The Christian Life

Topic: Salvation

Type: Article

Author:   J. C. Ryle

abridged and the language updated from the introduction to the book HOLINESS by J. C. Ryle, 1879.


This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous [1JO 1:5-2:1 NASB].

Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord [HEB 12:14].

Practical holiness and consecration to God are not sufficiently attended to by modern Christians. Worldliness has eaten out the heart of lively piety in too many of us. The subject of personal godliness has fallen sadly into the background. The standard of living has become painfully low. The immense importance of adorning the doctrine of God our Savior [TIT 2:10], and making it lovely and beautiful by our daily habits and tempers, has been far too much overlooked. The world sometimes complains, and with good reason, that "religious" persons, so-called, are not as amiable and unselfish and good-natured as others who make no profession of religion. Holiness, in its place and proportion, is as important as justification. Sound doctrine is useless, if it is not accompanied by a holy life. The hypocrisy is despised by keen-sighted and shrewd men of the world, as an unreal and hollow thing, and brings religion into contempt. We need a thorough revival about Scriptural holiness.

It is of the greatest importance that the subject should be placed on right foundations, and that it should not be damaged by crude, disproportioned and one-sided statements. If false statements abound, we must not be surprised. Satan knows well the power of true holiness, and the immense injury which increased attention to it will do to his kingdom. It is his interest to promote strife and controversy about this part of God’s truth. Just as he has often succeeded in mystifying and confusing men’s minds about justification so he is laboring to confuse and destroy holiness by words without knowledge. May the Lord rebuke him!

We urge you to take heed to the Bible warnings on the subject of true holiness.


Is it wise to speak of faith as the one thing needful, and the only thing required, as many seem to do in handling the doctrine of holiness? Is it wise to proclaim in so bold, naked, and unqualified a way as many do, that the holiness of converted people is by faith alone, and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the teaching of God's Word? No.

That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness--that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ--that until we believe we have not a jot of holiness--that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy--that the life that we live in the flesh we must live by the faith of the Son of God--that faith purifies the heart--that faith is the victory which overcomes the world--that by faith the elders obtained a good report--all these are truths which no well instructed Christian will ever think of denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith. The very same Apostle who says in one place, The life that I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, says in another place, I fight--I run--I keep under my body; and in other places, Let us cleanse ourselves--let us labor--let us lay aside every weight [GAL 2:20; 1CO 9:26; 2CO 7:1; HEB 4:11, 12:1]. Moreover, the Scriptures nowhere teach us that faith sanctifies us in the same sense, and in the same manner, that faith justifies us! Justifying faith is a grace that works not but simply trusts, rests, and leans on Christ [ROM 4:5]. Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action: it works by love and, like a main-spring, moves the whole inward man [GAL 5:6]. The precise phrase sanctified by faith is found once in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus said to Saul, I send you, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith that is in Me. As Alford states, the by faith belongs to the whole sentence, and must not be tied to the word sanctified alone. The true sense is, that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them that are sanctified [compare ACT 26:18 with ACT 20:32].

As to the phrase "holiness by faith," it is not found in the New Testament. In the matter of our justification before God, faith in Christ is the one and only thing useful. All who simply believe are justified. Righteousness is imputed to him who works not but believes [ROM 4:5]. It is thoroughly Scriptural and right to say "faith alone justifies." But it is not Scriptural and right to say "faith alone sanctifies." Let one fact suffice. Paul frequently states that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Not once does the Bible state or imply that we are "sanctified by faith without the deeds of the law." On the contrary, James expressly writes that the faith whereby we are visibly and demonstratively justified before man, is a faith which if it has not works is dead, being alone [JAM 2:17].


Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord [HEB 12:14].

Is it wise to make so little as some appear to do, of the many practical exhortations to holiness in daily life which are to be found in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the latter part of most of Paul's epistles? Is it according to the proportion of God's Word? No.

That a life of daily self-consecration and daily communion with God should be aimed at by everyone who professes to be a believer--that we should strive to attain the habit of going to the Lord Jesus Christ with everything we find a burden, whether great or small, and casting it upon Him--all this, I repeat, no well-taught child of God will dream of disputing. But surely the New Testament teaches us that we want something more than generalities about holy living, which often prick no conscience and give no offense. The details and particular ingredients of which holiness is composed in daily life, ought to be fully set forth and pressed on believers by all who profess to handle the subject. True holiness does not consist merely of believing and feeling, but of doing and hearing, and a practical exhibition of active and passive grace. Our tongues, our tempers, our natural passions and inclinations--our conduct as parents and children, masters and servants, husbands and wives, rulers and subjects--our dress, our employment of time, our behavior in business, our demeanor in sickness and health, in riches and in poverty--all, all these are matters which are fully treated by the inspired Scripture. They are not content with a general statement of what we should believe and feel, and how we are to have the roots of holiness planted in our hearts. They dig down lower. They go into particulars. They specify minutely what a holy man ought to do and be in his own family, and by his own fireside, if he abides in Christ. I doubt whether this sort of teaching is sufficiently attended to in the religion of the present day. When people talk of having received "such a blessing," and of having found "the higher life," after hearing some earnest advocate of "holiness by faith and self-consecration," while their families and friends see no improvement and no increased sanctity in their daily tempers and behavior, immense harm is done to the cause of Christ. True holiness, we surely ought to remember, does not consist merely of inward sensations and impressions. It is much more than tears, and sighs, and bodily excitement, and a quickened pulse, and a passionate feeling of attachment to our own favorite preachers and our own religious party, and a readiness to quarrel with everyone who does not agree with us. It is something of the image of Christ which can be seen and observed by others in our private life, habits, character and doings [ROM 8:29].


Is it wise to use vague language about perfection, and to press on Christians a standard of holiness, as attainable in this world for which there is no warrant to be shown either in Scripture or experience? No.

That believers are exhorted to perfect holiness in the fear of God--to go on to perfection--to be perfect, no careful reader of his Bible will ever think of denying [2CO 7:1; HEB 6:1; 2CO 13:11]. But I have yet to learn that there is a single passage in Scripture which teaches that a literal perfection, a complete and entire freedom from sin, in thought, or word, or deed is attainable, or ever has been attained, by any child of Adam in this world. A comparative perfection, a perfection in knowledge, an all-round consistency in every relation of life, a thorough soundness in every point of doctrine--this may be seen occasionally in some of God's believing people. But as to an absolute literal perfection, the most eminent saints of God in every age have always been the very last to lay claim to it! On the contrary, they have always had the deepest sense of their own utter unworthiness and imperfection. The more spiritual light they have enjoyed the more they have seen their own countless defects and shortcomings. The more grace they have had the more they have been clothed with humility [1PE 5:5].

What saint can be named in God’s Word, of whose life many details are recorded, who was actually and absolutely perfect? Which of them all, when writing about himself, ever talks of feeling free from imperfection? On the contrary, men like David, and Paul, and John, declare in the strongest language that they feel in their own hearts weakness and sin. The holiest men of modern times have always been remarkable for deep humility. Have we ever seen holier men than the martyred John Bradford, or Hooker, or Usher, or Baxter, or Rutherford, or McCheyne? Yet no one can read the writings and letters of these men without seeing that they felt themselves "debtors to mercy and grace" every day, and the very last thing they ever laid claim to was perfection!

In face of such facts as these I must protest against the language used in many quarters, in these days, about perfection. I must think that those who use it either know very little of the nature of sin, or of the attributes of God, or of their own hearts, or of the Bible, or of the meaning of words. When a professing Christian coolly tells me that he has got beyond such hymns as "Just as I am," and that they are below his present experience, though they suited him when he first took up religion, I must think his soul is in a very unhealthy state! When a man can talk coolly of the possibility of "living without sin" while in the body, and can actually say that he has "never had an evil thought for three months," I can only say that he is very ignorant! I protest such teaching as this. It not only does no good, but does immense harm. It disgusts and alienates from religion far-seeing men, who know it is incorrect and untrue. It depresses some of the best of God's children, who feel they can never attain "perfection" of this kind. It puffs up many brethren, who fancy they are something when they are nothing. In short, it is a dangerous delusion.


Is it wise to assert so positively and violently, as many do, that the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans does not describe the experience of the advanced saint, but the experience of the unregenerate man, or of the weak and unestablished believer?

I admit fully that the point has been a disputed one for nineteen centuries. I admit fully that eminent Christians like John and Charles Wesley, two hundred years ago, maintained firmly that Paul was not describing his own present experience when he wrote this seventh chapter. I admit fully that many cannot see what I and many others do see: that is, that Paul says nothing in this chapter which does not precisely tally with the recorded experience of the most eminent saints in every age, and that he does say several things which no unregenerate man or weak believer would ever think of saying, and cannot say.

I stress the broad fact that the best commentators in every era of the Church have almost invariably applied the seventh chapter of Romans to advanced believers. The commentators who do not take this view have been, with few exceptions, the Romanists, the Socinians and the Arminians. Against them is arrayed the judgment of almost all the Reformers, almost all the Puritans and the best 19th century divines. I shall be told, of course, that no man is infallible, that the Reformers, Puritans and Evangelical divines I refer to may have been entirely mistaken, and the Romanists, Socinians and Arminians may have been quite right!

While I ask no man to call the Reformers and Puritans "masters," I do ask people to read what they say on this subject, and answer their arguments, if they can. This has not been done yet! To say, as some do, that they do not want human "dogmas" and "doctrines," is no reply at all. The whole point at issue is, "What is the meaning of a passage of Scripture? How is the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans to be interpreted? What is the true sense of its words?" At any rate let us remember that there is a great fact which cannot be got over. On one side stand the opinions and interpretation of Reformers and Puritans, and on the other the opinions and interpretations of Romanists, Socinians and Arminians. Let that be distinctly understood.

In the face of such a fact as this I must enter my protest against the sneering, taunting, contemptuous language which has been frequently used by some of the advocates of what I must call the Arminian view of the Seventh of Romans, in speaking of the opinions of their opponents. To say the least, such language is unseemly, and only defeats its own end. A cause which is defended by such language is deservedly suspicious. Truth needs no such weapons. An opinion which is backed and supported by such men as the best Reformers and Puritans may not carry conviction to all minds in the twentieth century, but at any rate it would be well to speak of it with respect.


Is it wise to use the language which is often used in the present day about the doctrine of "Christ in us?" I doubt it. Is not this doctrine often exalted to a position which it does not occupy in Scripture? I am afraid that it is.

That the true believer is one with Christ and Christ in him, no careful reader of the New Testament will think of denying for a moment. There is, no doubt, a mystical union between Christ and the believer. With Him we died, with Him we were buried, with Him we rose again, with Him we sit in heavenly places. We have five plain texts where we are distinctly taught that Christ is in us [ROM 8:10 GAL 2:20; 4:19 EPH 3:17 COL 3:11]. But we must be careful that we understand what we mean by the expression. That "Christ dwells in out hearts by faith," and carries on His inward work by His Spirit, is clear and plain. But if we mean to say that beside, over and above this there is some mysterious indwelling of Christ in a believer, we must be careful what we are about. Unless we take care, we shall find ourselves ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit. We shall be forgetting that in the Divine economy of man’s salvation election is the special work of God the Father--atonement, meditation, and intercession, the special work of God the Son--and sanctification, the special work of God the Holy Spirit. We shall be forgetting that our Lord said, when He went away, that He would send us another Comforter, who should abide with us forever, and, as it were, take His place [JOH 14:16]. In short, under the idea that we are honoring Christ, we shall find that we are dishonoring His special and peculiar gift--the Holy Spirit. Christ, no doubt, as God, is everywhere--in our hearts, in Heaven, in the place where two or three are met together in His name. But we really must remember that Christ, as our risen Head and High Priest, is specially at God's right hand interceding for us until He comes the second time and that Christ carries on His work in the hearts of His people by the special work of His Spirit, whom He promised to send when He left the world [JOH 15:26].

A comparison of the ninth and tenth verses of the eighth chapter of Romans seems to me to show this plainly. It convinces me that Christ in us means Christ in us by His Spirit. Above all, the words of John are most distinct and express: Hereby we know that He abides in us by the Spirit Who He has given us [1JO 3:24].

In saying all this, I hope no one will misunderstand me. I do not say that the expression Christ in us is unscriptural. But I do say that I see great danger of giving an extravagant and unscriptural meaning to the idea contained in the expression and I do fear that many use it now-a-days without exactly knowing what they mean, and unwittingly, perhaps, dishonor the mighty work of the Holy Spirit. . . . Let us never forget that the truth, distorted and exaggerated, can become the mother of the most dangerous heresies. When we speak of Christ being in us, let us take care to explain what we mean. I fear some neglect this in the present day.


Is it wise to draw such a deep, wide and distinct line of separation between conversion and consecration, or the higher life, so called, as many do in the present day? Is this according to God's Word?

There is nothing new in this teaching. It is well known that Romish writers often maintain that the church is divided into three classes--sinners, penitents and saints. The modern teachers of this day who tell us that professing Christians are of three sorts--the unconverted, the converted, and the partakers of the "higher life" of complete consecration--appear to me to occupy very much the same ground! The Word of God, however, always speaks of two great divisions of mankind, and only two. It speaks of the living and dead in sin--the believer and the unbeliever--the converted and the unconverted--the travelers in the narrow way and the travelers in the broad--the wise and the foolish--the children of God and the children of the Devil. Within each of these two great classes there are, doubtless, various measures of sin and of grace but it is only the difference between the higher and lower end of an inclined plane. Between these two great classes there is an enormous gulf, they are as distinct as life and death, light and darkness, Heaven and Hell. But of a division into three classes the Word of God says nothing at all!

There is a vast difference between one degree of grace and another--that spiritual life admits of growth, and that believers should be continually urged on every account to grow in grace--all this I fully concede. But the theory of a sudden, mysterious transition of a believer into a state of blessedness and entire consecration, at one mighty bound, I cannot receive. It appears to me to be a man-made invention and I do not see a single text to prove it in Scripture. Gradual growth in grace, growth in knowledge, growth in faith, growth in love, growth in holiness, growth in spiritual mindedness--all this I see clearly taught and urged in Scripture, and clearly exemplified in the lives of many of God's saints. But sudden, instantaneous leaps from conversion to consecration I fail to see in the Bible. Indeed, we have no warrant for saying that a man can possibly be converted without being consecrated to God! More consecrated he doubtless can be, and will be as his grace increases but if he was not consecrated to God in the very day that he was converted and born again, I do not know what conversion means.

I have sometimes thought while reading the strong language used by many about "consecration," in the last few years, that those who use it must have had previously a low and inadequate view of "conversion," if indeed they knew anything about conversion at all. In short, I have almost suspected that when they were consecrated, they were in reality converted for the first time!

We must press on all converted people the possibility of continual growth in grace, and the absolute necessity of going forward, increasing more and more, and every year dedicating and consecrating themselves more, in spirit, soul and body, to Christ. By all means let us teach that there is more holiness to be attained, and more of Heaven to be enjoyed upon Earth than most believers now experience. But I decline to tell any converted man that he may some day or other pass by one enormous step into a state of entire consecration. I decline to teach it, because I cannot see any warrant for such teaching in Scripture. I decline to teach it, because I think the tendency of the doctrine is thoroughly mischievous; depressing the humble-minded and meek, and puffing up the shallow, ignorant and the self-conceited, to a most dangerous extent.


Is it wise to teach believers that they ought not to think so much of fighting and struggling against sin, but ought rather to yield themselves to God, and be passive in the hands of Christ? Is this according to God's Word? No.

It is a simple fact that the expression yield yourselves is only to be found in one place in the New Testament, as a duty urged upon believers. That place is in the sixth chapter of Romans, and there within six verses the expression occurs five times [ROM 6:13-19]. But even there the word will not bear the sense of placing ourselves passively in the hands of another. Any Greek student can tell us that the sense is rather that of actively presenting ourselves for use, employment and service [ROM 12:1].

The expression therefore stands alone. But, on the other hand, it would not be difficult to point out at least twenty-five or thirty distinct passages in the Epistles where believers are plainly taught to use active personal exertion, and are addressed as responsible for doing energetically what Christ would have them do, and are not told to yield themselves up as passive agents and sit still, but to arise and work. A holy violence, a conflict, a warfare, a fight, a soldier’s life, a wrestling, are spoken of as characteristic of the true Christian.

The account of the armor of God in the sixth chapter of Ephesians, one might think, settles the question. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith you are able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for the saints [EPH 6:11-18].

Again, it would be easy to show that the doctrine of sanctification without personal exertion, by simply yielding ourselves to God, is precisely the doctrine of the antinomian fanatics in the seventeenth century, and that the tendency of it is evil in the extreme. Again it would be easy to show that the doctrine is utterly subversive of the whole teaching of such tried and approved books as PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, and that if we review it we cannot do better than put Bunyan’s old book in the fire! If Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress simply yielded himself to God, and never fought, or struggled, or wrestled, I have read the famous allegory in vain. But the plain truth is, that men will persist in confounding two things that differ--that is, justification and sanctification. In justification the word to be addressed to man is believe--only believe--in sanctification the word must be watch, pray, and fight. What God has divided let us not mingle and confuse.


Holiness without which no man shall see the Lord [HEB 12:14].

In our day there is an amazing ignorance of Scripture and a consequent want of established, solid religion. In no other way can I account for the case with which people are, like children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine [EPH 4:14]. There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular, and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine, without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true. There is an incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational, exiting and rousing to the feelings. There is an unhealthy appetite for a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity. The religious life of many is little better than spiritual dram-drinking, and the meek and quiet spirit which Peter commends is clean forgotten [1PE 3:4]. Crowds, crying, high-flown singing and incessant rousing of the emotions, are the only things which many care for. Inability to distinguish differences in doctrine is spreading far wide and so long as the preacher is "clever" and "earnest" multitudes seem to think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully "narrow and uncharitable" if you hint that he is unsound! All this is sad, very sad.

I must express a hope that those who have taken up new views of holiness will beware of multiplying confusion. Do they think that a higher standard of Christian living is needed in the present day? So do I. Do they think that clearer, stronger, fuller teaching about holiness is needed? So do I. Do they think that Christ ought to be more exalted as the root and author of sanctification as well as justification? So do I. Do they think that believers should be urged more and more to live by faith? So do I. Do they think that a very close walk with God should be more pressed on believers as the secret of happiness and usefulness? So do I. In all these things we agree. But if they want to go further, then I ask them to take care where they tread, that they not depart from the Bible.

Finally, I must disapprove, the use of uncouth and newfangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification. A movement in favor of holiness cannot be advanced by new-coined phraseology, or by disproportioned and one-sided statements--or by overstraining and isolating particular texts--or by exalting one truth at the expense of another--or by allegorizing and accommodating texts, and squeezing out of them meanings which the Holy Spirit never put in them. The cause of true sanctification is not helped, but hindered, by such weapons as these. A movement in aid of holiness which produces strife and dispute among God’s children is somewhat suspicious.

It is my heart’s desire, and prayer to God daily, that personal holiness may increase greatly among Christians in our day. But I trust that all who endeavor to promote it will adhere closely to the teaching of Scripture, will carefully distinguish things that differ, and will separate the precious from the vile [JER 15:19].

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This Page Last Updated: 12/03/98 A. Allison Lewis