Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Face of Holiness

(From Holiness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss)
"If you've been a Christian for any length of time, you have probably struggled with thoughts like those expressed by this discouraged believer:

I hate myself; I hate my sin... I felt that there was nothing I so much desired in this world [as holiness], nothing I so much needed. But so far from in any measure attaining it, the more I pursued and strove after it, the more it eluded my grasp; till hope itself almost died out...I cannot tell you how I am buffeted sometimes by temptation. I never knew how bad a heart I had...Often I am tempted to think that one so full of sin cannot be a child of God at all.

Would it surprise you to learn that these anguished words flowed from the pen of one of the most revered heroes in the history of the Christian church? J. Hudson Taylor, nineteenth-century pioneer missionary to China, was renowned as a man of extraordinary faith, sacrifice, prayer, and devotion. When he wrote these words, Taylor was the leader of a thriving mission enterprise.

For several months, he had carried a burden for greater holiness in the mission and in his own life. he later wrote of that period:
I prayed, agonized, fasted, strove, made resolutions, read the Word more diligently...but all was without effect. Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me.

In the fall of 1869, Hudson Taylor found himself at a crisis point. The pressure of circumstances had been building up for months. He had experienced a bout with serious illness, the unbearably hot climate, the stresses associated with overseeing a large and growing ministry, endless demands on his time, and extensive travel under primitive conditions in the interior of China. He found himself with frayed nerves, irritable, prone to harshness, and unable to live the life of holiness he so longed to exhibit.
From his tormented heart, he asked a question you may have asked on occasion, as have I: Is there no rescue? Must it be thus to the end- constant conflict, and instead of victory, too often defeat?
Still in turmoil, he returned home from a trip to find a letter from a fellow missionary named John McCarthy, who had recently encountered Christ in a new way. His testimony included a quote from a book called Christ in All:"The Lord Jesus received is holiness begun; the Lord Jesus cherished is holiness advancing; the Lord Jesus counted upon as never absent would be holiness complete." went on to describe the radical difference this message was making in his life:

Abiding, not striving nor struggling; looking off unto Him; trusting Him for present power; trusting Him to subdue all inward corruption; resting in the love of an almighty Savior;...this is not new, and yet 'tis new to me. I feel as though the first dawning of a glorious day had risen upon me.

As Taylor read McCarthy's letter, he was given a new look at Christ. That look proved to be transformational. Six weeks later, Taylor received a letter from his sister in England. She poured out her heart about the pressures she was undergoing as a mother with a growing family and the frustration she was experiencing in her own walk with God. In his reply, Taylor eagerly shared with his troubled sister what God had so freshly done in his life:

As I read his letter, I saw it all!...I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, "I will never leave you." "Ah, there is rest!" I thought... I saw not only that Jesus would never leave me, but that I was a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones...Oh, the joy of seeing this truth!...It is a wonderful thing to be really one with a risen and exalted Savior; to be a member of Christ! Think what it involves. Can Christ be rich and I poor? Can your right hand be rich and the left poor? or your head be well fed while your body starves?... All this springs from the believer's oneness with Christ. And since Christ has thus dwelt in my heart by faith, how happy I have been!

From start to finish, the pathway of holiness is a life of faith-- faith in the person, the work, and the gospel of Christ. We were justified-- declared righteous-- by faith in the atoning work of CHrist on our behalf. And we are sanctified-- progressively made righteous in our practice--not by our own efforts, but through faith in His sanctifying grace.
In looking to Jesus, Hudson Taylor discovered the power to live a holy life. He wrote to his sister, "I am as capable of sinning as ever, but Christ is realized as present as never before. He cannot sin; and He can keep me from sinning."
Jesus can keep you and me from sinning. And when we do sin, it is He who will cleanse and pardon us. Through the cross of Christ, God has made provision for every sin we could possibly commit. His grace is infinitely more powerful than any sinful bondage.
As Charles Spurgeon says so eloquently, such a Savior is a sinner's only hope:

Though you have struggled in vain against your evil habits, though you have wrestled with them sternly and resolved, and re-resolved, only to be defeated by your giant sins and your terrible passions, there is One who can conquer all your sins for you. There is One who is stronger than Hercules, who can strangle the hydra of your lust, kill the lion of your passions, and cleanse the Augean stable of your evil nature by turning the great rivers of blood and water of his atoning sacrifice right through your soul. He can make and keep you pure within. Oh, look to him!

There is something powerful about fixing our eyes on Jesus as we seek to be holy. The apostle Paul put it this way:

We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.- 2 Corinthians 3:18

As we look upon Him, we are changed into His image. At the moment, our ability to behold the Savior is limited, because we are in these finite bodies and still have to contend with our corrupt flesh. But one day, totally freed from sin, we will be able to see Christ clearly, as He is. Seeing Him, we will adore Him fully and will be drawn to become like Him. In that moment, our transformation into His likeness will be complete.

Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when [Christ] appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.- 1 John 3:2

The longing of my heart--and the longing of every follower of Christ--is to be like Him. That transformation is not something we can produce on our own, apart from the power of His indwelling Holy Spirit. Like Hudson Taylor, you may have been striving and struggling to be more holy. The Lord Jesus invites you to cease your striving, to come to Him, and to find rest for your soul. As you meditate on His magnificence and follow in His footsteps, He will bring about in you a marvelous transformation that will be completed when you finally see Him face-to-face.

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