My notes on Kevin DeYoung’s message on 1 Corinthians 15:10 (paraphrased)
In my perception, I believe all the good we see in this new resurgence—and there is much that is good that ought to be celebrated—we are known, I hope, by our commitment to the Scriptures, to biblical manhood and womanhood, to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, to the doctrine of justification by faith and to the centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These ought to be celebrated.
But there are two areas in which I believe that we need to grow. The first is in global missions, in calling young men and women to go to the outermost parts of the world with the gospel.
The other is personal holiness. We are to strive for progressive, personal, actual holiness without which we will not see the Lord.
Is there anything more important than this? Do you not want to see the Lord? Because there are some who will not be in his presence. If there is not a desire and fight for holiness, you have to wonder if you are saved.
Those most passionate about the gospel of God’s free grace should be most passionate about the pursuit of godliness. The question in this message is not about why, but about how we grow in holiness. What will we do to help and say to those we serve to grow in itty bitty steps toward godliness?
In 1 Cor. 15:10, Paul writes:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Here he says two things that seem contradictory, but are not. If we are to grow in holiness we must hold these two things together. He says, I’m working hard—but all that hard work I’m doing, it’s the grace of God in me. So we need to know two things:
- We need to work hard
- We need to experience God’s grace working in us
Growth in holiness requires Spirit-powered, gospel-driven, faith-fueled effort.
So what do these things mean? How does it work?
We use these phrases all the time, but we don’t communicate how it works—“bathe it in prayer,” “soak in the Spirit,” and so on—some are biblical, but they become clichés when we don’t explain what they mean.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is power. (Eph. 3:16:“…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being”)
The Spirit, Romans 8 says, this Spirit that dwells within us is the same that raised Jesus from the dead. This is good news! Defeatist Christians who do not fight sin are not being humble, they dishonor the Holy Spirit who strengthens us with spiritual power.
The Spirit is light. He reveals sin. (John 3) He will expose the world’s sin—he turns on lights! This is what happens when you really preach with power and conviction—rats are going to scurry. Sinners do not want to walk in the light, but when you preach part of what you’re doing is shining a bright spotlight onto people’s sin. The Spirit works to reveal sin and to reveal truth.
He throws a spotlight on sin and truth but he also draws our attention to Christ. When the Spirit converts and regenerates the heart of the sinner, it is never apart from throwing a spotlight on the glory of Christ—causing them to see Christ!
We become what we behold. We look at Christ to become like Christ. And when the light comes on and you run to the darkness, the Bible causes that resisting, quenching, grieving the Spirit.
Spirit powered sanctification shows us our sin and shows us our Savior.
Good deeds flow out of the good news, but how? How does it work?
It drives us to good deeds out of a sense of gratitude (Romans 12). It is not a desire to repay God, but a sense of gratitude for all that he’s done. Gratitude—the kind of experience of humility that comes with gratitude tends to crowd out the unseemly attitudes. If you have an anger problem, you can be sure you’ve got a gratitude problem. The gospel drives us to godliness out of gratitude.
It drives us to godliness by revealing to us who we are. If we are dead to sin, why live in it? If we have been raised with Christ, why continue in it? If you have been seated with Christ in the heavenly places, why live in hell? Here’s where you must do Spiritual warfare with the Sword of the Spirit and remember that there is no condemnation in Christ (Rom 8:1).
Here, I think is the central motivation for holiness in the New Testament: It’s to be who you are. To understand your union and identity in Christ and be who you are.
Our culture resonates with an idea that is true: You cannot be someone other than who you are. “We’re just born this way,” as the song goes. As Christians, we come along and say, “You’re right, but the gospel tells you can be born again. You cannot be who you are not, but if you are in Christ, you can be like him.”
Here’s where we have to be careful—we’re saved by faith, but we’re also sanctified by faith. But we have to understand what we mean by saying “by.” We’re justified by faith—it’s not anything we do. We come along and say, we’re sanctified by faith and it just confuses people. It’s better to use the language that Scripture uses, that we’re sanctified as we believe in the promises of God, as we look to our identity in Christ… and we live in them. Look at the Beatitudes:
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Here, Jesus gives a promise. Be meek, inherit the earth. Jesus says, “if you want to be great—be meek. I don’t know if you’ll have a big church, a big house, but I’ll give you the earth.”
Faith fueled sanctification believes the promises of God, believing with all our hearts that God’s promises are true and living as if they’re true.
I’m not saying that we’re justified by faith and the work is just our own apart from it. The call of Christian preaching should never be to make people better apart from the faith, belief—but we must not let “effort” become a four-letter word in our vocabularies.
Christians work. We work to kill the flesh and be alive in the Spirit. Ryle said that the child of God has two great marks about him: His inner peace and his inner warfare. We are at rest with God and never at peace with sin, and the flesh.
Is sanctification monergistic or synergistic? Those are the wrong terms to use. Who sanctifies you, you or God? Yep. God sanctifies me as I work out my sanctification. We cannot simply say, “Look to the Lord.” We can’t simply say, “Get gripped by the gospel.” We don’t want to fall into “let go and let God.” Sanctification is not by surrender, but by divinely driven toil and effort.
Let me drive this down to us and apply it—how does this work?
Pastors, you know and have been hearing that being a pastor is hard work. We work long hours, weekends, we don’t have the luxury of knocking back early Friday afternoon and coming back Sunday evening. We work hard. Sometimes you do have to leave the vacation early. Sometimes you do miss the soccer game. Sometimes you’re working on a sermon and it’s a labor of love—but sometimes it’s a lot more labor… The people who get bored by their sermons first are the pastors. They’re the ones who are always introducing new gimmicks. But we’ve got to be working hard as we preach. We’ve got to toil. Struggle with his energy. To proclaim him and present others to him in Christ.
It is not possible to work too hard, just like it’s impossible to talk about the gospel too much. But you can approach work in a very truncated way. So no one here is in danger of working too hard—we’re in danger of working foolishly.
Work hard at fighting distracted. Work hard at resting. Work hard at being present at home. Work hard at guarding your day off. Working 80 hours is easy—working 40, 50, 60 takes effort. You have to guard your time, to schedule. It’s the easiest job in the world to be an unashamed workaholic and be totally lazy.
What does it mean to give this vision to our people? I think many of us are getting scared of telling our people that the Bible would have them do some stuff and not do some stuff. The Bible’s full of commands. If we’re not teaching our people to obey the commands of Jesus, we’re not fulfilling the Great Commission.
People talk about the dangers of legalism and anti-nomianism: On one side, you have to do all of these things on the other, you have these folks who say, it doesn’t matter how you live. But here’s what I think is plaguing our churches: The world looks at us and the world is very concerned that we’re homophobic. I think God’s much more concerned that we might be nomophobic, afraid of the Law. We might be afraid of the third use of the Law. We need to get a grip on this.
We’re good with using the Law to convict and lead to the gospel—but then you could say that the gospel leads to the Law. We should not be afraid to say that the Bible insists that God’s people obey its commands.
If you preach on David and Bathsheba, and you don’t preach about the problem of sexual sin, you’re not teaching the text. In Luke 18, Jesus shares a parable encouraging people to pray and not lose heart. There’s a way to preach this so that everyone in your church feels guilty for everything in it. You don’t preach legalistically—so what do we do? We need to infuse the gospel into the command.
We preach not just the content but the mood of the content. You cannot assume that everyone in your church only needs a kick in the pants or only needs a hug. If it’s not gospel of me to exhort these people to obedience, I just shouldn’t say it. Making an effort is not somehow sub-holy. Don’t give people have a Savior, don’t give them half of grace. Give them the grace that will change how they live.
These issues matter because some of us here and some in our churches are stalled out in their sanctification because of lack of effort. They need to toil, fight in Spirit-fueled, gospel-driven, faith-fueled effort. Without this, it’s like teaching pigs to fly. When it comes to sanctification, holiness does not happen apart from trusting and trusting does not put an end to trying.