I have a growing concern that younger evangelicals do not take seriously the Bible’s call to personal holiness. We are too at peace with worldliness in our homes, too at ease with sin in our lives, too content with spiritual immaturity in our churches.

God’s mission in the world is to save a people and sanctify his people. Christ died “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). We were chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her…so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).

J.C. Ryle, the Bishop of Liverpool from the nineteenth century, was right: “We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world…Jesus is a complete Saviour. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more–He breaks its power (1 Pet. 1:2; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 12:10).” My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ saved us from, we will give little thought and make little effort concerning all that Christ saved us to.

The pursuit of holiness does not occupy the place in our hearts that it should. There are several reasons for the relative neglect of personal holiness.

1) It was too common in the past to equate holiness with abstaining from a few taboo practices like drinking, smoking, and dancing. In a previous generation godliness meant you didn’t do these things. Younger generations have little patience for these sorts of rules. They either don’t agree with the rules or they figure they’ve got those bases covered so there’s not much else to worry about.

2) Related to the first reason is the fear that a passion for holiness makes you some kind of weird holdover from a bygone era. As soon as you talk about swearing or movies or music or modesty or  sexual purity or self-control or just plain godliness people get nervous that others will call them legalistic, or worse, a fundamentalist.

3) We live in a culture of cool, and to be cool means you differentiate yourself from others. That has often meant pushing the boundaries with language, with entertainment, with alcohol, and with fashion. Of course, holiness is much more than these things, but in an effort to be hip many Christians have figured holiness has nothing to do with these things. They’ve willingly embraced Christian freedom, but they’ve not earnestly pursued Christian virtue.

4) Among more liberal Christians a radical pursuit of holiness is often suspect because any talk of right and wrong behaviors feels judgmental and intolerant. If we are to be “without spot or blemish” it necessitates we distinguish between what sort of attitudes, actions, and habits are pure and what sort are impure. This sort of sorting gets you in trouble with the pluralism police.

5) Among conservative Christians there is sometimes the mistaken notion that if we are truly gospel-centered we won’t talk about rules or imperatives or exhort Christians to moral exertion. To be sure, there is a rash of moralistic teaching out there, but sometimes we go to the other extreme and act as if the Bible shouldn’t advise our morals at all. We are so eager not to confuse indicatives and imperatives (a point I’ve made many times) that if we’re not careful we’ll drop the imperatives altogether. We’ve been afraid of words like diligence, effort, and obedience. We’ve downplayed verses that call us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), or command us to cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit (2 Cor. 7:1), or warn against even a hint of immorality among the saints (Eph. 5:3).

I find it telling that you can find plenty of young Christians today who are really excited about justice and serving in their communities. You can find Christians fired up about evangelism. You can find lots of Generation XYZ believers passionate about precise theology. Yes and amen to all that. But where are the Christians known for their zeal for holiness? Where is the corresponding passion for honoring Christ with Christlike obedience? We need more Christian leaders on our campuses, in our cities, in our seminaries who will say with Paul, “Look carefully then how you walk”? (Eph. 5:15).

When is the last time we took a verse like Ephesians 5:4–“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving”–when is the last time we took a verse like this and even began to try to apply this to our conversation, our joking, our movies, our you tube clips, our t.v. and commercial intake? The fact of the matter is if you read through the New Testament epistles you will find very few explicit commands that tell us to evangelize and very few explicit commands that tell us to take care of the poor in our communities, but there are dozens and dozens of verses in the New Testament that enjoin us, in one way or another, to be holy as God is holy (e.g., 1 Peter 1:13-16).

I do not wish to denigrate any of the other biblical emphases capturing the attention of younger evangelicals. But I believe God would have us be much more careful with our eyes, our ears, and our mouth. It’s not pietism, legalism, or fundamentalism to take holiness seriously. It’s the way of all those who have been called to a holy calling by a holy God.

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151 thoughts on “The Hole in Our Holiness”

  1. John Thomson says:

    Loren

    I too grew up in the sixties (well, fifties and sixties). I agree with your comments re much Christian culture in terms of music etc. I do not think all non-Christian books/movies/music etc should be completely avoided. But I do think sparing and judicious involvement is the order of the day.

    A question I asked on this topic recently is: how congruous is it to cheer on James Bond on a Saturday night and then worship Jesus Christ on a Sunday morning? Questions like this seem to me to focus the debate. It is not really the occasional and judicious choice of a movie that may make important points that I am concerned with – it is the engorging on chick flicks, gratuitiously violent and sexually explicit movies about seedy underworlds, the titillating and teasing (Charlies Angels type movies), soaps that educate us in anti-Christian responses and so on.

    Take CSI and the rash of forensic programmes whose whole purpose is to invent ever more gory ways to present death and stimulates and feeds a ghoulish voyeuristic desire to follow the knife on the dissecting table. It is deliberately feeding and fueling baser instincts.

    Think of the dress (or lack of it) of female singers as they perform. The explicit raw sexuality that is an essential part of their popularity. Their vocals normally promote promiscuity.

    How many comedies simply trade on the coarse and crude. Innuendo, toilet humour, sexual farce etc are the stuff of popular cultural comedy.

    How do resolves like that of Job, not to look on a women to lust after her chime with the voyeuristic camera as it caresses the female body? To say nothing of flashing flesh and explicit nudity. Can we really say that we are serious about a pure mind and feast our eyes on the illicit and forbidden.

    In a word, the popular movie/music/tv show is regularly intended to massage the prurient, the voyeuristic, the sexually liberated, the sensual and lascivious in our hearts, and believers live on an almost indiscriminate staple diet of these things and feel it is okay. It is okay: because we are ‘free’ in Christ; because we are all ‘adults’ and can be ‘objective’and ‘mature’ as if we were computers rather than fallen human beings; because we are given a green light to indulge and be culturally glutted by those Christian leaders who tell us that Christians must be culturally switched-on; and because and we are mortally afraid of being labelled pietistic, irrelevant, worldly naive, legalistic, or, God forbid, fundamentalist.

    If we spend our time feeding on the counsel of the ungodly then we will soon find ourselves walking in their ways and following their steps and sitting with them in their scoffing seats.

  2. Rob French says:

    Loren,

    Though I believe I agree with much of what you’ve said, I must disagree that “the law” was for the Jews and that “grace” is for the Gentiles, or any similar OT vs NT law/grace distinction. I realize that I’m probably about to stir up something of a can of worms, but I also think it’s important that we not be fooled into thinking that the Old Testament and/or the Law’s only purpose is to point us to the need for Christ by showing us our sin (which may not be what you believe, so I apologize if I’ve mischaracterized your views).

    (1) The Law (i.e. the Mosaic & Levitical laws) were in fact gracious, and are to be distinguished from the covenant of works. That is the very reason that God graciously provided the sacrificial system (as a foreshadowing of Christ): because the people needed redemption from their sin. Jews of the Old Testament were no more saved by perfect and personal obedience than are Christians of the New Testament. Both are saved by God’s grace through faith in His promise of redemption–tasted in the Old Testament, fully revealed in Christ.

    (2) “A wife cooks a wonderful meal for her husband because she loves him, not because it is expected of her.” This is completely valid. What I would point out is that God’s people in the Old Testament were to love God completely, just as we are now. To continue the analogy, let’s assume the wife (the church) knows what her husband (Christ) loves to eat (or, how God wishes to be worshiped). Would it be loving, if knowing his preferences (or we might substitute, His character), she knowingly and willingly cooked Him a meal that he despised (worshiped or behaved contrary to His will)?

    (3) As Captain Obvious pointed out, to love God is to obey His commands. Loving God and loving neighbor are the commands of Jesus–because that’s what He does as weel. That is merely a summary of the whole law.

    (4) “The only law of operation placed on the believer is the law of love.” As indicated above, the law (moral, cereminal, etc) and love are quite related. Indeed, your statement should make us cringe–because our standard of love is far too low, just as it was for OT Israelites. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. ”

    (5) To be “under law” as Paul speaks of in Romans 6:14 is to sit under the judgment of law. The believer pleads mercy in Christ, as did the faithful OT believer–via the mechanism of the sacrifices–which are obsolete not because the moral law is somehow obsolete (“not one jot or tittle”) but are rather fulfilled by a greater sacrifice. In chapter 7 Paul points out the right view of the law–”I delight in the law of God, in my inner being”–even while lamenting his failure at keeping it.

    As always, God graciously redeems a people for Himself, mercifully rescues them from bondage, and then calls them to be like Him.

  3. Rob French says:

    Sorry, Loren, I had not read your most recent comment, but I now must respond.

    The entire Scripture is about, and points to, Christ.

    There is one and only one means of salvation. That means is Christ.

    There is one and only one people of God, from every tribe nation and tongue. They are the true Israel, regardless of their ethnic background.

    Every ethnic Jew on this planet today, just like every other ethnicity, needs the gospel of Jesus Christ or they will perish.

  4. John Thomson says:

    Loren
    You write:

    ‘John, you concluded with: “…It is better to enter life culturally maimed than to be culturally mature and thrown into hell.”

    This is a bit off base for the thread is specifically discussing ‘holiness,’ which has no relationship with the unbeliever. The believer, whether culturally mature or not, will never experience the horror of hell. (“Hell Under Fire,” the best contemporary work on the subject) To advance this theorem as you have, is alarmist, not biblically astute.’

    I was paraphrasing, of course, the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He speaks there to those who profess to be children of the Kingdom, that is, who profess to be believers. To such he makes clear that authentic Kingdom faith will practise self-mortification (eye causes you to sin with what it sees etc) and if the ‘faith’ is of the kind that does not put to death all that causes sin then it is a spurious faith that will end in eternal judgement. It is those whose faith is of the sort that ‘hears and does’ Christ’s words who stand in the day of judgement.

    Incidentally Loren, I am with you on the law/gospel divide but not the Israel/church divide, at least not in the dispensational framework that you espouse. But here we really are getting away from the topic at hand.

  5. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Jonathan, I am thinking of holiness with our eyes (what we watch), our ears (what we see), our mouths (what we say), our hands (what we do), and our feet (where we go). More specifically, as I mention, I don’t think we are thinking hard about music, movies, language, modesty, and self-control, just to name a few examples.

  6. Michael says:

    It is not only a command by God for His children to be Holy, but it is a statement of fact. One is Holy because of the works of Christ. If one is truly regenerated that person desires to be like Christ, desires to become what he already is- Holy.

    Listen- garbage in = garbage out. If one does the opposite of Phil 4:8 and fills his mind with garbage, what holiness can come from it? God makes it crystal clear what one has to do to grow in holiness. These actions are not done to get saved or to stay saved, but are done to glorify God, while at the same time growing one in holiness. A true Christian’s desire is to obey God. So are you or am I going to obey Jesus’ commandments or not? It is so simple. You love Christ for what He did for you or not? He said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” His commandments are good and righteous. Oh by the way, one can only obey if he is IN CHRIST.
    That’s the best thing about it. God saves and sanctifies one because of the works of Christ. You and I get to participate by giving God all the glory by obeying his commands because of Jesus’ works. So go become what you already are- Holy.

  7. Michael says:

    You/I cannot become perfect in this life, but we should strive for that goal.

  8. tim says:

    i take holiness seriously by taking the person and completed, accomplished, imputed, and applied work of Jesus’ seriously.
    seriously.
    any attempt to make my own holiness seriously ends with me being quite laughably-ever-so-not-serious….and people saying “Seriously? surely he’s not serious.”
    and God saying: “Surely you do not think your seriousness is serious.”

  9. Whatever captures our hearts and minds attention more than the pursuit of God and His holiness, more than a desire that finds Him good, pure, and beautiful, is a warning that we have an idol stirring in our midst. They do creep in from time to time, and God will not ultimately allow these things to take up permanent residence. He will sometimes leave us for a season to our foolishness, so that we have a renewed and heightened sense of just what a true treasure we have worth fighting sin for and dying for. All this to say, our attention spans and memory were also affected in the fall.

    The way I gauge my free time, is if I enjoy something more than the pursuit of God and His holiness, then I beg God’s forgiveness and seek to renew my mind in God’s Word, afresh. To enjoy anything more than God is to commit spiritual suicide.

    Excellent, excellent, post, Kevin, almost as good as “The Crust and the Core.”

  10. Tyler says:

    Captain Obvious,

    Its not enough to say that the Older Covenant’s laws are only written down at Sinai. Its just the opposite. The Law is everything in the legal system. To the Jew, there was no difference between the moralistic, societal, Levitical, or sacrificial Law. The Law is the Law. That is why Paul says in Romans that you cannot mix the Law with Grace. You cannot mix the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. Jesus said you cannot put new wine in an old wineskin, or visa versa.

    Paul says if you say you are under the Law, and strive to keep it, you MUST keep the WHOLE Law. We don’t get to pick and choose which ones we like or do not like. We cannot say “only the 10 commandments apply”.

    It is folly to think we can keep those. Jesus proved that.

  11. Tyler says:

    Michael,

    You said:

    “God makes it crystal clear what one has to do to grow in holiness. These actions are not done to get saved or to stay saved, but are done to glorify God, while at the same time growing one in holiness. A true Christian’s desire is to obey God. So are you or am I going to obey Jesus’ commandments or not? It is so simple.”

    I think I understand your sentiment, but what do you mean by “what one has to do to grow in holiness.” If Hebrews 10says “I will remember their sins no more” and “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” and “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified”…

    My question is – How much more sanctified, or holy can we get? OR What ELSE can one DO to be Holy???

    Blessings,

    Tyler

  12. Michael says:

    Tyler,

    I mean in progressive sanctification. We are first set apart by God then we become more and more like Jesus until our death, then we are glorified (perfected). Our part in the progressive sanctification is only pleasing because of Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us. We must work out our salvation by obeying Jesus’ commands, while at the same time God grants us the power through Jesus to obey. Again, I think the point is if we are truly are regenerated then we will want to obey his commands because of our love for Him.
    Positionally we are Holy but we need to grow in holiness through sanctification, a work God started and will finish. But He wills and works through us, works God predestined for us to do before the foundation of the world. God never intended for us to sit on the sideline while He sanctifies us.

  13. Dwight says:

    Guilty. And yet, reading my Bible daily, I know that all of those verses are in there. And (sigh) I’m in middle age too. All I can recommend is to keep reading Scripture because that’s how we best find out how a thankful regenerated person lives. Fall down, get back up and don’t give up the war against the flesh.

  14. Michael says:

    Tyler,

    Strike that last phrase – ‘while He sanctifies us’. I meant while He grows us in holiness. We aren’t meant to become a bump on the log and do nothing, or worse yet, keep on sinning so that grace abounds even more.

  15. Steve Herreid says:

    Spot on, Kevin. Thank you for this timely reminder.

  16. I am not quite sure that the prior generation was anymore concerned with holiness than the current crop of young evangelicals. The legalism you referred to that was the norm, was mostly a public veneer; and was how one acted out in public or around other Christians.

    The legalism of that age provided the norms of acceptance in the Christian community, much as social justice and fighting poverty provide the norms of acceptance in today’s younger evangelical community. The reason why you heard the term hypocrite used so often in describing Christians of that era is that their personal lifestyle did not match the standards they claimed to live by.

    So while I agree with the premise behind your post and your points, I don’t think the prior generation was any more concerned about personal holiness than the current generation.

  17. Tyler says:

    Michael,

    I think I still understand, however, I’m having a hard time grasping our religious construct of “progressive sanctification” when Hebrews says we’ve been “sanctified ONCE and for all TIME”!!!

    Hallelujah! We are declared Holy because HE is Holy. Pauls says “if the root is Holy, the tree is Holy”.

    Yes He predestined us, BUT “to be conformed to the image of Jesus”. We cannot “grow in holiness” if we’ve been declared “Holy” once and for all time. We cannot grow in holiness if we’ve “forever been perfected, those who are sanctified”.

    Anything that makes us more aware of sin brings us closer to the Law. That is what Paul has said. The Law is there to show us our sin. Paul said he wouldn’t know what sin is if it weren’t for the Law, but we have this religious construct that somehow the closer we get to God, the more of sin we become aware. In order to believe that, we have to throw out Hebrews entirely.

    Either we are declared Holy, we are sanctified once and for all time ONLY through the last and perfect sacrifice of Jesus, or we are not.

  18. John says:

    Kevin, this is a great article, and a topic I have had with my pastor a time or two. However, I think the emphasis of the NT is not on what we do first of all, but on who we are. As Paul said, “the aim of our charge is love that issues out of a clean conscience, etc. etc.” The fruit of the Spirit, too, is about who we are, not what we do. We are a new creation in Christ. I believe, and have experienced, that people who are discipled by having their minds transformed by the word have their entire course changed. Not so if we come at it from the other direction. People who are taught to love and worship and treasure Christ usually pursue holiness. People who are taught to put away alcohol or racy movies don’t usually pursue Christ.

  19. John Thomson says:

    Progressive sanctification is surely a call to be what we are. It is of course a work of God but one in which he involves us.

    Some texts suggesting the progressive aspect include:

    1Thess 5:23 (Darby)
    Now the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly: and your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    John 17:17 (Darby)
    Sanctify them by the truth: thy word is truth.

    We are already through christ in the new man created in the image of God in true righteousness and holiness yet we are still called to be holy as God is holy. And…

    2Cor 3:18
    But we all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit.

    2Cor 7:1 (ESV)
    Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

    We have died with Christ but we must reckon ourselves as dead and put to death the misdeeds of the body (Roms 6; Col 3) and so on. What we are before God we work out in everyday life…definitive sanctification is the basis for progressive sanctification

  20. Michael says:

    John Thomson,

    I believe some people today get justification confused with sanctification. Justification is a one time monergistic act by God placing one in a right relationship with God. There are two kinds of sanctification. One is totally the work of God, definitive sanctification, God declaring one Holy. And second, progressive sanctification, where the action is synergistic, God grants an individual the grace and power and desire to grow into what one already is -Holy. A person obey because of God’s working

  21. Michael says:

    Sorry, I hit the wrong button on my phone. …obeys because of God’s working through that individual’s life.

  22. Tyler says:

    But why do we separate the two? Paul never talks about two different types of sanctification. Jesus never talks about two different types of sanctification.

    We separate the two unjustly in the light of Scripture. Whether we are being conformed to the image of Christ, or putting off the old self, or clinging onto the hope of Christ– we aren’t doing anything that makes us holy.

    IF ANYTHING we are only responding rightly to what Christ is already doing in us. We’ve been declared Holy, so we are Holy. One cannot tell an orange tree to start being an apple tree. I fear when we separate “holy” vs “sanctified” we are grasping at straws.

  23. Charlie says:

    Hi,
    I actually have a couple of problems with this article. The main one is the fact that the term “holiness” is not well defined here. You have pointed out that you think young evangelicals are not looking closely enough at what they watch on tv and things like that, but I think you need to be more specific. Pornography is obviously sinful. Nobody argues with that. But I don’t think that is what you are talking about. Is it sinful to watch “The Office” because there are sometimes crude jokes? No, I don’t believe that it is. But if you think that it is then you should not watch shows like this, but don’t think that the Bible texts you point to show a convincing argument for why things like this should be avoided in our pursuit of holiness. Yes, there is the command not to be involved in crude joking, but does that mean we can’t watch shows like this? I would say not. Unless of course, you are only watching it for the sake of the crude jokes, and in that case there is a problem. You talk about distinguishing between right and wrong actions, which is actually a very good thing to do. But at the same time you need to mention the fact that there are indeed grey areas in the christian life. All is permissable, but not all is beneficial. Yes, in some cases we can disagree about what is and is not holy behavior. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” That is an amazing statement, because it shows that, in at least some ways, morality is relevant. Whatever is not done in faith is sin. That is something we need to rememerb when we consider what tv, music and such to entertain ourselves with.
    Also I will mentuion that I was suprised to see that you used the NIV translation of Eph 5:3 rather then the ESV, because you seem to be an ESV guy. The NIV speaks about avoiding even a “hint of immorality,” suggesting that there are things we can do that are only slightly immoral. The ESV is much better by saying “immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you.” This seems to make a lot more sense.
    Also, I can’t say I liked the reference to “working out your salvation with fear and trembling” as having anything at all to do with how well you do in your pursuit of holiness. I know he says that he is not trying to be legalistic, but when you suggest that these two things go together then it kind of sounds like legalism. “Working out your salvation” has to do with examining your heart and making sure that you truly fave the faith that saves. the “working” is not about sanctification. We must rememebr that legalism is not simply a false teaching (which it is), but it is also something that is ingrained in us. We have to hear the gospel on a very regular basis to remind ourselves that we are not saved by our works. The mind, left to itself, will always go back to legalism because that is the natural way of thinking.
    So again, please define specifically how you think young evangelicals are denying holiness. I am open to the fact that I could be wrong about all of this, because I have been wrong in the past about things. But after reading this I just felt that you needed to be more specific.
    Thanks!

  24. John Thomson says:

    Hi Tyler

    I know some feel strongly that definitive sanctification is the only kind of sanctification in Scripture. David Petersen argues for this in his book ‘Possessed by Gpd’.

    Yet we must also account for all the language in Scripture that speaks of growth and maturity and increasing likeness to Christ. I think the two texts I quoted citing sanctification can fairly be read in terms of progressive sanctification. Whatever language we use we must see an element of real moral growth and transformation thoughout life. Many Scriptures speak of this.

    1Pet 2:2 (ESV)
    Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation

    Rom 12:2 (ESV)
    Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

    Eph 4:20-24 (ESV)
    But that is not the way you learned Christ!- assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

    Heb 12:14 (ESV)
    Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

    2Cor 7:1 (ESV)
    Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

    1Thess 4:3 (ESV)
    For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; …

    Rom 6:19 (ESV)
    I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

    Rom 6:22 (ESV)
    But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

    Heb 12:14 (ESV)
    Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

    1Thess 4:4 (ESV)
    that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,

    1Thess 3:11-13 (ESV)
    Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

    In these references it is clear to me that holiness/sanctification is a goal. What we are positionally before God we are to become practically in increasing measure day by day.

    John

  25. Charlie says:

    one more comment.
    In our culture immorality is everywhere. It kind of sounds like you are encouraging mennonite syle living. I actually like the mennonites I know, but I can’t say they do very well at connecting with the culture that they are surrounded by. I am guessing that not a lot of people get saved through mennonite evangelism. How we can live a life that is both missional, and at the same time, refrain from so many things in the culture. I mean, Paul must have been visiting the Pagan idols if he was able to point out the fact that they have one that reads “to the unknown God.” somebody could make the argument that he should not have been reading what that filthy idol said. But he was there because it was essential to him that he could fully understand the cultures point of view.
    I am not trying to necesarrily arguing with you, but I want to hear your thoughts on this because I fully admit that I may be wrong. But this is my reaction after reading your article and thinking about it for a while. Thanks!

  26. John Thomson says:

    Charlie

    I doubt if Kevin is arguing for complete withdrawal from cultural activity (he can answer for himself). I certainly am not. I argue that where involvement is merely for entertainment a sparing and judicious involvement is essential. We must be disciplined and discriminate in our cultural activities. This I think is simply basic Christianity.

    As we consider cultural pursuit what influence does the following text having on us?

    Phil 4:8 (ESV)
    Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

    How do those who advocate a high level of engagement with modern movies/music/mags/novels deal with this text?

  27. Gloria Dyet says:

    100% agree. Thanks. I am old though.

  28. Michael says:

    Tyler,

    Progressive sanctification is clearly taught in the Bible, as many have shown in the above verses. There is a bit of a range of meaning to the Greek word hagiazō. We have been made holy (sanctified) through Christ’s blood. Yet we are not perfectly holy in this life. Grudem has a great chapter on Sanctification in his ST.

  29. Charlie says:

    thanks John. Could it be that when I laugh with my wife about what we see on “the Office” we are thankful in our hearts for the freedom to enjoy this kind of entertainment. And we are thankful to God for creating people with such talent. And in that way, we are watching “the office” for the glory of God.
    “He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
    Does this make sense?
    Thanks again!

  30. Charlie says:

    John,
    One more verse about this:
    “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
    Thanks again!

  31. Dan says:

    Pt 4 – “This sort of sorting gets you in trouble with the pluralism police,” yes, but it also often trips into raw legalism. It’s one thing to say, “Look, hatred and lust are impure (cf: the whole Bible) and love conquers all (cf: Paul),” and another thing to draw up a list of habits and sort them by pure/impure.

    Again, this smacks of the legalism Jesus condemned in Mk 7. Nothing outside of you can stain you; you are stained by the evil actions that proceed from your evil hearts. The point: cleanse your hearts (not your actions) and your actions will be made holy.

    How do you transform your heart so that it treasures Christ more than it treasures behavioral holiness? (strange question, right?) Well, the answer to that is that you can’t, but God can, so trust in Him and ask Him to change your heart. (Mk 10:23-27)

  32. Dan says:

    Also, what the heck? There are “very few explicit commands that tell us to take care of the poor in our communities”? A quick review of the Pentateuch, the Prophets, of really the whole Bible, and you’ve got more than a few explicit commands to take care of the poor.

    Holiness is directly connected to how you treat the poor. Otherwise, what good is the “second greatest commandment”? Love your neighbor as yourself means little if it doesn’t mean to seek the best for your neighbor in all things–sharing the Gospel with them, feeding them if hungry, clothing them if naked. Again, Jesus even says in Matthew 25:31-46 that those who do not help the poor have only Hell to expect.

  33. Michael says:

    Charlie,

    Participating in blasphemy, impure thoughts, crude language is not giving glory to God. Laughing at, taking pleasure in, sins someone else is committing- sins that our LORD JESUS CHRIST took upon Himself so that the wrath of God would be satisfied, doesn’t seem God glorifying to me. Paul said that we were not to participate in such actions, but to dwell on things that are pure. Just something to think about.
    Sols Dei Gloria

  34. Chris says:

    Kevin,
    Could you answer this question in of your blogs.
    How should a Christian pursue Holiness?

    In reading some of these comments I have a question.
    How does a Christian engage the culture with out being in the culture?

    Christ did not set a sub culture, he engaged the culture. How do we as Christians do this, but not fall into contempt of sin?

    I’m 22, so I ask on behalf of my self and other young reformed Christians like my self.

  35. Michael says:

    In my last post, I didn’t mean to imply universal salvation. If the sinner doesn’t repent and put their trust in Jesus then that person will bear the full weight of the wrath of God. Sorry I wasn’t clear.

  36. Dan from SoCal says:

    Excellent article, thanks for writing it. I’m 24, recently married, and working as a computer tech in at a large corporate office where few people care about Christianity and those who do don’t seem interested in holiness. Your growing concern about the younger crowd is a great observation. Along with another committed believer, he and I have received encouraging comments from others that we are different here in a positive way, and I believe that is because we are actively pursuing holiness by the grace of God. Its not easy, but its totally worth doing it for the Lord’s name.

  37. Charlie says:

    Michael, thanks for your thoughts.
    In art and media there are many things that are not sinful at all. In one comedic television show you can have plenty of things that are just purely and nonsinfully funny. But the same show can also have all of the sinful things you talked about. Now, if we delight in what is sinful then we are clearly sinning. But like I said, there is plenty there that is just plain funny and not at all sinful. IT is not what goes in a man that makes him impure but what comes out. So again, I really think it all depends on why you are watching the show. Or take music, maybe I like a certain song because I like the beat. But if I listen closely to the words I will find all sorts of sinfulness. Am I not allowed to enjoy the music? I believe that I am allowed, as long as I am not doing it to delight in the sinfulness of others. If there is a comedian on TV we should be able to recognize that his ability to humor people is a gift that was given to him by God. If he is unsaved then it is possible that he will have some off-color humor. But that does not mean that we cannot delight in the GOD GIVEN talent that we see. Again, his talent is GOD GIVEN, so dwelling on it is not sinful.
    Just rememebr that Jesus brought wine to a party AFTER they had already finished what they had. Jesus obviously doesn’t like drunkedness, but the fact that some would be getting drunk did not keep keep him from offering something that is otherwise good to have when done with thankfulness and control.
    Does that make sense? Thanks again for your thoughts

  38. Champ Thornton says:

    Kevin,
    Great post! Thank you for serving us well by way of reminder.
    One follow-up question: How would you begin to articulate specifics about what holiness looks like, especially as you shepherd others in your care? In other words, how would you identify unholiness in your own or others’ language, behaviors, or attitudes?
    Thank you for whatever reply you have time to give.
    Champ

  39. John Thomson says:

    Chris

    Good question, I hope Kevin addresses it.

    Dan

    You are not reading the text about what goes in and comes out properly. The text is:

    Matt 15:10-20 (ESV)
    And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

    Jesus is not discussing what we choose to watch and listen to. He is talking about what we eat and drink. What goes into the stomach by unwashed hands not what goes into the mind through unguarded eyes/ears is the context. Do you imagine for a moment that Jesus is sanctioning going to the Roman Gladiatorial Contests watching men fighting bloodily to the death , or watching a pornographic film?

    On the other hand Dan, I agree that we must by God’s grace, cleanse our hearts and lives. I agree too that we must be careful not to make rules. However, we have a conspiracy of silence about the media. We seem almost afraid to acknowledge that there is much moral and spiritual poison out there. Why is this? Are we now unable to live without TV? I am not for a moment saying we should or must. What I am saying though is, if we cannot live without it then we are no longer ‘free’. We are under its control and it has become an idol; we are enslaved. True freedom is being as able to leave as to take.

    Charlie

    Two points. The text about eating and drinking to the glory of God is about just that – eating or drinking. Paul, like Jesus in the example above, is referring to morally indifferent things. For example, someone who has sex with a prostitute could not say ‘well I’m doing so to the glory of God’. Of course, they may so claim but we would rightly point out that claiming it is to the glory of God does not mean it is to the glory of God – even if we think it is.

    Of course, our involvement in media is not so black and white and certainly a fair degree of freedom for personal discernment is necessary and right, but a free conscience does not necessarily make an action right. Our consciences need educated by Scripture and close walking with the Lord in humble obedience. As we do this we may gradually find that what we once considered harmless is not so harmless after all.

    A word of personal witness. I loved movies. I watched far too many and with far too little personal censorship. I knew all the arguments for watching them. Including…all things are permissible (though I conveniently sidestepped…but all things are not edifying). Gradually I had to face the fact that much that these movies offered (violence, voyeurism, sensualism, titillation, revenge, retaliation, smut etc) was the opposite of Christ. As I spent time in communion with the Lord and aimed to love the things he loves I saw the incongruity of my enjoyment of many movies. They were feeding the very things the Lord hated and died to save me from. They so often simply were a mechanism for vicariously indulging in the ‘works of the flesh’.

    Gal 5:19-21 (ESV)
    Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    To the degree to which movies do not simply reflect on these things but actually sell them they are corrupt and corrupting.

  40. Dan says:

    Hi @John:

    Thank you for your thoughtful response! I believe you and I agree on much.

    Agreements:
    I don’t for a minute think that Jesus is defending the lustful viewing of pornographic films. (I distinguish of course between lustful viewing, and the type done by police officers engaged in identifying and stopping the proliferation of illegal content, though I can’t think of any other exception.)

    I also agree that too much of the content in the media (print-based, screen-based, etc) is disgusting. I don’t own a television, and the last time I saw a broadcast show, I was surprised by the content of the commercials. (To be fair, it was the Super Bowl :)) And I agree that we must always watch tv/read books in a way that makes clear that tv and books are not our treasure.

    Disagreement:
    I do think my interpretation of Mark 7 is accurate. The Pharisees were taking baths after going to the market not because they were concerned about “unclean food” but because they came in contact with “sinners” or “defiled people.” Jesus says in Mk 7:15: “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” I believe this includes food (as he makes explicit by v. 19), but in the context it would be strange to say that “nothing” only refers to food, and not also to the contact we are called to have with “unclean sinners.” Of course, only a couple chapters later, he makes it clear that if something (even something very good, like a hand) causes us to sin, then we need to get rid of it. I’m glad you stopped watching so many movies. I’ll be glad when some people start watching movies and stop treasuring their “media-free” lifestyle over Christ. (Though, admittedly, this is a much rarer problem!)

  41. Paul Madson says:

    Kevin – Outstanding post!! You articulate your thoughts in the most concise and poignant way – it makes for very enjoyable, informative, insightful and inspirational reading. I’ve read your books and read your blogs regularly, but have never taken the time to comment. My guess is that there are thousands more out there just like me who benefit from your writings (and pass them along to others), but never take the time to say “thanks!” Please keep writing for the benefit of the larger body of Christ! Much Grace, Paul

  42. Charlie says:

    John, thanks for the comment. You have made a lot of good point and have given me much to think about.

  43. Heather says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I read it to my 11yo son and we had a wonderful conversation. I had been trying to discuss some of this with him previously, but I had a hard time finding the right words. This was the perfect starter for us.

  44. Heath Lloyd says:

    Again, Brother DeYoung, much appreciation for this timely article. Would that more pastors would be as concerned for holiness as they are for hipness; reverence for the things of God for cultural relevance. What a refreshing article in the midst of so much . . . other stuff. Keep sounding this call wherever you go, and as you influence pastors.

  45. steveprost says:

    Charlie,

    Some good points to remember on disputable matters and being fully convinced in your own mind, some terrible interpretation on “working out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” Your interpretation that it has nothing to do with your pursuit of holiness but instead only “has to do with examining your heart and making sure that you truly fave (sic) the faith that saves”, in sum has nothing to do with the context or the meaning of the words of that pericope, Phillipians… heck, of the NT (from Jesus sermon on the mount where he explains the Christian life as a hard narrow WAY of actually putting into practice your calling Him “Lord” by the struggling path of obedience in life to John in Revelation who says repeatedly the crown of life is only for those who conquer/overcome).
    Paul is in the midst of encouraging Phillipians immediately preceding this verse to long admonition to humility and “looking to the interests of others” looking to Christ, not explaining introspection nor examination of whether they have faith to begin with anywhere in this book; furthermore, the verse is immediately followed by admonition to do all things without grumbling or complaining SO THAT they can AS CHRISTIANS (hint-already assumed as throughout this book written to saints) be blameless and innocent without blemish. This “blamelessness without spot” is a synonymous use of ‘holiness’, a progressive (not positional) holiness/sanctification WE must strive to achieve by/with the Spirit, not a positional sanctification you say the immediate verse strangely calls one to check for by saying “work it out”. We don’t “work out our own salvation” AT ALL when it comes to our justification/positional sanctification/regeneration.
    My admittedly foolish uneducated hypothesis only knowing you from a blog comment coming to strong defense of watching “The Office” (heck I like the show and sense of humor handful of times I’ve watched it, redeeming aspects and can’t make a Scriptural rule against it… but something always I could have been doing to God’s glory all those times, 99.5% certitude) knowing many in the past who know their bibles but are always eisegeting message of Galatians 1-5:13 into everything, kicking against obvious goads of the Word pushing us to strive as a Christian like Paul who “beat/scourged his body and made it his slave” and says a bit further here in Philippians “brothers, I press on… haven’t obtained it”, is that odds are you fit very well into the very category described in the blog post and illustrate it wonderfully.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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