Throughout history preachers have called people to holiness in four primary ways:
1. Portraying Sin as Repulsive – This produces shame-based obedience; The assumption here is that people can resist sin if they’re condemned about it without having an alternative to their sin presented.
2. Portraying Joyless-Obedience (‘Legalism’) as Virtuous– This produces obedience that fuels self-righteousness, arrogance and a religious spirit (if we succeed) or despair and depression (if we fail); The assumption here is that people can work their way out of sin by trying harder.
3. Portraying God as Merciless – This produces fear-based obedience; The assumption here is that people can resist sin if they are afraid enough of God’s punishment and hatred of them in their sin.
4. Portraying Desire for Pleasure as Evil – This produces confusion-based obedience; The assumption here is that people can resist sin by repenting of their desire for pleasure.
None of these approaches have produced lasting impact at any point in history when used by themselves or in an inappropriate way.
I believe that the Holy Spirit is emphasizing a call to holiness in these days that is essential to understand. I call it “The Doctrine of Superior Pleasure.” Many through history have used this language (“superior pleasure”) but I want to state it as a doctrine so as to galvanize it in our minds and hearts.
The essence of the doctrine of superior pleasure is this: that without an obtainable alternative to sin, that is objectively superior in quality, our hearts have no ability to withstand the temptation that is stirred by it. At the heart of the doctrine of superior pleasure is the truth that the pleasures of knowing the excellencies of Christ are greater in quality and quantity than the lesser fleeting pleasures of sin.
If we cannot say “Jesus, you taste better” in the face of temptation we will fall prey to it.
We cannot will our way out of sin. Nor can we be shamed or terrified out of. In fact, shame only injures our hearts and further hinders us from holiness even more; for when we feel filthy we live filthy. The only way that we can resist sin and embrace purity in any persistent way is by finding something that is more satisfying than sin and resolving to obtain it.
Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that humanity’s sin problem isn’t the product of our ravenous hunger for pleasure; a hunger that we cannot repent of; nor should we. The Biblical call to holiness is the call to seek and drink deeply of the pleasures (Ps. 16:11) of experiencing the fascinating depths of God (2 Cor. 2:9-11).
I am convinced that “the unblushing promises of the Gospel” (to quote Lewis) revolve around the fact that God possesses it and confidently and freely offers it. Or, more accurately, I believe that He is it.
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)