Pastor Joe Thorn says it’s not really possible for Christians to achieve perfect holiness; I have a quibble with that

My quibble is mainly on the margins. I absolutely agree with Joe Thorn‘s assertion that the only real holiness comes through Christ working in us, and not from our trying harder. And I agree with him when he says sin follows us everywhere we go (remember, sin is a willful spiritual creature), so we will never be free of temptation as long as we’re in this world.

Basically he and I agree on the imperative and the outcome: We’re to pursue holiness, we fall short, we need the working of Christ in us in order to be declared righteous.

But I still have a quibble with his refusal to simply say “yes” to the question of whether it’s possible. It is. First let’s listen to how he approaches it:

Obviously it’s possible to be declared righteous through unmerited faith in Christ. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the question of whether it’s possible to actually achieve it through our own actions.

It is. I’m not saying anyone does. I’m saying it’s possible to do it. Not just relatively as Thorn says. Completely.

Why do I say that? Because in order for something to be possible, it has to be achievable through a) resources that are available to you; and b) actions you are capable of taking.

What is required to achieve holiness? We need to rebuke sin by the authority of Jesus Christ. Is that authority available to us? Yes. Always. How do we wield that authority? In two ways: 1. By faith in Him and His authority; 2. By submitting ourselves to that authority in our own actions, thoughts and decisions.

Are we capable of exercising that faith? Yes. Are we capable of submitting ourselves to that authority? Yes.

Thus, we’re capable of achieving holiness.

Now I’ll grant you, this is like saying a major league hitter is capable of hitting 1.000. Are you capable of getting a hit? Sure. Then just do what you’re capable of every time you come to bat and you’ll hit 1.000. There, it’s possible.

The demons who tempt us to sin are very effective adversaries, of course. Just as it’s easy for me to say you can hit 1.000 when I’m not the one who has to face Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw, it’s easy for me to point out to all Christians that it’s possible to never sin.

You say it’s implausible. I agree. You say it’s impractical to expect anyone to do it. I agree.

But it is possible, and more than just theoretically. For one thing, Jesus was both fully man and fully God when He walked on the Earth, and the fully man part refrained from sin every bit as much as the fully God part.

For another thing, if the power to rule over sin comes from Jesus, and Jesus is always available to us, then at what given moment in time can we claim that what was necessary to avoid sin could not be grasped? We can’t. Every time you sin, it was possible for you not to.

You chose to disregard the way out God offered through the power of Christ. You chose that freely. It was possible for you to choose Christ, but you rejected that possibility entirely of your own volition.

And it’s crucially important that it’s possible, because if it wasn’t possible, we would not be responsible for our sin and we wouldn’t have to acknowledge the need for God’s grace through Christ. If you had no way to avoid sin, then you could argue to God that you weren’t responsible for your sin. But you do, so you can’t.

The Christian who pleads, “Hey, I’m only human” implies that the power to rebuke and rule over sin is not available to him. That’s not true. The grace of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit provide all the power you need, and there’s never a moment when you can’t access them.

It is possible for a Christian to achieve perfect holiness. The very fact that it is possible is the reason we so desperately need God’s grace, and the very reason He is so good in making it available to us.

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When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear. Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me. – Psalm 27:2-6