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Growth in Holiness

Moving from the Day of Atonement and its fulfillment in Christ to the holiness code of Leviticus 17-20, we move conceptually from the day of reckoning with sin and defilement to the new life that issues from it. In New Testament terms, this conceptual move is described, among other ways, as “keeping in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:25) now that we have been “reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10). In theological terms, this move is the turn from considering justification to sanctification. All of these things are describing the natural next question that should be raised in everyone’s mind after coming to faith in Jesus Christ: How should we then live? (with a nod to Francis Schaeffer and his desire that we order our lives biblically).

Perhaps one of the most helpful books I have read on this subject is Holiness by J.C. Ryle. What I will do with this reflection is present some of his thoughts on an angle of holiness that did not make it into my sermon: growth in holiness. Ryle dedicates a whole chapter to growth in holiness, and while the whole chapter is worth your time, I will simply present some snippets of thoughts here for your reflection.

Ryle begins by presenting the question(s) at hand that “ought to be deeply interesting to every true Christian”: “Do we grow in grace? Do we get on in our religion? Do we make progress?” Before offering his own reflection on this matter of growth in grace, Ryle suggests that such questions are not the top of mind for everyone who is associated with Christianity:

To a mere formal Christian I cannot expect the inquiry to seem worth attention. The man who has nothing more than a kind of Sunday religion—whose Christianity is like his Sunday clothes, put on once a week, and then laid aside—such a man cannot, of course, be expected to care about growth in grace. He knows nothing about such matters. They are foolish to him (1 Cor. 2:14). But to everyone who is in downright earnest about his soul, and hungers and thirsts after spiritual life, the questions ought to come home with searching power. Do we make progress in our religion? Do we grow?[1]

With this opening presentation, Ryle then moves on in the chapter to discuss the reality, marks, and means of religious growth so as to make face the importance of spiritual growth in grace.

Skipping over his remarks on the reality of religious growth, we can turn to the important matter of the marks of spiritual growth. Here, Ryle begins with an important reminder that “we are very poor judges of our own condition, and that bystanders often know us better than we know ourselves.”[2] Now, one practical application of this observation is that you ought to ask someone who knows you how you’re doing in your growth in grace in holiness. We should not be afraid of some constructive criticism in this area.

But what are some marks by which an evaluation of our growth in grace can be made? Ryle offers the following: increased humility, holiness of life and conversation, spirituality of taste and mind, charity, and zeal and diligence in trying to do good to souls.[3] In sum, these marks reflect the life of the Messiah whom we are to imitate and into whose image we are being conformed by the power of his Spirit.

Turning briefly to the means of grace, Ryle mentions the use of the private and public means of grace, i.e. the reading and preaching of the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer, among other things, both on Sunday mornings and throughout the week individually or in groups. He also mentions watchfulness in the small things and care about the company we keep.[4] These are good and helpful means of religious growth in holiness, but Ryle ends with a word on what really makes these means useful. He says,

Now I believe that no man will ever grow in grace who does not know something experimentally of the habit of communion. We must not be content with a general orthodox knowledge that Christ is the mediator between God and man, and that justification is by faith and not works, and that we put our trust in Christ. We must go further than this. We must seek to have personal intimacy with the Lord Jesus, and to deal with Him as a man deals with a loving friend.[5]

May we, then, strive to grow in holiness by cultivating a deep and meaningful relationship with the one who makes our growth in holiness possible and fruitful.

[1] J. C Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (Darlington, England; Carlisle, PA: Evangelical Press, 2011), 81. [2] Ryle, Holiness, 85. [3] Ryle, Holiness, 86–87. [4] Ryle, Holiness, 89–90. [5] Ryle, Holiness, 91.

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