Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., spoke at the Desiring God 2012 National Conference at Minnesota's Minneapolis Convention Center on Saturday and told church leaders they should not lead or live "as if there were only one proper motivation for holiness."
"Good doctors know how to give different prescriptions, and my fear is that we can get locked into a one-size-fits-all approach to our growth in godliness," DeYoung said Saturday. "And we may even stumble upon a good, true, sweet, biblical motivation, but if we make it the only one we will be short circuiting our sanctification."
Although Christians have a duty to obey God, he explained, the Bible also offers other motivational factors, such as gratitude and understanding justification, as reasons to pursue holiness.
In the same way, he said, not all problems can be reduced down to one "mega-problem." While, on a basic level, every sin can be boiled down to a "misfiring of the Gospel," he says, sin can also result from more specific things like a failure to recognize God's promises, or trust in His Word, or find satisfaction in Christ, among other things.
DeYoung spent a good portion of his sermon explaining how commands found in chapters three and four of the Apostle Paul's letter to the Colossians are complimented by motivating factors that should drive Christians in their obedience to God. One motivator he specifically focused on is warnings, which he says need to be viewed as beneficial despite their seemingly harsh nature.
"And what makes you think that the warning of God's wrath is not His grace to you? You are not giving to your friends or to yourself or to your people all the grace that God has for you if you are not warning them of what God will do and what He will pour out upon those who are found to be unrighteous and unbelieving," DeYoung said.
He also suggested that Christians should not try to please God simply because He will pass judgment on them one day, but rather they should desire to please Him because they are saved by His grace and kindness, and not by their own good works.
"Some of us live a Christian life as if we're always under the stern, watchful eye of our Father and he is very impossible to please...No, God delights even in our heartfelt attempts at obedience," said DeYoung.
Church leaders need to understand the various ways God motivates, DeYoung explained, so they also know how to motivate those they lead. Sometimes a pastor will need to approach people with a loving "hug of truth" to motivate them, for example, while other times it may be more beneficial to use a more forceful "kick of truth" to motivate them properly.
In the end, DeYoung says, Christians should "celebrate the all-encompassing grace of God in our sanctification." He says Christians should recognize they are predestined to become holy, God is providing holiness for them and, by His grace, He is provoking them toward it. Although God could have demanded obedience and treated the pursuit of holiness as a mere duty, He also provided Christians with theology and offers a variety of motivating factors so they will desire to pursue it.
"In one way his grace has saved you, and by a thousand ways his grace will lead you home," said DeYoung.
The theme for this year's Desiring God conference is "Act the Miracle: God's Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification," and it features other highly-regarded speakers including John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., among others.