Uncommon and Courageous Conviction
My dad is one of the most gifted individuals that I have every met. He played major division soccer in Philadelphia, put himself through The Wharton School of Business, attended the Reformed Episcopal Seminary and ended up as both the Branch and Division Chief of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). Additionally, he is one of the most gifted pianists I know. But, all of these things are not what best define my dad. The thing that best defines my dad is that he is a man of strong–biblically formed and theologically educated–convictions. It’s admirable, in part, because it takes courage. In a day when the pressure to cave in on any number of issues is overwhelmingly strong, my dad stands out as a man of uncommon and courageous conviction. The longer I am in pastoral ministry, there more I have come to admire that characteristic. There is something incredibly refreshing about meeting people who are content to be themselves–and content to hold and propagate unpopular biblical beliefs–no matter what pressure is placed on them from outside to conform to the cultural expectations of those around them. The church is lacking individuals who exhibit such holy boldness in bearing witness to the Savior and to the truth of God’s word. If there was one thing that I wish there were more of in the world in which we live, it is this: the grace to hold firmly and to declare boldly all that God says in His word no matter the cost. It seems to me that this is what we need more than anything at this hour of radical cultural shifting.
This is not to say that there are not failings to be avoided on the part of those who hold such convictions. Of course, there is always the danger of coming across as being insensitive or of lacking empathy. There is always the danger of not caring enough about social conventions or decorum. However, in a day when the overwhelming narrative calls for niceness and compromise in almost every situation, it is refreshing to meet those whose convictions run so deep that it is evident to all that they would rather offend men than offend God.
The Apostle Paul exhibited this quality almost more than anyone else in Scripture. In fact, the Apostle gives us an avenue into his admiration for this quality when he prefixed the words “Isaiah was very bold” to his citation of Isaiah 65:1 in Romans 10:20. There, we find Paul reaching back into the Old Testament to pull out some of the most challenging statements in Scripture. So much of the message that Isaiah proclaimed to Israel centered on Yahweh’s impending judgment. Toward the end of the book, the LORD said through Isaiah, “I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.” Reflecting on Isaiah and Paul’s use of this word from God, Geerhardus Vos drew out the following parallels between Isaiah and Paul:
For both, there is the same deep impression of the infinite majesty and absolute sovereignty of Jehovah; the same intense realization of the awfulness of the divine justice and the inexorable nature of its claims; the unworthiness, the helplessness of sinful man; the same insistence upon the exclusive activity of God in the work of saving his people; the same prominence of the idea of faith as the only thing whereby man can appropriate the blessings of salvation; the same abounding truth in the marvelous condescension and overflowing grace of God; the same unlimited and unlimitable faith in the world-embracing character of the divine purpose. Paul seems to have felt something of the congeniality of Isaiah’s mind to his own. He quotes from him often and not seldom with that fine spiritual insight which penetrates beyond the surface meaning of a passage into the innermost mind of the author and divines the subtle shade of his momentary thought and feeling. “Isaiah is very bold” (Rom. 10:20), he exclaims with evident appreciation of a noble trait exemplified to a high degree in his own character.1
I fear that the call for so much of what passes as faithful and God-honoring speech in our day is nothing more than a cloak for compromise and mere sentimentality. No one reading the Gospels can do so without coming away with a recognition of the boldness and unswerving convictions of the Savior. If anyone had uncommon and courageous convictions–fearing God rather than man–it was Jesus Christ. Surely, His boldness and convictions were coupled to His compassion and gentleness–however, His compassion and gentleness never supplanted his boldness and convictions. Lamb-likeness and Lion-likeness were perfectly wed together in the same Person. Sinners flocked to Him because of His approachability and members of his hometown “were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority” (Luke 4:32). Oh that God would raise up a generation of men and women who exhibit the same humility mixed with fearlessness, the same gentleness mixed with boldness and the same compassion mixed with unswerving conviction.
1. Geerhardus Vos, “A Sermon on Isaiah 57:15” from Grace and Glory.