Is Hook-Up Culture Infiltrating the Church?

“There’s an app for that,” has become a cultural banner for a society that loves to “have it your way” and “have it now." Modern culture isn't a microwave society (that's about eight years behind). We’re now a culture shaped by the convenience of downloading an app for just about anything. If there’s not an app for that, there will be tomorrow. In fact, you could probably develop it on your iPhone. Many have commented on the dangers of this kind of culture. We are losing the ability to reflect. We’ve lost the patience for it. With this loss comes a decline in our understanding the sacred. The rise of selfies reflect a preoccupation with the iconic self. Our social skills are diminished in favor of pseudo social circles we “friend” or “follow.”

Technological engagement can be legitimate, but there are also dangers to be avoided. Many have drawn attention to the “hookup” culture, which has accelerated as a result from having the world at your fingertips. Apps like Down, Snapchat, and countless others feed right into our assumed right to have our lusts instantly satisfied.

Have hookups always been an issue? Absolutely. Has anonymity ever been this easy? Absolutely not. Driven by our sexual appetites, we have made it possible to hookup with someone on neutral ground without even exchanging real names. Moreover, we live in a culture in which there is a national conference for literally every field of study. Throw 1,000 widget manufacturers from up North together in a central Florida resort for three days, and all bets are off.

Has this hookup culture infiltrated Christianity? Perhaps that’s a question for someone with a greater vantage point, but from where I sit, I know we are all vulnerable. When we enter into environments where accountability is virtually non-existent, and anonymity is almost guaranteed, we have entered the danger zone. King David assumed a certain level of anonymity when everyone else was away at war and he slept with Bathsheba. He got what he wanted pretty quickly, and he didn’t have an iPhone. But most of us today don't possess that power...or do we? More than any other time in history, the common person possesses royal privilege. We can get what we want when we want it, with just a few clicks.

When a culture is given over to the god of sex, you can find worship of what it offers everywhere: billboards, chat rooms, magazines, blogs, ads, and much more. How are Christian men and women to avoid the pitfalls of sexual sin in such a culture?I propose three ways.

1. Recognize the war.

Anyone who denies there is a war going on is simply diluted. Paul reminds us:

The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. —Galatians 5:17

If you are united to Christ, your old man is dead (Gal. 2:20), but the indwelling flesh remains until he returns. If you fail to recognize your vulnerability to the flaming arrows of sexual temptation, your defenses will be down. How many well-meaning, God-fearing people have simply been fooled for lack of vigilance?

One way to remain vigilant is to build a pattern of daily prayer in which you ask God to keep you aware of your vulnerabilities . Paul reminds us that,

This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor. —1 Thessalonians 4:3-4

Why should we know how to control our own bodies? Because our vulnerabilities are not universal. What becomes temptation for your brother might not even phase you. On the other hand, things most would not even give a second glance might be your Achilles Heel. Know your weaknesses, recognize the battle, and ask God to strengthen you each day.

2. Build an Army

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 10:24-25

This passage is one among many that echo God’s heartbeat for biblical community. No man is an island, and when you pretend to be, you open yourself up to destruction. Each of us needs a multitude of people in our lives who know us well and know our vulnerabilities and outright weaknesses. We need to be exhorted to do good works and abstain from the lusts of the flesh. We need to be reminded of the big picture, looking forward to that Day when we will inherit bodies free of sin! When we try to be lone rangers, our sight becomes destructively narrow, allowing us only to see the immediate desire.

One note about an army—it needs weapons. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6. Therefore, we ought to arm ourselves with the full armor of God. But wisdom also tells us that there are so many practical weapons at our disposal. Men, if we do not have Covenant Eyes or some other software on our devices (and real Christian brothers monitoring these), we are almost begging for destruction. Women, if you do not have biblically wise, God-honoring ladies walking alongside you, asking hard questions about things you post on your social media accounts, you may be defenseless during a battle field much bigger than you realize.

3. Remember Grace has won.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. —Titus 2:11-14

Though we may recognize the battle, we often forget that it is won. The grace of God in Christ has appeared. We are not lost in darkness, without the beacon of God’s redemptive grace to carry us home to Christ’s appearing.

All humans share a common problem. We lack the strength to do what we know we must do. It’s not as if we don’t know the law. We do. Our problem is that we know it and we still can’t keep it. That’s where grace comes in. Ever since God called Israel to be a people for his own possession, he has been changing hearts (Deuteronomy 30:6). The fullest expression of this gracious heart-change is seen in the New Covenant. God has put his law on our hearts, indwelling us with his Holy Spirit, who empowers us to live the very way God has commanded.

Remember this, we are no longer slaves but sons and daughters. Grace has appeared, totally transforming our wayward state. And as we await the Day when we won’t need articles like this (Come, Lord Jesus), we are empowered by the Spirit of God who transforms us. Without the past grace of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we are dead. Without this present grace of the indwelling Spirit, we are lost to our lusts. Without the promise of future grace at Christ’s return, we are hopeless. And yet, the grace of God has appeared. Look to Him. In every temptation, there is a way out. In every failure, well, there is a grace for that.

Alex Dean (@AlexMartinDean) is a pastor in Lakeland, Florida. Holding an undergraduate degree from Dallas Baptist University, Alex is currently completing his graduate work at Reformed Theological Seminary. His book, Gospel Regeneration: A story of death, life, and sleeping in a van, is available on Amazon, iBooks, and other online retailers. Follow his blog at www.GospelRegeneration.com and follow him on Twitter.

The Local Church: Love It or Leave It?

There is a trend, especially among younger generations, of people who are saying goodbye to the local church. We’ve heard statistics of those who leave because they no longer believe. But, surprisingly, others leave because they say they want more of God in their lives and the church just isn’t doing it for them.

Looking for God Elsewhere

Several influential Christians are among this group, including Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and other books that speak meaningfully to younger believers. In 2014, Miller shared candidly on his blog that he did not attend church very often because he connected more with God in other ways, like through nature and through his work.

In a follow-up blog post, he added:

I’d say half of the most impactful people I know, who love Jesus and tear up at the mention of His name, who reach out to the poor and lonely and are fundamentally sound in their theology, who create institutions that feed hundreds of thousands, do not attend a traditional church service. Many of them even speak at churches, but they have no home church and don’t long for one.[1]

Why are so many believers dissatisfied with the church?

Often, their disenchantment with the church is justified. Instead of going to church, they are eager to be the church. Instead of being a face in the crowd, they are eager to be a known and needed member of a community. Instead of being passive observers of an event, they are eager to be active contributors to a shared mission. Instead of listening to a preacher pontificate and tell stories, they are eager to be welcomed into a Story that is bigger than the preacher. Instead of being around people who “accept” Jesus but who seem bored with him, they want to be around people who come alive at the mention of his name.

Where the local church is not fulfilling this vision, the temptation to “look for God elsewhere” is understandable. But is it the best solution? Most importantly, would Jesus, the Bridegroom and Head of the church, favor a churchless Christianity?

Romanticizing the Early Church

Many who are disillusioned with the church today romanticize the early church, not realizing how broken things were then as well. Take Corinth, for example. As the most prominently represented church in Paul’s letters, Corinth was also a dysfunctional mess. Factions, harshness, divisions, adultery, lawsuits, divorce, elitism, classism, and neglect of the poor were just some of their issues. The famous “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13 was written less as inspiration and more as a rebuke, because each love attribute was something that the Corinthians were not. They had trampled on the ideal of what Jesus’ church should be—an infectious community of prayer, truth, love, justice, and mission (Acts 2:42-47).

But Paul never gave up on Corinth. Instead of walking away, he pressed in. As he sharply corrected them, he also encouraged, affirmed, loved, prayed for, and thanked God for them. Like Jesus, he saw a broken church and envisioned beauty. He saw a sinful church and envisioned sainthood. He saw a band of misfits but envisioned a radiant, perfected bride. And he knew that God wanted him to participate in loving this church to life.

Whose Wisdom . . . Ours or God’s?

At her best and at her worst, Jesus loves his church. He will build his church and nothing will prevail against her (Matthew 16:18). He laid down his life for her (John 10:11). He will never leave or forsake her (Hebrews 13:5). He will complete the work he started in her (Philippians 1:6). In other words, Jesus knows nothing about having more of God by having less of the church. To the contrary, Jesus is married to the church. The church is his chosen, beloved Wife.

What does it say about us if the church is good enough for the Father to adopt, for the Spirit to inhabit, and for Jesus to marry…but not good enough for us to join?

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that those who love their dream of Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of Christian community. He also said that the church, which may at times seem weak and trifling to us, is great and magnificent to God. Do we believe this? When tempted to hit eject on the local church, will we trust the infinite, perfect wisdom of God or our own finite, fallen instincts?

The wisdom of God says that we need the local church. This is both declared and assumed throughout the Scriptures, which don’t define the church as a free-flowing, self-directed spiritual experience, but as an organized, rooted, local expression of the body of Christ. Within this structure, things like oversight and care from ordained officers (pastors, elders, deacons), participation in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, weekly Lord’s Day gatherings with Scripture, preaching, singing and prayers, one-anothering and generosity practices, spiritual gift deployment empowering members to serve the body, evangelism, and neighbor love through deeds of mercy and justice, are assumed.

Jesus’ Bride . . . Also Our Mother

Tony Campolo said, “…you dare not decide that you don’t need the church. Christ’s church is his bride…and his love for her makes him faithful to her even when she is not faithful to him.”[2]

The church was God’s idea, God’s plan for His Kingdom on earth. As St. Cyprian said, “One cannot have God as his Father who does not have the church as his Mother,” and as Saint Augustine once said, “The church may be a whore, but she is still my mother.”

A Family, Not a Club

Family is the chief metaphor the Bible uses when it talks about the church. The church isn’t an exclusive, monolithic club. It’s a gathering of wonderfully and sometimes irritatingly diverse, divinely-selected brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, grandmas and grandpas. A dysfunctional family at times indeed, but a family nonetheless.

Family stays together. When one member is weak, the others lift her up. When another is difficult, the others confront him. When another is leading on mission, the others join, support, pray, and cheer her on.

Strength in Diversity

By design, God chose the church to be as diverse as possible. At Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, we have described our community this way:

We are builders and baby boomers, gen-xers and millennials, locals and internationals, conservatives and progressives, educators and athletes, struggling doubters and committed believers, engineers and artists, introverts and extroverts, healers and addicts, CEO’s and homemakers, affluent and bankrupt, single and married, happy and hurting, lonely and connected, stressed-out and carefree, private and public schoolers, PhD’s and people with special needs, experts and students, saints and sinners.

This isn’t merely a written description. It is an actual representation of our local church body. It is sometimes messy. In its messiness, it is always awesome.

We want to celebrate and learn from differences instead of dividing over them. We believe the best expressions of community happen when people come together with varying perspectives, personalities, cultures, and experiences.

A School for Learning to Love

Part of the Christian experience is learning to love people who are not like us. In the church, we are given a community of complicated, beloved-by-God, always in process, fearfully and wonderfully made, sometimes faltering and inefficient people we are called to love.

Including ourselves.

Reconciliation, peacemaking, relational perseverance, and loving the unlovely are difficult but necessary steps of discipleship. Without these things, we remain stunted in our spiritual growth. Our goal in Christian community is not just tolerance of others, but authentic love and relationship. In order to learn to truly love, we must stay in the Christian community and do the hard work of resolving conflict, redeeming differences, and building unity.

The Church Needs You . . . and You Need Her

As it is a family, the church is also a body. Without you, the church is missing an eye or an ear or a hand. Without you, the church is not whole.

Each of us is made in the image of God. As we live in community with one another, we grow in knowledge and experience of God by being with others who bear his image. As we learn from and rub off on one another we become better, more whole, more Christ-like, and ultimately better-for-the-world versions of ourselves.

If you are dissatisfied or disillusioned with the local church, don’t leave it. If the church stinks to you, then change its diapers. Make it better. Pray for it. Bless it. Serve it. Love it to life.

In the process, you may discover that it’s not only that the local church needs you. You may also discover that you need the local church as well.

[1] Donald Miller, “Why I Don’t Go to Church Very Often, a Follow Up Blog” Storyline, Feb 5, 2014 – http://storylineblog.com/2014/02/05/why-i-dont-go-to-church-very-often-a-follow-up-blog/
[2] Tony Campolo, Letters to a Young Evangelical (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2008).

Scott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and author of Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking Sides. You can connect with Scott at scottsauls.com or on Twitter at @scottsauls.

Originally published at scottsauls.com. Adapted from Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides copyright ©2015 by Scott Sauls. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.


Calling People to the Kingdom Through Feasting

“I’ll raise you a hundred,” Greg said as he pushed a stack of poker chips into the middle of the table to show he meant business. At the same time, laughter erupted from the next room, where the ladies were sharing stories about marriage and motherhood. Greg’s wife, Mary, listened as the women poured out their hearts to one another. This was the first time Greg and Mary had been at our house for one of our parties. Jayne and I had been in the Puget Sound area for about a year, and we were beginning to call people together to be the church in the greater Tacoma area. Parties and feasts were one of the means we were using to gather people and give them a taste of what it might look like to be the church in our community.

In the past, several of us in the Chicago suburbs had experienced community forming this way around meals and celebrations. Caesar and Tina had introduced us to the art of hospitality and the joy of the party. Tina is an amazing cook, and she and Caesar hosted the best dinner parties around. If they were hosting a dinner, you did not want to miss it!

saturate-slide 3c!A Kingdom Built on Celebratory Feasting

At one of these dinners, about three courses into an amazing five-course meal, it dawned on us: “This is a great picture of the kingdom of God!” While immersed in the feast of food and life together, we recalled Jesus comparing the kingdom of God to a feast where everyone is invited in (Luke 14:12–24). Together we started to imagine what the church would be like if we all believed we were a picture of God’s kingdom breaking into the world in ways that felt like a party. One of us said: “If the church believed this, it would radically change what we do and how we live! We would be known as the most celebratory people around. Word would spread. People who wouldn’t normally want to come to a church event would come to our homes. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

A seed was planted in our hearts at that moment, and the conversation never really ended. We began to ask questions: What if we were to start a church that feasted and celebrated around Jesus together? What if our homes were intended by God to be some of the primary spaces in which the ministry of the church should take place? People could be welcomed in, cared for, and experience belonging to a people who enjoy one another and life together. This would transform people’s perceptions of the church. Their understanding of who the church is and what she does would be very different from others’. As a result, people would come to understand Jesus in an entirely new way. If church were more like a feast and ministry took place regularly in our homes, everyone could join and anyone could do it. Everyone loves to feast and celebrate together, and anyone who knows and loves Jesus can host a party around him.

Jesus’s church celebrates and feasts together. His people live life to the fullest for his glory and learn how to do the normal, everyday stuff of life for his glory. Not just parties and feasts— everything!

Remembering God Through Feasts

This isn’t a new idea. God called his people Israel to remember him and show the world what he was like through the everyday stuff, the big and the small. The special feasts, which were extraordinary, were meant to remind them that everyday meals mattered as well. Parties are God’s idea. During the Israelites’ parties and feasts, they were to remind one another that all of life was to be done as an expression of their love for God. God called them to see their celebrations and feasts as an expression of their worship. He wanted them to use something mundane and everyday—eating—as a reminder that he is to be the center of all the everyday stuff.

God is brilliant, isn’t he?

He wants us to see that all of life, every aspect of it, is a good gift from him. He wants our hearts to cry out, “God is so good!” in the middle of everyday life. He wants us to eat, play, create, work, celebrate, rest, and relate to one another for his glory. God always intended that every part of life be a participation in his activity in the world and a celebration of his goodness to us all. So he told Israel to do all the stuff of life—working, resting, eating, and celebrating—in remembrance of him.

I love this about God!

I grew up believing that after I died, I would go to heaven, which would be like an eternal church service. As a teenager, I wasn’t too excited about that. All I could imagine was a bunch of us in white gowns floating on clouds that felt like hard wooden pews. We would forever listen to long sermons and sing songs from red hymnals. Later in life, as I read the Bible, I found out that this is not an accurate picture of our future with Jesus. The Scriptures tell of a day when we will dwell on a new earth and enjoy a sin-free existence, living life fully and abundantly with God in our midst. We will eat, play, create, work, celebrate, and rest in perfect harmony with God and one another. It will all be good and it will all be worship!

Imagine if the church was like this now.

Jeff Vanderstelt (@JeffVanderstelt) is the visionary leader for the Soma Family of Churches and the lead teaching pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. When he isn't preaching or mentoring church planters, he and his family share life with their missional community. He is the author of Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life.

Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life Crossway, ©2015. Used by permission. https://www.crossway.org/.

Liberating Our Teens from Sexual Lies

(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Preparing Your Teens for College by Alex Chediak available from Tyndale House Publishers, 2014. It appears here with the permission of the author and publisher. For more information and a lengthier excerpt, visit Alex’s site.)

A Biblical Understanding of Sex

Our teens need to have a biblical understanding of sex in order to navigate the challenges that await them in college. For starters, let’s define the term, not on an anatomical level but at a foundational level. Here’s how pastor and author Tim Keller puts it:

Sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, “I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.”1

And that’s true. But Keller (and the Bible) would go a step further. Sex is a physical picture of a spiritual reality: God wants to dwell among and deeply know his people. God invented sex not just to propagate the human race and to give us enjoyment but to be a picture of the salvation story—Jesus Christ laying down his life for us (his bride) to bring us back to God (see Ephesians 5:25-27; 1 Peter 3:18). Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas say it well:

God created sex to serve as a living portrait of the life-changing spiritual union that believers have with God through Christ. . . . God created the physical oneness of sex to serve as a visible image, or type, of the spiritual union that exists between Christ and the church.2

At stake in our sexuality is nothing less than our representation of Jesus Christ’s relationship with those who follow him.

Maybe you’re saying, “This all sounds great for an adult Sunday school class, but is it really practical to explain this to our teens?” While I wouldn’t expect the same level of interest from a 12- or 13-year-old as from a 17- or 18-year-old, I do believe teens need a big-picture perspective on what sexual intimacy represents if they’re going to win the battle for purity in college and throughout their adult lives. And a biblical understanding of sex is the best antidote to the culture’s sexual lies. Our culture believes that sex is all about me. My desires. My satisfaction. It’s about using others, not serving them. But the Bible tells us that sex is all about God and his glorious work in bringing us into relationship with him. In the context of marriage, sex is about giving ourselves to serve our spouse (see 1 Corinthians 7:3-5).


A biblical understanding of sex leads to a biblical motivation for abstaining until marriage. I fear that sometimes we motivate teens to sexual purity in small, even worldly ways, rather than in big, biblical ways. I have friends who grew up in Bible-believing churches that faithfully preached chastity, but the rationale was “Hey, you wouldn’t want to get pregnant, or get someone pregnant, or contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD). And watch out for those condoms! They’re not as effective as your health teacher says they are.”

The problem is it’s assumed that teens know that sex before marriage is a sin and little to no explanation is given as to why it’s a sin. Of course, we should want our teens to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancies and STDs, but neither of these is an explicitly Christian goal. You don’t have to believe the Bible to want to avoid those things. Moreover, this argument doesn’t confront the cultural lie that sex is all about self.

If our teens know something about how human sexuality is meant to represent the permanent, spiritual union between Jesus Christ and his bride, it gives meaning and motivation to the prohibition on sex outside of marriage. Sexual intimacy in any context besides marriage dishonors God by telling a lie about how Jesus Christ relates to his people. And it massively disrupts our relationship with God (see 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). In contrast, the fear of the Lord teaches us to hate all evil (see Proverbs 8:13), to abstain from sexual immorality (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7), and to be holy because God is holy (see 1 Peter 1:13-16).

Once our teens understand what sex is, what it represents, and why it must be reserved for marriage, they’ll be better able to understand that there is a whole range of behaviors that are sexual in nature and that therefore must all be reserved for marriage. I fear it’s too easy for those with small, worldly motives for “staying pure” to cut corners, focusing on how close they can get to the edge without falling off. For example, ministry leaders in Christian college settings will confirm that a significant number of professing Christian students (like their non-Christian counterparts) do not consider oral sex to be sex. Why not? Because it doesn’t fit their overly narrow definition of “sex.”

But if they had a more comprehensive understanding—one rooted in the perspective summarized above—they would see that of course oral sex is sex. It’s the giving of oneself to another person in an incredibly intimate way. Like-wise, a lot of other physical acts would fall into this category.

Which leads us to the age-old question Christian teens and singles ask: How far is too far before marriage?


But your teen might ask, “Isn’t that legalism?" We should anticipate this response. Many Christian teens will recognize that “getting physical” with someone they don’t really know is pure lust and clearly wrong. If they struggle at this point, remind them of 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, the forgiveness available in Christ, and that their past behavior need not determine their future. For others, the clear line of purity gets fuzzy when they develop a mutual attraction. Maybe they agree to be “exclusive,” to be boyfriend and girlfriend. They begin to see this other person as “special”—more than a friend but less than a spouse. So things get a bit physical (i.e., sexual), but they tell themselves, It’s not like we’re having sex, Things aren’t getting out of hand, and We know when we need to stop. And they tell others, “Don’t judge us—you don’t understand.” (As if we never lived through those years.)

Teach your teens what’s wrong with this logic before they’re in the throes of temptation and every ounce of their being wants to believe they have the right to decide “how far is too far.” The idea that Christians are allowed to set their own sexual standards, as long as they accomplish the goal of avoiding intercourse, is dangerous and misleading. . . .

This is not legalism. It liberates our teens from being captive to their own subjective standards, which can be profoundly flawed, especially in the heat of the moment. And we can really help them as parents, because if you’re married, I’d imagine that the boundaries of propriety toward other women or men are pretty clear for you. If our teens are to relate to young men and women “in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2), they need to have this same clarity.

Alex Chediak is an author, speaker, and professor of engineering and physics at California Baptist University. Alex has been involved in mentoring students for many years. He has published numerous articles in Boundless (Focus on the Family), Trak (God’s World News), and Christian College Guide (Christianity Today). He is the bestselling author of Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011). Alex and his wife, Marni, live with their three children in Riverside, California. Visit Alex’s site or follow him on Twitter: @Chediak.

1. Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011), 223-224. 2. Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas, Sex, Dating, and Relationships (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 18..

Giveaway: Raised? Finding Jesus By Doubting the Resurrection

Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson have written a stellar book that we want to share with you.

Raised? encourages you to doubt in order to believe. Too often Christians look down on doubt, but in Christ, we see a person who welcomes doubt and encourages faith. Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson don’t shy away from the hard questions or settle for easy answers. They help you to see how the resurrection offers hope for the future and answers for the life and death questions we all face.

Jonathan and Brad in partnership with Zondervan were generous enough to offer 10 free copies of Raised? to giveaway for FREE to GCD readers. Below you will find a variety of ways to enter to win your FREE copy. Enter all of them for more chances to win. The contest will run until Monday, April 21st at 2PM CST. Shortly thereafter we will email the winners and announce them on Twitter.

Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Unbelievable Gospel, and Raised? He has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others. Twitter: @Jonathan_Dodson

Brad Watson serves as a pastor of Bread & Wine Communities in Portland, Oregon. He is a board member of GCDiscipleship.com and co-author of Raised? His greatest passion is to encourage and equip leaders for the mission of making disciples. Twitter: @BradAWatson

For free resources and orders, visit raisedbook.com.

Love Actually

When blogging about the Christian worldview and framing apologetic arguments, there is typically (at least, there should be!) a heavy dose of truth involved. But what does Paul mean when he admonishes us to "speak the truth in love”? Paul makes an important point here, the subtlety of which can be easily missed. The obvious response to this verse would be: "Well, Paul is saying we shouldn't bash people over the head with the truth because that wouldn't be loving." This is true, but I think it goes deeper than that. I think it's worth exploring some further questions.

What does Paul mean by love?

It is useful to view Paul's statement in the context of Jesus' teaching: the first and greatest commandment is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37) and the second is "‘Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matt. 22:38). If we consider Paul's statement in light of these two commandments on which "all the Law and the Prophets hang" (Matt. 22:40), we can deduce that Paul is telling us to speak the truth as an outworking of our love of God and of people—not as a result of our love of the world, our love of popular approval, or our love of ourselves.

The Greek term for love Paul uses here is agape, a form of agapeis, which is also used by Jesus (agapaō) when he quotes the greatest commandments. The essence of agape is self-sacrifice. So then, speaking the truth should be done in self-sacrificial love as modeled by Jesus Christ. First, it should be to glorify God, and, second, to edify those who hear it. And speaking the truth may also be costly to us, costing us things like convenience, popularity, friendships, even our safety.

The Holy Spirit empowers us to love God and love others in a self-sacrificial way. Loving others without the Holy Spirit involves a self-serving, consumeristic form of love that actually takes away from God and other people more than it gives. This may not be immediately evident when we observe acts of love that are done in human strength such as generosity, kindness, or charity. Humans are created in the image of God, so in some ways we gravitate toward the notion of doing good unto others.

But, loving others in our own strength as well-intended as it may be, ultimately ends up being self-serving because of our fallen nature. Loving others certainly can provide us with a whole lot of earthly perks: a warm and fuzzy feeling, popularity and a good reputation, a wholesome family environment, a better marriage, or a safer community to live in. Loving others in our own strength, however, hardly ever leads us to speak the truth in love because it isn't God-honoring. Instead, it's more likely to make us smooth things over so things will be more comfortable for everybody. It can lead us to ignore inconvenient truths and live in denial. It can lead to double-mindedness, flattery, and people-pleasing. Living in the power of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, gives us a supernatural ability to genuinely love others sacrificially. Christ-like love, however, is often rejected by the world and doesn't come with all the earthly perks we might desire.

What does Paul mean by truth?

We can see from the passage above, that the alternative to speaking the truth in love is spiritual immaturity (being like "infants") and susceptibility to being "tossed back and forth by the waves," to being deceived by every wind of teaching and the deceitful scheming of other people (Eph. 4:14-16). Paul, then, is urging us to teach others to obey God's commandments so that they will not be caught up in circumstances or be deceived by false teaching, but will instead be anchored in the truth so that they will mature and be built up in the Body of Christ.

This is the essence of discipling others, just as Jesus articulated before His ascension to heaven. He says, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20). Teaching the truth about God's commands as laid out in his Word is an integral part of discipling others and building up the Body of Christ.

Paul admonishes believers to handled the "Word of truth" accurately (2 Tim. 2:15). Paul makes it clear that the only way to do this is to understand that it’s in Christ alone in whom all truth is rooted. Speaking truth about the law like the Pharisees did is not what Paul means by handling the Word of truth accurately.

Paul resolved to "boast in nothing except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Gal. 6:14). While Paul stays with the Corinthian believers, he describes how,

"When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power." (1 Cor. 2:1-5).

Speaking the truth, then, must be Christ-centered—not relying on human wisdom, but on the power of God. Because speaking the truth in love rejects human wisdom, and centers on the stumbling block of Christ, it may be offensive others.

What does Paul mean by "in"?

The little word "in" carries a lot of weight here. Paul's admonishes us to speak the truth "in" love. He doesn't talk about speaking the truth "with" love or speaking the truth "about" love.  I think there is a subtle but significant distinction here.

First, loving actions and behavior towards others should provide the backdrop for speaking the truth. Young Life's founder, Jim Rayburn, talks about "earning the right to be heard" when ministering to young people and sharing the gospel with them. The gospel is best communicated within a context of friendship or service. I think Paul is saying something similar here: the truth is better received when it's delivered within the context of Christ-like love.

Interestingly, Paul didn't say speak love, he said speak truth. He isn't talking here about love as the content of what is being spoken. Have you ever heard the saying, "actions speak louder than words"? Simply saying nice things to someone without backing up our words with loving actions is disingenuous. Speaking words of love alone, can quickly turn into flattery and empty words. Love is more authentically demonstrated in the way we treat others. In other words, we need to aim at doing love, and speaking truth in a way that honors God first and foremost.

Second, our motive for speaking the truth should be rooted in our love of God and our love of people. The fact is, if we truly love someone, we will want to be honest with them. If you saw someone you loved self-destructing, you would do what you could to save them. In actuality, the only life-preserver that will save someone who's spiritually drowning is the gospel. This should be our motivation behind speaking the truth: to help others find the Way--Christ Jesus.

Keeping our motives pure can be costly. It can cost us friendships, popularity, and convenience. I am a people-pleaser by nature and as a result I am constantly struggling with the temptation to do and say things I think will make people happy or make people like me more. At times, it has been tempting for me to make a friend feel better about a problem they are having, rather than speaking the truth to them about their situation. The truth can make us uncomfortable. This can lead us to brush it under the rug, or tell ourselves a different, more palatable story. In doing this, however, we put our feelings before our obedience to God.

Finally, Paul shows that Christ-centered truth is inseparable from Christ-like love. As demonstrated above, love without truth is people-pleasing. But just as dangerous is truth without love, which can lead to hard-headed legalism, hatred, and division. Truth without love is like faith without deeds. And we know from James that faith without deeds is dead. "Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder" (Jm. 2:18-19).

Head-knowledge alone doesn't save us, for even the demons know the truth. I have known people who have a keen grasp of theological concepts and can even articulate the atonement, for example, with amazing precision. However, their hearts have been unchanged by the gospel. Head-knowledge alone doesn't change the heart. We know from Scripture, "knowledge puffs up while love builds up" (1 Cor. 8:1). Head-knowledge can be a source of pride—an unhealthy form of self-love that turns us away from God. If we don't experience heart-change in response to the truth of the gospel, our faith is dead.

Essentially then, love and truth are interdependent. Truth is, by its very nature, completely submerged and saturated in love! God is love (1 Jn. 4:8), just as he is truth (Jn. 14:6). And the truth of the gospel of Christ is the purest expression of love. In other words, in Christ, love actually is truth. And love and truth are an integral part of discipleship.

As Paul shows us, speaking the truth in love is key to establishing unity in the Body of Christ. This is because what unifies us as believers is not brushing fundamental truths under the carpet to keep the peace, but rather upholding the Gospel of Christ in our churches and uniting together in the name of Jesus. Paul explains that with Christ as our Lord, believers will be united together, speaking the truth in love, as we "grow up in every way into Him who is the head," which allows the Body to "build itself up in love" (Eph 4:15-16).


Anna-Maeve Martin has worked in international development, civil liberties, and church ministry (missions & outreach). She has two Master's degrees in History of Ideas (Leeds University, UK) and Government (University of Pennsylvania) and continues her studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is originally from England but now resides in Northern Virginia where she is a stay-at-home mom of three young daughters by day and a blogger by night at Faith Actually. Follow her on Twitter @FaithActually.