Many ages in church history were full of men who sought to, albeit sometimes in a misguided way, attain greater levels of holiness. They worked at it. The prioritized it. While I would not advocate for the monasticism of the Desert Fathers, or the rigidity of the Puritans, we must admire their efforts to daily mortify their sin and be conformed to Christ. These men made holiness their highest priority; not simply the development of character, but an equal development of utter disdain and hatred for their own sin, and a progressively awakened conscience to the extent of their own natural corruption by it. They sought to be like Jesus, and learned more and more how much they continually fell short of His perfect example. This drove them not to vain works which puffed up their own self image, nor to mere adherence to the externals of religion, but towards genuine confession of sin, hatred of sin, repentance from sin, and pleas to God to be cleansed of sin, forgiven of sin, delivered from sin, freed from sin.
Faith alone saves, but saving faith is never alone. When you love Christ, you will obey what He commands you to do; and you’ll be heartbroken when you fail to. But when you’ve made peace with sin, or fail to recognize your need to work in holiness, the sweetness of forgiveness becomes stale, and the joys of real virtue are unknown to you.
We in the Reformed camp are intellectual Christians. We have many theologians, skilled in exegesis and theology and apologetics and philosophy, masters of original languages, doctrines, covenants, histories, and arguments. Of course, these things are important, and we should do them. What I love about Reformed Theology is its beautiful consistency with itself and the scriptures, and what wealth of knowledge and clarity can be gained by its study.
But which is easier to do: to write a one thousand page systematic theology, or to mortify your sin of anxiety? To learn Hebrew, or to relinquish your habit of cursing?
One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one who rules his spirit, than one who captures a city. (Proverbs 16:32)
Brothers, we must work our doctrine. But we must also work our character. Our sanctification is a high priority in the eyes of God. We must, on one hand, really and truly rest in the finished work of Christ, for He by His life accomplished the righteousness we never could, and by His death transferred that righteousness to us upon our faith, and by His resurrection raised us to eternal life. We must wholeheartedly deny that any man, by his works, can earn a right standing before God. But we must also, on the other hand, seek to work out our salvation by fear and trembling, obey the commandments of Christ out of love for him, bear fruit by the work of the Spirit in us, and heed the warnings that our faith is false if works are absent from our lives. We should be a people marked by good character, work ethic, and habits of grace and holiness, such as regular prayer, fasting, and scripture study, aiming to please God in all things. We should make them our top priority.
Does that sound like your life? And would God agree?