Saints, Sufferers, and Sinners
About the Guest
What does the Bible say you are? Today, Christian counselor Michael Emlet points out the three different ways God approaches his people in Scripture - as saints, sufferers, and sinners. Emlet reminds us to remember this fact when we’re comforting and advising those we love.
What does the Bible say you are?
Saints, Sufferers, and Sinners
Bob: Second Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is inspired and profitable for a variety of things.” Michael Emlet says that’s true, but we got to be careful.
Michael Emlet: Wherever you are in Scripture you want to ask the question how does this give a different perspective, a different gaze on my life? We need to use wisdom as we study the Scriptures, as we apply it to our life and to other people’s lives. If we are straining to make a connection there’s probably a different place that God may have us go.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday October 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey. And I'm Bob Lepine. You may find yourself surprised today to find out that more of the Bible applies to more of the issues you face in your life than you realized before. We will talk about that.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You have heard of people who seeking wisdom on a particular life issue will go and just kind of flop open the Bible and keep their eyes closed and point to a verse, right?
Dennis: No doubt. There have been some great stories about that.
Bob: I heard a pastor one time who said somebody looking for wisdom in a situation like that flopped open the Bible and pointed to a verse and it said, Judas went out and hanged himself.
Dennis: That’s right. That’s what I was thinking of.
Bob: Then the person said, well I can't be right. So he flopped it open again and it said “Go and do likewise” and he said, well I can't be right. And then he flopped it open again said “Thou what you do, do quickly” so he figured the Bible didn’t have any wisdom for me on this particular issue.
Dennis: Well, we have got a guest here who is going to help us know how to approach the scripture. The book is called CrossTalk and is subtitled Where Life and Scripture Meet and it is written by Michael Emlet. Michael, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Michael Emlet: Thank you for having me.
Dennis: Michael is a counselor, a teacher, an author, and he is the husband of one, father of two and he lives near Philly. He has written a book really that is designed to really equip us to better approach the scriptures. I think it would be good, if you’d just explain to listeners what your goal is for why you wrote this book in the first place.
Michael Emlet: I wrote the book because the scriptures are designed to be applied to life, and the Bible has practical theology in that sense. I wanted to help readers be able to connect, make relevant connections between the scriptures and their lives. I think that can be easier said than done. So I wanted to explore the challenge of doing that.
Bob: One of the things that I thought was helpful in book is you talk about three different kinds of people who you will either be talking to or you may be one of these people as you read the Bible. It gives you a frame of reference for how you have to understand what the Bible is saying. Explain what that looks like.
Michael Emlet: Yes, I think that God approaches his people in Scripture in three ways really. They really describe our experience this side of glory and that is the categories of saint, sufferer, and sinner.
I think another way of saying that is that every person you meet is wrestling with two issues. The issue of identity and purpose—who am I and what is my purpose in life? And the issue of evil--That’s evil from without that is evil that happens to us suffering and evil within, that is sin. So I think God when he speaks his word he is speaking to his people in those categories.
Bob: You tell the story of a couple in your book who kind of become paradigmatic for who we are and how we approach the scriptures. I thought again this was helpful to help us go from a concept on how we are to read the scriptures to a case study of how the scriptures apply in a particular couple’s life. Tell that story, will you?
Michael Emlet: Sure, the story is about Tom and his wife. Tom has struggled off and on for many years with pornography. Their relationship started in a difficult place with him getting involved sexually before marriage but they did get married, but they have had lot of ups and downs. And so once more, he struggled again and they are on the brink of divorce.
The question is how do you bring the scriptures to bear on their situation? How do you help Tom? Let’s say you are working primarily with Tom. How do you help him? He is discouraged. He feels like a failure.
Michael Emlet: He feels like is there really any hope for this marriage and where do you go?
Bob: Now let me interrupt you, because I think a lot of people would hear that story and they’d go, okay where do I go? I need to go to the passages that deal with sexual lust.
So I think there is one in Thessalonians that I need to go to and maybe another one that I can think of where we will have him memorize these passages on lust because that’s the issue. It's got a lust issue, so anything wrong with that?
Michael Emlet: No, there isn’t but I would say and what else? What more can we help him with because again using these categories we were just talking about saint, sufferer, and sinner, I want to be thinking in those categories. I want to be thinking how can I help ground his identity in Jesus Christ?
Okay, that’s the saint aspect. He is also suffering, even though he has certainly been the cause of a lot of suffering in his life and in his marriage. God still approaches sufferers who are suffering as a result of their sin with compassion and grace. So how does God speak to the sufferer?
And yes, then you highlight, Bob, the sin aspect of this, the sexual lust aspect. It's appropriate to go to passages as you describe like 1 Corinthian 6.
Bob: I think that’s really interesting, because why is it that I instinctively went right to the sinner thing and skipped right over the saint and sufferer? Why do I do that?
Michael Emlet: Well I think we have a natural tendency probably to be unbalanced in one of those three areas. Some people might have the tendency to overlook sin and simply focus on the suffering aspect or the fact that he is a son of God and that’s where you need to camp out and really minimize the sin and the impact in his marriage which is a real and devastating impact. So I think our natural tendency is to gravitate towards one of those three and become unbalanced in a way we bring the scriptures to people.
Bob: You were kind not to say that I went there because I am a self-righteous Pharisee but I appreciate it.
Michael Emlet: It takes one to know one.
Dennis: I wasn’t thinking that Bob about you, I was just thinking we want to fix it. We just want to fix it. I think many times we don’t pull back to the big picture as you talk about this young man in your book that he is a redeemed follower of Christ. Yes, he has trusted Christ for the forgiveness of his sins. He is a child of God and that he slipped and fallen again.
The Bible is full of these stories but what you want us to be reminded of is our identity in Christ to take some heart that you know there has been grace in your life in the past, there needs to be grace in your life today. So as we do move toward the solution we can talk about the solution in the context of the big picture. God loves you and he is not kicking you out of the family just because you made a mistake or have a series of mistakes.
And in Tom’s situation, what you are ultimately trying to move him to is to see God in the midst of his pain. To repent and turn from his selfishness and turn back to God and yield back to him again. You are ultimately calling him away from the complainer and the one who doesn’t see God working in the situation, to being a man who can see God working in his life in his situation today. Isn’t that right?
Michael Emlet: That’s exactly right. In other words, how does a God-shaped perspective help him? He is very much moving toward a self-oriented perspective, possibly hopelessness, self pity as opposed to seeing, no, God is active. That actually allows him to look at his sin full in the face and to find grace and mercy in his time of need and turn to Christ and repent and have hope for change. And to be assured that God is with him in the midst of that change and that suffering not only in his own life, but what he has brought on to his family as well.
Dennis: You indicate in the beginning of your book that you wrote your book for three reasons, to remind us that the Bible is about introducing us to God and reminding us that he wants a relationship with us. Secondly, that the scriptures teach us how to relate to other people and the third one is about how we can minister to others.
And you used an illustration of a woman by the name of Natalie, who is a single woman in midlife who comes to you for advice. Explain what she was looking for in terms of how she could apply the scriptures to her situation?
Michael Emlet: Sure. She is a physician working in an inner city clinic who is a strong believer. She has a longstanding relationship with God and basically over time has come to doubt her impact that she is having in this place of service. She is wondering is it time to leave and should I pursue fulltime ministry in a church setting?
I think as I approach her, I would ask, okay how is she already evidencing the grace of God in her life? That’s that saint aspect. Where is she suffering? Well that to me seems to be one of the big things that stands out, not the sin in her life, but the fact that she is laboring and has become weary in well-doing. But really and I do this in the book, you could go to any passage, so I choose Haggai Chapter 2: 1-9 which again on the surface of things says nothing about her situation.
Bob: That’s the part where it's talking about the temple walls aren’t constructed and yet people are putting up panels in their own den while the temple is in shambles, right?
Michael Emlet: Yes, the context of the book of Haggai is that God’s people have returned from exile. God asked them to rebuild the temple. They get distracted. They finally get back to it but as it is going up, they are realizing this isn’t anything like Solomon’s temple. They start to become discouraged.
God promises a greater glory will come to that temple in the future. That greater glory ultimately is Jesus Christ that’s where that ultimately goes. I think for someone like Natalie that could be a great passage to help her to see you may not see everything right now, but God is at work and he will be bringing greater glory and the proof of that is in his Son Jesus Christ.
Bob: When you were talking about Natalie, I thought of the Prophet Isaiah who I think God said to him, preach to the people who will not listen to you and I thought well that’s a calling.
Dennis: That’s a cruel assignment.
Bob: That really is. You go for how long? You are going to be faithful and you are going to just look and go, this is an exercise in futility. The only reason I am doing it is out of faithfulness to God, but I am going to see no fruit for my labor that’s a little of what Natalie was feeling, isn’t it?
Michael Emlet: Exactly. She is not seeing that payoff. She has been faithful to do what she believed God has called her to do but she is becoming weary in that.
Bob: Now aren’t there times thought when you are thinking about Natalie’s situation, you will read through a passage and I am not talking about the genealogies, but I am talking about some passage that you would look at and you go, I don’t really see a connection between this passage and Natalie’s circumstance. You have to be careful that you don’t just invent a connection that’s not really there, right?
Michael Emlet: Absolutely. Even though I am advocating that wherever you are in scripture you want to ask the question how does this give a different perspective, a different gaze on my life? We need to use wisdom as we study the scriptures as we apply to our life and to other people’s lives. If we are straining to make a connection there is probably a different place that God may have us go, but it’s worth camping out and seeing what he has for us.
Dennis: You are raising a couple of children right now their ages are?
Michael Emlet: 11 and 8.
Dennis: They are on the cusp of the some of the most dangerous years a human being experiences. I like the teenage years because of the immaturity of their spiritual lives, their emotional lives, their physical lives. I mean they are walking in the midst of danger during just a lot of confusion.
How have you used this same approach from the Bible with your 11 year old? Give me an illustration of how you are coaching your daughter, your 11 year old.
Michael Emlet: I think that comes out in several ways. One is that I want to ask her to be more than a compliant child. I want to get to the heart of her particular struggle. So for example just the other night, she was on the internet wanting to download some songs onto her iPod and we were reading lyrics together.
Dennis: Good idea, very good idea, dad.
Michael Emlet: There were certainly some lyrics in one of the songs that she chose that were not appropriate and she didn’t understand why that was. I want more than simply to say, oh that’s a bad song, don’t do that.
I want to get to the heart of why that might not be a good idea and also to help her to develop wisdom in these things. And in my use of scripture I want to model the same thing. I don’t want it simply going back to an earlier discussion. I don’t want to simply bring principles, commands to her. I want to help her relate to Jesus Christ.
So it’s more than just staying at the surface. That's good. That’s bad. Don’t do this. Do that. But what's at the heart of the matter?
Dennis: So how did you talk to her? I mean did she push back at that point and say, oh dad, all my friends have got that one on their iPod. You are not going to make me push the delete button here.
Michael Emlet: Yes, there was some push back. It was a great opportunity to talk about the heart and what she wanted, what were her desires and what was important in God’s eyes. We talked about wisdom and parental wisdom. I think that ultimately it was a discussion that went far beyond the surface lyrics and more to the heart of one’s desires, what peers have, why is this not appropriate and those kinds of things.
Bob: You know as you are telling me story, I was thinking, okay I am going to put your thesis to the test here. So I started thinking about Haggai 2. Here’s this verse that you were applying to Natalie, the physician who is wondering if there is any real purpose for her life and how you would apply it.
I thought well what if you took your daughter to Haggai Chapter 2.
Michael Emlet: Yes.
Bob: Well here’s the nation of Israel, instead of focusing on the things of God, they become distracted with their own interests, their own pleasures, the paneling on their own houses and as a result God is not pleased.
In a similar way what your daughter is focused on is not what would honor the Lord here and what would please him. But I like that song and I want that song in my iPod and so I will worry about the things of God in another time. There really are principles and I hate to even say principles, but the story of the Bible keeps calling us back to a life where we are ultimately living not for our own pleasure, but for God’s purposes, right.
Michael Emlet: Absolutely, and I think even back to Haggai 2. They were looking at a short term situation saying this isn’t good. We can't live with this. And Haggai was urging them to have a long term view. I think that’s another thing that we want to communicate to our children. This “want” is in the present, but there is a longer term view that’s important to have.
Dennis: You have also got an 8-year-old son, right?
Michael Emlet: Yes.
Dennis: As you are teaching him the Bible because you are doing that in not only dealing with songs being downloaded, but you are also doing it formally undoubtedly. How do you go about bringing the Bible down to the lives that your children are living where they are today?
Michael Emlet: We have a devotional time, I would like to see it more than it currently is, but we do have a devotional time where we read a passage of scripture and we talk about it.
Dennis: Now wait a second. You said you read a passage of scripture.
Michael Emlet: A short passage, not a long passage.
Bob: It’s just to help mom and dad out there know that you are not talking about several chapters.
Michael Emlet: No, we are talking several verses.
Dennis: Okay. You put it in context.
Michael Emlet: We put in context. We are in Acts right now. Because we are doing it sequentially that context is always in front of us, so here’s a few verses, a few questions related to the verses that we direct towards my son, towards my daughter. Then we just talk a bit about how would this look in our lives? It's challenging. It's challenging to bring that to their level and it challenges me back in reverse, am I doing this in my own life? And am I doing it regularly enough with my children?
Dennis: Share with our listeners a passage that they might be able to go to perhaps this evening with their children or tomorrow morning, to be able to talk about how God relates to them, who they are as followers of Christ, and as they get to know him how they can apply the scriptures to their lives.
Michael Emlet: In the book I use Mark 1:40-45. Healing of a leper by Jesus I think is so rich in its application and seeing Jesus the king who comes to bring healing to people that have no hope otherwise.
Bob: And going back to what we talked about earlier where you are looking at saint, suffering, and sinner. Again that passage is a clear picture of the King coming and calling the one who is trapped in his own suffering and his own sin to a new status as a saint to step out of his disease and into a new position as a child of the kingdom.
Michael Emlet: Absolutely, and no matter where you are in terms of what passages you choose, I think keeping those things in front of us as parents how can I affirm my children in the relationship with God in their standing with Jesus?
What are the particular crunch points in their life? Where they are struggling? Where they are suffering? And then thirdly where are they struggling with sin? What are the unique patterns both attitudinally and behaviorally that we need to tailor the scriptures to?
Dennis: Like an iPod and maybe a song that’s being downloaded by an 11 year old.
Michael Emlet: Absolutely.
Dennis: Yeah you know, I am just thinking of 2 Timothy 3 which reminds us, all scripture is briefed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness that the man of God maybe competent equipped for every good work and that’s really what you are talking about with your two children. You are trying to bring the Bible to bear in their lives to remind them that God loves them. God is pursuing them.
He wants a relationship with them and that he has got a way of life that he has designed that he wants us to live in and knowledge, not only knowledge about God, but also how we relate to one another.
Michael, I just want to thank you for your book, for your work and for being on FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us.
Michael Emlet: Thank you for having me.
Bob: I really do think this is an important kind of a course correction for all of us. As we read these scriptures with our children and teach them how to study the Bible, what you are talking about in your book is an important way for us to understand what God is saying to us through his word.
That’s one of the reasons, we have got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center the book is called CrossTalk: Where Life and Scripture Meet. And you can order a copy when you go online at www.familylifetoday.com or call toll free at 1800-358-6329, 1800-FL-TODAY and ask for a copy of Michael’s book.
Let me also mention that we have just put together a new area on our FamilyLife website www.familylife.com where together with Michael and his colleagues at the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation, we have begun to address a variety of physical, behavioral, and mental issues from a biblical Christian perspective. Things like anger and guilt and bipolar disorder and Asperger's syndrome and anxiety, things that people are going to seek professional help for today from a counselor. We are offering now a variety of articles designed to speak into these issues and if you go to www.familylifetoday.com there is a link there that will take you to the area of the FamilyLife website where you can get help for these kinds of issues.
Again our website is www.familylifetoday.com and let me just say how much we appreciate Michael, our partnership with you and with your colleagues at the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation. We appreciate the work you do and being able to work together with you.
In fact I should also mention that CCEF has a national convention coming up in November, the subject of the convention is Marriage and I am going to be there both to attend the conference and I have been invited to speak as well, so I am looking forward to being up there with you on that. And there is a link on our website at www.familylifetoday.com where you can find out more about the CCEF National Convention as well.
With that, we are going to wrap things up for today, hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family were able to worship together this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday, when we are going to begin a conversation on what people are going to be saying about you 50 years from now or 100 years from now, and you might think nobody is going to say anything about me, but you might be surprised. We are going to talk about the kind of legacy you will leave to your family and to the world around you, that’s coming up Monday hope you can be with us.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey. I am Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of Familylife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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