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Why don’t people set goals?

If goals are of such positive benefit to us and so much in keeping with the quality of character that the Lord desires for us to develop, why don’t all Christians have goals? Why aren’t all Christians pressing toward the call of Christ in their lives?
I believe there are several reasons.

Some Engage in Self–Disqualification

One of the foremost reasons people do not set or pursue goals is that they don’t believe success or goal setting applies to them.
For example, a homemaker might say, “Oh, I’m just a homemaker. I live day to day to meet the needs of my family.” A homemaker can and should have goals. Nothing about being a homemaker replaces or negates having godly goals. Consider these goals that are in keeping with a priority goal of knowing Christ and are also possible goals of a homemaker:
    •      To raise children who will grow to love the Lord Jesus Christ, accept Jesus as their Savior, and have a good knowledge and understanding of the Bible and how to apply its principles to their daily lives
    •      To create a home that is truly a haven of safety, comfort, and encouragement for every member of the family
    •      To create a home environment filled with joy and the peace of the Lord
    •      To create a beautiful, clean, and well–appointed home that is a testament to God’s creative, gracious, well–ordered creation
    •      To create a family schedule that allows for good stewardship of time for each family member—including times for work, sleep, play, study, conversation, and quiet
What wonderful goals these are for a homemaker!
Some may say, “I’m ninety years old now. What goals could I possibly have?”
A person can set many goals for himself regardless of age. An older person should perhaps be the first to set such goals:
    •      Keep my body as fit as possible, eating nutritious, healthful foods, exercising daily, and getting sufficient sleep
    •      Keep my mind as alert as possible, reading and studying new things, and using my mind to solve problems and to make wise, well–researched decisions
    •      Keep my spirit strong through daily reading of God’s Word and prayer not only for myself but as an intercessor for others
    •      Keep my relationships with my family members and friends alive through frequent, positive, interdependent contact
    •      Keep my ministry gifts active, using my spiritual gifts in every way possible at my church and in my community
    •      Keep my natural talents alive through continued practice and use of the skills I acquired earlier in my life.
There are no age limitations on such goals!

Some Lack Knowledge

Some people fail to set goals because they don’t know how to set goals. They erroneously believe that goals are dreams. The two are vastly different.
A dream is a desire, a hope, a wish. It is often rooted in an unfulfilled fantasy or something imagined in childhood. This is not to say that dreams are unimportant or unworthy of being pursued. To the contrary, our dreams are very often the seeds that give rise to goals. Every person needs to have dreams.
A goal, however, is a dream that is set into the context of time. A goal makes a dream concrete. It puts specific parameters around a dream.
Let me give you a few examples:
    •      DREAM: To be a missionary.
      GOAL: Research missionary organizations, and undertake whatever is necessary to be on the mission field within three years.
    •      DREAM: To start a business that brings glory to God.
      GOAL: To be the owner of a Christian bookstore within five years.
    •      DREAM: To become involved in Christian media.
      GOAL: To get a job working for a Christian television or radio station within six months.
As a young boy, I had a dream that I wanted my life to count for something. I wanted to do something important and worthwhile in my life, but I didn’t know exactly what that might be.
As I became a teenager and prepared to go to college, I began to question, What really matters to me? I pondered what truly seemed important and worthwhile to me. The more I gave thought to it, the more I realized that I wanted to preach the gospel. Telling others about Jesus and teaching what the Bible has to say about the Christian life became the most important things I could imagine doing.
People sometimes ask me, “Dr. Stanley, when and where did the Lord call you to preach?” My answer is that the Lord called me to preach by stripping away every other occupation as being unimportant, uninteresting, and unnecessary—not to others, but to me.
What do you dream of doing?
What goals are connected to that dream?

Some Are Too Lazy

Some people know how to set goals, but they are too lazy to do so. They are mentally slothful. They don’t want to have to think about the importance, value, or worthiness of their own lives. They don’t want to have to get up out of their easy chairs and do what the Lord might challenge them to do.
I asked a man what goals God was leading him to pursue, and he responded, “My only goal now is to retire in ease. I’ve already done most of my life’s work. I’m tired. My goal is to take it easy for a while.”
The man was in his late fifties! I couldn’t imagine that he truly thought he had accomplished most of his life’s work. He may have needed a vacation or a few months away from his corporate job in order to regroup his strength and his zest for living. From my perspective, however, he needed to have a long talk with the Lord to set some new goals for his life that would get him out of his ease and into productivity for the extension of God’s work on this earth.

Some Lack Faith

Many people have goals—often unspoken ones—about what they would like to do with their lives. Some never take the first step, however, to turn those goals into plans and then work their plans. Why? They don’t believe they can accomplish what they want to do. They would rather do nothing than attempt something they are not sure they can achieve.
I’d rather try something I know I cannot accomplish without lots of help—and fail—than spend my life doing only those things I know I can succeed at using my own resources.
We are called to take risks and to have faith. If we could do everything on our own, without God and without the help of others, we would have little need of God. God has built into us an ability and a desire to set goals that are just beyond our reach and beyond our ability to attain them in our own strength. He has done this so that we will need to trust in Him and to rely upon Him to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He calls each of us to live by faith and, as the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

Some Fear Failure

Others have goals, but they don’t act on them because they are afraid. They may be afraid of failure. They may be afraid of rejection by other people. They may be afraid that they will disappoint others or themselves.
We each must learn to distinguish between being a failure and failing at something. I may be defeated in a particular game, but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. I may still reach the goal of a league championship, even with several game losses. The point is to keep trying. A person never fully fails unless he gives up. As long as a person continues to pursue a goal, there is the possibility of success in achieving it.
All of us fear failure. It’s at that very point that we are called to turn to God, to use our faith, and to move ahead with courage.
We must also recognize that our failures can ultimately be for our benefit. Many people learn more from their failures than they do from their successes. They learn what doesn’t work, what not to do, and what not to pursue. God often allows defeat in the life of a believer in order to guide that believer into the path in which he should walk and into the path in which he will succeed.
A cancer researcher once said, “I have just completed a third experiment that didn’t turn out the way I had hoped.” A reporter asked him, “Are you discouraged?” He responded with a laugh, “Oh, my, no! I am encouraged. I know three more things that are not effective in fighting this particular type of tumor. I’m three steps closer to what will work.”

Some Are Shortsighted About the Future

Some people are able to plan for today or tomorrow, but they can’t seem to envision goals farther in the future. Unless they are dealing with something such as buying a house or a car, they can’t imagine making plans or entering into agreements that extend beyond their next paycheck.
The Bible certainly tells us that we never know what a day may bring and that we are to live day by day, but I believe the greater truths in the Bible are these:
    •      We must trust God to meet our daily needs and to guide us through the circumstances we will encounter each day.
    •      We must not carry vengeance or unforgiveness beyond the day. We must not go to bed angry or allow bitterness to take root in our hearts. We must forgive others quickly.
    •      We must live each day to the fullest, taking advantage of every opportunity afforded us to extend the gospel and to fulfill the godly goals we are pursuing.

Some Believe That Goal Setting Is Unscriptural

Some in the body of Christ contend that Christians should not set goals. They cite several passages of Scripture to support their belief. I want to take a look at each of these passages.
The Argument for Contentment. The first passage often used in the teaching that goal setting is not scriptural is Hebrews 13:5: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”
This verse has nothing to do with whether a person should set goals or have godly ambitions. The admonition to “be content with such things as you have” is in direct relationship to the statement to “let your conduct be without covetousness.” We are never to covet what someone else has, including the success of another person. One of the Ten Commandments states, “Thou shalt not covet.” Our lives must never be driven by a desire to acquire things or by a love of money.
If a person’s idea of success is to get all the money he can so that he can be secure, he has missed the mark. Our security can never be based upon money because financial wealth comes and goes, fortunes rise and fall, phenomenal estates and vast financial empires can crumble overnight. Our security lies solely in Christ Jesus, who says to us, “I will be with you always. I will never desert you. I will never forsake you.”
A related verse used in teaching against goal setting is Philippians 4:11: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
What is contentment? Contentment is the realization that God has provided all that we need for our present happiness.
Happiness and goal setting are not synonymous. Happiness and success are not synonymous. Contentment is the realization that God is the Source of all that we need for our present happiness.
Philippians 4:11 does not advocate that we settle down and remain satisfied with our current level of achievement and our current level of ministry and our current level of spiritual growth. Far from it! This verse is from the same Paul who just a few verses before this one wrote, “I press toward the goal!”
One of the great mysteries of the Christian life is that we can be very content and at the same time press toward more goals that the Lord has laid upon our hearts to achieve and accomplish. We can experience both contentment and a desire to press onward and upward because our contentment is based upon Christ’s presence in us. Our relationship with Christ allows us to be content in all situations and at the same time desire to change our situation.
Many people talk about the good old days. I have yet to meet a person who truly wants to go back and live in those days, however. They don’t want to read by candlelight or wash their clothes on a washboard. They don’t want to go back to using manual typewriters or doing mathematical calculations without the aid of an adding machine, calculator, or computer.
Does that mean that people who lived in the good old days were discontented? No, not really. Those who knew Christ experienced great peace, joy, and contentment in their souls. But thank God, they also had a desire to invent the electric lightbulb, the washing machine, word processors, and handheld calculators!
Contentment has to do with your attitude—to be content is to know that you can rest in the Lord and trust Him to help you with every situation and every goal. Contentment is living free of worry and anxiety. It is living free of anger and bitterness and resentment of other people. It is living in peace with God, your heavenly Father. It is knowing that you are forgiven and that you will live forever in heaven.
Contentment is knowing that no matter what any person may do to you—torture you, persecute you, ridicule you, or even kill you—he cannot separate you from God’s love and forgiveness.
Ask yourself today,
    •      Am I satisfied with what I know about God? Or is there more that I still desire to know?
    •      Am I satisfied with the depth and intimacy of my relationship with Christ? Or is there more that I still desire to experience in my relationship with the Lord?
    •      Am I satisfied with what I know about God’s Word? Or is there more that I still desire to learn and apply to my life?
    •      Am I satisfied that I am fulfilling to the best of my ability all that God desires for me spiritually? Or is there still more that I believe the Lord desires for me to do?
    •      Am I satisfied that I am using my spiritual gifts to the best of my ability? Or is there more that I can be doing to express Christ Jesus to the world in which I live and in the church to which I belong?
As Christians, we are, and should be, content in knowing that Jesus is our Savior and that we are eternally secure in Him. But we must never be content with the level or degree of our spiritual maturity and the degree to which we have become conformed to Christ. There is always room for growth—and it is in the area of what can be and the area of more growth that we are to set goals as God directs us.
God places in every genuinely born–again Christian an insatiable hunger and thirst to know Him better. We can be genuinely contented and delighted and satisfied with the Lord and, at the same time, have a deep desire to grow, understand more, and become more intimate with the Lord. That’s the way God made us. To deny our desire to grow and mature and deepen our relationship with God is to put ourselves in a situation in which we are likely to feel the very opposite of contentment.
The Argument About Living Each Day as It Comes. Matthew 6:31–34 is another passage that is often used to counteract a need for goal setting:
  [Jesus taught,] “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Jesus is not teaching about planning or not planning in this passage. This passage of the Bible has to do with worry—feeling anxious about whether the Father will meet our day–to–day needs for food, shelter, and clothing. Jesus’ answer is a resounding, “Yes! The Father cares. He will meet your needs!”
Jesus also says that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. I believe that one of the foremost ways in which we seek the kingdom of God is to ask the Lord to help us set goals that are directly related to His kingdom and the pursuit of righteousness. The first goals we should set are related to our spiritual growth, the use of our spiritual gifts, our spiritual outreach or ministries, and our daily spiritual disciplines.
As the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians, you are challenged to “seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1–2).
Paul wrote to Timothy, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed” (1 Tim. 6:11–12).
Your top goals should relate to inner character and things that yield eternal reward.
Stanley, C. F. (2000). Success God’s Way. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

Stanley: the price of living without goals

What are likely to be the qualities of a person who has no goals? Think about such a person for a moment. He is likely to exhibit the following characteristics:

A person without goals generally has no excitement in his life. He has no enthusiasm for getting up in the morning. He has no ambition to make the most of every day. Nothing energizes him.

A person without goals is drifting through life without a sense of direction. The person with no goals tends to drift along through life, never accomplishing much and never really seeking to do anything. Such a person tends to live from day to day, hand to mouth, taking life as it comes and doing little to change negative circumstances. He may attach himself to anything enticing that comes his way, including things that are negative and even evil just for the sake of having something to think about or something to do. He accepts mediocrity as a way of life.

A person without goals is often very critical of others, especially those who are successful or who are working hard to achieve particular goals. The person without goals basically doesn’t like himself very much. He doesn’t believe he is worthy of achieving anything or doing anything remarkable. To make himself feel better, he tends to criticize others, hoping to bring them down to his level. He is especially critical of those who are pursuing goals, often ridiculing them as “trying to be big shots” or “being money hungry” or “chasing after a dream.” He enjoys watching others fail or struggle with obstacles because he feels more justified in his own laziness and unwillingness to take risks in the pursuit of goals.

A person without goals tends to settle for living in a rut. He claims to like consistency, but he actually is afraid of change and challenge. He is willing to settle for the routine. The person who opts to live in a rut is virtually closed in his spirit to any challenge of the Lord to grow, mature, or develop. Such a person rarely hears God’s call to reach new people with the gospel or to extend himself to participate in a new ministry outreach.

A person without goals winds up living a disappointing life. When he looks back over his life, he feels dejected that he has so little to show for his time on this earth. He has a sense that he has wasted his life—wasted resources, wasted time, wasted energy, wasted gifts.

I truly believe that to live a life without the pursuit of goals is to sin against God. It is to shut off all challenges of God to extend oneself to others. It is to be a very poor steward of the precious gift of life that God has given to each one of us. And it is to live in disobedience to God’s call to grow in Christ Jesus, to mature in Christ, and to be conformed to Christ. It is to deny that God’s initial purpose and plan for a person’s life were valid, and it is to turn away completely from the potential that God has placed inside each person.

Stanley, C. F. (2000). Success God’s Way. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

Stanley: People with goals

What are the qualities of a person who has goals for his life?

A person with goals has direction for his life. He is going somewhere. He is not frivolously meandering through life.

A person with goals has an excitement about life. He has exuberance and an inner motivation that say, “I’m glad to get up in the morning and eager to start on this day’s plan.” Daily goals nearly always seem to take on more meaning because they are linked to longer–range goals and the priority goal. Goals are very often linked directly to a will to live. A person with goals feels needed and believes that life is worth living.

A person with goals has remarkable energy. There is an energy level in the life of a person with goals that is missing from a person who has settled for a settled–down life. A person with goals often works ten or twelve hours a day because he doesn’t want to quit in the pursuit of a goal. He rarely checks the time because he is intent upon the tasks at hand or the relationship that is being forged.

A person with goals is often very creative. Part of what our Creator builds into each of us is a creative drive—a drive to initiate new projects, businesses, or ministries; to try something new; or to produce something unique. Every person is given a unique, one–of–a–kind set of talents, dreams, desires, propensities, aptitudes, and spiritual gifts. The blend is intended for a creative purpose so that the person might express his unique qualities in a unique way. When a person pursues God–given goals, he feels creative sources flowing from deep within. His mind hums with ideas about how to do things, and he tries new approaches and methods to address old problems.

A person with goals pursues excellence. A person who is actively seeking to accomplish a God–given goal is likely to want to accomplish that goal to the very best of his ability. He is invested in his goals, and he desires to see them accomplished with an excellence of method, an excellence of spirit, and excellence as the hallmark of the product, service, or result.

A person with goals has a great sense of appreciation for others who have goals and who are pursuing them to the best of their ability. He enjoys being around successful people. He desires for others to become successful. He enjoys sharing what he knows with others who desire to learn from his experience and talent.

A person with goals tends to be physically healthier than a person without goals. The person with goals wants to feel good. He works at staying healthy because he values his life and wants to live to see his goals accomplished. He desires to do what is necessary so he can stay strong and function at peak mental ability. He disciplines himself to have the sustaining energy to get the job done that he believes God has led him and is enabling him to do.

A person with goals tends to be emotionally healthier than a person without goals. The person with goals has a sense of contentment, enjoyment, satisfaction, and happiness. He has very little inclination to get bogged down in feuds, arguments, disputes, or disagreements. He lives with less bitterness and does not fuel feelings of anger, frustration, and disappointment. He is more concerned with what lies ahead than with what has been hurtful in the past.

Stanley, C. F. (2000). Success God’s Way. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

Forgiving when forgiveness is difficult

Regina Hockett stood in line at the supermarket checkout, wrapping up a routine transaction on a routine day. Suddenly, she began to sense a disturbance taking place around her, an unusual level of bustle and voices. She felt those first waves of alarm and adrenaline that wash over you when you sense you’re in danger.

Instinctively, she turned to make sure her twelve year-old daughter, Adriane, was at her side—right where she’d been just a moment earlier when she had asked her mom for a quarter to buy something from the gumball machine.

But Adriane was nowhere in sight.

Sometime in those slender moments between then and now, the girl had remembered where her mother kept spare change in the car. She had slipped outside, flipped open the car ashtray to retrieve a quarter, and started making her way back toward the store entrance, intending to exchange the coin for bubble gum.

At that moment, against a crimson mid-October sunset, a lone rifle shot popped in the parking lot. Panic ensued.

By now, Regina was tripping up and down the aisles and cash register lanes, calling Adriane’s name, her eyes darting, scanning, flashing. Where could she be? She was right here! Finally rushing outside past people in furious motion, she spotted a young girl lying lifeless on the pavement; familiar-looking shoes glinted in the streetlights.

It was Adriane. She was dead.

But why?

It would be three long years before the answer to that question began to emerge, three tearful anniversaries spent wondering who had done this and where they were hiding.

Over time, the facts came to light. Two teenage gang members had set out that night to “make a name” for their renegade group. As they cruised the store parking lot in this middle-class Nashville neighborhood—window down on the passenger side, a sleek assault rifle fully loaded in one lap—they had picked out at random a middle-aged woman standing by her car. I guess she’ll do for a target.

Something caused the shooter to miss his mark, and the bullet found its way instead into a sixth-grade honor student.

The suspects smiled and laughed at the judge when they were finally apprehended and brought into night court and the charges against them were read. One of them even threatened the detective who accompanied them in, warning him that he’d never live to see their trial date.

As it turned out, this had been just the first of three murders committed by the pair within four months.

You can be sure it was the first time Regina had ever felt pain this deep. “I was broken, broken as could be,” she said. “For a year, I was so broken, so depressed I couldn’t do anything.”

The years rolled by, each one a reminder of what she’d lost, each one a strained effort to imagine what Adriane would be doing, where she’d be going, what she’d be like . . . if she were here.

When Regina spoke out publicly in an October 2005 interview with The Tennessean newspaper ten years following the murder, she admitted that she would never fully understand why her precious daughter had to die this way. “But I know this: Adriane’s in heaven, and God has given me the power to say something I never thought I could say—‘I forgive.’”

In fact, her grief had led her to find out as much as she could about the killers who had taken her daughter’s life. She learned about their dysfunctional upbringings, their splintered families, their lack of role models.

She even joined an organization that ministered to prisoners on death row. Regina remembers well her first opportunity to visit there one day with a group. While talking with the warden in the hallway, one of the death row prisoners passed nearby, his leg chains clanking, his face where she could see him.

It was Adriane’s killer. Right before her eyes. She should have felt anger, she thought. Instead, she felt pity.

“My heart was so heavy, because I had been praying for both of these young men. My prayer is that they come to a place and find God, and know that they don’t have to live a miserable life, even there.”

Even them.

DeMoss, N. L., & Kimbrough, L. (2008). Choosing forgiveness: your journey to freedom. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

Is it ever right to be angry?

I feel so guilty,” said Annelise. “I have all these angry feelings inside me, and I know they’re bad. I know the Bible says it’s wrong to get angry, but I am angry! I know the Bible says to forgive, but I just can’t do it! It’s not fair what they did to me!”

Annelise is not alone in her feelings. At some point in our lives, we’ve all experienced them.

The questions then come: Is it ever right to be angry? Are there situations and circumstances in which anger is legitimate? Is it possible to be angry and not be sinning at the same time? Can a born-again, Spirit-filled Christian be angry and still be walking with God? Some people believe that all anger is sin. But how can we reconcile the Bible verses that tell us to stop being angry, not to seek revenge, to avoid those who are angry, and not to harbor resentment, with the apostle Paul’s words, “In your anger do not sin”? It is no small problem; many dedicated, godly men and women struggle with this.

Annelise’s story will help illustrate this dilemma. It is one of the most tragic I’ve ever heard in my counseling. As a very young child she overheard a conversation where it was revealed that the person she thought was her father, was in reality not her father. Being so young, the only thing she knew to do was to cry. With the passage of time, she repressed the hurt she was feeling.

When Annelise was seven, she spent the summer with an aunt and uncle. It was not a happy time. There were angry words from the couple. Uncle Keith would slap her in the face and beat her with a belt.

Then several weeks into the summer, it happened. One day Uncle Keith slapped her around and in his anger shouted, “I’ll show you not to disobey me!” He ripped off her dress and raped her. After that he did it often.

Later in the summer Uncle Keith brought his son into the room to watch as he raped Annelise—he wanted to give him “firsthand sex education.” Then Uncle Keith forced his son to have sex with her.

Keith still wasn’t through with her. One day he made Annelise put on her favorite dress and go with him “to visit some people.” At the time Annelise couldn’t understand why Keith took another dress along. It turns out that Keith took Annelise to a business office. Two men there tore her clothes and raped her in the office. One of the men had a camera and took pictures of all that went on.

It wasn’t until Annelise was an adult that she discovered the truth: “Uncle Keith” was not her uncle, but her father.

Annelise is consumed with anger. In fact, when I heard her story, I became angry. I felt helpless, as she did. There was nothing either of us could do to change what had happened in her past. But where does she go from here? Does Annelise have a right to be angry? Is her anger sin? Is the anger I felt sin?

Archibald Hart addresses this point in his book Feeling Free when he says, “The need to differentiate between anger (the feeling) and hostility/aggression (the behavior arising out of the feeling) is even more important when we turn to understanding the New Testament’s approach to the problem of anger. The Apostle Paul presents us with what at first seems to be an impossible paradox: ‘Be ye angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath’ (Ephesians 4:26).

“How can one be angry and. sin not? The New English Bible translation makes a little clearer what the Apostle Paul was saying and provides us with a very up-to-date understanding not only of the nature of anger but also of its solution: ‘If you are angry, do not let anger lead you into sin; do not let sunset find you still nursing it.’

“My understanding of what Paul is saying here is that it is not the anger itself (as feeling) that is wrong, but that anger has the potential for leading you into sin. The point is that it is the translation or conversion of anger feelings into aggressive and hostile acts that leads us into sin. To feel anger, to tell someone that you feel angry, and to talk about your anger are both healthy and necessary. As long as you recognize the anger as your own and avoid hurting back the object of your anger, you are keeping it as a feeling—and all feelings are legitimate! What you do with your feeling may not be, and this is where you can fall into sin!”


LaHaye, T., & Phillips, B. (2010). Anger is a choice. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

John Maxwell on Attitude

It was a beautiful day in San Diego, and my friend Paul wanted to take me for a ride in his airplane. Being new to Southern California, I decided to see our home territory from a different perspective. We sat in the cockpit as Paul completed his instrument checks. Everything was A–Okay, so Paul revved the engines and we headed down the runway. As the plane lifted off, I noticed the nose was higher than the rest of the airplane. I also noticed that while the countryside was truly magnificent, Paul continually watched the instrument panel.

Since I am not a pilot, I decided to turn the pleasure ride into a learning experience. “All those gadgets,” I began, “what do they tell you? I notice you keep looking at that one instrument more than the others. What is it?”

“That’s the attitude indicator,” he replied.

“How can a plane have an attitude?”

“In flying, the attitude of the airplane is what we call the position of the aircraft in relation to the horizon.”

By now my curiosity had been aroused, so I asked him to explain more. “When the airplane is climbing,” he said, “it has a nose–high attitude because the nose of the airplane is pointed above the horizon.”

“So,” I jumped in, “when the aircraft is diving, you would call that a nose–down attitude.”

“That’s right,” my instructor continued. “Pilots are concerned about attitude of the airplane because that indicates its performance.”

“Now I can understand why the attitude indicator is in such a prominent place on the panel,” I replied.

Paul, sensing I was an eager student, continued, “Since the performance of the airplane depends on its attitude, it is necessary to change the attitude in order to change the performance.”

He demonstrated this by bringing the aircraft into a nose–high attitude. Sure enough, the plane began to climb and speed decreased. He changed the attitude, and that changed the performance.

Paul concluded the lesson by saying, “Since the attitude of the airplane determines its performance, instructors now teach ’attitude flying.’ ”

That conversation triggered my thinking concerning people’s attitudes. Doesn’t an individual’s attitude dictate his performance? Does he have an “attitude indicator” that continually evaluates his perspective and achievements in life?

What happens when the attitude is dictating undesirable results? How can the attitude be changed? And, if the attitude changes, what are the ramifications to other people around him?

My friend Paul had an instructor’s manual on “Attitude Flying,” the relationship between the aircraft’s attitude and its performance. We, too, have been given a handbook to attitude living … the Bible.

The apostle Paul, when writing to the church at Philippi, placed before those Christians an attitude indicator. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

Christ gives us a perfect example to follow. His high standard was not given to frustrate us but to reveal areas in our lives that need improvement. Whenever I study Philippians 2:3–8, I am reminded of the healthy attitude qualities that Jesus possessed.

He was selfless. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (verses 3, 4).

He was secure. “Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond–servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (verses 6, 7).

He was submissive. “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (verse 8).

Paul says that these qualities were exhibited in the life of Christ because of His attitude (verse 5). He also says that we can have this same attitude in our lives. We have a visual example of a Christian attitude and we are also encouraged to attain it.

Paul states in Romans 12:1, 2:

I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed [How?] by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (emphasis mine).

The result of a renewed mind or a changed attitude is to prove and fulfill God’s will. Again we see that the attitude dictates performance.

I once preached a message from Psalm 34 entitled “How to Face Fear.” David was lonely, fearful and frustrated in a cave surrounded by the enemy when he wrote this comforting message. The opening of the chapter enables the reader to see the reason for David’s success even when surrounded by problems.



Maxwell, J. C. (1993). The Winning Attitude. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Did Christ Die for Us or for God?

Romans 3:25–26

God put [Christ] forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.


One of the reasons it is hard to communicate biblical reality to modern, secular people is that the biblical mindset and the secular mindset move from radically different starting points.

What I mean by the secular mindset is not necessarily a mindset that rules God out or denies in principle that the Bible is true. It’s a mindset that begins with man as the basic given reality in the universe. All of its thinking starts with the assumption that man has basic rights and basic needs and basic expectations. Then the secular mind moves out from this center and interprets the world, with man and his rights and needs as the measure of all things.

What the secular mindset sees as problems are seen as problems because of how things fit or don’t fit with the center – man and his rights and needs and expectations. And what this mindset sees as successes are seen as successes because they fit with man and his rights and needs and expectations.

This is the mindset we were born with and that our secular society reinforces virtually every hour of the day in our lives. The Apostle Paul calls this mindset “the mind that is set on the flesh” (Romans. 8:6-7), and says that it is the way the “natural person” thinks (1 Corinthians 2:14, literal translation). It is so much a part of us that we hardly even know it’s there. We just take it for granted – until it collides with another mindset, namely the one in the Bible.

The biblical mindset is not simply one that includes God somewhere in the universe and says that the Bible is true. The biblical mindset begins with a radically different starting point, namely, God. God is the basic given reality in the universe. He was there before we were in existence – or before anything was in existence. He is simply the most absolute reality.

And so the biblical mindset starts with the assumption that God is the center of reality. All thinking starts with the assumption that God has basic rights as the Creator of all things. He has goals that fit with his nature and perfect character. Then the biblical mindset moves out from this center and interprets the world, with God and his rights and goals as the measure of all things.

What the biblical mindset sees as basic problems in the universe are usually not the same problems that the secular mindset sees. The reason for this is that what makes a problem is not, first, that something doesn’t fit the rights and needs of man, but that it doesn’t fit the rights and goals of God. If you start with man and his rights and wants, rather than starting with the Creator and his rights and goals, the problems you see in the universe will be very different.

Is the basic riddle of the universe how to preserve man’s rights and solve his problems (say, the right of self-determination, and the problem of suffering)? Or is the basic riddle of the universe how an infinitely worthy God in complete freedom can display the full range of his perfections – what Paul calls the “riches of his glory” (Romans 9:23) – his holiness and power and wisdom and justice and wrath and goodness and truth and grace?

How you answer that question will profoundly affect the way you understand the central event of human history – the death of Jesus, the Son of God.

I introduce our text (Romans 3:25-26) with this long meditation on the power of our starting points, because the deepest problem that the death of Jesus was designed to solve is virtually incomprehensible to the secular mindset. That is why this truth about the purpose of Christ’s death is scarcely known, let alone cherished, as part of everyday evangelical piety. Our Christian mindset is so skewed by natural and secular man-centeredness that we can barely comprehend or love the God-centeredness of the cross of Christ.

“The Innermost Meaning of the Cross”

Our focus is very limited. We will go beneath the issue of justification and reconciliation and forgiveness to the bottom and foundation of it all – to what C.E.B. Cranfield calls “the innermost meaning of the cross” (The Epistle to the Romans, Vol. 1, I.C.C., Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1975, p. 213).

What you should listen for as we read this text is the problem in the universe that the biblical mindset (God’s mindset) is trying to solve through the death of Christ. How does it differ from the problems that the secular mindset says God has to solve?

God put [Christ] forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed. (Romans 3:25)

Boil that down to the most basic problem the death of Christ is meant to solve. God put Christ forward (he sent him to die) in order to demonstrate his righteousness (or justice). The problem that needed solving was that God, for some reason, seemed to be unrighteous, and wanted to vindicate himself and clear his name. That is the basic issue. God’s righteousness is at stake. His name or reputation or honor must be vindicated. Before the cross can be for our sake, it must be for God’s sake.

But what created that problem? Why did God face the problem of needing to give a public vindication of his righteousness? The answer is in the last phrase of verse 25: “because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed.”

Now what does that mean? It means that for centuries God had been doing what Psalm 103:10 says, “He does not deal with us according to our sins or repay us according to our iniquities.” He has been passing over thousands of sins. He has been forgiving them and letting them go and not punishing them.

How David Despised God

King David is a good example. In 2 Samuel 12, he is confronted by the prophet Nathan for committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed. Nathan says, “Why have you despised the word of the LORD?” (2 Samuel 12:9).

David feels the rebuke of Nathan, and in verse 13 he says, “I have sinned against the LORD.” To this, Nathan responds, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Just like that! Adultery and murder are “passed over.” It is almost incredible. Our sense of justice screams out, “No! You can’t just let it go like that. He deserves to die or be imprisoned for life!” But Nathan does not say that. He says, “The LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

Why is Forgiveness a Problem?

That is what Paul means in Romans 3:25 by the passing over of sins previously committed. But why is that a problem? Is it felt as a problem by the secular mindset – that God is kind to sinners? How many people outside the scope of biblical influence wrestle with the problem that a holy and righteous God makes the sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45)? How many wrestle with the apparent injustice that God is lenient with sinners? How many Christians wrestle with the fact that their own forgiveness is a threat to the righteousness of God?

The secular mindset does not even assess the situation the way the biblical mindset does. Why is that? It’s because the secular mindset thinks from a radically different starting point. It does not start with the Creator-rights of God – the right to uphold and display the infinite worth of his righteousness and glory. It starts with man and assumes that God will conform to our rights and wishes.

Sin is a Belittling of God’s Glory

Notice verse 23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” What’s at stake in sinning is the glory of God. When Nathan confronts David, he quotes God as saying, “Why have you despised me?” We could imagine David saying, “What do you mean, I despised you? I didn’t despise you. I wasn’t even thinking of you. I was just red hot after this woman and then scared to death that people were going to find out. You weren’t even in the picture.”

And God would have said, “The Creator of the universe, the designer of marriage, the fountain of life, the one who holds you in being, the one who made you king – that One, I the Lord, was not even in the picture! That’s right, David. That’s exactly what I mean. You despised me.” All sin is a despising of God, before it is a damage to man. All sin is a preference for the fleeting pleasures of the world over the everlasting joy of God’s fellowship. David demeaned God’s glory. He belittled God’s worth. He dishonored God’s name. That is the meaning of sin – failing to love God’s glory above everything else.” “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Therefore the problem when God passes over sin is that God seems to agree with those who despise his name and belittle his glory. He seems to be saying it is a matter of indifference that his glory is spurned. He seems to condone the low assessment of his worth.

The Insult of Acquitting Anarchists

Suppose a group of anarchists plot to assassinate the President of the United States and his whole cabinet, and almost succeed. Their bombs destroy part of the White House and kill some staff, but the President narrowly escapes. The anarchists are caught and the court finds them guilty. But then the anarchists say they are sorry, and so the court suspends their sentences and releases them. Now what would that communicate to the world about the value of the President’s life and the importance of his governance? It would communicate that they are of little value.

That is what the passing over of sin communicates: God’s glory and his righteous governance are of minor value, or no value.

Apart from divine revelation, the natural mind – the secular mind – does not see or feel this problem. What secular person loses any sleep over the apparent unrighteousness of God’s kindness to sinners?

But, according to Romans, this is the most basic problem that God solved by the death of his Son. Let’s read it again: “He did this [put his Son forward to die] to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance (or patience) he had passed over sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous . . .” (verses 25b-26a) God would be unrighteous if he passed over sins as though the value of his glory were nothing.

God saw his glory being despised by sinners (like David) – he saw his worth belittled and his name dishonored by our sins – and rather than vindicating the worth of his glory by slaying his people, he vindicated his glory by slaying his Son.

God could have settled accounts by punishing all sinners with hell. This would have demonstrated that he does not minimize our falling short of his glory – our belittling his honor. But God did not will to destroy. “Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17).

Do We Know (and Share!) God’s Deepest Passion?

This truth, we know well. We know well that God is for us. We know that our salvation is his goal in sending Jesus. But do we know the foundation of it all? Do we know that there is a deeper goal in sending the Son? Do we know that God’s love for us depends on a deeper love, namely, God’s love for his glory? Do we know that God’s passion to save sinners rests on a deeper passion, namely, God’s passion to vindicate his righteousness? Do we realize that the accomplishment of our salvation does not center on us, but on God’s glory? The vindication of God’s glory is the ground of our salvation (Romans 3:25-6), and the exaltation of God’s glory is the goal of our salvation. “Christ has become a servant to the circumcised . . . in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8-9).

Can Self-exaltation Be an Act of Love?

Someone may ask, “How can it be loving for God to be so self-exalting in the work of the cross? If he is really exalting his own glory and vindicating his own righteousness, then how is the cross really an act of love to us?”

I fear the question betrays a common secular mindset with man at the center. It assumes that, for us to be loved, God must make us the center. He must highlight our value. If our worth is not accented, then we are not loved. If our value is not the ground of the cross, then we are not esteemed. The assumption of such questioning is that the exaltation of the worth and glory of God over man is not the very essence of what God’s love for man is.

The biblical mindset, however, affirms the very opposite. The cross is the pinnacle of God’s love for sinners, not because it demonstrates the value of sinners, but because it vindicates the value of God for sinners to enjoy. God’s love for man does not consist in making man central, but in making himself central for man. The cross does not direct man’s attention to his own vindicated worth, but to God’s vindicated righteousness.

This is love, because the only eternal happiness for man is happiness focused on the riches of God’s glory. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forever more” (Psalm 16:1 1). God’s self-exaltation is loving, because it preserves for us and offers to us the only all-satisfying Object of desire in the universe – the all-glorious, all-righteous God.

Why Is the Cross Folly?

The root reason for why the cross is folly to the world is that it means the end of human self-exaltation, and a radical commitment to God-exaltation. No – “commitment” is not quite the right word. Rather the cross is a call to radical “exultation” in God-exaltation. The cross is the death of our demand to be loved by being made the center. And it is the birth of joy in God’s being made the center.

How Is the Cross Your Joy?

Test yourself. What is your mindset? Do you begin with God and his rights and goals? Or do you begin with yourself and your rights and wishes?

And when you look at the death of Christ, what happens? Does your joy really come from translating this awesome divine work into a boost for self-esteem? Or are you drawn up out of yourself and filled with wonder and reverence and worship that here in the death of Jesus is the deepest, clearest declaration of the infinite esteem of God for his glory and for his Son?

Here is a great objective foundation for the full assurance of hope: the forgiveness of sins is grounded, finally, not in my finite worth or work, but in the infinite worth of the righteousness of God – God’s unswerving allegiance to uphold and vindicate the glory of his name.

I appeal to you with all my heart, take your stand on this. Base your life on this. Ground your hope in this. You will be free from the futile mindset of the world. And you will never fall. When God’s exaltation of God in Christ is your joy, it can never fail.

©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

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