“Pursue holiness…without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
“The pursuit of holiness must be anchored in the grace of God, otherwise it is doomed to failure.”
“There is no higher compliment that can be paid to a Christian than to call him a godly person. He might be a conscientious parent, a zealous church worker, a dynamic spokesman for Christ, or a talented Christian leader; but none of these things matters if, at the same time, he is not a godly person.”
Author, teacher, and speaker Jerry Bridges (1929 – 2016) served in ministry with the evangelistic organization The Navigators for over 50 years before he passed away in 2016. He authored about 20 books, the first and one of his best-known being The Pursuit of Holiness, published in 1978. I read this book many years ago, but my church has just started going through it in our men’s and ladies’ monthly breakfasts, so I am looking forward to reading it again. In The Pursuit of Holiness, Bridges talks about the importance of striving after holiness in obedience to God (“Be holy, for I am holy, says the Lord.”), that we are to be making the effort to not be in conformity to this world, and to be putting off the old self and putting on the new (Eph. 4:22-24). This is not something that is just done once when we are first saved; it is ongoing throughout our lives. Bridges suggest three main reasons that Christians struggle with what it means to be holy and why it is so important:
- Our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered.
- We have a misunderstanding of what it means to “live by faith.”
- There is some sin that we don’t identify as sin and/or don’t take seriously. (For more on this, I highly recommend Bridges book Respectable Sins)
I recently reread The Practice of Godliness, the companion book that followed The Pursuit of Holiness about 5 years later, and found it very profitable, helpful, and convicting. Bridges explains at the beginning of the book that the process of sanctifying, which begins at regeneration, is initiated and carried out by God the Holy Spirit. He gives this helpful definition of sanctification:
Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us whereby our inner being is progressively changed, freeing us more and more from sinful traits and developing within us over time the virtues of Christlike character.
God has given us everything we need for godliness, but it is something that the believer must consciously pursue and discipline himself to. While we know that we will not achieve perfect godliness and sinlessness while we are in this life, we are in training, being prepared for life in the eternal state, when we will be glorified and perfected. Bridges says that godliness is not just behavior but starts in the heart and mind; “it conveys the idea of a personal attitude toward God (devotion to God) that results in actions that are pleasing to Him.” Devotion isn’t just a romantic feeling – it results in action. This is true about one’s devotion to his/her spouse or children, and so it is with our devotion to God. The truly godly person has his mind and attitude always focused on God. This is what distinguishes a godly man from merely a moral man. Bridges suggests that this attitude or devotion comprises the fear of God, the love of God, and the desire for God.
Godliness does not just magically appear or develop. It requires a commitment, a constant, mindful effort, and practice. It’s like an athlete who is training to compete, or a soldier who is training for battle – both metaphors which the apostle Paul uses. In order to grow in our devotion to God and walk closer to Him, the Word of God is vital – hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on it. All of these require a conscious effort and discipline. Other disciplines that will help us deepen our devotion to God include prayer and worship. These cause our hearts and minds to turn to and focus on God, His attributes and works, and our dependence on Him. Godliness involves God-centeredness and Godlikeness. Bridges says, “The practice of godliness is both the practice of devotion to God and the practice of a lifestyle that is pleasing to God and reflects His character.”
Before he moves on to look at specific traits of godliness, Bridges identifies six principles of godliness:
- “Devotion to God is the only acceptable motive for actions that are pleasing to God.
- The power or enablement for a godly life comes from the risen Christ.
- Though the power for godly character comes from Christ, the responsibility for developing and displaying that character is ours.
- The development of godly character entails both putting off and putting on character traits.
- We are to pursue growth in all of the graces that are considered the fruit of the Spirit.
- Growth in all areas is progressive and never finished.”
What we are (our character) and what we do (our conduct) are very closely connected. Bridges writes,
Since conduct determines character, and character determines conduct, it is vitally important – extremely necessary – that we practice godliness every day…Every day that we are not practicing godliness we are being conformed to the world of ungodliness around us.
Bridges often emphasizes that there is a balance between the fact that we are utterly dependent upon God for our sanctification, but at the same time, we are responsible for consciously and intentionally pursuing godliness and applying ourselves diligently towards living it out. A saying that you are probably familiar with and may have seen on a bumper sticker is: “Let Go and Let God.” But this is not solid, biblical advise. Instead Bridges says, “The pursuit of holiness is a joint venture between God and the Christian. No one can attain any degree of holiness without God working in his life, but just as surely no one will attain it without effort on his own part.”
He also reminds us that this is a life-long journey and that while perfection and holiness are the goals we strive towards, we will never fully achieve it until after this life is over.
The remaining chapters touch on 12 godly characteristics that are a reflection of God and are pleasing to Him, and thus should define the life of each believer and follower of Christ. The first few deal more with our relationship with and attitude towards God, such as humility, contentment, and thankfulness. Humility, for example, may seem to have to do with how a person views others in comparison with himself, but it really begins with a right view of God and His majesty, and seeing ourselves in light of that. We cannot begin to be humble before others until we are humble before God. Contentment has to do with accepting cheerfully our situation as coming from the wise hand of God. Using Eve’s response to the serpent as an example, Bridges points out that discontent is essentially “a questioning of the goodness of God.” The majority of the remaining character traits correspond to the fruits of the Spirit such as love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness and self-control. Bridges ends each chapter with some practical applications and steps to take towards cultivating and developing the trait discussed, along with scripture verses to put to memory. I am sure each reader will find certain chapters more challenging, thought-provoking and convicting than others, as I certainly did. But this is not meant to be a checklist of character traits to work on one at a time until it is perfected, and then to move on to the next one on the list. Bridges says,
God is in the process of preparing us for heaven, to dwell with him for eternity. So He desires that we grow in both holiness and godliness. He wants us to be like Him and to reverence and adore Him for all eternity. We must be learning to do this now.
Pursuing holiness and striving to be more godly is not easy, but both are commanded and necessary, not optional for the follower of Christ. As we come to understand more about the holiness of God and what He has done for us, and our devotion to Him grows, this will not be a drudgery but a joy. Thankfully we are not left to this battle alone. Christ has done the “heavy-lifting” and lived a perfect life of holiness on our behalf, then He gave us the Helper, The Holy Spirit, and provided His Word and the other Means of Grace to help us in our progress until we are glorified and made perfectly holy for eternity.
(Note: Both of these books are on my list of non-fiction works I believe every Christian should read.)
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