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「道成了肉身,住在我們中間,充充滿滿的有恩典(Charis)有真理(Alethia)。我們也見過他的榮光,正是父獨生子的榮光。」(約翰福音1:14)

What Jesus Demands From The World

John Piper is giving away his book What Jesus Demands From The World for free as a PDF file. It is part of the resources package that accompanies his 2010 Desiring God Regional Conference in Vancouver on April 9-10.

Although the title of the book sounds intimidating and burdensome, it is exactly the opposite that Piper is aiming to do. Perhaps no one other than Piper can exposit the commandments and imperatives of Jesus in a way that one can truly experience supreme joy in obedience, because along with the demands also comes with the promise of divine empowerment.

I believe any exhortation bombarding people with a bunch of shoulds and oughts, dos and don’ts without first establishing 1) God’s bountiful grace, 2) what He has already done for us in Christ, and 3) His promise of divine empowerment through the Spirit, is ultimately a betrayal of the gospel, a sign of the Pharisaic religion that killed Jesus.

What do you hear from your church’s pulpit? The gospel or guilt-trips?


Posted in Biblical, Book Reviews, Church, Posts in English, Theology.

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7 Responses

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  1. Edmund says

    It is so interesting that while you are writing about Grace, I seems to be whining (recently) about Christians not offering their best to God, and am pushing them to do better, and in the process, might inevitably make many feel “guilty”.

    Which makes me wonder — are everyday (Chinese) Christians really don’t understand God’s divine empowering grace? If we look at the stress on “salvation by grace through faith” among Chinese churches, it is really hard to say that this is the case. Yet where is this “guilt-trips” understanding coming from then? And how do we understand the equally importance fact that the inspired Word of God is also there to rebuke as well as to exhort? Have we mistaken God’s grace as an excuse to slack off? Do we think that since Christ has won the battle, so that what we do does not matter?

    At the end, are we fighting the wrong battle between God’s grace and our work? Can we say that all the exhortations and rebukes in the Bible are some forms of “guilt-trip” preaching then? Does preaching the Grace of God negate criticisms and rebukes on Christians that are not becoming Christ-like? (Many do think along these lines in this day and age) And are many of such criticisms and rebukes, wrongly labeled as “guilt-trip” preaching and were tabooed unjustly?

    I think we do have a deeper problem here, but not quite sure how to articulate it. Any idea?

    • Anson says

      Hi Edmund,

      Yeah, I can sense that you have been a bit grumpy these days, but that’s totally understandable given that you have a church plant and you need committed brothers and sisters to work together in this new venture. There are good days and bad days. Maybe these are just the not-so-good days, but I’m sure they will pass. I only ask God to fill you with joy in the midst of disappointments.

      Back to the main topic, I’m sure you know that I am not suggesting anti-nomianism, but simply asserting that grace and truth must go hand-in-hand together, and not only that, but also in the right order.

      Yes, many churches and Christians are firm on the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone, but as far as sanctification goes, it often falls back to works, to one’s own will-power, and to the mode of striving based on one’s effort. (Isn’t this more in line with Roman Catholicism then?) This at best may be synergistic, but it can easily degenerate into a sort of legalism and perfectionism.

      I don’t know if it is a novel doctrine or not, but I would also argue for “sanctification by grace through faith alone” too. We are sanctified by trusting the inner work of the Holy Spirit slowly transforming our hearts, our motivations, our hopes, and our desires, so that we may lose all the idols that bind us at that affectionate level and begin to love God genuinely for who He is. Yes, we have to cooperate, but we cooperate by having faith in God’s work through the Holy Spirit and submit to that in obedience. We can’t do this by our own will or by beating ourselves up. It is the work of the Spirit.

      I also affirm that the Scriptures are indeed filled with exhortations (i.e. imperatives) and even a times rebukes, but they are always preceded by the message of grace and what God has already done (i.e. indicatives). Paul in Ephesians 1-3 tells us what God has done for us, only then in chapters 4-6 he tells us “Therefore, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” The book of Malachi rebukes the people of God for not giving their best, but God goes about by reminding of His prior love and faithfulness to them. There is no ethical response unless it is preceded by a message of grace.

      So I believe it’s not either grace OR exhortation, but both grace AND exhortation, and always in the order of first grace, then exhortation. From my understanding of Jesus’ teachings, he mostly exhorts people, and he rarely rebukes just because they are not good enough. He only rebukes those who are actually doing harm to others and destroying those who have little faith. Only those people are worthy of rebuke. But for all others, Jesus calls us by showing us the picture of the Kingdom of God and urges us to live in accordance to that as Kingdom people. His words are not to shame us, but to encourage us to live righteously because that’s the most natural way for Kingdom people to live. Living any other way apart from the Kingdom pattern is actually harder, not easier.

      And as I said, God’s plan is not just giving us a new heart, but also guaranteeing us a new Spirit to aid us in this sanctification process. Whether it is a fast or slow process in a person’s life, it is the Spirit’s agenda. We cannot expect to see results or a certain level of performance, other than keep praying for one another and encouraging one another to take heed of the Spirit’s promptings. From one of my friend’s blog, it is said that one of the top ten signs of emotionally unhealthy spirituality is “to judge other people’s spiritual journey”. We must be very careful with that.

      Of course, there are times when we see brothers and sisters greatly out-of-sync with the supposed spiritual maturity they should have. And I do agree there might be appropriate times to confront them if they are consciously defying the grace they have been given. But when we do that, we must be very sure that it is God’s calling for us to be prophetic to this particular person at this particular time, and not out of our own frustration or impatience. We are only given the right to judge to the certain extent that God is judging. If God is patient with that growing person, how can we be impatient? I think true prophetic words originating from God, even if they are words of rebuke, are anchored in suffering love and hopefulness that the person will change for the better. And the person receiving the rebuke will feel both a contrite heart and also a sense of hope that God deeply loves them and wants them to become more like Christ. As long as there is this outcome, then I think it is not considered guilt-tripping. If the person just feels being shamed at, feels that he or she is never good enough as a Christian, and is overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness, then that’s just guilt-tripping.

      Well, I’m sure you’ll give your nod to all of the above. You do know this stuff. Perhaps you just need a break, take a walk outside, breath some fresh air, count some blessings, and then a new perspective to face all that frustration might be given to you from above. I know ministry is hard, brother. We all need God’s grace to sustain us. I will keep praying for you.

      In Christ,

      Anson

  2. Edmund says

    Wow, thanks Anson for such a lengthy response. I understand completely where both of us are coming from (esp. the contexts where we are in), and I agree 100% of what you are suggesting — Grace AND Truth must go hand in hand. The question for me is, it seems to me that an ALL Grace message is counter-suggested in some Christian circles these days, which can be completely understood as an antidote to the ALL Truth preaching found in many guilt-tripping churches. Yet the overkill is almost making any genuine and biblical rebuking next to impossible. Criticism, be it constructive or not, are not welcomed in any ministry — “I’ll do what I want, and none of you should/can judge the way I serve as long as (1) I am serving, and (2) I am shielded by this thing called “Grace””?

    Maybe the problem is also about how to understand what this Grace is, you think? I think for many, God’s grace is just a gift “to save from”, but forgetting (or not knowing) the other side of the coin that it is “to save for” also. Did Jesus say “I love you enough so do what you please”, or “I love you enough to help you out of this?”

    Just a note: interesting enough, my “complaint” was not originated from b/s of my church-plant. They are complaints from various Christians lamenting on the indifferent attitude in serving as shown by many Christians nowadays. The Grace-as-an-excuse is really plaguing many churches these days!

    • Anson says

      Thanks for the linking on your blog. This is a very meaningful discussion. Hope more people can also join and comment.

      Well, it may be true that there are churches that go for an all-out “grace only and no truth necessary” message, which is not uncommon today especially among western liberal churches that go for radical inclusion, tolerance, and acceptance, with no ethical demands exerted. Of course that is not acceptable, because as we agreed grace and truth goes hand-in-hand and life transformation is not optional but an inevitable outcome of conversion. Now are there any Chinese churches that tend to do that? At least I haven’t encountered any yet. The original thought that triggered me to write this post is due to the (Chinese) evangelical bias towards truth and what we might call “serving-ology” (事奉主義). And we are not even talking about ethics here, it’s just plainly using serving, i.e how much one serves and how frequent one shows up in events…. as a measure of one’s spiritual walk with God. I haven’t yet seen a Chinese church having an over-emphasis of grace.

      As to the phenomenon that you pointed out, namely someone doing whatever he or she wants to do and using grace as am excuse, I know we would agree that it is not a true understanding of grace at all. It’s just a rhetorical device to create a license to do whatever one pleases. A genuine realization of grace and truth does humble us and urge us to live lovingly, interdependently, and be mutually-accountable in community. That kind of lone-ranger attitude to serving is not sanctioned by God’s grace at all.

      You are exactly right that we are both “saved from” and “saved for”. I guess that’s why N.T. Wright wrote that timely book called “After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters“.

      Now as to how shall we deal with those type of people that hijacks the message of grace for their egotism, I believe it still falls back to grace. Jesus also died for the undeserved and the unrepentant, so that His overwhelming love and grace might melt their hearts. Does rebuking work? Yes, but I assert again that truth comes after grace. The basic posture of God is one of graciousness, and out of His holy love that truth is told, so that we do not live in sin but become liberated into freedom. Truth must be anchored in love and for the purpose of liberation.

      That being said, I think it is better to not make a critical spirit a default posture of ours, but always be gracious and loving, just like how God is. Only be critical when it is necessary, when all means have been exhausted but to no avail, or when some people have become indifferent to the message of grace and have to be challenged and confronted. It’s the last resort for us.

      Of course, I know it easier said than done. When I’m in ministry, it’s easy to become upset, irritated, and frustrated, by things others have said and done. But I’m learning to let my theology form my practice, making graciousness a basic posture of my ministry to others.

  3. Edmund says

    Just one more thing: Do we have examples of “judging other people’s spiritual journey”? Certainly pastors are needed to pay attention to these he/she cares for. Did Paul’s many letters considered judging other people’s spiritual journey?

    Please do not take my questions as attack or challenge. As I said from the start, my post and your post were originally addressing about completely different situations. It is the surface tension that probes me to explore. I am really at a point where I am questioning the effects of the many messages and counter-messages we are so busy preaching. I have some hard-thinking that needs to be done.

    • Anson says

      I’m sure you know that doesn’t equate to genuine “examination” of other people’s spiritual journey and ministering to them, which is rightly a pastor’s job.

      Here “judging” simply means passing judgment (with limited knowledge), and condemning others as if one were God.

      Of course there is a fine line distinguishing the two. When we find the need to rebuke or confront one another, are we genuinely doing it out of love and for the sake of the other person’s benefit, or are we criticizing others with a disparaging attitude for the sake of shaming the other? Only God knows. That’s why I said we must be very careful. The heart is deceitful and can turn right things into devious acts just because of an impure motive.

    • TacHi says

      Good morning Craig & all. I was just spenkiag to my brother a few days ago on how we have 40 & 50 year old babies in the church who resist the revelation of Jesus but are defined in Gal.4: 1-3, “Now I say that an heir, as long as he is a ‘child,’ differs nothing from a servant though he be lord of all. But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the Father. Even so we, when we were ‘children’ were in bondage under the elements of the world.” Imagine this, I was born again for over 22 years, like a child crawling on his hands and knees with ‘diaper rash’ from the law, thinking I was an adult, walking like Jesus. You know what was in my diaper? The dung of my obedience to the law, Phil.3: 8-9 for righteousness because in my high chair I was spoon fed law, law, law and I remained a child!I had my little toddler shirt on like the emblem of Superman but instead of an “S” on it, I had “SF,” meaning Superflesh! As I crawled on the floor, I would play with my building blocks of the law, which are the ‘elements (rituals, ceremonies, feast days, dietary laws, all of which were extentions of the law)’ of the world in Gal.4:3 believing that the more I ‘did’ the more I would learn how to ‘walk like Jesus.’ But, praise God for His Mercy, Jesus Christ & the Grace in Him, I began hearing of the Grace of God in Christ, the gospel and like Paul in 1Cor.13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke, understood and thought like a child (law law law, do this, dont do that, I must do this, I must’nt do that) but when I became a man, Gal.4:3, the time appointed of the Father (being the freedom from the law & freedom from being under it by being under grace)I put away childish things, (the law & faith by or in it & my obedience.) This is exactly what Paul is saying in Gal. 4, everyone under the law is childish, crawling under condemnation & guilt instead of ‘walking like Jesus,’ full of grace & truth by what He did by His obedience under the law. Being free from the law, dead to the law, delivered from the law, enables us to walk like sons & daughters who can take possession of our inheritance in Christ which is impossible as a child under the law!