Mosaic Law

Book Review: The Hole in Our Holiness (Kevin DeYoung)

Where have all the Christians striving to be holy disappeared to? Why do so many Christians now think it’s old-hat to live a holy life? Somehow it’s become more widely accepted that Christians don’t need to work hard to be like Jesus Christ. This isn’t just a crying shame; it’s depressingly unbiblical. Yet it isn’t surprising, as believers increasingly allow themselves to be absorbed into the world’s system without so much as a second thought. In general, most professing Christians seem to believe that holiness isn’t worth pursuing. The subject has managed to become controversial even, but that didn’t stop author Kevin DeYoung from tackling it in The Hole in Our Holiness. And perhaps best is how Kevin does, as Pastor John Piper quaintly states on the back cover, “This book is vintage DeYoung–ruthlessly biblical.”

Kevin aims to answer three questions in the book:

  • “What does it mean to be holy?”
  • “Why should we care?”
  • “And how can we change?”

Every Christian and every church should ask those questions, and learn the answers well. We must know what it means to be [holy] like God, why it’s critical to care, and what is necessary for us to make progress toward holiness. As written on the book’s inside flap, discussing holiness is more and more important because “too few Christians look like Christ and too many don’t seem all that concerned about it.” Yet after finishing THIOH, I’m refreshed and enthusiastic…not despondent or discouraged, to join DeYoung in what should be the Christian’s response to I Peter 1:14-16.

If you didn’t catch it before, this holiness stuff is controversial. In a world where more and more people, including Christians, call evil good and good evil…Kevin’s arguments and challenges are timely and a necessary wake-up call. At the beginning of THIOH, Kevin compares what he thinks is the general Christian’s attitude toward holiness to what his is toward [outdoor] camping, that it’s for “other people” to do and enjoy. He further suggests that Christians who give up pursuing holiness do so because there seems to be too little return for the investment. Yet any thinking like that about holiness ignores the reality that holiness is the same thing as obeying God! DeYoung even begs us to consider Heaven as a huge reason why Christians should be thirsty for holiness, as Heaven will be a holy place. He asks, “If you don’t like it (holiness) now, why would you then?”

If that isn’t striking enough, the second chapter got me thinking as it lays out the truth that God saves sinners so they will be like Him. And it makes sense, given the explanation [in chapter 7] that Christians are to be who they are….. in Christ! The problem is, as outlined in chapter three, that so many Christians (myself as well) tend to stray toward rule-keeping, generational imitation, generic spirituality, looking for our true selves (silly!), and perhaps worst of all, the world’s system. Instead, as chapter four declares, we should be more like Jesus Christ as the years go by. We should have a life increasingly marked by biblical virtue, and regularly enjoy a clean conscience because we’re in such lock-step with the Savior that our accounts are short with Him and the Spirit’s fruit in us is abundant!

And what of God’s laws (chapter 5)? You can’t really have a conversation about holiness without thinking of the Torah, the Ten Commandments, where God especially describes His character through commands. Yes, Christians absolutely are not under the [Mosaic] law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). However, Kevin makes a very valid point that holiness requires that we know, understand, and obey God’s laws…not as a means to be saved, but to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) You just can’t do that without obeying Him, and we obey by following His laws! You can’t separate love from law, and vice versa. Even the apostle Paul wrote that he wouldn’t have known sin had it not been for the Law (Romans 7:7).

Squirming yet? Well you can relax a bit now. Kevin does encourage us with the fact that Christians actually please God! We don’t do this on our own of course, but because we are in Christ, and God is pleased with Christ, what Christians do is actually capable of pleasing Him! We should remember that [chapter six] point every single day. We should also always remember we can’t do anything, let alone be holy, without the Spirit’s power, the gospel truth, and faith in Jesus Christ (chapter 7). And on the flip side of that, God gave us wonderfully functional minds and bodies so we could work at becoming more holy! Holiness is really a spiritual workout, not something God spoon-feeds us (I Timothy 4:7-8), so it shouldn’t catch Christians by surprise that becoming more holy isn’t exactly easy! Yet the rewards, the spiritual dividends are worth every bit of eternity they’re paid into.

The chapter on immorality (8) could have been its own book. You won’t finish that chapter without experiencing some conviction. And I could go on and on discussing the book, but you probably get the idea of what The Hole in Our Holiness brings to the table by now. We need its every challenge, encouragement, and wake-up call.

Kevin’s message is essentially that holiness requires a close relationship with the Savior (chapter 10). It requires taking seriously God’s demands that we be like Him. And it takes great courage and boldness to practice personal separation from the world and its God-less system (I John 2:16). If you’re a believer that’s convinced it’s time to care more about really following…really obeying the God who created and saved you, please pick up a copy of The Hole in Our Holiness as soon as possible and prepare for an intense look at your heart. You need it, just like I did.

“Buzz” Verses

I praise God for the discipline He’s enabled me to have to read through the Bible every year since 2010. Yet I also don’t like an unfortunate habit I’ve noticed in myself [while reading] during each of those years (including 2014) that I wish to share, which by grace I’m trying to change now. Perhaps you can relate to missing a lot of what the Bible has to teach while you’re having face-to-face time with God, simply because your eyes and mind are so easily drawn to what I’ll refer to as buzz verses in this post.

There are so many of them. John 3:16 (the sure #1); Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 23:1,4; Psalm 46:1; Ephesians 2:8-9; and we could go blue in the face rattling off a thousand more.

john316

A wonderful verse, but not the ONLY one!

I want to bring attention to this subject because, a) you probably don’t think about it much (as I don’t), b) as a result of a, it’s probably not discussed much, and c) as a result of a and b, our walks with the Lord can suffer. That’s hardly to say we’re terrible Christians for it, or that the problem will prevent us from growing leaps and bounds in the faith. This is more a matter of fine-tuning. And since regular time in the word of God is a non-negotiable for all believers, this problem is worth our increased awareness. An effort to correct it I hope will yield spiritual dividends in the long haul.

It all boils down to the following straightforward concept that’s dawned on me as I’m using my 2014 reading plan. (And if you haven’t taken the opportunity to start using one, it’s certainly not too late!) Essentially, the next time you read Scripture, I encourage you to try to divorce your mind from knowing where you are in the actual act of reading. In other words, say John 3 is part of your face-to-face time. Instead of getting yourself caught up in knowing, “OK, here comes “For God so loved the world…”, allow me to suggest simply reading. That’s how Scripture was digested for millennia anyway since there weren’t chapter numbers, verse numbers, topical line breaks, etc. Those identifications aren’t divinely inspired. People put them in much later only to make referencing specific Scripture more universally practical.

Then, by simply reading (and let’s stick with John 3 here), you can benefit so much more and draw so much closer to God by paying closer to attention to everything He has to say in a given passage. Let’s take the conversation that occurs between Jesus and Nicodemus before what we identify as the sixteenth verse and before the narrative about John the Baptist. There’s plenty of good stuff to learn in 1-15, as Christ highlights Nicodemus’s (a Pharisee) failure to grasp God’s intended teaching in the books of Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel… which is sad because his fellow Jews look to him as an expert teacher of the Mosaic Law! At least the poor fellow managed to properly identify Jesus as sent from God, despite completely blowing it by wondering how a human was to possibly exit his mother’s womb a second time. This helps us as twenty-first century believers to understand the precious value of the Old Testament, seeing as Christ is constantly quoting from it in the gospels. John 3 is significantly more than a reference point that God sent Christ to be mankind’s Savior! And after you work through the conversation, then be careful that you don’t get caught by John 3:30, another buzz verse. John makes plenty of beautiful comments about our Messiah, and you can’t miss them simply because of his famously humble statement that his role in God’s kingdom pales in comparison to that of Jesus Christ!

An example from my own recent reading comes from Psalm 16. For those who said psalm is near and dear, you would likely know that “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” resides at the end of what David penned. I knew it would be there too because I saw it turning the page in my ESV study Bible, being curious how long Psalm 16 actually was, and the verse was highlighted as well. However, what a crying shame it would have been for me to miss verse 2, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” What a reminder that all my blessings come from God! Or even verse 4, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;”. A chilling comment teaching that every unbeliever will always be full of grief and never be satisfied apart from Jesus Christ! And yes I point out those specific verses, but of course there’s no less value in the other eight.

All this is to say that there’s plenty more [than what Christians typically point to as “familiar verses”] that God wants us to learn from. The Bible isn’t just a collection of buzz statements that we ought to live by anecdotally. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, there’s more than a lifetime’s worth of spiritual truth and principles to digest. We must treat all of it as important! Thus, the next time you read, do just that. Buzz verses are good and helpful, but never forget your God is in all of Scripture.