Monday, January 15, 2018

The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges

**I first drafted this post over a week ago. Since then there have been some explosive political news stories in the U.S. I'm thinking of one in particular. So I re-wrote my post just a little to include a very brief note on this subject matter.**

"The only safe evidence that we are in Christ is a holy life."
- Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness

My yearly reading list is largely influenced by the previous year's reading list. When I look back over my reading lists, I am looking for holes. I'm looking for lack. I'm looking to see what I favored and what I largely ignored. When I look over my 2017 reading list I find myself sadly lacking in the Christian non-fiction department. Now, did I consistently attend church and listen faithfully to my pastor's sermons? Yes, I did. Did I read scripture consistently? Yes. But did I seek God out in other ways and forms to further education and/or encourage myself in my spiritual life? No. I did not. So this is an area of personal concern that I feel the need to rectify this year.

There is also a pressing need to spend time educating our children as to what it means to be a Christian as well. If we their parents don't do it, the world stands at the ready. The world is not the only one who begs for opportunity to influence though. Oh no! Other Christians do as well which is not always a bad thing but one thing I noticed about 2017 was how many Christians in my generation were more influenced by the political winds of the day than scripture. Sure it was a hot political year and there are many issues which are currently on fire in the political pit. Should we pay attention to the issues of our time? We'd be foolish not to. However, I've noticed that younger Christians feel like it's either God or politics but it can't be both. Babies are flying out of windows along with the proverbial bathwater. I have been completely amazed by the absolutely stubbornness of some in their declarations that if you stay in the church then you are sticking your head in the sand at best or are a war-like criminal at worst. The rhetoric of middle aged and younger Christians has gotten ridiculously out-of-hand. I know of some who have even left the church with loud declarations that politics are more important. They can't see or hear what they are doing. Sheer stubbornness and pride gets in the way of both ability to converse and the ability to pursue holiness together instead of apart.*

Experiencing a few friends fall away from the church for the sake of taking "a good political stance" has had an effect on many people, myself included. If anything, it makes me to know that God will have to work on them and that I must also pray without ceasing that God will hold my family fast -- closer to Him than a political position. However, mark this: if you leave the church over politics then you are leaving the church to follow after a political god of your own making. Jesus Christ is quite, quite abundantly clear that the church is His bride and that He died to redeem her of her sins and that we ought never to think that we are more holy than Christ by leaving her.

To get to the point of The Pursuit of Holiness though, I picked it up because I read a lot of Bridges when I was a teen and I wanted to review it before handing it over to my own pre-teen. I have explained before that my memory with books is sketchy which leads to the need to re-read! Of course, I also read the book with myself in mind because of my 2017 reading failings. There was a dual purpose in this!

I launched in and read the entirety of this book, walking away with one chief thought that I had not expected. Bridges drives home the point at the very beginning of this book that it is not against ourselves that we sin, but against Christ. Therefore there is a driving need to always be pursuing holiness so that we can approach the throne of grace.

Bridges quotes David from the Psalms 51 who declares:

"Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment."

Bridges admonishes (in his friendly way!) that we should not make ourselves out to be more righteous than God by being upset over sins we perceive being committed against us and/or to berate ourselves for failing ourselves. We are not more holy than God. It is His holiness that cannot tolerate sin in the least. It is our humanity that loves to produce it.

To turn personal here as explanation, you should be aware of the fact that I have five young children. Working with them as a group and individually can prove very exhausting at times. I want them to grow up to be God-fearing, hard-working, exceptional souls, of course. However, the journey of getting there is a massive work in progress. And getting there means that I have to change and grow spiritually as well and I don't like it. Every morning I wake up and rehearse to myself how the day is going to go and how I'm going to be the world's most awesome mother that day. Within 5 minutes (more or less but usually less) I've failed and am internally kicking and chaffing against myself for my downfall. I say things like this to myself: "How could you?! You're ROTTEN as a parent! They are probably going to hate you when they grow up and I, for one, wouldn't blame them." Or this one: "I will never be a good parent." Oh woe is me. I have sinned against myself. I have 'let myself down.' I never bother to look up and say, "Against You and You only have I sinned. Forgive me." I haven't sinned against me and my best intentions. I've sinned against a Holy God. And this realization struck a chord with me and caused me to stop in my tracks and re-program the ol' brain a bit. The rest of the book was reprogramming.

Bridges counsels with scripture that we serve a Holy God who cannot abide sin in any form or fashion. Once this fact is established in the reader's mind, Bridges moves on to the importance of pursuing holiness so that we will not continue on in our sin but will pursue holiness so that we might be more like Christ. And the reason to be more like Christ? It is to please Christ and not anyone else. It is to please Christ and not anyone else. It is to please Christ and not anyone else. (No, that's not a typo. Say it again if you need to.) Take heart though because lots of people in your life will be more pleased when you are more like Christ so the win-win situation becomes quickly and readily apparent! (It's probably important to also note that lots of people will also be less pleased when you are more like Christ but that's not your problem to solve.)

There were several quotes I copied out of this book and I'll share them below but the crux of the argument I took away from this book is this:

I needed to hear and to know that I am not failing me. I am failing my Holy God. And therefore I have a job to do and that is to absolutely stay in scriptures so that I can learn to be more like my God. This in turn will affect the changes I am so desperate for - both for myself and also for my children.

To bring this all back around to my opening remarks, I think it's incredibly important as Christians that we do not make ourselves out to be more righteous than God as individuals or as global citizens. I think this is a super important point that modern Christians (especially those my age and younger) really need to grasp hold of. I certainly needed to come to a better understanding of this so feel free to lump me into that mix and keep reminding me that I am only holy because He is holy. My holiness follows His, it does not lead it. I must follow where He says He is and will be. I must believe who He says He is and who He will be forever. And if I should stumble (and I will) then someone please pick me back up and remind me that He is a great God who loves His children and will forgive them of their sins and heal their land.

Did I ultimately think that this is a book worth passing along to my pre-teen? Yes, mostly. I think Bridges is perfect from the age of 13 on. Our oldest is currently 11 and we decided against having him read the entirety of the book for the simple fact that Bridges goes into some subject matters that our 11 year old isn't quite ready for. In a few years he will be, but for now there's a couple of chapters we've asked him to read for the moment. Bridges is easy to understand but he doesn't lose the meat of his message. He might occasionally cut your meat for you, but it's still meat and it's a good starting point to learn the lesson that we serve a Holy God who invites us into His presence daily. So come. Believe. Believe like it's your job to believe. Because it is. (John 3:18; John 6:29; Acts 16:31; Hebrews 11:6)

"Frequent contemplation on the holiness of God and His consequent hatred of sin is a strong deterrent against trifling with sin." (Chapter 2)
"As we read and study the scriptures or hear them taught, we are captivated by the moral beauty of God's standard of holiness. Even though His standard may seem far beyond us, we recognize and respond to that which is "holy, righteous, and good" (Romans 7:12). Even though we fail so often, in our inner being we "delight in God's law" (Romans 7:22)." (Failed to write down the reference point on this one.)

"Faith enables us to obey when obedience is costly or seems unreasonable to the natural mind." (Chapter 15)

*Whether there is agreement on this point or not, it is my observation that people are leaving the church because they insist that Christians behave like Christians and that politicians behave like Christians. I agree that Christians must pursue holiness and that it is a process. It is a life process. It is a slow and steady commitment to pursue love justice, mercy and to pursue peace. I do not agree that we can hold politicians to a Christian standard because we are a nation that has collectively rejected God and His standards of holiness. When a leader acts in a manner which is less than Christ-like I find myself with very little to say because we have long "agreed" as a nation to shut God out. If I feel annoyance or anger about the political situation we are experiencing here in America, my sole motivation is to dig into scriptures and to teach my kids truth and to encourage my fellow believers to cling HARD to the Gospel of Christ. For if you are clinging to the Gospel and if you are fully focused on pursuing holiness then the Gospel shall be lived out in your life and you will be Christ to others, just as God designed. Just as He designed. The world will not like God. They will hate and despise Him. If you follow after Him, they will hate and despise you also. Do not be surprised by this. It should not come as a shock. The world's hatred of Christ and His standards should not incite panic. Stay the course. Run the race. Pursue holiness. Love justice. Be merciful. Walk humbly.


Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I think this would be a timely read for me. I THINK I've read something by Bridges but can't remember for sure. Thanks for the review, friend.

Ginger Mae said...

I love all Jerry Bridges' books so much. They're somehow deep and light at the same time...deep and meaty enough I inevitably feel convicted and humbled - light and gentle enough I can devour it quickly, and not feel overwhelmed.

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