We can have the right doctrine of holiness; one that takes it as seriously as Scripture does. But in relation to its practical outworking and in our assumptions concerning it, we may have got it wrong. No doubt there could be many ways in which we could do this. We may fall into the error that we can contribute something, that there is a place for our personal merit. Or perhaps we subtly divorce holiness from happiness and find ourselves in a constant conflict between the two. This is a serious mistake because holiness is the only way to true happiness. If we secretly equate happiness with sinful pleasure or our own will rather than God’s, we have gone badly wrong. We can only look at a few ways in which we may be inclined to get holiness wrong.
James Fraser of Brea takes an honest look at himself, searching into his motives and attitudes. The discovery is startling, while he values holiness he has certain attitudes that are hindering his progress. The evil one is insinuating false notions that confuse and divert. The following are only a few of the many things that Fraser identifies. Of course free unmerited grace must always be in view.
1. Thinking Repentance is Only Inward
In thinking that the essence of true repentance consists in contrition for sin more than in turning in heart and practice from it. When I have not found myself in a mourning, sorrowful spirit but limited in my affections, I have not turned from sin. I was still taken up with trying to sorrow for it, thinking there was no true repentance without this. When I have mourned I depended on this, thinking it was sufficient. But repentance mostly consists in turning to God, mourning is only the manner of this act of turning (Joel 2:12; Isaiah 58:6; Proverbs 21:3).
I have neglected the outward practice of repentance under the pretence that the Lord requires the heart. But we should serve the Lord both in body and in spirit. It is true, we should not rest in the outward, or mainly look to that but should look to the heart mostly; yet the outward act should not be neglected.
2. Wallowing in Self Pity
After falls and slips, Satan has sought to keep me astonished and confused by what I have done. In this way I was kept from getting up to my feet and going forward. Those who fall when they are running in a race lose much time and are far behind while they think about what to do. The best way is to get up, consider our ways, mourn, seek pardon, and then go to work. This is how it was with Joshua, God told him to get up and do his work rather than lie on his face (Joshua 7:10). When David sinned, he immediately goes to repentance: “I have sinned, yet now, Lord, forgive.”
3. Emphasising Holiness But Not Practising it
It is wrong to neglect to obedience in dependence on grace by resting in a resolve to do and it and mere thoughts of how good it is. Either I thought this was enough or else through complacency have not expected difficulty in practice. Yet those who know, approve and teach God’s requirements to other while neglecting it themselves, “say and do not” (Romans 2:13-14, 18; Matthew 7:21; Jeremiah 2:19- 20). Thus my thoughts delighting in obedience have not been so much to practise as to delight the understanding in dwelling on such subjects.
4. Rebranding Sin
Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, by gilding vices with the lustre and appearance of virtue, under spiritual pretences. I have been tempted to carelessness and excess under the pretence of avoiding
unthankfulness and not using Christian liberty. I have neglected to have the heart rightly affected with the evil of sin, because repentance consists more in turning from sin than in sorrow for it. I have avoided prayer when not in the right spirit in case I make the easy yoke of Christ a grievous burden. Sin has
prevailed in these ways and when it has overcome it appeared in its own clothing. The grace of God may be turned into lasciviousness (2 Corinthians 11:14; Romans 6:1). We have been “called to liberty” but we are not to use this to give opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13).
5. A Legalistic Spirit
There is nothing does me more damage than a legalistic spirit or spirit of bondage. Satan presses duties in a violent way, presenting God as a hard master and an austere judge. He presents God as one that commands and requires duties in the way that tyrannical rulers make laws to entrap the subjects. He makes it seem as though God is urging hard duties and putting new wine into old bottles with the greatest threats and no promise of help. I am urged to obey hastily without being given time to breathe and extreme perfection is required or else it will not be accepted at all. Finding the Lord’s yoke so hard, I have either cast it off or sometimes engaged in it disheartened. Nothing has influenced me worse than
this. Talents have been slighted because God was viewed as a hard master. The Lord has not been served because our yoke is not made light. There is aversion and lack of love to God due to sinful fear (1 John 4:18).
6. Trying to Establish Our Own Righteousness
Satan and my own heart have held me fast for a long time in the snare of seeking to establish my
own righteousness. When my heart has been in a good condition, with a felt sense of what I lack and desiring to obey it has resolved to use specific means to obtain this. I have found Satan deceiving me in this by making me love these duties, means, graces and obtaining them because it is the produce of my own desire and resolve. Thus, they have been my own (as it were) and my choice. I have despised other means because they were not my own choice. I have therefore been grieved when favour come in a different way and valued such mercy less. When I have fallen into sins I resolve to avoid I have grieved more because my resolutions have been broken and my will thwarted than because God has been wronged or my soul endangered. Thus God has been provoked to break down these resolutions and cast down the tower that reached to heaven (Proverbs 19:3; Romans 10:3; Mark 14:37; Isaiah 10:7; Psalm 58:3).
7. Thinking Holiness is All About Hardship
When difficult duties have been urged such as mourning, fasting, diligence etc. I have been brought to
think that the purpose of the command was mostly to bring hardship on myself. I obeyed more often for this reason than to obey God’s command. It was like pagans who cut themselves or Roman Catholics who whip themselves and it did me harm. It engendered hard thoughts of God and made me do duties in a spiritless way and without spiritual benefit because I only sought hardship for myself.
8. Not Avoiding “Little Sins”
I have not avoided “little” evils, fearing that this would be like tithing “anise and cumin” (Matthew 23:23).
9. Focussing On Outward Sins Rather than Inward Corruption
In striving against the outward acts of sin I have not been considering the inward corruption of the heart. I have been “making clean the outside” but neglecting to cleanse it within; cutting the branches, and sparing the root (Matthew 23:25-26). I have not profited in holiness because the fountain has not been cleansed.
10. Depending on Our Own Strength
Going on in duties in my own strength without looking for divine assistance, has done me great harm. When I have gone on in confidence of my own strength the Lord has chastened me for my presumption, as
it was with Peter. When duties have been difficult I have become discouraged because I was relying on and looking to my own strength.