Tara’s Blog

I needed to re-read this today! The Grace that Saves is the Grace that Leads Us Home (by Kevin DeYoung)


Kevin DeYoung

I know, I know. The horse is already dead, so stop beating it.

As far I know my own heart, I’m not trying to pile on, dig in my heels, or even win an argument. I would like, however, to be clear.

I believe with all my heart in justification by faith alone. It is the “main hinge on which religion turns,” as I explain here and here. I cherish beyond words that because “it is finished” (John 19:30), I can know true comfort, trusting that Jesus Christ “has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil” (HC Q/A 1). I gladly affirm the scandalous nature of free grace. I need it every day. As God gives me strength, I will preach, and pray, and sing, and shout of the wonderful, matchless grace of Jesus as long as I live.

I am also compelled by Paul’s example and by Holy Scripture to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

Which doesn’t mean we move past the gospel or leave grace behind. The gospel never ceases to be relevant. We are never not dependent on grace.

In fact, grace is so amazing that there is more than one thing to say about it. By grace we do wonders (Acts 6:8), by grace we are justified (Rom. 3:24), by grace we exhort (Rom. 12:3), by grace we build (1 Cor. 3:10), by grace we work hard (1 Cor. 15:10), by grace we give generously (2 Cor. 8:7), by grace we use our gifts (Eph. 4:7); by grace we are strengthened (Heb. 13:9), and by grace we are saved (Eph. 2:8). Every good thing we do, every true thing we believe, every bit of resting, every bit of striving, every mercy and every effort is by grace (James 1:17).

If there is one central area of confusion surrounding progressive sanctification, I think it has to do with the role of exertion in the Christian life. Is there any place for God-infused effort as we “grow in grace” (2 Pet. 3:18)? When we meet people whose hands and feet cause them to sin, can we only tell them of justification by faith, or can we also implore them to cut it out and “cut it off” (Mark 9:43-47)? Might that word of warning and exhortation be a grace to them?

If we are faithful parents, faithful mentors, and faithful preachers, we will gladly teach with all our might that Christ made propitiation for the sins of his people (Heb. 2:17), that we can with confidence draw near to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16), that Christ is the mediator of a new and better covenant (Heb. 9:15), that Christ offered up his body once to bear the sins of many (Heb. 9:28), and that we should not be sluggish (Heb. 6:12), that we must not go on sinning deliberately (Heb. 10:26), that we must run with endurance the race set before us (Heb. 12:1), and that we should strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

Legalism, self-righteousness, glorying in our own strength—these are dangers we must always guard against and constantly preach against. The greatest grace champions can be graceless in real life.  The strongest proponents of holiness can be worldly to the core. We are all leopards whose spots do not change as easily as we would like or as noticeably as we think. We need to hear of grace to the day we die.

And we need grace to enable us—as regenerated, saved, justified, adopted, beloved children—to beat our bodies (1 Cor. 9:27), run the race, and fight the good fight (2 Tim. 4:7).

There is no plausible way to read the Bible and conclude that God working in us absolves us from working hard, no responsible way to think that exhortation and exertion are anything other than essential to a life of discipleship.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:10“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
  • Philippians 2:12-13“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
  • Colossians 1:29“For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
  • 2 Peter 1:5“For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge…”

The Bible clearly teaches that God works in us so that we might work out. This is taught by Calvin:

As it is an arduous work and of immense labour, to put off the corruption which is in us, he bids us to strive and make every effort for this purpose. He intimates that no place is to be given in this case to sloth, and that we ought to obey God calling us, not slowly or carelessly, but that there is need of alacrity; as though he had said, “Put forth every effort, and make your exertions manifest to all.” (Commentary on 2 Peter)

And by the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, beside the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will and to do, of His good pleasure: yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them. (16.3)

This effort is not by our own strength, and it merits nothing. But as Christ works in us by his Spirit through the gospel, we are called to striving and effort. To make this effort is not a return to Moses, and to call others to this striving is not antithetical to the gospel. In an attempt to safeguard what is true, let us not proscribe a bevy of doctrines that are not false. Nuance is not the enemy of faith. Saying everything Scripture says does not have to weaken any one thing that Scripture does say.

If as a preacher I tell you that you can be justified by works of the law, I should be damned (Gal. 1:8,92:16). And if I never tell you to flee from sin (1 Cor. 6:18), never warn you about persisting in sin (1 John 3:4-10), never implore you to no longer keep on sinning (Heb. 10:26), never plead with you to pluck out your eye (Mark 9:47), never let you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9), never urge you to lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees (Heb. 12:12-17), then you may be damned.

God uses a multitude of indicatives and a host of imperatives to save us and sustain us. It’s all of grace, of course, but grace does not always look or sound the same. There is grace to run and grace to rest. And we need both.

A reminder for “sour, dogged” Christians (that’s me!) … God is the party wronged, and yet he sues for peace with us.

I’m not feeling very peacemake-y these days.

If I feel anything at all re: certain relationships, it’s pretty much just anger and disappointment. But honestly, I’m so tired and sick of things, that mostly, I don’t feel anything at all.

(Not good. I know. Very not good.)

But there is hope! Even for weary people like me. Listen to how Thomas Brooks describes it:

“Ah! How does the God of peace, by his Spirit and messengers, pursue after peace with poor creatures! God first makes offer of peace to us: ‘We pray you in Christ’s stead, be you reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:20).

God’s grace first kneels to us! 

God is the party wronged, and yet he sues for peace with us (Isaiah 65:1).”

Listen to those truths, my tired friends, and I will join you as together we strive like gladiators to pursue peace (Ephesians 4:1-3) because we are listening to God’s Word more than our feelings or circumstances.

Eyes up! Off of our screens, our abandoning spouses, the “friends who only pretended to be friends” (Proverbs 18:24).

Hearts fixed on eternity! Together, let us bear our pain for this day. Decade. Century. A mere blink, and this life is OVER.

But we have this tiny season, this miniscule mere breath, to share in sufferings of our Elder Brother (1 Peter 4:13). Because we have been wronged, then today we get to “forgive just as in Christ we have been forgiven” (Colossians 3:13).

There will be no more suffering in Heaven! No more need to forgive in Heaven! But today. This day. We get to pick up our cross and follow our Savior. How? By remembering “the sweetness, the freeness, and the riches of God’s grace as they break forth and shine upon our poor souls.”

And so.

I’m going to try with all of my best efforts to be peacemake-y today regardless of how I feel. What does that mean? Again, let us listen to Thomas Brooks:

“Christians, it is not a matter of liberty whether you will or you will not pursue after peace—but it is a matter of duty that lies upon you; you are bound by express precept to follow after peace. ‘Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man can see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14).

The Greek signifies that peace and holiness are to be pursued after with the greatest eagerness that can be imagined. So the psalmist: ‘Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it’ (Psalm 34:14).

The Hebrew word that is here rendered seek, signifies to seek earnestly, vehemently, affectionately, studiously, industriously. ‘And pursue it.’ That Hebrew word signifies earnestly to pursue, being a metaphor taken from the eagerness of wild beasts or ravenous fowls, which will run or fly both fast and far rather than be disappointed of their prey.

Ah! You forward, sour, dogged Christians … ‘Let us follow after the things that make for peace, and the things wherein one may edify another’ (Romans 14:19).

Yes. That’s me! Sour and dogged. He’s speaking to me—clearly. And so, I will try. Not because it’s easy. Not because it’s comfortable, pleasant, or even anywhere near the REALM of something I WANT to do.

But “in view of God’s mercy” (Romans 12:1); mindful of just how much “we hated God in our hearts” (Romans 5:10); meditating on the Perfect Son of God being abandoned by his closest friends (Matthew 26:40, Luke 22:54-62) … perfect in every way, without sin, yet taking on flesh so that he can sympathize with us, with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).

Because this is our God! And we are the people of his pasture (Psalm 95:7), we will follow our Good Shepherd, even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4)—even through the valley of the shadow of relational pain we never, ever thought would come to our (marriage, church, parenting, THIS friendship, THIS group of godly, mature, Spirit-filled, Christians) … the relational pain we never thought would come to us.

This is how the world will see that the Father sent the Son! (John 17:20-23)

This is how we will show ourselves to be true disciples of Jesus! (John 13:35)

Oh. And also? This is how our lives will be protected from the acidic destruction of the bitterness of judgmental unforgiveness and gracelessness.

We cannot change the past. We cannot change the other person’s heart. But we can respond in ways that are OUT OF THIS WORLD! Shockingly redemptive. Obedient to our duties–which are not vague in Scripture, by the way. To walk humbly, repent, confess, forgive? These aren’t “wisdom calls” or “debatable matters of liberty.”

You call yourself a Christian? I call myself a Christian? Well, then, love isn’t optional. Not for our brothers and sisters in Christ (John 13:35); not for our enemies (Luke 6:27); not for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are feeling like enemies.

God is the party wronged, and yet he sues for peace with us?

Let us then “leave our gifts at the altar” and even ahead of worship (!), make every effort to be reconciled (Matthew 5:23-24).

Thanks for processing through all of this with me. You’ve really encouraged me. I truly send you my very best regards and I pray that God will help you re: your most disappointing, discouraging, shockingly painful relationships.

With love from your sister in Christ,
Tara B.

Please note that this blog is a re-post from 2014. Also, the quoted excerpts and parphrases are from Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, emphases mine.

If you’re interested in reviewing my peacemaking video series or adding the audio files to your ipod, we now have that technology on our site. Specific sessions are only $1.99 (audio) or $2.99 (video) … or the entire series including the study guide is only $9.99 (audio) or $19.99 (video). Click here to download today!

Also, we recently unearthed videos from a women’s retreat that was simultaneously translated into ASL (sign language) and we are making those videos available for download, too. (In general, there is a small $2.99 charge to help offset the costs of hosting all of this online, but if you use ASL or if you have a ministry that uses ASL, our family wants to give these videos away for FREE. Plase just contact me and I will send you codes to access the videos for no charge.)



FREE Checklist to Help You Select a Third-Party Church Conflict Consultant

One of the most common questions that Dave Edling and I receive about church conflict has to do with how to evaluate a third-party church conflict consultant. This is such an important topic that we have an entire Appendix on it in our book. And today, we want to give it away for free to you:

Redeeming Church Conflict Conclusion and Appendices

We hope that it is an encouragement and help to you as you seek to redeem your church or other organizational conflicts.

God bless!
Dave & Tara

Ajith Fernando on Responding to Personal Attacks


by Ajith Fernando

How should Christians who are a minority in their land respond when fellow Christians and churches are attacked? I have thought about it a lot because churches are often attacked in Sri Lanka too. One thing is certain—never should our motivation be one of tit-for-tat or revenge. I want to suggest a three-pronged response.

We live in a region where the understanding of the concept of honour requires that if someone hits us we must ht back. In some countries the so called ‘honour killings’ are even sometimes ignored by the authorities. This is totally different to the Christian understanding of honour. Paul said: ‘Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all’ (Rom. 12:17). In Christianity the honourable thing is not to hit back.

Then there is the fact that Christ has asked us to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). So the general response when we are hurt is to love our enemies. This is a teaching that is repeated over and over again in the Bible (Matt. 5:43, 44; Luke 6:27, 35). We are told, ‘Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you’ (Luke 6:28 ). Referring specially to persecution, Paul says, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them’ (Rom. 12:14). Paul says of himself, ‘When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure’ (2 Cor. 4:12b). Peter writing to a church suffering persecution said, ‘Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing’ (1 Pet. 3:9). Note that in this last verse a blessing is promised if we bless our persecutors.

This is a pretty strong case for loving and blessing those who persecute us. I believe the witness of history is that the reaction of Christians to persecution left a strong impression on the persecutors. After painful initial suffering, they left such a powerful impression upon their persecutors so that large numbers of people ended up coming to Christ. This is our dream for our nations. We want large numbers of people to come to Christ. It may seem impossible now, but that is how the conversion of the Roman Empire looked to the small persecuted band of Christians in the first century to whom the passages I quoted above were first written.

When people in our nations get tired of the endless cycle of violence coming from revenge, may they be challenged by seeing Christians refusing to take revenge and loving their enemies. When they get tired of the corruption that is ruining our chances of progress, may they be challenged by seeing Christians willing to suffer loss and taking on poverty because they refuse to break their principles. When people realise that all their wealth has not given them satisfaction may they be challenged by seeing Christians truly happy and contented by living godly lives and realise that the life we have in Christ is the greatest gain (1 Tim. 6:6). Jesus said, ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (Matt. 5:16). That is our ambition for the church.

Actually the persecuted Christians in the New Testament era looked forward to nothing short of world conquest by Christ. They saw their sufferings as temporary means towards achieving that end. That is how we see our sufferings too. So knowing that Christ is the truth, yearning for our nations to bow their knees to Christ and believing that Christ will conquer the world in the end influences our attitude to persecution.

Of course only a pure church where people truly love God can react this way. The churches in South Asia are anything but pure. This is a much more serious problem than the persecution we are going through. We must pray that God will use this persecution to make our people truly holy which is the biggest need in the church today—a much bigger need that the need to avoid suffering.

Now that is one side of the coin. The other side is that the Bible shows that the early Christians did all they could to win legitimacy for Christians. In Philippi, when Paul and Silas were released after being unlawfully beaten, they did not meekly leave the prison. They protested that they had been treated like that even though they were Roman citizens (Acts 16:35-39). They wanted it recorded that Christians had been treated in an illegal way. Luke is careful to record that the proconsul in Corinth Gallio who was from a famous family and was a well-known figure in the Roman empire gave a verdict very favourable to the Christians (Acts 18:12-17). The early Christians did all they could to achieve a legitimate legal standing for Christianity and for evangelistic activity.

In the same way today Christians need to use the court system to appeal for our right to practice Christianity. When something illegal is done against Christians we may need to go to the courts to agitate for our rights or against the actions that have harmed Christians. This is so that people are warned against the repercussions of doing it and will think twice before trying it again. In this way we help the whole church, not just ourselves.

If Christians are being denied a basic human right like access to the village burial place, it may be necessary for Christians not to give in when they are stopped from using the cemetery. They may need to grapple with the authorities until permission is granted. This has happened a few times in Sri Lanka.

Sometimes it may be necessary to apply pressure on the authorities by using the pressure of foreign interest groups and governments. It may be necessary to highlight in the press nationally and internationally the injustices meted out to Christians.

Like the great thinkers in the first few centuries (whom we know as apologists), we must produce great thinkers who will devote their energies to producing material in defence of Christian belief and practice. This is a long-term strategy. We need Christian people who will grow in stature to become respected lawyers, politicians, journalists and economists. They can represent Christ to the nation better than we preachers can. This is a long term strategy, but we must be thinking about this and urging people in this direction.

There is a third thing that needs to be done at this time: those affected by the attacks need to be comforted. Physical attacks are very hard to endure. They humiliate the person; they produce fear of another attack; and they can produce severe anger over the way the person’s body or property was violated.

Indeed we have seen people like Stephen who have reacted with wonderful faith when attacked. But my experience has been that some time after the attack people go through all sorts of difficult feelings. They become vulnerable to Satan’s attacks at this time. They could get over-discouraged and lose heart. They could become angry and develop vengeful feelings.

Another need for outside help from Christians is that in times of persecution Christians could act rashly and in an unwise way. Sometimes persecution is triggered by unwise behaviour of Christians when they antagonise others by things that were not necessary to do. An example is having loud worship which disturbs neighbours. Another is unwise ways of distributing material aid to the poor and needy which gives opponents the impression that we are using unethical lures to coerce people into becoming Christians.

This, then, is a time when those who have been attacked need the support of the body of Christ. We need to be close to them and help them regain some balance as they go through different emotional moods. When Peter and John were told for the first time that they must not speak in the name of Christ again, the first thing they did was to go ‘to their own people’ (literal translation) or ‘to their friends’ (ESV; Acts 4:23). If they cannot come to us we must go to them. Leaders must ensure that those who have been attacked are personally ministered to.

So my answer is a three pronged one. Firstly we are committed to radical personal non-retaliation. We will not resort to violence to achieve our ends. Instead we will demonstrate the power of the gospel by exemplary lives. Secondly, we are committed to using the existing structures to present a case for the legitimacy of Christianity. Towards this end we develop strategies that will be effective and leaders who will be qualified in presenting the case for Christianity. Thirdly, we care for those who have been attacked.

May we be faithful at this time.

PTSD & Anxiety – Annoying, Painful, Distressing, Devouring.

If you ever want to see who your true friends are, struggle through trauma therapy after being assaulted. Man. Real friends can BRING IT. Love. Anger. A text that actually makes you laugh out loud moments after you were just wondering if you’d ever laugh again. Prayer. Presence. Sure, an occasional link to a helpful article or sermon. Cards, books, and one friend in the last two years even sent a meal! (Big T!!)

But really, the mark of love for me has simply been when people felt the awkwardness of what happened to me and then the REALLY awkward reality of my physical and emotional collapse—and they didn’t necessarily know what to say or do, but they NEVER pulled away. They never gave up. They pressed in. Love pressed in. Even my introvert friends (most of my closest friends are introverts) didn’t choose silence and distance for their own comfort. They remembered that I existed. They told me that they remembered that I existed. And just by remembering me, I knew they cared. I knew I was never alone.

Please. If someone you know is suffering and you have no idea what to say, don’t say nothing. Stumble and fumble and even just say, “I don’t know what to say! But I love you. I care. I think about you and I want to put the person who (violated, attacked, abandoned) you IN THE GROUND. I want to gently care for you and sacrificially try to protect you from future pain. I know I can’t completely, but I sure would like to try!”

The fact that you care is what matters. My pain causes you pain? This means I am loved!

Oh. And when it comes to the debilitating, chest-crushing, anxiety related to all of this suffering, I have been most deeply helped by one piece of advice in one article. I encourage you to read this and see if any of it might help you—or someone you love who struggles with debilitating, life-altering anxiety and fear:

Some Things That Have Helped Me in My Struggle with Anxiety

(Stupid limbic system. Yes. Yes. I know. Helpful at times. Necessary for life even. But when it goes haywire from PTSD? Grrrrrr. So. So. SO annoying. And painful. Distressing. Devouring.)

Be helped, I pray! Help someone else! Enjoy.

Your friend,
Tara B.


Hope and Help for Church Conflict

Facebook just reminded me that it was one year ago today that The Gospel Coalition & 9Marks endorsed David Edling’s and my book, “Redeeming Church Conflicts.” What an honor! And even more importantly, what a JOY that so many people facing the misery of church conflict have received biblical hope and practical help.

If you haven’t yet read it, you can order the first edition of “Redeeming Church Conflicts” through my website for only $10 with free shipping (within the USA).

You can read excerpts from the book and Q&A responses on our website hereA number of our endorsements are listed here.

And I’ll close with just a few summary endorsements:

Matt Smethurst, Managing Editor of The Gospel Coalition, as published in the 9Marks Journal – “Barthel and Edling suggest we have much to learn from Luke’s account of the meeting in Jerusalem to redeem the early church’s first major conflict … They are exactly right. Barthel and Edling have done the church a vital service in applying biblical counseling principles to the realm of congregational conflict. Don’t wait until you find yourself in a relational mess to consult this helpful resource; read and benefit now.” 

Nancy Guthrie, Bible teacher and author of the Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament Bible Study Series – “This book delivers exactly what is needed in church conflict: a wealth of biblical wisdom and professional expertise as well as an unflinching challenge toward self-examination and away from angry entrenchment and graceless condemnation. But best of all it offers a huge dose of hope that what is so hurtful and seems only destructive will be used by God to conform his church to his image for his glory.”

Robert Kellemen, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, Author of Equipping Counselors for Your Church – “Tara and David’s guiding concept of ‘responding redemptively’ deeply resonates with me. Their understanding that the Bible provides not a formula for redeeming church conflict, but a biblical, relational roadmap, equally resonates. I’m encouraged and equipped, as I believe you will be, by their practical, scriptural wisdom.”

Megan Evans Hill, pastor’s wife, pastor’s daughter, writer, speaker, author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches – “Experienced conciliators Tara Barthel and David Edling offer a warm, biblical, and careful roadmap for navigating church crises. Through exposition and application, they bring the truth of God’s Word to direct suffering churches toward healing. Through practical case studies, they illuminate the way with specific examples. Perhaps surprisingly for a book about sin and its fruits, these pages are also filled with hope … whether your church is currently in the midst of strife or proactively seeking to avoid it in future, this book is an excellent guide.”

Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal – “Barthel and Edling tackle a subject most would prefer to ignore yet all have to face … Multiple case studies provide nice balance to the theology and advice. The book is theologically rich, seasoned with wisdom that comes from years in the trenches of church conflict. The hope here is powerful: even our conflicts become opportunities for the gospel’s redemptive work.”

Carolyn McCulley, author of Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World and Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred – “Tara Barthel and David Edling have written a wise and tender reminder that our Lord’s redemptive purposes extend even to today, even to the most fractious church bodies. Whether you are an ordained leader or a new church member, Redeeming Church Conflicts is a must read. It will give you hope that whatever conflicts you are currently in, or will encounter in the future, can be resolved in a holy and purposeful manner, to the praise of God’s glory.”

Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker and founder of Relational Wisdom 360 – “My friends Dave and Tara have served dozens of churches that were teetering on the brink of destruction … having gained a passport into the hearts of individuals and opposing factions, Tara and Dave became channels of God’s reconciling grace. I pray that you will study this book carefully and apply its principles in your church.”

Thanks and blessings!
Tara B.

Gospel Coalition 2017: Tim Keller – Boasting in Nothing but the Cross (Galatians 6)

Live Blog Gospel Coalition 2017 – Tim Keller on Galatians 6: Boasting in Nothing but the Cross

The Gospel Coalition 2017 – Ligon Duncan: The Reformed Tradition Beyond Calvin

Live Blog Gospel Coalition 2017 – Ligon Duncan: The Reformed Tradition Beyond Calvin

The Gospel Coalition 2017 — D.A. Carson: The Gospel of Grace – How to Read the Bible (Galatians 4)

Live Blog Gospel Coalition 2017 – D.A. Carson on Galatians 4

The Gospel Coalition 2017 – John Piper: Paul’s Pilgrimage, Paul’s Plea (Galatians 1)

Live Blog Gospel Coalition 2017: John Piper on Galatians 1

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