“Be A Infinite Player”

Discussion Questions:

As Christian leaders, which game are you playing? Finite or infinite?

Explain or give reasons why you believe you are playing by finite rules, infinite rules, or both.

Can you discuss the personal or corporate frustration in times when have played the finite game?

Sinek said, “The joy comes from advancement.” Discuss this statement as it relates in the context of our calling as Christian leaders.

Discuss Sinek’s thoughts in regard to Millennials (really people in general) being consumed with self instead of others. Are we guilty of these as Christian leaders?

Do we as Christian leaders/pastors look to the church to care for us? Or do we understand and practice our calling of caring for the church?

Has “Missional” Replaced “DiscipleMaking?

Author – Mike Breen

It’s time we start being brutally honest about the missional movement that has emerged in the last 10-15 years: Chances are better than not it’s going to fail.

That may seem cynical, but I’m being realistic. There is a reason so many movements in the Western church have failed in the past century:

They are a car without an engine.

A missional church or a missional community or a missional small group is the new car that everyone is talking about right now, but no matter how beautiful or shiny the vehicle, without an engine, it won’t go anywhere.

The Engine of the Church

So what is the engine of the church? Discipleship. I’ve said it many times: If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.

If you’re good at making disciples, you’ll get more leaders than you’ll know what to do with. If you make disciples like Jesus made them, you’ll see people come to faith who didn’t know Him. If you disciple people well, you will always get the missional thing.

Always.

We took 30 days and examined the Twitter conversations happening. We discovered there are between 100-150 times as many people talking about mission as there are discipleship (to be clear, that’s a 100:1). We are a group of people addicted to and obsessed with the work of the Kingdom, with little to no idea how to be with the King.

 “Many church leaders unknowingly replace the transcendent vitality of a life with God for the ego satisfaction they derive from a life for God.”

Look, I’m not criticizing the people who are passionate about missional – I am one of those people. I was one of the people pioneering Missional Communities in the 80’s and have been doing it ever since. This is my camp, my tribe, my people. But it has to be said: God did not design us to do Kingdom mission outside of the scope of intentional, biblical discipleship and if we don’t see that, we’re fooling ourselves.

Mission Is The Umbrella of Discipleship

Mission is under the umbrella of discipleship as it is one of the many things that Jesus taught his disciples to do well. But it wasn’t done in a vacuum outside of knowing God and being shaped by that relationship, where a constant refinement of their character was happening alongside of their continued skill development (which included mission).

The truth about discipleship is that it’s never hip and it’s never in style – it’s the call to come and die; a long obedience in the same direction. While the “missional” conversation is imbued with the energy and vitality that comes with kingdom work, it seems to be missing some of the hallmark reality that those of us who have lived it over time have come to expect:

Mission is messy.

It’s humbling. There’s often no glory in it. It’s for the long haul. And it’s completely unsustainable without discipleship.

This is the crux of it:

The reason the missional movement may fail is because most people/communities in the Western church are pretty bad at making disciples.

Without a plan for making disciples (and a plan that works), any missional thing you launch will be completely unsustainable.

Mission Is A War Zone

Think about it this way: Sending people out to do mission is to send them out to a war zone. Discipleship is not only the boot camp to train them for the front lines, but the hospital when they get wounded and the off-duty time they need to rest and recuperate.

When we don’t disciple people the way Jesus and the New Testament talked about, we are sending them out without armor, weapons or training. This is mass carnage waiting to happen. How can we be surprised that people burn out, quit and never want to return to the missional life (or the church)? How can we not expect people will feel used and abused?

There’s a story from World War II where The Red (Russian) Army sent wave after wave of untrained, practically weaponless soldiers into the thick of the German front. They were slaughtered in droves. Why did they do this? Because they knew that eventually the German soldiers would run out of ammunition, creating an opportunity for the Red Army to send in their best soldiers to finish them off. The first wave of untrained soldiers were the best way of exhausting ammunition, leaving their enemy vulnerable.

While this isn’t a perfect analogy, I sense this is a bit like the missional movement right now. We are sending bright-eyed civilians into the battle where the fighting is fiercest without the equipping they need, not just to survive, but to fight well and advance the Kingdom of their dad, the King.

Mission Devoid of Discipleship = Failure

The missional movement will fail because, by-and-large, we are having a discussion about mission devoid of discipleship. Unless we start having more discussion about discipleship and how we make missionaries out of disciples, this movement will stall and fade. Any discussion about mission must begin with discipleship.

If your church community is not yet competent at making disciples who can make disciples, please don’t send your members out on mission until you have a growing sense of confidence in your ability to train, equip and disciple them.

Here are some questions I have leaders I’m working with ask regularly:

  • Am I a disciple?
  • Do I know how to disciple people who can then disciple people who then disciple people, etc? (i.e. does my discipleship plan work?)
  • Does our discipleship plan naturally lead all disciples to become missionaries? (not just the elite, Delta-seal missional experts)

What Is Discipleship and How Is It Done?

Interview by John Piper
Well, to the inbox. Many questions have come in this month about discipleship. What is discipleship? What is the aim of discipleship? And how is it done typically? To orient us on discipleship, what would you want to say, Pastor John?
A couple of observations about the word. The word discipleship never occurs in the Bible. The term is ambiguous in English. It can mean my discipleship in the sense of my own pattern of following Jesus and trusting him and learning from him. That is my discipleship. It could mean that. Or it can mean my activity of helping others be disciples in that sense of learning from him, growing in him.
The second meaning — this helping others — does have a verb in New Testament Greek: mathetuo, to make disciples. It can mean preach the gospel so that people get converted to Christ and become Christians and, thus, disciples. For example, Acts 14:21 says, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium.” So that “make disciples” is one Greek word there and it means “get them converted to Jesus.” That is what it means.
Or it can mean the whole process of conversion, baptism, and teaching the ways of Jesus as it is used in Matthew 28:19–20: “Go therefore and make disciples.” And here is what he means. “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” That is a very long process. That is like a lifetime of process. So get them converted. Baptize them. And then spend a lifetime teaching them to obey all that Jesus said. That is what the verb “disciple” in the New Testament would include.
The word disciple in the New Testament does not mean a second-stage Christian. There are some ministries that are built around this distinction that is just so unbiblical, as if there were converts, then there are disciples who are little stage-two Christians who learn more, and then there are disciple makers.
Now all those groupings are linguistically foreign to the New Testament. A disciple in the New Testament is simply a Christian. Acts 11:26: “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” Everybody that was converted to Jesus was a disciple. Everybody that was converted to Jesus was a Christian. Disciple was, in fact, not a favorite term for Christian as time went by, it seems. Paul never uses the noun or the verb “disciple.” In fact, neither the noun disciple or the verb make disciples occurs anywhere in the New Testament outside the Gospels and Acts. So I think what is important is not the terminology, but the reality. People need to become Christians and people need to be taught how to think and feel and act as a Christian. That is, a disciple, a follower of Jesus, one who embraces him as Lord and Savior and Treasure.
Now where and how should that happen? That is what I think all the talk about discipleship is, it’s a fresh concern about how to bring people to Christ and grow them up into being what they ought to be as Christians or as followers of Jesus or as disciples. There is a lot of different words that people are using these days to describe “Christian.”
So how does that happen?
Well, the conversion of people from unbelievers to believers, Christians, disciples, should be happening in any and every situation. Okay? So there is no single strategy. There is no limit to the ways a person can be told the good news of Jesus. And so, “discipling” in that sense is as varied as there are ways of saying the gospel or living the gospel in front of people to draw them in.
As far as training Christians how to think and feel and act as a Christian — that is, discipling in the sense of growing them into more and more maturity — that happens in so many ways in the New Testament. Here is just a grocery list of possibilities:
• Titus 2:4 — Older women are to train younger women.
• Second Timothy 2:2 — Paul trained Timothy to train others to train others.
• Ephesians 6:4 — Fathers are to train their children.
• Matthew 28:20 — Missionaries are to teach the nations everything Jesus commanded.
• Hebrews 3:13 — All Christians are to exhort each other every day to avoid sin and to stir each other up to love and good works (see also Hebrews 10:24–25).
• First Peter 4:10 — All Christians are to use their gifts to serve others.
• Acts 18:24–26 — Priscilla and Aquila, on the spur of the moment it seems, explained the way of God more accurately to Apollos.
And we could go on and on.
Every Christian should be helping unbelievers become believers by showing them Christ; that is, making a disciple.
And every Christian should be helping other believers grow to more and more maturity. That is making a disciple.
And every Christian should be seeking to get help for themselves from others to keep on growing. And that is also our discipleship. And every church should think through how all of these kinds of biblical disciple-making find expression in their corporate life.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

What Christians Get Wrong About Discipleship

By Ann Swindell

To those of us who follow Jesus, discipleship should be a central aspect of our faith. This is because Jesus commanded His followers—in what is commonly referred to as “The Great Commission”—to “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” (Matthew 28:18-20).

It’s not a suggestion that Jesus makes here. It’s a command, a charge.
What is discipleship? Put simply, discipleship means intentionally partnering with another Christian in order to help that person obey Jesus and grow in relationship with Him—so that he or she can then help others do the same. Jesus taught His disciples to follow Him and obey His commands so that they could lead others to do the same after His death, resurrection and ascension. The Apostle Paul continues the pattern with Timothy and encourages him to keep the cycle going: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Put simply, discipleship means intentionally partnering with another Christian in order to help that person obey Jesus and grow in relationship with Him.
But how do we live out this command and actually do what we’ve been called to do? It can help, I think, to look at what we might be getting wrong about discipleship in order to understand how to get it right.

Discipleship Isn’t Easy.
Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost us our lives. Jesus put it bluntly:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23-25)
To be a disciple of Jesus means that we have given up our lives in order to follow Him wholeheartedly and unreservedly. It means that our lives are no longer our own—they are His.

Discipleship Isn’t “Just Me and Jesus.”
While discipleship is all about Jesus, it’s not a solitary endeavor. Discipleship is relational, and to fully respond to the Great Commission, we need to be disciples who are making disciples of Jesus. This means we need to spend consistent time with other believers.
Jesus and His disciples spent a lot of time together (Acts 1:21-22). They ate together, walked together, rode in boats together. They even fought together (Luke 9:46-48). The 12 disciples were in one another’s lives, constantly and intentionally.
While we are all called to become disciples of Jesus, we become disciples with one another, learning how to love God and each other as we go. We need to allow others to disciple us by letting them challenge us and encourage us in our walk with God. This is why church and honest relationships with other believers are so central to the Christian life—we need one another in this journey of becoming wholehearted disciples of Jesus.

Discipleship Isn’t Mentoring.
As we allow others into our lives and let them help us obey Jesus, we also need to reach out and disciple others. But that doesn’t mean we are mentoring others.
Mentoring has to do with what the mentor can offer to someone else through their own wisdom and experience; discipleship has to do with what Jesus can offer to someone else through His wisdom and presence.

The Culture of Kings Point Series: The Culture of Discipleship

A message taken from

“The Culture of Kings Point Series: The Culture of Discipleship”

Pastor Randy Ballard

1/24/16

Text Matthew 28:19,20

Introduction: Last week we introduced the 2016 theme: “By My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.”

For the next few weeks, I want to build on that by defining what is the Culture of Kings Point. For years our vision values here have been to disciple, serve, and send. Our mission statement going all the way back to the early part of the 2002 has been “Winning Souls, and Making Disciples.” We try to remind you of that from time to time, but more importantly we try to integrate these important values in everything we do. Almost all of our ministries here fall in one of these three areas: Serve, Disciple, or Send.

Today, I want us to talk about the culture of discipleship. If I were to ask you today, are you a Christian or a Disciple, what would you say? If you would have asked me growing up in the church that question, I would have said emphatically “I am Christian.” My thinking at that time was that a Christian was someone that believed in God and a Disciple was someone who was really committed, like on the inner circle of the Christians or someone in the ministry, perhaps.

Over the years, as I have studied the Bible it became clear that my idea of a Christian was not actually based on a Biblical definition, but more of what I had been told or heard from others. Surprised? Go ahead and ask yourself how many times you think the Bible mentions Christians. What is your guess? 100, 500, even 1,000?

Three times in the entire Bible are the people who follow Jesus called Christians. They are much more commonly called Disciples (294 times in the Bible). So when did the Disciples first start getting called Christians?

The first occurrence of His Disciples being called Christians was at Antioch. See in the book of Acts:  Acts 11:25-26:

25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Christian was the name given by the Greeks or Romans, probably in reproach or rebuke, to the followers of Jesus. The names by which the disciples were known among themselves were “brethren,” “the faithful,” “elect,” “saints,” “believers.” But as distinguishing them from the unsaved multitudes who were regular Jews or Gentiles of people who were, the name “Christian” came into use, and was universally accepted.

In the Greek, the word CHRISTIAN literally meant “Little Christ” as in “there is that Christian, look at the little Christ over there.” (someone trying to imitate Jesus). This was basically a derogatory term or a put down and it came over 3 years after Jesus’ death on the cross.

Hmmm, that is interesting isn’t it? So let’s think about that for a minute. If a Disciple (or follower of Jesus) is really the only person that would be called a “little Christ” or Christian, is that something that I (or you) would be in danger of being called based on that definition?

People were called Christians because they were following Jesus and living like Christ, not just going to Church or saying they believed in God. Would the way that you live your life outside of church demonstrate the opportunity for others to say “Look at that little Christ?”

To me this was and still is very convicting. Many times we are reminded of John 3:16 where we hear how God gave his only Son and if we believe in Him we will inherit eternal life. Much less have I heard the scripture in the same gospel of John 8:31-32 that says “IF you hold to my teachings THEN you are really my Disciples, then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (my emphasis).

So why does the world today use the word Christian instead of Disciple? Why was and is it so “Universally accepted” by the secular world as we read in the Christian definition?

I believe it is a less intimidating word that people are more comfortable with. Disciple denotes things like dedication, commitment, and evangelism.

I hear disciple and I think “that guy is really living out the scriptures”. Christian in the world’s definition today is more that of a believer. Even the Dictionary definition of a Disciple says “One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another,” or “one of the original followers of Jesus including his 12 apostles.”

Sometimes, I will ask people if they are a Christian, they say “Yes, of course, I believe in God and go to church.” But when asked if they are a disciple of Jesus, they are taken off guard and will say “Well I wouldn’t say that, I am more like, just a Christian.” Is this your response? (PAUSE)

But really, as we have already seen in the Bible, people call a disciple a Christian because they see someone who learns from Christ to live like him — someone who, because of God’s awakening grace, conforms his or her words and ways to the words and ways of Jesus. Their “disciplined or discipled” life in Christ. influences the way they live, talk, act, dress, the decisions that they make, the way they spend their money, how they handle their material possessions, etc…that’s the fruit of discipleship and that’s why they should call you a “little Christ” or “Jesus” or a “Jesus Freak” or a “Christian.”

SO REALLY, A true Disciple is a Christian and a true Christian is a Disciple.

The four Gospels give us the definitive portrait of Jesus in his life on earth, and if we really want to know what it means to be his disciple, the Gospels are likely where we start.

So does our church possess a culture of discipleship? Are we in the authority of Christ making disciples?

Well, my answer is we are trying to AND WE CAN ALWAYS DO BETTER!

This is the sole purpose of:

  • Sunday School
  • Grow (Small) Groups
  • Relarional Discipleship Series classes
  • Youth Ministry
  • Children’s Ministries
  • Men’s Ministries
  • Women’s Ministries
  • Prayer Ministries
  • Preaching/Teaching Ministries…

WE ARE TRYING TO CREATE A CULTURE WHERE PEOPLE LOOK LIKE “little Christ’s” … who learn from Christ, to live like him — who conforms his or her words and ways to the words and ways of Jesus.

CONCLUSION:

CREATING AND SUSTAINING A DISCLESHIP CULTURE  IN THE CHURCH IS CRUCIAL BECAUSE OF THREE REASONS:

  1. It’s where faith is nurtured and developed…where else does that happen?
  2. It can change the course of a life
  3. It produces eternal fruitfulness

Six Ways To Motivate Your Church for Serious Discipleship

Most resources on making disciples assume you have believers who are ready and waiting for discipling. If only this were true, it would make our task much easier. Leaders must consider the crucial — but often missing — factor of motivation. Without it, the best methods and materials have little value.

My appreciation of the need for strong, sustained motivation escalated when I discovered four powerful enemies of discipleship: inherent difficulties; urgent concerns, such as family responsibilities and work pressures; culture seductions, including career success, possessions, and entertainment; and cultural misbeliefs that regularly assault our minds and weaken our resolve to fully follow Jesus.

Duty or Desire

How can we motivate believers for discipleship despite these challenges? Early in my ministry I tried guilt. I quickly found this only has limited, short-term effectiveness. I have emphasized, duty but this also falls short. What delight does God take in the attitude, “I’m obeying You because it is my duty as a believer”?

The only adequate motivation for following Jesus is desire. In the parable of the treasure hidden in the field, the man joyfully sells all he has to buy the field because its value far exceeds the cost (Matthew 13:44). How can leaders provide and sustain such motivation for discipleship? Through the years I have discovered six sources.

Biblical Vision of God and Reality

A strong biblical vision of God serves as the primary motivator. Believers need to see God’s holiness and greatness, and appreciate His goodness, faithfulness, and forgiveness. Foundational is the reality of a loving God who is for us, not against us. Richard Foster wisely observes, “The Christian life comes not by gritting our teeth but by falling in love.”1

Disciple makers must also convey that living for God produces growing joy, wholeness, hope, and a fruitful life in fulfilling God’s purposes. Ultimately we gain eternal life with the God who loves us. We must sincerely believe: “While difficult, serving God overwhelmingly beats any alternative — so it’s hardly a choice at all.”

Appreciation of God’s Law and Revulsion Toward Sin

For sustained obedience, believers must be convinced of the desirability of God’s standards. As a pastor, I regularly reminded my congregation that God’s laws are descriptions of reality.He gave them for our good (Deuteronomy 10:12,13), so we can live the best life possible — that which accords with reality and offers eternal significance. To ignore His laws means to ignore reality, and results in diminished and distorted living, and eventually destruction.

A right perception of sin complements a correct view of God’s laws. Sin attracts us because it seems to offer satisfaction. While it may partially and temporarily do so, it cannot yield lasting or complete fulfillment. Instead, it damages our lives.

Recognition of Incompleteness

Those who realize their poverty and incompleteness will seek more of God and His reign in their lives (Matthew 5:3). Spiritual lukewarmness characterizes those who lack this awareness (Revelation 3:15–18). Often it takes a crisis to force us to deep and honest examination of our lives. In doing so, we recognize the inability of any earthly circumstances or relationships to satisfy our deepest need. We also may discover inner wounds and broken places that need God’s healing.

Joyful Experiences of God

The Book of Acts contains numerous accounts of believers who experienced the reality of God. Consequently, they felt highly motivated to serve Him despite persecution. We can experience God in various ways: genuine worship, answered prayer, His working in our lives, and the infilling of His Spirit. These experiences of God inspire and motivate us to grow in relationship with Him.

Lives, Testimony, and Encouragement of Others

The quality of other believers’ lives and their testimonies of God at work in and through them also motivate us. These put flesh and blood on spiritual principles and demonstrate their effectiveness. Hearing fresh stories from others, we vicariously experience what they experienced, stimulating our growth. Also, the encouragement of others enables us to push through difficult and dry times in our spiritual journey toward maturity.

The Joy of Growing

Although our bodies quit growing and decline, emotional, intellectual, relational, and spiritual growth can proceed unabated. God wants us to grow to the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Growing in any area brings satisfaction that motivates me to desire even more growth. When I fail to grow, my life becomes routine and I experience the boredom of stagnation. When I grow, however, I experience a freshness and aliveness in my life.

Conclusion

Without strong, sustained motivation on the part of Christians, growth in discipleship will be anemic. With the empowering of God’s Spirit, we can use six sources to generate and maintain desire for spiritual maturity.

Stephen Lim, Springfield, Missouri

Endnote

1. Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998), 51.

Six Leadership Obstacles to Team Success: 6 Obstacles to Courageous Accountability

By Lee Ellis

pilot-plane

The plane had drifted off course by 200 miles, but the pilot didn’t know how it got there! He started out with the proper heading and course, and began the journey confident that he was ready to fly. Now he’s thinking, “If only I had a co-pilot or voice guidance system alerting me along the way, I would’ve saved a lot of time and fuel (money).”

For many leaders, this scenario makes perfect sense, yet the need for an accountability culture at work is not always accepted. We want the positive elements of success—achievement, notoriety, money, and excellence for clients and customers. But we’re unwilling to do the right things to get there.

Fearing the Accountability Solution

Our society seems to be somewhat schizophrenic about accountability. We hear passionate complaints about the lack of accountability across the spectrum—from the government, politics, education, and business to finance, religion, and the media. At the same time, when it comes to being on the receiving end, accountability seems to have earned a bad image. It seems so negative and often equated with frustration and injustice, even punishment.

So in one way we want accountability, generally. But in another way we fear and reject it, personally.

The Positive Accountability Strategy

So even though almost everyone would agree that accountability is not only a good thing—but an obvious necessity in most areas of life—it’s also seen as difficult and dreaded. Before looking at the many positive benefits of courageous accountability, let’s examine this paradox a bit further. I think we can reconcile the underlying psychology and philosophies that bring these strong opposing feelings about this powerful word—accountability.

6 Obstacles to Courageous Accountability

Reflect on these 6 obstacles to accountability, and see if you can identify your weak spots –

Pride – This is the kind of unhealthy pride, also known as “hubris” that allows us to inappropriately elevate ourselves above others. Because of an inflated ego, we may think that we’re “special” and the rules don’t apply to us.
Fear – There are a multitude of doubts and fears that can cause “normal” people to want to avoid accountability. Fear of failure—I may not be able to come through. Fear of making a mistake, fear of not measuring up, fear it will be too hard, or too risky. There is also fear of losing control.
Laziness – We all have to overcome our natural tendency toward laziness. Scientists now know that our brains are wired to choose the easy way out—it’s called habit. The downside to habits and mindsets is that wisdom is not always included.
Lack of Experience, Knowledge, and Planning – Some people just don’t know how to step out and follow through and are hesitant to be accountable or hold others accountable. Perhaps they’ve not seen a good role model for accountability.
Busyness – Related to laziness and inertia, busyness usually consumes us when we’re not living by priorities. We have busy schedules and it’s easy to procrastinate.
Negativity – If this is your challenge, you are paying a high cost. Emotions are highly contagious and negative ones zap energy and undermine teamwork. Begin by reflecting on your attitude to discern the energy that is driving your negativity.

The Truth Cannot Be Ignored

A wise person once said that people will continue to follow their old ways until they decide there’s a greater payoff by changing to a different behavior. Certainly there is a lot of truth in that statement.

Just like the pilot who unintentionally got off-course, honorable leaders realize that courageously embracing accountability is the best long-term strategy for getting results and developing healthy relationships that can serve as the watchdogs in your life. I like this quote from, The Oz Principle, a great book by Connors, Smith, and Hickman[i]. In their third principle of accountability, they tell it straight. Listen to what these experts say –

“When the people you count on fail to follow through and deliver on expectations, there’s only one thing to do—apply the third and final principle, the Accountability Truth. True accountability begins by looking at yourself, by holding yourself accountable. The truth is, when things go wrong, there is usually something wrong with what “I” am doing. When you embrace this principle, you harness future outcomes and strengthen your ability to hold others accountable.”

How We Forgot the Holiness of God

He may not be cruel and capricious. But don’t pretend he isn’t dangerous.How We Forgot the Holiness of God

A couple years ago, I visited Israel with a group of Christian journalists. We bobbed in the Dead Sea, ate “Peter fish” in Galilee, and ascended the desert fortress of Masada. We toured the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, prayed at the Western Wall, and sat amid Gethsemane’s twisted olive trees. But for me the highlight of the trip wasn’t a place. It was a person—our guide, Amir.

Amir was in his late 50s, stocky, with skin that looked like leather from leading trips through the Holy Land for three decades. At each site, Amir would seek out an isolated spot, gather us in a semicircle, and expound upon the historical and theological significance of the site. Sometimes he seemed more like a preacher than a tour guide.

I remember one talk in particular. With the Mount of Olives shimmering in the background, Amir described what he saw as the basic problem of the universe. “God longs to come down to earth to redeem the righteous and judge the wicked,” he said. “But there’s a problem.”

He leaned toward us and stretched out his arms like a scarecrow.

“His presence is like plutonium. Nothing can live when God comes near. If God came to earth, both the righteous and unrighteous would perish. We would all die!”

Initially Amir’s metaphor struck me as strange. I’d heard God described as father, master, king, warrior, judge . . . but plutonium? Yet as I recounted God’s interactions with the ancient Israelites, I wondered if Amir was onto something.

A Consuming Fire

We evangelicals love talking about God’s love. Just drop in on one of our church services and listen. You’ll hear worship choruses dripping with lyrics that border on romantic. The sermon will gush with assurances of God’s affection. While such affirmations are good—we need reminders of God’s love—rarely do we speak of God’s majesty, let alone whisper a word about his wrath. Among young Christians, this one-sided view of God is especially striking. Jesus is a homeboy or boyfriend. God is the big guy upstairs. Talk of divine holiness is dismissed as legalistic or judgmental.

The Bible, however, describes God in sobering terms. Among the myriad titles given, he is called “a consuming fire,” “Judge of all the earth,” and the “Lord of hosts”—a title that portrays God poised for battle, at the head of a heavenly army. In addition, the Bible stresses God’s discontinuity with humankind. “God is not human that he should . . .” is almost a refrain in Scripture. We might imagine that God is a sort of Superman, just like you or me but with additional powers. But that kind of thinking betrays a dangerous illusion. God is radically different from us, in degree and kind. He is ontologically dissimilar, wholly other, dangerous, alien, holy, wild.

When God shows up in Scripture, people cower and tremble. They go mute. The ones who manage speech fall into despair. Fainters abound. Take the prophet Daniel. He could stare down lions, but when the heavens opened, he swooned. Ezekiel, too, was overwhelmed by his vision of God. After witnessing Yahweh’s throne chariot lift into the air with the sound of a jet engine, he fell face-first to the ground. When Solomon dedicated the temple, the glory of the Lord was so overpowering, “the priests could not perform their service” (1 Kings 8:11).

New Testament types fared no better. John’s revelations left him lying on the ground “as though dead” (Rev. 1:17). The disciples dropped when they saw Jesus transfigured. Even the intrepid Saul marching to Damascus collapsed before the blazing brilliance of the resurrected Christ.

I understand why such accounts are jarring for us. They stand in stark contrast from popular depictions. In movies, angels are like teddy bears with wings. God is Morgan Freeman or some other avuncular figure. In Scripture, however, divine encounters are terrifying, leaving even the most stout and spiritual vibrating with fear—or lying face-down, unconscious.

Perhaps the story that best illustrates God’s formidable holiness is found in Isaiah 6. In most Bibles the passage is titled “Isaiah’s Commission.” This is a classic example of burying the lead. Yes, these verses record Isaiah’s prophetic calling, but first we see one of the most harrowing images of God in all of literature.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;

the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The seraphim alone would make most mortals tremble. Their name, seraphim, literally means “fiery, burning ones.” Their cries shake the temple. Isaiah shakes too.

“Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty. (v. 5)”

The seraphim do little to assuage Isaiah’s fears. It is not safe for him, a sinful mortal, to behold the unmediated glory of God. Death or cleansing—these are the only answers for Isaiah’s predicament. Fortunately for Isaiah, the seraphim chose the latter.

Around the time I was meditating on Isaiah’s vision, I attended a worship service where the pastor invited congregants to call out God’s attributes by finishing this sentence: “Lord, you are . . .”

The responses came in rapid succession: “Loving!” said someone. “Merciful,” added another. “Gracious.” . . . “Kind.” . . . “Compassionate.” . . .

All true. Yet what I found interesting was what wasn’t said. There wasn’t a word about God’s holiness, justice, or glory. Had Isaiah been in attendance, perhaps he would have added, “Terrifying.”

Of course it’s natural to ask, if portrayals of God holiness are unpopular why celebrate them? It isn’t likely that the “terrifying holiness of God” tops the list of felt needs for our unbelieving neighbors. So why bother? Why not be content to focus exclusively on God’s love?

While sidelining holiness may seem innocent, nothing could be further from the truth. A healthy appreciation for divine holiness has a tremendous impact on how we live and how we relate to God.

Holey Holiness

After Isaiah’s vision, the prophet realizes he has a problem. There’s a dangerous gulf between God and him. It’s not merely about God’s power and grandeur. Isaiah fears he’s doomed because he has “unclean lips” (v. 5). It seems that a revelation of God is accompanied by an overpowering sense of God’s purity and a corresponding awareness of human sinfulness.

While this concern for personal holiness is clear in Scripture, it has become murky in the church. Pastor Kevin DeYoung argues that we have a “hole in our holiness.” He’s not just talking about immorality per se; rather, “the hole in our holiness is that we don’t really care about it.”

One nationwide study from Barna Group found that “the concept of holiness baffles most Americans.” When asked to describe what it means to be holy, the most common reply was “I don’t know.” Of those identified as “born again,” only 46 percent believed “God has called them to holiness.” The study concluded, “The results portray a body of Christians who attend church and read the Bible, but do not understand the concept or significance of holiness, do not personally desire to be holy, and therefore do little, if anything to pursue it.”

Younger Christians in particular seem to view holiness as optional at best. Twenty-something writer Tyler Braun had this to say about his generation:

As the next generation of young Christians (including myself) continues to root themselves well within culture, we’ve lost the marks that allow Christ to be seen by a world that denies Him. We’ve lost holiness. Young believers have pursued life experience at the expense of innocence as we’ve given up on caring about the sin in our own lives.

Why is there such a lack of discernible holiness? Why this confusion on a basic Christian teaching? For Braun, the problem traces back to a lopsided understanding of God. “We picture God only as a God who provides mercy, not judgment. So of course we can get away with our sin, because God forgives.”

I believe he’s right. And not just about the younger generation. This thinking pervades the church—and we shouldn’t be surprised. We lack a practice of personal holiness because we’ve lost a theology of divine holiness. When we neglect a part of God’s nature, we shouldn’t be surprised when that same attribute goes missing in our lives.

The Bible repeatedly makes the connection between God’s holiness and ours. “Be holy,” God says, “because I am holy” (Lev. 19:2). “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Pet. 1:15). We will never be perfect. Not on this side of eternity. But when we gain a fuller vision of God, our lives will begin to reflect his holiness.

Awesome Again

We go to great lengths to create atmospheres conducive to meaningful worship. Each year we publish reams of books on worship, hold worship conferences, and spend millions of dollars on instruments and décor we hope will lead people into the presence of God. None of this is wrong. Atmosphere is important. But no matter how much we invest, without an appreciation of God’s holiness, our worship is fated to be superficial and, at best, momentarily moving.

But when we glimpse God’s holiness, we begin approaching God with “reverence and awe” because we see him as “a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28). “Ultimately transcendence is what makes a worship service meaningful,” writes pastor Bill Giovannetti. When God shows up, worship doesn’t have to be manufactured or drummed up. Worship is the natural reflex of mortals to the presence of a holy God. As Matt Redman puts it, “Worship thrives on wonder. For worship to be worship, it must contain something of the otherness of God.” A vision of God’s holiness rescues our worship from superficiality and makes it passionate and profound.

Note how Isaiah responds to his vision of God. At first he is distraught. But the passage doesn’t end in despair. After the majestic appearance, the Lord asks, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (v. 8). At this point Isaiah’s dismay becomes determination. “Here am I,” he says. “Send me!” (v. 8).

Other stories of divine visitations follow a similar pattern. Initially the visited person is terrified, but fear gives way to obedience.

Today, it’s no different. When I think of services in which I have sensed God’s presence, it wasn’t because the music was particularly good or the sermon especially profound. It was because there was a collective sense of God’s holiness. I recall standing in a room with 300 people singing “How Great Is Our God” and feeling like we were blending into heaven. Only an intense appreciation for God’s holiness produces such moments. Only when we marvel at his majesty will we achieve the deep intimacy that grows out of a true appreciation for who God is.

The cruel irony of choosing God’s love over his holiness is that we end up losing both. The affection of a familiar, buddy deity isn’t worth much. Only the love of the Lord of heaven and earth, who dwells in unapproachable light, is truly awe-inspiring. When we lose sight of God’s greatness, his love loses meaning. Perhaps this is why we write more saccharine love songs about God’s affection or make bizarre speculations that Jesus would have died “just for me.” Are we trying to convince ourselves, through repetition and superlatives, that his love still has meaning?

Only when we rediscover the holiness of God will we be overwhelmed by his love. Only then will we realize how truly good the news of the gospel is—that this holy God turns out to be a lover, that the temple curtain designed to protect us is now torn to let us in. But let’s never forget that he is the God of Isaiah 6. His throne is still exalted. The seraphim still cry holy. And so must we.

Drew Dyck is the managing editor of Leadership Journal and author of Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying (Nelson Books, 2014), from which this article has been adapted.