I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Together for the Gospel 2016. I have also enjoyed reflecting upon some of the messages I heard over those three days, and I have posted some brief articles on a number of them (see my “T4G Reflections” articles.
In a general session address, Kevin DeYoung spoke about sanctification and the assurance a believer should enjoy. Below is a recap and my own considerations concerning the speaker and the topic.
Keven DeYoung is a newer voice of influence upon me. I first heard him speak several years ago at a Ligonier conference, and I was impressed then, but I simply did not pursue him any further at that time. More recently, I have read three of his books, including one children’s book that has become my most frequent give-away resource to others in my church family. I believe the kind of ability DeYoung has to understand deep and significant subjects so well that he is able to communicate them on the level of a child is rare indeed. RC Sproul is one that I have marveled at for years in this regard. At any rate, DeYoung is a quality voice, and the subject he tackled at T4G was appropriate as well as timely.
RC Sproul, John MacArthur, and others have distinguished themselves as leaders of the “Lordship Salvation” camp within Evangelical Christianity. DeYoung has likely taken his place among them before T4G 2016, but he effectively carved his name into the roster that day. Lordship Salvation is the idea that Christ is only Savior to those for whom He is also Lord. That is, those who will be saved by Christ are only those who demonstrate a genuine desire to love and obey Him now. DeYoung was clear to distinguish between justification and sanctification, but he was emphatic that we should not separate the two. One is justified by faith alone, but that faith through which one is justified is never without the accompaniment of obedient works (i.e. progressive sanctification).
There are several objections that have been raised against such assertions, and DeYoung addressed some of them.
Objection: “We should never look at ourselves for assurance.”
Some have said that looking at ourselves for assurance of salvation is no beneficial endeavor. Yet, DeYoung pointed out that the Scripture intends for Christians to do just that. For instance, 1 John 2:4-6 says,
“Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
It would seem quite clear that John is telling professing Christians to inspect themselves. The logic of this passage, DeYoung argued, appears to be: “Do you want to know if you are actually in Christ? Well, do you walk as Christ walked – obediently before God? If so, then you may rest assured that you are in Christ; if not, then you are merely lying to yourself and others.” Similar passages are 1 John 3:10, 14, 16, 19; 4:2, 13; 5:2; and 2 Corinthians 13:5.
Objection: “None of us really loves God or our neighbor.”
This objection is raised in an effort to minimize the weight of responsibility since our ability is so diminished by sin. It might be otherwise said, “If we are not able to love as we should, then we should not feel too much pressure to judge ourselves by how much we do or do not love.” However, DeYoung again confronted us with Scripture’s teaching that seems to contradict such thinking. 1 John 5:2 plainly says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.”
This passage speaks of obedience as well as love, but willful blindness would be necessary to overlook the application of this verse to the objection raised above. As DeYoung argued, love for God (which would necessarily display itself in love for neighbor as well) is clearly an expectation of the Christian experience. To admit that we do not love as we should is one thing, but to disavow the obligation or genuine ability (empowered by God’s Spirit) to love meaningfully is a contradiction of Scripture. Additional passages on this aspect of the topic are 1 John 2:15-17 and Is. 64:5-6.
Objection: “This makes me doubt my salvation.”
Here, in this final objection, we may find the summary of all objections to Lordship Salvation. DeYoung pinpoints the impulse which underlies many (maybe all) of the objections to this kind of thinking. If Christians are to evidence such changed hearts and lives, then they will inevitably feel precarious and not assured when they take a hard and critical look at themselves. Yet, DeYoung encouraged the audience by reminding us of the general intention of God to stir up joy in us and not fear. His exact wording escapes me, but DeYoung essentially prompted us to remember that God does all that He does for our joy (those who are numbered among His children) and for His glory. These threats and warnings we find in Scripture, if heeded by us, will lead to our joy. God has, after all, designed it this way.
More could be said on this, but my heart and mind were challenged and encouraged by this address. DeYoung articulated some of my own thoughts, and he challenged me to consider the implications of the theological truths I believe. The issue of Lordship Salvation is one of the most practical, relevant, and pressing issues in American churches today. There is not a single week that goes by that I am not deeply involved in conversations with some member(s) of my congregation about the serious need to see fruit in the life of one who professes love for Christ. Thinking through this extremely practical issue was beneficial on that day, and it is still a benefit to me as I continue the external discussions and the internal procession of my own thoughts.