Churches today are filled with people who hold to a faith that does not save. James referred to this as a “dead faith”-meaning a mere empty profession (James 2:17, 20, 26). Paul wrote to the people in the church at Corinth to test or examine themselves to see if they were truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). As important as it was in Paul’s day, how much more important it is for people in our churches today to put their faith to the test and to make sure they have not been deceived.
But where do we start? By what criteria do we determine true from empty faith? What are the distinguishing marks of genuine saving faith? Surprisingly, there are a number of popular standards or tests that really don’t prove the genuineness of one’s faith one way or the other. So before we look at the tests that prove genuine faith, let’s take a look at some popular tests that neither prove nor disprove the genuineness of one’s faith.
Here is a list of seven conditions that do not prove or disprove the genuineness of saving faith. One can be a Christian and possess these things or one may not be a Christian at all and still possess them. While they don’t prove or disprove one’s faith, they’re important to know and understand so you will not be deceived.
Seven conditions that do not prove or disprove genuine saving faith.
1. Visible Morality
There are some people who just seem to be good people. They can be religious, moral, honest, and forthright [trustworthy] in their dealings with people. They may seem to be grateful, loving, kind and tenderhearted toward others. They have visible virtues and an external morality. The Pharisees of Jesus day rested on visible morality for their hope and yet some of Christ’s harshest words were directed at them for this very thing.
Many who possess visible morality know nothing of sincere love for God. Whatever good works they appear to possess, they know nothing of serving the true God and living for His glory. Whatever the person does or leaves undone does not involve God. They’re honest in their dealings with everyone-but God. They won’t rob anyone-but God. They’re thankful and loyal to everyone-but God. They speak contemptuously and reproachfully of no one-but God. They have good relationships with everyone-but God. They are like the rich young ruler who said, “All these things [conditions] have I kept, what do I lack?” Their focus is on visible morality, but that visible morality doesn’t necessarily mean salvation. Jesus told one of the Pharisees “you must be born again” (John 3:6), not “you must put on an external morality.” People can “clean up their act” by reformation rather than regeneration-so reformation in itself is not a mark of saving faith.
2. Intellectual Knowledge
Another condition that can be misleading is intellectual knowledge. People can possess an intellectual understanding and knowledge of the truth and yet not be saved. While the knowledge of the truth is necessary for salvation, and visible morality is a fruit of salvation, neither of these conditions by themselves translate into true saving faith. People can know all about God, all about Jesus, who He was, that He came into the world, that He died on the cross, that He rose again, that He’s coming again, and even many details about the life of Christ-and still turn their backs on Him.
That’s what the writer of Hebrews was warning against in Hebrews 6:4-6. There were people in the church who knew all about God and understood gospel truths. They even had a measure of experience with gospel truth. They’d seen the ministry of the Holy Spirit at work in people’s lives-and yet knowing all of that, they stood in grave danger of turning away and rejecting Christ.
In Hebrews 10 the writer warns this kind of man that he is treading underfoot the blood of Christ by not believing what he knows to be true. There are many people who know the Scriptures but are on their way to hell! A man cannot be saved without the knowledge of the truth, but possessing that knowledge alone does not save.
3. Religious Involvement
Religious involvement is not necessarily a proof of true faith. According to Paul there are people who possess an outward form (a mere external appearance) of godliness but who have denied the power of it. They have an empty form of religion. Jesus illustrated this when He told of the virgins in Matthew 25. They waited and waited and waited for the coming of the bridegroom, who is Christ. And even though they waited a long time, when He came they didn’t go in. They had everything together except the oil in their lamps. That which was most necessary was missing. The oil is probably emblematic of the new life; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They weren’t regenerate. They had religious involvement but were not regenerate. A person can be visibly moral, know the truth, be religiously involved, and yet not possess genuine saving faith.
4. Active Ministry
It is possible to have an active and even a public ministry, and yet not possess genuine saving faith. Balaam was a prophet who turned out to be false (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Saul of Tarsus (later becoming the apostle Paul) thought he was serving God by killing Christians. Judas was a public preacher and one of the twelve disciples of Christ-but he was an apostate. In Matthew 7:22-23 Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” Those whom Jesus spoke of had been involved in active and public ministry-but Jesus said he never knew them. Sobering words indeed.
5. Conviction of Sin
By itself, even conviction of sin is not a proof of salvation. Our world is filled with guilt-ridden people. Many even feel badly about their sin. Felix trembled under conviction at the preaching of the apostle Paul, but he never left his idols or turned to God (Acts 24:24-6). The Holy Spirit works to convict men of sin, righteousness, and of judgment, but many do not respond in true repentance. Some may confess their sins and even abandon the sins they feel guilty about. They say, “I don’t like living this way. I want to change.” They may amend their ways and yet fall short of genuine saving faith. That’s external reformation, not internal regeneration. No degree of conviction of sin is conclusive evidence of saving faith. Even the demons are convicted of their sins-that’s why they tremble-but they are not saved.
6. The Feeling of Assurance
Feeling like you are saved is no guarantee you are indeed saved. Someone may say, “Well, I must be a Christian because I feel that I am. I think I am one.” But that is faulty reasoning. If thinking one is a Christian is what makes one a Christian, then no one could be deceived. And then, by definition, it would not be possible to be a deceived non-Christian, and that doesn’t square with the whole point of Satan’s deception. He wants people who are not truly saved to think they are. Satan has deceived multiplied millions of religious people into thinking they are saved even though they are not. They may say to themselves, “God won’t condemn me. I feel good about myself. I have assurance. I’m ok.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean a thing.
7. A Time of Decision
So often people say things like: “Well, I know I’m a Christian, because I remember when I signed the card,” or “I remember when I prayed a prayer,” or “I remember when I walked the aisle” or “went forward in church.” A person may remember exactly when it happened and where they were when “it” happened, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Our salvation is not verified by a past moment. Many people have prayed prayers, gone forward in church services, signed cards, gone into prayer rooms, been baptized, and joined churches without ever experiencing genuine saving faith.
These are seven common conditions or tests that don’t necessarily prove or disprove the existence of saving faith. What then are the marks of genuine saving faith? Are there some reliable tests from the Word of God that enable us to know for certain whether one’s faith is real? Thankfully there are at least nine biblical criteria for examining the genuineness of saving faith.
Nine conditions that prove genuine saving faith.
1. Love for God
First of all a deep and abiding love for God is one of the supreme evidences of genuine saving faith. This gets to the heart of the issue. Romans 8:7 says “the carnal mind is enmity [hostility, hatred] against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” Thus, if a man’s heart is at enmity with God there is no basis for assuming the presence of saving faith. Those who are truly saved love God, but those who are not truly saved resent God and His sovereignty. Internally they are rebellious toward God and His plan for their life. But the regenerate person is set to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. His delight is in the infinite excellencies of God. God is the first and highest affection of his renewed soul. God has become his chief happiness and source of satisfaction. He seeks after God and thirsts for the living God.
By the way, we must be careful to distinguish the difference between that kind of true love for God that seeks His glory from the kind of self-serving love that sees God primarily as a means of personal fulfillment and gain. True saving faith doesn’t believe in Christ so that Christ will make one happy. The heart that truly loves God desires to please God and glorify Him. Jesus taught that if someone loved their father and mother more than they loved Christ, they were not worthy of Him. In Matthew 10:37-39 Jesus put it like this: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39).
The question then is this: Do you love God? Do you love His nature? Do you love His glory? Do you love His name? Do you love His kingdom? Do you love His holiness? Do you love His will? Is your heart lifted when you sing His praises-because you love Him? Supreme love for God is decisive evidence of true faith.
2. Repentance from Sin
A proper love for God necessarily involves a hatred for sin that leads to repentance. That should be obvious. Who wouldn’t understand that? If we truly love someone we seek their best interests. Their well being is our greatest concern. If a man says to his wife, “I love you but I could care less what happens to you,” we would rightly question his love for her. True love seeks the highest good of its object. If we say that we love God, then we will hate whatever is an offense to Him. Sin blasphemes God. Sin curses God. Sin seeks to destroy God’s work and His kingdom. Sin killed His Son. So when someone says, “I love God, but I tolerate sin,” then there is every reason to question the genuineness of his love for God. One cannot love God without hating that which is set to destroy Him. True love for God will therefore manifest itself through confession and repentance. The man who loves God will be grieved over his sin and will want to confess it to God and forsake it.
In examining our faith we should ask: “Do I have a settled conviction concerning the evil of all sin? Does sin appear to me as the evil and bitter thing that it really is? Does conviction of sin increase in me as I walk with Christ? Do I hate it not primarily because it is ruinous to my own soul or because it is an offense to the God I love? Does the sin itself grieve me or am I only grieved over the consequences of my sin. What grieves me most-my misfortune or my sin? Do my sins appear to me as many, frequent and aggravated? Do I find myself grieved over my own sin more than the sins of others?” Genuine saving faith loves God and hates what He hates, which is sin. That attitude results in real repentance.
3. Genuine Humility
Saving faith is manifested through genuine humility. Jesus said blessed are those who are poor in spirit, and those who mourn [their sin], and those who are meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:3-6)-all marks of humility. In Matthew 18 Jesus said that “unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). True saving faith comes as a little child-humble and dependent. It is not the man who is full of himself who is saved, but the man who denies himself, takes up his cross daily and follows Christ (Matthew 16:24).
In the Old Testament we see that the Lord receives those who come with a broken and contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18; 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2). James wrote: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). We must come as the prodigal son, broken and humble. Remember what he said to his father-“Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). Those possessing genuine saving faith do not come boastfully to God with their religious achievements or spiritual accomplishments in hand. They come empty-handed in genuine humility.
4. Devotion to God’s Glory
True saving faith is manifested by a devotion to God’s glory. Whatever believers do, whether they eat or drink, their desire is to see God glorified. Christians do what they do because they want to bring glory to God.
Without question Christians fail in each of these areas, but the direction of a Christian’s life is to love God, hate sin, to live in humility and self-denial, recognizing his unworthiness and being devoted to the glory of God. It is not the perfection of one’s life but the direction of a life that provides evidence of regeneration.
5. Continual Prayer
Humble, submissive, believing prayer is mark of true faith. We cry “Abba, Father” because the Spirit within us prompts that cry. Jonathan Edwards once preached a sermon titled, “Hypocrites are Deficient in the Duty of Secret Prayer.” It’s true. Hypocrites may pray publicly, because that’s what hypocrites want to do. Their desire is to impress people-but they are deficient in the duty of secret prayer. True believers have a personal and private prayer life with God. They regularly seek communion with God through prayer.
6. Selfless Love
An important characteristic of genuine saving faith is selfless love. James wrote, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well” (James 2:8). John wrote, “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
If you love God you will not only hate what offends Him, but you will love those whom He loves. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 John 3:14). And why do we love God and love others? Because this is the believer’s response to His love for us. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Jesus said we will know that we are His disciples by our love for each other (John 13:35).
7. Separation from the World
Positively, believers are marked by a love for God and for fellow believers. Negatively, the Christian is characterized by the absence of love for the world. True believers are not those who are ruled by worldly affections, but their affection and devotion is toward God and His kingdom.
In 1 Corinthians 2:12 Paul wrote that “we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” In 1 John 2:15 we read: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15). True saving faith separates one from the pursuits of this world–not perfectly, as we all fail in these areas, but the direction of a believer’s life is upward. He feels the pull of heaven on his soul. Christians are those whom God has delivered from the power of darkness and conveyed into the kingdom of His Son. The believer is marked by the absence of love or enslavement to the satanically controlled world system (Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:13; James 4:4).
8. Spiritual Growth
True believers grow. When God begins a true work of salvation in a person, He finishes and perfects that work. Paul expressed that assurance when he wrote in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
If you are a true Christian, you are going to be growing-and that means you are going to be more and more like Christ. Life produces itself. If you’re alive you are going to grow, there’s no other way. You’ll improve. You’ll increase. The Spirit will move you from one level of glory to the next. So examine your life. Do you see spiritual growth? Do you see the decreasing frequency of sin? Is there an increasing pattern of righteousness and devotion to God?
Obedient living is not one of the optional tracks given for believers to walk. All true believers are called to a life of obedience. Jesus taught that every branch that abides in Him bears fruit (John 15:1-8). Paul wrote that believers “are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). That speaks of obedience. We are saved unto the obedience of faith (see 1 Peter 1:2).
How can we know our faith is genuine? Examine your life in the light of God’s Word. Do you see these characteristics in your life? Do you have a love for God, hatred for sin, humility, devotion to God’s glory, a pattern of personal and private prayer, selfless love, separation from the world, the evidence of spiritual growth and obedience. These are the real evidences of genuine saving faith.
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.
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.”
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).
As we know, there is no shortage of boldness in our world. When you think of our political leaders, they are quite bold, often in an arrogant way, to impose their societal vision, values, and beliefs on others. If you’re a teacher, or state worker, you know how boldly Bureaucrats can regulate every manner of living, speaking, teaching, and thinking. Secularists self-righteously applaud their own tolerance even as they openly, flagrantly, boldly, suppress the slightest expression of Christian faith in the public sphere. Entertainers boldly flaunting their hyper-immorality—shoving their perversity into our faces, indoctrinating our children with their crass lyrics, all the while denouncing everything that’s good, decent, and holy.
But there are other kinds of boldness. What about the boldness of the adulterer or the fornicator? What about the gossip who stirs up dissension? The thief or robber who enters another’s home? The sluggard who feels entitled to the fruits of their parents labor, or worse, their neighbor? What about greedy lendors who brazenly prey, and financially exploit, the weak. Or the greedy debtors who boldly charge up their credit card with no intention of repayment. The son who rebels against his father can be quite bold! Or the man who abandons responsibility to his family while pursuing relations to another woman. What about the woman who boldly aborts her unborn child? Or, the homosexual or lesbian who ensnares another man or woman in their sin?
There is an abundance of boldness in our culture. But it’s boldness about all the wrong things! We’re bold about evil, about sin, and about our rights, freedoms, and entitlements. But where is the boldness for what’s “excellent and praiseworthy?” For “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable.”
People are unapologetically bold about all that is evil; meanwhile Christians are apologetically timid about all that is holy and good.
What’s needed isn’t “fleshly” boldness. When boldness is driven by the flesh, it is enormously destructive. Look at the trail of destruction that exists in your family alone, or our community, or state, or nation. We don’t need more fleshly boldness.
What’s needed (now, more than ever) is “spiritual boldness”—a boldness that’s born out of vital relationship with the Spirit of the Living God. Spiritual boldness does not derive its confidence from the flesh, or from the world, but from the mind of God. In your outline, let me share some things that are distinct about Christian boldness. . .
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in the Inspired Word.
What convictions do you hold about the word of God? 1 Peter 1:23 describes how the word is “imperishable”, “living and abiding” and is like a seed. Whereas the flowers and grass fade away, and the flesh/ glory of man withers… The word of God cannot be destroyed, nor will it ever pass away. We don’t have to understand how the word works, we just need to be faithful to plant it.
2 Timothy 3:15-16 says the Bible is able to “make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
In 2 Peter 1:20-21 were told, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
In Isaiah 55:11 God says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
A couple of thoughts. First, to the degree that our boldness is tuned to the Word of God, it’s redemptive. To the degree that our boldness is of the flesh, it kills and destroys. Understand that boldness with the Word of God—preaching, teaching—has revived nations. Where has boldness in the flesh done anything good except corrupt, kill, and destroy. Our boldness needs to be trained by the Word of God.
Second, greater boldness is needed by all of us to inject God’s word into conversations. In John 6:63 Jesus told his disciples, “My words are spirit and life.” When timid Christian withhold the word, it’s like a farmer withholding seed. You cannot reap a harvest of righteousness if you never plant anything.
Parents often ask, “why are my kids so disrespectful, crass, self-centered…” Well, you reap what you sow. If you plant the word deeply you won’t ask those questions of your kids, family, or culture. God’s word doesn’t return void, God’s word is spiritual and alive, it accomplishes the purpose for which God sent it.
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in the Spirit’s Activity
Another basis for boldness is the Spirit’s ongoing activity. In John 16:8 Jesus promised the Spirit would convict the world in regard to “sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment.” This is great news! We don’t have to be fanatics, or extremists about this stuff. If there is sin, the Spirit will show it to a person. We don’t have to scream, and yell, and shout, and hold demonstrations.
If there is something holy, righteous, good, the Spirit will show it for what it is. And the Spirit daily reminds people they are accountable before God for their life. Why else do you think people justify themselves, and plead their case, and boast, “But I’m a good person?” It’s because deep down people know they’re accountable to God.
This is why Paul tells the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, “. . . When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (NIV)
We don’t have to convict people, that’s the Spirit’s work. Our job is to faithfully and boldly plant seeds. We are to hold out the Words of Life. The gospel does not advance in the power of self, by intimidation or bullying, by shaming and giving guilt trips. Let the Spirit do what He does… and you and I can do the planting just as God’s asked us to do. The Spirit wins hearts and minds.
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in the Spirit’s Power
Like the Apostle Paul, I sometimes find myself in places of “weakness, fear, and trembling.” Every week our pastoral staff encounters situations for which there is no human wisdom or human answers or human remedy… or financial resources. If you’re a spiritual person, you have great advantage. Like the early in Acts 1:8, its mostly a matter of waiting for God to clothe us with power. But if you’re an unspiritual person, what power is available to you, beyond your own strength?
When we help unspiritual people, they keep returning with the same problems. A person comes needing gas money, or food, or some help. We encourage them to trust God, we teach them how to pray, but most do not. They get relief and continue on their godless path until they again hit rock bottom. And then they’re back at our door. Apart from faith in Jesus, there is no power for the godless. There is just the rough, godless, hard, lifeless, joyless, impoverished road you’ve always walked.
But with faith in Jesus Christ, there is real hope, there is real power! Romans 1:16 Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, of it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. . .” Ephesians 3:16 speaks of how God has granted that those in Christ to “be strengthened with power through His Spirit.”
Particularly noteworthy are Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:10-20 (see NIV). This weekend we honor the soldier. Our country has the most powerful military of any nation that’s every inhabited the earth. We also have the finest trained men and women. But there is a limit to what fleshly warfare can achieve—as we’re well aware!
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
The Spirit’s power is unleashed through prayer and proclamation of the Word. Our first priority when someone comes to the church in crisis is to first listen, but then pray with people and share the word with them. That is the greatest help/resource we can provide.
R.A. Torrey observes how the Spirit is like the wind. The wind is invisible, and mysterious. We don’t see from where it comes or where it goes. It turns the windmill (not at Southwind Park, but other windmills). It fills our sails, drives the vessel out to sea, churns up the dust, shakes foundations, and affects everything material and physical. The wind is indispensable—it strengthens, fortifies, anchors, roots, tests. In the same way, the Spirit is invisible, we don’t see him but we feel his power.
Trust God’s word! Pray!
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in our Eternal Hope
I want to end with this final idea. If we’re led by the Spirit, we could very well pay a great price with our life. Every sign points to an ever increasing hostility toward churches, and toward Christians. Around the world, this hostility is in full season. I think of the many soldiers, who have lost their lives, confronting evil around the world. There is a price that is to be paid for boldness—one that involves flesh and blood.
In Ephesians 1:3 Paul reminds us that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
In Ephesians 4:30 Paul urges us then, not to grieve the Holy Spirit “by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” In 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 says, “For all the promises of God find their YES in Jesus. That is why it is through him that we utter our AMEN to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”
After they had destroyed Jesus’ body, God raised Jesus from the grave by the power of the Spirit. There are those who can destroy the flesh, but cannot destroy soul. God can destroy both. But if you’re in Christ God promises to preserve both body and soul. God promises to give us a new resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15), and he promises that our Spirit will dwell with him for all eternity (2 Corinthians 5).
We don’t have to be afraid. We can have boldness and courage about the things that matter for eternity. This was the hallmark of the early church.
Be bold. We have the Inspired Word of God… the Spirit is actively at work, all around us in the world… The Spirit by virtue of our faith, is powerful to save us… Finally the Spirit seals us, so that death can never lay claim on us, so that we can never be separated from God… but ushered into presence where we’ll dwell with him forever.
Question: “Is it possible to sell your soul to the devil?”
Answer: In the fanciful tale of Dr. Faustus, a man makes a deal with the devil: in exchange for his body and soul, the man is to receive supernatural power and pleasures for 24 years. The devil agrees to the trade, and Dr. Faustus enjoys the pleasures of sin for a season, but his doom is sealed. At the end of 24 years, Faustus attempts to thwart the devil’s plans, but he meets a frightful demise, nonetheless. This legend works well as a morality tale and as a metaphor for the wages of sin, but the details of its plot are not biblical.
The Bible has no instance of a person “selling his soul” to Satan, and it never implies that making a bargain with the devil is possible. Here is some of what Scripture does reveal about Satan:
2) Satan seeks to deceive by masquerading as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
3) God has provided the means of defending ourselves against Satan’s attacks (Ephesians 6:11-12).
5) As “the god of this world,” Satan has dominion over those who live without Christ in the world (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Surely, there are those who suffer under direct satanic control, such as the young medium of Philippi (Acts 16:16-19). And there are those who have devoted themselves to the devil’s work, such as the sorcerers Simon (Acts 8:9-11) and Elymas (Acts 13:8). However, in each of these three examples, the power of God prevails over Satan’s slavery. In fact, Simon is offered a chance to repent (Acts 8:22). Obviously, there had been no irrevocable “selling” of Simon’s soul.
Without Christ, we are all under condemnation of death (Romans 3:23). Before we are saved, we are all in bondage to the devil, as 1 John 5:19 says, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Praise the Lord, we have a new Master, One who can break the chains of any sin and set us free (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Mark 5:1-15).