Keep Feeding, Even Those Who Do Not Know What It Is to Be Fed

Sep 05, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Wise words–dare I say inspiring words–from Harold Best in one of my favorite books on worship:

Sunday worship time as intellectual coddle time is out of place. Pastors may be tempted to ease up, to soften the depth and width of their teaching. They may pay too much heed to pollster talk about shortened attention spans, limited cognitive styles, socio-aesthetic preferences and generational groupthink. They may be tempted to forget that preaching under the power of the Spirit and the authority of Scripture is miraculously different from producing a sitcom. But then they will find that their congregations will become more and more difficult to please, even though the content is made more and more accessible.

I write these words on behalf of all ministers whose task in this shallowed-out culture is exceedingly trying. One of my fellow administrators at Wheaton College used to say this: “People want you to lead until you do.” I believe this applies to the corporate life of the church and to the kind of congregation that wants to “be fed” until it is truly fed. Then the pastor is often accused of not feeding. I beg pastors to stay with the truth, no matter the cost, and to challenge the extensive-mindedness of every living image of God. There are more people interceding for you than you might know. Since God is for you, who can be against you? (Unceasing Worship, 67-68).

Do not lose heart, brother pastor. Keep leading and keep feeding. Preach your heart out this Sunday and leave the rest to God. He loves your church, loves the lost, and loves the glory of his name even more than you do.

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The Ninth Commandment is About Much More than Lying

Sep 04, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I love every bit of the Heidelberg Catechism, mostly for its Christ-centered comfort. But when read carefully, the Catechism is also tremendously challenging.

No more so than in its explanation of the ninth commandment. We may think of if as a prohibition against lying, but the Catechism rightly sees it as much more. In fact, when I read Q/A 112 of the Heidelberg Catechism I count nine things we are to do in obedience to the ninth commandment.

1. God’s will is that I never give false testimony against anyone.

2. I twist no one’s words.

3. I do not gossip or slander.

4. I do not join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause.

5. Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God’s intense anger.

6. I should love the truth.

7. I should speak the truth candidly.

8. I should openly acknowledge the truth.

9. I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.

Yikes. Count me convicted. Am I really like the devil when I reinterpret every story to benefit me and purposefully reconstruct the facts of every narrative to make my point? How easy it is to assume the worst about those I don’t like or don’t know, especially people who seem bigger than me (athletes, politicians, celebrities), unlike me (different faith, different color, different politics), or far from me (in physical or relational distance). How challenging it can be in pressure-packed moments to speak the truth candidly and openly acknowledge it. How unpopular and difficult it is to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.

In our digital age of pervasive punditry, instant analysis, and perpetual outrage, surely the breach of the ninth commandment is one of our besetting sins.

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Five Tips for Leading Your Small Group

Sep 02, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

As school starts back up, so will plenty of church-sponsored and church-related small groups. Some will study the Bible. Others will read a Christian book together. Almost all will have a designated leader or leaders. While knowing your Bible and having Christlike character are the more important factors, there are also a number of skills which go a long way in leading an effective small group.

1. Communicate early and often, and then follow through.

A good leader is always leading. If you wait until the meeting to lead, it may be too late. In this era of easy communication, there is no reason leaders can’t remind the group of upcoming dates and assignments. Make sure everyone knows what is expected. Conclude every meeting by highlighting what’s next–what should be read? when is the group meeting? where are they meeting? who will be leading the discussion? Then before the next meeting send out a reminder email (or call or text or tweet or Facebook post). People forget. People are lazy. People get busy. People need lots of friendly reminders to stay on task–especially students.

As for the meeting itself, respect people’s time. Get things started promptly and end at the agreed upon time. Sure, emergencies come up. There are exceptions to almost every rule. But people need to know that they can count on you to get the meeting started and ended on time.

Whenever possible, keep things consistent. Changing dates and times almost always leads to dwindling numbers.

Ask people for specific commitments. Don’t do everything yourself. Get someone to bring a snack, another person to organize the upcoming barbecue, and someone else to open in prayer next week. This not only builds up others, it will encourage greater participation. Asking for commitments is better than making a general invitation.

2. Think through your questions ahead of time.

If your group consists of nothing but very mature Christians who have known each other for years you may be able to get away with little preparation. But that’s not the make up of most groups (and if so, it’s probably time to mix things up a little for the sake of newcomers and those just starting out as followers of Christ). Make sure your questions are crisp and clear. If you aren’t sure what you are asking, you can be sure no one else will either.

If the selection you are studying (in the Bible or in a book) is hard to understand, you may need a number of knowledge questions. Don’t make them so obscure that only seminary trained Christians would know the answer. But don’t make them so painfully obvious (e.g., fill in the blank questions) that everyone is embarrassed to venture forth an answer.

Don’t stay at the level of knowledge only. Ask questions which call for analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Prepare final questions which get at the heart.

Be creative in how you phrase your questions. Don’t just say “What do you think?” or “How do you feel about this?” or even “How can we apply this to our lives?” Ask questions like:

  • What is one thing you want to see change in your life as a result of this study?
  • What new promise can you take with you into the week?
  • What did you learn about God?
  • Where have you seen these things lived out well?
  • How does this relate to the cross?
  • How does this resemble our church for good or for bad?
  • Where is this a struggle for you in your marriage?
  • What do you have a hard time believing in God’s word?

You get the picture. There are hundreds of good questions you can ask on any given week. Few of them will come to you on the spot without any preparation.

3. Be mindful of group dynamics.

Being a leader is much more than opening and closing in prayer. You should do whatever you can to foster a warm, welcoming environment in your group. This means being especially mindful of new people. The 30 minutes of hang out time before the study may be a sheer delight for the old-timers, but for new people it’s bound to feel anxious and awkward. As a leader, you should do whatever you can to make them feel at ease. Ask them questions. Get the group to introduce itself. Have an exercise ready to encourage group sharing. The less people know each other the more structure is needed.

Keep in mind that newcomers may not know your history, your humor, or your theology. I made the mistake once of teasing one of our longtime small group members about not yet being convinced of paedobaptism. It was playful banter between me and these friends, but for the new folks visiting it sent them the (wrong) signal that credobaptists weren’t welcome here. I later apologized and explained that I was only joking with my friends and that we’d love to have them (the new couple) in our group. My bad.

One of the hardest and most important things a leader must do is try to include as many people as possible in group discussion. Obviously, the aim is not to make quiet members feel embarrassed, but often the quiet members simply need to be asked. A good leader won’t allow every discussion to be dominated by the same two or three people. He will specifically call on those who haven’t said much. He may need to gently add from time to time,  “Let me see if anyone else has something to add before I come back to you.”

A good leader will be sensitive to the mood of the group, discerning whether there is hurt, confusion, sadness, or frustration that needs to be addressed. Don’t just play traffic cop. Be a shepherd.

4. Know how to handle conflict.

The worst fear of most small group leaders is that they will be called upon to quell some raging inferno of disagreement. Thankfully, most Christian groups (in my experience) play pretty nice (almost to a fault). Angry conflict is rare, but it does happen. Depending on the circumstances, here are some of the things you may want to say in the midst of disagreement:

  • Sam, it sounds like you are trying to say XYZ. Am I hearing you correctly?
  • Amanda has offered a different interpretation. What do the rest of you think? How should we interpret this verse?
  • I know it’s hard to talk about such a controversial or painful topic, but I don’t think we should we run away from constructive conflict. I’d love to hear what everyone else is thinking.
  • This is an important discussion, but it’s not really involving the whole group. It would be great if the two of you could get together and continue the conversation at a different time.
  • It sounds like I may have done something to upset you. Why don’t we talk about it after the meeting is done?
  • Guys, I’m happy for us have disagreement in this group. But that sounded personal. Let’s try to be gentle even when we are passionate.

There may be times where the leader needs to be even more direct. You may have to shut down the conversation, explicitly correct a wrong interpretation, or reprove someone for speaking in a harsh and unedifying way. While we don’t want hot-headed leaders who make conflict worse, neither can we afford passive “leaders” who put their own people-pleasing and fear of man above the good of the whole group.

5. Plan for prayer.

If you expect prayer to just happen it will only barely happen. There is nothing wrong with 60 seconds of prayer to begin and end a meeting, if that’s your plan. Just to know that without preparation, that’s what will almost always happen. Effective times of prayer–whether short or long–take intentional planning. Are you going to ask for prayer requests? If so, how will ensure your “prayer” time is not all sharing with almost no praying? What are prayer requests from previous weeks that need follow up? How long do you want the prayer to be? How many people are you hoping will pray?

Leading in prayer requires clear direction. Don’t be afraid to call on certain individuals to pray (usually not newcomers). Remind people that their prayers can be short (in fact, you may want to encourage them to be short). Guide people through different topics (family, church, nation, world, etc.). If your prayer time is generally brief, consider setting aside a meeting every few months for nothing but prayer. We’ve often done this in our group, usually separating men and women for these most extended times of sharing and prayer.

The biggest difference between a small group that is spiritually, relationally, and biblically edifying and one that feels like an awkward waste of time is leadership. Good leaders do not always get good followers. But it almost never happens that you get good small groups without faithful, wise, skilled men and women to lead them.

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Monday Morning Humor

Sep 01, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

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Lloyd-Jones on Scandalous Grace that Isn’t Cheap

Aug 29, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

You may be familiar with the provocative idea from Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) that true test of gospel preaching is whether people mistake your gospel for antinomianism. Here, for example, is the Doctor preaching from Romans 6 on the charge “shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”

The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. This is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel. (The New Man, 8)

This is classic Lloyd-Jones overstatement. But it’s a provocative statement with an important point. We must share the gospel in all its scandalous grace. Lloyd-Jones does not want antinomianism preached, but he does want salvation by grace alone to be so celebrated that some people in that moment of gospel declaration might wonder if we care about good works. To which I say: preach on brother.

But that’s not all Lloyd-Jones said about law and grace, because Romans 6:1 wasn’t the only thing he ever preached on. In his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Lloyd-Jones sounded a different–though entirely biblical and entirely complementary–note:

Is it not true to say of many of us that in actual practice our view of the doctrine of grace is such that we scarcely ever take the plain teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ seriously? We have so emphasized the teaching that all is of grace and that we ought not to try to imitate His example in order to make ourselves Christians, that we are virtually in the position of ignoring His teaching altogether and of saying that it has nothing to do with us because we are under grace. Now I wonder how seriously we take the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The best way of concentrating on the question is, I think, to face the Sermon on the Mount. (p. 12)

Later, he goes even further in emphasizing the importance of the law in the Christian life.

The Christian is a man who of necessity must be concerned about keeping God’s law. I mentioned in chapter one the fatal tendency to put up law and grace as antitheses in the wrong sense. We are not ‘under the law’ but we are still meant to keep it. . . .So the Christian is a man who is always concerned about living and keeping the law of God. Here [in the Sermon on the Mount] he is reminded how that is to be done. (p. 26)

The mature Christian will say “Amen” to all three paragraphs from Lloyd-Jones. We want churches which love free grace and churches which do not put that grace in absolute opposition to the law of God. We need preachers who can preach all the good news and all the hard edges of Romans 5-8 and all the good news and all the hard edges of Matthew 5-8 with conviction and without apology.

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What Kind of Blessing?

Aug 28, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Quick–think of eight things you wish were different about you.

Got them in your head?

What did you come up with? If you could reinvent your personality, your habits, and your character with the snap of your fingers, what would the transformation look like?

Maybe your list was something like this: I wish I could lose 25 pounds. I’d like to have more time and more money. I want to exercise more and go to bed earlier. It would be nice for my sports team to win it all just once. I want my health back. I’d like a more prestigious position.

Nothing terrible in that list, several pretty good things in fact. But if that’s all we want, we don’t know what it really means to be blessed (Matt. 5:3-12). If we are honest, we too easily buy into the Beatitudes of the World.

Blessed are the rich, for theirs is the kingdom of pleasure.
Blessed are those who feel good about themselves, for they shall be confident.
Blessed are the aggressive, for they shall control the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for recognition, for they shall be noticed.
Blessed are the demanding, for they shall receive what’s coming to them.
Blessed are the sexually liberated, for they shall be their own gods.
Blessed are the scheming, for they shall be called children of the powerful.
Blessed are those who are praised by the world, for theirs is the kingdom of now.

Isn’t that what the world considers blessing? And isn’t it a million miles from being a disciple of Christ seeking after the kingdom of heaven? Jesus expects more from us, and he promises to give us much more than we can ask or imagine. So who are you going to be and whose promises are you going to believe?

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Christ Did Not Die for You to Do Keg Stands

Aug 26, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

With most major colleges getting whipped into a full frenzy, I thought it would be worthwhile to dust off a few thoughts about binge drinking on our nation’s campuses. Most students won’t have to look hard for opportunities to drink over the next days and weeks (and months and semesters). They may have to go somewhere off campus to party, but the party scene comes recruiting right to them. Some students arrive at college looking to make their Party U dreams come true. Others just find themselves all alone and eager to fit in and make friends. The sad reality is that choices made in the first weeks (or even days) of college can set a trajectory that’s hard to break.

Which means churches and Christian groups must bend over backward to meet, greet, invite, and include. It also means churches must be ready to winsomely and courageously confront the university lifestyle when it is inconsistent with Christian commitment. Many professing Christians will live duplicitous lives–getting smashed on the weekends while still trying to be the good Christian boy or girl their parents and ministry friends imagine them to be. The problem is huge and anyone wishing to minister to college students needs to think about a biblical approach.

Here are a few suggestions on how to begin formulating a Christian response to drinking on our college campuses.

1. Know what you’re up against. Like a good AA course, the first step is admitting we have a problem. Binge drinking is so bad that when researches tried using Breathalyzers at parties and bars it only encouraged students to drink more. No matter how many bad consequences are put in front of students–drunk driving, addictions, unwanted sexual intercourse, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, decreased performance in school–they don’t offset the two perceived benefits of drinking: it’s liberating and a good excuse.

Students thinking of alcohol as “liquid courage.” It makes them more fun, more adventurous, less tied to inhibitions. On the latter, drinking is seen as a convenient way of avoiding personal responsibility. The sober girl who hooks up with a complete stranger might be considered a slut. But if she’s drunk, then it’s not really a mark on her character; she just had a few too many. Likewise, many students feel justified if they miss class or perform poorly because of a hangover. No matter what people tell them about the possible dangers of drinking, getting drunk for many college students, is the best way to have fun. And whatever negative consequences may come, these are thought to reflect on the alcohol not on the individual.

Take almost any college in the country, especially the big state schools, and I can just about guarantee that the biggest obstacle to Christian discipleship is not Richard Dawkins or Bart Ehrman or all the heady objections to Christianity that our apologetics are meant to counter. We need apologetics. I’m 100% for taking every thought captive to Christ. But for most 17-22 year-olds the most common temptations to sin are alcohol and sex. Even when there are intellectual objections to Christianity, these are often just cover for a debauched lifestyle. Tens of thousands of college students will walk away from the church this year, or never give it a chance, because their main goal each week is to get smashed and hook up. Rare is the campus ministry that needs to talk about Derrida more than drunkenness.

2. Demonstrate a mature attitude toward alcohol. Some Christians go farther than Scripture in condemning alcohol. The Bible celebrates wine as a gift from God (Isa. 55:1; John 2:9) and good for your stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). I’m not convinced that the Lord’s Supper was strictly the unfermented stuff (1 Cor. 11:21). But let’s not trade one overreach for another. Christians who enjoy good gift of wine or beer need to grow up at times. Christian upperclassmen (and other adults) who can drink legally should be careful with alcohol consumption around underage believers. They should not talk about beer like it’s the coolest thing since Don Draper. If you think not drinking gets you closer to God, get a better reading of Scripture. If you think drinking gets you closer to relevance, get a better understanding of ministry. Christian liberty is no reason for social life and conversation to revolve around the conspicuous consumption of alcohol.

3. Be boldly biblical. There is good wisdom in admonishing sinners by presenting the negative consequences of sin. “You reap what you sow” is how the Bible puts it. So it’s appropriate to warn binge drinkers of STD’s and addictions and DUI’s and scrambling your brains on a car antenna (I won’t go into details, but it was the most disturbing story I heard while I was in college). And yet, the Bible doesn’t just say, “Stop getting drunk because it will hurt you.” It also says, “Stop getting drunk because God hates it.” Drunkards do not inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:10). Drunkards do not belong in the church’s fellowship (1 Cor. 5:11). Of course, there is forgiveness for the sin of drunkenness. But the Bible repeatedly rebukes those who seek after this sin. Woe to those who run after strong drink, Isaiah says (5:11). Do not get drunk, is Paul’s command (Eph. 5:18). This is what God has to say about the tradition of partying every weekend while in college: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:13-14).

4. Show tough love. There’s a fine line between caring for your drunken friend (who may legitimately hurt himself or others) and enabling sin. Don’t let friends drink and drive and don’t let friends crack their skulls open (I saw people come close in college). But don’t feel sorry for the weekend warriors. Don’t pick up all their messes or remove all their consequences. This line from a 2011 USA Today article has stuck with me: “The campus environment provides so much social support that even when students have bad experiences drinking, the help they get from friends afterward is seen as a positive.” If you are interested in real community, take a risk and show some tough love.

5. Remind the Christians who they are. I realize that many of the binge drinkers have nothing to do with Christianity. But in many parts of the country, the average college student claims some Christian affiliation. Press home their profession of Christ. Tell them what it means to be a new creation. Help them see who they are in Christ. Show them that because they are joined to Christ they take Christ with them to get hammered and get in bed with someone. Teach them again all the good news of Christ crucified for sinners and Christ raised for newness of life. Then implore them to live as if they actually believed what they say they believe.

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Monday Morning Humor

Aug 25, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

If this guy can’t make you smile…

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Books, Bio, and Such

Aug 22, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

The summer is almost done and so is this interview series. Thanks all to the busy folks who took time to answer 18 questions about themselves, their books, and a few other interesting tidbits. I thought I’d finish this series by answering my own questions, not because there is anything special about my answers, but what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and all that jazz.

1. Where were you born? Chicago, Illinois

2. When did you become a Christian? I had the immense privilege of growing up in a Christian home, so I can’t think of a time when I didn’t know of Christ. I made profession of faith and joined the church when I was 9 years old.

3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? There are three pastor-authors who have been especially influential. I think I’ve read most everything they’ve published: John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper.

4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? I’ve learned a lot from my pastoral colleagues at URC, Ben Falconer and Jason Helopoulous, and from my predecessor at the church, Tom Stark.

5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral? My Song Is Love Unknown, the way Fernando Ortega sings it.

6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? Political Science and Economics

7. Other than Calvin’s Institutes, what systematic theology have you found most helpful? Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, for its remarkable influence on the Reformed tradition, for clarity of thought, and for comprehensive coverage of of almost every conceivable theological question.

8. What are one or two of your favorite fiction authors or fiction books? The entire Jeeves and Wooster series by P.G. Wodehouse. And of course Lord of the Rings.

9. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? Paul Johnson’s little biography of Churchill is marvelous. Allen Guelzo’s book on Lincoln was also excellent. Do you like how I’m not sticking to the rules of my own questions by mentioning multiple books?

10. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? Martin Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers

11. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church

12. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics? G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

13. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? Ben Patterson, Deepening Your Conversation with God

14. What is one of your favorite books on marriage? Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

15. What is one of your favorite books on parenting? Brian Caplan, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. It’s not Christian in anyway, but provocative and full of good sense. For a good gospel-centered book on parenting I was helped by Shepherding a Child’s Heart

16. What music do you keep coming back to on your iPhone (or CD player, or tape deck, or gramophone)? Like most people, I have eclectic tastes, anything from oldies and contemporary Christian music to bluegrass and classical.

17. Favorite food? Chicago style deep dish pizza.

18. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? The Heidelberg Catechism

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Four Brief Theses on Suicide

Aug 20, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

The news last week of Robin Williams’ death was painful for millions of people, not only because he was a beloved entertainer (count me a fan of his clean stuff) but because suicide is not a topic which lands on us lightly. This is especially true for the countless number of Christians who are still grieving for loved ones or who have struggled with suicidal thoughts themselves. Not surprisingly, in the wake of such big national news, the internet lit up with commentary and critique, point and counterpoint. Some of it helpful, some of it not so much.

Without trying to sift through all that has been said, and without pretending to say everything that needs to be said about such a difficult subject, I thought it might be helpful to try to cut through some of the fog and look at four brief theses. Perhaps these can help us think theologically and pastorally about suicide.

1. The subject of suicide should be approached sensitively and compassionately.

We need to know the time and the place. This is a blog post addressed to a general audience, so I don’t believe it’s insensitive to step back and parse out “four theses” on suicide. But I would not present four points like this to someone mourning the death of a friend or to someone contemplating suicide. Those situations call for hugs, tears, questions, listening, personal contact, and prayer–all things that are impossible or nearly impossible in a general blog post. Having said that, even in a general piece to no one in particular, we must keep in mind that anyone may be reading. The wise Christian is always aware that people are listening with different ears. For some this topic is an interesting theological question. For others, they are thinking about how to minister effectively when the need arises. And for others, the mere mention of suicide summons from within them a pain too deep for words.

2. Suicide is complicated and happens for different reasons.

I think many people were angry at the critical responses to Robin Williams’ death because the critiques failed to grasp–or at least landed on people as failing to grasp–the moral differences surrounding the different contexts for suicide. Surely someone struggling with depression on and off for twenty years who takes his own life deserves more sympathy than the man who loses everything on the stock market and jumps off the 75th floor in a moment of monetary loss. There is a moral difference between the person who gets caught in adultery and–full of embarrasment and an unwillingness to face his sin–commits suicide, as opposed to the person who finds out she was cheated on and, feeling her life cannot go on, decides to end it. The person who guns down children and then kills himself is selfish and evil and a hundred other things. The person who takes his own life while in the throes of a depression that is unwanted, unbidden, and seemingly unending will be appraised much differently. Our last action–even a sinful one–does not define the totality of our existence. We are right to remember all that was good and true in those who succumb to the temptation to self-destruction.

3. Suicide is a sin.

Of course, this is not what I would lead with in pastoral counseling or in pastoral care or in conducting a funeral, but it is one aspect of this difficult topic we cannot avoid. While there may be extreme cases where a suicidal person has clearly lost control of all his faculties (i.e., dementia, closed head injuries), in the vast majority of  cases we are right to see suicide as a morally culpable and morally blameworthy choice. For centuries, the church has consistently viewed suicide as a violation of the sixth commandment. Self-murder is still murder. As John Frame points out in The Doctrine of the Christian Life, there are five instances of suicide in Scripture (Judges 9:52-54; 1 Sam. 31:3-5; 2 Sam. 17:23; 1 Kings 16:18-19; Matt. 27:3-5) and all of them are in a context of shame and defeat (p. 738). Likewise, when more noble characters ask God to take their lives, God never obliges (Num. 11:12-15; 1 Kings 19:4; Jonah 4:1-11). In the cases of Jonah and Job, God clearly views their self-destructive requests unfavorably.

While we want to empathize with those who suffer–from regret or depression or disease or any other unrelenting malady–surely it is poor ethical reasoning to think that suffering is the means which justifies any end. As we saw yesterday, our choices should be deemed “free” so long as they are not subject to external coercion and compulsion. Julie Gossack–a wife and mother who has five times had to suffer through the suicide of a family member–sums up the matter well: “Suicide is not a genetic trait nor is it a family curse. Suicide is a sinful choice made by an individual. This statement is neither unloving nor disrespectful. It is the truth. I dearly loved my family members that committed suicide, but their choices were sinful and not righteous” (JBC Winter: 2006, 22). Suicide may feel like the only way out, but Scripture tell us God will never lead us into a situation where violating his commands is the only option (1 Cor. 10:13). We do not help struggling saints by refusing to tell them that suicide is displeasing to God; lovingly spoken that may be one of the means by which God jolts the suicidal soul back to better, more godly thinking.

4. Suicide is not the unforgiveable sin.

We do not have a system of penance and last rites. While it is particularly sad for a Christian to die in this way–confused and without hope–this loss of perspective does not necessarily mean the person was not a born again, justified Christian. John Frame, who argues that suicide is sinful, also tells the story of a missionary friend who drew closer to Jesus as he battled depression, but in the end killed himself. Frame doesn’t hesitate to say confidently that this man was a genuine Christian (p. 39). We are saved by the blood of Christ, not by whether our last moment was triumphant or tragic. Suicide should not be lightly dismissed. It is unimaginably painful and displeasing to God. But for the truly repentant, truly believing, truly justified child of God, God is greater than our sins, even ones that grip is in our dying breaths.

For more resources on suicide, check out the list of articles at CCEF. They are worth the few dollars it may cost to access them.

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