Why You Can't White-Knuckle Your Way into Holiness


The only way to walk in holiness is with the help of Jesus. You cannot do it by yourself just as you cannot save yourself.

How many of you grew up with VeggieTales? (I'm proud to admit that I still can sing "Oh Where Is My Hairbrush?" and "The Cheeseburger Song" on demand.) I was intrigued to read an interview with Phil Vischer, the creator, in 2011. He says he was deeply convicted:

I looked back at the previous ten years and realized I had spent ten years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, "Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so," or, "Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!" But that isn't Christianity, it's morality.?

Reading Phil's bold confession and change of heart made me rejoice. It also provoked thought. As Christians, don't we often think in similar terms? 

Ugh. Pride again. I'm blowing it here. James says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). I've gotta change.  

Then we resolve to be obedient. Though we may pay lip-service to the idea of asking God for a hand of assistance, we typically feel the bulk of responsibility. We're left to deal with the day-to-day business of attacking our indwelling sin—and that business gets frustrating pretty fast as we keep falling back on our face in the same ugly sins. It's a constantly discouraging task. But praise God...white-knuckling our way into holiness isn't the way of the gospel. 

I love how Watchman Nee explained this idea: "A brother who was trying to struggle into victory remarked to me one day, ‘I do not know why I am so weak.' ‘The trouble with you,' I said, ‘is that you are weak enough not to do the will of God, but ... You are still not weak enough. When you are reduced to utter weakness and are persuaded that you can do nothing whatever, then God will do everything.' We all need to come to the point where we say: ‘Lord, I am unable to do anything for Thee, but I trust Thee to do everything in me.'" 

He nailed it. When we talk about salvation, we're quick to explain that it's by grace and through faith. We know our works are no good. God does all the work through Jesus; we must simply trust the sufficiency of His sacrificial death, and He gives us eternal life freely. But God doesn't stop there. 

With the gift of the Holy Spirit, He invades our being—"it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12–13, emphasis added). It isn't just that we’re justified by grace through faith; we're also sanctified by grace through faith. All is of grace and through faith, for God does all. We need more than a little "help" to get us on our way. 

Jesus made this plain: "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all" (John 6:63, emphasis added). Paul, former law-keeping Pharisee, got it. He couldn't depend on himself in any respect. "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?" he asks. "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:2–3).?

In other words, you trust that His death is enough, apart from your works, to make you right before God? So why don't you trust that His Spirit is enough, apart from your works, to deliver you from temptation and make you more like the Son? Why do you bring your own self-effort into the equation again? Remember the gospel! 

As a new day promises new temptations, it's time for me to renew my faith in the gospel—a good news that does not stop at salvation, but continues day to day as I trust the Spirit of Christ to empower my obedience. That's something to sing about.  

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