Two Keys To Holiness: Delight and Discipline
Selected Texts – Holiness: Becoming Like the Father
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 6, 2019 (am)
This is our third and final week in our series on holiness. Our first week we covered the topic “Holiness is Necessary,” saying holiness is necessary for our salvation, that God requires it of us, but he does so not as a cruel tyrant but as a Father calling us to become like him. Our second week we discussed “How to Become Holy.” There we saw that God establishes us as holy, setting us apart as his holy people, after which he increases our holiness, His Spirit at work in us as we fight and strive and seek to obey Him and put to death our sinful ways, and one day he will consummate our holiness by bringing us into heaven, making us perfectly holy in all we say and think and do and desire. This final week we will be zeroing in on the stage of increasing in holiness. The part of the process after we’ve been saved, but before we’re made perfect in heaven, the part most of us are in right now. My goal is to equip you with two keys for unlocking a life that is constantly increasing in personal holiness: delight and discipline
Let’s read the Word and then pray, asking the Lord to help us to accomplish this goal.
Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Lord, would you impress upon our hearts this morning a longing to be like you. A longing to be holy, even as you are holy. And would you allow us to leave this morning not only with an eagerness to get to work on our holiness, not only some tangible ways that we can work on our holiness, but also with the knowledge and hope and confidence that you are at work in us, to increase our holiness, and that it pleases you to lead us into your likeness. In Jesus name, amen.
To better understand what increasing in holiness is like, let’s compare it to a life where someone is increasing in healthiness. To do so, we must begin not with a relatively healthy person who just needs to lose a few pounds or change a few bad habits – no we’re far worse off than that when we begin our pursuit of holiness. To compare the holy life to a healthy life, we must begin it like a patient who has just woken up after a brutal car accident.
Since we’re all pursuing the holy life, let’s put ourselves into this illustration, consider it from the first person:
We’ve been in a terrible car accident. It’s a miracle we’re alive at all. We’ve just woken up and everything is still fuzzy. The details are just beginning to come back to us. We can still feel the burning sensation on our chest from where the paramedics placed the defibrillators and shocked us back to life, kick starting our hearts, raising us from what would have been our death, had we remained in it just a few minutes longer.
While we have no idea how badly we were injured we are aware of two things: We are severely broken but we’re also alive.
Shortly thereafter, we are transported to a hospital room. Staring up into the lights above our bed we’re becoming painfully aware of the fact that the road ahead of us, the road to health, will be a long one. In our peripheral, we see the shadow of someone approaching. It’s our doctor, wearing a lab coat and a stethoscope around his neck and he says, “I’m not going to lie to you, you’re in pretty bad shape.”
So we ask him, “What’s it going to take for me to get healthy?”
He says, “It’s going to take a lot of work. You’re going to need to endure multiple surgeries. You’re going to have to stay off your feet for months. You’ll have to take regular medication and undergo massive amounts of physical therapy. It’s not going to be easy. It will often be painful. It will take your whole life, and even then, you will never gain complete health. Sometimes you may think you can’t do it and you may want to quit, but in the end it will all be worth it.”
That is, in a nutshell, what we’re up against when it comes to our increasing in holiness. Like a patient who has been shocked to life – we have been raised to life in Christ when we put our faith in him, saved by grace, but like a patient who is utterly broken, we too have a long road ahead of us if we’re to actually become like Holy like Christ.
In Philippians 2:12, we read the doctor’s orders for broken sinners who have been saved by grace. For positionally holy people, who have a long way to go if they are to make progress in practical holiness.
The doctor’s orders have two parts: First, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Get to work. Work out your salvation. Get going on living out the implications of what God has done in you. Be holy, as he is holy. And do so, with fear and trembling. Why?
For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Because your doctor, is the God of the universe before whom all ought to fear and tremble and he is the one who is going to make your holiness happen. he’s going to do so by addressing two arenas of your life: your will and your work. Your desires, your longings, your wants and your actions, what you do.
In other words, as you work out your holiness, God will be working in you so that you want what leads to holiness and so that you do what is holy.
So we see our two keys to unlocking a life that is constantly growing in holiness. The first key to becoming holy is tied to what we want – what we delight in. The second key is tied to what we do – how we discipline ourselves. Thus our two keys are delight & discipline.
1. Delight Yourself in the Lord
Keep your finger in Philippians, but also turn to Psalm 37:4, as you do I want to share a medical phenomenon with you. In the Stanford Medicine journal, Dr. Ernest Rosenbaum and his wife Isadora write about the medical phenomenon known as the “The will to live” - the desire to go on living. They make this observation, “Many physicians have seen how two patients of similar ages and with the same diagnosis, degree of illness, and treatment program experience vastly different results. One of the few apparent differences is that one patient is pessimistic and the other optimistic.” One patient has a will to live, where the other does not.
Because of this observation, the Rosenbaums advise their patients, primarily cancer patients, not only to get to work on following their cancer killing regimen, but also to get to work on their “will,” to do things that help them to develop a “will to live”, as they fight their disease. In essence they are telling their patients, if you are to see progress in your health, you must want to be healthy, you must want to live
The same is true for holiness. If you’re going to grow in holiness, first you must want to grow in holiness, you must have a will to live, a will to become holy.
Consider for a moment your fight for holiness. What do you want more than anything else in life right now? Does wanting to be like Christ show up on your radar screen? Do you have the will to become holy?
For many of us, our lack of growth in personal holiness has its root in the fact that we just don’t want to be holy, we don’t desire it, we don’t take our delight in it. For some of us, we see holiness more as an opponent than a friend. We see holiness as the thing that will rob us of the things we really enjoy: The movies we enjoy watching, the people we enjoy spending time with, the jokes we enjoy telling, the ways we enjoy living our lives. We like our Sunday night football more than attending the Sunday evening service (Not that I’m judging anyone for this! Nor is this necessarily unholy behavior). We like sleeping in more than getting up early to spend time in God’s Word. We’d rather spend our weekends blessing ourselves than blessing others.
For some of us, we actually say that we’re glad we’re not like “holy” people – those who are uptight, do gooders, boy scouts, and rule followers. We take pride in the fact that we’re not “holier than thou.”
What is revealed about us when we feel this way is that our growth in holiness is being stunted by the fact that we just don’t want it – we don’t value it. If we’re honest with ourselves I believe we could see how we all fall into this category or fall into these ways of thinking from time to time.
And that is why Philippians 2:13 is such good news, because it is telling us that God is at work in us to change what we want. What if, rather than seeing holiness as a chore, or a bore, you actually wanted to grow in it? What if you wanted to be holy even more than you wanted all those things you’re afraid of losing? What if holiness became your delight, and you did the things that made you holy because you wanted to, not just because you were supposed to?
Hear how JC Ryle describes the holy person in his book entitled “Holiness”:
“. . . the things he loves best are spiritual things. The ways, and fashions, and amusements, and recreations of the world have a continually decreasing place in his heart. He does not condemn them as downright sinful, nor say that those who have anything to do with them are going to hell. He only feels that they have a constantly diminishing hold on his own affections, and gradually seem smaller and more trifling in his eyes. Spiritual companions, spiritual occupations, spiritual conversations, appear of ever-increasing value to him.”
Wouldn’t that be great if that described you? Wouldn’t it be great if holiness wasn’t a chore, but a delight? Done for the same reasons you used to do things that didn’t aid your holiness. Wouldn’t it be great if you could say with John in his first letter: For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome?
The good news of Phil. 2:13 is that this can happen, because “God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” God’s work of increasing your holiness is a work that begins with your will. He’s at work in you to change what you want.
But there is a danger here. Wanting to be holy for holiness sake leads not to holiness, but to legalism. The disease of the Pharisees was the result of loving holiness for holiness sake. As counterintuitive as it is, we don’t become holy by just wanting holiness. So what is it that holy people want? What is it that captures the desires of their hearts?
Look at Psalm 37:4 (no, I didn’t forget about it) which says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Delight yourself. Take pleasure in. Want. Long for. Desire. What? The LORD. And what will happen? He will give you the desires of your heart. If you want to be holy, if the desire of your heart is to obey God and keep his commands, then delight in the LORD and he will give you what you want.
The reason holiness works this way is because holiness in and of itself is not the greatest good, God is. Holiness is good because our God is good, and he is a Holy God. So must our desire holiness be the byproduct of our desire for God.
This is not a new idea. It has been around since God first gave the Law. When he gave the law, he also gave the key to keeping the law: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Jesus confirms this when he says this is the greatest commandment. When we delight ourselves in the Lord, we will find that every excuse we concocted against pursuing holiness falls short for holiness will no longer be keeping us from what we want, instead, it will be the path towards the very thing our hearts long for – intimacy with God himself.
Well, that’s a nice thought and all, but how do we actually change what we want? If you’ve ever attempted to grow in health, whether by changing what you eat or exercising more or adjusting your lifestyle you know it is no small task. You also know that it takes time and discipline. But as you put in time and discipline, what you want actually does change. You want junk food less. You enjoy exercising. It is the same with holiness. Surely it is God’s gracious work in us that ultimately changes our desires but there are disciplines we can implement to get ourselves in the way of God’s transforming grace.
Here are three disciplines I believe are very important if we’re to grow in delighting in the Lord, and thus grow in holiness.
2. Three Disciplines For Holy Livin
1. We Must Tell Ourselves a Better Story
Recently, in the youth ministry, we talked about the power of the stories we tell ourselves. These are the stories that are found in our minds. They are told through our internal monologues. They are the thoughts and rational and excuses we tell ourselves in any and every situation. They are based on our view of ourselves, and our views of the world we live in. They vary, depending on the type of story we believe we’re in, and the character we believe we’re playing in that story but they are all incredibly powerful, because every decision we make is made to further the story we believe we’re in.
But our stories often don’t line up with reality or they only partially line up with reality. And so we find that we are making huge life decisions based on a lie, or a half truth, and that is the reason we do not grow as we ought. Which is why we must we must be told a better story, which will always be a truer story.
We see this happening often in Scripture. For example, in our passage last week, in Romans 6, Paul takes on a false storyline and calls the church to live a better, truer story when he says, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” This is a false idea based on a false story line. It is based on the story that where sin increases, God’s grace abounds, therefore grace becomes an excuse for sinning. We should go on sinning so that grace may abound! That’s not the story we live in, that is not true.
So Paul calls the church to a better story, a truer story by saying, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Grace is manifested in Jesus death, and our union with him in death to sin, so we aren’t free to go on sinning. Instead, we should count ourselves as “Slaves to righteousness.” Paul is telling us our real story and encouraging us to go live in it!
The false stories we tell ourselves are wide and varied, I won’t come close to covering all the false stories we believe, so what I’m giving you first and foremost is a discipline: Evaluate the story your telling yourself, and make sure it is the true story.
Here are a few examples of how we might do this as we seek to grow in holiness:
Ourselves – We constantly need to be evaluating the story we’re telling ourselves about who we are. There are many false stories we’re constantly being told: You are bad, you are unworthy, you are guilty, you are condemned. The true story is that I am in Christ, united with Christ. I’m justified and counted as righteous. I’m am counted as not guilty. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And when I am guilty of sin, Godly grief ought to lead to repentance, not to thoughts of condemnation and rejection and failure.
Our ability to grow in holiness – We need to reevaluate the stories we tell ourselves about our ability to grow. We’ve believed that change is impossible. That I was born this way. And because I haven’t changed quickly, I won’t change at all. The better story is that I can grow in holiness because “God is at work in me, to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Because, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The better story is that growth is gradual and we should not be discouraged when we don’t see immediate improvement. Paul says to Timothy, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” Our growth in holiness is not like a person on an escalator, but like a yo-yo in the hand of someone walking up a staircase. There are ups and downs but over the long haul – we grow more holy.
The Holy Life – We need a better story when it comes to our view of living a holy life. We operate in the false belief that holiness leads only to hardship. That a pursuit of holiness will lead us to isolate ourselves from others, that it will steal my joy. The true story is that holiness leads to happiness. The holy life is the happy life for as we pursue holiness, as we “work out our salvation,” God is at work in us to change what we want and then to give us the desires of our hearts.
Obedience – We need a truer story when it comes to why God tells us to obey him. We act like obedience is required simply because God said it, so we must do it, like a cruel tyrant who demands obedience with no explanation and no motivation. The true story is that our god saves us and then he invites us to follow his ways. He doesn’t say – obey me and I’ll save you – but dies to save us and then calls us to live obedient lives. And the reason he calls us to obedience is because the obedient life is a joyful life. Thus Jesus says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Discipline - We need a better narrative for how we understand the conviction and discipline from the Lord. When we feel God’s heavy hand on us, we can tell ourselves the false story that God wants us to be happy therefore he will deliver us from these hardships – not that he is using them. Or we say that God is pointing out my sin because he is punishing me for it. The better story is that God wants us to be holy, and he’ll use hardships to get us there. Hear Hebrews 12:5-6:
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
And hear Hebrews 12:10 “. . . he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”
Our sin – We need to reevaluate our story when it comes to our sin, and the affect our sin. We tell ourselves that our sin won’t affect our relationship with God. That he is gracious and will continue forgive us, even if we indulge this sin just one more time. The true story is that ongoing sin destroys our communion with God. He is gracious and will forgive us but we will be distancing ourselves from him. The true story is also that “. . . if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
God’s love – We need truer stories when it comes to our view of God’s love. Recently I heard someone say, “God loves you so much that it doesn’t matter what you do in the next 5, 10, 15 years, he won’t stop loving you.” A much better story is that God loves you so much, he’s at work in you to transform you into his likeness. His love for you is confirmation that in 5, 10, 15 years you will be holier than you are now, that you won’t need to worry about what you might do in the next 5, 10, or 15 years – but rest assured that he you will be more holy then than your are now.
We could go on to talk about the better story we need to hear about sexuality, and parenting, and work, and healing, and suffering, and retirement, and death . . . but we must make a point of evaluating the stories we’re telling ourselves, and working to tell better stories.
The responsibility to tell a better, truer story is on all of us: Parents to children, Pastors to their flock, friends to one another, husbands to wives and wives to husbands. It is all of our responsibility to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
If we’re going to do this for one another, we must enter into God’s story, which is our second discipline.
2. Enter into God’s Story
God has given us three clear and tangible ways to do so,
First, we enter into God’s story by becoming a student of God’s Word. God’s Word is the true story and as such, we must know it. The false stories we get caught up in often sound or look like the true story. Their differences from the truth are subtle. They are not completely untrue in what they tell us but, as we see in the garden of Eden, a half truth on the lips of a serpent is just as dangerous as a whole lie.
So we must become well acquainted with the true story. We must know come to know it’s subtle nuances. We must grow into mature Christians, grow into “the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Eph. 4:13-14)
So we must come on Sundays, ready and expecting to hear the Word. With a pen and a journal and a heart that is prepared to hear from the Lord. We must be readers of God’s Word. We must develop habits of regular Bible reading. And we can’t be content with simply reading it, we must study it. We must treat it like it is, God’s Word, the true story that we are presently living in. Quit being content with your simple faith! Don’t leave the riches of Christ only to those with degrees and titles! Stop starving yourself and begin feeding your soul! There is not a healthy person in this world who eats one meal on Sundays and then doesn’t eat again for the next week! Don’t let another week go by without picking up your Bible! Study your Bible as if your life depended on it, because it does.
The second way we enter into God’s story is through baptism, so get baptized. Which is to say, identify yourself with your Savior. Baptism is a gift. A physical, tangible gift commanded by Jesus to be done for all who believe in Him. It is an act whereby we show that we’ve entered into the true story of Scripture. For the baptized believer, God’s story is no longer just words in a book, no longer is God’s story something we only read about. It becomes our story, because he’s let us enter into it. First by faith – but to this invisible faith, which renders an invisible salvation, he adds the physical activity of our going under water, symbolizing our union with Jesus’s death and our coming out of the water symbolizing our union with his resurrection.
The point being that just as real as the water is in that moment. So also is the reality of our spiritual death and resurrection. So real is it that Paul uses it in Romans 6 to call us to holy living saying:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
If you’re a follower of Christ who has been baptized, you ought to call it to mind often, as a reminder of the true story you are living in. If you’re a follower of Christ who has not been baptized, you are missing out on grace. The grace of a physical reminder of your identity in this grand story, as one who is dead to sin and alive in Christ, so get baptized!
The third way we enter into God’s story is by taking communion thoughtfully. The Lord’s Supper is a commemoration and proclamation of the Lord’s death until He comes. It is the reenactment of the central piece of the story in which we live. It regularly reminds us in ways that we can touch and smell and taste of the body that was broken in our place and the blood that was spilled to wash us clean. And in taking it, Scripture teaches us we are not just remembering the crucified Christ, but we are actually communing with our Risen Lord.
As we take it together, we are called to remember that it is not just me or you who has entered into Christ’s story, rather it is us. Our stories our intertwined with his but they are also intertwined with one another. We are his body. We are being conformed to his image. We are God’s children. We are washed in his blood. We are growing in holiness. Let us take communion thoughtfully
3. Walk By The Spirit
Galatians 5:16 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
One thing that makes a sermon like this challenging is that there is no one pat answer for how each one of us needs to be sanctified today. When we are working on our own growth or when we are considering how others need to grow, David Powlison observes:
You often hear people say things like ‘He should just remember that . . .’ or ‘If I could just experience . . .’ You’ve probably said things like that yourself. I certainly have. Preachers, teachers, counselors, authors, and friends instinctively gravitate toward naming some truth, some spiritual discipline, some action step, or some experience as the key that will unlock everything. . . But there are no ‘Just [do x, y, or z]’ solutions to the puzzles of our sanctification.
While there is no one size fits all piece of advice, there is only one power, one person, one doctor who is at work in our souls to make us holy and that is the Holy Spirit. He is the one that convicts us of sin, and by convicting us, shows us just where we need to be sanctified today. He is the one who shows us that we’re living the wrong story. He is the one who opens our eyes to see the true story of Scripture. He is the one who helps us overcome the powerful passions and desires of our flesh. It is this common Spirit that is in each one of us that makes us one body. He is the one who is our guarantee that God is at work in us, and will bring that work to its completion. He is the one who is at work in us to transform our desires and our lives so that we are made to follow Jesus and look like Jesus.
Scripture tells us that we can either receive the Spirit’s work or resist the Spirit’s work
To receive the Spirit’s work we must be people who pray, we must ask for him to be at work in our lives, we must pray “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
Do you pray like that? Do you regularly ask God to reveal your sin to you – and lead you in the way everlasting?
And we must make repentance and faith a way of life. Repenting of sin as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us. Believing time and again that we are saved from our sin and saved to a life of holiness
But we resist the Spirit’s work when we choose sin over Christ, when we give up on trying to be righteous. By doing so we reveal that we have stubborn and faithless hearts. Hearts that choose sin over Christ and do not believe what God has done for us. We are like those described in John 3:19 who, though the light had come into the world, loved the darkness rather than the light.
When we resist the Spirit or are tempted to resist the Spirit, Hebrews 3:12 speaks to us saying, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” For that is the end result of a heart that continually resists the Spirit’s work. It falls away from the Living God, like a patient who has rejected the care of loving and competent doctor and it reveals that such a person never loved God in the first place, never truly followed him, for just two verses later we read: “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
But here is the good news, if you are in Christ, you will hold your original confidence firm to the end. For God is at work in you, to will and to work for his good pleasure. So, Grace Church of DuPage, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” discipline yourself to make God your delight knowing this: That God, our loving Father, has not called us to a list of rules, but to a loving relationship so that, if you “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30) you will grow in holiness. For Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
I now pray for this body of believers . . .
. . . according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
DeYoung, Kevin. The Hole in Our Holiness. Crossway: Wheaton, 2012.
Johnson, Marcus Peter. One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation. Crossway:
Powlison, David. How Does Sanctification Work? Crossway: Wheaton, 2017.
Ryle, JC. Holiness.
 Rosenbaum M.D., Ernest H. and Isadora R. Rosenbaum, M.A. “The Will to Live,” Stanford Medicine. https://med.stanford.edu/survivingcancer/cancers-existential-questions/cancer-will-to-live.html
 Ryle, 107.
 1 John 5:3
 Deut 6:5
 Romans 6:1
 Romans 6:2
 Philippians 2:12-13
 Romans 8:11
 1 Timothy 4:15
 An illustration borrowed from Kevin DeYoung.
 John 15:10-11
 Hebrews 10:26-27
 Hebrews 3:13
 “God preserves us by binding our hearts to him through Jesus Christ. What is more, he keeps us bound to him through various God-ordained means, which we are exhorted to employ so that we may endure in his saving goodness and presence. The most important means that God has instituted for our preservation is the ministry of Word and sacrament, through which we continue to hear, confess, and taste of his exorbitant goodness toward us in Christ, so enriched by the gospel that we have the confidence and courage to live as his holy children. ” (Johnson, 179-180)
 Ephesians 4:13-14
 Romans 6:3-4
 1 Corinthians 10:16
 Powlison, 23-24.
 John 16:7-10
 1 Corinthians 2:6-16
 Galatians 5:24
 1 Corinthians 12:13
 Ephesians 1:13-14
 2 Corinthians 3:17 – 18
 Acts 7:5. Cf. Do not quench the Spirit. (1 Thess 5:19) And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Eph 4:30)
 Psalm 129:23-24
 “There may be slight nuances among these three terms, but they all speak of situations where we do not accept the Spirit’s sanctifying work in our lives. If we give in to sin or give up on righteousness, the fault is not with the Spirit’s power but with our preference for the darkness of evil rather than the Spirit’s light (John 3:19-20).” (DeYoung, 82-83)
 Hebrews 3:14
 Ephesians 3:16-21