If you have not heard of The Sonship Tongue Assignment, let me introduce you. Sonship is a discipleship course developed by Dr. Jack Miller and others through the ministry of World Harvest Mission (now called Serge). The emphasis of the course is to help Christians live functionally (vs theoretically) as adopted sons and daughters of God by focusing on the radical nature of grace in the gospel–that the same faith that saves us is the faith that grows us.
The big question becomes, “Faith in what?” Faith to try harder and be better or faith in the gift-righteousness of God in Jesus? For evangelical believers, we know that we are “saved” by grace through faith. No argument there. The trouble arises when we talk about what changes us deeply as followers of Jesus. Do we abandon the Vine and work hard at producing fruit, or do we abide in the Vine as that which gives us our righteous standing before God as fully forgiven and perfectly accepted children?
Jesus makes it clear in John 15:4-5 that the fuel for Christian growth is abiding in him, which is an image for believing that he is my sin-bearer, righteousness provider… and sanctifier. It is the sanctifier piece that many of us forget (and how that is connected to Jesus as our Justifier). The image of fruitfulness Jesus uses in verses 4 and 5 is dependent upon the sap from the Vine filling the once lifeless branch so that it produces fruit — what Paul would call the fruit of the Spirit. The sap is the Holy Spirit. What this means is that to abide in the Vine is to believe the gospel — that Jesus is my only but sufficient righteousness. That his merit is my merit. His record is my record!
As I consciously believe this, the sap of the Holy Spirit fills me, changing my desires and motives, and empowering me with new abilities to love like Jesus. That is what sanctification is. Not keeping external rules but learning to love like Jesus! Here is the problem. I either forget to believe the gospel or outright harden my heart to the gospel. Rather than humbly receive the gift-righteousness of Jesus as my record, I proudly pursue a self-righteousness by trying to create my own record, whether that record is moral, academic, economic, athletic — anything that enables me to boast in myself before others of lesser stature in my chosen arena of self-righteousness.
The Sonship Tongue Assignment was developed to break us of self-righteousness by revealing our desperate need for the gift-righteousness of Jesus. The way the assignment does this is by creating five negative and, conversely, five positive “rules” to follow concerning the use of our tongue. After all, Jesus said that the mouth speaks when is in the heart. Want to know what’s growing inside, evaluate your words. Here is the assignment: Keep these five “laws” for seven straight days. Remember, there are two parts to each one — the negative (don’t) and the positive (do).
- Do not gossip (do not say anything negative about anyone, do not “confess their sins,” do not mention your frustrations or irritations about anyone… anyone!). Rather, do speak well of others.
- Do not complain about anything, but do give thanks in all things.
- Do not blame-shift or make excuses (at all, for anything) but do own your mistakes and confess your sins (outward sin and at the motive, heart level).
- Do not defend yourself but do acknowledge where the critique is accurate.
- Do not boast about anything in yourself but do boast in your weakness and need.
Look easy? Do not be deceived. Give it a try.
If you sincerely attempt this assignment (and allow others in your family to hold you accountable), I guarantee that by day seven (probably by day 1), you’ll be living on your knees before the cross of Jesus. Case in point: when I began to “re-take” this assignment last week, I’d failed on two points within the first two minutes of posting them on my refrigerator!
Why am I doing this assignment? I finally got sick of my self-righteous, defensive spirit that has had its hand around my heart off and on for the past… well, while. It has affected every aspect of my life, from ministry relationships to my marriage. I want to live on my knees before the cross, and this assignment is one sure way to help me get there.
Years ago, a team of Sonship disciplers from World Harvest were training a group of pastors in Novosibirsk, Russia. It was January, and the only thing colder than the frozen tundra were the hearts of the men attending the seminar. It didn’t take long for the missionaries to detect a thinly veiled self-righteousness among these leaders. Being faced with the tongue assignment is what the Lord used to break their proud hearts and bring them to repentance and spiritual renewal.
That is my prayer for all who are willing to take The Sonship Tongue Assignment. Not that we will obey a list of rules but that we’ll be faced with the depth of our sinfulness in view of the law to love and come to live in awe of the mercy and kindness of the Father, who gives us the righteousness he requires. Oh, that you, with me, will learn to live on our knees before the cross of Jesus with thanksgiving and praise to the King of grace.