The pursuit of holiness is a dangerous thing.
It is an absolutely essential pursuit of the Christian life, and yet it is attended by dangers on all sides: perfectionism, spiritual pride, defeat and dejection, pharisaism and legalism are some of the extremely perilous potential byproducts of the pursuit of holiness. All this to say that it is utterly crucial to find reliable guides who can teach us how to go about this pursuit in reliance on grace, focused on the cross, rooted in joy, sustained by God’s pleasure, supported in discipline, and drenched in the gospel.
Jerry Bridges may be the finest guide to such a pursuit that I have ever encountered. His brief work, The Pursuit of Holiness, is a modern classic and its status as such is very well deserved. This book and its closely related companion (see Part 3 tomorrow) have found their way into the class of the most important books I have ever read, and will be permanent fixtures in discipleship programs I initiate.
A few important excerpts:
It is the Holy Spirit who differentiates Christianity from morality, from legalism and false Puritanism. But our reliance on the Spirit is not intended to foster an attitude of ‘I can’t do it,’ but one of ‘I can do it through Him who strengthens me.’ The Christian should never complain of [a lack] of ability and power. If we sin, it is because we choose to sin, not because we lack the ability to say no to temptation. It is time for Christians to face up to our responsibility for holiness. Too often we say we are ‘defeated’ by this or that sin. No, we are not defeated; we are simply disobedient! …When I say I am defeated by some sin, I am unconsciously slipping out from under my responsibility. I am saying something outside of me has defeated me” (80).
“‘Make it your aim not to sin.’ As I thought about this, I realized that deep within my heart my real aim was not to sin very much. I found it difficult to say, ‘Yes, Lord, from here on I will make it my aim not to sin'” (92-3).
“Because we do not have a firm conviction that ‘without holiness no one will see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14), we do not seriously pursue holiness as a priority in our lives” (142).
At 142 pages (with large, double-spaced font), you could probably start this one after church on Sunday and get close to finishing it before bed, though you most likely won’t because throughout you will feel the need to come to God for forgiveness and fresh determination for your own pursuit of holiness. Highly recommended for everyone.