November 19, 2013

Help with holiness

by Steve Meister

We must be holy, because this is the one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world [2 Cor 5:15Eph 5:25-26Titus 2:14]… Jesus is a complete Saviour. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more – He breaks its power (1 Pet 1:2Rom 8:29Eph 1:42 Tim 1:9Heb 12:10).

 – J.C. Ryle, Holiness

I’ve recently preached a mini-series on holiness for our congregation (audio here). We began with Lev 10:1-11 and 1 Cor 6:9-11, and concluded with Heb 12:1-14.

After being a Christian for nearly 20 years, I can unfortunately say that personal holiness has not been a topic that’s received great emphasis in the churches and ministries with which I’ve been in fellowship. In Rediscovering Holiness, J. I. Packer points to the same reality.

Packer identifies 3 evidences that Christians today evidently do not think personal holiness is very important:  

  • It’s not the topic of much preaching, teaching, or writing.
  • It’s seldom valued or expected in Christian leaders.
  • It’s not shared in the message of evangelism, declaring to the world that without holiness, “no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).

I believe Packer is unarguably correct. But fortunately we’ve not been left without help on the path of holiness. Apart from Packer’s own book, here are a few more faithful works, listed from older to recent, that I believe are good resources for every Christian in their pursuit of holiness:

J.C. Ryle, Holiness. This maybe the classic work on the subject and even Ryle’s greatest contribution to the library of faithful Christian teaching. Fortunately, it’s old enough that it can be read online. And there’s also a recent edition with a nice biographical sketch of Ryle by J. I. Packer, Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J.C. Ryle. It’s hard to imagine a better book on holiness than this.


Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness. What can you say about Jerry Bridges? Reading him always feels like sitting down with your favorite grandfather. You know you’re going to hear it straight, but that it’s going to be loving and easy to grasp as well. In every work, Bridges is faithful and clear, and this is no exception. Whenever I find a used copy of this book, I always buy it to give away.


Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness. DeYoung has really given us a wonderful recent work that’s particularly geared to our American evangelicalism, today. It’s a great reminder that along with reviving “Gospel centered” Christianity and the doctrines of grace, we must focus efforts on the necessary result of the Gospel, personal holiness. (This was also the topic of his address at T4G 2012, “Spirit-Powered, Gospel-Driven, Faith-Fueled Effort”).

Whenever I get a toy new appliance or product, I tend to skip the instruction booklet (repeated in five languages) and go right to the “Quick Start Guide.” All of the above works are worth the investment of your funds and your time to read. But if there’s a “quick start” guide to personal holiness, it might be Joel Beeke’s concise but helpful booklet, HolinessMaybe start with it and work your way up the other books.

Whether we read all, one, or none of these helpful books, let’s not let the general neglect of personal holiness in our day be an excuse to neglect holiness in our lives. The exhortation of Hebrews 12:14 still addresses us:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

What about you? What book would you add to this list?

Steve Meister

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Steve is the associate pastor of River City Grace Church, in Sacramento, CA.
  • Tom

    When I had only been a Christian for about 5 years I met a man who had walked with the Lord for 50 years. I asked him, “Besides the Bible, what has been the most influential thing in your life?” Without hesitation he responded, “J. C. Ryle’s Holiness.” I have read it every few years since then and I continue to be encouraged by it.

  • PGS

    All good books. I would also add Changed into His Image by Jim Berg. Really was convicted reading it. It’s available on Amazon.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll have to check-out Berg’s work.

  • Thanks for the recommendations.

    I think the idea of holiness can sometimes seem intimidating and nebulous at the same time, and discussion can be packaged up with a little too much Christianese. Schaeffer wrote pretty clearly about the symbiosis of holiness and love, and I’ve heard it said that holiness = becoming whole. I like that.

    • Thanks, Chaz. Yes, that’s the same idea behind the biblical terminology for “peace” as well. With our sin, we’re very broken, abnormal, and less than human, even. Though in our day, we’d want to be quick to clarify that from the therapeutic and man-centered notions of “wholeness.” To be whole is to be like God, conformed into Christ’s image (Rom 8:29; cf. 2 Cor 3:18).

      • **Though in our day, we’d want to be quick to clarify that from the
        therapeutic and man-centered notions of “wholeness.” To be whole is to
        be like God, conformed into Christ’s image**


  • Greg Pickle

    I absolutely love Ryle, but I think even more foundational and more necessary is David Peterson’s “Possessed by God” in Carson’s NSBT series. It is fantastic on the phases of sanctification, especially definitive (positional) sanctification, and it also has a chapter on Romans 6-8 that he absolutely nails. It has been really, really helpful for me.

    • Thanks, Greg. Good to hear from you. Peterson is (foot)noted by most everyone, his work is a great reference for teachers, pastors, and other leaders. Thanks for the reminder.

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