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Good Shepherds Always Point Their Flocks to the Great Shepherd

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Anyone who has been a pastor for more than two minutes has likely felt the burden of what it means to shepherd God’s flock. We’ve all felt the pastoral pressures of teaching sound doctrine (Titus 1:9), exercising oversight (1 Peter 5:2), leading by example (1 Peter 5:3), managing our own families (1 Timothy 3:5), being above reproach (1Timothy 3:2), and handling rightly the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Not to mention the endless events, Sunday evening pot-lucks, meetings, visitations, sermon preparations, bible studies, and on and on it goes.

The duties of a pastor are no light matter and can quickly become overwhelming. And during the times I have spent with other pastors in my community, the one thing that I see weighing on their hearts more than anything else is to see holiness developed in their congregations. Now I don’t mean shallow “holiness,” in that their congregations are just good country folk who don’t cuss or smoke. I mean they genuinely desire to see their flock grow in Christ.

Point the Sheep in the Right Direction

And I think we all want to see sanctification and the pursuit of holiness in ourselves and those we pour into. But in light of this, I feel many churches have begun to make a devastating mistake. In our aim to lead the flock to holiness, we have attempted to use whatever means necessary in order to “persuade” our church-members to pursue this. We tell them that God cannot bless them if they are living in sin. We tell them that yes, they are saved by grace, but now it’s time for them to man up and take the lead. We preach about all the rewards in Heaven they may or may not get depending on how well they live out this whole “Christian-walk.” In short, in our desire to lead our congregations to holiness, we point them to everything but Jesus – the one who is holy.

As well-meaning pastors, we can point our congregation to all manner of good things such as principles, tithes, serving, or daily devotions. We can acknowledge truths such as rewards in Heaven, God’s loving discipline, or our own responsibility in the choices we make. But as biblical and true as those things are, if those things are our focus, we have missed it.

I once saw a sign that read “Shoot for godly character.” And below the sign was a list of all sorts of wonderful attributes such as integrity, caring, honesty, and so on. But telling people to be caring is not going to make them care. Not to mention it is short-sighted. Our aim is not to look toward Christ-like character. Our aim is to look toward Christ.

Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The author of Hebrews does not tell us to lay aside every weight and sin and run the race of this life looking to godly character. He tells us to lay it all aside and run the race looking to Jesus because that is what produces godly character. Because it is Jesus who is the perfecter of our faith.

Therefore it is our pursuit of Christ that produces Christ-likeness – not the pursuit of life goals, personal blessings, self-righteousness, or even personal holiness. When we pursue these latter things, we run empty. When we pursue Christ and his excellence, we are filled. So if we want our congregation to be like Jesus, we must point them to Jesus, fill them up with Jesus, allow them to revel in the reality that he has saved, sustained, and strengthened them, and he has done so according to the riches of His grace and love.

We must show the sheep that we pursue holiness because when we, by faith, look to the glory, supremacy, love, and beauty of Jesus Christ, it drives us to want to be closer to Him and be more like Him. Paul spent his life for the sake of the Gospel not because he saw a list of character attributes or read a nifty acronym, but because when he looked to Jesus Christ he saw jaw-dropping, knee-buckling, magnificence. Acronyms aren’t impressive. Jesus is.

Show the Sheep Their Identity

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Lastly, our pursuit of holiness is directly rooted in our identity in Christ. We pursue holiness not to gain holiness or some sort of blessing, but because holiness is already promised to us in Christ, and we are already blessed in Christ. And our sheep need to know and feel that. When Paul tells the church in Colossae to put to death the sins in their lives (Colossians 3:5), or in other words, to pursue holiness, he is telling them to do so because they have already been raised with Christ, died to themselves, and their life is now hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ appears, they will also appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4). So the whole reason we pursue holiness is that we are in Christ, and therefore we will be holy because He is.

Christ has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. (Colossians 1:22)

Sadly, this amazing truth has been hijacked for legalism. We have come to believe the lie that the Gospel is a slip into the door of salvation, but after that it’s up to us to pursue holiness in an attempt to gain holiness or some spiritual blessing. But Paul tells us in Ephesians 1 that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. That is a past-tense statement. It happened the very moment we believed (1:13). And what’s more is that it has been sealed by the Holy Spirit and it is being guarded for us until we acquire possession of it. That is the good news.

So pastor, know that what will empower and drive your sheep to pursue holiness, what will fill them with joy and peace, what will feed their souls every moment of every day, is not dangling the good news in front of them and telling them to try harder or be better. But instead, feeding them the truth that the wonderful promises of Christ are already theirs (And yours!). The promise of Himself to us.

Are we to pursue holiness? Yes. Why? Because our identity is in Christ and He is making us holy. He has already promised it to us.

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12)

This article was originally published by For the Church, on March 25, 2016.

Ian Conrey teaches high school history and Christian thought courses at North Georgia Christian Academy. He holds a B.S. in Christian Ministries from Point University and has been attending Reformed Theological Seminary in the pursuit of earning a M.A. in Biblical Studies. Ian has been married for ten years; he and his wife have two children.

January 21, 2020

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