We love sport because it's just a glimpse of what people are capable of. We love to see what others can do, knowing that they've trained and trained for the moments we're watching, perahps dedicated their whole lives to them. We're thrilled to see brilliance made to appear natural. And, just maybe, we watch because we're hungry for inspiration as to how we could play, or live, just a little better.
The truth is, of course, that what appears brilliant to us on the sports field is a good dose of natural skill, coupled with a huge amount of practice. Practice, practice, practice. And then practice. Repeated, unglamorous, and unnoticed practice. Put enough work in on the training pitch, and skills which are mastered there shine on matchday in - to our eyes - stunning and seemingly spontaneous brilliance.
On Sunday morning we were thinking about the Apostle Peter's call to be holy in all that we do (1 Peter 1.15). That is the great headline of all Christian discipleship. After that, as I said in the sermon, the rest is just the detail. All of the commands, encouragements and warnings about godly living in the Bible are all to be heard as aspects of this call to holiness.
Peter is saying that we must recognise who we are in Christ, set apart in Him as holy. And then we must recognise what we are called to in Him, to live lives which please Him and reflect His holiness, For that we've been given nothing less than the empowering Holy Spirit.
Holiness is life, not a game. But like playing sport to the best of your ability, holiness comes with practice. It really does. As Jim Packer once said, holiness means holy habits. In other words, by the power of the Holy Spirit we take steps to change the way we think, how we feel, what we desire, how we speak, what we do, and how we pray. We bring God's truth to our wrong, sinful patterns of responding to God and His Word, and pray for the Spirit's help in conforming to God's will for us. And then we put it into practice. We do it once, then twice, and then twenty times. We form habits which are holy, and 'habitually' respond to God's Word and World in God-honouring ways. We do it when it's difficult, inconvenient, and costly. We do it when we can see the results, and it feel right, even natural. Little by little, through training and practice, we learn to be holy.
And then one day we realise that, in one particular area of life, holiness is 'natural.' We respond to situations in a God-honouring way without in that instance having thought through the appropriate feelings or words, or behaviour; it just 'happens'. Oh that doesn't mean that we won't still struggle against the old sinful nature within us. It doesn't mean that there won't be days, or months, when our game won't fall apart. And doesn't mean that we are not totally reliant upon the Holy Spirit. Christian living should never be confused with behaviourism! But we must be clear: Spirit-filled, God-honouring, joy-filled Christian living is a life of bringing more and more aspects of who we are under the control of the Holy Spirit, in line with the Word of God, in all of our habits.
This happens slowly and steadily. Humble yourself before God's Word and take on its wisdom, pray it in, and then practice it day in, day out. Then when temptation or opportunity comes, lo and behold, you're living as a holy Christian. God gets the glory, you get the joy, the Spirit is honoured, you're living out your salvation. What more could you desire this side of eternity? Practice, and you'll see.
One hundred and sixty years ago Robert Murray M'Cheyne said "I often pray, Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be." That prayer is simply stunning - and terrifying. Can I really trust God enough to ask Him to master all of me? Do I really love Him so much, and long for heaven so much, that this is my consuming desire, and prayer. How about you? It's incredibly serious, but then so is our Saviour, and so is His Cross. And without holiness, noone will see the Lord (Hebrews 12.14).