Recently I reread the book The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. Bridges encourages us to pursue holiness. The Scriptures also remind us in Hebrews 12 that without holiness no one will see the Lord. We must pursue holiness! But how much holiness is enough to see the Lord? Libraries have been written debating this question.
II Timothy 3 speaks of people who boast about knowledge of the Lord, but deny his power to change their lives. The true Christian life, however, is marked by knowledge of Christ that also has power to change us. But how much change is enough? My personal testimony is that I am sinner still, but nonetheless God has changed me, and one day in eternity I will be perfected into his image!
I thus found great encouragement through Bridges book... except for page 107. On this page Bridges graphs the progress in holiness in a Christian’s life. The graph is a simple positively sloped line with holiness gradually increasing over time and with the Christian’s greatest level of holiness being achieved at the end of life. I find this model to be discouraging, unrealistic, and unbiblical.
A pastor friend of mine once taught on the same subject and instead he drew a graph that had ups and downs through the Christian’s whole life with the end not necessarily higher than the beginning.
Truly? Yes truly!
Consider King David’s life. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered Uriah in the middle of his life. David’s holiness dipped to an all time low in the middle of his life. How would you graph that? Consider Moses also. He disobeyed God in front of the whole assembly by striking the rock instead of speaking to the rock. God then punished him by not letting him enter the Promised Land. Moses’ greatest sin was at the very end of his life. How should we graph that?
Or take me for example. As a high school youth, peer pressure lead me to a foul tongue. I could cuss with the best of them. Later at the beginning of my college years when I was restored to Christ, his grace enabled me to clean up my language. Yet later I made a mistake and took a job with greedy money makers because I wanted money too and I found that profanities returned to my internal thoughts, and were barely kept from leaving my mouth. Even today the profane is still with me from time to time. And what strength will I possess in restraining the tongue at the end of my years?
I have heard that elderly Christians often become more easily irritated or impatient, even returning to profanity themselves. Several months ago I was pushing an elderly retired Christian Pastor’s wheelchair through his nursing home and the wheel pinched his finger and he said, “Damn!” How should we graph that? I do not mention this story to condemn him, but in fact to commend him. I commend him because I know that though he is still in the struggle with sin, he still maintains his faith. The one condemned is the one who throws in the towel altogether and rejects Christ as their lord and savior.
Friends, don’t throw in the towel!
What would you think of a coach who said to his team, “You are amazing athletes! When you begin the contest you will not be at your best. But you will get better and better. And at the very end of the contest you will be your best!” Say what?
The coach of Scripture says the Christian life is a fight. “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you confessed the good confession in the sight of many witnesses“ (1 Timothy 6:12 WEB). You will get knocked down. Get back up!
The Christian life is also a race. “Don't you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run like that, that you may win.” (1 Corinthians 9:24 WEB). You will trip. Get back up!
Apostle Paul said of himself,
6) For I am already being offered, and the time of my departure has come. 7) I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. 8) From now on, the crown of righteousness is stored up for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day; and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved his appearing.2 Timothy 4:6-8 (WEB)
Paul does not boast about the level of holiness he reached, but humbly says five words, “I have kept the faith.”
Lord God, help us to finish our fight, our race, with our eyes on you!