How to Identify a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

As we begin our study on how to identify false prophets, it’s important to revisit what Jesus said:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
(Matthew 7:15)

image009.jpgMany times, our impression of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is something like the picture on the right. We expect to be able to identify the wolf by something that “just doesn’t quite line up” or “just doesn’t look right”. But it doesn’t work that way. Jesus said, “Inwardly they are ravening wolves”.  In other words, the false prophet is a wolf on the inside, not the outside.

So what should we look for?

Jesus told us how to identify false teachers in the very next verses:

By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
(Matthew 7:16-20)

Jesus tells us to look, not at the tree, but what it produces. In other words, look at the results of the teacher’s teaching, and look at their own life. Are they Godly people who are truly following Jesus, or are they ministers of Satan who are pretending to be ministers of righteousness?

Jesus is using two analogies in this passage: wolves in sheep’s clothing, and fruit trees. It’s important to remember that we need to find the point that He is making and not merely make extrapolations from the analogies. Those extrapolations may or may not be accurate.

So here’s Jesus’ points:

  1. Beware of false prophets.
  2. False prophets conceal their true nature. They appear to be true Christians, but on the inside, they are the Devil’s agents.
  3. We need to look at their fruits. Are they acting in the way that God has said that His children will behave?
  4. A false prophet cannot follow God and fully obey Him. He will not bring forth truly good fruit in his life.
  5. A Godly person will not live in sin.
  6. Therefore, when we find a teacher who appears to be Godly, yet is disobedient to God and/or exhibits signs of hypocrisy, we need to beware. They could simply be deceived and ignorant of the truth, but there is a good possibility that they are false prophets.

A false prophet is rotten to the core.

Here is an extremely important point to remember: a false prophet’s problems are internal, not external. As Jesus said:

“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good, or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt; for the tree is known by its fruit. You offspring of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings out good things, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings out evil things.”
(Matthew 12:33-35)

The bad fruit of a false prophet only reveals that he is a false prophet; it does not make him a false prophet. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it makes all the difference in the world when we go to correct the problem. It’s not a matter of getting the false prophet to “clean up his act” and do the right thing. He needs to be changed on the inside so that he brings forth good fruit.

If we try to help the false prophet “do better” and stop sinning without correcting the internal problem, we are actually helping him to be a better “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. The real problem is not his sin. The sin is only revealing that this person is not a Godly person. The real problem is that he is following Satan instead of God. The real problem is that he needs to be changed on the inside.

So what do we look for?

The following is not an exhaustive list. It contains some things that God has taught me about signs of a false teacher. If you have more to contribute, please share them with me!

1. Godly-sounding teachings that make the teacher look good.

For example, saying things like:

  • “If you think about something other than God, more than you think about God, that thing has become your idol.”
  • “Never miss an opportunity to witness.”
  • “When the world sees you, it should immediately know that you are a Christian.”

Many of these things sound very spiritual, but they’re not taught by God. They can simply be guilt trips. You may have no way of knowing whether the teacher actually implements them in his or her own life, but it sure makes the teacher look spiritual.

2. Emphasizing “spiritual disciplines” that are actually not spiritual.

This can go along with the previous point. Some examples:

  • Teaching that you need to spend a lot of time alone in prayer with God. This might include recommendations for spending an hour per day in prayer, for example. (Prayer is vital for the Christian, but anyone can pray a lot, regardless of their relationship with God.)
  • Fasting. (Again, there’s nothing wrong with fasting, but you can starve yourself without the power of the Holy Spirit–it’s called a hunger strike.)
  • Bible reading.
  • Scripture memorization.
  • Bible study.
  • Giving/tithing.

The thing that all of these have in common is that they sound really spiritual and look like ways to get closer to God. And, in fact, they can draw you closer to God. However, because they do not require the Holy Spirit’s power to do them, anyone can do them. There are some atheists who know the Bible better than some Christians.

3. Telling you about their spiritual discipline.

Jesus tells us:

“Be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…

“When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men…

“In praying, don’t use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking…

“Moreover when you fast, don’t be like the hypocrites, with sad faces. For they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen by men to be fasting. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; so that you are not seen by men to be fasting, but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”
(Matthew 6:1-18)

One of the early warning signs about Bill Gothard was that he behaved as a hypocrite. Every January, he would spend a month at his retreat at “Northwoods” in Minnesota, fasting and praying. We all knew about this because he told us. He also told us about how he got up at 4:00 AM and “spent time with God”. (We now know that he also was spending time with teenage girls in the very early morning, but that’s another matter.) Unfortunately, we took this as a sign of his spirituality, instead of a warning sign that he was a hypocrite.

Another example: in their November 2015 “Mom’s Corner”, Steve and Teri Maxwell shared the following:

November 9th we will have another ladies’ prayer and fasting day. Teri is committing that day to fast and pray with others who have burdens on their hearts…

When you join the fast, you will briefly share your prayer focus so that Teri can pray alongside you…

For men who are interested in prayer and fasting with Steve, they have the option of one or more days starting Saturday, November 7th, and ending Monday morning, November 16th. Choose a day(s) that works for you. Steve is fasting and praying that whole time.

See the full statement

Hmm, is it really necessary to advertise that “Steve is fasting and praying that whole time”?

And how many times have you heard somebody talk about how “we had so many people praying, and God acted” as though God had heard them for their much speaking?

4. Teaching rules and standards that sound “spiritual” but are really just self-improvement.

This can also go along with the last two points, but I want to bring out a specific aspect. False teachers will make up rules of men that sound very spiritual, but are not commanded by God. As God says:

If you died with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to ordinances, “Don’t handle, nor taste, nor touch” (all of which perish with use), according to the precepts and doctrines of men? Which things indeed appear like wisdom in self-imposed worship, and humility, and severity to the body; but aren’t of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.
(Colossians 2:20-23)

Note that last verse. These rules and standards appear to be wise, humble, and denying oneself, but they don’t actually help us to be more Godly.

For example, having a “hands-off” courtship, supervised by the parents, sounds like a great way to prevent premarital sex. Unfortunately, it also prevents a couple from having the sort of conversations that they need to have in order to really get to know one another. I have read stories of women who ended up marrying abusive husbands because they felt pressure to do so and/or they didn’t know their boyfriend’s true nature until after they married.

And guess who came up with modern courtship? Bill Gothard–a false prophet.

5. Requiring obedience to the Law.

The Law of Moses is, on one hand, a spiritual law.

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, sold under sin. (Romans 7:14)

However, God tells us that when we try to keep it after we become Christians, we are attempting to gain perfection through the flesh.

I just want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now completed in the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3)

A false prophet is not walking in the Spirit. If he was, he wouldn’t be a false prophet, but a follower of Christ. Therefore, he will cherry-pick commands from the Old Testament and tell you that you should follow them. This is very wrong.

For more on the Law of Moses, watch the video below.

6. Living in sin.

When we see bad fruit, it means that the tree is bad. When we see a supposedly Godly person who is living in outright sin, it means that they are not Godly. Period. God tells us:

Little children, let no one lead you astray. He who does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. To this end the Son of God was revealed: that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever is born of God doesn’t commit sin, because his seed remains in him; and he can’t sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are revealed, and the children of the devil. Whoever doesn’t do righteousness is not of God, neither is he who doesn’t love his brother. (1 John 3:7-10)

Both the Greek and the context would indicate that what God is saying here is that those who are born again do not live in sin (as opposed to believing that one small sin means that the person is not born again). Jesus came to set us free from sin. Those who are truly born again will have a hatred toward sin and no desire to live in it. Those who live in sin do not have the Holy Spirit living within them.

Unfortunately, many people want you to believe that you can lie, commit adultery, commit murder, be a drunkard, etc., and still go to Heaven. Sorry. Whether you want to say that the person became a Christian and backslid, or whether you want to say that they never truly became a Christian at all, the bottom line is this: when someone is living in sin, and knows they are living in sin, they are not children of God. They are children of the Devil.

This is a key to detecting wolves. Do not give people a pass because you can’t bear to call them unbelievers. It doesn’t matter if they’re doing “many wonderful works in Jesus’ name” (Matthew 7:22). If they are living in sin, they are not the children of God and will not go to Heaven unless they repent.

7. Bad results from their teachings.

When you see that the fruit of a teacher’s teaching is not good, you know that they are a false teacher. If they try to “disciple” people, and those “disciples” end up living for the Devil, they did not make true disciples of Christ. Something is wrong with their teaching.

It’s important to evaluate the overall picture. Don’t pick out one or two good results and use them to ignore a whole bunch of bad results. At the same time, don’t use one or two cases of bad results to disqualify a whole bunch of good results.

To use a specific example, if one teacher’s teaching on parenting results in a bunch of wayward young people, don’t pick out a few examples of Godly young people whose parents followed that teaching and say that everyone else is an exception. Conversely, if most of the young people are turning out to be Godly, zealous adults, but a few families end up with wayward children, it may be a problem with those specific parents or children, and not the teacher’s fault.

Also, not all that looks good is good. I speak from personal experience. I looked, to some people, like a very Godly, wise, committed Christian at age 20. I know because they told me so. Under the surface, though, I was not as good as they thought I was. I had a lot of problems, and I wasn’t nearly as wise as they thought. Had it not been for the grace of God, I don’t know where I might be today.

Don’t Be Afraid to Look for Wolves

Jesus has told us to beware of false prophets. Don’t listen to the people that tell you that you should give others the benefit of the doubt, when there are clear indications that things are not right.

Dead sheep
A dead sheep

Because the consequences of ignoring a wolf can be deadly.

The Most Dangerous Wolves

Growing up in ATI, I was taught to be very careful about “wolves”. Not that the word “wolves” came up that often, but the teaching was still there: Beware of anyone who doesn’t have our standards. Beware of the world. Don’t let your children get deceived and defiled. Hunker in the bunker.

Who should we be concerned about? What kind of wolves are most dangerous? Who is most likely to destroy us spiritually?

Jesus told us what kind of wolves to look out for:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.
(Matthew 7:15)

When a wolf shows up with no disguise, the sheep immediatelyWolf in sheep's clothing recognize it as a wolf and run. He can’t trick them into thinking that he’s there peaceably, or that he’s a friend.

But when the wolf is disguised and looks like a sheep, he can sneak into the midst of the flock, become a trusted friend, and slyly attack when it works best.

Unfortunately, today, many people tell us not to identify wolves. People who call out someone as a wolf are told not to judge the other person—they are born again, washed in the blood of Jesus, and a brother in Christ. We must overlook the signs that they are not true believers.

Granted, it’s not a good idea to call everybody who disagrees with you a wolf. In fact, I would be suspicious of someone who did so. But when you see someone who claims to be Christian (follower of Jesus) but doesn’t walk like a Christian, it’s time to beware.

When Jesus sent His apostles out to preach, He warned them:

Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
(Matthew 10:16)

As sheep, we are not big, fearsome animals like bears or lions. In and of ourselves, we do not have the ability to overcome a wolf. Therefore, we must be wise, realize that there will be wolves among us, and look out for them.

It’s significant to look at who these wolves were:

Jesus sent these twelve out, and commanded them, saying, “Don’t go among the Gentiles, and don’t enter into any city of the Samaritans. Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
(Matthew 10:5-6)

These wolves that Jesus was warning his apostles about were not Gentiles. They were Jews! They were people like the Pharisees who claimed to be following God but were, in reality, children of the devil.

God warns us that Satan’s workers may appear to be righteous, and teachers of righteousness:

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
(2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

The danger of being attacked by a wolf is serious. You could be killed spiritually. Your very eternal destiny could be changed.

However, do not think that somehow, a wolf will overcome you and kill you, and there will be nothing you or God can do about it. Jesus has promised us that no one can pluck us out of His Father’s hand (John 10:28-29). Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who gives His life for the sheep.

All I’m trying to say is that the Good Shepherd has warned us to beware of hidden wolves, and the consequences of being overcome by a wolf are severe. And it is something that we must take personal responsibility to look out for. Otherwise, if Jesus automatically kept all wolves from attacking us, there would be no need for Him to have warned us.

To ignore the signs of a wolf is a perilous choice.

But what are the signs of a wolf? That’s what we’ll look at in the next post.

Jesus Loves the Strippers, Too

Recently, I came across a blog post by a lady who helped start an outreach—to strip clubs. She and four other ladies began visiting strip clubs once a month to give the dancers a meal and gift baskets. Due to other events in her life, she is no longer directly involved, but the ministry has continued.

She writes:

I was raised to believe that no good comes from places like that. Which is probably true on many levels. (I wouldn’t suggest making it your go-to for date nights)

I was filled (as were many Christian kids) with fear about “places like that”. That “those people” were heathens and doing all kinds of sinful, shameful things.

Which, again, is true of strip clubs.

And bars.

And many other places.

Even churches.

But, these girls – these lovely, girls – were so…..normal

…people – that could have been me.

It could have been any of us.

Had my journey taken a few different turns, I very well could have been on the receiving end of that encounter…

“[One of the strippers] said that she was so glad we come to visit them because we’re not like the other churches”

I said, “what did she mean by that?”

She said, “Apparently other churches send them hate mail. ALL THE TIME”

(Read the rest of the post here.)

Cheetah's Strip Club, San Diego, CA
Cheetah’s Strip Club, San Diego, CA

Now, this isn’t about how you ought to go out and start your own ministry at a strip club. This is about seeing people the way that Jesus sees them—the precious individuals that they are.

I grew up with an elitist attitude. A person’s outside, I thought, was an excellent gauge of their inside. Good people were clean, neat, and modestly dressed. Anybody who didn’t “look right” was suspicious. And the women who had half of their boobs hanging out on display—well, they were really wicked. In fact, they were to be ignored if at all possible so that I could keep my eyes pure.

Is this really how Jesus wants us to see others? As objects instead of people?

No. Jesus spent time with those who the Pharisees (whose name essentially means “Separatists”) had cast off—to the point that the Pharisees called Him “a gluttonous man, and a drunkard; a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Luke 7:34)

We have no record of Jesus attacking the sinners who He ate with. They already knew that they were bad people and needed help. He knew that they were actually the ones who would receive His message, not the “religious” Pharisees who should have recognized God when He stood in front of them:

… Jesus said to them, “Most certainly I tell you that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering into God’s Kingdom before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. When you saw it, you didn’t even repent afterward, that you might believe him.”(Matthew 21:31-32)

As he sat in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. But you go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

The sad part was that the Pharisees were just as “sick” as the “sinners and tax collectors”. But they did such a good job of hiding their disease that nobody besides Jesus knew it. And so they refused to come to the Great Physician and be healed. Many of them are in Hell today because of their stubbornness.

God warns us strongly about treating some people differently than others:

My brothers, don’t hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with partiality. For if a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, comes into your synagogue, and a poor man in filthy clothing also comes in; and you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing, and say, “Sit here in a good place;” and you tell the poor man, “Stand there,” or “Sit by my footstool;” haven’t you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)

In other words, everybody is precious in the sight of God. And that is why Jesus spent time with the sinners: because they needed Him just as much as everybody else.

Is this man any less precious to God than you are?

How can we ever reach the world if we refuse to associate and befriend those who aren’t “our type”? That woman with her boobs half-way out of her shirt needs Jesus just as much as the lady who has everything neatly under wraps. That guy with the long hair, tattoos, and tongue piercing has an eternal soul just as much as the guy in the business suit.

It’s time that we change our perspectives—and our hearts.

Recently, I came across the Facebook profile of a young lady (let’s call her Cindy). Her cover photo showed her in a skimpy bikini. Her profile picture showed plenty of cleavage. Most of her photos on her public profile showed her in tight, very revealing outfits. I was disgusted. Remember, as I said back at the beginning, “…the women who had half of their boobs hanging out on display—well, they were really wicked.”

As I thought about it afterwards, though, God began showing me His perspective on the matter. The truth is, God sees every woman for who they really are. He looks past their clothing and sees what they are really like inside.

Some people (as I have) look at a woman like Cindy and toss her off as a slut and a wicked woman—just because of her clothing. They look at a woman who is dressed “modestly” and judge her as righteous, or at least more righteous than Cindy.

But not God. He looks at the heart and understands what is behind the outside. He knows when the “modest” women are unholy on the inside. He knows what’s inside the woman whose boobs are spilling out of her shirt, and it could possibly be holier than the “modestly” dressed woman.

The next day on Facebook, I read a post that a friend had shared. The lady who had written the original post said something to the effect of, “If you’re one of those ladies with half-naked profile pictures, I will unfriend you because I don’t want your photos showing up when you comment on my posts or when people browse my profile and see my friends list.”

On the one hand, I could understand this woman’s desire to protect the eyes of her friends from immodest women. But after what God had showed me about Cindy, I saw the other, semi-subconscious side: “If you don’t dress right, I don’t want to have anything to do with you.” At least, that was the end result of this lady’s actions.

Maybe that woman with the low neckline is actually desperate for God, desperate for someone to love her, and doesn’t know how to find what she is looking for—and the Modesty People won’t tell her about God because they can’t see anything but boobs. Or maybe—just maybe—she’s closer to God than you are.

Precious in God's sight
Precious in God’s sight

It’s time that we stop judging people by the outside and begin treating everybody the same—as people who are precious to God. You know what, guys? Instead of placing so much emphasis on guarding your eyes that you end up being rude to some women, ask God to give you a pure heart that doesn’t lust. “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” (Titus 1:15)

Anna McCarthy, who wrote the post that I quoted at the beginning, closes with these words:

[Jesus] loved then.

He loves now.

But, he can only reach as far as you and I are willing to go.

 

 

P.S. As we turn from judging people by their looks, we need to do a better job of looking for the real threat: wolves. Next time, we’ll look at who is the most dangerous type of wolf.

It’s Time to Take YOUR Responsibility

Last week, I wrote about how I am not a victim of ATI, but a graduate, because it was part of the life training that God had for me. Since then, God has been continuing to teach me about life after ATI. I’d like to share with you what He has been teaching me.

It’s Up to You Now

So, you were raised in a less-than-ideal system. You look back at your childhood with regret and wish that your parents had done things differently. You realize, as I did, that God will use it all for good in your life, but you wonder how to proceed. What’s life supposed to look like?

Not only that, but maybe your parents don’t seem interested in helping you recover. Maybe they won’t even admit that they raised you in a corrupt system. Maybe they’re still singing the praises of Bill Gothard or someone else like him who had a negative influence on you.

And you wish that they would understand what’s really going on in your head. You wish they would understand how deeply you were affected. And yet, you begin to feel that they never really will understand.

So?

The ball is now in your court. Assuming that you are now an adult, out of high school, maybe on your own—you are responsible for cleaning up the mess. You are responsible to find out what God wants you to do, and do it.

If you cannot change unless somebody else corrects their ways, you are doomed. You’ll never reach what God wants you to do. You’ll always have issues that you are unable to correct.

Make no mistake: your background will shape you and influence you. It will give you subconscious thought patterns that you struggle to overcome. Don’t underestimate the impacts.

Sign: "The Buck Stops Here"
This sign sat on President Harry Truman’s desk in the White House.
Courtesy of the Truman Library

But: don’t look to other people to take the responsibility to correct those problems. As an adult, you need to square your shoulders and say, “The buck stops here.”

Don’t Fall for the Fatal Flaw

To me, at least, growing up, the message was clear: raise your children properly, and they will turn out right. If the children don’t turn out right, the parents did something wrong.

I still believe that there is a lot of truth to that statement. After all, Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” At the same time, I realize that there can be other influences along the way, or the parents may think that they are doing the right thing when they aren’t.

But here’s where the fatal flaw comes in: when the children believe that their behavior is their parents’ responsibility. In other words, believing that, if you turned out wrong, then your parents did the wrong thing; therefore, the solution is for your parents to undo their mistakes and do the right thing so that you can turn out correctly.

If you’re ten years old, you probably have a point. After all, you’re still too young to make wise decisions on your own. But if you’re an adult, sorry. Your future behavior is your responsibility. Yes, you may struggle to overcome challenges. Yes, it might help if your parents would work through things with you. But ultimately, you, as a mature adult, must take ownership of your life and set the course you will take, not wait for your parents to do it for you.

After all, if you have to wait for your parents to correct their ways, you may be waiting for a looooooong time.

You’re Not Alone

Remember, God is waiting to help you. His grace is sufficient to correct every problem that His training system (your background) instilled in you. This isn’t about going it alone.

But unless you realize your need of His grace and take the responsibility to seek His help and guidance, don’t expect to receive it. That’s part of taking responsibility: recognizing that you need help, and asking for it.

When you do go to God, though, He can do what nobody else can do: He can work both internally and externally to transform you by the renewing of your mind, so that you can know what His will is for you.

In past articles on grace, I said that grace is God’s power working within you. In reality, it also works outside of you, creating circumstances to teach you and help you. God’s grace also works in the lives of those around you, changing problems and character issues.

So go to your loving Father and talk to Him about your needs.

A Word to the Parents

Now, maybe you’re not the child, but the parent. Maybe you are responsible for having trained your children in a faulty system. Are you willing to take your own responsibility?

I know, Bill Gothard/Jonathan Lindvall/Michael Pearl/Denny Kenaston/the Ezzos/Doug Phillips/(fill in the blank) told you, or at least implied, that their system would produce Godly children who were next to perfect. It’s difficult to accept that these formulas, which were supposed to have such great results, were flawed and unable to produce the results you were promised. In the face of failure, it’s easy to ignore, minimize, or deny your failure, your children’s problems, or the evidence against people like Bill Gothard.

But ignoring problems will never make them go away. Denying your part in the situation will only drive a deeper wedge between you and your children. They already know that you made mistakes. Refusing to admit your mistakes will only make you look like a dunce in your children’s eyes.

For your adult children, as I have been saying, it’s their responsibility to make necessary changes in their lives. At the same time, when we make mistakes, we should try to do what we can to correct them. And when we know that we have believed error, it’s very important to find out what is truth and help pass it along to those whom we have misled.

You need to take responsibility and acknowledge that you, not the church, school, Bill Gothard–whoever–were ultimately responsible for misleading your children. I assume that no one kidnapped your children and held them hostage so they could indoctrinate them. Therefore, you were the one who enrolled them, took them to conferences, seminars, meetings, school, whatever, and reinforced what they learned. Along the way, they may have learned things that you never would have taught them. No matter. As the parent, the buck stopped with you. You are responsible.

If you can come alongside and offer support, advice, a listening ear, and a heartfelt apology for what you did wrong, it can do wonders. Your children, regardless of what they say, probably care about what you think of them and what they believe. If they know that you, too, recognize the error that you were taught and passed along to them, it will make it easier for them to make changes in their own lives.

As your children sort through what they believe and try to figure out what is true, they may bring up ideas that you find troubling. Their ideas may be totally wrong and inconsistent with the Word of God. Be patient. A knee-jerk reaction will not help. Playing know-it-all and trust-me-I’m-always-right only makes you look foolish when your children know that you have not always been right and you don’t know it all. Make sure that you truly understand what they’re saying and aren’t reacting to an idea that your children would never believe. If you have understood correctly and you know that they are wrong, share with them why they are wrong. Your extra years of experience can be a helpful anchor and balancing viewpoint.

Conclusion

I want to admit that this article points straight back at me as much as it points at you. Quite frankly, I’m writing from my own personal experiences. I struggle to take full responsibility and work on what needs to be worked on.

But God is faithful, and I hope what He has shared with me will help you as it has helped me.

I Am Not a Victim of ATI

I was once a student in Bill Gothard’s ATI (Advanced Training Institute) homeschool program. More specifically, I was raised in ATI from first grade until I finished school at age 16.

At the time, I thought ATI was great. The Wisdom Booklets (our curriculum) were interesting; I learned to know other ATI students who were good friends; the conferences and seminars were fun and interesting. Not only that, but we were part of an elite group of homeschoolers who were superior to all non-ATIers. We were receiving a superior education, and we were going to change the world.

But by 2005, our family had been seeing, for the past five or so years, that things were not turning out the way we wanted. Young people were rebelling. Dress standards were dropping. ATI wasn’t quite what it had been when we joined in 1994. Meanwhile, Gothard was cranking out program after program, with ever-glowing promises of what we would learn, and newsletter after newsletter about how God was doing marvelous things through ATI and its parent organization, Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP).

Bill Gothard (Photo courtesy IBLP)
Bill Gothard (Photo courtesy IBLP)

It was early 2005 when I finally went to my first Basic Seminar. Previously, all the Basic Seminars in our area had been too far away, but now one was held close enough for our whole family to attend. I diligently filled out the blank spaces in my workbook, trying to remember everything that Gothard was saying. (I was a little annoyed when I got my textbook toward the end of the week, and discovered that it contained everything that I had been busy writing down.)

Beside me, my dad, who had attended several Basic Seminars in the past, was growing suspicious about Gothard’s use of Scripture. Toward the end of the week, he brought his laptop and started looking up the Scriptures that Bill was referencing onscreen but not quoting. They turned out not to be as supportive as Gothard had wanted us to believe. He began having some questions about things that Gothard was teaching.

We left ATI that year. Slowly, we lost some respect for ATI and Gothard, but their teachings still permeated our beliefs and practice–especially me. ATI was all I had ever really known. I had grown up with its curriculum, and the teachings and mindset were all around us in the homeschool community: Courtship. Do things as a family. Youth-only interaction is dangerous. Guys don’t talk to girls. Girls stay at home until they marry. There were some ideas I didn’t even question. Why should I question them? I had no reason to think differently.

And then, in late 2013 and early 2014, the story broke. Bill Gothard wasn’t a Godly man; he was a liar, fraud, deceiver, and sexual predator. People weren’t getting the results he had glowingly promised. He had lied to us about how well the programs were working. He had been doing disgusting things that we would never have dreamed he would do.

The Emperor had no clothes.

That shook me to the core, because Gothard’s teachings were part of my core beliefs. As I examined the evidence, I found that there were many things I believed that were not true. So what WAS true? I wasn’t sure.

One thing stood as a solid rock through this turbulent time: God was true and faithful. I had seen Him work many times, and I realized that He was confirming what He had been teaching us previously through failures in the Mennonite church: rules and doctrines of men don’t produce righteous people. On the contrary, they drive people away from God. (You can read more of my story at Six Years Later.)

But as I saw all the negative ways that ATI had affected me, I felt like a victim. I became afraid that some other false teaching or wrong idea would hurt me and turn me away from God and cause consequences in my life. In addition, the wrong ideas and mindset had led me to make many mistakes in how I handled life. I thought I was permanently scarred. I would never have the life that I could have had if I had only been taught correctly from the beginning.

Secretly, I think I was a little upset with God. I knew better than to blame Him for the way He had led our family, because I knew that His ways are always best. So I blamed my parents instead. I was nothing but a product of a bad system, and now I needed them to make a good system to change me into what I needed to be.

And then, one day, God changed my perspective. “You’re not a victim,” He said. “You are a graduate. I put you in ATI to learn the things that you needed to learn there, and when you were finished, I took you out. I did not let anything happen that is going to harm you long-term.”

He showed me that my singleness was not a punishment for bad behavior, but that I had needed to remain single, living at home, so I could learn the lessons that He had me to learn. The things that had happened to me, the wrong ideas and mindsets, the relationships I hadn’t had and the places I hadn’t gone–they were all part of my training about the terrible consequences of following men instead of God.

You see, so many times, when people want to live for God and not like the world, they run straight for conservatism and commandments of men. ATI was a prime example. There were many first-generation Christian parents who wanted something better for their children than the sinful lifestyles they had experienced without Christ. Along came Bill Gothard, saying “Follow me, and your family is guaranteed to turn out as wonderful, Godly people!”

But it doesn’t work. Oh, sure, it “works” for some–at least for a while. But for those who you don’t hear about in the glowing reports, it causes all sorts of problems and sin.

My dad was in his fifties when he learned about these problems. I, on the other hand, got an early, forceful education about not following men and adding to God’s Word. I now have the opportunity to help people throughout the rest of my life with the things that I have learned.

God has promised: “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) I have a choice: I call myself a victim, God a liar, and refuse to believe that God has a purpose in my training; or I can accept God’s words, trust in His purpose, and seek to use what He has taught me.

By saying that I am not a victim, I do not mean in any way to downplay or minimize the true victims of ATI–those whose abusive parents used the teachings of Gothard to abuse their children physically, emotionally, spiritually and/or sexually. I am so sorry that those people–including some of the ATI students I knew–had to go through what they did.

But for the rest of us–those whose parents were just trying to do what was best for us and give us a superior education–say it with me:

“I am not an ATI victim. I am an ATI Graduate!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Warning: Your Misunderstanding of Grace is Killing You

Last week I wrote one of my longest posts ever, on the subject of grace. I also believe it is one of the most important posts I have ever made, because the Christian life revolves around God’s grace. Without His grace, Christianity is just another idealistic religion.

But maybe you don’t have time to read a 3,000+ word article. Maybe you missed an important point among all those words. So I want to emphasize something that I only briefly touched on in the middle of the article.

As we saw in “What is Grace?”, grace is much more than just “God’s unmerited favor”. Instead, it is the power of God working within us. But make no mistake: grace is not “the desire and power to do God’s will”, as Bill Gothard defined it. He was 90% correct. But the fatal error is the belief that God empowers me to do His will. On the contrary, grace is God working in me. In Bill’s definition, I do the work and get the credit. In God’s definition, He does the work and gets the credit. As Paul said:

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

As God says, “…not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:9)

Since grace is the power of the Holy Spirit working within us, we can understand Romans 8:13: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” Ignore this verse, and you will end up spiritually dead. Why? Because we are saved by God’s grace, and without His grace, we cannot and will not fulfill His will.

There are two ways that a misunderstanding of grace can kill you.

Misunderstanding #1: It doesn’t matter what I do

The first way is when you think that grace is “God’s unmerited favor” that saves you regardless of what you do. You “say the words” and go on your merry way, doing whatever you want. This is “living after the flesh”, as Romans 8:13 says. You are doing what your flesh wants to do, instead of what the Spirit of God wants you to do.

Jesus did not die on the cross merely to forgive your sins. He didn’t need to do that. In the Old Testament, God forgave people’s sins without Jesus’ death:

“Thou [God] hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah.”(Psalms 85:2)

“For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” (Psalms 86:5)

Jesus came and shed His blood, died, and rose again, not just to forgive you, but to kill you—your sinful self with its sinful desires—and then raise you to life again as a new creature, purified from sin (singular, not plural). He wants you to be righteous and holy, just as He is, but He knew that the only way to truly conquer sin was for Him to put it to death—so He died for us.

Jesus didn’t come to hide your sin with a robe of righteousness. He came to take away your sin and replace it with righteousness—on the inside.

This is why you are saved by grace—because you are incapable of changing yourself on the inside and killing your sin. God’s grace is so much better than just allowing you to do what you want. He gives you the power to live a righteous life!

Misunderstanding #2: It really matters what I do, so I need to work really hard!

The flip side will also kill you. This is when you believe that God’s grace gets you Skull on Stonessaved, and then it’s up to you, with the help of God and your church/friends/parents/accountability group, to live a life of obedience to Christ. You implement various formulas and five-step plans to help you do what’s right. If you stumble and fall into sin, you pick yourself up and resolve to do better next time. Just like the person who doesn’t care what they do, you are walking in the flesh.

If we could implement Jesus’ commands on our own strength, He didn’t need to die. If the Bible is just a self-help book that gives us high ideals for how to live, God could have given these new ideals to His prophets—or just put them in the Law of Moses to begin with!

We all realize (I hope) that we need to be born again in order to obey Jesus. We need to also understand that it is only by the grace of God that we can live for Him on a daily basis. He is the One who enables us to live for Him, and manmade plans, formulas, and steps of action will not give us God’s grace. Instead, they give us pride—which causes God to withhold His grace. Oops!

When you realize that you are not living as God wants you to live, you need to humble yourself before God, repent, and ask Him to give you the grace to obey Him and be the person He wants you to be. Remember, grace only comes to the humble. “…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6).

Sin in your life is a sign of a lack of God’s grace. Don’t become defensive and try to excuse or ignore the sin. Repent, and ask God for the grace to stop! It’s so much better to get rid of the sin instead of hiding it.


“Grace” photo © Can Stock Photo

What is Grace?

3 CrossesGrace is one of the most fundamental, yet most misunderstood doctrines of Christianity. God tells us, “By grace you are saved…” (Ephesians 2:8a). In other words, grace is part of the very foundation of our salvation. Therefore, it’s important that we understand what grace truly is and how it works in our lives.

For years, I struggled to live the Christian life and be the man that God wanted me to be. Over and over, I resolved to do better—resolutions that didn’t last. I saw a little improvement, but I was still wallowing in failure. Try as I might, I could not shake off my old habits and walk in wisdom. What was I to do?

It all ground to a halt when my dad asked me a simple question: “Do you realize that you cannot change yourself on your own?”

That day, God began teaching me about grace. It was a major turning point in my life. He taught me—well, let’s just start digging into it.

Four misconceptions about grace

The first misconception is the definition of grace. Grace has been popularly defined as “God’s unmerited favor”. This is a poor, Old Testament-based definition.

The second misconception is actually about salvation. Salvation is a two-part process. Part one is when we accept Christ as our Savior and receive the seal of the Holy Spirit on our lives. We become new creatures and are saved from sin, Satan, and the Law of Moses. But we do not receive the second part—our eternal salvation—until we get to Heaven and are saved from the second death of Hell. One of the clearest passages is Romans 5:8-11:

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (9) Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. (10) For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (11) And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

For more on this, I recommend our article at Biblical Research Reports, “A New Look at Predestination and Once Saved Always Saved”.

What does this have to do with grace? It gives a whole new meaning to the idea of being “saved by grace”. We are not merely redeemed by grace, but we also need grace in order to reach Heaven. More on this in a little bit.

The third misconception is that grace is automatic. We believe that God will shower us with grace and we won’t have to do anything to receive it.

The fourth misconception is that grace is a license to sin or to “fudge the rules a bit”.

Both of these last two misconceptions result from a wrong definition of grace, so let’s look at what grace is.

An Old Testament Definition for a New Testament Doctrine

This morning, God showed me that the idea that grace is “God’s unmerited favor” is actually Old Testament-based. Throughout the Old Testament, grace is almost exclusively used in this manner: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8). Usually, in the Old Testament, “grace” is about finding favor in somebody’s sight.

Another example: “And [Esau] said, What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And [Jacob] said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord” (Genesis 33:8). In other words, Jacob was giving Esau a present to try to obtain favor from him.

Throughout the Old Testament, God used many external forces to motivate His people. He gave them detailed laws. He gave them a list of blessings and cursings for obeying and disobeying His Law. When they disobeyed Him, He used other nations to discipline them and help them to return to Him. They largely followed their leaders and did whatever the king said to do.

But in the prophets, God said that He was going to change His ways and do something new.

“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

God prophesied that He would start working from the inside, changing the hearts of the people and placing His commands within them.

Things changed on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples. The world has never been the same. This, too, was something that God had prophesied. To quote Peter’s sermon at Pentecost:

“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of 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: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:16-18).

It is important to realize that things changed between the covenants. God is not working the same way that He did in Noah’s day. Grace is no longer merely finding favor in God’s eyes.

Problems

If we define grace as “God’s unmerited favor”, it creates a problem. It makes utter nonsense of verses like these:

Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, [God’s favor] did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might [God’s favor] reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21)

And he said unto me, My [favor] is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

[In the context of spiritual gifts] But unto every one of us is given [God’s favor] according to the measure of the gift of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7)

Note: would this mean that God loves and favors some people more than others?

Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the [favor] of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this [favor] given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; (Ephesians 3:7-8)

If when sin abounds, God’s favor abounds even more, then God must like sin! Nope. He spends the next chapter (Romans 6) explaining that it doesn’t work that way.

The catch is that grace can mean “favor” or “graciousness”. And in some cases, depending on how we define the idea of God’s favor, one could argue that the word “favor” works.

So what is grace?

We need to look more closely at some other verses in Scripture to understand better what “grace” is.

And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. (Acts 11:21-23)

And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. (Romans 4:4)

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith… (Romans 12:6)

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:5-7)

These verses, and others like them, show us that:

  1. Grace is a gift from God
  2. Grace helps us to do what is right
  3. Grace enables us to reach the lost
  4. Grace works through us to accomplish God’s purposes

In short: Grace is God’s power working in us. In some ways, I believe that it is “shorthand” for the Holy Spirit and His power.

Going further

With this understanding, and the understanding of the two parts of salvation, we can now examine a few verses for some new insights.

Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. (Acts 15:10-11)

This is James, the brother of Jesus, speaking here. He is already a believer. Yet, he puts salvation in the future: “we shall be saved.” And it is only through God’s grace, not by his own keeping of the Law. In other words, it is by God’s grace that we will be able to follow Christ and receive eternal salvation in Heaven.

Ephesians 2:8-9 is a very familiar passage:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Taken with the idea of grace being “God’s unmerited favor”, this passage says that we are saved by God being nice to us and saving us, and that nothing we do can ever affect that. But let’s look at the context:

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

God tells us here that His grace—His power working in us—brings us to life. He has incredible riches of grace to give us because of His great kindness to us.

We are not saved by our own efforts—ever. Not before conversion, and not after. But, that does not mean that we are free to do whatever we want and “God’s grace” will cover it. On the contrary, God’s grace gives us the power to walk in the good works that God created us to perform. Since it is God’s grace that gives us the power to live for Him, we cannot boast in our own ability to obey God. None of us will ever be able to meet God’s standards on our own power.

In fact, everyone who tries to live the Christian life on their own power will die spiritually. God tells us:

But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Romans 8:11-13)

The only way to stop fulfilling the lusts of the flesh is to kill them by the Holy Spirit. That is the power and grace of God! We can never kill sin on our own. If we could, Jesus would not have had to die to put sin to death. It’s not a matter of squashing sin, denying ourselves, or trying harder. Without God’s grace, we will die!

God tells us further, in Titus 2:11-14, that His grace teaches us how to live righteous lives:

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

In other words, God’s grace will lead us to greater holiness and more obedience and righteousness.

Due to the common misconception of what grace is, I believe that we need to be careful in talking to others about grace, so that they correctly understand what we are saying. I often use the term “the power of God” instead of “the grace of God” so that others know what I am referring to.

Grace is not automatic

This probably sounds like heresy. But I can tell you, both from my own experience and the word of God, that grace will not automatically work in our lives.

Going back to Romans 5:20-21, we read, “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” In other words, where there is sin, there is also the grace of God—the power of God to forgive and cleanse—even greater than that sin, capable of completely cleansing the sinner from his sin. But obviously, if sin is abounding, God’s grace is not stopping the sin. Why?

God gives us an answer in James 4:6-7: “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

If I am proud, resist the offer of God’s grace, and try to stop sinning and clean up my life by my own efforts, God will not give me His grace. He can’t. I’m not accepting His grace. If He gives me grace, I will take the credit and boast in my own ability to change myself.

When we humble ourselves, acknowledge that we can’t fix our problems on our own, submit to God, and humbly ask Him for grace, God can then work in our lives, by the power of His Spirit, to purify us and cleanse us from all sin. That is truly grace! And it removes my ability to boast about how I helped myself.

When I realized that I couldn’t make myself into a Godly man, and turned to God and asked Him for grace, God began a great work in my life. I am amazed at what He has done. It is not something I can take credit for. It wasn’t the result of successfully following somebody’s five-step plan, or speaking positive words to myself. No, it was God, working all things together for good, to accomplish His will in my life and purify me to be one of His special people, zealous for good works. It is not yet complete, nor will it ever be on this side of Heaven. But one thing I do know: God is doing it, not me!

Grace is not a license to sin or “fudge the rules”

Because of the false definition of grace, many people view grace as a way to relax and stop trying to measure up to God’s standards. False! But true! Indeed, we do stop trying to follow God on our own efforts. But that does not mean that we can then do what we want!

Make no mistake about it: if your version of grace says that it doesn’t really matter how you live, it doesn’t really matter how well you obey God, it doesn’t really matter whether you live a righteous life or not—it isn’t grace. God is holy, and He wants us to be holy as well. God’s grace will always lead us into greater obedience to Him and greater holiness, not less.

Of course, this is obedience and holiness as defined by God, not by us, our pastor, our church, or the book on the coffee table. God is not going to lead you to do a better job of keeping manmade traditions or guilt trips. As you follow God’s grace, you will find that the modern-day “Pharisees” will be unhappy with you.

But remember: if you are living life by your own leading, and not by the Holy Spirit’s leading, you are not walking in grace. You are walking in sin.

Grace is not a license to sin.

Conclusion

God’s grace is truly amazing. It has the power to change us, and to change others through us. It gives us the ability to serve God and obey Him. It gives us the power to reach the world. It gives us love when we cannot love others, strength when we’re weak, cleansing when we repent of sin.

And though it is available to everyone, we can only receive it when we humble ourselves, acknowledge that we can’t follow God on our own efforts, and ask Him for His grace.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Philippians 4:23)