This article is a condensed and edited excerpt of my position paper On Personal Godliness from the chapter “What is the Motivation of Personal Holiness?” For the excerpt on “What is Personal Holiness?” go here. For “How Do I Grow In Christ-likeness?” go here.
The gospel is the good news that man can be forgiven his sins against a holy God because of the grace and love offered through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, being the Son of God and thus himself God (Jn. 1:1-5), came and took upon himself our very nature so that he may save us by fulfilling God’s law (which we were incapable of doing due to sin) and pay for our sins by dying in our place (Rom. 8:1-4). In the gospel, a great exchange takes place: Christ takes the sins of his people upon himself, and Christ’s people receive his perfect righteousness by faith (2 Cor. 5:21).
Yet, if our understanding of the gospel stops here, we miss the latter half and full beauty of the gospel. We endanger ourselves of cutting the gospel short.
Yes, the chief end of the gospel is our justification, as outlined previously. Yet our justification is inseparably married to our sanctification: our growing in Christ-likeness, our being conformed to the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18b). Justification is the head of the gospel but sanctification is its body. As one Reformer puts it, Christ justifies no one he does not simultaneously sanctify (Calvin, Institutes). In the application of the gospel to our lives, Christ both declares sinners righteous (justification) and then proceeds to make them righteous (sanctification) as we see in texts like Romans 8:29 and 1 Corinthians 6:11.
Thus, our personal holiness is the unceasing work of the gospel being fulfilled in our lives in progressive sanctification.
(1) To Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever In Such
What is the chief end of man according to the Westminster? It is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. John Piper would tinker with the wording in light of his Christian Hedonism to the tune of thought that we glorify God by enjoying him forever. I believe that both answers deliver glorious truths, so my attempt is to balance the two in saying that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever in such.
To clarify, if Piper’s spat with the Westminster is based on the thought that it separates the two too much from one another, it seems that Piper’s definition makes the latter condition the former, blurring the two. Thus, by saying that we glorify God and enjoy him forever in such, we are able to connect the two as Piper correctly does so without blurring their inherent differences as the Westminster correctly portrays. Hence, this then is the motivation of personal holiness, all personal godliness: the glory of God.
So why should you and I grow in sanctification? Because it is glorifying to God and, in such, it is the greatest joy we can taste in this life! The glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ is that Christ justifies sinners and imparts his Spirit to them so that they may walk in righteousness through sanctification. To play lull in pursuing sanctification is like getting married and then never moving in.
A gospel that stops at justification is a half-gospel, and inevitably a false gospel, lest it lead him who is justified unto real sanctification, for there is no true justification without sanctification. This ongoing sanctification then enriches the heart with greater affections and joys for Christ. Sanctification conforms the believer to the image of his Savior. Thus, in the pursuit of godliness, our motivation is God’s glory, and our enjoyment in him in such, for God’s glory is the heart and spring of our joy.
(2) To Be Conformed to the Image of Christ
The beauty of the gospel is twofold in the sense that (1) Christ has come and taken upon himself a body of flesh, uniting himself with us in our very nature, so as to redeem it by uniting it to himself and thus (2) uniting us with himself in righteousness by the indwelling power of the Spirit. In doing so, our growth in sanctification and personal holiness is a conforming unto the image of Christ’s (2 Cor. 3:18). This is both a goal and motivation for personal holiness.
In being conformed to the Image of Christ, we enact the chief end of man: to glorify God and enjoy him forever in such. As we grow in being conformed to the Image of Christ, we glorify God by showing how powerful the gospel of his Son is to both declare his people free from sin and to then make his people free from sin. Simultaneously, as we grow in conformity to Christ’s image, our desires and loves become more aligned with his own. We grow in our ability to savor, treasure, and enjoy Christ, the true joy of our lives.
(3) To Be Living Canvases of the Gospel
In being image bearers, we are to reflect the character of God to those around us as a mirror that displays how being in union with Christ changes people. Thus, one motivation in growing in personal godliness is representing God and his gospel correctly; to be one whose light shines forth for all to see so that they may glorify the Father (Matt. 5:16). When others encounter us, our conduct should point them towards Christ in a worshipful manner. They should see our good works and think not of us, but of God. Thus, we make it our aim to grow in personal godliness, so that we may be a canvas of the Lord’s glory, not our own.
Where does your life line up in light of the gospel? Have you come to a lull in your pursuit of sanctification? Have you realized that you may not have even been justified in the first place?
Wherever you are at, we may all sing for joy in light of Christ’s words “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37b-38). If you have not drank from fountain of Christ, come and thirst no more. If you have noticed that your heart has grown cold and the channels which once overflowed with living water have become timid creeks, come and plant yourself by the Eternal Fount (Ps. 1:3).
May we all alike grow in the likeness of our Savior all the days of our life until our faith becomes sight.