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Archives for 184 – Grace and truth

Truth deepens the value of grace.

In Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, Jesus shows that there is
no part of our self–no matter how dark or unsavory–that his grace is insufficient to redeem.
Their conversation follows an interesting trajectory.

He asks for a drink. She’s surprised he’s even talking to her because Jews and Samaritans
don’t speak, much less a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman. He suggests if she had any idea
to whom she was speaking, she would ask for living water and he would give it to her.

It is well-known that when he uses the words “living water,” she likely took this to mean “running
water.” But he has something different in mind.

Here’s the thing: She says, “Sir, give me this living water…” He had just told her that if she
asked for it, he would give it to her, so whatever he did next must somehow honor this request.
His response to her? “Go, call your husband and come back.”

Jesus’ response to her request for living water was to shine a light on one of the darkest corners
of her life. Her response that she has no husband is met by Jesus pointing out the
uncomfortable truth about her checkered relationship history of five failed marriages.

I doubt that in ancient Semitic culture they had the same idiom that we do about how you
shouldn’t bring up politics or religion in most conversations. Even so, to change the subject, she
brings up both! She describes him as a prophet, then wants to have a conversation about where
it is that people ought to worship, and how their respective people groups interpret things
differently. You know Jesus must have struck a nerve when it felt to her like a conversation
about political and religious disagreements would lighten the mood.

But let’s not hurry off from what Jesus brought up. When she asked for living water that would
address her deepest thirst and help her become like a fountain overflowing with life, Jesus’
starting point was the part of her life for which she must have had the most shame.

In other words, there is no corner of your life so dark that the light of God’s love is insufficient to
redeem it.

Jesus didn’t build up to the hard stuff. Jesus marched straight up to her darkness in the same
boldness with which he one day stepped out of the tomb. It wasn’t too much for him to handle.

God’s grace is so amazing because there aren’t any limits to what it’s capable of healing. In
coming to God, there isn’t any part of you that has to remain off-limits for you to be welcomed
into God’s life. You can approach God truly and authentically because your hard truth doesn’t
overwhelm grace. Your hard truth provides God with an opportunity to show that grace can run
even more deeply than you imagined it could.

Mark Adams is a minister at the Kings Crossing Church of Christ in Corpus Christi, Texas. He
met his wife Carolina while they were students at Harding University. They have one son,
Xoaquin. Mark holds degrees from the Harding School of Theology and the Hazelip School of
Theology. You can follow his blog or podcast at his website: kingdomupgrowth.com.

I think the prevalence of modern artificial light sources in our world sometimes impedes the
richness of what it means to call Jesus “the Light of the world.” Even in 1925, only half of the
homes in the United States had electricity for light. For the vast majority of human history, if you
wanted light in the darkness, you either needed the sun or you needed fire.

Some of the more obvious qualities of fire are rich for application about what it means to know
Jesus. Fire burns hot. While it can be handled safely, there is still a need for great caution in its
use. The light from a flame illuminates what we want to see clearly, but in doing so it may also
reveal what had been kept in darkness intentionally.

Though I have limited knowledge of Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD), I have found some of his
insights meaningful about the fire of God’s presence, especially in light of the Lord’s Supper. In
one of his hymns, Ephrem picks up on the familiar story in Isaiah 6 about Isaiah’s dilemma.
Isaiah had a heart for serving God, but was also aware of his unworthiness. Using tongs from
the altar, one of the Seraphim took a burning coal and touched Isaiah’s lips and purify him for
God’s purposes. Ephrem notes:

The Seraph did not touch the coal with his fingers.
It only touched the mouth of Isaiah.
[The Seraph] did not hold it, and [Isaiah] did not eat it.
But to us our Lord has given both.
(Hymns on Faith 10:10)

Apart from that difficult passage in I Corinthians 11, I don’t think I have much thought of
Communion as an inherently dangerous activity. Ephrem would challenge us to consider the
gravity of being able to receive the presence of Christ within us and surviving. What the Seraph
could not touch and what Isaiah could not consume–the presence of God–we consume in the
bread and the wine. Yet what ought to kill us instead invigorates us. It’s a divine mystery!

People will always have an uncomfortable relationship with the revealing effects of intense light.
Jesus indicated that many will prefer darkness for fear of their lives being seen for what they
are. But following Christ means coming into the light, and in so doing, also to become light
ourselves.

As many of us have sung at countless devotionals, we really do want God to light the fire in our
souls. We want to draw from God’s burning passion to seek out those who don’t know him. We
take seriously the sacred task of being God’s messengers, handling the fire of God’s word with
care. We remember our dire need for God’s purifying presence in our lives so we can be
counted worthy of the task. We step out into the darkness, holding the torch of God’s light,
trusting that God will reach those who are yearning for the warmth and clarity that God’s
presence will bring.

Currently I’m taking a medicine I can neither pronunce nor spell, it’s for depression.  I didn’t sulk under my own broom tree until my late-30’s, the idea of taking my own life hadn’t ever occurred to me before then — life gets hard when some of the people you minister to work against you. It wasn’t that I was ignorant regarding the topic, when I was in the 5th grade a neighbor-dad left his car running in the garage with the door closed, he was a casualty of a painful divorce.

I think suicide is like the virus Covid-19, we are tired of hearing about both; we’ve become callous and numb to the topics. We are approaching the one year anniversary of  Darrin Patrick’s suicide — I cried and spent the rest of that day in a funk, emotionally drained when I read the news. Even though we are victors in Christ and God will ultimately win the war, we don’t win every battle. Darrin is only one tragic example of pastors who end their own life.

There are countless celebrities who have done so too, and don’t forget our military veterans either. We have numerous suicide attempts daily — the next time you scour the obits, read between the lines, you’ll see local people who succeed as well.   And while it’s not healthy to obsess over suicide, it’s not healthy to ignore it either. Worst of all, churches are mostly silent on this awkward topic — when was the last time your church offered a sermon or seminar about it? It’s sad that shows on Netflix like “13 Reasons” or “After Life” can be more open about a disturbing subject than we are in church.

Two or three times a year I seriously consider ending my life.  It’s not that I have a deep desire to commit suicide or that I romanticize it, it’s more of a lack of desire to go on living.  Life, during those days, feels hopeless and bleak and I feel overwhelmed and carry an unbearable weight that only death could lift.  I feel like, what’s the point of going on one more day like this?  I know this type of depression is part & parcel of being creative because these funks I fall into usually follow or precede great bursts of energy, productivity and creativity. 

Thankfully, for me, my depression is temporary.  It hits me periodically, and for me it’s completely oppressive, overwhelming, nearly immobilizing me.  I can’t even do the simplest of tasks without feeling like I’ll crumple.  It’s hard to put into words, but in those periods, I don’t even want to go on living.  I feel like I can’t catch my breath, the darkness is almost tangible.  I think to myself, “Maybe one day I’ll succumb to it, but I hope not today.” 

Suicide might seem strange to you, it’s counter-intuitive to most people I talk to, they find it hard to imagine I think about doing it myself from time to time. Yes, at times life can feel pointless, the pressure to succeed in ministry is always there, and sadness and despair can descend from out of nowhere like a summer’s afternoon stormcloud — but as I stare into the darkness there are a thousand tentacles and webs that keep me from the brink of oblivion. I think about how it would affect my wife, children and grandchildren, and the handful of reasons I have for ending this life seem different then.

People who think about killing themselves aren’t being morbid or romanticizing the great beyond, they simply find it hard to go on living, whether it is pain, pressure, feelings of failure, regrets, chemical imbalances, debt, or conflict. My mom was rather melancholy, and we have other loved ones in our family who battle depression, so perhaps the darkness I periodically struggle with is genetic. No matter what the reasons may be, if suicide is foreign to you, you probably don’t understand the shame and guilt people who consider suicide carry with them either.

Nationwide suicide rates have been rising dramatically for years now, and with the massive unemployment our country is presently experiencing decimating our economy, experts tell us we can expect a spike in suicide.  Maybe you’ll never understand something that seems so irrational, but hopefully you’ll be empathetic and thoughtful, considerate of those who do struggle with this. I believe Jesus would want us to restrict our judgment and release a little more grace when it comes to a taboo topic, because really, people who think about killing themselves need a safe place and safe people to talk to.

I’m an introvert, but I know the essential value of human contact & interaction.  We all need healthy people to nurture our souls, to listen to our hurts, to lift us and love us.  There are a lot of people, some quietly, dealing with a level of depression.  The question to me isn’t why are there so many people struggling, the question should be, why not more?  Life is challenging, difficult, and at times bleak.  We ought to be asking, why not more depression, I think we should expect more.  Depression is normal, it’s part of the human experience.  For some of us, it’s more intense, more persistent, prevalent, more permanent perhaps, but it’s not a sin.  Remember Ps 34:18 always, God is close to the brokenhearted!  

Craig preaches for the New Song church in Kingsport, TN

You can reach him at craigcottongim@gmail.com 

Jesus retreated once with his disciples north of Nazareth to Caesarea Philippi, where he asked them what they were hearing people say about his identity and purpose. Their responses ranged from reincarnations of John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other prophet. Then Jesus asked them for their own beliefs about his identity: “Who do you all think I am?”

Peter piped up and declared: “You’re the Messiah, the Son of God!” Peter believed Jesus was the long-awaited deliverer of Israel.

Jesus responded positively to Peter’s declaration: “Bless you, Peter! The beloved community I’m founding will rest on the kind of faith you just expressed.” Jesus promised Peter that he’d have spiritual authority in this new community.

Jesus then explains that he’s a different kind of messiah than what most of Israel was expecting — he won’t subjugate Rome with military might; instead he’ll take on the role of suffering servant and be killed and then raised to life. 

Peter, likely high on the spiritual authority just bestowed upon him, takes Jesus aside and scolds him. “That is unbecoming of the messiah, Jesus! May it never happen to you.” 

Jesus turns the rebuke right around: “Back that up, Satan. You’re playing for the wrong team. You aren’t aligned with God but with broken humanity.”

Jesus reveals something to us about discipleship in this story: as we follow Jesus, we need both affirmation and challenge to become more like him. We need to be blessed and encouraged when we’re on the right track, when we’re bearing the fruit of the Spirit. And we need to be challenged when we’re at odds with Jesus’s way — especially when we think we’re actually on the same page! This happens healthily in relationships with people we love and trust, to whom we’ve given permission to speak honestly with us about what they see in our lives.1

This same posture of affirmation and challenge is appropriate for mission, too — the way the church relates to its neighbors. There are elements in our culture to affirm that reflect the heart of God: it might be a hunger for justice and righteousness, or expressions of generosity and hospitality (the list goes on and on, really). It shouldn’t surprise us — if God is the creator of the cosmos, Jesus is Lord over all, and the Spirit is at work in the world beyond the church — to find the image of God reflected in our neighbors and neighborhoods. At the same time, certainly there are elements in our culture that need to be challenged because they are at odds with the heart of God: like injustice, greed, and selfishness.

Missiologist Andrew Walls describes affirmation and challenge with two principles: the “indigenizing” principle and the “pilgrim” principle.2 The indigenizing principle describes the way Christianity historically has indigenized itself, or made itself at home, within cultures, empowering people to live as Christians and at the same time members of their own society. The indigenizing principle, in other words, affirms and inhabits the elements of culture that reflect the heart of God.

The pilgrim principle acknowledges that while God accepts and works through human cultures as they are, God also desires to transform the brokenness of cultures — elements in which the church is not at home in a culture but rather is a pilgrim, elements which are challenged by the reign of God. 

Notice what these principles reveal: Christianity is always “cultured,” or embedded in culture. There is no such thing as a “culture-less” Christian community that somehow stands outside of its surrounding cultures. The church is at once within cultures and its own culture, and so must discern which elements to affirm and which to challenge.

I want to highlight two temptations for predominantly white churches in our U.S. context (the context with which I am most familiar). The first is to focus on affirmation in our own discipleship to the neglect of challenge (e.g., “it’s all about grace”). The second is to focus on challenge in relation to culture/neighbors to the neglect of affirmation (e.g., culture wars; demonizing the non/religious other). And yet, where the church’s witness has been compromised by spiritual abuse and trauma and by complicity with systemic racism and nationalism, we must emphasize the challenge of the gospel in our discipleship. In mission, we must affirm the beauty and goodness we see in our neighbors who have been harmed by the church, or who hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness in the public square. 

Wouldn’t this contextual emphasis — opening ourselves to challenge in discipleship and offering affirmation to our neighbors in mission — reflect the heart of our humble, non-coercive Messiah?

1 Hat tip to Mike Breen, Building a Discipling Culture, for helping me to see this story in this way.

2 Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith. 

Charles Kiser is a minister with Storyline Christian Community in Dallas, Texas. You can follow his other writings, including a forthcoming book project on trauma-sensitive evangelism, through his Facebook page or Twitter.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin was a tragic and traumatic experience for Americans in general and African Americans specifically. It graphically and virally positioned front and center the violent and cruel underbelly of the beast that American society can be. Is America “Mom, Apple Pie, and the land of the free?” Absolutely it is . . . Until it isn’t. It’s that “isn’t” part that constantly stokes the soul trauma and ancestral stress response which has become a gaping, leaking, gangrenous, and throbbing sore on the group psyche of black folks of the diaspora in this “land of free.”

I don’t personally know George Floyd but I’ve seen him almost every day of my life staring back at me when I brush my teeth.I’ve never personally met Derek Chauvin but I’ve seen him in my rearview mirror several times silhouetted by a red and blue blinking glow or heard him asking me if that’s weed he smells on me even though I’ve never dragged a blunt a day in my life or clutching my wrist seeking to handcuff me a half a block from the church or . . .

The Derek Chauvin conviction on all three counts has not changed those deep psychological misgivings and pains. Not for me. Not for the “African American” community. Not at all. It hasn’t erased the deep feelings of betrayal and dishonor of years of broken promises, “wink-wink” “empowerments”, or flat out genocidal violence and cultural-familial erasure.

There’s a reason that the response to this “victory” for “social justice” has been so muted. There’s no cinematic Wiz style “Can you feel a brand new day!” song and dance celebration on the streets Minneapolis or Compton or Harlem or Oak Cliff or Bed Stuy or Oakland or South Central or . . .

Many of us are still holding our breath like Whitney in waiting to exhale. Many of us still can’t breathe. For me it goes back to the mid 70’s and seeing the level of impotence and rage in the eyes of my dangerously powerful Father as he was unable to protect me from a white man and his family who bumped me with their horse or the gang of white guys who chased me down and beat me for walking in their neighborhood. I could run home and tell him but he knew he’d get shot chasing them down and that the local police would only give a “wink-wink” we’ll look into it.

Or maybe it goes back to the Rodney King trial. “We” saw America put itself on trial for the brutalization of a black man. We thought, “Finally! Now people can SEE that we’re not crazy! That this really does happen!” But nope. Obviously we couldn’t believe our eyes. Even when it’s caught on film.

Social justice is a common term used today. Many will say this trial’s outcome is the goal of social justice. That may well be. But I believe Scripture speaks to this idea of justice in a broader sense. Scripture calls for us to look back at the Creator as our source — The Creator of George Floyd and Derek Chauvin and every single human to walk on this planet. Biblical justice starts by seeing people as created in the image of God and therefor worthy of purposeful existence and freedom from violent oppression.

One day there will be perfect justice, carried out by a perfectly holy and just God in a place where righteousness rules. In the meantime, evil and sin are systemically pervasive throughout America and the rest of this world. Young women and girls are sold into sexually abused bondage and trafficked. Racists and bigots and supremacists are using privilege and power to dominate and demean and destroy. People locked out of the benefits of the system, locked into servitude to the system, and locked up for opposing the system are screaming their frustration and pain in the only language they know how . . . sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly.

Therefore I’m satisfied with this verdict but not joyful. I am mourning the senseless death of a man accused of passing a bad 20-dollar bill. I am mourning two sets of children and families who will be without because of the senselessness of those 9 minutes. I am mourning those who are yet waiting for some semblance of justice, many of which will never get it.

I’m not thirsty for some type teary eyed mea culpa from anyone. I just wanna be able to call the police on criminals and not worry that when they show up at my door they’ll think I’m the criminal. I just wanna not feel a fearful need to check on my son every time another black man is killed by law enforcement. I’m tired of hoping he remembered how to interact with policemen or if sending him off to “that white school” has made him forget that the way his white friends loudly demand their rights at a traffic stop will get him killed. I just wanna breath.

And I can’t yet.

“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause,” (Isaiah 1:17).

John 1:14, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Scriptures tell of a woman who had a transformative encounter with Jesus. Her story is found at the beginning of John 8. We don’t even know her name. She is simply known to us as “the woman caught in adultery.”

Caught.

That’s the word that jumps out at me. “This woman has been caught.” The scribes and Pharisees keep saying this: “She’s been caught. What to do with this woman who has been caught?” She had violated the law and participated in breaking at least one set of covenant vows. Was she married? Was her partner married? Did both of them commit adultery? Where is he, by the way? How did they catch her and not her lover? There are a lot of questions that remain unanswered.

But it is undeniable that this woman has been caught in an act of sin and rebellion. Even the heading in my Bible tells me that this section is all about The Woman Caught in Adultery in big, bold font.

Wyatt is a middle-school student at our church. Not long ago, I caught Wyatt playing on his phone instead of listening to the speaker at our youth retreat. When I confronted him, Wyatt said, “I wasn’t playing on my phone. I was reading my Bible app.”

“No, you weren’t,” I said.

When he insisted that he had been reading his Bible, I said, “Okay, then show me what you were just doing on your phone.” A serious expression came across his face as he handed me his phone and I saw that he had been playing Angry Birds instead of listening to the Bible lesson. Wyatt had been caught.

And I much prefer to tell you that story — the story of someone else being caught — rather than confess the times I’ve been the one who was caught. That’s why I have sympathy for our sister here. Rather than referring to her as “the woman caught in adultery,” I want to suggest that instead we refer to her as “the woman caught in the grace and truth of Jesus.” I know that I don’t want to be remembered for the times I’ve been caught. I much prefer to be remembered for the way Jesus worked in my life.

In Jesus we see a perfect balance of grace and truth. He truthfully acknowledges this woman’s sin; indeed, it is on full display here. Yet, Jesus also graciously refuses to condemn her. And thankfully, He extends this same balance of grace and truth to us whenever we’re caught.

Truth without grace quickly becomes narrow legalism. Jesus indicts the Pharisees for making the Law burdensome to the people while neglecting the weightier matters of the law. Rule-keeping and being right had taken precedent over people. In their emphasis on the “letter of the law,” the Pharisees had not maintained “the spirit of the law.” Paul goes on to talk about this in 2 Corinthians. Speaking of the law, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:6, “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Alternately, grace apart from truth can easily become soft permissiveness. Anything goes when we refuse to speak prophetically against sin for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. We expend a great deal of energy to avoid saying or doing anything that could be construed as offensive or insensitive. I have been guilty of this. But when “loving others” is reduced to simply being inoffensive, we’ve lost our prophetic witness. I guess we just think that people will be so bowled over by our sweetness and our niceness that they’ll eventually decide to follow Jesus.

But that approach doesn’t seem to be working. People need to hear the truth — truth spoken in love, yes; but truth spoken nonetheless. Jesus affirms the immorality of this woman’s lifestyle but He does so in grace.

I’m struck by the detail here that has captivated commentators for centuries: the fact that Jesus stoops down to write in the dirt. What did He write? Much ink has been spilled in response to this question. The reality is nobody knows and I don’t think it’s all that important. I find it much more fascinating that Jesus focused his attention down on the ground rather than upon the woman in front of Him. I don’t know this to be true, but I think there is a good chance that this woman was barely dressed or not dressed at all. We know that she has been “caught” in the act of adultery, so I doubt she had much time to put her clothes back on. It could be that Jesus averts His eyes away from her nakedness so as not to subject her to further shame. Jesus will not do anything that further diminishes the image of God in another person. In my opinion, that is why He looks down and starts writing in the dirt.

Whether that’s true or not, when Jesus makes the conditions of her punishment contingent upon the sinlessness of the accuser, the angry mob breaks up. Then Jesus asks her, “Has no one condemned you?” And she replies, “No one, sir.” Jesus says to her, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” The truth of the matter is that she was living in sin. But Jesus offers her the grace to go forward in new life.

In this exchange, you find that beautiful balance between truth and grace that we have come to know as the Good News of Jesus. Jesus never loses sight of the human being right in front of Him. There is much more at stake here than a discussion about the “issue” of adultery and the legality of punishment. A woman’s fate hangs in the balance — a woman caught in sin, yes; but at the same time, a woman created in the image of God.

Jesus extends both truth and grace to this woman. And it makes all the difference in her life.

And it makes all the difference in our lives as well.

John tells us that Jesus came “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:11).

That perfectly sums up what we find in the Gospels. Jesus was big on grace and big on truth. We see it in John 4 – he shoots straight with the woman at the well in calling out her “husband” situation and yet it doesn’t run her off. He shoots straight with the lame man in John 5 when he asks him if he wants to be well before Jesus heals the man. The same thing in John 8 with the woman caught in adultery – “neither do I condemn you…go and sin no more.”

Today I am seeing more and more people big on grace and light on truth. I am also seeing people big on truth and light on grace. Jesus picked both…Jesus embodied both. And so should we.

If we push too hard into one or the other we are going to have problems. Grace without truth will produce people cavalier about sin who will have no understanding of the true effects of sin and how detrimental it is to us as divine image bearers. Truth without grace produces people who see God in terms of legal requirements. Both extremes produce people who don’t understand the very nature of God as a God of truth and grace. Justice and righteousness require both.

People won’t listen to your truth if they don’t sense your grace. People won’t appreciate the grace unless it is also paired with truth (how do you appreciate grace if you don’t know the truth about sin?).

So let us people Jesus’ people and embody what he embodied…both grace and truth!

Today is Easter Sunday, or known as “pascha” to most non-English speaking Christians around the world. We join Christians around the world, and throughout history, in remembering the culmination of God’s “passover plot” to liberate enslaved creation from sin and death through the Jubilee ministry, crucifixion and resurrection in the flesh of a Jew named Joshua/Jesus. It is the single defining moment since the dawn of creation. Creation’s redemption began that day through the dawn of God’s renewed creation. In fact we remember gratefully this every Lord’s Day.

Have you noticed that in the Gospels, all four, this singular event rests upon the testimony of a group of rather oppressed people, women. The Gospel of Luke goes out of its way to literally stress this remarkable fact. And it is an embarrassing fact at that. Yes, the first preachers of the Gospel of the Resurrected Messiah are … women. As in the Psalm, it is a “great company of women” who at “the Lord’s command” preach the “gospel” (Ps 68.11).

Several years ago biblical scholar Russ Dudrey published an article called “What the Writers Could Have Done Better.” He documents how controversial it was among non-believers (and even some believers!) in the ancient world that Christian claims rested upon the testimony of women.

What the writers could have done better, in the ancient world, was hide or just omit references to women, never mention them. But to not only mention them but to draw attention to the fact they are the ones who knew which tomb was Jesus’s in the first place, that they are the ones who went to the tomb on that fateful day, that they are the ones who received angelic visitation, that they are the ones who preached to the apostles themselves was simply beyond belief! Pagan critics, like Celsus, mercilessly castigated Christianity as an absurd religion of beguiled ignorant women. So, when Luke speaks of the women he does so purposefully. And it was not even necessary as a look at Paul’s summary in 1 Corinthians 15 makes crystal clear. The presence of women in Jesus’s ministry and especially at the tomb argued against Christianity in those early centuries.

But Luke (again all the Gospels bear witness) stresses the women. Luke does not just draw attention to them but he appears to be smacking us with a bat to get our attention. He forces us to see the women. He does this throughout his Gospel, but I begin at the cross in Luke 23 and go to the resurrection in chapter 24. Note these texts. By this time the Twelve male disciples of Jesus had already fled and abandoned the Lord.

“A great number of the people followed him, and among them were the women …” (23.27)

“those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance and watched these things” (23.49)

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, they [the women] saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they [the women] returned, and prepared spices and ointments.” (23.55-56)

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women, … they found the stone rolled away … but when they went in, they did not find the body.” (24.1-3)

the women were terrified [angel speaks to the women]” (24.5).

“When they [women] returned from the tomb, they [the women] told these things to the Eleven, and to the others.” (24.9).

Luke then goes out of his way to name the women

“It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who told these things to the apostles. But these words seemed to them like an idle tale and they [the apostles] did not believe them” (24.9-11)

“Moreover, some women of our group astounded us” (24.22)

“Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said” (24.24).

In the space of chapter, Luke stresses “the women” nearly a dozen times. Why? Because through the Jubilee ministry and resurrection of Jesus the curse has been removed. Men, not God, declared women to be inferior, unfit, unreliable, less than rational … and Luke comes along and says the Gospel message itself rests upon the faithfulness of women!

The same women that embraced the scandal of following Jesus camping around Galilee (8.1-3 contains the same names as 24.19) are the ones who were faithful to the bitter end.

Peter ran away, Mary Magdalene did not.

John did not go to the tomb, Joanna did.

Matthew did not talk to the angels and find the empty tomb but a whole troop of faithful women did.

Paul was nowhere to be found.

It was the women who preached, who announced, the resurrection, to the apostles themselves. All four Gospels testify to this but Luke is the one who rubs our noses in it. And while the pagans scoffed, because women supposedly could not be entrusted with such earth-shattering authority and news, the writers tell us that Christian faith itself rests upon the Easter morning experience of women from Galilee.

The end of the Gospel of Luke bears witness to Luke’s inspired understanding of the Hebrew Bible … women, old ones and young ones, will become prophets in the new world along with men. Men and women are equal in the grace saturated new world.

One page away, in Luke’s book, we read this amazing quotation whose emphasis is actually on every page of the Gospel.

“I will pour out my Spirit upon ALL flesh,
and your sons and your daughters
shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves,
both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit
and they shall prophesy”
(Acts 2.17-18)

This is why Luke goes out of his way to stress “the women” because even two thousand years later some men still hold the same cursed view of women that dominates so much of human relationships. But Jesus in his resurrection brought a redeemed world into existence and the church is supposed to be the redeemed world on display before the fallen world.

Welcome to God’s Brave New World.

This article is a supplement to Frank’s landmark book, Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom. It was a chapter that couldn’t fit into the book, so it was made into a separate essay.

You can also hear this conference message – “A Clash Between Kingdoms” – from the live conference that spawned the book Insurgence as well as this article. The message adds more texture to the subject of water baptism and the kingdom.

When a person decided to follow Jesus Christ in the first century, they joined the insurgence. And their first step was to be baptized in water. Today, however, we have lost the radical meaning of water baptism, along with its power.

In this chapter, I seek to recover both.

The Unchanging Word of God

Before the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, He told His disciples,

Go therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations, BAPTIZING THEM in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. (Matthew28:19,20, emphasis added)

He that BELIEVES and is BAPTIZED SHALL BE SAVED; but he that believes not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16, emphasis added)

Now look at these other texts:

Peter replied, “REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS.” (Acts 2:38, emphasis added)

And with many other words did he [Peter] testify and exhort, saying, SAVE YOURSELVES from this corrupt generation. Then they that gladly received his word were BAPTIZED. (Acts 2:40–41, emphasis added)

And now what are you waiting for? Get up, BE BAPTIZED AND WASH AWAY YOUR SINS, calling on his name. (Acts 22:16, emphasis added)

This water symbolizes BAPTISM THAT NOW SAVES YOU also. (1 Peter 3: 21, emphasis added)

These passages have led some Christian denominations to teach baptismal regeneration. Other denominations have essentially buried these texts, choosing to ignore them rather than engage them at all.

I don’t subscribe to baptismal regeneration. But because I believe the Bible to be God’s inspired Word, fully reliable and fully authoritative, I don’t think we can rightfully ignore these texts either.

To my mind, the solution is in understanding two things: (1) how the word “saved” is used throughout the New Testament, and (2) the relationship between faith and confession.

The Meaning of Salvation

According to the Bible, salvation does not exclusively deal with the question of heaven and hell. Salvation is connected with something far more than just our eternal destiny.

God has provided all things through His Son to deliver us from every effect of the fall.

Because we stand condemned, God justifies us. Because we are born into this world spiritually dead, He regenerates us. Because we have broken His Law, He forgives us. And because we have a sin nature, He sanctifies us.

But what does God deliver us from in salvation?

The answer: this present world system.

Because we are all born as servants to the world system, which is corrupt, God saves us.
In a general sense, salvation includes every aspect of our deliverance from sin.

In Jesus: A Theography, I put it this way:

In Scripture, the word salvationmeans “deliverance” and includes three tenses: we weresaved (justification = salvation from the penalty of sin); we are being saved (sanctification = salvation from the power of sin); and we will besaved (glorification = salvation from the presence of sin). Salvation, then, is Jesus Christ: Christ as our righteousness (past); Christ as our sanctification (present); Christ as our hope of glory (future). The latter will occur when Jesus “will appear a second time.”[1]

In its strictest sense, salvation refers to our deliverance from the present world system.

The World System

The Bible uses the phrase “the world” in three different ways. In some places, it refers to the earth. In other places, it refers to the people who inhabit the earth. In still other places, it refers to the system that stands in opposition to God.

Take a look:

Love not THE WORLD, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them. For all that is in THE WORLD, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And THE WORLD PASSES AWAY, and the lust within it: but he that does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)

In times past you walked according to THE COURSE OF THIS WORLD, according to the prince of the power of the air [Satan], the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience. (Ephesians 2:2)

In whom the god OF THIS WORLD [Satan] has blinded the minds of them who believe not. (2 Corinthians. 4:4)

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphans and widows in their distress and to KEEP ONESELF FROM BEING POLLUTED BY THE WORLD. (James 1:27)

There are three evil forces that stand in opposition to the three Persons of the triune God. Satan stands against Jesus as Lord, the flesh wars against the Holy Spirit as Enabler, and the world system opposes God as Creator.

The world system is the enticing network that controls this present age. When the first humans fell in the garden, they unwittingly submitted to Satan’s rule. As a result, Satan seized authority over the earth and set in place a cosmic pattern of civilization called “the world.”

The world system is a direct challenge to God as Father, Sustainer, and Creator.

The world system includes all the things of this life that are opposed to God’s ways, whether they be in entertainment, music, art, fashion, philosophy, politics, education, religion, etc.

According to Jesus and Paul, Satan is the mind behind the system. Thus the Bible says that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).

By birth, we belong to the world system. And our fallen nature is naturally drawn to it. For this reason, John tells us that the things of the world appeal to the lust of our flesh, the lust of our eyes (materialism), and our pride.

When we come to Christ, however, we enter a new domain where Jesus is in control. In Christ, we are separated from the old order of things and we come into a new realm (Col. 1:13).

Salvation, then, is the exodus from the dominion of darkness (the world system). It is the departure from Satan’s domain into Christ’s domain. As followers of Jesus, we live in the world, but we are no longer from or of the world (John 17:15–16). This is why Paul could say that “our citizenship is in the heavenlies” and Peter could say that we are “strangers and pilgrims” in this world.

To be saved, then, means more than going to heaven when you die, though it does include eternal life. But eternal life is the life of the age to come. And its experienced now as well as in the future.

Salvation specifically refers to a transference from one realm into another, from one sphere into another, from one authority to another, right here, right now.

So to be saved means to come out of the present world system—which is controlled by God’s enemy—and come into Christ’s in-breaking rule over the world.

Saved Through Baptism

How do we become separated from the world system, which is under divine judgment? According to the New Testament, it is through repentance, faith, and water baptism:

He that BELIEVES AND IS BAPTIZED SHALL BE SAVED. (Mark 16:16, emphasis added)

Peter replied, “REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED, every one of you . . . ” (Acts 2:38, emphasis added)

And with many other words did he [Peter] testify and exhort, saying, “SAVE YOURSELVES from this corrupt generation.” Then they that gladly received his word were BAPTIZED. (Acts 2:40–41, emphasis added)

Who gave Himself for our sins to SAVE US FROM THE PRESENT WICKED WORLD according to the will of our God and Father. Galatians 1:4, emphasis added)

In the Old Testament, we have two examples that represent the meaning and significance of water baptism. They are. . . .

     (1)   Noah’s Ark and the Flood

God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were SAVED THROUGH WATER, and this water symbolizes BAPTISM, THAT NOW SAVES YOU ALSO—not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge [testimony] of a good conscience toward God. IT SAVES YOU by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:20–21, emphasis added)

And spared not the old world, but SAVED NOAH the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon THE WORLD OF THE UNGODLY. (2 Peter 2:5, emphasis added)

In Noah’s day, everything became corrupt. People departed from God and the world grew wicked beyond recovery.

God had no alternative but to judge it.

Accordingly, God commanded Noah to build an ark to shelter all who sought deliverance from the coming deluge.

Rain filled the earth, destroying the old corrupt world. But Noah and those in the ark moved safely above the waters.

As Noah’s family found refuge in the ark, they escaped the old world, now buried under the waters of judgment. When the waters receded, Noah found himself in a new creation.

According to Peter, this story depicts our salvation from the world system through baptism.

Salvation is God’s exit from a doomed system led by Satan. Christ is the ark in which we find our deliverance. And it is through the water that we bury our old life that was attached to the old world.

Peter goes on to say that baptism is a pledge—a testimony—of a good conscience before God.

Through baptism, we testify to women, men, angels, demons, and to God that we have died to the old creation and that we are part of the new creation. Our attachments to the world have been severed. Our allegiance is now with the kingdom of God.

Baptism, then, is a clear declaration of where we now stand. Through it, we make a public confession that we have surrendered our lives to Christ, that the old life we once lived is finished and buried, and we are a new creature in Jesus.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

      (2)   Israel’s Exodus through the Red Sea

They [the Israelites] were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. (1 Corinthians 10:2)

Egypt represents the world system headed up by Satan, who is typified by Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Moses represents Christ, our Savior from the bondage of sin.

How did Moses deliver Israel from their slavery? Through the opening of the Red Sea.

In the book of Exodus, we are told that Moses led Israel through the Red Sea, which God opened for them, causing them to leave the old land.

When the Egyptians followed Israel in an attempt to seize them, God sent the waters back over the Egyptians, burying them in the sea. Through the Red Sea, Israel severed their connection with the old system that held them in perpetual bondage.

Israel no longer had any allegiance to Pharaoh; his hold on them was broken from that moment forward. And so it is with us. By baptism into Christ, we sever our connection with the old system that once held us in bondage.

The Initial Confession

Faith is not complete without confession (Rom. 10:9–10; 2 Cor. 4:13; Heb. 10:23).

According to the New Testament, water baptism is the initial confession that a person makes once she or he has come to Christ. It is the first step in becoming a disciple of Jesus.

While the first act before God is to repent and believe, the first act before humans and angels is to be baptized.

Through baptism, we express that we belong to Christ and are no longer part of the world system. This is why in the book of Acts, the apostles sometimes exhort, “Repent and believe,” while other times they exhort, “Repent and be baptized.”

Saving faith and baptism are intimately connected. So much so that they are used interchangeably in the New Testament.

Baptism is the way the early Christians initially confessed their faith in Christ.

For this reason, the New Testament plainly shows that when people believed the gospel, they were immediately baptized:

Then they that gladly RECEIVED HIS WORD WERE BAPTIZED. (Acts 2:41, emphasis added)

But WHEN THEY BELIEVED Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, THEY WERE BAPTIZED, both men and women. (Acts 8:12, emphasis added)

And they SPOKE THE WORD OF THE LORD together with all who were in the house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds and IMMEDIATELY HE WAS BAPTIZED, he and all his household. (Acts 16:32–33, emphasis added)

Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “LOOK, HERE IS WATER. WHY SHOULDN’T I BE BAPTIZED?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and PHILIP BAPTIZED HIM. (Acts 8:35–37, emphasis added)

(Notice that the eunuch asked to be baptized after Philip explained the Isaiah passage to him.

This indicates that Philip included baptism in his conversation with the eunuch.)

One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household WERE BAPTIZED, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (Acts 16:14–15, emphasis added)

Baptism Is Burial

If you were baptized in the first century, you were signing your death warrant. You were renouncing everything for another kingdom. You were paying your allegiance to another king, Jesus of Nazareth, rather than to Caesar.

The one who was baptized was buried. Yet they rose again from the dead as a new creation. The baptized person had become a citizen of the true Israel, the new nation called ekklesia. And its headquarters was in the heavenly realm.

That’s how the early Christians understood baptism. It was an ending. A burial. And when you came up out of that water, you understood that your past was gone, forgiven, and you were now part of a new nation, a new people, a new kingdom.

Properly understood, baptism is a funeral service.

Romans 6:4–6 says,

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are BURIED WITH HIM BY BAPTISM INTO DEATH: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: Knowing this, that OUR OLD MAN [our old self] WAS CRUCIFIED WITH HIM, that the body of sin might be unemployed, that we should no longer serve sin. (emphasis added)

But those who are buried in Christ rise from the dead. Baptism, then, has two sides. It is both a release as well as an entry. On the one side, we are baptized into Christ’s death.

When we go down under the water, we testify to the fact that the old person we used to be and the old world that we used to serve is being buried. We are plunged beneath the water and the “old Adam” is drowned. But we come up out of the water in Christ and begin a new life.

In baptism, we affirm that we have become a new person with a new nature, born into a new humanity which belongs to a new creation where Jesus of Nazareth is Lord.

Baptism shows to the visible and invisible world that a person has joined the insurgence of God’s endless kingdom.

For more, check out The Insurgence Podcast.

FRANK VIOLA has helped thousands of people around the world to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church. He has written many books on these themes, including Insurgence, God’s Favorite Place on Earth and From Eternity to Here. He blogs regularly at frankviola.org.


[1] Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, Jesus: A Theography (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 294

John tells us that Jesus came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Wow! What an amazing combination of principles. Jesus came giving undeserved or unmerited gifts or favor. He also came as “way, truth and life” (John 14:6).

If we are going to be like Jesus we must embrace and embody both grace and truth. Grace without truth turns into flagrant rebellion and truth without grace turns into shame and self-deprecation. So many want to have only one or the other but you have to have both. And that creates tension…needed tension for us to wrestle with.

We must have both grace and truth. The month of April will have a variety of articles focusing on this theme. As always, thank you for reading!