When I left the doctor’s office this afternoon I was reminded: There are no magic pills. At least, for my ailment there isn’t. About 3 weeks ago, I blogged about an injury I sustained to my knee while playing goalie in hockey (Some might call me a typical man for waiting 3 weeks before seeing a doctor!). I don’t know what I was expecting from my doctor. In the back of my mind, I thought he might just tell me to ‘rest it’. I also braced myself for the suggestion that a surgeon repair the damage. What I certainly wasn’t expecting from him was a list of weightlifting exercises aimed at strengthening the muscles that surround the knee. I didn’t expect I had to do something in order for my knee to get better. I imagined someone else; my doctor, my pharmacist, or a surgeon would do something on my behalf to fix my knee. I suppose I was looking for an easy out; a shortcut.
On occasion, I get the impression that some Christians are looking for shortcuts. We read the Bible and we see exhortations to be like Jesus. We read and we discern that we ought to be making progress in our pursuit of *holiness (*i.e. becoming like Jesus). We recognize the enormous distance between where we are, and where we need to be, and we begin to wonder, ‘What can be done?’
If you’ve asked yourself that question, you’re off to a good start. Because some, I fear, imagine that since they did nothing to gain salvation (Ephesians 2:8), similarly nothing is required from them to become holy. They figure that God who, in His sovereignty, gave them a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) will also sanctify them in His good time.
As I read the Bible, however, I get the sense that becoming like Jesus is going to take some substantial effort on my part. I remember reading a number of years ago about an encounter between the golfer, Jack Nicklaus and his celebrity partner at a golf tournament. As the day progressed, and after watching Nicklaus sink putts all day, the celebrity exclaimed, ‘I wish I could putt like that!’ Unmoved by the compliment, Nicklaus turned to his partner and replied, ‘I didn’t get to putt like this by wishing.’
Friends, we will not become like Jesus by wishing. Nor will we become like Jesus by giving excessive emphasis to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. Holiness is not automatic. It is something to be pursued. Holiness is something to be worked at.
On the other extreme, we ought to avoid an approach that imagines progress in holiness coming from human effort alone. I regard Jesus to have had holy living in mind when He warned, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In the pursuing Christ-likeness, the answer most certainly is not self-sufficiency.
The long road to holiness is a joint venture between you and the Lord Jesus Christ. Christopher Love is a theologian who ably articulates this partnership, ‘As God commands His children to obey Him, so He conveys power and ability to enable them to do what He commands‘ (Love, The Mortified Christian, 29)
This is not altogether unlike when I help my 5 year-old daughter clean her room. The room does not clean itself. My daughter has never successfully wished her room clean. I refuse to clean her room for her…but I help her. There are shelves that she cannot yet reach. There are items that are too heavy for her to lift.
I require (on occasion, at least) that my daughter’s room be clean, but I assist her in fulfilling what I require. J.I. Packer also captures this equation well when he writes, ‘Holiness is both God’s promised gift and man’s prescribed duty‘ (Packer, A Quest For Godliness, 198).
I’m so grateful that the Lord does not leave this holiness thing all up to me. I’m also glad that my effort isn’t irrelevant to the process either.
I haven’t found any shortcuts to becoming like Jesus…and that’s ok. Because, truthfully, I’m enjoying the process. Yes, pursuing holiness is enjoyable–yes enjoyable. We were designed for this.
So, I’m done wishing. Time to work.