How do Christians know they are growing in holiness? Galatians 5: 22-23 gives us some insight into what it looks like. It says: But the fruit of the Spirit is
against such things there is no law.
For those that are in Christ, these qualities should own us. But most often, they don’t. Not because the Spirit’s power is weak, but because our flesh is. Hebrews 10:24 tells us that we should be thinking about how we can stir each other up to love and good works.
This year, I want to focus on encouraging others to live by the power of God’s spirit, in essence, to live a life of holiness.
I do have to add a disclaimer though, especially in regards to performance of holiness and true inward sanctified holiness. The effectual power of the Holy Spirit is only for those that are in Christ. In John Owen’s work, The Holy Spirit, His Gifts and His Power gives a warning that those not in Christ will tend to strive for holiness out of their own performance.
It is not necessarily a bad thing for non-believers to engage in good works. At large, we can never outgrow people doing good deeds. Owen writes:
The world is not in a condition to spare the good actions of bad men; and it is much to be wished that we could see more of the fruits of moral virtues and duties of religious piety among unsanctified persons than we do.
In other words, in regard for those that are not in Christ, we should never discourage them from doing good. We should never get tired of people being kind, forgiving or compassionate towards each other. However, we should be cautious in calling them sisters or brothers in Christ, just because they do good works, especially, or rather, just because they are church go-ers.
For church-going do good-ers, according to Owen, they will often confuse a desire to do good with real holiness. It is not one in the same. Many will often find it is much easier to do a good deed here and there, even showing some aspects of the fruits of the spirit naturally, and might even suppose, because of it, that they are holy beings. However, what sets them apart is that they still engage in purposeful sinful actions.
Galatians 5:16-17 says: Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.
First let me clear here – believers do indeed sin. The difference between a person being sanctified by the Spirit and a person not being sanctified by the Spirit is how one views their sin and then what they do with it when it become apparent to them. Owen writes:
The love of sin secretly influences the mind of many persons; they fear and abhor that universal change of soul which tends to call the destruction of all sin; hence they take up with morality and silly superstitious devotions; anything that will pacify their natural conscience or make an attempt to gain a reputation that they are religious or even spiritual beings.
Those not in Christ, but think they are, will look at their sin and excuse it, pacify it, culturally contextualize it, in essence, they love it. They don’t hate it. They don’t feel the inward need in their soul to kill or destroy it. They may even know that how they behave is sinful, in a Christian sense of the word, but they don’t really want to do anything about their sin. If brought to their attention by others, it is always rationalized. When sin is loved, then the Holy Spirit does not reside there. It cannot.
For those in Christ, they will mourn over their sin. They will look at their sin and will not treat it flippantly or disregard it. They will not excuse it, justify, or rationalize it. They will seek to do all they can to kill it. And they do so because the Holy Spirit that is dwelling in their soul requires that they do so. They are being sanctified by the Spirit’s power to look more like the Savior and Shepherd who calls them. And when they find themselves in sin, they repent and repent often, deeply, and with a sincere heart.
Let me also add, repentance is not remorse. Remorse rarely causes an inward heart to change. Remorse mostly occurs when once gets caught in sin. Oftentimes, the Holy Spirit will urge one to not sin before sin happens. The main question that arises here is “are we listening?”
Notice in Galatians 5 that Paul is telling others “to walk by the Spirit” – meaning it is a present tense application that is continuous. He is urging believers to keep doing what the Spirit urges us to do, without ceasing.
Holiness is a mystery, no doubt. We can’t conjure up holiness on our own and many have a false understanding of it. Some think morality is holiness. Yet others will think holiness is allowing for odd superstitious behavior (for example – covering one’sheads when praying or exclaiming that they feel “holy” or “closer to God” when they enter an old church). Those that cling to morality or superstitious religious behavior to show that they are good, will often overlook the real meaning of holiness.
In summary, my resolution this year is to call others, specifically Jesus followers, to a life of holiness. In order to make sure I urge others to strive for real holiness, the kind where there is no law, I will look to scripture to show me what it looks like.
Owen reminds us that living a life of holiness is a work so great that in order for it to occur, we need the God of peace himself, the blood of Christ specifically and the constant urging and influence of the Spirit. Let’s not try to deceive ourselves in thinking that making an attempt to live a holy life is a common thing and we only need to perform better – which is basically an empty shadow of holiness.
I figured the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians is a good place to start.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. – Galatians 5:16–26, ESV