Start with the Holy Spirit

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

2 Corinthians 7:8-11

One of the main jobs of the Holy Spirit is to bring conviction to our hearts that leads to repentance. Paul calls this “Godly sorrow.” The Holy Spirit has a way of bringing both conviction and comfort. Our sin is exposed, but we are never shamed. We see how far short we’ve fallen, and yet the Spirit shows us how God sees us with eyes of love and compassion. This is the inner work that the Holy Spirit does from the inside out.

Paul contrasts this with “worldly sorry” which brings death. Worldly sorrow often comes in the form of guilt and shame. These are counterfeits of true conviction and repentance. Worldly sorrow exposes sin but it does so in a way that keeps the focus on us. Rather than leading to repentance it leads either to a folding in (despair, hopelessness, shame,) or an exploding out (rage, hatred, violence, revenge). Worldly sorrow is not an inner work of the Spirit but an external work trying to use external pressures to bring inner change. It never works.

As followers of Jesus we must allow Godly sorrow to lead us to repentance. This is the beginning of change. We must allow the conviction of the Spirit to do its work. But if we find ourselves slipping either into despair or violence, shame or revenge, then we’ve entered the realm of worldly sorrow. And worldly sorrow always leads to the death of things rather than new life.

Godly sorrow will always start with repentance. And true repentance will lead to “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Paul lists some of the fruit of real repentance: “earnestness“, “indignation“, “alarm“, “longing, concern, and readiness to see justice done.”

Our culture, which promotes worldly sorrow and its toxic fruit, so often wants to skip past the inner work of the Spirit and get straight to “doing something.” This approach so often produces self-righteousness. I saw this when I was helping to start a nonprofit that addresses human trafficking. When we don’t begin with personal conviction of our own sin and repentance, we will so often approach justice issues with an air of self-righteousness and a messiah complex. Without the Spirit, we will forget that “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).

If we want change in our society, we need to ask the Spirit to clean out our own heart first (Psalm 51:10; 139:23-24) . Then we repent for the sin that gets revealed. Start there. We all need to start there.

It was Jesus, through the unity of the Holy Spirit, who managed to bind together two groups that hated each other and then call it the Body of Christ. Jews and Gentiles couldn’t have been more different and their distain for each other couldn’t have been greater. Yet the Spirit managed to bring them together and create the Church out of the two groups. Jesus brought peace and the Spirit gave both groups access to the Father.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:14-18

It all begins with the work of the Spirit. It all begins with Godly sorrow that leads to repentance. When that comes first, the fruit will be exactly what our culture needs–one new humanity out of the two.

Women in Ministry

If you didn’t know, there is a debate in the church about women and their roles in the local church and in ministry. This debate has been going for some time. In my discussions with various church people and church leaders, it seems as though there are 4 views that are floating around. It’s important for you (and your daughters) to know what view your church holds. What follows is a quick (incomplete and cursory) summary of the four main views that are out there.

Imagine a continuum. On the right side of the continuum are the more conservative views and on the left side are the more progressive views. I will list the views as if we are moving from the far right to the far left.

Hard Complementarianism

This view holds that women should not be in the roles of deacons, elders or ordained pastors. It also holds that women should not ever preach/teach from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. This view comes from a universal application (meaning they apply to all churches for all time) of Paul’s words to the Corinthians that “Women should remain silent in the churches” (1 Corinthians 14:34) and Paul’s words to Timothy that he “does not permit a woman to teach a man/husband” (1 Timothy 2:12). Included in this interpretation is Paul’s words to Timothy about the qualifications for an elder and deacon (1 Timothy 3:1-13) which imply that all elders and deacons are men.

Not permitting women in these roles is seen as a way to protect them, not a way of oppressing them. It is an attempt to align the church with a God-ordained authority structure. Women do serve in various other ways throughout the church and are celebrated in those roles. Churches that tend to hold this view are: conservative Baptist churches, conservative Presbyterian churches, Reformed churches, and conservative Bible churches.

Soft Complementarianism

This view is similar to hard complementarianism but is less strict in its prohibitions. While women are not permitted to be elders or ordained pastors, they do sometimes serve in deacon roles and other leadership roles in the church (small group leader, missions team leader, etc.). The verses mentioned above are interpreted both universally (see above) and culturally (meaning part of the instruction of Paul was just mean for that specific church and cultural situation). Also noted is Priscilla’s role in teaching/discipling Apollo (Acts 18:24-26) and the fact that Phoebe was a deaconess in the Roman church (Romans 16:1). Because of this, you will see women speak from the pulpit from time to time (Mother’s Day, missions Sundays, Sanctity of Life Sunday, youth Sundays, etc). There is some disagreement as to whether this is “teaching” or simply “speaking.” Churches that tend to hold this view are: conservative Baptist churches, conservative Presbyterian churches, Reformed churches, conservative Bible churches and many nondenominational churches.

Egalitarian (based on gifting)

This view supports women in all roles in the church, including deacon, elder, and ordained pastor. Because of this, women teaching/preaching from the pulpit is welcomed. The passages of scripture above that record Paul prohibiting women from teaching and requiring them to be silent in the church are understood in their cultural context and are not applied universally (in the same way that braided hair and head coverings are interpreted culturally and not universally). It is noted that in the same letter to the Corinthians where Paul tells women to be silent (1 Cor 14), he also acknowledges that women pray and prophesy in the church (1 Cor 11:5). Prophesying in the early church was always done in a corporate church setting, and it seemed to be a common thing for women to do (Acts 21:9).

Likewise, Paul lists 10 different women who were co-ministers in the gospel with him in Romans 16. In this list, Phoebe was called a deacon, Junia was called “outstanding among the apostles,” and Priscilla was called a “co-worker in Christ Jesus”–the same word used to describe Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Luke and two other women, Euodia and Syntyche. Based on all of these roles that women served in the early church (apostle, prophetess, deacon, co-worker in the gospel with Paul) and in light of Jesus’s radically affirming actions toward women (they were the first to see and declare the resurrection of Jesus in a time when women weren’t allowed to be a witness in court), it appears that the passages that prohibit women should be interpreted as local, culturally informed prohibitions (likely because of the abuses of the cult of Artemis).

The emphasis of this view is that the Holy Spirit has distributed His gifts throughout His Church to men and women equally. So those who are gifted to lead and teach should do so. Those who are not gifted in that area should not. The determining factor is not based on sex but on Holy Spirit gifting. Churches that tend to hold this view are: Pentecostal and charismatic churches, Wesleyan holiness and moderate Brethren churches, moderate Baptist churches, moderate Presbyterian churches, and moderate nondenominational churches.

Egalitarian (based on justice)

This view is very similar to the Egalitarian view listed above. The views on how to interpret the various passages of scripture are very similar. The main difference is an emphasis on empowering women because they have been oppressed in the church throughout church history. Rather than the focus being on Holy Spirit gifting, the focus is on avoiding injustice toward women. The passage of emphasis is Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

This emphasis on justice also allows for a re-interpretation of various passages prohibiting homosexuality. So churches that tend to affirm women in ministry from a justice perspective also tend to affirm the LGBTQ community. Churches that tend to hold this view are: mainline protestant churches & theologically progressive churches, liberal Baptist churches, liberal Presbyterian churches, and progressive church plants.
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I would label myself an “Egalitarian (based on gifting)” in line with the Wesleyan Holiness and Pentecostal traditions (though I come from a Southern Baptist background, went to an anabaptist college and a moderate Baptist seminary, and now pastor a nondenominational church). I have found that conversations between soft complementarians and egalitarians (based on gifting) are the most productive when discussing women in ministry. I have found that those with the extreme view on both the right and the left do a lot of yelling and not a lot of listening.

I would encourage you to do your own study and discover where you land on this issue. And then check with the leadership of your church and see what they say about this issue. Well-meaning Christians can humbly disagree with each other and still worship together. But it is important to know what your church is teaching about this issue.

Forgiveness

See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you…

…May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”

1 Samuel 24:11-12, 15

David and his men were being chased down by King Saul and his army. David and his men were hiding out in the back of a cave when Saul went into the cave to go to the bathroom. While Saul was relieving himself, David snuck up and cut off a piece of Saul’s robe. All of David’s men wanted him to kill Saul, and David could have easily taken his revenge in that moment for all the ways Saul mistreated him. Instead, David seeks reconciliation and peace.

David comes out of the cave and humbly reveals the situation to Saul, and Saul breaks down at David’s kindness and generosity toward him. But notice David’s words to Saul because they are a perfect description of what happens when we forgive someone.

When someone has wronged us, the Lord commands us to forgive them. For followers of Jesus this is not a suggestion. This is a command. We forgive because we’ve been forgiven of so much. We are the most forgiven people on the planet. Who are we not to forgive? When we lavishly accept mountains of forgiveness from Jesus and yet refuse to squeeze out a handful of forgiveness for the ways other people have wronged us, we are trampling on the cross of Christ.

But notice David’s words. Forgiveness is not saying that what the other person did was okay. Forgiveness is not making excuses for other people’s wrongdoing. Forgiveness is not making light of the ways people have hurt us. Forgiveness is not a declaration that what they did was fine. It’s not an invitation for them to do it again and for us to be a doormat.

Instead, forgiveness is declaring that we will not be the one to bring justice and fairness into the situation. Forgiveness is giving up the right to seek revenge. I like the way David said it to Saul, “May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you…” And then he reaffirms this idea when he said, “May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”

When we forgive we are not saying there shouldn’t be justice. What we are saying is that we are not the Judge. God is. When we forgive we are putting the situation in God’s hands and declaring that He is the one who will bring justice. We are trusting Him to be the Just Judge. And in so doing we are also saying, “My hand will not touch you.” But this doesn’t just mean avoiding physical violence against the person who wronged us. It also means, “My heart will not resent you” and “My mind will not harbor bitterness toward you.” There are many kinds of revenge–many that originate in the heart and mind–and forgiveness is giving up our supposed “right” to all forms of revenge.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we instantly rebuild trust with the person. Rebuilding trust is the process of reconciliation and is step number two. Reconciliation requires two people willing to work to rebuild the relationship. Forgiveness does not. Forgiveness does not require that you trust the person, but it does require that you trust God. We must trust God enough to release the situation into His hands and trust Him with the outcome. Forgiveness is something that we work through between us and God. The third party is not required in this process. We can forgive family members who have long since passed away. We can forgive people who are no longer in our life. It doesn’t require their participation.

Reconciliation does require the other person’s participation and, if it is possible, we should pursue it. But it is not always possible, nor recommended, that we reconcile with some people. There are situations that are just too toxic for reconciliation. But no situation is beyond forgiveness. Forgiveness sets us free from the damage that resentment and bitterness does to our own heart. Forgiveness is a gift to us, made possible by Jesus’s death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to forgive when it seems impossible. Jesus gives us the grace to forgive when we don’t want to.

Below is a great prayer of forgiveness by Rodney Hogue. Who do you need to forgive today?

PRAYER OF FORGIVENESS:

In the name of Jesus, I choose to forgive as I have been forgiven. I now choose to forgive _____________. I release any right I have retained to bring revenge. I release them from my hands and place them into Your hands, Jesus, my Just Judge. I break every curse I have sent to them and call forth a blessing to them instead. Thank you for the grace to forgive and the power to live in freedom.

Unfair

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

Matthew 20:8-15

In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Jesus is trying to teach us about what the Kingdom of God is like. He’s trying to show us a different understanding of justice, grace and mercy. If Jesus were to stand up and tell this story today, He would surely offend our American sense of justice and righteous indignation.

This is the scandal of grace. The principles of God’s grace and generosity do not operate on principles of justice. Jesus was trying to reorient the people’s definition of “fairness” toward a gospel of grace rather than a gospel of justice.

God desires to be generous with His grace. Those who get saved at the final moments of their life will inherit eternal life just as those who have been faithful followers of Jesus their whole life. We see this with the criminal on the cross who was hanging next to Jesus (Luke 23:42-43). We see this with the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). God loves to be generous with His grace.

Jesus makes it clear that God is not being “unfair”(verse 13). Everyone got what they agreed to. If we read “injustice” into this parable then we have a different definition of justice than God, and it is we who need to adjust, not Him. The real problem that this parable exposes is not God’s sense of grace or justice, but our sense of righteous indignation.

When you read this parable, who did you identify with? Were you celebrating God’s grace and mercy with the workers who got hired in the last hour of the day and got a full day’s wage? Or were you identifying with the workers who had worked all day and got the same thing as the guy who only worked an hour?

This parable exposes our heart. Who do we think we are? Are we the one who “earned more” and should have gotten more? Or are we the one who has graciously been saved by unmerited mercy and the extreme generosity of God?

Let me give you a hint. We ALL are the workers who only worked an hour. This parable was designed to expose the unhealthy sense of entitlement that rises up in us all. We like to call it “justice” but this parable exposes it for what it is–self-righteousness.

Let this parable sit with you. Let it bother you. And then let it return you to gratitude for the extreme grace the Father has show us through His Son Jesus.

Bringing Justice through to Victory

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
    the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
    no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”[Isaiah 42:1-4]

Matthew 12:15-21

The reason Jesus withdrew from that place is because the Pharisees were plotting to kill Him. Jesus’s response to their plan to kill Him is to move to a different region and heal every single person who came to Him. It doesn’t say that He healed some. It doesn’t say that He healed those with enough faith. It doesn’t say that He healed the righteous. No, He healed “all who were ill.”

When we pray for the sick, we have to own the fact that Jesus healed every person who came to Him. In other words, we have to own the fact that if Jesus were standing there with the person we’re praying for, they’d be healed. But it’s not Jesus standing there, it’s us. It’s Christ in us the hope of glory. The problem is never on God’s end of the equation.

And notice that Jesus healing everyone was a fulfillment of prophecy about the Messiah from Isaiah 42:1-4. When Jesus healed, it was Him bringing the justice of God into that situation. He wouldn’t turn people away who needed healing. A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out. Instead, He would bring justice through to victory.

Bringing justice through to victory is language that is often used to describe a military battle. An invading army has come into the Promised Land. An evil foreign king has invaded the Temple. And the job of the Messiah, not unlike King David, was to bring the justice of God into the battle and see it through to victory. This is the imagery scripture gives us for when Jesus heals the sick.

In other words, God sees sickness and disease as an injustice. Sin, the brokenness of the world, and the enemy all can cause the body to malfunction in ways that it was never intended. To bring justice is to make things right that have gone wrong. When Jesus heals, He makes right whatever has gone wrong in the body. He ushers in the Kingdom of God into the body. And in the Kingdom of God, there is no sickness. Your Kingdom come (into this body), Your will be done, on earth (in this body) as it is in heaven (where there is no sickness).

When Jesus brings the justice of God to invade the injustice of sickness, He brings it through to victory. He doesn’t allow the invading armies of illness and disease to stay in the body. He releases the Kingdom of God in its fullness into the body until victory has been won.

This is the example that we are to follow. Jesus is the standard of what the Christian life should look like. The Holy Spirit moves us from glory to glory so that we look ever more like Christ. Part of that means seeing more and more healing as our lives look more and more like Jesus. We learn how to cooperate with the Father and the Spirit, releasing the Kingdom into every body we pray for. We learn how to cooperate with bringing God’s justice to invade the injustice of sickness, until we can bring it through to victory.

We do all of this so that the nations will put their hope and trust in the name of Jesus!

God is Love

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.

1 John 4:7-12, 15-16

Here John teaches us about love. This is what we learn:

  1. God is love.
  2. Love comes from God.
  3. Loving others is a sign that we know God.
  4. God showed His love for us by sending His Son Jesus, that we might live through Him.
  5. Our love for God is a response to His love for us. He loved us first.
  6. Out of response to God’s love for us, we should love one another.
  7. God’s definition of love is this: Jesus came and died for us.
  8. The fullness of love is displayed in Jesus’s death and resurrection. Without this at the center, love becomes defined by our own preferences and selfishness.
  9. It is our acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God that allows God to come and live in us and allows us to live in God’s love.
  10. Our identity is rooted in God’s love for us (not our performance for Him).

What is clear from this passage is that there is no separation between God’s love and Jesus. We can’t somehow abstractly talk about the fact that “God is love” without also mentioning that “Jesus is Lord” and that Jesus is the “Son of God.” All of this is intricately woven together. Any attempts to separate talk of God’s love from talk of Jesus immediately depart from the biblical definition of love.

There is also this tendency, especially in progressive circles, to remove “God is love” from the context of this whole passage. Likewise, there is a tendency to remove “God is love” from the other New Testament descriptions of God. For example:

  1. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16)
  2. God is holy (1 Peter 1:16; Psalm 99:5,9; Rev 4:8)
  3. God is light (1 John 1:15; John 1:4-5)
  4. God is good (Mark 10:18; Psalm 34:8)
  5. God is faithful (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Thess 3:3)
  6. God is just (1 John 1:9; Hebrews 6:10; Isaiah 61:8)

This list could continue but I think we get the point. In God, these attributes never conflict. Does God bring love to the unloved? Yes. He also brings holiness to the impure parts of our lives. He brings light to the darkness of our lives. He brings goodness to the evil parts of our lives. He is faithful when we are unfaithful (2 Timothy 2:13). He brings justice to the injustices of our lives.

If we want God to love us but we don’t want His holiness, goodness, and light to purify us, then we want some of God but not all of God. It is partial surrender. It is half-hearted faith. He absolutely loves us. God is love. And He loves us enough to want us to get free from our sinful lifestyles that damage our soul. God is holy. God is light. God is just. God is love.

Perfectly Just Judge

For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[Deut. 32:35] and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”[Deut. 32:36] It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 10:30-31

This is such good news! Without this truth, forgiveness would be nearly impossible. We forgive others because we ourselves have been forgiven. Our debt with God has been canceled and that empowers us to cancel the relational debt that was incurred when that person hurt us. Forgiveness is not saying that what they did was okay. It is saying that we will no longer take it upon ourselves to bring revenge.

By forgiving, we hand the person over to God and allow Him to be the one to bring justice. This passage in Hebrews, which quotes two passages from Deuteronomy, reminds us that we can trust God to bring justice. We can trust Him to be our righteous and just Judge.

This truth bring us freedom. We no longer have to hold the grudge or hang on to the resentment. These things only poison us and never really bring justice. Forgiveness releases us from the emotional attachments that keep us bound to the one who hurt us.

So long as we live in unforgiveness and bitterness toward the person who hurt us, we stand in-between God’s justice and that person. We block God from dealing with that person because we are still trying to be the one to deal with them. Forgiveness is us stepping to the side and giving up the right to bring our own form of justice.

Sometimes God’s justice is allowing the person to reap what they’ve sown. Sometimes God’s justice is opening their eyes to see what they’ve done. Sometimes God’s justice is to allow the person to be on the receiving end of the same hurt they’ve dished out. Sometimes God’s justice is saving the person from any and all harm. God’s kindness and grace leads them to repentance as they come to realize the weight of their sin that’s been forgiven.

God has an unlimited number of ways to bring His perfect justice. It likely won’t look like the revenge that our sinful heart desires, but we can trust Him completely with it just as we trusted Him to deal with our own sin and the justice we deserved.

God is not like Santa Clause. Jesus is our ultimate image of God. God is perfectly loving and perfectly just. These two parts of His nature are never separated from one another and are never in conflict. He is a holy, righteous, and awesome God. He is worthy of holy reverence and worship. Forgiving those who’ve hurt us is one way we stop trying to be God, and we let God be God.