Archive for Commentary
Unlike many Roman Catholics, I grew up very devout. I remember a kind, retired priest taking me under his wing and showing me the ways of the Catholic church. Much of what drew me in as a young teen was the mystery of God and the reverence with which this particular priest approached God. With time, however, the more questions I had, the more the mysteries began to dissipate in the light of God’s Word. I don’t want to rehearse my personal journey out of the Catholic church here; what’s important to note is that theological mystery is good for the Catholic church and many Catholics are content to live “in the dark” about what the Catholic church explicitly teaches in many areas.
I, for one, am glad the Pope said what he said concerning atheists and eternal life. To many in the secular media, the Pope’s admission that atheists who follow their conscience are heaven-bound will sound like a new and welcome break from the dogma of conservative Catholicism, represented most recently in Benedict. The media elites will celebrate Pope Francis as a liberal breath of fresh air in the stuffy halls of the Vatican. Others within evangelicalism will be aghast at such an “admission” and rebuke the Pope for diverging from Catholic dogma. However, this Pope has duped both the secular media and conservative evangelicals if they think the Pope has said anything new or controversial. In fact, what Pope Francis stated has been the normative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II.
In Lumen Gentium, Chapter 2-On the People of God, Canon 16, the Catholic Church teaches:
Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126); But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”,(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.
So yes, since Vatican II the Catholic Church has taught that anyone who has “not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God” may be saved. So long as those who know not, deny or are ignorant of God “strive to live a good life,” they will merit eternal life because the church sees this “goodness” as “given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.” When Pope Francis admitted that atheists who follow the dictates of their conscience go to heaven, he was merely quoting Catholic dogma. Here is the pertinent statement:
Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.
However, it’s not just atheists who go to heaven according to the Catholic Church; it is also Jews, Muslims (Mohamedans), those acknowledging their creator and those seeking an “unknown god.” Anyone, anywhere who sincerely seeks truth, light will find life according to the Catholic Church.
To be sure, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that salvation is only through Christ’s sacrificial and atoning work on the cross. So the Catholic Church teaches that salvation is through Christ and no other. However, the Church would say that one does not need to express explicit faith in Christ to be saved. This is the official position of the Catholic Church: inclusivism. Evangelicals have argued that the Bible teaches that salvation is only through Christ’s sacrificial and atoning work on the cross AND that one must believe in Christ, receiving his cross work on their behalf and turning away from a life of sin: exclusivism or particularism.
Recently, some “evangelicals”, like the Catholic Church, have also embraced inclusivism: i.e., John Sanders (1991), Clark Pinnock (1995), Terrance Tiessen (2004). Unfortunately, their influence has grown. However, it’s not hard to understand why. You only have ask a number of people in your church the age-old question about the man on the deserted island who’s never heard of Christ and never will. What happens to him? What happens to those who never hear the gospel? It is an emotional question, and we are inclined to give an emotional answer.
Nevertheless, we must work through the difficult topics and teach what the Bible says rather than shrouding difficult doctrines in mystery. Mystery only works when people ask no questions. Even hard questions deserve answers. When we think carefully about the difficult question concerning the fate of those who have never heard the gospel, we should be moved to feel the urgency of the church’s mission. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. However, if it doesn’t matter whether or not people hear the gospel and place explicit faith in Christ for salvation, then we will do more harm than good when we go on mission, for if we go and they reject Christ, then their fate will be sealed.
A Couple of Resources for Thinking Through Pluralism, Universalism, Inclusivism & Particularism
Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism, edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson.
Is Jesus the Only Savior? by Ronald H. Nash
I just received my copy of Jesus on Every Page by David Murray. I highly recommend it to all who want to understand how to read the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, with a view to Christ. Here’s my endorsement:
Much has been written for seminary students and pastors on interpreting all of Scripture with a view to Christ. Unfortunately, very little has been written with the average Christian in mind. In Jesus on Every Page, David Murray sets out to correct this deficiency by sharing his own journey of discovery and providing ten simple ways to see Christ in the Old Testament. No longer is the person in the pew left to wonder how the preacher got to Jesus from that text in Leviticus about dietary restrictions; she will be able to make the connections herself. I hope you will read Jesus on Every Page and embark on your own “Emmaus road” and discover that the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, tells the story of Jesus.
Spurgeon on Contextualization, from The Soul-Winner, chapter 13, “Soul Saving Our One Business”:
Paul went to his work always with an intense sympathy for those he dealt with, a sympathy which made him adapt himself to each ease. If he talked to a Jew, he did not begin at once blurting out that he was the apostle of the Gentiles, but he said he was a Jew, as Jew he was. He raised no questions about nationalities or ceremonies. He wanted to tell the Jew of Him of whom Isaiah said, “He is despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” in order that he might believe in Jesus and so be saved. If he met a Gentile, the apostle of the Gentiles never showed any of the squeamishness which might have been expected to cling to him on account of his Jewish education. He ate as the Gentiles ate, and drank as he did, sat with him, and talked with him; was, as it were, a Gentile with him; never raising any question about circumcision or uncircumcision, but solely wishing to tell him of Christ, who came into the world to save both Jew and Gentile, and to make them one. If Paul met with a Scythian, he spoke to him in the Barbarian tongue, and not in classic Greek. If he met a Greek, he spoke to him as he did at the Areopagus, with language that was fitted for a polished Athenian. He was all things to all men, that he might by all means save some.
So let it be with you, Christian people; your one business in life is to lead men to believe in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, and every other thing should be made subservient to this one object; if you can but get them saved, everything else will come right in due time. Mr. Hudson Taylor, a dear man of God, who has laboured much in Inland China, finds it helpful to dress as a Chinaman, and wear a pigtail. He always mingles with the people, and as far as possible lives as they do. This seems to me to be a truly wise policy. I can understand that we shall win upon a congregation of Chinese by becoming as Chinese as possible; and if this be the case, we are bound to be Chinese to the Chinese to save the Chinese. It would not be amiss to become a Zulu to save the Zulus, thought we must mind that we do it in another sense than Colenso did. If we can put ourselves on a level with those whose good we seek, we shall be more likely to effect our purpose than if we remain aliens and foreigners, and then talk of love and unity. To sink myself to save others is the idea of the apostle. To throw overboard all peculiarities, and yield a thousand indifferent points, in order to bring men to Jesus, is our wisdom if we would extend our Master’s kingdom. Never may any whim or conventionality of ours keep a soul from considering the gospel, -that were horrible indeed. Better far to be personally inconvenienced by compliance with things indifferent, than to retard a sinner’s coming by quarreling about trifles.
Spurgeon on Over-Contextualization, from The Soul Winner, chapter 14, “Instruction in Soul Winning”:
[The fishermen whom Jesus called to follow him] were to leave their pursuits, they were to leave their companions; they were, in fact, to quit the world, that their one business might be, in their Master’s name, to be fishers of men. We are not called to leave our daily business, or to quit our families. . . . We are called most distinctly to come out from among the ungodly, and to be separate, and not to touch the unclean thing. We cannot be fishers of men if we remain among men in the same element with them. Fish will not be fishers. The sinner will not convert the sinner. The ungodly man will not convert the ungodly man; and, what is more to the point, the worldly Christian will not convert the world. If you are of the world, no doubt the world will love its own; but you cannot save the world. If you are dark, and belong to the kingdom of darkness, you cannot remove the darkness. If you march with the armies of the wicked one, you cannot defeat them. I believe that one reason why the Church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the Church. Nowadays, we hear Noncomformists pleading that they may do this, and they may do that, -things which their Puritan forefathers would rather have died at the stake than have tolerated. They plead that they may live like worldlings, and my sad answer to them, when they crave for this liberty, is, “Do it if you dare. It may not do you much hurt, for you are so bad already. Your cravings show how rotten your hearts are. If you have a hungering after such dog’s meat, go, dogs, and eat the garbage! Worldly amusements are fit food for mere pretenders and hypocrites. If you were God’s children, you would loathe the very thought of the world’s evil joys, and your question would not be, “How far may we be like the world?’ but your one cry would be, “How far can we get away from the world? How much can we come out of it?” Your temptation would be rather to become sternly severe, and ultra-Puritanical in your separation from sin, in such a time as this, than to ask, “How can I make myself like other men, and act as they do?”
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God
that you may know that you have eternal life.”
(1 John 5:13, ESV)
Having spent most of my life around oceans, seas and lakes, I have a healthy respect for the water and have always felt that my daughters should as well. For this reason we began teaching them to swim at an early age. All five of our girls can swim like fishes; however, I remember a time when Gabrielle, now fifteen, was struggling. She was not struggling physically; she was struggling mentally. Oddly enough, when she was about two and a half years old, she could jump off a diving board into the deep end of an Olympic size pool and swim to the side. But, we moved away from that pool, and she “forgot” that she could swim. She developed a sort of mental block that destroyed her confidence in her ability to swim. Consequently, my greatest task at that time was not to teach her to swim but to remind her that she already knew how to swim.
I wonder how many Christians are like my Gabrielle was at that time? You see, I believe there are people in the church who have genuinely come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but instead of living confidently in this knowledge of God, they live frustrated lives because they simply don’t know all that God has accomplished for them. The church must own up to its share of the blame for these frustrated Christians because of the way we have approached evangelism. If our evangelism is motivated only by a desire to keep people out of hell, then once this has been accomplished people need to know nothing more. In fact, they don’t even have to be a part of a local church body. The Bible does not speak about Christianity as a “get out of hell free card;” it speaks of Christianity as life: eternal, abundant life (John 10:10). Life implies growth, and for the Christian this growth comes by growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ, and in some cases, growth comes by being reminded about what we have already learned (Ephesians 2:11-13; 2 Peter 1:12-13).
This is precisely what John does as he closes his first letter to his congregation. The members of his congregation had been confused by the false teachers, and their assurance of faith has been compromised. The purpose of 1 John was to assure the congregation that those who believe in Christ have eternal life (1 John 5:13). John assured the congregation with teaching they already knew (1 John 2:21). He reminded them that they should know they already possessed eternal life (1 John 5:13), answered prayer (1 John 5:14-17), freedom from sin’s power and protection from the evil one (1 John 5:18). They had an identity as God’s children (1 John 5:19) and already knew Him who is true-Jesus Christ (1 John 5:20).
If this is the abundant life that we are to have as God’s children, why do so many Christians live in frustration? Perhaps because they do not realize what God has given us in this eternal life. Beloved, if you struggle in the Christian life, then gather with a gospel church that exalts Christ as supreme and be encouraged and reminded of the things that God has done for you, so you may live confidently as a child of God.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV).
We live in a culture of instant gratification, and much of what we do is driven by our desire to enjoy things NOW! This drive for immediate satisfaction is one reason most Americans are in debt. According to statistics collected by the U. S. Census Bureau (2012 Estimate), “Americans owed a hefty $850.9 billion in credit card debt, or $6,920 per household. They owed $1.944 trillion in school, auto and furniture loans, or $15,800 per household. Combined, households owed a record $2.795 trillion in consumer debt, surpassing the total debt burden held before the recession. On average, Americans now owe $22,720 per household. This does not include mortgages.”
What these statistics actually may reveal is not so much a debt problem but a heart problem, a skewed perspective. In others words, these statistics may, in fact, betray the reality that a majority of Americans believe they can find satisfaction by stockpiling treasures here on earth. As followers of Christ, we must be willing to ask, “Are we living for the here and now or are we living with eternity in mind?” In order to answer that question, we have to consider how we handle money and material possessions.
The way we view and handle money and material possessions says much about both our personal character and our spiritual condition; the Bible makes that connection clear (see Luke 18:18-27; 19:1-9)! For wherever your treasure is that is where your heart will also be (Matthew 6:21). If you treasure the things of this world, then you will seek satisfaction in the here and now. If you treasure the things of God, then you will seek satisfaction in God and His eternal kingdom.
You don’t have to continue as a slave to debt and possessions. Jesus calls us to reorient our hearts away from this world and toward heaven – “STOP stockpiling your treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19)! On Sunday I argued that in order to fight the fight of faith against covetousness and materialism, we must first stop believing the lie that there is real and lasting value (satisfaction) in worldly wealth and possessions. Secondly, we must embrace the truth that heavenly riches are of surpassing, eternal value. Only as we grow in our understanding of the reward of heaven, namely that we get God, will we be able to hold on loosely to the things of this world.
If you want a helpful and quick read on obtaining an eternal perspective on money, possessions and eternity, I highly recommend Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle. It’s a little book, and it will be the best $10.00 investment you ever make. If you want to pursue this matter more deeply, then read Alcorn’s Money, Possessions and Eternity. It is a more comprehensive study on the dangers of materialism and what the Bible says about money and possessions. May we continue to grow as faithful stewards of all God has given us, and may God richly bless us in order that we would bless the nations (Psalm 67).
How are we who consider the glory of God as the chief end of man to serve God’s people?
In A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (page 65), Don Carson suggests that if we long to further the interests of our Lord, we must realize that his “interests are tied to the well-being of his people.” It is entirely appropriate, then, to ask, “What is best for the people of God?” Yet, we need to understand how to ask that question in the context of the priority of the glory of God. Here’s Carson’s answer:
In the teaching of Jesus, the first command is to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength; the second is to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matt. 22:37-40). Jesus does not suggest that the two commands are identical. Far from it: he enumerates two commands and sets them out in terms of their relative priorities: first and second. . . .
. . . So while love for God and love for brothers must not be equated, there is an important sense in which the former can be tested by the latter. When we live up to our calling, we remember that in God’s church people do not set the agenda, they are the agenda. Our allegiance to God and his gospel will be demonstrated in our service to his people, to those who will become his people, to those made in his image.
It is in this sense that Christians must be constantly asking what is best for the people of God. Our allegiance to Jesus Christ, our confession of him as Lord, entails a profound commitment to further his interests–and it does not take much reading of Scripture to perceive that his interests are tied to the well-being of his people. Moreover, if we joyfully confess the lordship of Christ, then when we ask what is best for people our answers will be cast in terms of what he thinks is best for people, not necessarily what people think is best for themselves.
There is much discussion right now about what evangelicals should do this presidential election. Some beloved brothers and sisters argue that the two party political system has provided two “evil” or at least undesirable choices. Therefore, they ask, why should one have to vote for the lesser of two evils. This is a principled stance.
Other beloved brothers and sisters argue that not to vote is to vote for the greater of two evils, or at the very least not to stand up for, for example, the rights of the unborn.
In light of the fact that we evangelical are sometimes gullible and may be tempted to listen to fringe voices, I thought I would simply list a few links from more thoughtful persons representing the various positions.
Albert Mohler, others – panel: The Mormon Moment? Religious Convictions and the 2012 Election
John Piper – I Am Going to Vote
Is it possible to be connected to Jesus (i.e., church member, baptized, etc.) and still not be a Christian? The Scriptures indicate the answer is yes; the primary example is Judas Iscariot (John 6:70-71; 13:21-30; 17:12). In John 15, Jesus reminds us that the Father planted the true vine and cares for the branches so that they would glorify Him by bearing fruit (15:1-2). In the Old Testament, we are reminded that God had planted Israel as the vine that would produce fruit; however, they produced sour grapes instead, so God declared that He would no longer prune them and protect them (Isaiah 5:1-7; Ezekiel 19:10-14). Now Jesus, not Israel, is the true vine. Jesus is the true Israel, the true vine that produces fruit (15:1-2). John’s fulfillment theology shows how Jesus fulfills the old age: Jesus turns the old purification waters into new wine (2:1-12); Jesus calls for the tearing down of the old temple and claims that He is the new temple (2:13-21); Jesus claims that the old worship tied to a time and place will be no more because new worship is not about time and place but about Him (4:19-41). So, Jesus is the true, fruitful vine that replaces the old, fruitless vine (15:1), and those who are His will bear fruit. Fruitfulness is an undeniable mark of a genuine follower of Jesus.
So, if Jesus produces fruit through His branches (i.e., disciples), and genuine branches bear fruit, thus showing to be true disciples, then what kinds of fruit glorify the Father (15:8)? John reminds us of the fruits of obedience (15:10), peace (14:27), love (15:12), witness (15:26-27). We also find in Scripture that followers of Christ should bear the fruit of repentance (Matthew 3:7-10); the fruit of Light which is found in all that is good and right and true (Ephesians 5:7-12); the fruit of lips which is a sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15); and of course, the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24).
However, the important question is how does one bear such fruit (15:3-7)? The way in which one answers this question betrays the difference between religion and Christianity, for religion too proposes that its proponents bear such or similar fruit. However, whereas religion suggests that the individual is responsible for bearing such fruit in his or her own power, the gospel reminds us that we are incapable. The only fruit we can produce in our own power would be rotten. The gospel, on the other hand, reminds us that fruitfulness flows from a continuous, intimate and dependent relationship with Christ, which is initiated by God. Jesus initiates relationship to Him by His cleansing word (15:3). He is the one who has come to reveal the true nature and glory of the Father (John 1:1-18); the Spirit is the one who removes the heart of stone and gives a new heart that beats for God in the new, heavenly birth (John 3:1-8; see Ezekiel 36:22ff); and the only appropriate response is to believe in Jesus, whom the Father has sent (John 3:9-15), and to keep believing.
Genuine believers remain in continuous relationship with Jesus. If we are to bear fruit, we must remain/abide in Christ; apart from Him we can do nothing – no fruit (15:4-6). As the true vine, Jesus is the only source of life (14:6; 15:3) and thus, of fruit bearing (15:4-5). Those who do not remain in Christ do not bear fruit and will be cut off (15:6; Ezekiel 15:1-8; 19).
Genuine believers remain in an intimate relationship with Christ. In other words, true believers remain in Jesus’ words – His teaching (truth) is the life-blood that flows through our veins (15:3, 7). True believers also remain in Jesus’ love (15:9-10; cf. 13:34-35; 14:23), which is most clearly displayed in His death on the cross in our place (15:13). We are to love one another as Jesus has loved us (1 John 3:11-18; 4:16-21; Romans 12:9-21).
Finally, genuine believers remain in a dependent relationship with Christ. We must depend upon Christ and look to Christ and cry out to the Father in the name of Christ that He would bear such fruit through us (15:7). We are to pray for such fruit that glorifies the Father (notice how Paul prays in Colossians 1:3-14).
Do you have a continuous, intimate and dependent relationship with Jesus? Examine yourself and see if you are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Look to Christ and keep trusting in Christ. Everything Jesus has said and done is for God’s glory (John 17:1-5) and our joy (John 15:11). There is great joy in abiding in Christ!
Sacrificing children to false gods in the Old Testament
In Leviticus 18:21, God forbids Israel from offering their children to Molech. In Leviticus 20:1-5, God warns that those who offer their children to Molech will be put to death by stoning, while those who close their eyes to such abominations will be cut off from the people.
Molech was believed to be a deity of the Ammonites (1 Kings 11:7). The likely practice was that parents would kill their children first, then toss them into the fire pit (Topheth) as a sacrifice to Molech. This abomination may be traced throughout Israel’s (1 Kings 11:1-8) and Judah’s (2 Kings 23:1-20) history. In fact, Jeremiah records that abominations such as the sacrifices of Israel’s children to Molech is one of the reasons God handed them over to Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 32:26-35; cf. 7:30-34; 19:4-9).
Sacrificing children to false gods in our day
Lest we think we have advanced beyond this barbarism, we sacrifice our children to the gods of this world:
1. Abortion: the sacrifice of unborn children to the gods of this world. The Christian worldview of humanity is such that all life bears God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27) and that human life begins at conception (Ps. 139:13-16). Because the conceptus (fertilized egg) is an unborn child bearing God’s image, ending that life is murder (Genesis 9:6).
When the reasons for ending the life of unborn children are given, they largely expose our personal idols: self, career, work, relationship, fame, etc.
2. Reproductive technologies: It is possible that the use of some reproductive techonologies cause us to sacrifice many unborn children in order to have some children. Notice I say it is possible. It is possible to pursue fertility technologies with a pure heart and faithful financial stewardship. It is also possible that the false god of “biological” children may push some couples to compromise their Christian worldview (fertilized egg = human life) by fertilizing more eggs than will be used. For these reasons, it is imperative that any Christian couple seek the counsel of physicians who themselves are committed to a pro-life, Christian worldview of humanity.
Further, idolatries may be exposed in the amount of financial resources a couple may be willing to commit to such procedures. The issue of financial stewardship raises the question of whether or not it may be wiser to adopt.
3. Birth Control: There is debate within the pro-life, Christian medical community as to whether or not hormone contraceptives (oral, injectables, implants) may function as abortifacients. Some methods of birth control are clearly abortive (IUD’s; RU486). Some are true contraceptives – they prohibit conception. The debate is such that Christians should be willing to do the necessary research in order to proceed with a clear conscience. See the opposing arguments below by pro-life, Christian Ob-Gyns:
Regardless, the issue of contraception (avoiding conception – including natural family planning) raises the question of how one views children – are they a gift from God or an inconvenience; are they a blessing to be received or are they hurdles to our plans (read idols): education, career goals, relationship, financial goals, fame, etc.?
The best talk I have heard on these matters from a theological perspective was an address by R. Albert Mohler, titled Reproductive Technologies and Contraception, delivered at a Carl F. H. Henry Forum at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.
The One who sacrificed His Son so that we idolaters and child sacrificers might be forgiven and receive life
What of those who have sacrificed their children to the gods of this world? Is there any hope? Will they be forever cast out of God’s presence? The good news that is the gospel reminds us that God the Father sacrificed His own Son Jesus, so that all who have sacrificed their own children may not die/perish/be eternally separated from His presence but instead receive forgiveness of sin and everlasting life in the very presence of God.
1. The Father called Jesus to be the faithful Israel/Son who obeyed His every command (Matthew 2:15). The context of this call was Herod’s killing of the Jewish children (Matthew 2:16-18).
2. The Father was pleased with Jesus’ obedience: “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17); “Listen to him” (Matt 17:5).
3. Jesus willingly obeyed the Father even to the point of death on a cross – “Not my will be done but your will be done” (Matthew 26:39, 42, 43).
4. At the cross, the crowds mocked Jesus: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (27:38-39).
5. At the cross, some observers had to confess, “Truly, Jesus was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:51-54).
Jesus is God’s Son through whom idolaters and murderers may receive forgiveness of sins. Let us confess our idolatries and murders; let us repent (renew our thinking); and let us trust in Christ alone, for He is all sufficient and worthy of all our worship.
As I am preaching through Leviticus, I find myself in Leviticus 18 this week. My wife and I have already had multiple discussions as to how I will deal with the topic in the context of a multi-ethnic (lots of traditions and tabus), multi-generational (lots of kiddos-including my own- and some senior adults) congregation.
I’ve asked our pastoral team to be in prayer with me as I prepare and to help me as I consider the language to use in preaching this sermon. In the midst of all the conversations, I was reminded of preaching through 1 Corinthians 7 in the fall of 2009. At that time I wrote the following piece, and I thought it would be a good place to start our thinking:
How should Christians view sex?
Any conversations about sex have to take into consideration the cultural influences of the sexual revolution of the 60’s and its impact on present views on sex in our society. Along with the present reality of rampant sexual sin now being reaped as a result of the seeds of the sexual revolution, there is also the reality of distorted sex as a result of being used, abused and misused sexually. What will the church say to these?
The sexual revolution also provided false pictures of sexuality (see Hollywood) which promote what I would call frustrated sex – it’s not all that. But there are also other forms of frustrated sex. What of those who cannot enjoy sex because of physical limitations or medical conditions? What will the church say to these?
Like most things, the church has tended to respond with either legalism or license. Augustine’s pre-conversion immoral life led him to adopt a strong stance against sex which influenced the Catholic church to adopt a celibate priesthood. The church has generally followed this pattern of legalism by telling teenagers and singles that “True Love Waits” – the Christian version of “Just Say No!”
Ironically it has become popular today to talk about sex in church and invite congregants to enjoy sex often-perhaps a “40 Days of Sex” Campaign is lurking in our evangelical future? So, how is the church to view sex?
The Corinthians’ Response: Legalism
The Corinthians opted for the legalistic approach- “It is right for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Cor. 7:1). Paul responds by urging them to remain in whatever condition they were called to Christ because of a present distress unknown to us (7:17, 25-27). If at all possible, though, Paul urged a celibate life which allowed for undistracted devotion to Christ (7:7-8, 32-35). However, Paul recognized that not everyone has the gift of celibacy (7:7). Those who don’t have the gift of celibacy have been granted another gift – marriage and the joy of sex within marriage.
The Biblical Picture
Sex is a gift given by God by which we may know Him more intimately and glorify Him more fully. Here is my fourfold argument:
1. We glorify God when we fulfill our God-given roles which include maleness/femaleness (Gen. 1:27). We were not created to be alone (Gen. 2:18); we were created to reflect the tri-une fellowship of the living God in our own relationships. God’s answer to the “badness” of being alone was marriage (Gen. 2:18-25). Here we see that sexual attraction is good and God-glorifying but only within the marriage covenant.
2. We cannot talk about sex without talking about marriage (Gen. 2:24-25). In marriage there is intimacy: real, physical, interpersonal knowledge between husband and wife. Sex is a one-flesh, no-shame union in which husband & wife know one another intimately (Gen. 4:1).
3. But we cannot talk about marriage without talking about the God who reveals Himself as the ever-faithful husband of His bride. The Lord betrothed Himself to Israel (Ezekiel 16:8-14). Yet, Israel was continually adulterous, so in 722 BC, the Lord judged Israel for her adultery and removed her from the North (Hosea 1:2-2:13). The Lord was patient with Judah, but eventually in 586 BC the Lord judged her for adultery and removed her from Jerusalem (Ezekiel 16:15, 30).
Even so, God proved to be the ever-faithful husband who wins back His bride (Hosea 2:14-18) through a new covenant by which He would be intimately known (Ezekiel 16:59-63). The New Testament reveals that Jesus is the one who mediates this new covenant (Hebrews 8:8-12). As our faithful husband, Jesus is preparing us (Eph. 5:25ff) for His wedding day, the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9). It is by faith that we are betrothed to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2).
4. Conclusion for Marrieds: So, sex is a divine gift by which we may know God more intimately and glorify Him more fully – because our faithfulness as husband and wife in the earthly marriage covenant and our delighting in one another as husband and wife point to the intimate knowledge between God and His bride and the joys of covenant faithfulness-both His and ours. We bring God great glory when we are fully satisfied with Him in this covenant relationship.
So, let the married persons delight in the covenant of marriage and delight in one another as a reflection of God’s covenant love for and delight in His bride.
5. Conclusion for Singles: The faithfulness of a single, celibate Christian man or woman points to the church patiently awaiting the return of the bridegroom for His bride on the wedding day.
So, let the singles wait on the Lord and serve Him now with undistracted devotion until our bridegroom returns or until Christ provides a temporary spouse on this earth in which you can reflect His covenant love and faithfulness.
Such delighting in God for the single and the married, frees us from the bondage of sexual temptation and sin (2 Peter 1:3-4).