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Holiness for the Church That Is Too Ridiculous

Are you frustrated by the pursuit of holiness? Does it seem like an impossible task? You’re not alone.

Pretend with me that you are seated in a church sanctuary. Now, look around the room at the people nearby. What kind of people do you see?*

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In my imaginary church, I see

  • A frazzled mom impatiently SHUSHING her kids in the sanctuary.
  • A moody husband who rolled his eyes and belittled his wife yet again with sarcasm.
  • An energy-drained single mom trying to make ends meet on her own because her husband is a good for nothing.
  • A married couple who live side by side in cool indifference.
  • A heartbroken woman who dulls the pain of her husband’s unfaithfulness by excessive spending and endless Botox.
  • A guy whose pornography addiction has devastated his wife, leaving her fighting depression and overbearing guilt.
  • A ministry couple who came to church fighting and will continue the argument after the morning worship service.
  • The bitter woman who proudly carries a chip on her shoulder like it’s a victim badge.

On any typical Sunday, in any given church, you’ll find pews full of sinners. (If you find a church that’s perfect, let me know!)

We’re all ridiculous in our own ways. And still the command rings in our ears:  “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” I almost want to snicker, Are you kidding me? Holiness seems about as likely as lassoing the moon.

But the command remains. What’s a raggle-taggle church full of ridiculous sinners supposed to do with this command?

Be Holy. Set apart. Consecrated unto God. Single-minded. Obedient.

First, humble ourselves. Stop thinking we can do this alone.

Then, draw near to God and claim, yet again, His enabling grace.

Grace motivates us to keep on going. Kinda like when you taught your kid to ride a bike, and they tipped, and fell, and failed. You kept cheering them on, and holding the back of the bike for them, running alongside, never leaving them for a minute, telling them that they could do this thing. You encouraged them toward a goal, but their lack of fear and confidence in your good will toward them motivated them to try, try again, keep peddling, keep getting up, even when they are unbalanced, wobbly, scared and have never done it right before.

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It’s the same with Grace. If we feared getting the proverbial ax every time we mess up, we wouldn’t even try. But grace leads us, nurtures us, teaches us in love and keeps encouraging us in the right direction. The same grace that saved us keeps us and teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live sensibly, upright, and godly lives in this present life. (see Titus 2:11,12)

God’s grace does not stop when you’ve failed. It pulls you back, spurns you onward and helps you to see big picture. Many people tell you that when you fail, you should look upward. Of course they mean that you should look upward to God and from your circumstances, and I know what they mean.

But I believe that God’s grace teaches you to look downward. God’s grace teaches us to see things with an eternal perspective. We start at heaven and look down, and all of the things we thought were so big actually pale in comparison to eternity and spiritual treasure.

If you have legalistic tendencies, grace alone may disturb you. So, lest you misunderstand, and think that I am encouraging recklessness and lawlessness, a caveat:  a focus on God’s grace that ends in disregard for God’s laws is not grace at all, but licentiousness.

“Legalism makes believers think that God accepts them on the basis of what they do. Licentiousness makes believers think that God does not care what they do. Both errors have terrible consequences. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Grace should not make obedience optional. When God removes good works as a condition for His acceptence he does not remove righteousness as a requirement for life. The standards of scripture glorify God and protect His people from harm.

Resting on God’s grace does not relieve us of our holy obligations; rather it should enable us to fulfill them.

Bryan Chapell, Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy That Is Our Strength

Grace-living that relies on God to help us live in ways that please Him produces fruit that looks like Him.

  • Selfishness takes a back seat as you live for others and God’s glory.
  • True ministry to others can take place as your heart is purified and base motives removed.
  • Closeness to God occurs as pride falls away and humility is embraced.
  • Your love for others is seen more clearly as you truly learn to love and obey the Lord.
  • Your reasonableness is known to all men.
  • You fulfill your call to be “holy and blameless BEFORE HIM.” Eph. 1:4

Martin Luther, the once Catholic priest turned reformer, when he realized that good works and law keeping could not save you, but faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone, encouraged us to drop what we once considered our spiritual “trophies.” These words should encourage you to stop attempting holiness for the wrong reasons. God does not owe us anything because of our feeble attempts at holiness. He loves us and desires us to be holy and spurns us onward with His power.

Martin Luther, from The Sum of the Christian Life:

It will be exceedingly difficult to get into another habit of thinking in which we clearly separate faith and [Works of] love … even though we are now in faith… the heart is always ready to boast of itself before God and say:  After all, I have preached so long and lived so well and done so much, surely he will take this into account… But it cannot be done. 

With men you may boast:  I have done the best I could toward everyone, and if anything is lacking I will still try to make recompense.  But when you come before God, leave all that boasting at home and remember to appeal from justice to grace.

Let anybody try this and he will see and experience how exceedingly hard and bitter a thing it is for a man, who all his life has been mired in his work righteousness, to pull himself out of it and with all his heart rise up through faith in this one Mediator.  I myself have now been preaching and cultivating it through reading and writing for almost twenty years and still I feel the old clinging dirt of wanting to deal so with God that I may contribute something, so that he will have to give me his grace in exchange for my holiness.  And still I cannot get it into my head that I should surrender myself completely to sheer grace;  yet this is what I should and must do.  The mercy seat alone must prevail and remain, because he himself has established it;  otherwise no man can come before God. 

Are you depending on God’s grace today to give you the power to change, or are you running on empty/exhausted from trying to live the try-hard life for yet another day? You can’t do this on your own. You need enabling power. Plan to sit with the Lord today and ask Him to open your eyes to your need and His all sufficient resource, GRACE.

*This exercise, adapted and personalized from Bryan Chapell’s Holiness By Grace.