This article is a condensed and edited excerpt from my position paper On Personal Godliness from the chapter “How Do You Grow in Personal Godliness?” For the excerpt on “What is Personal Holiness?” go here. For “What is the Motivation of Personal Godliness?” go here.
How Do You Grow in Personal Godliness?
To grow in personal godliness is to grow in faith, for faith is the root of holiness. Pursue holiness apart from faith, and you will only ever manufacture legalism and empty morality. Faith is the foundation upon which holiness arises because of the object of faith: Christ . Hence, to grow in faith is to grow in treasuring Christ above all things (Matt. 13:44), to consider all things as rubbish and loss for the sake of gaining Christ and the righteousness that comes by him through faith (Phil. 3:7-11).
Thus, when pondering how one is to grow in personal holiness, one needs only to look for that which God has prescribed as the very instruments and means for enriching faith. Those include:
(1) Godly Fear
Godly fear, as John Bunyan puts it in his book The Fear of God, is “the salt of the covenant” which seasons every work of the believer and that which, if absent, renders our actions as a stench in the nostrils of the Lord. Strong language from the 17th century pastor.
To paraphrase the great Puritan, godly fear is that which drives a man to divert himself at great lengths from the faintest scent of sin and simultaneously drives him unto Christ. It is the “reverential fear [as] sons… that is the way to depart from evil.” It is the fear of the Lord – the fear of the Shepherd – which keeps the sheep close to him and at distance from the sound of a stranger. In light of the thirty-second chapter of Jeremiah, it is the fear of God which tethers the heart of the believer upon Christ.
It must not be missed that this fear, as Bunyan notes, flows from the fountain of faith. The two (faith and the fear of the Lord) are inseparably linked to one another for it is faith which births godly fear. As the 1689 London Baptist Confession puts it, “the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” An incredibly misunderstood doctrine, the fear of God resides in the fatherhood of God and our sonship to him in Christ. It is a genuine fear, and one that propels us to God. It is the fear a son has for his father, yet on a divine scale.
(2) God’s Word
If personal holiness is the mirroring and reflecting of God’s character (being that we’re made in the image of God, cf. Gen. 1:26, 27), then we must know who God is and what his character is like. Thus, a desire to grow in personal holiness is irrevocably tethered to the discipline of intaking that which God has given us to reveal his heart, nature, and character.
Scripture is both the means by which God communicates his person, nature, and will, and the God-ordained means by which we are sanctified (Jn. 17:17). The intake and meditation of Scripture is that which enriches the soul with faith and affections for God and simultaneously that which guards it from the snares of sin (Jos. 1:8; Ps. 1:2; Matt. 4:4). It is the contemplation of the Scriptures which makes one wise for salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). Thus, God’s revealed Word is one of the two rails upon which the locomotive of the Christian life and the pursuit of godliness runs upon, the second rail being prayer.
Prayer is the adjacent rail alongside Scripture upon which the locomotive of the Christian life flies across. Likewise, the two supplement one another. For we learn how to pray and what to pray for in light of Scripture, and our reading of Scripture should lead us to fervant and dependant prayer to Christ for our every need. Thus, we should endeavor to marry the two together by praying Scripture as we read it.
Prayer births personal holiness because it is that vessel by which God grants us with the strength and ability to grow in holiness. If Scripture is the soil of growing in Christ-likeness, prayer is the daily water that nourishes the seed of faith and subsequent holiness.
The act of prayer lays us in dependence upon God, for it shows that we are in need of his graces at all times. Hence, it can be stated that a lack of prayer has a root of pride and self-sufficiency. We pray because we have a heavenly Father who loves to lavish his children with merciful gifts (Matt. 7:7-8), we pray in order to protect ourselves from temptation (Matt. 26:4), and we pray so that we may receive the wisdom of God (Jas. 1:5).
Prayer is so critical to the Christian life that God in fact commands us to do it unceasingly (1 Thess. 5:17). If nothing else, this shows us how desperate and dependent we are on our Savior. Praise God that we can share in Spurgeon when he states “I have a great need for Christ: I have a great Christ for my need!”
(4) The Local Church
When one becomes a son of God through Christ, he or she simultaneously becomes a brother and sister to the family of God, other believers. There is no example in the New Testament of a Christian who is not part of a local church. To love Christ is to love the Bride which he shed his blood for.
The beauty of God’s wisdom is that not only does he purchase a people by his blood – a Bride – but he uses the church in the ongoing process to sanctify his church. This happens through at least five ways:
- Sitting under the preaching of God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16-4:2).
- Being held accountable by pastors and a body of believers (Matt. 16:16-19, 18:15-20; Eph. 6:2; Heb. 13:17).
- Praying for and receiving prayer from other church members (2 Cor. 1:11).
- Giving and receiving godly counsel and encouragement from other believers (1 Thess. 5:11, Heb. 3:13).
- Corporate worship (Eph. 5:18-20).
The local church is the canvas upon which the Christian life is painted upon and therefore a crucible for sanctification in the application of the gospel to the whole of our lives. The local church leads us into Christ’s righteousness by establishing a rule for personal and corporate holiness, assisting us in living the Christian life, and protecting us from the schemes and desires of sin.
(5) Private Meditation
As those who are in Christ, we are commanded to behold the glory of Christ by faith, taking every thought captive, thinking on whatever is pure, and fixing our minds on heavenly things (2 Cor. 3:18, 10:5; Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:1-2). In other words, we are to meditate upon God and his glory.
By meditation, I am not advocating some New-Age spirituality or Eastern mysticism. Meditation is a historically Christian discipline that has become lost in the church today. Christian meditation is thinking upon and savoring who Christ is and what he has done for us, not some nebulous pursuit of empty-mindedness.
If one desires to be like Christ, it is vain to attempt merely imitating Christ. It is not by mere imitation that one becomes like Christ, but by beholding (or meditating upon) his glory, and this by faith (2 Cor. 3:18). To pursue becoming Christ-like by merely mimicking Christ puts the egg before the chicken. It is faith which births action and Christ-likeness, not vice versa.
In light of 2 Cor. 3:18, it is beholding Christ’s glory by faith which conforms the believer unto the image of Christ. In other words, by thinking upon Christ’s glory the affections of the heart are stirred for Christ which permeate desires, feed the will, and lead to a more Christ-like life.
Suffering, pain, trials, and affliction are God-ordained means for our sanctification and his glory. In an American culture that perceives pain and affliction as vices to be avoided like the plague, the Scriptures encourage us to participate in the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet. 4:13) with joy so that we may be perfect and complete (Jas. 1:2). For it is through fiery trials that we become more dependent on God and through which our faith and hope in him is greatly strengthened (2 Cor. 1:8-10).
It was viewing pain as a means of grace which drove Spurgeon to sing “I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of Ages.” The great preacher believed Paul when he said that “this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).
To grow in holiness is to grow in faith. One does not grow in holiness by white-knuckled self-discipline, but by faith working itself out in action. Holiness is that which we grow in by the strength that God provides through the means he has prescribed, not something we strong-arm in ourselves. So let us grow in holiness by God’s grace, let us put off everything which hinders and put to death the sin that remains in our lives by the power of the Spirit – all of this for His glory and His name’s sake.