Why Extremes Do Harm
The “no-holiness-now” advocates, be they Puritanical or antinomian, are united in the belief that holiness on earth is not for today. (Antinomian—the view that Christians are released by grace from the obligation of observing the moral law)
Listen to this quote from the “high-church” side: “We really are new creations in Christ. A real, fundamental change has occurred in the depths of our beings. The Holy Spirit has come to dwell within us, and we have been freed from the dominion of sin. BUT DESPITE THIS WE STILL SIN EVERYDAY, MANY TIMES A DAY (Emphasis added). Alongside this were “pages” touting the power of the gospel, but then this disclaimer. Is it my imagination or is this illogical, double-speak? “Freed from the dominion of sin,” but we are bound to sin every day?
To be fair, a new breed of thinking is emerging. It seems to me that many from the frozen-chosen side are moving from a “Sinai-based” message to a more “grace-based” outlook. But strongly held viewpoints die hard. Even in the preponderance of “grace-talk” you find statements like, “The best deeds a man will ever do have enough sin interwoven in them to send the entire world to hell!” If this is the best that the gospel has to offer, is there really victory in Christ? From where I sit, this is a valid question.
To be honest, experience as well as observation resonates with the “no-holiness-now” outlook. Looking back on a host of failures, this seems plausible. But if there is no hope for a pure heart while breathing, then why even try? Also if you need a theological degree from Oxford to understand the explanation, then most of us don’t stand a chance!
The extreme Antinomian view of “grace” is sheer lawlessness. This view teaches that Grace has got us covered so we are free to do anything that we desire. Since we are “no longer under law” but “under grace”, then it’s party time. Years ago a preacher told me a prostitute could get saved and NEVER change her profession! I am not making this up—this “grace knows no boundaries” is a widely held viewpoint. Of course this flies in the face of Titus that states “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present evil world” (2:11-12).
Be it Puritanical or “no-purity-at-all”, both downplay personal holiness. One states that we should make efforts for what is impossible while the other relieves us from the burden altogether. Both seem to be more at home with “sinful imperfection” than the prospect of a pure heart. Don’t worry; my direction here is not espousing “sinless perfection.” Most Christians would be happy just to get to the point where they are more surprised by Defeat than by Victory!
At issue here are not only the grosser, but also the more “refined sins” such as pride, resentment, discontent, irritability, and ingratitude. Who has not dealt with these? And a host of other worship disorders?
Just about everyone agrees we must deal with the flesh. Scripture clearly states we are not “in the flesh”, but the flesh is still in us. Believers have a new heart and a new nature (2 Pet. 1:4). The new nature is the “new you.” Your “old man” was (past tense) “crucified with Christ.” The new you is the real you because you are “not in the flesh”, but “in the Spirit” (Rom. 8:9). Attempting to have a pure heart and life in our own strength is an exercise in futility. Resolutions are useless. But the promise of victory is held forth in verses like, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). We may be helpless by ourselves, but we are not hopeless. Of course there is a tension between the flesh and the Spirit, but we are not on our own. There is a power from above that resides within every believer. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil.4:13).
Charles Wesley captures the heart-cry for a pure heart in this hymn:
O for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free,
A heart that always feels the blood,
So freely shed for me.
A heart resigned, submissive, meek,
My great Redeemer’s throne,
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone.
A humble, lowly, contrite heart,
Believing, true, and clean,
Which neither life nor death can part
From Christ who dwells within.
A heart in every thought renewed
And full of love divine,
Perfect and right and pure and good,
A copy, Lord, of thine.
Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart;
Come quickly from above;
Write thy new name upon my heart,
Thy new, best name of Love.
Heart holiness is what sincere believer’s desire. Is it realistic to expect victory, or is that presumptuous? Is anticipating multiple failures daily paramount to normalizing the abnormal? Should defeat be the pattern, or the exception? Paul wrestled with the sin of his own heart in Romans 7. He concluded with this triumphant note, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord (vv. 24-25).
Thanks to many who sent helpful Quips on Part One. Got any more insights? Scroll down and share.
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