Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers understand what sin is, how serious sin is, and how great the grace of God, who offers redemption to sinners from sin and new life in Christ.
“Open Confession is good for the soul,” or so the maxim goes. Perhaps it might also be said, “Open Confession is good for your relationship with God and men.” While Scripture supports both of these statements, there is something of a haze that lays across the surface of the meaning of such statements in Scripture as, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Is James speaking of going around and confessing any sin that you can point to in your life to just about anyone you are in fellowship with in the church so that they will pray for you? Or, does he have in mind the practice of “keeping short accounts” with the brethren? Does he mean going to an offended brother or sister and asking forgiveness for a particular sin that was committed against them? Or, as the context might indicate, is James instructing individuals in the congregation to come to the elders and confess particular sins of a scandalous nature in order to be healed of a sickness with which they had been chastened by God? While we may not come to a completely settled agreement on the precise meaning of James 5:16, there are two dangers and three applications of our duty that we should be able to agree upon when reflecting on this subject.
1. There is a danger of treating believers like personal priests. When confession of sin becomes penance rather than repentance, there is a danger of turning to others to help us quiet our guilty conscience. Instead of turning to Christ and seeking for the cleaning of His blood–which alone quiets a guilty conscience before God, we can turn in penance to others to get that quieting. In his book Repentance: A Daring Call to Real Surrender, C. John Miller made the following astute observation about this danger:
“Penance seeks out a human priest other than Christ…All too often religious leaders are flattered into accepting the role of by sympathetic parishioners who admire their gifts and graces. In accepting this role they harm themselves and the ones for whom they attempt to mediate…Christians who witness with power and effectiveness will find that others will look to them to do the work of Christ for them. For instance, as the pastor must take care not to become priest to needy people in the congregation, so the youth worker must be careful not to become priest to the young people.”
This is nowhere seen as much as it is in the realm of biblical counselors. When I was an intern at Tenth Presbyterian Church, I asked Paul Tripp for advice in biblical counseling. I’ll never forget the line he threw out: “Don’t become the fourth member of the Trinity for people.” This is one of the real dangers we face when we broach this subject.
I would take Miller and Tripp’s warnings even further. I believe that we can do this with any wise and sympathetic Christian friend–not simply with pastors and biblical counselors. When we’ve found a godly and compassionate ear–even the ear of someone who will pray for us–we can all too easily start to go to that person for relief of a guilty conscience and then not go to Christ for forgiveness. When we do the former and not the latter, we have fallen into the trap of turning a friend into a personal priest.
2. There is a danger of inadvertently tempting others, or being tempted ourselves, to sin.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can know it” (Jer. 17:9). Jeremiah is not simply speaking of unregenerate men and women–though it is supremely true of them. While the believer has been given a new heart and is a new creation in Christ, he or she still has a sin nature. We are, as Luther aptly put it, simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously just and sinful). Since this is so, the Scriptures give us warnings about how one believer may be tempted to sin by the sin of another believer. For instance, in Galatians 6:1, the Apostle Paul writes, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Paul warns against the danger of adopting a self-righteous response when he warns, “keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” We are ever in danger of falling into sin even as we seek to help others who have sin in their lives. While Galatians 6:1 is speaking of confronting a sinning brother or sister about his or her sin, it has application to how we might respond to someone confessing sin to us as well. This is seen in the way in which the Corinthian congregation was initially responding to the repentant brother who had been previously excommunicated. When he returned and confessed his sin publicly, Paul charged the congregation:
“For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough,so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ,so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor. 2:6-11).
There is also a very real danger of falling into the same sin that is being confessed to you by virtue of coming into contact with too many details about a particular sin in the life of another. Jude may have this in mind when he says, “have mercy on those who doubt;save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23). On the phrase, “hating even the garments stained by the flesh,” Calvin noted:
[Jude] would have the faithful not only to beware of contact with vices, but that no contagion might reach them, he reminds them that everything that borders on vices and is near to them ought to be avoided: as, when we speak of lasciviousness, we say that all excitements to lusts ought to be removed. The passage will also become clearer, when the whole sentence is filled up, that is, that we should hate not only the flesh, but also the garment, which, by a contact with it, is infected.1
As Calvin explains, “when we speak of lasciviousness, we say that all excitements to lust ought to be removed,” so we must realize that we may be tempting a brother or sister to fall if, in the act of confessing sin, we inadvertently stir up in their own sinful desires by speaking in too much depth about a particular sin. There is a call for great caution here.
When I was a new believer, a friend of mine told me about interactions she had with a team that she was a part of on a short term mission trip that she had recently taken. One of the things she shared, that I found to be extremely odd–if not troubling–was that the group (made up of men and women) had committed to coming together every morning to confess ways that they had sinned against each other in thought or word. That sounded like a complete recipe for disaster to me. I think that I would prefer not to know every time someone thought, “Nick’s a jerk. I really don’t like it when he does this or this or that.” There may be a need to go personally to a brother and sister privately and confess a bitter or envious spirit, but to sit in a circle and do so seems entirely unwise. Additionally, if one of the less mature men said something like, “I lusted after several of the women here this week” that would potentially lead to an adulterous outbreak. Years ago, I heard the story about a minister who had embraced the idea of complete transparency with his congregation in the name of “confess your sins to one another.” One Sunday he stood up and said, “I have to confess sin to you all this morning before the service. I lusted after five of the wives in the congregation.” Not only would this lead to potential adultery, it might also tempt the single women in the congregation–who have chalked their singleness up to a lack of physical attraction–to sinful despair. Whatever James has in mind when he says, “confess your sins to one another,” this much we can say–surely this is not it.
If James does not teach treating pastor and congregation as priest for penance, or confession of sin in undifferentiated settings, what does he have in mind? Clearly we can say that there is a duty involved in the words of the text. It is a command for us to confess our sins to certain individuals. Thomas Manton, in his commentary on James, gives three principles concerning when and to whom we we ought to confess our sin.
1. We are to confess sin publicly before the elders and/or the church if it is scandalous and harms the ministry of the gospel.
This is an indisputable truth associated with the words of James 5:16. This is part of the discipline process appointed by the Lord Jesus (Matt. 18:15-19). It is clear that at some point the man who was excommunicated from the church in Corinth returned, confessed his sin publicly and asked to be restored to the fellowship (2 Cor. 2:5-11).
Thomas Manton wrote:
“Upon public scandals after admission, for of secret things the church judges not; but those scandalous acts, being faults against the church, cannot be remitted by the minister alone, the offense being public; so was the confession and acknowledgment to be public, as the apostle saith of the incestuous Corinthian, that “his punishment was inflicted by many” (2 Cor. 2:6). And he bids Timothy, “Rebuke open sinners in the face of all” (1 Tim. 5:28), which Aquinas refers to ecclesiastical discipline. Now, this was to be done, partly for the sinner’s sake, that he might be brought to the more shame and conviction; and partly because of them without, that the community of the faithful might not be represented as an ulcerous, filthy body; and the church not be thought a receptacle of sin, but a school of holiness: and therefore, as Paul shook off the viper, so these were to be cast out, and not received again, but upon solemn acknowledgment. So Paul urges: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6); and, “Lest many be defiled,” &c. (Heb. 12:15): in which places he doth not mean so much the contagion of their ill example, as the taint of reproach, and the guilt of the outward scandal, by which the house and body of Christ was made infamous.2
2. We are to confess sin privately to those we have sinned against and with.
Again, Manton explained:
Private confession to men; and so, 1. To a wronged neighbor, which is called a turning to him again after offense given (Luke 17:4), and prescribed by our: “Leave thy gift before the altar, and be first reconciled to thy brother” (Matt. 5:24). God will accept no service or worship at our hands, till we have confessed the wrong done to others. So here, “Confess your faults one to another.” It may be referred to injuries: in contentions there are offences on both sides, and every one will stiffly defend his own cause, &c, 2. To those to whom we have consented in sinning, as in adultery, theft, &c, we must confess and pray for each other: Dives in hell would not have his brethren come to that place of torment (Luke 16:28). It is but a necessary charity to invite them that have shared with us in sin to a fellowship in repentance.3
3. We are to confess sin to appointed, godly and/or trustworthy persons in the church.
Here, Manton left us some beneficial concluding thoughts when he wrote:
To a godly minister, or wise Christian, under deep wounds of conscience. It is but folly to hide our sores till they be incurable. When we have disburdened ourselves into the bosom of a godly friend, conscience finds a great deal of ease. Certainly they are then more capable to give us advice, and can the better apply the help of their counsel and prayers to our particular case, and are thereby moved to the more pity and commiseration; as beggars, to move the more, will not only represent their general want, but uncover their sores. Verily it is a fault in Christians not to disclose themselves, and be more open with their spiritual friends, when they are not able to extricate themselves out of their doubts and troubles. You may do it to any godly Christians, but especially to ministers, who are solemnly entrusted with the power of the keys, and may help you to apply the comforts of the word, when you cannot yourselves.4
This post first appeared at Nick’s blog and is posted here with his permission.
Join Dave as he continues the study on the Gospel of John by looking at John 2:1-12 with the men at his local church. In this study Dave looks at living a life of joy in God, miracles, and the deity of Christ.
Let’s be honest. The modern model of relationships is broken. Divorce is rampant, so-called couples live together and have children outside of wedlock, and our youth run from one relationship to another leaving a trail of broken hearts. Is this God’s design for male/female sexuality and relationships? Is the modern dating model and the go your own way Fleetwood Mac approach something rooted in Scripture? Have we as parents been neglecting our God given responsibility to instruct our children and to oversee their relationships? The evidence around us seems to shout that we have not been following God’s guidelines. Pastor and author Voddie Baucham, in his book What He Must Be…If He Wants to Marry My Daughter, urges the people of God to jettison the modern model in favor of a biblical approach to the instruction of our children regarding relationships.
This is a book that will challenge you, especially if you have bought into the idea that an individual, in particular a teenager jumping from relationship to relationship is a positive way of finding a mate. Furthermore, this book will challenge those who think ideas of courtship or betrothal are old fashioned and unnecessary ways to help children move towards the marriage altar in a deliberate and God honoring way. Baucham rejects the modern dating model as a complete failure, and instead, embraces the courtship model as taught in Scripture.
I have a daughter and my wife and I often joke about beginning the interview process for her future husband by sitting on the front porch polishing our rifle. We are only half kidding with the humorous part being that of sitting on the front porch with the rifle. My wife and I firmly believe it is absolutely vital for us to be involved in overseeing and having a great deal of input into who our daughter associates with, especially when it comes to boys. Moreover, it is vital that as parents, we instruct her in what to look for in a mate, ensuring through the course of that instruction, that we are involved in the “interview” process. While that may seem overbearing to some, as Baucham rightly notes, “as a father, it is my responsibility to teach my daughter what these requirements are, encourage her not to settle for less, and walk with her through the process of evaluating potential suitors.” Old fashioned? Perhaps, but it is biblically rooted.
Many tell their children to simply “follow your heart” when it comes to choosing a mate. When their daughter comes home and presents to them a young man the parents have never met, bubbling over about how much they are in love, most parents just smile, nod their head, and whip out the checkbook to start paying for the wedding. In far too many instances, there is no depth of conversation with this young man or his parents to ascertain his background, relationship with God, or future job plans. The approach of following your heart falls short of being valid. Baucham saliently comments “we need to reconsider our commitment to parental assistance in selecting a life partner in light of our biblical responsibility to protect our children’s purity, to protect their hearts, to protect their focus, and to protect their future spouse.”
Baucham calls this biblical approach gospel patriarchy, an approach rooted in the need to instruct our daughters and sons on what they should be looking for biblically speaking when it comes to choosing a mate. Fathers have a huge role in this process as they have the God given responsibility of protecting their daughters and providing that umbrella of security for them up until the point when they give their daughters hand in marriage to a man who will take on that baton of responsibility. Baucham avers there are four main requirements a young man must meet in order to be considered worthy of his daughter and I submit these biblically sound requirements will be used in my home as well. The future suitor must be a follower of Christ, be prepared to lead, lead like Christ, and must be committed to children.
The first three requirements should fall under the no-brainer category; however, the final requirement, that of being committed to children could give some pause. Baucham correctly notes that we live in a society that more often than not views children as a burden. Many wait until they have achieved a certain level of success in their career field before they even think about bringing children into the world. That pursuit of success seems to take longer and longer, thus resulting in many couples ultimately choosing to skip having children at all. Even adopting a child is rejected in the pursuit of career. Even those who have children often spend little time with their kids as they have to spend most of their day in the office earning enough money to pay for the “finer things in life.”
Baucham suggest something that might seem a bit radical in the minds of some and that is the need to take a look at whether this modern model is also broken. Has our pursuit of things impacted our ability to spend time with our children, discipling and instructing them in the way they should go? Each family will need to assess their own situation; however, Baucham does rightly suggest the merit of looking at ways to become a single-income family, or at least moving towards a place where a Titus 2 situation can become a reality at some point in the future. If anything, this is helpful food for thought that my wife and I will discuss and I think should be something discussed in many more households. This idea goes against the grain of society as it is viewed as nothing more than keeping the woman back forcing her to be barefoot and pregnant. Nothing could be further from the truth and what Baucham suggests and the input from many fine theologians and most importantly the many biblical passages that speak to this issue must be prayerfully considered.
Perhaps the best part of this book was Baucham’s discussion of the need for a future suitor to practice the four P’s of being a protector, provider, prophet, and priest. If these qualities are not resident within a potential suitor for your daughter, that should give you as a father much pause as these are the qualities noted throughout Scripture that must be part of the individual who leads the home. I also appreciated that Baucham spent an entire chapter speaking to the reality that most young men know nothing of these biblical traits of manhood. Given that reality, godly men must spend time with their own sons as well as young men they come regularly in contact with in the circles their daughter resides, instructing those young men in the things of God. Baucham calls this building up the future crop of godly men for our daughters. This is a call to action, one I took to heart.
To all the fathers out there including myself, it is time to put your man pants on. Give Baucham’s book a read and consider the biblically rooted truths he presents. Stop thinking your daughter or son can go it alone in their search for a godly mate. Take an honest look at the modern dating model with its pitfalls and realize there is a better way, that of taking an active role in guiding your children to the altar so they can stand holy and pure in Christ next to a spouse they will spend the rest of their lives with. Go against the tide that declares hopping from relationship to relationship is just how it works. As Baucham notes, since “the bar has been set so low for so long in our culture, many of the qualities and characteristics seems strange, and perhaps a bit distant. But they are supposed to be.” All parents should pick up a copy of this book and take to heart the godly principles Baucham outlines. More than that, they should put into immediate practice the instruction and discipling of their children for the glory of God so that we may raise a future generation of youth who are committed to the sanctity of marriage and the need to remain pure physically, spiritually, and emotionally upon entering their vows of marriage.
This book is available for purchase from Crossway Books by clicking here.
Have you ever felt like you don’t know how to show your wife love? More than one study has shown that men have a hard time loving their wives, despite the fact that the Scriptures require it. Five times in typical English translations of the Bible (and six times in the Greek) in Ephesians 5:21-33 Paul exhorts the Christians to love their wives. As Paul often does, he builds upon the teaching of the rest of the Bible to support his case. After all, Jesus teaches that Christians are to love Him and love their neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40).
Early on in my marriage I was one of those men who struggled to figure out how to love and care for my wife. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my wife either—I did and still do very much. But we’ve been taught that “love is often fickle”. People often think if they don’t feel like loving their spouse then they don’t have to. That isn’t love, that’s feeling—“warm fuzzies” to be exact. The love that Paul speaks about in Ephesians 5:21-33 is based on something more than feelings; it’s based on the sovereign work of God’s grace. In other words, the “love” being spoken of in Ephesians 5:21-33 is based on covenant. Marriage is a covenant between God, one man, and one woman, seeking to live life together under the authority of the Word of God.
It’s popular in our day to hear others say to married couples, “If you’re not happy in your marriage you can just leave or get a divorce.” The sad thing about that statement is the fact that it’s not only unbiblical, it’s also wrong. When a couple gets married, they sign up for life together—not just when they feel like it, but to stick with it and work at loving each other. After all, the man and woman have both said “I do” in front of family members and friends. They have pledged that they will love, cherish, and take care one another. The sage wisdom of the world in regards to love is nothing more than foolishness before God’s Word.
Men, what our wives need more than anything is for us to understand that they need the “love tank” of their hearts to be filled. You may not have thought about loving your wife as filling her “love tank” before, so let me elaborate on what I mean. As I mentioned earlier, loving our wives is not optional, it’s a command. Jesus empowers His people to do that which He commands; theologians call this the indicative (what Christ has done) fueling the imperative (what we are to do).
Men, if you were to stop reading this article right now and ask your wife what she wants the most, I think what she (or most wives) would say is to know that she is loved and cared for by you (or maybe for you to take out the trash…kidding). Men, as you know, we live in a culture that encourages us to not be proactive in our marriages or relationships with others. Instead we’re encouraged be passive, rather than to actively lead. This idea reinforces our sinful (fleshly) propensity to be apathetic. This is why, if you’ve not tended to your wife’s heart in some time, she may seek comfort and affection—which she needs and desires—from other sources, like friendship with other men, her job, a romantic novel/show/movie, or other “filler” things. Yet, what God calls men to do is to tend to the garden of her heart, thereby filling her “love tank”.
You may ask, “But how do I do that?” The answer is simple: we do that by speaking true and godly words to her, filling her heart with Jesus’ love as you are likewise filled. Since I minister to men on a weekly basis from all across the country via email—both in full-time ministry and secular jobs and at my local church—I know well what men are struggling with. My purpose here is not to shame you, because chances are you already know the weight of guilt and shame in this area of your life. Instead, I want you to look to the One who can take away your guilt and shame—Jesus Christ. Jesus died in our place and for our sins, to remove our guilt and shame before the Father. He stands as our Advocate now and pleads our case before the throne of God. He intercedes on our behalf whenever Satan accuses us. And it is through His shed blood that we are forgiven, and by which Jesus serves as our High Priest.
You may not feel like you have love to give today and that’s okay. Love is more than a feeling, and through Jesus you can love your spouse. I encourage you to pray and ask Jesus to fill you with His love. This is a prayer that He will always answer. Paul tells us this in Ephesians 3:16-19:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
God desires to fill us with His love after all, which He spilled for us when He died on the Cross.
I realize that you may not feel entirely loving all the time, and I want you to know that it’s okay. Real love is sacrificial, but it also recognizes its own limits. By recognizing that you’re a work-in-progress by His grace, you can come to understand your wife’s need, which is the same as your own: more of Jesus. You may think that you have enough of Jesus in your life, but the truth is that we always need more of Him. We need more of His care, more of His grace, and more of His love.
How do you fill your wife’s “love tank”? First, by recognizing your need for Jesus. Secondly, by speaking true and godly words to your wife. Focus on not being sarcastic and poking fun at your wife, but instead on building her up, focusing on what God is doing in her life. This will require you to get into the trenches and build your relationship with your wife, using intentionality and hard work. This brings me to my fourth point—filling our wives’ “love tank(s)” requires us to be the shepherd leaders of their hearts. And lastly, filing your wife’s “love tank” will require you to sometimes speak hard, but truthful, words. As you do this, keep in mind that your wife isn’t “one of the guys”. This means you shouldn’t shoot from the hip. Your wife, while she may appear to be tough on the outside, is soft and tender. She needs your words to be tender, caring, and affectionate, not harsh and cruel.
While you might think that all this “love tank” business is nonsense and that you don’t need to do it, I encourage you to understand the work of God’s grace in your own life. You don’t deserve to be shown mercy when you fail, rather you deserve the full wrath of God. Instead of having blessing after blessing poured into your life, you deserve to feel the full brunt of His wrath. Instead of air in your lungs you deserve to be six feet under. Everything in our lives is truly a gift from God, and if we’re honest, deep down we know we don’t deserve anything in life. Everything that we receive is a gift of God’s grace. If we really think about it in the way I’ve described in this article, we will come to see that not only do our wives “love tank(s)” need to be filled up regularly, but ours do as well. After all, Jesus said in John 13:35 that “the whole world will know us by our love”. So let’s abundantly display the love of God in our lives, in our marriages, and in our ministries—to the glory of God. By doing this, not only will our marriages improve, but so will our relationship with God and others. This is why Paul lists LOVE as the first of all the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Love should be a natural overflow in our lives, since it is the fruit of the love we have is received is from God. Therefore, let us demonstrate to our wives (and others) the great love of God.
Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers understand what sin is, how serious sin is, and how great the grace of God, who offers redemption to sinners from sin and new life in Christ.
It is highly likely that someone reading this article is currently in the middle of observing Lent. Lent is the forty-day period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, in which Christians choose to give up something in solemn recognition of the Lord. Before the article title is taken out of context, let me explain what I mean. To be clear, I am not against the practice of Lent; I am against how it (and fasting in general) is frequently used and treated.
One of the most overlooked and misunderstood components of the Christian faith is the practice of fasting. Scripture speaks a great deal about fasting, and these passages should be carefully studied and applied. If done apart from God’s explicit commands in Scripture, one’s approach to fasting will become not only incorrect, but sinful. If the Church is to have a right theology of fasting, it will help believers avoid these four sinful danger zones.
Neglecting fasting is where most Christians land on the subject. Instead of reading Matthew 6:16 as it is, “And when you fast” many Christians read this passage as, “And if you decide to fast”. Some don’t like to believe that Scripture commands God’s people to fast, but I heartily disagree. Not only does Jesus use “when” in the Matthew 6 passage, but there are other places that provide evidence that fasting is a viable and important part of our Christian life.
In Matthew 9:14-15 there’s a remarkable interaction between John’s disciples and Jesus. These men ask Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus responds in typical fashion: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Jesus is not only alluding to His death, resurrection, and ascension, but making an important statement about fasting. When we finally arrive in the presence of the Lord and are united with Him not only in spirit, but also in body, we will no longer “wait with eager longing” (Rom. 8:19), for we will be with Him, and the feast will never end. What a pleasant Day that will be, but until then, we wait with eager longing. Charles Spurgeon elaborates: “Our Lord is our joy: his presence makes our banquet; his absence is our fast, black and bitter.” Fasting is a necessary opportunity for God’s people to deepen their dependence on Christ, remember His sacrifice, and to long for His unending Feast. Neglecting these reminders is not helpful.
Some say fasting is only an important practice while suffering or amidst trials. This view, however, reveals a shallow understanding of fasting. Believers shouldn’t use fasting and Lent as our “Get Out of Jail Free” card, but as an intimate way to continually recognize dependence on the Father and His good provision in all of life. Even if one faithfully observes Lent six weeks out of the year, what happens in the other forty-six weeks? Do these six weeks store enough fuel for the rest of the year to remind you to depend on the Great Provider? Certainly not.
We know that we must not neglect fasting altogether, but it only adds to the problem if our practice of fasting becomes legalistic in nature. Jesus pulls no punches throughout His ministry when it comes to legalism. The Pharisees, in their zealous passion for the upkeep of the law and its commandments, were quick to condemn those who did not follow every jot and tittle of the law’s explicit directions. They didn’t merely criticize law-breakers, but labored to ostracize, exile, punish, and even kill such people.
Fasting is like any other sacramental or ceremonial practice, in that it is not a path through which one gets to right standing with God and attains salvation. No work earns salvation. The problem with many Catholics’ approach to Lent, for example, is making Lent a required practice to attain God’s blessing. This idea, of course, gets squashed by texts like Romans 5:17, which clearly teach that righteousness is a “free gift” imputed to sinners by grace through faith in Christ. God’s blessing is freely bestowed, not earned by any man’s performances or practices. Therefore, fasting should be born out of heart conviction, not checking a list or judging others who don’t participate.
I once knew a girl who chose to leave Facebook for good. The problem wasn’t her leaving, but rather her making a big deal about leaving to everyone else. Instead of simply deactivating her Facebook account, she made a big deal about leaving, making people feel like they weren’t as mature as her. Piggybacking off of legalism, if we are not careful, our appearance can fuel our practice of fasting, whether positive or negative, which ruins the whole point of fasting.
In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that in such practices, looking gloomy and pious are both equally harmful. The most interesting verse is verse 17, where Jesus uses the imagery of washing one’s face as how we should fast. It is certainly ironic that many put crosses on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday, yet Jesus seems to say the opposite. Christians should fast in a private manner, reflecting Daniel’s prayers in Daniel 6:10. What we give up for Lent is, honestly, no one else’s business, because Lent or fasting is about you and God. Don’t try to attract pity by complaining about being hungry, and don’t make others feel less connected to God because they aren’t fasting like you. Making fasting your megaphone is spiritually poisonous.
Another great danger in fasting is practicing Matthew 6:16-17 precisely so that Matthew 6:18 will come true. Expecting something positive happening as a result of your fasting or observance of Lent is treating God like a vending machine instead of your Father. With God, we don’t put in the right change and then expectantly select a treat that falls in our lap. Believers serve God, communicate with God, and worship God because God is our Father, and behold, He is good. We are, shockingly to some, not the center of this universe. God Almighty is “the point.” Even in fasting, He alone must be the driving force, not our tangible benefits. In giving up our need for reward, we ironically earn the greatest gift of all: God Himself. And that is a gift of far greater value than we can even comprehend.
Christians must fast, but they must do it God’s way. Lent must not be reserved for a ritualistic six-week period where God’s people abstain from something they’ll likely indulge in the rest of the year (Fat Tuesday is counterproductive, by the way). A life of fasting that is regular, private, and focused on Christ will stir God’s people to continually be reminded of the Feast that awaits them, along with the opportunity to see God providing for them today, and to commune with their Heavenly Father in an intimate and personal way.
This Lent, or in your next fast, it doesn’t matter if you’re giving up social media, red meat, alcohol, or television (remember, legalism is destructive). It doesn’t matter what you’ll “get out of it.” What matters is the Lord, and here’s a great way to show Him how worthy He is—do all you do on Lent or any other day to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
What is worship? Is it the raising of our voices in song during a church service or gathering of believers or is worship far more than just a once or twice a week occurrence? If worship is more than just singing songs, then what does Scripture say about what praising almighty God is all about, not just from a theological angle, but also as part of our everyday practice? Timothy Pierce, in his excellent book on worship titled Enthroned on Our Praise: An Old Testament Theology of Worship, takes the reader on an in-depth journey to what God has outlined in the Old Testament regarding what He expects worship to look like in our lives.
This book is part of the excellent New American Commentary Studies in Bible & Theology and as such, continues the strong tradition found in this series of salient biblical scholarship and most importantly, the application of the subject at hand to the Christian walk. Pierce aptly notes, “A fundamental thirst has awakened in people to recognize someone who is bigger than they are, to relate to Him in a personal way and to experience community with like-minded individuals in the process.” This yearning demonstrates that many are realizing what we were created for, namely to glorify God and to have relationship with our Creator. An integral part of glorifying God and having that needed personal and intimate relationship with God is through the act of worship.
One may ask why Pierce does not provide a theology of worship that engages both Old and New Testaments. He answers this question by aptly commenting, “it can instill, in some small way, a greater appreciation of the OT in the hearts and minds of today’s church leaders.” Second, Pierce correctly states “the God of the OT is the same God we serve today. The OT presentation of His story transmits a relational vividness and attitude that fills in the gaps about who He is and what He desires in ways that even the NT writers themselves appreciated and recognized.” Essentially, Pierce is reminding the reader and the Body of Christ at large that to understand worship and to have a cogent and holistic perspective on this aspect of relationship with our Creator, we had best begin with the front of the Bible, and the foundation of worship it presents.
Pierce rightly begins his treatise on worship with the act of creation, discussing all the various elements subsumed in that act that relate to our worship and relationship with our Creator. This is the very foundation of Scripture, namely the reality that “the primary relationship of God to humanity expresses a connectedness that is both patent and unexpected.” As one journeys through Scripture, they find that which Pierce so expertly states, the fact that “it is this relationship that defines the direction of history and theology. And it is this relationship that moves the tension of the narratives.”
The salient discussion of worship is next directed at the Pentateuch, followed by an examination of worship in the writings of the Prophets, both former and later, and finally Pierce engages the beautiful prose of worship found in the writings such as the book of Psalms, a book replete with songs extolling the majesty of God and demonstrating the repeated pattern and concept of man’s relationship to his Creator.
While many may gravitate towards the section on the Writings and their commentary on worship, I was most drawn to Pierce’s analysis of worship within the Pentateuch. Far too often the manner in which God is expressed and demanded He be worshiped through the various sacrifices and for instance the Sabbath are often overlooked as something completely irrelevant and unrelated to our lives today as believers. After all, we do not conduct animal sacrifices anymore and who wants to get into that argument over when the Sabbath should be observed. Much can be learned in relation to the needed element of relationship in regards to worship by examining God’s commands regarding Sabbath rest. As Pierce so aptly states, “What is so intriguing about sacred times is that not only is God’s activity sanctified and descriptive of a relationship, but so is His rest. There is nothing about Him that does not call humanity to a recognition of His presence and, therefore, to their need to worship Him.” Understanding the purpose and focus of the Sabbath, as Pierce so brilliantly comments is fact that “the Sabbath pulls humanity out of its self-interest and striving.” Conversely, it focuses the created on the Creator in an attitude of humility, dependence, and worship.
Those desiring to understand what the OT has to say about worship and why it is important should most certainly pick up this book and give it a thorough read. I highly recommend it for all believers who desire to grow closer to their Creator. Since we should all have that desire, then that means this book is for everyone to consider. Pierce rightly focuses his attention on the front of the book, building that necessary foundation for those wanting to them explore what the NT has to say on worship. Those who take the time to examine the many truths Pierce explores in this book will find themselves better focused on worshiping God and understanding why worship is a foundational for relationship with their Creator.
This book is available for purchase from B&H Academic by clicking here.
I received this book for free from B&H Academic for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”