“There be imperfections in our best works: we do not love God so much as we are bound to, with all our hearts, mind, and power; we do not fear God so much as we ought to do; we do not pray to God but with many and great imperfections. We give, forgive, believe, live, and hope imperfectly; we speak, think, and do imperfectly; we fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh imperfectly. Let us, therefore, not be ashamed to confess plainly our state of imperfections.” – J.C. Ryle
I’m willing to bet if you’re reading this, there is within you a desire to grow in your faith. You long in some capacity to become like the King you exist to worship. There is within you, pressing up against your conscience, what Scripture declares as a desire to “move from one degree of glory to the next” (2 Cor. 3:18 ESV). This is a longing to grow in your personal holiness.
The pursuit of holiness begins with an honest view of yourself
“Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God. Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.” – John Calvin
We cannot seek an understanding of Christ and the effect of his redeeming love on our lives apart from understanding that without Christ we are desperately sick. The universal sickness tainting all of mankind confronts us with the truth of who we are apart from the transforming work of God’s grace. Our eyes are opened by our Redeemer to our own sinfulness. Simultaneously working alongside this fresh view of ourselves, we start seeing God and his ways with greater clarity.
An honest view of yourself is designed to lead you to mercy
In Isaiah 6:1-7, we see this play out as Isaiah sees the Lord and immediately sees his own unworthiness in God’s presence. This leads to his sin being atoned for. He is cleansed completely of any unrighteousness caused by his condition. God gifts him with the phenomenal gift of forgiveness. Mercy is seen with greater weight in light of our unworthy state.
We don’t wallow in our own sin. We see our sinfulness against the backdrop of the gospel. We can’t separate our need for grace with the grace God has freely offered to us through faith in Christ. This is why beating yourself up for your sin isn’t acceptable. We don’t go inward with our guilt and shame, we go upward. Our pleas for mercy reach the throne of grace and we’re cleansed completely through the power of Christ’s blood. We stand before God with confidence in Christ, not shame in ourselves.
An honest view of yourself leads to genuine humility before God and others
Going back to the J.C. Ryle quote, the exceeding sinfulness of our corruption should lead us to humility. Even the best works you and I could put together in submission to the will of God are still tainted with imperfections. The best acts of compassion, generosity, justice, mercy, and wisdom are peppered with the imperfections of sin’s corruption. We desperately need the redeeming power of the gospel to make our best actions pleasing to God.
Think about that for a moment. Your best efforts to follow Christ are imperfect. Your greatest dependence on the Spirit to guide you is imperfect. Your best days where you feel most confident in your own acts of devotion to God are loaded with sin’s influence. This means your effort to do anything pleasing to God relies completely upon the grace of God to make it useful in the eyes of God (you may need to read that sentence again).
What grace! There is literally nothing you or I could do to please God apart from the redeeming power of His love at work in us.
An honest view of yourself leads you to live with regard to your need.
Sin is completely deceitful. We forget this. We are often in the habit of minimizing sin’s deceitfulness. We feed ourselves this lie that we are not as sinful as God says we are. This leads us to easily make excuses for our sin and see it with less regard than we should.
The degree of our sickness should lead us to tremble before God crying out daily in need of Him. We live constantly with awareness of our condition apart from God and it leads us to embrace the grace and forgiveness offered in Jesus. Knowing our condition leads us toward lives that cling to the Christ who saves us because we know the vast death and darkness he has saved us from!
In short, the one who grows in holiness grows in their dependence. The mature, faithful, humble believer is the one who is quite needy. In light of this truth, meditate on the words of Christ from Matthew 5:3-6 (ESV).
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”