People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated. — DA Carson in For the Love of God, volume 2
Holiness isn’t something that will happen naturally. The first sentence in the quote above perfectly encapsulates that and the point of this post. I wish that weren’t true. But it is. People do not drift toward holiness.
Christians will not automatically keep moving forward in holiness because we still reside in our fleshly body that is corrupted by sin. Sanctification–the process by which we become more holy–is not an easy-going process; it is strenuous; it is difficult; and it will not happen unless you do your part. And in order to do your part, you have to at least be intentional.
This is hard, though, right? It is frustratingly hard. Every day we face a new set of challenges–a new set of nagging sins to deny. We face the daily possibility of drifting–drifting more and more towards complacency and/or apathy. It takes intentionality to become more holy.
You’re Always Moving
From one day to the next, we are either drifting or drawing closer to God. There is never a day where we are not moving one way or the other. Even in the times that you find yourself in a spiritual rut, within that rut, you are drifting if you do not take proper steps. And, quite frankly, this is the struggle of the Christian life. We see that in Romans 7 with the Apostle Paul. When we get up each morning we have the possibility of drifting away from God or becoming more holy.
This is where being intentional comes into play. When we recognize that we will either become more like Jesus or less like Jesus on any given day, it makes it easier for us to be more intentional in our walk with God. We are aware, we are in our spiritual toes. Intentionality breeds holiness.
If you are naïve enough to think that you will never be susceptible to drifting from God, then drifting will be more of a reality for you because you will not know it’s happening.
Intentionality Breeds Holiness
Like I said above, intentionality breeds holiness. When we begin to be intentional in our walk with God, we will notice more signs of holiness in our life. Being intentional is not synonymous with legalism; it simply means that we are focusing on pursuing holiness – to become more like Jesus.
And as Christians, shouldn’t we want to become more like Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)? Because again, holiness does not come automatically. If we do not actively pursue holiness by being intentional, we will inevitably drift away from God. And, of course, the further we drift away from God, the less likely we are to actively pursue holiness. When we are drifting from God, we need to repent—that is, to make an about-turn back towards him.
As Martin Luther said in his first thesis of his 95 Theses:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
Repentance is an essential component to being intentional as it relates to our pursuit to be like Christ. If you don’t repent daily, you will not progress in sanctification! So then, you may ask, how do we be intentional?
How Do We be Intentional?
This is where it gets practical. We can talk about how we need to be intentional, but we also need to talk about what it looks like.
Being intentional involves being intentional with our spiritual disciplines–those things that help us grow to become more like Jesus. They include reading the Bible, praying, evangelism, fasting, and the like.
In his fantastic book goes through each of the spiritual Disciplines and how they correspond to godliness. It is a classic book that should be read by every Christian.
In one section of his work, Whitney writes:
And in my own pastoral and personal Christian experience, I can say that I’ve never known a man or woman who came to spiritual maturity except through discipline. Godliness comes through discipline.
Whitney is absolutely right. Nobody comes to spiritual maturity, that is, godliness, but through discipline. And let me take it a step further: nobody is able to be disciplined if they are not intentional.
Intentionality –> spiritual disciplines –> godliness
Not that there’s a step-by-step formula for progressing in sanctification, per se, but this is a good train of thought. So if you are not intentional in doing the spiritual disciplines, you should not expect to grow in godliness. If you are lackadaisical in your efforts to be intentional in doing spiritual disciplines, don’t be surprised when you don’t see any growth.
So how do we be intentional?
Bible reading. There are many Bible reading plans out there. It doesn’t have to be a formal reading plan, you just simply need to have a plan, per se, of when, how, and why you’re going to read scripture. Yes, you even need to be intentional about why are you reading scripture. Of course, your why should be to know more about God and therefore grow in godliness. If you don’t identify your why you will sometimes fall into the trap of reading scripture like you read a newspaper. Don’t do that.
Praying. To quote the German Reformer, Martin Luther, again: “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” We have to pray like we have to breathe. How should you pray? For example, I struggle to pray because my thoughts become so jumbled. It’s best for me to write out my prayers–which I need to be more intentional about! I pray as I write, and then I pray by reading it as well and that springboards my thoughts. Do what fits you.
There are, of course, many other spiritual disciplines like I mentioned above, but for the sake of time, I won’t go over the rest. I encourage you to buy Whitney’s book!
Just remember this, Christian: what’s the end goal with being intentional? To grow more in godliness to the glory of God! Look to Christ, friend. He is your righteousness. Pursue Him at the expense of everything else.
Soli Deo Gloria