Today I want to talk about something I've been thinking about. And that is the discipline involved in holiness. I recently read a devotional by Joni Eareckson Tada. It was talking about some Scriptures, the main one being 2 Peter 2:14 - "having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children;"
A heart TRAINED in greed. That means that it was done deliberately and practiced over and over and this led them to be cursed by God. The version Joni used said they were "experts in greed." She also mentioned the expression; "Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character."
When I was in the hospital last year, my pastor came to visit and we talked about our spiritual lives...and he said he had lately been impressed with the need for holy ACTIONs. It isn't enough to have a thought...the goal is to reap habits and characters that exude goodness. Now this won't get you "saved"--only faith in the blood and resurrection of Jesus can do that. But is it enough merely to believe? Demons know Scripture. They know about Jesus' blood and resurrection but this doesn't save them....They practice evil and are truly experts in sin. We have to have ACTIONS in our lives that shout to the world the facts that we know in our hearts are true. Good intentions don't count.
James 1:22,25,27 says this:
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.... But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it....Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
These are deliberate actions and deliberate mindsets. It takes some effort to refuse to let the world corrupt you.
James 2:14 says:
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?
This is serious business. Faith without action does not save you. I'm not preaching a gospel of good works. I'm saying that faith and godly actions go hand in glove. You might say that faith is the "thought" and the actions bred from that thought are good deeds (or simply refusing to sin, making right choices. And it are these good actions that give us a holy or godly character (as per the expression above).
There is negative holiness (refusing to engage in sin). There is also positive holiness and an example of that is in James 1:27 (see above) ...and this involves action not the absence of action. We are to go through this life being salt and light in a perverse and evil world. We are to do good, both to our families in Christ but also to the people who surround us in our lives. Or to support ministries that meet the spiritual and physical needs of the poor and unfortunate both here and abroad. Or simply to offer help when someone needs it, either with money or with a helping hand.
In what are you training yourself? As you rehearse behaviors daily by repetition do you find they are holy choices? Or are you indulging your greed with food or material items? Are you lying or "just" bending the truth a bit? Ask God to sow that thought to choose to be holy, before the corresponding action takes place. It is here, at this level, that we can make the most progress toward holiness. When the sin has become a habit it is much harder to break and change....it is not impossible ("with God all things are possible")...but it involves prayer and depending on the depth of the habit, it may require the practice of some Christian Disciplines, such as fasting, meditating on God's Word, journaling etc. A really helpful thing is to choose verses that speak to the habit you are trying to break or to the effort of holiness which will keep us from sin and this is to memorize (or at the very least) meditate on these verses.
So holiness isn't something God drops in our lap. It is not going to grow on its own eventually. It is going to take effort. Training. Conscious decisions. Our faith does not play an idle role here. It powers our efforts. It motivates us. "Apart from Me, you can do nothing" John 15:5. So bathe your efforts in prayer and walk in tune with the Spirit...listen for his guidance and make your heart to become tender and responsive...uncluttered by sinful behaviors and thoughts.
Two other verses which further illuminate these points are as follows;
Timothy 4:8New Living Translation (NLT)
“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”
Hebrews 4:11New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.