For All Saints’ Day: You are the saint you want to be

Early in William Law’s A Serious Call to A Devout and Holy Life, the author provides the kind of slap in the face missing from all too many “Christian Life” books:

And if you will here stop, and ask yourselves, why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will you, that it is neither through ignorance, nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it.

This statement was a punch to the gut when I first read it. Being a somewhat active reader in church history I do have a tendency to romanticize the past. Being somewhat pessimistic by nature I do have a tendency to think things will never be that good again: “there were giants in the earth in those days.”

In his article “Our Unclaimed Riches”, A.W. Tozer elaborates on the same thought as Law. Tozer offers 4 convicting statements that get to the root of explaining your present condition in the Christian life:

  1. You will get nothing unless you go after it.
  2. You may have as much as you insist on having.
  3. You will have as little as you are satisfied with.
  4. You now have as much as you really want.

Taken in isolation these statements appear to be little better than the message of contemporary health-and-wealth televangelists. From beginning to end, however, Tozer is speaking of spiritual riches. For instance, immediately after the fourth statement Tozer writes, “Every man is as close to God as he wants to be; he is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wills to be.”

So are Law and Tozer right? Am I as holy as I want to be? Consider:

  1. God’s plan for you is holiness and Christ-likeness: from eternity God has intended this (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4).
  2. God’s will for you is holiness and Christ-likeness: this is what God wants for you now (1 Thess. 4:3).
  3. Christ’s passion was accomplished to make you holy (John 17:17-19; Eph. 5:25-27; Titus 2:14).
  4. Holiness and Christ-likeness is what the Holy Spirit is trying to form in you (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:2).
  5. Beyond His own personal plan, desire, sacrifice, and work, God has given everything we need to escape sin and live righteously (Acts 20:32; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Tim. 4:18; 2 Peter 1:3; 3:9)

We must agree with Law and Tozer. Every man is as holy as he wants to be. But, as Tozer concludes,

Yet we must distinguish wanting and wishing. By “want” I mean wholehearted desire. Certainly there are many who wish they were holy or victorious or joyful but are not willing to meet God’s conditions to obtain.

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William Law on Right Thinking and Living

Now to have right notions and tempers with relation to this world, is as essential to religion as to have right notions of God. And it is as possible for a man to worship a crocodile, and yet be a pious man, as to have his affections set upon this world and yet be a good Christian.
A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life ch. 1.

A Serious Call was on the initial list of suggested reading offered by Dissidens way back in March of ’05. In fact, it was number 1 on the list. Somewhere along the way I picked up a copy and it joined the ever-growing collection of “books to get to.” His recent post, particularly the last quote, incited me to tolle lege.

Chapter one is a diatribe against the impotence of Christianity. Rather, the impotence of Christians. A pious man is not made or revealed during Sunday services. If a man is not a Christian everyday of the week he is no Christian. If a man does not manifestly have completely separate affections than the best of unbelievers around him, he is simply a better unbeliever–though only marginally so.

Even if you do not have the book, you can read it here. I do not think you can start it soon enough.