Meditating with Edwards on the Necessity of Holiness

I was talking with one of my friends about the state of Christianity in Africa.

He was saying, unfortunately, to him it seems like many people seem to think they are Christians because they have stopped going to Sangomas and they say the name of Jesus alot, especially when they are in trouble.

It’s not unusual to meet people who are living wicked lives and don’t see the disconnect between their lifestyle and their confession of faith.

I have often run up against people who were in the ministry actually and who at the very same time were engaged in flagrant sin, adultery, drug dealing, you name it, and even though people knew it, and were disappointed about it, they never really questioned whether or not that person was really a Christian.

That’s obviously a tragedy.

Because when God in His grace saves a man, He changes that man, fundamentally, and through that great change, begins changing that man. In other words, making him more and more holy. Holiness, then is a sign of spiritual life, and without holiness, you can be sure, there is no spiritual life, only death and spiritually dead men don’t go to heaven.

Our own holiness doesn’t save us, but it is a sign that we are truly saved, and without that sign, we have absolutely no reason to think we are on the road to heaven.

Therefore, we ought to examine ourselves and our lives, to determine which way we really are going. Are we on the highway leading to heaven? That highway is the way of holiness. And it would be terrible to think we are on the way to heaven, when in fact, we are on the road destined for hell, for while we might deceive ourselves now, when we arrive at our destination, I guarantee the pain and anguish that awaits us, will undeceive us, quickly.

But, how can we know whether we are on that path of holiness or not? Jonathan Edwards gives five specific suggestions:

1.) Think about God’s holiness and see if you genuinely love it and desire it for yourself. Obviously, we are not holy the way God is holy, at least not in practice, but still, for the believer, in his heart, there is a true and genuine desire to be holy the way God is holy, not always to the same degree, but it’s there, because he thinks the holiness of God is something awesome, fearsome, and at the same time, absolutely beautiful.

2.) If you say you are following Jesus, are you following Jesus? Is there any resemblance between him and yourself? The copy isn’t going to come close to the original, at least not yet, but is there a similar attitude, a similar love, a similar direction, as there was in the life and ministry of Jesus?

3.) Do you love the Word of God? “The Bible” Edwards says, “Is the epistle of Christ that he has written to us, now, if the same epistle is also written in our hearts that is written in the Scriptures, it may be found out by comparing. Have you love to all God’s commands and a respect to them in your actions? Is it your delight to obey and hearken to the will of God?”

4.) When you read about holy men in Scripture, do you see some of the same characteristics in your life that were in theirs? Do you desire to commune with God the way Enoch did, trust God the way Abraham did, live for Christ the way Paul did? Of course, even these men sinned and failed, and sometimes in very big ways, but do you respond to your sin the way did, with a repentant spirit?

5.) Do you, “imitate the saints and angels in heaven?” Do you live for what they live for? They live for the glory of God, they love him with everything they have, they hate sin, and as Edwards explains, “those that are holy on earth have also a resemblance and imitation of them.” They smell of heaven.

I suppose, it’s hard sometimes for us to answer these questions, because there’s just so much more of holiness that we want, but that in and of itself, is probably a good sign, that longing for holiness is a mark of someone who is likely walking on the path of holiness. At the same time, while we ought to be humble and recognize our own need for growth, I think we can and should honor God, by recognizing the signs of spiritual life that He has placed in our hearts, because I guarantee if we see them there, it’s because of the supernatural work He’s performed in us.

On the other hand, of course, we also should be honest with ourselves, because if there’s not this spark of life, if all we do is say the name of Jesus while habitually and unrepentantly, living for ourselves, it may be that, we are really deceiving ourselves, thinking we are on the way to heaven, when we will really be among those who seem surprised on judgment day, when Jesus says he doesn’t know us. But really, we don’t have to be. If we are surprised, it’s not God’s fault, it’s ours, because we haven’t examined ourselves, to see what path we are taking.

Because it’s clear I think biblically, that if it’s not there are no signs of holiness, we are not on the right highway.

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