A Review of Kevin DeYoung's Impossible Christianity


“God loves us even though we are spiritual failures.”

True, or false?

We would all agree that God loves us, His children, who have been saved and reconciled to Him through faith in Christ. Certainly, we do fail in many ways by doing what we should not and failing to do what we ought. But does the Lord look on us as “spiritual failures?” If He does, that means that he loves us, but does not really like us: He just puts up with us with a scowl on His face. It means that we should carry around a load of guilt because we are not really pleasing to God. It might mean that we should just give up on trying to follow the Lord, because we always fall short anyway. If God sees us as disappointing, then the Christian life will feel like it is impossible.

Kevin DeYoung’s helpful book Impossible Christianity (Crossway, 2024) makes the case that the statement above is false. He helps us to see that the Christian life should not be one of constantly feeling like a disappointment to God, but that believers can and should joyfully, purposefully, and peacefully run the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).

DeYoung starts out by stating what he isn’t saying. He doesn’t want to cause confusion by implying that we can get to heaven by our good works or be perfect. He does not want to downplay the seriousness of sin, or that we should expect the Christian life to be trouble- and risk-free. He does want us to know that we can live in such a way that we someday will hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

We should be confident, firstly, DeYoung says, that we are in Christ. 1 John offers three “spiritual signposts” to us so that we may know that we are God’s children. These three are: believing Jesus Christ is the Son of God (5:11-13), living a righteous life (3:6-9), and loving others (3:14). Based on objections he has heard in the past, DeYoung helpfully clarifies that though none of us loves God as we should, lives perfectly righteously, or loves other people blamelessly,

“Christ died to expiate our evil deeds and to cleanse our good works. God looks on us and our good works and sees both as better than we deserve.” p 37

I personally found this section the most comforting and corrective. We often think about verses like “all our deeds are as filthy rags” (Is. 64:6), or “There is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:12). We conclude that nothing we can do is ever really good in God’s sight. DeYoung helpfully summarizes Reformation theologian Francis Turretin: our good works are performed by the help of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures repeatedly tell us that our good works please God, and God promises his children rewards for their good works.

“While it may be true that even our best deeds are still sinful, in the sense that they are still not perfectly righteous, the nature of our good works is still good.” p 38

After laying this foundation by showing us how we can be confident we are in Christ and how we can assess our imperfect but “good” works, in subsequent chapters DeYoung deals with several topics that are often misunderstood and a source of unnecessary guilt for Christians, such as “quiet times,” evangelism, money, corporate guilt, understanding Jesus’ sayings in the Sermon on the Mount, and handling compassion fatigue. Interpreting Scripture with Scripture, DeYoung addresses the nuances of the Bible’s teachings on these subjects clearly and thoroughly.

The subject matter of Impossible Christianity is important and weighty, but DeYoung has a winsome way of communicating, and a few times I laughed out loud. Though a small book of 128 pages, it contains much food for thought, and the book might be better digested by reading it with others and discussing it together. It is rich with comforts for the Christian who is striving to follow the Lord but feels weighed down with defeat and discouragement.

We know that “in this world we will have trouble” (John 16:33), and we struggle against sin in ourselves and will not be fully free from it until we reach heaven. But our Heavenly Father looks on us with love, even though He at times disciplines us for our good (Hebrews 12:10). We have Christ, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Hebrews 13:21 is a precious promise to cling to when we are tempted to feel that the Christian life is impossible. Our Savior will “equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." Kevin DeYoung’s book helps us to see that through the saving work of Christ, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, and the compassion and love of our Heavenly Father, it is indeed possible to run our race with faithfulness and freedom.

Candice Dennis is married to Kevin, and they have eight children and one son-in-law, all of them loved. She currently homeschools the last three at home, is training to become a certified biblical counselor, and enjoys reading, decorating, thrifting, and generally being a homebody.