections, the parents do not reprimand but seek to praise the child.

Yes, the work may not be perfect. Yes, you could have done it much better yourself. Yet, it was truly good and pleasing to the parents. Because it was done sincerely, cheerfully and obediently.

Why is it so important to seek holiness and believe that obedience is possible?

1.  If you don’t, you will give up in sanctification

  • If you think that God is austere, peevish and highly temperamental, and that everything you do is judged by his stern eye whereby there is nothing we can do to please him, you will give up. If you think that you will be a spiritual failure all the time- why would you even bother?

2. You will relativise all sins as being equal in God’s eyes

  • When every sin is seen as the same, we are less likely to fight any sin at all.
  • There can be the mentality of “Why pursue holiness if one sin is going to make me as bad as Hitler in God’s eyes?”
  • Another example is “why should I stop sleeping with my girlfriend? I will still struggle with lust in my heart.”  Yes, lust is a sin and we must fight against it, but the Lord would rather we fight against sin than giving in to fornication.
  • Yes, it seems humble to act as if that no sin is worse than another. Yet then we lose the impetus to pursue holiness.

3. If we don’t understand the possibility of holiness, we make it difficult to hear the warnings in scripture

  • The warnings in scripture are meant to scare the hell out of us.
  • But if we do not believe that holiness is possible, we will read passages like 1 Corinthians 6 where we are told that the greedy, the covetous, the idolators, adulterers and homosexuals  will not inherit the kingdom of heaven… and yet we will think “well, we are all guilty of these things.” And so we won’t take it seriously.
  • If we think that we are at all times guilty of every one of these sins to the utmost, then we will not hear the sternness of these warnings when we really need to hear it.
  • We need to know that even though we are imperfect and sinful, we can still be sincerely obedient Christians. If not, we will not hear the sirens go off.

4. If we do not understand the possibility of holiness, we will be robbed of one of our means of assurance.

  • We are meant to live in such a way that we manifest the evidences of the spirit’s work in our lives that provide confirming support that we are indeed children of God.
  • Yet, many of us do not give ourselves permission to see evidences of grace. We look at passages like 2 Corinthians 13 “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith” and often choose to see that as a scary warning.
  • This is really difficult, because the more mature you are in Christ, the more you see your own sin. The closer you are to Him, the further away you seem.
  • Assurance must thus be a community project. Speak to others– ask them if they can see fruit in your life… evidences of grace in your life. Not necessarily perfect fruit, but increasing fruit.

5. If we do not have this understanding of holiness being possible, we will flatten and impoverish our relationship with God.

  • You may think that there is NOTHING you can do to make God more or less pleased with me. Well, this is true and false at the same time. Yes, you cannot make yourself more or less justified… but you can live in such a way that will either please your heavenly father or grieve the spirit. It is like a marriage– the union is fixed/ stable, but the communion can ebb and flow.
  • You have a dynamic relationship with God. God while not ceasing to love us, can still be wondrously angry at his children. Justification does not make God indifferent to our sin- he can be angry and reprove us. On the other hand, know that you can also please God.

Don’t live your whole life with a low level sense of guilt and shame. This is not how God meant for us to live. If you are truly guilty of unrepentant sin, you run to the cross, ask for forgiveness and know the sweet serenity of a clean conscience. And when you are walking with Christ in humility, repentance and obedience, you ought to know the smile of your Heavenly Father.

God is not unmoved by our attempts at obedience. You are allowed and expected to be obedient. You never will be perfect. You cannot do anything to earn justification. But as a born-again sinner, you don’t have to be a spiritual failure. By the mercies of God, you CAN present your bodies as a living sacrifice– holy and acceptable to God. There is no righteousness that will make you right with God except for the righteousness of Christ. But for those who have been made right, by Christ and through faith alone, by undeserved mercy alone, your righteous deeds are not filthy in God’s sight.

Your obedience is precious, pleasing and possible.

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