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Sanctification and Holiness (Part 2) – Theology Unplugged

Tim Kimberley: Fellas it’s great to be back with you guys. We had a lively discussion last week around sanctification, around holiness and we’re narrowing in…

Michael Patton: Tim, Tim how are you? Are you more sanctified today than you were a week ago?

Michael Patton Recording Theology Unplugged at Credo House

Michael Patton Recording Theology Unplugged at Credo House

Tim Kimberley: Alas. You know what brother. I think based on our discussion I’m not sure because I do feel like when I look at my life it doesn’t feel like it’s a trajectory going up, but JJ gave the yo-yo. So I think my yo-yo has kind of… its on its way up maybe but hopefully the Lord walked up the stairs.

Michael Patton: I think…

Tim Kimberley: Is that obscure enough?

Michael Patton: …you look better.

Tim Kimberley: Thank you. I feel like I’m just going to start crying and mumbling stuff here any moment.

Sam Storms: I think people…we left them last week crying and mumbling. I think they were pulling their hair out.

Tim Kimberley: That’s right.

Michael Patton: I think everybody needs a hug.

Tim Kimberley: Well, God though throughout church history and many of us are lovers of church history, it seems like He puts signposts along the way. That the Holy Spirit works through people who love Jesus, love the Bible, and put sign posts along the way that say don’t go this way, don’t turn here, stay the course, stay the course. It seems like he puts ditches and sometime uses scripture to build ditches to say don’t fall this way. But then if you go to the other side of the road He says don’t fall into this ditch either. And so in this issue we’re in agreement that there are ditches and their are signpost that have been laid out that say as you think about what it means to grow in Christlikeness throughout a lifetime don’t think this way.

JJ Seid: In the words of Martin Luther the church is like a drunken peasant who in order to save himself from falling off one side of his donkey promptly falls off the other.

Michael Patton: I interrupted Tim earlier and we are talking about sanctification. We are talking about growing in the Lord.

JJ Seid: What’s that word mean? That’s a $10 word.

Michael Patton: To become more Christlike.

JJ Seid: Except when it means something else.

Michael Patton: To become more set apart. To become more holy.

JJ Seid: And what’s the other way it’s used in the Bible? Two senses right?

Michael Patton: I don’t know.

JJ Seid: We used the word positional and progressive last time. So it’s good for people to know that in a sense…

Michael Patton: I wasn’t listening.

JJ Seid: …we’re drilling down into looking at progressive sanctification. Progressive sanctification is something that can only happen to somebody who’s already been, in the past, positionally sanctified. They’ve been made holy in one sense, where their status before God is holy, righteous, and blameless, and yet in another sense they’re being called to act what they are. To steal a phrase from one of my professors.

Michael Patton: That doesn’t sound like what Sam said last time. Sam really messed me up and I am less sanctified this week than I was last week because of Sam. And I’m… just been struggling with his statement…

Sam Storms: I am the Holy Spirit in your life buddy. I am there to probe and to convict and to unsettle your soul.

Sam Storms Recording Theology Unplugged at Credo House

Sam Storms Recording Theology Unplugged at Credo House

Michael Patton: Well there are certain things that we’re gonna, maybe, disagree about later but there are things that we agree about that are really, as we said, Tim or JJ said, ditches that we need to avoid. What is the primary ditch that I think everybody in the church would agree we avoid. And I’m talking Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, some Protestants, all agree, avoid this ditch.

Sam Storms: I think the one that I would immediately identify is this idea that I can exert power from within my own self by my own will independently of and without assistance from the grace of God. This kind of pull yourself up by your bootstraps, self help transformation, that one of the biggest, as well all know, one of the biggest controversies in the history on the church was between a man named (everybody known) Augustine and Pelagius. Back in the later part of the fourth early part of the fifth century. Pelagius basically said when Jesus made this statement in Matthew 5:48 You must be therefore perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He said that necessarily implies that I can be perfect and I don’t need the internal…

Michael Patton: That’s what you sounded like.

Sam Storms: Yea… that I don’t need the internal grace of God to help me do that.

Michael Patton: So you are not Pelagius.

Sam Storms: Here’s the illustration, a guy said, what Pelagius would argue is this, we’re at a track meet and a guy is running let’s say the mile and he’s on his third or his fourth lap and God plays the role of the coach and all he can do is stand on the sidelines and cheer you on and tell you how you’re not running in good form and you need to change your stride, and you need to lift your arms, and you need to slow down your pace or increase the pace, but that’s all that God can do. He’s pretty much an external coach or cheerleader. As over against the idea that God can actually enter into the very body and soul and sprit of the athlete and energize him to finish the race and win. And so what Augustine said in sanctification God is actually in us. Grace is an internal energy and power than enables our wills to make right choice. And propels us forward in conformity with Christ. Pelagius and those who followed him in the history of the church said “No. We don’t need that. We’re not so bad off in our fundamental moral nature that we require God function within us. All we need him to do is give us his law, tell us what to do, and then it’s left up to us to figure out how to obey it.”

Tim Kimberley: That has massive ramifications in the church I would say because, in the illustration I use, I mean I think the track illustration is amazing, but I think like when I think Pelagius I think of like of like the soul aisle at Home Depot. And Jesus has built that aisle. God has stocked that aisle up. And you can go down that aisle when you need to. What Pelagius would tell you if you say “I want to look more like Jesus” he’d say well go down to that aisle and you do that stuff. And, you know, do it. Just do it. But Augustine, I think probably something that frustrated Pelagius was when Augustine wrote command what you will, will what you command. So God, whatever you ask me to do you’re going to have to do it. Whatever you want me to do there’s no chance I’m going to be able do it unless you actually do it through me.

Listen to the full episode using the player below…

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Five Ways to Go Wrong with Church Discipline


What is Church Discipline?

There is hardly a practice in the local church that is misused more than “church discipline.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have many answers and its misuse is understandable. I think there are three primary ways that we can find it misuse: 1) It is never used at all, 2) it is misused in an unbiblical way, and 3) people are brought in for discipline for “sins” that don’t require its use.

Matthew 18:15-17 is the primary passage that speaks to the practice of church discipline (even if we are still left with a lot of questions).

First, let’s say this: the purpose of church discipline is the restoration of the brother in sin (Matt. 18:15), to bring recognition to the seriousness of sin (1 Tim. 5:20), and to protect the church from the influence of sin (1 Cor. 5:6). This much is clear.

Here is what Christ has to say about it in Matthew

Matthew 18

15 “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.

17 “And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer. (NAS)

Let’s try to take this step by step.

1. Discipling Every Time Your Brother Sins at All

If Your Brother Sins [Against You] (Matt. 18:15)

The very first thing that must be realized here is that this does not say, “If your brother sins, go reprove him in private.” Wait . . . I suppose it does. Reread the passage about. I added the text in brackets. However, while this is how it reads, this is not what is meant. To make a long story short, this here are the options of translation:

“If you brother sins . . .”


“If your brother sins against you . . .

See the difference? It is quite significant. The NAS, HSV, NIV, and NET all have the unqualified “If your brother sins . . .” The ESV, NAB, KJV, and NLT qualify it with ” . . . against you.” The best and earliest manuscript evidence points to the unqualified version: “If your brother sins . . .” Ouch. So, any time my brother or sister in Christ sins at all, I am to go through this process? Not only would that be an impossible task for anyone in church (can you imagine having to go take someone through this process any time any other Christian sinned?—that is all we would be doing!). However, I do believe this needs to be interpreted with the qualification “against you” due to Peter’s follow-up question in Matt. 18:21 (“Lord, how many times can my brother sin against me . . .). Peter obviously understood Christ as qualifying it, so should we.

Further Reading on this Subject: “Textual Problem: Matthew 18:15

Therefore, this is a sin against you. Thus the process begins.

2. Do Not Talk to Others About the Problem

Go to him in private (Matt. 18:15)

Let me say this as emphatically as I can: Don’t get this wrong. Incredible and sinful damage will follow if you do. God is very concerned about protecting people. The first engagement of the sin in question is one of privacy. Rumors spread, grow, evolve,  and damage people faster than anything on earth. James said this about the ability of the tongue to destroy a person:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (Jam 3:6 ESV)

Just think about this . . . whatever sin your brother may or may not have committed against you would be be hard to compare to you spreading this offense to others (even one person) before you go to your brother in private. In this context, you discuss your problem, where you believe they sinned against you, and listen to the response.

Maybe after he or she explains themselves, you have more understanding and your anger either dissipates or is seen to be unwarranted. This is why private conversation is so important. Or, conversely, he or she may recognize their sin and repent. If so, case closed. You have won your brother. And the matter always remains between you and him or her.

However, their explanation may not be satisfying, they don’t repent, or they just don’t care about your problem with them. Then you take it to the next level.

3. Do Not Bring Your Wingmen to the Confrontation

Take Other Neutral Parties with You (Matt. 18:16)

Here, Jesus is taking from the Law of Moses (Deut. 19:5). The sin must be confirmed to be sin by others. There are a couple of things that must be kept in mind here. First, the issue is still private. You don’t go public with the sin. We are still protecting the accused if the sin has yet to be established. The second issue is that those you take with you on this next encounter are not your wingmen! They are not those who you have talked to, made sure they are on your side, then bring them with you to the confrontation. What good would that do?

The two or three witnesses are neutral parties, ready to listen to both sides (see 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19). They are there so that they can make an unbiased judgement. If, having listened to both sides, they determine the brother has not sinned and the one making the accusation is in the wrong, then you do not repeat the process until you find those who will take your side. The matter is over. Leave it with the Lord. However, if the brother is judged by the others to be in the wrong and repents, rejoice! You have won your brother. But, still, keep it all private, not even telling your closest confidant about the proceedings.

However, if this person is determined by these neutral parties to be in sin, yet he or she remains stubborn and obstinate in their wrongdoing, then and only then is the next step is ready to be taken.


4. Do Not Announce the Sin from the Pulpit

Bring it Before the Church (Matt. 18:17)

Bringing to the “church” is the final step. Exposing the sin to this larger gathering of believers is still to be seen as a somewhat private engagement (at least in modern terms). In other words, I don’t think we should see this necessarily as an announcement made from the pulpit (although that could be the case in smaller churches). The hope is still repentance as can be seen in the statement “and if he refuses to listen to the the church . . .”

This is only the second time the word “church” (ekklesia) is used (the first was in Matt. 16:18). Christ had in mind a small gathering of people (house church type). He may have only been thinking about the eldership of the church (those in authority), thereby upping the ante of non-repentance if guilt was found.

5. Do Not Kick the Person Out of the Church

Let Him Become as a Gentile and Tax-Gatherer to You (Matt. 18:17)

This is the final step if the accused is deemed guilty by the “church” and remains unrepentant. However, like so much of this passage, I think there are so many ways to go wrong here. For starters, what does it mean to be “as a Gentile and tax-gather.” This was a common Jewish idiom which simply means “unbeliever.” Christ was not affirming the idiom. In other words, he did not see Gentiles or tax-gatherers as unbelievers. This was just a common expression that Christ used that would have been well understood by his listeners.

To be treated “as if he were” or “just as” (hosper) an unbeliever is not affirming that the person was an unbeliever, but that he was to be treated as if he were. In the church, the implications would be severe for one who is involved in the church, but negligible for those who are merely pew-sitters.

What did it mean then? What are churches actually supposed to do when we have gone through these steps and the person is unrepentant? What do we do with those who are to be treated as if they were “Gentiles and tax-gatherers”?

First, we must realize that in the there was always a place for sinners and Gentiles in the synagogues (i.e. “church”). Even in Herod’s temple, there was a very important place called the “Court of Gentiles (seen below) for Gentiles to “attend” services and engage with God.


So Christ was not saying that (except in extreme circumstances) there was to be a security usher at the door of the church making sure that said sinner could not get in. I think this has more to do with positions of leadership, influence, and authority. The guilty sinner could not hold such positions, exercising their spiritual gift. They could, however, attend church services. After all, don’t we let those whom we consider to be unbelievers into our churches? What better place for them to be!

Further complicating the matter are the words “to you” (Gk. soi). “Let him be considered as a Gentile and tax-gatherer to you” (not, as we like to say here in the south, “to y’all”). This is a singular, most definitely referring back to the person against whom the sin was committed. It is possible that it was only to this person that the sinning party was to be considered a “Gentile and a tax-gatherer.”

Either way, how to we treat “Gentiles and tax-gatherers”? Do we shun then, speak ill of them, say vile things about them behind their back, ruin their reputation, and never speak to them again? Far from it! We love them, care for them, and treat them with grace and mercy. Isn’t this what Christ did? Wasn’t he called a friend of sinners, tax-gatherers, and prostitutes? How did he engage unbelievers?

Book Recommendation: What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey


While we have not even touched upon the hardest question (what sins are worthy of this kind of discipline?), we have seen that this type of process has great value in the church. In fact, this is how we should approach anyone who has wronged us, in the church or not. Unfortunately, so often we go the opposite direction, bringing the sin to everyone’s attention and then ganging up on the suspected wrong-doer after his reputation has already been stained (often beyond repair). The sinfulness of going in this direction, not approaching someone in private, as I said before, rivals just about any sin that could be brought against the accuser.

I have had the reverse process happen to me twice. Once with a group of elders who called me into a meeting, all having come to agreement that I was in the wrong based on the testimony of one person. None of them approached me privately and I was not given a chance to explain myself. This was not too damaging due to the nature of the sin I was being accused of. The second was much worse. Again, no one approached me privately about the accusation that was being brought against me and none of the parties present were neutral. I was brought into a surprise meeting and given no chance to explain myself. And even after I had repented of a wrong that I had done (though nothing to the degree that I was being accused of), there was nothing private about it. The rumors had already spread and there was no way for me to get the toothpaste back in the hundreds of tubes that had been let out. It was very hurtful.

But, this process is a wonderful process when done according to the steps that Christ put forward here. Keep it private, listen to the accused, bring neutral parties, and make restoration the goal.


Sanctification and Holiness (Part 1) – Theology Unplugged

Tim Kimberley: Well fellas it’s great to be back together again. And this week we’re talking about something that I think is probably something that hits us all in the very core of who we are. And it’s something that I don’t think we talk about that much in the church actually and that is sanctification or holiness.

Real spiritual growth is always growth downward.

Michael, do you talk about holiness and sanctification very often when you teach would you say?

Michael Patton: Well you know

Tim Kimberley: I’m puttin’ you on the spot here.

Michael Patton: No. From a theological perspective, you know, using those words to introduce sanctification/holiness I think is something maybe we don’t talk about in theory, the way we may here today as we go through different views of sanctification.

But I think whenever we’re talking about living the Christian life there is of course an assumption behind it of how much we can be, in this life, be Christ like, how holy we can be, how much, this side of heaven, how much we can be, like we will be, on the other side of heaven.

Sam Storms: Well Tim’s already there.

Michael Patton: Tim is.

Sam Storms: We’ve already conceded up front that the other three of us are still struggling. Tim has arrived.

Tim Kimberley: I didn’t want to say anything but, Thank you Sam.

JJ Seid: I bet you we already have some listeners that are already entering the fog because we’ve already talked about holiness and sanctification. Those are two bigs words and they’re used different ways in Scripture. So somebody help us out here because most people don’t realize that sanctification and holiness are sort of interchangeable terms. And two, there is positional holiness and then there’s progressive holiness and it’s really important that you know which one you’re talking about.

Tim Kimberley: Yea. Okay so I would give a very quick definition that I would give is that God is holy. Which means that he is pure and he is the only holy being, like truly holy being that we’ve ever seen. He’s perfectly holy but we are not and we never will be.

Now I’m showing my cards there a little bit but one of the things that’s very strange I would say and I’m going to use that word “strange” I think, very strange in a very humbling way, is that God wants us to look more like him. And he wants us to look like Jesus. And so when we believe, when we becomes believers, as we follow Jesus, we’re not merely following Jesus, he is, from the inside out, making us look more like his son. And I would say that is what’s called sanctification. And when you describe what’s happening, look that person is living in holiness in one sense.

JJ Seid: Well, and I like to, people say, “In what way and what part of your life?” I like to say, you know, progressively making us look more like him in what we think, say, do and desire. Kind of giving people a concrete illustration of the areas in which there’s change, and movement and progress. But there’s something else, our status, which isn’t related to those things. Somebody help me out here

Sam Storms: Well, let’s get back, you already drew the distinction that’s important. When people read their Bibles they’re going to come across this word, sanctification, in the New Testament. They need to understand that it’s used in two very clear senses. The word “sanctify” sometimes means “to set apart” or “to consecrate as unique.” God sanctifies us in the sense that he sets us apart unto himself. We become his possession. There’s actually a book written on sanctification called “Possessed by God.” This author actually argues that the primary meaning of sanctification in the New Testament is what JJ referred to as “positional.” It refers to our relationship with the Father that is unchanging. It doesn’t fluctuate, it doesn’t alter from day-to-day, it isn’t effected by whether we sin or whether we live in holiness. It means that we have been purchased, bought by God, set apart unto him, we are his unique possession, we belong to him, we’re possessed by him.

And then it’s used of course, in a few places, to refer to as you used the term “progressive” what we would kind of call an incremental, daily, transformation in what we desire, what we long for, what we hate, what we say, what we do, that we hope–by God’s grace–is more and more like how that was revealed in the life of Jesus.

Michael Patton: You know. Speaking of this in a couple ways. And I know we’re kind of shotgunning at the beginning to give people an idea of what we’re talking about and maybe we’ll further talk about in other broadcasts. But there’s a couple things that I have that are questions, very persona questions because whenever I think of sanctification the first person I go to is myself and you know, how sanctified am I and am I being sanctified.

Sam Storms: Are you asking us for an evaluation?

Michael Patton: No, no, no. Please this is not a counseling session.

Tim Kimberley: Also I think that there’s probably proving that you need more sanctification when you always think of yourself because you’re so selfish.

JJ Seid: Man Tim’s just taking shots.

Michael Patton: He is and I’m going to take some further shots at myself. At one time in my life I did feel like because of the things that I was doing, the things that I’d changed in my life, the outward appearance, that I had become, and very very important vestiges and sins that I’d gotten ride of in my early twenties, that I was really looking sanctified, that I was really feeling sanctified, that I felt like I was more like God, and I was holy. And, you know, that I was a pretty good chap and pretty close to what I was supposed to be.

But as I’ve grown in the Lord, I think, you know this is kind of a weird thing, as I’ve grown in the Lord I’ve felt less and less sanctified. Every year I don’t feel like I’m more sanctified than I was the year before even though in some ways I should, and in other ways it’s not as if there are vestiges that I am picking up. You start to feel the corruption more and more.

JJ Seid: I love J.I. Packer said, “Growth in the Christian life is growth downwards.” It was many years before I heard that but the minute I read it I said oh man that sounds right that makes sense.

Real spiritual growth is always growth downward, so to speak, into profounder humility, which in healthy souls will become more and more apparent as they age.[1]

Listen to the full episode using the player below…

  1. Packer, J. I. (2014–01–31). Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging (Kindle Locations 570–571). Crossway. Kindle Edition.  ↩

Are Christians Really the Fifth Gospel?


There has been a buzz phrase going around the internet about a fifth Gospel. No, this is not coming from a group such as the Jesus Seminar opting for the Gospel of Thomas (that was in the 90s). This is coming from well-meaning evangelical Christians who believe that Christians themselves are the Fifth Gospel.

The idea is that while we have the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in the Bible, the lives of Christians are the fifth Gospel. Our lives, our grace, our kindness, forgiveness, mercy, and good works are a witness to such a degree that we are the final good news. When our lives reflect Christ in a true way, we are his message.

Problems with Calling Christians the Fifth Gospel

We are Still Sinners

Martin Luther said that we are simul justus et peccator “same time just and sinner.” Now, Martin Luther was not inspired, but he was communicating a very biblical idea that while we are covered by the righteousness of Christ and that faith alone (without good work) is what justifies us before God, we are still sinners.

Even the great Apostle Paul, who was inspired at times, wrote about his inability to consistently live the Christian life in Roman 7:19

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Rom 7:19 ESV)

Peter, again, at times inspired, lived for ten years from Acts 2 (when the Holy Spirit came upon him) until Acts 10 with extreme prejudice (a terrible sin) as he would not associate with Gentiles. God came and corrected him, but he still had his problems, it seems, for the rest of his life (see Gal. 11:2-14).

All of us still sin. The Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (John 1:8). Until glory, we will both represent Christ through our good works and misrepresent Christ through our sin. This is a fact of life. Therefore, our status as the fifth Gospel, if this means that we are not still riddled with sin, is not well-put.

We are Still Doubters

Not only do we sin, but our belief is imperfect. We doubt, waiver, believe more one day, and believe less the next. As “believers” we will always hold to our belief, even if by a thread (as Christ will not let us go—John 10:28), but belief is not a black or white thing. Hopefully we are believing more and more every day, but as of today, our belief is not perfect. As those who believe-yet-doubt, we are not the fifth Gospel. I think this creates great authenticity and is very endearing for those who need Christ (at least when we are honest about our imperfect faith), but cannot be said to parallel the Gospels.

I believe, help my unbelief. (Mark 9:24)

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Don’t Hold Your Hair Back when You Throw Up – Transparency and the Christian


About the Title

The title of this post may be self-evident to some of you. Others clicked on this post just to know what I mean. The latter is confused by this cultural phrase “Hold your hair back when you throw up.”  What does it mean? It is simple. When girls have too much alcohol to drink, they may throw up (i.e. vomit). In ideal cases, you have a good friend that will come to your rescue and hold your hair back so you don’t get any puke in your hair. It would not only be gross to look at and smell, it would stain your character as others would see that you cannot hold your liquor. If you don’t have that good friend by your side, you have to hold your hair back yourself. Just remember the two main components: throwing up and hair back.

Well . . . What am I doing here? I am encouraging you not to hold your hair back at all. People need to see the gross stuff, the ugly stuff, and the puke . . . in your life. I am getting ahead of myself.

Who Do You think You Are?

An old adage: “You are not who you think you are. You are who you think other people think you are.” It simply means that who we are is determined by the opinions of others. We are so concerned about what others think about us, that it dominates who we believe we are. This is false.

Who do we want to be? As Christians, what is our goal? How do we want others to view us? Chuck Swindoll used to say (and I quote loosely from an impaired memory), “If you really knew me, you would not listen to me. But don’t worry. If I really knew you, I would not let you in this church!”

Do we know who we are? Or do we keep our real selves a secret known only to us? Often we live lives so guarded that we, ourselves, don’t even know who we are. We are so scared of what people will think of us that we hide everything ugly, everything dishonorable, everything that stinks . . . or just all the puke in our hair. We throw up and remove all evidence that it ever happened. We are too scared to be transparent.

Martin Luther On Transparency

Martin Luther once made a controversial statement: “Be a sinner. Sin boldly.” I love Luther. He did not hold his hair back when vomiting. He let the vomit shine for all to see. Luther was keenly aware of his sin, and of grace. Luther’s comment was meant to provocatively communicate something much deeper. “Sin boldly . . .” the statement begins; it continues, “. . . but believe more boldly.” Luther did not care much for self-righteousness. He did not like masks. He did not like trying to impress people. He was continually attempting to make those who were satisfied with their own works recognize their own utter depravity. “Look in the mirror,” he might have said. “You are a wretch. Let your wretchedness be seen. If you clean yourself up, you may fool yourself into thinking that you don’t need grace.” What a terrible place to be: Self-fooled and graceless. Therefore, when you sin, sin boldly and let it be known (don’t hold your hair back).

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7 Things NOT to Say to a Depressed Christian

Handling a Depressed Christian

As many of you know, I’ve been depressed for almost five years now. I had a major break in March of 2010. It came out of nowhere and has been a frequent uninvited guest in my home ever since.

I won’t go into it now, but almost seven weeks ago I came out of the depression. I think I know the triggers. But I often tell people not to get too excited. I can never be sure which “me” is going to wake up tomorrow. Will it be joyful me? (who I love) He’s the one who sees life positively and has no time for worry (too busy serving God)? Or will it be broken me (who I hate)? He can’t dwell on anything but the bad and sees no hope in life (and doesn’t even act like there’s a God)? 7 Things NOT to Say to a Depressed Christian But while I have my thoughts straight, I’ve been able to dwell on so many positive things. One of these is the subject of this post. I’ve accumulated a list of seven things depressed people (Christian’s especially) are told. They’re meant to help them out of their depression. I’ve even had these things said to me. But these things are wrong.

Please Note: None of these things necessarily come from evil intentions. These come from people who sincerely want you to recover. However, they do come from the evil flesh that dwells in all of us: judgmenalism. I hope this becomes clear as you read.

Further Reading: Dealing With My Depression #1: Muffling Its Voice

“Just Snap Out of It”

I don’t know how many times I said this to my depressed sister before she took her life. “Just snap out of it, Angie.” From my perspective, I thought you could. I thought that being depressed or happy was an act of the will. If you just make the right decision, you can think your way out of it. But more often than not, depression is not an act of the will. It is an interplay between the mind and the brain that you can’t snap out of. Don’t you think that people who are depressed would “Just snap out of it” if it were that easy? Remember, they don’t want to be depressed. It is the worst torture that one can possibly imagine.

“Think Positively”

Again, this might seem right. Please realize that most of the time a depressed person can’t think positively. That’s why they’re depressed. If I were to tell you there’s a giant elephant in your room, would you believe me? What if I said that all you have to do is close your eyes and trust it to be true? You’d probably say, “I can’t!”Telling someone who’s depressed to “think positively” completely misses the problem. They can’t think positively any more than you can believe there’s an elephant in the room. They don’t want to think negatively. They just can’t stop.

Further Reading: Depression – When We Want to Die

“Confess Your Sins”

Trying to find a sin trigger in the life of the depressed is a hard proposition. There may be some evident sin in their lives that they need to deal with, but consider this:

1) Everyone Sins But Not Everyone’s Depressed There is evil in everyone. According to Martin Luther we’re all, simul justus et peccator which is Latin for “at the same time just and sinners.” Additionally, according to the Gospel of John we have to admit to sin in our lives:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8 (ESV)

All to often a lengthy (and often judgmental) assessment of every sin the depressed person has takes place. Once they’re identified they’ll try to get rid of them one by one. This is both impossible and can cause deeper depression. The depressed may believe you and think getting rid of all these sins is the answer. When they realize that this cannot happen this side of heaven, the depression deepens.

2) They Can’t Change the Past Sometimes the sins that led to depression are from a years of lifestyle choices. They build up over the years. It’s usually the little ones that end up getting us. However, bringing this to the conversation with the depressed does little good. They can’t back up and change their choices. If they could, they would.

3) They Already Know They’re Sinners The depressed person likely knows if it’s sin that’s causing their depression. If it’s alcohol, drugs, etc. bringing this up early will only harden the person. It will make them defensive. If sin is causing the depression (and that’s a big “if”) tact and prudence should be used in abundance. This will allow them to recognize their sin without becoming defensive.

“Get On Some Meds Immediately!”

I am no Tom Cruise. I believe that psychiatric medications are often the answer and are a gift of God. I believe that there are many out there who are not taking due to a taboo or stigma attached to them that should be. However, the use of mind altering drugs also needs to be considered very deeply. I also think that they are prescribed too easily without a plan of attack.

Briefly, I believe that some people need to go through the darkness without an immediate way out. Many of the Psalms might not have been written had these drugs been available to David. His ups and downs would have been leveled by a script from the doctor. But we needed David to go through his mental bipolar disorder (if that is what it was). The same might be said of Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation. He definitely needed to be on something! However, God used his mental anxiety for great things.

Book Suggestion: Genius, Grief, & Grace: A Doctor Looks at Suffering & Success (Biography of great saints of the past who suffered greatly, but were used greatly.

For some people—as hard as it is to hear—God wants you to go through this darkness. But this is not for everyone. These drugs are a blessing of God when used properly. For some, they can get you over the “hill” of darkness and are only needed for a short time. For others, they are needed permanently for the stability of the mind.

All I am doing is asking you to consider that the depressed person may be a David or a Luther to the church. Don’t immediately demand that they get on these drugs.

“I’ve Been Through Worse”

I had a relative say this to me with absolute resolve and conviction in her voice. She said, “Michael, whatever you have gone through, I have been though worse! So don’t try to give me your sob story.” She meant well, but this is not something to say to a depressed person. It may be true that you have been through worse and been able to get out of it. What you mat not know is that this is meaningless to the depressed for two reasons:

  1. Once you’re in the black hole of depression, the hole itself is the worst thing you’ve gone through. The tragic events that might have brought you there often pale in comparison.
  2. Suffering is relative. There are always going to be people who have it worse than you. This isn’t the issue. It’s how you perceive and internalize your suffering relative to who you were before. For some, the loss of a job can make them suicidal. For others (who live in harsher climates of society) even the loss of a child is expected and absorbed with less depression.

So depression is a very relative thing. Letting people know that you’ve been through worse—while it might be objectively true—can be both unwise and irresponsible. It will only harden the person in their depression.

“God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”

This is in my top ten things of what the Bible does not say that Christians often quote as Scripture. There is nowhere in the Bible that says God will not give us more than we can handle. It does say that he will in temptation provide a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). But never does it say that God will not give us more pain and suffering than we can handle.

Many Christians have suffered to the point of death at the hands of executors. Many suffer to the point of death at their own hands. All we can say is that, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18). This may not solve our depression, but it does give us perspective. Even if our depression has caused us enormous doubt this can be helpful.

“Depression Is a Sin. You Should Have Joy In Your Life”

This always comes from the person who has never experienced real depression. Once you have, you would never say something like this again. Unfortunately, this often comes from those who feel that it’s their job to deliver us from this evil. But is depression a sin? I don’t think so.

Matthew 5:4 says “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This mourning should not be thought of as some temporary bout with suffering. It’s not purely circumstantial (like mourning for the death of a loved one). The Greek word for mourn (pentheo) is a present active participle. It is actually the best word to use for “sadness” or “depression.” Christ is saying that those that are always (present, active) sad and down, will be comforted. The comfort, in the context, does not come in this life, but in the life to come.So far from being a sin, depression is often going to be the progressive state of the “blessed.”

How You Bear the Burdens of the Depressed

So, if these are the things you don’t do, what do you do? If you have a loved one who’s depressed, it is hard to handle. It can cause depression in you if you are not careful. All you want to do is solve it. Please understand, it’s not your job to solve the depression. You may be able to be a great influence in getting the depressed to feel better, but God has not given you the responsibility to deliver a loved one from depression. Let yourself off the hook. Don’t make yourself responsible for something you cannot do. Though you may be used by Him to bring the depressed to wholeness, you are not the Holy Spirit.

Most of what you “say” will only cause more depression, as shown above. This was the mistake of Job’s friends. They stayed silent for seven days (Job 2:13). They should have stayed silent for good. After seven days they couldn’t take it any more and made all the mistakes we’ve looked at.

Silence, with your arm around the depressed is the best advice. There may be a time for verbal inquiry, but this needs to come naturally and without judgement. You’re not given a podium to preach to the depressed; you’re given arms to hold them. Even if this doesn’t “work” your goal should not be to bring them out of their depression. Your goal should be to be there for them their entire life if necessary. It is a terrible burden to bear when this is a loved one, I know. But this is how we bear the burdens of the depressed.

“Silences make the real conversations between friends. Not the saying but the never needing to say is what counts.” – Margaret Runbeck

When someone is there for you without all the answers and requiring you to follow their advice “or else…”, you have a true friend. And, unfortunately, these friends have been rare from the beginning of time.

Purchase on Amazon: Now That I’m A Christian: What It Means to Follow Jesus

I Can’t Live According to Your Lists


To the legalist, almost everything is black and white. There are no grey areas. The Bible calls these “disputable areas” (Rom. 14:1). The historic church has called them adiaphora. Simply put, grey areas are things of which the Bible does not approve or disapprove that we have cautious freedom to participate in. Legalists love to focus on these grey areas, just waiting to rob you of your freedom. They have their “scruples” and if you don’t live by them, watch out! Their lists are long and varied.

Let me calm down for a moment. All of us have our “scruples,” including you! I remember at seminary one of my professors had problems with mixed bathing (girls and guys swimming together). I had a guy at Credo a couple of day ago whose church believed that men could not have a beard. Three days before, I was with two people who came from a tradition that said they must have a beard! I, personally, have a problem with people who asked for raised hands in church when evangelizing (“I see that hand”). Oh, I have my reasons, but I can’t really justify them as being biblical or the act as sinful. They are just scruples. These are things I don’t like, make me uncomfortable, and make me squirm. But they are things about which the Bible is indifferent.

The lists are long.

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Taking anti-depressants
  • Smoking
  • Going to the movies (or even having a television)
  • How one dresses
  • Dancing
  • Colorful language
  • Where you go to church
  • When you go to church
  • If you go to church (in this case, people require you to be in a church building once a week—in other words, church is always a building you go to rather than something that you do.
  • Celebrating Halloween
  • Playing Santa Clause with your kids
  • Starting a church in a bar
  • Driving a Camaro (okay, now this one is objectively right!)
  • Having breast implants
  • Wearing make-up
  • Living in a very large house
  • Standing on the side of the road begging for money
  • Seeing nudity (remember, in the Bible lust is the issue, not nudity—there are societies of people who don’t wear much clothing at all)
  • How often one has communion
  • Baptizing in a pool
  • Tattoos
  • Being too involved in politics
  • Not being involved in politics at all!
  • Styles of worship music
  • Eating meat
  • Head coverings
  • Listening to rock and roll

Continue Reading →

How Jesus Would Act in a Homosexual Bar? or “How to Evangelize Homosexuals”


This is one of the most commonly asked questions that I get lately: How do I evangelize homosexuals? It is such a sensitive issue as there are so many passions involved and a growing variety of opinions. The volatility could not be greater and I could not be dumber for writing on this! Nevertheless, I am going to do my best to answer here.

I have a family member who lives in an apartment that backs up to a homosexual bar. I can imagine that in the church, there are people who think this is wrong. It’s not that these would assume she might be a homosexual, but that why would she, being a Christian, even dare live in such proximity to such evil. I am sorry to say this, but its very sad—no, tragic—to say that the church is filled with such a mentality. Oh, they have their verses to justify it, but these are always based in unbiblical emotional passions that cannot ever be justified.

Hold on, it gets worse so hang with me.

I, personally, was pretty excited that she moved in there. Why? What a great place to live! It is filled with opportunity and excitement. It is filled with the possibility of having the power of the Holy Spirit work in a place that few in the church would dare to go.

Let me back up and ask the key question: How do we, as Christians, evangelize (give the Gospel to) homosexuals? Here we go . . .

If this family member were to ask me this question, this is what I would tell her:

First, what a great place you are living! What a great opportunity! But I think it would be best if we asked another question: what Jesus would have done in such a situation. Here are the steps I believe he would take:

First, he would go to the bar Continue Reading →