In the past year or so there has been a significant discussion on the relationship between justification and sanctification in the Reformed blogosphere. One of the participants of that discussion and arguably one of the most articulate voices in evangelical Christianity is Pastor Kevin DeYoung who wrote blog posts in that conversation, and now has written a very helpful book titled The Hole in our Holiness Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness.
At the heart of DeYoung’s book is the Gospel. He teaches that, “Any gospel which says only what you must do and never announces what Christ has done is no gospel at all” (11). DeYoung’s concern is a valid one as much of the preaching many of my friends have grown up on was preaching that focused only on what they were supposed to do in their Christian life rather than on what Christ has done in His work on Cross and in the Resurrection.
One of the most neglected truths in Christianity and arguably one of the most important truths for every Christian to understand is definitive sanctification (our positional identity in Christ), and how it does not eliminate the need for continuing “progressive sanctification.” DeYoung notes, “In Christ every believer has a once-for all positional holiness, and from this new identity every Christian is commanded to grow in the ongoing-for your whole life process of holiness” (32). David Peterson notes that “Believers are definitively consecrated to God in order to live dedicated and holy lives, to his glory.” In other words, sanctified is what Christians are and what they must become.
Chapter six is one of the most helpful chapters in the book and will help believers to understand how the Gospel empowers them to live the Christian life. Here DeYoung argues that “faith is operative in both—in justification to receive and rest, and in sanctification to will and to work” (85). Piper notes that, “I don’t wait to kill my sin, I don’t wait passively for the miracle of sin-killing to be worked on me, I act the miracle.” DeYoung notes that, “Christians work they work to kill sin and they work to live in the Spirit” (89).
One of the more helpful discussions in the book is on union with Christ. Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation not only “in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ” (95). “Our progress in the pursuit of holiness comes largely from understanding and appropriating our union with Christ” (100). “Union with Christ means God’s power for our us working in and through us” (112).
Union with Christ begins with the Holy Spirit’s work of faith and regeneration within people’s hearts, whereby they are grafted into Christ and His living body, the church. By the Holy Spirit, Christ dwells in His people and nourishes them with the gospel through preaching and the holy sacraments so that by grace they may live to please God. This truth not only applies to our understanding of holiness but also our view of ethics as the restoration of God’s image in those united to Christ is the goal of the gospel, the purpose of salvation, and the full expression of the Christian life.
One of the other helpful comments by DeYoung is the following: “To run hard after holiness is another way of running hard after God. Just as a once-for-all, objective justification leads to a slow-growth, subjective sanctification, so our unchanging union with Christ leads an ever-increasing communion with Christ” (123). Calvin taught that union and communion with Christ are realized only through Spirit-worked faith. Communion is actual, not because believers participate in the essence of Christ’s nature but because the Spirit of Christ unites believers so intimately to Christ that they become, as it were, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. From God’s perspective, the Spirit is the bond between Christ and believers, whereas from our perspective faith is the bond. One of the Spirit’s principal operations is to work faith in the sinner.
Only the Spirit can unite Christ in heaven with the believer on earth. Just as the Spirit united heaven and earth in the incarnation, so in regeneration He raises the elect from earth to commune with Christ in heaven and brings Christ into the hearts and lives of the elect on earth. Thus, communion with Christ is always the result of the Spirit’s work- a work that is astonishing and experiential rather than comprehensible. The Holy Spirit is the link that binds the believer to Christ and is the channel through which Christ is communicated to the believer.
Faith unites the believer to Christ by means of the Word, enabling the believer to receive Christ as He is clothed in the gospel and graciously offered by the Father. Calvin notes, “We ought not to separate Christ from ourselves or ourselves from him,” but participate in Christ by faith, for this “revives us from death to make us a new creature.”
By faith the believer possesses Christ and grows in Him. What’s more, the degree of this faith exercised through the Word determines his degree of communion with Christ. Calvin notes that “everything which faith should contemplate is exhibited to us in Christ.” The believer who excels in piety learns to grasp Christ so firmly by faith that Christ dwells in his heart, though He remains in heaven. The pious live by what they find in Christ rather than what they find in Christ.
Hole in our Holiness is a very helpful book that will help Christians to not only understand the importance of holiness, and their positional standing as adopted sons and daughters of God, but also how to grow to be like Christ by the grace of God. Hole in our holiness is a great book for the new Christian who is just learning what Christianity is all about. Hole in our holiness will help the seasoned Christian to understand why they need to continue to grow to be like Christ and to fight against sin by the grace of God. Pastors should put Hole in our holiness in the hands of their people to help them to understand what holiness is and how to grow in the grace of God.
Wherever you are in your walk with God, I encourage you to pick up this important new book by DeYoung, because it will help you to think through what the Bible teaches on holiness and expose as it has done with me the areas in my own life that need to be addressed as I continue to grow in the grace of God. May this book by Pastor DeYoung do for our generation what J.C. Ryle’s Holiness continues to do today instructing people in the holiness of God and the majestic truth of our union with Christ.
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Publisher: Crossway (2012)
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”