This past week, I was exploring in J.C. Ryle’s Holiness. It’s a wonderful book, filled with impassioned pleas and pointed wisdom from a 19th century theologian. One of the early chapters in the book is titled “Growing in Grace”. I don’t know that this chapter would have meant much to me… had I not also been reading through the life of David in 2 Samuel, and been pondering what “growth in grace” is supposed to look like in the life of a believer. (More particularly… this believer.)
Throughout Scripture, David is described as being “a man after God’s own heart”. When I consider my own relationship with God, there is little that I would like to be more true of me than this.
Yet, I often wonder how this could be. In Isaiah 64, God reveals to us that our righteous deeds are as filthy rags. Our righteous deeds! (It makes you wonder how nasty the metaphor would be for our unrighteous deeds!) How can I chase after God’s own heart while putting out disgusting filthy rags. Also, it is important for to realize that God’s grace does not only extend to my salvation, but additionally to my santicification! Not only am I entirely incapable of redeeming myself from sin, but also at becoming more “holy”.
Honestly, this has often left me at a point of frustration. As believers, we’re told that we should be growing in grace, yet as I try, I grow more and more overwhelmed at my own insufficiency and disgust at the filthy rags that are produced. It seems the harder I work, the filthier the rags. Not to mention the seeming phenomena shared by all believers: the closer one draws near to the magnificent light of the full truth of God’s greatness, more of the wickedness of my own heart is unearthed, and I am ashamed.
It seems the harder I work, the filthier the rags.
What is there left for me to do? The more that I discover about God, the more overwhelming my revealed depravity is! As more is unearthed, I often am left considering, “can I take this anymore?” How can I feel as though I am “growing in grace” whilst simultaneously “growing more aware of how disgusting my heart is”?
It is quite the conundrum… Until my motives are revealed.
As I read Ryle’s Holiness, I came across this thought: “the cost of holiness is a man’s self-righteousness. He must cast away all pride and high thoughts, and conceit of his own goodness.” (Here’s the kicker) “He must be content to go to heaven as a poor sinner saved only by free grace, and owing all to the merit and righteousness of another… He must be willing to give up all trust in his own morality, respectability, praying, Bible-reading, church-going, and sacrament-receiving, and to trust in nothing but Jesus.” My heart both jumped and sank as I first read this phrase. For it showed me the err in my understanding.
I wasn’t hoping to “grow in grace” so that I might “grow in grace”. I was looking for a way to trust in my morality. I was searching for a path that would allow me to feel good about my actions. I was seeking to validate all of my filthy rags, in the hopes that I could delusionally present them to God. I wasn’t trying to grow in grace, I was trying to justify my own righteousness so that I might put stock in it.
If you’re like me, this is a bitter pill to swallow. Yet, if I don’t continually strip my heart of pride, that pill will grow bigger and bigger until I choke on it. I encourage you to join me as we
“Cast away all pride and conceit of our own goodness, and be willing to give up all trust in our own morality, respectability, praying, Bible-reading, church-going, and sacrament-receiving, and to trust in NOTHING BUT JESUS CHRIST.”
Until next time.