Reformed Church Box Hill

Scripture Alone

Faith Alone

Grace Alone

Christ Alone

Glory to God Alone

17 October 2021

Pursuing Holiness.

What does it mean to pursue holiness?  As God’s redeemed people, we already actually enjoy a status of holiness.  What I mean by that is that God has saved us, taken us to himself, and made us to be his own – he’s set us apart for himself as a “holy nation” of people through Christ (1 Pt 2:9).  We are, as a matter of fact, set apart by God to be his people, belonging to him – and in this sense we don’t need to pursue holiness, because it’s something that God has already given to us through Christ.  Even still, we often hear this kind of language in Christian circles don’t we: “We must be holy”, or: “We must live a holy life”, or: “We must pursue holiness.”  But what exactly are we talking about when we say that?  What does it mean to pursue holiness?  Well in light of what we’ve learned about holiness, I think it’s worth re-examining the question.

As I’ve said numerous times now, God’s holiness is the sum expression of his consummate perfection and total glory, wherein he is revealed as being separate from all else that exists, being transcendent and infinitely exalted over all.  What then does it mean for us to pursue holiness?  I think that we usually think of pursuing holiness as being the pursuit of an upright way of living.  In other words, pursuing holiness is about seeking to live a lifestyle of righteousness, of obedience to God, of doing what is right.  Now certainly the pursuit of  holiness includes this, but in light of what we’ve learned about the holiness of God, I think that we actually need to say that the idea of pursuing holiness is far bigger than just the pursuit of righteousness, or doing what is right.

Holiness in God is a word referring to and encapsulating everything about who he is.  God’s holiness is the sum expression, that is, it’s a word about him that summarises, his consummate perfection and total glory.  In our studies on the holiness of God, we have learned that the word “holy”, as it applies to God, is a kind of catch-all statement representing everything about who he is.  We might use the idea of a sunset to illustrate what I mean here.  What is a sunset?  Is it clouds?  Is it sky?  Is it colours or light?  Is it the movement of the sun through the heavens?  Is it a time of day?  Is it beams of light catching the earth at just the right angle?  The truth is, a sunset is a composite of all these things. What about God?  God is many things.  He is righteous, all-powerful, compassionate and good, he is angry at sin and merciful to sinners.  He is a judge, he is a creator, he is magnificent and excellent, beautiful and wondrous.  He is incomprehensible and infinite.  He is all this and more, and we express all these things in one single word: holy.

I think John Piper puts all this very well in his sermon on Isaiah 6:1-8: “The possibilities of language to carry the meaning of God eventually run out and spill over the edge of the world into a vast unknown. “Holiness” carries us to the brink, and from there on the experience of God is beyond words.”  Piper really nails it here.  Holiness is the word God gives us to think of and talk about God in the wholeness of his being.  As Piper says, when our words run out, and the infinite magnitude of God’s being towers majestic above and beyond our understanding, we stand on the brink of the unknown, and we fall on our faces and declare: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”  God’s holiness is the sum total of all his qualities and excellencies, it is the sum expression of his consummate perfection and total glory.  It is a term that describes his total state of being: “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts” (Is 6:3).

To pursue holiness, then, is not only about pursuing moral conformity to the will of God.  No, it’s much bigger than that. To pursue holiness is to pursue the goal of total conformity to the likeness of God.  Now likeness is a key word there.  We’re not called to pursue becoming God, in some way, but we are called to pursue a total likeness to him.  I believe that when God created us in his image (Gen 1:26), that this was his creational purpose: that everything about us should be a total reflection of him, although on a limited, creaturely scale.  This is what it means to say that we are his image.  In the Lord’s Prayer we’re thus instructed to pray: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.  This petition is instructive, for it reveals to us that God’s purpose is for earth to come into conformity with the pattern of heaven – and certainly man in the image of God is at the centre of fulfilling that purpose.

Now it’s important to follow on from this and say that even though we have this calling to pursue total conformity to the likeness of God, there is and always will remain an infinite chasm between who God is and who we are.  In this sense, I think Pastor John MacArthur, in a sermon on the Holiness of God, was right to put it this way: “He is being, we are becoming.”  He is being, we are becoming.  Now just pause and think about that statement for a moment, because I think it crystalises everything we’ve said so far, and I think that this is truly profound.

He is being, we are becoming.  Consider the concept of holiness in your mind, consider again what it is truly talking about.  God is holy. God’s holiness is referring to his total transcendent majesty.  There is infinity contained in that one word: holy.  Now, hold the full weight of this word before your mind’s eye as best you can.  Consider that in this one, single word we have represented the full being of deity.  Consider that you could ponder this word “holy” for an eternity of eternities and still fail to fully grasp or exhaust its meaning.  Now – hold that in your mind and now consider the following statement: “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pt 1:16).

Our holiness in Christ is an inevitable consequence of God’s holiness.  God is holy, and because he is holy, he declares to us that we too shall be holy – that we shall conform to the pattern of his perfection, restored in the image of God through Christ.  Now, let’s get back to MacArthur’s marvellous insight again: “He is being, we are becoming.”

God is perfect.  He is fully realised, there is no potential in him.  He is infinite being, he is perfect wholeness, there is nothing missing in his completeness.  We, obviously, are not like this.

We are not infinite, but rather we are designed to grow.  We are designed to progress, over time, and grow more and more fully into the full stature of maturity in Christ.

We see this movement of growth in various places throughout the scriptures.  The Apostle Paul prays for the Ephesian believers: “that you may be filled with the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).  Is it possible to be filled with all the fullness of God?  No!  Of course not!  Because there is no end to his fullness!  In Ephesians 4:13 he likewise says that one of the chief aims of ministry in the church is that they may “all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”.  Now – again – how is it possible that we should attain the measure and stature of the fullness of Christ in ourselves?  Such a thing is not possible, for in Christ “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19).

All of this points toward the truth of MacArthur’s insight: “He is being, we are becoming”. What does it mean for us to attain the fullness of God in ourselves?  It means that, in Christ, we are and will be in an eternal state of “becoming”, an eternal state of being filled with the fullness of God.  It means that it is our blessed heritage to pursue and experience the life of God, in all its beauty and wonder, in an ever-increasing measure forever and ever.  To pursue holiness, then, is nothing less than the continual and eternal pursuit of knowing God, being filled with life everlasting as we are conformed more and more to his likeness.

In conclusion, we need to ask the practical question: how can we do this?  How then can we pursue holiness?  The essence of this transformation in our lives lies in gazing upon God as revealed in his word.  2 Corinthians 3:18 puts this as clearly as you could hope: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  He is being, and we are becoming as we gaze upon him in his glory.  And so the heart of the psalmist’s desire is to do just that: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD” (Ps 27:4).  In this sense, we are transformed into the likeness of God’s holiness by gazing upon God in his holiness.

The other crucial aspect of this transformation lies in God’s response to our prayers.  If we are to become like God, it must be because God himself effects this change within us.  As Moses addressed the Lord, his prayer was: “Show me your glory” (Ex 33:18).  In Psalm 27:4, as the Psalmist sought to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, that very desire was expressed as a prayer: “One thing have I asked of the LORD” (Ps 27:4).  So then, as we seek to gaze upon the Lord, as he reveals himself to us in his word, and we “receive his words”, we must likewise “call out for insight and raise our voice for understanding… then we will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God” (Pr 2:1-5).

And so the question for each of us is: is this the mission of our lives?  Do we seek to know and see the Lord in the beauty of his holiness?  Do we seek to gaze upon him as he reveals himself to us in his word?  And, as we are sanctified by the word, we see also his glory in creation? (Ps 19:1).  Do we pray for God’s assistance and help in these things?  These things are of the essence in the pursuit of holiness, and the blessed reality is – they are not out of reach! “...he is not actually far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).  “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice… If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you” (Pr 1:20-23).

Soli Deo Gloria!