“Gratuitous” Grace

“Gratuitous” Grace

The following is an excerpt from On the Grace of God on John Calvin’s understanding of “gratuitous” grace.

In the Christian tradition, there are many adjectives that have accompanied the word grace: amazing, free, scandalous, surprising, special, inexhaustible, incalculable, wondrous, mysterious, overflow- ing, abundant, irresistible, costly, extravagant, and more. My favorite is from John Calvin—”gratuitous” grace. Gratuitous is the idea of something being unwarranted or uncalled for. Though we yearn des- perately for grace, the beautiful extravagance of God’s love in Christ is utterly uncalled for. Gratuitous. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin writes: “We make the foundation of faith the gratuitous promise, because in it faith properly consists. . . . Faith begins with the promise, rests in it, and ends in it” (Institutes 3.2.24).

In Calvin’s theology, the knowledge of God the redeemer focuses on the “gratuitous promise” as the main theme of Scripture. The gratuitous promise in Christ is the substance of Scripture. The various terms denoting the gratuitous promise of God exist throughout Calvin’s writings in countless variations: “gratuitous mercy,” “gratuitous favor,” “gratuitous goodness,” “mere good pleasure,” and “gratuitous love” (Institutes 2.7.4; 2.16.2; 2.17.1; 3.21.5; 3.21.7; 3.31.7)  These expressions are also found throughout his commentaries, especially his Commentary on Romans and Commentary on Genesis.

God loves you with gratuitous grace, the only kind there is. God’s grace is unconditioned and unconditional.

Why the Rising Social Awareness in the Church Should Encourage Us

Why the Rising Social Awareness in the Church Should Encourage Us

Recently, we have begun to see an encouraging trend in Christian circles: a greater awareness of violence and oppression (such as human trafficking), as well as an increased concern for rescuing and caring for victims. We are seeing an explosion of attention to social justice issues in organizations like Passion, International Justice Mission, and the World Evangelical Alliance, and with the publication of books like God in a Brothel and The White Umbrella. Everywhere you look, churches, parachurch organizations, and individual Christians are waking up to the hidden world of injustice, violence, abuse, and slavery around us—and taking action.

The Bible does not hesitate to depict the harsh reality of violence and oppression, and in fact God’s people are clearly called to fight for justice and mercy for all people. Throughout the entire Bible, God is portrayed as one who is just and merciful in his dealings with humanity. Psalm 68:4-5 says, for example, that God is “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.” Theologians from a wide variety of backgrounds—from Gustavo Gutierrez to Nicholas Wolterstorff to Tim Keller—have concluded that God has a special place in his heart for the poor and vulnerable. Indeed, part of Israel’s vocation was to enact social justice, not for its own sake, but because in so doing Israel would reveal the character of God to the surrounding nations, as a city set on a hill.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and declared that these words of Isaiah were fulfilled in him:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:17)

In this declaration and his ministry, Jesus showed that bringing freedom for captives and relief to the poor and oppressed is crucial to his divine mission. His ultimate act of liberation was his substitutionary death and victorious resurrection, which set his people free from slavery to sin and death. Yet his teachings and his example show us that proclaiming the good news of Christ’s saving work should be accompanied by tangible acts of love, service, and mercy toward our neighbors if the gospel message is to be recognized in its full power.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus’ example revealed God’s heart for the despised, the weak, the abused, and the vulnerable. Jesus spent significant amounts of time with children, women, the poor, the diseased, Samaritans, and other outcast and disliked groups, valuing and loving those who were excluded by the society of his day. This paradoxical approach to the power structures of the world is echoed by Paul when he writes, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27-29).

Apologetic of Mercy

Historically, the Christian church has, at its best, been known for exemplary love and sacrificial service to the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful apologetic for the gospel. The fourth-century church provides just one example:

“In his attempt to reestablish Hellenic religion in the empire, [the Emperor] Julian instructed the high priest of the Hellenic faith to imitate Christian concern for strangers. Referring to Christianity as “atheism,” he asked, “Why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism?” He therefore instructed the priest to establish hostels for needy strangers in every city and also ordered a distribution of corn and wine to the poor, strangers, and beggars. “For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.”

Similarly, in more recent history, Christian churches of the 18th and 19th centuries led the charge for the abolition of slavery, again providing a strong apologetic for the Christian faith and visibly embodying Jesus’ mission to proclaim liberty to captives.

Social action is an opportunity for Christian churches to take the gospel to those who are most in need, provide an alternative community centered on Jesus (the church) to the marginalized and oppressed, and show the transformative power of the gospel to the watching world. Moreover, responding to oppression and social injustice in our world and our communities is a way the church can practice the charge of Jeremiah 29 for God’s people to seek the welfare of the cities where God has placed us, and to obey the call of James to practice “pure religion” (James 1:27) by caring for the most vulnerable.

In light of the theology of justice that permeates Scripture, we should give thanks that the renewed emphasis on care for victims and the oppressed has helped many Christians better realize a neglected aspect of our calling in the world. As Christopher J. H. Wright says, “Mission that claims the high spiritual ground of preaching only a gospel of personal forgiveness and salvation without the radical challenge of the full biblical demands of God’s justice and compassion, without a hunger and thirst for justice, may well expose those who respond to its partial truths to the same dangerous verdict. The epistle of James seems to say as much to those in his own day who had managed to drive an unbiblical wedge between faith and works, the spiritual and the material. If faith without works is dead, mission without social compassion and justice is biblically deficient.”

As we preaches the gospel of Christ’s atoning work, leading to liberation from sin, we must also apply that liberating and atoning work to the evils of this world. Otherwise we are like the person to whom James refers in his epistle: “and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:16)

Put simply, without embracing both the physical and also spiritual aspects of redemption, Christians will have an incomplete concept of God’s mission for the world.

Creeds and Deeds

As we celebrate the church’s reawakening attention to oppression and emphasis on action, we must watch out for our historical tendency to swing between extremes. One side focuses exclusively or primarily on meeting material needs—this could be labeled the “deeds not creeds” extreme, with its focus on action at the expense of proclamation. This approach, frequently but incorrectly labeled “social gospel,” reduces human beings to merely material beings and ignores the need for spiritual new birth and forgiveness of sin through the work of Christ, received through faith by hearing the word of God’s grace.

Fearing this pitfall, we sometimes swing to another extreme, the “anti-social gospel,” which could be dubbed “creeds not deeds.” This extreme emphasizes sound doctrine and focuses on proclamation, but meets only “spiritual” needs while ignoring or minimizing tangible action. As Michael Horton argues, a “creeds not deeds” approach fails because it is actually incompatible with biblical doctrine:

“While it is certainly possible to have a church that is formally committed to Christian doctrine—even in the form of creeds, confessions, and catechisms, without exhibiting any interest in missions or the welfare even of those within their own body, I would argue that it is impossible to have a church that is actually committed to sound doctrine that lacks these corollary interests. With respect to individual Christians in their common vocations, the mercies of God in Christ propel a profound sense of obligation and stewardship. God has given us everything in Christ, by grace alone, so our only “reasonable service” is to love and serve our neighbors out of gratitude for that inexhaustible gift.”

To avoid the pendulum-swing between extremes, the church must emphasize both creeds and also deeds, recognizing that Good News results in good deeds. Without that theological center, the church will be tempted to spin off into either deeds only or creeds only. God’s grace motivates repentance and change, and only by proclaiming God’s gracious, merciful response to our sin and failure will we find the fuel for loving and serving our neighbors in action and in truth.

The rise in awareness of oppression and concern for victims from the church should encourage us. Because of God’s lavish grace toward us through the work of Jesus, we are motivated to be agents of his grace to others, especially the vulnerable and oppressed. By responding to oppression and injustice, the church has the opportunity to be a light to the nations and to participate in God’s mission by welcoming the weak and powerless to find grace, mercy, and rest in Jesus Christ.

Grace All The Way

Grace All The Way

We must always hold Ephesians 2:10 together with 2:8–9.

Some of my friends and others who reviewed my book On the Grace of God have told me that the fifth chapter was their favorite. So, I thought it would be a great idea to give it away for free! You can download a copy of chapter 5 here. In the meantime, here’s a post adapted from the chapter.

High-Octane Gospel of Grace

Ephesians 2 is filled with the high-octane gospel of grace for both our justification and sanctification. It begins with how believers were dead in their sins, then moves to how God loved us and rescued us from this death by his grace, bringing salvation to all in Christ, uniting Jews and Gentiles as one people in which the Spirit of God dwells.

The first half of the chapter focuses on God’s rescue operation for his people, which delivered us from our sin and God’s wrath, and ends with verse 10, which centers on how God’s deliverance means we are created anew for lives of righteousness. As one commentator notes, salvation has already been described by Paul as “a resurrection from the dead, a liberation from slavery, and a rescue from condemnation”; he moves now to the idea of a new creation.

Grace Takes Center Stage

The theme of Ephesians 2:8–9 is clear: grace. This theme was already mentioned in verse 5, but what was then more of an “undercurrent” now becomes the main point. We are saved by grace, not anything we have done. The passage is a traditional one used to support the idea that justification before God is by grace alone, and not anything we do—and for good reason.

Good works can’t be the cause of our salvation—they just don’t work like that.

The verses strike with great emphasis the note of salvation as a complete “gift of God.” We have done nothing to bring it about that could lead us to boast about it. And yet it is nearly impossible not to boast in the radical love of God when we grasp this reality.

We now move to Ephesians 2:10 with its focus on “good works.” It is tempting at first glance to think that verses 8 and 9 are about grace and verse 10 is about works. But this would be to miss something very important that we easily neglect: everything is grace. Or, as one scholar puts it, “It is grace all the way.”

So what does that mean exactly?

Walking In Good Works

Notice how God-centered Ephesians 2:10 is. In the Greek, the first word in the sentence is “his,” which is an unusual placement and puts the emphasis squarely on God. We are “his workmanship.” We “are created [by God] in Christ Jesus” for good works. These good works were those “that God prepared beforehand.” Clearly works are important to Paul, but his emphasis here is on God bringing them about within us.

Notice that this verse does three important things:

  1. It gives the reason why Paul can say in verses 8 and 9 that salvation is a complete gift of God: because we are his workmanship, re-created in Jesus Christ.
  2. It points forward to other places the new creation idea is found in the epistle (Eph. 2:14–15; 4:24).
  3. It completes the section of Ephesians 2:1–10 in a fitting way by using again the idea of “walking,” which contrasts with verse 2 where Paul talks about how we used to “walk” in sin, following the “course of the world.” Now we “walk” in good works God has set before us.

The Goal, Not The Cause Of

Ephesians 2:10 continues, saying that we have been created in Christ Jesus “for good works.” So we are saved for the purpose of walking in good works. Good works are never the ground or cause of our salvation. They can’t be—they just don’t work like that. They are not the cause but the “goal of the new creation.” And God has already prepared them for us ahead of time.

We must always hold Ephesians 2:10 together with 2:8–9. The Bible paints a holistic picture of the believer as one whose life is continually lived in grace that bears fruit, fruit that is used by God to bless others.

 


 

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

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us (Book Highlights)

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us (Book Highlights)

How do successful leaders turn a group of people into a tribe and movement?

Tribes BookTribes: We Need You to Lead Us

by Seth Godin

New York: Portfolio, 2008.

 


 

A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.

–Seth Godin
Tribes, p. 2

In recent years the concept of tribes has been rising to prominence as a way of understanding the way people associate with one another, follow leaders, and rally around ideas. This idea has been popularized by the entrepreneur and author Seth Godin in his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (2008).

In Tribes, Godin offers an explanation for the human desire to belong to something greater:

Human beings can’t help it: we need to belong. One of the most powerful of our survival mechanisms is to be part of a tribe, to contribute to (and take from) a group of like-minded people. We are drawn to leaders and to their ideas, and we can’t resist the rush of belonging and the thrill of the new. (p. 3)

The desire to belong to a tribe is part of human nature.

The New Internet Style

As Godin argues, tribal associations used to be limited more by geography: people connected with those in their own village or city. But now globalization and the Internet have allowed tribes to spring up and flourish without regard to geography. The result:

This means that existing tribes are bigger, but more important, it means that there are now more tribes, smaller tribes, influential tribes, horizontal and vertical tribes, and tribes that could never have existed before. Tribes you work with, tribes you travel with, tribes you buy with. Tribes that vote, that discuss, that fight. Tribes where everyone knows your name. The professionals at the CIA are a tribe and so are the volunteers at the ACLU. (p. 4–5)

Rather than creating a new phenomenon, the Internet simply empowers and amplifies the natural human urge to connect: “Before the Internet, coordinating and leading a tribe was difficult. It was difficult to get the word out, difficult to coordinate action, difficult to grow quickly. . . . Twitter and blogs and online videos and countless other techniques contribute to an entirely new dimension of what it means to be part of a tribe. The new technologies are well designed to connect tribes and to amplify their work” (p. 6).

Get ’em Together

The main idea of Tribes is that because it is now easier than ever to form, coordinate, and lead a tribe, anyone can become a leader. “Every one of these tribes is yearning for leadership and connection. This is an opportunity for you—an opportunity to find or assemble a tribe and lead it. The question isn’t, Is it possible for me to do that? Now, the question, is, Will I choose to do it?” (p. 8).

Leaders need to focus their message.

The most successful leaders, according to Godin, are those who turn their tribe into a movement by challenging the status quo: “Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements. The marketplace now rewards (and embraces) the heretic. It’s clearly more fun to make the rules than to follow them, and for the first time, it’s also profitable, powerful, and productive to do just that” (p. 11).

Successful movement leaders inspire people rather than dominate them. These leaders “don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. . . . Great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate. They establish the foundation for people to make connections, as opposed to commanding people to follow them” (p. 22–23).

L’il Communication

There are two things that are required to turn a group of people into a tribe: 1) a shared interest and 2) a way to communicate. Communication can be between the leader and the tribe, between tribe members, and between tribe members and outsiders. A leader can help make a tribe and its members more effective by:

  • Transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change
  • Providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications
  • Leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members (p. 25)

Great leaders create movements, and a movement has three key features:

  1. A narrative that tells a story about who we are and the future we’re trying to build
  2. A connection between and among the leader and the tribe
  3. Something to do—the fewer limits, the better (p. 27)

Hey Leaders

Godin argues that leaders need to focus their message on what will motivate their own tribe. “Great leaders don’t try to please everyone. Great leaders don’t water down their message in order to make the tribe a bit bigger. Instead, they realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful than a larger group could ever be” (p. 67).

The vision of leadership laid out in Tribes is about attracting, connecting, communicating with, and motivating followers of a tribe. As Godin summarizes, “Leaders challenge the status quo. Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture. Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they’re trying to change. Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers. Leaders communicate their vision of the future. Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based upon that commitment. Leaders connect their followers to one another” (p. 126).

What Does Jesus’ Resurrection Have to Do with Me?

What Does Jesus’ Resurrection Have to Do with Me?

The cross is God’s gracious response to our own sinful and willful irresponsibility, choices, and actions. We sin. We are perpetrators of evil—and this separates us from God. It is this aspect of sin that has been dealt with by the vicarious sacrifice of the atonement.

But we are also victims of sin. We have enemies who harm us. We are victims who have been sinned against in numerous ways. Because of sins done to us, we are also captive, held in bondage by powers in some sense external to us and greater than we are. Or we may be held in bondage to our own desires or fears, our self-centeredness or despair. Sometimes the Bible describes the human problem as suffering, being in bondage, slavery, or captivity, each and all of which separate us from God.

What we need in this regard is for God to fight on our behalf, against our enemy, for our freedom from bondage. This is what God did in the Exodus for his people. The clearest and most powerful manifestation of God doing this for us is Christ’s victory over death in the resurrection (Eph. 1:19–20). In this victory over principalities, powers, and death, the Son reclaims creation for the Father and freedom for you. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:15)

In answering the question, “How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?” the Heidelberg Catechismanswers: “First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, so that he might make us share in the righteousness he won for us by his death. Second, by his power we too are already now resurrected to a new life. Third, Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection.”

God accomplished redemption in Christ’s victory over sin and death, but the effects of that victory have yet to be fully realized. So while the ultimate outcome has been assured (Rom. 8:18–211 Cor. 15:51–57; Revelation 21), the struggle between life and death, good and evil, continues. However, the shalom (i.e. peace in its fullest sense), freedom, and rest of redemption will one day be fully realized when Jesus returns.

Jesus was physically raised from death as “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18), securing a future resurrection like his own for all those who are united to him through faith. Through his triumphant resurrection, Jesus opened the way for us to experience resurrection and eternal life in the new earth when he returns instead of the death we deserve.

Christ’s victory gives us back our identity and restores our meaning. We recognize, and may truly know for the first time, that we have a future that ends in peace, as well as a past that can be healed and forgiven, and now live in the hope of the gospel. Christ opens up for us a new identity because he himself remained always true to his identity, a share of which he offers to us.

In Christ’s victory, fear and shame are banished, to be replaced by profound joy that we are no longer strangers to God and to one another, that we are no longer so utterly isolated and alone.

Adapted from On the Grace of God

The Habits and Characters of Leaders

The Habits and Characters of Leaders

Leadership books come in and go out of style as quickly as the latest fashion or technological gadget.

Usually these bestselling books are guides for “how to” be a successful leader, manuals for identifying leaders, or stories about famous leaders worthy of emulation throughout the course of history.

What is interesting about the Bible, as compared to most leadership literature, is that it focuses very little on leadership development methods. It is not focused on offering strategies for being a good leader, nor does it explicitly describe the values that make leaders successful. In fact, Scripture might actually have more examples of bad leaders than it does good leaders.

But there’s a reason for the differences, because Scripture focuses more on character than it does on methods, more on faithfulness than it does on fruitfulness, and more on making disciples of Christ than it does on developing leaders. The Bible is not the least bit shy about pointing out the failures of even the best leaders.

The failure of leaders in Scripture points to the fact that it is only God who truly and faithfully guides and leads his people. In his covenants with his people, God is characterized by steadfast love and kindness, and his faithfulness to deliver his people is a common theme.

Leaders in today’s world have much they can learn—both positively and negatively—from the leaders in Scripture, but ultimately the point of the biblical texts is that those seeking to be great leaders would turn their eyes to Jesus, the only leader who is truly reliable.

The Habits of Leaders

The best leaders depend on God.

Rather than teaching leadership tips and methods for maximizing results, the Bible emphasizes character, faithfulness, and dependence on God when it portrays God-honoring leadership.

Leaders in Scripture represent a given people or nation. A priest who sins, for example, brings judgment upon the entire nation (Lev. 4:3). In a different way, Moses intercedes on behalf of Israel asking that God not execute his judgment upon them (Exod. 32).

Leaders witness to the gospel (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8) and are called servants (John 13:16; Acts 4:29). They are administrators (1 Cor. 12:28), shepherds (John 21:15–16; Acts 20:28–29), and builders (1 Cor. 3:10). Leaders are athletes competing in a race for God’s sake (2 Tim. 2:5), and they are considered fools (1 Cor. 4:10) and rubbish (v. 13) in the face of the world.

Leaders are to remain steadfast.

Joshua, who is another of Scripture’s model leaders, meditated on Scripture (Josh. 1:8). Leaders study God’s law (Ezra 7:10), flee from impurity (Isa. 52:11), do not have fear (Jer. 1:8), and are honest (Mal. 2:6). Leaders are humble (Matt. 23:8–12), have integrity (2 Cor. 4:2), are pure (1 Tim. 6:11), and have pure motives (1 Thess. 2:3).

Christian leaders in particular are to teach the Bible soundly (2 Tim. 1:13), remain focused on the gospel (2 Tim. 2:1–23), and exercise their spiritual gifts (1 Pet. 4:10). In fact, leaders of the church are the group of leaders to whom God gives the most stringent guidelines, almost all of which deal with character traits.

The Character of Leaders

Leaders throughout Scripture are characterized by a variety of positive traits. Integrity is especially valued. David asks God to judge his integrity (Ps. 7:8), and he was said to have shepherded Israel with a heart full of integrity (Ps. 78:72). God tells Solomon to maintain his integrity and guarantees the preservation of his reign if he continues in integrity (1 Kings 9:4–5). Leaders with integrity are guarded, but those who lack it are overthrown (Prov. 13:6).

Leadership entails great responsibility for others, especially including those who are considered followers. Leaders, according to Proverbs, are supposed to protect the innocent (Prov. 18:5), fight for justice, and punish the oppressors of the poor and orphans (Prov. 72:4; 23:10).

God often chooses people who would appear as unfit leaders.

Leaders are to remain steadfast in the face of opposition. Ezekiel, for example, was publicly criticized, but he maintained his convictions. Similarly, Paul boldly stood up to Peter at Antioch, confronting Peter about his hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11–21).

Attempting to implement worldly models of leadership has undesirable results (Exod. 17:1–7; 1 Sam. 8:7–8) because the leadership modeled in Scripture differs significantly from that of the world (1 Cor. 1:20). For example, God often chooses people who would appear to human eyes as unfit leaders: Moses was not eloquent (Exod. 3:9–4:16), Gideon was a coward (Judg. 6:11–12), and Simon Peter was uneducated (Luke 5:1–11). This makes it clear that leadership in Scripture is a gift from God, which negates any possibility for human boasting (1 Cor. 1:26–31). Kings were anointed before God in the Old Testament (Exod. 28:41), and leaders were appointed by the laying on of hands in the New Testament (Acts 6:5–6).

The Triune God: The True and Better Leader

The best leaders depend on God. They recognize that human leadership is patterned after the leadership of God, who is the ultimate leader, and all things fit within the frame of his sovereign leadership (Eph. 1:20–21; Phil. 2:9–10). God chooses the leaders for his own people (Deut. 17:14–15), and he appoints those who rule over the secular realm (Rom. 13:1). Human leadership in no way undermines God’s supremacy as the ultimate leader, but he desires that human leaders govern according to his will (Gen. 1:28), and he says that they are accountable to him (Luke 12:48). God uses prophets (Hag. 2:20–23), the leaders of foreign nations (Isa. 45:1), and natural disasters (Exod. 7:4) to impose his will upon leaders not submitting to his authority. God is depicted as the ultimate king in Scripture (Ps. 48:2; Jer. 10:10). He sits on his throne (Ps. 47:8) and rules with his scepter (Ps. 45:6).

The best leaders revel in God’s grace and show grace to others.

Jesus Christ is depicted in Scripture as the one who brings the failures of previous leaders to an abrupt end. As a leader, Jesus attracted both small and large crowds (Matt. 4:18–25) and set an example for his disciples to follow (John 13:15). He is the true prophet, priest, and king. As true prophet, Jesus revealed the Father (Matt. 11:27) and spoke the Father’s words (John 8:28). As priest, he mediates between God and his people (Heb. 4:14–16; 10:11–22) and offered the perfect sacrifice of his life. And as the true Davidic king whose kingship will never end (2 Pet. 1:11), Jesus rules at the right hand of the Father of his church. Christ, the true and better leader, intercedes for his people.

Jesus was the ultimate wise leader. He says of himself in Matthew 12:42 that one “greater than Solomon is here.” Those who follow Jesus’s leadership are called children of wisdom (Luke 7:31–35).

The Holy Spirit also functions as a leader. In the Old Testament, the Spirit enabled the judges of Israel (Othniel in Judges 3:9–10, Gideon in Judges 6:34, Jephthah in Judges 11:29, and Samson in Judges 14:6 and 15:14–15). The Holy Spirit leads believers in the ways of God (Gal. 5:18, Rom. 8:14), teaches them wisdom (Acts 6:3; Eph. 1:17), and guides them in truth (John 16:13). The Spirit instructs in doctrine (1 Cor. 7:40), leads people physically (2 Kings 2:16; Ezek. 2:2; 3:12; Luke 2:27; Acts 8:39), sends people out (Acts 10:20), and leads the sons of God (Rom. 8:14).

Leaders Trust God

Scripture has much to offer in terms of a theology of leadership. The most important message, however, is that all leaders, even the greatest, will experience failure and must rely on God’s grace. The best leaders depend on God, revel in his grace, and show grace to others—they understand that grace motivates. Looking to the God of grace as the ultimate leader is the surest way to find resources for humble, faithful, and fruitful Christian leadership.

Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Nature

Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Nature

Only the biblical understanding of human nature can account for both the evil of the Holocaust and the compassionate response of the world community after the fact.

“What a freak, what a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a marvel! Judge of all things, and imbecile earthworm; possessor of the truth, and sink of uncertainty and error; glory and rubbish of the universe.”

Blaise Pascal

Selections from The Thoughts

 

As Blaise Pascal recognized, human beings are a paradox, capable of both great nobility and horrendous evil. Today, April 8, 2013, a day designated as a day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust, we come face to face with one of the starkest reminders in our time of the human capacity for great evil.

A recent New York Times article reveals new research that only heightens the reality of the shocking levels of violence and oppression of which humans are capable. The new findings show that during the Holocaust there were some 42,500 Nazi camps and ghettos throughout Europe, including 30,000 slave-labor camps, 1,150 Jewish ghettos, 980 concentration camps, 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps, 500 brothels containing sex slaves, and numerous other camps for euthanizing the weak and elderly, performing forced abortions, or shipping victims from camp to camp.

It can be difficult to comprehend how human beings could possibly descend to the depths of evil that we see in the Holocaust. Faced with this uncomfortable reality, many attempt to rationalize genocide as somehow deriving from outside forces. Thinkers as diverse as Gustav Le Bon, Sigmund Freud, and Reinhold Niebuhr explained genocide as a result of the evilness of the collective, believing that while individuals are capable of goodness and morality, groups are inherently selfish and uncaring. Others attempt to explain genocide on the basis of ideology alone or as resulting from leaders with an authoritarian personality type. However, none of these explanations can fully account for the existence of genocide and mass killing.

The most realistic conclusion is that reached by leading genocide scholar James Waller in his book Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing, which concludes that all people share a human nature that includes the capacity for both extraordinary good and extraordinary evil under the right circumstances.

The Bible on Human Nature

As uncomfortable as it is, this diagnosis fits with what the Bible teaches about human nature. The Bible begins with God, the sovereign, good Creator of all things: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God’s creative handiwork, everything from light to land to living creatures, is called “good.” Humanity, being the image of God, is the crown of God’s good creation—“behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). As the pinnacle of God’s creation, human beings reveal God more wonderfully than any other creature—as they were created to be like God, by God, for God, and to be with God (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:15).

In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our image.” In the very beginning, our Creator gave us a remarkable title: “in the image of God.” This expression reveals the inherent dignity of all human beings, because it designates human beings as representatives of the supreme King of the universe. As God’s image-bearers, human beings are imbued with dignity and worth beyond that of animals. Speaking to Noah after the flood, God emphasizes that human life is to be highly valued, and that violence against any human being is to be rigorously punished (Gen. 9:5–6).

But Genesis 3 records the terrible day when humanity fell into sin and the peace God intended was violated. In a moment of cosmic treason, Adam and Eve violated their relationship with God by rebelling against his command. Instead of trusting in God’s wise and good word, they trusted in the crafty and deceitful words of the serpent. In response, the Creator placed a curse on our parents that cast the whole human race into futility and death. The royal image of God fell into the severe ignobility we all experience. The Bible sums up the bleak condition of human nature after the Fall in Genesis 6:5, as “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Human evil is described as being characterized by intensity (“great in the earth”), inwardness (“thoughts of his heart”), pervasiveness (“only evil”), and constancy (“continually”).

As fallen human beings, all kinds of evil now comes out of the human heart: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, false testimony, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly (Matt. 15:17–20; Mark 7:20–22). As Jesus tells us, “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:23). In Galatians 5:17–21, Paul follows Jesus’ lead and tells us that inherent within us is sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

The Hope Amid the Evil

The only explanation that can account for both the evil of the Holocaust and the compassionate response of the world community after the fact is the biblical understanding of human nature. The reason we react with horror to the Nazi atrocities is because we are made in the image of God, which includes the conscience that God has given us and our capacity for compassion and love. Yet the ultimate reason such atrocities could be carried out is the same reason every one of us is capable of evil: human nature is fallen under the curse of sin.

Because of sin, human beings do evil, but we are not as bad as we could be. In his mercy, God restrains human evil from always reaching the depths that it could. Yet our true hope for change is ultimately in God’s power.

The Holocaust is a sobering reminder of the capacity for evil present in the human heart. It should lead us to look to God for deliverance not only from the evil of others, but from the evil in our own hearts. It should remind us that we need rescue and that Jesus is our ultimate hope.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Books and articles on protecting children, training them, and caring for abused children.

The month of April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the U.S. The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.

The campaign this year is child sexual abuse prevention. Here are some resources I wanted to make available on this issue.

Rid of My Disgrace

In honor of SAAM, the ebook edition of Rid of My Disgrace is available for $0.99 until Monday, April 8th.

Posts On Protecting Children

Recommended Reading On Training Your Children

Recommended Reading On Caring For Your Child If They Have Been Abused

Resources From GRACE

I serve on the board of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Their resource page has some helpful articles and videos:

The Respond Conference

Matt Chandler, Greg Love, Paul Tripp, and myself will speak at Respond—a free, one-day conference at The Village Church advocating a biblical response to sexual assault.

 

 

 

 

5 Ways You Can Teach Your Children About Their Sexual Development

5 Ways You Can Teach Your Children About Their Sexual Development

This post is by my wife, Lindsey.

As a parent, modeling respectful behaviors and boundaries and sharing age-appropriate information can counter unhealthy social norms around sexuality and relationships. Children are constantly learning social norms from peers and the media and it is your job to teach them what is expected or appropriate in interactions and relationships.

From infancy you can start talking about healthy childhood development. This may not be something natural for you, so you will need to learn about healthy childhood sexual development and age appropriate behaviors to better discuss unhealthy behaviors or abusive touch with your children.

To help get you started, here are five ways you can teach your children about their sexual development:

1. Create safe, positive, and open communication patterns, especially around sexuality and development. Your children will have lots of questions about their bodies, other people’s bodies, and life in general. Answer their questions with age-appropriate and candid responses. This will build confidence and trust with your child. Teach them that there are no secrets in the family and that they can always ask you anything and tell you everything. Instead of the word “secrets” use “surprises” when necessary. Explain the difference between a secret and a surprise.

2. Teach and use correct names of body parts, such as penis, vagina, breasts, bottom. You can begin this from infancy. It might be uncomfortable at first, but use the proper names of body parts. Children need to know the proper names for their genitals. This knowledge gives children correct language for understanding their bodies, for asking questions that need to be asked, and for telling about any behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.

3. Initiate conversations with your child about relationships and their body. “When I was a little girl I had a lot of questions about my body parts and other people’s body parts. Do you have any questions you want to talk about?” Or “I know you like to play dress up at school or your friend’s house, but it’s not okay to take off your clothes to put on a costume unless you are at your house with mom or dad home. Do you understand why I say that?”

Also, let your child know they can tell you if anyone touches them in the private areas or in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable—no matter who the person is, or what the person says to them.

4. Promote healthy behaviors by praising your children when their behaviors model healthy friendships and respect for personal boundaries. “Brian, that was great when you listened when Sara said she wanted you to stop hugging her. That was a good way to respect your friend’s boundaries and stop when she asked you to.”

5. Model respectful boundaries with your children by teaching them from a young age that they are in control of their bodies and have a responsibility to respect the boundaries of others. “Most of the time you like to be hugged, snuggled, tickled, and kissed, but sometimes you don’t and that’s okay. You have a right to personal space, privacy, and boundaries. Let me know if anyone—myself, family member, friend, or anyone else—touches any part of your body or talks to you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

If your son or daughter does not want to kiss or hug you or someone else do not force the exchange. Instead teach them to say, “No thank you.” They can give a high five or wave hello or goodbye. Encourage your child to seek help when something feels uncomfortable for them. It may take awhile for extended family members to catch on to this new trend in relating, so you as your child’s advocate will need to explain what is allowed and not allowed.

GMMcover

Pre-order our children’s book: God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.