June 25, 2013

Holiness by Choosing What’s Best

by Steve Meister

“Is there anything wrong with this?” That’s the question Christians usually ask to determine whether something is acceptable. To be sure, it’s not a bad question. But there’s an equally important question that we ought to be asking: “Is there anything sanctifying in this?”

For this is the question that’s implied by Hebrews 12:1:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

That first command is rendered in the NASB as “let us also lay aside every encumbrance.” And the NIV has it as “let us throw off everything that hinders.” Until recently, I had missed the significant ambiguity of that first command in this verse. That is, the all-encompassing reference of “every weight,” “every encumbrance,” or “everything that hinders.” 

Here’s what the late John Chapman observed about it in A Sinner’s Guide to Holiness:

It is interesting to see that the writer does not say whether the things to be thrown off [in Heb 12:1] are good or bad. They could well have been very good things or activities that they were now being called upon to give up… the principle that is being explained in these verses is this: if at any time or in any circumstance the thing or activity gets in the way of growing like Christ, it is at that time or in that circumstance to be discarded.

… He is calling on us to be rigorous in self-examination, and to understand that growing Christlike is so important that we should not let anything hinder it. It is possible to be hindered by some thing, which, even though it is not sinful within itself, nevertheless gets in the way of holiness. As you read this, you may be reminded of something that is good, but which really robs you of the best. You may be conscious that you have chosen this good thing, rather than the best thing. If this is so, then throw it away. It could be the way you use money. It might be the way you use time. It may be the way you use your talents and abilities.

There is nothing wrong with spending a weekend at the snow. However, if it means leaving your Sunday School class without a teacher on Sunday, then you don’t have to be a genius to know whether the good (going to the snow) has robbed you of the best (teaching your Sunday School class).

… So we see that God, in this part of the Bible, is urging us to throw away everything which hinders us from following Christ to the best of our ability.

In light of What’s the Christian Life About? we may also re-frame Chapman’s point and say that if we choose something good which hinders prayer, proclamation, or people, then we’ve made the wrong choice. Laying aside every weight means discarding those things which may not be wrong in and of themselves, but which nonetheless hinder us from following Christ to the best of our ability.

A friend of mine once made an off-hand remark that deeply impacted me. He observed, “If we’re going to serve Christ, then there’s going to be things that we just won’t be able to do.” Now, he wasn’t referring to those typical behavioral restrictions that Christians are concerned about – whether you smoke, drink, chew, or go with girls that do. He meant that when you follow Christ to the glory of God, it’ll necessarily impact what you do with your money, how you spend your Saturdays and (perhaps especially) your Sundays, and where you invest your energies. If your congregation needs a teacher to edify and evangelize, is that beach trip an acceptable decision for the “race that is set before us”? That hobby may not be inherently unholy, but is that investment of time, talent, and treasure really helping your growth in holiness?

So add another diagnostic question to your decision-making. Definitely don’t stop asking yourself whether there’s anything wrong with what you may do. But don’t forget to also ask whether there’s anything sanctifying about it. Growing in personal holiness is not simply a matter of abstaining from an increasing number of sinful things. It’s growing in our desire and ability to do what’s best, to determine what’s most sanctifying from what’s acceptable, and to throw away every hindrance from following Christ to the glory of God – even if it seems like there’s nothing wrong with it. Sanctification is more than just doing the good, it’s deciding to do the best.

Steve Meister

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

    Good article. As a Catholic I fully agree. We are also encouraged to put aside the good for the greater good. I love hebrews 12 and it’s points about our sanctification. That suffering is for our good to make us holy and the discipline of the lord if for our good as sons. If he does not discipline we can see it as a sign that he has left us to our own desires because we do not submit to his will for us. This chapter more than any to me give a black eye to dispensationalism as dispensationalists will say it is for the Jews only. Very sad.

    • Thanks for your comment, Gerald. While I’m not a card-carrying dispensationalist, I do have sympathies in that direction, but I’ve never heard of someone applying Heb 12 to Jews only. Is there a specific writer to whom you’re referring?

      As a Roman Catholic I’d be curious your thoughts on passages in Hebrews, like 9:26-28. It teaches that Christ “put away” (v. 26) – that is, canceled or done away or legally annulled sin, entirely. This was done once for all (v. 27), so that Jesus no longer has to “deal with sin,” but only save those who eagerly wait for Him (v. 28). This does not seem to accord with what Rome teaches about how sinners are made right and the assurance that Christians may have (eagerly awaiting, without concern for their sin).

      • gerald

        I do not totally reject a dispensationalist view of scripture either. One must consider the passages written to the hebrews in light of Jewish language, culture and history so there is a sense in which dispensationalism is true. But there are those when I try to use the passage in Heb 12 as an apologetic argument who say “oh that is not us, that is for the Jews”. Do I have an author? No. More in my debates on primarily youtube. I have a video on youtube about Heb 12 and ran in to it quite a bit out there. Was going to get some quotes from debators but it looks like someone hacked the comments and deleted them all.

        I will answer your second part later as it requires a bit more care and attention.

      • gerald

        BTW I do have a question or two for you. What happens if this sanctification, i.e. to be made holy, is not completed by the time we die or is there a passage that guarantees that it will be?

        • That’s not a biblical paradigm, Gerald, since Christians are definitively and positionally sanctified in Christ, as well as pursuing in sanctification progressively in life (see 1 Pet 2:9; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; Heb 10:10, 14; etc.).

          For more on this, see the TMS Journal devoted to Biblical Sanctification (http://www.tms.edu/JournalIssue.aspx?year=2010) or John Murray’s excellent treatment of “Definitive and Progressive Sanctification (http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?1925).

          I think that’s enough for this thread, Gerald. You can follow-up with me off these comments, via the contact page of my site – http://www.affectedbytruth.com/. Thanks!

          • gerald

            Yes the best way to win an argument is silence the opponent and delete his posts. This just shows that protestantism can’t win one on one. This is what I find protestants doing all over the web.

      • gerald

        Sorry I haven’t had alot of time to look in to this. I will give a brief answer for now. So 2000 years ago, not at the moment we become Christian, or the moment we are baptized at the moment we repent Christ put away sin? In a sense I agree. Christ earned by his act once for all time the grace to redeem ALL SIN of all mankind. Sufficient for us to be forgiven, to cleanse us of all sin, to overcome our sinful natures, etc. etc.. But did these things happen 2000 years ago. NO. They are happening today by God’s grace through the action of the Holy Spirit. The sacrifce happened. The grace flows from it. This idea below from what I read in one of your articles I think is where the problem lies.

        “It is rooted, not in humanity and their achievement of holiness or
        sanctification, but in what God has done in Christ, and for us in union
        with him. ”

        This to me is a false dichotomy and denies the work of God in our lives. It is not him or us but him in and through us as eph 3:20-21. Because he did we have the power to do for without him we can do nothing but in him we can do ALL THINGS. Protestants have this misguided need to deny everything that we do. Once we are in Chirst he works in and through us producing 30, 60, or 100 fold. And that is not separate from the cross but because of it.

      • gerald

        Ah how nice. You ask me a question. Then delete my answer. You went off topic first. Why isn’t your off topic nonsense gone?

      • gerald

        THis thread should be totally deleted. If you are going to delete my answer to the question you asked then delete the question as well.

  • Stephen Roth

    Rick Holland used to say Sunday morning starts Saturday night. Not to be legalistic, but to order one’s life to prepare for the Lord’s day. Thanks for the article.

    • Thanks, Stephen. That is wise from the Rev. Dr. Holland. I’ll sometimes ask folks – What if Sunday was actually the first day of your week? Implying that we’d be prepared for the week to begin by Saturday night, instead of prepping on the Lord’s Day for our week to begin on Monday.

      Though my all-time favorite comes from Puritan George Swinnock: “If thou wouldst thus leave thy heart with God on the Saturday night, thou shouldst find it with Him in the Lord’s Day morning.” Press on.

  • Melissa Collins

    Good article with great food for thought – if we conduct our lives with that thinking, we are doing ourselves a great service in trying to commune with God 24/7!! If we are always striving for sanctification then we are most certainly “thinking on these things”. Thanks!

  • Drew Sparks

    Excellent post. We all need more holiness.

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  • Tim Hackett

    Steve! I’ve been enjoying your posts. This one is especially timely, as I recently had a friend ask me about “gospel centered sanctification” and have been reading and thinking a lot about the sanctification process. This adds a much needed perspective to what I’ve been digesting. Glad to see you’re still rocking the soul patch, brother.

    • Tim! It’s so good to hear from you. I hope all is well with you – be great to catch-up at some point. I’m really glad this was helpful. Yes, you know, us restless, reformed, and gospel-centered celebrities have got to keep it real with a soul patch and dark-rimmed glasses. Press on, brother.