The Pursuit of Holiness
By Jerry Bridges
God’s attributes often are given consideration by us when they are answers to a catechism question or when one is considering the deep doctrines of who God is. But have you taken time to consider what an attribute of God means to you as a child of God? God’s attribute of his sovereignty is one that easily comes to mind and that affects us in our everyday lives. He rules over all aspects of our life and brings about all things according to His plan. What about his holiness? How does his holiness affect your life and your thoughts? Jerry Bridges, in his book, The Pursuit of Holiness, looks at the holiness of God and our calling to pursue a life of holiness. He grounds our calling to live a holy life on the attribute of God that is his holiness. He does not stop there but continues to demonstrate in very practical ways how the calling to pursue a life of holiness calls us to examine every aspect of our life to live in obedience to God.
The author correctly begins the book by showing that God is holy. Revelation 4:8 has the four beasts proclaiming God’s holiness by saying “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” The author describes what that means when he says, “He has perfect knowledge of what is right… perfect freedom from all evil… and he is in perfect conformity to his own divine character” (pp. 22–23). After having established that God is holy in his being and his works, the author goes on to show from Scripture that if God is holy, then his people are set apart and he sanctifies them to be holy.
The author then brings us to the next step of his argument. Being called holy or set apart, God’s people must also live a life of holiness. They are called to be holy as he is holy. “Be ye holy; for I am holy”(1 Peter 1:16). God is holy; he has consecrated his people, set them apart for a special work, and calls them to a life of holiness.
Having established the foundation of our holiness and the call to be holy, Bridges begins a thorough review of how this is worked out in our lives. “Holiness… is… conformity to the character of God and obedience to the will of God” (p. 68). Our hearts, minds, and bodies must serve Christ. We must strive, struggle, and fight our nature to conform our lives to the will of God and be in obedience to His will. This pursuit of holiness is a battle. It is a very real battle, as Paul says in Gal 5:17 and Romans 7, of the new man in Christ against the old man of sin in our experience. The author is at pains to point out that this is not a battle that we fight on our own, in our own strength, or that God merely lends us a helping hand along the way. Rather, God has made us free in Christ and lives in us; and in him we live and move and have our being. He has called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light, and in that light we live and are enabled to fight. On page 52 Bridges says “our dying to sin is not something we do, but something Christ has done.”
Bridges uses a metaphor to compare us to a slave. We were once slaves to sin, but are now called to live as free men to obey and glorify God. In that metaphor one could not say to the slave, “Live as a free man!” He isn’t free, and therefore he cannot live as though he were free. You can say, however, to a man who has been freed from slavery, “Now, go live as a free man.” In Christ we are freed from the bondage to sin and have the victory. We are commanded, “Now, go live a holy life!” We are called to struggle and fight to expend energy to conform to him. We must consider in what we desire, what we think, and how we act that Christ can be seen in us, that we are obedient to His will.
The author provides some practical ways to break the habits of sin. First, we must understand that sin habits are created by repeatedly breaking God’s law, so through the power of the Spirit we must say “No”. Second, never let an exception occur. Third, be diligent in all areas of obedience or else weakening resolve in one area will cause weakness in other areas. Finally, don’t be discouraged when you do fail. Continue to fight! Perfection in holiness is not attainable while on this earth.
God has provided tools for growth in holiness. God has given the gift of discipline in our lives. Paul speaks of using discipline as athletes do in our Christian walk. Our lives must be characterized by discipline in God’s word. God’s word is strong; it is the sword of the Spirit. Read it regularly. Memorize it regularly. Meditate on the word regularly. Apply it to your life regularly. Persevere.
This book, The Pursuit of Holiness, is recommended by this reviewer for its God-honoring presentation of God’s holiness as the foundation for his call to his people to pursue a life of holiness, which is possible only through the power of the Holy Spirit, given in his grace. Occasionally, some words or phrases used by the author cause one who is tuned to the meaning of the words choice and responsibility in Reformed theology to look a little closer as to what the author means by their use. But throughout the book we read portions that clearly set forth the distinctives of God’s sovereignty in salvation and sanctification. A couple of examples will suffice. On page 31 Bridges poses the question, “Does our salvation… depend to some degree on our attaining some level of personal holiness?” He answers, “Christians can never in themselves merit salvation through their personal holiness.” On page 52 …”it is apparent that our dying to sin is not something we do, but something that Christ has done, the value of which accrues to all who are united with him.” Bridges maintains God’s sovereignty in God’s work of salvation in us.
The book closes with the fitting subject of the joy of holiness. When God’s people live in obedience to God, they experience joy. There is joy while living here on this earth and everlasting joy in glory when Christ says at the last day, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
Pray for strength to pursue holiness in your life!