True Holiness! a lesson from J.C. Ryle


By Ninos Hadjirousou

After hearing a small clip from Paul Washer preaching on 10 indictments of the American church, I was convinced that this is the same problem that evangelicalism in Europe is dealing with today.

The 8th indictment from Washer’s sermon was ‘Silence on separation, a void on the serious teaching of holiness’. Washer said that everyone agrees that holiness must be taught, we should pursue it. But he said “When you get specific on what you mean; everything becomes a turmoil... Pursue peace with all men, the writers of Hebrews tells us, and sanctification without which no one will see the Lord’. Does anybody believe this?

Often Washer has been accused of teaching salvation by works. Many have misunderstood the Bible teaching on which his comments are based. “It goes back to regeneration and the providence of God.” says Washer. “If God truly converts a man, he will continue working in that man, through teaching blessing and admonition and discipline, he will see to it that the work he has begun will be finished. That’s why the writer says without sanctification – without holiness – no one will see the Lord. Why? Because if there is no growth in holiness, God’s not working in your life. If he is not working in your life it is because you are not his child.”

Washer brought me to think what it means when Paul said our bodies are a living sacrifice (Romans 12:2). The word bodies was included to remove all kinds of fake professions of super spirituality  – ‘I have accepted Jesus into my heart’;  ‘I am a child of the king’. If we belong truly to Jesus then our bodies also belong to him. Your body is not just muscles, “it refers to the very essence and core of your being.” says Washer. If that is so, then your faith will affect your body. When we begin to accommodate worldliness, whether by look, thought or touch, it will affect our bodies because if we are God’s children we will desire to follow His commandments and not fall into sin.  We will be more careful and examine our every thought and deed. This is what’s missing in the church today. A lack of discernment of what holiness is.

I see many young believers stuck in this mud pool of worldliness and see other ‘Christians’ dipping their toe in it. So they accept it also, without being instructed how to discern whether what they are doing will lead them to maturity in Christlikeness or to impurity and immaturity. And young  people especially look up to their rockandroll ‘cool’ style pastor as the role model for Christian living and thinking. They look to the cool preachers who teach that it’s OK to watch this worldly entertainment or play that video game or listen to this music or to dress that way or talk in such and such a way. Some will even to endorse what God hates and despises. Fellowship with unbelievers; calling false religions ‘Christian’ and ‘brothers’ in Christ. These are people who think they are pleasing God with what pleases themselves, but they are deceived and they deceive others also. I too was troubled by this for years and it continues to trouble me to this day. I have also seen many more accepting such worldliness, Evangelicalism has not yet separated itself from the love of the world.

Therefore, since modern Christianity or the New Evangelicalism fails to teach what sanctification is and what holiness is, it is best to go back into the past. to learn from men whom God has used in the past who have answered the question: What does a holy life look like in the eyes of God?

Again, I discovered that J.C Ryle’s book Holiness helped greatly to answer this question for me.

What is true holiness?

Ryle first begins by introducing the basic identifications of true practical holiness; what sort of people are these whom God calls holy.

He explains that you may have good doctrine, good manners, and great profession and never see the Lord in your life. That shocked me a little, because it told me that not everyone with good profession and good theology is a true Christian. A person’s life in Christ will be evident in the way he lives his life; what he sees; what he touches; what he does, think or talks about the most. What does he desire to do for the Lord and what fruits has been evident in his life that he is a Christian?  All these are simple signs of true conversion, there are more but we will not go deep into that yet.

Ryle tries to draw for us a picture of holiness for us to understand and learn.


Holiness is a habit of being of one mind with God.

When a sinner is regenerated and becomes a Christian, immediately he has this eternal union with Christ. His mind becomes hungry and thirsty for the word, his desires are the desires of God. Whatever God hates, he hates also. Whatever Christ loves, he loves also. All this about his mind is according to what the Scriptures say. Ryle wrote “He who most entirely agrees with God, he is the most holy man”. So if God says that his word is infallible and sufficient, then we must agree if we are Christian.

Sadly this is not as simple as it looks. When we say to Christians ‘we want to learn more about holiness’, then they say ‘oh yes, totally, we agree!’ But the moment you begin to describe to them what does it mean to be holy according to God’s infallible and sufficient Word, then they begin to think like the people who said “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it”?(John 6:60), after our Lord said to them ‘I am the bread of life’. They will call you legalistic, religious and a hypocrite because you agree with what God has said and commanded us to do. As Ryle said, a holy person will agree with God entirely, even if this requires them to contradict what the world thinks and does.

A holy man will endeavour to shun every known sin, and to keep every known commandment.

He will have a greater fear of displeasing God than displeasing the world and all its vanities. His mind is stamped with the fear of the Lord, which is the knowledge to wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). He thinks like David thinks in the Psalms “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalms 119:11). He also desires to keep the commandments because he loves them in the same way that he loves his Lord. He must feel what the Apostle Paul felt “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being”(Romans 7:22). He must considered what David considered, “I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way” (Psalms 119:28).

A holy man will strive to be like our Lord Jesus Christ.

He is someone who will work hard and fight the battle against temptation, lies, lust’s, in order to be conformed into the image of Christ. This does not mean that we are saved by our works, rather this means that “he that began a good work in you will finish it” (Philippians 1:6). Your sanctification belongs to the Lord and it will be completed by the Lord. He is the one who will make us Christ-like. And the evidence of this change is the fact that inevitably a Christian will strive to become like Christ. It is written “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to image of his Son,” (Romans 8:29).

The believer desires holiness because Christ’s mercy has motivated him to do so. The scriptures say “whoever says he abides in… [Christ Jesus] ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”(1 John 2:6). What does this mean?

Ryle wrote “It will be his aim to bear with and forgive others, even as Christ forgave us, to be unselfish, even as Christ pleased not Himself, to walk in love, even as Christ loved us, to be lowly and humbled, even as Christ made Himself of no reputation and humbled Himself. He will remember that Christ was a faithful witness for the truth, that He came not to do His own will, that it was His meat and drink to do His Father’s will, that He would continually deny Himself in order to minister to others, that He was meek and patient under undeserved insults, that He thought more of godly poor men than of kings, that He was full of love and compassion to sinners, that He was bold and uncompromising in denouncing sin, that He sought not the praise of men, when He might have had it, that He went about doing good, that He was separated from worldly people, that He continued instant in prayer, that He would not let even His nearest relations stand in His way when God’s work was to be done.”

1 Peter 2:21 says “follow in his steps”. He left us an example on how we ought to live a holy life through his own mercy. Happy is the one who makes Christ all in salvation and all in his sanctification. Men would fall less from sin if they asked  more about Christ.

(to find more information for purchasing the book visit : or (


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