Excerpt from The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung
One of the reasons why I think Christians get tired of hearing about the law is because they never hear why they should obey the law. The imperatives hit us like a ton of study Bibles because we aren’t given any motivation for keeping God’s commands. Everything boils down to, “God said it, so do it.” Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, some Christians make it sound like gratitude is the only legitimate motivation for obedience: “Look at everything Christ has done for you. Now be thankful and let the good works flow.” These are both true motivations for holiness, but they aren’t the only ones.
Jesus is the Great Physician, and like any good doctor he writes different prescriptions for different illnesses. The gospel is always the remedy for the guilt of sin, but when it comes to overcoming the presence of sin, Jesus has many doses at his disposal. He knows that personalities and sins and situations all vary. Jesus is not like a high school athletic trainer who tells everyone to “ice it and take a couple ibuprofen.” He’s not some quack doctor who always prescribes bloodletting. “High cholesterol? Here’s a leach. Overactive bladder? I got a leach for that. Gout? A couple leaches will take the edge off.”
The good news is that the Bible is a big, diverse, wise book, and in it you can find a variety of prescriptions to encourage obedience to God’s commands.
Here are just some of the ways in which the Bible motivates us to pursue holiness:
- Duty. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccles. 12:13).
- God knows all and sees all. “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccles. 12:14).
- It’s right. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1)
- It’s for our good. “Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.” (Deut. 12:28).
- God’s example. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).
- Christ’s example. “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2).
- Assurance. “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Pet. 1:10).
- Being effective as a Christian. “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:8).
- Jesus’ return. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2 Pet. 3:11–12).
- The world is not our home. “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11)
This list could easily be tripled. God doesn’t command obedience “just cuz.” He gives us dozens of specific reasons to be holy. God can prescribe many different medicines for motivation. If you’re struggling with pornography, he might call to mind your identity in Christ or admonish you that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God. If you are fighting pride, God might assure you that he gives grace to the humble or remind you that you follow a crucified Messiah. He can highlight your adoption, justification, reconciliation, or union with Christ. God can stir you up to love and good deeds with warnings and promises, with love and fear, with positive or negative examples. He can remind you of who you are, or who you were, or who you are becoming. God can appeal to your good, the good of others, or his own glory. You could probably find a hundred biblical reasons to be holy. And the sooner we explore and apply those reasons, the more equipped we’ll be to fight sin, the more eager to make every effort to be more like Christ, and the more ready to say with the apostle John, “his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
Learn more about The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung.