Book Review: The Utter Relief of Holiness, by John Eldredge

The Utter Relief of Holiness

The subtitle:  How God’s Goodness Frees Us from Everything that Plagues Us.

From the book description on the website linked above:

It may seem strange at first because most folks don’t think of holiness as an utter relief.  Hard perhaps, boring if we’re honest, necessary like flossing, a level of spirituality we might attain to one day.  But a relief?  Look at it this way: Take the things you struggle with and ask yourself,  ‘What would life be like if I never struggled with this again?‘  It would be an utter relief.  An absolute utter relief.

This is the second book of John’s that I have reviewed, and as you probably noticed in the helpful links, this is someone whose words I respect.  I believe that, to a certain degree, I have been mentored through John’s writings, specifically:  Wild at Heart, The Way of the Wild Heart, Epic, Waking the Dead and Beautiful Outlaw.  In many ways, these writings have influenced me, and I believe that is a good thing.  Before I go further, I will say, that there are things that I disagree with John on, but they aren’t viewpoints and opinions that I would deem worthy enough to just write him off.  The “negatives”, if you want to call it that, are a very small fraction compared to the positives and I am forever grateful for how God has used John’s writings to challenge and impact my life.

So, the book, then?

What does it mean to be holy?  Is it even possible to be or to become holy?  Is holiness something that is lofty and unreachable for us as “mere” mortals?  Is holiness something we “borrow”, because we cannot achieve it?  If possible, how does holiness come, or how is it achieved?  What would our lives look like if we could embrace or walk in holiness?  Should we even try?

Think about it for a moment.  Don’t worry, chew on those questions, reread them if necessary before going further with my review.

This subject of holiness is what John is after in this book.  I wouldn’t say that he tackles it completely, but, he does a good job of bringing up things for you to think about and he continually points you back to the Father as the provider of the answers.  At least that is how I saw the book.

I think the best chapter must be chapter eight:  What God Did For You In Jesus.  In this chapter, he answers the questions with at least three to four scriptures per point.  In summary, without the scripture references:

First, through the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth upon the cross, your sins have been completely forgiven.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, you have been reconciled to God.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, you are cleansed of all your sins.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, you have been delivered from the tyranny of that part of you in bondage to sin.

Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Spirit of God, you now have the life of Jesus Christ within you.

You have been given a good heart.  (Tom here.  I know, I know… a lot of people don’t like this part.  Just read the chapter, or go download his sermon/conversation series called “The Good Heart”.  I personally believe this.  In short:  The old you, the old ways of coping, aka the flesh, isn’t you anymore.  That part, is the part of yourself that needs to be renewed.  Your mind holds the old ways of doing things, coping and relating and it is your mind that needs to be renewed, thus the scripture goes: be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  I give this to you here by way of explanation, not to try to get into a five point argument on whether the position is valid.  You can believe that you have an evil heart all you want, from what I have seen, God wanted to regenerate and recreate you from the inside out, starting with your heart and working out from there.) 

There are a few things I had a hard time accepting, or didn’t like in this book, too.  One thing in particular, by way of example, that I had a hard time with was in chapter ten:  Holiness in Stubborn Places.  Some of it was good, but when it came to the subject of renouncing the “sins of your fathers”.  He explains that:

“Often in these places of lasting bondage, you find that a father (or a mother, or brother, or grandparent) struggled with the same issue [that you do].  … The scriptures present to us the reality that sin is often passed down within a family line, and the effects of those sins are passed down from generation to generation. [Here he lists scriptures from Exodus, Leviticus and Nehemiah]

Now, I am a highlighter, under-liner and note-writer in my books.  This is what I wrote:

“No!  No!  No!  Jesus confronted this while on earth!  “Neither his mother/father nor this man sinned so he was born blind”.  We don’t carry the debt of our “father’s sins”!  Their choice may have ripple effects in our lives if their choice to sin hurt/impacted us in some way.  (Porn left in plain sight, raging at us, etc.)  But we are neither to blame nor are we held liable for their sins.  Shouldn’t this be where we are to forgive them?”

Now, I realize that yes, my notes interpret the account in John 9 in a loose manner.  But the point remains.  The disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind.”  I personally believe this question revealed a terrible misunderstanding of sin and God when they asked it.  Jesus corrected it.  His parent’s sins didn’t affect his outcome.

The point I am trying to make, and probably quite terribly is this:  you are not responsible for your parent’s sins.  Period.

Now, for the sake of honesty, this particular subject is a sensitive one for me.  Mainly because after my parents divorced, it felt like my mother was on a warpath for years trying to convince me that I was “just like my father” (which can be a very good thing or a very bad thing, depending on the context in which the verbiage is used).  I remember going into a christian bookstore about fifteen or sixteen years of age and my mother buying a small book for me about “Sins of the fathers”.  For years I heard “your father struggled with X” and “your grandfather struggled with Y” and “you are just like your father (negatively spoken)”.  For quite awhile I bought into it, wrongly so.  My father’s sin, whatever they may be, are not me and I am not responsible for them.  His choices might have “rubbed off” on me, by way of example, but we have dealt with it and moved on.  My father and I have a pretty damn good relationship, and there are tons of things I see in my own life where my fathers “comes out” of me.  Those things are good things.

Maybe a better way to approach this would be to take a stance in prayer that your parent’s sins are not a part of your identity.  To understand and remind yourself that you are not the labels that have been placed on you, you are not what your parents have done.

Back to the book.  Take from the above what you want, discard the rest.

Overall, there are some good things to read in every chapter of this book.

I do find myself puzzled at the mixture of Law and Grace in it.  While some come from the “Grace must be balanced with Truth” camp, which really means it must be balanced with the Law.  I come from the peculiar camp of “the Law nullifies Grace and Grace nullifies the Law, they aren’t compatible” camp.  Falling from Grace means obeying the Law.  The Law’s only purpose is to bring you to the Grace and Truth that comes only by Jesus Christ.

However, as John points out in Beautiful Outlaw, we experience a void when reading any text, whether it be an email, a letter, a text message or even a book.  Because it is totally one-sided.  We lack many things that would help us get a clearer picture of what the author meant when he/she wrote the words they did.  That being said, I’m sure I might misunderstand some of the things John was saying, just due to the way he wrote them.  However, the way he wrote them is all I have to go off of, and he isn’t a bad communicator.

The Utter Relief of Holiness is O.K., it’s definitely not taking a place among my favorites.  However, I’ll probably revisit this book in a year or so to read again.

Not sure if this was a helpful review, or not, but it is what it is.  Take it as you will.

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