Can The Church Affirm Homosexuality?

No matter where we turn in the culture today, the issues of homosexuality and “gender identity” are being hotly debated. The “homosexual rights” ideology continues to seek legitimization and approval – not just tolerance – of homosexual behaviour, resulting in rapidly changing societal mores and values. This deeply impacts us in our day-to-day relationships with family and with fellow church members, neighbours and co-workers.

Even from within the church itself there is a theology that has been emerging for decades to legitimize homosexuality through a revisionist gay theology as a biblically based, better way forward.

To someone who holds to a high view of scripture, the answer seems obvious. Homosexuality is a sin – end of debate. That may have worked a generation ago, but today there is a concerted effort to fundamentally change your mind. What we are seeing, and have seen for quite some time now, is an attempt to usher in an uncritical acceptance and promotion of homosexuality into the wider culture, and much is being centered on churches and synagogues.

That’s because, homosexual activists and their allies know that the Judeo-Christian sexual ethic found in the Bible is the last bastion of defense holding back the widespread embrace of homosexuality throughout the western culture.

They know that if you and I can be convinced that homosexual behaviour is no longer sinful in God’s eyes, that it is in fact is a better way to live, then the battle to fully implement their political and social goals will be won and a new standard can be accepted as the culturally good standard.

But questions need to be asked. What if the historical Biblical standard along with the historical cultural standard are still the best ways? What if any other way of approaching sexuality, whether it be homosexuality, or intimate heterosexual relationships outside of a committed marriage relationship, is not the better way? What if the standard of sex within a committed marriage relationship between a husband and wife is not even a better way, but the best way?

Before I get into what I believe is the best way, allow me to address two other ways and what I see as obvious dilemmas they hold.

Addressing the Cultural Way

The modern understanding of finding self is a recent approach to identity. We are to look within at our desires – especially our sexual ones – and then determine (Freud) or create (Foucault) who we are, not allowing anyone else to validate or define us or make us feel guilty. We are then to demand that the world affirm our expression of ourselves. The result is that anyone who questions our self-view is by definition attacking us, doing violence, questioning our very existence, and ultimately denying us support. But should we believe and accept this understanding of identity?

In most of the non-western world, identity is communal. You don’t get to define yourself -identity is understood from within the community, and self-esteem comes more from duty to God, family, and others rather than from satisfying desires and self-interest.

But when the psychiatrist says: “You decide who you are – no one else can!” he or she is at that moment imposing a very individualistic, western way of understanding identity on the individual as if that is the only approach possible. It is “western” because it was grounded in the Enlightenment & Freud, & framed to be a new form of social liberation vs oppression, and based on Foucault’s account of language and power. And as noted, non-westernized cultures are far less individualistic and do not think this way.

The Obvious Dilemma of the Cultural Way

The obvious dilemma however is that you cannot discover a ‘real you’ by looking at your changing and contradictory inner feelings. You will always need a standard of values by which you can sift your inner drives & determine which ones characterize your ‘true’ & ‘false’ selves. Christians believe the Bible gives us that standard to determine our de-humanizing desires and our right, humanizing ones.

The other dilemma that needs to be addressed is that the modern identity is highly performative. In other words, you must realize your inner dreams and desires or constantly perform your suffering. This leads to fragility and a need for constant re-affirmation. No wonder any criticism at all is crushing or feels “controlling”. No wonder dialogue is hard, if not impossible to come by when differing views are presented. We live in a culture of rage. Don’t believe me? Post something on social media that speaks up against the cultural norms and prepare for the modern version of hate mail.

The reason that the Christian receives so much criticism when proposing the biblical sex ethic is that most people in the culture today assume the modern approach to self-identity as a given – it is assumed as self-evident to all when clearly it is not.

That’s why it’s important to keep reminding yourself that even though your identity may have been hijacked by a very individualistic, western way of understanding identity. It is not the only approach possible. The Christians’ deepest identity, is in Christ, who loves and accepts us counter-conditionally, despite all our flaws. That means then that Christian identity is received, not achieved. And that takes enormous pressure off of us to perform and earn our affirmations.

Addressing the ‘Revisionist’ Way

As a Christian who holds to a high view of scripture, I believe that sexuality is God’s idea, not culture’s idea. That means that we should learn from God what it is, a man and a woman created in beautifully complementary ways so that they form one flesh. And to try to do it another way is a distortion and a dysfunction of the way God made it.

However, there are some who would say that scripture doesn’t say what I believe it to say, and that I need to catch up to a better understanding of scripture. Are they right?

Gay strategists Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen, in their landmark homosexual public relations manual published in 1989, boldly encouraged gays “to muddy the moral waters, that is, to undercut the rationalizations that ‘justify’ religious bigotry and to jam some of its psychic rewards.” They go on to specify that this entails “raising serious theological objections to conservative biblical teachings.”

Further, gays are called to “undermine the moral authourity of homo-hating churches…by portraying such institutions as antiquated backwaters, badly out of step with the times and with the latest findings of psychology.” (Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear & Hatred of Gays in the 90’s, Penguin Books USA, New York, 1989, p. 179).

This campaign of misinformation is often referred to as “revisionist gay theology,” and it’s presently playing out in denomination after denomination with increasing conflict. This didn’t just start in the twenty-first century. It actually began to take place within the church, in the mid-twentieth century, with a systematic questioning of clear scriptural teaching on homosexual behaviour – recalling the serpent’s question to Eve in Genesis 3, “Did God really say…?”

Specifically, the intended effect of revisionist gay theology is to disengage the church from the wider cultural debate about homosexuality by redefining it as God-ordained and morally permissible. And just like the serpent’s temptation to Eve in the Garden, leaders in the “gay-Christian” movement are tempting us with the question: “Did God really say that homosexuality is a sin?”

But wasn’t the word ‘homosexual’ only addd to the bible in 1946? 

A claim that I hear of more and more being presented, is that the Greek word used in 1 Corinthians 6:9, for homosexuality, “Arsenokoitai”, was not originally translated to mean “homosexual” until 1946 when it was added in the RSV translation of the time.

The claim is that the word ‘Arsenokoitai’ is not actually referring to monogamous, loving, committed homosexual relationships. Paul’s intent, they claim, wasn’t to deny the beauty of “loving, faithful” same-sex relationships but only denying those relationships involving abuse, coercion, temple prostitution or unfaithfulness.

The sentiment is that it’s the conservative individual’s prejudice against homosexuals that leads them to misread biblical texts about homosexuality. So, then scriptures used that supposedly condemn homosexual behaviour are simply mistranslated, or taken out of context to bolster a conservative, outdated claim that doesn’t apply to our present world and in fact is hurtful to current society as it fosters hatred, bigotry, and is essentially anti-freedom.

An argument being used is that the passage in Leviticus 18:22 that says in English, “Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination,” is not translated as homosexual, but rather translated in the pre-1986 German version to say, “Man shall not lie with ‘young boys’ as he does with a woman, for it is an abomination.” Leviticus 20:13 says the same thing in the pre-1986 German version, “Young boys.” And then in 1 Corinthians, instead of homosexuals, the pre-1986 German translation says, “Boy molesters will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Even Martin Luther’s original German translation from 1534 of the same passage uses the word knabenschander. Knaben is boy, schander is molester. This word “boy molesters” for the most part carried through the next several centuries of German Bible translations. Interestingly, Knabenschander is also found in 1 Timothy 1:10.

So then why is the same word (in Greek Arsenokoitai) translated as ‘boy molester’ in both the older English and German translations, changed to ‘homosexual’ in the English in 1946 and the German in 1986? Is it simply to reflect the church’s fear of the sexual revolution and to somehow regain control of the bedroom?

The Obvious Dilemma of The ‘Revisionist’ Way

Revisionist gay theology has an obvious dilemma in that it visibly violates God’s intentional design for gender and sexuality by saying that women don’t need men and men don’t need women. That comes out of a humanistic ideology that places human feelings and desires above biblical truth, leading people to believe lies.

So, instead of the conservative individuals prejudice against homosexuals that leads to misreading biblical texts about homosexuality, it’s more often those having a personal interest in the promotion of gay revisionist theology, that twist the plain teaching of Scripture to support and justify their behaviour.

That’s why we can’t base our arguments as heavily as some might wish on English or German translations, because that is exactly what they are – translations. So, to either bolster an argument or to refute one, it’s always best to go back to the language these versions were translated from if at all possible, and it is possible in this case. For the New Testament passages we of course must go to the Greek.

The Greek word Arsenokoitai is a compound word: arseno is the word for “a male,” and koitai is the word for “mat” or “bed.” Put the two halves together, and the word means “a male bed” – that is, a person who makes use of a “male-only bed” or a “bed for males.”

The word meaning “bed” carries a sexual connotation in this context – the Greek koitai is the source of our English word coitus (“sexual intercourse”). The conclusion is that the word arsenokoitai is referring to homosexuals – men who are in bed with other men, engaging in same-gender sexual activity. The fact that the English word ‘homosexual’ wasn’t specifically used until 1946 only indicates the English translations were keeping up with the changing language, not battling the changing morality.

This argument is further bolstered in that the notion that some homosexual relationships are accepted, is not even hinted at in the passages that are translated from Arsenokoitai. The men’s commitment level or the presence of “love” is not even addressed. Further, the idea that the condemned same-sex activity is linked to economic exploitation or abuse is also a forced reading with no textual basis.

When we read that homosexuality in Leviticus, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy is mentioned in the wider context of sexual, immoral, and prohibited behaviours, all of which elaborate on the commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” we can’t help but understand it as a clear prohibition of sex outside of a male-female marriage.

In an attempt to make homosexual behaviour compatible with Christianity, you can’t just redefine the ‘Greek’ word. The lie of the enemy, “did God really say” … can’t work here.

A Better Way

 In Genesis 1 we see God’s plan in everything. We continually see pairs of different but complementary things made to work together. For example, heaven and earth, sea and land, God and humanity, light and dark. It is part of the brilliance, wonder and the glorious dance of God’s creation that diverse, unlike things are made to unite and create dynamic wholes which generate more and more life and beauty through their relationships. As N.T. Wright points out, the creation and uniting of male and female at the end of Genesis 2 is the climax of all this.

That means that male and female have unique, non-interchangeable glories – they each see and do things that the other cannot. Sex was created by God to be a way to mingle these strengths and glories within a life-long covenant of marriage. Marriage is the most intense (though not the only) place where this reunion of male and female takes place in human life. Male and female reshape, learn from, and work together.

That’s why, in one of the great ironies of our western modern culture, when we celebrate diversity in so many other cultural sectors, we have truncated the better way, actual the best way in the ultimate unity-in-diversity – inter-gendered sexual union within the covenant of marriage.

But without understanding this vision, the sexual prohibitions in scripture just don’t make sense. But it’s because of this vision that helps one understand that homosexuality does not come close to meeting the need for this rich diversity of perspective and gendered humanity in sexual relationships. Same-sex relationships not only cannot provide this for each spouse, they can’t provide children with a deep connection to each half of humanity through a parent of each gender.

How Do We Respond To The Changing Culture?

It’s one thing to know what I believe, but it’s an entirely different thing to live out what I believe. When it comes to a response to the changing culture, specifically homosexuality, our response must be biblical and it must be saturated in love.

Someone might object, “But we are loving. We hate the sin but love the sinner.” I have news for you: the world isn’t feeling the love. According to recent research, when the vast majority of Christians and non-Christians want to describe the church, they call it “anti-homosexual.” We might understand what we mean by the “hate the sin but love the sinner” comment, but the phrase is highly despised in the LBGTQ community.

The problem isn’t our stance on homosexuality. We oppose this lifestyle because the Bible opposes it. We are right to be concerned when society drives at breakneck speed into a dense fog, with no apparent regard for what the future may hold. Our message may be right, but we are not as loving as we think we are. Why? Because we don’t express an essential element of love, we don’t “serve one another humbly in love” – Galatians 5:13 We need to do better at being known for humble love.

For one, we must humble ourselves for wrongly assuming that those who support a gay lifestyle do so out of disdain for morality. There are other reasons (maybe even good reasons) why people support gay rights, such as concern for the mental health of those struggling with same sex attraction, some of those struggles ending in suicide.

Many people support gay rights because they value authenticity. They reason that those who see themselves as gay should have the right to act consistent with their self-understanding. Some support gay rights as an act of resistance against what they see as untoward government intrusion. If we’re humble, we’ll be aware that those on the other side of this issue may have motives we can affirm.

We must humble ourselves, second, for how we’ve reacted. Some of us have lived by a double standard, condemning others’ sins but neglecting our own. We’ve not been good listeners, considering ourselves righteous for refusing to engage with those who differ from us. We’ve called our response “righteous indignation,” when it may have been only “fear of the other.” And when some of our own have honestly shared their same sex attraction, we have tended to treat them like enemies, not family. If we’re humble, we’ll admit we’ve responded poorly.

True love is not only humble, it serves others. If we were going overseas to work as a missionary, we would be very conscious that we were there to serve, not to be served. We would bend over backward to avoid offense. Among those already offended, we would bend even further.

The church must become a community that provides a loving environment for these who struggle with their sexuality and gender. After all, if “God’s kindness is intended to lead [us] to repentance.” – Romans 2:4, perhaps he wants to accomplish the same result from our kindness with others.

Please don’t mis-hear me. Telling the whole truth is needed now more than ever. But by only sharing part of the Bible’s message, we’ve made matters worse. We must not shy away from speaking of God’s disapproval of gay sex, even if this makes some unhappy. While at the same time, and with equal conviction, speak of the freedom to live above our natural state, to discover a better way. And back up our words with our example, lives of humble service that express the love of Jesus, because that is the world’s best hope and that is the best way.

Quit Trying to Live Like A Super Christian

A short time ago, I, along with my family, watched the movie Avengers: Endgame. As we watched we all cheered the Avengers on hoping and waiting for the forces of good to overcome the forces of evil. For the evening at least, these superheroes captured our imaginations and our hearts. Then we went to bed.

Why are we so enamored with superheroes? At least our culture seems to be even if you as an individual aren’t. I think it’s because it’s in the superhero stories where we see good always winning over evil, where people are saved from horrible fates and bad guys always get punished.

Superheroes give us hope in a world where we are bombarded by bad news and sadness.

Superheroes give us hope in a world where we are bombarded by bad news and sadness. But also, the truth is that they are just so cool. Try wearing spandex and look good at the same time. For most of us that is utterly impossible, but these superheroes always look amazing and so downright cool.

But superheroes aren’t real. They’re a fantasy. That’s why when we see someone dressed up like Spiderman we know that he or she is either heading to a party or they’re half a puck short of a goal. And if they really thought they were Spiderman, well then, we’d know for sure that they are unbalanced in their minds. That’s because we know that superheroes don’t exist.

How come then, when it comes to the Christian life so many try to be super heroes in the Christian realm? I don’t mean the hero who saves people from death, Jesus did that on the cross already. Rather I’m talking about the self-acclaimed Super Christian who comes across as better than everyone else, as someone who is out to single handedly fight the evil they see in every corner.

Truth be told, no one wants to know a Super Christian. And just like the super heroes of Marvel & DC, they aren’t real. And we know this because too many of us have grown up in broken homes. Too many of us have been disoriented by tragedy in our lives. Too many of us have lost faith in cultural institutions, including the church. Too many of us have grown up wondering if anyone really cares about us.

There is no such thing as a ‘Super Christian’. They are fake, yet we have all been hurt by people wearing those labels. What we are all longing for is to enter into relationships with people who are not just shiny and pretty on the outside, wearing the correct clothes and cutting their hair just right, appearing to be ‘all that’. Instead we are looking for those who are real and authentic with the life that God has given them, as messy as it may be.

But here’s the thing. Too many of us, if not all of us at some point or another try to be that Super Christian. We do that in the way we’ve struggled to ‘prove’ our worthiness before God.

I’m not interested in showing you how to be a better person. Nor am I interested in showing you how to be a good or even great Christian. And I’m certainly not interested in helping someone become a Super Christian. What I am interested in is showing you how to give your life over to Jesus so that he can change you and live through you.

Because unless he does the changing and unless he does the living through us, we’ll never get this Christian life thing down and we’ll never be free to live the life we we’re created to live. Which is accepting the gospel as a part of our life. The gospel or the good news that we can live a life free from the penalty of sin, free from the power & hold of sin, and ultimately free from the presence of sin.

Paul said in Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” – Galatians 5:1-5

To Paul and the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, understanding the true gospel is vital to living the Christian life because without understanding what it means to be a real Christian by embracing the true gospel, we end up living lives that are angst driven.

But when we understand and embrace true Christianity, and understand what the gospel is really about, it frees us up from the anxiety of religiosity, and the angst of trying to prove our worth before God, other people and ourselves, of trying to be a super Christian. It’s only when we understand the gospel for what it really is that we can be free from anxiety.

We can be free from anxiety

The surface issue, which threatened to divide the church, was circumcision. There were forces in the Jerusalem church who taught that circumcision was necessary to be in church fellowship. Paul described them as “false brothers,” who were brought in to bring them into “slavery.” What does he mean by slavery? He means that by making circumcision necessary for salvation, the false teachers were dragging the church back to adherence of a system of laws.

According to them we all needed to keep all of the Torah that contains 613 specific regulations & commandments. And you’d keep them if you really wanted to be a disciple of Jesus’ and really wanted to prove your worthiness to be saved and approved by God. How hard would that be? To keep track of them all – let alone do them all, you needed to be some sort of Super Christian. And we already know that there are no Super Christians because following all those rules and regulations are impossible for any human to do.

So, Paul’s argument was that we didn’t have to keep trying to fulfill the law anymore because God knew we couldn’t do it. Paul pointed out that God was doing a brand-new work that superseded all of the old rules and relationships. Most of us would agree with Paul, and we look back at these false teachers causing problems in the early church and we tsk tsk them.

I wonder how often we unconsciously add “extras” to the gospel message? 

But I wonder how often we unconsciously add “extras” to the gospel message? Extras that make us think that we can earn God’s favour by affirming certain teachings, following prescribed rituals, dressing or acting a certain way, listening to and singing the right music, speaking the right lingo, or avoiding taboo behaviour  And sometimes we get to the point where we smugly believe that we are better Christians because we don’t do this or that thing.

It’s like we think that the motto to live by is; I don’t smoke & I don’t Chew & I don’t associate with them that do! But anyone who trades freedom in Christ for a set of rules or a list of does and don’ts so that they can be considered a better Christian or a “Super Christian” is in reality accepting the handcuffs of spiritual slavery.

It’s so important to get the gospel right. That’s because the true gospel provides freedom, not slavery. Before we were in Christ, before we became a follower and disciple of Jesus’, we were in slavery to sin; now we are free in Christ from being forced to observe what often amounts to incidentals. Those activities we hold onto will not save us, and in the end, it is like being chained to the law. If we base our salvation and standing before God in a list of do’s and don’ts, we will grow very tired very fast.

Tim Keller, in his book Galatians For You, refers to this as emotional freedom, and says that when we apply a list of rules and regulations to the gospel it can become an “endless treadmill of guilt and insecurity.”Paul’s concern for the Galatians was to get the gospel right so that they could live in freedom. This needs to be my concern daily. It needs to be the concern of every Christian man or woman.

Promoting a gospel with extras is no gospel at all, and in the end, it robs us of the joy and freedom in Christ that is ours through his sacrifice and by becoming a part of Christ, united to Jesus as a disciple of his. We only can become filled with increasing anxiety, when living the old way of trying to justify our existence by our own work.

Union with Christ tells us, “you have died to yourself”. Which means that you’ve died to the angst that comes from feeling like you’re not allowed to fail, or to the feelings of inadequacy that come from feeling like you have. To those questions “Am I significant? Have I done enough? Am I accepted?” the answer is “Your life is now hidden (united) with Christ in God” – Colossians 3:1

This is the beautiful, biblical truth of justification. You no longer have to justify your life. You don’t have to worry, like Jay Gatsby in the story the Great Gatsby, about others thinking you’re a nobody. Christ marries himself to you and in a wonderful exchange, you give him all your sins, and he gives you all of his righteousness. It’s like he says to you and me “My life is perfect, right? Well yours isn’t. How would you like to trade?” The good news is that Jesus offers his life for those who are willing to turn from their own imperfect life and embrace his perfect one.

It’s like he says to you and me “My life is perfect, right? Well yours isn’t. How would you like to trade?”

In Christ, you are significant – ‘he’ makes you so. In Christ, you are secure. In Christ, you are accepted. But that acceptance no longer has to be earned or maintained; it is granted by grace and guaranteed in Christ. This doesn’t mean you stop working, but it does mean you now work in a totally new way. You no longer work for approval; you work from approval.

 American Idol was one of the most popular television shows of all time, and for the contestants, one of the most nerve wracking. A single missed note could cost you the competition, but winning could change the course of your life. At the end of each season, when the contest was over and the winner had been crowned, she or he took up the microphone and sang one more time. But it was no longer singing to win; it was singing because they’d won.

It was no longer a contest. They had nothing more to prove or earn. Instead, the chosen and honoured performer could sing with all his or her heart, delighting in their gifts for the benefit of others. That’s the freedom from anxiety the gospel gives.

You, dear Christian, have already been chosen and crowned in Christ, so now you can do what you do with all your energy, delighting in whatever gifts God has given you for the benefit of serving others. That is living life knowing you don’t need to be the hero, super or otherwise. That is living life without anxiety.

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

It’s that time of year once again, when the air gets crisper, the days get shorter, and for many young Canadians the excitement grows in anticipation of the darkest, spookiest holiday of the year – Halloween

I was raised in a home where it seemed that there was a lot of confusion about whether or not Christians should participate in Halloween. One year we were allowed to participate, the next my parents would feel convicted that we should burn all candy, the next we were allowed to participate as long as we only trick-or-treated at people’s homes we knew, the next we’d burn candy again.

I’m exaggerating somewhat of course, however the conversations, debates and questions kept being discussed and asked year after year in our home – “How should Christians respond to Halloween?” “Is it irresponsible for parents to let their children trick-or-treat?” “What about Christians who refuse any kind of celebration during the season – are they overreacting?”

The Pagan Origin of Halloween

The name “Halloween” comes from the All Saints Day celebration of the early Christian church, a day set aside for the solemn remembrance of the martyrs. All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, began the time of remembrance. “All Hallows Eve” was eventually contracted to “Hallow-e’en,” which became “Halloween.”

As Christianity moved through Europe it collided with indigenous pagan cultures and confronted established customs. Pagan holidays and festivals were so entrenched that new converts found them to be a stumbling block to their faith.

To deal with the problem, the organized church would commonly move a distinctively Christian holiday to a spot on the calendar that would directly challenge a pagan holiday. The intent was to counter pagan influences and provide a Christian alternative. But most often the church only succeeded in “Christianizing” a pagan ritual – the ritual was still pagan, but mixed with Christian symbolism. That’s what happened to All Saints Day – it was the original Halloween alternative!

The Celtic people of Europe and Britain were pagan Druids whose major celebrations were marked by the seasons. At the end of the year in northern Europe, people made preparations in order to ensure winter survival by harvesting the crops and culling the herds. Life slowed down as winter brought shortened days and longer nights (darkness), fallow ground, and death. The imagery of death, symbolized by skeletons, skulls, and the colour black, remains prominent in today’s Halloween celebrations.

The pagan Samhain festival (pronounced “sow” “en”) celebrated the final harvest, death, and the onset of winter, for three days – October 31 to November 2. The Celts believed the curtain dividing the living and the dead lifted during Samhain to allow the spirits of the dead to walk among the living – ghosts haunting the earth.

Some embraced the season of haunting by engaging in occult practices such as divination and communication with the dead. They sought “divine” spirits (demons) and the spirits of their ancestors regarding weather forecasts for the coming year, crop expectations, and even romantic prospects. Bobbing for apples was one practice the pagans used to divine the spiritual world’s “blessings” on a couple’s romance.

For others the focus on death, occultism, divination, and the thought of spirits returning to haunt the living, fueled ignorant superstitions and fears. They believed spirits were earthbound until they received a proper send-off with treats – possessions, wealth, food, and drink. Spirits who were not suitably “treated” would “trick” those who had neglected them. The fear of haunting only multiplied if that spirit had been offended during its natural lifetime.

Early Christian converts found family and cultural influence hard to withstand; they were tempted to rejoin the pagan festivals, especially Samhain. Pope Gregory IV reacted to the pagan challenge by moving the celebration of All Saints Day in the ninth century – he set the date at November 1, right in the middle of Samhain.

As the centuries passed, Samhain and All Hallows Eve mixed together. On the one hand, pagan superstitions gave way to “Christianized” superstitions and provided more fodder for fear. People began to understand that the pagan ancestral spirits were demons and the diviners were practicing witchcraft and necromancy. On the other hand, the festival time provided greater opportunity for revelry. Trick-or-treat became a time when roving bands of young hooligans would go house-to-house gathering food and drink for their parties. Stingy householders ran the risk of a “trick” being played on their property from drunken young people.

Today Halloween is almost exclusively a secular holiday, and many who celebrate have no concept of its religious origins or pagan heritage. That’s not to say Halloween has become more wholesome. Children dress up in entertaining costumes, wander the neighborhood in search of candy, and tell each other scary ghost stories; but adults often engage in shameful acts of drunkenness and debauchery.

How should Christians respond?

First, Christians should not respond to Halloween like superstitious pagans. Pagans are superstitious; Christians are enlightened by the truth of God’s Word. Evil spirits are no more active and sinister on Halloween than they are on any other day of the year; in fact, any day is a good day for Satan to prowl about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). God has forever “disarmed principalities and powers” through the cross of Christ and “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them through [Christ]” (Colossians 2:15).

Second, Christians should respond to Halloween with cautionary wisdom. Some people fear the activity of Satanists, but the actual incidents of satanic-associated crime are very low. The real threat on Halloween is from the social problems that attend sinful behavior – drunk driving, pranksters and vandals, and unsupervised children.

Like any other day of the year, Christians should exercise caution as wise stewards of their possessions and protectors of their families. Christian young people would be wise to stay away from most secular Halloween parties since many are breeding grounds for trouble (use discernment). Christian parents can protect their children by keeping them well-supervised and possibly restricting treat consumption to those goodies received from trusted sources.

Third, Christians should respond to Halloween with gospel compassion. The unbelieving, Christ-rejecting world lives in perpetual fear of death. It isn’t just the experience of death, but rather what the Bible calls “a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume [God’s] adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27). Witches, ghosts, and evil spirits are not terrifying; God’s wrath unleashed on the unforgiven sinner – now that is truly terrifying.

Christians should use Halloween and all that it brings to the imagination – death imagery, superstition, expressions of debauched revelry – as an opportunity to engage the unbelieving world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has given everyone a conscience that responds to His truth (Romans 2:14-16), and the conscience is the Christian’s ally in the evangelistic enterprise.

Christians should take time to inform the consciences of friends and family with biblical truth seasoned with salt (grace & love) regarding God, the Bible, sin, Christ, future judgment, and the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ.

How might Christians engage?

There are several different ways Christians might engage in Halloween. Some will adopt a “No Participation” policy. As Christian parents, they don’t want their kids participating in spiritually compromising activities- listening to ghost stories and colouring pictures of witches. They don’t want their kids to dress up in costumes for trick-or-treating or even attending Halloween alternatives. That response naturally raises eyebrows but can provide a good opportunity to share the gospel to those who ask (1 Peter 3:15).

Other Christians will opt for Halloween alternatives called “Harvest Festivals” or “Reformation Festivals” – the kids dress up as farmers, Bible characters, or Reformation heroes. Some churches leave the church building behind and take acts of mercy into their community, “treating” needy families with food baskets, gift cards, and the gospel message.

Finally, some Christians will opt for a limited, non-compromising participation in Halloween. The good news is that there is no burning candy here. After all there’s nothing inherently evil about candy, costumes, or trick-or-treating in the neighbourhood. In fact, all of that can provide a unique gospel opportunity with neighbours. Even handing out candy to neighbourhood children (please don’t be stingy) can improve your reputation among the kids. As long as the costumes are innocent and the behaviour does not dishonour Christ, trick-or-treating can be used to further gospel interests.

Ultimately, participation in Halloween is a matter of conscience before God. Whatever level of Halloween participation you choose, you must honour God by keeping yourself separate from the world and by showing grace, mercy and love to the culture we live in. Halloween provides the Christian with the opportunity to accomplish those things in the gospel. What better time of the year is there to share such a message of hope than Halloween?

10 Reasons Racism Is Sin

JANUARY 21, 2019  |  Kevin DeYoung 
You can find other articles by Kevin DeYoung here: 
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/

Most people know that racism is wrong. It’s one of the few things almost everyone agrees on. And yet, I wonder if we (I?) have spent much time considering why it’s wrong.

We can easily make our “I hate racism” opinions known, but perhaps we are just looking for moral high ground, or for pats on the back, or to win friends and influence people, or to prove we’re not like those people, or maybe we are just saying what we’ve always heard everyone say.

As Christians we must think and feel deeply not just the what of the Bible but the why. If racism is so bad, why is it so bad?

Here are ten biblical reasons why racism is sin and offensive to God.

1. We are all made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Most Christians know this and believe it, but the implications are more staggering than we might realize. The sign pictured above is not just mean, it is dehumanizing. It tried to rob Irish and blacks of their exalted status as divine image bearers. It tried to make them no different from animals. But of course, as a white man I am no more like God in my being, no more capable of worship, no more made with a divine purpose, no more possessing of worth and deserving of dignity than any other human of any other gender, color, or ethnicity. We are more alike than we are different.

2. We are all sinners corrupted by the fall (Rom. 3:10-205:12-21). Everyone made in the image of God has also had that image tainted and marred by original sin. Our anthropology is as identical as our ontology. Same image, same problem. We are more alike than we are different.

3. We are all, if believers in Jesus, one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). We see from the rest of the New Testament that justification by faith does not eradicate our gender, our vocation, or our ethnicity, but it does relativize all these things. Our first and most important identity is not male or female, American or Russian, black or white, Spanish speaker or French speaker, rich or poor, influential or obscure, but Christian. We are more alike than we are different.

4. Separating peoples was a curse from Babel (Gen. 11:7-9); bringing peoples together was a gift from Pentecost (Acts 2:5-11). The reality of Pentecost may not be possible in every community—after all, Jerusalem had all those people there because of the holy day—but if our inclination is to move in the direction of the punishment of Genesis 11 instead of the blessing of Acts 2 something is wrong.

5. Partiality is a sin (James 2:1). When we treat people unfairly, when we assume the worst about persons and peoples, when we favor one group over another, we do not reflect the God of justice, nor do we honor the Christ who came to save all men.

6. Real love loves as we hope to be loved (Matt. 22:39-40). No one can honestly say that racism treats our neighbor as we would like to be treated.

7. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15). Sadly, we can hate without realizing we hate. Hatred does not always manifest itself as implacable rage, and it does not always—or, because of God’s restraining mercy, often—translate into physical murder. But hatred is murder of the heart, because hatred looks at someone else or some other group and thinks, I wish you weren’t around. You are what’s wrong with this world, and the world would be better without people like you. That’s hate, which sounds an awful lot like murder.

8. Love rejoices in what is true and looks for what is best (1 Cor. 13:4-7). You can’t believe all things and hope all things when you assume the worst about people and live your life fueled by prejudice, misguided convictions, and plain old animosity.

9. Christ came to tear down walls between peoples not build them up (Eph. 2:14). This is not a saccharine promise about everyone setting doctrine aside and getting along for Jesus’s sake. Ephesians 2 and 3 are about something much deeper, much more glorious, and much more cruciform. If we who have been made in the same image, born into the world with the same problem, find the same redemption through the same faith in the same Lord, how can we not draw near to each other as members of the same family?

10. Heaven has no room for racism (Rev. 5:9-107:9-1222:1-5). Woe to us if our vision of the good life here on earth will be completely undone by the reality of new heavens and new earth yet to come. Antagonism toward people of another color, language, or ethnic background is antagonism toward God himself and his design for eternity.

Christians ought to reject racism, and do what they can to expose it and bring the gospel to bear upon it, not because we love pats on the back for our moral outrage or are desperate for restored moral authority, but because we love God and submit ourselves to the authority of his Word.

A New Year’s Resolution Every Disciple Needs

Today is the last day of 2018, and everywhere you look you can’t help but see messages and hear invitations to make 2019 a better year. A year to be happier than last year. We probably easily agree that all of us want to be happy. Most of us would even say that we want to live a full and satisfying life, a life of joy. 

Isn’t it great then that God wants us to experience that? Jesus said “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”– John 15:11 So, if we want joy, and Jesus offers us joy, why then does it seem that consistent happiness often eludes us? 

Consider that the earning power of the baby boomers and Gen X’ers, increased dramatically over that of any previous generation in history before them. They have more money, more leisure time, more access to sports, travel, and entertainment than any society has ever experienced and yet these two groups are experiencing a tenfold increase in depression over previous generations. It would be logical then to surmise that if the attainment of stuff and fun experiences did ‘it’ for us, then Canada and the US should be like Disneyland – “The happiest Place on earth”. But it’s not. Why is that? 

I’m convinced that it’s because in this pursuit of joy, we have made it all about ‘me’. We feel that it’s unconditional and doesn’t matter how I live as long as I can keep filling my basket full of goodies. But God says that it’s conditional based not so much of what we do but of what we don’t do. 

In Psalm 1 we see that the blessed man is described by what he avoids. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” – Psalm 1:1

Don’t Walk With The World 

The problem with most of us is that we have this habit of walking alongside those who try to give us a different message than what God wants us to hear. Our culture is good at that. The culture pounds into us messages that are anti-God and pro-self everywhere you look. So many messages are bombarded at us, messages that begin to sound so good if were not rooted in God’s word. 

Here is an example of a statement that I abhor being used. Ever hear the words, “just follow your heart”? That phrase is used in social conversations, movies, songs, and the average person quickly nods their heads in agreement as though it is the deepest of truths that the cosmos could provide. However, Jeremiah 17:9 says that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

If that’s true then how could we trust our own heart to be able to follow it in any matter let alone someone else’s? Yet this is one of the messages that so many of us, even in the church, have swallowed and accepted as fact. The truth is that a blessed man doesn’t walk in that type of council – in other words – doesn’t listen to those messages. And by not listening to the messages a blessed person doesn’t stand with the world.

Don’t Stand With The World

We are in danger of beginning to believe the messages that come at us from all over when we stop walking and we begin to listen more deeply. When we do that we are beginning to pause, stop and stand with the world in their anti-God sentiments. The facts are that standing is much more of a commitment than walking. Walking gives us that chance to keep on going, but standing is a picture of rooting oneself in the world system. 

Don’t Sit With The World

We move from listening to standing with the world and then ultimately to sitting. We move from listening to doing what we are counseled to do and then we become like the scoffers themselves, sitting and offering man’s advice to others through scoffing the truth. Maybe not in words but certainly in actions, which might simply be in not being willing to walk away from the world and stand up for truth. 

Delight In God’s Word

”But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night.” – Psalm 1:2 

Is that you? When God’s Word is read does that brighten up your life? So much so that you can’t help but meditate on it? 

Do you realize that the average family has the television on for over 7 ½ hours a day? And most of us don’t spend more 10 minutes a day in God’s word, and maybe 40 minutes a week attending a worship and fellowship gathering Sunday’s and then we wonder why we’re weak. 

Ponder this question. What if we had to hand in a time sheet to God that showed the time spent with him and time spent elsewhere? How would we do? Would you be embarrassed or ashamed?

It says here that a blessed man delights in the law and meditates on it all the time. So much so that it not only becomes a part of him but it produces a delight in his or her heart, or in other words, a deep satisfying itchy joy that can only be scratched by the hearing of more Word. 

Don’t Just Read the Word, Be Grounded In It

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” – Psalm 1:3

A blessed man or woman has their feet ‘grounded’ by thirst quenching water and nutrient enriched soil. If you have ever seen a satellite picture of river systems you will appreciate this picture here. The land is richest and lushest with life along the banks of the flowing river, but as you move away from the water, life becomes scarcer and scarcer until soon all that’s left is desert unless there is another source of water. 

Throughout history, civilizations were built up around water sources. A herd of deer will risk life and limb to gather around the watering hole in spite of the alligator or lion ready to have it for dinner – water gives life. 

The picture we have here in this psalm is of a continual flowing of refreshing waters that give the tree life. The water flows 24/7 and the tree is able to suck up all it requires to live and not only to live but to produce fruit. 

What burdens my heart though is that I know people who will leave after their 40 – 60 minute fix of God’s word on Sunday and will be so excited about living for Jesus but by that same evening will be drunk or high or back into pornography or fighting with their spouse – again. Maybe they have a complacency with anything to do with spiritual things or maybe it’s simply that they continue to struggle with the things that they were so sure were conquered after getting excited at church on Sunday morning. And they want to change but don’t. Why??? 

It’s because you can’t be watered 40-60 minutes each week and expect to be strengthened, there must be a continual watering. A tree will die without being watered. That is why we need to get involved in reading Gods word, or gathering one or two others who are actively growing in relationship with God to challenge us and keep us accountable and grounded. Don’t expect to grow if you are isolated from others who can speak into your life. The Christian life isn’t a Sunday thing – it’s a lifestyle. 

Don’t be Chaff

In contrast, look at how the wicked are compared to the blessed man. The comparison is that instead of strength and life the wicked are like chaff. Chaff is the husk around the wheat kernel, or the brown skin around a peanut. It is like ‘nothing’ and a quick puff of your breath would simply blow it away. 

That’s why in vs. 5 we see that the wicked can’t stand before God in the judgment or sinners in the congregation of the righteous. “Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” – Psalm 1:5

Imagine standing before God – perfect & Holy. I think we don’t think about that often enough. And in the world that thought is made light of, “Oh I’ll just deal with the man in the sky when the time comes”. But the problem is that you can ‘deal’ with God as easily as you can ‘deal’ with standing before a nuclear bomb as it goes off. You’d lose – every time. 

Imagine standing before God and all you have to show for your life is chaff, nothing to stand on. Well, the wicked can’t stand before God in the end no matter how confident they are today. So, don’t be chaff.

Our world has an expectation about what makes us happy. For that matter they have an expectation about how we are to behave, how we are to act, to think, to be. But it goes against how God has created us to be. We can conform to the world and think that we will be happy and find lasting joy, but ultimately, we will only find that true happiness and joy comes from placing our feet where God has created us to place them, grounded in him.

And one of the most effective ways we can be rooted in him is to immerse ourselves in his word. When you read and study Scripture, remember that it is a lifeline to the Godhead. You are striking your roots deeper and deeper into good life-giving soil and drinking from the living waters. These truths are part of the living water that flows into the roots of our lives. 

Be A Rooted Disciple

So, as we enter a new year, make your New Year’s resolution to be a rooted disciple. Someone who grows deep as you meditate on the word made flesh, Jesus Christ day and night. Causing you to grow so that you bear the fruit of Christ-exalting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). This is the source of our ‘joy’ in 2019 and beyond. 

War On Christmas?

The question that comes up every year at this time is whether or not there is a war on Christmas. Before we get to that question, let me share with you a part of the Christmas story that I love. It’s when the angels came to announce Jesus’ birth.

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” – Luke 2:8-14

Here we see good news of great joy being presented to the common person in the land. Great news guys, the long-awaited Saviour is finally here. You could almost feel the rush of excitement that would have filled the hearts of these shepherds who then went to meet their baby king. 

This is a wonderful and very appropriate message for the season – Good news of Great Joy for all people. It’s Good news of Great joy even for the whole year because of what it means. There should be happiness in our hearts, dancing in the streets and joy in all our homes. So isn’t it interesting that instead of doing what the shepherds did, focusing on the Good news of Great joy, there are many today who view this season as a time for war instead. 

Here’s what I mean. I’ve observed that many have been caught in the throes of a war on semantics. We are seeing and hearing more “Happy Holidays” and less “Merry Christmases.” The “Christmas tree” has turned into being a “Holiday tree.”One television ad plays regularly with carollers singing: “We Wish You A Happy Holiday” to the tune of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”

You can certainly see why a general mood of fighting back could prevail. I have seen numerous emails floating around with pictures of Christmas trees lamenting the secularization of Christmas. The underlying tone of these messages so far has been one of anger and partisanship, as if to say: “They can’t take our Christmas away from us!” 

It’s an interesting situation and one we need to consider seriously. If this is a battle, on what level do we fight it? If someone wishes us “Happy Holidays,” do we respond with a hearty “Merry Christmas,” thus striking a blow for the kingdom of God? But I wonder why we expect those who don’t know Jesus personally nor believe he is the son of God, why is it that we almost demand them to celebrate Christmas anyways? It’s not their holiday after all. 

Here’s the thing, the message that the shepherds received was about a baby being born, not a holiday to be birthed. The good news is about Christ, not the fact about whether we call the holiday Christmas or not. I am not in any way saying that we should ban the holiday or even to change the name, but I don’t even think Jesus cares very much about what we or anyone else call an evergreen with lights on it in December.

The fact is that there is and has been a war against God himself ever since Adam sinned in the garden. The attempt from the world to, in the very least ignore the Christmas title and at the very worst attempt to get rid of the Christmas holiday, is really an example of the rejection of Jesus’ gospel message of hope to a lost world. That is why Jesus came – to end the war and to redeem lost mankind. Look at Luke 1:35… 

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy.” – Luke 1:35

What’s in a name? It was William Shakespeare who popularized this question. The line is found in Act 2 Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is wishing Romeo would change his name and so renounce his family who had been in opposition to their romance. She tries to convince him by asking, “Tis but thy name that is my enemy; O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”Juliet got it wrong, because a name is important, and can’t be just taken off like a piece of clothing. 

In the Christmas story we see a baby who is born being called ‘Holy’. That is a significant part of the story and here’s one of the reasons why. Holy means pure, good, without any defect or deficiency or blemish. God is both sovereign and holy. Sin is incompatible with God’s nature. The penalty for rejecting God’s sovereignty is separation from God, separation meaning both spiritual death and physical death. 

The tragic story of man’s disobedience is told in Genesis chapter three. Immediately after Adam & Eve disobeyed God’s command they both realized they were guilty. Adam and Eve tried to cover their guilt and shame from God, but they chose a poor cover up, a bunch of leaves that only covered a portion of their bodies. 

Their sin was still exposed & God, being Holy, can’t look on sin. So, God chose skins to completely cover Adam and Eve. “And the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” – Genesis 3:21. The coats of skin that God provided for Adam and Eve represented the righteousness they needed so that they could be in God’s holy presence. 

The animal sacrificed was usually a lamb that had no blemishes or obvious imperfections & was an innocent substitute, an innocent victim. The problem was that this was all temporary and had to be repeated over and over again. What was needed was a perfect, lasting sacrifice because no matter how unblemished the lamb was; it was never going to be perfect enough and was certainly not everlasting or holy. 

Finally, God steps in and provides his own perfect sacrifice to cover our sins once and for all and provide us his righteousness. And we are introduced to this thru a little baby named Jesus who is called Holy. The only one who could be pure, good, without any defect or deficiency or blemish. Now when this baby grows into manhood and gives his life in sacrifice, because he is holy, perfect, without blemish, we can be clothed with his perfect righteousness. 

What’s in a name? In this case it’s the Saviour of the world. That’s the good news of great joy the shepherds received. Not a declaration of a new holiday with turkey and trees covered in lights. 

I don’t know if you ever thought about Christmas in that light before. We usually think of it in such a light sense, after all it’s about a little baby and a jolly happy man in a red suit and we always talk about peace on earth and the fact that it’s Good News, Great Joy! But is that the meaning of the Christmas season? What was the purpose of the Angels’ message to the shepherds? 

Just the other day I put myself in a very dangerous position by climbing up and down ladders onto rooftops, reaching and stretching for boxes in high up shelves in the garage. All this dangerous activity for what? Christmas is coming and Debbie had a list which I had to check twice just to make sure that I did everything on it. Today if you come by my home you will see three Christmas trees in the house, decorations both upstairs and downstairs and stockings hung over the fireplace. But is that what Christmas is about? 

We have this wonderful picture of a baby in a manger, feathery snowflakes, and soft lights all aglow over the fields, and complete Peace on earth as we all join hands around the cosmic tree singing Silent Night, not unlike the Who’s of Whosville. Not that I’m saying that that is a bad picture of Christmas, rather what I’m saying is that Jesus didn’t come into this world to make us peaceful citizens, he came to save us from sure death and the way he was to do this was by coming with a definiteness of purpose – his death for us. That is what the message the angels’ shared with the shepherds is truly about – death. More accurately it’s about Jesus coming to die. Good news of great Joy? Death? 

There was no other way to save us. He had to die, that was the only plan. You see, I was, am and always will be unacceptable to God. I came into this world a sinner, I am a sinner today and on the day that I die I will be a sinner. Out of my heart has, can and will come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God. 

Except for one amazing fact: The Lamb of God came to earth as a little baby boy, grew up to die, and took away my sins. I’m guilty of breaking the whole law when I break one, but now there is no condemnation for me, because I’m a follower of Christ Jesus. I am a sinner and a saint at exactly the same time because of the redemption that came through Jesus. That came that very first Christmas day 2000 years ago. It’s not about the deer on the lawn, rather it’s about the Lamb on the tree. 

Here’s how you keep Christ in Christmas: you celebrate him as Lord of your life and ruler of your heart, and you love even those who want to take Christmas out of the Holiday equation. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). He came to forgive sins – mine, yours, everybody’s. 

Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. Let’s not let religious pride get in the way of the core message of the gospel. It’s never been us againstthem; it’s us forthem. We mustn’t forget that Jesus came to die for the very people who are trying to secularize our country. 

In our zeal to keep Christ in Christmas, let’s be careful not to go to war against the very people who need him the most – those who don’t know him – which would only serve to alienate them from a relationship with ourselves and with Jesus. People are more likely to be set on the road to salvation by loving, caring believers who are secure in the hope of the real Christ living in their lives, and whose faith is brighter than any Christmas tree

That after all is the message given to the shepherds, and to us – Good News of Great Joy! 

Five Reasons Christians Should Attend Church Weekly

It’s tempting sometimes to want to skip church. Sunday might be the only morning all week we can sleep in, maybe we have chores and errands that need to get done, maybe it’s too much work to get the family up and out the door in the morning, maybe we have that football or soccer practice or maybe we just want to enjoy the beautiful weather outdoors. If we attend church two or three out of every five Sundays, that’s enough, right?

I am in no way trying to ‘guilt’ anyone into attending church, or even telling anyone what they ‘must’ do to be a better Christian. My main purpose for this post is to speak to those who believe that they can grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ outside of a regular, ongoing relationship with a local body of Christ followers. The idea of being a Lone Ranger Christian is not an idea you can find anywhere in the word of God.

At the same time, it’s surprising to me how many Christians struggle with the idea of regular church attendance. If church attendance isn’t one of your top priorities  (following other things that might easily take it’s place), then I’d suggest that our priorities are out of balance.

Let me say here that I completely understand that there are other things that do get in the way that we can’t do much about: such as sickness, maybe there isn’t a church close by, travel, the occasional live Super Bowl game (especially when Seattle is in it), work commitments, etc. But what I am speaking to regarding the priority thing is when I’d rather be on the golf course Sunday mornings all summer, or where I’m finding other ‘options’ in life regularly and consistently become the first choice over regular attendance, believing that they are the priority of my life.

Of course, this isn’t a new problem. Since the beginning of Christianity, the early leaders had to challenge this mindset, saying “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25

I don’t for a minute believe that it’s about not wanting to be with others. I’d think that it is instead a misunderstanding what being with others means. I say that, because most Christians I know would agree that regular fellowship is important. So, they make it a priority to connect in a small group, or an accountability group or at least get to the monthly men’s breakfast ritually, believing all the while that they are fulfilling the Hebrews 10:25 directive. But what if that’s not the case? What if we are actually not living out what we’re told to do in Hebrews and so are missing out on a great blessing?

If that’s the case, we may need to fundamentally change our thinking about what ‘going’ to church means in order to obey a directive given in God’s word and to appreciate the great gift that God has given us in being part of his body in a community of fellow believers.

I think part of the issue stems from the way we think about church attendance in the first place. Many of us think about church as something we have to do; that it’s another thing to check off our weekly checklists. Our view toward church attendance can begin to be transformed, however, when we consider a few important things that remind us of the privilege of meeting each week specifically to focus on God and his people.

WE NEED COMMUNITY

Firstly, it is important to make it a weekly habit of meeting with God’s family because if we truly want to grow as Christians, fellowshipping with other believers, hearing the Word of God, and worshipping the Lord are the perfect places to begin. Of course, personal bible study and prayer are integral as well, but worshipping God corporately provides us a unique opportunity to see what God is doing in the lives of his people in the wider church community.

Weekly attendance puts a check on our cultural tendencies to value personal time over community. Think about what Jesus calls those who would follow him to do with their lives.“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” – Luke 9:23. In many cases this would involve giving up our wish to keep all our time to ourselves. One important aspect of church attendance, then, is for us to interact with other believers and see how God is working in their lives. It’s an opportunity to value community.

WE NEED TO BE ENCOURAGED

The early church set the pattern for what this meeting together thing looked like. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer – Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” – Acts 2:42; 46

It is good to meet in small groups of Christian community, such as in each other’s homes, coffee shops, pubs or other small gathering places regularly, that is healthy and something to be encouraged as we see practiced in the daily meeting in homes the early church was engaging in. At the same time however, it shouldn’t be overlooked that as they met daily in their homes, they also met weekly in the temple courts. It seems that they gathered this way at the start of the week to be encouraged before scattering into smaller communities the rest of the week.

In Jerusalem during this time, the temple court was the place where the wider community gathered, both the Jews and the Christians, but as the church spread in other communities the synagogue became the common gathering place where they gathered on a weekly basis to worship, encourage each other and learn together, at least until the Christians were forced to relocate. But even when that happened they would still meet corporately wherever they could find space.

In fact, Paul and the other Apostle’s letters were sent to the many church communities that gathered in various cities to be read aloud ‘together’. The idea of Church meant getting together with other believers to worship Jesus Christ, hear the Scriptures, and encourage one another in the faith.

Wherever it is we meet, the act of gathering each week allows us to give and receive encouragement before we scatter out into the ‘world’ to face the challenges of the week ahead.

WE NEED THE LEADERSHIP PROVIDED

Because of the individualistic culture most of us have grown up in, one of the things often missed in this discussion is that the gathering in a corporate body allowed for the church to function as it was designed to function. Three of these functions were put in place by Jesus to provide a spiritual covering or protection for the flock, to offer some form of spiritual and community accountability, and to give the flock an opportunity to submit to Godly leadership.

Not all of us are called to church leadership, and so we should submit to, and serve whoever God has called to lead at the place we find ourselves. “Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. – Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.” – Hebrews 13:7; 17

WE NEED EACH OTHER 

Christians need God, but we also need each other. All of us long for community and connection with others. It fulfills something inside of us to do life with others, encourage each other and be authentically involved in each other’s lives. Christian TV, podcasts, books and conferences are wonderful additions to our spiritual lives, but nothing can take the place of consistent accountable and weekly vision casting Christian community provides when we gather as the local church.

Granted, it can be messy when we step into (and sometimes onto) each other’s lives. We are all human, and no one is perfect. So, it requires effort and intentionality and grace from God to do life together – even as believers. But gathering regularly with others becomes a refining process whereby we help each other, pray for each other and encourage each other to want to follow Christ more wholeheartedly. That’s why a healthy church family member learns to repent often, forgive freely, and extend grace continually.  It is a truly beautiful thing.

WE NEED TO BE INVOLVED

Church is the place where believers can love one another, encourage one another, “spur” one another to love and good works, serve one another, instruct one another, honour one another, and be kind and compassionate to one another.

When a person trusts Jesus Christ for salvation, he or she is made a member of the body of Christ and for a church body to function properly, all of its “body parts” need to be present and working.

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” – 1 Corinthians 12:14-20

It’s not enough to just attend a church; we should be involved in some type of ministry to others, using the spiritual gifts God has given us, And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:11-13

The truth is, a believer will never reach full spiritual maturity without having that outlet for his or her gifts, and the full expression of the gifts can’t be seen when alone and are limited in small groups settings. For these reasons and more, church attendance, participation, and fellowship should be a regular aspect of a believer’s life.

At the same time, please know that I am not saying that weekly church attendance is “required” for believers, but someone who belongs to Christ should have a desire to worship God, receive his Word, and fellowship with other believers.So, make weekly attendance a priority. You’ll be blessed and encouraged because of it.

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

The debate about whether or not Christians should celebrate Christmas has been raging for centuries. There are equally sincere and committed Christians on both sides of the issue, each with multiple reasons why or why not Christmas should be celebrated.

It’s Really Paganism In A Different Skin

One argument against Christmas is that the traditions surrounding the holiday have origins in paganism. I spent a lot of time searching for reliable information on this topic but found it quite difficult because the origins of many of our traditions are so obscure that sources often contradict one another. Traditions like bells, candles, holly, and yuletide decorations are mentioned in the histories of pagan worship, but the use of these items in your home certainly doesn’t indicate a return to paganism.

While there are definitely pagan roots to some traditions, there are many more traditions associated with the true meaning of Christmas. Bells are played to ring out the great news, candles are lit to remind us that Christ is the Light of the world, a star is placed on the top of a Christmas tree to remember the Star of Bethlehem, and gifts are exchanged to remind us of the gifts of the Magi to Jesus, the greatest gift of God to mankind.

Even still, one of the reasons given to not celebrate the season does seem to carry weight. It seems that the day we currently celebrate the birth of Christ is connected to a pagan festival known as Saturnalia. Keep in mind that often, in these types of arguments, supposed facts are thrown around without establishing the truth behind a claim made.

Such is the case with the argument used to support pagan roots with Easter. The argument against the celebration of Easter is that the word Easter itself, and as a consequence the celebration of that holiday, comes from the worship of the goddess Ishtar. The problem however is that there is no evidence to support that claim, they are just two words that sound similar and so has entered into a kind of ‘Christian urban legend’ as though it was a piece of factual history even though it is not. But in the case of Christmas, the claim that Christmas is connected to the pagan festival Saturnalia, is actually true – but not for the reasons most would think.

The Smoking Gun – Saturnalia

Given the connection, there are some who claim that the ancient celebration of Saturnalia is the smoking gun that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Christmas is pagan.

Brief history lesson: The Saturnalia holiday was a week-long Roman festival to honour the god Saturn, starting on December 17, it fell within what we now call the Christmas season. For most of history, debauchery seemed to dominate celebrations of the holiday; in fact, the word Saturnalia became synonymous with immorality and carousing.

Still, though the Christian understanding of Christmas is not about immorality and carousing, some Saturnalia customs do come across as hedonistic perversions of Christmas traditions to the modern eye. For instance, singing from house to house naked (glad we don’t do that one in Canada), feasting excessively, eating baked goods shaped like people, and exchanging bawdy gifts. The truth is that in reality, there’s good historical evidence suggesting that these events were actually reformed, absorbed, and transformed over time as a result of Christmas’ popularity overtaking that of Saturnalia, not Saturnalia customs influencing the Christmas celebrations.

I found it interesting as I did my research, that the early Christian’s motive for celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 was the same that inspires modern Christians and churches to hold “Fall Festivals” or “Bible Costume Parties” on October 31. In other words, to provide a spiritually positive alternative to what is perceived as a pagan celebration. Back then, over time as the Roman Empire ‘Christianized’, customs associated with Saturnalia were ‘cleaned up’ and absorbed into the celebration of Christmas.

And it wasn’t just Saturnalia – another Roman holiday, Sol Invictus, was also gradually absorbed by Christmas. Sol Invictus (“Invincible Sun”) celebrated, on December 25, the renewing of the Sun King and was linked to the winter solstice.

It’s no secret then that the date, traditions, and long-term history of Christmas are connected to the pagan holidays of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. Yet, like a modern Canadian family celebrating a harvest festival and dressing up like a bible character or great reformer of the past on October 31, it’s the people celebrating who decide what the celebration means. Early Christians chose December 25 as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus and that decision of theirs continues to this day. So, though Christmas and Saturnalia may be historical neighbours with indirect connections, they are not the same holiday, never were, and of course never will be.

Since We Don’t See December 25th In The Bible, We Shouldn’t Celebrate Christmas On That Day 

Furthering the debate are those who point to the fact that the Bible doesn’t give us the date of Christ’s birth – which is certainly true. December 25th may not be even close to the time Jesus was born, and arguments on both sides are legion, some relating to climate in Israel, the practices of shepherds in winter, and the dates of Roman census-taking. While none of these points are without a certain amount of conjecture, the fact remains that the Bible doesn’t tell us when Jesus was born. Some see this as proof positive that God didn’t want us to celebrate the birth, while others see the Bible’s silence on the issue as tacit approval.

Christmas Has Become A Worldly Celebration, So We Should Avoid It As A ‘Set Apart’ People

Finally, some say that because the world celebrates Christmas – though it is becoming more and more politically correct to refer to it as “the holidays”- Christians should avoid it. But let me point out that’s the same argument made by cults that deny Jesus altogether, as well as cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny his deity. I personally see the occasion of Christmas as an opportunity to proclaim Christ as “the reason for the season” among the nations, including those trapped in cults.

Ultimately, there’s no legitimate scriptural reason not to celebrate Christmas, while at the same time, no biblical mandate to celebrate it. So, in the end, whether or not to celebrate Christmas really comes down to a personal decision. Whatever you decide to do regarding Christmas, your (or my) views should not be used as a club to beat down or denigrate those with opposing views, nor should either view be used as a badge of honour inducing pride over celebrating or not celebrating. As in all things, we seek wisdom from God who gives it liberally to all who ask (James 1:5) and accept one another in Christian love and grace, regardless of our views.

Overcoming Porn Addiction

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you when I say that the porn industry generates about $13 billion each year in the United States. It’s a heartbreaking reality that 9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls have been exposed to pornography before the age of 18. In fact, the average age of first exposure is about 11 years old.

Studies show that terms relating to porn are by far the most commonly searched-for terms in the internet search engines. Every day, literally millions of people do searches related to the porn industry. The powerful imagery of internet pornography is highly addictive. Many men (and women) have been caught in the snare of internet porn and find themselves helplessly addicted to its visual stimulation. Most often pornography is viewed in isolation and so, the thinking goes, it’s not hurting anyone so why make it an issue?

Porn has an incredible way of appearing harmless. But researcher Patrick Fagan, Ph.D. completed a major study of pornography and called it a “quiet family killer.” His study found that fifty-six percent of divorces had one partner with an obsessive interest in porn.[1]

Why Pornography Should Be Avoided

Just a small bit of pornography can’t be all that bad, right? Wrong! Research has found that pornography is highly addictive. Scientists now know that when having sex or watching porn, dopamine is released into a region of the brain responsible for emotion and learning, giving the viewer a sense of sharp focus and a sense of craving: “I have got to have this thing; this is what I need right now.” It supplies a great sense of pleasure. The next time the viewer gets the “itch” for more sexual pleasure, small packets of dopamine are released in the brain telling the user: “Remember where you got your fix last time. Go there to get it.” Norepinephrine is also released, creating alertness and focus. It is the brain’s version of adrenaline. It tells the brain, “Something is about to happen, and we need to get ready for it.”

The body also releases endorphins, natural opiates that create a “high,” a wave of pleasure over the whole body. After sexual release serotonin levels also change, bringing a sense of calm and relaxation. Sex also triggers the release of oxytocin and vasopressin. These hormones help to lay down the long-term memories for the cells. They “bind” a person’s memories to the object that gave him or her the sexual pleasure.

This system is intricately designed to work this way while having sex with your spouse. God designed it for intimacy and pleasure as together you and your spouse can bond emotionally, physically, spiritually along with experiencing a high, an alertness of sexual pleasure, and the deep calm afterwards (norepinephrine, endorphins, and serotonin).

With each sexual embrace you are emotionally bonding to this person. Over time a craving for sex is transformed into a desire for one another (dopamine). That is one of the reason’s (among others) that a person should stay celibate until their wedding night. On the wedding night when the spouses engage in sexual intimacy for the very first time, there is a deep physical and emotional “bonding” that takes place with no guilt.  But porn short-circuits the system because it is impersonal, short term, and completely selfish.

The problem only grows the more porn is used, in that the more exposure to it, the more the need for it to create arousal. This results in uncontrollable lust mixed in with frustration, along with an inability to experience true sexual intimacy in marriage, and often intense feelings of guilt and despair. The images that pornography provides create unrealistic expectations that will leave you empty and unfulfilled with your spouse. So, choosing to avoid pornography altogether is choosing a healthier, more satisfying marriage and sex life.

It’s become a sad reality that our world is obsessed with sex and pornography. But it’s not just a problem with those in the world but also those who consider themselves not of this world.

A survey taken at a Promise Keepers rally revealed that over fifty percent of the men in attendance were involved with pornography within one week of attending the event.

And that was 20 years ago…

Did you know that fifty percent of Christian men and twenty percent of Christian women say they are addicted to pornography? I didn’t know that. And did you know that the most popular day of the week for viewing porn is Sunday? Personally, I love hanging out with family and friends at church in the mornings, and then watch football (followed by Dr. Who), either alone or with friends and family Sunday afternoons – Go Seahawks! So, I won’t lie that the last stat really surprised me.

There Is Hope In Jesus

Porn is a problem, as I’m sure you can already tell, but I don’t think all hope is lost. There are two primary aspects in the battle to overcome an addiction to internet porn: spiritual and practical.

Spiritually, addiction to pornography is a sin that God desires you to overcome and therefore will enable you to do so. The first step is to make sure you have genuinely placed your trust in Jesus Christ as your Saviour. If you are unsure, please visit our page here called Good News.

The truth is, that without salvation through Jesus, there is no possibility of a true and lasting victory over pornography: “Apart from me, you can do nothing” – John 15:5

If you are a believer in Christ yet struggling with an addiction to internet porn, there is amazing hope and there is great help for you through the power of the Holy Spirit, “According to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” – Ephesians 3:16 The cleansing of God’s forgiveness is extended to you, “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

The renewing capacity of God’s Word is at your disposal, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2

As you begin your redemption journey remember to commit your mind and eyes to the Lord, “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world.” – 1 John 2:16. Along the way ask God to strengthen you and help you to overcome pornography, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

As well, ask God to protect you from further exposure to porn, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13, and to fill your mind with things that are pleasing to him, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8

You may think that you are in an unwinnable battle, you may have tried before and failed, but you also need to know that you serve a Lord who hasn’t, nor will he, given up on you.

There Is Hope In Community

God has created us for community, and we fight best alongside others. Practically, to maintain sexual purity, we need a band of brothers & sisters with whom we can be open and honest with.

To be most successful, pray for and find two or three others who recognize that they themselves are real, hard-boiled messy sinners where the sinful, broken human condition is understood and the solution isn’t ‘trying harder’ but ‘deepening surrender’. They don’t need to be struggling with or have overcome porn addiction themselves, but they should be people who are honest about their own “stuff”.

Sexual sin runs deep – accountability should run deeper. If you find yourself in a situation where sexual sin has taken over or you’ve considered entertaining the idea, find someone to talk to. Be open and honest.

Also, become aware of the numerous tools at your disposal to help you combat an addiction to internet pornography. There are good programs available at Covenant Eyes or x3watch.com. Your temptation to view internet porn would be greatly reduced if you knew your youth pastor, parent, friend, pastor, or spouse would receive a detailed report about it.

Download PornAddiction.com & Nothing to Hide and start reading articles. Visit Doing Family Right’s Victory over Porn  page on their website. 

There are also quite a few good books on overcoming porn addiction: Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Purity One Victory at a Time by Stephen Arterburn and The Game Plan by Joe Dallas  are just two.

Don’t Do Nothing

I watched the movie ‘Christopher Robin’ with my family recently. It was a great movie filled with great quotable lines made by Winni the Poo. One line was, “Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.” That line fit the context of the story perfectly, however in the case of porn addiction you must do the opposite. Don’t do nothing, because nothing always leads to something, and in the case of porn it is always the opposite of the very best for you.

Don’t despair! An addiction to internet porn is not an “unforgivable sin.” God can and will forgive you. As well, an addiction to internet porn is not an “unconquerable sin.” God can and will enable you to overcome it. Commit your mind and eyes to the Lord. Commit yourself to filling your mind with God’s Word, I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” – Psalm 119:11

Seek his help daily in prayer; ask him to fill your mind with his truth and block unwanted thoughts and desires. Take the practical steps listed above to keep yourself accountable and block access to internet porn. “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” – Ephesians 3:20

[1]https://www.allprodad.com/the-effects-of-porn-on-marriage/

Can A Christian Lose Their Salvation?

“Can a Christian lose their salvation?” (or similar), is a question I frequently hear from the lips of new or immature Christians who have often been battling an area of sin, are guilt ridden and are scared that God will or has already kicked them out of the ‘family’ because he won’t stand for their weakness’ any further. The image is one of a shouting boss or angry dad who, “Won’t put up with your incompetence any longer!”

However, the answer to their question and the balm to their fears biblically is a resounding, clear, emphatic, joyful, glorious “No.” A born-again person cannot become dead, cannot be unborn again. John MacArthur once said, “If you could lose your salvation you would.” With respect to John MacArthur, I’d go a step further and say that if I could lose my salvation I already would have.

When people come to know Christ as their Saviour, they are brought into a relationship with God that guarantees their eternal security. Jude said, “To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” – Jude 24. Jude knows that his half-brother Jesus is a God who is All-Powerful, and it’s his power that is able to keep the believer from falling, not yours or mine. It is up to him, not us, to present us before his glorious presence.

Jesus proclaimed, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” – John 10:28-29b

In other words, both Jesus and the Father have us firmly grasped in their hands. Think about it, they are so amazingly strong, who could possibly separate us from their holds? That’s a firm grip I’m thinking.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:30 that believers are “sealed for the day of redemption.” If believers did not have eternal security, the sealing could not actually be to the day of redemption, but only to the day of sinning, apostasy, or disbelief. And then John 3:15-16 tells us that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will “have eternal life.” Logically then, if a person were to be promised eternal life, but then have it taken away, it was never “eternal” to begin with. That means then that if eternal security isn’t true, the promises of eternal life in the Bible would be lies.

Ah… But What About Hebrews 6?

There are many people who have taught (and others sadly still teach today) that Hebrews 6:4-6 clearly shows that a Christian can lose his or her salvation. I admit, that at a cursory reading, it does seem that this interpretation is correct. But, as it is with many scriptures, we need to be careful about not getting into the‘first glance then interpret habit’. So, let’s slow down and take a close look at this passage and see what it really is saying.

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and shave shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” – Hebrews 6:4-6

This passage begs the question, “How can one be ‘enlightened’ and fall away?” It does seem to be speaking of someone losing his or her salvation.

Or does it?…

It’s important to know that this section of Hebrews is talking about apostates and heretics who may have, to some degree, embraced the gospel presented to them, but have now abandoned it. However, if we want to fully understand what is being said here we need to also know context. For instance, it’s important to know how the believers who originally read this message would have understood the phrase, “those who have once been enlightened”. Today, we might think it means that they were enlightened about the truth, or that they were regenerated. But before we add our cultural or 21st century interpretation to this passage we need to first ask what the intent of the original author was, and how would his readers have understood it?

Glad you asked…

What this passage is speaking about is of certain individuals who were involved, perhaps heavily involved, in a church community. They would have heard the gospel, and would have seen the Spirit working in the lives of the Believers. They most likely would have even received some of the blessings of being part of a covenant community, even probably publicly confessing Jesus and then getting themselves dunked ‘baptized’. By the way, it’s important to note in light of this passage, that in many instances, the early Christian writers spoke to conversion and baptism as “enlightenment”.

Back to the context. The context leads us to understand that those same people just described, never had a saving knowledge of Jesus. They only “tasted” or “sampled” him. They were never truly converted to him by faith.

Think about it this way. There is a big difference between marrying someone and just going out on a few dates with them. Anyone can learn things about Jesus, even come to admire him, and even enjoy being part of a community that celebrates him, yet still have no real lasting commitment to him.

Another example is Costco. Yes, I said Costco and yes, I mean the big giant corporation. Anyways, Deb & I are card carrying members and will go to buy and experience the perceived savings and the occasional deals that the blessed membership brings to our lives.

On occasion, one or both of our boys will come along, but for very different reasons. They are “enlightened” by, and enjoy many of the same goodies that Deb & I bring home, but they aren’t members and so can’t experience the same benefits of being a member that the totalitarian corporation can bring them. They do not have access to the inner sanctum on their own. They simply come with us to “taste” the samples that are given out. They are in Costco, but not of Costco.

We see this today. There are people who attend church for years, involve themselves in a lot of good things, even have a perfect attendance record, but aren’t saved. They’ve been “enlightened” by seeing God at work, but have only just “tasted” or “sampled” what was going on, never really being a part of it. Never buying the membership card as it were.

To paraphrase Scripture, they were “in the church, but not of the Church.” In the end I think we can all understand that to be a baptized member of a church, and to be “enlightened” by the life seen in the Church and seeing God at work, doesn’t mean the same thing. In other words, “enlightened” does not necessarily mean “saved.”

But Doesn’t ‘Fallen Away” mean That They Were Saved At Some Point?

That still leaves an important question unanswered. If the ‘those’ is someone who has ‘tasted’ of the Church, has seen what’s been going on and seen God at work, has been ‘in the church, but not of the Church,’ what exactly have they ‘fallen away’ from that they can’t be ‘restore[ed] again to through repentance’? Doesn’t that imply that they were originally brought to a place of repentance? Doesn’t ‘fallen away’ mean that they were at a place to have fallen away from? In other words, weren’t they saved at some point?

John Calvin states that the unsaved person in this situation holds onto the “shadow” instead of the “substance.” This, Calvin proposes, is what is called a “temporary faith.”

Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology says that temporary faith is most likely “grounded in the emotional life and seeks personal enjoyment rather than the glory of God.” That’s why it is not difficult to understand why this kind of false faith is quickly lost when God or the church stops being be fun, or when it simply loses its appeal. But for those of us who have taken a hold of the substance – Jesus Christ – our salvation, from beginning to end, is undergirded by God. Understanding this helps us I think understand the parable of the seed in Matthew’s Gospel.

Three Indicators That You’re Truly Saved

For those of you who still are uncertain about whether you are saved or not, the following is what I share with those people who come to me with heart felt questions about their security in Christ. I discovered over the years that The Apostle John was gracious enough to give us three indicators that help us to know that our salvation is owned in our hearts.

1) We believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and so love him with our whole heart.

You should have confidence in your salvation if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God, 1 John 5:11-13. John doesn’t want people to doubt. God wants you to have assurance, to know that you have eternal life. And this is the first sign that you believe in Jesus.

You believe he is the Christ – the Messiah, 1 John 2:22.

You believe he is the Son of God, 1 John 5:10.

You believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, 1 John 4:2.

If you get your theology wrong about Jesus you’ll not have eternal life. But one of the signs that should give you confidence before God is that you do believe in his only Son Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and that you believe that he is who he claims to be… God come in the flesh. As we grasp this great truth the great truth begins to grasp our heart and we begin to love God with our whole selves. As a result, we see the other two indicators begin to take root in our faith journey.

2) We Aim to Live Righteously

You should also have confidence if you live a righteous life; 1 John 3:6-9; 3:24. Those who practice wickedness, who plunge headlong into sin, who not only stumble, but habitually walk in wickedness – should not be confident. This is no different than what Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness. We see this also in Galatians 5 that those who walk in the flesh will not inherit the kingdom.

This is no different than what Jesus tells us in John 15 that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. So, if you live a life where your radar is continually being pulled back to a morally righteous life (even though you will stumble at times), you should have confidence. And in case this standard make you despair, keep in mind that part of living a righteous life is refusing to claim that you live without sin and coming to Christ for cleansing when you do sin, 1 John 1:9-10.

3) We love other Christians

You should also have confidence if you love other Christians, 1 John 3:14. Even the grumpy and mean ones or the ones who don’t seem to love back. None of that matters. In other words, if you hate like Cain you don’t have life, but if your heart and your wallet are open to your brothers and sisters no matter how they respond (or not respond), then true relationship with Jesus is a marker in you. One necessary sign of true spiritual life is that we love one another.

These are John’s three signposts to assure us that we are on the road that leads to eternal life. Keep in mind, these are not three things we do to earn salvation, but three indicators that God has indeed saved us. We believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. We aspire to live a righteous life. We are generous in love toward other Christians.

Or we can put it this way: we know we have eternal life if we love Jesus, love his commands, and love his people; 1 John 2:4, 6; 4:20; 5:2. None of the three are optional. All must be present and growing in the Christian, and all three are meant to be signs for our assurance.

John belabours the same points again and again. Do you love God? Do you love his commands? Do you love his people? If you don’t, it’s a sign you have death. If you are seeing these become growing habits and desires, it’s sign that you have life. And that means confidence instead of condemnation.

Be Encouraged

On those day where you may still feel less than encouraged, you may find your heart blessed by these words of Charles Spurgeon taken from a sermon he preached Sunday Morning, March 23, 1856, At New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.

“If Christians can fall away, and cease to be Christians, they cannot be renewed again to repentance. “But,” says one, “You say they cannot fall away.” What is the use of putting this “if” in, like a bugbear to frighten children, or like a ghost that can have no existence? My learned friend, “Who art thou that replies against God?” If God has put it in, he has put it in for wise reasons and for excellent purposes. Let me show you why. First, O Christian, it is put in to keep thee from falling away. God preserves his children from falling away; but he keeps them by the use of means; and one of these is, the terrors of the law, showing them what would happen if they were to fall away. There is a deep precipice: what is the best way to keep any one from going down there? Why, to tell him that if he did he would inevitably be dashed to pieces. In some old castle there is a deep cellar, where there is a vast amount of fixed air and gas, which would kill anybody who went down. What does the guide say? “If you go down you will never come up alive.” Who thinks of going down? The very fact of the guide telling us what the consequences would be, keeps us from it. Our friend puts away from us a cup of arsenic; he does not want us to drink it, but he says, “If you drink it, it will kill you.” Does he suppose for a moment that we should drink it? No; he tells us the consequences, and he is sure we will not do it. So, God says, “My child, if you fall over this precipice you will be dashed to pieces.” What does the child do? He says, “Father, keep me; hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” It leads the believer to greater dependence on God, to a holy fear and caution, because he knows that if he were to fall away he could not be renewed, and he stands far away from that great gulf, because he knows that if he were to fall into it there would be no salvation for him.”

After all is said, I still believe that the most powerful argument for eternal security in our salvation is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, which speaks to the fact that our security is based on God’s love for the ones he has redeemed.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

Insert image here (Paul’s mike drop…)