Our focus for this year has been very much in line with the London Diocesan Vision statement to be a confident, compassionate and creative church.
At the heart of these desires is the wish to keep hearing and speaking the message of Christ. The Apostle Paul writes “Faith comes through hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). This is the way God has chosen to act in His world to produce faith (or trust) in His people.
All the activities of our church seek to promote this end.
The PCC set three main goals for the church to focus on throughout the year: Connect people with God; Equip people with the gospel; Send people as gospel workers. We took one goal to specifically focus on for each term.
Throughout 2017 we desired to help people connect with their creator God through reading His Word the Bible, studying it together, praying and worshipping together. God’s word continued to be central to our Sunday services, our small groups and our growing number of 1 to 1 Bible reading partnerships.
There has been an increased delight amongst the church family and newcomers to hear the word of God as the Holy Spirit has taken that word and revealed the message of Christ to increase faith.
Our Prayer Diary continued to raise the awareness and levels of prayer in the church family, and twice termly Prayer and Praise evenings along with other Monday evening prayer meetings continued.
The termly welcome course has continued as a way to help newcomers know what it is to be connected to God through hearing the message about Christ, and to be connected to the local church as committed members.
In September we re-launched our termly outreach course, re-naming them Connect Courses. This gives us the flexibility to use different material to present the ‘word of Christ’ to people in relevant ways. It has also created the opportunity to develop more leaders for this vital ministry.
In the Spring term we focused on Equipping people with the gospel through building confidence in the gospel, identifying and developing skills and recruiting volunteers. Again this ‘equipping’ has been done through the weekly expository preaching of the scriptures.
As we studied the letter to the Colossians we were equipped with the knowledge that we have received fullness in Christ and so lack nothing.
This equips us to live confidently and compassionately for Jesus in our daily lives. A reformation series helped us to understand the central truths of the gospel which the church is prone to loose.
We encourage every church family member to be part of a small group to study the bible and further apply the teaching on Sunday’s and grow in faith and fellowship with others.
There were training sessions to encourage people to read the bible 1 to 1 with others in the church as we are convinced that simply opening the bible and letting God equip us with His life giving word is the best way to be equipped by the Holy Spirit to be transformed into the likeness of Christ and live distinctively in his world.This core belief was strengthened by promoting a book of the term called “Listen Up!” Equipping us to listen to sermons in a biblical way. Praise God for those who listen up and grow in love and knowledge of Christ.
Our desire, as a result of Connecting and Equipping people with the Word of Christ, is to Send people as gospel workers in their daily lives at home, in the workplace and in their social settings. Through praying for friends who do not yet know Christ, we are asking the Lord for humble boldness for everyone in the church to take the opportunities that the Lord provides to speak the life giving message of Jesus.
Training gospel workers has been another focus in sending people into the world to proclaim Christ. This has been done through short term missions by members of our church, supported in prayer and financially. Our longer term mission partners have been a constant encouragement for us to partner with them in the gospel by praying, giving, and living our lives as a witness to the new life we have in Christ.
Looking at the book of Acts in the Summer term has helped us to be encouraged to see how the word of Christ continues to spread in the power of the Holy Spirit even when there is hostility towards it from within the church and from the culture. People are always in the Lord’s mercy and grace responding with faith in Jesus Christ as his word goes out.
We envisage keeping these three priorities in 2018 as they helpfully summarise the priorities of a local church in any age or stage. I would like to thank the staff team, the Churchwardens, PCC and all the church family volunteers across our groups and ministries; particularly during the months of interregnum where we have continued to look to Christ as the head of the Church for our strength and identity to joyfully partner with him in the great task of building his Kingdom.
May the Lord continue to build his church as he has promised.
Revd James Knowles
If you check out our London Diocese website, there is a focus on “equipping and commissioning 100,000 ambassadors representing Christ in daily life”. As someone who’s been in parish ministry in London for 19 years, it’s refreshing to have a Biblical metaphor (ambassadors) used so overtly.
There’s a lot to like in the “ambassadors” initiative here. A great collaboration with the LICC (London Institute for Contemporary Christianity) has enabled churches to benefit from resources tailored to the C of E in London. This week Christ Church hosted an “Ambassadors” Diocesan training evening for lay and ordained church leaders, encouraging them to take the vision for “whole-life, 24/7 discipleship” back to their parishes. The paradigm shift away from clergy/Sunday-focussed church to “everyone, everywhere” mission is Biblical as a model of Christian discipleship. At Christ Church we’ve taken on board the call to make micro-shifts in that direction, such as “this time tomorrow” interviews, and including workplaces, homebuilders and community places in sermon applications and in intercessions.
So here comes the “but”: I am not convinced that much of the London Diocese use of the language of “ambassadors” yet mirrors the metaphor as Paul uses it in 2 Corinthians 5:20. Coincidentally I preached on this text recently as part of our 6pm sermon series, “Six Steps to Talking about Jesus”. The focus presented in Diocesan material I’ve seen so far has been much more on enabling church members to see themselves as serving Christ in daily life than on sharing Christ in words (though it’s been pointed out that the Diocese vision does have the phrase “living and speaking for Christ” in a heading). Yet the primary way we represent Christ as ambassadors is by speaking on behalf of and about Him. “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God” is Paul’s ambassadorial message (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Of course, many church members are nervous about speaking about Christ with friends or family who may think it odd. So how can we move from just seeing ourselves as Christians in daily life to being ambassadors who talk about Jesus?
We are ambassadors of the King of Kings! So let’s have our message clear, pray for opportunities, and deliver it with courage and compassion.
There are plenty of good books on the “why, what and how” of talking about Jesus:
John Chapman, Know and Tell the Gospel (5th Edition, Good Book Company, 2016)
Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Crossway, 2007)
Bill Hybels & Mark Mittelberg, Becoming a Contagious Christian (Zondervan, 1996)
Bill Hybels, Just Walk Across the Room (Zondervan, 2006)
J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Inter Varsity Press, 2011, originally published 1961) (less practical, but great on what evangelism is and is not)
Randy Newman, Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2006) (mainly on the “how to”)
J Mack Stiles, Evangelism (Crossway, 2014)
Paul Williams, Intentional (10publishing, 2016)
A number of our church family were enthusing to me on Sunday about the impact that the current 6pm sermons on Romans 6-8 are having on their understanding of the Christian life. These great Bible chapters speak powerfully to the truth that all who want to follow Jesus face the reality of love for God and sin mixing together.
Romans 7 is Paul’s personal “confession” of his conversion to Christ and his continuing struggle against sin, even as a believer. Paul testifies that he was in the grip of sin before Christ, and is still in a battle with it as a believer. “I do not do what I want to do” he writes. In Romans 8 he goes on more positively, that all in Christ are now alive by the Spirit and set free not only from sin’s condemnation and control today, but also from sin’s presence in glory one day. But Paul’s testimony to his present battle remains. He is I think more honest and helpful about the present Christian experience than some who give the impression that Christians should all be perfect today.
Following Jesus is a joy and a battle all at once. It’s freedom from fear, and frustration with my folly. And the Holy Spirit – given to the church at Pentecost and to the believer at conversion – is the reason for this conflict. The Spirit gives not just freedom from fear but also freedom to begin to love God and to battle sin.
To explore this key truth more I would strongly encourage you to listen to these sermons on Romans 6-8 which are on our website here.
I also strongly recommend this book, “Keep in Step with the Spirit”, which is for me the best book on how the Holy Spirit makes us “holy” – empowering us in our desire to love Jesus and battle sin every day. A great book for Pentecost this coming Sunday. The writer (one of the greatest Christian writers of the last 50 years) unpacks Romans 7 with unique clarity, and this book is in my “top 20” books every Christian should read. Just £10 from us whilst in stock, and save postage too!
In our sermons and small groups on Acts we’ve see the good news about Jesus, carried by the power of the Holy Spirit, capture the hearts of his followers. As we focus on “sending” each other as gospel workers during this season of the year, here are five ways we can each share the good news with all around us:
“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word about Christ” (Romans 10:17)
There were over 100 talkative students packed in to the marquee which had been set up in a prominent spot at the centre of the university campus, and the guest speakers for this week of gospel-sharing events were wrapping up the final sessions. What struck me was not only the level of spiritual interest within this supposedly post-Christian generation, but the topic: is the resurrection of Jesus “true”, and what does it mean for us today? The speakers did a great job of outlining in an attractive and compelling way both the evidence for the physical resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning, and the implications of it for our life today
I am used to hearing people argue that “post-modern” non-Christians need to see that faith “works”, and are no longer asking “is it true?” But the seekers that I meet want to know both, and they are smart enough to know that one (pragmatic relevance) rests upon the other (historical truthfulness). So what a joy to find that in 2017 spiritually hungry students are hearing about the truth of the resurrection. What an incentive to share the good news of the truth and relevance of Easter wherever we are today.
One speaker rehearsed the historical probability of the gospel accounts being literally true – Jesus really died a physical death on the cross, but was alive and appeared in a transformed body three days later.
He mentioned Karl Venturini’s ‘swoon theory’, proposed early in the nineteenth century and later adopted in form by Friedrich Schleiermacher (and more recently, Michael Baigent and Barbara Thiering). According to this, Jesus fainted on the cross, and then revived in the tomb and was rescued by his followers. The experienced student evangelist pointed out the historical improbability of this theory, given the professionalism and effectiveness of Roman execution, and the powerful effect of Jesus post-resurrection on all who met him.
The theory that the women who were the first at the tomb on Sunday morning took a wrong turn and mistook another empty tomb for the grave of Jesus was rightly dismissed as not only sexist (!) but as poorly fitting the gospel accounts. These record that multiple visits were made to the tomb by followers of Jesus, who had noted his burial place carefully. Furthermore, if they got the wrong grave, why did the Jewish authorities not immediately point out the mistake?
The speaker then alluded to the idea that Jesus’ body had been stolen by the authorities, and pointed out that if this was the case, the corpse is very likely to have been revealed since, but it has not. The suggestion that the disciples were creating a hoax about Jesus’ resurrection to achieve public fame for themselves was shown to be equally unfit as historical theory, given the same absence of a body, and also that most of them soon willingly faced prison and execution for this claim.
Finally, the theory that the disciples and women who saw the risen Jesus according the first written sources were hallucinating was recounted, and against it, the evidence of eminent psychiatrists that the appearances in the accounts do not remotely fit the pattern of hallucinations.
The speaker finished by challenging his sceptical listeners to come up with a better theory that has not been thought-of in the last 2000 years, or to accept the truth of the resurrection.
Time and again, historians and lawyers (see further reading, below) have trawled through the historical evidence and concluded that the interpretation of the eyewitness authors of the gospels is the most likely: on Easter morning Jesus had left the tomb and was about to appear to numbers of people over the following days and weeks showing his victory over sin and death to be complete and commissioning his Church to tell the world this news.
There is a host of reasons why it makes sense to believe in a living and personal God, from the existence and shape of the universe to the sense of right and wrong we universally feel. But for me the most compelling and reliable place to look for the existence of God, and even more important, for a way to encounter Him, is in His self-revelation in the historical events of the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, for which the historical accounts of the eyewitnesses provide testimony. One of Jesus’ first followers, the apostle Paul, writing within two decades of the events, underlines the centrality of the historical resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:14,
"If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith".
The reliability of the gospel accounts, on which the truth of the resurrection largely rests, has endured more than a century of sceptical attack from those arguing that the stories are embellished or concocted, but most of this attack has been upon the records of Jesus’ words (not the resurrection accounts), most of it has been well refuted by Biblical scholars, and none of it has yet found a convincing means or reason by which the gospel writers could have invented the resurrection as an explanation for Jesus’ extraordinary influence.
Feel free to show the evidence I have summarised above to your friends and family, invite them to watch the “Risen” film which we are screening on Easter Sunday evening, and give them a copy of one of the books below to read further.
Val Grieve, Your Verdict on the Empty Tomb (Evangelical Press, 2nd Edition 2017)
Frank Morrison, Who moved the stone? (Authentic Media, Latest Edition 2006)
Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Zondervan, 1998)
John Wenham, The Easter Enigma: are the resurrection accounts in conflict? (Wipf and Stock, 2005)
N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (SPCK, 2003)
The celebration of our human mothers only goes back to 1914 in the USA, where it is celebrated on May 9th, the anniversary of the death of the mother of its American promoter, Anna Jarvis.
The custom of celebrating motherhood in Lent started here in 1920 when Constance Smith suggested that the (Prayer Book) Bible reading for the Fourth Sunday of Lent would be a suitable pointer to thanking God for our mothers:
“But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” (Galatians 4:26)
There is huge value in reminding ourselves annually of the care shown by our mothers and honouring them in this way through sending flowers, cards and Simnel cakes. The care shown by mothers also reminds us of the “brooding” of God’s Spirit over chaos before creation began (Genesis 1:2) and of Jesus’ longing to protect his own Jewish people in Jerusalem (Luke 13:34). We celebrate motherhood as an image of God’s love creating life and protecting his children.
Mother’s Day (as it is known outside the Church) has largely ceased to be a religious occasion in the UK, as in the USA. Anna Jarvis regretted the growing commercialisation of the day, even to disapproving of pre-printed Mother’s Day cards. “A printed card means nothing,” she said, “except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
As we nonetheless thank God for his gracious provision of motherhood, we can also reclaim the original meaning of that text for the Fourth Sunday of Lent about the Church. The Church, wonderfully composed of all in Christ from east to west, young to old, on earth and in glory, gathered around His throne, is our mother. So for centuries Mothering Sunday has seen people gather at their local “mother” church or cathedral.
In the text from Galatians above Paul is making the point that God’s people are free in Christ. In the context, he draws the contrast between the children of Hagar, Abraham’s slavegirl, and the children of Sarah, his wife. He then makes a radical claim that those who see Jewish law, instead of faith in Christ, as the way to be right with God are not children of Sarah but of Hagar, because only those in Christ are free from sin and law. Those who are children of the promise by faith in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, are free, children of God’s heavenly city Jerusalem. ‘She is our mother’.
I think it’s brilliant that in the middle of Lent we have this text. It reminds us that:
· earthly mothers are remarkable, but belonging to our heavenly mother the Church matters even more
· membership of God’s family rests not on what we do but on what Christ has done in fulfilling the Law of God, and paying the price on the Cross for us who broke it
Paul goes on in the remainder of Galatians to apply these truths by calling us who are free in Christ not once again to become slaves to the law or to sin.
Please pray for your families this week, and invite them to our Mothering Sunday services. Let’s pray that the Freedom message of Mothering Sunday will set many free to know and live for Christ, secure in our heavenly family as we honour our earthly one.
According to newspaper headlines about General Synod last week, the Church of England is in turmoil. True, in the sedate world of church committees, this amounts to a few teacups rattling. But there was a surprise.
The Bishops’ recent report on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships was written after much “listening” to the views of church members and clergy. Going against powerful trends in secular culture which redefine marriage, it basically affirmed with commendable clarity the Biblical teaching that marriage is and remains a lifelong exclusive commitment between a man and a woman, and also recognised that gay people have at times been made to feel unwelcome in church, urging the Church to review its tone and pastoral care in this area.
The surprise was that whilst the Bishops and lay members supported the Report, the clergy members of the General Synod voted (by a narrow margin) not to “take note” of it. This refusal to “note” the report is a long way from the Church of England “moving towards gay marriage”, as some headlines had it. Yet some of those who spoke in the debate are apparently so determined to force the Church to change that Scripture can be ignored and the Church divided towards that end.
Nonetheless it was widely acknowledged that one of the most moving and courageous speeches in the debate came from Sam Alberry, an evangelical minister who described his feeling of being bullied, first at school for being “gay”, and now at Synod for being same-sex attracted but faithful to Christ. His three-minute contribution is worth listening to here and starts at 1:07 into the recording.
Those who hold as I do that the Biblical teaching on marriage is based on Genesis 2:24 , “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, NIV), do not do so because we are being difficult or “fundamentalist”. We believe in taking the Bible literally – in the sense of meaning what the “letters” in it mean. We believe in interpretation of the Bible using the best learning – but not to make a text mean what the author could never have meant. We believe in being aware of the culture behind a text – but not in changing the text to fit our culture. We believe in reading the Bible as a whole, taking note of its diversity – but not in using one part to contradict another.
At their consecration bishops affirm their commitment to the Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for salvation, and to teaching the doctrine of Christ as the Church of England has received it. The Bishops should be honoured for doing their job and faithfully teaching what the Bible says about marriage and relationships.
None of this absolves the Church from repenting that at times we have made gay people feel unwelcome – and for that matter, singles, or unmarried parents. All of us equally need the grace of Christ and the love of the Church, and we can start sharing these things today. But if Genesis 2:24 marriage is, as Paul says in Ephesians 5:31-32, not just a social convention, or a way to raise a family, but a sign of the union of Christ with His Bride the Church, it is surely right to defend its Biblical definition and value with every ounce of conviction that we have. Let’s pray for the bishops to continue to teach the truth in love.
Do you know the story by Revd W Awdry of little Toby the tram engine being asked to help push the train over the mountain when Gordon (a much bigger engine who had earlier scornfully told Toby that he was no use) is unable to do so? He puffs up the steep incline with his friend Thomas the Tank Engine’s words echoing in his ears “You can (puff) do it, you can (puff) do it…”. He slows to a near standstill as the hill becomes harder, sheer grit carrying him forward, until at last they reach the summit. He did it.
Without suggesting the Christian life is always an uphill slope, that is not a bad picture of the path to holiness for God’s people. We have not yet arrived at the summit (perfect Christlikeness) – at least until we reach glory. And yet it is not beyond us. We can (puff) do it. We can become holy.
In fact we are holy already. We are God’s ‘holy’ (dedicated, or God-orientated) people from the moment we begin to follow Christ and are born anew. The Holy Spirit who unites us cannot make us anything else but holy.
And our lives please God.
Because that sentence may sound heretical, I will repeat it: our lives are pleasing to God. Surely, you say, we are all sinners equally in need of God’s forgiveness of our sins, undeserving of grace, and everything we do is polluted by sin, every good deed is tainted by wickedness, our righteous acts are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6)? I’m as Protestant and Reformed as Luther, Calvin and Cranmer, and I sign up to all these statements of human fallenness and incapacity to save ourselves or please God fully.
Yet there is a strong and unmistakable theme in Scripture that God’s people are capable of being righteous and pleasing Him. We are not only expected to be holy , we are empowered to be holy! We can do it. There are plenty of examples of believers in the Bible who pleased God: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David (in his better moments), Job, Elizabeth, Mary. But also all Christian believers who serve, love and pray (see Romans 12:1; Colossians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:3; Hebrews 13:21, etc). Supremely, Jesus at his baptism stands before God as the new Adam/king/Messiah, and the words “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased” come from heaven. In Jesus we are made anew to please God. “He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17). Holiness is possible, and (without overlooking our many sins) God is pleased with his people.
This makes so much more sense of the imperative (“so do this…”) sections of the epistles, where we are told to keep in step with the Spirit, flee sexual immorality and greed, pursue kindness and patience, be reconciled to our enemies, and forgive each other. These commands assume that we have the help of the Spirit (the grace of the New Covenant) and the hope that obedience is possible (the purpose of the New Covenant). Kevin DeYoung in his book “The Hole in our Holiness” puts it like this:
God does not expect our good deeds to be flawless in order for them to be good…There will always be elements of corruption in us. But by the power of the sanctifying Spirit in us, true believers will genuinely grow in grace. (p.67)
As we’ve already hinted, holiness comes by the Holy Spirit in us. The Spirit empowers us to love God and neighbour, to fulfil the Law of Christ (Galatians 5:13-16) . The Spirit reveals our sins, and grieving Him prompts us to renounce them (Ephesians 4:30). The Spirit points us to Christ and transforms us as we gaze on his glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). That is not to say that we sit back and do nothing: holiness requires effort on our part – hard work, in fact – to collaborate with the Holy Spirit. We press forward (Philippians 3:12-14). We are not lazy but endure and persevere (Hebrews 6:12). We “make every effort” (2 Peter 1:5). But we can do it, because the Spirit in us does it with us.
There is a second way to look at how holiness happens. Theologians call it “union with Christ” and the New Testament calls it being “in Christ”. Jesus calls those connected to Him to “remain in me” (John 15:4). Ephesians 1:3 describes the spiritual blessings of election, redemption, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification, which all flow from our spiritual location “in Christ”. These two little words occur over 200 times in the New Testament. Although many occurrences do not carry a deep “incorporative” sense, but mean simply “in Christian matters” (eg 1 Corinthians 3:1), many clearly do imply that a profound change of metaphorical position has taken place through our relationship to Jesus (eg Romans 8:1) (see Moule Chapter 2, in ‘Further Reading’, on this). This makes me think this is not a marginal idea but a key way to understand where we sit as believers! We are spiritually no longer in the world, or in sin, but “in Christ”.
By letting where we are in Christ change how we think in everyday life. We live in Christ’s kingdom, so sin has no power over us now. So Paul says “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). In sports imagery, we changed team, and now wear the bright colours of Jesus instead of the murky kit of sin. In baptism imagery, we died to the old life and rose to the new. Holiness happens by acting in the light of the truth that I am “in Christ”. It starts in my mind. Become what you are.
How do we grow holy and close to God in mind and life?
Through the five key disciplines (yes, effort!) of prayer, Bible reading, Christian community, good use of the Sabbath rest principle, and holy communion. As we draw near to the throne of grace in prayer, meet Jesus in Scripture, experience the Spirit uniting us as “church”, set aside a day to remember God’s gifts of life and freedom, and encounter Christ through the symbols of bread and wine, we find sin ever more bitter, and Jesus ever more delightful.
“The Hole in our Holiness”, Kevin DeYoung (Crossway, 2012)
“The Origin of Christology”, C.F.D. Moule (Cambridge University Press, 1977)
“Communion with God”, John Owen (abridged R.J.K. Law) (Banner of Truth, 1991)
“A Passion for Holiness”, J.I. Packer (Crossway, 1992)
“Christ our Life”, Michael Reeves (Paternoster, 2014)
Reading Exodus 19-40 as a church this autumn, one of the key texts is the LORD’s words in 19:4-6
If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
The theme of holiness – God’s and ours – is central not just to Exodus but also to Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It’s also a missing theme in the evangelical church in the West (hence DeYoung’s title). That’s why we decided to enrich our vision of “holiness” through this “Book of the Term”. As Kevin DeYoung claims in Chapter 2, holiness in God’s people is both the purpose and the necessary condition of our salvation. We are not saved by our holiness; but we are not saved without it either.
Holiness is not the same as niceness (appearing godly but with no love for Christ inside). Nor is it wistfulness (living like Christians in the past). Nor is it mindfulness (a version of our culture’s fad for being ‘spiritual but not religious’). (For even more angles on what holiness is not, see DeYoung, pages 33-38). Holiness has a shape given to it by God.
According to Exodus (and also, for instance, Isaiah) God is Holy. In the New Testament too, God’s Holy presence is expressed through his Holy Spirit especially as he indwells Jesus, the “holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). The Hebrew word translated in English”holy” means “set apart”. It means not so much “separate” from the world as “different from” the world and from impure humanity. God is good and we are worldly. God is pure and we are sinful.
We are called to be holy because God is holy (Leviticus 19:2). Holiness is when we turn our hearts, minds and actions towards God instead of towards the world or ourselves, directed by the Holy Spirit in us. As DeYoung says, that doesn’t mean we are to be miserable kill-joys who spurn anything pleasant. If anything it means the opposite: we delight in God’s goodness and all good things he has made, living distinctive lives of Christ-centred worship, selfless love, joyful self-restraint, consistent truthfulness and authentic kindness – holy lives. Holiness is being truly human, and truly happy.
It has become alarmingly characteristic of Christians in our culture to talk and act as if how we live does not matter to God or to others. “We are saved by grace not works”, we say, forgetting that we are not saved without good works! We are concerned to protect the truth that Jesus died for our sins to bring us to God, but forget that he also died to purify us and make us “holy” as His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). We talk a lot in our generation about “grace”, but have become nervous to talk about “duty”. So holiness matters, and DeYoung spells out why in his chapter “The Reason for Redemption” and in an impressive list of Bible verses which motivate Christ’s people to holiness, in Chapter 4.
Here are four key ways in which holiness matters…
Because it’s why God saves us. That is not to say that being holy is what saves us – grace alone does that in Christ! But Paul says that God “chose us in Christ…that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:3-4) and “saved us and called us to a holy calling not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:8-9). He is reflecting the message of Exodus we saw earlier: God led his people to freedom in order to make us “a royal priesthood and holy nation” belonging to Him. Holiness is good news (gospel) as much as is forgiveness. It is what DeYoung calls “our glorious calling”.
Because it’s what God commands of us. As evangelical Christians we know that the Law of the Old Testament leads us to grace in Christ. But Biblically, grace equally leads us to the Law. Jesus says “if you love me, you will obey my commands”. In Exodus, God rescues his people from slavery and THEN gives them the Law. Anglican prayers reflect this double truth of grace AND Law, for instance in the Communion Service where it is our “duty and joy ” to give God thanks and praise (in word and action) “at all times and in all places”. Holiness is a joyful duty and command.
Because it’s how God assures us. Holiness as the sign and fruit of a genuinely converted heart and life is a necessary part of our salvation. With all our ongoing faults, followers of Christ are aware of the upward drag of the Holy Spirit renewing our thoughts and actions. “you were taught…to put off your old self which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21-24)
Because it’s where God speaks to others through us. Holiness makes our witness credible. Those we pray for and speak to about Christ will not be impressed if they see nothing in us which is distinctively directed towards God (holy). Holiness strengthens our witness, but worldliness undermines it. “Let your light so shine before men and women that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
As you read our Book of the Term and reflect on the nature and necessity of holiness, questions will pop into your head, if you are anything like me! Isn’t holiness an old-fashioned idea? Am I a Christian if I am not always very holy? Make a note of them, and bring them to our open book discussion on Sunday 27th November after our 6pm service!
Next time, we will continue this conversation with DeYoung’s book, chapters 5-8. We will discover a great truth: that by faith we are holy already. We may still be sinners, but our lives please God, right now and today!
The Hole in our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung (2012, Crossway), is available from Christ Church resources desks at just £7 (RRP £10.99)
Holiness, J.C. Ryle (Evangelical Press reprint) available at https://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/holiness
A Passion for Holiness, J.I. Packer (1992, Crossway) available at https://www.eden.co.uk/shop/a_passion_for_holiness_18675.html
Thank you for praying for our Big Weekend Away at Ashburnham Place! Someone said to me “It was perfect, nothing could have been better”; and that grateful spirit universally fed back in relation to the teaching, the conversations, and the venue. Huge thanks again to Mark and Beccy Ratcliff and to everyone who helped over the two days.
The talks on the book of Ruth from Phil Sudell, talking about God’s purpose and providence to show his favour and send his Redeemer even when life is tough, are now on our website for you to listen to.
We also recommend a new hardback book of daily readings from Ruth (and other Bible books) which features great guidance and questions plus space for writing notes or prayers. Written by experienced pastor Mark Dever, “90 Days in Ruth, Jeremiah and 1 Corinthians” is on our resources tables now, and its spiritual content is beyond price.
Why not pick up our new “Book of the Term”, “Hole in our Holiness”, which has inspired me already that through grace God has called and enabled us to live a new life pleasing to Him? It’s well-written, short, and yet full of meaty spiritual truth – so much so that we plan to give you a chance to discuss its contents after the 6pm service on 27th November. Once again, you can get your copy from our resources tables.
Lastly, don’t forget to invite friends whom you are praying for to our next Men’s Breakfast on 5th November (and young people to the excellent “Sorted” youth conference the same day). The Leadership Summit (GLS) is a superb chance to learn more how to put your faith into action right where you are the rest of the week – at only £20.65 for world class inspiration, book yourself in for this one day in Christ Church House on Saturday 19th November via our website link.
We are constantly looking for great resources to help us connect with God and grow in Christian life. I am therefore delighted to encourage you to pick up our “Book of the Term” this Sunday: “The Hole in our Holiness” by Kevin de Young. All of us would love to know how our lives can please God and bring him glory every day. This book inspires us towards those goals in a hugely positive and Christ-honouring way. The author does not leave us feeling more guilty about the state of our lives, but the opposite: grateful for what Christ does for us, honoured to be God’s holy people, and inspired towards love and goodness.
We have negotiated a huge discount on the book price of £10.99, so why not bring £7 cash with you to church, and find out more. You will love the book, and its crucial message.
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)