Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Relationships

Satan Loves Our Self-Loathing

Sometimes we do the things we hate. And sometimes we get confused and begin to hate ourselves for the things we’ve done.

There is a world of difference between ‘walking in the light’ while confessing our sins (1 John 1.7-10) and letting our sins define our identity. While it is appropriate to mourn our sin (Matthew 5.4), it is not appropriate to hate ourselves.

In the heat of the moment of regret and shame, we can almost think that self-loathing is good and right and biblical (after all, we have offended a Holy God and become unclean!). But in truth, God never calls us to hate ourselves.

The truth is that God loves us (John 3.16, 1 John 4.10). And the only one who loves our self-loathing is Satan.

Why?

1. Because when I loathe myself I loathe someone created in the image of God

Proverbs 17.5 says ‘whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker.’ James writes that the tongue ‘is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so’ (James 3.8-10).

What I say about people, I say about God. This is true whether I am demeaning other humans or myself. Even inward, self-loathing insults my Maker, in whose image I was created.

2. Because it diminishes my joy

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An Elbow-Scratching Parable of Prayer

Strange Conversations

“Can you scratch my elbow?”

“Pardon me?”

“Scratch. Right here.”

“Scratch your elbow? Seriously? You can reach it yourself; why do you want me to do it?”

“It just feels better when you do it.”

“Um. Okay.”

Conversations like this one happen between me and my wife. Frequently.

Why? Because of a relational principle that Stacey gets, but I am slow to pick up on: Sometimes what you ask people for, what you feel free to really ask for, even though you don’t need it actually says something about your relationship and how each of you perceive it.

For example, just imagine how the conversation would have gone differently if I was sitting beside a stranger on the bus who asked me the same question. I’m not sure if I’d reply or move straight to pushing the bus’ panic button.
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Tough Words on Forgiveness

forgivenessIn his excellent commentary on Luke’s Gospel, David Garland spends some time thinking about forgiveness as he reflects on the Lord’s model prayer (Luke 11.1-4). He then cites C.S. Lewis on the topic of forgiveness and what Christians really believe:

We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us. There is no doubt about the second part of this statement. It is in the Lord’s Prayer, it was emphatically stated by our Lord. If you don’t forgive you will not be forgiven. No exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins, provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t we shall be forgiven none our own. 1

Garland then continues: 2

Though most people agree that forgiveness is admirable, it is not easy. Alexander Pope’s adage, “To err is human, to forgive is divine,” may explain why human so often fail to practice this divine trait. It has been said that some bury the hatchet but leave the handle sticking out of the ground so that it is ready to grasp when they want it. Others ask, “Do I have to forgive if the offender does not repent?” It may never occur to them to ask, “Can the offender repent if I do not forgive?”

 

Jesus understands that forgiveness is as important for the one who has been hurt as for the one who caused the hurt. Forgiveness keeps one from being clobbered again and again when the memories resurface. Harboring a grudge opens persons up to the danger of defining their lives by how they have been hurt. Forgiveness provides release. Smedes writes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” 3

It’s easy to understand forgiveness in theory. It’s another thing to be defined by it and display it. Forgiveness is one of the most costly things anyone can ever do. It always has been; especially at the cross. Forgiveness hurts. But it also heals.

May God give us grace to live this. Only the power of the cross can make it so.

Notes:

  1. “On Forgiveness,” in The Weight of Glory (London: SPCK, 1949; repr. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001), 178.
  2. From David E. Garland, Luke, ZECNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 472.
  3. Garland is quoting from Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1984).

When Divorce Is Good and Holy… Christians Are Confused

Someone recently forwarded me an article called ‘When Divorce is Good and Holy‘ and asked for my thoughts. I don’t typically respond to other people’s posts publicly but when I read this one, I felt a strong sense of urgency within my own heart to reply. When it comes to issues like marriage, which are so close to the heart of God, we need to think very carefully.

The premise of the article is simple: If Jesus upholds divorce as a legitimate option then we ought to view it as good and holy, when carried out according to his teaching. Therefore, we ought to stop criticizing those who want a divorce (for legitimate reasons like pornography use, etc.), and we must stop compelling them to stay in the marriage as if it is the only thing that would please God. In fact, the author goes one step further: He even asserts that when divorce is upheld as the good and holy option that it is, divorce rates and pornography use will decline.

I take several issues with that line of thinking. A few of them are outlined below.

1. The Law Never, Never, Never Empowers Righteousness

Hard temporal consequences for our sin can slow and stop our pursuits of sin. Perhaps evangelical divorce rates would actually decline.

This teaching is essentially functioning according to a law & sanction system. If you break the law, you will suffer the consequences. The thought is that potential enforcement of the law will bring change.

Now, the law teaches righteousness inasmuch as it shows us God’s hatred for sin and love for what is just. But the law is powerless to bring about holiness. In fact, the power of sin is the law (1 Cor 15.56) and it brings death.

Does the law have an effect in slowing the progress of sin? Yes, it certainly can (though it can have the opposite effect too, cf. Rom 7.7-11). But are we only looking for changed behaviour or changed hearts? If we are seeking changed hearts, is law sufficient?

What good did the threat of law-enforcement do Israel? Certainly, she didn’t immediately become like the nations around her. But eventually, she did. The progress of sin was slowed, but the hearts of the people were unchanged. And that’s simply not good enough.

It is only through free grace, welcome, reconciliation, and forgiveness, that hearts are won and changed. Grace gives life; the law kills. If the end goal is the changed heart of the sinning spouse, rather than simply behaviour change, shouldn’t we aim for grace?

If bad spouses are going to become good spouses we don’t need the law hung over our heads so much grace held in front of our eyes.

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Ways to Love the Church More

Let me say this plainly: I love the people of Grace Fellowship Church. I totally felt what John Piper was saying in a recent interview on his experience as a pastor at Bethlehem:

I never felt that I was the church’s privilege, but that she is mine. To be at Bethlehem was gift, all gift.

I have felt that to be my reality in increasing measure since we planted, almost three years ago now. And I know that Paul, my fellow pastor, feels the same way.

That being said, I have known enough churches and enough pastors over the years to realize that the relationship between pastor and congregation isn’t always exclusively a love-in. Even in the privileged ministry that the Lord has given me, there have been opportunities for anger, strife, malice, bitterness, and all the rest of that to take root.

So how do we fight those temptations when they come? Here are some ways I’ve found helpful to grow in love for the members of the church:

1. Eat with Them

Erik Raymond wrote an excellent post last year commending the practice of eating lunch regularly with members from the church. Here’s some of the benefit:

This is your opportunity to hear them. Ask them questions that help you to better know them. Ask them about their families, hobbies, jobs, etc. Ask them about how they met their wife, where they are from, what they do for work, what their extended family dynamic is like. Ask good questions and just listen.

I would add my ‘amen’ to that. When you hear about someone’s life and get into their world, you can’t help but find your love and compassion for them increasing.
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Our God Has a Name

yhwhOur God is personal. He relates. Fundamental to his very existence is the reality that he exists as a person in community. From eternity past the Father has loved the Son (John 17:24). He is a personal, relational-covenant-keeping God.

And because he is personal, he has a name. I think it might be time for us to familiarize ourselves with it again.

Lately I’ve been reading Michael Reeves’ excellent book titled, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Here’s an insight that resonated with me.

For what makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God. Which God we worship: that is the article of faith that stands before all others. The bedrock of our faith is nothing less than God himself, and every aspect of the gospel—creation, revelation, salvation—is only Christian insofar as it is the creation, revelation and salvation of this God, the triune God. I could believe in the death of a man called Jesus, I could believe in his bodily resurrection, I could even believe in a salvation by grace alone; but if I do not believe in this God, then, quite simply, I am not a Christian. And so, because the Christian God is triune, the Trinity is the governing center of all Christian belief, the truth that shapes and beautifies all others. 1

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Notes:

  1. Kindle edition, location 156.

Should I Forgive Those Who Don’t Ask for Forgiveness?

This past Sunday I was blessed with the opportunity to preach Matthew 18.21-35 at Grace Fellowship Church. That is the passage where Jesus tells the parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

Naturally, in speaking about forgiveness, many questions were raised. People approached me later and asked many questions about when forgiveness is appropriate and what it looks like. One person who heard the sermon online (you can get it here) e-mailed and asked some questions as well.

Since most of the questions were generally along the same lines, I thought that posting my response here might be helpful to others. Here was the question that I was aiming to answer:

A friend said to me that as a Christian we do not have to forgive everybody. And the reason that was given was that God does not forgive everyone. God only forgives those who ask for forgiveness. Following this argument, as a Christian we would only have to forgive others who have asked us for forgiveness.

That question was followed up with another:

As a former psychology student/social worker, I’m interested in understanding more about how repetitive forgiveness looks without setting up boundaries or getting distance from a Christian who continually sins against you.

Here is my take:

——–

Your questions are not uncommon, that is for sure — and they are good ones. Typically when I’ve encountered people who argue that we only need to forgive those who ask, I’ve discovered that they hold that position because they’ve been deeply hurt in the past by someone who may or may not have been repentant. The prospect of forgiving someone for something genuinely evil when they haven’t even sought forgiveness or admitted their wrongful actions is a scary one that can seem like death. So the much easier answer is to appeal to the reality that God only forgives those who ask.

The trouble, of course, is that whether God forgives or not is God’s prerogative (should God forgive those who die as young children, incapable of understanding the gospel and exercising repentance and faith?). There is nothing outside of himself that compels him to forgive. When we view ourselves as the ‘God’ figure in the relationship, we’re missing something. The reality is that we are servants, compelled by the mercy we’ve been shown, to forgive other (equal) servants. That’s different than God’s forgiveness. Our forgiveness displays the reality and power of God’s forgiveness, but it’s different. We are commanded to forgive; God does so of his own character. When God forgives it is a superior showing mercy on an inferior; when we forgive it is servant to servant. The connection between God forgiving us and us forgiving each other is a little more nuanced than some like to admit.

That being said, how can there be true reconciliation in relationships if the offending party doesn’t admit wrong? Offering forgiveness really means next to nothing if the offender doesn’t believe they need forgiveness in the first place.

All things considered, I think that what Christ is calling us to is a stance, a posture of forgiveness. He’s calling us to a readiness to forgive in a moment. I think he is calling us to treat people with love and mercy, with humility and compassion. He is calling us to remember that if someone has sinned against me, I should be quicker to identify with them (‘I have sinned this way too…’) than to identify with God (‘I have been offended without cause…’). When we realize that it could have just as easily been me offending as me offended, I’m much slower to hold offences against other people.

Whereas most people say ‘I don’t need to forgive because you haven’t asked for forgiveness’ in order to justify holding on to feelings of woundedness and bitterness, Christ calls us to identify with the offender and to be ready to be fully reconciled in a moment. It’s a the posture of the heart more than a specific action in that case, but it will make all the difference in the world in the way you think about, relate to, and pray for the person who has offended you.

As for the questions regarding boundaries, I’m not sure I have absolute answers for you in specific instances. Again, what Jesus is striving to portray for us is a heart that is ready and willing to be wounded again and again for the sake of love and for the sake of modelling the heart of God. But in the wisdom literature (e.g. Psalm 1) there is much to indicate that we ought not to make it our habit of making persistent sinners our close friends (for numerous reasons).

I think, in this context (Matthew 18), the difference between the sinner of verses 15-20 and the sinner of 21-22 is simply that the former refuses to repent, while the latter is genuinely repentant, and seeking to change. Each specific case will need to be dealt with according to wisdom. Some sins must be treated differently than others, and some have more lasting consequences.

But in all things, we are called to be ready and willing to forgive, and hopeful of fully reconciled relationships through repentance and forgiveness. I think that’s the bottom line.

I guess what concerns me about the position that says we forgive only those who ask is not so much that they are outright wrong, but that it seems to be asking, ‘Who can I get away with not forgiving?’ It’s the wrong question. The right question is more along the lines of ‘How can I respond to the matchless and limitless forgiveness I’ve received from God? Who can I forgive in order to display the gospel to the world?’ That seems to me to be a world of difference.

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