The Pot That Cannot Be Broken

On a street not far from where I live, there’s a pottery studio with an attractive little storefront that displays beautiful clay works for sale by local artisans. Now, let’s imagine that you and I are in this little shop browsing and admiring the craftmanship, when suddenly in walks a grim-faced man wielding a baseball bat.

Before we can respond, he strides up to a beautiful, delicate-looking pot on the central display and takes a hard swing. Both of us wince, expecting the pot to explode into smithereens. Surprisingly, it takes the blow, slams against the back wall, and drops to the floor — intact. The man growls in frustration as he marches over, picks up the pot, and throws it against the entry wall. Again, it refuses to break. After shouting an expletive, the man stomps over and gives the pot a hard parting kick as he storms out. It skids and rolls across the floor, but comes to rest unbroken.

With the bat-man gone, you and I walk over and carefully examine the pot. It’s clearly made of clay, but there isn’t a crack or even a chip. I ask, “What kind of clay is this thing made of?” You shake your head in wonder and reply, “Who’s the potter?”

Indestructible Resilience

Why would you and I find this pot so perplexing? Because everyone knows this kind of pottery is not resilient. It’s fragile — it breaks easily. Fragility and resilience are antonyms. Something is either fragile or resilient, either brittle or bendable, not both.

And yet, resilient pottery is precisely the paradoxical metaphor the apostle Paul chooses when describing Christian resilience:

We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:7–10)

If you and I are Christians, we are such perplexing pots. We are fragile jars of clay that ought to shatter under the blows we receive from the various kinds of destructive afflictions we suffer. And yet we have the capacity to be indestructibly resilient, leaving observers wondering what kind of mysterious strength is baked into us. They’re left asking, “Who’s the potter?”

Now, if you’re like me, you don’t feel indestructibly resilient. But our capacity to be “afflicted in every way, but not crushed” does not depend on our self-perception or self-determination. According to what Paul says just a few verses later, our resilience (or lack thereof) depends on where we look for hope.

Before digging into these verses some more, let’s look at a living example of indestructible Christian resilience.

Resilience in Real Life

When Joni Eareckson Tada was only 17, she discovered just how fragile her clay-jar body was when, on a warm summer day in 1967, she dove into Chesapeake Bay and became a quadriplegic. Every day since, her wheelchair, her dependence on others to help her with basic life tasks, her experience of nearly constant chronic pain, as well as additional afflictions like cancer and COVID, have been stark reminders of her bodily weakness.

Yet, more than fifty years later, millions around the world would describe Joni as among the most resilient, industrious, fruitful, contagiously joyful Christians they could name. She’s an influential author and speaker, she’s an accomplished artist, and she’s the founder of an international organization that ministers to disabled people and their loved ones all over the world.

When you read what Joni writes, however, or hear her speak, or listen to her sing, or even exchange informal emails with her (as I’ve been privileged to do), her quadriplegia and her impressive achievements become eclipsed by her unquenchable love for Jesus and her indomitable faith in Jesus. She exhibits an otherworldly strength of heart, enabling her to withstand blows that might send the fiercest soldier or MMA fighter fleeing for dear life. After each blow, she still sits in her wheelchair, radiating joyful hope.

Joni is a personification of that clay pot we imagined at the beginning. After all the blows she’s taken, how can she still be in one piece? Who is this Potter that she talks so much about?

Where Do We Find Resilience?

To answer that question, let’s first return to 2 Corinthians 4 and hear Paul describe where Christian resilience comes from:

We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

Do you see it? What strengthens a Christian’s “inner self” and keeps him from losing heart even though his “outer self” is wasting away? Where he chooses to focus the gaze of his heart-eyes.

Paul knows that what Christians choose to look at has the power to either fill or drain the reservoir of hope in their “inner selves.” If we focus on the transient, visible realities of futility, sin, and suffering, we will lose hope (lose heart) and not be able to withstand the afflictions we suffer. But if we focus on the eternal, unseen reality, what Paul calls “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6), then the “God of hope [will] fill [us] with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit [we] may abound in hope,” even while enduring the worst kinds of afflictions (Romans 15:13).

In fact, this focus has the power to so transform our perspective that even severe afflictions become “light” and “momentary” compared to the glory we will experience. Indestructible Christian resilience comes from looking to the right reality.

Secret of Joni’s Strength

This exercise of faith is why Joni is still in one piece, so to speak. She’s not in some special class of superhero Christians who are simply blessed with extraordinary stamina or an extraordinarily joyful temperament. Read any of her books, listen to any of her talks, and you’ll hear her candidly describe just how dark life can feel for her — how similar she is to you and me. The secret to her resilience is where she chooses to focus the gaze of her heart-eyes.

Joni recently wrote a devotional book, Songs of Suffering: 25 Hymns and Devotions for Weary Souls. This is not your run-of-the-mill devotional; it is a manual for building Christian resilience. In one of the entries, she writes,

I have lived with quadriplegia for more than half a century and have wrestled with chronic pain for much of that time. I struggle with breathing problems and am in an ongoing battle against cancer. All this makes for a perfect storm of discouragement.
Yet when my hip and back are frozen in pain, or it’s simply another weary day of plain paralysis, I strengthen myself with Jesus’s example [of hymn singing] in the upper room [just before his crucifixion]. My suffering Savior has taught me to always choose a song — a song that fortifies my faith against discouragement and breathes hope into my heart. And so I daily take up my cross to the tune of hymn. (18)

So, Joni’s incredible resilience comes from . . . singing songs? No. Joni’s incredible resilience comes from seeing her affliction in the context of ultimate reality. But she uses substantive songs of faith to help her see.

Where Will You Look?

Anyone can admire Joni’s resilience, but what we might miss is that her resilience really can be ours, through whatever trials we face. If our afflictions are less severe than hers, that doesn’t mean we are less in need of daily spiritual renewal, and that renewal is possible — every day. We share with Joni the same faith and the same hope. The same power from the same Holy Spirit is available to us. Which means we can be as indestructibly resilient in our afflictions as Joni is in hers — and as Paul was in his.

Joni’s example of singing her way to gospel hope is a strategy that has been used by millions of saints over the centuries (and why we have a book of Psalms in our Bibles). But that’s just one strategy of many available to us. We each must learn ourselves well enough to know which strategies are most effective in helping us focus the gaze of our heart-eyes on the unseen, eternal reality revealed to us in Scripture. And then, like Joni, we must cultivate them into habits of grace so we can wield the armor of God in the fight of faith with resilience.

Jon Bloom

This Continues to Baffle Me

Only half of U.S. pastors are “very satisfied” with their vocation, marking a steep decline in pastoral satisfaction over the past decade, according to a study released by Barna Group.

The research released Wednesday is based on a survey of 584 Protestant pastors conducted from Sept. 6-16, 2022, as part of Barna’s new Resilient Pastor Initiative examining the phenomenon of church leaders feeling “burnt out, lonely or unwell.” The results reveal that just 52% of respondents described themselves as “very satisfied with their vocation as a pastor.”

The share of pastors with a high level of satisfaction regarding their vocation has dropped 20 points since 2015 when 72% of pastors characterized themselves as “very satisfied.” Barna’s research attributes the growing discontent among pastors to the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing lockdowns that led to societal upheaval and restrictions on religious worship.

“Our research shows that today’s pastors are deeply struggling with their sense of calling in the wake of COVID.” In 2020, two-thirds (67%) of pastors surveyed considered themselves “very satisfied.”

The percentage of pastors who “feel very satisfied with their ministry at their current church” also declined in the same period, from 53% in 2015 to 47% in 2020 and 38% in 2022. While two-thirds of pastors maintained they felt “more confident about their calling compared to when they first entered ministry” in 2015, that number dropped to 35% in 2020 and remains unchanged in 2022.

When breaking down the results by demographic subgroup, the research shows that a drop in the number of senior Protestant pastors calling themselves “very satisfied” is driven by young pastors. Only 35% of pastors younger than 45 said they were “very satisfied” with their vocation in 2022, while a majority (52%) said they were just “somewhat satisfied.” Eleven percent told pollsters they were “not too satisfied” with their vocation, and the remaining 2% were “not at all satisfied.”

By contrast, 58% of respondents aged 45 and older reported feeling “very satisfied” with their vocations, while 37% were “somewhat satisfied.” The share of older pastors who were “not too satisfied” (13%) and “not at all satisfied” (2%) were nearly identical to the percentages of younger pastors who said the same.

Two-thirds of pastors (66%) younger than 45 have gone through a period where they “significantly doubted” their calling, while 31% indicated they had not had such an experience. Among older pastors, just over half (51%) had felt self-doubt about their calling, while 45% had not.

The overwhelming majority of pastors who have considered quitting (72%) experienced self-doubt about their ministry, while 25% have not. A narrow majority (52%) of pastors who have not contemplated quitting have not had self-doubts, while 44% said they have.

The research also noted differences in satisfaction between female and male pastors. A majority of male pastors (52%) said they felt “just as confident” about their calling compared to when they first entered ministry, along with a plurality of female pastors (42%). A higher share of female pastors (25%) saw themselves as “less confident” about their calling than their male counterparts (12%). Roughly equal shares of male (35%) and female pastors (33%) maintained that their level of confidence in their calling has risen over the years.

Roughly half of the pastors who have considered quitting (48%) have maintained the same level of confidence in their calling over the years, while 29% have seen their confidence diminish. On the other hand, just 5% of pastors who have not contemplated a career change have witnessed a decline in their confidence in their calling, while a majority (52%) have seen their level of confidence remain steady. Substantial shares of pastors who have considered quitting (22%) and those who have not (43%) have seen their confidence increase.

Even 57% of pastors who have considered quitting were “somewhat satisfied” with their jobs, while 26% of those who have contemplated a career change were “not at all satisfied.” The overwhelming majority of respondents who have not considered quitting (69%) were “very satisfied” with their vocations, as 30% were “somewhat satisfied.” An additional 1% who were “not too satisfied” with their vocations have not considered quitting, while none of those who are “not at all satisfied” reported that they had not considered abandoning their position.

(I have never regretted a day of my ministry. Some of my decisions, yes. Some people I have had to deal with, yes. But I cannot imagine my life doing anything else. I has been a true calling for which I am thankful. Michael)

Mr. Potato Head Is in Trouble

Not too long ago Mr. Potato Head was in trouble. In a day when even a sitting Supreme Court justice claims not to know how to define a woman, the hubris of calling any toy “Mr.” is just too much for our present culture.

Even Piers Morgan was upset about this tempest-in-a-teapot because the “Mr.” part of Mr. Potato Head was “upsetting a few wokies.”

Giving in to wokeness is one thing. Sensitivity to others is another. LEGO announced some new additions to their lineup of toys. wrote recently, “LEGO, which recently unveiled a range of new characters, with a range of skin tones and nationalities, several of whom have disabilities, has revealed…the details of each of these characters. The new generation of LEGO friends are a diverse bunch, representing a multitude of backgrounds and lived experiences.”

The Woke Revolution Has Gone Too Far

One can understand being sensitive to others, as in the LEGO example. But often the woke revolution goes too far.

Even children’s literature today is unsafe. Dr. Seuss has been banned by some, and even the late, beloved children’s writer, Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, recently came under fire. He almost had hundreds of changes posthumously made to his books.

Thankfully, after the uproar against the attempted bowdlerizing Dahl’s works, Random House decided to continue to make available the books as Roald Dahl wrote them — while still offering the new, edited, sanitized versions.

Are the Seven Deadly Sins Now Virtues?

About 25 years ago, I paid good money to the estate of Roald Dahl to use portions of his classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in a book of short stories I compiled.

My book, The Moral of the Story, published by Broadman & Holman (1996, now out of print), included selections from various stories that helped illustrate the nefarious nature of the Seven Deadly Sins. They are Pride, Greed, Envy, Anger, Lust, Gluttony, and Sloth. The Bible condemns each of these sins. But would today’s culture perhaps make each of them a virtue?

Portions of Dahl’s Willy Wonka story were perfect for the section of my book dealing with gluttony. Dahl cleverly exposed the pitfalls of eating “beyond one’s seams,” including one boy named Augustus Gloop, that “nincompoop.” Dahl called him “fat.” The modern censors tried to change that and other offensive details.

In the famous scene I was able to reproduce, some fortunate children win a special visit to Willy Wonka’s magical chocolate factory. While on the tour, Augustus Gloop is unable to resist the temptation to get down on the banks of a magic chocolate river and lap as much of it as he can, like a dog.

Wonka and Gloop’s parents warn Augustus against doing this. “But Augustus was deaf to everything except the call of his enormous stomach,” writes Dahl. And then Augustus Gloop experiences humiliating punishment for his gluttony.

Empirical Reality — We Are Sinful

Part of the impulse to “clean up” Dahl’s writings is to make sure that people wouldn’t be offended.

But who knows how many children might have been warned into avoiding a life of excessive overeating and the consequent deleterious effects on health that flow from it? God warns against gluttony and other sins because they are harmful for us.

With our cultural revolution, which can’t tell men from women, if you say that some behavior someone engages in is wrong, you might hurt their feelings. Well, there is a constitutional freedom of speech. But there’s not a constitutional right to not be offended. Besides, hurt feelings might actually lead to needed changes.

The Bible is frank about man being sinful. The founders of America acknowledged that reality and created the most durable governing document in history, the U.S. Constitution, because it conforms to the empirical reality that we are sinful.

John Adams, a key founding father, commented on man’s sinful nature by observing that those in power tend to become like “ravenous beasts of prey.” Thus, the founders separated power so that no one group could lord it over the others.

The Scriptures say that we have all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. They also explain how God forgives sin for those who repent and call on Jesus who died for sinners and rose again from the dead.

However, in our post-Christian society, there is a major push to make everything woke — even by whitewashing classic children’s literature. Where does it all stop? When can children be children again?

When can sin be viewed as sin again? Isn’t it better to admit wrongdoing than to try to redefine what is wrong in the first place? There are moral standards that come from beyond ourselves. As Cecil B. De Mille once noted, “We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them.”

Jerry Newcombe

Remembering Those Who Lead You

On 4 March I lost my father-in-law, my friend, my mentor, my Pastor, my colleague in the ministry and seminary of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland—the man who under God has had more influence on me for good than any other: Ted Donnelly. Barry York has already paid a deeply personal and fitting tribute to Pastor Donnelly on this blog and I don’t want to reduplicate what he has said or multiply tributes—no doubt most if not all of the authors of Gentle Reformation could add their own testimonies of how much blessing and grace the Lord poured into their lives through this man. Instead I want to share the main points of the two messages I preached the day after his death in the congregation he pastored for thirty-five years and where I have served for the last ten. The text for that momentous day in our life as a congregation was Hebrews 13.7: Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

The Bible warns us not to put our trust in mortal men—not even princes, the greatest and most powerful of mortal men (Psalm 146.3-4). Ted Donnelly was a prince in the Church of Jesus Christ—an outstandingly gifted preacher and pastor, but ‘The best of men are men at best’ – only the Lord is strong and mighty to save. And yet the same Scriptures also exhort us to remember our leaders and not to forget their teaching and example. How then should we respond to the death of faithful leaders in the church?

1. Remember

We are to remember them, and the tense of the verb means we are to keep on remembering them. It is easy to forget because life is busy and we get preoccupied and distracted by other things. But how should we remember past leaders? Not by idolizing or idealizing them, which would be all too easy to do. Remembering them doesn’t mean pining for them and wishing them back. We don’t honor their memory by refusing to accept new leaders, especially if they don’t have the same degree of gifts as their predecessors. Perhaps that was an issue for the readers of this letter—especially if their previous leaders had been apostles! I had big shoes to fill coming after Ted Donnelly, but imagine replacing the apostles Peter or Paul! Verse 17 makes it clear what the attitude to current leaders ought to be: Obey your leaders and submit to them…

The whole point of remembering former leaders is not so that we will be stuck in the past but more useful, devoted, holy church members in the present.

In particular we are to remember former leaders for their preaching. That is the particular characteristic of their leadership that is singled out by the writer: Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Of course they did all kinds of things for their flock, but above all they spoke the word of God to them—from the pulpit, from house to house, in small groups and one-to-one, in season and out of season.

Ted Donnelly was preeminently a preacher, and those of us who had the privilege of sitting under his regular exposition of the word as our Pastor were blessed with a rare gift from the Lord. If you ever heard him preach at a conference, or listened to his messages online you will have known something of this: suddenly just a simple phrase or question or single word cast a flood of light on the passage being preached so that you saw wonderful things out of God’s law that seemed so obvious that you wonder how you didn’t see it yourself. Ted always said that one the greatest compliments a preacher could ever be paid after a sermon was, ‘I don’t know how I didn’t see that before!’

You may have enjoyed a spiritual feast listening to his preaching at some special event or other, but how thankful we his congregation were to sit under that preaching twice each Lord’s day, week after week, year after year. To be preached to by our own Pastor who knew us, loved us and tailored his sermons with us in mind—our families, our struggles, our congregation in our community. How many times we were challenged, rebuked, comforted, encouraged, stretched in our understanding and searched in our consciences—very often all in the same sermon!

One of the Lord’s greatest blessings to his people is to give them a faithful Pastor who will love his flock, pray for them, care for them and preach the Scriptures to them. To be given a Pastor of exceptional giftedness is an unusual privilege. But it also brings a correspondingly great responsibility. Jesus said that much is expected from those to whom much has been given. He said this to the cities where he, the Son of God incarnate, had preached with authority and power like they had never heard before, warning his hearers that they had a much greater accountability before God than places like Sodom and Gomorrah who had never heard such preaching.

So if the Lord has given you faithful leaders in the past who preached the word of God to you, remember them above all by responding to that preaching. What have you done with the riches God has lavished upon you? Maybe you can remember every series your former Pastor ever preached—you have notebooks with almost verbatim transcripts of every sermon. Maybe you were moved to tears time and time again by his preaching. But what are you doing with all that spiritual treasure? Does your zeal for the Lord, your personal holiness, your commitment to Christ and his church correspond to all you’ve been given? We will have to give an account of how we have stewarded the resources the Lord has given us. So many brothers and sisters throughout the world put us to shame by their zeal and love for the Lord and the lost, who survive on little scraps of teaching here and there. And what of those who sat under faithful ministry like Ted Donnelly’s and yet never responded to the gospel they heard preached so powerfully and clearly? How fearful will their judgment be on the last day.

2. Reflect

Hebrews 13.7 exhorts us to reflect on something as we remember our leaders: consider the outcome of their way of life. We are to carefully observe not just their words but their actions, their lifestyle—the kind of men they were. Some leaders, tragically, are very able, powerful, passionate preachers with an international reputation but their way of life contradicts their message. They preach Christ for what’s in it for them—for money, fame, power or influence.

Ted Donnelly was not like that. He lived a simple life of holiness. He wasn’t perfect, but he was consistent in his godliness. I shared a study with him for three months while my wife and I lived with her parents while we began ministry in our first congregation and no better ‘on the job training’ could be desired! I was able to observe carefully his way of life and the outcome of it. How he got up early for his personal devotions, took some exercise and was at his desk in good time. How he labored hard in the study preparing for preaching and teaching. How he fielded numerous phone calls dealing with all kinds of pastoral matters. Often I found him on his knees praying. He was always available for people who were going through a crisis or in need of guidance. He and his wife were exemplary in hospitality, opening their home to strangers and friends alike. He didn’t leave himself much spare time, but what little he had was spent on simple pleasures like reading or walking, watching sport or a movie, usually with his wife or family. The lion share of his life was given over, in one way or another, to the work of ministry.

He served the Lord with gladness, laboring hard for six days and delighting in the Sabbath. I never heard him complain about his workload or saw him shrink from difficult or unpleasant responsibilities. He could easily have spent every week of the year touring the world on the conference circuit, but his priority was the flock over which God had made him an overseer. Ted despised the cult of the celebrity preacher. He was one of those men who could be the main speaker at a conference, holding hundreds spellbound as he preached the word of God with power and clarity, but during the day was happy to sit and talk to anyone who wanted to chat or ask his advice.

Hebrews 13.7 especially calls us to reflect on the outcome of the way of life of our past leaders. It may refer to the outcome of their way of life in this world. Where did their life of self-denial and sacrificial service lead? A life of tedious misery and drudgery? Not at all! It produces a full, happy, fruitful life. A holy life is a happy, fulfilled life. That was certainly Ted’s experience. He wouldn’t have exchanged it for all the riches in the world.

Or it may refer to where our past leaders are now, in glory. John Brown puts it like this: ‘Reflect on how your departed leaders are standing before the throne and the Lamb, clothed with white robes and with palms in their hands, worshipping the Lamb. These had the rule over you and have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.’ In other words, ‘Reflect on where they are now and what bliss they are experiencing! Do they regret a single second of pain and effort for Christ in this world? Not one bit! This is the outcome of their way of life!’ What an incentive to remember their example and so follow them to glory. Which is the final thing the text tells us…

3. Replicate

Imitate their faith.We are not to become clones of our leaders and to imitate them in every respect, but we are to imitate their faith. This may mean one or all of three things:

(i) Imitate their strong faith in God. Ted Donnelly had to endure many hard providences in his life, not least over the last thirteen years since he was struck down with encephalitis. The Lord spared his life at that time and gave him a miraculous measure of recovery, but his health was never the same again and his retirement was blighted by several other serious illnesses over the course of these years. He didn’t understand them, but he never doubted the Lord’s sovereignty, wisdom or goodness. That is the essence of strong faith—trusting God when we don’t understand why he does what he does. We should imitate that faith when we see it in our leaders.

(ii) Imitate their firm adherence to what they believed. That seems to be the focus of v9: Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings… Ted Donnelly was as unshaken in his doctrinal beliefs on the day of his death as on the day he took his ordination vows as a minister of the Gospel. As we remember faithful servants of the past, let’s recommit ourselves to the truths they taught us and the faith they contended for so earnestly.

(iii) Imitate their faithfulness. Ted Donnelly ran a hard race and fought a good fight. It was tough: there were many stresses, heartaches and disappointments (as well as many joys and encouragements). But he kept going to the end without wavering. He continued to serve as best he could over the last thirteen years in spite of the obstacles and challenges of his health. As we remember past faithful leaders who persevered to the end, let’s imitate their faithfulness and not slack off, frittering away precious time and opportunities in front of trivial rubbish being spewed out of a screen; let’s not slack off when the pressures of life pile up and our strength begins to wane—by the grace of God, let’s imitate the steadfast faithfulness of those who showed us the way by their own life as well as their words.

Warren Peel

Demons and Division

Demons and deliverance have become a very hot topic in the church today, especially on the heels of the release of Pastor Greg Locke’s movie Come Out in Jesus’ Name. It opened Monday night in nearly 2,000 theaters and was followed by Pastor Locke coming on live in these theaters via livestream and conducting a mass deliverance service.

In Pastor Locke’s own words, “This is a historic church moment. This has never happened! It’s almost like God says, ‘OK, you want to run my spirit out of church? Well, I’m going to take you into a movie theater.’”

What are we to make of this?

Before the movie aired (so I could neither endorse it or criticize it), Pastor Locke asked if he could join me on my show to talk about the movie. You can listen to our discussion here (starting at the 27-minute mark), where you will hear Pastor Locke lay out his theological views.

Can a Christian have a demon? Have we even defined what this means? Should we use the term demon possession? Should we speak instead of demonization? And where does the ministry of deliverance fit in the lives of Christians? Is this just something we practice on non-believers who want to be set free? Do Christians ever need deliverance?

A Topic That Brings Up Strong Opinions

Be assured that each of these questions is packed with lots of emotion, and the moment you raise the topic of deliverance, things will get heated pretty quickly.

In the last 24 hours alone I have received passionate appeals from godly leaders on both sides of the issue. Some have urged me to speak out against the new deliverance fad while others have urged me to repent of the error of allegedly differing with this new wave of deliverance.

If we agree on the fundamentals of the faith — I mean, the eternal, non-negotiables — and we agree that Satan is our enemy whom we overcome in Jesus’ name, then we are more in harmony than not.

And all this happened without me making a clear public statement “for” or “against.” I wanted to hear the different teachings for myself as well as see the movie. How can I comment on something I haven’t seen?

That being said, the reaction to my Facebook post on Tuesday night, March 14, was quite intense, from all sides.

I wrote:

Do I believe that genuine believers can come under demonic power and need to be delivered and set free? Absolutely yes. Do I believe that genuine believers can be indwelt by demons and need exorcism? Absolutely not.
Over the decades, I had some seasons where I came under severe demonic attack and needed prayer and fasting and spiritual agreement with colleagues in order to break free (and I’m sure, in some cases, my flesh opened the door to the attack). But I have never needed to have demons cast out of me. If the Spirit dwells inside you, demons cannot dwell there with Him.

In my mind, this was a fairly generic post, not intended “to take sides” on the issue but rather to state my own views, having delved into the topic of demons and deliverance in the 1980s and 1990s. And in my mind, it wasn’t very different than what Pastor Locke said on my show. (He might differ with that assessment.)

But, to repeat, the controversy has been intense, with the heat rising on both sides of the debate.

It’s Okay to Disagree

That’s why I posted this on Wednesday night, March 15th: “A word of wisdom here for everyone. Christian leaders WILL have some differences about the subject of demons and deliverance. That’s fine! There’s no reason to take sides or get into camps or attack one another. In fact, that’s exactly what Satan wants us to do! Let’s step higher, since we are fully aware of the evil one’s devices. And where we have differences, let’s listen to each other, learn from each other, and agree to disagree if it comes to that in the end, determined to stand UNITED against the devil.”

You see, this is the one thing we know for sure: Satan wants to divide us. He fully understands that “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand” (Matthew 12:25). And so, whatever he can do to sow discord and dissension, he will do it.

He will try to divide us into factions (as in, “I’m in his camp” or “I’m in her camp”), and he will try to get us to separate over secondary matters (as in, “I’m pro-deliverance but you’re anti-deliverance”).

How about we determine to step higher and give no place to the evil one? (For the principle, see Ephesians 4:25-27.)

Let’s Not Give the Devil an Inch Through Dispute

How about we find out accurately what key leaders actually teach and practice when it comes to deliverance, coming to our own conclusions after prayer and study rather than making this the topic we divide over.

If we agree on the fundamentals of the faith — I mean, the eternal, non-negotiables — and we agree that Satan is our enemy whom we overcome in Jesus’ name, then we are more in harmony than not.

We will certainly have our differences in beliefs and practices, and we should be clear about what we believe and where we stand. Let the differences be articulated and let them be known.

But let us do so as brothers and sisters in the faith, all of us subject to the lordship of Jesus. Let us not give the devil an inch of ground, in particular in a dispute about deliverance from demons. That would be as tragic as it is ironic.

Michael Brown

When You Run Out of Gas

Few moments can feel quite so alarming as late at night and on unfamiliar roads, when you realize your car is almost out of fuel. Will there be somewhere to fill up nearby? Will the place be open? Your eyes are fixed on the fuel gauge. With heart thumping and palms sweating as the miles go by, you envision your car sucking up the last drops and fumes from the tank before sputtering to a halt, leaving you stranded.

For too many of us, our experience of the Christian life and ministry feels similarly precarious. The fuel light is flashing; very little seems to be left in the tank.

All too often, however, we’re running on empty because our view of God is empty. Amid life’s trials and exigencies, our view of God has slowly shrunk and become distorted and skewed, such that we do not set out filled with joy and satisfaction in him. We may feel that our ministries are vital and that God is relying on our courage, faithfulness, and brilliance: a burden we can’t really bear. We begin to imagine that God needs us and leans on us unfairly. We begin to imagine him as a demanding taskmaster and quietly resent his calling.

In all our efforts to serve Christ dutifully, we may not truly enjoy our all-generous, giving God, but instead run on the fumes of our own devotion and spiritual energy. And if our God is not full, neither will we be. Only a renewed vision of God’s glorious fullness will help us. So where might we look for fresh vision?

How to Take Heart

Jesus knew his disciples would run out of gas. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). As he prepared to leave this world, he knew that they, as his holy people in a hostile world, would face trouble, hardships, discouragements, and persecutions. And he wanted them to know something when they did: he had already overpowered the fleeting darkness of this passing age. So, he tells them, take heart.

Yes, but how?

In every Christian’s life, we have tribulations that, of themselves, might easily cause us to lose heart. Family life eked out in the shadow of depression and anxiety. Local church ministry in what seems like a spiritual desert, painfully low on encouragements and visible fruit. A calling to overseas missions attended by loneliness, isolation, and homesickness. How can we, day by day, in the pressure and pain, find perspective, peace, and joy?

When Jesus said he had overcome the world, it was the conclusion to a longer discussion. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace” (John 16:33). When the world is trying, our spiritual energy is drying up, and we wonder if we can go on, we need to plug ourselves into the darkness-conquering words of Jesus. These things are the key to taking heart and persevering.

Sustained by His Fullness

In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples that, after his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, the disciples will have the privilege of direct approach to God in heaven in his name when they pray (John 16:26). With the Lord’s ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the endless resources of heaven will be at their disposal to ask whatever they need (John 16:23). So, says Jesus, “no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22), and “your joy may be full” (John 16:24).

In Christ, the superabundant Father of glory is our own Father, lovingly attending to our needs and requests. And he has joy to spare for struggling saints. In the challenges and troubles of our lives today, this is the vital source of overcoming joy and peace: our God is full and loves to fill us.

God revealed himself to Moses as “I AM”: “the One Who Is.” Unlike us, who are born and named, God does not receive his name, identity, or existence from anyone or anything else: his life is self-contained and self-sustaining. As Paul tells the Athenians,

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything. (Acts 17:24–25)

Far from needing anything, our God is the very definition of fullness. God alone is gloriously, completely, independently himself.

Sustained by His Filling

Yet the life of God is not a fortress, shut up against the world. God’s satisfied self-existence does not mean grand isolation, vacuum-packed and hidden away. No, the very life of God — all that he is in himself — overflows and is the source of our happiness as well as his own.

Jonathan Edwards imagined God in this eternity and wrote, “God undoubtedly infinitely loves and delights in himself. . . . The infinite happiness of the Father consists in the enjoyment of his Son” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 21:117). In other words, God’s full and happy life is triune. The Father has eternally loved his Son (John 17:24). The “infinite delight” of God, Edwards says, is “in the Father and the Son loving and delighting in one another” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 21:118).

Here is a God who, even before, beyond, and above all created things, exists in loving and delighted fellowship. Here is a God for whom a creation makes sense: an opportunity “to communicate and spread his goodness,” as Richard Sibbes put it (The Works of Richard Sibbes, 6:113). Here is a God who would not condemn rebels and sinners to perish without first giving his one and only Son in measureless love for the world (John 3:16). To this God, Jesus now assures his friends, they may go in all their need and weakness.

Sustained by His Sacrifice

Jesus spoke his promise that he has overcome the world just hours before he went to his death. His timing is perfect, because the cross at once exposes the sin and emptiness in us and reveals the fullness of God: the cross is the key to our overcoming.

While we are often tempted to pursue our callings in our own strength (and risk burnout and bitterness in the process), the cross exposes us as helpless sinners who can offer nothing to God. It shows us what we deserve as all our ways are condemned in the flesh of Christ (Romans 8:3). At the cross, we are relieved of the illusion that the purposes of God rely on us.

And the cross relieves us of the illusion that God is demanding and cruel. Our Father has not withheld from us his own Son and will not hold out on us for anything else (Romans 8:32). His death is the seed of our eternal life and the promise of our resurrection. At the foot of the cross, we are humbled again and again and shown our own natural emptiness, yet there we also fill our gaze afresh with the glorious self-giving of God in Christ.

Unexhausted Fullness

Nowhere is God’s heart on display in brighter colors than on the cross of Christ. God is so full of life that he lays his own down for his enemies. God is so full of love that he pours it out on the unlovely. God is so good that even the darkest night of death will turn to bright morning.

If we want to last — in life, in marriage, in parenting, in ministry — we need a vision of God that is not only big enough, but good enough. A grand and majestic God could intimidate or scare us; his hard callings might appear harsh and unkind to us. But the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is eternally good and giving. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. And if you draw strength from his fullness, you will, as John Howe writes in his treatise on delighting in God, “still find a continual spring, unexhausted fullness, a fountain never to be drawn dry”.

Daniel Hames

The Gestalt Shift

The run-up to Christmas in my city, like most places in the US, witnesses a wide variety of yard adornments celebrating the season. Some are gaudy inflatables of Christmas cartoony creatures. Some are simply glowing messages of “Peace” or “Seasons Greetings” (absent the needed apostrophe). And many are, appropriately, scenes representing the real “reason for the season”—the nativity scene. The holy family, angels, shepherds, animals, and wise men (who according to the biblical text didn’t arrive for a couple of years, but that’s OK) compose a popular form of front lawn festive images.

When I was growing up, nativity scenes came in two versions: (1) temporary live ones, sponsored by a church with people dressed up to reenact the first Christmas, and (2) scenes with painted statues. I’m not sure when the transition occurred, but today during Christmas I rarely see either of those versions. Instead, the most common form of the nativity scene I encounter now is the white, wooden cut out style. They are usually about 4 feet tall and provide stylized silhouettes of Mary, Joseph, and a few animals. This representation is fine enough. It gets the basic idea across, even including a healthy dash of piety with Mary and Joseph in prayerful positions and a halo indicating baby Jesus’s divine status.

But what the original makers of this now-popular version did not anticipate is that if you look at this scene in a different way, it communicates something absurdly funny. Mary and Joseph’s prayer postures look strikingly like tyrannosaurus rexes rearing their heads while the halo on the baby crib between them looks like a table saw in action. We could put a label across the bottom of this picture that reads, “Two T. Rexes Fighting Over a Table Saw.” And once you do that, there’s no going back. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

A Shift in Perspective

This change in perspective on what we are seeing is called a “Gestalt shift.” The German word Gestalt means “form,” and when used to describe the psychological experience of seeing something in a different way, the word means “a pattern or configuration.” Gestalt psychology arose in the early twentieth century as a different way of thinking about the human experience. Particularly, Gestalt theorists argued that the whole is more than the sum of its parts and that humans experience the world not through atomistic elements but as a whole. It is the whole that makes sense of the parts, not the other way around. So when we look at the nativity scene, the elemental parts don’t change, but suddenly we can come to see the whole differently: not a pious scene in a barn but an absurd and unexpected image of fighting dinosaurs. The actual picture has not changed. Rather, we come to perceive the whole scene differently. And once the whole is perceived differently, the parts take on different meaning.

The same thing can happen with another nativity scene, this one from a postage stamp. A well-meaning UK Royal Mail stamp from 2015 depicted Mary and Joseph from afar against a starry night.2 At some point in the world of online memes, it was noted that it looks like Mary is playing keyboard and Joseph singing vocals. The raised crib looks like a keyboard stand and Joseph’s staff becomes a mic stand and mic. Once again, this is a Gestalt shift—another holistic way of seeing the parts. And in both of these cases, the power of the Gestalt shift is the absurdity of the juxtaposition of the one way of seeing with the other.

In the latter part of the twentieth century, these notions resurfaced in a different form in the world of cognitive linguistics. In cognitive linguistics scholars talk about construals and frames. Construals and frames are ways of seeing. The world is full of innumerable data points—more than any human brain can interpret at once. So how we make sense of the world is through a construal or frame that organizes, highlights, deselects, and creates correspondences and causal relations among the data. The construal is a Gestalt, a shape or form that gives us a sense of the whole rather than just the parts. And one of the most powerful human experiences is when one construal is replaced with another, when a shift in the Gestalt happens and we come to see in a different way. Philosophers of language have even described this eye-opening experience as a conversion—a new way of seeing what was there all along.

How We See the Bible

This can happen to us when we read the Bible as well. For example, if you’ve never thought about the message of the gospel in terms of God’s restoring his kingdom on the earth, there are a lot of things in the Gospels that you may ignore. But once you start to think of Jesus’s message and work as bringing God’s kingdom into the world—that this is the “good news”—then all of a sudden so much makes sense. The Gestalt shift happens, and the message of the New Testament starts to fit together more fully. The gospel of the kingdom is why Jesus calls people to repent, because a new reign with a new King (Jesus) is arriving on the earth (Matt. 4:17). This also clarifies why it is so important that Jesus is the Son of David, because he must be the rightful King who also fulfills the promise that a descendant of David would once again reign on his throne. Additionally, this is why so many of Jesus’s parables use royal scenes and have characters such as kings, princes, and landowners who have servants.

One of the most powerful human experiences is when one construal is replaced with another, when a shift in the Gestalt happens and we come to see in a different way.

The Gestalt shift toward understanding the gospel as being about the kingdom also explains why the message of “eternal life” in the Gospel of John at first appears to be so different from the message of the coming kingdom in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. From an ancient Jewish perspective the “eternal life” that they were looking forward to referred to the time and space when God would return as King to establish his reign and to bring shalom upon the earth. To receive or inherit or enter into eternal life meant to enter into God’s kingdom where the true flourishing or shalom life could be found. The “eternal life” that Jesus talks about in John is not some disembodied existence in heaven; it is nothing other than the life of God’s people lived together in a renewed earth with God reigning as king—that is, the kingdom of God.

This is just one example of how seeing the Bible with a new (biblically rooted) Gestalt enables us to see the parts differently and make more sense of them. This also happens when we read the Bible with the help of the orthodox creeds and confessions. Key framing truths from the creeds about the triune nature of God, the two natures of Christ united in one man, the future hope of the bodily resurrection, and so on, enable us to see how the various teachings of Scripture fit together and make more sense when seen from the perspective of the whole.

Jonathan T. Pennington

Peace in Every Confinement

Only after I got out of the hospital and went home was I hit with the cold facts of my paralysis. Doorways were too narrow. Sinks were too high. My knees hit the edge of the dining table. A plate of food was placed before me, but my hands were limp and useless. Someone else—at least for the first few months—had to feed me. Our cozy home felt like a prison, and I panicked. I felt nervous and trapped.

My caged feelings forced me to look at another captive. Never one to anxiously pace in a jail cell, the apostle Paul reassured his friends in Philippi, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11).

Paul was talking about a peace that gladly submits to God in all circumstances. Such quietness of heart has nothing to do with prison bars, wheelchairs, or confining situations. Instead, it bears up under any suffering in a satisfied and agreeable way. When the peace of Christ rules in your heart, you don’t plot ways of escape, succumb to peevish thoughts, or fret needlessly. You feel at peace.

Paul learned how to live this way. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil. 4:12 NIV). Those situations included stoning, shipwrecks, floggings, and imprisonment. Christ’s enablement was more than sufficient, and so Paul’s secret was learning to lean on that fact. Learning meant making tough choices—turning to Christ and not away from him. Deciding this and not that. Going here and not there. Standing up to unruly emotions and seeking God’s peace.

Peace is only understood when conflicts are raging all around.

I fight every day to make choices like these. Lack of access to buildings and finding something to do with useless hands are no longer an issue for me. Neither is being fed a hamburger while others steal glances. My current issue is with pain. When pain tempts me to feel disheartened and glumly stare out a window, I stand up to my miserable emotions. I am shrewd to their cunning ways, that they could be the ruin of me. Instead, I quell those dark feelings by singing:

Peace like a river, so deep and so broad, Wonderful peace, wonderful peace; Resting my soul on the bosom of God, I have peace, sweet peace.

Peace is only understood when conflicts are raging all around. Alexander Maclaren observed, “However profound and real that Divine peace is, it is to be enjoyed in the midst of warfare. God’s peace is not [inertia]. The man that has it has still to wage continual conflict, and day by day to brace himself anew for the fight. The highest energy of action is the result of the deepest calm[ness] of heart. That peace of God . . . is peace militant.”1

Christ is not a magic wand to be waved over your problems. Peace doesn’t come that way. As we make the tough choices to hold fast to his grace, divine peace surges through us. As hard as life is, militant peace arrives at the instant we exercise faith during the battle. It gives us strength to say, “I can do this. I can make this tough choice for the honor of Christ. I can, I will trust him!”

So try it. Or rather, learn it. Look for peace and contentment through the hard yet simple choices you will make throughout this day. Believe God has enough grace for you, and memorize this hymn if you need a reminder. For it could be that by the time you lay your head on your pillow tonight, you will have found his wonderful peace.

Joni Eareckson Tada

What Are You Passing Down to Your Grandchildren?

The simplest definition of legacy is something that is passed on. And as grandparents, we have the opportunity to pass on all kinds of things to our grandchildren. Whether it be happy memories, family heirlooms, or even our personality traits, our #1 legacy is our faith in Jesus.

As we let His light shine through us, we’ll leave a legacy of faith, hope, and love – the greatest of these being love. And I don’t know about you, but I want to be remembered as someone who loved Jesus with all her heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Here are four ways to leave your grandchildren a legacy of faith.

Speak Often of the Savior

As King David once penned, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” This is a wonderful prayer for grandparents as they seek to leave a legacy of faith.

Sometimes, we feel like we can’t talk about Jesus for fear of offending others or being seen as fanatical, but how will they believe if they do not hear? The apostle Paul said it this way in Romans 10:14: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

We don’t have to preach to our grandchildren, but we can often speak of the Savior and His love for them. We can also share our testimony – of how the Lord brought us to Himself. You never know what lasting impact this can have on your grandsons and granddaughters.

Speak often about the Savior and tell of His wonderful deeds; then, trust that God will use your words to plant seeds in the hearts of your grandchildren.

Make the Word of God Known

A small girl and grandmother reading bible at home

Just as we are hesitant to talk about our faith, we are equally hesitant to share the Bible with our grandkids. Yet, it’s the Word of God that will not return void. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

We can share specific Bible verses that relate to what our grandkids are going through. Whether it be a tough time at school or other issues, the Word of God has the answers for life!

If you’re unsure where to start, I suggest returning to the beginning. Share the first few chapters of Genesis as a reminder that God is the Creator of everything. Emphasize that God made them in His image and has a divine purpose for them. Invite them to study the Bible with you, memorizing Scripture and learning more about God’s character.

Remember, the Bible is more than just a book. It contains the very words of God and is powerful to move in people’s hearts. Make His Word known to your grandkids, and pray they will develop a hunger for His truth.

Pray with Others in Specific Ways

I think it’s safe to say that most of us pray for our grandkids regularly, but how many of us have a prayer team of people praying alongside us?

Something powerful happens when you enlist others to pray specifically for you and your loved ones. Not only does a prayer network provide a sense of unity and camaraderie, but it also covers your family in much-needed intercession.

I highly encourage you to call on 2-3 trusted friends to join you in specific prayers for your grandchildren. Address topics such as emotional, physical, and spiritual issues. Here are several specific things to pray for:

-Their Heart: First and foremost, pray for your grandchildren’s salvation – that they will understand the gospel and follow Jesus all their days.

-Their Mind: Ask God to fix their minds on Him and give them His peace.

-Their Friendships: Pray for your grandchildren’s relationships and ask God to protect them from harmful people.

-Their Education: Intercede for your grandchildren’s education, that God will provide a safe and healthy learning environment.

-Their Safety: Ask the Lord to send His angels to guard your grandchildren and protect them from harm.

Be Salt and Light

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Your example of faith is displayed through a life of devotion to Christ. It includes a heart of service to your family as salt and light. The more you invest in their little lives, the greater your impact will be.

Here are specific ways to be salt and light:

-Listen…really listen. Be a sounding board for your grandkids and take a genuine interest in their life. Chances are, they’ll grow to trust you as a safe person who always has their best in mind.

-Find things to do together. This can include going to the park, hiking, painting, or cooking. The memories you make will be cherished for decades to come.

-Be a voice of reason. You have a lot of experience and wisdom to share.

-Walk by the Spirit, displaying His fruit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control will go a long way in ministering to your grandkids.

Finally, leave a legacy of faith by walking the narrow path. While you cannot make your grandchildren believe in Jesus, you can show them what it looks like to walk in unity with the Savior. Your #1 legacy is your faith, and what a beautiful legacy it is!

Jennifer Waddle

10 to Jesus

For centuries, the Christian church has given careful attention to the Ten Commandments. In his commentaries, John Calvin devotes hundreds of pages to expounding them, and in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, he describes and explains them as the summary of the moral law in the Old Testament (2.8.1). Regardless of whether we agree with every aspect of Calvin’s exposition, most, if not all, of the commandments are explicitly repeated in the New Testament, and as we’ll see below, the commandments themselves express the heart of God’s law in unique ways.

In order to get a better handle on the role of the Ten Commandments, we need to understand their place in the old covenant itself. While Christians do not live under the old covenant as such (we are “not under the law,” Romans 6:14–15; 1 Corinthians 9:20; Galatians 5:18), it is important for us to understand these “Ten Words” and their connection to the covenant, because they create a pattern that is repeated in the new covenant as well.

Greatest Commandments

When the Jewish leaders asked Jesus about the greatest commandment in the law, he did not reply by listing the Ten Commandments. Instead, he said,

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37–40)

Jesus taught that love for God and love for neighbor are the foundation for the rest of the commandments in the Old Testament. That is to say, everything else that God asks of his people is impossible if they do not love God with everything and love their neighbors as themselves.

What, then, do these commands have to do with the Ten Commandments? Why didn’t Jesus just quote Exodus 20 back to them? To understand this, we need to consider the relationship between the covenant and commandments — in both the Old and New Testaments.

Delivered to Love

In Galatians 5:13–14, Paul exhorts the Galatians to use their freedom as an opportunity to love one another. He writes,

You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Here he highlights the close connection between freedom and the call to love our neighbors. In the first four chapters of Galatians, this freedom is described as freedom in Christ, which is opposed to the bondage that comes from seeking to be justified before God by the law. Through Christ, we have been set free from this bondage of sin. Therefore, Galatians 5 begins, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

The move from God’s previous work of redemption to his command to love your neighbor is similar to what we find in Exodus 20. In the prologue to the Ten Commandments, the Lord reminds his people of his prior work to redeem them from slavery in Egypt: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). Just as we saw in Galatians, the work of God to redeem his people from slavery comes before his commands to his people. Dutch scholar Jochem Douma’s description fits equally well in both Exodus 20 and Galatians 5: “The commandments follow the gospel of undeserved deliverance” (The Ten Commandments, 4).

God and Neighbor

With this understanding in place, we can better understand the connection between the greatest commandments and the Ten Commandments. In Galatians 5, the command to love our neighbor is grounded in God’s prior work of redemption. In Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments are grounded in God’s prior work of redemption. What’s more, many have noticed a close connection between the love for God in the first part of the Ten and love for neighbor in the second part.

As you read through the commands, this description seems to fit. The first four commandments involve exclusive loyalty to the Lord, avoiding idol worship, not taking the name of the Lord in vain, and keeping the Sabbath day holy to God (Exodus 20:1–11). You can see how these commands are God-oriented. Because he had redeemed them from their slavery, God’s people were now free to honor and worship him as he commanded. The next six commandments are oriented toward others. Honoring your father and mother, not murdering, not committing adultery, not stealing, not bearing false witness, and not coveting are all ways to put the rights of others ahead of yourself (Exodus 20:12–17). In other words, love for God and love for neighbor as expressed in the Ten Commandments are both grounded in the work of God in the exodus, when he rescued his people from their slavery in Egypt.

Why a New Covenant?

At this point, you might be wondering why we need a new covenant at all. If the structure of the old and new covenants is so similar, why didn’t we just stick with the old covenant? As great as the work of God in the exodus was, it was only a pointer to a greater work of redemption still to come. Hebrews 4:8 tells us that the rest that God’s people enjoyed when Joshua led them into the Promised Land pointed to a greater rest yet to come. Later in Hebrews, the author tells us that the law is only “a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (Hebrews 10:1).

God intended both Israel’s redemption from slavery in Egypt and the law covenant itself to be incomplete and insufficient. They were pointing to a greater work of redemption yet to come. We can see the insufficiency of the law covenant born out in the life of Israel throughout the Old Testament. They were unwilling (and therefore unable) to love God and love their neighbors as the Ten Commandments instructed them to do. They needed a greater redemption through a greater redeemer than Joshua or Moses.

This greater redemption is exactly what Paul points us to in Galatians 5. Through Christ, we have been set free from our deepest slavery. Christ redeemed us not only from physical slavery, but also from the slavery to sin into which we all were born. As a result of this redemption, we are now free to truly love God and love neighbor the way the law always intended.

When we understand the relationship between the law and the covenant, we can turn afresh to the question of how Christians ought to fulfill these commandments in light of the work of Christ. Regardless of whether we think nine, ten, or zero commandments are immediately binding on us today, we can all see that it is only through the greater work of Christ to redeem us from our slavery to sin that we can begin to truly love God and love our neighbors as we ought.

Chris Bruno

%d bloggers like this: