Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Normal Christian Life

Oct 21, 2012

There is no Christian life without such basic realities as godliness and holiness. There would be other features characteristic of the true child of God, but these two related concepts are the bare minimum. The Bible is quite clear on this. As we are told in Hebrews 12:14, “without holiness no one will see the Lord”. Or as Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:8: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things”.

So fundamental are these two attributes of the Christian life that we dare not minimise or ignore their importance. Indeed, so significant are they that one writer has written two very significant books, one on each topic. His volumes have both become modern classics, and both should be read and re-read by every Christian.

I refer to the long-standing worker for the parachurch group the Navigators, Jerry Bridges. He has served with them for over half a century, and has written a number of very helpful and incisive volumes. But these two books especially stand out. I refer to The Pursuit of Holiness (first published in 1978 by NavPress) and The Practice of Godliness (first published in 1983 by NavPress).

Both books have been through many printings, with the former selling over a million copies and the latter well over 600,000. The second book was written as a sequel to the first, and both books are well worth reading in tandem. There are so many riches in these books on practical Christian living and just what the normal Christian life is supposed to look like that I can barely do them justice here.

Indeed, the best way to tempt you to read these books (either by digging up your old copies, blowing off the dust, and giving them another perusal, or by getting them for the very first time) is simply to offer a number of great quotes from these volumes.

It is hoped that all these spiritual nuggets will whet your appetite for more. So let me begin with The Pursuit of Holiness (all selections are taken from the early chapters of the book, except for the final quote):

“The pursuit of holiness is a joint venture between God and the Christian. No one can attain any degree of holiness without God working in his life, but just as surely no one will attain it without effort on his own part. God has made it possible for us to walk in holiness. But He has given to us the responsibility of doing the walking; He does not do that for us.”

“Holiness is a process, something we never completely attain in this life. Rather, as we begin to conform to the will of God in one area of life, He reveals to us our need in another area. That is why we will always be pursuing – as opposed to attaining – holiness in this life.”

“In addition to my own personal Bible study on the subject of holiness, I have profited greatly from the writings of the Puritans – and those who followed in their school of thought. . . . This is particularly true of the writings of John Owen and of Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.”

“To be holy is to be morally blameless. It is to be separated from sin and, therefore, consecrated to God. The word signifies ‘separation to God, and the conduct befitting those so separated’.”

“Our first problem is that our attitude towards sin is more self-centered than God-centered. We are more concerned about our own ‘Victory’ over sin than we are about the fact that our sin grieves the heart of God. We cannot tolerate failure in our struggle with sin chiefly because we are success oriented, not because we know it is offensive to God.”

“W. S. Plumer said, “We never see sin aright until we see it as against God…All sin is against God in this sense: that it is His law that is broken, His authority that is despised, His government that is set at naught…Pharaoh and Balaam, Saul and Judas each said, ‘I have sinned’; but the returning prodigal said, ‘I have sinned against heaven and before thee’; and David said, ‘Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned.”

“God wants us to walk in obedience – not victory. Obedience is oriented towards God; victory is oriented toward self. . . . This is not to say God doesn’t want us to experience victory, but rather to emphasise that victory is a byproduct of obedience.”

“We must face the fact that we have a personal responsibility for our walk of holiness.”

“Consider the holiness of God. This is where holiness begins. Not with ourselves, but with God. It’s only when we see His holiness, His absolute purity and moral hatred of sin that we will be gripped by the awfulness of sin against a holy God. To be gripped by that fact is the first step in our pursuit of holiness.”

“Holiness is the perfection of all His other attributes:  His power is holy power; His mercy is holy mercy;  His wisdom is holy wisdom. It is His holiness more than any other attribute that makes Him worthy of our praise.”

“God demands perfect holiness in all of His moral creatures.  It cannot be otherwise. He cannot possibly ignore or approve of any evil committed. He cannot for one moment relax His perfect standard of holiness.”

“As we grow in holiness, we grow in hatred of sin; and God, being infinitely holy, has an infinite hatred of sin.”

“We need to cultivate in our hearts the same hatred of sin God has. Hatred of sin as sin, not just something disquieting or defeating to ourselves, but as displeasing to ourselves, lies at the root of all true holiness.”

“The holiness of God is an exceedingly high standard, a perfect standard. But it is nevertheless one that He holds us to. He cannot do less. While it is true that He accepts us solely through the merit of Christ, God’s standard for our character, attitudes, affections, and actions is, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ We must take this seriously if we are to grow in holiness.”

“Scripture speaks of both a holiness we have in Christ before God, and a holiness we are to strive after. These two aspects of holiness complement one another, for our salvation is a salvation to holiness: ‘For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life’ (1 Thessalonians 4:7).”

“God does not require a perfect, sinless life to have fellowship with Him, but He does require that we be serious about holiness, that we grieve over sin in our lives instead of justifying it, and that we earnestly pursue holiness as a way of life.”

“The only safe evidence that we are in Christ is a holy life. . . .  If we know nothing of holiness, we may flatter ourselves that we are Christians but we do not have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.”

“It is not those who profess to know Christ who will enter heaven, but those whose lives are holy.”

“As we progress in holiness, we come to hate sin (Psalm 119:104) and to delight in God’s law (Romans 7:22).”

And here are a few terrific quotes from The Practice of Godliness (taken from the opening chapters):

“There is no higher compliment that can be paid to a Christian than to call him a godly person. He might be a conscientious parent, a zealous church worker, a dynamic spokesman for Christ, or a talented Christian leader; but none of these things matters if, at the same time, he is not a godly person.”

“Godliness is no optional spiritual luxury for a few quaint Christians of a bygone era or for some group of super-saints of today. It is both the privilege and duty of every Christian to pursue godliness, to train himself to be godly, to study diligently the practice of godliness.”

“Godliness is more than Christian character; it is Christian character that springs from a devotion to God.”

“It is impossible to be devoted to God if one’s heart is not filled with the fear of God. It is this profound sense of veneration and honor, reverence and awe that draws forth from our hearts the worship and adoration that characterizes true devotion to God. The reverent, godly Christian sees God first in his transcendent glory, majesty, and holiness before he sees him in his love, mercy, and grace. There is a healthy tension that exists in the godly person’s heart between the reverential awe of God in his glory and the childlike confidence in God as heavenly Father. Without this tension, a Christian’s filial confidence can easily degenerate into presumption.”

“In our day we must begin to recover a sense of awe and profound reverence for God. We must begin to view him once again in the infinite majesty that alone belongs to him who is the Creator and Supreme Ruler of the entire universe. There is an infinite gap in worth and dignity between God the Creator and man the creature, even though man has been created in the image of God. The fear of God is a heartfelt recognition of this gap—not a put—down of man, but an exaltation of God.”

“In our day we seem to have magnified the love of God almost to the exclusion of the fear of God. Because of this preoccupation we are not honoring God and reverencing him as we should. We should magnify the love of God; but although we revel in his love and mercy, we must never lose sight of his majesty and his holiness.”

“The love of God has no meaning apart from Calvary. And Calvary has no meaning apart from the holy and just wrath of God. Jesus did not die just to give us peace and a purpose in life; he died to save us from the wrath of God. He died to reconcile us to a holy God who was alienated from us because of our sin. He died to ransom us from the penalty of sin—the punishment of everlasting destruction, and of being shut out from the presence of the Lord. He died that we, the just objects of God’s wrath, should become, by his grace, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. How much we appreciate God’s love is conditioned by how deeply we fear him. The more we see God in his infinite majesty, holiness, and transcendent glory, the more we will gaze with wonder and amazement upon his love poured out at Calvary.”

So by all means, drop whatever you are doing and get copies of these books to read, re-read and give to friends. Christmas is coming up – what better gifts could you give?

[1813 words]

10 Responses to The Normal Christian Life

  • I haven’t read this book, but it sounds like a wonderful one! It’s hard sometimes to find out where I belong in this Christian world. I just finished an amazing book called “The Power of a Virtuous Woman” by author Paula Penn-Nabrit. This a non-fiction book written for Christians, which explores Proverbs 31 and the issue of virtue for women with examples used from King David, Bathsheba and King Solomon. It offers a different perspective on women’s work/life balance, which is something I struggle with.

    Robyn Lloyd

  • Just like your last article about “pleasing God”, it is so good to be reminded of God’s expectations from us.
    When I was at high school in Holland, in the 1940s, we had a headmaster who was a fair but strict man. He would encourage me when I struggled but he would also express anger and discipline when students would be slack in their studies. We would not dare to break the rules he had set. What a great “type” of our Lord.
    For a long time already I have been saddened to see and hear that many Christians see the fear of God only as having awe of God.
    Shouldn’t we be scared stiff of our mighty God, who shows us in His Word that His wrath was manifested often towards His people? Yes, He is full of mercy and loves us and forgives us, but the sacrifice of His Son for us does not diminish His expectation from us.
    Thank you Bill for reminding us again of His greatness and His expectations from us.
    Evangeline Rykes.

  • God wants us to walk in obedience – not victory. I just love this.For me it works on so many levels including churches, who preach a lot about power and so on. It’s subtle the difference – Obedience/Victory. Victory sounds good right, but it’s the cart before the horse.
    Thanks Bill, I’ll be talking about this for the next couple of weeks to any one who will listen.
    Oh and get the book.

    Daniel Kempton

  • Yes, obedience means we can still be seen as weak and we tend not to like that. Victory is more strength orientated, always being on top. But God says “In your weakness, I am strong”. It takes much more strength and courage to be weak and yet depend on the strength of the Lord to come through in which ever outcome He chooses. Heb 11, some received their dead to life again, but most died horrible deaths and yet they did it all by faith.
    I am listening to a series on ACTS by David Pawson recorded in 1973. He asks some very challenging questions concerning revival, how much we really want it when we consider the cost.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • My wife & I meet each week with 3 others and are currently working our way through the book & its study of Jerry Bridges ‘Pursuit of Holiness’.
    It is terrific. It’s a challenging, uncomplicated & inspiring study I can highly recommend it. If anyone wants to know what may please God, its pursing holiness.
    Andrew Strout

  • Well done Andrew

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • After reading this I am wondering if I have even started on the road to holiness let alone be somewhere on it already!
    Steve Davis

  • You are not the only one there, Steve. Someone once told me that feeling like this is an indication of having started on it. I pray they are right.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • When I saw the title I thought you might be talking about another great classic of the same title by Watchman Nee. Jerry Bridges book does sound excellent. Having been privileged once to see a minute ‘vision’ (not sure what it really was – but it happened in my quiet time) of the glory and splendour of God – I can tell you that I was more than terrified, yet amazingly blessed, and true awe is the only word I can think of which describes these dual emotions.
    However, I still find it quite hard to reconcile some of what has been said above with 1 John v18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” I would appreciate some help with this.

    Katharine Hornsby

  • Thanks Katharine

    Perhaps the wrong sort of fear is cast out (the fear of man, eg) but there is always a place for a proper fear of the living God:

    Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
    2 Corinthians 7:1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

Leave a Reply