Augustine once wrote, “Thou wouldst perhaps be ashamed to imitate a lowly man; then at least imitate the lowly God. The Son of God came in the character of man and was made low…He, since He was God, became man; do thou, O man, recognize that thou art man? Thy entire humility is to know thyself.” In Augustine’s mind, humility lies at the heart of humanity.
The early chapters of Genesis tell us that although humanity was created perfect, after the Fall, man was marred by sin. In an act of delusion, Adam ignored the created order of authority. Instead of a sovereign God graciously guiding His creation, man now believes he can be sovereign, lustfully grasping at self-sufficiency. Pride lies at the heart of Adam’s sin. In his act of disobedience, humanity is deprived of its intended nature. Augustine was right when he said, “thy entire humility is to know thyself.” We are in need of our Savior Jesus Christ to restore our humanity. Where Adam assumes responsibility for robbing humanity of it’s meaning, the Second Adam is the demonstration of the fullness of man. The humble servanthood of Christ reflects the very essence of being human.
Jesus as a servant reflects His humanity and gives God’s people a clear picture of what it means to be human. The Gospels are filled with examples of Christ’s servanthood. At every corner you turn, Jesus is performing another miracle, washing His disciples’ feet, or providing a meal for those following Him. Jesus cares about the physical realm, so long as it works towards the spiritual issues, too. Jesus’ willingness to serve sinners does not put His two natures at odds; instead, His willingness to serve sinners lies at the very core of His personhood.
When we hyper-theologize the cross of Christ, we reduce it to a mere point of contention instead of the picture of the Son of God incarnate being the propitiation for the sins of those who the Father had given unto Him (John 10:15; 1 John 4:10). While a foundational understanding of biblical theology must frame our interpretation of Scripture, I’m afraid that sometimes “armchair theologians” neglect the servanthood of Christ. We tend to care all too much about what Christ did in His dying rather than what He did in His living. At the cross we see this true humanity on full display.
John Stott saw the onset of this issue years ago in his work The Contemporary Christian. Stott spends a large section of his chapter titled, “Guidance, Vocation, and Ministry,” talking about how the, “God many of us worship is altogether too religious.” Instead of simply discussing the theological meaning of Christ, in Stott’s opinion, we should evaluate what Christ did with His time on Earth and see what that means for us as Christians today. Stott comments:
Since he is ‘the servant’ par excellence, who gave himself without reserve to the service of God and human beings, it would be impossible to be his disciple without seeking to follow his example of service. He preached the kingdom, healed the sick, fed the hungry, befriended the friendless, championed the oppressed, comforted the bereaved, sought the lost and washed his apostles’ feet. No task was too demanding, and no ministry too mean, for him to undertake. He lived his life and died his death in utterly self-forgetful service. Shall we not imitate him? The world measures greatness by success; Jesus measures it by service.
When one person serves another, a social distinction naturally arises. The servant is watched, with either demeaning eyes or a grateful gaze. Jesus came to flip our fallen social distinctions on their heads, to bend our unnatural tendencies back to their original nature, and live a life of service according to His Father’s will. This is the true meaning of the gospel—that Christ has come and now serves.
This is what is so gripping when theologians begin talking about “condescension” Jesus didn’t come to distinguish Himself from us but instead came to define the fullness of man for us. Rather than coming to earth as a foreign being, claiming His rightful throne, He instead came in the form of man, flesh and blood like the rest of us, so that His glory might be shown in His lowliness. Let us gaze at Christ, both fully-God and fully-man, the Word incarnate, condescended for us!
K. Scott Oliphint reminds us that, “orthodox theology has always held that, in Christ, there was not a union of two persons, but rather a union of the person of the Son of God with human nature.” This means that Christ, who is completely and independently the Son of God without taking on human nature, humbled Himself so that He might become a Servant for His people (Phil. 2:6-8). He is the fullness of God (Col. 1:19-20) in human form. Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:20 that Christ’s blood is the means of reconciliation both in heaven and on earth. Oh, may we pause and reflect on the greatness of God displayed in the work of the Son—the Divine Servant, the Slaughtered Innocent, the Victor of Death! Let us not lay aside the work of Christ on the ground for the sake of the work of Christ on the cross, for if we make this mistake, either His living fails to meet the precepts of the Law or His dying no longer makes atonement for the sin of His sheep. As it is written in Proverbs 11:1, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” Our view of both the ministry of Christ and the misery of Christ must be balanced, for these are the scales on which our salvation is fixed.
Today’s 140-character-driven age leaves us in fifth gear, zooming us past missed opportunities to gaze at Jesus. Pastor and author Thabiti Anyabwile talks about this in the introduction to his book Captivated. Anyabwile notices how, as kids, we are trained not to stare. We are turned into, “expert glancers, visual skimmers, ocular snapshot takers.” He argues that this affects our walks with Christ since this is an innate reaction to the everyday. We occasionally manage a quiet glance towards Jesus as He works in our lives, whether in the beautiful plan of salvation or at His present intercession for His people at the right hand of the Father. Rather than enjoying His ministry towards us, we would sooner accuse Him of being the reason for our pain, hurt, or suffering.
The theology of the cross is a beautiful thing. Christ ransomed His sheep. He secured the eternities of believers. The cross reminds us that Jesus, the Rightful King came as the Suffering Servant for the sake of the elect. But don’t neglect to study the servanthood of the Savior of the world. Strive to, in the words of Warfield, imitate the incarnation. The Man who lived according to humankind’s intended design came not as a foreigner, but as a Servant to sinners, and if we lose sight of that, we are in danger of losing the gospel. Merely sitting at our desks and theologizing about the atonement is of little service to the Church. Proper theology fuels proper worship, including taking up our crosses and serving sinners as Christ has commanded us to do.
The humility of Jesus gives us gives us a portrait of His humanity. In His sinless life, we see His compassion; in His dying on the Cross, we see His sacrifice. Not only is Jesus a friend of sinners, He is the Atoner of many in Adam. Though we may study the theology of His life and death, we must not forget to pay attention to how He used them to serve sinners.
 Qtd. in B.B. Warfield, “Imitating the Incarnation,” in The Savior of the World (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1991), 250.
 John Stott, The Contemporary Christian (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 139.
 Ibid., 140-41.
 K. Scott Oliphint, God With Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 202.
 Thabiti Anyabwile, Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 1.
This article was originally posted at Servants of Grace under the title "Jesus, Servant of Sinners." Reposted here with permission.
Cody Glen Barnhart
Cody Glen Barnhart (@codygbarnhart) lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Canon & Culture, Gospel Centered Discipleship, and is a contributor at servantsofgrace.org.
[Note: In light of the subject matter of this post, I feel obligated to warn that the content and language is intended for a mature audience. My goal is not to offend, but only to edify, encourage, and proclaim the sometimes-all-too-frank biblical truth. Though I acknowledge the ever-growing porn addiction among women, I will be speaking as a man to other men simply because the problem of porn runs all the more rampant among men.]
This post is by no means the first of its kind, nor will it be the last. The problem of porn has been crippling churches for years now. I’m not here to pick up my stones and throw them. In the vein of what Jesus said to the Pharisees, I couldn’t even lob the first stone toward an adulterer. I’m writing this for myself. I’m writing this for my best friends, the pastors in my life, my mentors and blog-readers.
I’m not here to use scare tactics. We’re all familiar with statistics and numbers, pointing fingers and accountability groups. We’re familiar with Bible verses like Job 31:1 or Matthew 5:28 used as Scriptural guilt-trips. I’m not saying that any of these techniques are bad. We should be holding each other accountable for our sin as part of regular discipleship and community. Yet, I think we are quick to speak and, as a result, slow to extend grace.
Regardless of how much grace we have, and no matter how familiar we may be with Scripture, what we’re seeing in the porn industry is unprecedented. So, it is with this knowledge that I write so that the Spirit might prick the heart of a calloused generation and extend grace to the wounded and weary sinner. I write so that broken men might see the reasons why their habits will break others. I write so that a generation might rise to the occasion of doing away with foolish, childish passions and eliminating the problem of porn both inside and outside the Church—the problem that has led so many men astray from the assurance of God’s love.
According to a fairly recent study from Proven Men Ministries , approximately 64% of men in the United States view pornography at least monthly. Even scarier, 79% of men between the ages of 18–30 view pornography at least monthly. In the same age range, 34% of men admit that they view porn “several times a week” and 33% either admit their addiction to pornography or are unsure if they are addicted to pornography. The most frightening of all? Compared to those 33% of men, 21% of self-proclaimed Christian men admit their addiction to pornography or are unsure if they are addicted to pornography.
There’s no sugar-coating it—these numbers are daunting. What we are facing is no longer a simple struggle with holiness; we are in the midst of a cultural crisis. We are caught in the middle of an age where secularism and Church culture are no longer distinguishable. Sin is seeping into our congregations almost unnoticeably — and it poses a future-shattering question that we need to address before it’s too late.
“What does an entire generation of fathers and pastors raised on porn look like?”As she tries to combat the problem of porn, the Church needs to remember that this problem is quite new. We don’t get to say that often, so it sounds a little off when we read it. Humankind has hurdled the sins of adultery and lust ever since the Fall, so sexual sins are nothing new. But Solomon wasn’t exactly the same as Hugh Hefner (despite what a poor reading about his life might lead you to believe), and Paul wasn’t urging Timothy to stay off of PornHub. We haven’t had this kind of accessibility before. We are entering into a new era, and the effects have not been tested yet.
In biblical times, maybe only the king could indulge in deep, vain sexuality, and men domineered over women. The culture was sexualized to some extent, but these men couldn’t do something as easy as pick up a tablet and filter through sexual criteria, accessing terabytes of video, and simply closing out of their open tabs when they got bored. There were only so many women to be had in the kingdom at any given point in time, but now a limitless number of willing girls live at men’s fingertips, hidden in touchscreen devices or the TV remote on their business trips. Because this is such a new problem, we cannot ignore the long-term effects. I want to share three with you.
The Sterilization of the Faculties of Love and Imagination
“For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides.
And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. . . . And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination.”
-C.S. Lewis (1956)
Lewis lived thirty-three years before the World Wide Web, and he still foresaw the effects of the porn culture. Lewis’ “harem of imaginary brides” has become a little less shadowy, threatening our capacity to love even more than it did then. The man who habitually looks to porn for his affirmation, satisfaction or fulfillment commits severe offenses against God, namely profaning the institutions of love and the mind and violating the imago Dei, or man’s creation in the image of God.
Love: In his pleasure-seeking, man takes his portion of love and wastes it on his own selfishness. According to James 4:4, taking heed to the passions that are at war within us turns us into an “adulterous people.” Adultery was punishable by death under Old Testament law. We’re talking serious stuff. Pornography ruins a man’s ability to love well.
Mind: Romans 1:28–31 talks about this man who sees his vain self-pleasure as preferable to God. Paul says that these people have a “debased mind” as they are filled with “unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice” and “envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.” He calls us “gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” We ruin the mind. We take one of God’s creations and sinfully abuse it.
Imago Dei: As human beings, created in the image of God, we are a finite, imperfect picture of His infinite perfections. The imago Dei is a fundamental doctrine for fighting the problem of porn. As is the case with our minds, we take one of God’s creations and sinfully abuse it. Matt Chandler reminds us of this: “Pornography is the degradation of the performers as not having souls, as not having any real value, and it is consuming their emptiness and despair for our own pleasure. It is deplorable and wicked. No little girl dreams of that growing up. If we had any idea of the horrific backgrounds we were dealing with, there’s no way we would watch and be aroused. We would be heartbroken. We’d be devastated at the molestation, at the rape, at the horrific abuse so many have endured. This is an imago Dei issue.”
These girls are often slaves by vocation, underpaid and forced into their circumstances. The effects the industry has on women after their work reaches as far as PTSD. For the honor of our great God’s creation, for the celebration of the justice that our God so ferociously seeks, and for the rescue of the sojourner, we should be fighting against the problem of porn.
The Capitulation to Sinfulness
The crisis that remains is that today’s culture overlooks masturbatory habits as being “okay.” University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus analyzed the results of the Relationships in America survey in this article titled, “Tracking Christian Sexual Morality in a Same-Sex Future.” From this single survey, we can track a trajectory for the Church as it decides how to handle the problem of porn, and it doesn’t look pretty.
The survey compares trends in sexuality, comparing varying views on same-sex marriage (SSM). The survey breaks down five different types of people: churchgoers who oppose SSM, churchgoers who support SSM, the population average, gay and lesbian Christians, and gay and lesbian non-Christians.
There was a steep change between Christians who oppose SSM and Christians who support SSM — a whopping 28.8% change in support of pornography. An increase in affirmation of porn correlates with a decrease in faithful marriage. According to the numbers, churchgoing Christians who oppose SSM are 2.3 times more likely to stay together when married with kids than gay and lesbian Christians, and they are almost 11 times less likely to take part in what the survey calls “marital infidelity”. Note that I used the word correlation instead of cause. The cause is a loose holding to a biblical worldview; still, if you’re willing to renege on the viewing of porn, you’re more likely to renege on larger moral issues.
The Cheapening of Grace
More so than anything else, the problem of porn is that it cheapens the grace of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace the “justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.” By the biblical definition, this “cheap grace” cannot exist. If the grace you received for your salvation is cheap, then it isn’t truly God’s grace. God’s grace is costly. It required the death of a perfect man, a man whose submission to the will of his Father was greater than the sorrows of his human nature, a man who didn’t deserve anything but the greatest glorification for his perfect righteousness. God’s grace is expensive, and using it to pay for the sins you commit while surfing porn websites doesn’t cut it.
When we abuse the grace of God, we not only attempt to rob Jesus of his payment on the cross, but we stop our practice of spiritual disciplines. If I have a misconstrued view of grace, I can’t show grace to others — and that’s something all of us are bad enough at as it is. If I misunderstand what God’s grace does in my life, I ruin the purpose of the Church. I ruin the purpose of baptism, and I ruin the purpose of communion. I ruin anything ordained by God because, without His grace, I can’t understand it.
It’s impossible for us to have a grasp on what God wants from us if we do not know what Christ did for us. If we don’t understand how Christ’s death on the cross was so that you wouldn’t have wake up, hormones flowing, tempted to sin “just one more time,” if we don’t understand how Jesus’ blood washed away our sins so that we no longer have to wear the uniform of sin, mortifying once and for all its reign over us, then we will never overcome the problem of porn.
If we are truly Christians, we can’t cheapen the grace of God. It is contrary to both the character of His disciples and the purpose for which grace was given to us. Grace was not granted as a means of saving us from Hell; grace is a means of God’s everlasting arms reaching out to embrace us, rescuing us from our imprisonment as slaves to sin and reminding us to find our identity in Him. Grace was given to us so we would not have to find ourselves falling short yet again. Grace was given to the porn addict. Grace was given to sinful man. Grace and grace alone can save us, and it absolutely is costly.
“In order to protect human flourishing, we must combat the problem of porn until its spark can no longer light the kindle of our sinful hearts.”The three outcomes which I have discussed, that is, the sterilization of the faculties of love and imagination, our capitulation to sinfulness, and the cheapening of God’s grace, are practically unavoidable if the porn industry continues to grow at the rate it has. If you want to know what church culture will look like if we allow the parasite of pornography to latch onto our thoughts and refuse to shake it loose, you can bet on these three things.
The Redeeming Hope of the Cross
God didn’t leave us to fight this battle on our own. He sent His Son for our sake. Think about this — the Creator of the Universe cares about the problem of porn. What a tiny, finite problem for the One who chooses to sustain the burning of gaseous beings in space and gravity’s effect on the tides! This is not to say that sin is some small, overlook-able act. Sinning against God — whether contemplating murder or lustfully clicking your way out of a porn site — is an act of what R.C. Sproul calls “cosmic treason”. We act against the will of the only One who deserves to exist. And still, He gives us grace for even the most shameful, despicable worries.
America’s addiction will never be satisfied. The problem of porn will not go away on its own. We have to fight it. We have to put on the whole armor of God. We have to mortify our sin. John Owen wrote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you,” and he couldn’t be more right. If we aren’t killing the problem of porn, we will ruin our future hope of human flourishing and pillage the wondrous riches of God’s great grace, launching assault on the Lord’s precious gift to sinners.
This article was originally posted at Canon & Culture under the title "The Problem of Porn." Reposted here with permission.
Cody Glen Barnhart
Cody Glen Barnhart (@glenchovies) lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Canon & Culture, and is a contributor at servantsofgrace.org.