Why We Need to Stop Giving Cheap Grace

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.” The theme of this beloved hymn, grace, is the banner of the Christian’s new life in Christ. We love grace! It’s the pivotal point of sermons, articles, blogs, podcasts, Bible studies, and even our everyday conversations. And this is for good reason, since apart from the grace of God, we literally would not have the gospel! But there is always a danger present when we become overly familiar with an idea, and that is that through our familiarity we can distill its value and impact. We see a lot of this today in the American church. There are many false teachers that preach about grace, except for the fact that they aren’t really teaching biblical grace since the one they preach is detached from repentance, sacrifice, and the atoning work of Christ. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes this “cheap grace” when he says, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

“Biblical grace is inextricably connected to the atoning work of Christ and His sufficient sacrifice on our behalf when He died on the cross.”

While, thankfully, I don’t think most of us are embracing every degree of cheap grace that Bonhoeffer describes, there is still a way that many of us can unwittingly downplay grace that has been a recent point of conviction in my own life. It is common for us as Christians to talk about covering a person with grace, or we even may be encouraged by a friend to give ourselves grace. In certain contexts, these are valid and good exhortations. But what is not valid, and yet is far too common, is how frequently we will use that expression to refer to non-sin issues. “Her personality is different than mine, so I just need to give her grace.” “I’m going to cover this annoying habit of his with grace.” “Ugh, I didn’t get that last load of laundry finished, but now it’s late and I’m just so tired. You know what, I’m just going to give myself grace and I’ll get to it tomorrow.” Now, I am by no means advocating that we shouldn’t overlook personal differences, quirks, or understand that we aren’t always going to get everything we set out to do done in a day. But the problem with this sort of language that I am concerned about is that it neglects to understand what grace really is. Biblical grace is inextricably connected to the atoning work of Christ and His sufficient sacrifice on our behalf when He died on the cross. As Romans 3:22b-25a says, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” This has radical ramifications for our relationships. You can’t give real grace to someone for a non-sin issue, because they haven’t done anything requiring it. And when it comes to sin issues, we must always view grace in light of the cross in order to apply it correctly in difficult moments.

“When we frame our understanding of grace with the atonement in view, and then apply that to how we respond to sin, it has so much more impact on our lives than just broad-brushed so-called grace.”

When we frame our understanding of grace with the atonement in view, and then apply that to how we respond to sin, it has so much more impact on our lives than just broad-brushed so-called grace. For example, when a fellow Christian sins against us, it is through grace that we are able to view that sin in light of the gospel. Yes, they sinned, but we can forgive them because Christ atoned for that sin perfectly with his blood. Because of God’s abundant grace, they will not be condemned for that sin, and therefore should not be brought under condemnation by us. As Paul states in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” When a non-believer sins against us, it is the reality of our own position of favor, graced by God, that equips us to extend forgiveness, to choose to not hold the offense over their head. Like the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35, it would be utterly absurd to not forgive and give grace to others, in light of the abundant blessing of grace that is ours in Christ. It is also precious when confronted with our own guilt as we process our own emotions and thoughts. A few months ago, I was battling feelings of inadequacy. I am abundantly grateful for the many ways the Lord has provided for me to serve Him, but I am also continually humbled by my own insufficiency to accomplish my callings apart from Him. When I am not looking to the Lord, it is easy to feel guilty when I don’t complete everything on my to-do list at the end of the day. This meditation on grace has been so helpful in working through that feeling in my own heart. Is there a specific sin that kept me from walking in the work the Lord has prepared for me today? Then I must repent and turn to grace! My sin has been atoned for. The cross covers that point of failure and equips me to wake up another day and seek to mortify my flesh as I learn to walk by the Spirit. Rather than wallowing in discouragement, I can glory in my redemption, being confident that He who has begun a good work in me will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

“Like the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35, it would be utterly absurd to not forgive and give grace to others, in light of the abundant blessing of grace that is ours in Christ.”

Alternately, understanding grace this way affects how we handle non-sin situations. We don’t need to cover personality differences, annoying habits, or mistakes with grace. We need to humble ourselves and not see our personal preferences as superior to others, because doing so is in fact pride. Suddenly we are not in the seemingly high position of bestowing grace, but in the low position of choosing to esteem others as more significant than ourselves. Not long ago I had the opportunity to discuss this idea with some of my youth girls. We were discussing practical situations, and one student mention a sibling had accidentally broken something of hers. When I asked her what the biblical response was, she responded, “I know, I need to show grace.” I asked her if her sibling intended to hurt her or break her thing, and she answered no. We went on to have a fruitful conversation about how grace didn’t apply in this situation, except that she herself needed to turn to God for the grace to respond to her sibling with patience, in love. As sinful anger sprung up in her heart, she was actually the one who needed grace rather than her sibling who had made an accidental mistake! This idea continues to rings true for how we counsel our own hearts as well. Returning to my feelings of inadequacy that I mentioned previously as the example, I needed to consider: was it just a busy day with unexpected interruptions that kept me from accomplishing certain tasks? If so, then it changes how I needed to approach the Lord. Rather than repenting of my human frailty, which is a gift of God to remind me of my insufficiency apart from Him (2 Corinthians 12:9), I need to repent of my tendency to look to my performance for validation instead of resting in the providence of God. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” (Romans 3:28). Instead of feeling guilty I can thank the Lord for being sovereign over my days and trust that as I seek to obey, He will be faithful to accomplish everything He desires with my life. That is good news!

“As we understand the high cost of grace, that indeed Christ had to die to purchase it on our behalf, we will also grow in our understanding of how we use it.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, after defining cheap grace, goes on to provide the contrast with biblical, costly grace. He wrote, “Costly grace…is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.” Costly grace is what we as Christians get to live out every day as we pour out our lives as sacrifices unto the Lord. As we understand the high cost of grace, that indeed Christ had to die to purchase it on our behalf, we will also grow in our understanding of how we use it. Hopefully, the examples we looked at served to demonstrate how this change in perspective in the way we discuss grace can have such practical ramifications for our lives. As we take time to truly process and evaluate if and to whom grace need be applied as we encounter different situations and then think about how the cross-work of Christ is relevant, we will experience so much more power in our battle with sin as we fight with the truth of the gospel! It’s a simple fact that we cannot meditate on truth if we are misinterpreting the issue in the first place. Learning to distinguish between sin and non-sin issues, applying atonement-based grace, and developing a humble, kind nature, will producing fruit in our lives as we think and then walk differently towards those closest to us. It is truly my prayer that all of us would, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18).

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How do I rest in Christ?

Friday morning I jolted awake, my mind subconsciously aware that the sun had risen and I wasn’t out of bed. I quickly turned over and grabbed my phone: 6:22 am. It was your standard flustered morning scene: I threw off the covers, ran to the bathroom to get ready, dressed, and out the door at just about 7am. I habitually wake up at 5:30 am, with the help of my iPhone foghorn alarm, but I suppose, too tired the night before, I simply forgot to set it for the next morning.

As I was driving down the 10 west, I was grateful for the extra near-hour of sleep I had gotten, and that, by God’s grace, I had woken up with enough time to be ready for work. I gave thanks to the Lord for physical rest, since I had been disciplining myself to get more sleep over the past few months. My heart was also full of gratitude because being physically tired had made me acutely aware of my need for spiritual rest, something I had prayed for as I studied a familiar invitation from Christ in the New Testament. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus, preaching to the crowds of the disciples’ cities, declares, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This invitation from the Lord Jesus is comforting but almost surreal. His promise that we will find rest for our souls can easily be misinterpreted as comparable to well-intended words from a friend that have no bearing on our real lives. Though we might not want to admit it, we can often misunderstand God’s word this way, as an encouraging phrase or cheer to get us through a hard time, while missing the character and nature of the One we should long to know and love through Scripture. I have found that I need to consider the theological implications of each word God providentially includes in Scripture, especially with verses that might be too familiar to me. As I have reiterated this passage to myself over the past few months and prayerfully contemplated if I believe that true rest is to be found in Christ by faith, a few key things have stood out to me based on how He is described in this passage:

  • Jesus will give you rest – To trust in Christ is to be at rest, true rest. There is no need to be anxious, for He sovereignly supplies for all things (Philippians 4, Matthew 6). Salvation is purchased with the price of His blood, and He gives it to us as a free gift (Romans 3). The Lord provides us every spiritual blessing to walk rightly in the Spirit, and to be holy and blameless before God (Ephesians 1, Galatians 5). What a joy to no longer fear that our works are insufficient for God, because they are. Only the work of Christ on the Cross can save, because His death and resurrection atones for our sins, and raises us up to new life in Christ, in order that we might honor God.
  • Jesus is gentle – The Lord Jesus is a kind and gentle teacher. He is patient and longsuffering, knowing that our minds need to be renewed from the infiltration of our sin. Though He disciplines us, Jesus is never excessive or forceful like a human parent might be, but knows how to instruct each person accordingly. We do not need to be afraid of Him.
  • Jesus is lowly in heart – The Lord is humble, having condescended Himself to take on human flesh and walk this earth that He might know every temptation and yet live a perfect life unto the Father. He is the great High Priest who is able to empathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4).  Understanding Him in this way helps us to see that His teachings are empathetic, applicable and attainable – we are called to be holy (1 Peter 1:16), and He provides the strength and grace to walk accordingly.
  • Jesus’ yoke is easy, and His burden is light – He further reminds us that His yoke, or His Lordship and instruction[1], are simple, manageable, and embody rest, unlike the choking rule of sin and the law, and the heavy burden of false self-righteousness in our lives.

Three Specific Actions:

We are tempted to passively read Jesus’ words of invitation without considering whether we are going to respond to them or not. But we cannot be passive nor choose to ignore His commands just because we don’t want to take up the offer – this is a lack of faith that Christ is who He says He is, and that we are self-sufficient. As I’ve meditated on this scripture, I’ve focused on these points as imperatives or urgent calls-to-action, knowing that by doing these things I will find true rest from the fear of finding myself walking in flesh and in sin.

  • Come to me – I must turn from whatever busy work I am doing or thinking about, and purposefully go to Jesus. I do this in prayer and reading the Word, mostly, but it can also include listening to and singing praise hymns. But the key action is to go (or come) to the Lord; He is my authority, my God, and my Savior, and I go to Him constantly in need, knowing that I am invited to be before Him.
  • Take My yoke – Similar to the call in Luke 9:23 to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Christ, the Lord has greater things to offer me than what the world has, but there is still a cost. We must, by faith, turn from our previous master, sin and Satan, and believe in Christ as our Lord and Savior. Matthew 11:28 also emphasizes that those who come to Christ are weary and heavy laden and He offers them to be under His submission.
  • Learn from Me – after submitting yourself to the Lordship of Christ, He calls you to learn from Him. It is a beautiful reality that we can learn directly from Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, and that He desires to teach us to depend on Him and follow His ways. But notice how He didn’t say we can just learn about Him. Jesus specifically said to learn from Him, and this requires faith, relationship, trust, and humility.

There is still much more to learn from Christ as I study this passage, such as the humility required to learn. But I treasure taking my time with this passage, studying the reference verses to gain a better understanding, and asking the Lord to teach me that I might know His gentleness as I learn from Him in this season. If this is a time that feels non-stop and rushed, exhausting and without end, consider the words of Christ. Not only are you physically tired, but you might even be running dry spiritually. Remember this invitation from our Lord, and do not reject it, but fight your flesh to bring yourself before Him as one who needs Him. Only there will you find true rest for your soul.


[1] MacArthur, John. Grace to You Ministries, Sermon 2289.

 

Truths for the Angry Heart

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
(Psalm 4)

Feelings of distress, being wronged, and anger… these are exceedingly common to the human condition. The vast majority of our anger usually flows out of the belief that we have not been treated by another in a way we feel is right. David felt this in Psalm 4, and indeed, he had been wronged. Yet even in the face of being clearly sinned against, he counseled himself with these words: be angry, and do not sin. He then goes on to gives some beneficial exhortations for how to handle anger, whether it is justified or not (hint: most of ours is not). There is an abundance of wisdom in this psalm from the way David seeks the Lord in prayer, to how he remembers his position as set apart unto the Lord, and later identifies the true joy and peace that can only be found in God. But for the purpose of this piece, I just want to zoom in on verses 3 and 4. As we look at David’s approach to handling his own feelings of distress and anger, there are a few key points that I think we as Christian women would be wise to hold onto, in order that we too might learn to handle even the most intense emotional moments in a way that glorifies Christ.

1) She ponders truth
“Ponder in your own hearts on your bed…” (v. 4)
So often when we are angry, we have chosen to cling to and dwell on ourselves and our feelings rather than looking outside of ourselves to set our minds on the things of Christ. The Hebrew word for “ponder” in verse 4 is amar, and its literal meaning is to carefully give an answer, challenge, or command, or even to speak against something. When we are feeling angry, we must challenge and command our hearts to submit to the Lord’s will for our life at that moment, answering our hearts protests and speaking against any thoughts that might seek to feel justified in lashing out. Tim Keller suggests that, when angered, we would be wise to ask ourselves, “What am I loving so much right now that my heart is moved to feel angry?” Taking time to think about and evaluate our answer before we respond can provide the critical self-assessment we need to know how to move forward. We need to identify the underlying issue to understand the proper truth to apply to it. Psalm 143:5, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.” The universal truth we can always choose to ponder regardless of our clarity on the problem is on the great works of God, beginning with Christ’s humble sacrifice for us on the Cross. It is as we meditate on that precious reality that we are able to find strength to overcome any emotion. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 tells us that, “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Controlled by the love of Christ, we have the power to preach the truth to ourselves, strengthened by the One who died so that we might give all of ourselves, including our mind and thought-life, to Him.

2) She is quiet; she doesn’t spew
“…and be silent. Selah.” v. 4
Selah is a word frequently found throughout the Psalms that signaled the musicians to rest and pause, providing a moment for quiet contemplation of what had just been sung. Strategically, David inserts this restful pause here, right after he has commanded silence as the prelude to passing through the minefield of anger righteously. The gateway drug of anger is to say “just one thing” before we tell ourselves we will be done talking. In the heat of anger, it is all too easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that we will be able to make one jab, and then cease swinging. And yet we know this is almost never the case. Wisdom from Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” James 1:19 challenges us to be, “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” A wise woman will actively rule her spirit, choosing to be silent in the heat of her anger, running to God with her internal frenzy, so that she will not compromise her position as a representative of God. There is no greater example of patience under pressure than our great Shepherd who was, “oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth,” (Isaiah 53:7). If we feel like it is impossible to stay silent when we are feeling wronged or exasperated, we can always think back to the one who bore the Ultimate Wrong in silence.

3) She actively obeys / does good
“Offer right sacrifices…” (v. 5)
Romans 12:1 exhorts us to, “by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” While David wrote Psalm 4 when the Old Testament sacrificial system was still in place, the heart of sacrifice has remained the same pre and post Christ’s messianic sacrifice on our behalf. It is His sacrifice for us that enables us to offer our lives as a holy sacrifice through our obedience. When Saul disobeyed the Lord by not killing the Amalekites livestock, in the name of using some of it for sacrifices, Samuel replied, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” The “right sacrifices” of David’s time were rooted in hearts of obedience, just as ours must be. When we feel the surge of anger welling up in our hearts, the best thing we can do after preaching truth to ourselves and patiently being quiet is to go and actively seek to obey God and do good things. If we just sit around, telling our heart to get right indefinitely without choosing to move forward in our day, it will take so much longer for us to overcome that angry heart. We need to actively divert our emotional eyes from dwelling on the person, circumstance, or words that have upset us and turn to godly ways of distracting ourselves. Cleaning, exercising, calling or texting a friend that you know is in a difficult season, playing with your children, and praying for each of your family members, friends, or ministry leaders as you are busy with your hands are just a few ways that we might be able to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, running after good even as our hearts seek to overwhelm us.

4) She puts her trust in the Lord
“And put your trust in the Lord” (v. 5)
The Christian’s ability to have bold confidence in the plans and purposes of God is one of the sweetest sources of peace and comfort in the midst of life’s most emotionally trying circumstances. In 2 Samuel 16 a man named Shimei cursed and threw rocks at King David, even as he was on the run from his son Absalom. Talk about difficult and desperate life circumstances. Personally, I can imagine few things more likely to ignite anger in my heart than someone throwing rocks at my head (thankfully, something I have never experienced!). But David did not get angry and retaliate at all, even as his men were eagerly pushing to rush to his defense and strike Shimei down. David’s response has humbled me as I have realized how far I have to go in my own trusting the Lord. He says in verse 12, “Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” This older, wiser, patient David stood in stark contrast to the hothead who wanted to kill Nabal the fool for a similarly disrespectful offense in 1 Samuel 25. There is nothing that will take the wind out of our anger’s sails faster than a recognition of God’s providential hand at work through painful people and strenuous situations. No matter what another person has said or done to us, when we “trust in the Lord with all of our heart, and do not lean on our own understanding,” (Proverbs 3:5) we will be able to enjoy the surpassing peace of God in our hearts that is able to overcome any anger that may reside there.

There is so much more in this Psalm that we could dive into, but I hope that these four points from the Word will serve to encourage and embolden our hearts to enter into the battle against our own flesh and anger. All of our efforts to have self-control over our emotions are only possible through of the abundant grace of God in our lives! In verse 3 David says, “The Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.” This is the incredible calling and access that we ourselves have in Christ that encourages us in our battle against sin. He has set us apart positionally, He will continue to sanctify us progressively, and we have the hope that He will consecrate us permanently and perfectly in Heaven. And this position equips our prayers. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:12) He hears us when we call to Him! So let us constantly, hour by hour, be calling to Him, so that we may find due strength to respond to our hearts when we are feeling distressed, wronged, or angry.

You are What You (Read, Watch, Think)

In 1911, a man named Holbrook Jackson wrote a book of progressive “wisdom” called Platitudes in the Making, comprised of short statements intended to be profound and insightful. He sent a book to G. K. Chesterton, who proceeded to respond by writing a response to nearly every line in green pencil. One example was when Jackson said, “When we love we are most like animals. When we love we are at our best.” Chesterton wrote underneath, “We are never like animals. And least of all in love.” Chesterton was wise enough to discern through the facade of Jackson’s words. He tested the self-proclaimed truths and quickly exposed their foolishness. This skill of testing the ideas we encounter, thinking them through and comparing them to Scripture, is an important one indeed.

As women who have grown up in the age of information, we have no lack of resources when it comes to life advice or opinions. If you can think of a question, you can surely find an answer online. Beyond our ability to access material on any topic, we are entrenched in a postmodern culture that constantly barrages our mind with relativistic, liberal doctrine. I am particularly concerned with how this trend has affected our thought processes and views. When I look at the landscape of women in our country, even Christian women, I often see discouragement, dissatisfaction, and even depression. While this is a multi-faceted issue, one of the main culprits appears to be a lack of discernment which leads to ineffectively counseling our own hearts through the issues we face and the worldviews we encounter in various forms of books and media. It is far too easy to allow bad advice and worldly wisdom to work its way into our thought life, and then reap the consequences as we face our days in our own strength. And yet, there is hope! We have access to God’s Word, and that is the primary tool we need to develop a discerning mind that is able to walk in wisdom and make the best use of this life that God has given us (Colossians 4:5)!

Discernment: Wisdom’s Prerequisite
First, we must take a brief look at what discernment is and how it differs from wisdom. While wisdom is doing what you know you ought, discernment is what helps you know what you ought to do in the first place. Wisdom is the application of knowledge; discernment is the tool through which you sift knowledge and test the accuracy of ideologies. It could be said then that knowledge and discernment are prerequisites to wisdom. Proverbs 17:24 says, “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.” What a fascinating word picture contrasting a discerning person and the fool! The fool is running all over the place, always trying to find the next big idea, the newest self-help book, or another angle. Rather than being grounded, focused, and intentional, the fool is haphazard with no anchor for his or her life. Comparatively, we see an entirely different kind of person in the discerning individual. This person isn’t just going along, assuming they’ll figure things out along the way. No, this person is in purposeful pursuit of God’s truth.

What’s a Girl to Do?
So where do we begin? We must ask the Lord to teach us, through His Word and by His Spirit in us, how to have discernment. Romans 12:2 exhorts us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Firstly, we see that one is able to develop discernment through the Spirit-enabled transformation of our minds. We are not naturally born with good discernment, nor do we magically develop a discerning mind just by a mere coincidence. Rather, God’s Word offers itself as the only solution to taking our naturally foolish minds from lesser to greater discernment and wisdom. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The most foolish thing we could believe is that we have the ability to make good decisions or decipher between good and evil based on our life experiences and ability to reason alone. Our natural minds are easily led astray from the truth, deceived by the lies of the world, the Enemy, and our own flesh. Even the psalmists experienced this.

In Psalm 73 we see Asaph lamenting the earthly prosperity of the wicked, tempted to believe that his faith and pursuit of righteousness had been in vain. The solution for his befuddled mind was to get in the presence of God. He said, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end…I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward, you will receive me to glory,” (Psalm 73:16-17, 23-24). Asaph needed the Lord to guide him to what was good and true. Indeed, we all do.

Going back to Romans 12:2, we see that the second way our ability to discern is strengthened is by testing. If you think about it, this makes sense. It is only as you are exposed to ideas that challenge you that you are able to grow in your ability to discern good from bad or evil. We are constantly filtering what we take in from the world around us and either accepting or rejecting those ideas. Numerous times a day we make a judgment on all various sorts of things, but the question comes down to whether we are reasoning from a biblically-shaped thought process, founded upon God’s Word, or are we making them from an ulterior source?

Learn to Discern
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 says, “Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” What does it look like on a practical level to be someone who lives out this principle? We must become women who thoughtfully ask questions of ourselves and what we are allowing to influence our minds. To be sure, the habit of asking intelligent questions is one that comes only as a result of great effort. Our natural tendency is to listen to our thoughts rather than to pause to consider the ramifications of how and what we are believing in significant moments. For my own heart’s sake, I have begun writing down questions to consider as I think about an issue, form an opinion, or process a movie, article, book, or song. This is not an exhaustive list, but I have shared some questions below that I’ve thought through when considering books, movies, and various situations. You can use these questions in almost any circumstance, though:

  • When watching a movie, what is the screenwriter’s gospel? What problem are they addressing, and what do they believe is the solution?
  • When reading a book for the purpose of personal growth, what authority is this person drawing from, pointing to?
  • As I am reading up on a particular issue or engaging with a new book, are there any Bible verses that speak to the same theme or topic?
  • When I see reports and comments on tragic events in our country, how does what Scripture tells me about God’s character shape what I believe at that moment?
  • When I read an article that rubs me the wrong way I can evaluate what assumptions I am making. Are they biblical presuppositions? If I believe they are biblical presuppositions, what Scripture confirms this?
  • When reading a fictional book, I ask myself if diving into that fictional world is leading me into sin, possibly feeding sinful desires or tempting me to think in a worldly way?
  • Will reading this book help me to understand God’s design and purpose for relationships and people? Or will it lead me to have false and even sinful expectations of those around me?
  • Is this edifying? Will it improve me morally, intellectually, or spiritually?
  • On a scale of good, better, best, where does this material fall?

A Final Warning for All of Us
There is a sobering situation presented to us in the book of Hebrews. Christians, who had apparently been saved for some time, still lacked wisdom because they had not strengthened the muscle of discernment in their minds and hearts. The writer chides the recipients of his letter, stating, “It is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil,” (Hebrews 5:11-14, emphasis added). May this not be true of us! There is a battle being waged for our minds. Let us take up the Sword, and fight the good fight (Ephesians 6:17). And when we examine our lives, only to find new territories in the form of thought patterns or preconceptions that we have previously allowed the Enemy to infiltrate, may we zealously resolve to regain what is rightfully our Lord’s, by the power of His Spirit, and to spiritually discern what is good. Take heart, sisters, for, “We have the mind of Christ,” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

We Can’t Love Jesus Without Loving the Church

Last week, I shared with my mom that I didn’t go to church while I was in college, even though I became a Christian in my second year. “No way. Really? You?” Her incredulity made sense since, by God’s grace, I now make every effort to not only be at church, but also to not miss. Yet I remember the things I used to say when other believers would invite me to Trinity Baptist, Church on the Rock, or other church congregations near campus. “I’m going to pray and read my Bible in the library by myself today, so no thank you,” or, “I’m not sure I’m ready to go there this week, but I have visited a few times.” Sometimes, I would sit in my room, hungry, until about 10 am when I knew that I wouldn’t run into any of the Christians headed to church in the dining hall. I had no desire to be committed to a congregation of people I felt I didn’t connect with or to spend a perfectly good Sunday morning in a pew when I could listen to a sermon from the comfort of my room. Most importantly, I didn’t realize that Christ saved me to need the church, and for the church to need me.

Sadly, this view is shared by many professing Christians throughout the United States. In 2016, the Barna Group surveyed 1,281 American adults in all 50 states to gather a sample perspective of those who self-identify as Christians but who are de-churched or have not attended a church in the past six months or more. Barna’s findings show that of the de-churched, nearly 90% of individuals had made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still relevant to them today, and so they consider themselves to be followers of Christ. If you’re interested in reading about some of their other findings, be sure to check out their study.

Why is it that these individuals have chosen to walk away from the church, even though they still consider themselves to be believing Christians? Barna provided a possible explanation by sharing that some individuals have been hurt by the church, whereas most simply don’t see a meaningful reason for the church’s existence. “While many people in this group may be suffering from church wounds, we also know from past research that Christians who do not attend church say it’s primarily not out of wounding, but because they can find God elsewhere or that church is not personally relevant to them. The critical message that churches need to offer this group is a reason for churches to exist at all.”

This critical message that Barna proposes is addressed in Scripture, and the results of this study support a possible correlation between biblical literacy and church commitment/attendance. To the point quoted above, it seems that many professing Christians who do not attend church are either unaware or unconvinced of how the Bible establishes the relationship God has to the church and gives reasons for our need of it. There are many reasons we see in Scripture for why the church is not only important to the believer, but of supreme importance to God: the church is not a man-made institution, but is divinely ordained and built by God (Ephesians 2:19-22); the church is composed of the people God has chosen to redeem for His Son, to His glory (2 Timothy 1:9 and Hebrews 10:4-9); and the church is so highly valued and precious to God that Jesus Christ was willing to condescend Himself, suffer, and die for her redemption (1 Peter 1:18-19).

I think so often we talk about salvation in a personal way, forgetting that though Christ does die for each individual, he redeems them into the Body of Christ, for His glory and for our good. If God loves the church and has deemed organized worship to be acceptable and pleasing to Him, if that is communicated clearly in His Word, could it be that we as people are wrong in saying that we don’t love the church or want to be a part of it? We need to order ourselves and the working out of our lives according to how God ordained it, and that is through His church, under godly leadership and the teaching of God’s Word, with believers from various walks of life and with mixed levels of spiritual maturity. The church is a means of God’s blessing, protection, preservation, and sanctification for the believer, as well as her edification.

It is easy for me to look back at my time in college with sadness and wonder what a blessing it would have been had I loved the church. Sometimes I question if I was even saved at that time, but I now know that the Holy Spirit was at work in my proud and independent heart, patiently disciplining me and gently teaching me in my youthful thinking. Upon graduating, the Lord provided an opportunity to join a church with some friends near and dear to me, and I am so grateful for all that I learned in that local congregation. And Lord willing, as God’s word is faithfully preached and goes forth, many more de-churched Christians will be convicted of their pride to deny what God has ordained. I hope you will continue to persistently pray for and encourage those around you who profess faith in Christ to also love the church because Christ died for her, God is redeeming her and sanctifying her through the Holy Spirit, and it is for the believer’s good.

The Feminine Mistake

Sometime last year I began noticing an interesting slogan going around on various social media platforms. “Your feminism isn’t feminism unless it’s intersectional,” it said. I found this to be a rather shocking, yet clarifying, statement underscoring what it means to be a 3rd wave feminist in our current cultural climate. (If you are unfamiliar with the first two waves of feminism, see these articles here and here.) 2nd wave feminists, rather than being revered by members of the movement that they have helped create, are now being looked down upon as antiquated, ignorant, and sub-par. Unless they get with the program, their feminism doesn’t count. 3rd wave American feminists are a fascinating breed because unlike the generations of feminism before them, they don’t have any real women-specific platforms to advocate for. Legislatively and sociologically speaking, women have the same rights as men in our country. Women, beyond being treated as equal to men, are frequently exalted, celebrated to a far higher degree for any accomplishments they achieve, more so than men would ever be for doing the same things. But, if you watch feminists on tv at a rally or march these days, you will often find them railing against the patriarchy and a mythical wage gap, or other broad generalities about systematic forms of oppression. So today, let’s take a look at how intersectional feminists view women, what the Biblical response is to that view, and how the church can be on the offensive against feminist systems and their attempts to infiltrate our midst.

What is the Intersectional View of Gender?
Intersectional feminists view women categorically as an oppressed group, victims of a patriarchal system intended to keep them down and on the outs. Men are perceived as oppressors, who at their worst are physically and emotionally abusive to women, and at their best are apologetic benefactors of a system rigged in their favor. Largely downplaying the physical, mental, and emotional differences between genders, intersectional feminists’ stated belief is that true equality will only be a reality when there is a comparable representation of both genders in all fields of academia, business, and politics. Practically speaking, though, they tend to actually push for oppressed groups to have greater power in these spheres over the perceived “oppressors”. At the heart of it all, third wave feminism hates the biblical definition of gender, gender relationships, and the family and wants to redefine the family while nullifying the “binary” of man and woman. This is the natural conclusion of a worldview that deals in power. If being a woman means having less power, then it makes sense to despise the feminine qualities of loving and caring for the home and looking to your husband’s leadership. And if being a strong, assertive man means you’re signing up to oppress and deny good things to your wife, daughters, and sisters, suddenly being a man who exhibits masculinity and leadership seems like a terrible thing. Elizabeth Corey points out that intersectionalists believe that, “If schools, churches, and families are the primary institutions that have always formed people, and if they are fundamentally shot through with oppression and prejudice, then these institutions must themselves be thoroughly remade. In light of such an objective, the self-conscious deconstruction of what we take for granted makes sense. Gender, sexuality, family… must be destroyed and reconstituted.” With a commitment to destroying God’s lordship over people’s gender and family relationships, intersectionality is an affront to everything the Bible says on these topics.

What is the Biblical Framework for Gender Relationships?
Scripture not only openly identifies men and women as designed with differences, but it also honors those differences and calls them “very good,” (Genesis 1:31). Both men and women were created by God to have dominion over the earth, filling and subduing it together. God made Adam first, to be the head of God’s creation, and then Eve to glorify and help him in that task. Scripture assumes physical differences in men and women: men are created with the ability to do more physically demanding labor and to use their strength to defend those weaker than themselves (Genesis 3:17-19, Exodus 17:9), and women are created to bear children and work hard in and for their homes in less physically demanding, but no less disciplined, ways (Genesis 3:16, Proverbs 31:10:31). In the church and marriage, men and women live out their unique designs in corporate worship and the home. Men are to lead, both in the context of their local church and in their families (1 Timothy 3:2-13, Ephesians 5:23-33). Women are to help and submit, with their husband, to authority in their church, and to their husband in the context of the home (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Ephesians 5:22-24, 33). Because of God’s great mercy, bestowed upon us, we offer up our bodies as living sacrifices unto God, our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1-2). No matter how many wrong turns our culture takes as it rips apart and tries to rework gender “norms”, we as the church must continue to stand out as lights in a dark world, pointing to the gospel through our God-designed lives (Titus 2:1-8).

How is the Church Called to Handle Gender Issues?
While our culture is becoming progressively more committed to shaping their ideas about gender and men and women’s relationships on the basis of power, even striving to destroy the biblical definition of gender all-together, it is becoming more and more imperative that we fight that narrative in the church through the gospel and its real-life implications. Making Christ our boast, we get to show off the beauty and goodness of God as we honor Him with our respectively masculine and feminine lives. There has not been a time in our nation’s history where standing out from the culture has been so needed. Men must, “act like men, [and] be strong,” (1 Corinthians 16:13), despite so many assaults on their manhood. Women need to let their, “adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious,” (1 Peter 3:4). This is not to say that men cannot be compassionate, sensitive, and caring towards others, or that women cannot exemplify strength and leadership in their spheres of influence. Rather, we bring the way we live out these virtuous qualities in submission to God’s particular designs for us as men and women. As we do this, we are rejecting the intersectional notions regarding power relationships and what gives a person value.

For us Christian women, in particular, we must reject the lie that our value, dignity, and effectiveness are somehow tied to merely our academic and corporate achievements, or to how much power we possess. One way we refute this is through denying the deceptive narrative that women are only truly equal with men if we throw out the scriptures that limit eldership and pastoral ministry in the church to men. In a question and answer session I listened to recently, John Macarthur made an important observation while maintaining a bit of humor. He said, “How can a woman be an elder, when an elder is called to be a one-woman man (Titus 1:6)?” I had to giggle to myself as I heard this, but unfortunately, the biblical mandate that men are to hold the eldership positions of the church, which has gone unquestioned for nearly two millennia, is suddenly considered up for debate by so-called “Christian feminist” who desire to see women take those roles as well. We must stand up against this incorrect view in a couple of ways. The first is to understand the implications of women’s roles in the church and to live out God’s best for us as we seek to show Him off in that context. Another way we withstand this is to understand the fullness of God’s mission for us as women to lead compelling lives, and to press into that role in a way that sets an example to the watching world that to be a God-centered woman isn’t weak, shallow, or less-than. We don’t need a position of “power” to have significant, impactful, and effective lives and ministries. In fact, we understand from Scripture that it is in the precise moments that we appear to be in the humblest positions that we are being prepared for future glory and exaltation in Heaven (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Final Thoughts
There is a chilling story recorded at the end of Judges in chapter 19 where a servant woman is brutally gang raped and dies, a display of the horrors that ensued because, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” (Judges 21:25). One of the primary aspects of a society that rejects God is that women are left unprotected and abused. Intersectional feminists today are fighting to gain what they believe women need more than anything else – power – and yet their methods will ultimately leave women more unprotected and powerless than ever. When we look to godless systems to shape our views, understanding, and treatment of human beings, the natural result will be a descent away from the inherent dignity and value that can only come from seeing people as image-bearers of God. Intersectional feminists’ denial of men and women’s inherent differences in design, even to the point of their attempt to destroy the “binary” of man and women, will have dastardly results.

It is in light of these dark times that we must cling to the hope of the gospel and the reality that every aspect of our lives, including our genders, are set-apart for the glory of God! God lays out His unique design for our lives as men and women, and as we bring every aspect of ourselves into submission to His will, we will reap eternal joy and satisfaction in Him. For the unbelievers in our culture who have grown up surrounded by relativism, it is not surprising that they are turning to intersectionality for answers. It, “appeals to people for precisely the reasons that all religions do: It gives an account of our brokenness, an explanation of the reasons for pain, a saving story accompanied by strong ethical imperatives, and hope for the future. In short, it gives life meaning.” But like any and every false worldview or religion, the intersectional movement’s hope is an erroneous one, and it cannot save its followers. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can do that! May we remain steadfast upon the Word of God, allowing it to shape the way we understand our identities and roles in this world.

 

April Recommendations (Resources on Intersectionality)

Hey friends! We worked together to make a list of some of our favorite resources that have helped us in our study of intersectional theory. We hope these will be profitable aids to your own study as you desire to grow in your understanding of this worldview and learning how to respond to it from a biblical perspective!

Intersectional Feminism: What is It?
(Youtube Video)
In an ironic turn of events, the Factual Feminist (Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers) covers how intersectional feminism and identity politics actually is contradictory to fundamental feminism, creating a hierarchy that challenges the goal of women coming together for the good of all women.

Intersectionality May be at Odds with the Gospel
(Article)
Our pastor shared this article with me and I greatly appreciated the succinct way Denny Burk addresses some of the key flaws in intersectional theory. He gets right to the point, making it a great resource to share with someone who has little to no understanding about what intersectionality is. This article is based on a more in-depth article that I am sharing below.

First Church of Intersectionality
(Article)
This is the article that the aforementioned one is based upon. Elizabeth Corey attended an intersectional academic conference in which Patricia Collins spoke, and this piece is a thoughtful, articulate response that was born out of that experience. She is clearly an intelligent, well-read woman who thinks deeply and analytically about the world around her. This piece is the lengthiest read of all the articles we are recommending, but also may be the most worthwhile.

Intersectionality, the Dangerous Faith
(Article)
This article is a great introductory piece on intersectionality and explores the religious kind of zeal that is characteristic of intersectional movements.

An Open Letter to SBC and Dr. Russell Moore & A Second Open Letter to Leaders
(Articles)
Lorine Spratt, a member of the Southern Baptist Evangelical Church, shares an open letter about the necessity to preserve unity in the church, and how recent teachings from ERLC leadership (penned directly to Dr. Russell Moore & SBC Pastors) and is harming that unity. She recently penned a second letter to Beth Moore, Danny Akin, and “others who share their mindset.”

 

Shenvi Apologetics – Review on Race, Class and Gender: An Anthology
(Blog Post Series)
Dr. Niel Shenvi presents a succinct review of Margaret L. Andersen and Patricia Hill Collins’ work on Critical Theory, and presents an accurate view of what Critical theory is and why it is not compatible with Christianity.

Dear Thabiti by Doug Wilson (4/9)
The Racialist Lens Disrupts True Christian Unity: A Response to Thabiti Anyabwile by James White (4/9)
But, Thabiti by Doug Wilson (4/10)
(Blog Posts)
Thabiti Anyabwile, Doug Wilson, and James White engaged in an interesting public blog conversation last week regarding the way the church should be discussing, responding, and handling race issues today. Wilson and White express important concerns in articulate, gracious ways regarding a plethora of issues surrounding the MLK Gospel Conference put on by the ERLC and The Gospel Coalition and responded to some specific comments Anyabwile made on Twitter and then on his own blog.

An Intro to Intersectional Poison
(Sheologians Podcast)
In their typically hilarious and entertaining way, Summer White and Joy Tembe cover an overview of what intersectional thought and critical theory are, and address how identity politics and victim thinking have begun to pervade our understanding of the world around us.

Intersectional Poison and the Gospel Cure
(Sheologians Podcast)
The Sheologians team follows up their introduction by sharing how intersectional thought impacts the church and its unity, and how serious that actually is.