“He (God) will not take into his company any person, however orthodox in mind, who will not follow after holiness of life.” J I Packer, Knowing God
I definitely not be in the same camp of knowledge as Packer, but this observation seems a bit more than challenging. I’m forced to ask, “What does it mean to be taken into God’s company” and what does it mean to “follow after holiness of life”? Who’s the judge of those observations?
God’s company is only enjoyed by those who come to a believing faith in Jesus Christ. Certainly, that’s not all there is to it, but if my presence in God’s company is dependent on the obvious ebb and flow of my pursuit of holiness then I am doomed to reside outside his company. As hard as I may try, as diligent as my efforts may be, remaining consistent in my following after “holiness of life” is the most miserable of efforts.
Here is, as it seems to me, the crux of the issue. How am I to rightly understand what it means to “follow after holiness of life”? Certainly it could encompass the Ten Commandments. Although a small portion of the Torah, they are tight enough to give me direction in proper behavior and I can manage that with some sense of objectivity. I can strive to love my brother, pursue righteousness, walk in the light, feed on the bread of life and drink from the fountain that never runs dry, but those are often subjective in nature. For me to understand progress in my development of holiness it must be bounced up against something or someone. Naturally, one thinks immediately of Christ-likeness.
Frankly, I shudder sometimes when I think of the challenge of Christ-likeness. I’m indeed fully man, but never – in this life – will I be divine in any sense of the word. I can see the perfect life of the savior and say, “That’s what my life should look like.” But it will, in reality, never be. Why? Because Christ is Christ and I am but a simple man.
Perhaps the answer is in the truth that I, along with all other humans, was created in the image of God. But what is that image? God is not a man, he is not capricious, and he bears no scars of doubt, no plaguing sense of guilt over the past, no teetering over the demands of the future, no hidden fears for the present. His moral character is beyond reproach. Mine? Not so much. His righteousness is perfect through and through. Mine? Hardly so. His sense of truth is balanced on the scales of his eternal plan. Mine? Soiled by situations that confuse me and call into question what I often think are right choices.
Can I put into perspective what it means to be a “new creature” in Christ and somehow build a life of holiness around that idea? I want to but find it difficult to grasp. Do I fence my life roundabout with do this and don’t do that? Do I find a new creation defined in behavior that others find “sinful” but I see simply as choice as long as it breaks no moral code, does not hurt another, and does not bring shame to the Savior? Do I build my “holiness” around the idea of orthodoxy and let my orthodox understanding be the primary, if not sole, determiner of my orthopraxy?
The reality is I’m not sure I know the answer to any of these questions. What I do know is that Christ has challenged me, as he did his disciples and others, “Therefore, be complete, as your heavenly Father is complete.” He has commanded me, as he did the Twelve, to love one another for it is by this act of loving one another that all people will understand we are Christ-followers. Paul reflects similar notions when he challengers his friends in Rome, “And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and complete.”
Bottom line – as a Christ-follower my actions and thoughts must be different from the culture around me. It is in this challenge to be different that I get a handle on what it means to “follow after holiness.” That doesn’t mean I saddle myself with a works righteousness, it simply means I immerse myself in right thought and action. It means I take my cue from God’s word and wrap myself in the arms of his grace.