The Work of Godly Grief Within Us

How we measure up in relation to the barometer of Scripture and what we do with it.


“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) (ESV)

When I read this, I immediately ask myself, “How do I measure up to this standard?” Have I exhibited a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation? I think that’s the natural inclination.

I search myself, my past and present experiences, my behavior and my orientation toward God, and I measure myself on the scale that is presented, not just in this passage, but in any passage. Scripture is not just a prescription; it’s a barometer.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) (ESV)

I felt that active and sharp character of the Bible when I first read it in college, and it is not any less active or sharp in its affect on me today. If I am conscious of the “interaction” of the Scripture in relation to the thoughts and intents of my heart, it provides a third person view, in effect, into my self in relation to God.

Still, I am tempted to think, “How can I measure up?” Regarding the verse above, I am tempted to consider how I can generate a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation. My mindset is, “How can I do that?” or “What does it take to accomplish that?”

As I dive deeper into the verse, though, I begin to see something else. That something else gets to the heart of my relationship with God. It is the heart of the Gospel.

Continue reading “The Work of Godly Grief Within Us”

When You Realize God Sees You, Exposed in Your sin

God sees it all. Every thought. Every urge in the heart. Every word. Every deed…. And still He calls us.


Peter was one of the first followers of Jesus. He was one the twelve who became known as “the apostles”, one of the closest followers of Jesus. But Peter wasn’t just a follower, and he wasn’t just one of the apostles. Andrew, Peter’s brother, is known as the first follower of Jesus, but Peter became closer to Jesus then Andrew. Peter was one of the inner circle of the closest confidants to Jesus.

There were only three people in that inner circle: James and John, the brothers from Zebedee, and Peter, and Peter was the main spokesman of the three. Only Peter, James and John went up to the mount to witness the Transfiguration, and only Peter spoke with Jesus about it. Peter wasn’t just a spokesman; he was a leader among the followers of Jesus.

Peter was with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry to the end. He argued, legitimately, about who was best of the followers of Jesus. He boldly declared his willingness to go to prison and to die for Jesus. Of all the disciples of Jesus, Peter stood out above the rest.

So when Jesus told Peter that the rooster would not crow that day before Peter would deny him three times, Peter must have thought, “How much more can I say or do to show you that I am committed?!”

And then, Peter’s world turned upside down. The apostles didn’t understand, really, what Jesus talking about until the drama Jesus tried to explain to them unfolded right in front of them. Without warning, a crowd came walking up to them lead by Judas. The disciples reacted, ready to fight for Jesus, but Jesus stopped them from resisting, Jesus was escorted away… without a fight,. Jesus let them take him like a lamb led to its slaughter.

Imagine Peter, following at a distance, his bold bravado swept away by pained confusion and fear. “This isn’t the way this is supposed to go”, he had to be thinking. “Is this the way it all ends?” In the cloud of his confusion, pain and disillusionment, as he was standing in a crowd around a fire, a servant girl identified Peter as one of the people with Jesus, and Peter denied it.

Two more times at different intervals, Peter denied being associated with Jesus. Immediately after the third time, the rooster crowed, “[a]nd the Lord turned and looked at Peter”. At that instance, the words Jesus spoke just a short while earlier played through Peter’s head, and he “wept bitterly”.[i]

Imagine Peter as the rooster crowed and the Lord’s eyes met his…. All of his words, three years of commitment to Jesus and all the boasting about who is the greatest unraveled completely in a moment in time. Peter was undone… exposed as a fraud.

Continue reading “When You Realize God Sees You, Exposed in Your sin”

Justification by Faith

Whether there are 613 laws to keep or just two, who tend to view morality as a competition in which we compare ourselves to others.


In a previous blog post, I observed that Scripture reveals a progression from law to relationship to faith. In Habakkuk, the prophet said, “The righteous will live by his faith.” (Hab. 2:4) This statement in Habakkuk is the second half of a verse that contrasts “the proud one” whose soul “is not upright to the righteous one who lives by faith. The implication is that the righteousness is linked to faith and is contrasted to pride.

We see this theme continued in the New Testament:

“The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)


“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Galatians 3:11)


“[M]y righteous one shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:37)

And the reason that salvation is by faith (in the grace of God) is so that no one can boast.

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:9)

When Jesus summarized all the law and prophets in just two statements (love God and love your neighbor) he whisked us past the academic details of the law to the simple heart and spirit of the law. (Luke 10:25-27) If we think this simplification of the law makes it any easier on us, however, we should think again. At the same time Jesus simplified the expression of the law, Jesus upped the ante on us when he said that, if we even lust in our hearts, we have committed adultery. If we have even gotten angry in our hearts at our brother, we may have committed the sin of murder. (See Mathew 5:21-48)

Jesus made the law simpler and more difficult to follow at the same time!

Maybe this is because our ability to follow the law (to maintain God’s standard of morality) isn’t the key point. In fact, the point is our inability, in ourselves, to live up to God’s standard! Until we realize that we can’t measure up, we don’t measure up, we are depending on ourselves and our own efforts to “be right with God”. But we never can. Whether it’s 613 laws or just two principles, we fall short.

Our focus shouldn’t be on the laws and other people. On this horizontal level, we compare ourselves to others, and we judge ourselves and others in comparison. This is where pride and self-righteousness dwell, and the focus is, ultimately, on ourselves. Rather our focus should be vertical, on God and our relationship to him.

Continue reading “Justification by Faith”

What Is Christian Salvation and Why Would Anyone Want It?

What does it mean that salvation is a free gift? What are we saved from? Why is it freely given?


One of the simplest and most fundamental principles of Christianity is that salvation is a free gift. It is nothing that we earn. God gives salvation to us freely.

A closely associated principle is that righteousness is nothing that we achieve. God attributes righteousness to us freely. Again, we don’t achieve righteousness; God considers us righteous when are rightly related to God.

These words, salvation and righteousness, are among the most basic of Christian principles. These words are used with a great deal of presumption that everyone knows what they mean, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

What is salvation? Why should we want to be saved? Saved from what?

Righteousness may be even more misunderstood. Are we talking about moral superiority? Self-righteousness? Holier than thou?

I will try to illuminate these very central ideas to the Christian faith in this blog. Few things are more central to Christianity than the idea of salvation and righteousness.

Continue reading “What Is Christian Salvation and Why Would Anyone Want It?”

How Can God Judge Good People: Approaching the Solution

 (c) Can Stock Photo

(c) Can Stock Photo

One of the nagging problems that people have with the Bible is the notion that God will judge people that we might consider good (as in better than me). That does not sit well with me, of course. Because we do not fully understand the issue, we fire off the accusatory question: if God is good and loving, how can He condemn good people to hell?

Part of the problem with the question is that we may not accurately understand the problem. The Law (morality) was not given to us so that we might measure up to it; the Law was given to us to show us that we do not measure up! In fact, the very point is that we do not measure up, and we cannot measure up.

Goodness and badness are not really the point; moral standards, the Law, only expose the problem. A moral standard is completely incapable of accomplishing what we need; it only reveals that we need help.

Thus, when the Pharisees boasted of their good actions, Jesus raised the ante: He said that even thinking bad thoughts is sin! When the rich young ruler asked what he needed to do to be saved, Jesus told him to go sell everything – something Jesus knew he could (would not be willing) to do. The point of the Law is to bring us to the realization that we cannot measure up on our own.

If we are trying to measure up and “be good” in order to get to Heaven, we have failed to understand the problem. We cannot even begin to understand the solution if we fail to understand the problem.

The problem is that we are set against God in our sinfulness. Our nature is set against God’s nature. While everything else in the universe was created to be finely-tuned as God intended, by the choice God gave us, we deviated from plan. This choice gave us the possibility of having a relationship with God, our Creator, but it also set us up for corruption as we inevitably would go our own way, being imperfect creatures, and not gods (let alone God).

We wanted to be like God and, so, became opposed to Him. In this way, we introduced corruption (sin) into the world that resulted in death (and all that leads to death – decay, degeneration, disease, etc.)

Transformation is what we require to be able to have fellowship with God and to enter in to His Heaven. But, we cannot achieve that transformation ourselves. In fact, we are completely incapable of it on our own.

Continue reading “How Can God Judge Good People: Approaching the Solution”

Love of God and Wrath of God though the Filter of Human Experience

When Ezra speaks of the gracious hand of God on those who look to God and God’s great anger against those who forsake Him, Ezra is speaking through his human understanding.

by Treasure Noel Tatum
photo by Treasure Noel Tatum

This is the fourth segment in the series, Putting the Wrath of God in Perspective.

We should never be afraid to confront the most difficult questions or statements. Truth is truth, and God and truth must necessarily be harmonious. Richard Dawkins says,

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
― Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion

The angry God of the Old Testament problem is often a line of first defense (or is it offense?) for those who do not believe in God, or at least do not believe in “the God of the bible”. It is a problem that believers wrestle with too.

The sermon in church today was on the book of Ezra. Ezra 8:22 reads,

“The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.”

This is the kind of thing that people like Richard Dawkins criticize, but they do so without any understanding (and likely no desire to understand) what they are criticizing. Continue reading “Love of God and Wrath of God though the Filter of Human Experience”

Born This Way

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I took the phrase for this article from an interview with Dr. Rosario Butterfield. The context is homosexuality. For years, the gay community has been telling the world that they are born with same sex desire. People refuted that in the beginning. I think it is more or less accepted as factual now. I realize that I may lose some Christian friends at this point, but I hope you stick around.

I realize that what I am about to say might turn away my non-Christian friends, and even some of my Christian friends. I hope you will look past my next statement and keep reading too. The Bible is pretty clear that acts of same gender sex are sin (along with sexual lust, sexual exploitation, sex with multiple partners, sex outside of marriage, adultery, etc.)

It only seems right, now, that I offend everyone. I say that only somewhat tongue in cheek. But here goes – We are all sinners.

Before I lose everyone, think about it: do you not at times of brutal, personal honesty feel as though you are just not quite right? I suppose the brutal honesty comes in the form of thinking that those around you are just not quite right. (That is an easier conclusion to reach for most of us.) Something is just off.

Things are not the way any of us think they ought to be.

Most of us have come to accept that “this” is just the way it is. “This” is normal, and, indeed it is normal! What we know, what we all know, is the normal state of man – this not-quite-rightness.

Depending on how we view the world, we focus on certain aspects of not-quite-rightness. Some focus on homosexuality, the “attack” on the family and abortion. Others focus on threats against the right to bear arms, business and the erosion of capitalism. Others focus on the damage we do to the environment, cruelty to animals and economic disparities. Many focus on the cruelty of war, the barbarism of torture and over-aggression of police forces. Racism, greedy capitalism, domestic abuse, child abuse, adulterous affairs that ruin marriages, child neglect, the over-sexualization of women, oppression of women, human tracking, pornography, dams on our rivers, phosphates in our waters, dark clouds of pollution spewing into the air, dictators oppressing entire nations, drunk drivers, flaws in the legal system that leave people without justice – something is not quite right with the world.

We tend to feel of ourselves that we are better, or at least not as bad, as many, if not most, people. We have primarily good intentions. We do not generally wish people harm. We try not to hurt people, but sometimes we do. Sometimes, in spite of our best intentions, we are unkind, say things we should not say and do things we should not do.

If you stop and really think about it, there are all sorts of things we should do, but don’t. If all the people in the world did things we should be doing, we would eliminate poverty and war and all kinds of troubles. We tend to think that we are not part of the problems in the world, and we probably are not, directly. When we look at the “World”, we tend to compare pretty well. If we look only at ourselves very long, we see there are places that we fall short, even in spite of those feelings of good intentions.

Why is that?

We were born into this not-quite-rightness, and we are part of the not-quite-rightness. We are each not-quite-right ourselves.

Be honest now. Do you do all the things you know you should do? Do you never do things you know you should not do? Even if you do not subscribe to a “Christian” moral code, do you keep your own moral code? Does the world live up to it? If you have read this far, you must admit that the world is not quite right.

I am not quite right, and I have never been quite right. I have never succeeded at being the person I thought I was and thought I should be. I am just being honest.

I know I am not alone in that (though I might have once thought so). I figured out somewhere along the way that others are not quite right as well – whether they see it or admit it. (Think “plank in my eye” analogy here.)

We are “born this way.” I was born with a very strong will, a strong infatuation for girls, a strong competitive instinct and a strong desire for comfort. In my life I have had to face that I am selfish, lustful, jealous, unkind, quick to anger and just plain lazy. I am not being hard on myself; I am just being honest.

I was born that way.

But there is hope! The story of Dr. Rosario Butterfield brings me to tears, because it is my story; and I am grateful.

That same hope took hold of me many years ago, and I just want the world to know that there is glorious, beautiful, life-changing hope in the person of Jesus Christ who was God shedding his position of power and detachment to become one of us. He showed that He cares and that He understands in being willing to suffer and die for us. He showed that there is hope for us in rising again  to conquer sin and death.

God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son…. that we might live.

You can find the living reality of that love and the hope He gives in the story and life of Dr. Rosario Butterfield: