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Category Archives: Truth

Shepherd of Grace, Shepherd of Truth

The familiar image of our Savior as a shepherd appears throughout Scripture.  Perhaps the most cherished is King David’s reverent ode to the Lord as a shepherd of restoration and provision, a shepherd who makes our comfort complete (Psalm 23).  The Apostle Peter refers to Christ as “the chief Shepherd” of our souls (1 Peter 5:4), and the writer of Hebrews echoes this sentiment (in verse 13:20), calling Jesus “the greatest shepherd.”  He leads perfectly, and those who follow will never go astray.

Jesus Himself employs the same metaphor in the gospel accounts, memorably so in John 10:14-15.

“I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

This is Christ as the shepherd of grace.  He comes to rescue, providing protection, comfort, and direction to lost sheep undeserving of such invaluable gifts.  We can point to the manifestation of these gifts countless times in our daily life.  Most decisively though, Christ performed His shepherding work on the cross, where He bore our sin and suffered so that we might live, receiving His righteousness through faith and thus escaping the Father’s holy wrath.  Why this gift of unmerited grace?  He knows us and delights in us.  We were the apple of His eye even before our first blink.  So He laid down His life to save us.  Grateful for His grace, we seek to love this shepherd.  We long to rest upon His bosom, basking in shared intimacy just as the gospel writer did.

But elsewhere, Jesus describes Himself as a shepherd fulfilling a different function.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. . . . And these [on the left] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”–Matthew 25:31-33, 46

Coming in glory with the angels and sitting on His throne before the nations, Christ judges all people according to what they have done.  As in John’s gospel, He is a shepherd . . . only now He is a shepherd of truth separating the sheep from the goats.  In the first account, Christ is the shepherd who seeks and saves the lost.  In the second, He comes to uphold the integrity of His flock.

This passage from the Book of Matthew emphasizes the inviolable connection between what we do and who we are.  The sheep–those who have followed Jesus in this temporal life–have borne out their faith in good works, serving others in love and for His sake.  The self-righteous goats protest that they would have served Christ if only they had seen Him.

But Jesus’s point here is that it’s not just about selectively doing good deeds.  It’s about doing them out of an unbridled love for Christ and gratitude for the work He has done in us.  It’s about doing them with a spirit that willingly places our work under the mantle of Christ’s supreme work and purpose . . . about doing work that is similar in kind to the self-sacrificing, humbling, redeeming work He did on the cross.  It’s about having eyes that see Christ in the world and then responding with a desire to serve Him by ministering to the people He loves.  That the goats consider their empty works sufficient for salvation is tragic.  They remain blind even under the bright light of judgment.

For good reason, our hearts warm easily to the shepherd of grace portrayed in John 10 while the tendency is to rationalize as we explain the actions of Matthew 25’s shepherd of truth.  But there is only one “Chief Shepherd,” and Scripture consistently presents Him as both Rescuer and Judge.  Indeed, these two elements of Christ’s character are foundational, not only with respect to who He is, but also to our faith.  Without grace, we’re lost.  Without truth, it wouldn’t seem to matter.  But it does.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in Bible Reading, Character of God, Grace, Truth

 

The Problem with “Going to the Basement”

A response to Jen Hatmaker’s “In the Basement” blog post:

Jen Hatmaker’s “above-the-fray” stance here strikes me as ironically judgmental.  What is more, she lobs this intellectual hand grenade into a house embattled with debate and then claims to retire “to the basement,” urging those who witness the explosion to refrain from applying its sentiment to subsequent volleys of the “culture war” she is fed up with.

She is right to say that there are far better ways for Christians to engage the culture than thoughtlessly echoing or initiating bitter Facebook rants.  And I acknowledge that many of us are called to fight more spiritedly in battles other than the one involving same-sex marriage.  Still, I respectfully question whether Jen Hatmaker is in a position to decree that this particular issue–because it is divisive–categorically ranks below the causes she champions (as worthy as they are).

Again, I agree:  how we participate in the struggle matters, and the love of Christ is the indispensable tool we must employ boldly as we labor amid the storm.

But the grace-filled message that Hatmaker conveys with respect to the sin of homosexuality is confusing.  Grace does not flow from the heart of God concurrently with a subtle undertow that seems to condone sin.  Rather, grace is received with repentance.  By going to “the basement” and barring the storm door to avoid the din of a specific controversy, we sidestep the fact that truth goes hand in hand with grace.  When compelled to think about difficult emotion-infused issues, we must try to condition our minds to ask not “what is working?” but “what is true?”  The answer to the second question may make us uncomfortable.

In the recent flare-up over Chick-fil-A’s long-held and rather unsurprising position on same-sex marriage, there have emerged calls for Christians to “break the spiral of silence” in a way that upholds the grace and truth at the core of the gospel.  I “get” how Jen Hatmaker’s message resonates with believers who feel bombarded by the prolonged, often spiteful, exchange.  But must we all go down to the basement only to embrace love in a safe place, eat our chicken nuggets in peace, and thus muffle our voices on this issue?  Can any of us imagine Jesus–the good shepherd of grace (Jn 10:11) and truth (Mt 25:32)–“going to the basement” as Hatmaker exhorts?

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is Christ.”–Ephesians 4:15

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2012 in Society and Culture, Truth

 

Repentance Unto Knowledge of the Truth

“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”—Job 38:2by Laurent de La Hyre

“I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”—Job 42:3

This abridged exchange between God and Job reminds me of the times I have “darkened counsel” through my own prideful, angry words . . . of the times I have “uttered what I did not understand” in a fit of jealousy or resentment springing from a contrived sense of self-importance.

On the far side of suffering, Job finally recognized the limits of his earthly wisdom and opened his mind to the brighter light of God’s truth.  In the radiance of this revelation, he could glimpse the expansive scope of God’s power while acknowledging without complaint the enduring mystery of His ways.  He accepted a new possibility—a truth that, until then, had lain beyond the fringe of lamplight in shadows painted by his “darkened counsel”:  Job had no warrant to summon God and could craft no statute that required the Creator to explain personal suffering in terms that met with Job’s approval or complied with Job’s expectations.

When we impose “darkened counsel” on ourselves or those closest to us, our hope for genuine enlightenment must be the same as Job’s.  It begins with repentance granted by an all-knowing, all-understanding God who then mercifully leads us to a knowledge of the truth—truth that had once been outside our ability to comprehend or perhaps only obscured by our own stubborn, willful ignorance.  So Lord, give me the wisdom to know when to speak, to admit when I don’t understand, to be satisfied with the knowledge You reveal to me, and to recognize Your truth in all its brightness.

“. . . in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”—2 Timothy 2:25

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2012 in Bible Reading, Job, Knowledge, Suffering, Truth