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resolved: student ministries went to Camp Barakel for winter retreat two weekends ago. On the drive north Friday evening, it started to snow and it didn’t stop until a foot of fresh snow had fallen. It was a wet, heavy snow that knocked out power across the northeast Lower Pennisula. The storm caused camp to lose power early Saturday morning and that, in turn, caused our winter retreat to be cut short because they could not heat the cabins in the near zero temperatures. But in all of the chaos of a Michigan blizzard and the changing retreat plans, I stepped outside the back of the East Side dining hall and was confronted with a beautiful sight. Green pines and tall brown oaks were totally white. It looked as if every tree and its branches were not real trees, but were made completely of snow. An iPhone camera just does not do it justice.

The chills that went up my back were not from the cold. It was a powerful reminder of the gospel-pointing beauty of God’s snow in Isaiah 1.18: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Because of the blood Jesus shed on the cross, the guilt of the sins of God’s people is effectively cleansed. But not only that, as Alec Motyer comments, “the Lord’s promise is not only to deal with the stain of sin but with the nature from which it springs.” That’s why the picture above was simply a gospel-pointing reminder. The trees were still there under all that snow… they were covered, but they were still trees. But if anyone is in Christ Jesus, they are a new creations (2 Corinthians 5.17). Jesus didn’t just cover our sins, He gave us new life in Him. Oh the powerful blood of our glorious Savior! As winter gives way to spring, may we remember the new life that springs forth in those who are in Christ. The cold grip in which death once held us is broken. Though our sins were like scarlet, they are white as snow.


This review first appeared at The Gospel Coalition’s book review site, TGC Reviews.

Justin S. Holcomb and Lindsey A Holcomb, Rid Of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault (Crossway, 2011), 272 pages.

In a fallen world where unspeakable evil occurs, the church must be a place that shines the hope of the gospel into the darkness. One dark corner of our world is sexual assault. The statistics are astonishing. One in four women and one in six men have been or will be victims of sexual assault. The effects are horrific. And the world is not short of remedies: self-help, self-love, and self-heal. Unfortunately for the victims, these answers are “horrible news.”

Justin Holcomb, a pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, and his wife, Lindsey Holcomb, equip the church to rise and meet the challenge of helping victims of sexual assault, not by the empty hope of self-help, but by grace, redemption, and restoration in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let me be up front with the matter. I really liked this book. Pastors should read it, and victims of abuse will be encouraged by the authors’ honesty and care. So to briefly comment on the book’s content and its usefulness to pastors, counselors, and victims, let me give four brief reflections on its value to the local church’s ministry to the afflicted.

First, Rid Of My Disgrace deals honestly and directly with sexual assault. It presents a clear and full definition, giving victims, churches and pastors clarity on what constitutes sexual assault. They describe in vivid detail numerous effects the assault brings upon a person. Victims will feel like they are not alone, while pastors and counselors will have an invaluable resource for learning what is going on inside the victim when their own words cannot express the inner turmoil. We need an honest and direct book because “surveys and studies indicate that most people know almost nothing about the dynamics of sexual violence and have little or no experience in dealing with it.”

Second, Rid of My Disgrace displays the prevalence of sexual assault and its effect on the victims. “One in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. These statistics are probably underestimates . . .  every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted.” These numbers are overwhelmingly high, even considering the problem of under-reporting, and it knows no boundaries of “color, race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, sexual preference, education, class, occupation, ability, or disability.” No matter where we live or minister, there are hurting people all around us, even on Sunday mornings.

The only thing more sobering than the numbers is its effect. Sexual assault can affect every aspect of your life: “your faith, your daily attitudes and emotions, your-self image, your relationships, and your sexuality.” Our churches, along with their pastors, ministers, staffs, and volunteers, can discover new avenues for gospel proclamation and transformation if we can begin to grasp the prevalence of sexual assault and its devastating effects.

Third, Rid Of My Disgrace is gospel-centered and immensely practical. The foundation for healing from the first pages is the gospel. The Holcombs never stop returning to it, continually pointing people to the grace found in Christ alone. God’s way of redeeming his people was through Christ’s suffering on the cross, but the cross is also where our disgrace is transformed. This a practical theology of grace applied to the disgraceful experiences and effects of sexual assault. Our counseling ministry will have this book on hand and will be used in our training seminars classes.

Fourth, God is glorified in every chapter. One of the phrases you hear at Mars Hill Church is “It’s all about Jesus,” and this book is no exception, as Jesus is exalted on every page. God’s grace, his “one-way, unconditional love expressed through, and founded on, the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ” is marveled at from cover to cover. Even if you have never been sexually assaulted or have never ministered to someone who has, this book will cause you to contemplate the depths of the riches of the grace of God in the person and work of Jesus.

Sin is devastating. Maybe more than we realize most days. But the wretched nature of sexual assault gives us a glimpse of sin’s deep darkness. However, the Holcombs show that even if sin goes deeper than you could ever imagine, God’s grace goes deeper still.

“Affliction can sometimes prove a blessing to a person’s soul… There is nothing that shows our ignorance more than impatience under troubles. We forget that every cross is a message from God and intended to do us good in the end. Trials are intended to make us think, to wean us from the world, to send us to the Bible, to drive us to our knees. Health is a good thing, but sickness is far better if it drives us to God. Anything, anything is better than living in carelessness and dying in sin.”

~ JC Ryle

The Resurgence, an arm of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, has posted a helpful article outlining John Owen’s On The Moritification Of Sin (you can buy Justin Taylor’s excellent edited version of 3 Owen books combined here, buy the standalone book here or download the original treatise here).  You can also download a 12-page pdf reading summary.  Although Owen is “heavy and hard to read” (JI Packer), it is definitely worth the effort.  Download the reading summary and use the outline to assist as you read through this important work.  It is important because, as Owen says, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”

There are many voices claiming to know the secret to being effective and fruitful.  Out of all of the ones clamoring to be heard, I want to remember the voice of Peter.  In 2 Peter 1:5-9, he writes, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”

The secret to being effective and fruitful is not some treasure waiting to be unearthed by the next great writer or preacher.  It is not about Getting Things Done, becoming better organized, reading many books, getting more degrees, or unleashing my potential.  Peter says that effectiveness and fruitfulness come from the qualities of virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love.  These qualities protect us from becoming ineffective and unfruitful followers of Jesus.

But verse 9 is the key… if you lack these qualities, it is not because you do not try hard enough or do not have enough will power.  It is because you have forgotten that your sins have been washed away by the blood of the cross.  The first step in making these protective qualities a reality in your life is knowing that they have already been given to you by His power (verse 3) and never forgetting the cross (verse 9).    The first step is a humble, thankful remembering of the cross.

“Love begets a likeness between the mind loving and the object beloved….. A mind filled with a love of Christ crucified … will be changed into his image and likeness.”

~ John Owen, The Holy Spirit

In conclusion of the series (and hopefully not the fighting of sin!), we have heard a call from our guides to deepen our knowledge of what Christ accomplished in salvation, that true repentance is turning from sin and to Christ, that fighting sin is a continual necessity and that there is a mean streak to the Christian life that focuses on the sinful deeds of our own flesh.  However, Owen reminds us that all is for naught in the fight against sin if there is no love for Christ.  Ultimately, loving Christ will help us fight sin on a daily basis, not because it will simply help us defeat temptation, but because it will actually change us more and more into Christ’s “image and likeness”… an image and likeness that was holy, sinless and one that glorified and still glorifies God every single moment. Owen leaves us to think about the question Pastor Dan Cummings used to ask, “What do you love?”

“Be always at it, cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will  be killing you.  He who ceases from this duty lets go all endeavors after holiness…  Sin will not die, unless it be constantly weakened. Spare it, and it will heal its wounds and recover its strength. We must continually watch against the operation of this principle of sin; in our duties, in our calling, in conversation, in retirement, in our straits, in our enjoyments and in all that we do. If we are negligent on any occasion, we shall suffer by it; every mistake, every neglect is perilous.”

~ John Owen, Works, Vol. 3

In our fighting of sin, we not only need to grow in the knowledge of the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ and to know that repetance requires both a turning away and a turning to, but also that the fight against sin is a continuous activity.  Most people know it is a necessity, but we must also realize it is a continual necessity… “cease not a day from this work.”  Our culture and the busyness of our lives seem to choke out any striving towards the constant killing of sin.  It is not that we don’t ever kill sin, but that we don’t do it unceasingly.  So how does Owen encourage us instead of shaming us? He says neglecting to kill sin is disastrous… it is no small matter!  He holds out two options: kill sin or be killed.  And I do not believe he overstates the matter one iota.

“Remember that the man who truly repents is never satisfied with his own repentance. We can no more repent perfectly than we can live perfectly. However pure our tears, there will always be some dirt in them; there will be something to be repented of even in our best repentance. But listen! To repent is to change your mind about sin, and Christ, and all the great things of God. There is sorrow implied in this; but the main point is the turning of the heart from sin to Christ. If there be this turning, you have the essence of true repentance, even though no alarm and no despair should ever cast their shadow upon your mind.”

Charles Spurgeon, All Of Grace

Fighting sin requires repentance, but Spurgeon rightly reminds that repentance requires turning… and turning not just from sin, but to Christ.  Being sorry for sin and wanting to not do it anymore is not true repentance until you also turn to Christ and look to His cross.

I was re-reading a portion of The Prodigal God by Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  He writes a great paragraph that has a focusing effect as we begin another week of being incrementally transformed into the image of Christ, fighting sin and finding our delight in God.  He writes,

“All change comes from deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding creates in your heart. Faith in the gospel re-structures our motivations, our self-understanding, our identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting.”

If we really want to fight sin without constantly being in the “Give in, Repent, Repeat” cycle… we need a change of heart that comes from a deepening of our knowledge of what Christ’s salvation of His people actually accomplished.