Put like that, it may sound rather stark. Our hackles may be raised by the word ‘holiness’, with its unfortunate undertones of sanctimonious piety and being ‘holier than thou’. But try it this way. ‘Being like Jesus is the greatest contribution you can make in your life on planet earth.’ And we could well add that it’s the only investment you can make which has eternal currency.
It matters because it is the deepest and most honest expression of our gratitude to Christ for all the love and grace which he has showered upon us in his atoning death and his life-giving resurrection. If we have any real glimmering of what we have been rescued from and what his glorious purposes for us in eternity truly are, then the supreme way in which we demonstrate our faith is by our obedience, and the greatest way in which to show our gratitude is by a desire to be changed into his likeness. But it also matters because changed lives are the currency of heaven here on earth.
The progress of the gospel, in any culture or community, is usually proportional to the Christ-likeness, or otherwise, of the people who profess to believe it, which helps to explain why the church is so often on the back foot today.
We all long to see God’s kingdom advance, especially in terms of our families and friends coming to know Christ personally and to trust him as their Saviour and Lord. But the message we proclaim is so often contradicted, or even denied, by the lives of those who say they believe it. The staggering reality is that we are witnesses about Christ every day we live, just by virtue of all our human relationships and interaction with others.
Help or hindrance
Do we witness for him, or against him? Every time a Christian flies off the handle at work, or our family life disintegrates into bitterness, accusations and acrimony, or a local church breaks up into hostile factions and disintegrates under the pressure, the watching world is simply confirmed in its cosy dogmatism that ‘religion’ is hypocritical nonsense, or smug self-congratulation. If there is no demonstrable power to deal with the evil of our human hearts in a transforming way, then, as the atheistic philosopher Nietzsche once put it: ‘The Christians will have to look a lot more like Jesus Christ before I become one of them’. Or, in the famous words of William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘The biggest hindrance to the spread of the Christian church is the Christian church’.
Our holiness matters! Just think of the potential of all the negatives of the last few sentences being reversed by a workforce of Jesus ‘look-alikes’ being deployed across our country and its cultures, on a daily basis. And then think about the potential of it starting with me. There is no reason why it should not happen. The moment you came in repentance and faith to the foot of the cross, to receive the forgiveness and new birth which he secured, the Holy Spirit (the other Jesus) came within your human spirit, or psyche, to change you from the inside out. It is the experience of every believer that we have ‘passed from death to life’ (John 5.24). And the life — sphere in which we now live is that of God’s eternal life, the very life of Christ himself, brought to us in all its fullness by the indwelling Spirit. ‘For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death’ (Romans 8.2, ESV). It has already happened. The dynamic is already within us, ready to be experienced in practice, in increasing measure.
In a book written 50 years ago, entitled The Mystery of Godliness, Ian Thomas, the founder of Capernwray Ministries, expressed it like this: ‘The life that the Lord Jesus Christ lived for you 1,900 years ago — condemns you, but the life that he now lives in you — saves you!’ He goes on to sketch an outline of what that might mean. ‘Your mind placed at his disposal through the indwelling Holy Spirit; your emotions, your will, all that you are and have, make available to the Lord Jesus Christ as a living member of his new corporate body on earth, which is called the church’ (p.109). Over the next few columns we will look at what that means, as we consider the nature and production of this fruit of the Spirit in the reality of our everyday lives.
David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.
This article was first published in the March 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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