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Christianity Is Both Easier and Harder Than You Think | Kevin … – Clearly Reformed

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This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.
In this episode, Kevin DeYoung discusses the reasons we’re so hard on ourselves, how we so often cultivate a distorted picture of God in our own hearts, and what it looks like to truly embrace the freedom and joy of being beloved children of our heavenly Father.
Matt Tully
Kevin, thanks so much for joining me again on The Crossway Podcast.
Kevin DeYoung
Great to be with you.
Matt Tully
Today we’re going to talk about what our lives as Christians should look like, answering the question of whether or not true Christian faithfulness is actually possible for us. And as I’ve thought about the argument that you’re making in your new book, I’ve kept coming back to something that I’ve heard multiple Christian friends of mine say to me over the years. It’s something along the lines of, I know that God sent Jesus to die for me. I know that he’s justified me and forgiven me of my sin. I know that I’m going to spend eternity with him in heaven. In short, I know that God loves me, but I’m not sure that he likes me.
Kevin DeYoung Right.
Matt Tully
Is that related to what you’re trying to get at with this book?
Kevin DeYoung
It is. The title, Impossible Christianity, and I really have to memorize the subtitle. It’s important, but it’s long.
Matt Tully
It’s long.
Kevin DeYoung
It’s long. I like long subtitles. Impossible Christianity. There’s two ways to get at that. It could be I’m writing a book about Do impossible things! You’ve made Christianity too easy. It’s impossible! That’s actually quite the opposite. What I’m trying to say is we’ve made Christianity impossible when Jesus doesn’t mean for it to be. Now, that immediately provokes a lot of, Well, what are you saying? Because we hear that as, You’re saying I can be perfect? You’re saying I can earn my way to heaven? You’re saying that I’m justified by my works? This is legalism. No. None of those things. But you put it well: Do we have to resign ourselves to simply wonderfully embracing that God loves us in Christ, he’s forgiven us in Christ, we’re going to heaven, but actually, the day-to-day experience of being a Christian is going to be miserable? And, in fact, the more miserable you are, probably the better Christian you are, and you ought to feel that miserable. Was it Tozer who said many of us feel as if God is austere, peevish, and short, and he’s always looking down with this sort of glowering gaze. One of the reasons for this is God has a lot of different ways of describing himself in the Bible, and two fundamental ways are God is a judge and he’s a father. He’s a king, ruler, judge, potentate, sovereign. Authority. If we only relate to God as judge, we’re going to get the, I’m justified. I’m going to heaven. I’m forgiven. I’m acquitted. I’m counted righteous in Christ. All of those. Amen. Preach ’em as long as I have breath. He’s also a father. You wouldn’t want to relate to your father just as a judge. Do you love me or do you not? Am I guilty or am I innocent? No. You have a relationship. No one picture is meant to do everything, but it’s surely instructive that Jesus teaches us to pray: Here’s what I’m telling you should be most operative is you say, ’Our Father. Now, it’s not that it’s any father; it’s our Father who is in heaven. He’s holy, he’s righteous, and he’s the God of the universe, but “Our Father.” So when you have a relationship with your father, it’s not just I’m in or I’m out of the family*. It’s a communion and it’s a relationship that can ebb or flow. That really gets at the heart of what I’m trying to say in this book is you have permission and, in fact, God wants you to know that you have a heavenly Father who can be pleased with you, and you ought to live a life that is pleasing to him.
Matt Tully
The book is written for Christians. It seems that’s your primary audience and you’re trying to take a load off almost. It felt like there’s a certain relief that you’re trying to instill in our heart as we think about our genuine efforts to please God, to obey God, that we can be okay with those efforts. So I think on the one hand you’re obviously not saying that we can be justified by our works or that we can be perfect, but you’re also not saying that what we do doesn’t matter and there’s nothing there for us to do.
Kevin DeYoung
There are a lot of books like this that I don’t want it to be confused with—a lot of bad books that are trying to scratch a similar itch. Namely, life in the 21st century feels very overwhelming. It’s complicated. I often look back and I think, Man, how did Luther and Calvin write all that they did by candlelight? They constantly are having bowel issues—they’re just overworking themselves. Calvin worked himself to death. And that’s true and it was amazing what they did. At the same time, you do realize they didn’t have to get the oil changed in their car and they didn’t have soccer games to take their kids to and they didn’t have insurance forms to fill out and they didn’t have emissions tests to get their registration every year. So life was undeniably harder and more difficult on just the sheer survival, but it was much less complicated. And so we’re living in complicated times. It takes a lot of brain power and know-how just to navigate through life. And then you add to it the digital revolution and the fact that you can see everyone else’s life and it seems like it’s wonderful. Or you can see expressions or ideals that you wish you had. And on the other side, you can see suffering and problems that generations ago would’ve been ignorant of, but now they are right in front of you. So all of this comes upon us and lots of Christians are feeling like, I’m just not doing it. I’m not doing life. My kids aren’t how they should be. My house doesn’t look good. I’m not the sort of Christian I should be. So that’s the itch. But I think what a lot of quasi-Christian books (some of them are better or worse) are telling people is, You know what? You fail, and that’s okay. And in fact, lean in to that failureism. Lean into being a spiritual failure. God loves you anyways. God tussles your hair and says, ’That’s alright’. So I don’t know if that’s the supply or the demand side of the equation, but they’re sort of looking at this and saying, Okay, the relief of this is just be a failure. And again, there can be something true about that.
Matt Tully
The Christian way to say that is the relief is grace. You’re saved by grace.
Kevin DeYoung
That’s right. The truth in that is if you come with a real grace that involves repentance, because a lot of this is completely devoid of real obedience and real worship, and real repentance is just, Hey, you’re messed up. God loves you. Good doctrine tells you you can repent, you can have grace, you can be forgiven. God loves you in Christ. That is absolutely essential and the heart of the answer. What I’m saying in addition to that is you can actually live your life in a way that is pleasing God. Turretin would say that we can never be perfectly obedient, but we can be truly obedient. And that’s the difference. We tend to have only a category of I’m not obedient to God unless it’s perfect, flawless obedience. So we’ve taken that to be, I know I need grace. I’m gospel centered. I’m just going to stink for my whole life. But, praise God, there’s grace. That’s sort of part of the message, but—
Matt Tully
Probably a lot of Calvinists are thinking, Yeah! That’s what we believe!
Kevin DeYoung
Yeah, but it’s not exactly what you should believe. Yes, again, on justification, there’s always grace for you when we come in repentance. But just take the issue of obedience. The Great commission says, “and teach them to obey everything I have commanded.” There’s no escape and there’s no little asterisk that points to, He, he, he! I know that nobody can obey what I’ve commanded. Now I know what people are thinking. They’re like, But Kevin, you don’t obey everything Jesus commanded. Well, that’s true. There’s a whole life of my conscience is stricken and I seek God’s repentance. So part of obeying the Sermon on the Mount—I have a chapter on the Sermon on the Mount—part of obeying the Sermon on the Mount, which feels to us always like this is just the worst news in the world, and so many Reformed guys only know how to preach those things using the second use of the law. That is, the law convicts us of sin, shows us our need of a savior. So obey everything I’ve commanded. Boom! You can’t do it. Go to Jesus. The Sermon of the Mount. You can’t do it. Go to Jesus. Now, that is one of the uses of the law, but Reformed theology also says the third and principal use of the law is to show us the perfect rule of righteousness. And so woven into the Sermon on the Mount, for example, from the very beginning is “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Right from the beginning is an understanding that part of obeying everything that Jesus has commanded is that you’re the sort of person who has a tender conscience with God and can approach him and receive forgiveness. But if we don’t have the category of true though not perfect obedience, how will we make sense of how Paul says that the obedience of the Roman church was known to all, or Zachariah and Elizabeth were blameless among them—not meaning sinless perfection, but living a basic life of obedience to God’s word that was exemplary for others. I think most Christians, and let’s say most Reformed Christians, have felt like in order to be really, really safe, I shouldn’t allow anything except spiritual failure.
Matt Tully
And I want to talk in a few minutes about some of the different angles on the discouragement that we can feel about our failure and get into some of those different things to see how you would respond to those kinds of thoughts. But before we get into that, how much of our struggle with discouragement, when it comes to our Christian walk, is a result of comparison? How much of it is us looking at either people in history, for some of us Reformed bookish types, or perhaps just people around us—friends, pastors, or celebrities. We look at these people and it’s like they’re more productive, they know more, they’re more knowledgeable, they seem more faith filled in the midst of the trials that they seem to have. And so I’m always comparing myself to that standard.
Kevin DeYoung
Comparison happens in several different ways. That’s one way which is often unhelpful, though the Bible does say stir one another up to love and good deeds. There’s a right kind of emulation, but that sort of comparison of I’m never going to be that kind of mom. Luther said he prayed an hour every day, and when he was really busy he prayed four hours. Well, few are going to live up to that.
Matt Tully
That’s not motivating many people to pray more.
Kevin DeYoung
Yeah, that’s a demotivator for most people. But another comparison is not looking sideways but looking back, meaning that should be a comparison to say, Am I different than I used to be? Now, don’t compare Monday to last Friday. Compare months and years. And this is where you do need your brothers and sisters. Assurance needs to be a community project. We’re often going to be unaware of the ways in which we’ve grown. So it’s not your position, but it’s your progress. Paul told that to Timothy: Let others see your progress. That can be discouraging to mean you haven’t arrived, but can also be freeing to mean that’s okay. You’re going to make progress. It’s the trajectory that you’re on. Well, you’re going to need other people in your life to say, You know what? I pulled down the fruit of your life and there’s more love and joy and peace and patience there. And then finally, just answer your question, the comparison we make with God. This is part of why we’re discouraged, and maybe we shouldn’t be as discouraged. The closer we get to God, the further away we’re going to seem. If you’re approaching Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs (I have some family there) and you’re driving up the planes and through Kansas or Nebraska and you’re slowly getting elevation, then all of a sudden you see the mountain there. It’s like I could just about touch that! It’s right there. And as you get closer to Colorado, you realize, Oh, I actually do have to drive into the mountains of ways. It keeps feeling like it’s not there.
Matt Tully
It almost feels farther away.
Kevin DeYoung
It feels farther away, and then when you get to it, you realize this is even taller than I thought. So when we become more like God and we see God more, we’re growing more like Christ, but we see our sin more. So that’s why you know the Godliest people you know don’t tend to say, I’m crushing it. I am really nailing it as a Christian. I’ve never been more on fire. No. They are more aware of their sinfulness, but hopefully others around them can help them see That’s because you’re seeing more of who God is. And actually, I’ve seen you become more like Christ.
Matt Tully
You also draw out this interesting paradox that the more that we feel like Christianity is impossible, like faithfulness to God is just fundamentally out of reach for us and I’m just going to constantly fail, that the more actually passive we may become in terms of chasing after God.
Kevin DeYoung
That’s one of the huge dangers. Spiritual failureism sounds very humble—I’m never going to do it. Everything is filthy rags! (I don’t think we’ve understood that passage correctly)—everything’s filthy rags, but there’s grace. I’m going to heaven. Just revel in it. Actually, that just leads us to give up. Why even bother? I can’t even go anywhere. So I think a burden of mine in this book is both to lift the burdens of ordinary Christians, and also to help ordinary Christians say you can be a faithful, ordinary Christian. I reflect in the book that this is tying together other things I’ve talked about in my books. One man said to me that authors only have one book. I hope they have more than that. Thank you, Crossway, for doing more than one book. But it’s often true that there’s a theme. Piper is always coming back to the Christian Hedonism, or Keller maybe to how we can present the gospel to the city or something. So certainly, I was just reflecting as I was writing this book that a big theme of mine is that Christianity is both easier and harder than we think. So that’s Just Do Something. Finding the will of God is harder because it means you have to daily die to yourself. It’s not just about choosing the right major. But it’s actually easier because it doesn’t have to be shrouded in mystery. What Is the Mission of the Church? God doesn’t expect the church to do everything, but he does expect you to lay down your life and to send out missionaries and to share the gospel. Why We Love the Church. We’ve got to love the church. You don’t have to go reinvent it. You don’t have to plant a forest in order for God to love you, but you do need to be committed to your local body of imperfect believers. There’s this theme, I’m sure, running throughout a lot of the books I’ve written. It’s kind of like what I saw one time about Pixar movies that A Bug’s Life What if bugs had feelings? Toy Story What if toys had feelings? Cars What if cars had feelings? And Inside Out What if feelings had feelings? You can kind of go down the list.
Matt Tully
One theme with a bunch of riffs on it.
Kevin DeYoung
Yeah, one theme. What if superheroes had feelings? At least, those are the good ones. So I do think that’s a recurring theme that I’m sure comes out of my own sense of wrestling with how I serve God. At most funerals, they read the “well done good and faithful servant.” And I want Christians to know that’s not just for pastors and missionaries. You’re supposed to hear that, and you should live a life that is hearing that right now from God, that you can do that. The text doesn’t say, Well done. Your good deeds have outweighed your bad deeds. Welcome into the joy of your master. You’ve earned it. No. It says, You’ve been faithful. I gave you five talents, you gave me five more. And talents there is a monetary unit and is just an expression for, I think, opportunities, abilities. What can you do if you have one talent, God doesn’t expect five. But think of that parable. I think so many of us, and I can find this in my own heart, we would’ve been like the guy with one talent. How did he view God? He’s impatient. He’s very hard, and I’m going to disappoint him. The best thing to do is to play it safe. Don’t mess up. There are a lot of Christians for whom that’s their Christianity. I’m going to heaven, now don’t mess it up!*
Matt Tully
Or, I know I’m messing it up, and I’m just really bummed about that all the time.
Kevin DeYoung
Yeah. And that’s all I’m going to live with. I’m just going to embrace that we all mess up. You should have at least invested that with the bankers. You would’ve gotten some interest. No, go live your life. Be faithful with what God has has given you, and you’ll hear accommodation on the last day.
Matt Tully
Let’s talk about some of those burdens—the common burdens that Christians can carry with them that maybe they don’t need to shoulder. One of them would be the Christian who would say, I just feel anxious. The stakes of my faith of this life feel so high, and I’m worried that I’m going to mess up in some way. How would you respond pastorally to someone who comes to you and says that?
Kevin DeYoung
All sorts of surveys and studies and reports are telling us that anxiety has never been higher, especially among teenagers, twenty-somethings, especially among young women. But I’m sure it’s for adults too. So that’s telling us something about the age we live in. It may also be telling us something about. Maybe people feel freer to say they’re anxious. Maybe they’re putting that language upon other experiences. But it’s very tricky for this reason: anxiety may or may not be a sin. We know Jesus says, Do not worry. Which of you can add to his life a cubit, an hour, a hand’s breath? You can’t add anything to your life by worry. He gives all sorts of reasons there in Matthew 6 why worry doesn’t make sense. Worry doesn’t feed you, doesn’t clothe you. Worry doesn’t add anything to your life. A doctor’s not going to come in and you ask, What’s the report, doctor? and he just says, All we can do now is worry. If we could just all collectively be anxious about this. Again, another line, which I’m sure I heard from someone else, is that anxiety is living out the future before it gets here. That’s laying awake at night and asking, What’s going to happen if . . . ? And you start living out the future before it gets here. There is a kind of anxiety, however, that’s normal, meaning Paul uses the same word when he says to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything.” And then he says to the Corinthians, “I have on top of all of these burdens my anxiety for the churches.”
Matt Tully
Interesting.
Kevin DeYoung
Same word. So it’s not as simple as to say good Christians never get anxious. In fact, if you say that, you’re going to make some Christians feel more anxious about being anxious. We just have to have categories for a kind of anxiety. I just heard Joe Rigney talk about this a while back at a conference. He was saying the kinds of anxieties that come upon you like a wave at the ocean, where you’re not going to stop the wave, but you stand up and you brace for it and you let it come over you, that’s going to happen in life. You’re a cancer diagnosis, a wayward child—you can’t stop yourself from having sad thoughts and feelings, of having concerns or fears. If you don’t fear anything, you don’t love anything, you don’t love anyone. Anytime you love someone deeply, there’s a fear of loss. So that kind of normal human anxiety requires, It’s coming. It’s coming. I’m going to not let it take me under. And then there’s the anxiety for which we must repent because it shows a lack of trust in God, trying to live out the future before it gets here, trying to micromanage our lives. So what I would want Christians, or people in my church, to understand is if at least you can start, one, don’t be surprised when you feel anxious or suffering comes, and two, don’t think that God means for this to be the regular, ordinary lot in life. Meaning, you should just feel despondent and that’s a good indication that you’re doing something right as a Christian. Now, some people say they love the sermons where they get a real tail kicking and the pastor really creams into them. That’s salutary if you leave that with repentance and change. It’s like some of us responded well to the coach who grab you by the scruff of your neck (you probably can’t grab them and do that anymore) and really tells you, Give me fifty pushups! Go run around the field! What are you doing? He puts the fear into you and you respond to that. And other people just did not respond to that. They responded to the arm around you. Well, Scripture speaks to us in both of those ways, and we need to be willing to hear both of those—the arm around you, Hey, I’m with you. Let’s keep going. That’s sometimes what we need. And sometimes we do need the rebuke.
Matt Tully
What about the person who feels discouraged in their Christian faith because of a sense of shame, a sense of guilt? They think of their life, and all they can see is their sin, all they can see are their failings. Again, they know on some level that God loves them and that God has forgiven them, but they still can’t get over this sense of just constant shame.
Kevin DeYoung
There is misplaced shame and rightly placed shame. The Bible talks about both. The Bible, all the time, is using shame as a motivation and a formative tool for our moral life. “Christ is not ashamed to call you brothers”—that’s amazing. “Don’t be ashamed of your brothers in prison, but be willing to be mistreated with them.” “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” But there’s also the sort of sins that you should not even speak of in private, the things that they do in secret—that’s in Ephesians. The sort of shame that you ought to feel because it’s connected to objective guilt. So that’s how I’d want to help the Christian. You have to determine is the shame something for which you ought to be ashamed? So let’s say it is, because if it’s not, then you have a different course. You need to help people understand you don’t need to be ashamed of that. They think you’re a bigot. They call you hateful, but Christ is not ashamed to call you brother. If it is a sin, then you have to say God means for you to deal with that. Paul amazingly says in 2 Corinthians says, when the Corinthians are mad at him and they think he’s fickle and phony, he says that his conscience is clear and he’s not aware of anything against himself, which is amazing. Paul, really? Nothing? And he doesn’t mean I haven’t sinned for a month. He means * The sins I’ve committed, I’ve brought before the Lord. In this whole matter with you, I’m not ashamed. They wanted him to feel ashamed, and he didn’t feel ashamed. So there are things where people want us to feel that we shouldn’t. And when we ought to because it’s sin, we ought to come quickly to God to be forgiven. First John 1:9: “If you confess your sins, he’s faithful and just for forgive you your sins and cleans us from all unrighteousness.” Many Christians never stop to think about why that’s such a remarkable statement. We would expect it to say he’s faithful and merciful, or faithful and loving to forgive us our sins and cleans us from all and righteousness. But it says he’s faithful and just. God in Christ forgives us as an act of his justice because Christ paid for it. And I do think we probably under-teach this in the church, that Christ died for sin and shame. I remember preaching through Mark 15 a number of times, and it’s fascinating there that Mark does not dwell on the physical aspects of the crucifixion. Sometimes preachers get into the article about what it was like and the excruciating pain and all the body parts breaking down. What was happening in his body is maybe helpful to a degree, but it’s striking because it just says, “And they crucified him.” The focus in the Gospel is not at all on the physical pain. In fact, Pilate marveled that he was dead already. If anything was surprising, it was he died so quickly when other criminals could last for days and days, which is why they would break their legs so you can’t prop yourself up and breathe and you’d die more quickly. So what Mark focuses on is the shame, and I won’t give the sermon, but you can go through and read it. Every step of the way, from the crown of thorns, to the beatings, to the passersby who mock him, to before that in Gethsemane with the man running off naked, which is maybe John Mark. He’d rather be stark naked in the woods in the middle of the night than caught with Jesus! Peter doesn’t want to be with Jesus. Judas has already betrayed him. The disciples have left. One man on the cross derides him. All of that is saying, Do you see how utterly despised? The shame! And that’s meant to help us understand that Christ died not just for sin—that’s fundamental—but also for the shame. When you feel like, If everyone knew the dark things I’ve done in my life . . . * We’re talking about not just made up things, but real things. Someone’s listening to this saying, Oh, Kevin, you probably didn’t do any bad things. I did really bad things—the pornography or the drugs or the sex or the people I’ve hurt. If I were exposed, I would deserve to be spat upon and beat up and mocked and jeered. And our world heals that in the wrong way. It says, No, no, no. You don’t deserve that. The gospel actually says what you’re feeling there is right, but you shouldn’t feel that because that— everything being exposed, being derided, being mocked, being shamed—Christ took that. Christ paid that for you so you don’t have to have that anymore. And a lot of Christians go through life feeling like not quite big enough failures that they change, but just medium to low level guilt, like, I should have exercised today, and I didn’t. And that’s no way to live.
Matt Tully
One last burden that I think sometimes we can struggle with that does kind of encompass all of these to some extent is just a general feeling of being overwhelmed by our calling as Christians and what a faithful Christian life looks like. And sometimes that feeling of being overwhelmed can actually probably morph into just a feeling of exhaustion. I’m just tired of the rat race of faithful Christian living. It can feel like that sometimes to us. What would you say to someone who’s in that spot?
Kevin DeYoung
One of the key texts, which is overlooked, is when Paul’s writing to Timothy: “Pray for those in authority over us, that we might live peaceful, quiet lives.” Now, I get it. That’s not meant to be an all-encompassing vision for everything in our life.
Matt Tully
Hold that in tension with other things.
Kevin DeYoung
Right. It leads to escapism. But you know, that’s true with any good thing in the Bible—you could take it out and you make it the only thing and it becomes something bad. But let’s land on that for a bit. Paul didn’t think it was a bad thing to pray—and we know Paul. He was risking his life for Christians. He wasn’t on easy street. But he said part of what we’re praying for with our governing authorities is actually, we’d prefer not to be persecuted. We’d prefer to be able to go about our lives and live lives of ordinary faithfulness. There’s a reason why the emphasis is upon character. The vice lists are what you shouldn’t do, and the virtues and the fruit of the Spirit are the sort of person that you are. Often we think that to be a good Christian really requires forty hours in a day, and we focus on a list of things we have to do rather than the sort of people we want to be and the character that we want to have. And well-meaning Christians do it: What are you? You’re just in favor of the status quo. Aren’t you going to solve this intractable problem: racism, abortion, poverty, unemployment, drug use, opioid addiction? And praise God he’s going to stir up some people that commit their lives to those things, and the church will pray about those things, but you know why they’re the big issues? Because they’re not easy to solve. And there’s no program that can fix it. And so to put this burden on people—If you were a serious Christian, you’d be solving this problem that nobody knows how to solve and will probably never be fully solved in this life—is just an impossible burden that we’re not meant to bear. So I know it’s a burden for me, and I know in writing this book, and it gets back to one of the themes in a lot of my books, is I want ordinary pastors and Christians, moms and dads, kids out there to embrace being a Christian is hard. This book isn’t saying easy Christianity.
Matt Tully
Or just take it easy. You’re on a lazy river.
Kevin DeYoung
Yeah. Lazy river. Just let it float you in flowery beds of ease. Not that, but not impossible. Impossible to get to heaven on your works, but not impossible to live a life that God looks and says, Yes. That’s my son. That’s my daughter. I love him. I like him. I’m pleased. They’re a blessing to others, and my face shines upon you. I think too few Christians go through life really experiencing that benediction.
Matt Tully
One of the most interesting parts of the book that you explore is the almost probably universal sense of guilt that we all feel when it comes to evangelism. It’s kind of a case study that you explore, and you have some thoughts on ways that we think about that topic, among many others, whether it’s personal Bible study or prayer or what have you. Help us understand where you’re going on that particular front.
Kevin DeYoung
When I was writing that chapter, I felt nervous. I don’t want people in my church to say, Woot! Pastor says we don’t have to read our Bibles or share our faith. And yet I admit in the book that pastors are sometimes to blame because we know how to preach in such a way that everyone feels guilty for everything. You can preach a sermon on prayer, and everyone walks out of there, Oh boy. I shouldn’t have watched that movie. I should’ve prayed more. Or giving. Everyone feels like, I have two cars but I could have one. I have one car but I could have a moped. I have a moped but I could really bike. And you always feel—
Matt Tully
There’s always more you could do.
Kevin DeYoung
There’s always more you could do. It’s never enough. And I’ve learned that that’s not healthy preaching. It doesn’t help people. So I’ll sometimes say on a sermon like that I want some of you to know you are being obedient. You are faithful in prayer. You are generous people. You do give. You are faithful stewards. If the standard is always, There’s no more minute in my day could I pray, no more dollar could I give away. But that’s not how the Bible talks about these things. And not only is it discouraging, but what it does is what are you going to have left in your rhetorical arsenal when you need to say to somebody, like 1 Corinthians 6, if you keep living like this, you’re not going to inherit the kingdom of God. Oh, well I fail at everything, so I guess I’ll fail at this. So Bible reading and evangelism, I just try to unpack both of those. And there’s obviously good reasons that they should be patterns in our life, and yet few explicit injunctions, let alone this is the standard by which your life ought to be measured. And I feel like in different church traditions it can feel like that. And I’ve certainly felt that in my own life, especially as a younger Christian. It was almost like if I got my chapters done and my quiet time done for the day and it was pretty kickin’, then I’m a Christian today!
Matt Tully
God’s happy with me today!
Kevin DeYoung
God’s happy with me today! I did it! And then I didn’t do it. And then evangelism can just feel like every soul in danger, and that becomes this “sine qua non” (without which, nothing) of the Christian life. And I think there are some church traditions, without a real good Scriptural warrant, that make it sound like this is the fundamental reason for your existence here on earth. Now, please read the book, share your faith, but if we just put a certain construct—like it’s a certain type of person, it’s a certain type of way of doing it—then we’re liable to discourage people.
Matt Tully
Maybe as a final question, What’s the difference between all that you’ve been saying here today—all the relief that it feels like you’re trying to offer to genuine Christians who do love God and want to obey him with their lives—what’s the difference between that and giving ourselves grace? That common refrain: You just need to give yourself grace.
Kevin DeYoung
A couple of things. Certainly, we’re never in danger of focusing too much on grace. We can be in danger of focusing on grace in the wrong way or in a truncated way. So “give yourself grace” is wonderful gospel prescription if we mean by that, I’ve repented of my sins and come to God and received his grace and now by his Spirit and his cross I’m freed from the penalty of sin and ever increasingly from the power of sin to live unto righteousness. So, grace as forgiveness for sin. Amazing grace is both to “save a wretch like me and to lead me home,” as in John Newton’s song. So that’s one sense. “Just give yourself grace” can be helpful. Though, second, I want to say the phrase itself is troubling because what do you mean “give yourself grace”? That makes it sound like you’re the bad guy in your life. No. Either you sinned, in which you don’t need grace from you; you need grace from God. Or, if what you really mean by “give yourself grace” is, It’s okay that I don’t fold all the laundry tonight. It’s okay if I don’t do all the dishes tonight, then I get what you’re saying, but that’s not really a category of grace for sin. That’s I guess I don’t have to live up to someone else’s expectations, or I guess it’s okay to go to bed without the house as clean as the Pinterest seems to indicate it should be. And then finally, I’ll just say that how this book differs from just that basic mantra of You’re beautiful, you’re okay, give yourself grace is I don’t want to just say, God gives you commands. You stink at them. Give yourself grace. I want to say God gives you commands. He gives you power to do them. He gives you his Spirit to accomplish them. And you can actually be obedient to them. (Not perfectly but truly, with indwelling sin and all of that)*. So that “give yourself grace” is usually said as a reason for quitting. If you’re going to say it, it should be a reason for keep going.
Matt Tully
Kevin, thank you so much for helping us think about this difficult issue that we all wrestle with—the idea that our faith is in some way impossible for us, and encouraging us to keep going.
Kevin DeYoung
Thank you. Great to be with you. Thankful for Crossway publishing the book, and thanks for the good conversation.
© 2023 Clearly Reformed

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Written by: Christianity Today

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