Let's Read: The Hole in Our Holiness — A Work in Progress
Author: Davy Ellison
Over the past few months we have worked our way through the content of The Hole in Our Holiness. Along the way we have considered the reason for our redemption (to be holy); we have explored the what and how of holiness (defining holiness biblically); we have been encouraged that real holiness is a possibility; and we have stretched our minds with the deep doctrine of union with Christ and the reality that in Christ we are holy.
It is important to finish by reminding ourselves that despite all of these glorious truths we remain a work in progress. None of us are the finished article, but we can and we should be making progress.
That All May See Your Progress
We witness the sentiment of progress in Paul’s first letter to young Timothy in Ephesus:
Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim. 4:11–16)
Paul writes to encourage Timothy to stand up against false teaching. It appears that Timothy is operating as a Pastor to the church in Ephesus. The manner in which Paul writes gives the impression that Timothy is responsible for leading of the church and the public preaching and teaching. Timothy is a Pastor/Elder. But Paul also has the church in mind and so instructs the church about how public worship should be conducted and includes comments on who should hold positions of leadership within the church.
In doing so, Paul lists an intimidating collection of qualifications/characteristics of those who should be elders and deacons in the church (See 3:1–13). Included in this list is: above reproach, self-controlled, hospitable, managing his own household, well thought of by outsiders, dignified, not double-tongued, and blameless. In addition to this list of qualities, Paul then commands Timothy to set an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity (4:12). More than that, Timothy is also to devote himself to the public reading and preaching of the Scriptures (v. 13); he must continue to use and increase his evident gifting (v. 14); and to practice and immerse himself in all that Paul has commanded him (v. 15).
This is a tall order that Paul has given Timothy. However, there is this little gem of great encouragement at the end of verse 15: “so that all may see your progress”. Such encouragement and such grace crammed into seven words. This phrase implies that Timothy is not perfectly fulfilling the qualifications of an elder. He is not yet the finished article. It implies that he is not perfectly setting an example to the older saints in the church at Ephesus. There is evidently room for improvement.
The implication is that there are areas in which Timothy could improve, and improve in such a way that people would notice. In other words, Timothy is a work in progress. As are we. Writing about this verse, Kevin DeYoung (p. 138) reflects: “I can grow. I can mature. I can become holier than I am now. My behaviour and my teaching [he speaks as a pastor] can improve. Progress is not only what God expects from me but what he allows from me.”
How exactly should we be making progress in living a life of holiness? I suggest we think about it in three different ways.
First, we can make progress in pursuing Jesus. Kevin DeYoung (p. 123) writes: “in seeking after holiness we are not so much seeking after a thing as we are seeking a person. . . . To run hard after holiness is another way of running hard after God.” See we are not simply wanting to be seen to be good-living, or well-behaved, or even just seen to be Christians. Our desire should be to be known as people who have been with Jesus (as Acts 4:13 describes the Apostle’s Peter and John). Our desire should be to run hard after the triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this way we make progress as our relationship with God develops.
Second, we must not just pursue Jesus, we must also make progress by living with and obeying Jesus. The biblical language for this is abiding. We see this most frequently in the Apostle John’s writings:
whoever says he abides in him [Jesus] ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (1 John 2:6)
No one who abides in him keeps on sinning (1 John 3:6)
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:15)
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us (1 John 3:24)
whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 John 4:16)
John is not saying we have to be perfect. After all, he states explicitly if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). Rather, what we find in 1 John is that “walking with Christ and enjoying communion with him involves walking as Christ did and keeping his commands” (DeYoung, p. 127). In doing this we progress in holiness.
Third, we make progress by using ordinary means. Kevin DeYoung highlights four ordinary means of making progress in holiness: prayer, Bible reading, joining a church and participating in communion. As we spend time in prayer, in Bible reading, with other Christians who we have committed to and participating in communion, we make progress in holiness. DeYoung (p. 135) argues, “the only way to extraordinary holiness is through ordinary means.”
All of the above is summed up excellently in one of the final paragraphs in the book:
Holiness is the sum of a million little things—the avoidance of little evils and little foibles, the setting aside of little bits of worldliness and little acts of compromise, the putting to death of little inconsistencies and little indiscretions, the attention to little duties and little dealings, the hard work of little self-denials and little self-restraints, the cultivation of little benevolences and little forbearances. . . . all the little things of life, determine whether you are blight or blessing to everyone around you, whether you are an ugly spiritual eyesore or growing up into a good-looking Christian. (p. 145)
Holiness is the sum of a million little things—and it is by addressing one little thing at a time that we may progress in our holiness.
1, Who are some of the Christians you look up to in the faith? Why?
2, Do you think that those living closest to you would say that you have progressed in holiness in the past year?
3, In what ways have prayer, Bible reading, church-based fellowship or communion helped you progress in holiness?