In a recent blog post, Kevin DeYoung (Pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, MI) describes “Ten Errors to Avoid When Talking About Sanctification and the Gospel.” His list is really, really good. He completely hits the nail on the head regarding all sorts of confusion in Reformed and evangelical churches today. I would simply add that this is no merely academic issue. It has far-reading consequences for how we read Scripture, how we view the Christian life, and how pastors address the people of God.
DeYoung helpfully shows how the Reformed confessions describe and defend the proper biblical balance on these questions. To illustrate, Error #10 provides an excellent example of the sort of insight DeYoung offers. I am convinced that in Reformed churches this is one of the most common of the errors he mentions – a hesitancy or refusal to use the threats and warnings of Scripture in the Christian life.
Error #10: Threats and exhortations belong to the terrors of the law and are not to be used as a motivation unto holiness. This is not the view of the Canons of Dort: “And, just as it has pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the proclamation of the gospel, so he preserves, continues, and completes his work by the hearing and reading of the gospel, by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats, and promises, and also by the use of the sacraments” (CD 5.14). Notice two things here. First, God causes us to persevere by several means. He makes promises to us, but he also threatens. He works by the hearing of the gospel and by the use of the sacraments. He has not bound himself to one method. Surely, this helps us make sense of the warnings in Hebrews and elsewhere in the New Testament. Threats and exhortations do not undermine perseverance; they help to complete it. Second, notice the broad way in which Dort understands the gospel (in this context). In being gospel-centered Christians, we meditate on the “exhortations, threats, and promises” of the gospel. In a strict sense we might say that the gospel is only the good news of how we can be saved. But in a wider sense, the gospel encompasses the whole story of salvation, which includes not only gospel promises but also the threats and exhortations inherent in the gospel.