Want to be a first-rate Olympic athlete? You gotta work at it and practice incessantly. Want to be the best pianist around? You have to practice like mad. Want to be the best husband you can possibly be? You have to really devote yourself to this end. Want to be the best chef around? You need to work at it and dedicate yourself to it. Want to excel in your calling? You have to spend plenty of time and effort on it.
Anything worthwhile takes a heap of time, effort, work and commitment. The world’s great musicians or the world’s great tennis players do not just pop up out of the blue. While some folks may have some natural-born talents and giftings, they all need to really put a lot of work into what they are doing.
They have to make sacrifices, they have to practice constantly, they have to deny themselves simple pleasures that others may enjoy, and they have to really discipline themselves and say no to all sorts of things. All great athletes or artists or musicians or writers know these basic truths.
So why should it come as any surprise that the Christian life is just the same? Why should we think that we can do nothing, and yet somehow grow as a disciple of Christ? Why do we imagine we can just sit around, play games and waste time, and still manage to become more holy and more Christlike?
It just does not work that way. Holiness and the sanctified life are the result of a lot of effort, struggle, denial of self, and deliberate, whole-hearted pursuit. Sure, it is a cooperative effort, with the Holy Spirit at work within us, but he will not do his work apart from us.
We are everywhere in the Bible commanded to do things, to die to self, to say no to sin, to resist temptation, to put on the new man, to put off the flesh, to walk in obedience, to pick up our cross, to resist the devil, and so on. There are hundreds and hundreds of commands and imperatives directed at the believer in the New Testament.
The Christian life is not one of just sitting by and expecting God to do all the work. Sure, salvation is all of grace, based fully on the finished work of Christ at Calvary. Justification is solely of Christ. But the growth of the believer – sanctification – is clearly a team effort, where we are instructed to make every effort to be holy, to seek perfection, and strive for righteousness.
There are no shortcuts in the Christian life in other words. There are no magic pills we can pop to make us instantly holy and devout. All the great men and women of God have realised these truths. Having just read one author in this regard, in his sermon on Ephesians 6:10-13, let me begin with him, and then cite a number of others.
“Anything that offers a spiritual short cut – and I do not care whether it calls itself evangelical Christianity or not – is not the Christianity of the Bible. There are no short cuts here. New Testament Christianity is the outworking of the mighty doctrine of Christ and His apostles, which a man believes by the power of the Spirit, the Spirit working in him. It is watching, it is praying, it is ‘mortifying the deeds of the body’, it is ‘a keeping under of the body’, it is pummelling it, as Paul expresses it in 1 Corinthians 9-27, ‘hitting it until it is black and blue’. That is Christianity in New Testament terms; and it is in entire contrast to the cults which do it all ‘so simply’, and do it all ‘at once’.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“The way to Heaven is ascending; we must be content to travel uphill, though it be hard and tiresome, and contrary to the natural bias of our flesh.” Jonathan Edwards
“This renewal, indeed, is not accomplished in a moment, a day, or a year, but by uninterrupted, sometimes even by slow progress God abolishes the remains of carnal corruption in his elect, cleanses them from pollution, and consecrates them as his temples, restoring all their inclinations to real purity, so that during their whole lives they may practice repentance, and know that death is the only termination to this warfare.” John Calvin
“You will not gain holiness by standing still. Nobody ever grew holy without consenting, desiring, and agonizing to be holy. Sin will grow without sowing, but holiness needs cultivation. Follow it; it will not run after you. You must pursue it with determination, with eagerness, with perseverance, as a hunter pursues his prey.” C. H. Spurgeon
“There is no shortcut to holiness; it must be the business of our whole lives.” William Wilberforce
“If Jesus ever commanded us to do something that He was unable to equip us to accomplish, He would be a liar. And if we make our own inability a stumbling block or an excuse not to be obedient, it means that we are telling God that there is something which He has not yet taken into account.” Oswald Chambers
“Holiness is not a condition into which we drift. We are not passive spectators of a sanctification God works in us. On the contrary, we have purposefully to ‘put away’ from us all conduct that is incompatible with our new life in Christ, and to ‘put on’ a lifestyle compatible with it.” John Stott
“You may have sought and tried to obtain instant godliness. There is no such thing… We want somebody to give us three easy steps to godliness, and we’ll take them next Friday and be godly. The trouble is, godliness doesn’t come that way.” Jay E. Adams
“There is no shortcut to Olympic-level skill; there is no shortcut to godliness. It is the day in and day out faithfulness to the means which God has appointed and which the Holy Spirit uses that will enable us to grow in godliness. We must practice godliness, just as the athlete practices his particular sport.” Jerry Bridges
“Although the forgiveness of sin takes an instant, the cure of the sin-soaked soul is gradual and not complete until heaven.” J. Budziszewski
“Nobody drifts into the kingdom of God. Sooner or later there must be a dying and a rising.” Tom Wright
“We don’t accidentally drift into holiness; rather, we mature gradually and purposefully, one choice at a time.” Craig Cabaniss
“People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” D.A. Carson
With this being the last day of 2013, let us resolve that in the New Year we will make every effort to please our Lord by seeking after him diligently, obeying him unquestionably, and pursuing after him whole-heartedly.