In the 6th chapter The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung shifts gears to talk about the process of sanctification. He had been addressing the need for holiness, the motives and the patterns of holiness in Scripture. So, what is supposed to happen so that we become holy? What is God’s part? Do I have a part in all this?
Years ago I read Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. DeYoung mentions it at the end of the chapter. It was part of the Higher Life teaching that used to characterize Keswick teaching. It is passive in sanctification. It assumes consecration is the only part we play in growing in holiness (Packer talks about this at length in Keep In Step With the Spirit). Sadly, some people today seem to hold a similar position.
“It’s possible to be completely biblical and still less than helpful- especially when it comes to pursuing holiness.”
Consecration is necessary, but insufficient for our growth in holiness. This chapter is about the effort we exert. But it is not a do-it-yourself project. The chapter is largely about the Spirit, the Gospel and faith.
Our efforts are “Spirit-powered”. The Spirit empowers us in the process of sanctification as we depend on Him. DeYoung also notes that the Spirit is a source of light for us- shedding light on ourselves, the gospel truth and Christ Himself. We see ourselves, and our sin, more clearly. He convicts, or convinces, us of that sin. He illuminates the Scriptures so we understand them. He also fixes our eyes upon Jesus by highlighting him for us.
We need to grasp the gospel to grow in holiness. But that is not all. He addresses the role of gratitude to drive us to pursue holiness. We see this in Romans 12. It is not a debtor’s ethic (though some corrupt it into one!). When we understand the depths of His love and work for us, we respond with love in return that seeks to please Him in obedience. Sometimes a lack of holiness is a failure to grasp the gospel in its fulness. If our hearts are centered on grace, we are less likely to seek earthly things. Less likely to pursue sin.
The gospel also instructs us about our new identity in Christ (he’ll expand on this in the next chapter). That new identity calls us deeper into a new life. It is “unnatural” to live as if we were the ‘old man’ in Adam. At times we need to preach these truths to ourselves in the midst of temptation (not just after failure) to motivate us toward obedience. That is part of how we draw near to God and resist the devil. If we think we are unforgiven, we will go back to that old life, even if only for a few moments, just like William Munny in The Unforgiven.
“The holy life is always a life of faith, believing with all our hearts that God will do what he has promised.”
Faith is at work in believing God’s promises. It believes that His commands are good, and for our good. It believes that sin is self-destructive. It trusts in God’s promised rewards for obedience, and heeds His warnings about disobedience. Faith uses these promises as the fuel for our fight against sin and for righteousness.
DeYoung then moves into the reality that godliness requires all of those, and our effort. God does not assassinate our sin for us. He works in and thru us to put it to death. It is hard work, never to be separated from the Spirit, the Gospel and faith, to grow in holiness. Effort is not necessarily contrary to gospel holiness. If it is, then the Scriptures often lead us astray.
“Because when it comes to growth in godliness, trusting does not put an end to trying.”
Often we are “stuck” in our sanctification because we are not relying on the Spirit, but ourselves. Sometimes we are stuck because we are not believing the gospel. Sometimes we are stuck because of unbelief. Sometimes we are stuck because we are lazy, sometimes under the guise of quietism or gospel-centeredness. All of these problems cause a hole in our holiness. If your boat is sinking, it is time to identify the holes and patch them appropriately with the Spirit’s power, the gospel, faith and how they are intended to empower you in this process.