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Entries in Holiness (2)


Remember, we are pilgrims

Our identity as pilgrims is what Jeremy Walker focuses on in the second chapter of his book Passing Through. He opens the chapter with an illusion to Homer:

Homer's epic poem The Odyssey tells of the hero navigating his ship between two monters called Scylla and Charybdis, in which steering away from one usually meant falling prey to the other. The Christian in the world faces a similar challenge. A sense of our identity as pilgrims will help us to navigate between the Scylla of isolation and the Carybdis of emulation, as well as the aimless drift of inattention.

First, Walker points to the biblical principle that we are strangers and aliens, that this world is not our eternal home (Psalm 119:19; I Peter 2:11; Phil. 3:17-4:1; Heb. 11:10). Then, he give some examples from church history where this principle has been developed, referring to Augustine, Calvin, and Spurgeon. He spends a bit of time exploring Bunyan's pilgrim motif in The Pilgrim's Progress. He emphasizes that when Christian approaches Vanity Fair, he must go through it in order to get to the Celestial City. In other words, we must go through this world in order to get to our eternal home. We are not meant to cast off our identity as pilgrims as we go through this world, but we must pass through.

The church must be itself, i.e., a "celestial colony," as Walker puts it. We are present, but passing through:

We need to grasp that we are both present in but passing through this world, taking into account the various conceptions hidden in the word. We are to be properly separate from the world and yet sincerely engaged with it. We must not err on either side. Again, some professing and genuine Christians seem to have missed the principle of holy separation, while other appear to have missed the principle of holy engagement.

When I was converted, it was 1985, and I was 20 years old. As I watched my contemopraries, I observed that there were activities and attitudes that were not suitable for someone who called herself a Christian. I actively chose to separate myself from some of those things. When I look at young people in their 20's now, I can see that they feel no such need to separate themselves as I did. Things that my husband and I would have considered unholy practices are embraced by young people in the name of Christian freedom. Of course, we cannot be the Holy Spirit in another's life, and we are called on to be gracious while holding fast to biblical truth. It is a delicate balancing act to be a pilgrim, but one which I believe God has equipped us to do. 


The world's greatest need

From J.I. Packer's Keep in Step With the Spirit. Packer discusses the need for personal holiness:

Christians are called to oppose the world. But how, in this case, can that be done? Credible opposition to secular ideologies can be shown by speaking and writing, but credible opposition to unholiness can only be shown by holy living (see Eph. 5:3-14). Ecumenical goals for the church are defined nowadays in terms of the quest for social, racial, and economic justice, but it would be far healthier if our first aim was agreed to be personal and relational holiness in every believer's life. Much as the moden West needs the impact of Christian truth, it needs the impact of Christian holiness even more, both to demonstrate that godliness is the true humanness and to keep community life from rotting to destruction. The pursuit of holiness is thus no mere private hobby, nor merely a path for a select few, but a vital element in Christian mission strategy today. The world's greatest need is the personal holiness of Christian people.

There are those who would surely take issue with Packer's comments regarding the quest for social, racial, and economic justice. Some would object: "But my personal holiness is demonstrated in my quest for social, racial, and economic justice." I certainly agree that part of holy living is embracing such things and promoting them.

However, we need to remember that even the unregenerate can seek and promote social, racial, and economic justice. Those things are not the entirety of personal holiness. Even the most infamous pagan can pursue such things. Personal holiness is about much more than actions. It's about allegiance.