The Reason for Redemption
Whenever I was a child I watched Pinocchio once a day every day—eventually wearing out the video tape. In one scene, after all the excitement of Pinocchio becoming a real boy, Mr Geppetto, his pet cat, Figaro, and pet goldfish, Clio, head to bed exhausted. As they lay their heads on the pillow Mr Geppetto tells Pinocchio to close his eyes and go to sleep. “Why?” asks Pinocchio. “Everybody has to go to sleep; Figaro, Clio and tomorrow you have to go to school” answers Mr Geppetto. “Why?” asks Pinocchio again—at this point Figaro the cat is looking pretty annoyed that he cannot get to sleep. Almost sleeping Mr Geppetto mumbles: “to learn things and get smart”. “Why?” comes the response. “Because…” whispers Mr Geppetto as he falls asleep, to which Pinocchio responds “oh.” Whenever I felt mischievous as a child I would have employed Pinocchio tactics, responding to every request with a “why?”
There is something innate in humanity that loves this question: “why?” We are always asking it; and today it is often Google that supplies the answer. I had a quick scan through the top “why?” questions typed into Google. They include:
Why are cats afraid of cucumber?
Why did I get married?
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Why are man hole covers round?
There is one big question that I did not find on Google: “Why does God redeem people from sin?” Have you ever wondered why God rescued us from our sin? More personally, have you ever wondered why God saved you? In other words, what is the reason for our redemption? In The Hole in Our Holiness Kevin DeYoung asserts: “God saved you so that you might be holy” (p. 24).
I wonder what you think about that answer. It is almost certainly not our initial thought when asked, “What is the reason for your redemption?” We are more likely to argue that God saved us because he is love; or because of his grace; or because it declares his glory. Rarely do we answer: God saved us to make us holy. We simply do not consider holiness a reason for redemption.
Kevin DeYoung is not alone in this claim, however. The Apostle Paul makes the same point:
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:1–8)
First Thessalonians is a positive letter. Paul has spent the first three chapters praising the Thessalonians for their faith and example, recalling the power of the word of God as it was preached among them, sharing his longing to visit them once more and delighting in Timothy’s report about how the Thessalonians were faring.
There is a serious tone at the beginning of chapter four though, and it is expressed with Paul’s use of a double command—he both asks and urges the Thessalonians. The use of the terms “ask” and “urge” (v. 1) is a little bit like someone using your full name when they are seeking your attention. If you want me to pay serious attention to what you are about to say you would not call me Davy, you would call me David.
After capturing his readers’ attention, Paul proceeds to explain exactly what he wants from the Thessalonians: a life that is pleasing to God (v. 1; in other words, a holy life). The problem seems to have been sexual immorality (vv. 3–8). Although there was a sizeable Jewish population in Thessalonica, there were also a number of Gentile converts and their sexual ethics would not have been comparable to Jewish or Christian standards. Therefore, Paul explains that Christians are to be sexually pure. Christianity demands the highest standard of sexual purity. One commentator notes that “God required of them the highest standard, and they had no authority to lower that standard. Thus [Paul] refused to allow the practices of the Christian church to be determined by the ideas of contemporary society” (Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, NICNT, p. 118). The Christians in Thessalonica needed to be different; they had to live in a way that stood out.
The necessity of living differently is the effectual call of God (v. 7). Every Christian has been called in this sense. Called in holiness. The change of preposition from “to” to “in” speaks of an atmosphere, a way of life. In other words, the reason for redemption is holiness; God called us in holiness. Or as Kevin DeYoung writes: “The reason for your entire salvation, the design behind your deliverance, the purpose for which God chose you in the first place is holiness” (pp. 25-26).
Is It Missing?
The premise of DeYoung’s book is that we often neglect this aspect of Christian living. Before we all jump to our own defence, consider your answer to the questions: “Why has God saved you?”, “What is the reason for your redemption?” If we are honest, holiness does not appear too high up on our lists. Subsequently, if we do not understand holiness to be the reason for our redemption then it is unlikely to feature much in our thinking or reveal itself in our lifestyle.
DeYoung explains: “The pursuit of holiness feels like one more thing to worry about in your already impossible life. Sure, it would be great to be a better person, and you hope to avoid the really big sins. But you figure, since we’re saved by grace, holiness is not required of you, and frankly, your life seems fine without it” (p. 10). What allows us to think in this way? Surely, it is failing to comprehend that the reason for our redemption is holiness. DeYoung continues, “My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ has saved us from, we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to” (p. 11). We have not been called to impurity, we have not been called to continue living in the way we once lived. Quite the opposite, we have been called in holiness. We have been called into a new way of living that pleases God.
One of the primary reasons for our redemption is to live a life pleasing to God. The reason for our redemption is holiness.
1) What is your initial reaction when you hear the word ‘holiness’?
2) Why is there a hole in our holiness? What reasons do you find in your own thinking?
3) Are there any passages of Scripture which have been particularly helpful to you on the theme of holiness?