Review: The Hole in Our Holiness

Kevin DeYoung, Crossway, 2012, 162 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 1.15.35 PMHave you ever been mocked by other Christians for trying to do right? Ever been jabbed with the eye roll or tagged with the title “legalist” for efforts to be holy?

The author of this book has. He wants to help you. In some ways, this work is a response to the popular Hypergrace movement today that suggests the unmerited grace of Christ is the only–or one of the only–legitimate motivators in doing right. Do right because of the gospel. 

DeYoung disagrees. Of course the gospel is the focus, nucleus, and hinge of everything we do, but the most helpful section of the book is where the author lists 40 ways Scripture motivates Christians to pursue holiness (e.g. duty, Christ’s example, folly of sin) (56-60).

Ephesians 5:3 has to mean something (“sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you”). Christians may disagree on exactly what it means, but it’s certainly not there to poke fun of. God has called us to holiness (1 Thess. 4:7), we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10) and husbands are to love their wives so that they “might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).

DeYoung cautions us to balance. Yes, the righteousness sinners offer God for their salvation are as filthy rags (Is. 64:6) but Christians can and should please Him, as there are a host of actions that in fact bring him pleasure like praying for rulers (1 Tim. 2:1-3), supporting family members (5:4) and sharing (Heb. 13:16). Conversely, Christians can displease God. “Our union with Christ is not in jeopardy. But our communion is.” (73)

I heartily commend this work. DeYoung avoids the depth charges floating by the doctrine of sanctification. He says no to Keswick Theology (“Let go and let God”) and no to gospel-only motivators. Godliness requires exertion. We must put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13), fight the good fight (1 Tim. 6:12), run the race (1 cor. 9:24-27), and make every effort (2 Pt. 1:5).


  1. The hole in our holiness is that we don’t really care much about it. 10
  2. Related to this 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 share your concern about swearing or about avoiding certain movies or about modesty or sexual purity or self-control or just plain godliness, people look at you like you have a moralistic dab of cream cheese on your face from the 1950s. Believers get nervous that their friends will call them legalistic, prudish, narrow-minded, old-fashioned, holier-than-thou—or worst of all, a fundamentalist. 17
  3. Our culture of cool is partly to blame. To be cool means you differentiate yourself from others. That often means 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 without an equal pursuit of Christian virtue. 18
  4. The simplest way to judge gray areas like movies, television, and music is to ask one simple question: can I thank God for this. 42
  5. [The Christian life is] a fight we will win. You have the Spirit of Christ in your corner, rubbing your shoulders, holding the bucket, putting his arm around you and saying before the next round with sin, “You’re going to knock him out, kid.” Sin may get in some good jabs. It may clean your clock once in a while. It may bring you to your knees. But if you are in Christ it will never knock you out.” 104

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