“God does not require a perfect, sinless life to have fellowship with Him, but He does require that we be serious about holiness, that we grieve over sin in our lives instead of justifying it, and that we earnestly pursue holiness as a way of life.” (Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, 40-41)
I have been teaching recently through 2Corinthians in my leadership training class, and as I studied through and shared a lesson on 2Cor 6:14-7:1—a passage which marches determinedly toward the goal of “perfecting holiness”—I was inspired once again to read this amazing book by Jerry Bridges. While I haven’t yet “perfected holiness,” I do feel that I’ve been in hotter pursuit of holiness since having first read this book ten years ago. In fact, I recently came across some notes I had written about The Pursuit of Holiness back in September, 2006, and the following are three conclusions I had made:
1) I am angry with myself when I read this book. It seems that within just four minutes of cracking into any new book on Christian living, I gain that eternal perspective which is ever-important and which makes me that “new man.” I recognize my failings and I commit once again to living a holy life for the glory of God. And of course, these changes aren’t what anger me. It’s not because I can change so easily, but rather that it’s so easy to see I need change. Why didn’t I see this yesterday in the middle of my sin? or last week? or last month? Why did I wait so long to crave holiness, to pick up this book on holiness, when in the back of my heart, I knew that holiness is precisely what I needed?
2) My attitude toward sin has always been self-centered instead of God-centered. I know that what I do is wrong, but that’s about where it ends for me. I don’t dwell enough on the fact that my sin is sin, because it goes against a holy God. Bridges writes: “We never see sin aright until we see it as against God…all sin is against God in this sense: that it is His law that is broken, His authority that is despised, His government that is set at naught…Pharaoh, Balaam, Saul, and Judas each said, ‘I have sinned’; but the returning prodigal said, ‘I have sinned against Heaven and before thee’; and David said, ‘Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned.'” (Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, 20-21)
3) I have misunderstood “living by faith.” I find myself praying, “Lord, please help me…” and yet for the most part, I’m thinking “Lord, please make me…” This places the responsibility for my actions on God’s shoulders, and therefore (in a sense) giving Him the blame when I fail.
Now a decade later and having read the book once more, I realize that I’ve matured in some areas, yet still have a long way to go in many others. For example, I need constant reminders about my active responsibility in sanctification. When 2Cor 6:14-7:1 speaks of “bringing holiness to completion” or “perfecting holiness,” it describes my active role in my own sanctification. Even before I returned to this book, I found myself phrasing this responsibility as “pursuing holiness.” This is precisely the problem I had (and continue to have) with the “Lord, help me…” prayer, for I put too much of the responsibility on God (what Jay Adams calls the “pious copout”). Now I understand that whereas He gives me the strength to pursue holiness, the pursuit itself is still my own responsibility. If I need to read this book annually to get my mind reoriented again and again, I will.
The following are three other areas of my own personal weakness that have resurfaced as a result of having read this book a second time. I hope that by merely giving consent to these problems here, I don’t convince myself that I’ve therefor taken care of them! I hope this is just one more step towards actual obedience.
First, Bridges has helped me regain the proper perspective in the realm of anticipating “eventual holiness.” I have often come to the point, for example, where I tell myself, “All right, I’m now in my thirties…” or “I’m now a father…” or “I’m a long-time husband…so holiness will be completed soon enough.” Of course, holiness is not something that just happens. Holiness is something that must absolutely be pursued! Holiness is a choice that I have to make—every day, and many times a day—for simply falling back upon my natural inclinations and waiting for holiness to arrive will instead prove how unholy I really am. The Scriptures are filled with active imperatives: “Put off the old man and put on the new,” “be holy for I am holy,” “cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded,” among many others. I cannot attain holiness with my own efforts alone, but I also cannot attain holiness with without any effort at all. This sanctification is a mutual, God-and-me work: He demands it of me while also enabling me to accomplish it.
Second, I have come to understand—through my long relationship with sin—that unchallenged weakness in one area both signifies and enhances weaknesses in other areas. Conversely, when I begin to purposefully attack a weak area in my life, I can find it much easier to deal with other weaknesses elsewhere. For example, when I find myself in a heavy struggle with lust, I notice that I’ve also ignored maintaining my body weight, or that my fuse is much shorter than it should be, or my sleep pattern is off, because I’ve chosen to watch TV until midnight every night that week. Excessive weakness in one area evidences an overall failure to experience the fruit of the Spirit in my life. Conversely, when I begin to attack my overeating because I’ve seen it as sinful, I find that I’m also much more prepared to battle lustful thoughts or to deny myself that second look. I find my patience level rises a bit, or my ability to say “No” to television has suddenly become easy-peasy. This intertwining or inclinations and this supportive nature of battling sin were points clearly made my Bridges throughout his book:
The habit of always giving in to the desire for food or drink will extend to other areas. If we cannot say no to an indulgent appetite, we will be hard pressed to say no to lustful thoughts…As we become soft and lazy in our bodies, we tend to become soft and lazy spiritually. (113)
Diligence in all areas is required to insure success in one area. [John] Owen said, ‘Without a sincere and diligent effort in every area of obedience, there will be no successful mortification of any one besetting sin.’ We may feel that particular habit ‘isn’t too bad,’ but continually giving in to that habit weakens our wills against the onslaughts of temptation from other directions. This is the reason, for example, that it is so important for us to develop habits of self-control over our physical appetites. We may think indulging these appetites isn’t so bad, but such indulgences weaken our will in every other respect of our lives. (136)
Third, as I noted above, giving mere consent to a lesson taught in Scripture is not the same thing as obedience. I could read and believe and long for every lesson expounded in this book, but unless I actually act on it, it’s useless to me.
We somehow feel that consent to the teaching of Scripture is equivalent to obedience. We may hear a point of application in a sermon, or perhaps discover it in our own personal Bible reading or study. We say, ‘Yes that is true; that is something I need to act on.’ But we let it drop at that point. James says when we do that, we deceive ourselves. (75)
The Pursuit of Holiness is an absolutely fantastic and helpful little book that should become an annual favorite for every Christian. Having read Bridges before, a man who likes to given many an illustration from his own Christian walk of failures and success, I know that he’s the genuine article. His Chapter 12 in this book seemed to me like a rough draft for his superb book, Respectable Sins, and his constant references to John Owen’s Temptation and Sin reminded me often of another fantastic book on sin and holiness, The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard. I highly recommend any and all of these books to anyone who wants to get serious about turning from a life of sin and genuinely pursuing holiness.