Striving for holiness

This is a translation of a scriptural meditation from the Russian book, “Day by Day”:

Scripture: “For the will of God is your sanctification” (1 Thess: 4,3)


“There are people who are firm in their faith but do not realize that a living faith obligates them to strive for perfection; it is inactive within them, and they do not become better. Satisfied with their quiet, undisturbed life, desiring that everything remain as is, they don’t think at all about the need for that great change which should take place in us as a result of our conversion. “Faith without works is dead” says St. James (James: 2, 20), and the works of love, the works of self-renunciation, the development of our spiritual forces, the taming of our temper and sinful tendencies, the imitation of our great Teacher and Lord naturally flow from our true, deep faith. “The will of God is our sanctification”. God desires our perfection, and in Him we will find not only deliverance from temptation, but also an inexhaustible source of spiritual strength. The Lord forgives sins in order that we renounce them. He opens the door before us, but He will not allow us to enter through it without being renewed, with our old sins, immoral tendencies or corrupt thoughts. Those who have leprosy require not only forgiveness, but healing as well. It is the same with us. We need forgiveness, but we also need medication for our spiritual illness. In a letter to a colleague, a clergyman wrote: “Never cease to tell your congregation that the greatest happiness consists in sanctity and that the ultimate aim of the redemptive sacrifice of the Savior is the calling of people to holiness and imitation of Christ.”

Goffar’s “C.S. Lewis Index” has five references to “holiness”. Here are two:

Letter to Sister Penelope of July (August) 1939):
“George MacDonald’s…‘Phantasties’ & ‘Lilith’ I found endlessly attractive, and full of what I felt to be holiness before I really knew what it was”’

Letter to Mary Shelburne of August 1, 1953:
“I am so glad you gave me an account of the lovely priest. How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing (and perhaps, like you, I have met it only once) it is irresistible.”


“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

Sadly, this is true. At least in the US, we’ve been deeply infected with the evangelist culture that leaves people thinking that if they’ve walked the aisle and prayed the prayer, they’ve got their ticket punched for Heaven and they can live like the Devil for the rest of their lives. They apparently don’t read far enough into their Bibles to see Hebrews 12:14:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

As a result, when pastors like John MacArthur and the late R.C. Sproul say correctly that if you will not have Jesus as your Lord, he will not have you as your Savior, people freak out and accuse them of preaching salvation by works. This is an utterly false accusation; they both consistently preach salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone–and while Roman Catholics may well object to their positions on this, Protestants shouldn’t. But having been justified (God’s one-time judicial declaration of innocence), we must be sanctified (the ongoing growth in holiness throughout life), and such sanctification will inevitably result from a living, saving faith.

I think, though, that the Lewis references are intending to address a different issue, or perhaps an extreme or unusual degree of the same issue. Certainly the letter to Mary Shelburne presents holiness as something exceedingly rare, rather than the common condition of God’s people. I’ll have to consult my own copy of the Index and see if there are other references that could clarify (perhaps under the heading of “Sanctification”).