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As important as justification is for the Christian, it’s not meant to be the only prescription in our pursuit of holiness. Without a doubt, it is gloriously true that we are accepted before God because of the work of Christ alone, the benefits of which we receive through faith alone, by grace alone. That ought to be our sweet song and confession at all times. Justification is enough to make us right with God for ever, and it is certainly a major motivation for holiness. If we are accepted by God we do not have to live for the approval of others. If there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus then we do not have to fear the disappointment of others. There’s no doubt that justification is fuel for our sanctification.

But it is not the only kind of fuel we can put in the tank. If we only remind people of our acceptance before God we will flatten the contours of Scripture and wind up being poor physicians of souls.

Think of James 4:1: “What causes quarrels and fights among you?” James does not say, “You’re fighting because you have not come to grips with your acceptance in the gospel.” He says, in effect, “You’re at each others throats because you’re covetous and you’re selfish. You want things that you don’t have. You’re demanding. You’re in love with the world; You’re envious. That’s what’s going on in your heart right now.” Now, we might try to connect all that with a failure to believe the gospel, but that’s not what James says. He blames their quarrels on their love of the world.

You only have be a parent for a short time to see that people sin for all sorts of reasons. Lately we’ve been using the excellent book Long Story Short for our morning devotions with the kids. When we came to the story of Cain and Abel the book suggested a little lesson where you hand a ten dollar bill to one child but not the others. Then you ask the kids, “What would your response be if I gave your sister ten dollars because she did something very pleasing to me, and I gave you nothing?” The aim of the lesson is to relate with Cain’s envy toward Abel. So I just asked the question, and my son, in whom there is no guile, replied without hesitation, “Daddy, I’d punch you in the stomach.” Now what’s going on in his heart at that moment? Is his most pressing need to understand justification, or is there a simpler explanation? I think my son at that moment, like the people James was addressing, was ready to fight because of covetousness. He saw ten dollars, thought of Legos, and was willing to do whatever he had to get what he wanted.

The problem with much of our thinking on sanctification is that we assume people are motivated in only one way. It’s similar to the mistake some of those associated with Christian psychology fell into. They assumed a universal needs theory. They operated from the principle that everyone has a leaky love tank that needs to be patched up and filled up. If people could only be loved in the right way they’d turn around and be a loving person. Well, I don’t doubt there is some commonsense insight there. But does the theory explain everyone? Is this the problem with Al-Qaida or Hamas? They all have leaky love tanks? Or are some other issues at play?

I have no problem acknowledging that sin is always an expression of unbelief. But there are a lot of God’s promises I can disbelieve at any moment. Justification by grace alone through faith alone is not the only indicative I can doubt. I can disbelieve God’s promise to judge the wicked or his promise to come again or his promise to give me an inheritance or his promise to turn everything to my good. These are all precious promises, each one a possible remedy for indwelling sin. To remind each other of justification is never a wrong answer. It is a precious remedy, but it is not the only one.

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13 thoughts on “The Bible Motivates Us In Many Ways”

  1. Tom Cabral says:

    I sense we are going to have another discussion between indicatives ad imperatives?

  2. a. says:

    “It is a precious remedy, but it is not the only one.”

    appreciated, too, this below, this am:
    DAY 15: What is the effect of the Word of God working in a person’s life?

    Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth John 17:17

  3. lisa says:

    Thank you so much for this, Kevin. I so appreciate the way you keep scripture in proper tension with itself.

  4. anaquaduck says:

    Listened to a Martyn Loyyd Jones audio yesterday…Justification is bestowed upon us like a garment. Sanctification is what goes on inside us. Our condition is being changed, infused or grafted. He was challenging the idea of antinomianism.

    We can so easily look to our failings & then question our justification in our immaturity & doubts, which is wrong says MLJ. We should be reminded of our sanctification, which reminds us that we need to look to Christ & seek his renewing.

    The audio was a nice change from the radio, & beneficial.

  5. Jack Miller says:

    Kevin, I’m not sure of how gratitude for the grace of justification through faith alone becomes a motive that lessens focus on or awareness of one’s sinfulness. Is this what you are saying? Maybe not… I would think a proper apprehension of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone necessitates a growng comprehension of one’s sinfulness. After all –

    “There is none righteous, no, not one… that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God,”


    “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”

    How one can glory in justification by faith and yet be unaware of or minimize their innate love of sin would seem more likely to flow from a lack of law and gospel together being preached and taught. Not a problem of too much gospel as motivation. I think that is what Paul means by the gospel being the power of salvation unto everyone that believes. Hearing and believing the good news of God’s offer of salvation in Christ for me, a sinner who still sins, is a Spirit-powered transforming motivation for repentance and godly living. If I’m misunderstanding you, my apologies.

  6. Jack Miller says:

    From the post: These are all precious promises, each one a possible [?] remedy for indwelling sin.

    We need to define ‘remedy for indwelling sin’. Isn’t that the very thing that Christ’s double cure (his bearing God’s just wrath for our sin and perfectly fulfilling the requirement of God’s law for us) comforts us with as we seek to imperfectly resist sin and obey his commands in our sojourn/sanctification?

    John Owen’s Greater Catechism: Santification
    Q. 7. Will God accept of that obedience which falls so short of what he requireth?
    A. Yes, from them whose persons he accepteth and justifieth freely in Jesus Christ.
    Rom. xii. 1; Phil. iv. 18; Heb. xiii. 16; 1 John iii. 22; Eph. i. 6.

  7. Andrew Hall says:

    It’s about time somebody said this. I agree that yes, we would all be overflowing with love if all we could experience and be surrounded with was God’s joy and love. But Scripture gives many reasons to obey–including sheer duty (Luke 17:10).

    Westminster Confession of Faith 14:2 – “By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. …”

  8. Jack Miller says:



    … trembling at the threatenings (Law), and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come (Gospel). …”. The two are presented together.

  9. Kevin,

    I really appreciated this post. It would seem, though, that this isn’t a binary situation. Certainly, the presenting need (such as given in your example) is to deal with the covetousness. No doubt. Acknowledging our justification frees us from the “guilt” (forensic) of our sin, once and for all. But there is the other component (shame) that would cause the relational side to be skewed once the besetting sin is dealt with. I think this is where the both/and comes in. We need to deal with both the besetting sin (own who we really are, this is what we really do) but also have a safety net of the relational component (the gospel enables our shame to be removed and a right relationship freely restored). Forgive me if this is rambling on too much. I just don’t want readers to continue to pigeon hole things into binary categories that are mutually exclusive rather than seeing the whole enterprise as intrinsically tied together.

    Peace to you…

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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