The Renewal of Holiness
Welcome to lecture five of our course Dynamics of Christian Spirituality-A Theology of Prayer and the Christian Life. Our topic in this fifth lecture is entitled The Renewal of Holiness. Let’s back up and remember where we have come from. A few lectures ago we presented the thought that authentic Christian spirituality, which is a matter of living all of life before God in the empowering and transforming presence of his Holy Spirit. Within this understanding of Christian spirituality which is the heart of the Christian life, there are three basic dynamics working. The first is the relational, the second is the transformational and the third is the vocational. That first one is about relating, the second is about who we are becoming and the third is about doing. Another way we looked at it was in the relational dynamic we have Christ with us and in the transformational dynamic we have Christ in us and in the vocational dynamic we have Christ working through us. The great privilege there is to participate in the purposes of God being worked out through our lives. Now, at this point in the lectures we are going to transfer our thoughts to the second of these dynamics, the transformational dynamic, Christ in us and we are going to be looking at this for the next two lectures. The one today is, as we said, entitled The Renewal of Holiness. To set the tone for the transformational dynamic we have this statement in summary—We were created holy and whole but our sin has damaged us. The good news is that by his Spirit Christ is purifying and healing our true selves. The keynote verse for our lecture here on the renewal of holiness is found in Leviticus 19:2 where it says—Be holy because I the Lord your God am holy. As we begin let us pray. Oh Holy Spirit, purify our thoughts and hearts and wills from all that clutters and soils our souls. Help us to grasp and understand deeply the beauty of holiness and see this topic as an invitation rather than anything legalistic. In the name of the Holy One, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
My wife and I spent the summer of 1981, a long time ago now, in England mostly at Cambridge. We lived in a friend’s flat, which is what the British call a small apartment, and got around on bicycles. We punted, which was kind of rowing with a big pole on the river Cam. We ate hot fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. We studied in the big library there at Cambridge where they actually brought you the books. We strolled those gorgeous college quadrangles and we mediated in chapels with dark, echoing ceilings. We sat where John Milton wrote and where the great evangelical Charles Simeon preached from his pulpit there and we prayed that just a little bit of their greatness might soak into us. But we were curious to know what the other ancient English university was like; the other big one I mean. So one day, stretching our student budget to the maximum, we rented a little Ford Escort and headed across country, along narrow roads, through tiny towns, past countless pubs with quirky names until we finally saw before us through the trees that profusion of church spires that is Oxford. One of my priorities was to visit Lincoln College where John Wesley, founder of the Methodists, and his friends had studied just before the Great Awakening in the 1700’s. The guard, or porter, at the gate to the college saw us coming and as I stepped up to the window of his little booth, he just reached out and dangled an enormous iron key in my face. “Here it is,” he said, “this is what you want, now carry on through. Take the first flight of stairs up to the right and be sure to return the key on your way out.” But, I protested, somewhat bewildered, “I haven’t even told you why we’ve come yet.” “You didn’t have to,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand, “you’re here to see where John Wesley stayed. You want to behold where he and his fellow students held their meetings of the Holy Club. That key you’re holding in your hand will work just fine.” Well, we climbed the stairs, unlocked the door and entered the simple, little room. I tried visualizing a young John Wesley here, on his knees in prayer with future spiritual giants like his brother Charles and their friend George Whitfield, all of them begging God for assistance in their pursuit of personal holiness. I have to admit I found it rather incredible that university students of any century would operate a student organization with a name like Holy Club. John Wesley’s evangelical conversion occurred years later at a chapel on Aldersgate Street in London, England where his heart, he said, was strangely warmed. Years before that, the Holy Club had tapped into a longstanding tradition of Anglican spirituality, a tradition that had been freshly shaped by William Law and his book entitled A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life written in 1728. You see, Wesley’s interest in personal holiness did not diminish after his conversion. It pervaded his passion for discipleship, for small groups and for personal accountability. He urged all the Methodists in his movement to pursue the narrow path of Christian perfection. The pursuit of holiness became a defining feature of Methodist spirituality around the world. And it proved to be the chief motivator or stimulus for the much broader transdenominational holiness movement of the 19th century. Wesley represents an important dynamic of Christian spirituality one to which many others including Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits, John Bunyan and the puritans and Hannah Whitall Smith in the Kessack movement have all contributed as well. It is a spiritual impulse that can be traced back through the Monastic traditions of Christian history to the Old Testament Book of Leviticus.
Let’s continue, well really start actually, by thinking about the holiness of God. Holiness is the attribute of God most frequently announced in the Bible and it means that God is separate and distinct from everything he has made and separate too from even the slightest hint of sin or evil. There are no character flaws, no impure motives or wrongful behaviors in God who dwells in shining, unapproachable light. This truth brackets scripture, it is there at the beginning, it is there at the end. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah declared in Isaiah chapter 6—Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty—in his three-fold repetition of the word holy was a Hebrew way of reinforcing the point, of declaring it impossible for God to be more holy than he is. Then, in the last book of the New Testament John’s vision of the throne of God resinates perfectly. There angels are proclaiming day and night without a pause—Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty. You can read it in Revelation 4:8. And then you see flowing out of this there is an invitation and a command to all God’s people, be holy because I the Lord your God am holy. This is called a moral imperative, an ethical command and it stands firm as the revelation in Scripture progresses from the old covenant through to the new. And the Apostle Peter confirms that it is still in force in the New Testament when he says in 1 Peter chapter 1—Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance—he says, but—just as he who called you as holy, so you be holy in all you do for it is written be holy because I am holy. You see, the holiness command stands applicable still even though we are past the Old Testament time; it is for New Testament believers as well.
Now, often the pursuit of holiness is misconstrued, misunderstood as us doing God a favor. In reality just the opposite is true. This is the path, the only one really, to freedom from the toxins that pollute our lives, the bad things that corrupt our character, poison our memories and ultimately make us hate ourselves. Now, sanctification, a big theological word, comes from the Latin word sanctus which means holy. Sanctification refers to a lifelong process, the progressive renewal of holiness in the lives of believers. Now such sanctification is actually God’s gift, not something he imposes. It is his gracious way of satisfying our deep, soulful longing for what is good and true and beautiful. When we grasp this we are not so inclined to resist the purifying impulses of God’s Holy Spirit. Now being in relationship with God begins our transformation and true friendship with him is, as we have already noted, always transforming friendship, it never leaves us unchanged. The Apostle Paul explains this by an analogy to Moses on Mount Sinai when God gave the Ten Commandments. He writes—we all who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, he explains, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory; this is what he says in 2 Corinthians 3. You see, it is a matter of reflected glory. The goal of all of this is Christ’s likeness. For Christians the ultimate goal of sanctification is to be like Christ. Again, it is the Apostle Paul who wrote in Romans 8:29—For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. It is God’s purpose that the character of Jesus Christ will be replicated many times amongst those who follow him. The goal, then, toward which human transformation properly moves is inshrined not only in written guidelines and lofty ethical ideals. No, perfection has been embodied in a historical person, the Holy One. Jesus Christ became the model of a brand new line of humanity. Paul described him as the second Adam, human character in a whole new mold. You see, meditation on the Gospel Portrayals of Christ can be very profitable. Moreover the Holy Spirit who is also, according to the Scriptures, the spirit of Christ can help us become more faithful to the timeless likeness of Christ. The fruit of the Spirit, which is recorded and described in Galatians chapter 5—The fruit of the Spirit is a rather striking portrait of Jesus as described in the New Testament and it is this portrait the spirit seeks to replicate or repeat in the lives of believers in every culture and in every century. Holiness is an impulse of God’s spirit. The early Christians drafted the Nicene Creed and their 381 A.D. version of it pointedly declares the divinity of the Spirit of God by describing him as the Lord and giver of life. Since the Spirit is divine, since the Spirit is God, it should come as no surprise to any of us that his most frequently used designation in the Bible is The Holy Spirit. Well, many characteristics of the Spirit are revealed in Scripture, only one of them gets embedded in his very name. Obviously then, it is a most important one. It is a reminder that we cannot become close to the Holy Spirit, we cannot become intimate with the Holy Spirit while we are stubbornly harboring evil in our hearts. It reminds us that holiness is always high on the Spirit’s agenda. And why? Well, mainly for our benefit, not his. We have a problem though, don’t we? We are divine image bearers. We bear the likeness of God, but we are image bearers who sin. There is no denying the sin factor. We are not holy. Our natures or strangely perverse and the perversity runs deep.
Imagine for a moment a situation that I am going to describe for you. It is a garbage collection day in your community and in your community, if it is like ours, you carry your garbage cans out to the street in the morning and the garbage truck comes along and picks it up. Well, as you are taking your garbage cans out to the street your neighbor across from you on the other side of the road, let’s call him Phil, is doing the same thing with his garbage cans. And coming over he says, “Guess what, I just won the lottery. Who would have thought that I’d be a millionaire? But this is what it means, I don’t have to work another day in my life and my wife and I have decided, for starters, to move up to a much bigger house.” Now, when you hear this many emotions flood up into your mind, but you manage, barely, to conceal these emotions. You grit your teeth and you put on a phony smile and you respond as you are expected to respond socially. And so you say, “That’s great Phil, I’m really happy for you.” But inside you know that Phil has just ruined your day. You turn to go, but as you do your neighbor interrupts, “Oh, there is just one thing I need to let you know,” he says, “my wife just got back some tests from the cancer clinic and I’m afraid it doesn’t look good at all. She has tested positive. And worse than that, the cancer has already spread pretty far, not much they can do now they say, it’s just a matter of time.” Now, you have social skills. You know what must be said and so you say, “Oh Phil, that is horrible news. I’m so sorry for you. Let us know if we can do anything.” You shake hands and part but as you retrace your steps back toward your house, you are vaguely aware that you are feeling quite a bit better already. This last piece of news has put you in a much better frame of mind. You see, this self-interest that we all carry around in us can produce malice so easily; malice being the desire to see other people hurt. Most of us can identify a little bit with the feelings of this man as he was taking out his garbage cans and meeting his neighbor. The inner moral territory I just described is all too familiar to most of us. The story illustrates why the transformation of our souls is both necessary and difficult. Most of the evil in the world originates from inside us, which is why Jesus taught that we need to be changed from the inside out. It also explains why classic Christian spirituality took the challenge of the sinful nature so seriously, why it practiced self-examination, why it cultivated virtue and why it embraced spiritual disciplines. The goal has always been the transformation of the heart, that inter-command center of a person’s being. Real change is possible, but it is always very, very difficult. If anyone doubts this, they should simply try to lose some weight and keep it off. No, in their Westminster confession of faith from 1647 a group of prominent puritans affirmed that Christians should expect to grow in godliness but they expressed this very cautiously. Sanctification they wrote is, “Imperfect in this life, there remains still some remnants of corruption in every part of us and from them arise a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh”. Well, perhaps they were just being honest, but other groups of Christians like the Methodists and their holiness successors have considered this statement from the Westminster confession not optimistic enough, not positive enough, effectively a counsel of despair, yet assurances from the other side that perfection or entire sanctification is well within reach of all sincere Christians has never carried the day either. Similar skepticism greets the triumphant language of those who promise that you can fly high morally above all temptation and failure simply by reckoning or considering yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ. We have to be careful to strike the right balance here. Real and lasting transformation is possible but we need to recognize it is also difficult. It is possible because the Spirit is alive in us and it is difficult because the, well, the cement, if you will, of our character has hardened fairly early on in life. The default settings of our psyches, the habitual orientation of our hearts, the grooves in which our thoughts tend to run; these all get worn into place with the years. From a human development prospective formation is what children experience but when it comes to adults, the progress of sanctification is largely a work of reformation. You have to dismantle what you are like now in order to allow the Spirit to change you into something different. It is not formation it is reformation or renovation. Moreover, significant change tends to require supernatural help from beyond ourselves. You know it is good to be thrilled by those stories you hear of dramatic transformations of people, instantaneous deliverances from sins and habits and bondages and sometimes this is the way God’s grace comes to us, but more often transformation takes time and it starts with being honest about our true condition.
Let me tell you a story to illustrate this point. My good friend Gary and his brother Donnie grew up in a troubled family in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood. Their older brother had been murdered point blank by a shotgun blast through the screen door at the front of their house. Donnie had been in and out of jail for years on a list of criminal convictions. His last felony for kidnapping and extorsion had brought a lengthy sentence behind prison bars. When my wife and I were about to move to British Columbia on the west coast of Canada, quite close to where Donnie was in jail, Gary, his brother, asked me to consider visiting Donnie in jail. I agreed and that began a season of Sunday afternoon visits to the jail up the nearby valley. As we sat together in the snack bar area of the prison or walked around the prison grounds in the afternoon sunshine, I learned that my brother’s friend was actually not guilty of the crime for which he had been charged. He explained how he had been set up by bad friends who were still not in jail themselves; they were still running around free, and he had been a victim of police who were really doing more than they should have. He had been a victim of an injustice at the hands of the judge who gave him his sentence. This was all very surprising to me, but the surprises continued. I met other inmates, other men in the jail and as I did I made an even more amazing discovery, none of them was really to blame for the crimes they were accused of having committed. If I could believe what I was hearing from them all, this prison was full of innocent people. Oh, this was very disillusioning to me. How could the Canadian legal system have become so totally messed up? But, you must know the real reason. The inmates were not telling the whole truth. Prisoners were in denial. But, those inmates were not the only ones who are in denial. We all are. Now God is a God of truth and he refuses to play games or pretend. It was Teresa of Avila the 16th century Spanish Mystic who may have been the person who first came up with the insight that our journey toward God is also a journey to the self. It is also a journey or a movement into self-knowledge. As sinners we tend to be out of touch with our true selves. Oh, it is too painful; it is too terrifying to be honest about what we have actually done. Only when we have first grasped God’s assurance through Christ that we are unconditionally loved and forgiven, only when we have first experienced the confident hope that we will be accepted anyway, only then can we find the courage to face the truth about ourselves. Honesty always grows best when grace is celebrated.
Let me say something further about the importance of authenticity. When I go to the dentist he puts a little bib around my neck and he leans me way back in his big chair. He tells me to open my mouth real wide and then he clicks on a powerful overhead lamp. He has got a monitor and on the monitor out of the corner of my eye I can see what he sees. It is embarrassing. My gums are all exposed and my teeth too, they are far from perfect, nothing lines up, nothing is straight and symmetrical, the light exposes how much teeth cleaning I need, the plaque buildup here and there, the molars that have become discolored over the years and the ones that need fillings or crowns; it is not a very pretty sight. But the bright light is necessary if the dentist is going to be able to assess my dental situation accurately, for you see assessment is the first step to treatment and correction. Confession is important to conversion for the same reason. If we confess our sins, the Bible says, God is then faithful and just and will forgive and purify us according to 1 John 1:9. Now the Greek word that we translate here as confess means to agree or to concur, to say the same thing. So, why is confession a required element in conversion and the ongoing process of sanctification? Well, I think it is essential because we need to ascent or agree to God’s bracingly accurate assessment of our hearts and minds. We have to stop playing games. We must drop our rationalizations and our excuses and come clean. We need to agree with God in our hearts. And sometimes, just sometimes I think the breakthrough to authenticity requires that we come out of our comfortable privacy and confess our sins to others as we read about it in James 5 verse 16. Now this, this is very risky business and we need to choose very wisely whom we confide in, but agreeing with God’s assessment in public, finally being honest before God and others, can be the thing that at last brings us into the light.
Now, Psalm 137 is a strange piece of work. It is one of the so-called imprecatory Psalms. The imprecatory Psalms are that troublesome category of prayers that seem to call down curses upon one’s enemies; not very Christlike in other words. Now this one, Psalm 137, was written by a Jew in exile and in exile this Jew is being psychologically tormented by his captors. He has been through so much suffering; in all likelihood he has witnessed firsthand Israel’s disastrous military defeat. He has probably seen his own little children grabbed from the heels by laughing soldiers whirled around like slingshots and bashed against the wall until their innocent little skulls are crushed to death. Now, years later, these same Babylonians mocked him, “Entertain us with songs of your homeland and that beloved capital city of your’s,” they taunted. And overcome with hatred and unresolved grief the psalmist seethes under his breath, “Happy are those who repay you according to what you have done to us. Happy are those who seized your infants and dashed them against the rocks”. Well, this is definitely not turning the other cheek, no this is raw hate. It is perplexing that such dark passions should be inshrined in the inspired biblical prayer book of Jews and Christians. So, what is going on? The presence of these sentiments, these feelings in Scripture says Eugene Peterson is not to be taken as an endorsement of these emotions. The Bible is not saying that this is how we ought to respond to the pain inflicted on us. No, the commendable thing about the psalmist reaction is that he is willing to pray his pain. He is willing to bring his true feelings into the presence of God, there to express them with shocking honesty. This is what he does right. By bringing his pain and his anger into the presence of God the psalmist is bringing it into the only place that offers hope of dealing with it. Real spirituality is always earthy and honest. There is a danger that the pursuit of holiness can become a kind of show, can become theatrical. It is tempting to perform for our audiences. We feed off the approval of others, but Jesus himself had little patience with cosmetic holiness. He did not like it when people tooted their own horn and bragged about themselves. For example, it was better, he said, for people who were fasting to act normal and cheerful instead of drawing attention to their great piety by groans and other sad features on their faces, etc. Jesus despised phoniness. “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees,” he said. “You hypocrites, you clean the outside of the cup and dish but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” For Jesus this kind of discrepancy, looking good on the outside, not being good on the inside, was intolerable. He preferred a regular, chronic sinner with heartfelt remorse over a religious leader puffed up in the pride of his own achievements.
Let us talk for a moment about the death of the old nature. Once we are able to face our own moral flaws honestly, what do we do about them? The Apostle Paul expressed the inward struggle that every sensitive conscience experiences between their higher ideals and their lower compulsions. “Although I want to do good,” Paul says, “evil is right there with me, for in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. Oh, what a retched man I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death?” these are words from Romans chapter 7 and they explain very clearly that even after regeneration, even after the new birth, the old nature, the old sinful nature keeps coming back to haunt us. Fortunately, Paul saw hope of relief. “Thanks be to God,” he wrote a sentence later, “Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.” You see, the renewal of holiness is God’s work accomplished through the indwelling Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Christ he has implanted within us. No self-improvement strategy can ever mean that we no longer need this help from beyond ourselves. Once we understand our need we can start to cooperate more with the impulses of the Holy Spirit who is operating inside us. We can throw ourselves more enthusiastically in line with the direction God wants to move. We can exercise our power of choice to accelerate the rate of transformation in our lives. That transformation process all starts by changing how we think about ourselves. Since the beginning of Christianity water baptism has been the mandatory or required right of initiation into the Christian community. It was understood by Christians and non-Christians alike, it was understood to mark the end of one’s old allegiances and the beginning, or inauguration, of a new life as a committed follower of Jesus Christ. It was the watershed moment in one’s spiritual journey back to God.
Apostle Paul recommended that we have a radicle view of the experience of baptism. He taught that we should consider it a kind of funeral service for our sinful natures. He wrote—All of us who were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death. We are therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life—that is found in Romans 6. So in effect, Paul was recommending a special; well we call it today visualization technique. When we recall our baptism, he was saying, we are to think of ourselves as having joined Christ in his experience of death and resurrection. Elsewhere the Apostle Paul conjures up the memory of Isaac. Do you remember the story of Isaac, tied to a mountain top alter of sacrifice while his wild-eyed father Abraham stands over him with a knife of execution held high? —Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice now, holy and pleasing to God—Paul urges in Romans chapter 12. This is radicle, this is bracing, it is offensive even. Burials, deaths, human sacrifices, whew it is creepy stuff. Is it necessary? Is it even healthy and in the epistle to the Galatians it comes up again. – I have been crucified with Christ—the Apostle says, — and I no longer live but Christ lives in me—Galatians 2:20. The main point is, in the act of dying something in us falls away. It comes to a decisive end in a way only possible through dying. Paul teaches us that this is how we ought to regard our old nature and its persistent demands for unholy satisfaction. On a hillside overlooking the ancient city of Ephesus are the ruins of the massive church of Saint John constructed on the order of the Roman Emperor Justinian and thought to hold beneath its altar the bones of the beloved apostle. The remains of this once great church now sadly exposed to open air and the elements and weather contains a fascinating baptistery. For this baptistry is built in the shape of a cross into which each candidate would descend along the central channel. Even the room housing the baptistry was cross-shaped in design. What a powerful architectural witness to the New Testament understanding of baptism as a symbolic identification with Christ in death to self and resurrection to new life.
Still the unholy compulsions of our sinful nature never stop making themselves felt in our hearts. Its appetites remain strong and that is why it has to be continually restrained and controlled and reigned in. That is why firm discipline of the self is so important to the Christian life. I was on a church platform during an ordination service one hot Saturday afternoon. The message or the charge to the ordination candidate was unusually long and boring and my mind began to wonder. I noticed that there were four stained-glass windows on each side of the church each of the windows representing a Fruit of the Spirit. Down one side in fancy letters and in the language of the Old King James Bible were the words love, joy, peace, long-suffering and down the other side were gentleness, goodness, faith and meekness. This was great but I knew there was one more fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. So, where was the ninth? I looked up toward the balcony and all around searching for a final ninth window to complete the inspired text of Galatians 5, but that window did not exist. In the architects mind the need for symmetry, the need for the symmetry of eight an even number of things had overcome or been more powerful than the need to include everything in the biblical text. The Fruit of the Spirit that was missing, of course, was self-control and I concluded with some alarm that perhaps this church did not believe in self-control. Can you imagine what kind of a church it would be if it did not? We ought to believe in the necessity of self-control. As to be honest, I am sure that church did as well. But there is a strand of thinking among some Protestants that intentional self-discipline for the purpose of holiness smacks of works that great enemy of salvation by faith alone through grace alone. The catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, the document that is used to train children in that particular religion, says that the way of perfection passes by way of the cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Biblically informed Christians should have no problem with the basic idea here. God is engaged in soul-crafting and the formation of virtue in us. It is his work, yet it is a process in which we are invited to participate. And how? By responding in a willing, cooperative way to the impulses of the Holy Spirit. This seems to be how the Apostle Paul, who knew a thing or two to be sure about salvation by grace through faith, this seems to be how the Apostle Paul understood life in the Spirit. In Romans 13:14 he said—Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature, then set your minds on things above, not on earthly things—he urged the Colossians—for you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God—Colossians chapter 2. And then immediately afterward he added in the same epistle and the same chapter—put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature. It certainly sounds as though, doesn’t it, that we are being asked to do things that will assist the sanctification process? Now Christians have debated, and often they have debated rather vigorously, whether the pursuit of holiness is optional or mandatory or required for their salvation. I come to conclude that this is not a helpful way to frame the issue. It is much better to say that growth in holiness is natural and inevitable for regenerate believers because it expresses their new spiritual DNA. Martin Luther, the great reformer, held firm that Christians are justified by faith in Christ alone, apart from performing works of the law. But then he added that once a person is justified they cannot and they will not remain idle, for they now have the Holy Spirit and as Luther put it—where the Holy Spirit dwells he will not suffer a person to be idle but instead stirs him or her up from within to all kinds of exercises in piety and godliness. Yes, we can choose to align ourselves with these divine impulses. We can choose whether we will give ourselves to them with all our heart. This involves an acquired taste for the good revealed in Christ. it requires a genuine delight in the Holy. It requires a realization that this spirit-guided process is the key to reclaiming our true selves.
To help us in the renewal of holiness we have once again some helpful guides to recommend to you. The first and the oldest is Thomas à Kempis who lived from about 1380 to 1471 during the middle ages. Thomas à Kempis was a member of the brothers and sisters of the common life in the Netherlands. His example of meditation on the inner life of Christ contributed to a spiritual renewal movement in his day for over 500 years his book, The Imitation of Christ, which he first published in 1429 and to which some other people may also have contributed some parts, that book has been the unchallenged masterpiece of Christian devotional literature and the imitative tradition. I must warn you though that casual readers today may find Thomas à Kempis’ intensity a bit daunting and intimidating. A second helpful guide is a woman, Hannah Whittal Smith who lived from 1832 to 1911. Smith, a Quaker from Philadelphia in the United States, was a leader of the late 19th century higher Christian life movement which extended the influence of holiness ideas throughout the Protestant churches and also helped to stimulate and sustain robust missionary initiatives all over the planet. Her popular level best selling book, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, first published in 1875 offered an upbeat, positive corrective to the unhappy introspection some believed had too often characterized the pursuit of holiness. A third and final helpful guide on topic is J. I. Paker, author of Knowing God and many other books, who has been described as the last of the Puritans. Paker is a British Anglican theologian who came to Canada in the 1970’s. He has been an important mediator to the church today of the spiritual vision of the old Puritans and those of their decendents who first settled the United States of America. Paker’s own affirmation of this tradition of renewing holiness may be studied in such works as Keeping in Step with the Spirit and another book entitled Rediscovering Holiness.
Well, in this chapter this is what we have covered; here is a summary. We began our consideration of the transformational dynamic by studying the renewal of holiness. Sin has corrupted the moral purity of people created in the holy God’s image and likeness. We have become image bearers who sin and worse than that we carry about in us a disposition to sin. But the Gospel is the Good News that our sinful thoughts and actions can be forgiven through the atoning work of Christ, but the news, the good news, is even better than this. God’s Spirit who now resides in us is also fixing the polluted source of our sins. He is gently but firmly moving us along in the direction of sanctification. He is progressively restoring the holiness with which we were originally designed.