Archives For Charis

The following is an excerpt from my book, Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2014), 45-46. At the end of the post, enter to win a free copy of Charis!

“Bad little girls get thrown away,” Cynthia reasoned when at five years old she found out she was adopted. She didn’t understand how her parents could give up their Charis front cover_w:tullianchild if they loved her, so Cynthia logically concluded that she was unloved and unworthy—valueless.

All humans crave value; it’s in our DNA. So Cynthia tried to satisfy her craving in unhealthy ways. Maybe sex will give me value, she thought. I want to feel happy; I want to feel loved. A friend of hers had a father with a stash of porn magazines, so the two girls raided the stash and began acting out the sexual activities plastered across the pages. Maybe homosexual sex is where value could be found. The two girls were about seven years old.

When Cynthia was around fourteen, she was sexually abused by a guy in his midtwenties. She then explored value through alcohol, drugs, more sex, and slashing her body with a razor. “I hated myself with a passion,” Cynthia recalls. “I didn’t need people to put me down. Because I did it fine from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. The inner dialogue that went on in my head was I was stupid, I was not wanted, I was ugly. The only thing I was good for was sex.”

More drugs, more sex, more cutting. When Cynthia was seventeen, she married a boy with a similar past and quickly got pregnant.3 Cynthia’s story is frighteningly typical. One in every five girls and one in every twenty boys are victimized by sexual abuse. Twentyeight percent of fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds have been sexually abused on some level as children or teens.4

Eating disorders are rapidly increasing among teens and even among young children. Kids under twelve experienced a 119 percent increase in eating disorders between 1999 and 2006, and the statistics continue to rise.5

But it doesn’t matter where you fall in the statistics. God doesn’t see you as garbage, unwanted, fat, or ugly. Where you see defects, God sees a crown and a robe of glory. You are covered in God’s fingerprints, with God’s breath in your nostrils.

A few years later, Cynthia found Jesus, the One who crowned her with glory and honor. The pain of her past will never fully leave her, but neither will it condemn her. “I have intrinsic value no matter what,” Cynthia says, “just because God made me.” Though she was unwanted and abused, God has crowned her with beauty and love. Some of the greatest lies you’ll ever believe are told by your eyes as you gaze into a mirror. Lies fueled by your own doubt and a culture that worships a false standard of beauty and worth. Beauty is formed in the eye of the beholder. But your Beholder is God. He made you in His own image; He gave you that crown.

I love the redemption Cynthia found in Christ because it challenges a common misconception about God. Too often we think that having a high view of God means we have a low view of people. In fact, I remember reading those very words at the top of a church’s doctrinal statement many years ago:

We seek to have a high view of God and a low view of man

I get the motivation behind this statement. We want to elevate God; we don’t want to worship mankind. But this statement suggests that people have little value, little worth. But we’re created in God’s image and Jesus paid a very high price to restore us back to our Creator. He paid a high price for us (His own blood) since we had an expensive price tag on our heads that reads, Created in God’s Image.

Think about that. We have an exalted status above everything else in creation. We bear God’s image not just by what we do—think, feel, imagine, relate—but simply by who we are. A quadriplegic two-year-old with Down syndrome possesses the CharisSocMed_02image of God and therefore has infinite worth and value in the eyes of God, not because of what she does, but because of whom she reflects. Every human, every single one, bears the glorious image of the transcendent Creator.

Rich, poor, successful, homeless, healthy, disabled, black, white, brown, young, old, famous, abused, abusive, pervert, or priest—whoever you are and whatever you have or have not accomplished—if you are human, then you are cherished and prized and honored and enjoyed as the pinnacle of creation by a Creator who bleeds charis. If you’re reading, listening to, or following the braille dots of this book, you are infinitely more majestic and beautiful than the glimmering peaks of Mount Everest, the soothing turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the commanding cliffs of Yosemite, or the well-titled Grand Canyon, which God carved out of Arizona.

Bad girls don’t get thrown away. They get delighted in by a shameless God on a relentless pursuit to love broken people.


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Is it ever okay for Christians to use vulgar language?

Charis front cover_w:tullianThis question is particularly pertinent to me, since my book Charis takes liberties that might offend some people. While the response to my book so far has been good, I’ve received not a few reactions that go something like… “I don’t think my grandma will like this book” or “some people will be offended at your language.” One friend of mine was having his wife read the book out loud while they were driving, but he told her to skip chapter 6 (titled “Whore”) because he couldn’t hear her say those words out loud.

Just to be clear, I don’t use any four-letter words in the book. Only five-letter ones. And I never say anything that, in my mind, goes beyond what the Bible (in its original language) actually says.

The plain and undeniable fact is: The Bible at times uses vulgar and offensive language. In fact, there isn’t a single literal translation of Ezekiel 16 on the market. You have to know Hebrew to fully understand that chapter in the Bible, because the Hebrew is just too graphic (The Message comes closest). The same goes for Song of Songs and other portions of the Bible.

But let me share my heart. I want you to know where I’m coming from. I know that the use of crass and vulgar language has become trendy in some Christian circles, and some Christian preachers seem to enjoy shocking their audience simply because they…enjoy shocking their audience. But that’s not me. There is nothing in me, and nothing in my book, that is designed to say things in a shocking way simply to get a rise out of some people. Shock for the sake of shock is immature and unchristian. I have no desire to push some undefined envelope just to thumb my nose at people more conservative than I.

However, I also have no desire to censor the Bible where it was designed to offend, stir up, or shake the overly religious out of spiritual complacency.

As I said, the Bible uses offensive, vulgar, and sometimes quite pornographic (that is: “graphic sexual imagery”) language. Our English translations will dim down the language, and there may be times when unleashing the original language is inappropriate. But my book Charis is written for adults, not children.

So I deal with Genesis 38 and Ezekiel 16 and Hosea. I don’t pass over what Zipporah did to her son in Exodus 4 or Abraham’s past life in Ur. Gomer was not a prostitute but a sexually promiscuous woman, and I explain why this matters. The best English equivalent to zoneh, in certain contexts, is whore (that five-letter word). Hosea would have shocked his audience; if our preaching of Hosea doesn’t shock ours, then perhaps we’re not being as faithful to the text as we should. I’m not trying to be edgy just to be edgy, and I asked my many editors to tell me if they thought I went beyond the actual text (sometimes I did, and those bits didn’t make it into the final draft). I put much thought into every word that I said, and every word I wrote I wrote for a reason. Again, my motivation is not to sound hip or crass or vulgar. It’s to be biblical.

My motivation is and will always be the same: To proclaim and celebrate the word of God in all its grit and grime. Because the scandal of grace is often buried in a pile of religious bumper stickers trying to keep the gospel strapped in a pew. And if that’s how God talks about grace, then so be it. But he doesn’t. He talks about all kinds of sin—the deep, dark stuff—that he rescues us from. Because this impresses on our soul the magnitude of his grace.

My motivation with every word in Charis is to be most faithful to the word of God in its original language, and I want to impact my audience with the message of grace in the same way that the Bible would have impacted (perhaps offended) its own audience. That’s my motivation. Not to be edgy, not to be cool. But to be faithful to God’s word, which I’m determined to teach faithfully.

In any case, I still give this warning in the Preface:

Grace is a dangerous topic. We often want to domesticate it, calm it down, stuff it into a blue blazer and a pair of khakis. But biblical grace—or charis, as you’ll see—doesn’t like to settle down. It doesn’t drive a minivan and it sometimes misses church. To prove this, we’re going to venture on a journey across the land of Israel, and I’m not bringing a pacifier. If you need to scream, I’ll roll down the window. If you want to get off in the next town, sorry, doors are locked. Grace is a dangerous topic because the Bible is a dangerous book. It wrecks people, it offends people, and it’s tough to read from the suburbs. If you’re under eighteen, you might want to find another book on grace. There are plenty out there.

The following is an excerpt from Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us.

The relationship between grace and obedience is a gnarly issue, and too often you have to hack your way through a theological jungle to sort out the problem. In general, there are three different explanations Christians give to how grace relates to obedience.

Some Christians say that obedience is good but not necessary. What Christians do or don’t do is icing on the cake. It would be good for you to respond to Jesus with obedience, but either way, we’re still saved by grace through faith. If we smuggle God vinedresserobedience in the back door of salvation, then grace is no longer grace. We’ll call this the “free grace” view.

Others say that God has done His part and that now it’s our turn to do our part. God saves, but we are responsible for obedience. God is certainly available to counsel us when we need Him, and He has call-waiting. But ultimately, it’s up to us to work out our salvation.

I don’t think either of these views accurately captures the relationship between grace and obedience. Because neither of them talks about energism. Energism is the third view, and to my mind, it’s the most accurate way to understand the relationship between grace and obedience.

The word energism was coined by New Testament scholar John Barclay. He came up with it after studying Galatians 2:8, where Paul said that the same God who “worked [energesas] through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked [energesen] also through me for mine to the Gentiles.” The word worked translates the Greek word energeo, from which we get the word energy. Here, Paul talked about God working in and through Peter and Paul in their ministries. And in the very next verse, Paul described these same ministries in terms of “the grace that was given” to both Peter and himself.

God, in His grace, worked in Peter and Paul—two sinners unworthy of favor and incapable of doing anything on their own—to take the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Energism, therefore, refers to God working in and through us to do his will. If we talk about obedience as our response to God—God does His part; now we do ours—this places too big of a wedge between God’s work and ours. When we get saved, we become united with Christ and indwelt by the Spirit, so that it’s impossible to untangle Christ’s empowering presence, the Spirit’s transformative work, and our own regenerated response to God.

That is: Our union with Christ drives us to obey. Our will, emotions, and desires are meshed with His. The Spirit who indwells us empowers us to obey. We have been clothed with the risen Christ, so we cannot understand ourselves apart from Him. With such cosmic artillery, it’s impossible that a genuine Christ follower—clothed with the righteousness of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit—will not render obedience to God. We say with Paul, “Not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).

This is why I love to emphasize the scandal and radicality of grace, and yet I can also say that our obedience is vital for our Christian existence. Our obedience doesn’t determine God’s love toward us, any more than grapes force the sun to pour out its heat upon the vine. It’s the sun’s heat (God’s love), the rich soil (Jesus’s death and resurrection), and the abundant water (the Spirit) that produce grapes. Or winepresswe can switch it around a bit. The Vinedresser enjoys the vine. He cares for it. Nurtures it. Thinks about it often. He prunes it. And apart from the Vinedresser, there would be no grapes. But what about that bad year? There was a drought. A fire. A big rig lost control on the nearby highway and careened into the vineyard. And there’s no fruit that year. Maybe a grape here and there, but they’re small, shriveled—hardly noticeable. It’s been a bad year, and the Vinedresser is working extra hard to make next year’s crop more fruitful. Maybe some extra pruning will do the trick. The Vinedresser is grieved, and He’s certainly not thrilled over the shriveled grapes. But He still loves being a Vinedresser, and He’s still passionate about His vine. The number of grapes—some years there are none—doesn’t determine, sustain, or elevate the Vinedresser’s enjoyment of making wine.



Grace Has No Leash

Preston Sprinkle —  June 11, 2014 — 1 Comment

Here’s an excerpt from my new book on grace titled, Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace Toward Us (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2014)Charis front cover_w:tullian, pp. 25-28. The book will be released July 1, 2014.


Grace has no leash. It’s untamed, unbound, and runs wild and free. Some Christians believe that we’ve got to have some sort of balance—we need to keep grace under control. When it snaps our leash and runs loose around our gated community, we get nervous.

In many ways, the word grace has lost its stunning beauty, and perhaps through overuse, it’s become just another Christianese buzzword. We use the word grace in flat ways. My students ask for “grace” when they turn in assignments late. “Come on, Professor. Give me grace.” But divine grace is more than leniency, more than allowing exceptions to a rule.

Others say that grace means “unconditional acceptance.” God accepts people even though they have not met his standard. This is true. Sort of. But it’s still a decaffeinated definition. It fails to capture the divine aggression that invigorates grace and causes it to lurch upon the unworthy.

Grace is more than just leniency and unconditional acceptance. Divine grace is God’s relentless and loving pursuit of His enemies, who are unthankful, unworthy, and unlovable. Grace is not just God’s ability to save sinners, but God’s stubborn delight in His enemies—yes, even the creepy ones. Grace means that despite our filth, despite the sewage running through our veins, despite our odd addiction to food, drink, sex, porn, pride, self, money, comfort, and success, God
desires to transform us into real ingredients of divine happiness.

We demean grace by reducing it to another Christianese buzzword. The original Greek word for grace is charis (with a hard “ch,” like karis). Charis was not invented by Christians. Charis didn’t originate with Jesus, Peter, or Paul. The word charis, in fact, was used widely in the ancient world where Jesus grew up. When Jesus walked through Palestine talking about God’s charis, His hearers knew what the word meant. When Paul traversed the Mediterranean world heralding a message of charis, he would have been readily understood by anyone who spoke Greek. If Paul talked about charis in the marketplace, the vendors would have understood him. If he got into a debate with Greek philosophers, they, too, would have grasped the meaning of charis.

That’s because charis simply means “gift.” When we say “gift,” the ancients would have said “charis.” It means the same thing. Rich people in the ancient world often gave charises, or gifts, to other people. They would donate charises to their hometown: a fountain in the city square, a statue of Zeus next to the courthouse. They would give a charis to someone in need of food or shelter. The wealthy were eager to give gifts to people. Why? Because the ability to give a charis showed (or showed off) that they had the means to give.

When rich people gave a charis to this person and a charis to that person—“here’s a shekel to buy some food”—they didn’t give it indiscriminately. The ancients gave charises only to those who were worthy to receive it. Charis was given to people CharisSocMed_01who were worthy of charis: those who had a high status or who were morally upright, intellectually astute, or physically impressive. After all, we wouldn’t want to squander our charis on some bum in the gutter who’s unworthy of our gift. A rich person wouldn’t waste charises on outcasts, the unappreciative, or thugs who had nothing to offer in return.

But Jesus did.

Jesus and His followers gutted the word charis and infused it with fresh meaning, with life-giving power. Jesus did more than give charis to the unworthy dregs of society. He made it His mission to seek them out. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He didn’t just give charis to the beggars who crossed His path. Jesus hunted them down and showered them with gifts. The same Jesus who overturned tables in the temple overturned the social norms for dispensing charis. Naturally, Jesus would be especially drawn to cannibalistic fornicators with a sick attraction to dead people, like Jeffrey Dahmer—the man who killed, had sex with, and then ate (in that order) 17 young men before Jesus rescued his soul from hell in 1994.

That’s the stuff I’m talking about. That’s grace. That’s charis.