[This post first appeared at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood]
Heath Lambert. Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013). 176 pp. $14.99.
For six years I had the privilege of working with college students on Michigan State University’s campus. The vtopic of sexual temptation and pornography would inevitably come up as I counseled and discipled young men. I tried to provide the support that was needed. While I saw some fruits of repentance, more often than not I fumbled around with my counsel. I would boldly exhort hardened hearts toward holiness, with little mention of blood-bought grace. Or I’d remind the guilt-ridden of God’s lavish grace, without encouraging them toward practical change. My counsel was well-intentioned but sometimes ineffective. All the while I wondered: How do I connect the dots between gospel grace and the trench warfare of sexual temptation?
Enter Heath Lambert’s recent contribution, Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace. This book is all about “the amazing power of Jesus Christ to free you from pornography” (12). The book begins with a foundational chapter on gospel grace, and then offers eight gospel-shaped strategies for killing sexual sin.
Theology is for the soul. Biblical exegesis is for life change. Lambert understands these truths well. Finally Free is thoroughly biblical and grounds its principles in careful exegesis. Lambert lets the Bible speak for itself. Every chapter digs into one or two biblical texts and pulls the reader into God’s vision for sexual health and holiness.
That vision begins with the cross of Christ. Christians know forgiveness comes from the Cross. But where do Christians get resources to fight sin? One of the most helpful emphases in this book is that blood-bought grace not only forgives but empowers. Through Christ, God provides resources to cover our shame and enable real change. “Grace isn’t just unmerited favor. Grace is power” (23). How heartening for those enslaved in sexual sin to believe this!
How to Kill Sin
Embracing God’s forgiving and transforming grace is just the beginning. Thankfully, Lambert works from the assumption that killing sin, not just managing it, is possible and expected (see Rom 6:1-14; 8:13). The majority of the book is dedicated to exploring how the grace of the cross helps Christians put to death sexual sin.
Lambert contends that addressing the heart is essential in the fight for purity. He speaks about the critical role godly sorrow, thanksgiving, and humility play in the war. He shows how greediness is at the heart of sexual immorality: “people are sexually immoral when they are greedy for impure things” (125). He concludes “only arrogant men look at porn” (108).
More than just a call to impeccable character, Lambert exhorts his readers to intentionally cultivate biblical virtues. Christians can cultivate humility, he explains, when they meditate on our great salvation and our sin, while simultaneously stepping outside ourselves to serve others. Believers can abide in Christ daily by praying the words of scripture, praying out loud, and singing songs to God. Greed is combatted by nurturing the opposite trait—deep joy in Christ. Humble, thankful, joyful Christians who abide in Christ simply do not look at porn!
Lambert’s strategies demonstrate that God’s transforming grace touches our hearts and changes our behavior. One chapter boldly urges taking radical measures in our thought life, in our use of time, and in cutting off access to inappropriate materials. Another chapter offers a biblically-informed framework for confessing our sins to others. Another chapter explains Thomas Chalmers’ “expulsive power of a new affection,” pressing readers to refocus their thoughts and energies on something or someone else (e.g. a spouse).
One practice that many Christians employ in the fight against sexual sin is the “accountability group.” Lambert wisely affirms and corrects the typical “accountability group” model. For example, he advises that effective accountability is involved early in the battle. “You will not experience dramatic change in your struggle as long as you use accountability to describe your sins instead of declaring your need for help in the midst of temptation” (49).
A Pastor’s Heart
Lambert is a true pastor in this book. He not only ministers the Word but shepherds hearts. His tone is gracious, serious, and inspiring. He tells stirring stories of people he has counseled. He ends each chapter with exhortations and questions that force the reader to slow down and reflect. The book also concludes with a helpful appendix for family members and friends of those who struggle with pornography.
I would have liked to see Lambert address women who struggle with sexual sin as well. With the recent craze over Fifty Shades of Gray and Magic Mike it’s safe to say that this isn’t just a one-gender issue. Still, the principles in this book do apply to men and women. In fact they apply to fighting and killing all kinds of sins.
Hope for the Enslaved
Lambert’s work is timely. Ninety percent of kids age 8-16 have viewed porn. Seventy percent of men age 18-34 visit porn sites monthly. One out of every six women struggles with porn addiction. And fifty percent of pastors look at porn regularly. It’s tough to read this and not flinch. The Church desperately needs gospel hope and gospel wisdom for this battle.
Lambert’s book is a cool drink for those in the barren wilderness of sexual addiction. It is immensely biblical, balanced, practical, and grace-oriented. For those who are lost, hopeless, and frantic because of sexual sin, this book is for you! For all of us, men and women who strive for holiness and want to help others strive too, this book is for you! I am thrilled to apply its teaching to my own life and to those I have the privilege of counseling.
[This post originally appeared at the Gospel Coalition website.]
I owe a significant debt to four men and three churches who, over the years, became my spiritual fathers and families. These wonderful people walked alongside me through troubling and joyful times. They prayed with me, mentored me, and laughed with me. They celebrated my victories and wept with me when my dad unexpectedly died. They counseled me when I began to explore pastoral ministry and spoke the Word to me when I became discouraged. They reminded me not to take myself too seriously, and they lovingly pointed out sin in my life. God only knows where I’d be and who I’d be without his grace working through them.
Today I am a pastor and long for my church to grow in this kind of intentional disciple-making. Discipleship at its core is the process of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ. That sounds simple. But what does it actually look like? And how do pastors lead their churches in discipleship? A good place to begin is Jesus’ last words to his disciples: “go . . . make disciples . . . baptizing them . . . and teaching them” (Matt 28:19-20). Three contours of discipleship culture emerge from this passage.
Clarifying the Contours of Discipleship
1. Disciple-making is an intentional process of evangelizing non-believers, establishing believers in the faith, and equipping leaders.
“Make disciples” implies intentionality and process. Disciple-making doesn’t just happen because a church exists and people show up. It is a deliberate process. Considering the modifying participles of “going . . . baptizing . . . teaching” help us recognize this process. It must include evangelizing (going to new people and new places), establishing (baptizing new believers and teaching obedience), and equipping (teaching believers to also make disciples). How does your church evangelize, establish, and equip?
2. Disciple-making happens in the context of a local church.
It’s a community project, not just a personal pursuit. And that community must be the local church, because Jesus has given her unique authority to preach the gospel, baptize believers into faith and church membership, and teach obedience to Jesus. Disciple-making doesn’t just happen in coffee shops and living rooms. It also happens in the sanctuary where the Word is sung, prayed, read, preached, and displayed through communion and baptism. Jesus didn’t have in mind maverick disciple-makers; he had in mind a community of believers who, together and under the authority of the local church, seek to transfer the faith to the next generation. Does your church view disciple-making within the context of the church, or only as a solo endeavor?
3. Disciple-making is Word-centered, people-to-people ministry.
When Jesus said “make disciples” we cannot help but remember how he made disciples: three years of teaching twelve men on the dusty road. Disciple-making, then, is the Word of God shaping men and women within life-on-life relationships. It’s demonstrated in Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonian church: “being so affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:8). This is gospel-driven, Word-saturated, intentional one-anothering. It is men and women regularly teaching one another to obey what Jesus commanded. And it goes well beyond watching football and having inside jokes with Christian friends. How would you evaluate your church’s Word-centered people-to-people ministry?
Creating a Culture of Discipleship
If these three contours are essential ingredients for a discipleship culture, how do pastors lead their churches in growing that culture? Here are seven ways:
1. Preach disciple-making sermons.
Pastors are not called to preach convert-making sermons or scholar-making sermons. They are called to preach disciple-making sermons. This means that they must craft sermons that will evangelize, establish, and equip. This means that they are teachers, pleaders, and coaches from behind the pulpit. Sermons also disciple through modeling careful exegesis, keen application, and prayerful responses to the passage. After we preach, congregants should understand and feel the text at such a level that they long to be more obedient disciples.
2. Shape disciple-making worship services.
Every church has a liturgy, whether you call it that or not, and every liturgy leads the people somewhere or disciples the people toward something. The question is where. The non-sermon elements of a worship service—songs, prayers, scripture reading, testimonies, and tone—contribute to the formative discipling of your congregation. Does your worship service lead people in thanksgiving for God’s gifts and goodness? Does it disciple people in confession and repentance? Is there an element in your worship service that offers assurance of salvation? Does your service lead people in celebrating our future hope? Thinking through these components with your worship director will strengthen your disciple-making services.
3. Invest in a few disciple-makers.
We’ve heard it before, but let me say it again: Jesus and Paul ask their disciples to invest in a few who will in turn invest in others (Matt. 28:18-19; 2 Tim 2:2). Pastors, choose a few men you can pour your life into and intentionally disciple for a period of time. Create a simple but effective format to accomplish this task. For example, meet with a few men twice a month to discuss sections of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology , confess sin, and pray for one another. Keep it relational. At the end of your time together, ask each man to choose a few men with whom he can do the same. The benefits are manifold. You are obeying Jesus’ disciple-making command, you are cultivating a disciple-making culture through strategic multiplication, and you are investing in those who may become your future elders.
4. Make small group Bible studies central to your disciple-making strategy.
Many churches offer small groups like a side item at the buffet, but few offer it as a main course. While Sunday school and other teaching venues certainly disciple people, small group Bible studies are unique in that they achieve multiple discipleship goals. After your corporate worship gathering, consider making small groups ministry your next priority. This means identifying and training mature leaders to shepherd and disciple their members. It also means providing a clear vision for your small groups ministry. For example, our church asks our groups to commit to three disciple-making values: Bible, community, and mission.
5. Raise the bar of church membership.
Unfortunately many Christians don’t realize that joining a church is a vital step of discipleship. When you join a church, you are not joining a social club; you are publicly declaring your faith in Jesus and joining yourself to a group of Christians in life and mission. In view of this, pastors should view membership as discipleship and accordingly bolster their membership process and expectations. Instead of making it easy to join your church, make the process more involved. Get your elders teaching multiple sessions on the gospel, central doctrines, the importance of church membership, and your church’s operating convictions (baptism, for example). Broach tough subjects such as divorce and past church history during membership interviews. Finally, ensure membership actually means something for members. What unique privileges, roles, and responsibilities do members have in your church? Are your members actually joined together in Word-centered people-to-people ministry, as they promised when they became members?
6. Confront sin and practice church discipline.
Like church membership, discipline is neglected by some churches. Much like encouragement and affirmation are key components of disciple-making, so too are exhortation, confrontation, and if necessary more elevated measures of corrective discipline. God uses all of the above to make disciples and protect disciples within local churches.
7. Read disciple-making books with your leadership.
Let me recommend four books for your disciple-making arsenal. The Trellis and the Vine  by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall outlines a practical vision for disciple-making. One-to-One Bible Reading  by David Helm will equip you with the motivation and tools to read the Bible regularly with others. Church Membership  by Jonathan Leeman is the best lay-level book on the subject I’ve read and will help you understand how membership rightly practiced is discipleship. And The Shepherd Leader  by Timothy Witmer calls elders to lead the way in disciple-making.
Growing a disciple-making culture at your church might sound daunting. It’s hard enough to make disciples within a small group Bible study, but a church with all its complexities, systems, and baggage? Yikes. Here’s a piece of advice: start small, keep it simple, and focus on areas where a little investment will go a long way. For example, you may want to invest in a few who will do the same with others. Start with your elders. Or perhaps you want to focus on ramping up your small groups ministry. Start by training your current and new leaders around key biblical values that encapsulate discipleship.
Whatever you decide to do, may you find tremendous energy and courage to make disciples from the bookends of the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“Who are the Elders of SSBC?” I can’t say I’ve never heard that question before. Our church is at the size where getting to know our Elders is not always easy: there’s twelve of them and hundreds of us. Yet God has called these men to be our shepherds (1 Peter 5:2), teachers (Acts 6:4), and examples (1 Peter 5:3). We should know them! Being a Pastor at SSBC gives me the privilege of rubbing shoulders with these godly men on a regular basis. They are wise leaders and enjoyable to be around. More importantly, they love the Lord, love their families, and love our church. To help us get to know them better, I plan on asking each eight questions and posting their answers here. Enjoy. And please pray for these men.
I spent a few days at Tim Ells’ home during my candidating time at SSBC. Tim and Janet were not only gracious hosts, but kindly debriefed with me after long days of conversations and interviews. Many respect Tim at SSBC – and rightly so. Tim is a man of few words; but when he speaks people listen because he is wise. What most impresses me about Tim is his love for SSBC. This love Tim has is manifested quietly and courageously on the Elder board. And it comes out in his behind-the-scenes service as a Growth Group leader, 5th grade Sunday School teacher, Connections greeter, prayer warrior for Sunday morning services etc. Let me turn it over to Tim (and by the way, he’s not kidding about the frisbee throws; I am a witness)…
1. How long have you and Janet attended SSBC? What drew you to SSBC?
My parents brought our family to SSBC before I was born and I grew up in the church. My wife Janet started attending in 1981 before we were married. In 1989, we participated in starting North River Community Church in Pembroke, and in 1999, our family came back to SSBC.
2. What is your favorite part about serving as an Elder at SSBC?
I really appreciate working together with other men who share a commitment to building the body of Christ here at SSBC.
3. When was a time that God undoubtedly showed His faithfulness to you and/or your family?
In 1978-80, I helped out with the SSBC Sr High Youth ministry. During that time, the ministry grew from 12 students to over 100 meeting weekly, under the leadership of Youth Pastor Jim Nicodem. In 1980, Jim told me that he was leaving to attend seminary in Illinois, and asked me to keep the ministry on track for the 3 or 4 weeks it would take for the church to find a new youth pastor. That 3-4 weeks was actually 9 months. Not having been trained in youth ministry apart from watching Jim, and lacking leadership skills, I quickly realized my own inadequacy in that role. My full time engineering job at the same time required mandatory overtime. During this time, I discovered that God is absolutely faithful, answering my prayers for help week after week. God saw fit not only to sustain the youth ministry, but to increase it in size and spiritual depth. We serve an awesome God.
4. What are three Christian books that have significantly influenced your life?
Three that stick out are Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis for it’s insightful apologetic arguments for the faith. Practicing the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence, taught me about walking with God in the day to day practices of life. John White’s, The Fight, was a great encouragement to me in developing the disciplines of my faith in God.
5. What is God currently teaching you?
He is sovereign, and his Church is alive and growing all around the world.
6. What is one thing about yourself that most people don’t know?
I can throw a Frisbee about a dozen different ways.
7. What do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy bringing computers back from the dead.
8. How can the SSBC congregation encourage and serve the Elders?
Pray for us and our families.