soul

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.

Without Books, My Growth is Stunted

In November 2013, I pointed out that without a [Bible-reading] plan, I’m not in the word of God. I wrote that because I know reading the Bible isn’t an option for the Christian, and I also know how my flesh likes to operate. It’s not that I would fail to read altogether without a plan, but using one aids me greatly in studying more effectively. There’s another side to that coin however, which I wish to tackle now for your admonishment: without books, my [spiritual] growth is stunted.

books

Read a good book lately?

The previous comment does not mean I allow books to replace the Bible. I won’t by the grace of God and neither should you. No amount of wisdom available in the books our Christian brothers and sisters publish, as wonderful as it can certainly be, will ever come close to working in our lives as does the inspired work of our almighty, all-wise God. Human words are mere human words, a reflection if anything of the God that gave us the ability to communicate; they are not divine, not able to pierce to the division of soul and spirit, or discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). If we ever wonder what book will help us grow, to become more like Jesus Christ in this way or that, I hope our first inclination is to peer into the Bible and study what God says. God’s all-powerful words change hearts, nothing else. You and I must never forget that.

Nonetheless… well-written, relatable, well-thought-out, biblically-sound books are one of our heavenly Father’s many grace gifts to us His children. As the limited beings we humans are, God does not nor has He ever expected us [individually] to understand, let alone apply, His Scriptures completely on our own. Otherwise there’d be no point to listening to sermons or attending any kind of Bible study. It would be silly for the all-knowing, loving, eternal God to burden broken, finite people with such an impossible task. But that’s why God’s given us books too, tools that enable the believers that use them effectively to understand Him, the teachings of Scripture, and themselves, better. Such books often cause me to think, “Wow, how have I missed this in the Scriptures for so long?!”, or, “No fair! How was [the author] able to pull that truth out of those verses?!..” The problem is, you won’t have such thoughts if you aren’t reading.

“But I hate reading!”, you might ironically respond. Yeah, it wasn’t long ago that I too hated the thought of reading a book. I could never get into the classic novels in high school, though we were required to write reports about them, and I allowed those sour experiences to bring any possible future reading I might do to a grinding halt. Thankfully that years-long cycle ended in 2009, though developing a solid habit puttered even still until just last year. In 2013,  I determined to read at least a chapter or ten pages in a book every single day. I praise the Lord for success in pursuing that goal, and I refuse to ever look back. The spiritual dividends are too precious to me, and so I’m not really tempted to ever hesitate again along these lines. And I’ve written this article to encourage you to read books and benefit similarly.

What are the benefits, you ask? There are many, but I think the list of three below boils them down fairly well.

  1. You see the truths of Scripture through the author’s eyes. God teaches us through other people, not ourselves.
  2. You learn from what God has taught an author through their experiences. After all, through many trials  do we enter the kingdom of God…and it’s great to learn how others handled theirs! (Acts 14:22)
  3. You are discipled by the author. Has it ever occurred to you that [Christian] book-reading is a form of discipleship? The author doesn’t need participate in your local fellowship; you can learn from what they write!

Now I’m not about to frighten you with the insistence that you do exactly as I, but if book-reading hasn’t characterized your life lately, I want to challenge you to go through at least one in 2014. It doesn’t have to be something difficult, or 300-pages long. Anything that seems like it may help you or at least be interesting will do. The key, as I’ve learned, is simply doing it. Why don’t you just do it too? You might be surprised how your attitude changes about reading after the fact.

I’m happy to recommend a book if you’re not sure what’s out there. By all means comment below or contact me on Twitter or Facebook (available on the right-hand side!). Regardless fellow Christian, I hope you are or will become motivated to help yourself grow, to increase in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18). And you can do so by reading a book!