Temperament is a poor test of sanctification

…for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. –2 Peter 2:19

The mortification of sin consists not in the improvement of a quiet, sedate nature. Some men have an advantage by their natural constitution so far as that they are not exposed to such violence of unruly passions and tumultuous affections as many others are. Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration, and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortified men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor doth trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter hath done more to the mortification of the sin than the former. Let not such persons try their mortification by such things as their natural temper gives no life or vigor to. Let them bring themselves to self-denial, unbelief, envy, or some such spiritual sin, and they will have a better view of themselves.

–John Owen, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers

Throwing out the (dirty) baby with the bath water [pt 4]

{What follows are key statements from Galli’s review (in bold italics) followed by my thoughts in response}

I think two teachings of Jesus need to play a much larger role in any discussion of holiness…The first is the parable of the Pharisee and the sinner (Luke 18). In that parable we see that the person who has pursued holiness, and has done so with reasonable success, is condemned. The person who is unholy as unholy can be is praised. Luke 18:9-14 is the first of two passages that Galli cites to support his claim that pursuing holiness will inevitably lead to self-righteousness. This is just poor biblical interpretation. The parable isn’t a statement on pursuing holiness (i.e. sanctification) as anyone can see if they read to the end of the parable where Jesus declares that the self-acknowledged sinner “went down to his house justified” (Lk 18:14). Consequently, the central issue in the parable isn’t about how one walks before God (in sanctification) but how one stands before God (by justification). The Pharisee thinks that his right standing with God is due to his work (Lk 18:11-12) but Jesus makes clear that right standing with God is due to undeserved grace (Lk 18:13-14). How one walks after being made right isn’t discussed at all. The claim that the Luke 18 parable proves that pursuing holiness inevitably leads to self-righteousness can only be maintained by ignoring Jesus’ own interpretive conclusion or by conflating justification with sanctification. Either way Galli’s interpretive approach just doesn’t work.

The second teaching is Jesus’ admonition that our left hand should not know what our right hand is doing (Matt 6:3). On this verse at least, Galli does a better job at paying attention to the context by noting that the teaching concerns “almsgiving” before extending the application to “all our good deeds.” Unfortunately, although he sees one contextual road sign he still ends up driving off the road. Two observations should suffice. First, the teaching in Matt 6:2-4 isn’t about self-examination (as Galli suggests) but self-promotion: practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them (Matt 6:1). Second, Jesus’ warning/exhortation invites self-examination (contra Galli) in order to determine why we do our good deeds (man’s praise or God’s praise?) and whether or not our actions (public or private?) line up with our motives. There is simply no way for us to live the Christian life as the metaphorically oblivious left hand (unless you subscribe to Thing theology).

Better than examining ourselves and trying to be holy is to stop looking at yourself in the first place, and to start looking for the neighbor, moving toward him with the rhythm of grace. Isn’t moving toward your neighbor in grace a step of holiness, too? Galli seems to assume that the Christian who looks to himself will not (cannot?) also look to his neighbor but, while that may be true in certain cases, it’s by no means a biblical truism. Grace and holiness aren’t mutually exclusive and the pursuit of one doesn’t mean the abandonment of the other. Jesus ties the two together in passages like Mat 5:43-48 when He commands us to love our enemies (i.e. move in grace) and to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (i.e. pursue holiness). In fact, if we discern the relationship between grace & holiness in Matthew 5 we would have to admit that we move in grace precisely because we want to be holy!

To a certain extent I understand why Galli would balk at the notion of pursuing personal holiness. Christians will always run the risk of misinterpreting and/or misapplying Scripture’s holiness commands. However, the risk of failure doesn’t negate the command and the requisite response. The best way to carry the aroma of grace is to self-consciously shed the rotting remains of our old man.

When the ‘excellence’ of a holy man is not peaceful

I do not say for a moment that holiness shuts out the presence of indwelling sin. No: far from it. It is the greatest misery of a holy man that he carries about with him a “body of death;”–that often when he would do good “evil is present with him”; that the old man is clogging all his movements, and, as it were, trying to draw him back at every step he takes. (Rom. vii. 21.). But it is the excellence of a holy man that he is not at peace with indwelling sin, as others are. He hates it, mourns over it, and longs to be free from its company. The work of sanctification within him is like the wall of Jerusalem–the building goes forward “even in troublous times.” (Dan. ix. 25.)

–J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and  Roots