Exhortation- when the Holy Spirit convicts us
Updated: Jun 29
My dear friends,
Exhortation. To be honest, I can't stand the word.
Religiousness and legalism have turned it into something that means a justification for unloading personal frustration, pride, incomprehension on others.
Furthermore, with exhortation and "keeping the Christian doctrine pure", it has become the absolution of encroachment and mercilessness, of condemnation and devaluation, of injury in fiery zeal.
Exhortation without reflection and self-examination, but above all without the Holy Spirit, is condemnation. Not infrequently, it is used to give the other person a piece of one's mind about his unacceptable badness, and in this way to polish up one's own ego until it shines like fool's gold. It is self-aggrandizement by putting down the other person. It is stepping on someone who is down. It is psychological beating, an act of deeply contemptuous aggression.
What comes out of this as a countermovement is what we call hypergrace:
"No one has the right to accuse God's elect!"
It is the defense against encroachment, against being questioned; but this attitude leads to a human rampart of total incapacity to criticism.
Symbolically, and surprisingly practically, both positions tear the Bible in half: The exhorters leave out the grace part of Bible quotations, the hypergrace movement deletes the condition for grace- the cross, repentance, and redemption.
Cross and resurrection.
Laying down one's life- and receiving the new life in Christ. Confession- forgiveness- and renewed focus on God's truth, the return to unity with Him in goals, desires, wills, thoughts and deeds is the truth, the way of liberation towards Jesus- and neither one side nor the other can fully grasp the meaning unless they come together. But the link: it is the reality of God, it is the Holy Spirit. It is love, preservation and benevolence.
A while ago I came into the situation, almost unbearable for me, of seeing the slipping away of a person deeply loved by me; I foresaw that if he continued on the path he was on, God's abundant blessings on his life would fall away from him. He became radicalized. He flirted more and more with the side that erases the cross from the proclamation-or declares kneeling before Jesus a one-time event.
He was tired.
Tired of religiosity and the permanent character attributions of harshness, death, cruelty and despotic severity to Jesus. "God is good!" it sounded desperately between the lines. It was all about a heart's call to please understand the necessity of acceptance of grace, of being holy, of new identity in Christ.
This is where this form of legalistic exhortation leads in doubt: To a weariness, an exhaustion, and an unwillingness to preach, to proclaim what ultimately means only loving correction.
I understood him. I understood him so, so well.
And yet, Jesus was, is, and always will be uncompromising on this point: Whoever extinguishes the cross also extinguishes his own claim to grace. The cross will stand for eternity.
And where it is erased, it opens wide all the gates for deception and illusion by those spirits who, as shape-shifters, feed the Whore of Babylon with the blood of Christ's witnesses and saints.
What I find interesting and at the same time distressing is how difficult it was for me to tell him this, to warn him.
I am an encourager. I love to show appreciation and praise to people, to encourage them, to comfort them and to proclaim joy. Yes, I too say, God is consistently good, love, grace, joy, and so, so kind.
It was Ezekiel 3, again and again, what Jesus spoke into my perplexity and inner refusal:
"Son of man, I have set you as a watchman over the house of Israel. Thou shalt hear out of my mouth the word, and shalt warn them before me. 18 If I say to the wicked, 'You must die of death,' and you do not warn him or tell him, to warn the wicked of his wicked ways so that he may live,-the wicked will die for his sin, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if thou warn the ungodly, and he turn not from his ungodly ways, he shall die for his sin, but thou hast saved thy life. 20 And if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does wrong, I will bring him down and he must die. For because thou hast not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be regarded: but his blood will I require at thine hand. 21 But if you warn the righteous man not to sin, and he does not sin, he will live; for he has been warned, and you have saved your life." (Ezekiel 3,17 ff)
My reaction to this breaking of the news, though, was.... total inner misery.
I felt presumptuous, unlucky, like a storm crow,"the terrible girl."
Isn't that amazing?
That when we truly love, we are so afraid of not being understood when we do what is true exhortation? It shows how deep our desire for harmony and preservation lies within us.
What was his reaction?
Oh yes, he accepted it. He immovably set the cross in concrete, positioned it - without losing even a handbreadth of his general kind and loving orientation.
All the thoughts I had had- thoughts of rejection, of heartbreaking brooding over whether I had slipped into legalism, whether I had acted out of pride or judgment, out of ego, out of contestation- they were unnecessary. The Holy Spirit never contradicts Himself, and when two people are guided by Him, the common truth, Jesus, will always prevail. Even if our egos may scream, bleed, and puff themselves up in the meantime.
My heart sings. My heart sings with joy, with awe, and with exultation.
And that was more than worth overcoming my own ego.
It is often the case that when we are confronted with others' missing the mark, our reaction to it points to us as well. Am I willing to put God's truth above all human affection? Even if it hurts, even if it shoots me out, makes me unpopular?
For me, this question was essential. Im all around a people person. I hate conflicts and shy away from them. The answer to Jesus is yes, but I have yet to learn to neither justify nor apologize for it, to see it as an encouragement to run to the father and not as a exhortation of condemnation. Furthermore, to not feel bad for what doesn't bring me exuberant enthusiasm and gratitude.
That's what the truth about exhortation is:
It's not us who exhort. The Holy Spirit shows us where and when someone is in danger of really slipping.
And it is more than comforting that even when we are in danger of losing our way, He will send someone to point it out to us.
Who will it be?
It will be someone whose heart overflows with love for us.
Someone who radiates genuine concern. It will be someone who, along with the message of necessary conversion, will also proclaim the hope and blessings that come from it. It will be someone who prays and fears with us. Who is at our side.
Because the goal of conversion is not prison, but freedom. The goal of repentance is unity with God and vastness in Him. The goal of repentance is walking in His good ways, toward the goal of Christlikeness. And God's goal is to bless you. To love you, heal you, care for you, and carry you.
Sin stands in the way. Sin stands in the way of your Father to bless you. So why don't you leave the pig trough, run to Him, and do it His way. He will rejoice. For sure.
But condemnation- as found in legalism and leadership dominance- has nothing to do with the love of Christ.
Sibylle/Daughter of Zion.
The Bible, Luther Translation.
Praise: Psalm 51, Sons of Korah