The Christian Culture of Condescending Criticism

Perhaps the most public not-so-subtle criticism of a pastor from someone within the Christian sphere came in February 2011, when evangelical stalwart John Piper tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell,” with a link to Justin Taylor’s quick reflection on a promotional video for Bell’s then-forthcoming book Love Wins.

At the time, I thought that was the holiest of burns. The most God-glorifying calling-out of a public figure on social media that will ever exist. And from my research, no one has ever questioned Piper on it. An interview in Christianity Today briefly scratched the tweet, instead choosing to focus on the possibility of “theological reconciliation” in light of the Rob Bell controversy. Piper said this:

Francis Schaeffer said our differences in the church are a golden opportunity to show love, and instead of throwing hate bombs over the walls that we’ve got between ourselves, we throw love bombs over. In other words, differences can be an occasion for courtesy, kindness, gentleness, listening, and respect—all of which, the world would then look at and say, “They don’t have theological unity, but they do talk to each other in a certain way.” Now, Paul was pretty hard on certain theological differences and Jesus was really hard on certain differences. And so, there’s a point for “Thus far, no further, farewell.” There are other points where we ought to be cultivating all those courtesies.

For a long time, I thought Piper was awesome for saying this. I thought he was bold, brash, faithful, to the point. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought less and less this way and been more concerned with the approach he took, mostly because I see it as an epidemic in the evangelical community.

Christians are quickly becoming known as people who say “no” and people who hate and people who are against things. This YouTube video is very telling:

We can write these people off as biased and having a particular view and that they’ve missed the point. But one of the key points that was brought up time and time again in that video was the idea that Christians are judgmental and they’re anti-this and anti-that. And I agree! And in no place does it come out more than our tendency as Christians to be condescendingly critical.

Before I explain myself further, I want to explain what I mean so we don’t get caught up in semantics. Dictionary.com defines “condescending” as “showing or implying a usually patronizing descent from dignity or superiority” and “criticism” as “the act of passing judgement as to the merits of anything.” When I refer to condescending criticism, I mean “passing judgement on something from a patronizing attitude, usually from some kind of dignity or superiority.” Basically just melding those two definitions together.

It’s my view that we as a body of Christ do this on a regular basis and that it is not helpful, that it is anti-God, anti-Jesus, anti-everything we say we stand for and everything we say we believe. We get upset when famous atheists like Richard Dawkins make derogatory and condescending statements about Jesus, but then turn right around and make them about each other, about political figures like President Barack Obama, about religious figures like Rob Bell, etc.

Why Do We Do This?

There are lots of things to criticize. There are lots of things that are wrong with the world. That’s to be expected in a, to use an evangelical term, “post-Genesis 3 world.” When each person living on the earth has at least one thing drastically wrong with them, there are going to be people saying things we disagree with, people saying things that are not in line with Scripture. Therefore, we criticize.

There are also many avenues for criticism, avenues that are easy to use. Just look at social media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, the list goes on and on about avenues we can use to criticize people. And it’s very easy to use it without facing any real backlash or in-your-face response. It’s much easier to say something critical about somebody without having to look them in the eye when you say it.

As sinful people, we’re self-righteous. We think we’ve got it all figured out, therefore we have a basis from which to say the things we want to say. We’ve read the Bible enough, we figure, so we’ve got a foundation from which to speak.

And like I said before, there’s little accountability for things like this. If someone like John Piper or Tim Keller says it, their platform is so high that it’s hard to bring a legitimate case against them because those in the evangelical community will generally agree with whatever they say. Of course you’ll have the rare few who disagree, but for the most part there’s a blind acceptance. I’ve definitely carried that attitude before and to a degree still do.

But here’s the problem I have with this: It’s not bad that we criticize, it’s the tone and frequency with which we criticize and the lack of humility that goes along with that criticism.

Tone Is Everything

An oft-reported, but oft-contradicted, statistic is that 93 percent of communication is non-verbal; basically, the majority of what you say is not the words you use. In the 70s, researcher Albert Mehrabian purported that 55 percent of communication is body language and 38 percent is tone of voice, making up the 93 percent. The other seven percent is the actual words.

Many researchers question the validity of this statistic, but my guess is that you’ve run across this practically before. How many arguments have been started because you’ve missed the tone of what was said? I think The Office explored this very perfectly:

You can’t communicate what you really mean very well through any text-based medium. That’s one of the difficulties of writing a blog; you have to be very clear in what you mean so your readers don’t get the wrong tone from what you’re writing. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook are very similar. So when tone isn’t clear from what was said, readers have to guess, they have to make a judgment based on what they know about the person, the words used, any capitalizations, italics or bolds, or even emojis.

Often trying to make a point, Christians like myself will post things on social media about a pastor like Rob Bell or a political party or a public figure in a very strongly-worded way. And most of the time, the tone comes across very condescending. We honestly may not intend for it to be that way, but we’re trying to make a point, so we’ll say whatever it takes to make our point.

And most times, it can come from a place of pride and a place of “Look at me, I know better!” There’s the condescending part, where we think we’ve got it all figured out and this person doesn’t, so we criticize in an open forum for people to see, people to “Like,” people to “Comment,” people to “Retweet,” people to “Favorite,” etc. Because it comes from that place, it’s condescending, and it’s not glorifying to God.

A Pharisee’s Lack of Humility

Humility goes out the window when we have this attitude. It’s like we don’t even think about how we’re portraying ourselves and where our hearts are when we post and say these things.

We put ourselves on a moral high ground on which we have no place being. The Gospel gives us no right to place ourselves any higher than the ground on which we currently stand with every other human being. We’re like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 –

(Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

We come to God, and then come to man, so thankful that we have it all figured out and we forget to examine our own sinfulness and our own misdeeds and share that as well. We’re so scared that someone will find out something that will disqualify us from being heard and believed, so we don’t share our mistakes, we don’t share the times we purposefully ignored God and did our own thing.

This is the basis of condescending criticism. This is the basis for every time we see something or someone we view as lower than ourselves and our own “proper” view, our own “right” perspective and we take time out of our busy lives to say or post something super critical and condescending about that person or their thoughts. And it’s highly anti-Jesus. It goes against everything Jesus stood for.

Jesus knew who He was and that informed how He approached the world and what He said. Jesus is the only one who can rightly condescendingly criticize because He is the only one on the high horse. He is the only one who is able to say about Himself that “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:15-16).

We have no place from which blatantly condescendingly criticize fellow humans. Jesus does. If we read through the Gospels, we see that Jesus was critical of those whose life goal it was to be critical.

The Right Way to Criticize

So if criticism in and of itself isn’t sinful, what is the right way to be critical? What is the right way to say something about someone or something that’s not correct? I think it has to have two characteristics.

First, it has to come from a place of humility. We can’t be self-congratulatory about our ability to spot falsehoods from a mile away when we talk about these things. We have no right to congratulate ourselves. And while that may not come across in our posting or our words, it can very well be an attitude of the heart. This is particularly difficult in the social media realm. On page 153 of his book The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication, Justin Wise aptly writes, “Social media catalyzes the ‘me first’ nature of sin. It accentuates our selfishness and destructive need for ego inflation.”

Criticism can never be about making ourselves look better. That was one part of the downfall of the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. His attitude before God was that of “I’m better, he’s not, thank goodness.” We can’t ride that high horse in our attitudes when we criticize.

Second, it must be biblically-based criticism, not founded in Christian cultural or societal norms. Often those two can be one and the same, but how often is it not? How often do we make something a norm in the Christian culture that’s not lined up with Scripture? Look at Mark Driscoll. We criticized his methods when they didn’t line up with “how we do things normally.” That’s the criticism that more prevalently comes from the older generation towards the younger generation, but it’s common. That’s not a biblically-based criticism.

Criticism can never be based on our personal opinions. That was another part of the downfall of the Pharisee in the Luke 18 parable. From his perspective, his vantage point, he saw the way he did things and saw things as correct, and others were wrong. That high horse attitude can’t be had in the church.

I’ll Be Honest With You

This post was initially inspired by other people, but I can look at myself and my past and even my present and point to how I’ve been that person I’m writing about. I was intentional about using the word “we” when describing the people I’m talking about because I’m definitely part of that group.

In fact, I struggled a bit with whether or not I wanted to write this because I know that this post could come across as the very thing I’m criticizing. It could easily come across like I’m condescending. And, if I honestly examine my heart, I admit there’s some of that in my thoughts. There’s some of that thought that I have an insight you guys don’t and I need to share it or else the world will miss it.

I’ve been prideful about my “spiritual insight” and “biblical knowledge” for a long time, and it’s something I need to continue to remind myself that I have no place on that high horse. The Gospel gives me no right because the Gospel applied to me means that I have everything I have because of what Jesus did, not because of what I am or what I’ve learned or what I’ve said.

A couple examples from my Facebook feed:

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 10.17.31 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 10.17.40 AM

So you can tell me that I’m a hypocrite and I’ll gladly nod along. I don’t even know for sure if what I’m saying in this post is proper criticism by my own definition.

All I can say is this: I’ve got to learn to live like Jesus. That will be a battle I fight for the rest of my life, a war I’ll face until I reach the grave. And I can’t help but look at myself and see my condescending attitude and think that has no place in my life, no place in the heart of a Christian.

But I can rejoice knowing that one day I’ll be healed from this attitude, healed from the condescending pride I hold in my heart.

The Church Culture of Hero Worship

People love superheroes. So much so that they spend millions of dollars to go to a movie theater and watch them take out the bad guys. Here are some worldwide box office numbers for recent superhero movies:

  • The Avengers (2012) – $1.518 billion
  • Iron Man 3 (2013) – $1.2 billion
  • The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – $1.084 billion
  • The Dark Knight (2008) – $1.004 billion
  • Spider Man 3 (2007) – $890.8 million

All those films are in the top 50 of all-time in worldwide gross box office. The money speaks for itself: there’s somewhat of an obsession with the superheroes on the big screen.

Why? That’s a really good question. A couple reasons come to mind for me. First, they’re fun to watch. No matter the depth of the plot or character development, these movies usually have numerous explosions and fight scenes and a fair number of one-liners that screenwriters hope you’ll quote for years to come. Second, they allow us to see good triumph over evil, something most of us inherently long for (whether we realize or not) and we love seeing on the big screen. Virtue and justice beats evil and injustice. It’s a refreshing thing to see. We just want the good guys to win!

Superheroes usually appear as characters with little to no moral flaws. There will be guys like Tony Stark who may have questionable facets or morals, but they usually redeem themselves in some way by overcoming the very thing that is their weakness. They’re straightforward and honest about their weaknesses and do good in spite of them.

I find that, in Christian culture, we have a similar approach to our theological heroes, particularly in my generation, depending on how nerdy you get. Guys like John Piper, David Platt, R.C. Sproul, Wayne Grudem, Matt Chandler, rappers like Lecrae and Trip Lee, they all get mad props from tons of Christians because they’re heroes of the faith nowadays, modern day Charles Spurgeons, Adoniram Judsons, C.S. Lewises and Billy Grahams.

But am I alone in thinking that this is possibly a bad thing? Should we really be praising these men the amount we do?

This thought process was kicked off in my head yesterday. The Facebook page for Desiring God, Piper’s ministry, posted this status with a quote from Piper:

“The closer I get to death and meeting Jesus face to face and giving an account for my life, the more sure I am of my resolve never intentionally to look at a television show or a movie or a website or a magazine where I know I will see nudity. Never. That is my resolve. And the closer I get to death, the more committed I become. And frankly I want to invite all Christians to join me in this pursuit of greater purity of heart and mind. In our day when entertainment media is virtually the lingua franca of the world, this is an invitation to be an alien.”

I applaud his resolve and his drive to fight against lust in his life. It’s a resolve that I desire to have.

But here’s where I struggle. And perhaps I’m alone in this. But I read things like this and I feel like I’m failing at following Jesus. If this great “hero of the faith” is so committed this way and I’m admittedly not as much as I should be, what does that say about me? I want to be as committed as he, but I admit that I am not. I’m sinful. I struggle. I fall.

Perhaps this is me failing to see the grace of God in my life. Perhaps this is me not being “resolved enough.” Perhaps I’m just not as holy as John Piper is. But I read things like this and, when I find I don’t measure up (which is about 95% of the time, maybe even 100%), I feel guilty. I feel condemned. I feel like I’m not being “the way I should be.” I understand the point about being an example and leading people by showing them what it looks like to follow Jesus. But shouldn’t there be a sense where we should lead people by showing them what it looks like when we fail at following Jesus and how we respond to it?

John-Piper-8-706838Some of the greatest impacts people have had on my life is when they share ways they’ve fallen and failed and how they responded. A friend of mine had a child outside of marriage, and was open about it on social media and in public. I’ve taken great encouragement and challenge from his openness with his sin, and then been super encouraged and challenged by how he’s raised his daughter and how much he seeks to serve Jesus through it.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this kind of honest doesn’t really occur because these leaders are afraid of what will happen when their sins are discovered. Look what happened to Mark Driscoll. His sin was exposed and he lost his job and much of his ministry. But if you go back and listen to his sermons, he was straightforward with the fact that he struggled with pride. I love that about his preaching in that he wasn’t ashamed to talk about ways he struggled and how the grace of God worked powerfully through that. Other preachers and authors I’ve listened to and read such as Perry Noble, Tullian Tchividjian and Brennan Manning take a similar approach in being honest with their sin.

But things like Mark Driscoll’s “fall” happen because we place these heroes on a pedestal, lift them up as “what it looks like to follow Jesus,” and then get disappointed and upset and angry when they fall. When did they become more important to follow than Jesus? Jesus is the only one to whom we should listen to every word that comes out of his mouth. His perfection is the only perfection that has ever existed on the earth apart from the early days in Eden. Yet the church often looks to leaders like Piper and Lewis as bastions of faith so much so that if we find out something bad about them our very lives are shaken.

I found this out during my senior year of college. I was in a class called Jewish-Christian Dialogue and we began a section on the Holocaust examining the persecution of Jews and how it was egged on by Christians in Germany. I was appalled to find that writings of Martin Luther were used as propaganda against Jews. The end of a particular writing of his, titled “On the Jews and Their Lies,” reads this way:

My essay, I hope, will furnish a Christian (who in any case has no desire to become a Jew) with enough material not only to defend himself against the blind, venomous Jews, but also to become the foe of the Jews’ malice, lying, and cursing, and to understand not only that their belief is false but that they are surely possessed by all devils.

He also encouraged burning of synagogues, razing of houses and confiscation of religious texts from the Jews. These writings were used as a tool by the Nazis to help push anti-Semitic thought in Germany. This is the guy who we in the church hold up as this great man of faith. Piper wrote a short book on Luther and not once mentioned this anti-Semitism. The most dangerous symptom of hero worship is the ignorance, either intentional or accidental, of a man’s flaws and weaknesses and the power of Jesus to work grace through them.

This perfection can work one of the three ways. It can be perpetrated by the hero himself, by those that follow the hero or by both the hero and those who follow him. All of them are crippling to the church because it exalts a man above the perfect work and life of Jesus Christ. It’s my belief that Christ is made much of not in our obedience but in our sinfulness. Jesus told Paul that in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

When we can be honest about the fact that we fail and we fall and we don’t do things the way we ought, Jesus and His perfection and His life and His grace are much more glorified and much more honored and much more important than any attempts at righteousness we have.

So here’s my takeaway: I need to stop looking to earthly people as the people I should model my life after and see Jesus as the ultimate example. I can take facets of men that I admire, like my friend’s honesty, my father’s diligence, my mother’s love for others, and seek to emulate those. But never should I look at a man as the perfect example for what I should be and be discouraged when I don’t measure up. I should look at Jesus, see I don’t measure up, and praise Him for that very fact because it’s what allows me to be forgiven!

We Are Joy Seekers, Pt. 1: Looking in the Wrong Direction for What Satisfies Most

I’ve learned something over and over this year that Blaise Pascal explains quite succinctly: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception…This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”* We’re all looking for happiness in something. We look for satisfaction. We look for joy. We look for fulfillment.

As I was reading the introduction to John Piper’s Desiring God today (where I found that Pascal quote), I came to this one conclusion: The root of all sin is the misdirection of our pursuit of joy. Let me explain what I mean.

Man seeks to find joy in basically three places: himself, others or things.

got-joyWhen man seeks to find joy in himself, he looks for satisfying happiness in who he is and what he does and how that reflects on who he is. The scholar might say, “Well, look at my grades and my academic prowess, I feel quite happy.” The athlete might say, “Well, look at my trophies and my medals and my stats, I feel quite happy.” The businessman might say, “Look at my office and my salary and my title, I feel quite happy.” The person who seeks for joy in himself will be consumed with himself and his thoughts and feelings and moods.

I’m there.

When man seeks to find joy in others, he look for satisfying happiness in how he relates to others and how others relate to him. The high school sophomore will look at his girlfriend and might say, “She makes me happy because she likes me, I feel quite happy.” The college freshman will look at his friends he goes out with on the weekends and might say, “They make me happy because they make me feel important and liked, I feel quite happy.” The over-worked and under-appreciated wife will look at her girl friends (or maybe even another man) and might say, “They make me happy because they actually care about me, I feel quite happy.”

I’m there.

When man seeks to find joy in things, he looks for satisfying happiness in his possessions or in certain activities. The CrossFit junkie will look at the gym he works out at and the work out he’s just completed and might say, “Man, I just killed that workout without a problem, I feel quite happy.” The shoe-loving college girl will look at her footwear collection and might say, “I love how many shoes I have and that I can wear them, I feel quite happy.” The music lover will scan through his iTunes collection and might say, “I have so much good music that I can listen to at any time, I feel quite happy.”

I’m there.

Because I’m there, I can tell you that the music collection, the girlfriend and the grades DON’T bring full satisfaction. They can bring happiness, but only temporary. How many people that love music are ever fully satisfied with the music they currently have? How many guys are ever fully satisfied with either one girlfriend or where they are with their girlfriend? How many students are fully satisfied with one A?

Before I make my point, I’m going to say one thing: there’s nothing inherently wrong with strong academic performance, strong athletic performance, strong business performance, having a girlfriend, having friends to hang out with, doing CrossFit, buying shoes or listening to/having lots of music.satisfaction_opt

But when we seek after joy in these things, we’re missing something so much greater. Also quoted in Piper’s Desiring God, C.S. Lewis wrote:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on make mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.^

And because we are far too easily pleased in the short-term with things that seem so easily obtained, we don’t seek for what will satisfy us long-term.

I’ve been thinking on this a lot this school year because I’ve so often sought after the short-term pleasures of attention, affection or pleasure found in temporary, silly things, and seek after them daily. But alas, I’ve found a better way.

Second part coming soon…


 

* Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensees, trans. W.F. Trotter (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1958), 113, thought #425. Cited in John Piper, Desiring God (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah, 2011), 19.

^ C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1965), 1-2. Cited in Piper, Desiring God, 20.

A Better Possession and an Abiding One

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a BETTER POSSESSION AND AN ABIDING ONE. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done with will of God you may receive what is promised. – Hebrews 10:32-36

In his book Desiring God, John Piper points to Hebrews 10:32-35 as an example of having joy in the midst of trials. He talks about how the people mentioned here had joy despite being persecuted, thrown in prison and being stolen from. Piper questions if they were losers:

No. They lost property and gained joy! They joyfully accepted the loss. In one sense they denied themselves. But in another they did not. They chose the way of joy. Evidently, those Christians were motivated for prison ministry the same way the Macedonians (of 2 Corinthians 8:1-9) were motivated to relieve the poor. Their joy in God overflowed in love for others.

They looked at their own lives and said, “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life” (see Psalm 63:3). They looked at all their possessions and said, “We have a possession in heaven that is better and lasts longer than any of this” (Hebrews 10:34).

This passage has been hitting me hard the last couple of days. I’ve been in a situation where I’m dealing with some serious struggles, both publicly and privately, that have been stressing me out, giving me headaches and causing a lot of thinking. It’s hard for me to remember the phrase “a better possession and an abiding one.”

I keep losing sight of what I have a hope for in heaven. I let worldly troubles and earthly drama and hardship bog me down too much that I forget who I am.

Let’s unpack this Hebrews passage. The author says the hardships came after the Hebrews were “enlightened.” I found when I truly accepted Christ, things became more difficult. Life became harder because I started living with a different standard in mind, the Christ standard.

The word “standard” has two meanings. First, it’s a “level of quality or attainment.” Second, it’s “an object that is supported in an upright position,” specifically a military or ceremonial flag carried on a pole or hoisted on a rope. Likewise, I think the “Christ standard” has two meanings. First, it’s the banner we fly and we adhere to, our “Jehovah-nissi” (means “the Lord is my banner” in Hebrew). Second, it’s the level of holiness we should desire to attain.

When we make Christ our standard, our flag we fly when we are “enlightened” by the truth of the Gospel and the saving grace of Jesus Christ, it is our job to live and compare ourselves to the “Christ standard,” an unmatched level of holiness we are still called to adhere to.

As I was saying, life became harder after Jesus came into my life. I faced many “hard struggle(s) with suffering” (v. 32). I was mocked for my faith a couple times, struggled with sins that I previously had no problem with and became offended by things that didn’t normally bother me. Verse 33 says that the Hebrews were, “sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.” When we are Christians, it is inevitable that we will face some kind of public reproach or disgrace unless we hide from the world forever.

That’s the life of a Christian. In 1 Corinthians 4:9, Paul says,

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, became we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.

If we are truly living out our faith, like the Hebrews who visited those in prison and “joyfully accepted the plundering of (their) property” in verse 34, we will be a spectacle to the world. When I think of spectacle, I think of a circus. People and animals do ridiculous things. Other people watch those things and laugh, cry, applaud, etc. The difference with Christians is that our spectacle may cause some to scoff, mock and make fun of us.

The Hebrews faced all of this. But they kept going! Why? They had a BETTER POSSESSION and an ABIDING ONE.

What is this possession? Look no further than 1 Peter 1:3-5, one of my favorite Bible passages:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

I could spend a whole other blog post unpacking these verses. I filled out around 7 or 8 full notebook pages with notes on these verses. The message is basically: we have an awesome inheritance through Christ, a salvation that leaves us in heaven with God when we die.

That is our better possession. That is an abiding possession, one that won’t go away; it’s imperishable, undefiled and unfading.

In his book The Slumber of Christianity, Ted Dekker writes about how Christians live their lives worrying about what’s going on at the time and forget about the great reward we have at the end. The 1 Peter passage above was discussed, but I want to pull a quote he uses from C.S. Lewis’ book The Weight of Glory:

Indeed if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We get distracted by trying to find pleasure here on earth that we forget the better and abiding possession we have in heaven. I’m not saying that earthly pleasures are worthless. They’re awesome, especially when they’re God-given and God-honoring.

But when things on earth don’t go our way, we should cling to the fact that we have something awesome waiting for us. That’s what the Hebrews did.

When things on earth don’t go our way, we easily lose confidence in ourselves and in God. The writer of Hebrews says to not throw that confidence away, it has a great reward! Regarding this verse, John MacArthur says, “They are closer than ever to the eternal reward, it is no time to turn back.” If you’re following Christ and facing ridicule for it, stay strong! It means your faith is being lived out and people are noticing. You are obeying Christ and doing His will!

Verse 36 is probably my favorite part of this passage.

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may received what is promised.

That endurance gained through going through trials will be a huge help when going through other trials, and is a testimony to the greatness of Christ within us. There is great honor in doing the will of God. It’s obedience, what Christ asks of us. Plain and simple. When we do God’s will, we will receive what is promised: eternal life.

I want to come back to Piper for a second. Right after he talks about how the Hebrews looked at what they had and said they had a better possession, he quotes a poem (I think) by Martin Luther:

Let goods and kindred go/this mortal life also/the body they may kill/God’s truth abideth still/His kingdom is forever.

That kingdom is a better possession and an abiding one.

The Heart of the Contrite

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” – Isaiah 57:15 (ESV)

I was reading John Piper’s Desiring God this morning and was in a chapter about worship. He wrote in that chapter:

…because we are all sinners, there is in our reverence a holy dread of God’s righteous power. “The Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13). “I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you” (Psalm 5:7).

But this dread is not a paralyzing fright full of resentment against God’s absolute authority. It finds release in brokenness and contrition and grief for our ungodliness: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). (Desiring God, 86)

Then the Isaiah 57 verse popped up. Piper had quoted a part of it earlier and I had looked up the verse and been encouraged. Then he quoted the entire thing. Obviously this is an important verse, one that I needed to look at further.

My favorite part of the verse is “to revive the heart of the contrite.” The heart of the contrite is something the Lord will revive. In my Bible’s commentary, John MacArthur wrote, “After all the years of Israel’s sin and backsliding, and of Israel’s punishment, God’s grace will prevail and spiritual healing and revelation will come.”

The only way that our heart and mind can be revived after a pattern of sin and disobedience is for us to be genuinely contrite. The Hebrew word used for “contrite” is “daka’.” Other uses of the word in the Old Testament include “crushed” (Job 5:4, 6:9, 22:9). Possibly my favorite use of the word is Isaiah 53:5 – “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

Jesus was “crushed for our iniquities.” His body was destroyed, His emotions were crumbling and His will was most assuredly shaken. Otherwise He would never have asked His Father to “let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). He was broken.

When we sin, we must be broken. We must honestly feel like a train has run over us spiritually and emotionally for God to revive us. Psalm 51:17, as Piper quoted earlier, says, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” We must be “broken and contrite and trusting in the Christ,” as Lecrae said in his song “Desperate.”

To do it honestly? We need to have the Holy Spirit working inside of us to feel that way. Our sinful flesh will not respond negatively to sin that “satisfies” or “pleasures” us, for “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

That same verse tells us that “the spirit is willing.” The Greek word for “willing” (which is prothymos) is only used in this verse, in the same story in Mark 14:38 and in Romans 1:15 where Paul tells the Romans that he is “eager to preach the Gospel” to those that are in Rome. Our spirit must be shaped by God’s will and be broken by the sin in our life.

Contrition is a conscious decision of our mind to feel bad or convicted about something, but our minds must be shaped by the Holy Spirit to truly feel it about our sin. In those circumstances, God will “revive the heart of the contrite.”

Working here at Snowbird this summer has taught be a lot about contrition. I’ve been broken about so much in my life that it gets to the point where I almost live in a state of contrition. While conviction and contrition are great things and necessary to be revived by God, we need to be accepting of His grace and salvation because we serve a loving and holy God who wants to use us. Even though we struggle with sin and go through numerous trials, they’re made to strengthen our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7, James 1:2-4) and encourage us to love him more.

God bless.

A Ransomed Soul.