[This is the 8th of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]
“Direction 8: Be sure to seek for holiness of heart and life only in its due order, where God hath placed it, after union with Christ, justification, and the gift of the Holy Spirit; and, in that order, seek it earnestly by faith, as a very necessary part of your salvation.”
How timely this direction comes, on the eve of Reformation Day when many Reformed churches will be taking note of the anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his Nine-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg castle. We rightly emphasis justification by faith alone, for there is no other means to obtain a right standing before God. As Luther and the Reformers noted: we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
But saving faith is never alone. Saving faith is accompanied by good works which flow out of union with Christ, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is exactly this sequence of events that Marshall points out in this direction: holiness follows union with Christ and justification.
This eighth direction is as relevant today as it was in Marshall’s day, for many today, as back then, seem only to want to escape eternal punishment, having little interest in being conformed to the image of Christ otherwise::
“What a strange kind of salvation do they desire, that care not for holiness? They would be saved, and yet be altogether dead in sin, aliens from the life of God, bereft of the image of God, deformed by the image of Satan, his slaves and vassals to their own filthy lusts, utterly unmeet for the enjoyment of God in glory. Such a salvation as that was never purchased by the blood of Christ; and those that seek it abuse the grace of God in Christ, and turn it into lusciousness. They would be saved by Christ, and yet out of Christ, in a fleshly state; whereas God doth free none from condemnation, but those that are in Christ, that walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit: or else they would divide Christ, and take a part of his salvation, and leave out the rest; but, Christ is not divided (1 Cor. 1:13). They would have their sins forgiven, not that they may walk with God in love in time to come, but that they may practice their enmity against him, without any fear of punishment. But, let them not be deceived, God is not mocked. They understand not what true salvation is, neither were they ever yet thoroughly sensible of their lost estate, and of the great evil of sin; and that which they trust on Christ is, but an imaging of their own brains: and therefore their trusting is gross presumption. True gospel faith maketh us come to Christ with a thirsty appetite, that we may drink of living water, even of his sanctifying Spirit (John 7:37-38); and cry out earnestly to save us, not only from hell, but from sin; saying ‘Teach me to do thy will; thy Spirit is good’ (Ps. 143:10); ‘Turn thou me, and I shall be turned’ (Jer. 31:18); ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right Spirit within me’ (Psa. 51:10). This is the way whereby the doctrine of salvation by grace doth necessitate us to holiness of life, by constraining us to seek for it by faith in Christ, as a substantial part of that salvation which is freely given us through Christ.”
Any who do not desire to be like Christ in holiness (i.e., set apart, devoted to God) here and now should not flatter themselves with the thought of having heaven as their eternal destiny. For as J. C. Ryle put it in his book, Holiness:
“How shall we ever be at home and happy in heaven, if we die unholy? Death works no change. The grave makes no alteration. Each will rise again with the same character in which he breathed his last. Where will our place be if we are strangers to holiness now?”
It is in this sense that we should understand Hebrews 12:14 (“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” ESV). It isn’t talking about a certain amount of holiness that a person much achieve, but rather the bent or course of one’s life. Has there been a trajectory of being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, or not? If not, anyone professing faith in Christ in such manner has presumed upon some notion of their own rather than having trusted Christ, for wherever the Spirit dwells, holiness will surely follow. So let everyone seek Him now, in this the acceptable day, for He is near to all who call upon Him in truth (Psa. 145:18).