An Essay on the Relationship between Knowing Christ and Holiness
Having just read the thread on Pharisaism, I thought I would post some thoughts of mine on this subject. In this essay, I attempt to show that holiness is intimately connected to knowing Christ, and that holiness is the result of pursuing Christ.
Whilst I waited in the parking lot of Faith Pres, I got to thinking about all the things I had learned the past few months about Galatians 5, Colossians 3:5, Philippians 3:7-16, seeking Christ, and the pursuit of holiness. Suddenly the dots started coming together in my mind. It was COOL! So I wrote down my thoughts as they came to me. Below are my thoughts cleaned up and elaborated upon. I sort of ramble, so forgive me for that, but there is a logical progression from point A (knowing and pursuing Christ) to point B (pursuing holiness). The Scriptures were quoted from the ESV and the NKJV.
The whole purpose of true religion is this: to know Christ (John 17:3). The reason we were put on this earth is to know Christ. Therefore, it is my highest duty and greatest privilege and abundant reward to seek Him. "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near" (Isa 55:6); "for to me to live is Christ," (Php 1:21); "But seek first the kingdom of God (which is found in Christ)" (Mat 6:33).
It is my highest duty to seek Christ because I was made to that end. As Augustine stated, "Our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee." If I do not seek Christ, I sin. Yes, I sin against God and injure myself by not doing what I was created to do. My heart naturally wants to seek its own pleasure and satisfaction in everything besides Christ. Indeed, if God did not corral my heart, draw me to Himself, and place in me a love for Christ, the end of my sinning would be eternal death in hell, where I will not be able to escape knowing Christ in the fullness of His wrath. If I do not know Christ in this life, I will most certainly know Him in the next. It is only by the great grace of God that I am able to seek Christ.
Therefore, the Christian has a double duty to seek Christ: 1) because every moral creature was created to seek Christ, and 2) because every Christian has been inwardly transformed and given a heart that desires after Christ.
It is my great privilege to seek Christ because only those whom the Father has chosen (Rom 8:29-30; Eph 1:5) and the Spirit regenerates (Titus 3:5) are able to seek Christ (John 6:44). If this were something dependent upon me and my works, then I would have cause to boast (Eph 2:9), but I cannot boast about this because it is all of Christ! Paul writes in Gal. 6:14, "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
It is an abundant reward to seek Christ because Jesus satisfies the soul. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mat 11:28). Nothing satisfies us besides Christ, yet we foolishly continue to set up idols of wood, steel, stone, and plastic hoping that they will give us comfort and security.
What does it mean, then, to seek Christ? It means to so crave Him, to so long for Him, and to so love Him that without Him, you will die. To seek Christ is to echo the Psalmist, "O God, You are my God; early will I seek You. My soul thirsts for You. My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water" (Ps 63:1).
This is not an abstract, removed quest for "transcendence" or "inner peace." You can only seek Christ if you have first experienced His lovingkindness. "Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You" (Ps 63:3). The degree of passion in your pursuit of Christ is directly proportional to your experiential understanding of the love of God in Christ.
The purpose of the Christian life, then, is to more fully know the depths of the love of God in Christ Jesus and to publicly proclaim that message, that others might also know the riches of forgiveness in Christ. Such knowledge, received and imbibed by the soul, pours forth thanksgiving and praise to God and will not be contented to remain at the same level of understanding. Rather, it is like salty water. Drinking it only makes you thirstier. This is akin to our seeking after Christ. We cannot possibly plumb the depths of His wisdom, sovereign grace, and love, just as we surely cannot drink all the water in the sea.
What is our duty then? To prepare ourselves for Christ to reveal Himself to us more fully. What preparations do we speak of? Namely, cleansing our hearts of all that is not conducive to seeking Christ. "Strive for ... the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb 12:14). How can we call ourselves Christians and bear the name of Christ when we do not seek to remove every obstacle in us that hinders our path in seeking Christ? We say out of one side of our mouth, "Lord, I love You and long to love You more fully," and out of the other side say, "but I will not surrender my idols to You." Here we see the imperative of holiness. God does not idly say, "Be holy, for I am holy" (1 Pet 1:16). A spring cannot bear both salty water and fresh, nor can a tree bear both good fruit and bad. Either we love Christ wholeheartedly or not at all.
It is vital that at this point that we realize that pursuing Christlikeness is not the same as pursuing Christ. The moment we deviate from seeking after Christ and instead pursue a bar of perfection, we fall into legalism. If we ever separate the Person from the standard, we miss the point of holiness. The pursuit of holiness is really the pursuit of seeking Christ, that we might know Him and love Him more fully.
Therein lies the struggle of the Christian life. "What I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do." (Rom 7:15). We cannot but agree with Paul in saying to ourselves, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Rom 7:24). No one can save us except for Jesus Christ our Lord. The very one we fail to seek with our whole heart is the one who forgives us our sins and bears us upon His shoulders like little lambs. It is He who is able to "keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy." It is because of this that we can say, "To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen" (Jude 24-25). One day, we shall stand in His presence and see Him face to face. It will be then that our seeking will end, but our finding will last for eternity.