I ran into a post authored by an Anglican Priest (Dale Appleby) that deals with the paradox of sanctification that really encapsulates, for me, the Biblical reality of what I call the “Paradox of Holiness” and I would encourage you to read through it here in it’s entirety. It’s not very long.
There is nothing in his post that I disagree with, but there are a couple of statements that really caught my eye and I will quote them here:
“There is no evidence in the New Testament that the gift of a holy status lets us off from being holy in practice. (See 2 Timothy 2:20,21). Indeed a holy character will be looked for in those who hope for heaven.”
“So we need to be clear both about our status as holy people, and about the means by which we are to live holy lives. It is not any technique, pattern of life, habit, program or set of rules, be they evangelical or otherwise. The only way to live a holy life is to submit to the rule of the Holy Spirit who is present in our lives. This is another way of saying that we live by faith in the Son of God (Gal 2.20). We not only trust him for salvation and holy status, but also trust his Spirit as the one who can direct our lives in a way that pleases God.
Holiness in practice is not merely the absence of sin, but rather the presence of godliness. It is the presence of the holy character of God, flowing forth from us, and affecting those we live amongst. It is like salt, like light, it purifies, and exposes, and is opposed. It is a powerful thing. This power of holiness only comes from people who are humbly submitted to doing the will of the Holy Spirit within them. It is a moment by moment reliance on the direction of the Spirit of Jesus and obedience to the word of Jesus.”
I took the liberty of highlighting a couple of sentences in bold because I wish to look further into what Dale says.
In particular, the part where he states that “holiness in practice is not merely the absence of sin, but rather the presence of godliness“.
I’m sure that many of us have encountered those who continually advocate the necessity of the absence of sin within our lives. And there obviously is nothing wrong in doing this, but as Dale points out, that is only one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is demonstrating or practicing the presence of godliness, which to me, advocates practicing the character of God, which also includes mercy, justice, forgiveness and God’s love. As I read through God’s Word, I see more than ample demonstrations of God’s benevolent character, where a balance is maintained between justice and mercy. The problem being, in far too many cases, from what I have witnessed, where the absence of sin is being advocated, there is a noted deficiency on the other attributes of God.
Psalm 85:10 comes to mind: “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
I can’t help but think that the “balance” is critical and when we focus on one aspect but neglect the other, we diminish the complete picture. And I think that Jesus personified this “balance”.
I also believe that the reality of continually “walking in the spirit” is something that we never fully attain, because we still do walk in these earthly sinful bodies. And I also think that the Apostle Paul speaks of this when he says in Philippians 3:12-16 NASB:
“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.”
I like how Paul summarizes this reality by saying that he “presses on”, continually striving to be ever more conformed to the image of Christ being formed in him, moving forward and not backward.
And I think that what Paul says, ties in with what the writer of Hebrews says.
Hebrews 10:14 NIV states: “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
I chose this translation, which can also be stated as being sanctified in other translations.
First, the position of believers before God is that we are perfect. God has forgiven all of our sins through Christ’s sacrifice, and He has imputed Christ’s perfect righteousness to us. These facts are the basis of our standing before God.
Second, the practice of believers is that we are being sanctified. We are to grow in holiness in thought, word and deed. The position is granted instantly at the moment of saving faith. The practice is worked out over a lifetime of growth in obedience. If there is no growth in holiness, there is reason to question whether the person has been perfected in his/her position through faith in Christ.
The practical aspect of being sanctified has always been difficult because it indeed does involve our thoughts, which includes our motives, words and deeds. I don’t presume to thoroughly understand all of the intricate workings of this process.
I do presume that much of what we do, in how we interact with others, be they friend or foe, is relatively low key. This is where things like our motives, kindness and gentleness obviously come into play. Conversely, on the other hand, I have seen and experienced times when God’s Holy Spirit empowers us to do things that clearly are beyond ourselves. I find these relatively rare but they are indeed inspiring, to experience what God can do through us, when He so choses to move in us, through His Holy Spirit. Indeed, as Jesus said, with God, all things are possible.
I’d be interested in your comments or feedback if you can spare me the time.
Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!