8 Identity Markers

325928430_640To live on mission, we must personalize the identity markers that define who we are and why we’re here.

Review the following 8 identity markers often. Reflect deeply on the meaning and implications of each one. Define your life, sense of calling and purpose around them.  

These identity markers answer important questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What should I do?Who do I serve? How should I live?

  1. Salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)
  2. Light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16)
  3. Disciple Makers (Matthew 28:18-20)
  4. Witnesses (Acts 1:8: I Peter 3:15-16)
  5. Ambassadors (II Corinthians 5:17-21)
  6. Imitators of God (Luke 6:35-36; Eph. 5:1-2, 25)
  7. Reflectors of God’s Glory (I Corinthians 10:31)
  8. Agents of Grace (Colossians 4:5-6)

Steve Cornell

10 goals in parenting

We desired (like most parents) to build positive character traits in our children. These were traits we knew to be necessary for both surviving and thriving in the world. But my extensive work with people (especially in counseling) taught me quickly about ways that positive traits could become negative. Life is so often a balancing act.

This led us to be more conscious about what I call trimming the positives to protect them from becoming negatives. Discuss with others the 10 contrasts below between positives and negatives. Your strategy as parents will likely have to change based on the personality and temperament of each child. But your example will be the most important factor in shaping their lives.

Positives without negatives

  1. Confident without being arrogant.
  2. Humble without being weak.
  3. Determined without being stubborn.
  4. Teachable without being gullible.
  5. Friendly without being naive.
  6. A servant without being an enabler.
  7. Merciful without being undiscerning.
  8. Discerning without being a critic.
  9. Capable without being overly self-reliant.
  10. Godly without being Pharisaic.

Steve Cornell

Forgiveness is an act of worship

Have you ever thought of forgiveness as an act of worship?

Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25).

Forgiveness is the choice not to hold things against another. Forgiveness is absent when one holds things against another. This is what we call resentment and it is a root cause behind many personal and societal problems. It’s the tendency to bear grudges and it often leads to revenge.

Holding against

Many people go through life collecting grievances (perceived or actual) and then storing them in their memory bank — specifically, in what I call their grudge account. Rather than forgiving an offender, they choose to nurse their anger; to lick their wounds and to sludge in their grudge.

This way of life is rarely traveled alone because misery enjoys company. It validates our resentment when we can find people to commiserate with us in our grievances by swapping grudge stories. Some throw pity parties to seek solidarity with others in their resentments.

Those who habitually collect perceived rather than actual grievances are in a different category. These people behave in narcissistic pathologically paranoid ways. They’re narcissistic because they think people think about them more than people do and pathologically paranoid because they imagine people are continually against them. They people who are self-destructively self-absorbed and must come to even deeper levels of repentance by embracing Jesus’ call to self-denial.

“Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

But Jesus’ words “Forgive him” are hard to hear when you’ve been badly hurt. I recall more than once, people responding, “Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

Does Jesus ask us to become morally neutral about the wrongful and damaging behavior of others? Is he asking us to pretend nothing happened and let our offender off the hook?

One thing is clear from Jesus’ words, whatever else forgiveness involves, it’s the opposite of “holding something against” someone. Forgiveness requires an act of “letting go” or “releasing”— a refusal to “hold against”.

Empty your grudge account

But this act of releasing is not a superficial or feigned act of erasing or ignoring the wrong committed against us. Letting go of an offense does not require moral neutrality about right and wrong. We’re not required to let the offense go into some imaginary zone of forgetfulness.

Forgiving is an act of worship that takes place in the presence of the God who is the righteous judge of all the earth. Forgiveness is an act of releasing the offense to the God who said, “Do not take revenge, …but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

I am suggesting that forgiveness is first and foremost a matter between you and God, not you and your offender.

When someone hurts us, we tend only to see the horizontal significance of what occurred. “This is about me and the one who hurt me!” we insist. For those who worship God, however, life is primarily about God and secondarily about them. In the rest of Mark 11:25, Jesus reminded us that even our grievances must be dealt with in relation to God: “…if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Do we earn God’s forgiveness?

When Jesus related forgiving others to God forgiving our sins, was he suggesting some form of conditional or earned system of forgiveness? Is this a quid pro qo arrangement (favor for favor)? No! Our forgiveness from God is based on God’s undeserved favor received through Jesus Christ. It’s not that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others, but that God expects His forgiven people to forgive. When forgiven people don’t forgive, God is not worshipped— He is dishonored (See: Matthew 18:21-35).

This is where worship connects with forgiveness. When we forgive, we “let go of” instead of “holding on to” or “holding against.”

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God the hurtful actions and consequences of the wrong done to us. God has sole prerogative of vengeance (Romans 12:19). If the one who hurts us is to be punished, it is God’s right to punish him. When sinned against, turn to God and worship Him by acknowledging His authority as Judge. Acknowledge that any judgment against the one who wronged you is His right — not yours.

Forgiveness as worship is not surrendering or neutralizing our sense of morality and justice. This is not a cheap “letting off the hook” of the one who hurt us. It’s not a mental exercise in forgetting or a feigned effort to trivialize evil by saying, “O well, we’re all sinners.” It’s an act of worship before the final Judge.

On this view, forgiveness is not solely about me – what happened to me and who did it. It’s about God—who He is and His authority as Judge.

Worshipping God, not using Him

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God what rightly belongs to him. Since God is “the Judge of all the earth who will do what is right,” releasing to God places the offence in the purest context of judgment. Forgiving is releasing the grievance and the offender to God’s all-knowing perspective and to the perfect balanced of justice and mercy. This honors God by placing matters into His hands and His timing.

But this approach to forgiveness must not be corrupted into a “God will get you” mentality. Worship is not an effort to use God; it’s an act of humbling yourself before Him.

When forgiveness becomes worship, the offended person humbles herself before God honoring and confessing Him as judge and trusting Him to uphold His judgment as He chooses and in His time.

Unexpected blessing

In this act of “letting go” or “releasing to God,” the one who forgives is also released and empowered to live out the radical prescription of Romans 12:20-21: “On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. …. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Punishment of wrongdoers

Please don’t leave this subject with the final words from Romans 12. The connection with Romans 13 is important in any discussion of forgiveness. According to Romans 13:1-4, sometimes God executes His wrath (compare 12:19) and punishment of wrongdoers through the agency of human government (see esp. Romans 13:4). This strengthens the point that forgiveness is not a matter of moral neutrality.

When the one who wrongs you receives punishment from a God-ordained authority, it’s right to support and honor the role of government in punishing wrongdoers (see: I Peter 2:13). We honor this role of authority for the glory of God and the good of society. Yet endorsement of just-punishment must never be sought as a means for vindictive and vengeful intention. If tempted toward this response, turn to God is worship based on Romans 12:18-21.

When we’ve been wronged and the punishment of the wrong-doer becomes a matter for human government, we cannot sincerely support such punishment with the right spirit until we prayerfully apply the teaching of Romans 12:18-21.

An invitation

This is an invitation for those who bear grudges to worship God as the only rightful judge of evil. Turn your grudge over to the Judge! Recite His deep moral opposition to the evil committed against you and surrender every desire for revenge to His prerogative in punishing evil (Romans 12:19).

If God chooses to (or involves you in) mediating His judgment through ordained human authority, honor and support those authorities for fulfilling their divine role (see: Romans 13:1-4), but check your heart against seeking false and destructive satisfaction through personal revenge.

The connection between Romans 12 and 13 offers the important reminder that forgiveness does not require a surrender of our sense of right and wrong.

We need the grace of God to apply these truths with sincerity and humility.

Prayer

“God, please help me to worship you when I’ve been hurt by others. You have forgiven my sins and each day I remind myself that you have not dealt with me as my sins deserve. I release my grudge to the Judge and trust you with the outcome.

Steve Cornell

See: Moving From Forgiveness to Reconciliation

I will not remember your sins

You are living by the promise of I John 1:9 when you refuse to hold against yourself the sin God does not hold against you.

What is the promise? 

  • “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Reinforce this truth

  • “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness” (Psalm 131:3-4).
  • Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” (Psalm 32:2-3, NLT).
  • God said, “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for my own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
  • Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!” (Micah 7:18-19).

Action point – Refuse to hold against yourself the sin God does not hold against you. 

Steve Cornell

Worship & Witness

The earliest and shortest Christian creed is the confession “Jesus is Lord.”

The original language of the New Testament uses just two words – “Kyrios Iēsous.” English translators supply the verb with “Jesus is Lord.

Those who made this confession were identifying with Jesus in a profound way. When one made this confession, he was baptized and included in the Christian community (cf. Acts 2:36-41).

We may say without hesitation that Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, was and forever is the only true God.

  • Romans 10:9 - “If you confess with your mouth (Kupios Inoous) ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
  • I Corinthians 12:3 -, “No one can say (Kupios Inoous) ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

“Paul’s insistence that, no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit has troubled later readers, since it would seem possible for anyone to say these words at will. But that misses the radical nature of this confession for the earliest Christians.  The use of “Lord” in such a context meant absolute allegiance to Jesus as one’s deity and set believers apart from both Jews, for whom such a confession was blasphemy, and pagans, especially those in the cults, whose deities were called “lords.” Thus this became the earliest Christian confession, tied in particular to Jesus’ having been raised from the dead and therefore having become the exalted One” (Gordon D. Fee, I Corinthians, NICNT, p. 581).

This confession was at the same time a profound doctrinal conviction about Jesus and a radical personal commitment to Him.

Philippians 2:9-11

Philippians 2:9-11 makes a very significant contribution to our understanding of the Lordship of Jesus.

These verses are the climax of what has been understood to be an early Christian hymn, referred to as “the song of Christ.”  Here the apostle Paul presents a powerful case for the deity (Lordship) of Jesus, (the fact that He is God) with three points of application to Christ.

  1. Title of Deity: Lord
  2. Text of Deity: Isaiah 45:22-23
  3. Worship of Deity: “Every knee will bow to Him.”

1. The title of Deity

Consider the title of deity in verse 11 (the God title) - “Jesus Christ is Lord (Kupios).”

200 years before the birth of Jesus, devout Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek and out of reverence for God’s name, Yahweh or Jehovah, rather than translating or transliterating it, they used the Greek title “o kupios” — “the Lord.”  Most English Bibles continue to use the title “LORD” for Yahweh/Jehovah. It appears thousands of times in the OT.

This being the known title for Jehovah (the covenant keeping God of Israel), it is particularly significant that the early followers of Jesus used this same title for Him. The conclusion simply cannot be avoided. For the early disciples (being of Jewish background) saying, “Jesus is Lord” was equivalent to saying, “Jesus is God.” 

Think about the powerful implication here. The apostle teaches that one day there will be universal acknowledgment of the Lordship of Jesus with every mouth confessing and every knee bending before Him. 

From a historical perspective, can you understand why John R. W. Stott said that,

“Christolatry (the worship of Christ) preceded Christology (the developed doctrine of Christ). But Christolatry is idolatry if Christ is not God.”

Hebrews 1:6 (referring to Jesus) says, “Let all the angels of God worship Him” (cf. John 20:27-28; Revelation 19:10).

When the risen Christ appeared to Thomas, he confessed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:27-28). This was a profound doctrinal conviction and a radical life-changing commitment.  

When someone willingly confessed “Jesus as Lord” on bended knee, it resulted in a transforming dedication of life to Him.  It is an acknowledgment of Jesus’ right of ownership and a commitment of lifetime servanthood to Him.

“If we claim to follow Jesus, therefore, it is inconceivable that we should spend our lives in any other way than in service. And this means that we must be able to see our job or profession in terms of service. Our daily work is meant to be a major sphere in which Jesus exercises his lordship over us. Beyond and behind our earthly employer we should be able to discern our heavenly Lord. Then we can be ‘working for the Lord, not for men’, since ‘it is the Lord Christ (we) are serving’”  (John R. W. Stott, Contemporary Christian, p. 93). (cf. Colossians 3:23-24). 

How anyone could acknowledge this profound conviction about Jesus without going on a radical personal commitment of lifetime servanthood on bended knee?  

“For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:9). “…you are not your own—for you have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body” (I Corinthians 6:19-20).

Since we’ve been bought by the Lord Jesus at great price (His life-blood), we are under the Lord Jesus as our owner (you are not your own). We are therefore at His service as His slaves (and a liberating service it is for those who take His yoke upon them and learn from Him).

This is a radical commitment of life to the Master’s authority.

“Disciples have no liberty to disagree with their divine teacher.  What we believe about God, about man, male and female, made in his image, about life and death, duty and destiny, Scripture and tradition, salvation and judgment, and much else besides, we have learned from him. There is an urgent need in our day, in which wild and weird speculations abound, to resume our rightful position at his feet. ‘Only the person who follows the command of Jesus without reserve’, wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘and submits unresistingly to his yoke, finds his burden easy, and under its gentle pressure receives the power to persevere in the right way. The command of Jesus is hard, unutterably hard, for those who try to resist it.  But for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy and the burden is light.’”  (p. 91, Stott)

Someone described a servant as: “One who has no plans of his own, no time of his own and no possessions of his own—but is totally dedicated (in plans, time and possessions) to the will of his Master.”  

Dr. Luke recorded a very pointed question from Jesus indicating that it is treacherously possible to make confession with the mouth—without a commitment of life to back it up.  Jesus asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).  Even more dreadful is the large number of people on judgment day who will say, “Lord, Lord…”  and will be exposed and disposed as workers of sin (Matthew 7:21-23).

2. The text of Deity

This truth about Jesus is further confirmed by the next a text of deity applied to Jesus

Could you imagine the response among some of the Jewish people when Paul applied a text out of Isaiah to Jesus? Philippians 2:10-11 contains a quote from Isaiah 45:22-23. “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance” (cf. a similar application of Joel 2:32 in Acts 2:21, 28; Romans 10:13).

Philippians 2:9-11 directly applies a text referring to God to Jesus Christ. 

While we confess that, “…for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (I Corinthians 8:6), the distinction does not dissolve the oneness. (cf. I Thessalonians 1:1; 3:11; II Thessalonians 1:2, 12; 2:16-17; John 8:29, 58)

3. The worship of Deity

Finally, the worship of deity ascribed to Jesus is the only fitting response to the first two points.

The end result of the self-giving humiliation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ (outlined in Philippians 2:5-8) is that God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

“Consequent upon his elevation or exaltation to the highest place, God desires ‘every knee’ to bow to him and ‘every tongue’ to confess his Lordship. The repeated ‘every’ is absolute; it admits of no exceptions.  If God has given this supreme honor to Jesus, and desires everybody else to honor him, then the people of God should share his desire.”

“Moreover, the apostolic statements of Jesus’ exaltation are at pains to emphasize that he was elevated above all possible rivals, indeed ‘far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come’. This is ‘the highest place’ to which God has exalted Jesus and the ‘supremacy’ which he wants him to enjoy” (John Stott, The Contemporary Christian, p. 366, Ibid)

This should be the strongest incentive to Christian witness.

If we truly attach our will to the will of God, then the zeal that motivates us in worship and witness will be that without exception (every knee and every tongue) should acknowledge the supreme honor given to Jesus by God the Father (Ephesians 1:18-22;  Colossians 1:18).

“We should affirm without any sense of embarrassment or shame that he is ‘superior’ to all other religious leaders, precisely because he alone humbled himself in love even to the cross and therefore God has raised him ‘above’ every other person, rank or title” (John Stott).

The zeal of the people of God should be that without exception (every knee and every tongue) should acknowledge the supreme honor given to Jesus. Referring to those who see Christian witness as unnecessary, perhaps even a rude intrusion into the lives of others, Stott asked,

“…Have these men, then, no jealousy for the honor of Jesus Christ? Do they not care when he is despised and rejected? Do they not long, as God does, that all human beings, whatever their culture or religion, will bow their knee to Jesus, and submit to him as their Lord?”

“It is this zeal for Christ which integrates the worship and witness of the church.  How can we worship Christ and not mind that others do not?  It is our worship of Christ which impels us to witness to Christ, in order that others may come and worship him too” (p. 368, Ibid).

Steve Cornell

Fellowship and Confession

confession_and_a_transparent_life_00014575_titleonlyLook closely at God’s plan for ongoing fellowship with sinners:
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I John 1:5-10
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5. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
6. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.
7. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (the one – God, with the other – you), and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
8. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
10. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us (I John 1:5-9).
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Four verbs of ongoing action:
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  1. We walk – (peripatōmen)
  2. We fellowship – (koinōnian)
  3. He purifies – (katharizei)
  4. We confess – (homologōmen)
To fellowship with God is to share in common (koinōnian) His life by walking in the light (truth and righteousness). It is to see life from His perspective. It is to live, not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3). 
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Sinning or walking in darkness (deception and unrighteousness) threatens to disrupt fellowship. But confession (homologōmen) – (speaking God’s verdict about our sin by naming it as He does) is God’s gracious provision for continued fellowship rather than broken fellowship. When we uncover our sin by confession, God covers it by purifying us (katharizei) from all unrighteousness. 
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How is this possible?
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“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2).
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Proverbs 28:13-14

“Whoever conceals (or covers) their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.”

Psalm 32:1-5 – Two Responses to sin

  1. Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
  2. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.
  3. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
  4. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
  5. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord. And you forgave the guilt of my sin.’”

Steve Cornell

The unspeakable gift in Jesus Christ my Savior

All Your lovingkindness to me is in Your Son,

I bring Him to You by faith,
I honor His saving Name as the One who died for me.
I plead His blood to pay my debts of wrong.

I accept

    His worthiness for my unworthiness,
    His sinlessness for my transgressions,
    His purity for my uncleanness,
    His sincerity for my guile,
    His truth for my deceits,
    His meekness for my pride,
    His constancy for my backslidings,
    His love for my enmity,
    His fullness for my emptiness,
    His faithfulness for my treachery,
    His obedience for my lawlessness,
    His glory for my shame,
    His devotedness for my waywardness,
    His holy life for my unholy ways,
    His righteousness for my dead works,
    His death for my life.

O Lord God,

Teach me to know that grace precedes, accompanies, and follows my salvation; that it sustains the redeemed soul, that not one link of its chain can ever break.

From the cross of Christ wave upon wave of grace reaches me,

  • deals with my sin,
  • washes me clean,
  • renews my heart,
  • strengthens my will,
  • draws out my affection,
  • kindles a flame in my soul,
  • rules throughout my inner man,
  • consecrates my every thought, word, work,
  • teaches me your immeasurable love.
 
How great are my privileges in Christ Jesus!
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  • Without him I stand far off, a stranger, an outcast;
  • in him I draw near and touch his kingly sceptre.
  • Without him I dare not lift up my guilty eyes;
  • in him I gaze upon my Father-God and Friend.
  • Without him I hide my lips in trembling shame;
  •  in him I open my mouth in petition and praise.
  • Without him all is wrath and consuming fire;
  •  in him is all love, and the rest for my soul.
  • Without him hell is open below me, and eternal anguish;
  • in him its gates are barred to me by his precious blood.
  • Without him darkness spreads its horrors in front;
  • in him an eternity of glory is my boundless horizon.
  • Without him all within me is terror and dismay,
  • in him every accusation is charmed into joy and peace.
  • Without him all things external call for my condemnation;
  • in him they minister to my comfort, and are to be enjoyed with thanksgiving.
I praise You for grace and for the unspeakable gift I have in Jesus Christ my Savior.
__________________________________________________________________

(adapted from ‘The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers,’ edited by Arthur Bennett)

 

Sin or Tragedy or Both

“When one observes the rifts and scars of children whose parents took turns slapping, deriding, ignoring, bullying, or, sometimes worse, simply abandoning them; when one observes the wholesale life mismanagement of grown-ups who have lived for years in the shadow of their bereft childhood and who have attempted with one addictor after another to fill up those empty places where love should have settled, only to discover that their addictor keeps enlarging the very void it was meant to fill — when one knows people of this kind and observes their largely predictable character pathology, one hesitates to call all this chaos sin. The label sounds smug and impertinent. In such cases, we want to appeal to some broader category, perhaps the category of tragedy.” 

‘Tragedy’, however, “implies the fall of someone who is responsible and significant. It refers to someone whose significance has been ‘compromised and crushed by a mix of forces, including personal agency, that work together for evil in a way that seems simultaneously surprising and predictable, preventable and inevitable.’ A tragic figure is, in some intricate combination, both weak and willful, both foolish and guilty.”

“In general we ought to pay evildoers, including ourselves, the ‘intolerable compliment’ of taking them seriously as moral agents, of holding them accountable for their wrongdoing.”

“This is a mark of our respect for their dignity and weight as human beings. After all, what could be more arrogant than treating other persons as if they were no more responsible than tiny children or the mentally maimed? What could be more patronizing than the refusal to blame people for their wrongdoing and to praise them for their right doing and to ground this refusal in our assumption that these people have not caused their own acts or had a hand in forming their own character?” (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be).

Struggle Theology

While reading some feedback on Tim Challies’ post “Desecration and Titillation,” I recalled a quote from a series of messages I gave many years ago. It came from the book, “Flirting with the Devil,” by Bill Pride and has to do with Struggle Theology (an incredibly creative device invented to explain why professing Christians fail to conquer their sins). 

“Struggle Theologians say, ‘Forget that stuff about being more than conquerors in Christ and all things being possible to him who believes. Don’t start thinking you are better than other people. In fact, we’d like you to concentrate on other people. Don’t think about Jesus if you can help it. Think instead about sinners who call themselves Christians. These are your real role models.  Whatever they can’t do, you can’t do either.’”

“If a Struggle Theologian can find one person who professes to be a Christian and also is failing to overcome the sin of habitual drunkenness, he considers that sufficient reason to tell all of us that drunkenness is a difficult problem requiring complex coping strategies and that there are ‘no simple answers’ to this problem. If you try to point out that the Bible says drunkenness is a sin, not a disease, and that we are supposed to live above sin, the Struggle Theologian will accuse you of thinking you are better than other people and of being insensitive to the real problems others face. He may even go so far as to claim that when the church calls sin ‘sin’ and expects sinners to change their ways, we are driving the poor victims of sin even farther from the ‘healing’ that supposedly only occurs when we unconditionally accept them and their bad behavior” (pp. 28-29, Flirting with the Devil,” Bill pride).

Some of the debate on Tim’s blog focused on whether those who profess faith in Christ but remain in habitual sin should question whether they ever really experienced salvation. The passage Tim quoted offers a clear warning.   

“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. … Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6,8-10).

On this subject, there is (as with all biblical truth) tension and balance to respect. The early church leader James acknowledged that, “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). The book of Hebrews described the christian life as a “struggle against sin” (Hebrews 12:4). The Apostle Paul pointed to the depths of our battle when he wrote, “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” (Ephesians 6:12). 

Yet none of this is meant to ease our conscience toward habitual sin in a way that we accept it as normal to the christian life. We’re called to, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5; cf. Romans 8:12-13).

The point about “Struggle Theology” might seem a bit simplistic or in need of balanced, but it’s worth considering when tempted to abuse the truth that we all struggle. 

“We Christians are supposed to deal with sin at the point of a sword, not to ‘struggle’ with it. Satan had to stroke [Eve] up and down with tempting suggestions before she ate the fruit. This kind of struggling is just a coy way of giving in to sin. You put up the appearance of a fight to fool onlookers into thinking you’re a good person who is trying his best, when really you never intended to permanently reject that sin in the first place” (p. 29, Flirting with the Devil,” Bill pride).

 Steve Cornell