18 July 2020

The influential and godly J.I. Packer passed away on 17th July 2020. When he was asked in one interview what was the great discouragement that was prominent in his assessment of the evangelical church, he termed it as the church being too light in the preaching and teaching on HOLINESS. This servant of God felt that the church has been focusing on the love of God, the work at Calvary, all of which are in order, but has failed to emphasise on holiness in her preaching and teaching. To him, this has to do with the lack of wholesome understanding of who God is, His holiness, His greatness, His awesomeness, and God’s wrath and judgement against sin. The call to holiness is part of the gospel and sanctification is a priority for the church of God.
Ponder over what he wrote regarding holiness and usefulness:

“It is noteworthy that most speakers and books on holiness say little about ministry, while most speakers and books on ministry say little about holiness. It has been this way for over a century. But to treat holiness and ministry as separate themes is an error. God has linked them, and what God joins man must not put asunder. One regular result of ongoing sanctification is that concern for others, with recognition of what they lack and wisdom that sees how to help them is increased. Ministry blossoms naturally in holy lives. In effective ministry, God’s power is channeled through God’s servants into areas of human need. A saintly person of limited gifts is always likely to channel more of it than would a person who is more gifted but less godly. So God wants us to use all to seek holiness and usefulness together”.

On holiness, he wrote:

“Many christians, it seems, do not appreciate what has happened to them in their new birth and are careless about obeying and pleasing God; many more have desperate struggles against long standing sinful habits that in effect have become addictions to unrighteousness, and they often lose the battles they fight, and there are many who evidently think it does not matter whether or not one strives to perfect holiness of life. But it does! For without a purpose of holiness, there can be no authentic praying and praying that is really praying in presupposes an all-round commitment to Christian living – ‘love that issues from a pure heart (holiness) and a good conscience and a sincere faith’ (1 Timothy 1:5).

God’s servant has crystallised the great predicament of the church today. There is so much preaching and teaching that leaves out the essential place of ‘holiness’ in them; there is even so much emphasis on grace that amounts to ‘hyper-grace’ and causes the hearers to conclude that it does not matter how we live out our christian lives, for God has forgiven all our sins, past, present and future, and we need not feel guilty, implying that there is no need for repentance and to come out of ‘darkness’ back into the ‘light’ whenever we sin.

We read the warning of Apostle Paul: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true, and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Eph. 5:7-11)
…For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral, or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of God” (Eph.5:5).

Another servant of God, J.C. Ryle, shared the same concern as J.I. Packer. He wrote:
“Open sin, and avowed unbelief, no doubt slay their thousands. But profession without practice slays its tens of thousands….Let it be a fixed principle in our religion, that obedience is the only sound evidence of saving faith, and that the talk of the lips is worse than useless, if it is not accompanied by sanctification of the life”.

Some congregations may not go to the extreme of advocating hyper-grace’; yet, in their preaching and teaching and in their stance, there is not enough ‘weight’ given to the essential need of sanctification. To emphasise on grace and forgiveness without too much focus on holiness may lead to incremental growth in terms of number in membership but the quality of life has been sacrificed in favour of quantity in numbers. What we end up may be more ‘tares’ rather than ‘wheat’ and more ‘feel-good’ members who may end up hearing the Lord Jesus say, “I never knew you;depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:23).