I’m not sure, but I suppose a number of you have been following the intra-Gospel-Coalition exchange between Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian regarding the Gospel, its relationship to sanctification, and what place there is for the believer’s effort, if there’s any place at all. As may be expected, blogger-extraordinaire Justin Taylor has provided a helpful roundup and summary of the interaction, as well as some helpful additions to the discussion from Bavinck and Berkouwer via Dane Ortlund, and from J. I. Packer. Since those posts, Tullian has responded once more, and also has posted an open letter from Elyse Pitzpatrick to Mr. Grace-Loving Antinomian.
As I’m sure will be much to your delight, I’m not planning on writing a thesis that thoughtfully engages each of the well-reasoned points from every one of those posts. Neither do I have any illusions of settling the matter once and for all, though to be honest I’m not sure there’s much to be settled, as I’m unable to discern a whole lot of disagreement between Kevin and Tullian. But the exchange has indeed been helpful, as it’s forced those reading to consider afresh what Scripture has to say about how the believer grows in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2Pet 3:18), becoming increasingly conformed to His image (Rom 8:29; 2Cor 3:18). And we need to think about that, because that’s where we all live. Our sanctification is the will of God for us (1Thess 4:3), and so it’s important that we know (a) if we have any part of that at all, and, if we do, (b) how we go about pursuing our sanctification in ways that are honoring to God and that magnify the sufficiency of Christ.
So how do we go about pursuing Biblical change in our lives? And how can we aid in the sanctification of our brothers and sisters?
A Solid Foundation: Life is about Worship
The first step in answering that question is to get ourselves established on a solid foundation. In the Scriptures, the God of the universe has revealed that His ultimate purpose in all that He does is to bring glory to Himself (Is 42:8; 43:7, 25; 48:11; Ezek 36:22-23; Eph 1:11-12). Another way of saying that is: God’s will is to be worshiped by all of His creation. To achieve that end, He created human beings to be worshiping creatures; that is, so that we would “honor Him as God [and] give thanks” (Rom 1:21). Therefore, it’s a reasonable conclusion—and not just a rhetorical flourish—that all of life—especially the Christian life—is about worship. Progress in sanctification comes when our worship of God increases and matures. Sin is made manifest when we worship anything other than God (cf. Rom 1:20-25).
Affections are at the Heart of Worship
Having understood that life is about worship, we begin to see the importance of affections in living the Christian life. As worship is at the heart of life, so the affections are at the heart of worship. We worship what we desire, what we love, what we delight in. And that worship shapes our actions. Paul Tripp said it well when he wrote, “Our words and actions are shaped by our pursuit of the things our hearts crave. … What we worship determines our responses to all our experiences” (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, p. 67). Jesus Himself testifies to this reality when He simply says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21; Lk 12:34). In other words, you will serve with all your being that which you treasure. When your treasure is not God, you commit idolatry (cf. Ezek 14:1-5). And it is the idolatry of the heart—the worship of the creature rather than the Creator—that is at the core of all sin (Rom 1:25). Our hearts are adulterous (Ezek 6:9). This is precisely why the blessings of the New Covenant address the heart, the desires, the affections (Deut 30:6; Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:26).
The Battle is Fought at the Level of the Affections
Therefore, as we seek to run the race of the Christian life (Heb 12:1-2), to fight the fight of holiness (1 Tim 6:12), to do battle in the mortification of sin (Rom 8:12-13), the battle must be fought at the level of the affections, or the desires. And as we seek to be instruments of Biblical change in our fellow-Christians’ lives, we must shepherd them along in seeing that the battle must be fought on the level of the affections. For example, if my sin problem is greed, it is because at that moment my desire for money rules my heart rather than the desire to know Christ. Or if my sin problem is lust or sexual immorality, it is because at that moment I have been deceived into believing that mental or physical sexual stimulation will satisfy my desires more than will the fresh sight of the glory of God in Christ. I am worshiping money, and sex, and not Christ. My actions are being shaped by the pursuit of the things my heart craves.
Pastors, counselors, and every Christian who is engaging in the discipleship process must seek, then, to transform their brother’s heart, his affections. Like Byron said on Wednesday, we can’t just throw him the rope of moralism and yell at him to pull himself up. That’s dealing with sin at the fruit and not the root. He must be shown that the desires and the affections that he seeks to satisfy with sin are actually most fully satisfied by knowing Jesus Christ. Temptation to pleasure is fought by the prospect of enjoying superior pleasure.
This is how Jesus Himself instructs us to battle covetousness. He commands that we “make [ourselves] money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven” (Lk 12:33). He does not simply command us to stop desiring possessions; He redirects our desire to something greater, to something that will fully satisfy us, to treasure in heaven, to Himself. The Apostle Paul is strengthened to press on in the Christian life in this very same way. He counts all idols—all substitute pleasures—as loss that He may gain Christ and know Him (Phil 3:7-11). David’s righteousness came from his singularity of focus; that is, he desired and sought one thing: to behold the beauty of Yahweh and to meditate in His temple (Ps 27:4). Moses fled from the idolatry of Egypt because he considered “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward” (Heb 11:26). And so it is throughout Scripture.
Emotions and affections (and thus actions) are changed Biblically when the worthiness and delightfulness of the beauty of Christ is exalted in the heart of the Christian. Affections are changed Biblically when the eyes of our hearts are enlightened to know the riches of the glory of the inheritance of God (Eph 1:18). When that happens, the promise of pleasure from sin looks so paltry in comparison to the treasure chest of holy joy found in Christ. Affections are set right, God is worshiped in Christ, and that life of worship controls all we do (Mk 7:18-23) and say (Lk 6:44-45).
And so as we fight to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, remembering that it is God who is at work in us—at work both on our actions and our affections (Phil 2:12-13)—we’ll remember that the fight is not in muscling down more burdensome lists. No, the fight is the fight to fix our spiritual eyes on someone so glorious, so desirable, who, when clearly seen, delightfully compels our affections to forsake sin willingly and to follow after and serve Him with joy.
(Update: See here for a sort of Part Two)