Takeaway: God wants us to be holy.
I, and I think many modern Christians, have an difficulty getting my mind around holiness. While I know that there are several passages that encourage us to “Be Holy as God is Holy”, I have been tainted in my understanding of holiness by the legalism that some Christians of the past 150 years. I believe that a mix of social progressivism, post-millennial understanding of Christ return, and the pietist denominations means that there was a greater focus on external issues of holiness, to the detriment of internal holiness. It is always easier to create rules and follow them than it is to truly focus on heart issues of holiness. After all, what is harder, not playing cards, not drinking alcohol, not dancing or not being jealous of someone else, not desiring what someone else has, and not calling someone a fool in your heart.
About the first third of the book is about why we should pursue holiness and the balance of what we do and what the Holy Spirit does as we pursue holiness. And the theme comes up again several times after that. If I was not so mixed in my own feelings about it, it might be too much. But I do not think it is too much.
After the first third, Bridges give suggestions about how to actually pursue holiness. In general, I think the advice falls into three basic areas. First, you have to be intentional and disciplined. You cannot expect to grow if you do not strive after something. You will not learn to play an instrament unless you are disciplined and practice. You will not learn to how be a distance runner without some pain.
Second, the main thing that can be done ourselves is to immerse ourselves in scripture. This is a good place to the illustrate the balace between what we can do and what the Holy Spirit does in us. Without reading scripture and being intentional about it, the Holy Spirit does not have the same tools to draw us to God. We are not taking on God’s role when we take responsibility for doing what we can do. The bible is our primary revealed word of God and we cannot expect to follow him if we are not students of the bible. This theme seems to come up over and over and over again as I read. I am certainly not the student of scripture I should be. I do not read it as much as I should. I am convinced that I am hindering myself.
The third suggestion is that holiness is about obedience and the process, not about a final solution. We can be fairly disciplined, but we will never be perfect. We can immerse ourselves in scripture, but without obedience, we will not grow in holiness.
This books is not new, it is over 25 years old, but I think it captures a lot of what is important. It is not a perfect book. I think it still focuses too much on viewable sins. But there is a real attempt at showing that many things that are not in an of themselves sin, that can be hinderances to holiness. And sometimes we need to give up good things in order reach better things. Toward the end of the book he talks about how he was convinced of his own sin around the area not taking care of his body. So he started running and eating better. In order to be disciplined about both his scripture reading and his running the only time that he could do both was before breakfast. So he has to get up at 5 AM. Part of taking care of his body means getting enough sleep, so he has to be in bed ready to sleep no later than 10 PM. So he has to not watch tv or do activities regularly that keep him up past his bed time. Staying up late is not an issue of sin, but for him, it is an issue that counters the discipline that he puts in place as part of his pursuit of holiness.
This example of how he treats his body is an example of part of problem of the book. There are lots of issues with the body that we do not have control, or at least limited control over. If he could not run because of bad knees, would that be sin? Is being overweight a holiness or sin issue? What about a number of cancers?
As I was putting together this blog post I ran across a pretty negative blog post by Josh Morgan about this book. He brings up some very good points about a serious weakness. Bridges spends most of his time talking about holiness as sinlessness and almost no time talking about holiness as being set apart for something better. God does not love us in spite of our sin, he loves us period. For people that are already having issues of accepting love of the physical people around us, thinking that God does not love us because of our sin is an easy trap to fall into. Morgan is also concerned that people will see sinlessness as a sign of salvation. Bridges does hint at this and while there is some correlation between sinlessness and salvation, the issue is that sinlessness does not cause salvation (that is works righteousness and antithetical to the gospel of grace). This is very much a problem when it is an outside person evaluating other people’s salvation. Overall, I still think that the Pursuit of Holiness is worth reading, but I do think you should be aware of some of the weaknesses.