Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Friend of Sinners

Dannah Gresh: Are you wearing perfume today? Dane Ortlund says there’s a certain fragrance others should notice about us.

Dane Ortlund: Let them smell Jesus, non-literally, on you. Give people a taste. People know if you are condescending.

This is the Revive Our Hearts podcast with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, for July 30, 2021. I’m Dannah Gresh.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Do you ever feel like God’s far away, like He’s someone you have trouble getting to know really well? It’s easy to fall into believing lies, things that aren’t true, about God.

For example: We might think to ourselves, If God is my heavenly Father, I’m not sure I really want to get to know Him, because my father here on earth hurt me (or disappointed me, or sinned against our family).

Maybe it’s not even a conscious thought. It’s so easy to slip into that situation that God pointed out in Psalm 50 where He says, “You thought that I was one like yourself” (v. 21). In other words, we tend to assign characteristics of our sinful humanity to God.

Well, on yesterday’s and today’s programs, we want to help you replace that lie with the truth of God’s Word. And to help us do that is Pastor Dane Ortlund, the author of an amazing book called, Gentle and Lowly. The subtitle is, The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers.

Dannah Gresh will be talking with Dane again today, but if you missed yesterday’s program, I want to encourage you to go back and listen to it. It focused on this phrase that “God is rich in mercy.” That was one of my favorite chapters in Dane’s book. You don’t want to miss that program.

Today, Dannah Gresh will be talking again with Dane Ortlund, but to set the table, I want to read the passage that Dane read yesterday. These are the words of Jesus found in Matthew, chapter 11.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (vv. 28–29)

I don’t know about you, but just listening to those words makes me want to draw near to Jesus.

Maybe the thing holding you far from God is inaccurate, dark thoughts about God’s heart in contrast to what God’s heart actually looks like: a stunning blend of kindness and holiness.

Maybe you’ve got the part about how important God’s rules are for living and the judgment that you’ll face if you don’t live up to them, but maybe you’ve never really understood how loved you are by that God.

Even as I say those words, oh Lord, I want to pray for every listener that there will be a sweet ministry of Your Holy Spirit to hearts that labor and are heavy laden and are desperately in need of the rest that only Christ can give. Would You make known Your heart to us, Your gentle, lowly heart, and how deeply You love us, as we listen to this conversation? I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Now, here’s Dannah continuing her conversation with Pastor Dane Ortlund.

Dannah: Well, July has been kindness month here at Revive Our Hearts, and we’ve been inviting you to participate in the 30-Day Kindness Challenge. But I have found, as I have participated in this kindness challenge, that I cannot adequately and consistently operate out of this fruit of the Spirit unless I am in a place of experiencing the kindness of Jesus. I hope that you’ve experienced that, too, because it makes us dependent on Him.

If you need some help experiencing the gentleness and the kindness of Jesus for your own heart, I want to invite you to go back and listen to yesterday’s powerful conversation with Pastor Dane Ortlund. He’s the author of Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers.

Yesterday he taught us that Jesus only described His heart one time when He walked this earth, and when He did, He used two words: gentle and lowly.

Together they describe a Savior who is understanding and kind. The posture most natural to Him is not a pointed finger but open arms—open arms with an invitation for us to collapse into them.

Do you think of Jesus like that? Have you experienced His gentleness and His kindness? If so, it’s time for us to pass that on to others, and today we’ll discover how experiencing the kindness of Jesus impacts how we express kindness to others.

Dane, welcome back. Thanks for joining me again.

Dane: It’s great talking with you, Dannah. Thank you.

Dannah: So yesterday, we tried to unpack the character of Jesus based on Matthew 11 where He tells us that He’s gentle and lowly. That means He runs to us in our sin rather than from us. But it can be really difficult, I think, as we talked about yesterday, to embrace what our minds are examining here—that Jesus wants to be with us, near us, ministering to us in our place of sin.

So help us out. Give me one word, a modern word, that would maybe more accurately help us understand this quality of Jesus that we’re exploring.

Dane: One of the most glorious truths of the Scripture, Dannah, is that Jesus is called the Friend of Sinners. Actually, that’s what His enemies accused Him of being: “You’re the friend of sinners” because He’s eating with people who are the outcasts of society, people who are sinful, like me. But He’s their friend. He’s drawn to them. He wants to eat lunch with them. Spurgeon said, “Christ is a certain friend in uncertain circumstances.”

So, what does a friend do? He enjoys our presence. A friend doesn’t use us. He simply enjoys and loves us. Even the best of human friends, if we offend them enough, if we forsake them enough, the walls go up, and that friendship is over. But He’s the one friend in the universe who will never do that. Christ is a Savior, yes, but He’s also a friend—that’s a glorious reality.

Dannah: Oh, I need that on my sinful days because I learned a long time ago that sin makes me lonely. I’m actually an introvert, so I like a long walk in the woods alone. I like a day in the house alone. Those are really rich, meaningful times for me.

But I can go into church, I can go into a gathering of the Body of Christ, and when I have acted sinfully that morning on my way to that service, there is not a more lonely feeling that I’ve ever experienced in my life than being there surrounded by people.

Dane: Oh, yes. That’s so true. Like you, I’m an introvert. But you and I, introverts, are made in the image of God. Therefore, we need fellowship and friendship, too. I’d rather be with books than with people on a normal afternoon, but I get lonely, too.

And the glory of Christ’s friendship with us, His “with-ness,” is that He totally gets us. We feel so loved when another person understands us. We feel frustrated, we feel unloved when someone misunderstands us—it’s discouraging. No one will ever understand us more deeply and more accurately than Jesus does, despite knowing our worst, unlike any other human being.

So we shouldn’t say, “As long as we have Jesus, we don’t need human friends.” What an awful, cruel thing to say. Absolutely not. But any of us can make it through life with the friendship of Christ even if other friendships let us down because He is an all-sufficient friend.

Dannah: Tell me about a time, take me to a place where you really were experiencing the friendship of Christ.

Dane: Well, I remember a time just this last year where I was at a major vocational crossroad, a fork in the road. Having spent ten years at Crossway in publishing and having wrestled about 20 years with: “Should I be doing pastoral ministry?” I had a couple of dear brothers, friends walk with me through that decision of leaving.

I have my best human friend in my wife, but what I needed most deeply in the really excruciating decision . . . because there was a significant amount of death involved. I’m so privileged. I can’t believe the glory and the privilege and the pleasure of doing this pastor’s call, but it was a bit step of faith.

I could not have walked through that retaining my sanity if I didn’t have a divine friend who fully understood. Except for sin, according to Hebrews, He’s walked through everything I walk through, and He was going through that with me. So I was not alone in that decision, as daunting and intimidating and frightening as it was.

That’s one episode, Dannah, but, honestly, I mean, I don’t mainly need Jesus as my friend with me in the big fork-in-the-road decisions of life. I need Him tomorrow morning when I’m going to be getting another sermon ready, when I’m meeting with my staff, and having lunch with this person in the church, and trying to shepherd my family and cultivate my marriage. I need Him then in the ordinary times of life just as much.

Dannah: Yes. I needed Him this morning. I didn’t want to wake up this morning, Dane. I don’t know why. I just woke up, and I was just like, “Naw. I think I’ll pass. Could we skip this day?” I don’t know. And I just said, “Good morning, Jesus” because I want that to be how I start my day, in conversation with Him.

I’ve kissed the dog already, because he jumps up as soon as he sees my eyeballs. Hopefully I’ve rolled over and said “hi” to Bob. And then I want to make sure that I start my conversation with Jesus.

That friendship moment this morning was big because I just felt Him say in my heart, “You can do this day. I’m going to go with you. I’m with you. We’ll do this day. It’s going to be fine.”

That’s what friendship feels like, I think, for me sometimes. It’s simple.

Dane: I love that! I mean, you’re treating Him this morning as a person. Jesus Christ is not a force. He’s not a formula. He’s not a cosmic field of magnetic energy. He’s a person to whom we relate.

So saying, “Good morning,” to Him is not off. That’s exactly right. You’re having an actual relationship with Him.

Dannah: Now, I want to turn the conversation a bit here, Dane, because I want us to think of Jesus as our friend, but then I want us to ask ourselves: “If Jesus is a friend to sinners, who have I befriended who’s fiercely battling sin right now? How am I doing that?” How do we model that, Dane?

Dane: That is the great question. We will not model it any further than we are ourselves marinating in this glorious reality.

My horizontal befriending of fellow sinners will never outstrip my heart’s grasp of the vertical being befriended and loved and embraced by Jesus Christ.

We see this all through the parables of the gospels, the way Ephesians 4 moves into Ephesians 5—“forgive one another as I have forgiven you,” the beauty of Christian community in Colossians 3. It’s the consistent rhythm and pattern—one-two tandem, sort of two-step of the Christian life.

I will not walk out of my office here after this interview embracing others any further than I know myself way down deep in a settled way to be embraced by Jesus Christ.

So it’s neither. I need to know vertically how much I am embraced by Christ period, nor I need to go embrace others leaving behind the gospel of my embrace in Christ. It’s the one leading to the other.

And this is just healthy Christian living. It’s why we come together for church to remember both and do both. It’s what discipleship is. So the two are mutually reinforcing the vertical and horizontal for sure.

Dannah: I actually was thinking about this. I was on vacation last week, and I was sitting on the beach. Bob and I had reserved our beach chairs and paid our rental fee for the umbrella. We were so excited about this. We didn’t have a lot of days on the beach, but even one was glorious.

And then two young college-age girls rented the lounge chairs and umbrella right next to us, which was fine, except they started smoking. And cigarette smoke soon filled the air. And then they turned on loud music—not to mention that there was already beautiful beach music playing in the background. It was full of perverse language, and it was kind of invading not only the soothing sound of the sea, but the soothing sound of my spirit.

And I have to confess that my reaction wasn’t to befriend these girls. I was incensed that my space was invaded. I was angry. I was frustrated. I felt judgmental, and I don’t even like saying that, but that was my autopilot.

And then they began loudly talking about their relationship problems, and there were big problems compounded by sin. One of these beautiful young girls, obviously, from the tone of the conversation, was pregnant, and not with her boyfriend’s baby. So there was all this drama.

And suddenly, suddenly, right then, when the sin got bad enough, my heart softened. And I was, like, “Jesus, they need You. These girls need You. And in the whole of the world, You decided for these two girls to sit down next to one of the women in Christendom who’s written more books on the topic of healing from sexual pain than any other beach on the planet. You chose that.”

And I’m sitting here with a heart saying, “You’re messing up my beach space!”

I’m going to tell you, the amnesia of self-entitlement, it just kind of gave away to something as I thought about: “Jesus would be a friend of sinners.” And I just began to pray, “Lord, how do I do that?”

Now, nothing really big happened that day. I mean, we interacted with them. We talked with them. We had good conversations with them. We were kind to them. I looked for an opportunity to maybe get in there. It didn’t really happen.

But what if they heard the worship music we were playing? What if they saw the title of the book I was reading, which was obviously a Christian book? And what if the only thing that happened is they felt a friendship in the way we interacted with them? I didn’t share the gospel with them, but they felt a friendship in the way I interacted with them. They saw, hopefully, the opposite of what I saw in them, which was the fruit of gentleness and peace and kindness, and a Bible study opened on my beach chair.

Those things matter. And I think sometimes, at least, if I can confess it, I’m not having a gentle and lowly heart of Jesus in those opportunities.

Dane: You and me both, Sister. I have a long way to go here, and I want to keep growing.

Francis Schaeffer said it, “When I interact with an unbeliever, and we’re disagreeing over Christian truth, or whatever, I want them to walk away believing two things—feeling two things. Number one: We really had an honest disagreement. Number two: Francis Schaeffer really loves me.”

Of course, that’s what Christ was like. He did not mince words. He didn’t lower truth to raise love. He raised both. Being gracious and loving doesn’t mean that we don’t say hard things. Ferguson, a Bible teacher, author, said, “Give people the tincture.” I think maybe that’s a Scottish word. I don’t use that word.

Let them smell Jesus, non-literally, on you. The aroma of Christ—2 Corinthians 2. Give people a taste. People know if you are condescending, and you’re looking down. They smell it. We cannot hide it.

So when I’m interacting over the fence with my next-door neighbor, as both of us just cut off the lawn mower for a moment. He will know if I really do love him or if I think, actually, that I’m better than him. And in the flesh, I mean, on my own steam, I do think I’m better than him because I’m still that sinful.

But when I come back and remember, “Okay, Dane, the greatest, most amazing thing about your life is that Christ saved YOU—you dufus! You weren’t any better off on your own than anyone, than the worst person in the world.” Then I begin to let my heart soften a little bit, and I’m on a level playing field with another human being.

Dannah: It’s not easy, though, because our flesh does rise up.

Dane: That’s right.

Dannah: So what is the ingredient that we might be missing so that at least at some point we grow up and mature in the faith and our autopilot does go to, “I’m going to befriend this sinner”?

And let me say, too, I love that what you just said about befriending included—I have a disagreement with this person—because I don’t think Jesus was condoning their sin when He was sitting down to eat with them.

Dane: No.

Dannah: They knew that there was a difference in Him, that He wasn’t condoning their sinfulness. But they knew He loved them.

Dane: That’s right.

Dannah: We want to do both of those things. So what’s the ingredient we need? I think the ingredient is found in John 16:4–7. I treasure it. I love it. Let me read it.

I do not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you [this is Jesus]. But now I am going to him [the Father] who sent me, and none of you asks me, "Where are you going." But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.

Of course. Jesus is their friend. He’s a friend to sinners. He’s their gentle and lowly, compassionate friend into whose arms they have collapsed. He’s leaving them, so they’re full of sorrow. And then it says:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage [That’s what He says. And I’m saying it with a question because I’m, like, “Really?”] that I go away for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.

That’s the ingredient. Tell us about the ingredient we need so that we can be empowered to be friends of sinners.

Dane: Salvation is only theoretical without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is how grace, gospel, goodness, rescued, deliverance, salvation actually gets into us. The Father plans salvation. The Son accomplishes it. The Spirit applies it.

So we’re walking through life never alone, actually. Galatians speaks of “keeping in step with the Spirit”—almost like there’s another person next to me that we’re taking steps together.

So, yes, we walk forward in the power of God, divinely empowered and energized, invigorated, calm, trusting God because God Himself has set up residence within us. “He has poured out His Holy Spirit into us,” the Scripture says. So that’s a non-negotiable, vital key to how we move forward for sure.

Dannah: I love how you say that we keep in step with the Spirit. I will always marvel that Jesus said to them, “Hey, listen. It’s a good thing that I’m going away. And (I can’t believe this, but) I’m going to give you a better friend.”

Dane: Right.

Dannah: And you talk about keeping in step with the Spirit . . . That reminds me this morning when I woke up and said, “Good morning, Jesus.” Each step that I took, the Spirit walked with me, revealing Christ to me, if I allowed it, if I allowed the Spirit to do that.

I think unless we are in tune with the Spirit, in touch with the Spirit, we aren’t going to be friends with sinners. And we’re not really even going to understand Christ’s friendship with us as sinners.

Dane: That’s right. The Holy Spirit is the humble Holy Spirit. And He is the twin gift along with Christ—Christ and Spirit.

When we see Jesus Christ, God incarnate, walking around on two legs on this planet, drawn to sinners and sufferers, that’s not something different than the way the third Person of the Spirit operates. To keep in step with the Spirit is not to stay away from messy sinners lest we get contaminated, despite the fact that He is the Holy Spirit.

The fact that He is holy means that He is utterly pure and unlike us. We are the ones who want to sort of cringe and not get close to people that we think are more sinful than we are, or something like that. The Holy Spirit is drawn to need.

As we keep in step with the Spirit, Dannah, we will find ourselves pulled towards, drawn towards those who are in most abject need because that’s what the triune God is like—Father, Son and Spirit.

Dannah: The more we soak ourselves in the presence of God’s Spirit through worship, through reading the Word, and not just processing it in our minds, but meditating on it, rolling it through our spirits, rolling it through our minds, I feel like that is how we continue what the book of Ephesians says, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

And it talks about the language of that verse is like, “You are filled, but continually keep filling yourself, over and over again. You need more and more of the Spirit.”

And when you do that, that’s when I think—at least this is what I’m praying happens in me when I really grow up in the faith—that when I’m sitting on that beach, I automatically want to befriend those girls because I know they need my Jesus.

Dane, as we finish today, I want to ask this question of you: Would you pray that those women who don’t really understand what it’s like to befriend Christ. They understand the head knowledge of forgiveness and salvation and sanctification, but today I am just pleading with God’s Spirit that He would help them know the intimate relationship and friendship that He wants to have with them. Would you pray for that woman that doesn’t really understand that, that God’s Spirit would reveal to her what her next step is?

Dane: Oh, it would be my pleasure, Dannah.

Our Father in heaven, we place our hearts in Your hand. I pray each of us listening, that we would not only believe what Jesus is truly like, but we would experience what He is really like. Flood our hearts, irrigate our arid hearts, the deserts of our souls with the ocean-like . . . As the Puritans said, “An ocean without shore or bottom is Your great love.”

So cause us to swim in that and never to get over, never to cease being amazed by the endless love of God proven in Jesus Christ, our great friend, and made real to us by Your gracious Holy Spirit. I pray this in the name of Jesus, amen.

Dannah: Amen.

Matt Boswell singing:

What love could remember no wrongs we have done.
Omniscient, all knowing, He counts not their sum.
Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore,
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more.

Praise the Lord, His mercy is more.
Stronger than darkness, new every morn,
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more.1

Nancy: Amen. That’s worship leader Matt Boswell along with the Boys’ College Choir. And isn’t it a sweet gift that even though our sins are many, His mercy is more—day after day, year after year, for all of our lives, for all of eternity. Thank You, Lord, for that amazing mercy.

Well, before that song Dannah Gresh was talking with pastor and author Dane Ortlund, reminding us that Jesus is the friend of sinners. Just think about that. That’s an amazing thought that He would be a friend to sinners like us. But He is. What a fitting conclusion to our month-long theme of kindness.

I hope that you’ll take this theme with you into the months and years ahead, that this month won’t be the end of your meditating on the kindness of Christ and letting His kindness flow through you to others. Starting with others within the four walls of your own home. Yes. That’s where it needs to start.

Well, Dane’s book, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, has struck a chord with a whole lot of readers around the world, starting with me. As soon as I saw the title of this book, Gentle and Lowly, it just produced within me a sense of longing and hope and gratitude.

The message of this book is healing for every heart that feels wounded by sin or by sorrow. This book is an invitation to experience the sweet mercies of a Savior who moves toward us with tenderness and grace when we know we deserve just the opposite from Him.

We’d like to send you a copy of Dane’s book, Gentle and Lowly, as our way of saying “thank you” for your donation and support of Revive Our Hearts.

Just visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com if you’d like to make a gift there, or you can call us at 1–800–569–5959. Be sure and ask for the book Gentle and Lowly when you make your donation.

Oh Lord, I just want to pray once more that You would use this message and use this book and use Your Word in the heart of each listener to draw us close to the heart of Christ and to fill us with gratitude and wonder and awe that You would be the friend of sinners. Thank You so much. We’re so grateful. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Well, in the middle of a conflict, one wise woman can make a big difference. The Old Testament tells us about a wise woman who had a huge influence in a time of violence and chaos. Sounds like what you’re reading about in the news today? We’ll look at an event in this woman’s life and how she used wise words to calm a crazy mob of angry men. That’s Monday on Revive Our Hearts. I hope you’ll join us.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to point you to Jesus—the gentle and lowly friend of sinners. This program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

1 “His Mercy Is More” (Live), Matt Boswell & Boyce College Choir, Messenger Hymns Live - Single ℗ 2017 Messenger Hymns. All rights reserved. 

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About the Host

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

When Dannah Gresh was eight years old, she began praying that God would use her as a Bible teacher for “the nations.” When she sees the flags of many countries waving at a Revive Our Hearts event, it feels like an answer to her prayer.

Dannah is the founder of True Girl which provides tools for moms and grandmothers to disciple their 7–12 year-old girls. On Monday nights, you’ll find Dannah hosting them in her online Bible study. She has authored over twenty-eight books, including Ruth: Becoming a Girl of Loyalty, Lies Girls Believe, and a Bible study for adult women based on the book of Habakkuk. She and her husband, Bob, live on a hobby farm in central Pennsylvania.

About the Guest

Dane Ortlund

Dane Ortlund

Dane was called to be the Senior Pastor at Naperville Presbyterian Church in 2020 after being part of the church for thirteen years along with his family: his college sweetheart, Stacey, and their five kids, Zach, Nate, Jeremiah, Chloe, and Ben.  Dane is a graduate of Wheaton College (BA), Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM), and Wheaton College Graduate School (PhD in New Testament).  Prior to coming on staff he worked for ten years in Christian publishing at Crossway in Wheaton. He is the author of several books such as Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God, and Defiant Grace: The Surprising Message and Mission of Jesus.  Dane’s life purpose is to glory in the endless grace of God and to call others to join him there. It’s all about Jesus—and his unspeakable heart for sinners.