By WALTER ALBRITTON
Some Christians are content to think of themselves as poor sinners, saved by grace. They reason that since no one can live a perfect life, God does not expect them to live much differently from non-believers. They believe God loves them and will forgive their sins. They believe Jesus was a great teacher. But they pay little attention to holiness.
If you happen to be one of those “poor sinners,” I have news for you. Yes, you are a sinner; we are all sinners. Yes, when you repent, believe and are baptized, you are saved by grace. But you are not saved so you can sit around thinking you are a poor sinner on the way to heaven. God saves you so you can begin living a holy life in this broken, unholy world. The holy scriptures consistently affirm this as God’s expectation of all believers.
Jesus confirms God’s call to holiness in his sermon on the mount. In his letters Paul invites believers to “live by the Spirit” and “walk by the Spirit.” Peter in his letters joins Paul in asserting that God calls all Christians to live holy lives. Peter in his second letter reminds us that those who are saved by grace are expected to grow in grace and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit become more and more able to live holy lives.
Asked how believers can practice such godliness, Peter said God has given us “everything we need,” making it possible for us to become “partakers of the divine nature.” Godly living, Peter said, is possible through “His divine power” which is released in us as we trust “His very great and precious promises.”
When then is our part? Simply, to grow. To surrender to the Spirit’s indwelling and allow God to make us more than “a poor sinner.” The growth begins with our willingness “to make every effort to add” those qualities which make us more like Jesus. These virtues enable us to be fruitful rather than “nearsighted and blind,” having “forgotten” that we have been “cleansed from our past sins.” Peter raises the question, “What kind of people ought you to be?” His answer: “You ought to live holy and godly lives.”
If we pursue holiness, because God expects it, we soon learn we can accomplish it only with His help. Saint Augustine was right: “Nothing whatever pertaining to godliness and real holiness can be accomplished without grace.” Jerry Bridges echoes that truth: “We are 100% responsible for the pursuit of holiness, but at the same time we are 100% dependent upon the Holy Spirit to enable us in that pursuit. The pursuit of holiness is not a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps approach to the Christian life.”
Nevertheless, sufficient grace is available so it should be the goal of every Christ follower to live a holy life and thus bring glory to the Father of our Lord Jesus. The first step may be to give up the notion of being “a poor sinner” and begin thinking of ourselves as a forgiven sinner in whom the Holy Spirit is releasing the power to live a more and more holy life. May Peter’s words ring in our ears: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”