A journey of many, many years comes to a solid foundation to work from.
I don’t generally come to conclusions quickly when it comes to theology. It’s taken me years to decide where I sit on many things. And I’m fine with changing my mind, so I’m not very dogmatic. The subject of holiness, however, has probably been the central driving factor of most of my theological searching.
That might not be obvious when you look at what I’ve blogged about and written over the years. It may seem like I view the subject as an afterthought. That’s because, in the background, it’s been the “niggling factor” of my Christianity; the one piece of theology that has haunted my faith for over a decade; that has shot my faith into dizzying heights of joy and, in the very next instant, crushed it into the dark soil of despair.
The reason why is because so much of the truth of Jesus rides on this one fact: Can you, Jesus, sort out my inward sin? Those horrible thoughts… those temptations that are so easy to fall into… that little bit of jealousy… or that little bit of superiority. When you begin to realise just how sinful you are, despair is lurking around the corner – which is precisely why so many people, including Christian teachers and pastors etc., avoid the issue. These days, we sugar coat the topic with motivational talks, positive thinking, modern liberal-leaning theology, or hyper-grace hermeneutics.
When you realise that you’re pretty much incapable of sorting out your internal life – or that your capabilities only go so far – you have to either accept that this is life, or that some miracle need to happen to change it. But what does God promise? Does he promise the forgiveness of sins and that’s it? Does he promise the ability to sort it out? Does he want to sort it out by His power? And, to what degree will He sort it out?
I realise not everyone is a loser like me when it comes to holiness. There are some pretty strong people out there, even in my circle of friends. They battle with only the “little” sins, such as a bit of ambition (which they fight); a bit of gossip (which they fight); or just a bit of looking too long at a girl. But they’re able to keep themselves in check and never really move into big-sin zone. They don’t live their lives looking for affirmation from others (ambition and gossip) and they’re able to easily say no to pornography when temptation comes.
Me, not so much. I battled with pornography for practically a decade. I wanted to be a rock star and be a big deal. And I battled with depression and anxiety as a result. Depression has largely gone away in my life, anxiety hasn’t.
So what’s my point? My point is that it’s not until you struggle with the big sins, with the not-so-subtle ones, and you realise that despite all your strength and your desire to do what you know is better; and despite all your intentions; you still fall, badly (not just “a little”) that you start to seriously ask: Can Christ’s power save me from my sin? Not just forgive me; not just give me power to say no sometimes (or even most of the time); but really, truly, save me?
“Save” as in, well, SAVE. Bring me out of it. Or, rather, bring it out of me.
Does God promise rest from the endless, despairing battle with sin in this life? Or does rest only come when they put us six feet underground and talk about whether or not we loved enough in this life? These are the questions I think every Christian has to face sooner or later, and reconcile with the answers.
All my theological studies around this question led me to certain conclusions, and for the longest time my conclusion was that life will always be a mixture of victory and defeat and as long as you’re fighting against sin you will be OK.
I was reluctant to admit it to myself, but I found this conclusion unliveable. I tried to work it out positively. Martin Luther’s theology drew me as the most encouraging way of dealing with this – and so I eventually decided to write a book on it, to both help me put together my thoughts on holiness in a systematic way, and help the many others I know feel their Christian life is nothing but a slog and fight every day (or, at least, most days).
Once I decided to write the book (but hadn’t started) I – for some reason – gained an interest in John Wesley. I don’t know why. It was like something was drawing me there. I just felt I wanted to know more about the guy.
What I found out stunned me. But it didn’t convince me. I spoke to a few friends about it and came out thinking that his views on holiness seemed all rather strange. I came to the conclusion that Wesley was probably wrong – in fact, I realised that I could trace his theology to the hard-lined, spitting preacher, pentecostal law-holiness stuff many of us have been exposed to. This made me reject it.
But as I got my book going and got a few chapters in and needed to start addressing the scriptures in my book, I came across 1 Thessalonians 5:23. And it was there where I put my keyboard down and couldn’t write for months. Because, what I read there – this time, when I really read it and read it again, and again – didn’t make any sense at all. Yet, it sounded strangely familiar…
So what was it? Well, that’s for the next post: Dealing with Addictive Sin: How I Came to See Holiness in a Brand New Way pt 2