You Can’t Get More Holy

By Joel A. Hess

Everything in life is about progress, right? Civilized people desire to make everything better. From running to skipping, from skiing on the bunny hill to taking the double black diamonds, humanity cheers improvement. There is nothing wrong with that. We should be good stewards of God’s gifts and use them for others to the best of our ability.  

However, holiness doesn’t work like that. Neither does salvation or righteousness. We can never improve any of those things. Yet, no matter how much we should enjoy this gift and find rest in it, we keep forgetting it in our walk with God. Fellow believer, you can’t get any more holy than when you first believed. You can’t be anymore saved than when you were first saved. You can’t be anymore born again than when you first were born again. God only works with everythings and nothings, no partials. More than that, when He gives everything, He even spills it all over the place—my cup runneth over.

Paul writes plainly, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.” Romans 3:22-25

When a person believes in what Christ has done for them, she receives everything period! She receives salvation, righteousness, holiness, complete forgiveness, eternal life. Everything! 100%!  You don’t need more! We see this reality through the eyes of faith. Yet, one day, we will see what God sees, our holiness, righteousness, and sainthood when Christ appears. Colossians 3:4.

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I have trouble believing this. I want to progress. Surely I’m not a saint yet. I want more. So did John Wesley and many others. John Wesley believed there was a second sanctification that followed salvation. He believed that one could become more holy or completely holy with the help of the Spirit. He taught that people could become entirely sanctified after some time, and implied that a person is not entirely sanctified, made holy, when they first came to faith. Others taught similar progressive holiness theories in churches that we now call holiness movements of the 19th century. Oddly, this movement was not new but just a return to a Roman Catholicism, which ultimately is what we all default to if left to our own devices.

By teaching a second sanctification, Wesley and his friends today put the yoke back on the freed Christian and steal the beauty and grace of God’s gift of holiness that He gives sinners in the first place.

Of course, right now some closet holiness movement junkies (We all can be this from time to time, even us Lutherans) are gritting their teeth and muttering, “What do you mean we can’t progress or we can’t be more holy. I suck right now. Surely I should be a better Christian! You must be an antinomian, Gospel reductionist, and promoter of licentious lifestyles!” Just because God says we can’t get any holier than we are doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do good works, curb bad works, and stay away from jackasses. To be sure, we can improve in our civic righteousness, and we should! In fact, God’s grace frees us and equips to do exactly that. But it isn’t toward a greater holiness, but from the greatest holiness.

We should love our neighbor. We should read Scripture. We should stay away from temptations that lead us back to sleep. We should outwardly desire to be better people, BUT NOT because we GOT to, but because we GET to! Not because we can improve our holiness, but because we have been made holy—period!

I am my father’s son—period! I can be a better son and a worse son, but I can’t be any more of a son than I was when I was born. Thank God! The same goes for my Father in heaven. I can’t be any more of a son than when I was first born again. O Lord, help me to be a better son; forgive me when I fail.

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