The core of Duguid’s book is designed to help us understand why God would allow us to struggle with sin after he has granted us forgiveness for those sins and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. She rightly notes that a Sovereign God could zap us and immediately free us from the remaining power of sin in our lives. However, our All-Wise God chooses to allow us to muddle along in lives that are filled with a lot of sin until either we die or Christ returns, which must mean that he has great plans for us in that process.
In her words, this is the book’s thesis: “What if growing in grace is more about humility, dependence, and exalting Christ than it is about defeating sin?” (p 18). I agree with this: God is more concerned about our hearts than he is with our outward behavior (cf Hosea 6:6).
But I also disagree. Because to say it this way presupposes that the question is either/or: either I am growing in humility, dependence and exalting Christ, OR, I am “defeating sin.” And that’s my problem with the book – I felt over and over like she was creating false dichotomies, setting up either/or situations where I believe the “otherness” of the Gospel creates a supernatural both/and. For example, in one of my favorite chapters (truly!), she says, “If the story of redemption is about us gradually becoming more and more sinless, then Paul’s boasting in his weakness makes no sense whatsoever (2 Cor. 11:30). But, if the story of redemption is about Jesus and his righteousness, then our continuing weakness actually shines the spotlight on Jesus all the more brightly” (81). Isn’t the story of redemption about both Jesus and his righteousness and his transforming power in making proud, rebellious people into a people who love him for his great mercy to us and who are gradually growing in Christlikeness (i.e. sinning less and less, cf 1 Pet 1:16) as his love uproots sin at its deepest levels in our hearts and transforms us from the inside-out?
In my way of thinking, this means that her premise doesn’t go deeply enough: we perhaps don’t see immediate progress in our efforts at holiness because God has to go much deeper in rooting out sin in our hearts and replacing it with proper worship. As our hearts are changed, behavior can’t help but follow. Behavioral change on its own will always be short-lived because you can’t cure cancer by treating symptoms; cancer can only be cured by radical surgery and/or chemotherapy, and sometimes that means that things get worse before they get better.
Over and over, I felt like it would have been so helpful if she would have just come out and said (as per her CCEF training): “The only pathway to true and lasting change is through the heart. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. You will know the roots of a tree by its fruit; fix the roots and it will bear good fruit.” Getting to the heart and behavioral change is not an either-or. When God changes your heart, your behavior can’t help but follow, even if it’s not in a way that we expect or what we would like to see.
Duguid does eventually make this point, more or less. It’s just not particularly explicit, and the book is laced with comments that could also undermine a holistic view of heart-and-behavior, inside-out sanctification. Martin Luther famously described mankind as being like a drunk person on a horse; we slide off to one side and overcorrect and end up sliding off the other side. In this case, I think we’ve slid from a context where people are always hearing, “You’re not good enough” to “Oh, relax, you’re perfectly fine.”