Keep in Step with the Spirit by J. I. Packer (Book Notes)

I've been reading a lot in books on holiness and sanctification lately, and few books measure up to J. I. Packer's chapter on holiness in Keep In Step with the Spirit. [Although, one recent exception is David Peterson's Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness, on which I may post some thoughts later.] I first read Packer's book seven or eight years ago - and, notwithstanding reading lots of other books on spiritual formation and sanctification in the years since (Dallas Willard, Gary Thomas, John Ortberg, and others) it has been formative for my thinking on sanctification ever since. Here are my notes from the chapter on "The Way of Holiness"

1. The Nature of Holiness is Transformation through Consecration

Rom. 12:1-2; Phil. 2:12-13

Two Words for Holiness
"hagiasmos" - sanctification - positional holiness
"hosiotes" - purity - personal holiness

Repentance - "turning from as much as you know of your sin, to give as much as you know of yourself, to as much as you know of your God."

"Positional holiness of acceptance and consecration underlies the personal transformation that is normally what we have in mind when we think of sanctification . . ."

" . . . Detachment for God (consecration) comes to energize that commitment to fellow human beings which is integral to true holiness. . ."

2. The Context of Holiness is Justification through Jesus Christ

"God's free gift of justification, that is pardon and acceptance here and now through Christ's perfect obedience culminating in His substitutionary sin bearing for us on the cross, is the basis on which the entire sanctifying process rests."

"Increase in holiness means, among other things, an increased sensitivity to what God is, and hence a clearer estimate of one's own sinfulness and particular shortcomings, and hence an intensified realization of one's constant need of God's pardoning grace and cleansing mercy. All growth in grace is growth downward in this respect."

3. The Root of Holiness is Co-crucifixion and Co-resurrection with the Lord Jesus Christ

Romans 6

"All who have faith in Christ are new creatures in Him. They have been crucified with Christ. This means that an end has been put to the sin-dominated lives they were once living before. Also they have been raised with Him to walk in newness of life; this means that the power that wrought Christ's resurrection is now at work in them (Eph. 1:19-20; 3:20), causing them to live differently because in truth they are different at the center of their being. . ."

"The believer's holiness is a matter of learning to be in action what he already is in his heart . . . it is a matter of living out the life and instincts and expressing the dispositions and instincts (that is, the new nature) that God wrought in him by creating him anew in Christ."

"Holiness is the naturalness of the spiritually risen man, just as sin is the naturalness of the spiritually dead man -- and in pursuing holiness by obeying God, the Christian actually follows the deepest urge of his own renewed being . . ."

4. The Agent of Holiness is the Holy Spirit

The Spirit works in Christians through grace:
(1) Prevenient Grace - which creates in us a purpose of obedience
(2) Cooperating Grace - which sustains us in the practice of obedience

We need to remember two things:

(1) The Spirit works through Means - "through the objective means of grace, namely, biblical truth, prayer, fellowship, the Lord's Supper, and . . . through the subjective means of grace whereby we open ourselves to change, namely, thinking, listening, questioning oneself, sharing what is in ones heart with another, examining oneself, admonishing oneself, and weighing any response they (those we share with) make . . ."

(2) "Holy habits though formed in a natural manner I have described, by self-discipline and effort, are NOT natural products. The discipline and effort must be blessed by the Holy Spirit, or they would achieve nothing. . . All our attempts to get ourselves in shape need to be SOAKED IN CONSTANT PRAYER that acknowledges our inability to change ourselves."

2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:22-23

5. The Experience of Holiness is one of Conflict

"Gal. 5:17 . . . these words alert us to the reality of tension, the necessity of effort, and the incompleteness of achievement that mark the life of holiness in this world."

"The desires of the Spirit are inclinations of our renewed heart; the desires of the flesh are the contrary inclinations of . . . sin which dwells in me (Rom. 7:28). The anti-God energy that indwelling sin repeatedly looses in the form of temptations, delusions, and distractions, keep total perfection beyond our grasp. . ."

"The Christian in daily life: . . . knows that angelic perfection is promised for heaven, and he is resolved to get as close to it here and now as he can. He knows that he is being led and helped towards it here and now - he can testify that God already enables him to resist sin and practice righteousness in ways, in which, left to himself, he never could have done . . ."

We must remember that "any idea of getting beyond conflict, outward or inward, in the pursuit of holiness in this world is an escapist dream that can only have disillusioning and demoralizing effects on us as waking experiences daily disprove it. What we must realize, rather, is that any real holiness in us will be under hostile fire all the time, as our Lord's was (Heb. 12:1-4)."

"It is as certain as anything can be that without watchful prayer and a prayerful watch, we shall not be able to stand firm against the world, indwelling sin, and the evil one, but will fall victim to the their wiles and blandishments instead."

6. The Rule of Holiness is God's Revealed Law

Law meaning God's basic requirements for human lives: "[which] are embodied in the precepts and prohibitions of the Decalogue [Ten Commandments], expounded and applied in/by the prophets, the apostles, and Christ Himself; and displayed in the biblical biographies of men . . . who pleased God, with Christ Himself, whose life from this standpoint could be described as the law incarnate, standing at the head of the list. As that tells us, the law in this sense is holy, just, good, and spiritual . . .(Rom. 7;12,14)."

"The standards that the law sets do not change, anymore than does God Himself, and the height of holiness was, is, and always will be the fulfilling of the given rule of righteousness . . ."

This must not be confused with legalism

Legalism is: 1."Supposing that the laws requirements can be spelled out in a code of standard practice for all situations, a code which says nothing about the motives, the purpose, and the spirit of the person acting." 2. "Supposing that formal observance of the code operates in some way as a system of salvation by which we earn the passage to glory or at least a degree of divine favor that we would not otherwise enjoy. . ." both are unscriptural as 1. Jesus insisted that "matters of law keeping and law breaking are matters of desire and purpose before they ever become matters of deed and performance" and 2. This is "destroyed by Paul's gospel of present justification by faith alone, through Christ alone, without works of the law. . ."

The other extreme is licentiousness - lawless licensee . . . countered by Mt. 5:18-19; Rom. 6:1, Jude 4 - "You cannot be a good disciple . . . without also being a consistent law keeper."

The Balance:
"The Christian keeps the law, nonlegalistically, from life rather than for life, not to gain but out of gratitude (Rom. 12:1). He obeys not as a sinner trying to win salvation, but as a son of God rejoicing in the gift of salvation that is already his . . ." He lives under Christ's law (I Cor. 9:21) - love (Jn. 14:15). "Moral carelessness is spiritual carnality (I Cor. 3:1-3), and is holiness negated rather than fulfilled."

7. The Heart of Holiness is the Spirit of Love

Love is the whole burden of the law - Mt. 22:35-40
Love is the first fruit of the Spirit - Gal . 5:22
Love is the greatest of all virtues - I Cor. 13

"Love looks not away from, but beyond rules and principles to persons and seeks their welfare and glory. Love is not essentially a feeling of affection, but a way of behaving, and if it starts as a feeling, it must become more than a feeling if it is to truly be love. Love does something - it gives. This is how it establishes its identity (I Jn. 3:16-18)."

"Without love anything purporting to be holiness is in God's sight NOTHING. In other words, it is a hollow sham."

Beyond these seven points, Packer suggests three principles:
1. Holiness means Christ-centeredness as one's way of life
2. Holiness means law-keeping as one's way of love.
3. Holiness means experiencing the baptismal pattern as one's way of faith.


cgl said...

Speaking of Packer did you hear the Anglican church is threatening some kind of expulsion over the homosexual issue?

Brian G. Hedges said...

Yeah, I think I saw that on Justin Taylor's blog.

Anonymous said...

Brian, Thanks for the great overview of Packer's chapter on Holiness. He has a way with words and says much, like the Puritans in a few words (though obviously they were verbose as well); pithy. I'm currently reading David Peterson's "Possessed by God" and am just in the third chapter - a very good read. I see that he's going to take a different view than Packer and historic Reformed theology regarding the abiding validity and application of the Law in a believers sanctification, but Reformed theology has had its excesses in this area and guys like Peterson it seems to me have many helpful correctives, at points. Nonetheless, in a day of much over-correction resulting in subtle antinomianism and incipient licentiousness, Packer's well stated comments about the role of the law as "love's eyes" (as the Puritans would say) and of the place of "truth" in sanctification are refreshing, helpful and clear. By the way, I loved your book, "Christ Formed in You" - to me it summarizes the excellent material one finds in Piper, Bridges, Owen, but all in one place, winsomely written - a book I love to give to others. Glad I came across your blog and website. Keep up the great work.

Brian G. Hedges said...

Thanks for the comment, Bob. God bless, Brian