Holiness: Part 2- Do We Work For It?

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58 Responses

  1. Xenia says:

    This is so good. I can’t thank you enough, MIchael, for these articles.

    I remember the very moment when I realized the truth of what Ryle has written. I was sitting in the back row of my old CC on a Wednesday night, sulking. This was a very bad year for me, spiritually. I remember listening to something the pastor (a man I love very much, by the way) was teaching about how God sanctifies us without effort on our part. (Or words to that effect. I may be caricaturing what he said. It’s what I heard, anyway.) And I thought: This doesn’t work! This JUST DOESN’T WORK! I’d been a believer (at that time) for fifty years and I was in terrible shape, just terrible shape. My dissatisfaction with this teaching began that night and ended up with me leaving the evangelical world, as you all know.

  2. London says:

    I think we work AT it, but not FOR it.

  3. covered says:

    Xenia, I can’t tell you how many times that your comments and insights have caused me to pause for good reasons.

    This is wonderful Michael and it is something that we all need right now. Thank you.

  4. Xenia says:

    Thanks, covered.

    Here’s the thing I’ve noticed: Faith produces good works, we all know that. But what is overlooked is the fact that good works can increase one’s faith. And this increased faith will produce more good works which will increase one’s faith even more. And after a lifetime of living out this cycle you might just end up with a holy person!

  5. Xenia says:

    I think we should work FOR it. Remember, true holiness would exclude all pride, all sense of “I did it,” etc. Working for it means that there’s a goal that you will be actively aiming for. This goal is closer union with Christ, not a merit badge that says “Holy Person, First Class.” Holiness would presume humility and a holy person would not consider themselves to be holy. Kind of like the guy who was awarded the prize for humility but they had to take it away when he accepted it.

    I work AT things all the time. I am a dilettante in many areas. I work at being a gardener, that is, I go out there a few times a week and pull up a few weeds with corresponding mediocre results: not much fruit. If I worked FOR the title of “Gardener” I would get out there for a few hours every day and I would have bountiful fruit for my efforts.

    So I think “for” is a good word to use as it means we intend to be more than a dilettante.

  6. Xenia says:

    Ok, 3/5 of the posts have been mine! Time for other folks to talk!

  7. London says:


  8. “This goal is closer union with Christ, ”

    I have no idea what this means. Christ lives in me – how do I get closer than that?

    Patrick mentioned it yesterday – this is why Lutherans get tag a ‘weak on sanctification.’

  9. covered says:

    MLD, are there any times when you feel closer to God? I know that even at times while preparing to teach that I can feel closer to Him, certainly you can say the same. It’s the opposite of when I feel a bit of a distance from Him at times. When I allow myself to be “choked with cares, riches and pleasures of life and bring no fruit to maturity”, these are times when I know that I have strayed and not close at all.

    I understand your statement that because He is in us it doesn’t get any closer but there are things that can distance up from Him.

  10. covered says:

    us not up πŸ™‚

  11. Steve Wright says:

    Our tongues, our tempers, our natural passions and inclinations β€” our conduct as parents and children, masters and servants, husbands and wives, rulers and subjects β€” our dress, our employment of time, our behavior in business, our demeanor in sickness and health, in riches and poverty
    This is where it gets sketchy, because it can get so subjective. Not that the above is somehow wrong though either.

    I imagine a whole lot of people would think that we are somehow less holy taking a little break and watching a football game. I on the other hand, do not.

    Now, if one cusses and yells at the TV the whole game, then kicks the dog when his team loses….

    Holiness, if defined as set apart for God’s usage, would not preclude legitimate means of rest, relaxation, entertainment and so forth, enjoyed in a manner befitting the character of God.

  12. covered,
    That may be the point – do I count on my feelings or do I count on his promises?

    I don’t want anyone to think I am not for good works. I may just define them differently.

    I got up this morning,gave my wife a kiss and a pat on the butt and told her I love her … good work as a husband.

    I drove my grandkids to school – even got them there on time, which is rare. Good work as a parent.

    I came to work and have been performing my job in a pretty good manner … good work as an employer and as an employee.

    I am grateful to God for giving me each thing to do. I think it was all holy work.

  13. covered says:

    MLD, you crack me up! If patting my wife in the butt counted as “good works”, I’d be the pope πŸ™‚

    There’s a difference between being a good dad, grandpa, husband and serving others. There is a “union” or a closeness that can’t be manufactured when in the mission field. Your mission field are those places outside of your home. I do agree that we are to be the best that we can be at work, at home etc but when you are called to so something elsewhere, there’s a closeness that reveals our faith.

    I will admit though that slapping my wife’s butt doesn’t seem like work πŸ™‚

  14. ” Your mission field are those places outside of your home.”

    Again, this is where we differ. My ‘mission’ field (and I hate that term) is wherever I am and with whomever I am with.

    Lutherans have a doctrine of vocation and it takes care of all that. I have used the example in the past – if I am a baker, my vocation is to make great bagels so that when someone comes in in the morning, through my vocation of bagel making I am helping that person off on their day to do their vocation to and for others.

    I see no difference between vocation of my day to day life and what some claim as “their ministry” apart from the day to day mundane.

  15. covered says:

    I do not for one minute believe that our daily lives are mundane. I also believe that we have an obligation as believer’s to be kind, to love and to serve in every aspect of our lives. While you hate the term “mission” field, I think that are times when we are called to be outside of our home or work place to serve and I don’t know a better term than mission field. If I am in Indonesia or Africa or Haiti, this is a place where someone may be called to serve which makes it a mission field. It is in these places and in these times where God seems to be directing every step and every prayer which in my mind, causes me to feel closer to Him. He is not any closer than when you think you are doing the “mundane” tasks in life but I feel closer and feel nearer when I think He has called me to serve elsewhere. For some reason it takes a lot more of a filling of the Holy Spirit to do laundry than it does to go to Africa πŸ™‚

  16. Hmm, I do not have a high calling to go to Indonesia and do whatever people do in that ‘mission field’. However, this weekend I do have a calling to cook hot dogs at my grandson’s soccer game. I think that is holy work just like a monk or a missionary.

    Am I wrong?

  17. Xenia says:

    You are wrong.

    Matthew 5: 47

    And if you greet only your relatives, that’s no great thing you’re doing, is it? Even the unbelievers do the same, don’t they?

  18. Steve Wright says:

    in my opinion, good works and holiness are two very different discussions.

  19. Xenia,
    First, you proof text is completely out of context.

    Second, I am not cooking hot dogs for my family, but the community.

    The difference between the prevailing view, is that you guys are into halo polishing. My halo is rusted gets dirty.

  20. So, I do my work a day and family stuff and then go to church and do my holy stuff?? Not gonna happen.

  21. Xenia says:

    I thought you were a Sunday school teacher?

  22. London says:

    Maybe we should have started this series by defining the word “holy” before we start debating who is and who is not holy

  23. Xenia,
    Great point – I don’t see what I do teaching a class of 70 adults each Sunday morning as anymore holy or as a better or different ‘good’ work than when I took the kids to school this morning or the upcoming hot dog cooking.

    Now the question – do you compartmentalize that way?

  24. Xenia says:

    I think we are confusing holiness and good works, as Steve said. I think I am the one who brought up good works- sorry ’bout that. I think they are related but not the same thing.

    You bring up a good point, MLD, about compartmentalization and I do agree with you about the value of vocation. Holiness is manifested in different ways in different people, depending on their circumstances in life, I guess.

    But I do believe that holiness has to be pursued. What I object to, and what I think the original article up at the top objects to, is the idea that by *doing nothing* we will become holy people. I believe it takes effort. Included in this effort should be prayer, fasting, reception of the Eucharist, scripture reading, good works, and so forth. Many people live very careless Christian lives, totally immersed in the things of this world.

  25. Xenia says:

    First, you proof text is completely out of context.<<<

    I do not believe this to be the case.

  26. PP Vet says:

    My great-great-grandfather’s testimony of attaining sanctification:


  27. Xenia,
    Of course it is out of context to our discussion. Perhaps if I limited my ‘mission field’ (geez, I still hate that term) to my family you would have a case. But I didn’t – I explicitilly stated that wherever I am and with whomever I am around I do my good works “serving my neighbor”

    Your objection seems to be that you do not see family, work and other mundane settings as a place to do holy work. If I am reading you correctly, only ‘religious’ work is worthy of God’s notice.

  28. Perhaps my issue is with the term you use – that we must be in pursuit of holiness … as if God has not laid it out for us just to pick up like the manna he used to provide.

    A friend and I 30 yrs ago when we were younger would give blood at the office everytime the blood mobile would show up. We used to see who could pump our fist the fastest to fill the bag the quickest. That is what I picture in this so called pursuit.

  29. Lutherans see sanctification as part of our justification. Perhaps if you looked very closely you could see some daylight. Most others I speak with on the topic see the 2 as completely separate.

  30. Steve Wright says:

    Xenia, although I tend to think MLD overstates some of his examples, I too think the quote is out of context.

    If MLD volunteered to coach the little kids, instead of cook their lunch, would that not be a ‘good work’ of service in the community? When Christians serve in such ways, outside of the walls of the church building, that’s a good thing, right?

    Surely anything an unbeliever might also do is not somehow off the list – because unbelievers help feed the poor, tend to the sick and 1000 other deeds we might mention as part of Christian duty.

    Pretty soon we are left with only prayer, Bible, and whatever we might do within the four walls of our particular church building. And I KNOW you would not agree with that. :).

  31. Xenia says:

    Your objection seems to be that you do not see family, work and other mundane settings as a place to do holy work. If I am reading you correctly, only β€˜religious’ work is worthy of God’s notice.<<<

    Well, no. I do think serving one's family and being a good employee and neighbor can be part of a holy life. I don't think everyone needs to go live in a hut as a hermit or be a missionary to Yemen. In fact, most of us are not called to this. I do believe that living a mundane life can be a very holy life. I think most holy people live very mundane lives. It just didn't happen to them, though, they worked at it.

    But to take a quote from the original article:

    True holiness…It is something of β€œthe image of Christ” which can be seen and observed by others in our private life, and habits, and character, and doings!

    That’s what the author of the article says. And he says:

    I ask, in the second place, whether it is wise to make so little as some appear to do, comparatively, of the many practical exhortations to holiness in daily life which are to be found in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the latter part of most of Paul’s epistles?

    He mentions the Sermon on the Mount, which is where my proof text came from, by the way.

  32. Patrick says:

    The problem with any discussion on sanctification is that people try to parse out or divide what Scripture says is a “both, and”.

    I am completely holy and sanctified by faith in Christ.


    I am being sanctified until the day I die or He returns.

    Ryle seems to point the believer to look at ones’ life as proof of sanctification and this concerns me greatly. Once your eyes are looking on yourself or your works or your holiness, they are removed from Christ, his works, and his holiness which is all that matters.

    These discussions also seem to come around to lessening the Law so that it is doable so that one feels like they are making progress, but God requires perfection 24/7 not just at fleeting moments throughout the day thus we need a perfection that doesn’t change(i.e. Jesus).

    Consider Thesis 1 from the Heidelberg Disputation
    “The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.”

  33. Xenia says:

    I’ve been going at this from an EO POV which may not be clicking with some of you. Here’s a Protestant (Reformed) view:


    (I am not familiar with this gentleman, by the way.)

  34. Steve Wright says:

    I believe we pursue holiness. My point about the football game made earlier is an example of another point I made, namely that good works and holiness are two different issues.

    The idea of taking a break for a couple hours and watching a football game is in no way a “good work” in any legitimate sense of the word. However, it is not contradictory to seeking holiness 24/7.

  35. Xenia says:

    Steve, I don’t for a minute think watching a football game is an impediment to holiness.

    But how about watching R or X-rated movies? Listening to music with profane lyrics? I do think these things defile a person and are an impediment to holiness. Yet many Christians see nothing wrong with these things.

  36. How can a person claim to be holy and watch a football game on TV
    1.) it takes away from a time of prayer (unless your team is losing)
    2.) Sports betting thrives because so many watch the games.
    3.) The largest contributors to football are the beer companies – you watch as they push drunkenness on the public.
    5.) it is violent causing many players to put their health and well being on the line so you can watch American gladiators at war.
    6.) half naked women on the sidelines shaking their pom poms and those things they hold in their hands.

    If one were to really pursue holiness, it would not be in front of your 60″ screen

    Did I sound holy?

  37. Xenia says:

    I have a personal opinion about TV football that I will keep to myself!

  38. I didn’t watch the game tonight. My wife wanted to watch a couple of Antique Roadshows. Much holier – although I did peel a layer of skin off my forearm with boredom .

  39. STeve Wright says:

    Xenia, there is certainly a difference between my example and someone watching X-rated videos. Likewise, as I said earlier, if someone is watching the game and cussing at the TV and is so upset at the result he acts out in some sinful way, it most definitely is a hindrance to holiness. We could also add the person who watches EVERY game and thus spends 20-30 hours a week focused on this one thing, is also seeing an impediment to holiness.

  40. Xenia says:

    Yep, I agree. I do get a kick when my 2-year old grandson watches football and yells “Touchdown! Touchdown!” when his dad’s favorite team scores.

  41. Xenia says:

    G, the photos of that monastery are breath-taking. I confess that I am more than a little attracted to the life of the hermit. Not on a pillar, though. I would be afraid I’d walk in my sleep and end up in heaven sooner than I expected.

  42. brian says:

    I would like to bring up what challenges me the most about personal holiness. Driving, walking down the street and riding the bike in traffic. For example today I was crossing the street while riding, I actually get off my bike when I cross the street, I ride. I look both ways wait until all the cars cross and then try to cross the street. Today I almost got hit twice crossing and coming back. The speed limit is 35 which means some people are going well over 60. Each way I got screamed at, flipped off and called nasty names. I managed to hold on to my temper all I said is that this is the cross walk. In the area I live in the city is building building building and running traffic into smaller roads etc. It makes it very hard to drive like to enter our park you are on a busy street turning in, there is one drive why where there is always someone walking, riding, standing etc. people speed up get extremely angry after say 2 seconds and so on. I go into detail for one reason I think this is one of the hidden struggled we all have in day to day practical holiness. Where the rubber meets the road so to speak.

  43. Steve Wright says:

    Here’s a better example. Nobody, not even MLD (I think πŸ™‚ ) would define sleep as a “good work” – however, our holiness is not hindered by getting a proper amount of sleep – as our Lord did for Himself (without of course hindering His perfect holiness)

    Sleep, like food, work, exercise and many other necessary things of life can all be abused, and in that abuse be hindrances to holiness – but I go back to the idea of being set apart for God’s use. He knows we need sleep, food, even some relaxation and entertainment – all in order to be effective in the good works for which we were appointed.

  44. Xenia says:

    I think that much-maligned motto “What Would Jesus Do?” is helpful.

    He might decide to walk across the bay and obviously I couldn’t do that but as far as entertainment goes, if Jesus wouldn’t watch it, neither should I. On the other hand, Jesus did hang out with tax collectors and fallen women but of course, His purposes were pure.

    How we spend our money, how we spend our time, what we choose to watch and hear, how we choose to talk… These decisions do affect us. Continual bad choices can sear our consciouses and I believe the conscience is one of the ways God speaks to us. If our conscience becomes jaded, can we still hear from God?

  45. brian says:

    I honestly dont get the good works thing myself, I just like doing things to help people. I have the nagging voice in my head from stuffed drilled into my head that its all evil, vile, filth and God rejects it and me. But as I find my way out of that way of thinking I just find a joy out of doing good, I dont expect anything From God for doing it, really dont want it, other then the honor to do it again.

  46. Xenia,
    Breathtaking views and a stunning commitment on the part of the man who is living it!

    Yep, the monastic life is definitely appealing. =)

    Glad you liked the post.

  47. uriahisaliveandwell says:

    For me, the way I think of works wrought by the Holy Spirit within me is this:

    I no longer need to strive against not having to sin, for what I have been changed into causes me to not want to sin but to please Him. As for Holiness, I see it as not so much as doing, but as being one with Him. That is, my heart, mind, body, and spirit become more and more align with Him.

    On some things, this happens right away, but on others it is an exercise of choosing Him over that which would cause me to be separated in fellowship with Him. Initially, those things that trip me up would be easily triggered by reminders of things that would send me into sin, and to pile more sin on top of the one sin. As I examine my attitude, values and beliefs about what it is that leads me into wanting or desire something that is not mine to have, I also have examine the impact that my choices is having upon others about me and myself. Once I understand this, I can choose to continue to be weighed down by this or I can choose to go through the struggle of letting it go. If I can freely choose the latter, it is because I am no clinging the false beliefs, attitudes, and values I placed upon them, but have come to realize the truth and thus, able to take on the same mindset as Christ. Then when the temptation does come, it is no longer a temptation as it is no longer a part of me. I have moved closer in my walk and who I am in Him becomes more like Him.

    To me, Holiness is that process that takes place as we choose to rid ourselves of those things that has harmed another and that dishonors the Lord. It is a conscious decision that if brought to our attention as we are given opportunities to know ourselves better, as we are being convicted, taught, and led by that which is permitted to take place in our lives on a 24/7 basis. The more we emuate Him—not copy, but truely take in our very being, the more we find ourselves being one with Him.

    I also think that the more this happens the more our heart is broken and able to be loved by Him while loving others in a way that the world does not know. With all the same boundaries and paremeters that He has modeled and taught us to do as well. This would include being able to hold one another to an account and to stand up against corruption and abuse when we witness or hear of it being perpetrated.

    I think that if we are in a “doing” mode of being Holy, it is something that is external or outside of us, rather than “being” mode which becomes part and parcel of who we are in Him. Reminds when Paul tells us in Romans 8 (I think), to put off the old man, and put on the new.

  48. brian says:

    There is a monastery next to where I work, it is a quiet and deeply spiritual place. It took me decades to stop loathing Catholic tradition as totally satanic, to truly appreciate it. When I go there it is like stepping into another universe / reality. They do not talk, only sing and pray, I dont think they are trying to escape or the other vile nonsense said about people who live in monasteries by some in the evangelical community, its disgusting. I lived in similar situations where I was in a house with brothers and letting people stay with us praying together etc.

    It is clear given my christian past, none of this should be ever necessary, it should not even be sought we are individuals, we are apart from community outside of utilitarian interaction, we are alone and should stay that way. We agree to work together as long as its pragmatic and effective, walk away when it is not. I dont do well in that type of world view. I must admit it is nice to be in a quiet place of prayer, being in community etc. I loved it and miss it. Wont ever live that way again even if given a direct revelation from God Himself. That part of the Christian apologetic I did learn real well.

  49. uriahisaliveandwell says:


    I agree with you, in the field of missions, charity begins at home. And if that is not first being given adequate time, attention, and resources, then anything that you do out side of your home is not more honorable or important that this. There are plenty of people who are involved in this mission field or that minstry who have thought this to make a person more “holy” than a housekeeper or a husband who works and comes home each evening, yet the latter could be walking closer than the former, simply due to the former being out their to avoid that which needs to be taken care of at home, but the sense of its importance has been lost on the “ideal” that sacrificing the welfare of your family for the sake of “God’s Work” is far more meaningful. Making hot dogs and “being” with your loved ones can be a far greater witness to those who foolishly ignore or take their family members for granted while being out there “doing” important things.

  50. Nonnie says:

    PP Vet, I love that verse your granddad referred to: “But God has given you a place in Christ Jesus, through whom God has given us wisdom and righteousness and salvation, and made us holy.” 1 Cor. 1:30

    I guess I am a simple person, but I honestly think holiness comes from loving God and loving my neighbour. When our lives are lived out with that purpose and desire (and we certainly cannot truly love all the time, “with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”) we fall upon the grace of God who works in us.

    He began that work and He promises to complete it. So hopefully, I live my life loving and serving Him and others, to His glory, through the power of His spirit, exhibiting the fruit of His spirit in what I “do.” And whenI fall short of that, I fall into the arms of grace.

  51. Nonnie,
    I agree 100% with your view. God clothes us in his holiness as we go out and do things in our daily life. As I said in my #29 – it’s like his manna, we just go get it.

    I do not hold the opinion of some here who think they are on a quest each day to find the next ‘holy thing’ to do.

  52. Andrew says:

    Holiness by definition just means separate. I guess you could say that it stands on its own with no comparison completely unique and one of a kind. Truly God is the only Holy one being that He is the creator Himself unlike anyone else. Being a people of God (the church) we are the “called out” ones who belong to Jesus. By definition all together the church is Holy or is being made Holy. There is no equivalent to the people of God anywhere else in the world. We are by definition Holy so I get a bit confused when some say we need to pursue Holiness. I am more in line with MLD that what we need to realize more and more on a daily basis is that Christ has already made us Holy and we are completely set apart for Christ. I think the best thing we can do is rejoice in this, believe in this, rest in his and not get all uptight about how Holy you or the next guy might be. It truly is who we are and not merely what we do. If fact everything we do from sleeping to eating to doing on job is a reflection of who we are. I am not advocating being lazy but just rather resting in the truth. Just my take on the interesting subject.

  53. A Believer says:

    I think Dr. Bing nails it.

    For those of you not into “free grace”, your mileage may vary…. πŸ˜‰


  54. A Believer says:


    I can see I got a lot of traction with that! At least it was on topic. πŸ™‚

    Since earlier in the thread people were discussing what holiness looks like as it pertains to gray areas in christian life, sports, movies, etc., … I thought this link might also be useful to some.


    Pretty basic DTS stuff along the lines of Charles Ryrie. Hey, at least Steve Wright will be able to appreciate it! πŸ˜‰

  55. Xenia says:

    from A Believer’s link:

    Sanctification involves our cooperative response to God’s grace.

    Since God supplies the power, sanctification is by grace, but it is not automatic. If it were, it would seem that all Christians would grow at the same rate and none could be held accountable for stagnation or lack of growth. But we know that all Christians do not grow at the same rate or progress to the same degree of holiness. We also know that the Judgment Seat of Christ holds Christians accountable for how they use their lives (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:9-10), which indicates different degrees of progress in sanctification.

    This is very good.

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