Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. Heb. 4:1
There are forces in and around us that would prevent us from reaching the goal of our faith and we are cautioned by the writer of Hebrews to take them seriously. The more I meet with Christians in spiritual direction, the more convinced I am that the greatest of these is simply our lack of vision for the spiritual life. We either don’t know or else we keep forgetting the goals of our faith.
It is clear from the New Testament that Christian conversion has a very particular goal or objective. In Biblical terms, that goal is nothing short of our becoming saints. As Paul tells the Thessalonians “It is God’s will that you be sanctified” (1Thes. 4:3). If this is God’s desire, it should certainly be ours as well. Through increasing surrender to the Holy Spirit, we are called to mirror the sanctity of Christ. As Peter affirms in such Trinitarian terms, “we have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ” (1Pet 1:2).
In his recent book,”Transforming Conversion,” Gordon Smith reiterates this exalted goal of our Christian life when he writes,
The one thing that counts is to be a saint. This is the fundamental purpose of life. This is what it means to be a Christian, and to mature in faith, hope and love. One might well say that the only tragedy in a Christian life is the failure to be a saint.
In light of this objective the book of Hebrews tells us to “be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” And by simply cultivating our desire to live the sanctified life that God is calling us to we can ensure that we don’t.
We become saints by no other means than that of a life-long response to the invitation of the Holy Spirit to surrender to the vocation of sanctity. As A.W. Tozer taught,
The vital quality that the saints have in common is spiritual receptivity, urging them Godward. They have a spiritual awareness and they go on to cultivate it until it becomes the biggest thing in their lives. They are saints because, when they felt the inward longing of the Spirit, they did something about it. They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response.
God’s invitation to holiness encourages us to “lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of us” (Phil. 3:12). The one thing that counts is to be a saint. Without such a far-reaching vision we will lose momentum and our motivation for the high calling of our faith. We will reset our goals to what is more humanly possible, and we will drastically short-change our lives.
Though we are right to anticipate sanctity in our lives, theology recognizes that it is not in our power to achieve it. Only by participation with the active life of Christ’s Spirit within us do we, in any way, partake in holiness. It is a vicarious holiness but nevertheless ours to enjoy as the fruit of the Spirit’s sanctifying work within us. As Smith writes,
The New Testament vision of the Christian life cannot be spoken of without reference to the vital dynamic of life in Christ. It is also vital for us to recognize that without union in Christ, the goal of the Christian is simply impossible.
Apart from union with Christ, holiness is not only an impossible objective, it’s an oppressive one. No wonder we are tempted to settle for alternatives that are more in reach of our grasp. Only God can sanctify us. But our part, which is to consecrate our lives to God’s desire that we be saints, will ensure that we not fall short of this objective.
Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.