Foundational Passions

Session 2 – Part 2

The Pursuit of Holiness in Life and Ministry

We’re trying to find a lifestyle that, when we live it, satisfies a passion for the supremacy of God, a passion for joy, and now a passion for practical holiness.

3. Passion for Holiness

Why do we have a passion for holiness? First answer here: it’s the only pathway that leads to the twin goals of honoring and enjoying God forever. No holiness, no heaven. I’ll come back to that.

Practical Holiness

What do I mean by practical holiness? It’s a common word in the Bible. It’s not common in modern American language. What is holiness? I would say three things.

  1. It’s obedience to God’s word in everyday life. You can talk about it in terms of obedience.
  2. It’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit. You could talk about it that way.
  3. And, being very specific in words that people do understand, it is genuine love for other people.

Now, where do I get the notion that love is a good summary of holiness? And, I get it from this text. First Thessalonians 3:12–13 says,

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Now notice the logic: “May the Lord” — this is God’s doing — “cause you to increase and abound in love.” So that’s his prayer: “Lord, make this people a loving people.” Why? “So that he may establish [their] hearts in holiness.” I don’t know how else to make sense out of that, except to say that love is constitutive of holiness. One way to describe behavioral holiness on planet earth is: love each other. That’s a holy person. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. That starts to sound a little bit like holiness, doesn’t it?

You could talk about your life goal as, “I want to be a holy person,” and that would be a good, biblical way to talk. Or you could say, “I want to be a radically, biblically, thoroughly, loving person.” And that would be to say almost the same thing. There are different nuances for the words, but when I talk about practical holiness, think love if you don’t have anything else clear to think in your head.

Heavenward Holiness

Now here are the key texts to show that practical holiness is necessary for final salvation. And here we start to move into the theological difficulties of the underpinnings of living by faith in future grace, because a lot of people who believe in justification by faith alone, apart from works of the law, begin to get this wrong. And some, who begin to like this part — “Yeah, tell them holiness, and that they won’t go to heaven without it” — often get justification by faith wrong. We want to try to steer a biblical course through those truths.

  • Hebrews 12:14: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness [or sanctification] without which no one will see the Lord.” I think that means nobody goes to heaven if they’re not holy.

  • John 5:28: “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” That’s not a command; that’s a statement of promise. That’s holiness. You do good deeds, you’re going to rise to life. Do evil deeds, you’re going to rise to judgment.

  • Galatians 6:8: “The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” So corruption here is hell. That’s damnation. And then the next verse says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” That’s the meaning of sowing to the Spirit.

That’s really offensive teaching to a lot of people who love the doctrine, as I do, of justification by faith alone, apart from works of the law. But there it is, crystal clear, in Galatians 6:8–9: If you don’t grow weary and persevere in a life of holiness, you will reap eternal life. And if you give up and turn into an evil way, you will reap corruption.

  • James 2:17: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” So the faith that doesn’t work is useless.

  • 1 John 2:4: “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” You can talk all you want about knowing God and experiences you’re having with him, and if the commandments are broken, then you belie your profession.

  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13: “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

So there’s a road that leads to final salvation, and the name of the road is holiness. And there is no other road that leads there. “The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those” (Matthew 7:13–14).

  • Matthew 6:15. “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” I just take that as it stands. If you are an unforgiving person, if you hold onto grudges, you have not known Calvary love.

  • Romans 8:13: “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” This addressed to Christian’s. This is addressed to the church in Romans 8. He didn’t pause and say, “Now I have a word for the unbelievers at Rome.”

So, all those texts point to the truth that holiness, which is our third passion (and we want to know a lifestyle that satisfies a passion for God’s supremacy, a passion for joy, a passion for holiness), is necessary. This is passion is peripheral. This is a passion because it’s essential.

Is Grace Enough?

Here’s the problem raised by the necessity of holiness. If we’re justified once for all by grace, through faith, apart from works of the law, at the point of true conversion, then how can our final salvation be conditional upon a transformed life of holiness? That’s one of the most important questions in life and theology because you find both truths in the Bible. We are justified by grace, through faith, apart from works, at a point in time — not a process. And final salvation is conditional upon a transformed life of holiness. And my guess is that most of you do not need persuading that justification by grace through faith is a prominent important biblical doctrine, but here are a couple of texts:

  • Romans 3:28: “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

  • Romans 5:1: “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

  • Galatians 2:16: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Here is the solution given by the Westminster Confession of Faith, which I find to be unimpeachable. I don’t think there’s any fault that can be brought against this solution. At least I haven’t seen it yet. So let me give you the words of Westminster from three hundred years ago, and then put it in my words.

Those whom God effectually calls, he also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.

That’s beautiful and biblical, I think. So here’s my way of saying it: We are justified by faith alone, but that faith never remains alone. Therefore, justifying faith is always and inevitably accompanied by good works — not perfection, but a new direction.

So, the crucial question now is: Why does practical holiness, love, inevitably accompany justifying faith? That’s the question that for years and years I wrestled with, and that’s what I wrote Future Grace. I already knew that Westminster was right, but Westminster doesn’t explain why. Why does justifying faith always produce love? What’s the dynamic of faith that produces love? Living by faith in future grace is my effort, for my life first and then for yours, if it helps, to learn how to live out my justification in such a way that the faith that justifies, inevitably sanctifies, without becoming legalistic or undermining justification by faith alone.

How Faith Works

So here’s my preliminary answer. Faith itself is the agent of the works. Works do not merely accompany faith. They do not merely accompany — like, “Oh look, love turned up at the same time faith did. Isn’t that coincidental?” It’s not coincidental. They come through, or by, faith. Faith is the agent that produces the works, and it does so necessarily. Thus, the works are evidence of true faith and are not the means of our salvation the way faith is. They are the evidence that faith is real, and thus are necessary for final salvation.

You’ve got to have evidence at the last day. God is going to do publicly vindicated judgment of people. Good works are the evidence that faith is real, and thus necessary for final salvation, though not the ground of it, as the death and righteousness of Christ are, or the means of it, as faith is. You’ve got Christ’s blood and righteousness as the foundation of your acceptance with God. You have your appropriation of it by faith alone, so that it becomes justifying in your case. And, then you have fruit, or evidence, from that faith, which gives warrant to God’s not guilty at the last day.

God will be able to open his filing cabinet on your life and find just enough B minuses and C pluses of your behavior to give evidence to the universe you had a new nature. That’s all he needs. He doesn’t need perfection; he just needs enough evidence from your life so that there can be a public vindication of his declaration — not guilty — when, of course you’re guilty. But you’re not guilty when you’re clothed with the righteousness of Christ, with all of his blood covering your sin.

Good Works Evidence

I found this analogy helpful. I don’t know if it will help you. Do you remember the story of the two prostitutes that came to Solomon? Recall the story of the two harlots, who brought a baby to King Solomon. Each claiming that the baby was hers. They asked the king to act as judge between them. In his extraordinary wisdom, Solomon said that his sword should be brought and that the baby should be divided with half given to the one woman and half to the other. The true mother cried out, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death” (1 Kings 3:26). And Solomon said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother” (1 Kings 3:27).

Now how is that an analogy of the last judgment? Here’s what I see: What was Solomon looking for? He was not looking for a deed that would earn the child or would create a relationship that didn’t already exist. He was looking for a deed that would demonstrate what was already true — namely, that the child was truly this woman’s child by birth.

That’s the way God looks at our deeds on the judgment day. He’s not looking for deeds that purchase our pardon in his judgment hall. He’s not looking for deeds that prove. He is looking for deeds that prove we are already enjoying the fruits of our pardon. He’s looking for the practical evidences of our living by faith in future grace. The purchase of our salvation was the blood of Jesus, sufficient, once for all, to cover all our sins. We do not add to the worth of his atoning death or of his righteousness imputed to us by God, which we call justification. But the means by which we receive this gift is faith — being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. And that kind of faith frees us from lifelong slavery to fear of death and works through love. Therefore, faith is not only the means of justification; it is the agent of sanctification.

How then does faith do this great work of sanctification? Here’s my preliminary answer, and we’re going to flesh it out a lot tomorrow in practical instances: Faith severs the root of sin. How? Sin has power by deceptively promising a better tomorrow — or at least a better this evening — and a superior satisfaction. But faith in future grace is of such a nature that it breaks the power of that deception. It severs the root of sin by embracing a better future and providing a deeper satisfaction. What God offers in his future grace — namely, all that he is for us in Jesus — is the deeper satisfaction and the better future. When you live by faith in future grace, the power of sin is broken by the power and promise of a superior satisfaction. That’s a summary answer to how it works. And, the rest of this course is to flesh it out.

What Kind of Life?

Let me close this first unit with this summary. We have discussed three passions:

  1. passion for the supremacy of God,
  2. passion for joy, and
  3. passion for holiness.

What life will do it? What kind of life will magnify the supremacy of God most? What kind of life will forever satisfy the deepest longings of our souls? What kind of life will produce a practical holiness that is necessary for final salvation, but do it in such a way that our justification is still by grace alone, through faith alone, based on Christ’s death and imputed righteousness alone? And the answer I’m arguing is: living by faith in future grace.