Rev. Al Baker: the process towards holiness…
FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS by the Rev. Al Baker
volume 11, number 28, July 12, 2012
That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, Philippians 3:10.
The Process toward Holiness
Pardon the Alabama football illustration, especially if you are not at all interested in football or you have another team you follow; but Nick Saban, the football coach at Alabama, has much to teach us concerning the process of growing in Biblical holiness. He said in a USA Today article prior to his first national championship at Alabama, “I’m not result oriented. I’m more process oriented. So every day I’m thinking about what we have to do to continue to get better. Once you accomplish one thing, you’ve got to get to the next one.”1 By this he means each and every day—in pre-season workouts, in the weight room, and on the field, during the season in practice and game preparation, winning is the result of hard work long before the game begins. If you know anything about his work ethic, which is legendary, he works intensely and he expects the same from his assistant coaches and players.
If a football coach can put this kind of time and effort into football which is merely an amusement on the Christian’s way to heaven, then should we not show the same zeal, hard work, and commitment to the process of Biblical holiness! When I read of Saban and other coaches like him, getting to their offices at 5 a.m. or staying up all night editing film of an opponent, and then I hear of Christians who cannot get out of bed early enough to meet with God before work, then I have to wonder if they are serious about Biblical holiness. Can a disciple of Christ be charged with anything more heinous than laziness in the pursuit of the Holy One! I am not being legalistic, as some may charge me. The Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to discipline himself for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7), and the Greek word for discipline gives us our word gymnasium. And what do you do in a gymnasium? You sweat. You strain your body for the physical benefits that will come from the intense effort. And Paul tells us that his all-consuming desire was to know Christ, to know the power of His resurrection in his own life, to suffer gladly for the cause of Christ. To this end he would press on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. It was all about the process for Paul.
The process toward holiness is the issue. The fruit of holiness, of true growth in godly character, will follow supernaturally as the Holy Spirit takes the situations of your life, coupled with your pursuit of the Holy One, to bring about the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23); to build through tribulation perseverance, proven character, hope, and the love of God (Romans 5:4-5); adding to your faith moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, brotherly kindness, and Christian love (2 Peter 1:5-7).
And why is the process toward holiness so vital? The writer to the Hebrews says that without holiness or sanctification no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). A Christian will make progress in gospel holiness. His life will change. He will see improvement in overcoming the sin which so easily entangles us all (Hebrews 12:1-2). That’s because he has been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3-4). That’s because he has the indwelling Holy Spirit who applies the holiness of Jesus to our lives, enabling us to keep the commandments of God (Ezekiel 36:27, 2 Peter 1:3-4, 1 Corinthians 1:30). Will the Christian reach perfection in this life? Of course not, for Paul says that the very thing he does not want to do, he does, and when he does that which he does not want to do, he realizes it is no longer him doing it, but sin that indwells him (Romans 7:19-20). There’s another reason for the pursuit of Biblical holiness. Using another sports analogy, we must remember that the Christian life is not a 100 meter dash, rather it is more like a marathon, a 26.2 mile endurance race (Hebrews 12:1-2). To run a marathon one must put in long hours on trails or roads. Without the process the runner will surely fail to complete the race. Consistent preparation will yield a successful race. Without the discipline of practical and principled obedience in the pursuit of the Holy One, you will stumble to the finish line of your life, or you will not reach it at all. You will encounter much unnecessary pain along the way. And without gospel holiness you will lack power or efficacy in your ministry. Paul told the Thessalonians that they received the word of God, not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God which also performs its work in those who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13). He writes earlier, reminding them that he came to them devoutly, uprightly, and blamelessly; that he gave his very life to them because they were dear to him, that he willingly suffered hardship and rejection so that the gospel may be formed in them (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12). God is looking to and fro throughout the earth, desiring to bless, to strongly support those whose heart is completely His (2 Chronicles 16:9).
So, what is the process of Biblical holiness? Get out of bed in the morning and seek God like your life depends upon it! Consider a few simple exercises. Avail yourself the public means of grace—go to a gospel preaching church and partake regularly of the preached word and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Go to Jesus when you hear the word preached, as it humbles you, showing you your sin; and go to Jesus in the Lord’s Supper and feed on Him for His holiness. The preaching of God’s word in the power of the Spirit works holiness in your life and the word comes to your heart through your mind, affecting your will. Avail yourself of the private means of grace—meet regularly with God. Saturate your mind and heart with the study, reading, memorization, and meditation on the word of God. Learn to pray in a revival manner. I have in mind gaining an intolerable burden for God’s glory, driving you to pray earnestly for the outpouring of God’s Spirit on your church, community, nation, and world. And if you are a husband or father, read God’s word to your wife and children daily, praying with and for them, asking God to perfect holiness in your family. It is all about the process. The end result, growing in holiness, will come in due time. And it is within this context that you confess your sin regularly, running back to Jesus in repentance and faith, calling upon Him for His holiness. You cannot produce this through your own efforts. Gritting your teeth and trying harder will not work; but as you walk in faith, believing all that Christ has done, is doing, and will do in your life, then the Holy Spirit will work a growing, progressive likeness to Christ in your thoughts, words, actions, and attitudes.