Seventeen years ago, I wrote an article titled “Taking the Swagger Out of Christian Cultural Influence.” I used the word swagger to describe a distortion of Christian boldness I was noticing at the time — the kind that struts into the public square, demanding to have our America back from secular hijacking.
Today, the need I see for Christian boldness is a little different. It’s not so much that evangelicals are grasping for so-called “Christian America.” Rather, it’s our being drawn into the callout culture, the outrage culture, the cancel culture, the coddled culture. However you name it, it is very angry. And behind the relative safety of social media, it is very bold.
This boldness is seldom beautiful. But some Christian culture warriors are drawn into it and shaped by it, with the result that their boldness is distorted toward the brash, angry, contentious, coarse, snide, and obnoxious. What is needed is not less boldness. No. The world is not suffering from too much boldness in the cause of truth. Rather, what’s missing is the beauty of brokenhearted boldness.
Here at Desiring God, we believe that this brokenhearted boldness is not a personality trait, but a miracle of God’s Spirit. Christian boldness is a gift of God (Ephesians 6:19–20). Christian brokenheartedness is a gift of God (Psalm 51:10–17). And the counterintuitive combination of the two is one of God’s most beautiful works.
This is one of our aims and prayers, because we are Bible people. What the Bible presents as good and beautiful we pursue. But we have found over many years that our sinful hearts tend to distort the very beauties we pursue unless they are mingled with other beauties — especially the ones that lean against our most subtle distortions.
Beauty of Boldness
Boldness is a highly prized biblical beauty. Consider a few of the Bible’s presentations.
Bold in approaching God.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace. (Hebrews 4:16; see also Ephesians 3:12)
Bold before mere man.
We can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)
Bold in righteousness.
The righteous are bold as a lion. (Proverbs 28:1)
Bold in new conquests.
Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them. (Deuteronomy 31:7–8; see also Joshua 1:9)
Bold before enemy kings.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him. (2 Chronicles 32:7)
Bold before a new task.
David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed . . . until all the work for . . . the house of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20)
Bold for the sake of ministry.
I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish . . . the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus. (Acts 20:24)
Bold in speaking the truth.
Now, Lord, . . . grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness. (Acts 4:29; see also Ephesians 6:20)
Bold for the gospel.
Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, . . . not frightened in anything by your opponents. (Philippians 1:27–28)
Bold to risk your life for the good.
I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish. (Esther 4:16)
Bold at the second coming.
Abide in [Christ], so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. (1 John 2:28)
Reasons for Boldness
Not only does the Bible present boldness as beautiful, but it gives even more beautiful reasons for being bold. Biblical boldness is not a genetic disposition. It is the work of God enabling unworthy sinners to be transformed by reasons the Bible gives us to be bold. The reasons are breathtaking. And it is no wonder that boldness is a fitting and beautiful response. Consider some of the reasons the Bible gives for us to be bold.
Our condemnation for sin was endured by Christ.
By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh. (Romans 8:3; see also Isaiah 53:5)
Our sins are forgiven.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. (Ephesians 1:7; see also 1 Peter 2:24)
We are righteous in the righteousness of faith.
. . . not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. (Philippians 3:9)
In Christ, we are the children of God.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1)
We have eternal life.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. (John 3:36)
As God’s heirs, we possess everything.
All things are yours, whether . . . the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:21–23; see also Romans 8:32)
Everything will work for our good.
We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
We will never be put to shame.
It stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6)
God will never leave us nor forsake us.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10; see also Hebrews 13:5)
God will keep us from falling into unbelief.
[He] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:8–9)
God governs the fall of sparrows, and we are more precious than they.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29–31)
When hated and killed, we are not defeated.
Some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. (Luke 21:16–18)
We are more than conquerors at the moment the worst happens to us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35–37)
If the devil kills us, God gives us a crown of life.
Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison. . . . Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
How can we not be bold if these are true! And they are true. If Christ is real, these glorious reasons to be bold are real. And nothing is more real than Christ. So, we find in ourselves a stirring of boldness. The more clearly we see these biblical beauties, and the more heartily we embrace them, the more boldness grows in our souls.
Beauty of Brokenheartedness
But one of the great sorrows of the Christian life is that our remaining sinfulness threatens to distort the beauty of every holy pursuit. What Paul calls “sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:17) takes hold of a biblical beauty and distorts it — sometimes blatantly so that the distortion is obvious, and sometimes subtly so that the distortion is oh so defensible.
Boldness can become brash, harsh, severe, cruel, angry, impatient, contentious, belligerent, coarse, crude, snarky, snide, loud, garish, obnoxious — all in the name of Christian courage. Or more subtly, boldness in the cause of truth can become, even if less brash and severe, more all-consuming. It can become such a fixation that all other beautiful affections and dispositions are eaten away from within. The soul loses its ability of see and savor and celebrate the good in others and in the world.
We have found that God’s remedy for such distortions of biblical beauties is to provide other moral beauties which are meant to mingle with boldness and prevent it from being ruined by sin. One of the beauties of the Bible that leans against our blatant and subtle distortions of boldness is brokenheartedness. We have discovered that biblical brokenheartedness is beautifully designed by God to preserve biblical boldness in all its power but none of its distortions. Consider the basis and beauty of brokenheartedness in a few biblical presentations.
The Lord is near the brokenhearted.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
A broken and contrite heart is a pleasing sacrifice to God.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
God dwells with and revives the lowly and contrite.
Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)
God attends to those who tremble at his word.
This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)
The humble, mourning, and meek are blessed.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:3–5)
Those who despair of self are justified.
The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. (Luke 18:13–14)
The godly obedient confess unworthiness.
When you have done all that you were commanded, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” (Luke 17:10)
The reverent rejoice with trembling.
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. (Psalm 2:11)
We work out our salvation with trembling.
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. (Philippians 2:12–13)
God’s might and care make us glad and lowly.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6–7)
Even what we know truly, we know partly.
Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
We resist revenge, self-pity, and ultimatums.
When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. (1 Corinthians 4:12–13)
We share the burden of the entire groaning creation.
Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)
We live with the anguish of unsaved loved ones.
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart . . . for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Romans 9:2–3)
We never get beyond the burden of sinning and the need of confession in this life.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Such brokenheartedness — contrition, lowliness, humility, trembling, meekness, anguish — is fitting in a fallen, and only partially saved, world. Yes, even fitting for saints — who are not yet perfect (Philippians 3:12) but “are being saved” (2 Corinthians 2:15). The very fitness of it is its beauty.
More Beautiful Than Boldness
If it were our purpose here to speak of bold brokenheartedness (which it isn’t), we could linger over God’s wisdom in the way that the beauty of boldness is designed conversely to protect the beauty of brokenheartedness from being distorted into fear, self-pity, passivity, joylessness, hopelessness, cowardice, self-absorption, and fruitlessness.
But the point here is that God intends for the beauty of brokenheartedness to mingle with the beauty of boldness so that a new reality emerges even more beautiful than the sum of both — a new reality called brokenhearted boldness. It is one of God’s most beautiful works. And it is one of the most needed in our day.
We hope that at Desiring God we will not fail in the call to be bold for the truth. Please pray for us. We aspire by the Spirit to joyfully endure the cost of speaking biblical truth boldly. Should we ever suffer in some small way, we would like it to be said of us what was said of the apostles: “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
But we know something of our own sinfulness and how quickly we can strike back in the name of boldness. Our prayer is that God would spare us from the distortion of the courage he made to be beautiful, by creating something even more beautiful: brokenhearted boldness.