As I’ve been reading Paul’s epistle to Titus, I’ve been contemplating humankind’s interaction with salvation. Sinful man is saved by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. However, it is easy for us to believe that penance is needed for us to be made right with God. If we cheat on an essay, having our friend write the last two paragraphs, we will pray for an extra thirty minutes after church on Sunday. Praying for extra time on the Sabbath is not a bad thing. However, it might show a sign of idolatry. Are we praying so that God might be willing to save us? Or are we praying because God has already saved us? Jesus Christ saves us from our sin not because we are holy, but so that we may be holy.
Paul puts it this way in chapter 2 of Titus:
For 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 in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (2:11-14 ESV)
And he says in chapter 3:
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. (3:4-8)
We do not strive towards holiness so that we might be saved. We strive towards holiness becausewe are saved. My campus minister used an image, which might have come from somewhere else, in order to describe this gospel truth. On the American television competition, American Idol, we see a group of individual vocalists compete for the title of “American Idol.” Every time a singer performs, they are singing for another week on American Idol. They perform that they might not get kicked off the show. The only exception to this rule is when someone wins the title of “American Idol.” At that point, they sing, but not for a spot for the next week’s show. They do not sing for victory, they sing from victory. They do not sing so that they might win, they sing because they have won. In the same way, we do not obey God so that we might be saved, we obey because we have been saved. Our salvation in Jesus Christ leads us to obedience. If we were to seek salvation through our obedience, we would fail in the attempt. Our efforts at justifying ourselves lead to failure. Praise God that he saves His people so that they might live in obedience to Him and His glorious law, rather than the other way around (that they obey Him and His law for salvation).
When starting this reading of Galatians, I decided to change my practice of reading for the RUF study program. This may or may not change after this, but I wanted to spend more time sitting with the Scripture I was reading. So, instead of reading Galatians a chapter at a time and praying (which would take me six nights), I read this letter “section” by “section,” practicing lectio divinafor these readings and times of prayer. This took me much longer but helped me spend time communing with God as I read His Word.
Like other New Testament letters, Galatians begins with a greeting and ends with a benediction—the middle consisting of the main themes and arguments, including sections of commands. This letter seems to care for defining the gospel, separating out from these “other gospels” being preached in and near Galatia. The way Paul does this in the epistle to the Galatians is by outlining justification, faith, and adoption.
Paul reminds his readers that one is not “justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). For, if we were justified by the law, then no one would be saved. We receive the Spirit not by the works of the law, but by “hearing with faith” (3:2). Humans are not perfected by the flesh but saved by grace through faith. The one who trusts the law with his justification is cursed. The Law says, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deuteronomy 27:26). None of us can keep the whole law. All of humanity, every individual and every facet of human life is corrupted by sin. So, if justification comes by the law, we are doomed to death. Praise God that we are justified through faith in Jesus Christ who makes us right with God! Nothing else, no one else, will or can make us right with God.
Not only has Jesus made us right with God, but also, he has made us sons of God. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we are brought into the family of God. We, “like Isaac, are children of promise,” children of the Covenant (Galatians 4:28; cf. Genesis 12:1-3). Not only are we sons of God, but we are heirs with Christ: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (3:29). In Christ, we are God’s, and God is ours. And more than this! What is Christ’s is ours: his righteousness and his glory!
As I was writing this and reflecting on Galatians, my mind immediately went to a song I know by indie rock band Cold War Kids. The name of the song is “Mine is Yours.” After reading and writing about Galatians, looking at the lyrics became extremely illuminating to me, especially one stanza:
All my stones become your pearls
All of my trials are your treasures
All my debt you inherit
All of my clumsy lines will shine
This made me consider that not only does Christ give us all that he has and deserves, but he takes all that we have and makes that beautiful. He takes our stones and makes them pearls. He takes our trials and makes them treasures. He takes our debt for us on the cross. He takes my clumsy lines and makes the shine.
I will add two postscripts to this last reference. First, I am taking these lines out of the song in order to illuminate the truth of the gospel. Cold War Kids did not have this meaning as their intention when writing these lyrics, as far as I know. Second, I only make this claim from these lyrics, knowing that that the story of Scripture and specific passages I have not referenced support what I have stated. Finally, I know that, like all analogies, this reference will break down somehow. Nevertheless, I thought this song allowed me to contemplate the love of Christ.
Paul’s letter to Philemon constitutes one of the most intriguing pieces of Biblical literature. Paul wrote this letter to Philemon, a friend and brother in Christ, concerning the runaway slave, Onesimus. Onesimus had run away from Philemon, and then had become a follower of Christ under Paul while Paul was imprisoned. The letter was delivered to Philemon by Onesimus himself, it is thought.
The main aspect of this letter I wish to explore is the concept of R E P R E S E N T A T I O N. Paul is making an appeal to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. Paul is interceding for, is representing, Onesimus. See verses 17-20:
So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it–to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
Here, Paul presents us this image of “the representative.” Paul intercedes on behalf of Onesimus. Onesimus does not have to depend on himself, he can depend on Paul. This reminds me of much of the Book of Hebrews, which illustrates how Jesus Christ is the perfect High Priest, who perfectly represents us:
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people, since he id this once for all when he offered up himself.
Just as the high priests from Aaron and on were representatives before God for the people Israel, Jesus Christ himself is our representative before God. And while the human high priests had to constantly offer sacrifices for Israel, God offered up His sacrifice (Himself) one time for His people–this sacrifice was singular, final, efficacious and powerful.
Not only does Jesus Christ represent for us, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning to deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We do not know how to pray to God. We do not know how to love each other. We do not know how to resist temptation. We do not know how to do anything good on our own, but the Spirit intercedes for us. The Spirit shows us, leads us in the ways of God.
In Christ, we have a perfect representative. In the Holy Spirit, we have a willing intercessor.
Dr. Dan Allender is a therapist, writer, and Christian thinker, who specializes in the realm of sexual abuse. He writes this book, Bold Love, in order to better understand and show what it looks like for a Christian to love his neighbor and enemy boldly. He wrote this book with Dr. Tremper Longman III, who did much of the work of Scriptural exegesis in this book, given that he is an Old Testament scholar.
Here is the table of contents of Bold Love:
Introduction: Forgiveness; An Intricate Mystery
PartOne: The Battlefield of the Heart
Chapter 1: Mixed Feelings About Love; What Drives a Human Heart?
Chapter 2: Taking Our Hatred Out of the Closet; Why Don’t We Love Better?
Chapter 3: Stunned Into Silence; The Liberating Insult of Grace
Chapter 4: Facing a War of Hearts; How Do We Harm Each Other?
Chapter 5: Our Divine Warrior; Hope for Triumph in Battle
Part Two: Strategy for the War of Love
Chapter 6: Résumé of a Warrior; Qualifications of the Heart
Chapter 7: Hungering for Restoration; A Passionate Hope for Beauty
Chapter 8: Revoking Revenge; A Merciful Invitation to Brokenness
Chapter 9: Giving Good Gifts: A Cunning Intrusion of Truth
Part Three: Combat for the Soul
Chapter 10: Loving an Evil Person; Siege Warfare
Chapter 11: Loving a Fool; Guerrilla Warfare
Chapter 12: Loving a Normal Sinner; Athletic Competition
Epilogue: Bold Love; A Sword in the Heart of Death
Given that Allender titles the book “bold love,” he needs to set a definition, or at least guidelines for what he means by these words. He writes:
Bold love is courageously setting aside our personal agenda to move humbly into the world of others with their well-being in view, willing to risk further pain in our souls, in order to be an aroma of life to some and an aroma of death to others.
In other words, bold love is a forgiving love:
[…] the inconceivable, unexplainable pursuit of the offender by the offended for the sake of restored relationship with God, self, and others.
In our lives we learn to hate ourselves, to hate those around us, and to hate God himself, whether this hate is explicit or implicit. God calls us, however, to know forgiveness intimately. He calls us to know and rejoice in his loving forgiveness of our sins. He calls us to implement his forgiveness to our friends, family, acquaintances, and enemies. He also calls us into humble submission and brutal honesty as we struggle with him – for he knows all and we only know in part. Allender seeks to show us this love, especially as it regards forgiving and loving our enemies and those who sin against us.
But how do we come to love? How long will it be until we can love boldly as God does? Allender discusses the process of growth in love as follows:
Coming to know Christ may not immediately increase what most people call “love.” Whenever someone strives to love with the love of God, they enter into an endeavor that has more possibility for failure than any other enterprise in life. Simply said, God’s standards of love are always higher than ours; therefore, all efforts to love biblically will inevitably lead to a sense of our incompleteness and self-centeredness. God calls us to love, but love is developed over a lifetime of struggling to comprehend the personality of God who pursues us with relentless passion.
Growth is always developmental – that is, progressively learned, building block by block, slowly over time. The process is a journey, a pilgrimage through the unknown valleys of trial, tempest, and turmoil. In one sense, there is very little preparation involved prior to beginning the journey. The Lord simply asked the ill-prepared pilgrim to walk by faith in the understanding that He will provide. On the other hand, the journey is in itself a preparation where each experience is cumulatively used to prepare our hearts for the next turn in the path. He promises we will never be given more than we are prepared to handle (1 Corinthians 10:13), although at any one point, we might be tempted to differ.
Growth in love finds its source in the S U R E P R O M I S E that God will make us, S L O W P I L G R I M S, like Him.
Allender defines F O R G I V E N E S S as the act of cancelling debt that is owed in order to provide a door of opportunity for repentance and restoration of the broken relationship. In forgiveness, we are to (1) hunger for restoration, (2) revoke revenge, and (3) pursue goodness. (p. 160). Allender further explores the concepts of forgiveness and repentance:
“Forgiveness is inviting the one who harmed you to a banquet of fine food and wine that you have prepared so that he might have a taste of life.” (p. 164)
It is the hunger for reconciliation that tenderizes the heart toward the offender and toward the God who might work a miracle in his soul. (p. 164)
Forgiveness is not an isolated event. It is not isolated in that it is a process. It is also not isolated because it does not exist in the vacuum of one relationship. Forgiveness reverberates in each party’s relationship with God, their relationship with each other, their relations with others around them, and their relations with themselves.
But it is so hard to hope for this sort of reconciliation, especially to hope for this sort of reconciliation this side of heaven. Nevertheless, we are called to H O P E.
Many people refuse to acknowledge their desire for reconciliation with someone who hurt them, because of a terror of hope. Hope is a radically dangerous passion. Hope is anticipation. It is a vision of the future that guides how the present will be lived. All of us have experienced a time when anticipation that infused our lives with sunny vibrancy suddenly turned into a cold, wet rain.
Yet, Christians are called to work against this hatred of hope since it is a “hatred of beauty,” a characteristic of God Himself (p. 171). For only “heaven with the beauty of restoration is a big enough passion to draw us away from the petty distractions and cheap addictions of this sorry world” (p. 175).
So in all ways, whether it relates to our hatred, our desire for unjust vengeance, for our strivings to love ourselves over others, we are to be humble, releasing our grip on ourselves, allowing God to rule our E N T I R E B E I N G :
Our hearts are poisoned, however, toward worshipping God, because our bent is toward serving other gods, and He will not share His glory. He is intolerant of a divided heart; therefore, He works, mysteriously and often ruthlessly, to destroy all that violates true worship and love. Most people intuitively know that God requires the deepest part of their heart, if they desire to worship Him. Though we are made to worship, we want to find another way to live out what we are made for without offering what we do not want to lose – sovereign control over our life.
God wants A L L O F E A C H O F U S ! He wants us to give Him our entire being, and by extension, He wants us to give ourselves in love to those around us. We are to love boldly with invitation and warning, “a pull toward life and a push away from death” (p. 211). In addition, we must be willing to “bleed in the midst of unpleasant, undesired conflict,” for the sake of love and restoration (p. 213).
So what does it look like to boldly love different sorts of people? Allender spends time discussing three categories of people. These categories are not meant to be limiting, but rather general categories that will help us better love others.
1) We need to love evil people.
An E V I L P E R S O N is one who is “driven by a self-interest that is so heartless, conscious, and cruel that it delights in stealing from others the lifeblood of their soul” (p. 233). Their evil is cold and hard. They inflict shame, radiate arrogance, and measure out mockery. Their work is destructive, and they strip others of their hope.
In loving evil people, we need to be willing to face S H A M E and H A T R E D.
I don’t believe that in this life we can be entirely free from the effects of shame. To be shameless is, most likely, to be arrogant, narcissistic, and inclined to evil (Philippians 3:18-19). But it is possible to be face to face with the most shaming accusations of the Evil One and find the Lord’s mercy sufficient to withstand the brutal assault of contempt. His mercy will not only enable us to survive the attack, but also to declare and offer freedom from condemnation to any who choose to trust in the blood of Christ (Romans 8:1).
In loving evil people, we need to be willing to set and enforce clear P A R A M E T E R S.
In loving evil people, we must offer an opportunity for R E P E N T A N C E. If these opportunities continue to be rejected, excommunication/cutting off the relationship may be the only method left to bring their soul to God, paradoxically.
2) We need to love fools.
A F O O L is angry and self-centered, and he/she hates discipline and wisdom.
In loving fools, we need to expose F O L L Y, and we need to expose all that is obvious (because it may be hidden from them). We need to expose their folly with a mood that is matter-of-fact, strong, and benevolent. We need to expose their folly with an emphasis on their freedom of choice.
In loving fools, we need to enforce C O N S E Q U E N C E S. These consequences should confuse the fool and inflict suffering on them (in order to expose and kill sin).
In loving fools, we need to open up discussion through repentance. We need to acknowledge both D I G N I T Y and D E P R A V I T Y. We need to open the door to the W O U N D S of their past in order to free the fool of these wounds’ power. Lastly, we need to envision C H A N G E for that person and the relationship.
3) We need to love normal sinners.
A N O R M A L S I N N E R is envious, naïve, and poor in judgment.
In loving normal sinners, we need to C O V E R over sin with our love until it is the right time to expose their sin.
In loving normal sinners, we need to I N S T R U C T them with the gospel, whether we are academics, pastors, mechanics, or artists.
Our lives and our words are to capture the simple, in the simplicity and passionate wonder of the One who is wisdom, truth, beauty, and life. One may be a brilliant communicator, with the tongue of angels, or a poorly educated, monosyllabic bumbler, but if the gospel means more than anything else in life, then one’s words will sparkle with a shimmering translucence of heaven and a visceral, passionate humanness that comes from brokenness.
This is how Christians are to boldly love those around them, according to Allender.
Paul David Tripp is a Christian pastor, counselor, speaker, and author. He wrote this book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, in order to show his readers “how God uses people, who are themselves in need of change, as instruments of the same kind of change in others” (p. xi).
This is the table of contents of the book to show you a skeleton of the book as a whole:
The Best News: A Reason to Get Up in the Morning
In the Hands of the Redeemer
Do We Really Need Help?
The Heart Is the Target
Understanding Your Heart Struggle
Following the Wonderful Counselor
Building Relationships by Entering their World
Building Relationships by Identifying with Suffering
Getting to Know People
Discovering Where Change Is Needed
The Goals of Speaking the Truth in Love
The Process of Speaking the Truth in Love
Establishing Agenda and Clarifying Responsibility
Instilling Identity with Christ and Providing Accountability
One central premise of this book is that all Christians are called to ministry. No, Tripp does not mean to make the claim that all Christians are called to professional, full-time ministry. That is an unhealthy rumor and belief in certain parts of the Church. What Tripp means is that all Christians are called to minister to those around them in everyday life, whether they are an architect, teacher, or pastor. Christians, in their need of change, are called to help those around them in need of change.
There is a way we need to speak about change to others, a way to show change to others. We cannot just tell people that there are ways that they can “get better.” We must tell them about the Redeemer who changes people for His glory and for their good. We can’t just show people that certain steps elicit change, but that there is a person who changes us. Tripp puts it this way:
We cannot treat the Bible as a collection of therapeutic insights. To do so distorts its message and will not lead to lasting change. If a system could give us what we need, Jesus would never have come. But he came because what was wrong with us could not be fixed any other way. He is the only answer, so we must never offer a message that is less than the good news. We don’t offer people a system; we point them to a Redeemer. He is hope.
(p. 9; bold mine)
God doesn’t just want any unnamed individual ministering to the people around you, He wants youto do that. There is something about you, in your need and imperfection, in your gifts and specialty, that God wants to use in order to make others and yourself more like Him.
“God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things in the lives of others.” (p. 18)
“God transforms people’s lives as [they] bring his Word to others.” (p. 19)
Many have heard of the Creation/Fall/Redemption/Glory concept of the world. This is a Biblical understanding of the universe that shows us how God created us, how man fell in sin, how Jesus Christ came to redeem his people, and how we will join the Triune God in eternal glory when Christ comes again. It is a narrative conception of the world that is based in Scripture. One big misconception about Christianity is our need of God, what Tripp’s book is mainly about. The misconception is that we need God because of our fall from grace. No, we were created in need of God. Yes, we need God in new ways because of our sin. Nevertheless, we were created to be dependent on the Triune God. We needed God before we were in sin.
Tripp calls his readers to these two separate but intertwined prayers:
“God, I am a person in desperate need of help. Please send helpers my way and give me the humility to receive the help you have provided.”
“Lord, make me willing to help someone see himself as you see him today.”
Even though we needed God as created, unfallen creatures, we need God even more now that we are in sin. “Sin is much more than doing the wrong thing. It begins with loving, worshiping, and serving the wrong thing” (p. 67, italics mine). Sin is not action in isolation. Sin exists as a result of those things we love, worship, and serve (when that which we love, worship, and serve is not God Himself). These idols have “inescapable influence” over us, and they are why behavior modification is not the way to deal with sin. God must change my heart; He must rule my heart, rather than my idols ruling my heart, in order for me to move away from sin.
[God] knows what is best, and he will not let there be peace until he alone controls our hearts. He is a Warrior King, who will not rest when we are captive to other kings. He fights for us, for the thoughts and desires of our heart.
God has called us to incarnate Christ to others. We are to imitate Christ in his incarnation, God being made flesh:
The power of the incarnation is that it makes the presence and glory of God visible. By taking on flesh and blood, Christ made known the unseen God.
Thus, the goal of Biblical, personal ministry is “for the world to see and know Christ” (p. 102). We are to make God visible to others — this is what it means for us to incarnate God to others.
Tripp lays out a methodically flexible way to minister to those around us with the above goal in mind:
We are to love those around us
Enter the person’s world
Incarnate the love of Christ to them
Identify with their suffering
Accept them with the agenda of change in Jesus Christ
We are to know those around us
Ask them good questions
Think and pray about this person with Scripture in you
We are to speak into the lives of those around us
Speak the truth in love to them (which includes both affirmation and confrontation — we are called to COMFORT and CONFRONT)
Call this person to consideration, confession, commitment, and change
We are to act in the lives of those around us
Establish your personal ministry agenda (stemming from God’s agenda for change in Jesus Christ)
Instill identity in Christ
This method of personal ministry must be enacted with the knowledge that the initiator is also in need of this type of ministry as well. The one who loves and confronts must also know they need this same sort of ministry from others.
This book has been incredibly helpful in my understanding of ministry, both as it is my job, but also as it is my life as a Christian. I am called to be ministered to in my need and to minister to others in their need, both within my job as an RUF intern and as a person in Christ living life.