Sunday, January 6, 2008

Pursuing Holiness

I've just finished reading a collection of sayings of the desert fathers. These dudes were intense! In the third century they moved off into the desert often on their own, some became hermits or lived in communities with other hermits/monks and dedicated themselves to putting their flesh to death.

It was very interesting. Partly, because the austerity of their way of living is SO in contrast to the way the average modern believer lives. I'm not entirely sure that they were completely right in the way they lived, my biggest objection being that it is hard to love your neighbour as yourself if you don't have any neighbours. Also hard to spread the gospel if you are not at all in contact with the world. However, I am really impressed with the intensity with which they desired and sought after holiness. OK, so some of it was probably in reliance upon themselves rather than God, but they definitely seemed to live that verse where Paul says, "I beat my body and make it my slave" (1 Cor 9:27). They fasted, they lived in seclusion, avoided women, kept vows of silence, subjected themselves to suffering for their sins. A couple of them went so far as to castrate themselves based on an overly literal interpretation of Jesus' statement, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off" (Mark 9:43) Ouch!!!

There were some bits that suggested to me that they were working on a works based theology rather than grace, but you could equally interpret their behaviour in light of James 2:14-26. Faith without deeds is dead. If we truly believe that He has redeemed us, and called us to live holy lives, then surely some degree of zealousness in pursuing holiness would be a sign of faith.

I was challenged by the desert fathers. Not to move into the desert, praise God! But to take more seriously the call to live a holy life. I think I need to stop making excuses to myself about the weakness of my nature, and be more determined to lean on God for the strength to make the hard choices that are needed in my life in order to overcome sin. God willing that won't be actual bodily amputation (although some days I think that physical bodily mutilation would be easier than dealing with the sinfulness of my heart). But I think it is wise to cut off opportunities for sin. Proverbs 5:8 is illuminating, and I think applies more broadly than just to the context of avoiding adultery, "Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house".

I want to learn better to follow the promptings of the Spirit, and work with Him better to live a life that is pleasing to God. I want to understand more fully the offensiveness of my sin to God, so that my desire to not sin will be more motivated out of a desire to please Him rather than a sense of guilt and condemnation that makes me feel bad. I do not want to presume on His grace, although I know that my entire existence presumes on His grace. I want to better understand Christ and what He did for me at Calvary. I want to walk free because He paid so dearly for my freedom. Mostly, I want to know Him better, more closely, more deeply, more intimately. I want to know Him better than I know myself.

God bless,

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