Perth CIC, 27.06.2010

“When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,“‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain?26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:23-31)


The topic of “boldness” is on the heart of God, for on the same day Josh rang inviting me to preach I had earlier challenged three separate people about their fears of confrontation. I was both encouraged and amused by a follow up email from Josh that read, “please feel free to say whatever you want to say!” if I needed to be told that, I would certainly not be the person to speak on boldness.

This comment brought to mind an agreement I had with a senior pastor some years ago, the day he stopped me preaching what I believed God was saying would be the day I resigned. He never did stop me preaching according to my conscience, and this did cost me my ministry[1]. This was not the first or last time a partnership was terminated by others. 25 years ago when I was fresh to a role in Brisbane I naively preached a sermon on “truth” in a church that proved to be the closest thing to a cult that I have ever been a part of. Sometime later I received a letter dropped into my letter box without any prior consultation; it said I could no longer minister in the church and that my family would have to leave immediately. I went into the forest to pray, and all I could say to the Lord was, “I have no place to minister, I have no place to worship, but if I have you I have everything.” It is these sorts of experiences that produce what some would call boldness.

The bulk[2] of the biblical material on boldness is concentrated in the book of Acts and the letters of Paul. This is because boldness is not something we seek in and for itself, it is only important in relation to the proclamation of the Word of God.

In the Beginning

All things were created by the Word of God (Heb 11:3), and Adam as a “son of God” (Luke 3:38) was intuitively aware his own very being was held together by the all powerful Word (Heb 1:3). Being sinless, he walked with God so unselfconsciously that the question of being bold never entered his mind. God however had a plan to grow Adam and Eve in their spiritual authority.

The totality of the divine purpose was contained in two commands, to work and guard the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:15), and the prohibition “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Gen 2:17). In obedience to God’s Word Adam was to take a stand against any evil power that might intrude into his garden, especially in relation to the tree of knowledge, this was a ministry opportunity for great boldness.

The Fall

The entry of Satan into the garden was Adam’s chance[3] to confront evil. If he had intervened with holy boldness to guard his wife from evil he would have been completed in holiness. He and Eve[4]would have become perfectly like God, received the gift of immortality and our whole history would have been different. All of this was lost because Adam denied that supreme honour belongs to God alone. Stripped of the presence of God Adam and Eve were immediately overwhelmed by the magnitude of the divine sentence of death and riddled with shame. They were filled with the state of mind that cripples the whole human race, the consciousness of sin.

To be conscious of sin is to be conscious of falling short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23), and since in the Bible “glory” means the presence of “weightiness”[5] (significance/intensity) those conscious of sin can no longer speak with authority on eternal things. This is why our culture[6] is full of emptiness. As Karl Marx prophesied 150 years ago, in cultures of production and consumption “All that is solid melts into air, all which is holy is profaned”[7],we are left with a world of lightweights[8], hollow men and women obsessed with pleasure and personal image. (JY walking down Hay St in the city a few months ago and some teenage girls I passed were freaking out shouting out again and again about who that had just seen, “That was Lady GaGa.” God help us.)

When I say that human life is dominated by the consciousness of sin and the fear of death, I do NOT mean people can actually identify what is wrong with them[9]. The human desperation for friendship and peer acceptance, wanting to be cool or fashionable, respectable or successful is driven from a deep indelible sense that something is wrong on the inside, a hollowness that must be filled. The fear of rejection is huge in human life and it appears everywhere.

At a prayer retreat with about 70 pastors, the leader of a large prominent church started to prophecy in a direction I believed was false. Since the Lord led to a passage of scripture that was effectively the opposite of the first prayer I prayed this forth and the meeting went in a completely new direction[10]. The thing that stunned me however happened a little later. I noticed a well known brother from a very vigorous congregation holding his bible in front of him as if he was paralysed. As I spoke to him he showed me a confronting passage which he believed was from the Lord, but he didn’t know what to do with it. He was frozen with fear because the word God had given him was so unlike his usual seeker-centred form of preaching. I simply told him to get on with it, which he managed to do.

I am commonly counselling Christians who are afraid to confront because they fear rejection. The reason for this plague of timidity is not hard to find, the church is often less honest than the world because it is more legalistic. Paul says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes the consciousness of sin.” (Rom 3:20)[11]. Legalism makes you feel like your sin is a great and unsurpassable obstacle between you and God. The church in this nation lacks boldness because it lacks an awareness of the glory of God in the face (= presence) of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6).


In his presence even Jesus opponents had to say, ““No one ever spoke like this man!”” (John 7:46) and, ““What is this? A new teaching with authority!””(Mark 1:27). The demons could not resist him, the forces of nature were stilled at his command (Mark 4:39) and his worst opponents were silenced (Mark 12:34).

Nowhere however is Jesus said to be “bold”, and I do not believe that “boldness” was a part of his self-consciousness. Those who are conscious of sin fluctuate between feelings of self-confidence and self-doubt, but as a sinless person Jesus was filled with an awareness of his Sonship. As John says, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus apparent “boldness” was the outward manifestation of the inner glory of having God as his Father. Full of “the Spirit of glory and of God” (1 Pet 4:14) the threats of evil spiritual and human powers induced in him no fear. Christ’s ability to release us into the confidence expression of our sonship is not however mediated by his signs, wonders and words; it is contained in the cross.

As he approaches the death the Father has ordained for him (1 Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8 cf. Acts 4:28) a strange atmosphere comes over the Son of God the Garden of Gethsemane, deep in anguished prayer he manifests a spirit of godly fear[12], ““Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:36). This timidity in the face of death has puzzled many people. Many prophets and martyrs had sacrificed their lives for God and Jesus surely knew he would be raised from the dead. The paradoxical nature of the Son shrinking back from the predestined plan of God becomes even deeper as we hear the terrible cry from the cross, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). The profound nature of these events seems to escape the people of God again and again because they are so deep.

Scripture teaches however that “the cup” before which Jesus recoiled in Gethsemane was the cup of the righteous anger of God (Isa 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15), and the content of the cup poured out upon Jesus on the cross was humanity’s “consciousness of sin” (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus cry of forsakenness means he had entered a spiritual vacuum totally devoid of the manifest presence of God – the complete absence of the Father’s love, goodness, wisdom, grace and compassion, he has entered into a place without glory. This is Christ’s “descent into hell”[13]. Anyone who has ever understood even a fraction of the horror that Jesus experienced on the cross will never be the same again.

Once Christ has drained the cup of God’s anger he must be filled with the glory of God, this is the meaning of the resurrection, the resurrection is the restoration of humanity’s lost glory. In his resurrection the Lord has broken the bounds of sin, fear, death and evil powers[14]. Crucified in weakness but raised by the power of God (2 Cor 13:4), in Christ every barrier between us and God has come down.

Overcoming Timidity

The book of Proverbs says, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” (Prov 28:1). In Christ we are the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21) and need not fear. If ever there was a bold man it was Martin Luther, the founder of that great awakening of grace we call the Protestant Reformation. He said to a fellow leader, “God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world…. It is sufficient that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meagre sacrifice for our sins?” There are many people in the world that appear bold, but Christians are the only people who are emboldened by the gospel of grace to confess sin (1 John 1:9; 2:1-2).

Luther was not encouraging sin, but he understood that with Christ you have to give it a go and give it a go with your whole heart in the knowledge that if you do sin your sin has been fully paid for by the blood of the Lamb. Sounds radical, sounds irresponsible[15] but this is that spirit of radical obedience to Jesus that “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) two thousand years ago.

A scripture was given me many years ago and I will never forget it, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Tim 1:7). Let me testify why this verse has meant so much to me.

Before I came to Jesus I was one of the most frightened, depressed, anxious people you are ever likely to meet. When I was at university I went to see the dermatologist because the skin kept peeling off my face, they told me it was psychosomatic, when I went to see the cardiologist with recurrent chest pains after he did all his tests he said the same. I was literally in such a paranoid state that I could not walk down a public street for fear of people[16] [I just transited between home and university.] I never spoke to anyone about my fears, I suppose I was too frightened/too ashamed to, but God knew what was happening and he found a way of getting a bible into my hands without anyone knowing about it. As I started to read the scriptures something began to change, a deep presence and power started to work in my life like I had never experienced before. Not knowing any Christians I tried to go into a public meeting at the campus, I managed to get as far as the door, but I could get no further as I was paralysed by fear; it was if a force-field of fear was in front of me. Next week I came back to an outreach meeting, and this time the fear of going to hell was even greater than the demonic fear that had seized my life, I did go through the door to eternal life and the rest, as they say, is history. I share this story to make the point that boldness has nothing to do with being an extroverted personality but has everything to do with JESUS.

Jesus “Calls a spade a spade”[17], and following Jesus has certainly led to a history of misunderstanding in my life, even with those closest to me. I remember my mother buying us a block of land soon into our marriage. When I handed her back the title deed and told this was not God’s plan for my life she and the rest of the family were very offended. Whatever happens we must obey God rather than men, for God gives the Holy Spirit to those who OBEY him (Acts 5:32)[18]. I am not talking about the Holy Spirit of popular spirituality but the Holy Spirit of that is given to the people of God in the midst of conflict.

When the apostolic church in our Bible reading from Acts prayed, “grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29) they knew exactly what they were asking. In their prayers they had just spoken to God of Jesus as his Anointed servant, and how there were gathered against him, “Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (4:27-28). With the words of Christ himself still echoed in their hearing, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”” (Luke 24:26), they understood that suffering is not the cost of glory but the weight of glory. Those who prayed for boldness in Acts 4 knew that such prayers could cost them their lives. (The leading of the Holy Spirit is not to be equated with our unanointed enthusiasm: example from a conference in America in relation to people from an Islamic country asking about when to talk to others about Jesus.)

We lack spiritual authority and boldness because the weightiness of glory of God that penetrates the human heart and opens our mouths to speak of the deep things of Christ (Matt 12:34) only comes through suffering for his sake. The apostles grasped that to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29) meant to go deep with God as Jesus went deepest with his Father, through the way of costly obedience. When we ask for boldness without reservation, God will certainly pour out his Holy Spirit[19].

Appallingly, the fear of man has been placed above the fear of fear of God[20]in so many of our churches and it is impossible to be both a man-pleaser and a God-pleaser[21]. Bold Christians are not “nice” people; they trigger unpredictable and exaggerated responses in others. I have lost count of the number of people who have been angry or offended with me at parties, dinners, over the internet and in churches, I have even been thumped a couple of times. We fear to be bold in speaking for God because we fear the cost will be too heavy to carry. But the cost of our lack of boldness is immeasurably greater.

The climactic promise to Christians in the book of Revelation is this, “The one who conquers will have this inheritance, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (21:7). This promise is immediately followed by a warning written to the churches of the time, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.”” (Rev 21:8).

The sin of “cowardice” comes first in list because the majority of the churches of the day (Rev 2-3) had failed to take an uncompromising stand against the prevailing cultural climate, consequentially, they had become worldly, idolatrous, sexual immoral and ineffective in discipling the nations; like most of the Western church today. Thankfully, the Lord is calling us to something different.

Supernatural Grace

I was at a very large mission conference in Hong Kong last year with people from all over the world. In one session they were focussing on strategies to reach the toughest parts of the world. Mixed up with earnest praying for boldness there was a lot of emotional hype. It was totally clear to me however, and immensely sobering, that the zeal of some of these folks would definitely cost them their lives. Without the power of the Spirit of God such levels of sacrifice are beyond us, so I want to begin winding up with an illustration about the faithfulness of God in a friend’s life.

Shortly after the allied invasion of Iraq he was with two women intercessors on the site of China’s biggest mosque, as the Islamic prayers ended thousands of men streamed out and a crowd surrounded them. A clearly angered religious official demanded to know, in English, “What country are you from?”, he told him they were from Australia, increasingly enraged, and with more and more people joining the throng the official shouted, “What religion are you?”. With the thought of being mobbed to death running through his mind and frozen with fear my friend was unable to open his mouth, in his heart he felt he had betrayed Jesus. Suddenly he heard a loud female voice behind him say, “You’re a Christian.” Thinking that one of the women with him had the guts to speak up he summed up the courage to say, “Yes, I’m a Christian. I’m a follower of Jesus” A supernatural peace came over him the fear left and he thought, “If I have to die here it won’t matter I’ll go to heaven.” The leader of the crowd suddenly turned away, the mob dispersed and a group of younger people (no doubt impacted by the apparent boldness of his testimony) chased after him asking to know more about Jesus.

Shortly after my friend asked the intercessors which of them had spoken up, but they had both been silent- at this point he recognised that it was the voice of the Holy Spirit of grace (Heb 10:29) that had saved him from denying his Lord. God is faithful and will not deny himself any opportunity to testify to his Son (2 Tim 2:11-13).


Of course there have been times in my life when I should have spoken up for the Lord, but over the years I have learned that the cost of living with fear is greater than the cost of obedience. These days I have a sort of a pact with God, “You speak to me and I will speak for you, whatever the cost.” We only know the sheer weightiness and intensity of the glory of God through experiences of being misunderstood, rejected and abused which take us deeper into the life of the Spirit. This is the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings without which the power of his resurrection (Phil 3:10) is unreal. God’s powerful presence flows only out of sacrifice.

Even Australians, in their own way, understand these things. I was listening to the speeches in federal parliament this week in response to death of three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan; there was no shouting, heckling, laughing or one note of disagreement, there was a hushed and holy silence in the place. I want to quote the words of one of the ministers of state to explain what was going on, he said, if our soldiers were not fighting and dying for our country now, “others would have to carry the weight for us later”. If men and women are willing to die for the temporal glory of an earthly commonwealth where are those who will offer their lives to see the manifestation of the weight of God’s eternal glory now?

As I was preparing this sermon I believe I saw something in the Spirit. I saw a person struggling to carry a cross, for the cross is very heavy. The Holy Spirit is calling each one of you, will you carry this weighty cross with Jesus and for Jesus, will you embrace the way of life of which I have been speaking today, not because it is some legalistic demand, but because it is Jesus way of life. This is the only way to be free from the consciousness of sin that fills our lives with fear and robs us of the glory of God for which we were created and for which Christ died. If you choose to go this was today, the way of the Lamb, then you will join in the roar of the lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5-6), and boldness will become an indelible part of your life[22], the boldness of Christ will accompany you to the very end of your earthly life, whatever in the plan of God that predestined end may.

[1] I am sure the hand of God was in this for both of us.

[2] There are only 24 verses in the Bible that use “bold/boldness” in a positive way.

[3] He was “with her (Eve)” (Gen 3:6).

[4] I am assuming here that if Adam spoke the word of God it would have created faith in Eve, according to the principle, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17).

[5] This is contained within the Hebrew term kabod and is explicit in “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17).

[6] Sadly, often also the church.

[7] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, section 1. Bourgeois and Proletarians

[8]As another secular prophet said, “When God dies, culture becomes weightless.”

[9] Only the Holy Spirit can do this. Without the Spirit there is only death, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Rom 8:6).

[10] The first pray-er later approached me to ask where my passage came from.

[11] Similarly, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.” (Heb 10:1-3)

[12] This fear is holy and reverent (Heb 5:7).

[13] This is how John Calvin understood the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed, “he descended into hell”.

[14] This was not always the case, “death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom 6:9)

[15] Sounds like something no pastor wants to hear. And in Luther’s generation the legalists tried to kill him for his rediscovery of the glorious gospel of grace.

[17] An expression used by Gerhard Forde to describe Luther’s “theology of the cross”.

[18]“ even if my mother or father or brother or sister or friend forsake me the Lord will take me in” (Ps 27:10).

[19] “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31) cf. Acts 5:32

[20] Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28)

[21] “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (John 12:42-43)

[22] ““For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. 8 The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?”” (Am 3:7-8)

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