When I first became a Christian it seemed like it was all about holiness. Maybe that was because I didn’t have any. Having come in contact with Jesus-the not-dead, I knew without a doubt that I was made right in the eyes of God the Judge, there was no doubt in my mind. I could feel it. Unfortunately there were still things engraved in my human mind that were far from holy. You know, things that were at the other end of the values spectrum from Jesus. But I wanted to follow him. I wanted to follow Him close, I wanted to be right on his heels. Life became a series of conquests of the Grace of God over the sin-things that had become part of my life. Some of those things were difficult, some of them were easy, it was thrilling. Sometimes events and circumstances fell into to place that led me to a victory, sometimes the Holy Spirit, as I learned to recognize, did the work on the inside of me. I am so thankful for a couple of guys who came into my life and were always there encouraging me to give up my own ideas to the Holy Spirit. When I became a Christian I was blessed to be part of a group of people, many new Christians like myself, who shared a passion to please an amazing God through whatever sacrifice. It wasn’t just church. In fact church was basically just a celebration about the busy-ness of God in every day.
The Bible I was reading said “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14 (NASB95) Alternatives notwithstanding, I want to see the Lord. I also realize that holiness, sanctification, is a very practical matter to God. I accepted this and as a new believer I did my best to pursue it. That word translated pursue is about going after it pushing the accelerator not the brake, there is a sense of extended effort and passion. In fact the word translated pursue in Heb 12:14 is often used in the context of persecution.
I can’t say that I have always pursued, there have definitely been seasons when I did not and there are oddly still challenges to holiness in me (Romans 7 – oi!). You can’t earn grace and shouldn’t confuse justification with sanctification in this sense, but as I think about the amazing things that God does to encourage this pursuit I can’t help but think that this is extremely important to God.
We often talk about the two parts of sanctification, our part and God’s part.
For our part we pursue (see Heb 12:14 NASB), strive ESV, try GNT, follow KJV, make every effort NIV, work at NLT holiness; holiness being things and behaviors that separate us from the world and make us special to God. Clearly there are things that we do that express or incarnate our being special for God, things like acts of worship, resisting temptation or giving to someone in need. Conversely there are things we will not do because they are unholiness, or that make us un-special to God, things like lying or worshiping something He created, things He has said “Don’t do”. It’s a fool’s errand to make an expanded list of things that fit into these categories, the Bible covers these things, just be honest with yourself – are you moving toward God or away from Him?
We can’t make ourselves sinless in the sense of being perfect, or justified, before God, Only God can do that through our faith in Christ, we’re “justified by faith”, and faith alone.
Also, God’s part in sanctification is something that only God does. Call it what you want, He pours out His Spirit or fills with or gives or anoints with the Holy Spirit – no need to obsess on the terms. Clearly God sanctifies by personally doing something to a person with the Holy Spirit. That is God’s part. To deny it is to disregard major parts of the New Testament not to mention thousands of years of human interaction with God. This pentecostal experience is something God will do, it seems to me, in response to your or my willingness to carry on with Christ. We shouldn’t miss the fact that the120 believers in Acts 2 were doing what Jesus told them to do.
Why even talk about it? I wonder if we don’t forget the first part of that equation. I wonder if we haven’t convinced ourselves that God really doesn’t care about any of the personal action stuff. Truly one of the most breathtaking things about God, who is holy, is His endless compassion and kindness. His attitude towards messed up, broken, train wreck people like myself is an attitude of love and acceptance. And His one never-ending goal for us is our sanctification. However, collectively it seems like we forget this. The last few church experiences I have had make me think so. It was almost like church existed to comfort us because we wanted to belong to God without challenging or changing anything about ourselves. Maybe that was because we thought that disciple making could take place in our one hour worship setting on Sunday morning. This is a delusion I have never ascribed to. When I became a Christian there was a group of people with a passion to please an amazing God who was both holy and loving and they sought to do it through any means available. It wasn’t just Sunday Worship or home Bible studies, although there was plenty of all that as well, but the real changes were taking place in every-day activity in which we pursued God. Maybe it’s because of those folks, but I have always thought that walking with God should be big and exciting. It wasn’t perfect and weathered some abuses, but I kind of miss those days. I know we can’t go back, but can’t we be revived?