The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.
The secret of the gospel is that we actually do more when we hear less about all we need to do for God and hear more about all that God has already done for us.
Hell is not the North Star. That is, divine wrath is not our guiding light. It does not set the direction for everything in the Christian faith like, say, the glory of God in the face of Christ. Neither is hell the faith-wheel which steers the ship, nor the wind that powers us along, nor the sails that capture the Spirit’s breeze. Yet hell is not incidental to this vessel we call the church. It’s our ballast, and we throw it overboard at great peril to ourselves and to everyone drowning far out at sea.
Sanctification is a gift just as justification is (a double grace, or duplex gratia, as Calvin called it). Both are the gift of God, ours by virtue of union with Christ. Both are found in Christ alone. Both are necessary for salvation – justification being the root and sanctification being the fruit. As is often said: faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone. So we must never separate justification and sanctification. The former can’t help but produce the latter, and the latter must flow from the former. And yet we should not be afraid to talk about justification in a different way than we talk about sanctification. One calls us to rest; the other to fight. One reckons us righteous; the other makes us righteous. One allows for no increase or degrees; the other expects progress and growth. One is a declaration of God about us, the other a work of God in us.
There is something worse than death. And only the gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaimed by Christians and protected by the church, can set us free from what we truly must fear. The doctrine of hell reminds us that the greatest need of every person will not be met by the United Nations or Habitat for Humanity or the United Way. It is only through Christian witness, through proclamation of Christ crucified, that the worst thing in all the world will not fall on all those in the world.
Exulting in Christ is evidence of the Spirit’s work! The focus of the church is not on the dove but on the cross, and that’s the way the Spirit would have it. As J.I. Packer puts it, “The Spirit’s message to us is never, ‘Look at Me; listen to Me; come to Me; get to know Me,’ but always, ‘Look at Him, and see His glory; listen to Him, and hear His word; go to Him, and have life; get to know Him, and taste His gift of joy and peace.
Here’s the problem: when every sin is seen as the same, we are less likely to fight any sins at all. Why should I stop sleeping with my girlfriend when there will still be lust in my heart? Why pursue holiness when even one sin in my life means I’m Osama bin Hitler in God’s eyes? Again, it seems humble to act as if no sin is worse than another, but we lose the impetus for striving and the ability to hold each other accountable when we tumble down the slip-and-slide of moral equivalence. All of a sudden the elder who battles the temptation to take a second look at the racy section of the Land’s End catalog shouldn’t dare exercise church discipline on the young man fornicating with reckless abandon. When we can no longer see the different gradations among sins and sinners and sinful nations, we have not succeeded in respecting our own badness; we’ve cheapened God’s goodness. If our own legal system does not treat all infractions in the same way, surely God knows that some sins are more heinous than others. If we can spot the difference, we’ll be especially eager to put to death those sins which are most offensive to God.
Just as the three persons of the Trinity share a union but are three distinct persons, and the two natures of Christ are united but remain distinct natures, so Christ has union with us without obliterating our own unique personhood. We do not become gods.
The conscience is not infallible. We can have an evil conscience that doesn’t turn away from sin (Heb. 10:22). We can have a seared conscience that no longer feels bad for evil (1 Tim. 4:2). We can have a weak conscience that feels bad for things that aren’t really bad (1 Cor. 8:7-12). And we can have a defiled conscience that loses its ability to discern right from wrong (Titus 1:15).
The union isn’t physical, but theological. Union with Christ implies three things: solidarity (Christ as the second Adam is our representative), transformation (Christ by the Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out), and communion (Christ abides with us as our God). Union with Christ is like wedlock, where we are joined to Christ in a covenant of love. It is like a body where we as members are joined to our living Head. Or you might say union with Christ is like a building, where we are the house and Christ dwells within us.
When it comes to growth in godliness, trusting does not put an end to trying.
Spirit-Powered, Gospel-Driven, Faith-Fueled Effort by Kevin DeYoung taken from The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2012, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 91.
When we sin, our union with Christ is not in jeopardy. But our communion is. It is possible for believers to have more or less of God’s favor. It is possible for us to have sweet fellowship with God, and it’s possible to experience His frown – not a frown of judgment, but a “for-us” frown that should spur us on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).
There is no righteousness that makes us right with God except for the righteousness of Christ. But for those who have been made right with God by grace alone through faith alone and therefore have been adopted into God’s family, many of our righteous deeds are not only not filthy in God’s eyes, they are exceedingly sweet, precious, and pleasing to Him.
The Pleasure of God and the Possibility of Godliness by Kevin DeYoung taken from The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2012, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 70.
Here are just some of the ways in which the Bible motivates us to pursue holiness: Duty (Ecc. 12:13), God knows all and see all (Ecc. 12:14), It’s right (Eph. 6:1), It’s for our good (Deut. 12:28), God’s example (Eph. 4:32), Christ’s example (Eph. 5:2), Assurance (2 Pet. 1:10).
God’s law is an expression of His grace because it is also an expression of His character. Commands show us what God is like, what He prizes, what He detests, what it means to be holy as God is holy. To hate all rules is to hate God Himself who ordained His rules to reflect His nature. The law is God’s plan for His sanctified people to enjoy communion with Him.
God’s commands are given as a means of grace so that we might grow in godliness and show that we love Him.
God’s people [are] not redeemed by observing the law, but they were redeemed so they might obey the law.
It sounds really spiritual to say God is interested in a relationship, not in rules. But it’s not biblical. From top to bottom the Bible is full of commands. They aren’t meant to stifle a relationship with God, but to protect it, seal it, and define it.
When we violate our sense of right and wrong, even if the action in itself is not sinful, we are guilty of sin. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). That means, if you don’t believe what you are doing is acceptable, then it’s not acceptable for you to do it. You must not ignore your conscience… Even if the Bible gives the green light, the red light in your conscience should not be transgressed.
Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, after His likeness (Gen. 1:26). But in Adam’s sin, the human race was given over to corruption (Rom. 5:12-21). We are still image-bearers (Gen. 9:6; James 3:9), but the image has been distorted (Gen. 6:5; Eccles. 7:29). The goal of sanctification is the renewal of this image. The holy person is being renewed in knowledge after the image of the Creator (Col. 3:10), which means growing in righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24). This does not happen all at once, but rather, we are transformed into the image of God one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18). God is holy, so most basically being holy means being like God. This is why it’s so critical that Christians know the character and work of the one they worship. If you want to know what holiness looks like, look at God.
We must always remember that union with Christ is possible because of the Son’s descent to earth, not because of our ascent into heaven. The basis of our union with Christ is Christ’s union with us in the incarnation. He became one with us so that we might become one with Him.
Apart from our union with Christ every effort to imitate Christ, no matter how noble and inspired at the outset, inevitably leads to legalism and spiritual defeat. But once you understand the doctrine of union with Christ, you see that God doesn’t ask us to attain to what we’re not. He only calls us to accomplish what already is. The pursuit of holiness is not a quixotic effort to do just what Jesus did. It’s the fight to live out the life that has already been made alive in Christ.
Pursuing holiness in today’s cheap-date, hookup world requires tremendous courage and other-worldliness. Long make-out sessions (and more) is not the way for young men to treat “younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). If you might not marry the one you are dating, why do all sorts of stuff with someone else’s future spouse, stuff you will have a hard time forgetting once you are married yourself? And if you are on your way to marriage, instead of acting more married than single, consider getting married sooner so you don’t have to act single any longer.
Saints And Sexual Immorality by Kevin DeYoung taken from The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2012, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 116.
I fear many of us have become numb to the poison we are drinking. When it comes to sexual immorality, sin looks normal, righteousness looks very strange, and [Christians] look a lot like everybody else.
In seeking after holiness we are not so much seeking after a thing as we are seeking a Person. The blessings of the gospel – election, justification, sanctification, glorification, and all the rest – have been deposited in no other treasury but Christ. We don’t just want holiness. We want the Holy One in whom we have been counted holy and are now being made holy. To run hard after holiness is another way of running hard after God.
Abide and Obey by Kevin DeYoung taken from The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2012, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 123.
Prayer (this side of heaven) will always be hard and will always take discipline, but when I see it as a means to communion with God, it feels more like a “get to” than a “have to.”
The man who attempts Christianity without the church shoots himself in the foot, shoots his children in the leg, and shoots his grandchildren in the heart.
If you want to be Christlike you need to have communion with Christ, and if you want communion with Christ you need to do it on His terms with the channels of grace He’s provided [prayer, Bible reading, church fellowship, Lord’s table]. And that means the only way to extraordinary holiness is through ordinary means.
It’s the testimony of almost all saints that as they get closer to God they see more of their ungodliness. It’s normal to feel less holy as you become more holy. Being more aware of sin in your life is usually a sign of the Spirit’s sanctifying work, not of His withdrawal.
Sanctification will be marked by penitence more than perfection.
Genuine repentance is not a convenient escape hatch after a weekend or a life of folly. It means admitting specific wrong, recognizing your offensiveness to God, changing course, turning to Christ, and wishing with all your heart you had never made the mistake you now despise.
That All May See Progress by Kevin DeYoung taken from The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2012, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 141.
If you say “I can’t forgive myself,” it’s probably a sign of worldly grief – either unbelief in God’s promises and the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross, or regret that is merely focused on your loss of esteem and your loss of opportunities.
God wants you to be holy. Through faith He already counts you holy in Christ. Now He intends to make you holy with Christ. This is no optional plan, no small potatoes. God saved you to sanctify you. God is in the beautification business, washing away spots and smoothing out wrinkles. He will have a blameless bride. He promised to work in you; He also calls you to work out. “The beauty of holiness” is first of all the Lord’s (Ps. 29:2, KJV). But by His grace it can also be yours.
That All May See Progress by Kevin DeYoung taken from The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2012, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 146.
To find acquittal from God on the last day there must be evidence flowing out of us that grace has flowed into us.
The Reason for Redemption by Kevin DeYoung taken from The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2012, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 26.
No matter what you profess, if you show disregard for Christ by giving yourself over to sin – impenitently and habitually – then heaven is not your home.
Any gospel which says only what you must do and never announces what Christ has done is no gospel at all.
Worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange.
One of the great dangers with constant guilt: we learn to ignore our consciences. If we are truly sinning, we need to repent and implore the Lord to help us change. But if we aren’t sinning, if we are perhaps not as mature as we could be, or are not as disciplined as some believers, or we are making different choices that may be acceptable but not extraordinary, then we should not be made to feel guilty. Challenged, stirred, inspired, but not guilty.
We must be careful [with the spiritual disciplines] that we don’t insist on a certain standard of practice when the Bible merely insists on a general principle.
We see Christlikeness as something we are royally screwing up, when we should it as something we already possess but need to grow into.
[This] is not about the culture out there. It’s about those of us here—about what we as Christians are doing, what we are seeing, and what we may not know we are doing and seeing. I’m afraid we (including I) don’t have the eyes to see how much the world has squeezed us into its mold. If we could transport Christians from almost any other century to any of today’s “Christian” countries in the West, I believe what would surprise them most (besides our phenomenal affluence) is how at home Christians are with sexual impurity. It doesn’t shock us. It doesn’t upset us. It doesn’t offend our consciences. In fact, unless it’s really bad, sexual impurity seems normal, just a way of life, and downright entertaining.
If you already know what the Bible says about homosexuality, don’t forget what the Bible says about all of life and godliness. We can be right about marriage and still wrong about everything else that matters. And if you like most everything else the Bible says, why would you on this matter of homosexuality decide the Bible suddenly can’t be trusted? If you won’t count the cost here, what else will you be willing to sell? The support for homosexual behavior almost always goes hand in hand with the diluting of robust, 100-proof orthodoxy, either as the cause or the effect. The spirits which cause one to go wobbly on biblical sexuality are the same spirits which befog the head and heart when it comes to the doctrine of creation, the historical accuracy of the Old Testament, the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus, the resurrection, the second coming, the reality of hell, the plight of those who do not know Christ, the necessity of the new birth, the full inspiration and authority of the Bible, and the centrality of a bloody cross.
Opening our home to others is a wonderful gift and a neglected discipline in the church. But we easily forget the whole point of hospitality. Think of it this way: Good hospital-ity is making your home a hospital. The idea is that friends and family and the wounded and weary people come to your home and leave helped and refreshed. And yet, too often hospitality is a nerve-wracking experience for hosts and guests alike. Instead of setting our guests at ease, we set them on edge by telling them how bad the food will be, and what a mess the house is, and how sorry we are for the kids’ behavior. We get worked up and crazy busy in all the wrong ways because we are more concerned about looking good than with doing good. So instead of our encouraging those we host, they feel compelled to encourage us with constant reassurances that everything is just fine. Opening our homes takes time, but it doesn’t have to take over our lives. Christian hospitality has much more to do with good relationships than with good food. There is a fine line between care and cumber. In many instances, less ado would serve better.
Sexuality in the context of heterosexual marriage is not only good, but exclusively good. Only heterosexual marriage relationships can show forth the complementary design of men and women. According to the apostle Paul, one of the purposes of marriage is to show forth the mystery of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32). If marriage can be construed as a man and a man or a woman and a woman, what is left of the glorious mystery of Christ and the church? We are left with only Christ and Christ or church and church.
Homosexuality by Kevin DeYoung and Eric Redmond taken from Don’t Call it a Comeback, edited by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2011, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org. Pages 169-170. Get this book!
The presence of extreme busyness in our lives may point to deeper problems – a pervasive people pleasing, a restless ambition, a malaise of meaninglessness. “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness,” writes Tim Kreider in his widely read article for The New York Times. “Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” The greatest danger with busyness is that there may be greater dangers you never have time to consider.
Busyness kills more Christians than bullets. How many sermons are stripped of their power by lavish dinner preparations and professional football? How many moments of pain are wasted because we never sat still enough to learn from them? How many times of private and family worship have been crowded out by soccer and school projects? We need to guard our hearts. The seed of God’s Word won’t grow to fruitfulness without pruning for rest, quiet, and calm.
As Christians, our lives should be marked by joy (Phil. 4:4), taste like joy (Gal 5:22), and be filled with the fullness of joy (John 15:11). Busyness attacks all of that. One study found that commuters experience greater levels of stress than fighter pilots and riot police. That’s what we are facing. When our lives are frantic and frenzied, we are prone to anxiety, resentment, impatience, and irritability.
So don’t ignore the physical danger of busyness. Just remember the most serious threats are spiritual. When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk. The challenge is not merely to make a few bad habits go away. The challenge is not to let our spiritual lives slip away.
If we are to grab the next generation with the gospel, we must grab them with passion. And to grab them with passion, we must be gripped with it ourselves. The world needs to see Christians burning, not with self-righteous fury at the sliding morals in our country, but with passion for God. As W.E. Sangster put it, “I’m not interested to know if you could set the Thames on fire. What I want to know is this: if I picked you up by the scruff of your neck and dropped you into the Thames, would it sizzle?”
The Secret to Reaching the Next Generation by Kevin DeYoung taken from Don’t Call it a Comeback, edited by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2011, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 23-24. Get this book!
Far too much ministry today is undertaken without any concern for holiness. We’ve found that changing the way we do church is easier than changing the way we are. We’ve found that we are not sufficiently unlike anyone else to garner notice, so we’ve attempted to become just like everyone else instead.
The Secret to Reaching the Next Generation by Kevin DeYoung taken from Don’t Call it a Comeback, edited by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2011, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 26. Get this book!
Thom Rainer did a study a number of years ago asking formerly unchurched people the open-ended question, “What factors led you to choose this church?” A lot of surveys had been done asking the unchurched what they would like in a church. But this study asked the formerly unchurched why they actually were now in a church. The results were surprising: 11 percent said worship style led them to their church, 25 percent said children’s/youth ministry, and 37 percent said they sensed God’s presence at their church. For 41 percent, someone from the church had witnessed to them, and 49 percent mentioned friendliness as the reason for choosing their church. Can you guess the top two responses? Doctrine and preaching – 88 percent said the doctrine led them to their church, and 90 percent said the preaching led them there, in particular, a pastor who preached with certitude and conviction… When it comes to reaching outsiders, bold, deep, biblical preaching is not the problem. It’s part of the solution.
The Secret to Reaching the Next Generation by Kevin DeYoung taken from Don’t Call it a Comeback, edited by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2011, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 27-28. Get this book!
The gospel is not a message about what we need to do for God, but about what God has done for us.
From the first chapters of the Bible to the Torah to the New Testament, there is no hint that homosexuality is acceptable behavior for God’s people. To think the Bible affirms homosexuality takes more than special pleading – it requires a denial of the plain teaching of Scripture.
Homosexuality by Kevin DeYoung and Eric Redmond taken from Don’t Call it a Comeback, edited by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2011, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org. Page 174. Get this book!
God’s plan from the beginning has been for one man and one woman to become one flesh in the covenant of marriage. When no suitable helper was found for Adam, the Lord God made a woman (Gen. 2:20, 22). She was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, and the two became one flesh (Gen. 2:23–24). God made the man and the woman to fit together, quite literally. In the creation, God intended for man and woman to exist in a state in which they could enjoy one another in an exclusive, lifelong “one flesh” union that would result in “filling the earth.” This kind of union only comes about in a heterosexual marriage.
Homosexuality by Kevin DeYoung and Eric Redmond taken from Don’t Call it a Comeback, edited by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2011, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org. Page 169. Get this book!
Jesus didn’t do it all. Jesus didn’t meet every need. He left people waiting in line to be healed. He left one town to preach to another. He hid away to pray. He got tired. He never interacted with the vast majority of people on the planet. He spent thirty years in training and only three years in ministry. He did not try to do it all. And yet, He did everything God asked Him to do.
[Jesus] was busy, but never in a way that made Him frantic, anxious, irritable, proud, envious, or distracted by lesser things… Jesus knew the difference between urgent and important. He understood that all the good things He could do were not necessarily the things He ought to do.
We all have a cross to carry. But it’s a cross that kills our sins, smashes our idols, and teaches us the folly of self-reliance. It’s a cross that says I’ll do anything to follow Jesus, not a cross that says I have to do everything for Jesus.
We must reject our well-meaning but misguided spiritual determinism. As it turns out, it doesn’t all depend on us. The Bible is full of examples of spiritual giants producing rascally children and noble kin coming from polluted loins. While the proverbial wisdom of Scripture (Prov. 22: 6) and the promises of the covenant (Gen. 17: 7) tell us that good Christian parents and good Christian children normally go together, we must concede that God is sovereign (Rom. 9: 6– 18), salvation is a gift (Eph. 2: 8– 9), and the wind of the Spirit blows where it wishes (John 3: 8).
God doesn’t provide many specific instructions about the parent-child relationship, except that parents should teach their children about God (Deut. 6:7; Prov. 1-9), discipline them (Prov. 23:13; Heb. 12:7-11), be thankful for them (Ps. 127:3-5), and not exasperate them (Eph. 6:4). Filling in the details depends on the family, the culture, the Spirit’s wisdom, and a whole lot of trial and error.
Because we understand our worth as image-bearers and our identity as children of God, we will not look to the Internet to prove that we are important, valuable, and loved. And because we accept the presence of indwelling sin, we will not be blind to the potential idolatries and temptations we can succumb to online. And because we know ourselves to be fallen creatures, we will accept the limits of our human condition. We cannot have meaningful relationships with thousands of people. We cannot really know what is going on in the world. We cannot be truly here and there at the same time. The biggest deception of our digital age may be the lie that says we can be omni-competent, omni-informed, and omni-present. We cannot be any of these things. We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance – and choose wisely. The sooner we embrace this finitude, the sooner we can be free.
Busyness, as I’ve been diagnosing it, is as much a mind-set and a heart sickness as it is a failure in time management. It’s possible to live your days in a flurry of hard work, serving, and bearing burdens, and to do so with the right character and a right dependence on God so that it doesn’t feel crazy busy. By the same token, it’s possible to feel amazingly stressed and frenzied while actually accomplishing very little. The antidote to busyness of soul is not sloth and indifference. The antidote is rest, rhythm, death to pride, acceptance of our own finitude, and trust in the providence of God.
Pride is subtle and shape-shifting. There is more of it at work in our hearts than we know, and more of it pulsing through our busyness than we realize. Pride is the villain with a thousand faces: People-pleasing, Pats on the back, Performance evaluation, Possessions, Proving myself, Pity, Poor planning, Power, Perfectionism, Position, Prestige and Posting. Here’s the bottom line: of all the possible problems contributing to our busyness, it’s a pretty good bet that one of the most pervasive is pride. It’s okay to be busy at times. You can’t love and serve others without giving of your time. So work hard; work long; work often. Just remember it’s not supposed to be about you. Feed people, not your pride.
We should rest in Christ alone for our salvation. But along with that there is still an abiding principle that we ought to worship on the Lord’s Day and trust God enough to have a weekly routine where we cease from our normal labors… He made the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). God gives us Sabbath as a gift; it’s an island of get-to in a sea of have-to. He also offers us Sabbath as a test; it’s an opportunity to trust God’s work more than our own. When I go weeks without taking adequate time off, I may or may not be disobeying the fourth commandment, but I’m certainly too convinced of my own importance and more than a little foolish. If my goal is God-glorifying productivity over a lifetime of hard work, there are few things I need more than a regular rhythm of rest.
You can borrow time, but you can’t steal it… And the longer you try to borrow against sleep, the more your body (or God) will force you to pay for those hours – plus interest.
We all know we need rest from work, but we don’t realize we have to work hard just to rest. We have to plan for breaks. We have to schedule time to be unscheduled. That’s the way life is for most of us. Scattered, frantic, boundary-less busyness comes naturally. The rhythms of work and rest require planning.