Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Should We Pursue Holiness When We Don't Feel Like It?

What is man's role in sanctification? Do I not have the Holy Spirit, and doesn't God do the work inside me? What can I possibly add that God is not doing or cannot do? And if I choose to do something, to perform a work, am I simply reverting to a works-righteousness mentality instead of living by faith and believing in the free gift of God's grace? What does that look like if I don't have a desire to pursue specific disciplines in regards to sanctification (like prayer)? Is it simply legalism to perform the duty? This is a hard topic that's worth giving some thought to.

I see this topic having the same logic as that of God's sovereignty and man's free will. Most people ask the question as a dichotomy: is God sovereign (thus making us his puppets) or do we have free will (thus limiting the power of God)? But they don't have to be mutually exclusive even if our (finite) brains perceive them that way. God is sovereign and man has free will, and that's the sort of system that only an omnipotent God could create. In the same way, we might ask if it's God work in us that produces sanctification, or is it our actions? Yes! And how those things come together, especially when it appears we have so much control over one half of the equation, remains a bit of a mystery. The Bible does teach that it is entirely God's work, but it also teaches that we have responsibility (Philippians 2:12-13, 2 Peter 1:5, 2 Corinthians 7:1 and others).

A big part of the hangup, I think, comes from what you do when you don't feel like being disciplined. If God is at work within me, why don't I have a stronger desire to read my Bible and pray everyday (as examples)? And what am I supposed to do in that case, suck it up and do it with the wrong heart, or wait for God to stir the feelings up within me? I think the rub is that we don't feel like being disciplined because we're not disciplined. We don't feel like praying because we don't pray. What do we do in this case? We need repentance of that heart, the one that doesn't want to be holy. We need to go back to the cross in faith, believe in the work of Christ, confess our lack of care and turn our eyes again toward God. There, that was doing something, like a discipline! And as we confess our sin and dependence on God, as we continually repent and rest in our justification by the work of his Son, I am confident our hearts will be stirred by God's Spirit and that flame of desire will be stoked so that when we consider a discipline, the heart to do it will be there.

I think we all acknowledge that if we robotically and lovelessly perform our Christian duties (i.e. without faith), then our works are nothing more than filthy rags. None of us want to be there, none of us want to have that heart. So I think we need an extra measure of prayer that God would give us the right heart as we discipline our bodies and minds out of faith. At the same time, just because we don't feel like being disciplined is not an excuse to give up and not do anything. Like Paul (2 Tim 4:7) we need to fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith.

Kevin DeYoung is finishing a book called The Hole in Our Holiness, and this has stirred conversation in the reformed circles. Here are some resources for those interested in thinking through this topic even more.

John Piper and Kevin DeYoung, Part 1
John Piper and Kevin DeYoung, Part 2
Reformed Survey on Sanctification
When I Don't Desire God

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