A New (and attractive) Definition of Holiness

What do we means when we say, “God is holy?” Usually, it’s taken to mean that God is separate from sin and therefore from us. While there is truth in this, Sinclair Ferguson argues in Devoted to God that by describing holiness from the viewpoint of sin or of the creature, it is starting at the wrong place.

He therefore begins this book by insisting that any definition of holiness starts with God as he is in himself, considered apart from and before the work of creation. As God was holy before there was any creation, we must be able to define holiness without reference to the creation.

There was no separation or distance in the Eternal Trinity. Instead there was perfectly pure devotion between the three persons — “absolute, permanent, exclusive, pure, irreversible, and fully expressed devotion.” Devotion, therefore, not separation, gets closer to the real meaning of holiness and opens up a much warmer and personal idea of holiness. So much so, says Sinclair, that “in a sense ‘holiness’ is a way of describing love. To say that ‘God is love’ and that ‘God is holy’ ultimately is to point to the same reality. Holiness is the intensity of the love that flows within the very being of God.”

“If this is what holiness means in God, then in us it must also be a corresponding deeply personal, intense, loving devotion to him that is irreversible, unconditional, without any reserve on our part.”

In a beautiful section Sinclair re-frames the seraphic chorus in Isaiah 6 as veiling their faces because “to gaze on the sheer intensity of this flow of triune holy love would be to endanger themselves.”

That’s why Sinclair then defines holiness as to be devoted to God. Doesn’t that make holiness much more inviting and enticing?

Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification 

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The Long-Awaited Successor to J C Ryle’s Holiness

There’s something about the first few books we read after conversion that often sets a tone or a direction to the rest of our Christian lives. That’s why I’m so thankful that God put Holiness by J C Ryle into my hands within weeks of my conversion to Christ. The first was John Murray’s Redemption Acconplished and Applied (you can read the story of that here).  Murray’s book gave me a sound doctrinal understanding of what had just happened to me. Ryle’s book showed me how to live going forward.

Since then, I’ve read a number of books on holiness, but I’ve never felt as satisfied by them as I was with Ryle. Indeed, I’d almost given up on finding a modern successor to him when Sinclair Ferguson’s new book, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification, arrived on my desk. Within the first few pages I was hooked by what I believe will go on to become a classic book on holiness and a worthy modern successor to Ryle’s earlier work.

I’ve been reading Sinclair Ferguson with much profit for years, but his recent books such as From the Mouth of God, Child in the Manger, The Whole Christand now Devoted to Godall the fruit of his retirement years, have taken his thought and writing into a new dimension of both reading pleasure and spiritual usefulness.

The goal of Devoted to God is “to provide a manual of biblical teaching on holiness developed on the basis of extended expositions of foundational passages in the New Testament.” It works its way through “some of the most important biblical blueprints for building an entire life of holiness.” Sinclair does not try to cover every possible passage on holiness but rather selects the most important passages with the aim of gaining some “mastery” of them. This foundational framework of these passages will act like strips of mental Velcro strips to “help us to organize all of our future learning and enable it to stick in the proper places.”

Sinclair focuses on passages that describe sanctification (the indicative) rather than command it (the imperative). “This is not so much a ‘how to’ book as it is a ‘how God does it’ one.” His argument is that the New Testament is far more concerned with “shaping our understanding, so that a new life style emerges organically, than it is with techniques.” He is convinced that “a clear understanding of what the gospel is and how it works leads in turn to the development of new affections and a new lifestyle.”

So if you had to choose the most important passages on sanctification, which ones would you choose? Sinclair selected 1 Peter 1:1-25, Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 2:20, Romans 6:1-14, Colossians 3:1-17, Romans 8:13, Matthew 5:17-20, Hebrews 12:1-14, and Romans 8:29. Over the coming days I’m going to dip into this book’s exposition and application of these passages to entice you to “pick up and read” for yourselves.

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The Media Stable: Time for a Clear Out

One benefit of elections is that every few years there’s a clear out of politicians and their staffs. It doesn’t matter whether they are Republican or Democrat, the regular electoral purge keeps the process from rotting too much on both sides of the aisle. Even those who start out with the purest principles and motives can stay too long and end up being infected with the corrupting power of power.

But there’s one class of people in the political process who never seem to get cleared out; the pundits and opinionators. No matter how long they stay, how corrupt they grow, how out of touch they become, how wrong they are, the electoral brush never sweeps them out the stable. But, if anything’s clear from the past days, large tracts of the commentariat are past their smell-by date. Multitudes of them have utterly failed in their duty to the public and yet none of them will lose their jobs.

I’m not speaking of ordinary journalists and reporters here — although it’s increasingly hard to separate them from the pundits these days. I’m referring to the talking heads, the op-ed columnists, the “experts.” The majority of them have failed dismally in their basic duties to us for a long time, but especially in the past year A.D. (After Donald).

Job Description
Think about their basic responsibilities. They are paid to identify important events and trends in public opinion and interpret them. They are paid to invite, interact with, inform, and influence public opinion. How few have done this well in the past twelve months, or even the past ten years or so. Isolated from ordinary Americans and their everyday struggles, their world and their minds have shrunk to the tiny artificial world of their home offices and their regular commute to the TV studios in New York and Washington.

The only part of their job description they’ve worked at is “influence public opinion,” but even that has been ineffective because they are not doing the much harder work of getting out of their electronic bunkers and meeting public opinion in the flesh. As a result, they’ve failed to identify important events and trends, they’ve failed to interpret them, they’ve failed to interact with public opinion, and they’ve failed to accurately inform public opinion. That’s why their attempts to influence public opinion have so dismally failed.

They’ve laughed at Donald Trump. They’ve dismissed Donald Trump. They’ve lambasted Donald Trump. They’ve enjoyed over a hundred thousand negative ads against Donald Trump. They’ve assured us of his demise and defeat. And now Donald Trump is the President.

“How come no one listened to us?” they protest. Because you’re not living our lives and you’re not listening to our opinions.

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I remember an amazing journalist I used to know quite well. He was an incredibly gifted writer who had won a number of awards early in his career. He used to be required reading. But he moved to an extremely isolated part of the country in order to get away from the distractions of city living and write more. However, although his words multiplied, his influence diminished. His writing lost touch with reality; it lacked authenticity; his commentary was like someone trying to understand the world through postcards. His columns were still interesting and even entertaining; but they were not influential. Cut off from the influence of public opinion, he had cut off his influence upon public opinion.

Though most of our punditocracy live in and around the bustling metropolises of Washington and New York, they are no less isolated and insulated from the ordinary daily lives of ordinary Americans. What they say and write is still interesting, and sometimes entertaining, but they’ve lost their power to influence because they’ve lost contact with reality. Their columns and opinions feel out of touch, artificial, unreal, and prejudiced. As a result, fewer and fewer are reading them or listening to them.

I used to read the Washington Post and New York Times regularly, not because I agreed with their views but to hear the other side and come to a balanced conclusion. I stopped reading them six months ago because they were so unhinged and extreme in their reports and opinions. I’m sure there are millions like me. If they had been more balanced, they would have had more influence, and perhaps a President-elect Clinton.

For years the media have ignored mighty economic, social, moral, cultural, and spiritual events and trends impacting tens of millions of Americans. They’ve failed to interpret these events and trends. They’ve failed to identify massive shifts in public opinion. They’ve failed to invite and interact with public opinion. And they wonder why their golden words aren’t valued any more! If you don’t know what’s happening, how can you hope to tell us why it’s happening, or how to change it.

The Trump Train
All the TV studios were subdued on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. The chattering class were still chattering but they were clearly flummoxed and discombobulated. The Donald Trump train had just rampaged through their universe leaving their prestigious opinions in a tangled mess. Alternating between holding their heads in their hands and wringing their hands, they wondered, “How did we not see this coming?”

You only need to spend regular time in rural McDonalds to understand why this train has so many passengers on it. Look at the people serving there — and eating there. Listen to the conversations. Look at their faces and their postures. Instead of insulting them, listen to their stories. Or drive an hour from most major cities and take a look and listen around. My conviction that Trump would win the Presidency was largely based upon what I was seeing and hearing in my fishing trips in Northern Michigan over the past eighteen months. The guys I fished with and spoke to, all working class men who had been Democrats for all their lives, were 100% Trumpers. And, by-the-way, let’s drop the disgusting “uneducated” adjective when speaking of such citizens. They may not have college degrees but they have more independence of thought, and more sense and wisdom than most college graduates.

Too Little, Too Late
There are some signs of the media beginning to acknowledge their failings (here and here). After the GOP primary David Brooks at the New York Times admitted journalists needed to get out more and actually talk to at least some of the Americans that don’t inhabit news rooms and TV studios most of their lives. But it’s too late. We need a clear out. We need new blood and new brains. In no other profession would so many people make so many serious mistakes and suffer no serious consequences.

Pundits and commentators serve a useful public purpose in the democratic process. We need them to help us make sense of our world and our lives. However, they cannot do that unless they are living in our world and living our lives. We need intelligent commentators. But we also need real-life people, people who are a fair representation of the population in age, class, color, religion, background, region, education, etc. Otherwise we just end up with the current complacent and dangerous groupspeak and Donald Trump in the White House. Or worse.

Pundits, do the honorable thing. Resign and relocate as a public service, as your contribution to homeland security. Live among us for ten years and you may be qualified for your posts again. You need to be influenced by us, if you are ever going to influence us. You cannot move public opinion unless you are moved by public opinion.

This is an updated version of an article I wrote after Trump won the GOP Primary.

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