Yes, You Can Please Your Heavenly Father

Kevin DeYoung: Sometimes Christians can give the impression that pleasing God is a sub-biblical motivation. “We’re totally justified,” someone might say. “We’re totally accepted. If we tell our kids to please God, we are just giving them more law. We are training them to be little moralists. We’re discipling them to think of God as a kind of Santa Claus keeping a naughty-and-nice list.” Obviously (or maybe not so obviously), that’s not how God wants us to parent, because that’s not what God is like with his children. But don’t let the potential abuse of this “pleasing God” language lead you to suppress what Scripture clearly says. One of the principal motivations for holiness is the pleasure of God. Colossians 1:10: Those who bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God are pleasing to God. Romans 12:1: Presenting your body as a living sacrifice pleases God. Romans 14:18: Looking out for your weaker brother pleases

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How Scripture Empowers Personal Holiness

Adapted from Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth by John MacArthur. Becoming More like God Godliness, Christlikeness, and Christian spirituality all describe a Christian becoming more like God. The most powerful way to effect this change is by letting the Word of God dwell in one richly (Col. 3:16). When one embraces Scripture without reservation, it will energetically work God’s will in the believer’s life (1 Thess. 2:13). The process could be basically defined as follows: Christian spirituality involves growing to be like God in character and conduct by personally submitting to the transforming work of God’s Word and God’s Spirit. Holiness Embodies the Very Essence of Christianity Christians have been saved to be holy and to live holy lives (1 Pet. 1:14–16). What does it mean to be holy? Both the Hebrew and Greek words for “to be holy” (which appear about two thousand times in Scripture) basically mean “to be set aside for something special.” Thus,

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The Essential Warfare for Holiness

One of the great points the Puritans saw in Scripture is the connection between happiness and holiness. For them, to be perfectly holy would be to be perfectly happy. Pastor John, how would you articulate this connection between happiness and holiness? John Piper: My approach will be slightly different, because the more I think about Christian Hedonism, the more careful I am in phrasing this connection. Happiness is part of holiness, so that if you tried to describe what it means to be a holy person and left out happiness in God, you couldn’t do it. There is no such thing as holiness minus happiness in God. Happiness in God is the essence of holiness. God’s holiness is God’s being supremely valuable. That is his holiness. God infinitely delights in his infinite delightfulness because otherwise he would be a liar. He would be unrighteous. And so his holiness is being infinitely delightful and delighting infinitely in his infinite delightfulness. Our holiness

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How to Become Holy

Joe Carter: Among God’s characteristics, as he has revealed himself, none is more significant than his holiness (seeLev. 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:7). “Holy” and “holiness” occur more than 900 times in Scripture, and both the Old and New Testaments speak more about his holiness than any other attribute. Because of this characteristic God is not able to tolerate our sin. As Habakkuk 1:13 says, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” Christ does not just save us from our sin, though, he saves us so that we might become holy (Eph. 1:3-4). And as Peter says, “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:13). “The Bible could not be any clearer,” Kevin DeYoung says, “The reason for your entire salvation, the design behind your deliverance, the purpose for which God chose you in the first place is holiness.” Holiness is associated

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What You Admire Is What You’re Becoming

It is one of the most fundamental dynamics of our lives: We are always becoming like what we most adore. And yet when we look at ourselves, what we adore so often fluctuates in intensity all throughout the day, and yet, in Christ, we are progressing toward maturity in him. John Piper explains how all this dynamic works together from 2 Corinthians 3:18 in a recent sermon. Here’s what he said. John Piper: This is so variable, I am tempted to say it is just incalculably variable; meaning, the morning and the mid-morning and noon and the afternoon and the night are all different. Your heart for God is different at 10:00 a.m., and noon, and 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. It is different. Your emotions are just like this. Nobody lives like this. Nobody. And from week to week and month to month and year to year — and saints are allowed to move into seasons of great darkness,

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What do we mean when we say “Christians are IN the World but not OF the world”?

  Sam Storms: I think all of you are familiar with the oft-heard statement that Christians are people who are “in”the world but not “of” the world. There isn’t a specific biblical text that says it in precisely those terms, but James 4:4 does describe followers of Jesus as people who should avoid developing a “friendship with the world.” In fact, James says that to be a “friend” of the world is to be at “enmity with God” (James 4:4b). The apostle John exhorts Christians, “do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15a). So what then does it mean to be “in” the world but not “of” it? I think the idea is that we cannot avoid or evade the fact that we live physically in this world. Our feet are planted on the soil of this earth no less so than are those of people who hate God. We are card-carrying citizens of

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2 Motivations for Pursuing Holiness

Anthony Carter: Peter gives us two truths worth remembering as motivations for our pursuit of holiness. First, we must remember from what we have been ransomed. The Bible says we have been ransomed “from the futile ways inherited from [our] forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18). Life apart from a right relationship with God is futile. “Vanity of vanities,” the Bible calls it (Eccl. 1:2). No matter how religious, lavish, or popular your life before Christ was, it was empty. How empty? The Apostle Paul called it skubalon (“rubbish, dung, sewage”): For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a

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The most important spiritual battle

Trevin Wax: The Battle That’s Bigger Than The Culture War Imagine you are tasked with writing a letter of encouragement and exhortation to Christians in distress. Your readers occupy the margins of society; they are maligned and falsely accused. Some of them face imprisonment, and a few have been martyred. The government is cracking down on any religious expression seen as subversive, and the Christians are prime targets. Meanwhile, the rest of society approves of the reigning authorities’ coercive methods of persecution. What would you say to Christians in the middle of a culture war? How would you strengthen believers in that situation? Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you… (1 Peter 2:11) Desires Waging War What strikes me about Peter’s exhortation to the suffering believers scattered throughout Asia Minor in the first century is that the apostle is so focused on the battle for holiness in the life

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Pleasure in Jesus is the root of holiness

From Michael Reeves’ latest book Rejoicing in Christ: Anyone can use the word, of course, but without Christ holiness tends to have all the charm of an ingrown toenail. For, very simply, if holiness is not first and foremost about knowing Christ, it will be about self-produced morality and religiosity. But such incurved self-dependence is quite the opposite of what pleases God, or what is actually beautiful. God is not interested in our manufactured virtue; he does not want any external obedience or morality if it does not flow from true love for him. He wants us to share his pleasure in his Son. What is the greatest commandment, after all? “Love the Lord your God” (Mt 22:36–37). That is the root of true God-likeness. Nothing is more holy than a heartfelt delight in Christ. Nothing is so powerful to transform lives. (86–87) (HT: Tony Reinke)

The Necessity of Good Works and Obedience

  A very helpful synopsis from Bradley Green (23-24): 1. Loving or knowing God is linked with obedience (John 14:15, 21,23; 15:10; 1 John 2:3-6; 3:22, 24; 5:3; 2 John 6; Rev. 12:17; 14:12) 2. The ‘conditional’ nature of our future salvation (Rom. 11:22; 1 Cor. 15:2; Heb. 3:6, 14; 4:14) 3. Christians must ‘overcome’ if they are ultimately to be saved (Heb. 10:38-39; Rev. 2:7, 11; 3:5, 12, 21; 21:7) 4. The necessity of a great righteousness (Matt. 5:20) 5. The requirement of the law being met ‘in us’ (Rom. 8:3-4) 6. God will efficaciously work ‘in’ us, moving us to obey him (Phil. 2:12-13) 7. The necessity of putting to death the old man, by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:13-14) 8. ‘Faith’ and ‘obedience/works’ used as virtual synonyms (2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17; Rev. 12:17; 14:12; cf. 6:9) 9. We are truly judged, or justified, by our works (Matt. 7:21, 25; Rom. 2:13; cf. Jas.

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The necessity of a right gospel order

  Mark well the great advantages you have for the attainment of holiness by seeking it in a right gospel order. You will have the advantage of the love God manifested towards you, in forgiving your sins, receiving you into favor, and giving you the spirit of adoption, and the hope of His glory freely through Christ, to persuade and constrain you by sweet allurements to love God again, who has so dearly loved you, and to love others for His sake, and to give up yourselves to the obedience of all His commands out of hearty love to Him. You will also enjoy the help of the Spirit of God to incline you powerfully to obedience, and to strengthen you for the performance of it against all your corruptions and the temptations of Satan, so that you will have both wind and tide to forward your voyage in the practice of holiness. — Walter Marshall The Gospel Mystery of

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The essence of holiness

  You will cleanse no sin from your life that you have not first recognized as being pardoned through the cross. This is because holiness starts in the heart. The essence of holiness is not new behavior, activity, or disciplines. Holiness is new affections, new desires, and new motives that then lead to new behavior. If you don’t see your sin as completely pardoned, then your affections, desires, and motives will be wrong. You will aim to prove yourself. Your focus will be the consequences of your sin rather than hating the sin and desiring God in its place. — Tim Chester You Can Change (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 28 (HT: Of First Importance)

Am I Getting Worse?

  Eric Costa: Christian, if you are truly growing in God’s grace, it is normal to feel worse about yourself as time progresses. This does not mean you are actually getting worse. This is biblical sanctification, and you can even be encouraged that you’re noticing this about yourself! The image above is a diagram created by Jack Miller called “the Cross Chart,” and it is one helpful way of understanding growth in the Christian life. As you grow, your estimation of God’s holiness increases, your estimation of yourself decreases, and your appreciation for the Gospel of grace expands to fill the gap. These three things are not objectively changing, but your awareness of them is. (If you leave off or distort one of those three elements of the chart, you’re in trouble.) It can be extremely discouraging to fixate on that bottom line, the decreasing estimation of oneself. Over time, God works against our self-deception, lifts our self-imposed blindness to

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The best preparation for gospel ministry

“Dear Gentlemen, With unspeakable pleasure have I heard that there seems to be a general concern amongst you about the Things of God. . . . What great things may we now expect to see in New England, since it has pleased God to work so remarkably among the Sons of the Prophets?  Now we may expect a reformation indeed, since it is beginning at the house of God.  A dead Ministry will always make a dead People.  Whereas if ministers are warmed with the love of God themselves, they cannot but be instruments of diffusing that love amongst others.  This, this is the best preparation for the work whereunto you are to be called.  Learning without piety will only render you more capable of promoting the kingdom of the devil.  Henceforward therefore I hope you will enter into your studies, not to get a parish, not to be a polite preacher, but to be a great saint. . .

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10 Errors to Avoid When Talking about Sanctification and the Gospel

Kevin DeYoung: With lots of books and blog posts out there about law and gospel, about grace and effort, about the good news of this and the bad news of that, it’s clear that Christians are still wrestling with the doctrine of progressive sanctification. Can Christians do anything truly good? Can we please God? Should we try to? Is there a place for striving in the Christian life? Can God be disappointed with the Christian? Does the gospel make any demands? These are good questions that require a good deal of nuance and precision to answer well. Thankfully, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The Reformed confessions and catechisms of the 16th and 17th centuries provide answers for all these questions. For those of us who subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity or to the Westminster Standards this means we are duty bound to affirm, teach, and defend what is taught in our confessional documents. For those outside these confessional

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Gospel imperatives and indicatives

The great gospel imperatives to holiness are ever rooted in indicatives of grace that are able to sustain the weight of those imperatives. The Apostles do not make the mistake that’s often made in Christian ministry. [For the Apostles] the indicatives are more powerful than the imperatives in gospel preaching. So often in our preaching our indicatives are not strong enough, great enough, holy enough, or gracious enough to sustain the power of the imperatives. And so our teaching on holiness becomes a whip or a rod to beat our people’s backs because we’ve looked at the New Testament and that’s all we ourselves have seen. We’ve seen our own failure and we’ve seen the imperatives to holiness and we’ve lost sight of the great indicatives of the gospel that sustain those imperatives. Woven into the warp and woof of the New Testament’s exposition of what it means for us to be holy is the great groundwork that the self-existent, thrice

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Only the blood can wash out these spots

Those spots which a Christian finds in his own heart can only be washed out in the blood of the Lamb. ‘Oh,’ says such a poor soul, ‘I pray—and yet I sin; I resolve against sin—and yet I sin; I combat against sin—and yet I am carried captive by sin; I have left no outward means unattempted—and yet after all, my sins are too hard for me; after all my sweating, striving, and weeping—I am carried down the stream.’ It is not our strong resolutions or purposes which will be able to overmaster these enemies. There is nothing now but the actings of faith upon a crucified Christ, which will take off this burden from the soul of man. You must make use of your graces to draw virtue from Christ; now faith must touch the hem of Christ’s garment—or you will never be healed. — Thomas Brooks The Unsearchable Riches of Christ (HT: Of First Importance)

Our Position and Practice of Holiness

“Thus, true believer, you are holy before God in Christ, and yet you must cultivate holiness in the strength of Christ. Your status in holiness is conferred; your condition in holiness must be pursued. Through Christ you are made holy in your standing before God, and through Him you are called to reflect that standing by being holy in daily life. Your context of holiness is justification through Christ; your route of holiness is to be crucified and resurrected with Him, which involves the continual ‘mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man’ (Heidelberg Catechism, Question 88). You are called to be in life what you already are in principle by grace.” — Joel Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality (HT: Joe Thorn)

Union With Christ as Assurance of Life

“I grew up in a common form of American Christianity that basically treated anxiety like a fruit of the Spirit. If you were not worried about your own holiness, something was wrong. In relation to this, Reformed teaching on the double grace and the will’s bondage is very good news: rather than being ‘tossed back and forth without any certainty,’ with ‘our poor consciences . . . tormented constantly,’ as the Belgic Confession says, we come to rest in Jesus Christ, knowing that new life is a gift received in union with him. In this way, we are freed to actually love and delight in God and neighbor. Otherwise, our praying, our acts of mercy, our evangelism, all are done to build up our own holiness — which blocks God and neighbor from being our focus. When both our justification and our new life are found in Jesus Christ, then this burdensome, disingenuous Christianity is replaced by Spirit-empowered gratitude.” – J.

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“You cannot have half a Christ!”

“What a strange salvation it is, if people who are saved do not care about holiness! In this case, people want to be saved, but they want to stay dead in sin, alien from the life of God, without the image of God, deformed by the image of satan, and in slavery to satan and to their own filthy lusts. They seem to prefer to stay totally unfit to enjoy God in glory. Christ never purchased such a salvation as this by His own blood. Those who think they have received a salvation such as this abuse the grace of God in Christ, and turn it into license for sin. They want to be saved by Christ, but apart from Christ, so to speak. They want to be saved, but they also want to remain in a fleshly state, with a fleshly lifestyle. This is simply not how salvation works! The only people Christ frees from condemnation are those who

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