It may be accepted that all believers, to one degree or another, have desires after holiness. But a Christian who is trying to be holy is legal*; working on himself to get something out of himself*, and thus far leaving out the Lord Jesus. Until what He has done for him and what he is in Him is realized, his desires after holiness will, generally speaking, run in a wrong path. In other words, the knowledge of the position of the believer in the Lord Jesus affects his condition for Him. But the practical difficulty is this: when a person is converted, he is usually some time in learning what his position is, and before he had learned it, his spiritual instincts, as we may express it, yearn after a condition of holiness. Hence there is no little danger of these hungers pursuing a wrong course, and the end resulting in either despondency or exaltation—and if the latter, producing spiritual pride. Take for example a man who has divine life, but not peace*. He realizes that he is far from practical holiness; he tries, resolves, and binds himself in order to reach the ideal of his desires*. This is legality. He is working at the old man, seeking to shape it into proper form. Many believers are at this hour in cruel bondage* by reason of such efforts, perhaps sinking down into despair, fearing that after all they have no part or lot in the matter, but are deceivers of their own souls. On the other hand, some imagine that they have in part, at least, succeeded. They also took a legal road, and, while legal, became inflated with fancied success. Thus legality and inflation twine round the stem of spiritual pride. And very humbling it is when the Spirit of God shows that all such growth must be cut down before any true holiness can exist. The supposed saintliness of many in monasteries and convents illustrates the transition from legal bonds to fancied holiness. If such are believers, they do not possess the picture of true holiness. They have no just idea of the Lord Jesus in the glory of the Father, nor of His having magnified Him on the Cross*, no inkling of the creation; but such believers, though having false principles, may have true desires, despite the channel in which the desires flow. Such a one, in order to reach his ideal, wishes to become what he feels he is not. By a strange perversity he does not read the whole of the Scriptures. This is always a dangerous line to get on. He selects, or rather his teacher or “guru”, selects for him, parts of the Gospels, portions which keep before him a suffering Jesus—the Lord as martyr. He tries to become like this Jesus in order eventually to work up to holiness. This is his ideal, and he determines, let us say humbly, to reach his goal. It is quite possible to take up the heavenly position of a believer in a legal way and to demand of the soul, as it were, that the truth be accepted; and when this is the case, the Lord Jesus is dissociated from the doctrine and the old man, notwithstanding that it is verbally allowed no place—is worked upon. It is impossible to learn the Lord Jesus legally; and doctrines, separated from Him, only wither the vitality of the soul. And the higher the truth goes, the more sorrowful will be the results when it is pressed legally. A man who has the doctrine of the heavenly position of believers, but has not apprehended the Lord Jesus where He is in glory, will be in danger of far worse elation that a simply self-righteous person. How often we hear of the heavenly position occupied by the believer—how seldom, comparatively, that it is as in the Lord Jesus we are seated in the heavenly places! It may be said in reply that this is taken for granted; be it so, but it is no uncommon thing for the soul to boast, or let us say, to be occupied with the position in the glory, even to the leaving out of “in Christ.” “I am a heavenly man” may mean, I am nothing, but am in Christ in heaven; or it may mean, I am one who has attained to what others have not. No doubt there is often confusion between the heavenly position of the believer, and his condition in relation to that position. The position is unchanging; the condition is just where the soul is. But a man, who thinks that he has reached a heavenly condition because he has been taught his heavenly position, makes a grave mistake. Indeed he is in imminent peril of boasting in the doctrine, or rather of himself as knowing it. When this is the case, there is a peculiar way of looking down upon other believers (especially preachers), a tone of soul which seems to say, “I am a superior person.” It is a chip off the old block of Pharisaism: “This people who know not the law.” Many persons, when, a few years ago (circa 1830), the fact of the old man being dead with Christ was brought out, mistook the place which the knowledge gave for practical holiness. They imagined that they were almost perfect because they had learned, and by grace too, that the old man was to be reckoned dead. But freedom from self-occupation must result in occupation with the risen Lord Jesus Christ; otherwise there will be no practical holiness. In a similar way persons now, who perhaps for years have known simply the forgiveness of their sins, have their eyes opened to their heavenly position, and simply because they know the position, imagine themselves to be experientially heavenly. It is a very great mistake indeed; and if this confusion between position and condition be allowed to remain in the soul, anything but holiness will be the result. “Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24, 25). – H F Witherby Poster’s Opinion: *“trying to be holy, is legal”: believers are made holy when they are sanctified (sins washed) at rebirth. Under the Law the Jew was often told to “sanctify yourself” and this involved the outward washing of the clothes and body, and often the temporary abstinence from sexual activity (Exo 19:14:15). There is external holiness that involves outward acts of the believer (1Pe 1:15 – involves also all we do) which are supposed to manifest the inward holiness, which is the sanctification work of the Spirit (2Thes 2:13; 1Pe 1:2). *”working on himself to get something out of himself”: that is, out of the old nature, which is depending on the wrong source to expect the “desire and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Our expectation concerning the desire and doing of God’s pleasure is to be from the Spirit through the new self. Relying on self not only discredits the “preeminence” (Col 1:18) of God, but also results in unnecessary and burdensome labor (Mat 11:30). Instead of being over-expecting in self performance we can expect God to do the performing—through us. *”has divine life, but not peace”: Similar to babes in Christ who are “partakers of the divine nature” (2Pe 1:4) and are thus “living by the Spirit” (being saved), but have yet to learn to know how to “follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Gal 5:25 NLT). *”binds himself in order to reach the ideal of his desires”: which I believe is the temporary position for nearly all newborns in Christ during the outset of our conversion due to zeal for Him, which will eventually become more than just unknowledgeable “zeal” (Rom 10:2). *”in cruel bondage”: it has been well stated that “the lost need saved and the saved needs deliverance,” from the continuous opposition of the attempts of old man to rule (Rom 7), which is an impossibility (Rom 6:12, 14; Gal 5:17; Jude 1:24). *”no just idea of the Lord Jesus in the glory of the Father, nor of His having magnified Him on the Cross”: intentional self-inflictions with infirmities does not produce suffering for the Lord Jesus’ namesake, nor relates to glorifying the Father through the Cross of Christ.