Everyone Has a Worldview
A Chinese proverb says, “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.” Water is the sum and substance of the world in which the fish is immersed. The fish may not reflect on its own environment until suddenly it is thrust onto dry land, where it struggles for life. Then it realizes that water provided its sustenance.
Immersed in our environment, we have failed to take seriously the ramifications of a secular worldview. Sociologist and social watchdog Daniel Yankelovich defines culture as an effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential situations that confront human beings in the passage of their lives. A genuine cultural shift is one that makes a decisive break with the shared meaning of the past. The break particularly affects those meanings that relate to the deepest questions of the purpose and nature of human life. What is at stake is how we understand the world in which we live.
The issues are worldview issues. Christians everywhere recognize there is a great spiritual battle raging for the hearts and minds of men and women around the globe. We now find ourselves in a cosmic struggle between Christian truth and a morally indifferent culture. Thus we need to shape a Christian worldview and lifeview that will help us learn to think Christianly and live out the truth of Christian faith.
The reality is that everyone has a worldview. Some worldviews are incoherent, being merely a smorgasbord of options from natural, supernatural, pre-modern, modern, and post-modern options. An examined and thoughtful worldview, however, is more than a private personal viewpoint; it is a comprehensive life system that seeks to answer the basic questions of life. A Christian worldview is not just one’s personal faith expression, not just a theory. It is an all-consuming way of life, applicable to all spheres of life.
Distinguishing a Christian Worldview
James Orr, in The Christian View of God and the World, maintains that there is a definite Christian view of things, which has a character, coherence, and unity of its own, and stands in sharp contrast with counter theories and speculations. A Christian worldview has the stamp of reason and reality and can stand the test of history and experience. A Christian view of the world cannot be infringed upon, accepted or rejected piecemeal, but stands or falls on its integrity. Such a holistic approach offers a stability of thought, a unity of comprehensive insight that bears not only on the religious sphere but also on the whole of thought. A Christian worldview is not built on two types of truth (religious and philosophical or scientific) but on a universal principle and all-embracing system that shapes religion, natural and social sciences, law, history, health care, the arts, the humanities, and all disciplines of study with application for all of life.
Followers of Jesus must articulate a Christian worldview for the twenty-first century, with all of its accompanying challenges and changes, and to show how such Christian thinking is applicable across all areas of life. At the heart of these challenges and changes we see that truth, morality, and interpretive frameworks are being ignored if not rejected. Such challenges are formidable indeed. Throughout culture the very existence of normative truth is being challenged.
For Christians to respond to these challenges, we must hear afresh the words of Jesus from what is called the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:36–40). Here we are told to love God not only with our hearts and souls but also with our minds. Jesus’ words refer to a wholehearted devotion to God with every aspect of our being, from whatever angle we choose to consider it—emotionally, volitionally, or cognitively. This kind of love for God results in taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), a wholehearted devotion to distinctively Christian thinking (or as T. S. Eliot put it, “to think in Christian categories”). This means being able to see life from a Christian vantage point; it means thinking with the mind of Christ.
The beginning point for building a Christian worldview is a confession that we believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth (the Apostles’ Creed). We recognize that “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15–18), for all true knowledge flows from the One Creator to his one creation.
We Believe in God, Maker of Heaven and Earth: A Worldview Starting Point
A worldview must offer a way to live that is consistent with reality by offering a comprehensive understanding of all areas of life and thought, every aspect of creation. As we said earlier the starting point for a Christian worldview brings us into the presence of God without delay. The central affirmation of Scripture is not only that there is a God but that God has acted and spoken in history. God is Lord and King over this world, ruling all things for his own glory, displaying his perfections in all that he does in order that humans and angels may worship and adore him. God is triune; there are within the Godhead three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
To think wrongly about God is idolatry (Ps. 50:21). Thinking rightly about God is eternal life (John 17:3) and should be the believer’s life objective (Jer. 9:23–24). We can think rightly about God because he is knowable (1 Cor. 2:11), yet we must remain mindful that he is simultaneously incomprehensible (Rom. 11:33–36). God can be known, but he cannot be known completely (Deut. 29:29).
We maintain that God is personal and is differentiated from other beings, from nature, and from the universe. This is in contrast to other worldviews that say God is in a part of the world, creating a continual process, and that the process itself is God—or becoming God. God is self-existent, dependent on nothing external to himself. God is infinite, meaning that God is not only unlimited but that nothing outside of God can limit God. God is infinite in relation to time (eternal), in relation to knowledge (omniscience), and in relation to power (omnipotent). He is sovereign and unchanging. God is infinite and personal, transcendent, and immanent. He is holy, righteous, just, good, true, faithful, loving, gracious, and merciful.
God, without the use of any preexisting material, brought into being everything that is. Both the opening verse of the Bible and the initial sentence of the Apostles’ Creed confess God as Creator. Creation is the work of the trinitarian God. Creation reveals God (Ps. 19) and brings glory to him (Isa. 43:7). All of creation was originally good but is now imperfect because of the entrance of sin and its effects on creation (Gen. 3:16–19). This is, however, only a temporary imperfection (Rom. 8:19–22), for it will be redeemed in the final work of God, the new creation.
The Creator God is not different from the God who provides redemption in Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit. God is the source of all things. This means that God has brought the world into existence out of nothing through a purposeful act of his free will. A Christian worldview affirms that God is the sovereign and almighty Lord of all existence. Such an affirmation rejects any form of dualism, that matter has eternally existed, or that matter must, therefore, be evil since it is in principle opposed to God, the Source of all good.
A Christian worldview also contends that God is set apart from and transcends his creation. It also maintains that God is a purposeful God who creates in freedom. In creation and in God’s provision and preservation for creation, he is working out his ultimate purposes for humanity and the world. Human life is thus meaningful, significant, intelligent, and purposeful. This affirms the overall unity and intelligibility of the universe. In this we see God’s greatness, goodness, and wisdom.
General Implications of a Christian Worldview
A Christian worldview becomes a driving force in life, giving us a sense of God’s plan and purpose for this world. Our identity is shaped by this worldview. We no longer see ourselves as alienated sinners. A Christian worldview is not escapism but is an energizing motivation for godly and faithful thinking and living in the here and now. It also gives us confidence and hope for the future. In the midst of life’s challenges and struggles, a Christian worldview helps to stabilize life, anchoring us to God’s faithfulness and steadfastness.
Thus, a Christian worldview provides a framework for ethical thinking. We recognize that humans, who are made in God’s image, are essentially moral beings. We also recognize that the fullest embodiment of good, love, holiness, grace, and truth is in Jesus Christ (see John 1:14–18).
A Christian worldview has implications for understanding history. We see that history is not cyclical or random. Rather, we see history as linear, a meaningful sequence of events leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity (see Eph. 1). Human history will climax where it began—on the earth. This truth is another distinctive of Christian thinking, for Christianity is historical at its heart. In the sense that according to its essential teaching, God has acted decisively in history, revealing himself in specific acts and events. Moreover, God will act to bring history to its providential destiny and planned conclusion.
God who has acted in history in past events will also act in history to consummate this age. So when we ask, “How will it end?” we do not simply or suddenly pass out of the realm of history into a never-never land. We pass to that which is nevertheless certain of occurring because God is behind it and is himself the One who tells us it will come to pass.
Developing a Christian worldview is an ever-advancing process for us, a process in which Christian convictions more and more shape our participation in culture. This disciplined, vigorous, and unending process will help shape how we assess culture and our place in it. Otherwise, culture will shape us and our thinking. Thus a Christian worldview offers a new way of thinking, seeing, and doing, based on a new way of being.
A Christian worldview is a coherent way of seeing life, of seeing the world distinct from deism, naturalism, and materialism, existentialism, polytheism, pantheism, mysticism, or deconstructionist postmodernism. Such a theistic perspective provides bearings and direction when confronted with New Age spirituality or secularistic and pluralistic approaches to truth and morality. Fear about the future, suffering, disease, and poverty are informed by a Christian worldview grounded in the redemptive work of Christ and the grandeur of God. Moreover, a Christian worldview offers meaning and purpose for all aspects of life.
While many examples could be offered, here are six particular applications where a Christian worldview provides a difference in perspective:
- Technology—Technology can become either an instrument through which we fulfill our role as God’s stewards or an object of worship that will eventually rule us. A Christian worldview provides balance and insight for understanding this crucial aspect of twenty-first-century life.
- Sexuality and marriage—Sexuality has become a major topic for those entering the third millennium. Much confusion exists among Christians and non-Christians. Sexuality is good in the covenant relationship of mutual self-giving marriage. Sexual intimacy, separated from covenant marriage, in hetero-sexual or homosexual relations is sinful and has a distorted meaning, a self-serving purpose and negative consequences.
- The environment—Environmental stewardship means we have a responsibility to the nonhuman aspects of God’s creation. Since God’s plan of redemption includes his earthly creation, as well as human (see Rom. 8:18–27), we should do all we can to live in it carefully and lovingly.
- The arts and recreation—The arts and recreation are understood as legitimate and important parts of human creativity and community. They express what it means to be created in the image of God. We need to develop critical skills of analysis and evaluation so that we are informed, intentional, and reflective about what we create, see, and do.
- Science and faith—For almost two centuries science has been at the forefront of our modern world. We must explore how we see scientific issues from the vantage point of a Christian worldview. An understanding of God includes the knowledge we gain through scientific investigation. With the lens of faith in place, a picture of God’s world emerges that complements and harmonizes the findings of science and the teachings of Scripture.
- Vocation—Important for any culture is an understanding of work. Work is a gift from God and is to be pursued with excellence for God’s glory. We recognize that all honest professions are honorable, that the gifts and abilities we have for our vocation (vocatio/calling) come from God, and that prosperity and promotions come from God.
These are only a few examples that could be cited that will help shape our thinking in other areas.
Thus Christian thinking must surely subordinate all other endeavors to the improvement of the mind in pursuit of truth, taking every thought captive to Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). At three places in the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that we cannot presume that our thinking is Christ centered. In 2 Corinthians 3:14 we learn that the minds of the Israelites were hardened. In 4:4 Paul says that the unregenerate mind is blinded by the god of this world. In 11:3 the apostle says that Satan has ensnared the Corinthians’ thoughts. So in 10:5 he calls for all of our thinking to be liberated by coming under the lordship of Christ.
So today, as in the days of the Corinthian correspondence, our minds and our thinking are ensnared by the many challenges and opposing worldviews in today’s academy. Like Paul and Bernard of Clairveaux several centuries after him, we must combine the intellectual with the moral and spiritual expounded in Bernard’s famous statement:
Some seek knowledge for
The sake of knowledge:
That is curiosity;
Others seek knowledge so that
They themselves may be known:
That is vanity;
But there are still others
Who seek knowledge in
Order to serve and edify others;
And that is charity.
And that is the essence of serious Christian worldview thinking—bringing every thought captive to the lordship of Jesus Christ in order to serve and edify others. That is a high calling indeed as we move forward and faithfully into the twenty-first century.
The Puritans, preserving the line of faithful and orthodox Christians, have always had a passion for Truth. This pattern was established in the story of the Bereans who asked if what the Apostle Paul was saying was true (Acts 17:11). And how would they know? They searched the scriptures.
There are two sources of Truth: God’s work and his word. Psalm 148 reminds us that all creation communicates about God’s existence and his nature. Paul reiterates, in Romans 1:20, that all human beings can know that God exists and something about his nature through the things that he has made.
Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin spoke of two books: God’s Word – the Special Revelation comprised of scripture, and His Works – the General Revelation of Creation.
Three other reformers–Campenella, Comenius, and Alsted–spoke of three books:
- The book of revelation – Special Revelation – The Bible
- The book of nature – General Revelation – Science (a la Aristotle)
- The book of the mind – Reason or Logic – Philosophy (a la Plato)
Truth is found at the intersection of the books of Scripture, nature, and reason. Comenius writes of the tripartite revelation for truth: “the only true, genuine and plain way of Philosophy is to fetch all things from sense, reason and Scripture.” Puritan Historian Dr. David Scott says that “Comenius went on to say that the end of scholarly endeavor is not to merely add to the wood pile of human knowledge, but to grow a living tree that from its roots to its boughs and fruit reflects the image of the words and works of its divine Creator.”  (For more on this subject see Dr. Scott’s excellent paper A Vision of Veritas: What Christian Scholarship Can Learn from the Puritan’s “Technology” for Integrating Truth .)
William Ames (1576-1633), the French Huguenot Educational Reformer, wrote of the three books,
Thus, let us not become the slaves of anyone, but performing military service under the banner of free truth, let us freely and courageously follow the truth …. Testing all things, retaining that which is good, let Plato be a friend, let Aristotle be a friend, but even more let truth (veritas) be a friend.
When, eight years after landing in New England, the Puritan fathers established Harvard College (now Harvard University) to educate pastors and civic leaders, they enshrined VERITAS with the three books in the college’s shield.
Harvard’s first mission statement was explicitly Christ centered:
Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17.3 and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.
Christ is the focus of all of life and vocation. It was this that laid the groundwork for their Christian culture and self government.
Sadly, the Western world today is no longer founded on a Biblical worldview. And only the Biblical Worldview provides a foundation for free, just, prosperous, and compassionate nations. The four dominating worldviews today are Biblical Theism, Secularism, Evangelical Gnosticism, and Monism.
A Christian view of work is distinctive in the way it insists that human work ultimately derives its meaning from God’s character and purposes. It is who God is and what God does that shape the way we see the world, our place and work in the world, and the values that we take to work. Fundamental to this understanding is recognition that God is at work in the world and we are workers made in the image of God and invited to work as partners in God’s continuing work. We work to further God’s purposes through our work and to reflect God’s character in the way we work. It is our understanding of this reality that injects distinctive Christian perspectives into our view of workplace ethics. But we begin with some more general observations about ethics.
Christian ethical living is concerned with “…ordering our steps in every situation of life according to the fundamental faith commitments we share as Christians.” Or, according to another definition: “Christian ethics is the attempt to provide a framework and method for making decisions, that seeks to honor God as revealed in Scripture, follow the example of Jesus and be responsive to the Spirit, to achieve outcomes that further God’s purposes in the world.”
The command approach asks, “Is this action right or wrong in itself, according to the rules?” It is often called the deontological approach (from the Greek deon for duty or rule.It is based on the proposition that actions are inherently right or wrong, as defined by a set of rules or duties. This set of duties/rules may be given by divine command, natural law, rational logic or another source. In Christian ethics, we are interested in commands given by God or logically derived from God’s self-revelation in the Bible.
The consequences approach asks, “Will this action produce good or bad results?” It is often called the teleological approach (from the Greek telos for end because it says that end results decide what is the morally correct course of action. The most moral course of action may be decided by:
- What will result in the greatest good? One well-known example of the teleological approach is called Utilitarianism, which defines the greatest good as whatever will bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people.
- What advances one’s self interest best? For example, the system known as Ethical Egoism assumes that the most likely way to achieve what is in the best interests of all people is for each person to pursue their own best interest, within certain limits.
- What will produce the ends that are most in accord with God’s intent for his creation? This approach can focus on subordinate goals, e.g., gaining a better quality of life for a disabled person, or an ultimate goal, such as glorifying God and enjoying him forever. In the case of complicated circumstances, this approach tries to calculate which actions will maximize the balance of good over evil.
Because neither happiness nor self-interest seem to be the highest results God desires for his creation, neither Utilitarianism nor Ethical Egoism are generally considered Christian forms of ethics. But this does not mean that consequences are not ethically important to God, any more than the fact that there are unbiblical systems of rules means that ethical commands are not important to God.
This approach asks, “Is the actor a good person with good motives?” In this approach, the most moral course of action is decided by questions about character, motives and the recognition that individuals don’t act alone because they are also part of communities that shape their characters and attitudes and actions. This is often called virtue ethics. Since the beginning of the Christian era, virtues have been recognized as an essential element of Christian ethics. However, from the time of the Reformation until the late 20th century, virtue ethics — like consequential ethics — was overshadowed by command ethics in most Protestant ethical thinking.
But how do these three different approaches apply to Christian ethics?
The Bible is the basic source for the commands we are to obey, the consequences we are to seek, and the characters we are to become as followers of Jesus Christ. Although the Bible’s commands may be the first things that come to mind when we think about Christian ethics, consequences and character are essential elements of Christian ethics too. For most of us, the most effective way to become more ethical is probably to give greater attention to how our actions and decisions at work are shaping our character. The best ethical decisions at work and elsewhere are the decisions that shape our character to be more like Jesus’. Ultimately, by God’s grace, “we will be like him” (1 John 3:2).
Is suffering for Christ always going to be a part of being a follower of Christ?
The Bible talks a lot about suffering for the sake of Christ. In the era in which the New Testament was written, followers of Jesus were often ostracized by their own families and communities. Some of the worst persecution came from the religious leaders (Acts 4:1–3). Jesus told His followers, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). He reminded His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).
Second Timothy 3:12 says, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” As in biblical times, many Christians today have found that making a public declaration of faith in Christ can result in imprisonment, beatings, torture, or death (Hebrews 11:32–38; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 3:8; Acts 5:40). Often those of us in free nations shudder at the thought, but we feel relatively safe. We understand that there are thousands who suffer daily for the sake of Christ and are thankful we don’t have to. But is there only one kind of persecution?
Jesus stated clearly what it means to follow Him: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23–25). Our modern understanding of the phrase “take up their cross and follow me” is often inadequate. In Jesus’ day the cross always symbolized death. When a man carried a cross, he had already been condemned to die on it. Jesus said that, in order to follow Him, one must be willing to die. We will not all die martyrs’ deaths. We will not all be imprisoned, beaten, or tortured for our faith. So what kind of death did Jesus mean?
Paul explains in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” To follow Christ means we die to our own way of doing things. We consider our will, our rights, our passions, and our goals to be crucified on the cross with Him. Our right to direct our own lives is dead to us (Philippians 3:7–8). Death involves suffering. The flesh does not want to die. Dying to self is painful and goes against our natural inclination to seek our own pleasure. But we cannot follow both Christ and the flesh (Luke 16:13;Matthew 6:24; Romans 8:8). Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Paul suffered more than most for Jesus’ sake. He said this to the Christians at Phillipi: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:2). The wordgranted here means “shown favor, given freely as a gift.” Paul does not present suffering as a curse, but as a benefit.
Suffering can take many forms. By choosing to obey the Lord Jesus Christ, we are setting ourselves at odds with the world. Galatians 1:10 says, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (NASB). By closely adhering to the teachings of the Bible, we set ourselves up for rejection, mockery, loneliness, or betrayal. Often, the cruelest persecution comes from those who consider themselves spiritual but have defined God according to their own ideas. If we choose to take a stand for righteousness and biblical truth, we ensure that we will be misunderstood, mocked, or worse. We need to keep in mind that no threat of suffering deterred the apostles from preaching Christ. In fact, Paul said that losing everything was worth it “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10, NASB). Acts 5:40–41 describes the reaction of the apostles after they received another beating for preaching about Jesus: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
Suffering in some form is always going to be a part of being a true follower of Christ. Jesus said the path that leads to life is difficult (Matthew 7:14). Our hardship is also a way of identifying with His suffering in a small way.
Jesus said if we deny him before men, He will deny us before His Father in heaven (Matthew 10:33; Luke 12:9). There are many subtle ways to deny Christ. If our actions, words, lifestyle, or entertainment choices do not reflect His will, we are denying Christ. If we claim to know Him but live as though we didn’t, we are denying Christ (1 John 3:6–10). Many people choose those forms of denying Christ because they do not want to suffer for Him.
Often our greatest suffering comes from within as we battle for control over a heart that must die to its own will and surrender to Christ’s lordship (Romans 7:15–25). In whatever form suffering comes, we should embrace it as a badge of honor and a privilege that we, like the apostles, have “been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
How do you do a task in the strength of another? How do you exert your will to do something in such a way that you are relying on the will of another to make it happen?
Here are some passages from the Bible that press this question on us:
- “By the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). So we are to do the sin-killing, but we are to do it by the Spirit. How?
- “Work out your own salvation . . . for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13). We are to work. But the willing and the working is God’s willing and God’s work. How do we experience that?
- “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Paul did work hard. But his effort was in some way not his. How did he do that?
- “I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29). We toil. We struggle. We expend effort and energy. But there is a way to do it so that it is God’s energy and God’s doing. How do we do that?
- “Whoever serves, let him serve as one who serves by the strength that God supplies” (1 Peter 4:11). We serve. We exert strength. But there is a way that our serving is the effect of God’s gracious power. What is that way?
I have not been able to improve on these five steps summed up in the acronym, A.P.T.A.T. (rhymes with Cap That).
In 1984 J.I. Packer published Keep in Step with the Spirit, and gave the very same steps on pages 125–126. He calls it “Augustinian holiness teaching.” It calls for “intense activity” but this activity “is not in the least self-reliant in spirit.” Instead, he says, “It follows this four-stage sequence”:
First, as one who wants to do all the good you can, you observe what tasks, opportunities, and responsibilities face you. Second, you pray for help in these, acknowledging that without Christ you can do nothing—nothing fruitful, that is (John 15:5). Third, you go to work with a good will and a high heart, expecting to be helped as you asked to be. Fourth, you thank God for help given, ask pardon for your own failures en route, and request more help for the next task. Augustinian holiness is hard working holiness, based on endless repetitions of this sequence.
My five steps omit his first one (“note what tasks are in front of you”). I divide his second step into two: A. Admit (his word, “acknowledge”) that you can do nothing. P. Pray for God’s help for the task at hand. Then I break his third step into two. He says “expect to get the help you asked for.” Then with that expectation, “go to work with a good will.” I say, T. Trust a particular promise of God’s help. Then, in that faith, Act (A). Finally, we both say, T. Thank God for the help received.
Trust God’s Promises
I think the middle T is all important. Trust a promise. This is the step I think is missing in most Christians’ attempt to live the Christian life. It is certainly my most common mistake.
Most of us face a difficult task and remember to say, “Help me, God. I need you.” But then we move straight from P to A — Pray to Act. We pray and then we act. But this robs us of a very powerful step.
After we pray for God’s help, we should remind ourselves of a specific promise that God has made. And fix our minds on it. And put our faith in it. And say to God: “I believe you, help my unbelief. Increase my faith in this promise. I’m trusting you, Lord, here I go.” Then act.
Paul says we “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and “live by faith” (Galatians 2:20). But for most of us this remains vague. Hour by hour how do we do this? We do it by reminding ourselves of specific, concrete promises that God has made and Jesus has bought with his blood (2 Corinthians 1:20). Then we don’t just pray for help hour by hour, we trust those specific promises hour by hour.
When Peter says, “Let him who serves serve in the strength that God supplies,” we do this not only by praying for that supply, but by trusting in the promise of the supply in specific situations. Paul says that God “supplies the Spirit to you by hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:5). That is, we hear a promise and we believe it for a particular need, and the Holy Spirit comes to help us through that believed promise.
10 Promises to Memorize
So here is my suggestion for how to do this. Memorize a few promises that are so universally applicable they will serve you in almost every situation where you face a task to be done “in the strength that God supplies.” Then as those tasks come, Admit you can’t do that on your own. Pray for the help you need. Then call to mind one of your memorized promises, and trust it — put your faith in it. Thenact — believing that God is acting in your acting! Finally, when you are done,thank him.
Here are ten such promises to help you get started. Of these, the one I have used most often is Isaiah 41:10.
- “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
- “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
- “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
- “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5–6)
- “The Lᴏʀᴅ God is a sun and shield; the Lᴏʀᴅ bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalms 84:11)
- “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
- “Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life.” (Psalms 23:6)
- “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
- “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
- “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalms 50:15)
Never cease to ponder Paul’s words: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Not I. Yet I. By faith.
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“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
― T.E. Lawrence,
You Can Serve God Successfully:
God’s Power Can Work in Your Life.
The Bible promises that anyone is able to know God’s will, be forgiven of sin, resist temptation, endure hardship, serve obediently, and receive eternal life. God provides the power we need through Jesus’ blood, the Scriptures, prayer, hope, love, and other Christians. No one needs to be lost. Anyone can overcome their past, achieve victory over sin, and become what God requires him/her to be.
Joshua 1:7,8 – Most people want to succeed in some area: business, family relations, music, athletics, politics, education, etc. God promised Joshua he could succeed in the most important activity in life: serving God.
People today also need reassurance that we can succeed in being right with God.
People who are not Christians are sometimes overwhelmed by the sacrifices Christians must make, the work to do, habits to change. They become so discouraged they do not even try.
Christians may also become discouraged as they try to live for God and find they have failed in some area. Some give up entirely. Others pretend to serve God while living in sin and excusing themselves by saying they simply cannot accomplish what the Bible says.
The purpose of this study is to show that God has provided all the blessings we need to serve Him successfully and receive eternal life.
These blessings are available to everyone. We must meet conditions that require effort and sacrifice, but all of us are capable of meeting these conditions. You can have God’s power working in your life!
Consider the Bible promises. Note words referring to power, strength, and ability in these verses.
I. What Power Does God Make Available?
A. You Can Have the Power to Know and Believe the Truth.
Some people get confused by the different teachings they hear. They say, “I don’t believe I can ever understand the Bible. One person teaches it one way and the next teaches it differently. I’ll never know what to believe.” But God can meet this need.
2 Timothy 3:15-17 – The Scriptures are inspired of God and able to make us wise to salvation. They are profitable to provide us to every good work.
1 Corinthians 2:4,5 – Paul’s preaching was in the demonstration of the Spirit and power, so our faith can stand in the <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>power of God.
Romans 1:16 – The gospel is the <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>power of God to save those who believe. But faith comes by hearing God’s word (10:17). The gospel is able to produce true faith in the heart of any honest person.
By human power alone truly we never could determine how to obtain eternal life. But God meets our needs by giving us the means to know and believe the truth if we study diligently with an honest, open heart.
[Mark 7:14; Eph. 3:3-5; John 8:31,32; Isaiah 55:11]
B. You Can Have the Power to Become a Child of God.
John 1:12 – Jesus gave the right (“power”) to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. Faith alone, without obedience, does not make one a child of God, but simply gives the power to become a child.
1 Peter 1:22,23 – The power to make us children of God is in God’s spiritual seed, His word. To be purified and born again, we must obey the truth. This includes repenting, confessing, and being baptized (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 17:30; Mark 16:16; Rom. 10:9,10).
Hebrews 7:25 – Jesus is able to save us to the uttermost. By human power alone we could never obtain forgiveness and become children of God. But God has made this power available to us.
C. You Can Have the Power to Resist Every Temptation.
People often excuse their sins saying obedience is just too hard. “I just can’t do it. God will just have to understand.” We may even blame God for being too demanding.
1 Corinthians 10:13 – God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. This is true of every temptation. We can be sure this is true because it is based on God’s faithfulness.
Ephesians 6:10-18 – The Lord provides <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>strength and power such that we are able to stand against the power of Satan. We can quench every one of his fiery darts (temptations). Again, this is not possible by human power. Perhaps Satan can defeat us if we face him alone, but we can succeed by the power of God’s armor.
These verses teach that a Christian can overcome every temptation. There is never any excuse for committing even one single sin. In practice we all commit sin, because we fail to use the weapons properly (1 John 1:8,10). But this is not necessary. If we believe our human nature compels us to sin and nothing can be done about it, we are looking at human power when we should be looking at God’s power.
[James 4:7; 2 Cor. 10:4,5; Jude 24]
D. You Can Have the Power to Endure Suffering and Hardship.
Often hardship, grief, sickness, and persecution tempt us to quit serving God. We think, “What’s the use?”
2 Corinthians 1:3-10 – Paul suffered beyond power such that he despaired of life. Someone may ask, “Doesn’t that prove there are temptations which are beyond our power?” Yes, perhaps we may face temptations beyond our power, but not beyond God’s power. Paul here says we should learn to trust in God.
Romans 8:31-39 – No suffering or hardship of any kind is able to separate us from God’s love. Rather, we are more than conquerors! We can defeat them all if we are on God’s side.
Nowhere does God say He will remove all our problems. Rather He promises we can endure, remain faithful, and receive eternal life despite our problems.
[Phil. 4:11-13; Heb. 11:34]
E. You Can Have the Power to Serve Others.
Discouragement sometimes comes when we try to help others, but we see no positive results. We may decide to quit trying, thinking, “It just doesn’t do any good.”
2 Corinthians 9:8-10 – God is <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>able to supply all our need, so we can abound in every good work and increase the fruits of righteousness.
John 15:4-8 – Jesus is like the vine that supplies the needs of the branches. Apart from Him, acting by human power alone, we can do nothing. But in Him we can bear much fruit.
2 Timothy 2:2 – Faithful men shall be <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>able to teach others. This is part of the power God promises us.
Romans 15:14 – We shall be <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>able to admonish one another. As in other areas, degrees of ability will vary, but all can develop some ability in teaching.
There is no need for Christians to live barren, unfruitful lives. We can accomplish much good for God if we will make use of His power.
[2 Thess. 1:11,12; 1 Peter 4:11; 2 Tim. 1:7,8; 2 Cor. 1:4]
F. You Can Have the Power to Do Everything Necessary to Receive Eternal Life.
Ephesians 3:20,21 – God is <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think according to His <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>power that works in us.
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
1 Peter 1:3-5 – By God’s <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>power we are guarded to an eternal and incorruptible inheritance in heaven.
2 Peter 1:3 – His power grants us all things that pertain to life and godliness.
The Bible nowhere teaches that it is impossible for a child of God to fall from grace. But it most certainly teaches that it is not necessary for us to fall!
[Mark 9:23; Isaiah 40:28-31; Eph. 1:19,20; Acts 20:32; Jude 24]
I. What Methods Does God Use to Provide This Power?
This power does us no good unless we know how to obtain it. As we study the methods God uses, note that all of them require effort on our part. There are conditions we must meet in order to have God’s power.
A. There Is Power in Jesus’ Blood.
1 Corinthians 1:18,23,24 – The <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>power of God is the word of the cross, the message of Christ crucified.
Hebrews 7:25; 9:14 – Jesus’ sacrifice is able to save to the uttermost.
“There is power in the blood.” But the power is conditional. To receive it, you must repent and be baptized (see earlier discussion). If we sin afterward, we must repent and pray (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9).
B. There Is Power in God’s Love.
Ephesians 3:16,17 – We may be <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>strengthened in the inner man, being rooted and grounded in love [cf. v19-21]. All of us need to know that we are loved and cared for.
When a person knows he is wrong, he may not care if he does more wrong. He is already alienated, so what will it hurt? But when he knows he has been right and he feels a sense of being loved, he does not want to do anything to break that bond.
1 John 4:9,19; 5:3 – God loves us so much that He gave Jesus to die for us. This knowledge compels us to love God and obey Him. People in sin often talk about the sense of loneliness they feel, knowing they are alienated from God.
Love is a powerful motivation. God’s love is the most powerful love there is. It is a bond that draws us to God and motivates us to serve Him successfully. But there are conditions: love must lead to obedience.
C There Is Power in the Scriptures.
Romans 1:16 – The gospel is the <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>power of God unto salvation.
1 Corinthians 1:18 – The word of the cross is the power of God.
Ephesians 6:13-17 – Every part of the armor of God is related directly or indirectly to the word: loins girt with truth, feet shod with the preparation of the gospel, the sword which is the word, etc.
Further, the Scriptures are involved in every area in which we need power: they are the basis of knowledge and faith, they tell us how to become children of God, they strengthen us to overcome temptation and comfort us in trouble, etc. [Matt. 4:4,7,10; Rom. 15:4]
Joshua 1:7,8 – To be successful in God’s work, Joshua had to meditate on God’s law. Again, the power of the word is conditional. We must study and follow the word in order to benefit from the power it provides.
[James 1:21-25; Acts 18:27,28; 20:32; Rom. 15:14; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Heb. 4:12f; 1 Cor. 10:12f; 16:13]
D. There Is Power in Prayer.
Ephesians 6:18 – There is power in God’s armor, but we are to take it on with prayer. We should make our requests known so God can supply what we need to serve Him.
Psalms 138:3 – In the day when I cried out, You answered me, And made me bold with strength in my soul.
James 5:16 – The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
There is no need to bear our burdens alone. We can give them to God. But again there are conditions. We must use the privilege of prayer.
Too many of us are like a man with a powerful automobile who, instead of getting in and turning on the engine, stands behind the car pushing it. He tries to do it all himself and gets nowhere.
[1 Peter 5:7,8; Col. 1:9-11; 2 Thess. 1:11; Phil. 4:6,7]
E. There Is Power in Associating with Other Christians.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 – Two are better than one. If one falls, his companion can lift him up. An enemy might prevail against one alone, but instead there are two to withstand him. A threefold cord is not easily broken. There is strength in working together.
Galatians 6:2 – Christians bear one another’s burdens.
2 Corinthians 1:4 – They comfort one another in times of affliction. Sometimes our problems are bigger than we can handle alone. We need help. But remember, if we want others to help us, we need to be willing to help them when they have needs.
Hebrews 10:23-25 – One excellent time to strengthen one another is when the church meets. We can provoke one another to love and good works. We can exhort one another.
Again, the strength God supplies is conditional. We must make use of it. Strangely, many Christians neglect or flat refuse to use this source of strength at the very times they need it most. Facing the greatest spiritual dangers of their lives, when they are tempted to fall away, they neglect to attend church meetings.
We can only be strong when we <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>use what God provides to make us strong!
[Heb. 3:12-14; Eph. 4:16; Col. 3:16; Rom. 15:14]
F. There Is Power in the Hope of Eternal Life.
2 Peter 1:8-11 – The desire to enter the everlasting kingdom motivates us to make our calling and election sure by developing the needed qualities in our lives. Instead of being near-sighted, we should keep our eyes on our goal.
1 Corinthians 9:25 – Goals motivate us to work hard, as illustrated by athletes. Without a clear vision of our goal, we may easily give up in hardship. With a clear and valuable goal, we are strongly motivated to persevere.
Matthew 6:24,33 – But again there are conditions. We must keep our eye on the goal and not become overly involved in affairs of this life. We cannot serve two masters, but must seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We must keep our priorities straight.
[1 Peter 1:3-5; Acts 20:32; Jude 24]
Acts 10:34,35 – God is no respecter of persons. In every nation, those who fear Him and work righteousness are accepted by Him. Everyone can serve God successfully. This is not just for other people. It includes you and me. [2 Peter 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4,6; Titus 2:11-14; Acts 2:38,39; Mark 16:15,16; Matt. 28:18-20; Rom. 1:16]
Why then are so many people being defeated in God’s service? Because they are not using the armor properly!
Imagine an army of soldiers sworn to protect the country where you live.
Suppose a powerful enemy is coming to attack your city, destroy your wives and children, causing great pain and grief. The enemy has a powerful weapon which your army is convinced it cannot defeat.
Then the soldiers learn of someone who has a powerful new weapon. Everywhere it has been used, the enemy has been defeated.
The new weapon is obtained so every soldier can have one. The weapons come with an instruction manual. Meetings are set up so the soldiers can learn how to use the weapon. Your army can successfully win the victory! All the soldiers have to do is attend the meetings, study the manual, and use the weapons provided.
Would you want those soldiers to stay home from 1/2 to 2/3 of the meetings, when they could come? Should they daydream through the meetings? Should they take the manuals home, lay them on the shelf, and rarely read them?
The enemy is Satan. You and I are the soldiers. We will surely lose, not just our lives, but our souls eternally unless we learn how to defeat Satan’s forces. God has provided armor that is guaranteed to defeat Satan, but we must learn to use it. It comes with a manual we must study – the Bible. The church is instructed to provide meetings so we can learn to use the weapons.
You can successfully win the battle against Satan by the means God has supplied. Are you studying and attending the meetings diligently so you can be successful? Are you as diligent as you would want soldiers to be if they were defending you and your family in wartime? Have you even yet enlisted in the army?
Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control. Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, and therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.
The Definition and Causes of Shame
Let’s start with a dictionary definition of shame. Shame is the painful emotion caused by a consciousness of guilt or shortcoming or impropriety.
Let me illustrate each of those causes.
- First, the cause of guilt. Suppose you act against your conscience and withhold information on your tax returns. For a couple years you feel nothing because it has been put out of your mind, and you weren’t caught. Then you are called to account by the IRS and it becomes public knowledge that you lied and you stole. Your guilt is known. Now in the light of public censure you feel the pain of shame.
- Or take the cause of shortcoming. In the Olympics suppose you come from a little country where you are quite good in the 3,000-meter race. Then you compete before thousands of people in Seoul, and the competition is so tough that by the time the last lap comes up, you are a whole lap behind everyone else, and you must keep running all by yourself while everyone watches. There’s no guilt here. But the humiliation and shame could be intense.
- Or take the cause of impropriety. You are invited to a party and you find out when you get there that you dressed all wrong. Again, no evil or guilt. Just a social blunder, an impropriety that makes you feel foolish and embarrassed.
Well-Placed Vs. Misplaced Shame
One of the things that jumps right out at you from this definition of shame is that there is some shame that is justified and some that isn’t. There are some situations where shame is exactly what we should feel. And there are some situations where we shouldn’t. Most people would say that the liar ought to be ashamed. And most people would probably say that the long distance runner who gave it his best shot ought not to feel ashamed. Disappointment would be healthy, but not shame.
Let me illustrate from Scripture these two kinds of shame. The Bible makes very clear that there is a shame we ought to have and a shame we ought not to have. I’m going to call the one kind, “misplaced shame” and the other kind “well-placed shame.”
Misplaced shame (the kind we ought not to have) is the shame you feel when there is no good reason to feel it. Biblically that means the thing you feel ashamed of is not dishonoring to God; or that it IS dishonoring to God, but you didn’t have a hand in it. In other words, misplaced shame is shame for something that’s good—something that doesn’t dishonor God. Or it’s shame for something bad but which you didn’t have any sinful hand in. That’s the kind of shame we ought not have.
Well-placed shame (the kind you ought to have) is the shame you feel when there is good reason to feel it. Biblically that means we feel ashamed of something because our involvement in it was dishonoring to God. We ought to feel shame when we have a hand in bringing dishonor upon God by our attitudes or actions.
I want to be sure you see how important God is in this distinction between misplaced shame and well-placed shame. Whether we have a hand in honoring God or dishonoring God makes all the difference. If we want to battle shame at the root, we have to know how it relates to God. And we DO need to battle shame at the root—all shame. Because both misplaced shame and well-placed shame can cripple us if we don’t know how to deal with them at the root.
So let’s look at some Scriptures that illustrate misplaced shame and some that illustrate well-placed shame.
Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God.
What this text says is that if you feel shame for testifying about Jesus, you have a misplaced shame. We ought not to feel shame for this. Christ is honored when we speak well of him. And he is dishonored by fearful silence. So it is not a shameful thing to testify, but a shameful thing not to.
Secondly the text says that if you feel shame that a friend of yours is in trouble (in this case: prison) for Jesus’ sake, then your shame is misplaced. The world may see this as a sign of weakness and defeat. But Christians know better. God is honored by the courage of his servants to go to prison for his name. We ought not to feel shame that we are associated with something that honors God in this way, no matter how much scorn the world heaps on.
Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
Shame is misplaced when we feel it because of the person or the words of Jesus. If Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” and others laugh and call it unrealistic, we should not feel ashamed. If Jesus says, “Fornication is evil,” and liberated yuppies label it out of date, we should not feel shame to stand with Jesus. That would be misplaced shame because the words of Jesus are true and God-honoring, no matter how foolish the world may try to make them look.
If one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God.
Suffering and being reproached and made fun of as a Christian is not an occasion for shame, because it is an occasion for glorifying God. In other words in the Bible the criterion for what is well-placed shame and what is misplaced shame is not how foolish or how bad you look to men, but whether you in fact bring honor to God.
This is so important to grasp! Because much of what makes us feel shame is not that we have brought dishonor on God by our actions, but that we have failed to give the appearance that other people admire. Much of our shame is not God-centered but self-centered. Until we get a good handle on this, we will not be able to battle the problem of shame at its root.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
The reason shame in the gospel would be a misplaced shame is that the gospel is the very power of God unto salvation. The gospel magnifies God and humbles man. And so to the world the gospel doesn’t look like power at all. It looks like weakness (asking people to be like children and depend on Jesus, instead of standing on their own two feet). But for those who believe it is the power of almighty God to save sinners.
Jesus said (to Paul),
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly exult in my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Now ordinarily weaknesses and insults are occasions for shame. But for Paul they are occasions for exultation. Paul thinks that shame in his weaknesses and shame at insults and persecutions would be misplaced shame. Why? Because the power of Christ is perfected in Paul’s weakness.
I conclude from all these texts that the biblical criterion for misplaced shame is radically God-centered. The biblical criterion says, don’t feel shame for something that honors God no matter how weak or foolish it makes you look in the eyes of unbelievers.
The same God-centeredness will be seen if we look at some texts that illustrate well-placed shame.
Come to your right mind, and sin no more. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
Here Paul says that these people ought to feel shame. “I say this to your shame.” Their shame would be well-placed if they saw their deplorable ignorance of God and how it was leading to false doctrine (no resurrection) and sin in the church. In other words well-placed shame is shame for what dishonors God—ignorance of God, sin against God, false beliefs about God.
The Christians were going to secular courts to settle disputes among themselves. Paul rebukes them.
I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood?
Again he says they should feel shame: “I say this to your shame.” Their shame would be well-placed because their behavior is bringing such disrepute upon their God as they fight one another and seek help from the godless to settle their disputes. A well-placed shame is the shame you feel because you are involved in dishonoring God.
And let’s not miss this implication: these people were trying their best to appear strong and right. They wanted to be vindicated by men. They wanted to be winners in court. They didn’t want anyone to run over them as though they had no rights. That would look weak and shameful. So in the very act of wanting to avoid shame as the world sees it, they fell into the very behavior that God counts shameful.
The point is: when you are dishonoring God, you ought to feel shame, no matter how strong or wise or right you are in the eyes of men.
And you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple and its appearance and plan, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities.
God says Israel ought to feel shame for its iniquities. Sin is always a proper cause for shame because sin is behavior that dishonors God.
We can conclude from all these texts that the biblical criterion for misplaced shame and for well-placed shame is radically God-centered.
The biblical criterion for misplaced shame says, don’t feel shame for something that honors God, no matter how weak or foolish or wrong it makes you look in the eyes of men. And don’t feel shame for bad circumstances where you don’t share in dishonoring God.
The biblical criterion for well-placed shame says, DO feel shame for having a hand in anything that dishonors God, no matter how strong or wise or right it makes you look in the eyes of men.
Now how do you battle this painful emotion called shame? The answer is that we battle it by battling the unbelief that feeds its life. And we fight for faith in the promises of God that overcome shame and relieve us from its pain.
Three Instances of Battling Misplaced Shame
Let me illustrate with three instances.
1. When Well-Placed Shame Lingers Too Long
In the case of well-placed shame for sin the pain ought to be there but it ought not to stay there. If it does, it’s owing to unbelief in the promises of God.
For example, a woman comes to Jesus in a Pharisee’s house weeping and washing his feet. No doubt she felt shame as the eyes of Simon communicated to everyone present that this woman was a sinner and that Jesus had no business letting her touch him. Indeed she was a sinner. There was a place for true shame. But not for too long. Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). And when the guests murmured about this, he helped her faith again by saying, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (v. 50).
How did Jesus help her battle the crippling effects of shame? He gave her a promise: “Your sins are forgiven! Your faith has saved you. Your future will be one of peace.” So the issue for her was belief. Would she believe the glowering condemnation of the guests? Or would she believe the reassuring words of Jesus that her shame was enough? She’s forgiven. She’s saved. She may go in peace.
And that is the way every one of us must battle the effects of a well-placed shame that threatens to linger too long and cripple us. We must battle unbelief by taking hold of promises like,
There is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared. (Psalm 130:4)
Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked man forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord that he may have mercy on him and to our God for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6)
If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:15)
2. Feeling Shame for Something That Glorifies God
The second instance of battling shame is the instance of feeling shame for something that is not even bad but in fact glorifies God—like Jesus or the gospel.
Our text shows how Paul battled against this misplaced shame. In verse 12 he says, “Therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”
Paul makes very clear here that the battle against misplaced shame is a battle against unbelief. “I am not ashamed FOR I KNOW WHOM I HAVE BELIEVED AND I AM SURE OF HIS KEEPING POWER.” We fight against feelings of shame in Christ and the gospel and the Christian ethic by battling unbelief in the promises of God. Do we believe that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation? Do we believe that Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness? The battle against misplaced shame is the battle against unbelief in the promises of God.
3. Feeling Shame for Something We Didn’t Do
Finally, the last instance of battling shame is the instance where others try to load us with shame for evil circumstances when in fact we had no part in dishonoring God.
It happened to Jesus. They called him a winebibber and a glutton. They called him a temple destroyer. They called him a hypocrite: He healed others, but he can’t heal himself. In all this the goal was to load Jesus with a shame that was not his to bear.
The same with Paul. They called him mad when he defended himself in court. They called him an enemy of the Jewish customs and a breaker of the Mosaic law. They said he taught that you should sin that grace may abound. All this to load him with a shame that it was not his to bear.
And it has happened to you. And will happen again. How do you battle this misplaced shame? By believing the promises of God that in the end all the efforts to put us to shame will fail. We may struggle now to know what is our shame to bear and what is not. But God has a promise for us in either case:
In other words, for all the evil and deceit judgment and criticism that others may use to heap on us a shame that is not ours to bear, and for all the distress and spiritual warfare it brings, the promise stands sure that they will not succeed in the end. All the children of God will be vindicated. The truth will be known. And no one who banks his hope on the promises of God will be put to shame.
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As a person who enjoys writing, admittedly, I’ve been somewhat distracted lately. I scroll through the feeds of my social media and it is filled with a plethora of “hot topics.” Every day, there is a new onslaught of blog posts, rants, and editorialized articles. It’s enough to make me want to write an open letter to all of the people that write open letters.
Much has been written about the distraction that social media can cause in our lives, and I can feel the distraction in my heart and the pervasive lure to choose sides and start arguing on whichever controversial social topic is trending at the moment.
Social media has instilled in so many Christians a false belief that we must form, share, declare and argue an opinion about everything– from leggings to secular fiction and just about everything in between.
We buy into it hook, line and sinker. We share and inevitably, overshare to the point that our arguing, our stances, our opinions begin to overshadow our calling in Christ… and we don’t even realize it.
We are called to speak the truth in love, yes. But we are not called to take part in every controversy or argument. In fact, Paul explained it to Timothy this way: “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 3:23-25)
I’ve always been reluctant to take part in the slippery slopes of controversy for that reason alone – it invariably breeds quarrels. Regardless of the intent, the one sharing the truth in love is somehow perceived as a Pharisee or a Persecutor with a fistful of stones. Criticism is misconstrued as judgment. Arguments erupt. Feelings are hurt. Tempers flare.
I’m not saying that we should shy away from sharing the truth in love. I’m not saying that we should in any way shrink from our faith on the important, relevant social issues of our day, but I am saying that we need to ask the Lord to grant us much wisdom and discernment before we speak – and before we type, comment, or click to share.
Because people need to see our Jesus more than the need to hear our opinions; and ultimately, they need His word more than they need ours.
To a lost and dying world, we are called to be the light of the world and while culture and our social media feeds try to pull us in a thousand directions, we cling to the words of Paul who said, “I focus on this one thing,” which was forgetting what was behind and straining ahead for the goal, which is Christ (Philippians 3:13).
The one good thing that controversy stirs us is self-reflection. We have to ask ourselves the tough questions. Questions like, “Is what I am saying/doing/watching/thinking about and yes – even reading – is it working with Christ to bring about His glory or is it working against Him; because there is no in-between in His economy.
As much as we’d like to rest in our own shades of gray (pun intended), our comfort zones, our lukewarm tubs of complacency, sisters, He is calling us out of the shadows of controversy and into His glorious light. We are called to live in the light of His presence where He “turns our eyes from worthless things and gives us light through His word” (Psalm 119:37).
His word, oh, I believe His word is more relevant and more thrilling, today, in this moment than any other words we can take our time to read or write. His mercy is miraculous and His grace is scandalous and His word says it better than any of us ever could. Paul said it best when he said, “Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus. For His sake, I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage” (Philippians 3:8).
I read those words and I know, for the sake of my own distracted and divided heart, there are some things I need to discard and count as rubbish.
The church at Philippi was dealing with their own controversies and quarrelling women. We know this because Paul calls them out, by name. If Paul were writing an open letter to us, sisters in the faith today, I believe it would read much the same. We don’t know what Euodia and Synteche are arguing about, we just know that they’re getting called out and Paul is pleading with them to “agree in Christ” because Paul knows that their disagreement can affect more than just the two of them; it can affect their witness and the church as a whole. He urges to the church to help remind them of who they are and of the work they have done together. He wants to remind them that, despite the quarrels and controversies, they are of one mind in Christ, co-laborers together for His kingdom.
I want to remind us that despite the quarrels and controversies, we are one mind in Christ and we are co-laborers together for His kingdom. We need this reminder because social media can distract and divide our hearts to the point we forget that our goal is not to win arguments but to win the lost.
Paul goes on to write that we are to rejoice in all things, to let our gentleness be evident to all and to pray about everything. He brings it home for the church at Philippi, for me and for you when he says:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8).
In the same letter, Paul writes about the peace that transcends all understanding. As believers, we have access to the gift of that peace, and we also have the privilege of sharing it with the world. In a fragmented and broken world, let’s fill those broken places – and our social media feeds – with the fruit of the Spirit in which He has given us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
Teach us your ways, Lord, that we may rely on your faithfulness; give us undivided hearts (Psalm 86:11).