Kevin DeYoung’s little book, The Hole in Our Holiness (Crossway, 2012), is an excellent antidote to the seemingly prevalent view of many Christians today that have either grown up in the weak world of broad evangelicalism or have cast off legalism and have drifted into a form of libertarianism. Such brothers and sisters from the latter group, having escaped the gospel-destroying clutches of Pharisaical burdens, often throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to holiness. They mistakenly think that freedom in Christ and the grace of God mean that they can indulge in whatever practices they desire.
This reaction is due to the comprehensive nature of legalism. Because legalists fail to distinguish extra-biblical, manmade commands from the actual commands of Scripture, when a brother or sister casts off the strictures of the legalistic system, they reject everything, including biblical truth. In this way, legalism fails to teach discernment. The sheep are considered too dumb to be able to distinguish, and so are taught to “just trust what they are told.” Additionally, a sound, biblical approach to Christian liberty is often not taught out of fear that members will decide for themselves how to apply Scriptural commands.
All of these factors often lead to some degree of a libertarian bent in those who have escaped legalism. They think that holiness is a return to the former bondage, and cannot see any place for it in their new life of “grace.” This kind of thinking, as DeYoung says, leaves a hole in the Christian’s desire for holiness. He suggests that many Christians think of holiness like non-campers think of camping.
It’s fine for other people. You sort of respect those who make their lives harder than they have to be. But it’s not really your thing. You didn’t grow up with a concern for holiness. It wasn’t something you talked about. It wasn’t what your family prayed about or your church emphasized. So, to this day, it’s not your passion. The pursuit of holiness feels like one more thing to worry about in your already impossible life. Sure, it would be great to be a better person, and you do hope to avoid the really big sins. But you figure, since we are saved by grace, holiness is not required of you, and frankly, your life seems fine without it (p. 10).
DeYoung cites J. I. Packer’s claim that holiness is considered passé by many Christians today. Packer cites three pieces of evidence in his book, Rediscovering Holiness (Regal, 2009): 1) We do not hear about holiness in preaching and books, 2) We do not insist upon holiness in our leaders, 3) We do not touch upon the need for personal holiness in our evangelism.
DeYoung also addresses the mistaken notion of many who are trying to be truly gospel-centered that to speak of holiness is to reintroduce a moralism or a legalism from which we have just escaped. Not so. Holiness is the reason God saved us. Ephesians 1:3-4 reminds us that God saved us for holiness:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV)
DeYoung concludes his book with a call and encouragement:
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 wrinkles. He will have a blameless bride. He promises 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.