What The Bible Says

Jesus And The Criminal: What This Teaches Us About Relationships

What The Bible Says

The Easter story, the death and resurrection of Jesus, reveals many important and wonderful things about God and our relationship with him. One thing I was struck by this Easter period was Jesus’ willingness to suffer and his willingness to step into our mess, which stresses the importance of his desire for an authentic relationship with us.

Easter really is a time which is exciting as well as saddening, a celebration as well as sobering. Remembering the bittersweetness of Jesus’ suffering and coming back to life brings with it a full rollercoaster of emotions. 

As I was thinking about some of the ways that this can and should affect our relationships, I was drawn to the account in Luke’s Gospel of Jesus and the two criminals.

The Penitent Criminal 

In the Gospel of Luke, he records an interaction which happens as Jesus is dying on the cross. On either side of him, there were two criminals, and they were all dying and suffering the fate of crucifixion. Luke 23:39-43 says: 

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

There are so many things going on here that it would be foolish to think one short blog could do it justice, but I want to pick up on one thing that stood out to me. Namely: Jesus is making the promise as someone who’s suffering the same fate. Jesus is dying alongside the criminal. 

Innocence Forfeited

What’s amazing about this passage is that this criminal is saying he is guilty. He realises he’s only got himself to blame for being in the position he’s in and he’s saying that Jesus is innocent; Jesus by contrast ‘has done nothing wrong’. 

This passage sums up and makes tangible one of the key points of Easter: That the innocent Jesus dies for humanity who have gone astray. But that is not all this verse teaches us.

This makes the whole thing very relational

Remarkably, the innocent saviour chose to suffer alongside those who have messed up. He gave up his divine comfort and his right not to suffer and instead dies alongside the criminal to overcome the problems the criminal and the rest of humanity face. 

This makes the whole thing very relational, which is often overlooked. 

Relational vs An Exchange

The cross is nearly always understood and preached about in terms of a legal ‘exchange’. Jesus exchanges his innocence for our guilt to overcome the problem of sin and pay our debt. While this is true and I don’t want to diminish that, this isn’t the only thing going on. 

Relationally, Jesus is standing alongside us in the mess. He is connecting to us on our level. He is not outside of our suffering, or standing above our mess yelling helpful advice, he’s standing with us as a friend.

He is experiencing the full force of the problems we experience, he’s in the suffering, speaking to us as someone who can understand. He lived a human life and suffered a human death. 

‘Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’
Hebrews 4:14-16

This isn’t just about dealing with a problem but is also about creating an authentic relationship by standing with us on our level, even though he didn’t need to.

This should impact the way we relate to God and others

He didn’t deserve to be killed alongside the criminal, but by doing so it demonstrates that he came to earth to build an authentic relationship with humanity, experiencing the mess we caused, taking on our problems and guiding us through as someone who is alongside us. (Read ‘Family’ Is Redefined In Light Of The Cross)

Imagine If…

This Easter Monday and beyond, I hope you are able to (re)discover the wonder of the cross. I hope it reminds us that the joys and sadness of life are seen and transformed by Jesus in the moment of his death and resurrection. 

I hope we (re)discover that our relationship with him is one that is built on a friendship, with someone who chose to stand with us and change our lives. This should impact the way we relate to God and others.

[Jesus said] Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:13

Imagine if we realised this talk with the criminal wasn’t just representing the transaction, but a profoundly relational moment. (Read Reflecting God’s Image Is Found In Plurality)

What stood out to you this Easter? Comments welcomed below

Originally posted 22/4/2019


Christmas Is About: The Family Jesus’ Birth Begins To Create

Friendships, What The Bible Says

Many people say that the real meaning of Christmas has been lost. Who can blame them? The commercialism and the money involved is too much now. Many people just want it to be about spending time with family, drawing people together and enjoying time with one another. But I actually think that creating a family is indeed one of the things Jesus started to do at his birth. 

I really love Christmas. 

Now I realise Christmas is a hard time for lots of people. There are many who can’t enjoy it because of past situations or current difficulties. I realise that it isn’t a happy time for everyone. 

But we do all hope that it would be good for everyone. It’s one of the times of year where everyone is wishing the best for everyone else. There is a hope that people will be able to come together and be blessed at Christmas.  

I think this was one of the original intentions behind the first Christmas when Jesus was born. Jesus’ intention to bring people together, and bring them into a relationship with himself and others, is not remembered enough.  

The Birth Of Christ 

I really think that in church, we can unintentionally under emphasise how important the meaning of Christmas is in regards to our salvation. Yes the cross is the moment in history that changed everything, but without Jesus’ authentic human birth, his sacrifice would not have been able to fully save us (Read The Cross Needs To Be Forgotten At Christmas)  

His birth also did something that was vital, and it revealed part of his mission on earth: It began to draw people from different parts of society to himself, and by consequence to each other as well, because we are all welcome and equal before him.  

Wise Men And The Shepards

When Jesus was born, the Bible says that angels told some shepherds, who were working at night, about the good news. They then went to find Jesus. 

‘And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them… “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”…So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed…’
Luke 2:8-18

It also says that the Magi, also known as wise men, came to visit Jesus too.  

These visitors represent so much

‘After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem…and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him…’
Matthew 2:1-11

These visitors represent so much and remind us that Jesus was always in the business of drawing anyone and everyone to himself. This was the case from the very beginning of his life.

Rich & Poor 

Now shepherding did not pay well at all. Night shepherding was particularly low paying. Yet these people, who were not that well respected or well-off in their culture, were told about Jesus and invited into the story. 

This is also true at the other end of the spectrum because the wise men would have had lots of money, proven by the fact that they brought Jesus some very expensive gifts. They were also invited in.

Educated & Uneducated 

The job of a shepherd would also have signalled someone who was uneducated and not regarded as being very intelligent. Whereas the wise men were able to work out when and where Jesus was born. 

Again, they represent people from different parts of society, from very different backgrounds who probably didn’t mix often. Nevertheless, Jesus draws them all to himself, and all are welcomed. 

Foreign & Native 

The other main difference they represent is that the shepherds were local and natives, while the wise men had to travel from a foreign land to meet with Jesus. 

Two very different groups of people, but Jesus’ birth brings them together because he wants to draw all people to God and each other. He is creating a new family from the very start. (Read I Wouldn’t Have Survived Without My Church Family)

Men & Women 

The final thing to emphasise is the fact that these characters were men. However, in the lead up to Jesus’ birth Mary the Mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, hold very prominent roles and parts in the story (Luke 1-2)

In a culture where women were often marginalised, the Bible makes sure that they are given prominence and recognition. 

Everyone is welcomed in

Imagine If…

I was speaking to a priest the other day and she said she is always struck at how communion brings everyone to an equal level. Young and old, people from different ethnicities, with different education, means, and stories, come to Jesus and meet with him in the same way. 

Remembering Jesus death during communion, the act which brings together people from all different parts of society, is reflected at his birth as well. All come together in the story to relate to God because everyone is welcomed in. And by extension become part of the same family. 

Imagine if this Christmas, in our own families, communities and friendships, we made sure we tried to bring people into the family, remember that Jesus welcomes everyone, and we are all equally loved and accepted by him. (Read 2 Things You Should Always Do To Build Strong Communities)

This way, everyone can see some of the true meaning of Christmas.

What else is important about the true meaning of Christmas? Comments welcomed below.  

Originally posted 24/12/2018

Does Christian Dating Go Against God’s Views On Relationships? Part 2

What The Bible Says

The second half of this two-part article continues to look at how we can transform the dating culture around us, whilst honouring God, ourselves and each other. Specifically when it comes to the temporary nature of dating and God’s call to foster long-term relationships.

In Part 1, we began to look at this important topic. In this second part, we continue to explore how we can uphold God’s word while dating, in a way that is faithful to God’s teaching and genuinely beneficial to us in our circumstances. 

(The following extract is taken from page 85-86 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)

What Would Jesus Say?

‘…[The] Pharisees came up, intending to give [Jesus] a hard time. They asked, ‘Is it legal for a man to divorce his wife?’ Jesus said, ‘What did Moses command?’ They answered, ‘Moses gave permission to fill out a certificate of dismissal and divorce her.’ Jesus said, ‘Moses wrote this command only as a concession to your hardhearted ways.

In the original creation, God made male and female to be together. Because of this, a man leaves father and mother, and in marriage he becomes one flesh with a woman – no longer two individuals, but forming a new unity. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart.’
(Mark 10:2–9 The Message)

Jesus doesn’t just look back to the law about divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1–4). He is quoting the Genesis story of creation that reveals God’s heart for what relationships free from sin should look like (Genesis 1:27; 2:24). 

Adam and Eve’s later rejection of all this kick-starts the cycle of sin and dysfunction that leads to the damage and pain in marriages, which are often wrecked by divorce. 

God’s Intentions

As we’ve said before, relationships and marriages break down for a whole host of reasons, but none of these lessen God’s desire for us to really mean it when we say ‘I do’!

God realises that in some cases this permanence can’t be maintained, because a spouse can damage it irreversibly. So the Bible allows divorce when a partner commits adultery (Matthew 5:31–32; 19:9), or when an unbelieving spouse abandons their believing spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12–15). 

[We would also argue when a spouse is abusive, although this wouldn’t be based on one or two verses, like in the above cases.] 

God always hopes for more for us in our relationships.

We may not be in Eden, but God always hopes for more for us in our relationships. Deep relationships are not easily forged. Intimacy isn’t quickly formed. Both take practice and require both people to be committed to permanence.

Step 1: Know The Truth

Building towards a relationship that lasts isn’t something that happens in spite of us; it’s something that happens because of us. 

  • Practicing what it takes to build a permanent relationship happens every time we prioritise our commitment over our compulsions. 
  • Giving in to every whim and desire we have is no way to perfect the skills needed to build a lasting relationship.

So how could this influence our dating? It’s likely that most of us will date a few people before we find the person we want to commit to for life. Does this mean we can’t practice permanence? Not if we practice it while we’re dating!

Step 2: Change Our Approach

It’s about the mindset we create as we date. 

It’s the difference between an attitude that says, ‘I’ll see how it goes’, and one that says, ‘I’ll see what I can invest in this relationship.’ 

Do we go around asking people out, thinking, ‘This will only work for me for a few months, and then I’m off’? Do we treat relationships like new clothes, and wear them for only a few weeks before we change? 

How is that preparing us for the lifelong commitment God desires?

If this is the case, how will we be ready to invest long-term with that special someone when the time comes? If we constantly think short term in every relationship we go into, how is that preparing us for the lifelong commitment God desires? (Read What I Wish someone told me about dating.)

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free now, or buy the book here.)

Imagine If…

As always, so much more could be said and written (Read Church Dating Culture: Is Yours Helpful Or Hindering?) but I hope this post highlights that we can date in a way that is treating people with respect, and laying good foundations to give the relationship the best chance of becoming a long-term commitment.

Imagine if we dated in a way that pursued relationships that could last, and we thought about how to grow the relationship and not just about our short-term needs. It would allow us to transform the dating culture around us, and enable God’s intentions for us to flourish. (Read 2 Proven Traits That Make A Relationship Last)

How else can this principle be applied? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 12/11/2018

Does Christian Dating Go Against God’s Views On Relationships? Part 1

What The Bible Says

This two-part article wrestles with a big problem: dating cultures often foster short-term temporary relationships, and this seems to clash with God’s call for permanence in romance. So can we embrace dating? And should we? Well, I think a simple yes or no won’t really answer these big questions. 

Real Stories 

I remember a friend telling me that they knew someone who was a Christian and wanted to skip dating. They were young, wanted to get married, and got engaged to the first person they ever really liked after a few months of knowing each other. 

After the wedding things got messy, and they sadly divorced after a couple of years. 

I also remember someone saying that they felt dating as a Christian was wrong, and whenever they liked someone but decided against asking them out, they felt guilty. They believed if they liked them they should marry them, and by not doing so it was like a divorce. 

Bad Consequences 

Sadly, these stories highlight some of the beliefs that many people carry with them; and can clearly lead to lots of confusion.

People are getting hurt along the way

These people can see that the Bible does ideally call for permanence in romantic relationships, and they realise that dating can lead to temporary bonds, so they try to make it work the best way they can. Sadly, they can end up putting too much pressure on themselves and on a relationship that hasn’t even started yet. 

People are getting hurt along the way. 

Is It A Betrayal? 

In this post, I want to explore this issue because it’s one we wrestle with when it comes to dating. How do you enter a dating culture, which by its very nature produces temporary relationships, and uphold God’s call to permanence in romance? 

It may seem impossible on the surface, which is why I have written many times about why I think God is wanting to transform the dating culture, and not just reject it or embrace it as it is (Read Why I Told Joshua Harris To Redeem Rather Than Reject Dating. and Can We Really Trust What Our Culture Says About Relationships?)

But I did want to explore this specific problem some more. Part 1 of this post will allow us to delve a bit deeper into this topic.  

(The following extract is taken from page 84-85 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)

Culture Shift 

We live in a culture where the upgrade of four months ago is old news! We want the latest, the freshest, the fastest. Even if it’s only a little gadget to add to our blinged-up phone, if it’s not the latest, it’s not the greatest.

This belief can cause problems for us when it comes to relationships. 

We know that having a long list of people following or befriending us via social media doesn’t constitute deep and meaningful relationships. 

We all have a deep longing for true belonging. 

Did God just get it wrong?

So how does that work in dating relationships, which are often temporary by nature? What would God have to say about the length and depth of our dating?

Dating Is Not Marriage

Dating is not marriage, and it’s not a guarantee of permanence. Ending a relationship that doesn’t have the potential to evolve into lifelong commitment is not only wise; it’s necessary if we’re seeking to date in a God-honouring way. 

So what do we do with the biblical call for lifelong intimate relationships? How do we apply it to a dating context? Did God just get it wrong when he called for lifelong faithfulness between people who love each other?

We need to understand why God called for permanence, and why there are times when he made exceptions to this principle. This is the hardest marriage expectation to apply to dating, but we still think it should guide the way we paint our picture. 

The First Wedding 

The very first wedding vows ever spoken in the Bible are:

The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman”, for she was taken out of man.’
(Genesis 2:23)

See how Adam refers to himself in the third person as ‘man’, and Eve as ‘she’ and ‘woman’, and how he begins with ‘This is’.  Adam isn’t mumbling to himself or whispering sweet nothings in Eve’s ear – he’s not that smooth. 

God’s design for marriage has this hope for permanence built in

Rather, he’s making his first declaration to someone else; he’s talking to the other person in the story: God. Adam calls on God to witness his vow, to witness the permanent fusion between him and Eve. (Read Why The Bible Preaches Faithfulness, Despite Stories of Polygamy)

They are now one and the same. God’s design for marriage has this hope for permanence built into it. 

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free now, or buy the book here.)

Imagine If…

Part 2 explores what this principle means as we search for love in the modern world.

But imagine if we enable ourselves and others to wrestle with these important questions, as we continued to think about how God’s word can help us build healthy and mutually fulfilling dating cultures. (What Does Faithfulness Look Like When I’m Dating?)

Have you come across similar stories, like the ones shared at the beginning of this post? Comments welcomed below.  

Originally posted 5/11/2018

Can We Really Trust What Our Culture Says About Relationships?

Healthy Relationship Rhythms, What The Bible Says

One way or another, we’re often taught that dating, marriage, and romance, is all about ‘me’. I need to make myself happy and find someone who ticks all my boxes and meets my needs. But this self-centered attitude often leads to unfulfilling relationships, because great relationships involve two people giving all they can for the sake of the other person. 

I was watching a new TV drama the other day, and the characters that were dating and their dating dynamics really caught my eye (unsurprisingly). The show was about this family, and one of the sub-plots involved the daughter finding a new boyfriend, and him meeting the family members.

She was keen to introduce him to everyone, and get him involved with everything. He was more reserved, quiet, and wanted them to just do things on their own. He wanted it on his terms, she wanted things on hers.

No matter which fictional character you agree with, I was struck by how they both had an idea or preference, and just expected the other one to do it their way. They were very uncompromising and only thinking of their own perspective.


I’m always disappointed when I see this attitude of selfishness, in real life or on TV.

Deep down, I think we all want a romantic relationship where we feel we can rely on each other, be vulnerable, and stick together no matter what. Selfishness doesn’t lead to this. Good relationships can only come from being selfless and keeping the other person’s needs in mind, and not just our own.

In a consumer culture, we need to remember that people are not ‘things’

In a consumer culture, we need to remember that people aren’t ‘things’, and strong happy relationships aren’t just ordered from an app.

Our culture says only think about number one, but people in happy relationships realise this isn’t how it works. (Read Quick Guide: Discover What All Good Dating Relationship Have In Common)

(The following extract is taken from page 82-83 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)

Every man [and woman] must decide whether they will walk in the creative light of altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness . . . Life’s persistent and most urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’
(Martin Luther King Jr)


In the last chapter [of the book], we introduced the idea that Christian dating (like every type of relationship we’re in) is defined by selflessness. In fact, we can date in a God-glorifying way only when we put our girl/boyfriend first.

This doesn’t only turn everything our culture says about romance on its head; it turns everything ancient culture has said about marriage on its head too!

Biblical Principle

Paul’s comments about marriage were set against the status quo of the day, when women were seen as second-class citizens. But as he wanted to make marriages stronger, so he challenged couples to see each other through God’s eyes.

The idea that both the husband and wife should consider each other’s needs and serve each other must have raised a few eyebrows (check out 1 Corinthians 7:1–6). The real game changer was Paul instructing the husband to love his wife ‘just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (see Ephesians 5:25–33).

These passages don’t surprise us today because we expect people to treat each other well in marriages, but Paul is asking for a lot more than for spouses to tolerate each other. He’s asking them to out-do each other in selflessness.

Who can give more? Who can show more sacrificial love? It’s like a competition! This radical attitude will not only bless their relationship, but it will also be a stunning witness to the ultimate self-giving love of Christ.

Counter Culture 

Dating built on this understanding of selflessness is bound to create revolutionary relationships. Dating someone who is as committed as you are to demonstrating this kind of love carries the potential for an incredible relationship.

Paul would encourage you to seek selflessness, and then seek it again and again and again.

It seems like a very high hope for a new dating relationship, doesn’t it? It doesn’t happen overnight. Over time, small seeds of selfless acts grow into something beautiful and strong that will lay the foundations for a good, God-focused relationship and potential marriage. (Read Why Esther’s Story Should Still Impact Our Relationships)

In a world that says think about your needs only, we can realise that this advice will only lead to disappointment.

Reflect on dating couples you know who look happy, whom you admire and who seem to be building towards marriage. At the heart of their relationship will be a commitment to take selflessness seriously.

Searching for people who want this too, and dating in a way that is selfless, will help us explore God’s hopes for our relationships – and we’ll experience the rewards of doing things his way.

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free now, or buy the book here.)

Imagine If…

Imagine if we questioned the messages we heard more from our society. In a world that says think about your needs only, we can realise that this advice will only lead to disappointment. Long lasting and fulfilling relationships involve sacrifice,  patience,  and compromise.

When both people are being selfless, it will help us build the romantic relationship we really want.

Do you think selflessness is a better way? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 23/7/2018