Are you as holy as the next person?

Yesterday I saw this post on personal holiness  from Mike Kruger. Though not Kruger, George’ boss on Seinfeld. He begins the article shocked by a P.C.A. pastor declaring to his congregation that “no one is more holy than anyone else.” 
Our living out the implications of our belief in the gospel is obviously God’s design for the Christian. 
When I was a humble youth director (my self given nickname-in jest of course), I took my first seminary class in a church in South Carolina. Then I decided to go to RTS-Orlando full time soon after. That class was taught by this man. The funny thing is that I really didn’t think he was all that friendly, so I never really had a great impression of him. God can certainly use people like that, as I really did enjoy his class on the Gospels.
The question that Kruger deals with is a legitimate one: can one person be more “holy” than the next? Practically speaking can a Christian justified by faith alone live differently from another Christian justified by faith alone in such a way as we would say one is living a more holy life?
The answer is yes, provided that you understand that the word holy or righteous can refer to someone justified, as well as someone growing in the process of sanctification. 
So, what exactly is a “righteous” person? Surely we cannot suggest that all these passages are simply referring to the imputed righteousness of Christ (as important as that is). No, it appears the Bible uses this category of the “righteous man” for believers who display a marked consistency and faithfulness in walking with God. Of course, this doesn’t mean these people are perfect, sinless, or able to merit their own salvation. It simply means that the Spirit is at work in such a way that they bear steady fruit in their lives.
 If so, then it is simply untrue to say “no one is more holy than anyone else.” Not everyone is equally sanctified. Some are farther along than others by God’s wonderful grace. Now, I am sure the pastor that I heard would agree with that. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I am sure he was only trying to say that when it comes to our justification no one is able to stand on their own righteousness: all are desperately in need of grace. No doubt, in his zeal to make this very good biblical point, he stepped too far and declared that “no one is more holy than anyone else.”

Here are some of my takes

1.) Category. I think we do need a category for describing a Christian that is walking closely with the Lord and bearing fruit as well as a Christian not currently walking with the Lord. The yahoos at Corinth were called “saints” and “holy.” But holiness is clearly something we grow in and seek (II Peter 3:11; Hebrews 12:14). If we can grow in holiness, we can thus live more holy or less holy lives. We can also live more more holy lives than the person sitting next to us at church.

2.) Comparison. While we need a category to talk about and think through the implications (or lack thereof) of the gospel in our daily lives, we need to be careful not to ACTUALLY compare ourselves with one another. As soon as you agree someone else already justified by faith might be living a holier life, or less holy life, you have the potential to compare. That leads to pride or despair. However, just knowing that not all sins are equal doesn’t make me think less of my lust (after all I haven’t committed the the thinking could go, but doesn’t). We should nevertheless repent from lust as quickly as repenting from the act of adultery. All sins are bad. All people are Christ’s works in progress. The fact that some are farther along than others does not necessarily make you compare; but realize you are prone to it and remember Jesus calls us to a brokenness of spirit.

3.) The fact that this man heard something from a pulpit and then blogged about it is a bit sad to me. I think it would have been just as powerful if this part were left out. No pastor can say everything on a Sunday morning; he shouldn’t even try. Not just for time purposes, but for communicating truth. You can’t say anything if you’re trying to say everything. You don’t need to caveat every time you make a statement or else you’ll be there forever and your flock won’t be edified. I would doubt this mystery pastor would disagree with the thrust of his article. It’s best to present your opponents’ arguments in a way that they themselves would say, “Yes that’s what I believe.” I think Kruger misses on this one.

4.) Dr. Kruger sees a greater danger in honesty than I do. Perhaps we’re in different geographical and spiritual locations. But honesty about sin has never moved me to glorify sin but to feel I’m not alone in the struggle. It has moved me to glorify Christ and follow him more nearly in faith. In our area, we need more honesty: honesty that leads to deep repentance over our gospel replacements.

 Trying to make ourselves feel better about our sin. In recent years I have noticed that there are some very popular catchwords in some reformed circles. We are reminded regularly to be “real” and “vulnerable” and “open” about our sinfulness. And, in many ways, this is a good thing. We certainly want to confess our sins so that we can let the light of the gospel shine on them and allow our brothers and sisters to share our burden (James 5:16). However, this trend also has a danger. Elizabeth Elliot put it well:
The “openness” that is often praised among Christians as a sign of true humility may sometimes be an oblique effort to prove that there is no such thing as a saint after all, and that those who believe that it is possible in the twentieth century to live a holy life are only deceiving themselves. When we enjoy listening to some Christian confess his weaknesses and failures, we may be eager only to convince ourselves that we are not so bad after all. –The Hope of Holiness 

All in all, I’m glad Kruger wrote this. He brings some great points that we need to consider. In your pursuit of holiness, just remember that your sin springs from unbelief. Therefore we need to go back to truly resting in who Jesus is and what he’s accomplished on our behalf.

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