Is God’s Word the standard for holiness in my life, or do I tend to compare my efforts at living a holy life to the efforts of those around me? This is a question I’ve had to ask myself several times since beginning a book study with the ladies at my church. Every summer we study a book or topic together, and this summer we’re studying The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges.
The Pursuit of Holiness is an excellent book filled with convicting, biblical thoughts about God’s righteous demands for holy living, but it’s also bursting with encouragement for believers as we consider with grateful hearts that we are covered by Christ’s perfect holiness in our flawed attempts at living holy lives. Interestingly enough, out of all the rich, elaborate themes of holiness I’ve uncovered thus far in the book, the idea that sticks out most in my mind is one that is only very briefly mentioned at the beginning of the second chapter. It’s the idea of “cultural holiness.”
Bridges says this: “Many Christians have what we might call a ‘cultural holiness.’ They adapt to the character and behavior pattern of Christians around them. As the Christian culture around them is more or less holy, so these Christians are more or less holy.”
As I pondered this term “cultural holiness,” it occurred to me that it has captured my attention more than anything else in this book because it’s a real struggle of mine — but it’s a struggle I didn’t even realize I had until the Holy Spirit brought it to light through Bridges’ words.
I am blessed to know a lot of wise women, and many times I light-heartedly say about one of them, “I want to be like her when I grow up.” These women are wonderful, godly examples who possess many of the qualities found in the excellent wife from Proverbs 31. They are certainly worth modeling as they imitate Christ in many areas of their lives, and Scripture even calls us to echo faithful saints in our own spiritual walks. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ,” and Titus 2 instructs the older women to teach and train the younger women. But in following the example of these older, wiser women, we need to be careful that we don’t make them our standard for holiness. We must ask ourselves if we are content to simply be as holy as the lady next to us. Have we become experts at conforming our behavior to “look the part” or are we truly striving for holiness? I certainly don’t want to discredit the wisdom we can gain from imitating those who are displaying Christ-exalting qualities, but we must remember that even the most spiritual women we know make mistakes. Even they need God’s daily sufficient grace to cover a multitude of sins.
In addition to that, looking horizontally could give us a false sense of our own personal growth in holiness. It may even bring us satisfaction if we feel that our level of holiness matches up to the level of those around us. But when we look up instead of to the left or the right, we find that we are a long way off from where we need to be. We must strive for holiness that is found only in Jesus Christ. Bridges explains, “God has not called us to be like those around us. He has called us to be like Himself. Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God.” When believers consider this huge calling on our lives, we have no option but to fall on our knees in humble adoration of the Lord Jesus Christ, thanking Him for undeserved grace and for the righteousness He has imputed to those who trust in Him. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
May we all seek to imitate other believers as they imitate Christ, while focusing our sights on the true prize and our only standard for holiness — Jesus Christ.