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Impossible Christianity: Kevin DeYoung

with Kevin DeYoung | January 17, 2024
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Got guilt? Drawing from his book 'Impossible Christianity,' author Kevin DeYoung believes you don't have to carry a collective sense of guilt for past sins or feel the pressure to solve every problem in the present. Experience a sweet, new relationship with God and lasting satisfaction. Here's how.

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  • About the Guest

Got guilt? Author Kevin DeYoung chats about how to release collective guilt and savor a satisfying relationship with God.

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Impossible Christianity: Kevin DeYoung

With Kevin DeYoung
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January 17, 2024
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Kevin: I think people, sometimes, as Christians are too hard on themselves: “I didn’t do anything.” What do you mean you didn’t do anything? You brought a meal every time somebody in the church needed one. You raised these kids to be good workers, good citizens; to be godly people. You loved your husband or your wife. You prayed all the time. This is a godly life.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com.

Ann: This is FamilyLife—

 

Ann and Dave: —Today!

Dave: I’m holding a little book in front of me that has a maze on the front.

Ann: Did you try to do the maze?

Dave: Yes. Last night I thought, “I just have to keep working at it.” [Laughter] You can’t get out; you can’t even get in.

Kevin: That’s right.

Dave: Seriously. Did you notice that? You can’t get to the center, and you can’t from the center get—and the title of the book is Impossible Christianity. That’s a great visual.

Ann: Yes, it is.

Dave: Because it feel like Christianity can be the same way.

Ann: I think a lot of people feel like that. “I’m not going to pursue that. It’s impossible. Nobody can live that life out.”

Dave: Yes. Fortunately, we have the author here, who will tell us what this all means. Kevin DeYoung, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Kevin: Oh, yes. Thanks. It’s great to be with you. Sorry about the maze. That was purposeful.

Dave: Was that your idea?

Kevin: I don’t know. I think probably someone at Crossway. They went through some different cover iterations and said, “Ah, that’s great. A maze that has no way out, because that’s not what Christianity is supposed to feel like.”

Ann: The subtitle is Why Following Jesus Does Not Mean—

 

Dave: —are you ready for this? Keep going.

Ann: Yes. ­—You Have to Change the World, Be an Expert in Everything, Accept Spiritual Failure, and Feel Miserable Pretty Much All of the Time.

Kevin: And the maze, to be clear, is not earning our way to God, finding the right turn so that we get to heaven and God says, “Yes, your good deeds outweighed your bad and now you’re in heaven.” No. I would die for justification by faith alone. I believe in that and teach that with all my heart. But we’re talking about, are we resigned that, “Okay, you’re justified, Jesus loves you, you’re going to heaven, you’re forgiven. Now, congratulations! Live the rest of your life. You’re terrible at being a Christian.”

[Laughter] “That’s just what it’s going to be. You’ll go to heaven, but you’ll never be good at this thing called Christianity, so just get used to it.” That’s not the attitude or the mood at all in the New Testament. So, somehow we’ve done that on ourselves, or to be honest, preachers can do that, because we feel like people need to feel bad about everything all the time to the uttermost.

It’s been really remarkable how many times, even just since the book came out or in talking about it, that people who have been Christians a long time will say, “I’ve just been living with this burden, and somehow, I never felt like God could be pleased with me.” It’s often very serious Christians. Some of the people listening to this or watching this who really, really want to please God, they really want to live a life of faithfulness, and they just feel like it’s never enough.

Ann: Are they weighed down with sin, with feeling like they can never attain it, and you’re giving them the gospel of grace?

Kevin: Yes. I think there are two categories. There’s, one, someone who maybe really is living with unconfessed sin, or they confess it, and they don’t really know God’s forgiveness. So, there’s that. Then there’s also the person who has defined obedience to mean, “No smidge of possible ill motivation in my heart.” A.W. Tozer once said, “We tend to view God as austere, peevish, and short,” like He’s just always mad at us.

You know the coach? You can never do anything to please Him. One of the illustrations that always resonates with me, because I have a gaggle of kids—

Ann: —nine.

Kevin: Yes. You did this, too. I have pictures that my kids draw for me, and there is one—I don’t know how old she was when she drew it, five or something—my hand’s in my daughter’s hand. I don’t say, “I’m not blue!” [Laughter] “Look. My face looks terrible. My head is as big as the rest of my body. You don’t know how to draw a picture. This is terrible. This doesn’t look like us at all.” No, this is my daughter, out of love, who has given this picture, from her heart, of me with my hand in hers. I say, “Thank you. I’m going to put this up right in my office. I love this picture.”

Just yesterday, before I came here, my 14-year-old went out to mow the lawn. We have a big yard.

Dave: That’s a good thing right there.

Kevin: He’s on the John Deere riding lawn mower, and he does a nice job. Does he do it as perfectly, as well, as I could? Maybe not, but I would be a terrible father if he came in—he did it of his own, he did it cheerfully—and I just said, “Paul, you see that? You see the clumps all over? You’re doing just a terrible job.” If anyone has that kind of father, or you are that sort of father, shame on you.

But then we think that whatever we do, God just tut-tuts, just points a finger, and it’s never enough. He would never smile upon us like a good father. If we sinful fathers do that, surely God does when we give Him our heartfelt, sincere obedience.

Dave: Talk about you—you mentioned this in the book—your devotional life, as it applies to this walk with Jesus.

Kevin: I try to hit some of these evangelical Christian staples, which are so important to us: giving, sharing our faith, and devotional life, because those are the three that can feel like never enough. I say in the book, “I’ve never actually seen The Greatest Showman—

 

Dave: [singing] “Never, never.”

Kevin: Yes, [singing] “Never.” But I know the song.

Dave: Beautiful song.

Ann: You have a good voice.

Kevin: Yes, later. [Laughter] But that’s what it can feel like. There are certain commands of the Bible, like “Don’t lust.” That’s really hard, but I don’t have to put that in my calendar. Just don’t do that. The virtues, the fruit of the spirit—I want to grow in love, joy, peace. And then there are other ones that feel like, “Well, do I need 40 hours in the day to be a faithful Christian?”

Whenever we find ourselves saying, “Well, I could obey Jesus if only I had 40 hours in the day,” the problem isn’t Jesus. The problem is that we have not conceived of the Christian life in the right way. So, with great fear and trepidation on those three things—devotional life, evangelism, and generosity—I try to put lots of caveats in the book, lest people say, “This is the best book ever. I don’t have to read the Bible, I don’t have to share my faith, [Laughter] I don’t have to give anything away.” I don’t want that.

At the same time, I think a lot of Christians can feel like, “I’m not crushing my Bible reading. I missed five days. Sharing my faith, after all these years, is still scary, and I’m not a real extrovert, and I don’t like talking to customer service, let alone telling people about Jesus. It’s really hard! And, boy, I tithe, but I do have two cars, and I took a vacation, and all of those things.”

Where, if we actually look at what God says in His Word, many of those—like when the disciples say, “Jesus, teach us to pray,” He didn’t say, “Here’s what time you have to get up; here’s how many minutes it is.” He said, “Yes, I’ll teach you how to pray. God’s your Father, He gives you everything, here’s what you ask for.” So, He taught us the how, when we can be fixated on the how long, and the when, and all of those specifics.

Without negating those important elements, I do think some of us in the Christian life have taken these good Christian disciplines and habits of grace and, because they can always be more, “You’re going to get to the end of your life in the hospital, and you’re going to wish you had prayed more.” Yes. “You’re going to wish you had shared your faith.” Okay, well that’s a kind of defeating way to live your life.

What about, “God will work through you, imperfect though you are, throughout your whole life, if you will give yourself to Him, and if you’ll be faithful.” Part of my burden as a pastor is, I think most of the people in my church are living a life that’s honoring to Christ. Do they have sins? Yes. Do they need to grow? Yes. Should they do some more? Yes. But most of them most of the time, I think, are living a life of obedience to Christ. And I don’t know how many Christians hear that from their pastors.

Dave: No, I don’t think that’s common at all.

Ann: Do you say that to them?

Kevin: Yes, I do.

Ann: That’s cool.

Kevin: I think it took me a while in ministry before I knew that people needed to hear that.

Ann: Yes. I’m thinking about if I hear that in comparison to, “Man, you guys are failing.” If you feel like you’re failing, you don’t want to come back, but if you feel encouraged, like “Am I? Wow! That’s really encouraging. I want to be back.” I feel like Jesus is an encourager. So, when you’re talking specifically about your devotional life, what do you say to the people in your church or your nine kids? What are the things that you want them to know?

Kevin: Well, I certainly am all for the things we’ve hopefully all been taught about reading your Bible and spending some time in prayer. And I’m a big believer that doing a little something consistently is better than doing big somethings inconsistently. So, reduce the size rather than eliminate the habit. If you only can do five minutes, we think, “Oh, why even exercise today, because my schedule got off?” You know what? You could do pushups for ten minutes and you’d probably feel a lot better, and you’re reinforcing that habit. It’s the same thing with devotional time.

I liken it to other relationships, like my relationship with Trisha, who came down on this trip with me, who’s out shopping somewhere, doing wonderful things all by herself. If my relationship with Trisha just consisted of, “Okay, this 30 minutes in the morning, you and I are going to be talking, and if I don’t do that, then our relationship is done for the day. If I do that, then I’m a good husband for the day.” If it were just that kind of—No, you have to breathe a little bit.

On the other hand, if I said, “Oh, let me tell you how much I love Trisha. I never want to hear from her, I don’t ever want to spend time with her, I never talk to her,” you’d say, “I’m not sure you do love her.” So, with God, I want to hear from Him in His Word—

that’s where we hear from God—and pray to Him and spend time [with Him].

And in the context of corporate worship and others, we often hear this devotional thing, and we think, “Oh, that’s just me and myself extemporaneous praying to God.” No, church counts. Small group counts. We’re talking about fostering the kind of life where you hear from God in His Word and speak to Him in prayer because you love Him and He loves you, and of course you want to have that relationship.

Ann: It would be interesting, too, because Dave and I work together, so we’re with each other a lot.

Dave: All-l-l-l-l-l the time.

Ann: A lot.

Kevin: All the time.

Dave: It’s wonderful, and it’s al-l-l-l-l the time.

Ann: But we don’t wake up in the morning and have, even if it’s a five-minute conversation or a 15-minute conversation; I’m talking to him throughout the day. I think that’s important for people to know with God. It’s not just you have to pray right then. It’s that you get to, but you can do it all day. I find myself praying all day long, because He’s with me, He’s in me, and I’m conversing with Him. As Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.”

Especially, I’m thinking about Trisha, your wife, with nine kids. She probably has hardly any time to herself, and so she’s probably, as I learned as a young mom, “Oh, I may not have that chunk of time, but I can listen to God’s Word, I’ll put the Bible in different places, but I can talk to Him any time all day long, whenever, because He’s always with me.”

Kevin: Yes. We forget about all of the other ways that God means for us to be with Him. In the New Testament, Jesus went off to pray privately, but when He talks about the disciples going out and praying, they’re probably praying the Halel psalms in holy week. They’re probably doing some set Jewish rituals.

We tend to think quiet time only counts if it’s extemporaneous prayer. I couldn’t read a prayer back to God, I couldn’t sing a hymn as prayer to God; none of that counts. I couldn’t do it with other people. I often say, “Think about it. You get up in the morning, you get a cup of coffee, and if somebody says, ‘Okay, ten minutes after you get up, I want you to give a really meaningful, excellent talk for 20 minutes. Go!’ Who’s ready to do that about anything?”

And yet if we think, “Well, that’s devotional time. 20 minutes right now; go, talk to God.” We’re all going to need helps. I need helps. I’m going to need books to help me, and prayer books to help me, and hymns to help me. I’m going to need to write down some prayer cards, and I’m going to wander. Just forget about feeling guilty for your mind wandering. It will happen.

Just when you come back, say, “Thank you, God. You brought me back.” It’s just going to happen; you’re going to get distracted. Your mind is going to wander, just like it does sometimes when Dave is talking to you, probably.

Ann: Yes, yes.

Dave: Her mind never wanders. [Laughter] Not when I’m talking.

You just mentioned guilt. Chapter 5—what a chapter title: The Infinite Extensibility of Guilt. What does that mean?

Kevin: I get this from an article from a professor at Hillsdale, and it’s talking about the way the world has shrunk, because technology can connect us to everything everywhere. Think about Jesus telling the Good Samaritan. I preached on this a year or two ago. Again, I had a lady in the church who had been a Christian a long time. She said, “Oh, thank you. I’ve never heard the Good Samaritan that I didn’t feel just the worst guilt because—"

Dave: —because we’re not.

Ann: —because I’m not the Good Samaritan.

Kevin: “because I’m not the Good Samaritan.” Again, I don’t want to take away [the fact that] Jesus is calling us to be a neighbor to people in need, and yet, it was a specific need at a specific moment, when he was the only person; the need was extreme, immediate, in his face, all of those things. Well, how do we live life when now you can see tsunami victims on the other side of the world? You know every time there’s a mudslide, every time there’s a fire, let alone the intractable problems in our own country.

What are you doing for racism? What are you doing for climate change, if that’s your thing? So, it can feel like, “Well, yes. You pray with your kids, and you take them to youth group, and you sing in the choir and you give a tithe, but what are you doing about this?” which tends to be the sort of problems that are the most difficult to solve, which is why they haven’t been solved yet, and take an extreme amount of time and effort.

I’m not saying some people don’t have that specific call on their life, but what is the person who’s shuttling their kids to school, trying to get them to soccer, trying to get their lunches made, trying to help them with their homework—that mom? And then you say, “Well, are you doing anything to solve the problem of racism in our country?” Please don’t hear me saying racism isn’t a sin. It is.

But there’s a difference between saying, “If you have that sin, you should repent of it,” or “How can you be reconciled to others?” or “How could you be a friend to your neighbor?” and then saying, “How can you repair what’s broken in our whole society?” Well, I don’t know how to get at that. That’s the infinite extensibility of guilt. Our world has the residual Christian impulse of guilt without the Christian mechanism to forgive and offer grace for that guilt. Go to Twitter (or X): lots of guilt, no way to be forgiven for your sins.

Dave: That’s so true.

Ann: Well, that kind of leads us into the last chapter, which is called A Quiet Life. I told Dave—we were traveling, and I was looking—I think we were in the Midwest, and there are just cornfields.

Kevin: There are a lot of cornfields in the Midwest.

Ann: There are no houses except miles apart, and I have this thing in me that’s like, “I’m supposed to change the world.” I said to him, “What would it have been like just to raise your kids? Were they fulfilling the Great Commission?” What is that quiet life? Is it okay to lead a quiet life?

Kevin: The verse, I Timothy 2, “First of all I urge that supplications, prayers, instructions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” The Bible is a big book. This isn’t the only thing it says about the Christian life, but it’s one thing it says.

What we do for our kids that’s most important is, we’re giving them what normal looks like. If normal looks like mom and dad love each other, and I go to church, and they’re Christians, and there’s a Bible, and Jesus is King, and there are sins and lots of things, but that’s normal. I want to say to people, “That’s not what’s wrong with the world.”

Is it true that those sorts of Christians, myself included, can be too comfortable and could say, “I have a nice job, I have enough money, I have my family, we’re good. I don’t want to be bothered with your problems.” Yes, there’s the other side of it.

I think people, sometimes, as Christians are too hard on themselves. “I didn’t do anything.” What do you mean you didn’t do anything? You brought a meal every time somebody in the church needed one. You raised these kids to be good workers, good citizens; to be godly people. You loved your husband or your wife, you prayed all the time. This is a godly life, quiet and peaceful.

In the book, I at least want to offer to people: this, too, is a verse in the Bible, and we should not be ashamed that we might live a quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

Dave: You mentioned Jeremiah 20:29. I’ll read it. God is saying this. “Build houses, settle down, plant gardens, and eat what they produce.” Many ministries would say, “No, no, no, no, no. That’s not enough.”

Kevin: You guys have traveled a lot, too, to know there is something about American Evangelicalism that has not been true at all times in all places. Some of that is a strength, but there can be the danger of a kind of hyperactivity, that the good, real Christian is probably super-extroverted, talking to people all the time, lots of activity. And there are people quietly in our churches who just feel like, “I don’t fit in with that. I’m absolutely exhausted.”

It tends to be a church life of high degrees of activity and activism, and much good is done through that.

Dave: Right.

Kevin: And yet, without this message to also be the counterbalance, we run the risk of giving people a version of Christianity that they just feel that they can never achieve.

Dave: As we wrap up, I think that’s encouraging for a lot of listeners.

Ann: Me, too.

Dave: We’re not saying, “Be lazy.” It’s not that at all, but “Live a quiet life.”

Ann: It gives them a chance to exhale.

Dave: Be diligent about what God has called you to be, and it could be build a house, plant a garden, influence your neighborhood through that medium.

Kevin: Because, of course, Jeremiah 29, “Seek the shalom of the city.” We know that part, but how do you do it? Well, it’s those earlier verses. This is what you’re going to do to seek the peace of the city: settle down. You’re going to have a garden, you’re going to have a family, you’re going to tend to the normal things of life, and you’re going to pray for the city, because as the city goes, so will you; but as you go, so will the city.

If you’re not healthy, and you’re not living this kind of life, then you’re not going to be much good for anyone else around you. And you’re going to be so worn out with this impossible version of Christianity, you’re not actually living in the joy of the Lord, which is supposed to be our strength.

Dave: I know for me, often the times I feel how good God is, “taste and see the Lord is good,” is when I still myself and get quiet. I run pretty hard, and you even run harder.

Ann: Oh, but you’re right.

Dave: But when you settle and rest—

Ann: Yes, when we talk about the quiet life and even Psalm 34, “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” when I go on walks, and I don’t put in my headphones, and I just look at Who God is by His creation; whew, it feels good, doesn’t it?

Dave: Yes. Take a walk today. Sit and experience the goodness of God.

Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Kevin DeYoung on FamilyLife Today. Kevin has written a book called Impossible Christianity, and it really helps believers answer the question, “Can we please God and live a happy life in this anxious age?” You might just instinctively say, “Yes,” but do you really mean it when you say, “Yes?”

Kevin helps to answer that question, and you can pick up his book by going online to FamilyLifeToday.com and clicking on the “Today’s Resources” link, or you can get the link in the show notes. Or you could give us a call at 800-358-6329. Request your copy there. Again, the number is 800 -“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

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I know that some of you have actually already been to a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, but we just wanted to make sure that you’ve heard that there is a lot that has changed from the past. We have a new speaker lineup, an entirely different Guidebook, and so much of the getaway has been changed and intentionally curated for you and your spouse to grow together like never before.

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Many of us would say that we kind of drag a lot of emotional baggage into our marriages. In fact, I’d say most people say that. Well, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined by Debra Fileta to talk about just that: addressing emotional baggage and building stronger foundations within our marriages. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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