Do you remember being asked that question when you were young? How did you answer? If you ask a young child, say ages 5-10, you will get all kinds of very enthusiastic answers. Ask a teenager, and you will probably get a shrug of the shoulders and an “I dunno.” Ask a college student, especially one nearing graduation, and you may get an anxious, “I have no idea!”
You probably have never had anyone answer, “I want to be holy.” I’ve never had anyone say that to me, and to be honest, I’ve never answered that way either. But as believers, who we are is much more than what we do. Who we are, is determined by “whose” we are. Our identity is now rooted in who we are in Christ.
Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” If Christ in fact lives in and through me, which he does, what would he live for? How would he spend his time? What would be his meditation? How would he perform my job? How would he love my wife? How would he raise my children? Wrestling with these questions has a purifying effect upon my soul. It also gives me great confidence, since it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me in the person of the Holy Spirit. I know I can’t love my wife the way I should, but Christ can. I know I am weak in the flesh, but he is strong, in fact his strength is perfected in my weakness.
This truth of being dead to self and alive to Christ, reminds me of the already and not yet reality in which we live. In Christ we are holy, yet we are to pursue holiness. We are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” and yet we are reminded in the following verse that “it is God who works in you…” (Philippians 2:12-13).
To pursue Jesus, is to pursue holiness. Sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, we may not appear to resemble the One we are pursuing, the One we are imitating, the One we are worshiping. However, much like an acorn does not resemble an oak, yet we know that given time and the right conditions, the acorn will indeed become an oak. As Richard Sibbes simply put it, “We call a little plant a tree, because it is growing up to be so.”
Recently I had the pleasure of reading through The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes. Actually, I had the joy of going through it with our most recent missionary Garrett Trainor. This is a particularly profitable way to go through a good book, with a brother or sister in Christ. Sibbes has some wonderful ways of describing this gradual process of growth.
Things of greatest perfection are longest in coming to their growth. Man, the most perfect creature, comes to perfection by little and little; worthless things, as mushrooms and the like, like Jonah’s gourd, soon spring up, and soon vanish. A new creature is the most excellent creature in all the world, therefore it grows up by degrees.
Although written about 400 years ago, Sibbes has a way of gently but firmly speaking truth to the soul in a way that instructs, admonishes, and encourages at the same time. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “I shall never cease to be grateful to Richard Sibbes who was balm to my soul at a period in my life when I was overworked and badly overtired, and therefore subject in an unusual manner to the onslaughts of the devil…I found at that time that Richard Sibbes, who was known in London in the early seventeenth century as the ‘Heavenly Doctor Sibbes’ was an unfailing remedy…The Bruised Reed quieted, soothed, comforted, encouraged and healed me.”
Sibbes is not an easy read, but don’t let that put you off. Sibbes should be read slowly, meditatively. If we were able to ask young Richard what he wanted to be when he grew up, I’m not sure how he would have answered. I am pretty confident however, that he would have given an answer which actually resembled how his life turned out. Richard Sibbes, whose father was a wheelwright (one who repairs wooden wheels for carts, wagons, etc.) loved books as a child. However, this love of books, learning, and study, did not find its purpose and direction until he was converted at the age of 26.
In these days of the already and not yet, as we pursue Jesus, as we pursue holiness, God has not left us to ourselves. He has given us his Spirit, the Counselor to be with us forever (John 14). He has given us his word, the Bible. And he has given us his people, the Body of Christ, the Church. Some of the members of the Body, like the “Heavenly Doctor Sibbes,” have already gone on to glory.
If you’d like to learn more about Richard Sibbes, check out his short biography in the book Meet the Puritans, by J.R. Beeke and R.J. Pederson, available in the church library. His classic book The Bruised Reed is also available in a paperback, and in an electronic version.