Jerry Bridges wrote The Pursuit of Holiness 25 years ago, and since then it has sold more than one million copies. The Pursuit of Holiness has just been reissued in a 25th anniversary edition. Bridges has written several other books including Joy of Fearing God, The Discipline of Grace, Trusting God, The Practice of Godliness, and many other books. He is a teacher and a member of The Navigators' staff.
Your starting point is that holiness is a partnership with God. You use the illustration of the farmer planting seed but relying on other forces for providing growth. What are some of the ways in which holiness is a cooperative partnership between God and us?
The way I would put that is in terms of what I call the principle of dependent responsibility. We are 100 percent responsible for the pursuit of holiness, but at the same time we are 100 percent dependent upon the Holy Spirit to enable us in that pursuit. The pursuit of holiness is not a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps approach to the Christian life. It's not just try harder. But it's going through the Bible and seeing what God requires of us in the way of obedience to him and likeness to his character, and then setting ourselves to doing that. But at the same time recognizing that we are absolutely dependent upon the Holy Spirit to enable us.
Take the analogy of the farmer. It's obvious that the farmer has certain responsibilities that he must fulfill. But if he's a Christian farmer, and particularly what I'd call a practicing Christian, he knows very well that in the final analysis he is dependent upon God, not just for the providential circumstances of rain and weather and these things, but there's the principle of life in that seed which he has no control over.
What did Paul mean when he said "we are dead to sin" and why is the issue of guerilla warfare a good way of illustrating the challenge we face in trying to aspire to holiness?
Paul is not saying that we have died to the ability of sin to tempt us. So what does Paul mean? I think he means it in two senses. First of all, we are absolutely dead to the guilt of sin. That is, the guilt of our sin has been transferred completely and once and for all to Jesus Christ. Secondly, it means that we have died to the dominion of sin, or the absolute reign of sin. And in this sense, sin is viewed as the kingdom in which we lived. Paul says in Colossians 1:13, that we have been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son. Sin is dethroned, but it is not killed completely.
Talk about why the analogy of guerilla warfare fits here.
If I can go back to the analogy of a kingdom, let's say that sin has been dethroned. But sin has not been obliterated, it has not been removed. When Paul refers to the flesh, or the sinful nature, he's talking about this inclination to sin that still resides within us and that is always seeking to tempt us.
We have these evil desires, or this sinful nature, and that's what fights the guerilla war against us. Our responsibility is to know what the scripture says so that we know what God's moral will for us is. And this can only be done by continually exposing our minds to scripture in the various avenues that we have of doing that—hearing the word preached, reading and studying the Bible, and memorizing scripture. We also need to be honest enough to recognize sin in our lives. I cannot deal with the problem until I first admit that it's there.
Then, having identified the problem, begin to ask the Spirit of God to enable me, to help me to deal with that problem and to be very intentional about it. Every time the situation comes up where I've been resentful of servanthood in the past, to say, Okay, resentful attitude is sin. I need to change my attitude. Spirit of God, would you enable me to have a Christ-like attitude in this situation?
How is the will to please God shaped? What is the difference between a person who's aspiring to holiness and wills to please the Father and the person who does not will to please the Father?
In recent years I have realized that my will has to be affected by what I would call a higher purpose or a higher desire. Years ago a great old Scottish preacher by the name of Thomas Chalmers preached a sermon titled "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection." Paul refers to this idea when he said, "Set your affections on things above." I think that the will is redirected not by just deciding I'm going to redirect it, but by setting my affections on Christ, the love of God in Christ, the glory of God, the reality of eternal life. As I do that, then my will is going to be gradually moved in the direction of wanting to do the will of God rather than doing what my flesh desires.
You talk about the role of the Holy Spirit and the role of the Word of God and the role of prayer in the helps that we have in the pursuit of holiness. Just expand on each of those just briefly.
The Holy Spirit is the one who makes us holy. In II Corinthians 3:18 Paul says that we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another into the likeness of God's Son even by the Spirit, who is the Lord. So it is the particular role of the Holy Spirit to transform us. He uses his Word. He is the author of the Word, and the Word of God is his primary instrument of transformation.
Another instrument of transformation that he uses is the circumstances of life that he allows or brings into our lives so that we have to apply the scripture in real life situations. And prayer is simply an expression of our dependence upon God, and specifically our dependence upon the Holy Spirit to work in us. I see the Holy Spirit working in us in two ways. First of all, he works as he wills. That is, he doesn't wait for us to ask him. And this is what the writer of Hebrews is getting at in Hebrews 13:21 when he says, "May he work in us that which is well pleasing in him."
The second way the Holy Spirit works is enabling us or empowering us. I like to use the analogy of an electric shaver. An electric shaver has a little motor in it, but that motor in itself has no power. It must be plugged into the current in the house or the hotel or wherever one is staying. And the analogy that I draw from that is that the new nature, which God has given to us at regeneration, is that motor. But the motor in itself has no power, it is dependent upon an external power source, which is the Holy Spirit. And so each day as I pray, and as I pray over needs in my own life—and I'm talking about character needs, either areas of sin that need to be dealt with or positive character traits that I want to put on—I'm asking the Holy Spirit to work in me, to enable me to do my part in those situations.
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The Pursuit of Holiness is available from Christianbook.com and other book retailers.
More information about Jerry Bridges and his other books is available from the Navigators.
Dick Staub is president of the Center for Faith and Culture, which examines intersections between popular culture and religious belief. Complete transcripts and audio versions of Dick Staub Interviews can be found at dickstaub.com. Recent Dick Staub Interviews for Christianity Today include:
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