Yet another former Facebook exec has issued a warning about how his previous employer has conditioned us with bad habits, poisoned our civic lives, fleeced our sanity, and sabotaged our relationships. This time it’s Chamath Palihapitiya, age 41, now a venture capitalist and co-owner of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.Fake and Brittle
Palihapitiya explained how Facebook corrodes social discourse, recently speaking to students at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” he warned. “We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in the short term — signals, hearts, likes, thumbs-up — and we conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth. And instead what it really is, is fake brittle popularity. And that leaves you even more vacant and empty before you did it.”
But then we reach for another hit. This addiction now plagues Facebook’s entire user base of two billion people, he said. All by design. “You don’t realize it but you are being programmed,” Palihapitiya warned, disavowing the students of the idea that high intelligence and education will immunize from the plague. They don’t.
So what’s the answer?
“You must decide how much of your intellectual independence you’re willing to give,” he said. “I don’t have a good solution. My solution is: I just don’t use these tools anymore. I haven’t for years.”Social-Media Addicts
Sounds good. Sounds simple. Just turn social media off. But of course that’s not how it works. Christians know deeper desires are at work behind the digital addictions. For all the social-media habits that plague our lives, for all the inattention we give to those around us, most of us would never seriously consider deactivating our social platforms (even Palihapitiya keeps an active Facebook account!).
Social media addicts each of us — we love matching wits in Facebook comments, nesting the perfect GIF into Twitter, or spreading another throwaway selfie on Snapchat. The allure of social media is the desire to be seen, omnisciently seen, if not always affirmed, at least always put in view of others. Smartphones promise to protect us from athazagoraphobia — the fear of being forgotten. So we impulsively connect, from the moment we wake up to the moment we must surrender ourselves to sleep.
All of it conditions our digital behavior to benefit social platforms as they reach for billions of dollars in profit. Our emotions are conditioned — self-conditioned. We do it to ourselves. As one writer put it, “Each social media platform is a drug we self-prescribe and consume in order to regulate our emotional life, and we are constantly experimenting with the cocktail.”Facing the Silence
Social media is a brew of emotionally stimulating drugs we mix for ourselves. And it means to leave social media, even for a few days or just a couple weeks, is to encounter the harsh reality that we will be un-missed on our absence, un-noticed in our silence, and even un-anticipated upon our return back. To escape social media is to taste the bitter sting of oblivion, a little hint of elderly loneliness or the midlife identity-crisis brought down now into every age demographic.
Stop attempting to be seen in social media and you vanish entirely. We dare not stop. And that’s why the first step away from social media — that first day disconnected — tastes bitter. It tastes bitter because we use the noise of media in our lives to drown out two things we’d rather not face.Silence and the Self
In his sermon on Psalm 62:1 — “For God alone my soul waits in silence” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer took time to explain the modern fear of silence, and to show how modern man has avoided it by media, a phenomenon operating in late 1920s Germany.
First, he said, we seek new noise to avoid ourselves.
“We flee silence,” Bonhoeffer said. “We race from activity to activity to avoid having to be alone with ourselves for even a moment, to avoid having to look at ourselves in the mirror. We are bored with ourselves, and often the most desperate, wasted hours are those we are forced to spend by ourselves” (Works 10:503).
We hate it. Silence inevitably forces uncomfortable truths back into our vision. Who we are, who we have become, the good and the bad and the revolting and the boring — all things about our lives, the things we would love to change, the memories and events and the scars we would never expose on social media. In the silence, nothing about us remains hidden; everything bubbles again to the surface. Taking and sharing new selfies is always easier than the fearful unknown of what will emerge if everything becomes silent.
But our fear of quiet solitude exposes something even deeper.Silence and the Lamb
Repeatedly in Scripture, silence is a demonstration of our steadied faith, a resolved trust in the Redeemer to move and act and deliver. When the temptations and dangers increase, the godly can hush the noisy alarmists around them and reclaim silence.
- “In quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).
- “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7).
- “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:1–2).
- “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:5).
Silence is confidence in God.
Silence is also a divine invitation. And that’s the deeper modern fear.
“Not only are we afraid of ourselves, of discovering and unmasking ourselves,” Bonhoeffer writes, “but even more we are afraid of God, that he might disturb our aloneness and discover and unmask us, that God might draw us into partnership and do with us whatever he wants. Because we fear such unnerving, lonely encounters with God, we avoid them, avoid even the thought of God lest he suddenly get too close to us. Suddenly having to look into God’s eyes, having to be accountable before him, is too dreadful a notion; our perpetual smile might fade, things might get completely serious in a way to which we are not at all accustomed.”
Fake brittle popularity or God’s serious presence drawn close — what sounds more appealing in the digital age? So we wake up and check our phones immediately in bed.
This anxiety characterizes our entire age. We live in perpetual fear of suddenly being seized and called to task by the infinite and would rather socialize or go to the movies or theater until we are finally carried to our grave, anything rather than having to bear a single minute before God. (Works 10:503)
Every silent moment in 1928 could be interrupted by the social life or with media. Ninety years later, we can maintain the distracting noise in social + media simultaneously.
Social media is not the problem; social media is the mask over our underlying fears. We all want new breaking-news alerts or viral tweets or a new text message, because it means, for at least one more moment, we have evaded eye contact with the Savior, evaded the seriousness of what it would mean to meet him, to hear him, and to be faced with the call of God that might disrupt our comfy lives.Silence and the Community
Bonhoeffer is not celebrating social isolation and loneliness. There is an aloneness that stems from brokenness. Bonhoeffer is applauding the intentional silence we should learn to embrace — what we now call solitude, the decision, when given opportunities for noise, to choose stillness. Self-chosen silence is the new expression of social empowerment in the digital age. Silence is freedom. And silence is a form of guarding the health of the local church.
As Bonhoeffer’s ministry developed, he would take the two truths of this early sermon (that silence forces us to face ourselves, and silence opens us to God’s voice and call), and apply them to community life.
In his book Life Together, he says we learn in community the patience and honesty necessary to be alone. While alone, we meet God and develop the authenticity necessary for communal flourishing. “Whoever cannot be alone should beware of community. Whoever cannot stand being in community should beware of being alone” (Works 5:83).
In a media-saturated world, into the ubiquity of the self in social media, we lose the discipline of solitude. We lose a sense of listening to God. God feels distant. We get emptied of the substance of divine truth we must possess ourselves before we can offer grace to our friends.
So Bonhoeffer asks his age — and asks us now — “Is the Word of God close to me as a comfort and a strength? Or do I misuse my solitude against the community, against the Word and prayer? Individuals must be aware that even their hours of being alone reverberate through the community. In their solitude they can shatter and tarnish the community or they can strengthen and sanctify it. Every act of self-discipline by a Christian is also a service to the community” (Works 5:92).
Healthy fellowship in our churches will never thrive when each member abuses social media and starves their own solitude of its serious attention.Serious Solitude
Serious solitude in the media age can feel unnatural. It’s weird. Uncomfortable. Too serious. Bonhoeffer grants it “will feel rather funny, indeed perhaps even quite empty the first few times. Before long, however, the soul is filled; it begins to come alive and feel stronger” (10:504). He might as well have been speaking of the first few days away from social media.
Bonhoeffer believed it to be the special work of the Holy Spirit to lead each believer into this serious solitude, into the quiet place where our deepest needs are exposed and the greatest eternal truths can once again wash over our souls. For who alone, without the power of God himself, could desire silent seriousness in an age of incessant self-projection and self-affirmation?
By the power of the Spirit, we learn to embrace the unaccustomed seriousness of solitude, as we pray with the heart of Psalm 139,
Lord, search me, know me, and deliver me from any social-media habits that treat digital media as a cocktail of emotionally stimulating drugs I mix for myself. Cure me of this appetite to be seen by men. Kill in me this desire for endless digital acknowledgement. Draw near to me. Confront me. Comfort me. Equip me to love again. Make your presence known to me again, as I learn what it means to embrace becoming completely forgotten by this world, yet in Christ, always fully known and loved before your eyes.
When one sinner repents, God and his angels rejoice in heaven. Does that mean that God’s happiness depends on ours?
Even the strongest person, the most tenderhearted person, the kindest person can’t compare to God. But they can point us to his perfections.
Do you know the most famous prayer on the planet? The prayer the most people on the street could recite portions of if asked? The prayer hundreds of millions of Christians of every stripe pray regularly and tens of millions of non-Christians have heard enough to repeat?
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9–13)
If you recite the Lord’s Prayer by memory with a group of people outside of your local church, I imagine things usually go pretty smoothly till you get to the fourth line. Some will say “forgive us our debts,” some will say “trespasses,” and others will say “sins.”
How we recite that phrase usually depends more on what English-speaking Christian tradition influenced us than what Bible translation we use. Those raised in Presbyterian or Reformed traditions are more likely to say “debts.” Those who come from Anglican/Episcopal, Methodist, or Roman Catholic traditions are more likely to say “trespasses.” Those whose churches were influenced by ecumenical liturgical movements of the late twentieth century are probably more likely to say “sins.”
So which word is the right one? Well, nearly all of the most credible English translations over time have translated the Greek words, opheilēma/opheiletēs, as “debts/debtors.” And that’s because in the New Testament and the Septuagint, these words almost always convey the meaning of owing a financial or moral debt or obligation.
In Luke’s version of the prayer, Jesus says, “and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). In this case, the Greek word used for “sins” is hamartia, which in general means “sins” or “guilt.” But since it’s paired with opheilonti (“indebted to us”) it’s still clear that Jesus had the sense of debt in mind when referring to sin in the prayer he taught his disciples. So, saying “forgive us our sins” is not inaccurate; it just loses the nuance Jesus apparently intended.
But why do some Christian traditions say “trespasses”?Just Read the Next Verse
If we just read down two verses we see one answer, because Jesus says,
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14–15)
The very first thing Jesus did after reciting this prayer is expound on the importance of forgiveness. And to really drive home what he meant, he purposefully chose a different word for sin with a different nuance than the one he used in the prayer. Matthew chose the Greek word paraptōma to capture Jesus’s intention in these verses, which in the context means a kind of sin that oversteps prescribed limits or boundaries — what we call a “trespass.”
Jesus wanted his disciples (including us) to understand sin in both the sense of owing a debt and the sense of trespassing into territory that doesn’t belong to us.
But that still doesn’t explain why some English Christian traditions use the word “trespasses” when Jesus’s actual prayer used the word “debts.”William Tyndale’s Legacy
We have William Tyndale to thank for this. Tyndale (1494–1536) was the great English reformer who first translated the Bible into English from Hebrew and Greek texts. Even though both Greek and Latin New Testaments used words in Matthew 6:12 that meant “debt,” and earlier church fathers (like Augustine) and translators (like Wycliffe) used “debt” language in this verse, for some reason Tyndale preferred “trespasses” (“and forgeve us oure treaspases, even as we forgeve them which treaspas us”).
Why he preferred this translation when few before or after him did is only speculation. He published his English New Testament in 1526 against the will and law of Henry VIII, and then lived in mortal danger only ten more years till he was betrayed by a friend and executed for his translation crimes. He didn’t live long enough to make many revisions. And his preference didn’t leave its mark long in the legacy of translations — by 1611, the translators of the King James Version went back to using “debts.”
However, it certainly has left its mark in the legacy of English Christian liturgies. “Trespasses” first appeared in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in 1549, and as of the 1979 edition it was still being used. It became so pervasive that English Catholic churches also adopted it and they still use it, even though when prayed in Latin, the “Pater Noster” (“Our Father”) uses “debt/debtor” language (debita/debitoribus).Forgive Us Our Trespasses
That’s why a portion of our praying group says “trespasses” when we recite the Lord’s Prayer together. And the next time it happens, we can thank God for William Tyndale, because he gave his life that we might have our English Bibles.
And though “debts” is the more accurate translation of Matthew 6:12, God does want us to keep “trespasses” in our minds when praying, especially we twenty-first-century Westerners.
Our modern understanding of “debt” might dull the edge this word had for Jesus’s original hearers. We hear it through the filters of our experience, which is different from Jesus’s audience and most of our human ancestors. Debtors’ prisons are an archaic thing of the unenlightened past, and we don’t have kings throwing us into them (Matthew 18:23–35). We have merciful bankruptcy laws that protect us in ways inconceivable to past generations. So “debt” might not carry for us the sense of threat it did for them.
But trespassing hits us differently, especially when someone commits it against us. A trespasser occupies a realm or exercises a right that rightfully belongs to someone else. A trespasser violates another person. This can be very damaging. In fact, it can rise to the level of treason, and result in a sentence of capital punishment.
This is what happened in the garden of Eden and what we have all done since. We have not merely borrowed from God an unpayable debt for which we appeal for bankruptcy protection. We have seized a realm and exercised a right that belongs to him. We have violated God. We have committed a treasonous trespass, and we owe the debt of treason: death (Romans 6:23).
And what Jesus has done, for those of us who trust him, is pay that terrible debt completely. And what he’s requiring of us is to forgive others who have occupied a realm and exercised a right that belongs to us, who have violated us — since we have been forgiven a far worse violation.
So if “trespasses” hits closer to home for us than “debts,” it does no violence to Jesus’s meaning if we pray, Father, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
When one sinner repents, God and his angels rejoice in heaven. Does that mean that God’s happiness depends on ours?
I am a husband, a father, and a pastor. And for as long as I can remember, I have experienced same-sex attractions (SSA). Although I have always been physically and romantically attracted to women, I also have never been without deep emotional and sexual attractions to men.
Many in our culture would like to label people like me “bisexual,” but I believe Jesus has spoken a better word.“I Feel, Therefore . . . ”
The overarching sexual ethic of our day is “I feel, therefore I am.” We see this clearly in the ongoing conversations around “gender identity.” Proponents of nonbinary “gender categories” suggest that if someone feels contrary to their biological sex, they belong in the category that correlates best with their feelings. In the same way, many in our culture would have people like me think that if you feel homosexual desires, then you are homosexual.
We commonly hear statements like, “You can’t choose whom you love; just be true to yourself.” Or, “Stop hiding your feelings and embrace who you really are.” Such statements mean your sexual desires actually define you. Your desires determine your definition. Your sexual attractions are who you really are at the core of your being.
The Bible, however, does not teach, “I feel, therefore I am,” but rather, “I feel, therefore I need.” As a result of the fall, our hearts are out of order and dark (Romans 1:21). Instead of loving light and hating darkness, we love darkness and hate light (John 3:19). And as we fall more in love with darkness, we sin and choose the way of death (James 1:14–15; Proverbs 14:12).
In short, being human in a fallen world means being attracted to things that are contrary to human flourishing in God, things that oppose God’s good plan for us and lead to death. I feel these attractions to sin, and therefore I need a Savior.
As I have daily battled against same-sex attraction, four particular promises have been bullets of grace in my fight for joy.Freedom from the Punishment of SSA
Christians struggling with SSA often feel especially ashamed and embarrassed by these attractions. We sense the perversion of our contorted wants and desires, and as a result, we often feel too dirty to be in community with others, or to be in communion with God.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Christian, God will never use your SSA against you. Because Christ drank the full cup of God’s wrath on your behalf (Romans 5:8–9; 1 Peter 3:18), you will never experience even a moment of judgment from God over your homosexual desires, or over anything else.Freedom from the Power of SSA
Often Christians experiencing SSA feel hopeless and helpless to its power. As attractions intensify, temptations deepen, and fantasies — like a mirage of cold water in a desert — look more and more appealing, the desire for a same-sex relationship can be so potent that it seems nearly impossible to overcome.
Christian, because of the accomplished work of Christ on the cross, your same-sex attractions do not have any dominion over you (Romans 6:14); Christ has dominion over you (Romans 6:22; Ephesians 6:6). Because you were crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), you are no longer enslaved by your attractions, but fully free to reject them and render them powerless in your life (Romans 6:6–7).
Even in your moments of greatest temptation, consider yourself dead to SSA and alive to God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:11).Freedom from the Pleasure of SSA
The most foundational lie SSA tells us is that a homosexual experience will be more pleasurable and more satisfying than what you are experiencing here and now. But God promises that Christ himself is infinitely more pleasurable and satisfying than anything this world has to offer (Psalm 16:11; Psalm 107:9), especially the sad counterfeit savior of a same-sex experience.
Christian, don’t believe the lies SSA tells. Our homosexual attractions may stem from good desires for intimacy and love, but sin has contorted them in a deadly direction. As a carnival mirror reshapes reality and convinces the eye that things appear different than they really are, so sin reshapes our wants and desires, and convinces the heart that lies are actually true. Don’t believe the funny mirror of SSA.
Your God-given longings for deep, intimate satisfaction can be fulfilled only in the person of Jesus Christ (John 6:35; Psalm 22:26).Freedom from the Presence of SSA
Maybe the hardest thing for Christians experiencing SSA is the fact that the feelings don’t go away overnight, or over months, or, for many, even over a lifetime. While God has given us powerful weapons to fight sin with — such as prayer and fasting — we still must live in our fallen bodies with our wicked wants and desires as our ever-present reality. But these wants and desires have an expiration date.
Believer, your body, including its attractions and longings for sin, will one day be finally and fully redeemed (Romans 8:23). When that redemption happens, in a flash, you will never have a misplaced attraction again, because all your desires for intimacy and love will be completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
If you’re a Christian struggling with same-sex attractions, know that you are not defined by your sin. Your identity is not determined by your temptations. “Embrace who you really are” by embracing Jesus Christ and your new life found in him (2 Corinthians 5:17). “Be true to yourself” by clinging to Truth himself (John 14:6) and enjoying the freedoms Christ purchased for you with his blood.
More than doing things for God, Christianity is about delighting in God. God wants you to take joy in him before you do things for him.
He is often the subject of whispering.
“Oh, here he comes — better get your Bibles out.”
“No wonder no one invites him out to lunch; he can never just have a normal conversation.”
“I can’t enjoy the game without being asked a million questions about my walk with the Lord and struggles with sin.”
He is serious about holiness, concerned with his friends’ souls, and devoted to helping them to pursue Jesus with all their heart. Although Solomon calls him the sweetest of friends (Proverbs 27:9), he is often left outside in the wilderness of Christian gatherings to eat locusts and wild honey.
He speaks with urgency, he speaks with sobriety, he says things others don’t. He makes Christians bail and jokers ask under their breath, “Why so serious?” His name is Earnest.A Friend Named Earnest
Although he does the soul the most good, Earnest is often thought to be overly serious, overly direct, and altogether too spiritual. He smells strongly of Christ — a stench to the world and overbearing even to some nostrils within the church. The world is offended by him, and believers will only endure so much of him. Without a place to rest his head, he can be one of the loneliest people on the planet.
But I encourage you, beloved, to embrace the Earnests among you for at least four reasons.1. Because they love you in ways many won’t.
At times, the earnest friend can be awkwardly direct. He can speak truth without love. He can be out of bounds, or just plain wrong. But often, he loves you in ways no one else will.
Because he loves your soul more than coddling your feelings, because he believes that heaven and hell are real and the time short, he will turn the blade of God’s word against your soul-destroying sin and constantly charge you onward.
He will wound you for your good (Proverbs 27:6). If no one else can be trusted to tell you the truth, he can. He helps you be the man or woman God calls you to be by sharpening you — at times and in ways you’re uncomfortable with (Proverbs 27:17). When all others have told their jokes, had their laughs, and gone home, this friend will stand fast to war beside you — even when it feels like against you — for your eternal well-being.
Remember, the friend who loves you most will care most about your soul. Do not put dark for light and light for dark, bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Brothers born for the day of adversity (Proverbs 17:17) are friends who love you enough to be serious with you. Love looks like many things at many times, but the highest form of love, as our Master showed us, is not less than earnest.2. Because you need them.
Not many in heaven will get there without earnest friends. As I read the author of Hebrews discuss the necessity of earnest fellowship, I dare not conclude that it is optional:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:12–14)
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23–25)
These friends exhort you concerning the dangers of unbelief. These friends check their calendars, and as long as it is called “today,” they call you to repent and believe. They know that only those who continue until the end will be saved (Colossians 1:23), and as far as they can help it, they will not let you perish. They are a citadel against Satan and his schemes: a Samwise to accompany you to Mordor, a Ron and Hermione to battle against Voldemort, a Jonathan to shield you from Saul’s spear.
These friends consider you. Know you. Contemplate you. And they desire to stir up your affections for Christ (Hebrews 10:24).3. Because they need you.
The body needs Earnest, and Earnest needs the body.
Although everyone should be earnest, not everyone will be Earnest. The church is made up of different parts, and each part needs each other (1 Corinthians 12:14–26). And as the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” neither can the body say such to Earnest — or he to them. The especially earnest needs the especially gracious, hospitable, patient, generous, and hopeful — and they need him. The church would be a strange creature if all were eyes, ears, or Earnests.4. Because to push them away may be to push away Christ.
Perhaps, if we are honest, we push dear Earnest away because we are comfortable with the amount of spirituality we have and want no more. Our stiff arm and bitter jokes come not mainly from Earnest’s erring attempts at love, but our malfunctioning love for Christ. Perhaps we do not like reminders that we are too worldly. Perhaps we do want to kill our pet sins. Perhaps we despise the brightness of these friends’ light because it exposes the dimness in us. Perhaps they walk as a contradiction to the little lie that we have begun telling ourselves: I can be a follower of Jesus and a friend of the world.
Or perhaps we do want more of Jesus and we are jealous of Earnest. Why should our Father give more to our brother or sister than to us? He seems so happy, so free from the world. He seems to have one foot in heaven already. Why has he been blessed with deeper levels of fellowship with our Savior than we have been?
So, we can pout on the floor in what feels like Christian hand-me-downs and watch our sibling parade in his multicolor garments. If not a pit and slavery for him, we will have to lay our hands of jealousy upon him through gossip, separation, and sarcasm. Will we prove to be a murderous brother like Cain? Beware, lest sin be crouching at your door.Love Him Earnestly
Whatever our reason may be, we must not treat those most serious about the things of God with contempt; we must not regard our eternity’s best earthly friend with disdain. Rather, thank them. Apologize to them. Be more like them.
If you do not have these friends (for they can be rare these days), pray for them. And invite brothers and sisters in your life to be more earnest with you. Begin by being more earnest with them. Often, it takes one person to go deeper for others to follow.
True friends, as with true joy, are never less than serious about things worth being serious about. Although they are not always the friends we want, they are always the friends we need.
All Scripture is profitable — not just the pages of the New Testament. But how should Christians read the Old Testament in light of Christ’s coming?
While the world gropes in the dark for significance, our God has told us how to live the worthy life.
In 1677, twenty-seven-year-old Henry Scougal wrote this to a friend: “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love” (The Life of God in the Soul of Man, 20). It is among the most penetrating sentences in the English language (or any language).
It is a devastating sentence. It lays us bare. For, as John Piper says,
The soul is measured by its flights,
Some low and others high,
The heart is known by its delights,
And pleasures never lie. (The Pleasures of God, 4)
Pleasures never lie. We can fool ourselves and others in many ways, but pleasure is the whistle-blower of the heart, because pleasure is the measure of our treasure. We know that what we truly treasure is what we truly love because Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). So it’s “not what we dutifully will but what we passionately want [that] reveals our excellence or evil” (The Pleasures of God, 4). Pleasure is the joy we experience over a treasure we love that makes us willing to sell everything else to have it (Matthew 13:44).
Henry Scougal was wonderfully, devastatingly, biblically right: the object of our love, the treasure we passionately want, measures the worth and excellency of our souls.Search Me, O God
If we agree with Scougal, his penetrating sentence forces us to do some soul-searching. What do our pleasures really tell us about what we love? What do our loves tell us about the condition of our souls? What do we passionately want?
These are necessary questions, but the truth is, our own introspection and self-evaluation are typically not enough. We are usually poor physicians for our own souls, often failing to see the root causes or symptoms clearly. We swing from thinking far too highly of ourselves one moment to beating ourselves down with condemnation the next.
What we really need is to allow — to invite — Jesus to search our souls. We need the diagnosis and treatment of the Great Physician. We need to come to him and say with David,
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24)What Jesus Asks of Us
Jesus is the master soul-searcher. It’s what he did with Peter after their post-resurrection seaside breakfast (John 21:15–19). Just days before, Peter had tragically failed to love Jesus, denying that he even knew Jesus three times. And so that morning, after lovingly serving him a meal on the beach, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” He asked this question three times.
Jesus accomplishes so much in this brief, but life-altering conversation. We watch him beautifully restore, commission, and prophesy over Peter. But we also see him expose Peter. Peter’s denials were real and horrible failures. Jesus repeating his question three times wasn’t merely to allow Peter to affirm his love for every denial. He was also probing deep into Peter’s soul, into the painful place of shame, and calling forth a love stronger than before, one that would endure the future opportunity for Peter to fulfill his pledge to lay his life down for Jesus (John 13:37). I think Peter’s grief after the third question is evidence that Jesus was hitting home (John 21:17).Have We Lost Our First Love?
And we, like Peter, have also failed to love Jesus. Perhaps we have denied him publicly at times. We certainly have denied him thousands of times privately, choosing to pursue other treasures because we believed they held greater pleasures. These failures are real and horrible — worse than we might realize.
The question is, how true is this now? Are we living in failure, allowing the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of sin to choke out our love for Jesus (Matthew 13:22; Hebrews 3:13)? Have we grown accustomed to talking abstractly and dutifully about loving Jesus while passionately wanting and pursuing other things? Have we given ourselves permission to consider our lack of love for Jesus to be normal because lots of other Christians seem content living this way?
If so, if our pleasures are blowing the whistle that our hearts are not enthralled with Jesus, that we don’t love him supremely, it’s time to come to him and repent and invite him to search our hearts and ask us his probing question, “Do you love me?”Whatever It Takes, Lord
The wonderful thing is that we don’t need to be afraid, for Jesus knows exactly where we’re at, just like he knew where Peter was at. He knows our failures to love him. He knows that they are sin. But he also knows his death and resurrection purchased the full forgiveness of those sins and the power for us to be changed from lukewarm to white-hot lovers of God. And he wants this for us — he’s eager to give it to us!
Our Lord Jesus,
We confess our horrible failures to love you. Our pleasures have not lied, and they reveal how we have not pursued the triune God as our greatest treasure. We don’t want another day to pass allowing our love for you to languish in a tepid place in our hearts.
So we ask you, Great Physician, to come search our souls and know our hearts. We present them to you; address every grievous way in us. Ask your probing questions. We will hold nothing from you. Do whatever it takes to revive our love for you! We do not want to give our souls rest until you are our first love (Revelation 2:4).
We want this more than anything: to love the triune God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength (Matthew 22:37). We believe the greatest affection is love, and we believe you are the greatest object of our love (1 Corinthians 13:13). And we believe we’ll never be happier and the excellence and worth of our souls will never be greater than when we love you supremely. For you are the wellspring of all that is truly life (1 Timothy 6:19; John 14:6).
So we ask you to revive our love for you, O Lord, whatever it takes. And we ask it in your name, Jesus, and for your glory, Amen.
While the world gropes in the dark for significance, our God has told us how to live the worthy life.
Our highest duty isn’t mainly to do things for God, but to delight in him. The more you enjoy God, the more glory you bring to his name.
It is essential to your own future that you shall learn the history of the past truly. –Robert Lewis Dabney
History teaches us that proper thought does not necessarily lead to proper action — even when those thoughts align with God’s. In numerous glaring instances, humans have been subjugated to brutal oppression by those who, by their own teachings and sermons, should have known better. Orthodoxy alone is not enough to ensure that we will live as God requires.
The history of racism in America is a clear example. Within some of our lifetimes, schools were segregated, African Americans denied full citizenship, and and many of those created in the image of God were repeatedly treated as less than human. In the midst of this moral failure, many Bible-believing Christian churches wanted nothing to do with their bleeding black brother lying on the other side of the road. Though we celebrate Dr. King’s work now, few orthodox Christian churches did then. In many cases, members of these Bible-believing churches were the first to scold his efforts.
Today we rightfully celebrate the social justice work of Dr. King; but for those of us who are white, Reformed, American Christians, eulogies to King sound hollow while the echoes of white supremacy still haunt our halls. Just because we embrace traditional Reformed orthodoxy does not mean we have not afflicted atrocious injustice on our fellow human beings.
A sobering reminder of this is a champion of Reformed theology who was a white supremacist and vehemently defended the cause of slavery — a man who can teach us that “good theology” and “sinful blind spots” cannot always be so easily disentangled.Reformed White Supremacist
In his time, Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) was considered one of the greatest teachers of theology in the United States. Revered theologians such as Hodge, Shedd, Warfield, Bavinck, and Barth viewed him with appreciation and respect. Dabney was a thoroughly Reformed, five-point Calvinist who believed in the supremacy of God in all things. However, his view of God’s sovereignty, a true and beautiful doctrine, tragically became interwoven with his racism, as he consistently used the doctrine of “providence” to reinforce his white supremacy.
In his Systematic Theology (1879), Dabney includes the standard Reformed doctrines but also includes a lecture on “The Civil Magistrate” in which he considers in what sense “all men are by nature free and equal” (868). He asks, “Are all men naturally equal in strength, in virtue, in capacity, or in rights? The thought is preposterous.” Dabney believed that even “a general equality of nature will by no means produce a literal and universal equality of civil condition” (869). Then, lest he be misunderstood, he applies it specifically:
Thus, if the low grade of intelligence, virtue, and civilization of the African in America, disqualified him for being his own guardian, and if his own true welfare, and that of the community, would be plainly marred by this freedom; then the law decided correctly that the African here has no natural right to his self-control, as to his own labour and locomotion. (869)Slavery as Providence?
In 1867, Dabney wrote a lengthy defense of slavery entitled A Defense of Virginia and the South. Here he directly applies his doctrine of providence to slavery: “for the African race, such as Providence has made it, and where he has placed it in America, slavery was the righteous, the best, yea, the only tolerable relation” (25).
After the Civil War, in the midst of reconstruction, Dabney fought hard against the changes taking place in his beloved Southern society. Among the things he opposed was universal education in a series of articles called “The State Free School System.” For Dabney, “this theory of universal education in letters by the State involves the absurd and impossible idea of the Leveller, as though it were possible for all men to have equal destinies in human society.” On the contrary, he insisted,
The system supposes and fosters a universal discontent with the allotments of Providence and the inevitable gradations of rank, possessions and privilege. It is too obvious to need many words, that this temper is anti-Christian; the Bible, in its whole tone inculcates the opposite spirit of modest contentment with our sphere, and directs the honorable aspiration of the good man to the faithful performance of its duties, rather than to the ambitious purpose to get out of it and above it. (247)
For Dabney, to attempt to “level the playing field” and to give everyone an “even start” in the race of life is “wicked, mischievous, and futile” (248). God himself has structured society in this way — “the utopian cannot unmake it” (249). Those who would attempt to teach “the Negro” to read were guilty of resisting God.Equality in the Church?
Not surprisingly, Dabney’s view of providential white supremacy also affected the church.
In 1867 the Synod of Virginia was considering whether “colored men. . . should not be ordained to the full work of the gospel ministry, simply because they belong to the negro race.” Dabney gave an impassioned address to the Synod on the “Ecclesiastical Equality of Negroes,” pleading with his fellow presbyters not to approve it.
In the address, he claims that a providential, “insuperable difference of race, made by God and not by man, and of character and social condition, makes it plainly impossible for a black man to teach and rule white Christians to edification” (201). For Dabney, the stakes were high: “Every hope of the existence of church and of state, and of civilization itself, hangs upon our arduous effort to defeat the doctrine of negro suffrage” (205). In fact, “when the party of the white man’s supremacy is gathering in such resistless might. . . why attach our Presbyterianism to a doomed cause?” (208).Echoes in Our Day
It’s hard to look racism in the face, especially when that face is one of a champion of Reformed orthodoxy. It’s harder still to see one of our most treasured doctrines, God’s providence, used to defend one of the most heinous sins in our nation’s history. However, we will have no real justice without truth. White Reformed Christians should acknowledge, lament, and repudiate such toxic and deadly doctrinal distortions.
Robert Dabney’s influence has not disappeared in Reformed circles. His books are still being repackaged, reprinted, and sold. He is still quoted in our own books without caveat or qualification. We cannot turn a blind eye to the sins of Dabney. Those of us who would trumpet “the supremacy of God in all things” need to be sure we aren’t also trumpeting “the supremacy of white culture in all things,” even if unwittingly.
The providence of God is not an excuse to passively leave oppressive structures standing. Our good theology does not necessarily protect us from sin or hypocrisy. A true understanding of providence should lead us to act the miracle of change in pursuing justice.
Martin Luther King came closer to this in regard to racial justice than did Robert Lewis Dabney.
God has a special love for his adopted children, but that does not mean he has no love for those who reject him.
When it comes to weighty matters in the Bible, let’s be like Mary. “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). First, she took note of important things and put them in a safe place — her heart. Second, her thoughts “conferred” about them. That’s what “ponder” means, and what the Greek word for “ponder” implies.
But oh, how few people do this when they read the Gospel of John and find stupendous statements about God’s sovereignty in our salvation! May I draw your attention to a few of these, and weave them together for you to ponder? They are no less important than the message of the angels when Jesus was born.Yours They Were
Let’s start with Jesus’s prayer in John 17.
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me. . . . I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (John 17:6, 9)
Here are two stupendous statements. One is that God gave the disciples to Jesus. The other is that before he gave them to Jesus, they were already his. Store that in a safe place for a moment.
There are at least three other ways that Jesus talks about people belonging to the Father before the Father gives them to him.
“You do not believe because you are not of my sheep”(John 10:26).
“Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47).
“Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37).
Each of these three phrases — “of my sheep,” “of God,” and “of the truth” — describes people before the Father gives them to Jesus.
People are “of my sheep” or not, before they believe, because Jesus says that not being “of his sheep” is why they “do not believe” (John 10:26).
People are “of God” before they truly “hear the words of God,” because Jesus says that not being “of God” is why people do not hear (John 8:47).
And people are “of the truth” before they “listen to my voice,” because Jesus says that being “of the truth” is why they listen (John 18:37).
So, these are three ways of describing the disciples’ belonging to the Father (or not) before he gives them to Jesus (John 17:6).Jesus Was Praying for Every Believer
Let’s ponder this for a moment. In John 17:8, Jesus was praying for those who believed on him, and for those “who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20). In other words, he was praying for all of us who have become Christians.
Therefore, what he says about those who belong to him, he says about us. Let this be personal. How is it that you came to belong to Jesus? In verses 6 and 9, Jesus says it is because God the Father “gave” you to Jesus. And how is it that the Father could give you to his Son? Jesus answers in verse 9: because you already belonged to the Father. You, Father, have given them to me, “for they are yours.”Did All Belong to the Father?
What does it mean to belong to the Father before you are given to Jesus? Does it mean simply that God possesses all humans, including you? You belonged to the Father because everybody belongs to the Father? Probably not. Because those who belong to the Father would be those who are “of God,” and Jesus says in John 8:47 that there are those who are “not of God.” Being “of God” can’t include all humans. So, belonging to God before being given to Jesus does not include everyone.
Who then does it include? Or a more personal way to ask the question is: Why does it include you? Why are you among those who belonged to the Father before he gave you to the Son? Was it because you had some quality, and God saw this and chose you to be in the group that he would give to Jesus? Did he see that you were willing to come to Jesus or willing to believe on Jesus, and for that reason counted you to be part of those who were his?
No. Because in John 6:44 Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” In other words, being willing to come to Jesus was not something God saw in you, but something God worked in you. No one is willing to come to Jesus on his own. Only those who are drawn by the Father can come.Did the Father Draw Everyone to Jesus?
But what about the possibility that all humans are drawn by the Father, and only some prove willing to come? After all, doesn’t Jesus say in John 12:32 that he draws all people to himself? Well, actually no, it doesn’t. It says more literally, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself” (John 12:32). Which could mean all people who are “my sheep” (John 10:16, 27) or all people who are “the children of God” (John 11:52) or all people who belong to the Father (John 17:6).
Actually, we know Jesus did not mean that the Father’s drawing applies to every person when he said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” The reason we know this is that later in the chapter, Jesus explicitly explains his meaning. He says,
“There are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:64–65)
That’s an explanation of verse 44. He gives Judas as an example of someone who would not believe. Then he explains Judas’s unbelief with the words, “This is why (back in verse 44) I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” In other words, Judas did not believe because “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” — implying that Judas was not granted this. Or to use the words of John 6:44, which Jesus is referring back to, the Father did not draw Judas.
Which means, all humans are not drawn by the Father to Jesus. Judas wasn’t. And so being willing to come is not something God finds in a group of humans, but something he puts in a group of humans. Which means that God did not choose a group of humans as his own because he saw in them a willingness to come to Jesus. Whatever willingness humans have to come to Jesus is not the basis, but the result of belonging to the Father beforehand.In Spite of Disqualification
So, I ask again to all who belong to Jesus: Why were you among those who first belonged to God before he gave you to Jesus? It was not because you were willing to believe. It was simply because God was willing to “grant” you to believe — to draw you to Jesus.
In other words, God chose you freely to belong to him. By an act of free grace. You did not qualify for God’s choice. Nor did I! It was in spite of disqualification. We were unwilling to come. We loved darkness and hated light and would not come to the light (John 3:19–20). In spite of knowing this about us, God chose some darkness-lovers to be his. And then, to save us from our rebellion and guilt, he gave us to Jesus. “Yours they were, and you gave them to me” (John 17:6).What Does Belonging to the Father Secure?
What, then, may we hope for — we who have been given to Jesus by the Father? Jesus tells us, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). The Father’s giving us to Jesus secures our coming. All he gives come. And when we come, Jesus receives us — forever. He will never cast us out. Instead of casting us out, he dies for us that we may live. “I know my own and my own know me . . . and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15). None of us will be lost. We will all be raised from the dead. “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39).
All this is sure because before we belonged to Jesus, we belonged to the Father. Before we listened to the truth, we belonged to the Father. Before we believed, we belonged to the Father. Before we were drawn to the Son, we belonged to the Father. And before we were willing to believe, we belonged to the Father.
And that has made all the difference! Because we belonged to the Father, we listened to the truth; and because we belonged to the Father, we believed; and because we belonged to the Father, we were drawn by him to Jesus; and because we belonged to the Father, we were willing to believe.
May I encourage you to put these truths inside the treasure chest of your heart and let your thoughts confer about them? Turn the prayer of Jesus into your own very personal prayer. Jesus prayed, “Yours they were, and you gave them to me” (John 17:6). You may pray, “Father, I was yours, and you gave me to Jesus. How did I come to be yours? Grace. All grace. Absolutely free, unconditional grace. May all the Scriptures help me ponder this inexhaustible reality — forever.”
We hear the word “gospel” used all the time. But what does it actually mean?
June 15, 1520. Almost three years have passed since Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg. The flame that his seemingly innocuous act sparked has continued to grow stronger. Pope Leo X is at his wits’ end. On this day, the pope releases his papal encyclical Exsurge Domine. Like a dog attacking a flea that won’t allow him to rest in peace, Leo X lashes out at Luther and his cohort with abandon:
Arise, O Lord, and judge your own cause. Remember your reproaches to those who are filled with foolishness all through the day. Listen to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the vineyard whose winepress you alone have trod. . . . The wild boar from the forest seeks to destroy it and every wild beast feeds upon it. . . . Their tongues are fire, a restless evil, full of deadly poison. They have bitter zeal, contention in their hearts, and boast and lie against the truth.Five Centuries Later
That was a long time ago. Five hundred years have now passed since Leo X penned his vehement encyclical. Today, a much different tone seems to characterize the Holy See.
A recent speech by Pope Francis to representatives of the Church of Scotland underscores this change in spirit. Speaking on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Francis reflected,
Let us thank the Lord for the great gift of being able to live this year in true fraternity, no longer as adversaries, after long centuries of estrangement and conflict. . . . For so long we regarded one another from afar, all too humanly, harboring suspicion, dwelling on differences and errors, and with hearts intent on recrimination for past wrongs. In the spirit of the gospel, we are now pursuing the path of humble charity that leads to overcoming division and healing wounds.Councils, Change, and Contradiction
What can be said of this stark change in attitude? What exactly has transpired within the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) over the past 500 years that has produced such different dispositions? The short answer is: everything has changed, and yet nothing at all. The slightly longer answer, much like the shorter one, is convoluted and contradictory. But it deserves attention.
Two key councils of the RCC bookend the discussion at hand and serve as crucial pillars to understanding the change that has taken place: the Council of Trent (1545–63) and the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). A careful examination of these assemblies sheds light on the reason for the RCC’s change in tone and posture over the last five centuries.Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was the RCC’s response to the Protestant Reformation. It took place in three phases between 1545 and 1563. Although Pope Leo X’s encyclical predated the council by more than twenty-five years, Trent mirrored his statements. The task at hand was clear: “In order to fight Protestant ideas, Catholics had to state just what the church believed” (The General Councils, 105). And that they did. Four main areas were thoroughly addressed at Trent: the authority of Scripture and tradition, the role of bishops, doctrines and sacraments, and reforms. The doctrines that emerged summarily condemned the key tenets of the Reformation.
The longevity of Trent attests to the council’s clarity and finality. More than three centuries would pass before the RCC convened again for Vatican I in 1869 — the longest span between councils in church history. Without doubt, Trent left an indelible mark on the RCC.
But times change, and with those changes come new cultural and societal challenges that must be faced. Nowhere is this truer than in the church, whose constant task it is to faithfully and relevantly proclaim the gospel at all times, in all places, and to all peoples.Second Vatican Council
Four hundred years after the closure of Trent, the RCC found itself facing deep challenges, and feeling inept to confront them. The RCC felt the need to change in order to have a relevant voice. It needed an aggiornamento, an update or revision. In October of 1962, therefore, interim Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II would be the catalyst for the aggiornamento sought by the RCC, and its effects on Roman Catholicism would be thorough and transformative. Change would indeed come, but at what cost?
A little more than fifty years have passed now since the closure of Vatican II in 1965. Reflecting on what has transpired in the RCC over the past half century could leave any observer baffled. This is because during Vatican II a fierce power struggle raged between conservatives and progressives. Throughout the council, both sides exhibited great endurance and refused to concede ground to the other. In the end, no clear victor emerged, and the council was forced to endorse opinions that — according to a Protestant analysis — opposed, contradicted, and excluded one another. John Stott rightly remarked, “To many observers the whole church seems to be in unprecedented disarray” (quoted in Revolution in Rome, 8). Yet it was at Vatican II that the RCC fully displayed its uncanny ability to maintain tensions while still advancing its agenda.
The Second Vatican Council is unique among all church councils in two primary ways. First, it was the result of neither external persecution nor internal heresy. Second, as David Wells writes, “for the first time in conciliar history, the documents which Vatican II developed officially embraced mutually incompatible theologies” (Revolution in Rome, 26). As a result, many of the binding documents that emerged from Vatican II speak with two distinct and conflicting voices — one conservative and one progressive. “They reflect, in a fascinating and perhaps tragic way, the divided mind of modern Roman Catholicism” (Revolution in Rome, 26).The Roman Chameleon Church?
A chameleon adapts to any number of environments by changing its color and blending in. In a similar way, Vatican II has produced this chameleon effect for the RCC. Because its dogmas and doctrine officially represent two opposing views, it is able to adapt to any number of theological environments in which it might find itself, endorsing whatever view necessary and thus effectively blending in with its context. It can be evangelical if it needs to be evangelical. It can speak the language of charismatics should the need arise. It is also at perfect ease with liberals. Even Islam is not off-limits, as the language of Vatican II clarifies: “Muslims . . . [profess] to hold the faith of Abraham, [and] along with us adore the one and merciful God.” There seems to be no environment to which it cannot adapt.
Pope Francis’s statement to the Church of Scotland is a perfect demonstration of this. Pope Francis crafts speeches that offend no one and protect him from theological conflict. The problem is that the unity he speaks of is not based on the biblical gospel, but is instead a concept he attempts to assimilate on a global level and without clear boundaries. The result is a cheap and convoluted Christianity, of which J.C. Ryle warned, “There is a common, worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have, and think they have enough — a cheap Christianity which offends nobody, and is worth nothing” (Holiness, 125).
This confused Christianity that does not submit fully to the authority of God’s word, and that is not centered on the gospel of justification through faith alone, is the result of the chameleon effect. According to Vatican II, everything has changed, but at the same time the Council of Trent and all other church councils are still fully affirmed — so nothing at all has changed.Both-And
So again, when asking the question, “What has changed in the past 500 years in the RCC?” the answer is: everything and nothing. The RCC is plagued by et et — both-and. Both conservative and progressive. Both Scripture and tradition. Both Jesus and Mary. Both grace and works. These notions often contradict one another, and at the same time permit the RCC to adapt to any number of environments. They allow the church to change without ever really changing at all. They allow it to claim that the Reformation is over while still officially endorsing the anathemas of Trent. Both-and — et et.
The biblical gospel, however, does not permit this chameleon effect. Its message requires clarity and consistency. Its borders must be well-defined, and they cannot be crossed without changing its identity. The RCC must once again establish these boundaries, or else its identity will continue to be blurred and confused, and the gospel will continue to lose its power to save among them.
God created you not mainly to do things for him, but to delight in him. The more we enjoy God, the more he is honored, and our very purpose in life is fulfilled.
The trees, the wind, the oceans, the animals, and all of creation cannot stop talking about one thing: God’s incomparable glory.