The Hole in Our Holiness

31ArGG9+ClL._SL500_AA300_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.

The Anatomy of Holiness

You can think of holiness, to employ a metaphor, as the sanctification of your body. The mind is filled with the knowledge of God and fixed on what is good.The eyes turn away from sensuality and shudder at the sight of evil. The mouth tells the truth and refuses to gossip, slander, or speak what is course or obscene. The spirit is earnest, steadfast, and gentle. The heart is full of joy instead of hopelessness, patience instead of irritability, kindness instead of anger, humility instead of pride, and thankfulness instead of envy. The sexual organs are pure, being reserved for the privacy of marriage between one man and one woman. The feet move toward the lowly and away from senseless conflict, divisions, and wild parties. The hands are quick to help those in need and ready to fold in prayer. This is the anatomy of holiness.

Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness, Crossway, 2012.

Sexual Wholeness, and Not Just Purity, Is the Goal

Every other October we sponsor a Sexual Wholeness Week in seminary chapel. The intent behind this series of chapels is to exhort our students in what it means to be sexually whole. This concept goes beyond just helping students avoid adultery in seminary and ministry. The greater concern is that they would be sexually whole people who are not perpetuating brokenness in themselves, their families, and their ministries.

One of the most helpful books I came across in preparation for this series is Judith and Jack Balswick’s book, Authentic Human Sexuality (IVP, 1999). They explain the complexity of human sexuality and seek to define sexual wholeness.

Human sexuality must be understood in light of a variety of influences, including biological, sociological, psychological, theological, as well as gender, emotions, behaviors, attitudes and values. We begin with the presupposition that authentic sexuality is meant to be a congruent, integral part of one’s total being. Further, we believe that God intends for our sexuality to be a real, genuine, believable and trustworthy part of ourselves. In this way we embrace what God has created and declare with God, “It is very good.” (p. 13)


This book is filled with chapter after chapter of some of the best writing I have ever read on sexuality. Since sexual issues are one of the most, if not the most, pressing issues in the American church today, I highly recommend pastors get this book and read it.

Here’s an example of the kind of wisdom gathered in the book. The Balswick’s quote Lewis Smedes on the need to go beyond an emphasis on sexual purity in marriage to sexual wholeness:

A man or woman can be just too busy, too tired, too timid, too prudent, or too hemmed in with fear to be seriously tempted by an adulterous affair. But this same person can be a bore at home, callous to the delicate needs of the partner. He or she may be too prudish to be an adventuresome lover, and too cowardly to be in honest communication and too busy to put oneself out for anything more than a routine ritual of personal commitment.

One may be able to claim to have never cheated…but may never have tried to grow along with their partner into a deep personal relationship of respect and regard within marriage. Their brand of negative fidelity may be an excuse for letting the marriage fall by neglect into dreary conformity to habit and, with that, into a dull routine of depersonalized sex. I am not minimizing the importance of sexual fidelity, but anyone who thinks that morality in marriage is fulfilled by avoiding an affair has short-circuited the personal dynamics of fidelity.

Lewis Smedes, Sex for Christians (Eerdmans, 1976), 168-9.

Wayne Grudem’s 24 Moral and Spiritual Issues at Stake in the Election

A useful PDF file comparing the major political parties on 24 issues.

The Happy Threads of Divine Providence

Today’s blog is personal. I hope you will indulge me while I explain a certain happy providence that has brought a smile to my face here recently.

Sixty-one years ago this month (October, 1951) my dad, then age 22, preached a week of special meetings in a small town in northern Wisconsin. The church was newly being pastored by my dad’s best friend since high school, George Cable. Dad and George were ordained by Dr. B. Myron Cedarholm there in that church just a month previously (September), the weekend before my dad and mom were married. If you know me well you’ve likely heard me remark that my dad’s ministry was one that was unusually effective and blessed, and it was so from the very beginning. Several people came to Christ that week. One man in particular was named Dwight Duncan, a successful farmer in the area who, invited to come to those meetings, came to Christ and then raised his family for Christ, became a pillar in the church there, serving as a deacon I think until his death in the late 1990s, and remained a good friend of the Zaspel family. I recall staying at his farm as a boy in the mid 1960s. He was a bit older than my parents, and he became close with my dad’s parents also, etc. The Duncans were dear family friends. My last memory of Dwight Duncan was shortly before he died — I was home visiting my parents when Dwight phoned dad just to thank him for coming to Camp Douglas, Wisconsin, to preach the gospel so long ago.

Okay, you get the picture. There has long been a real soft spot in Zaspel hearts for Dwight Duncan and family, even though as the years have progressed the contact has been increasingly slim.

Fast forward to Lansdale, PA, 2012.  The students at Calvary Baptist Seminary are required to seek out a professor for personal mentoring — anything and everything from theology to marriage to spiritual life, etc.  When carried out conscientiously, at least, it’s a wonderful program. At my first meeting with a student here recently, over lunch, just to get better acquainted, I asked him where he was from. When he told me Wisconsin, I asked where. He replied, “Oh, a small town you’ve never heard of. Camp Douglas.” “Yeah,” I said, I think I know something about Camp Douglas.” As I began to mention my connections he of course was surprised, to say the least. Then I asked him if he happened to know the Duncan family. You can imagine my delight as he told me that Dwight Duncan was his great-grandfather. So of course now his grandmother (Dwight’s daughter) and my mother are enjoying the connection also, etc. Looking back on our lunch I feel a bit guilty — there wasn’t much “mentoring” going on, but there was a lot of tracing out our family connections!

So, sixty-one years ago this month a man came to Christ through my dad’s preaching ministry. Now that man’s great-grandson is one of my students. I hope you understand the smile that I’ve been wearing here lately!

I suspect that one of the joys of heaven will be the tracing of the many happy threads of divine providence.

Could it be that the interruptions in our lives are, in fact, real life?

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own,” or “real” life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life–the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s “real life” is a phantom of one’s own imagination.” -C.S. Lewis

Quenching the Spirit

In 1 Thessalonians 5:19 the Lord gives us a command through his inspired apostle that I have often found fascinating. In most translations the verse reads, “Do not quench the Spirit.” In our NIV it reads more colorfully, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” I find this verse fascinating not simply because of what it commands but also because of what it implies.

We understand that this New Covenant age is the age of the Spirit’s abundant work. The Spirit of God has come to “indwell” God’s people in full measure, and he works in us in many different ways. He is “the Spirit of sonship” in that he ministers to us a confident sense of God’s fatherly love to us and an assurance that we belong to him as his children. He gifts us for service. He “leads” us into practical godliness and cultivates in us “the fruit of the Spirit” — those virtues of Christlikeness that God requires of us. And of course it was the Holy Spirit who brought us to faith at the very outset of our Christian experience. In all this the Spirit of God works sovereignly and powerfully. We would be nothing without him. We would not grow in grace, we would not serve God, we would have no assurance, and we would not even trust in Christ in the first place. What a blessed and vital role he serves in our salvation!

Yet God tells us that we should not “quench” him. We should not “put out his fire,” as it were. The plain implication is that by our sin we may stifle the Spirit’s effectiveness in us. We may by our sin hinder the work which he has come to do in us and for us.

In regeneration God acts sovereignly, and he acts alone. He works within us to bring us to life and to faith in Christ. We believe, but only in response to his initial and powerful work in us. We call this “irresistible grace,” simply because God’s calling proves irresistible in bringing about our willing conversion. In John 3, in his discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus spoke just this way — the Spirit is like the wind that blows effectually wherever he wants!

But in the process of growth in grace, a certain cooperation is required on our part. Everywhere in the New Testament we are called to “yield” ourselves to God, to submit to his leading and promptings to godliness. “Walk in the Spirit,” we are commanded. “Be filled with the Spirit.” We must work with Him in the cultivation of godliness, and only as we do will we know the fullness of his blessing. “Trust and obey,” we sing, “for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.” We must trust and obey. And if we do not, God’s Spirit may be quenched and his effectiveness stifled.

Still further, the apostle Paul in this passage (1 Thess. 5: 11ff) is speaking to the church corporately, and there is just the hint that his warning is not to be understood merely on an individual level. His caution to the church is that by their sin — in context: by their thanklessness, their prayerlessness, their lack of appreciation for those who lead them, their lack of concern for the public ministry of the Word of God, and so on — they may quench the Spirit’s work among them.  What otherwise might have been accomplished among them has been shut out by their sin.

This, then, is just one of those passages that warns us of the effects of our sin. Our sin carries with it consequences both for us and for those around us. Like Achan in the book of Joshua, whose sin halted the progress of Israel’s army and brought the death of many, our sin can drastically hinder the Spirit’s work among us and hold back the blessing we might otherwise realize.

For God’s sake, for our own sake’s, for the sake of one another, and for the sake of our corporate advance of the gospel, let us be careful to walk in the Spirit and see to it that His work among us will not be hindered.

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