“The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)
“Follow me.” (Luke 5:27)
Earlier this year an acquaintance of mine introduced me to Jon Gordon’s “One Word Challenge.” The idea was simple. Instead of making resolutions every year that you abandon before the second week in January, pick one word that will define how you will live your life that year.
Obviously, a person cannot just open the dictionary to a random page, point at the first word he sees, and choose that as his word. Such an exercise might cause you to become unscrupulous, deceptive, or irredeemable for the year and that would be terrible! No, choosing such a crucial word must be accompanied with prayer, meditation, and precision. Sometimes the word may just pop into your head. Sometimes it may be the antonym of a characteristic you are trying to avoid. And sometimes it may require continually seeking and understanding what God is telling you in your heart until you have finally articulated the essence of His will for your life this year…in ONE word.
When I engaged in this exercise and prayed for God to reveal His one word for me this year, I soon found myself attempting to finish an incomplete devotional that I began in the middle of last year. I never made it past the third paragraph, for it begins like this:
“In Revelation 21:8 God says, “But as for the cowardly … their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Every time I read this verse, I experience a mixture of fascination, curiosity, and fear. Out of all the groups listed here the one at which I always crinkle my brow is the cowardly. Boldness is a character trait that Christians cannot eschew.
In that moment, I immediately knew the word God had designed for me this year, and I hung my head as the grief of conviction washed over me. I knew that Hebrews 12 tells us that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” and that He does so “for our good, that we may share his holiness.” (v.6,12) But this felt like God had not only revealed an underlying sin of slothfulness but had also validated some of my deepest fears about the quality of my service to Him.
God did not sound like He was saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” He sounded like He was saying, “Get up, grow some chest hair and join Me in what I’m doing in this world!”
But such a rebuke is not offensive to me. This is one of the main purposes of scripture (2 Tim. 3:16) and I should never think that I am above a swift quick in the pants when I need it. If I’m being honest, though, the call to boldness challenges me because it frightens me. Every day I see our culture embracing attitudes, beliefs, and even legislation that make it appear as if we are on a Slip-and-Slide straight to Hell. To be bold for Christ in today’s culture no longer means to exercise the freedom to voice a dissenting opinion. It means we must accept the risk of aligning ourselves with God and His principles. To know that the culture will not approve of you. In fact, they may try to cancel you. Your friends or family may abandon you. You might just lose everything that you hold dear and, in that moment, you will be tempted to give up, give in, and give out. This will be when the roots of your boldness will be exposed as either grounded in the love for self or the love for Christ, seeking the applause of men or the praise of God.
But the call to boldness is not a new challenge. It pumps like a heartbeat from the beginning of scripture to the end. Sometimes it is stated directly, such as “Do not be afraid” or “Be strong and courageous.” And sometimes it is more oblique, such as “Follow me,” “You are more than conquerors,” or “Thou shalt not.” But however God says it, the underlying message to His people is “Do not be cowardly. Be bold!”
The world tells us that boldness is about taking on the villains of our day and living out a heroic journey that ends in victory and positive change for everyone around us. But like all good lies, this is only half true. Boldness is not about aligning yourself with a particular political party or being vocal on culturally important issues. Nor is it about finding the resolve to find the elixir that will save our community. No, boldness is much deeper than that.
THE GHOST, THE LIE, AND THE TRUTH
Every person has experienced at least one deep wound in their life. Many of these are rooted in childhood. Others are in adulthood. Some of these wounds were verbal. Some were physical. And some were psychological. But regardless of the wound, all of them cause emotional responses that continue to haunt us like Dickensian ghosts. These ghosts still rattle their chains in the shadows of our minds and whisper the lies that shape the way we understand ourselves, others, and the world.
In psychology these lies are defined as our “negative core beliefs” and take one of three forms: “I am…,” “Others are…,” and “The world is….”
For instance, we may believe:
- I am bad, rotten, ugly, incompetent, unlovable, not good enough, damaged, powerless, undeserving, stupid, or a failure.
- Other people are manipulative, shouldn’t be trusted, bad, controlling, only interested in appearances, or fake.
- The world is cold, untrustworthy, unjust, bleak, out of control, or dangerous.
And, according to psychologist Dr. Judith Beck, negative core beliefs about the self fall into three main categories:
- Helplessness (i.e., negative beliefs about personal incompetence, vulnerability, and inferiority)
- Unlovability (i.e., the fear that we are unlikeable and not worthy of intimacy), and
- Worthlessness (i.e., the beliefs that we are insignificant and a burden to others).
Therefore, when we accept the call to boldness, we must do two things. First, we must expect that our ingrained negative core beliefs will pop up in at least one of these three main areas, arguing why we cannot and should not be bold Christians. Second, we must reject the urge to exclusively define boldness in terms of external circumstances, because the true adventure is about taking the internal journey from the Lies that have defined us to the Truth that can transform us.
Since the 1960s, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has taught that we can fulfill this journey through exercises designed to identify our negative core beliefs and replace them with balanced and more realistic positive core beliefs. This is more than saying the opposite of your negative belief (i.e., changing “I am a failure” to “I am a success.”) Rather, it is about embracing realistic beliefs about yourself (i.e., “I am great at many things, but weaker in other areas like anyone else.”) This tool can not only change the way we think about ourselves but also alter our feelings about ourselves in a positive direction.
But this journey requires more than restructuring our intellectual and emotional responses to the arguments that we cannot or should not be bold. If we only stay within the limits of what human minds and hearts can conceive, we may have a more realistic view of ourselves and still function according to natural pride, reliance on works, and the sinful habits and passions that frequently accompany self-righteousness, self-promotion, self-justification and self-gratification. The internal journey from our Lies cannot stop with the mind and the heart, for this only addresses our responses to our corrupted nature. It does not change the nature itself.
If one insists on taking the journey of boldness it must also include the transformation of one’s soul. Such a transformation cannot come from within. There is no amount of right actions you can do that will outweigh your evil deeds and meet the holy standard of God. There is no amount of wisdom or enlightenment you can receive that will allow you to achieve freedom from suffering. And there is no limit to the lives you could live that would atone for the evil you choose. If one’s soul is to be transformed it can only be brought about by the external will and work of God.
This is exactly what happened when God decided to take on human flesh and take the penalty for our sins. His death on the cross allowed a pathway back to God and provides a new spirit for all who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their heart that God raised Him from the dead.
This act of grace on God’s behalf is more than a reformation of our old nature, whereby God cleans up our old self. Nor is it a re-creation or reinvention of the old nature. No, this is in fact an act of creation by God. Just as He spoke and created the world ex nihilo, so also He creates a new nature for us out of nothing. Without our spiritual nature being changed, old ways cannot cease and new ways cannot begin. We will forever be entrenched in our self-centered passions, like the proverbial hamster on the wheel.
Therefore, if we want to be bold, we will embrace more than mind over matter. We will embrace Christ. And not just a little of Him. We will be bold enough to embrace all of Him.
Boldness recenters our hope from temporary, man-made things to the permanent, eternal, unveiled glory of God that transforms us into His image daily. (2 Cor. 3:11-18) Boldness empowers us to preach the Gospel to our enemies with gentleness and respect, and to embrace suffering so that our character may be refined. And most of all boldness forces others to recognize that we have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13), and that “He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.” (2 Cor. 13:3)
Throughout this coming year, I expect I will be challenged in many ways, both internally and externally, to remain steadfast in my boldness for Christ. That is the way growth happens, after all, and I hope to record some of them here. But every journey is better with a companion.
So, if you have not engaged in the “One Word Exercise” or do not know what your one word would even be, I would like to invite you to join me in pursuing boldness for the Lord.
But be forewarned. This is about surrendering your life to the lordship of Christ. It is about going where He says go and doing what He says do. It is about pursuing your passion in Him and not yourself. It is about not only choosing God’s morals and principles but also aligning yourself with Christ to destroy the works of the devil.
This is not a journey for the cowardly.
But I invite you anyway. Come with me and be bold!
Face your Lies.
Confront your ghosts.
And find the Truth that can transform your life.
“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today.” (Ex. 14:13)