The Kidnapper and His Victims

The Kidnapper and His Victims

Ariel Castro, the man who kidnapped two teenage girls and one young woman and held them captive in his Cleveland house for over a decade, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 1,000 years. He was found guilty of 937 counts that included aggravated rape, assault, kidnapping, and murder.

The victims testified that they were raped and tortured on a regular basis. Victim Michelle Knight was impregnated by Castro at least five times and was forced to miscarry through starvation, while being repeatedly punched and stomped on the stomach. Another victim, Amanda Berry, gave birth to a daughter who is now 6.

How Common Is Sexual Violence Like Castro’s?

Often when we see high-profile cases like these on TV, we unknowingly create distance between their situation and ours. We tell ourselves that such things rarely happen in real life.

While it is true that we seldom hear about cases as horrific as this one, the fact is that sexual violence is an all-too-common problem in everyday life. According to studies, an estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been sexually assaulted, and every two minutes someone in the United States is a new victim.

Victims’ profiles are wide and varied. Sexual assault happens without regard to age, race, religion, nationality, sexual preference, education, class, occupation, ability, or disability. It is a frequent enough phenomenon that it is described as a “common experience” for women, men, and children. The odds are very high that either you or someone in your life has been affected by sexual assault.

How Sexual Violence Devastates Lives

Its commonality, however, never makes sexual assault a “normal” experience. Sexual assault negatively affects every aspect of life—e.g., self-image, relationships, emotions, beliefs, etc.—long after the event has passed. This is why victims are far more likely than others to struggle with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, and thoughts of suicide.

The devastation sexual assault can leave in its wake is of a magnitude that can only be met by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel declares that sexual assault does not have to have the last word on victims’ lives. It is not beyond the scope of healing and hope. It is not ignored by God or minimized by the Bible: God is active in bringing redemption, renewal, and re-creation. God imparts grace and peace.

How To Make A Difference

As Christians, we are called to stand up for the powerless and abused and address the effects of sexual assault with the biblical message of grace and redemption. The epidemic of sexual assault and sex trafficking in our society ought to be a priority for churches, and every church leader needs to be equipped to address this evil with their congregation.

Here are some resources to help you effectively lead your church through the reality of sexual violence:

Resources:

Organizations fighting sexual violence:

A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ

A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ

A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ

Recent allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up within a well known international ministry and subsequent public statements by several evangelical leaders have angered and distressed many, both inside and outside of the Church. These events expose the troubling reality that, far too often, the Church’s instincts are no different than from those of many other institutions, responding to such allegations by moving to protect her structures rather than her children. This is a longstanding problem in the Christian world, and we are deeply grieved by the failures of the American and global Church in responding to the issue of sexual abuse. We do not just believe we should do better; as those who claim the name of Jesus and the cause of the Gospel, we are convinced we must do better. In the hope that a time is coming when Christian leaders respond to all sexual abuse with outrage and courage, we offer this confession and declare the Good News of Jesus on behalf of the abused, ignored and forgotten.

Through the media we have been confronted with perpetual reports of grievous sexual abuse and its cover-up. Institutions ranging from the Catholic Church, various Protestant churches and missionary organizations, Penn State, Yeshiva University High School, the Boy Scouts, and all branches of our military have been rocked by allegations of abuse and of complicity in silencing the victims. And while many evangelical leaders have eagerly responded with outrage to those public scandals, we must now acknowledge long-silenced victims who are speaking out about sexual abuse in evangelical Christian institutions: schools, mission fields and churches, large and small. And we must confess we have done far too little to hear and help them.

Holocaust survivor and author, Elie Weisel, once said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim…silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” When we choose willful ignorance, inaction or neutrality in the face of evil, we participate in the survival of that evil. When clergy, school administrations, boards of directors, or military commanders have been silent or have covered up abuse, they have joined with those who perpetrate crimes against the “little ones” – often children, but also others who are on the underside of power because of size, age, position or authority.

It goes without saying that sexual abuse is criminal, but within the Church we also believe that it is the work of the enemy of our souls — evil, horrific sin perpetrated in dark and hidden places, forever altering lives and destroying the faith of the abused. How could such evil be present and overlooked in the body of Christ? Surely as his followers, we would do everything in our power to expose the deeds of darkness, opening the mouths of the mute, the afflicted and the needy. The Church must never hinder those who so desperately need to run to God and his people for safety, hope and truth, while also providing them protection from the great deceiver.

But we have hindered the victims. By our silence and our efforts to protect our names and institutions and “missions,” we, the body of Christ, have often sided with an enemy whose sole purpose is and has always been to destroy the Lamb of God and his presence in this world. Our busyness and inattention have often resulted in complicity in allowing dark places that shelter abuse to fester and survive.

We must face the truths of our own teachings: To be a shepherd in the body of Christ and blind to the knowledge that your sheep are being abused by wolves in your midst is to be an inattentive shepherd. To judge merely by outward appearances is a failure of righteousness. To fail to obey the laws of the land as Scripture commands by declining to report and expose abuse is to be a disobedient shepherd. To be told that wolves are devouring our lambs and fail to protect those lambs is to be a shepherd who sides with the wolves who hinder those same little ones from coming to Jesus. To fail to grasp the massive web of deception entangling an abuser and set him or her loose among the sheep is to be naïve about the very nature and power of sin. To be told a child is being or has been abused and to make excuses for failing to act is a diabolical misrepresentation of God. To know a woman is being raped or battered in hidden places and silence her or send her back is to align with those who live as enemies of our God. Protecting an institution or organization rather than a living, breathing lamb is to love ministry more than God and to value a human name or institution more than the peerless name of Jesus.

Dear church of Jesus Christ, we must set aside every agenda but one: to gently lead every man, woman and child into the arms of our Good Shepherd, who gave his very life to rescue us from the clutches of our enemy and from sin and death — who rose from the dead and called us to the safety of his side. As we follow this Good Shepherd, we will “eliminate harmful beasts from the land, make places of blessing for the sheep, deliver them from their enslavers and make them secure in places where no one will make them afraid” (Ezekiel 34:25-28).  Surely it is for such a time as this that the Church has been empowered to boldly and bravely embody the Good News to accusers and accused alike, and to forsake our own comfort and position to love the hurting with an illogical extravagance.

To all who have been abused, broken, deceived and ignored, we have failed you and our God. We repent for looking nothing like our Lord when we have silenced you, ignored you or moved away from you and then acted as if you were the problem. You are not the problem; you are the voice of our God calling his church to repentance and humility. Thank you for having the courage to speak truth. May God have mercy on us all and oh may the day come when his church reflects the indescribable love and compassion of Jesus, even to the point of laying down our lives for his precious sheep.

Dated this 17th day of July, 2013.

Click here to add your voice and sign this statement along with those listed below.

 

Carol Ajamian – Retired Jim Arcieri Pastor of Community Bible Fellowship Church in Red Hill, PA

William S. Barker – Professor of Church History, Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Steve Brown – Professor, Emeritus of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry at Reformed Theological Seminary, President of Key Life Network, Inc., and Author

P. J. (“Flip”) Buys – Associate International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, South Africa

Rebecca Campbell –  Member of the Board of Trustees at Biblical Theological Seminary

Alan Chambers – Founder, Speak.Love

Kelly Clark – Attorney with the law firm of O’Donnell Clark and Crew, LLP in Portland, OR

Julie Clinton – President of Extraordinary Women

Tim Clinton – President of the American Association of Christian Counselors and Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Liberty University

Wentzel Coetzer – Professor of Theology at Northwest University (Potschefstroom, South Africa)

James Courtney – Ruling Elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Rye, NY

Margaret Courtney –  Co-Director of Family Ministries at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Rye, NY

Glenn Davies – Bishop of North Sydney, Australia D. Clair Davis Chaplain at Redeemer Seminary

Chuck DeGroat – Associate Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Western Theological Seminary and Senior Fellow at Newbigin House

Mary DeMuth – Author and Blogger

David G. Dunbar – Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Diana S. Durrill – Pastor’s wife and Sexual abuse survivor

Michael J. Durrill – Pastor of Valley Community Church in Louisville, CO

William Edgar – Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Rob Edwards – Pastor of Mercy Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Forest, VA

Mr. Rinaldo Lotti Filho – Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church of Brazil (Sao Paulo)

Elyse Fitzpatrick – Counselor and Author

Ryan Ferguson – Pastor of Community Connection at North Hills Community Church in Taylors, SC

E. Robert Geehan – Pastor of The Reformed Church in Poughkeepsie, NY (RCA)

Shannon Geiger – Counselor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Dallas, TX

Douglas Green – Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Fred Harrell – Senior Pastor of City Church in San Francisco, CA

Robert Heerdt – Chief Investment Officer at BenefitWorks, Inc.

Walter Henegar – Senior Pastor of Atlanta Westside Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Atlanta, GA

Craig Higgins – Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Westchester County, NY and North American Regional Coordinator for the World Reformed Fellowship

Justin Holcomb – Author and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary

Lindsey Holcomb – Author and former case manager for sexual assault crisis center

Peter Hubbard – Pastor of Teaching at North Hills Community Church in Taylors, SC

Carolyn James – President of WhitbyForum

Frank James – President of Biblical Theological Seminary

Karen Jansson – Board member of the World Reformed Fellowship Board Member and Treasurer of the Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund, USA

Kathy Koch – President and Founder of Celebrate Kids

Matthew Lacey – Development Director for GRACE

David Lamb – Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary

Diane Langberg  – Clinical Psychologist and Author

Daniel N. LaValla – Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical Theological Seminary

Samuel Logan – International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), and Special Counsel to the President at Biblical Theological Seminary

Tremper Longman – Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College

Kin Yip Louie – Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at China Graduate School of Theology

Fergus Macdonald – Past President of the United Bible Societies (Scotland)

Todd Mangum – Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Dan McCartney – Professor of New Testament at Redeemer Seminary

Scot McKnight – Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary and Author

Jonathan Merritt – Faith and Culture writer

Pat Millen – Member of the Board of Trustees at Biblical Seminary

Philip Monroe – Professor of Counseling and Psychology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Amy Norvell – Director of Classical Conversations in Bryan/College Station, TX, Pastor’s wife, and Sexual abuse survivor

Thad Norvell  -Pastor at Community Church in Bryan/College Station, TX K.

Eric Perrin – Senior Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Cherry Hill, NJ

Michael Reagan – President of the Reagan Legacy Foundation

Matthew Redmond – Author

Nathan Rice – Director of Middle School Ministries at First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Bellevue, WA

Tamara Rice – Freelance Writer and Editor

Adam L Saenz – Clinical Psychologist and Author

Karen L. Sawyer – Vice Chair and Chair Elect of the Board of Trustees, Biblical Theological Seminary and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Arcadia University

Scotty Smith – Founding Pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN

Ron Scates – Preaching Pastor at Highland Park Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Dallas, Texas

Andrew J. Schmutzer – Professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute

Chris Seay – Pastor at Ecclesia in Houston, TX

Mike Sloan – Associate Pastor at Old Peachtree Presbyterian Church in DuLuth, GA

Basyle J. Tchividjian – Executive Director, GRACE and Associate Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law

Laura Thien – LMHC and Board Chairperson of the Julie Valentine Center in Greenville, SC

Jessica Thompson – Author

Rick Tyson – Senior Pastor at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Willow Grove, PA

John Williams – Ruling Elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Washington Island, WI

John Wilson – Pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, Australia

William Paul Young – Author

Preaching God’s Two Words: Law & Gospel

Preaching God’s Two Words: Law & Gospel

I was invited to speak at the “Preach the Word” conference at Living Stones Church in Reno, NV, and was assigned “Preaching God’s Two Words: Law & Gospel.”

I can think of no more important thing to get straight before one preaches than the distinction and relationship between God’s Law and God’s Gospel. We are talking about the character and holiness of God and the pleasant pardoning and love of God. Because we are sinners, the law is God’s “No!” and curse to us and the Gospel is God’s “Yes!” To confuse them is to corrupt the Christian faith at its core. Martin Luther says, “The whole of the Scriptures and the whole of theology depends upon the true understanding of the law and the gospel.”

In Galatians 3:1-3, 10-14, St. Paul writes:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?…For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Almighty God, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for 
our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, 
and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever
hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have
 given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with
 you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Proper 28, Book of Common Prayer, pages 236)

 

When My Dad Loved Me At My Worst

When My Dad Loved Me At My Worst

Many of us think (whether we admit it or not) there must be some breaking point where our Father God gives up on us. Even if we successfully avoid believing this fallacy, others’ overzealous cries still reach our ears: certainly there must be some sin or amount of sin that is just too much.

THE FLOOD

My understanding of unconditional love and its implications deepened when I was 10 years old. Our neighbors had moved and they were trying to sell their house. One day I broke in through the back door and closed all the drains in all the sinks and tubs and turned on all the faucets. Then, I just sat there and watched the water run. I let it keep running when I went home for dinner, only finally returning a few hours later to turn it off. I flooded the entire house.

THE FEELING

I knew right away that what I had done was wrong. I was shocked that I just wanted to do something so destructive. Our neighbors saw the damage the next day while showing the home to prospective buyers. They came to our house, and asked us if we had seen anyone around their place recently. On top of what I had already done, I lied to our neighbors and my parents.

I felt completely messed up. I was destroying stuff for the sake of destroying, and then I lied blatantly to everyone. I had heard about asking God’s forgiveness (my dad had taught me the Lord’s Prayer), so I begged God to forgive me.

But I was worried that he wouldn’t. Surely something so deliberate and cruel was just too much to forgive.

THE FORGIVENESS

After a month of an uneasy conscience, I was finally found out. Another neighbor had seen me sneaking around and told my parents. My father called me in from playing outside with my friends and asked me if I remembered anything important about the flooding incident. I knew something was up, but I felt like I had to stick with the lie at this point.

Finally, my dad told me that I was busted. I experienced an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt for my sins, and intense fear of the consequences. I sobbed and muttered, “Dad, I’m so sorry. I’ve been asking God to forgive me for so long for this and I don’t know if he ever will.”

In a moment of parental love and great wisdom, my dad said, “If you asked God to forgive you, then you are forgiven. You deserve to be punished, and this will cost lots of money to fix. But, son, you are forgiven. Go back outside and play.” In that moment, the reality of forgiveness and gratuitous grace powerfully moved me.

Instead of experiencing my fears unfold, I knew I was safe with my dad and I finally understood what he told me growing up: “I love you unconditionally.”

THE FAITH

Now when I confess my sins, I think of that experience of absolution. My dad didn’t take grace “too far.” He saw that my misunderstanding and fear of God’s wrath and my dad’s discipline threatened to crush me. He took on the consequences of my sins and literally paid for them for me.

I know there was nothing I could do to cause him to love me less. And I also know there was nothing I could do to cause him to love me more.

He loved me because I was his.

God the Father loves you like that. It’s gratuitous grace, the only kind there is.

 

A version of this story appears in Judgment and Love, a 35-story collection from Mockingbird.

What Is Grace?

What Is Grace?

“The very center and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God.”
J. Gresham Machen

“Grace” is the most important concept in the Bible, Christianity, and the world. It is most clearly expressed in the promises of God revealed in Scripture and embodied in Jesus Christ.

Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely, the peace of God given to the restless, the unmerited favor of God.

What are some ways people have defined grace?

  • B.B. Warfield: “Grace is free sovereign favor to the ill-deserving.”
  • John Stott: “Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.”
  • Jerry Bridges: “[Grace] is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against him.”
  • Paul Zahl: “Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it.”

Grace Gives Life

Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness. We live in a world of earning, deserving, and merit, and these result in judgment. That is why everyone wants and needs grace. Judgment kills. Only grace makes alive.

A shorthand for grace is “mercy, not merit.” Grace is the opposite of karma, which is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve. Christianity teaches that what we deserve is death with no hope of resurrection.

Judgment kills. Only grace makes alive.

While everyone desperately needs it, grace is not about us. Grace is fundamentally a word about God: his un-coerced initiative and pervasive, extravagant demonstrations of care and favor. Michael Horton writes, “In grace, God gives nothing less than himself. Grace, then, is not a third thing or substance mediating between God and sinners, but is Jesus Christ in redeeming action.”

All Is Grounded In Grace

Christians live every day by the grace of God. We receive forgiveness according to the riches of God’s grace, and grace drives our sanctification. Paul tells us, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11). Spiritual growth doesn’t happen overnight, but we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 2:18). Grace transforms our desires, motivations, and behavior.

In fact, God’s grace grounds and empowers everything in the Christian life. Grace is the basis for:

  • Our Christian identity: “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 1:10).
  • Our standing before God: “. . . this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2).
  • Our behavior: “We behaved in the world . . . by the grace of God” (2 Cor. 2:12).
  • Our living: Those who receive “the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:17) by the “grace of life” (1 Pet. 1:7).
  • Our holiness: “God called us to a holy calling . . . because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Tim. 2:9).
  • Our strength for living: “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:1) for “it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” (Heb. 13:9).
  • Our way of speaking: “Let your speech always be gracious” (Col. 4:6).
  • Our serving: “serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet 1:10).
  • Our sufficiency: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 2:9), and “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 2:8).
  • Our response to difficulty and suffering: We get “grace to help in time of need,” (Heb. 4:16) and when “you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace . . . will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet. 1:10).
  • Our participation in God’s mission: As recipients of grace, we are privileged to serve as agents of grace. Believers receive grace (Acts 11:23), are encouraged to continue in grace (Acts 13:43), and are called to testify to the grace of God (Acts 20:24). Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). God’s mission is to the entire world.
  • Our future: God, and his grace, is everlasting. “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).
  • Our hope beyond death: “Grace [reigns] through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:21).

The gospel is all about God’s grace through Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul calls it “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) and “the word of his grace” (Acts 14:3).

Grace Is The Message

The gospel of the grace of God is the message everyone needs. The word of grace is proclaimed from every page of the Bible and ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ. The last verse of the Bible summarizes the message from Genesis to Revelation: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all” (Rev. 22:21). Through Jesus “we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16)—the gratuitous and undomesticated grace of God.

 


 

This post is excerpted from my latest book, On the Grace of God. It originally appeared on Christianity.com.

 

Grace Is the Opposite of Karma

Grace Is the Opposite of Karma

A Q&A with Justin Holcomb on the release of his newest book, On the Grace of God.

 

Question: So let’s start with the big idea. Give us a quick summary of what the Bible says on the grace of God.

Justin Holcomb: “Grace” is the most important concept in the Bible, in Christianity, and in the world. The shorthand for grace is “mercy, not merit.”

Grace is getting what you don’t deserve and not getting what you do deserve. Grace is the opposite of karma. Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely, the peace of God given to the restless, the unmerited favor of God. Grace is free sovereign favor to the ill-deserving. Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it. Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues. Grace is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against him. Grace is one-way love.

Question: “The opposite of karma.” That’s good. In fact, that all sounds pretty good. And yet in the book you talk about how grace is actually offensive. Can you explain why a concept that involves unconditional love could make people mad?

JH: Unconditional love is a difficult concept to wrap your mind around. Many of us think (whether we admit it or not) there must be some breaking point where God gives up on us. Certainly there must be some sin or amount of sin that is just too much. Our natural human tendency is to establish negotiated settlements with God through religion, but grace undermines our religious attempts. As Jacques Ellul said, “Grace is the hardest thing for us to be reconciled to, because it implies the renouncing of our pretensions, our power, our pomp and circumstance. It is opposite of everything our ‘religious’ sentiments are looking for.”

“Karma is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is the opposite.”

Religious people don’t like grace because it messes up their gig: giving advice, telling people what to do and not to do, parenting, marriage, being a boss. Grace undermines condemnation and fear, which are the best tools for religion.

In the Christian tradition, there are many adjectives that have accompanied the word grace: amazing, free, scandalous, surprising, special, inexhaustible, incalculable, wondrous, mysterious, overflowing, abundant, irresistible, costly, extravagant, and more. John Calvin calls it gratuitous grace. Gratuitous is the idea of something being unwarranted or uncalled for. Though we yearn desperately for grace, the beautiful extravagance of God’s love in Christ is utterly uncalled for.

Question: Many of those words aren’t generally associated with the concept of grace outside the church context. How do you think people in general define grace?

JH: I actually bought a shampoo one time called “Amazing Grace.” I couldn’t resist. The description on the bottle was the best example of a bad definition of grace I’ve ever seen. I had to write it down:

Life is a classroom. We are both student and teacher. Each day is a test. And each day we receive a passing or failing grade in one particular subject: grace. Grace is compassion, gratitude, surrender, faith, forgiveness, good manners, reverence, and the list goes on. It’s something money can’t buy and credentials rarely produce. Being the smartest, the prettiest, the most talented, the richest, or even the poorest, can’t help. Being a humble person can and being a helpful person can guide you through your days with grace and gratitude.

This may sound nice, but it turns grace into a chore and a platitude. In our culture, the word grace has a lot to do with charm, elegance, beauty, or attractiveness. This has very little to do with how the Bible uses the word. Grace isn’t a personal virtue at all; grace is unmerited favor or a kindly disposition that leads to acts of kindness. Grace is a gift.

Question: Which of course raises the same question Paul talks about in the book of Romans. If grace is a gift that we receive freely—if our acceptance is based on grace and not whether we obey God’s law—what’s to prevent people from abusing the gift and ignoring God’s commands? How do you tackle this issue?

JH: When it comes to grace and law, it’s not a matter of keeping them in balance, but using them correctly. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus intensified the law when he took the Ten Commandments and told us that it’s not just about our outward behavior. If you sin inwardly you have broken all of the law. Then, in Matthew 22:36–39, he summarizes the law with two prongs. He’s asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He replies: “Love God with all your heart” (which sums up the first four commandments), and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (which sums up the last six). Jesus made the law even more dangerous and intense than it was in the Old Testament. He wasn’t just explaining an ethical code for his followers—he was freaking people out so they would know their need for a Savior.

“Grace is the end of religion.”

The law is a mirror. It reflects to us our problem, our condition, our need, and our death. The law is good because it shows us reality. Like a mirror, the law shows us our problem. But a mirror can’t change what it shows us. It reflects our problem, but it can’t fix it. The law cannot generate what it commands. When applied to sin, the law curses us with judgment. In the presence of the law, only a holy substitute can save us. Look at what the Apostle Paul says: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! . . . There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (Rom. 7:24–8:3).

Jesus died on the cross in our place to take away the curse we bear for breaking God’s law. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, there is an answer to the disciples’ question, “Who then can be saved?” The good news comes when Jesus says, “With man [salvation] is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). That’s the point of the law and the gospel: with us, salvation is impossible (law), but for God, everything is possible (gospel). It’s when we face the impossibility of doing anything to save ourselves that the grace of God floods in.

Question: Talk more about the difference between grace and religion. How do you distinguish the two?

JH: “Religion” is shorthand for the human propensity is to establish negotiated settlements with God. Robert Capon explains: “The world is by no means averse to religion. In fact, it is devoted to it with a passion. It will buy any recipe for salvation as long as that formula leaves the responsibility for cooking up salvation firmly in human hands.”

Grace reveals our natural pride of self-sufficiency, as well as the pride of spiritual progression. God’s grace pushes us to recognize our sinfulness and reject all confidence in our abilities and ourselves. Grace is the end of religion because the secured promise of the gospel frees us from the supposed promises of our religious self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and self-justification.

“The cross is a coup de grâce, a ‘stroke of grace.’”

In religion, you get what you deserve. It is the same with karma. Karma is all about getting what you deserve. Christianity teaches that what you deserve is death with no hope of resurrection. Grace is the opposite of karma. While everyone desperately needs it, grace is not about us. Grace is fundamentally a word about God: his un-coerced initiative and pervasive, extravagant demonstrations of care and favor. The cross is God’s attack on sin and violence; it is salvation from sin and its effects. The cross really is a coup de grâce, meaning “stroke of grace,” which refers to the deathblow delivered to the misery of our suffering.

Question: That’s a great way to put it. Grace not only trumps religion, but also evil and suffering. What are some other ways that God’s grace can influence our day-to-day lives?

JH: God’s grace is overflowing and abundant. It is also powerful: grace motivates changed lives, as Paul writes: “The love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14, NIV)! Similarly, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). The principle that grace motivates ought to permeate our lives, work, and leadership.

For leaders, this means that when you want to see better performance from your staff, don’t threaten demotions or probation; instead, provide security, offer freedom for self-direction, and help them see the larger significance of their work.

For parents, if you want your children to be more obedient (not just compliant), don’t give them threats, but talk about Jesus’ obedience on their behalf and dazzle them with grace.

For pastors, when you want to see more faithfulness in your congregation, don’t just hammer them with the demands of the law; rather, tell them about Jesus’ faithfulness on our behalf, even and especially when we are faithless (2 Tim. 2:13). You will be amazed at the fruit the Holy Spirit produces when you focus on grace, rather than threats and incentives. Grace motivates.

 




Do you want more? Grab a copy of On the Grace of God by Justin Holcomb today.

The Importance of Being Believed for Sexual Abuse Victims

The Importance of Being Believed for Sexual Abuse Victims

Social psychology research on attitudes toward sexual assault has demonstrated that individuals in our society hold many prejudices about and negative views of sexual assault victims. Thus, victims often suffer not only from the trauma of the assault itself but also from the effects of these negative stereotypes. The result is that victims feel socially derogated and blamed following their sexual assault, which can prolong, continue, and intensify the substantial psychological and emotional distress the victim experiences. It is clear that negative reactions from family, friends, loved ones, and society have a harmful effect on victims.

Because sexual assault is a form of victimization that is particularly stigmatized in American society, many victims suffer in silence, which only intensifies their distress and disgrace. There appears to be a societal impulse to blame traumatized individuals for their suffering. One rationale is that this provides nonvictims with a false sense of security if they can place blame on victims rather than on perpetrators. Research findings suggest that blaming victims for post-traumatic symptoms is not only erroneous but also contributes to the vicious cycle of traumatization. Victims experiencing negative social reactions have poorer adjustment. Research has proven that “the only social reactions related to better  adjustment by victims were being believed and being listened to by others.”

This post is an excerpt from Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.

 

The Places Grace Empowers Us

The Places Grace Empowers Us

Christians live every day by the grace of God.

We receive forgiveness according to the riches of divine grace, and grace drives our sanctification. Paul tells us, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11–12).

This doesn’t happen overnight—we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Grace transforms our desires, motivations, and behavior.

Grace is the Basis

In fact, God’s grace grounds and empowers everything in the Christian life. Grace is the basis for:

  • Our Christian identity: “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10).
  • Our standing before God: “. . . this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2).
  • Our behavior: “We behaved in the world . . . by the grace of God” (2 Cor. 1:12).
  • Our living: Those who receive “the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:17) by the “grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7).
  • Our holiness: God “called us to a holy calling . . . because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Tim. 1:9).
  • Our strength for living: “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:1) for “it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” (Heb. 13:9).
  • Our way of speaking: “Let your speech always be gracious” (Col. 4:6).
  • Our serving: “Serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:10).
  • Our sufficiency: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9), “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8)
  • Our response to difficulty and suffering: We get “grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16), and when “you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace . . . will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet. 5:10).
  • Our participation in God’s mission: As recipients of grace we are privileged to serve as agents of grace. Believers receive grace (Acts 11:23), are encouraged to continue in grace (Acts 13:43), and are called to testify to the grace of God (Acts 20:24). In John 20:21, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” God’s mission is to the entire world (Isa. 49:6; Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8; 13:47).
  • Our future: God, and his grace, is everlasting. “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).
  • Our hope beyond death: “Grace [reigns] through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:21).

The gospel is all about God’s grace through Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul calls it “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) and “the word of his grace” (Acts 14:3; 20:32; cf. Col. 1:5–6).

Gratuitous Grace

The gospel of the grace of God is the message everyone needs. The word of grace is proclaimed from every page of the Bible and ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ. The last verse of the Bible summarizes the message from Genesis to Revelation: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all” (Rev. 22:21). Because of and from Jesus “we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16)—the gratuitous and undomesticated grace of God.

 


 

This post was adapted from On the Grace of God, by Justin Holcomb, copyright © 2013.

9 Types of Leaders in Scripture

9 Types of Leaders in Scripture

Though it does not focus on leadership development methods or offer lists of strategies for being a great leader, the Bible is filled with numerous examples of leaders, both good and bad. There is a lot to be learned simply by examining the various leaders in Scripture.

1. The Prototype

Moses stands as the prototype of a leader in the Old Testament. He served the people of Israel as a prophet, a judge, a king, and a priest. He brought the word of the Lord both to Israel and to Pharaoh (Exod. 3–11), he heard Israel’s complaints (Num. 27:1–4), he led the nation out of Egypt (Exod. 12:31–15:21) and ran military campaigns (Exod. 17:8–16), and he officiated the first Passover (Exod. 12).

Moses can easily be viewed as an example of good leadership. In fact, the stark contrast between a good and a bad leader is clear in the difference between Moses and his brother, Aaron, who gives in to the people’s demands for a golden calf (Exod. 32:4) and shifts the blame to the people and away from himself (Exod. 32:22).

Yet even Moses, the prototypical leader, experienced failure. When Israel complained to him concerning their lack of water in the wilderness, Moses went before the Lord, who told him to speak to a rock from which God would pour forth a stream of water (Num. 20:1–8). However, Moses, in his frustration, struck the rock and was prohibited from entering the promised land because of his disobedience (Num. 20:9–12).

2. Prophets

Prophets functioned in Scripture as God’s mouthpiece: they spoke judgment (Ezek. 13), encouragement (Mic. 4:1–5), exhortation (Mal. 2:1–9), and hope of restoration (Isa. 40–66). God’s word was spoken with integrity by prophets such as Huldah (2 Kings 22:14) and Jeremiah (Jer. 36). In the New Testament, John the Baptizer functioned as a prophet, leading Israel to repentance and telling Israel of deliverance in the person of Jesus (cf. Matt. 3:1–12; Mark 1:1–8).

3. Priests

Priests, also serving as leaders, were responsible for teaching the law (cf. Ezra in Neh. 8–9; 2 Chron. 17:8, 9). They led in sacrifice (Lev. 1–7), atonement (Lev. 16:29–34), cleansing (Lev. 13), and feasts (Lev. 23). However, priests often failed by setting up idols (Jer. 2:8), leading people astray (Ezek. 7:26), loving money (Jer. 6:13), and embracing corruption (Jer. 18:18). Jesus goes so far as to tell a parable against the priests (Matt. 21:33–46), and Paul says that the wrath of God came upon the Jewish leadership because they killed Jesus (1 Thess. 2:14–16).

4. Kings

Understandably, the kings in Israel’s history were leaders, for better or for worse. In fact, if anything becomes clear in the narrative of Israel’s history, it is that the kings were dispensable and fleeting: they can be conquered (2 Kings 25:7), become mentally ill (Dan. 4:33), randomly get shot by an arrow (2 Chron. 18:33), or be silently assassinated (1 Kings 16:16). As Proverbs 21:1 puts it, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” God appoints leaders when and where he will, and their destinies are in his hands.

5. Judges

God raised up judges (better translated as “leaders” or “governors”) in Israel’s midst when things had become disorganized and needed fixing. As Judges 3:9 says, “When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them.” This deliverer was a judge, a leader. What is interesting about the judges is that quite frequently they have no previous experience and were looked upon by outsiders as unfit for the job (such as Samson).

6. The Wise Man

The wise man is another type of leader in Scripture, and Solomon is a good example. He asks God for the ability to govern and lead his people wisely, and God grants his request, as seen in Solomon’s discernment in judging wisely between the two women who contended for a child (1 Kings 3:16–28).

7. Apostles

Within the church, God has ordained several different categories of leaders who are to guide and lead his church in the way of truth. Apostles are those who spent time with Jesus (Mark 3:14; 1 Cor. 9:1) and witnessed his resurrection (Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 13:31) so that they could pass on their knowledge and lead the church in its initial development. Apostles were directly commissioned by Jesus (Mark 3:14; Acts 10:39–42; John 20:21–23), assisted by the Holy Spirit (John 14:25–26; 15:26; 16:13), wrote about their own and others’ letters (2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Pet. 3:15–16), wrote as continuation of their preaching (Luke 1:1–4), and intended that their letters be read in church (Col. 4:16). For a teaching to be an apostolic, one in the early church meant that it could be traced directly back to Jesus’s own teaching and carried by those who learned from him.

8. Elders

While an “elder” in general terms is an aged person with enough life experiences to lead a group of people wisely (cf. the body of elders in Deut. 19:12, 21:2, and 22:15 and the “elders of Israel” in 1 Sam. 8:4; Exod. 3:16), elders in Scripture are the specially equipped leaders of the church. The disciples called themselves elders (1 Pet. 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1), and their primary responsibility was to pass on the teaching they received to others (1 Cor. 11:21; 15:1, 3; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6; 2 Tim. 2:2). Elders in the church are expected to teach (1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:9) and act as judges (Acts 15:2, 6, 22–29); leading not politically, but pastorally (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim. 5:17; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1–4; Eph. 4:11).

Elders are required to have wisdom in leading the church well, for they are responsible for determining sound from false doctrine. To determine whether they are capable of leadership, elders have a special set of guidelines by which their abilities are to be judged. The office of elder is a noble one (1 Tim. 3:1), and the one who aspires to it must be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert . . . he must be well thought of by outsiders” (1 Tim. 3:2–7). Leadership in the church requires that one be a good example.

9. Deacons

So that elders can devote their time and energy to shepherding and leading God’s people, God instituted another category of leader: the office of deacon. The word deacon means “servant,” and while the whole church is supposed to be servants of God, there are certain qualifications for the technical office of deacon (Rom. 12:7; 1 Pet. 4:11). Deacons are to be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to wine, not greedy, faithful (both to the gospel and their spouses), not slanderers, sober-minded, and tested (1 Tim. 3:8–11). Originally, deacons were appointed by the 12 disciples to distribute food to the widows in need (Acts 6), and they now serve the church in leading others as servants in a variety of tasks.

Leaders Depend on Grace

God used and continues to use a diverse group of people to lead his own people. However, the successful leaders in Scripture depended on God, while those who failed tried to stand on their own. If one thread holds together the theology of leadership throughout the pages of Scripture, it is the fact that even good leaders fail and stand in need of God’s grace.