Monday, July 29, 2013

The Importance of Practical Holiness

In his classic Christian work on sanctification titled Holiness, J. C. Ryle contemplates the importance of holiness. He begins this discussion with an important clarification:
Can holiness save us? Can holiness put away sin - cover iniquities - make satisfaction for transgressions - pay our debt to God? No: not a whit. God forbid that I should ever say so. Holiness can do none of these things. The brightest saints are all “unprofitable servants.” Our purest works are no better than filthy rags, when tried by the light of God’s holy law. The white robe which Jesus offers, and faith puts on, must be our only righteousness - the name of Christ our only confidence - the Lamb’s book of life our only title to heaven. With all our holiness we are no better than sinners. Our best things are stained and tainted with imperfection. (39)
Clearly, personal holiness is not a salvific issue. But, is is important. We can recognize the inability of holiness to save a person, but does that necessarily mean it is not significant? Of course, Ryle insists that holiness is important and gives the reader a list of reasons why:
For one thing, we must be holy, because the voice of God in Scripture plainly commands it.

  1. We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world.
  2. We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. We must be holy, because this is the only proof that we love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.
  4. We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we are true children of God.
  5. We must be holy, because this is the most likely way to do good to others.
  6. We must be holy, because our present comfort depends much upon it.
  7. Lastly, we must be holy, because without holiness on earth we shall never be prepared to enjoy heaven. (39-42)
The reasons Ryle presents are permeated with Scripture references and his own commentary; they make for worthwhile reading and contemplation. Ryle then returns to the point we started out with securing his approach with a reminder to the importance of holiness in the context of the Christian faith as a whole:
I have no desire to make an idol of holiness. I do not wish to dethrone Christ, and put holiness in His place. But I must candidly say, I wish sanctification was more thought of in this day than it seems to be, and I therefore take occasion to press the subject on all believers into whose hands these pages may fall. I fear it is sometimes forgotten that God has married together justification and sanctification. They are distinct and different things, beyond question, but one is never found without the other. All justified people are sanctified, and all sanctified are justified. What God has joined together let no man dare to put asunder. Tell me not of your justification, unless you have also some marks of sanctification. Boast not of Christ’s work for you, unless you can show us the Spirit’s work in you. Think not that Christ and the Spirit can ever be divided. I doubt not that many believers know these things, but I think it good for us to be put in remembrance of them. Let us prove that we know them by our lives. Let us try to keep in view this text more continually: “Follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (46)

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