1Thessalonians 4:1 - Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.
On the Tip of My Tongue
For fifteen years or so I had a concept on the tip of my tongue that I never felt I was communicating adequately. I knew what I meant, but getting others to fully grasp what I was trying to say was a different story.
That concept had to do with what Oswald Chambers referred to as, “unconscious holiness.” I immediately resonated with it from the first time I read about it. But expressing it clearly seemed to elude me.
Stages of Spiritual Growth
In trying to teach classes about this idea, I would usually describe spiritual growth as follows:
There’s a spectrum of spiritual growth. Some folks, before they come to know Christ, sin up a storm, but because they don’t know God or his Word, their sin is not that big of a deal to them.
The next group is made up of those whom God’s Spirit begins to awaken. Perhaps they have just come to know Christ as Lord. Bit by bit the puzzle pieces of faith begin to fit together and they realize their thinking, speaking, and living is not glorifying God. They realize that because they’re now in Christ, they can’t live the way they used to, even if they don’t quite understand all the ramifications of that epiphany.
And, because they’re in Christ and his Spirit is in them, they no longer want to live according to their old ways. And yet, they struggle to the point of frustration because it seems to them they’re just not making significant headway in their spiritual lives. The Apostle Paul’s struggle in Romans 7 comes to mind here.
As time goes by and these folks are seeking to walk faithfully with the Lord, they begin to experience more and more growth in their lives as followers of Christ. They catch themselves before they fall into temptation. Or, they repent immediately after sinning because it grieves their hearts and they don’t want any outstanding obstacles to stand between them and their precious communion with God. While they aren’t batting 1,000, they’re making great strides in what’s called, “progressive sanctification.” That is, they’re steadily and increasingly conforming to the likeness of Christ.
The last stage – the goal of every Christian – is to live a holy and righteous life by default. In other words, Christ becomes so much a part of you that you’re live faithfully for him and with him, almost unconsciously. You are so in step with the Spirit that holiness just seems to come by default.
It may not be theologically accurate to divide this spectrum into stages since the different parts of our lives flow together like a river and you’re never really aware of the moment you’re “moving from stage one to another.” That last “stage” is where I want to be. I want holiness and obedience to be so delightful to me that I automatically seek it, and in fact, it doesn’t occur to me to choose otherwise. Perhaps that’s what it will look like to be fully conformed to the image of Christ.
Think About It This Way
About five or six years ago I was given a precious gift by one of the folks in my Sunday school class who had a business background. Unbeknownst to her, she did a much better job communicating this idea than I had over the years.
She said that as I was sharing with her my idea of unconscious holiness, she remembered a business concept that she had learned.
She said that first of all there’s what’s called, “Unconscious Incompetence.” That means you’re not competent at something, but you don’t know it. Stage two is, “Conscious Incompetence,” which means you become a little more self-aware of your ignorance and inabilities.
The third stage is called, “Conscious Competence.” The idea here is that you become pretty good at something, and you know it, because you’re constantly working on it. It occupies your attention and your time. You’re intentional about improving and growing in that area. You’re also aware of the good results your hard work is producing.
The last stage is, “Unconscious Competence.” This is marked by being good at something – bearing some really good fruit – without really being intentional about it. That’s certainly not to say you aren’t trying to do a good job, but instead, it means that excellent work is so much a part of who you are, it appears effortless.
The goal is to be so competent at what you do, that you reflexively perform well. It is the “default” way you do it because you’re so “in tune” with what you do.
See the Connection?
Our goal is to be unconsciously holy. That is, we want to get to a place in our walk with Christ where our holiness reflexively flows in and through us because we’re so filled with God’s Spirit and “in tune” with his Word.
An Important Caveat
Even if we were to obtain unconscious holiness in this life, we are still called to intentionally pursue it. We want to deliberately please and glorify God. The larger point is that because we’re becoming more conformed to the likeness of Christ in our progressive sanctification, we become more loving, faithful, obedient, etc., in the daily living of our lives. It becomes our default setting. We become who God redeemed us to be.
That’s what I’m shooting for in my life. That’s what I’m trying to pass on to others. Where are you?
If our sins are forgiven by Christ and we can’t earn our way to heaven, then what’s the point of trying to become more like Christ in the first place? In what ways are you intentionally pursuing the holiness to which God calls you? How can you tell if you’re growing in Christlikeness? Is there ever a point in this life where you’re done growing?
Grace and Truth,
John 4:50 - Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.
If The Royal Official Could
The royal official didn’t first wait for a miracle before he believed. He didn’t wait for Jesus to first “prove himself” worthy of trust. He took Jesus at his word. He believed Jesus. Jesus told the man his dying son would live. That was all the official needed from the Lord.
How I wish this verse described me more. To take that step of faith, without prior confirmation of the desired result, can be frightening. Yet I sometimes find myself still wanting that confirmation in advance. Sometimes the Lord is pleased to throw me a bone, in spite of my small faith. But he would rather have me remember the hundreds upon hundreds of ways he proved himself capable and faithful to me and my loved ones in my own life, not to mention the millions upon millions of times he was to the rest of his people throughout redemptive history.
A Work in Progress
And yet I am encouraged. Despite my shortcomings the Lord is still drawing me closer to himself and conforming me more and more to the image of his Son. Slowly (so very slowly) I am maturing in my faith. The trust I long for comes more often than when I first began my pilgrimage. Is that your story too? Can you relate to that?
How precious it is to believe, and then have the eyes to see the blessing and the hands to receive it. The royal official believed first, then experienced the miracle.
Prayer and Scripture must undergird our growth in Christ. Reading God’s Word, reminding ourselves daily of his goodness and greatness, and then praying and meditating upon it builds us up with encouragement and confidence for both present and future faith. And this is needed. With such confidence in God, many throughout Scripture were able to face impossible odds and come out victorious on the other side. So will all who take the Lord at his Word.
What’s the hardest part for you about trusting God? In what situations do you find yourself wanting that “prior confirmation” before stepping out in faith and trust? Why do you think that is? What are some things you can put in place today to help you grow in your ability to take the Lord at his Word in your daily life? Tell a fellow Christian your plan and begin praying together for your faithfulness to grow.
Grace and Truth,
1 Thessalonians 4:3a – It is God’s will that you should be sanctified…
Not What You Were Thinking… Yet
Today’s devotion will no doubt disappoint you if you came to it with the hope and expectation of learning how to decide what job to take, whom to marry, or where to move. That’s often what we really mean when we say we want to know God’s will for our lives, isn’t it? I am no different.
But quite often those desires turn to despair when it is discovered that God doesn’t tell us in Paul’s letter to the Romans or the Gospel of Matthew that you should indeed take that job, marry that person, or move to that place. And because it doesn’t give us the specifics we want, we sometimes end up frustrated over the apparent “inaccessibility” of knowing God’s will for our lives.
My usual counsel to such troubled souls is to encourage them by letting them know God’s will can be found on virtually every page of the Bible. God is not trying to hide his will from them or playing some sort of shell game with his children. Today’s text gives us an example of what I’m talking about. Paul teaches us in our verse:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.
From and For
“Sanctified” is a biblical word which simply means, “to be set apart.” But what does that mean? Set apart from what? Set apart for what? Well first, it means to be set apart from something – specifically, from the world, the flesh, and the devil. It means the fallen, rebellious, autonomous, sinful, patterns of living and idolatry we once practiced are to be repented of, put off, died to, and left behind.
“Sanctified” also means that we are set apart for God. In Christ, God has made us his own. He is now molding us into the image of his dear Son. Thus, he calls us to love, trust, obey, and walk with him daily, that we might becoming increasingly like him. The Apostle Peter, in his first epistle quotes Leviticus and reminds us that God says to us, “Be holy, as I am holy.” Just a few verses from today’s text, in 1 Thessalonians 4:7, Paul declares, “…God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”
When we hear and receive Christ’s redeeming call and are born anew by the power of his Spirit, we immediately (though imperfectly) begin the process of becoming what God says we already are. God, in a manner of speaking, says to us:
You are holy. Now go and be holy. Go and be who you already are.
To die to yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Christ is what it means to live a sanctified life, one that jettisons the old, fallen self, and instead, puts on Christ as of first importance. It’s a life that immediately seeks his righteousness.
This is God’s will for you. The better you know God, and the more you know of God – his person, work, ways, and word – and the more you pursue them daily and whole-heartedly in your life, the more likely you will be able to discern his particular will for your life – that job to take, that person to marry, that place to move.
Seek first God and his righteousness, and the answers to those other questions will be revealed to you in time (Matt. 6:33).
What do you think most people mean when they say they want to know God’s will for their lives? Is that what you usually mean? How can knowing God’s revealed will for your life, (i.e., that we are called to be sanctified, etc.), help you to better know and understand his particular will for your life? In light of this devotional and the verses of Scripture shared, what advice would you give a friend or family member based on what you have learned?
Grace and Truth,
Hit with a Blunt Object
Have you ever met a person who believed they were given the spiritual gift of bludgeoning people over the head with their “honesty?” Are you such a person?
Such people are only tuned in to what they “think” their intention is, which is, they’re “just being honest.” They wield their “honesty” like a “Get out of jail free card” to say what they want, when and how they want to say it. They seem to think they can be as offensive as they want, as long as they follow their remarks with, “Hey, I’m just being honest.” Or, put another way, "I'm just keeping it real." Upon invoking this magical incantation, in their mind, they should be absolved from all they've just said, regardless of how hurtful or insulting it may have been.
Three Helpful Questions
Perhaps you have heard the following questions before, but I wanted to share them because I have found them quite helpful. These are questions I ask myself before I decide to share my own unsolicited “honesty” with others.
1.) Is it true? Obviously, if you’re going to pass on your thoughts to someone else, you should be communicating the truth. Whether it’s objective truth or even the truth of your opinion, it should be true. The ninth question and answer of The Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way:
Question: What is required in the ninth commandment?
Answer: I must not give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard. Rather, I must avoid all lying and deceit as the devil’s own works, under penalty of God’s heavy wrath. In court and everywhere else, I must love the truth, speak and confess it honestly, and do what I can to defend and promote my neighbor’s honor and reputation.
While this is certainly helpful for us in thinking through our communication with others, this ought not be all there is to it. There’s more for us to consider.
2.) Is it kind? Are your remarks bearing the fruit of Christian kindness? Are they words that will be a blessing and encouragement to the other person? Even if hard words must be spoken, we can still say them in such a way that it will be clear to the person to whom we’re speaking that we have their best interest at heart and not our personal agenda.
3.) Is it necessary? Does the person you are “being honest” with need to know you don’t like what they’re wearing, or how they’re raising their children, or how they decorate their house for Christmas? We may desperately want to share our opinions on all those questions and more, but that’s not the same thing as their needing to know it.
As a Christian, truth and honesty should be paramount, but not for the sake of building ourselves up, but for the sake of the other person. If God is not glorified in the transaction of honesty and truth, and if the purpose of the exchange is not the genuine benefit of the other person, then we’re not doing much more than sharing our opinions for the sake of lifting up ourselves.
Do you struggle with the desire to share your opinion with others (“just being honest), regardless of how it makes the other person feel? What do you think the real cause of such a practice is? Which of the three questions is most convicting to you? Why? What other questions would be helpful to you in deciding whether or not you need to be pass along your opinion to another person?
Grace and Truth,
Luke 12:1 – “Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees…”
Luke 12:15 – “Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed…”
Luke 12:40 – “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Don’t Miss the Warning
Whether Jesus was talking about the false teachings and practices of religious leaders, temptation and sin in our own lives, or the consummation of all things at his return, he commands us to be on guard, watch out, and be ready.
This theme of preparation appears and reappears throughout much of Jesus’ teachings. Repetition for rabbis in the first century was a teaching tool or technique to ensure a vital point was made and received, so we do well to pay careful attention here. It would be akin to a school teacher in our day writing a point on a chalkboard and saying, “If I’m taking the time to write this out, you can bet it will appear on your exam.” We ignore such warnings to our peril.
What is important to understand about our Lord’s words is the call on our part for disciplined intentionality. For you cannot casually or lazily “be on guard,” “watch out,” or “be ready.” Many of us could cite analogies from the world of sports or the military to show just how essential such intense, intentional, and disciplined preparation is. Without it, the game is lost, the city taken, the soul forfeited.
The Accumulation of Unguardedness
If I let my guard down today, it is true that Jesus may not return… this day. But that’s not the main point Jesus is making here. Instead, we must consider what the accumulation of days with a lowered guard would do to a person. In such a scenario, the spiritual atrophy that would set in could prove catastrophic to an individual. The dominion of the world, the flesh, and the devil would enlarge in that person’s life with detrimental results.
In his book, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan paints a vivid picture of this unguardedness in his characters, Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. All three had fallen asleep on their way to the Celestial City and had become shackled. When they were offered freedom from their bondage to continue their journey and avoid being devoured by the enemy, they responded by declaring they saw no danger and needed just a little more sleep.
How tragic for a person to never awaken from his slumber and thus become an occupied territory unaware. Without a work of divine grace, the battle is lost, and perhaps even the war.
We do well to heed our Master’s words today – to be on guard continually, always be ready, and constantly watch out. For our foes are nearer to us and subtler that we can imagine. Only an intentional and disciplined watchman on the high wall of the soul’s citadel can and will be properly prepared.
Let us, therefore, be ready. For I can think of nothing worse than to fall in battle, knowing I could have easily seen the attack coming and been ready for it, if only I had listened to and obeyed my King.
What are two or three reasons you have “fallen asleep on watch” in your faith? What sorts of images do the names of John Bunyan’s characters bring to your mind? The Lord has graciously given us means by which we may stay on guard, ready, and watchful. Which ones do you practice regularly? What are some things you can start doing today to remain “intentionally disciplined” on your walk to the Celestial City? Share your ideas with a friend and ask for prayer.
Grace and Truth,
John 8:23-24, 31-32 - But [Jesus] continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.  I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
To the Point
Jesus rarely, if ever, beat around the bush. Time was precious to him, so he usually cut straight to the chase. He knew how to get the attention of his hearers. In our Scripture, Jesus shares with those to whom he is speaking several important facts about them and the world in which they lived.
We Have to Show Our Pearly Whites
True, biblical, and God-glorifying faith in Christ has teeth to it. It’s got a practicality that demands to be noticed. It’s unlikely the early church was so heavily persecuted and martyred simply because they intellectually accepted particular truth-claims about Jesus and then told others they needed to do the same to go to heaven.
Instead, because they believed Jesus was who he claimed to be and thus loved and followed him, they therefore obeyed him. Put another way: They put their faith into practice.
As their faith in Christ permeated every sphere of their lives they began to be noticed by the worldlings around them. It was this authentic non-conformity to the world around them that led to their persecution. They refused to be “squeezed into the mold” of this world.
The Shape of Discipleship
If we would be people of the truth, we must be Christ’s disciples. If we would be his disciples, we must believe in him, trust him, and obey him. Nothing less is worthy of the One who is the true Lord and King of the universe, which includes this world.
The “Pretenders to the Throne” notwithstanding, (their reign, after all, is temporary), our allegiance must be to Christ alone. And that allegiance has a shape to it. It is not mere intellectual ascent of a few doctrinal propositions (though it includes that). It is not simply a warm-fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. It is far more. Allegiance to Christ is incarnational. It has skin on it. It has teeth to it. If we would be his, we must submit to his Lordship – his absolute authority – by obeying him in every sphere of our lives. Only then can we rightly claim to be his disciples.
In what areas of your life is it hardest to live faithfully as a Christian? Why do you think that is? What are three ways you can to equip yourself to more faithfully “hold to” Jesus’ teachings in every sphere of your life? What do you think such faithfulness looks like? Take a minute to pray right now and then share your ideas with a friend who will also pray for you and hold you accountable.
Grace and Truth,
Hebrews 13:7-8 - Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
No Expiration Date
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is unchangeable. What blessed consolation there is in these words. What challenge there is in these words.
If our Lord is the same today as he was yesterday, then that means what he said 2,000 years ago about himself and his work is still true. He has overcome the world. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. He is living water. He is the bread of life. He is the way, the truth and the life. He is the door. He is the gate. He came to bring life. He came to save sinners. He came to bear witness to the truth. His words of exhortation to believe and receive all these truths about himself (and more) are just as true, binding, and life-transforming for us today as when they were first spoken. And they will continue to be so 2,000 years from now, should our Lord wait that long to return. His promises are trustworthy because he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
A Larger Perspective Needed
When I consider the saints who have gone before us and read their words about our Lord, I am moved by the fact that, regardless of the century in which their words were written, there is a vital and familiar thread that runs throughout. It’s not simply because those who wrote were merely using the same vocabulary to describe Christ. It’s much more intimate than that. Instead, they were describing someone they knew – someone who does not change with the tides of time and place. Span the centuries and you will find the Lord Jesus being written about, adored, and worshipped in striking continuity and intimacy.
We would do well to imitate those faithful saints who traveled the way of Christ before us. Our vision of our Lord, when confined to our time and place alone, can become myopic and limited. It’s easy for us to grow accustomed to his face. Instead, we need to step outside our surroundings and see a bigger, more beautiful Jesus. We need to cross the generations to discover what others have said about our Lord and learn how their thoughts and lives were transformed and renewed because of him.
I love to read the works of the saints who lived, served, and died over the last 500 years (though, admittedly, that too can be limiting). I want to learn from those giants of the faith, whose lives, ministries, and teachings have stood the test of time. They have much to teach me today in my narrow little place in history.
I encourage you to do the same. Aside from time in God’s Word, there are few better ways to occupy your life of study and mediation than to read Christian biography. The lives of those who traveled with our Lord in the past can serve you as you travel with him in the future.
What are some of the ways you are comforted and encouraged by the unchangeable nature of Jesus? What are some ways that truth convicts you? Do you have a favorite person you enjoy learning about from Christian history? What is it about that person that inspires and encourages you? There are many fine mini-biographies available to introduce you to some of the great saints of Christian history. If you would like some suggestions about who to read and learn about, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Grace and Truth,
Galatians 4:9 - But now that you know God–or rather are known by God–how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
A Change of Address
When we lived in darkness – when we were of the world – it made perfect sense that we lived as the world lived. We were a part of its system. You might say it was the very air we breathed.
But when we were delivered from that bondage, ignorance, and darkness we were made into something new. Paul described us as a new creation. To paraphrase the apostle elsewhere,
“When I was a worldling, I talked like a worldling, I thought like a worldling, I reasoned like a worldling. When I became a new creature in Christ, I put worldish ways behind me.”
How is it, then, Paul could address these Galatian believers and ask them how it was they were turning back to their old, dead ways?
It’s amazing how shortsighted we can be on a daily basis. If we don’t keep Christ daily before us, pursuing him with all our might, we inevitably find ourselves drifting back to the world and its ways of thinking. And such worldish thinking will soon lead to worldish living. What’s so sad about this process is that even as it happens, we don’t seem aware that we are becoming enslaved to those “weak and miserable” principles all over again.
Why Do We Do This?
It really is absurd to think about why we would ever want to go back to such thinking and living once we have been freed from it. Why do we seem to prefer bondage to freedom at times? It’s interesting how we, like the Israelites, begin romanticizing how great the leeks and onions were in Egypt and forget about the fact that we were slaves there. Why do we do this?
There are probably many good answers. No believer, I hope, truly thinks the world is preferable to the things of God. I don’t think being out of shape is preferable to being healthy. But one skipped workout at a time – over a period of undisciplined living – and a person will find themselves struggling to walk up a flight of stairs. That was never the intention, but it was the consequence.
Similarly, a little disobedience and sloth here and there and one day a person will wake up terribly out of shape for the Kingdom. In truth, they will be downright unfit for it.
I’ve discovered in my own life that I do the things I want to do. It’s no more complicated than that. I may dress it up in elaborate excuses and rationalizations, but at the end of the day that’s all they are. Can you relate to that?
Don’t Ignore God’s Means of Grace
Thankfully, those who are genuinely in Christ will not be able to return to their old ways without feeling the disciplinary rod of the Holy Spirit. God is not content to watch his children become remolded to the world’s image.
By God’s magnificent grace, the smoke detector goes off long before the fire blazes out of control. God awakens and disciplines those who are his own and gets them/us back on track again. But even here he does not “do” all the work for us. We can still choose to sleep in instead of pray and study. We can play instead of worship on Sunday mornings. Fill in the blank with those temptations that continue to call you back to your old life. We will have those choices ever before us.
But if you cry out to your loving Father for help, his grace will abound once more to rescue you from your chains. And if you rely on him daily and practice those things he has promised will make you spiritually healthy, you may find you have to be rescued less often.
Do you ever find yourself moving back to the world’s ways of thinking and living? What do you think are the primary reasons you do so? Have you ever wandered back so deeply into slavery that you thought you were beyond rescue? How did you escape? What are two or three ways you can protect yourself from becoming enslaved to the “weak and miserable principles” of the world in the future?
Grace and Truth,
Exodus 4:11-12 – The Lord said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
Luke 12:11-12 – “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say,  for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
In Exodus 4, God called Moses to be his mouthpiece. Moses would represent God to both the Egyptians as well as the Israelites. Moses would speak on God’s behalf and utter the very message God told him to pass on. Some believe that, when Moses first declined God's offer, he was practicing false humility, common in his day. Others believe he wasn't very eloquent and was simply scared. Who knows? Whatever the reason, it seems plausible he may have been a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of speaking to Pharaoh. Who wouldn’t?
I’ve been there. Such fear comes from relying too much upon myself and not enough on God. God says as much with these words,
“Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (verse 11)
God’s the sovereign One in the equation, not me. Our Lord made a similar point in Luke 12 when he told his disciples they would be persecuted for following him. How would they respond when they were caught and tried by the authorities? How would they reply to the charges? Just think of the pressure and stress. Would fear overcome them? Or would they find the right words at the right moment?
Jesus told them not to worry about such things. He said,
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, (verse 11)
Our Default Excuse
The number of people who have told me they do not share their faith because they are “afraid they won’t know what to say” is higher than I can count. How often have we remained silent when we could and should have lovingly confronted a friend or family member for a particular sin in their lives? How many times have we avoided offering counsel to someone making a major life-decision because the pressure was simply too great? We’re afraid we’ll get tongue-tied for Jesus.
Those, and other examples, are often the result of leaning too heavily upon our own abilities (or fearing our inabilities) rather than trusting God and his Spirit to speak through us. But notice the reasons both
God the Father in Exodus and Jesus in Luke’s Gospel give for placing our trust in God:
Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (verse12)
for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (verse 12)
Trust God and Speak
You see, God never requires anything from us for which he does not also equip us. God wants us to witness to unbelievers as well as to minister to fellow believers. We are his hands and feet. More than that, we are his voice. We are not called to share our own opinions, however, but his words and counsel. Of course, as a seminary professor once reminded me, God seldom fills empty heads. If we aren’t listening to God through prayer and the study of his Word, then it is indeed doubtful we will have much to offer anyone.
And yet, as we dig into his Word and meditate upon what he has revealed to us, we will hear not only what he is saying to us, but also what he wants us to share with others. And that’s more than worth our effort.
Have you ever frozen in fear of what to say to someone who asked you why you are a Christian? Or have you not known how to counsel a friend who asked you for advice concerning a tough life-situation? Did either of those experiences make you more or less likely to “speak for God” when future opportunities presented themselves? Do you think you were leaning too heavily upon yourself? Your abilities? What are three things you can start doing today to prepare yourself to communicate God’s truth to another person when the next opportunity presents itself?
Grace and Truth,
A Tale of Two Ditches
Not too long ago a friend shared with me his struggle to faithfully teach grace to the folks he disciples. I certainly share that struggle. Faithful discipleship is a narrow path between the two ditches of legalism and licentiousness.
I didn’t come up with that distinction. The Apostle Paul dealt with the same issues. On the one hand he had to warn the Galatian Christians about the ditch of legalism espoused by the Judaizers. These were folks who claimed Jesus was great, but you still had to obey the Law of Moses to be saved. On the other hand, he had to give an emphatic “NO” to those in the other ditch whose philosophy was, “Let’s sin up a storm so we can experience more of God’s grace.” In their view, Christians don’t have to worry about obeying God, because they’re under God’s grace.
The path between the two ditches is hard and narrow indeed and Christian history is littered with examples of how individuals, (as well as groups of people), have fallen into one ditch or the other. Regardless of which ditch you fall into, you still end up dirty and smelly.
To my struggling friend, and as a reminder to myself, I offer some counsel I once heard. Take comfort in the struggle of the narrow path because the Apostle Paul experienced the same. Grace is a dangerous thing. If we faithfully and accurately teach the biblical doctrine of grace, there will always be the risk someone might distort it in a libertine direction, just as a faithful and accurate teaching of obedience might lead some into the legalistic ditch. We are called to be faithful in our message of grace, even though we can’t control what people will do with it.
Those who take the ministry of discipleship seriously will always struggle with this. However, we can use this struggle between the two ditches, the journey of the narrow path, to motivate us to be careful, loving, grace-filled, and faithful in our teaching, discipling, counseling, correcting, etc.
Remembering My Own Struggle
I know that walking the narrow path is hard for me, and I’ve been at it for some time now. I can still remember the early days of my walk with Christ. I often caught myself walking a little too closely to one side of the path or the other. Sadly, I sometimes found myself having to climb out of one ditch or the other. But in God’s goodness, he cleaned me up, disciplined me, and sent me along my way.
This reminder of my own history will hopefully encourage me (and you) to be patient with those whom I disciple, especially those who are just beginning their own way down the narrow path. Thank God for his ever-present grace!
Do you remember when you first became a Christian? Which ditch did you find yourself falling into in your early days? Now that you’ve been a Christian for a while, which tendency (or, ditch) do you find yourself struggling with? Why do you think Christians, regardless of how long they’ve been walking with Christ, find themselves struggling along the narrow path? Why do they get too close to one ditch or the other? What are three things you can begin doing today, with God’s wisdom and power, to help you stay on the straight and narrow?
Grace and Truth,
Click the image above to learn more about my book for men.