Claustrophobic Kingdom of One

Want to know how I know this Tripp passage is true? The day after I read this, I treated my wife exactly in the way it warns against. Lord, have mercy.

“Sin is essentially antisocial. We don’t really have time to love our spouse, in the purest sense of what that means, because we are too busy loving ourselves. What we actually want is for our spouse to love us as much as we love ourselves, and if our spouse is willing to do that, we will have a wonderful relationship. So we try to co-opt our spouse into a willing submission to the plans and purposes of our claustrophobic kingdom of one.

“But there is more. Because sin is antisocial, it tends to dehumanize the people in our lives. No longer are they objects of our willing affection. No, they quit being the people we find joy in loving. Rather, they get reduced to one of two things. They are either vehicles to help us get what we want or obstacles in the way of what we want. When your wife is meeting the demands of your wants, needs, and feelings, you are quite excited about her, and you treat her with affection. But when she becomes an obstacle in the way of your wants, needs, and feelings, you have a hard time hiding your disappointment, impatience and irritation.”

-Paul David Tripp in What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage (Crossway, 2010), 47

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Book Review: DeYoung’s The Hole in our Holiness

Every once in a while, a book comes along that kicks me in the pants. More often than not, these books have to do with the application of the good news of the gospel in sanctification and growth in holiness. They are a great antidote to my antinomian tendencies. J.C. Ryle’s Holiness was one such book several years ago, and Kevin DeYoung’s The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (Crossway, 2012) is the latest.

DeYoung’s book is a gracious yet challenging book that packs a punch even in its brevity (~150 pages). If you don’t read the rest of this review, buy the book and read it for yourself. From the outset, DeYoung earnestly strives to be pastoral, not polemical. That is, though the subtitle and introduction hint at the shortfalls of other contemporary Christian leaders, he does not call any of them out by name and rarely engages with their works specifically. Namely, he hints at the works of Horton, Tullian, and other “gospel-centered” writers in possibly overemphasizing justification (current status) at the expense of holiness and sanctification (ongoing progress). I appreciated this pastoral perspective, since it’s easy for me to pridefully get caught up in pointing out the faults of others. This book also represents a change of direction for DeYoung, as much of his previous work was devoted to pleading with emergents and social justice fanatics to remember the gospel. This is directed more to Reformed Christians, who often have an antinomian streak. This book is mostly a response to a subtle antinomian stance so prevalent in contemporary Reformed circles, especially in the younger generations.

In regards to this overemphasizing of justification at the expense of sanctification, DeYoung is very careful to not disparage justification. He goes to great lengths to show his passion for who we are in Christ as justified sinners. But he wants to take this emphasis to the level that the New Testament writers do: holiness in light of the good news of justification. The law is not terrible, and DeYoung leans heavily on Scripture, the Reformers, and the Confessions in showing that the law has other uses besides convicting of sin leading to the gospel.

In fact, DeYoung takes a refreshing stance in the law-gospel conversation. “Among conservative Christians there is sometimes the mistaken notion that if we are truly gospel-centered we won’t talk about rules or imperatives or moral exertion. We are so eager not to confuse indicatives (what God has done) and imperatives (what we should do) that we get leery of letting biblical commands lead uncomfortably to conviction of sin” (p. 19, more here). Many writers are so careful to distinguish between the indicatives (promises) and imperatives (law) in Scripture, that their close relationship can be lost. One way this relationship is lost is that the gospel can actually lead to law. DeYoung agrees that one use of the law leads to the gospel while acknowledging the danger of overemphasizing the imperatives: all law can lead to no gospel. But in a discussion of why we are saved, DeYoung argues that the gospel should also graciously lead Christians to the law, since that is what we are saved for. This was a refreshing perspective, since lots of contemporary writers write meticulously about the important distinction between law and gospel, and never the two shall meet.

But wait, like the TV news anchors say, there’s more! That’s not the whole picture presented to us in Scripture. “There is nothing ungracious about divine demands…It’s just as true that gospel leads to law” (p. 53). Examples of this are throughout Scripture: the Israelites were saved from Egypt and then given the law, Paul expounds the glorious riches of the gospel in Romans 1-11 and follows with the responsibilities of Romans 12-16, and Jesus explained living water to the Samaritan woman and then exposed sin. To go one step further, if we are so careful to keep the law in its box, constrained by only being able to condemn and convict, then doesn’t the psalmists’ myriad exclamations of deep love for God’s law ring a little hollow?

Similarly, love and law are not mutually exclusive, and this view is actually unbiblical: love is a command of the law, and Jesus makes close connections between love and law (John 14:15). In fact, if we don’t keep the law, we don’t love Jesus. DeYoung goes on at length to flesh this out:

  • “Let’s not be afraid to land on law – never as the means of meriting justification, but as the proper expression of having received it” (p. 54)
  • “The irony is that if we make every imperative into a command to believe the gospel more fully, we turn the gospel into one more thing we have to get right, and faith becomes the one thing we need to be better at…But the Bible does not reason this way. It has no problem with the word “therefore.” Grace, grace, grace, therefore, stop doing this, start doing that, and obey the commands of God. Good works should always be rooted in the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection, but I believe we are expecting too much from the ‘flow’ and not doing enough to teach that obedience to the law – from a willing spirit, as made possible by the Holy Spirit – is the proper response to free grace.” (p. 55)

This last quotation summarizes the crux of the whole book. A subtle tendency of ours is to turn the gospel into a law unto itself. We need to continually believe and rest in the promises and work of Christ, but also continue to strive after the “therefores.” Personal striving and effort for holiness is pervasive in Scripture, and indeed is one of the main themes of the New Testament. The gospel is the foundation and impetus of repentance and growth in holiness. Moreso, union with Christ through the Holy Spirit is the sum of the Christian life, and includes God’s working in and through us for our sanctification by applying Christ’s work. Chapter six is especially helpful in this regard.

DeYoung gives an excellent, but lengthy list of 40 motivations for holiness pulled right from the Scripture. In the context, DeYoung argues that thankfulness for Christ’s work for us is a great motivator for holiness, but definitely not the only motivator. His point is that God is a gracious healer of sin, using many and diverse motivations for holiness, not just one blanket “ice and Advil” remedy: “The sooner we explore and apply those reasons, the more equipped we’ll be to fight sin, the more eager to make every effort to be more like Christ, and the more ready to say with the apostle John ‘his commandments are not burdensome'” (p. 61).

There’s much more to say from this short but deep book, but seriously, just read it. It is a timely, important, well-written book with a message very much needed in the Christian community. It’s in the running for my best book of 2012. I very much recommend it for individual and/or group study. And repeat. You can pick it up from Westminster or Amazon.

Note: Crossway provided me with a free copy of this book for an objective review.

A much safer danger

“Among conservative Christians there is sometimes the mistaken notion that if we are truly gospel-centered we won’t talk about rules or imperatives or moral exertion. We are so eager not to confuse indicatives (what God has done) and imperatives (what we should do) that we get leery of letting biblical commands lead uncomfortably to conviction of sin. We’re scared of words like diligence, effort, and duty. Pastors don’t know how to preach the good news in their sermons and still strongly exhort churchgoers to cleanse themselves from every defilement of body and spirit. We know legalism (salvation by law keeping) and antinomianism (salvation without the need for law keeping) are both wrong, but antinomianism feels like a much safer danger. 

“Then there’s the reality that holiness is plain hard work, and we’re often lazy. We like our sins, and dying to them is painful. Almost everything is easier than growing in godliness. So we try and fail, try and fail, and then give up. It’s easier to sign a petition protesting man’s inhumanity to man than to love your neighbor as yourself.”

Filling the hole in our holiness

I just received an advance copy of Kevin DeYoung’s newest book, The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap Between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness, due out any day.

I’m really excited about this book, as it is a very timely and relevant treatment of an often overlooked but vitally important aspect of the Christian life. As with other DeYoung books, I expect it to be encouraging, challenging, pastoral, and well written. I know I will benefit greatly from it. Here’s an excerpt on the misguided tendency for Christians (Reformed ones especially) to downplay our works as filthy rags (full, lengthy excerpt here):

Why do we imagine God to be so unmoved by our heart-felt attempts at obedience? He is, after all, our heavenly Father. What sort of father looks at his daughter’s homemade birthday card and complains that the color scheme is all wrong? What kind of mother says to her son, after he gladly cleaned the garage but put the paint cans on the wrong shelf, “This is worthless in my sight”? What sort of parent rolls his eyes when his child falls off the bike on the first try? 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.

Look for a review soon, and in the mean time pick it up here or here. There’s also a lengthy interview with DeYoung on the book here.

Mangoes and stones

I bought Mikayla a mango the other day. They were on sale at the grocery store, and I thought to myself, “Self, that would be a fun, delicious treat for Mikayla to try.” A good gift for her, so to speak.

In line with how my mind jumps from random topic to random topic, I started thinking of Matthew 7:11:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

This passage is perhaps the most precious and profound passage of Scripture that I have appreciated most since becoming a father. In this passage, Christ isn’t speaking to the wicked Pharisees, who are easy to criticize and who are easy self esteem boosters. No, Christ is speaking to His disciples, the apostles, those paragons of truth and boldness later in the New Testament.

Two thousand years later, this passage is also spoken to us as Jesus’ disciples, and we are grouped with the disciples as “evil.” We sing with David, “I am evil, born in sin.” Though we are evil and born in sin, we still don’t give our children a stone instead of bread or a snake instead of fish. “How much more, then, will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Remember that we’re not happy-go-lucky, health-and-wealth Christians. Thus, the “good things” here are not only the bountiful, easy-to-spot, good gifts God lavishes on His own. It’s not just the mangoes. Everything that comes from His hand is ultimately good: “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6).

The Lord knows what we need even more than a loving father knows what his children need. I know (imperfectly) when to give my kids good gifts and when they need loving discipline. If that’s the case for lowly, evil me, how much more can I trust God when He gives me what I need, and more perfectly than I know what I need? Good and bad, easy and difficult, plenty and want, edifying and sanctifying. What does this truth say about me when I question His purposes?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

Shoot the horse and burn the cart

“Nowhere is it more important to have the theology of justification and sanctification straight than here on the subject of child-rearing. We are justified by faith in the promise of God, manifested in our initial trust. We are sanctified by faith in the promise of God, manifested in our ongoing obedience. We are set free to walk through the process of sanctification because we have been fully and completely justified by faith alone – ‘That the righteous requirement of the law might by fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:4). The well-worn cliché of a cart and horse is probably almost as old as the debate over faith and works, but it may still help us understand the relationship between them. Faith in God and His Word is the horse that pulls the entire cart. The cart is the work that follows as a result. This is not complicated, but sin regularly distorts the truth of it anyway. The legalist tries to pull the horse in the cart, and the antinomian shoots the horse and burns the cart. The Christian does neither.”

-Doug Wilson in Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing (Canon Press, 1997), p. 37

Hardening of the spiritual life

“Over the years words begin to come easy, and we find we can speak of mysteries without standing in awe; we can speak of purity without feeling pure; we can speak of zeal without spiritual passion; we can speak of God’s holiness without trembling; we can speak of sin without sorrow; we can speak of heaven without eagerness. And the result is an increasing hardening of the spiritual life.”

-John Piper in Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, Owen, and Machen (Crossway, 2006), chapter on John Owen