Four Lies Of Legalism

Can you remember a time when you felt fear – deep, mind numbing, body shaking, thought blinding fear? Perhaps you experienced a terrible thunderstorm, the wind so loud you wondered if the roof on your house would stay on. Maybe you had to drive through a blizzard or a torrential rain storm and you were praying all the while you were on the highway that you wouldn’t crash. Quite possibly you witnessed a fight or were threatened in some way. Perhaps you feared for the life of a loved one and for hours you didn’t know what to do or where to turn.

Being afraid isn’t our favourite place to be and so when we feel like we’re in unsafe situations we look for things to hold onto, things that’ll bring order to the chaos, things that’ll anchor us and give us the assurance that we’ll be safe.

This feeling fearful or unsafe thing isn’t limited to the physical world. We can feel fear, emotionally, socially, and mentally, and every time we feel fearful in those situations we seek safe places – anchors. Sometimes those safe places are good places to be, but often they are not. That’s why some people try to hold on to unhealthy ‘anchors’ such as drugs, abusive relationships, alcoholism, or some other ‘vice’ in a deluded attempt to alleviate a fear in the moment. The problem is that it doesn’t stop the fear. In fact, it only exasperates the fears already being faced.

We Christians may not admit it, but we often do the same thing as it pertains to our walk of faith. There’s a tendency to believe that it’s the extra ‘things’, the rules and regulations in our ‘religiosity’ that we need in order to be safe, to anchor us. So, we set up traditions and rules with a spiritual skin wrapped all over it and then call it religion.

In Colossians, Paul refers to four lies about traditions and regulations that 90% of us Christians admit to having held onto at some point in our faith journey (the other 10% lied about not going there). The thing is that they don’t add a lick to our spiritual identities and most certainly do not make us ever feel sufficiently safe in our eternal futures. Legalistic rules filled with tradition or perceived biblical rules, that end up just becoming cheap substitutes for what should be the goal of our lives as Christians – To glorify God in and through our lives and to enjoy being in his amazing presence forever.

What could be these 4 lies then that Paul speaks to?

Lie # 1 – Legalistic rules and regulations will make you an acceptable Christian

“Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” – Colossians 2:16

So often we find ourselves worried about what others think, about making sure we look good and that we are doing the right ‘Christian’ (religious) thing. What ends up happening is that we surround ourselves with so many religious safety nets that we can’t see Jesus for the rules. Jesus wasn’t about rules – he was about relationship.

Much too often, we come into the body of Christ and are quickly introduced to something other than the gospel… legalism. Legalism refers to an emphasis on man-made rules and prohibitions as the standard for spirituality. Someone tells you how wrong it is to indulge in certain practices that ‘they’ have deemed unacceptable in the Christian community.

These individuals are not only convinced that these practices are wrong but consider it their duty to judge you as less Christ like because you do them! “Don’t play cards… Don’t watch movies… Don’t drink wine… Don’t get a tattoo…etc.”. As if Jesus isn’t near good enough to have taken care of the law for us. Listen, if you are convicted by the Holy Spirit about some of those things in your life then by all means listen to and obey the Holy Spirit as you’re convicted, but it’s not your or my job to convict others where there is no conviction in their lives about these things or practices…you nor I am the Holy Spirit.

Obviously, there are house rules that we as a community must live by… thou shall not kill (good house rule). Thou shall not commit adultery (another good one). Love each other (a great law to live by). But where there isn’t a direction by the word of God I can’t go around and hold up man-made laws or traditions as though they have the same weight as the word of God. Where one person has liberties in an area with God another may not. We can’t make those demands on others let alone ourselves.

Just look in Romans 8 where we see how Jesus fulfilled the law, both its moral demands and its ceremonial demands. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” – Romans 8:3-4

If keeping the Law could not make us acceptable before we received Christ, why do we think that keeping the law can make us acceptable after we are believers? Or as Paul rhetorically phrased it… “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” – Galatians 3:3

Sadly, many genuine believers are living under some form of a yoke of bondage, thinking if I just do this or do that, I’ll be more acceptable to God. They may not say this overtly but their actions betray them.

The point is that the consumption of food and drink is in itself no basis for judging a person’s acceptability with God or standing in God’s family. To be sure Paul had to deal with the abuse of food and drink; the problem of eating meat offered to idols and the problem of drunkenness (1 Corinthians 8, 11:21; Romans 14). But his approach to these abuses was never to forbid food or drink. It was always to forbid what destroyed God’s temple and injured faith. He taught the principle of love, but did not dictate its application with regulations in matters of food and drink.

Lie # 2 – Legalistic rules and regulations say that Jesus isn’t sufficient

“These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.”  – Colossians 2:17-18

I recall watching the cartoon version of Peter Pan as a child and being fascinated by the shadow of Peter. It had a life of its own and in many ways, was an independent entity apart from its owner. I remember as an 8-year-old trying endlessly to ‘awaken’ my shadow so that we could enjoy separate adventures – together. Remember I was only 8. It didn’t take me long to discover that In the real world  a shadow has no substance, and for that matter has no independent existence. It simply is a proof of the fact that there is a reality somewhere behind it making it happen. It is not solid or real – simply a copy of the real thing. Much like Pepsi is to Coke. No matter how hard I tried to make my shadow ‘real’ it was always going to be lifeless, it was always going to be just a copy. Paul is stressing to us that legalism through rules and regulations are only insufficient “shadows” that do nothing to put us into right relationship with God and most certainly don’t make us safe.

In my wallet you might not find much money but you will find pictures of my kids. I value these photographs and look at them occasionally when I am away from home. But what would you think if I propped up these pictures all over my house or office and talked to them and tried to relate to them? You would think I’d gone a little crazy – and rightly so. But, more than that, I would lose connection with the very people whose pictures I hold. They would end up feeling ignored and our relationship would be damaged and would most likely end.

That is what Paul says is wrong with shadows. If you continue to give the shadow key significance after the real person or thing has been identified, you’ll only end up killing your opportunity to enjoy the real person or thing itself. here’s the point. There are times we put more trust than we think into our rituals or regulations than we do in Jesus. If you don’t believe me then ask yourself… do you feel better about your relationship with God after you read the bible for a week or if you have been attending church every Sunday for three months than when you didn’t read the Word as much or missed church for a few weeks? Or do you feel that God’s depth of love for you is dictated by how well you serve him? Or have you ever said, “Well i’m not really being that good of a Christian” as if you were the one sanctifying you?

I absolutely understand that we learn more about who God is as we read and pray and serve… but we need to do those things out of love & not because they are rules, things we need to do as a ‘good’ christian. What Paul is telling us is that the reality in our faith is Jesus, not other ‘things’ such as rules, regulations or otherwise. It’s him, not the shadow, that journeys with us through life, who comforts us when we need it and gives us the strength to face temptation. But when we forget that, we then are believing that rules & regulations are more sufficient in making us Christlike than Christ himself.

So do we truly believe that Jesus is sufficient? Truth is that God couldn’t love us any more than he already does. Remember that God doesn’t have lots of love to give – He is love and so is an endless reservoir of love. But when we trust more in regulations and those rules we place on ourselves and others… then it means we really don’t believe that God really loves us like he said he does or that Jesus is truly sufficient enough to take care of us… because if we truly believed the truth about him, well then we’d never rely on those shadows again.

Lie # 3 – Legalistic rules and regulations deny the authority of Jesus

“And not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. – Colossians 2:19

Jesus is to be “the head of the body,” a metaphor that demonstrates the authority of Christ over the church as well as the dependence the church is to place in Christ (Colossians 1:18). That’s what the writer of Hebrews puts so much effort into doing throughout the book of Hebrews. Attempting to show us the superiority and authority of Jesus Christ over and above all of the shadows of the Old Testament. We are not to content ourselves with shadows when we can fill ourselves with the real thing. And “Jesus is ‘the real thing’.

When we die to self and live to make him known, when we can’t help but love our fellow disciples, when we crave the word of God, when we welcome discipline and tribulations in our lives because we know we are being made into the image of Christ, when we seek out fellowship with other believers because we love being with God’s people we can know that as we grow, all our spiritual growth has as its ultimate focus – Jesus.

Avoid the false teachings, the legalistic rules, the empty rituals and the unsatisfying regulations that move us away from Christ, and instead take advantage of the things God has given for growth.

Lie # 4 – Legalistic rules and regulations will make you holy

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” – Colossians 2:20-23

The false teachers in Paul’s day practised asceticism, which was a poor attempt at freeing the spirit from the ‘prison’ of the body. The view that the body was evil eventually found its way into the church. In fact, there were many who began to find ways to punish their bodies believing that this was a way to free their spirit from the body. A monk named Anthony, the founder of Christian monasticism, never changed his vest or washed his feet. I’m sure his cell probably smelled like a lot of guys’ dorm rooms. Even Martin Luther, before discovering the truth of justification by faith, nearly wrecked his health through asceticism.

Paul addresses a similar issue in Galatians 4 writing that while we were children, we were held in bondage under the ‘elemental’ things of the world. Elemental is from the Greek meaning “rank” used to speak of basic, foundational things like ABC’s or 123’s. Paul was saying that these rituals of human religion they were engaged in were elemental because they are only human, and could never rise to the level of the divine.  But he asks then that now that they’ve come to know God, how in the world could they go back to grade 2 – to the ABC’s? Do they really think that these rituals, holy days, and rules of diet will do it for them? Do they really want to be enslaved all over again?

Legalism only leads us back to unchristian slavery instead of freedom in Christ, and in any event, doesn’t free us from our lusts, at the very best keeps them on a leash which just isn’t good enough. Rules and regulations will not, and cannot make us holy.

The great news is that through our union with Christ, we, the redeemed are set free from man-made rules designed to promote spirituality and holiness.

What are the legalistic rules, regulations & traditions that you or I hold onto while we live out our own faith journey experience? What are those things we need to let go of in order to truly experience freedom in Christ and find safety in our relationship with God? True Christian safety and freedom never comes from restraining desires by rules and regulations, but from the death of evil desires and the springing to life of good desires. And this can only happen as we grow in deep love with Jesus and know him intimately, asking him to fill us with his spirit in order to be empowered to live for him. And as we grow we can know that he will complete the work that he began. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

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.

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.

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…)

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

The other day as I was getting a haircut, my stylist (I know – what hair do I have to style?), found out I was a pastor and so asked me a great question based off of an earlier conversation about the news coming out of the Middle East. “Why do Muslim’s and Christian’s fight each other? Don’t you really worship the same God anyways? Why not just focus on the stuff you are the same like the love stuff and be kind to each other stuff?”

She probably didn’t expect me to answer the way I did. Most people just say “You’re right, why don’t we?” I think most people would answer that way because they don’t know what to say or because they’d agree with her premise. Before you accuse me of promoting hatred and warfare, I did agree with her about the peace part. After all, we are to love God and our neighbour as ourselves, and the neighbour thing includes my muslim neighbours whether they be next door here in Halifax or across the ocean.

What I didn’t agree with her about was the idea that we worship the same God. So I seized on her openness of the moment to share the beauty and uniqueness of Jesus and his teachings. She engaged in the conversation and was genuinely surprised about the differences – apparently no one had told her what I was telling her, along with the obvious fact that she hadn’t explored the idea herself.

I wasn’t surprised, and in fact I find this to be a common way of thinking. What I do find surprising however, is that there are some within the Christian camp who hold a similar belief, in that there isn’t much difference between the three Abrahamic faiths; Christianity, Islam and Judaism. In fact, there are a large number who’d say that we actually worship the same God.

Back in December of 2015, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a professor with Wheaton College (An evangelical institution), put on a hijab and stated on Facebook, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Five days after that posting, Wheaton College gave Dr. Hawkins a ‘time out’ saying that they wanted to give her “more time to explore (the) theological implications of her recent public statements.” Giving a grown woman, a Doctor none the less, a time out wasn’t received well, based on the firestorm of controversy it ignited.

The Chicago Tribune, described Wheaton’s actions as “bigotry… disguised as theology.” This assessment was partially based on the input of Yale Professor Miroslav Volf, a theologian who said, “There isn’t any theological justification for Hawkins’s forced administrative leave. Her suspension is not about theology and orthodoxy. It is about enmity toward Muslims.” That sounds a bit harsh, but is he right?

WHAT IF ANY, ARE THE SIMILARITIES?  

The founder of Islam, Muhammad, saw himself as the last in a line of prophets that reached back through Jesus to Moses, beyond him to Abraham and as far back as Noah. According to the Quran, God (known as Allah) revealed to Muhammad:

“The Book with the truth [the Quran], confirming what was before it, and [before He sent down the Quran] He sent down the Torah of Moses and the Gospel of Jesus… as a guidance for the people.” 

The Muslim and Christian views of God certainly do have some similarities. For example, Christians believe in one eternal God who created the universe, and Muslims apply these attributes to Allah. Both view God as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. Jesus is mentioned 25 times in the Qur’an. And then there’s the fact that Christianity and Islam having similar teachings on morals and ethics.

The obvious conclusion to some then is that Muslims worship the same God as Christians, it’s just that the two mega faiths are simply having some familial misunderstandings about what he’s like and what he’s done – yet still the same God. After all, both Christians and Muslims recognize that their books speak about the same God who created Adam and Eve, who rescued Noah from the flood, who promised Abraham a vast progeny, who helped Moses escape Egypt, who made the Virgin Mary great with child, who sent Jesus into the world, who helped the disciples overcome, and who is still sovereign today. Is that not the God of the Bible being described in the Quran? The Quran even asserts that the Torah and the Gospel are inspired scripture and that Jews and Christians are people of the Book.

And then there’s the fact, the Quran tells Muslims to say to them (Christians and Jews), “Our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender” (29.46).

That sounds very benign… and inclusive to me. Listen, if the Quran asserts that Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians, doesn’t that settle the matter?

Fair question deserving a fair answer. My observation however, is that those assertions do not settle the matter even remotely. That’s because Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. Here is why I make that claim. It’s because making a claim that it is the same God being truly and honestly worshiped equally by both Muslims and Christians quite simply subverts Christian orthodoxy in favour of Islamic claims.

ARE THE DIFFERENCES REALLY DIFFERENT ENOUGH?

Christians believe Jesus is God, but the Quran is so opposed to this creed that it condemns Jesus worshipers to Hell (5.72). In fact, any belief in the deity of Jesus is considered shirk (“polytheism”) to Muslims. Further to this, Islam denies the death of Christ on the cross (4:157–158). So, right at the start, the most crucial doctrine of the Christian faith is rejected in Islam. This fact alone should be enough to settle the matter.

But even if that wasn’t enough, there is the doctrine of the Trinity to consider. In the Bible, God has revealed himself as one God in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So from a right understanding of Christian scripture, we see that while each Person of the Trinity is fully God, God is not three gods, but three in one.

God’s Son came in the form of man, a truth called the incarnation, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Sonfrom the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14(Also look up, Luke 1:30-35; Colossians 2:91 John 4:1-3).

Jesus conquered the penalty and power of sin by dying on the cross, and then after rising from the dead, went back to heaven to be with his Father and sent the Holy Spirit to believers.

 “’But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’.” – Acts 1:8-11.

Islam, on the other hand, roundly condemns worship of the Trinity (5.73), establishing, in contrast, its own core principle: Tawhid, the absolute oneness of God. Tawhid specifically denies the Trinity, so much so that according to Islam, worshiping the Christian God is not just wrong; it sends you to Hell.

ARE WE BEING HYPOCRITICAL WHEN IT COMES TO THE JEWISH FAITH?

Allow me to answer a question that many might be asking at this point. “How can you Christians accuse Muslims of worshiping a different God without also indicting the Jews of doing the same thing, isn’t that hypocritical & inconsistent?”

That is a fair question, however the response should be obvious to those who have studied the three Abrahamic faiths: The Trinity is an elaboration of Jewish theology, not a rejection. By contrast, Tawhid is a categorical rejection of the Trinity, Jesus’ deity, and the Fatherhood of God, doctrines that are grounded in the pages of the New Testament and firmly established centuries before the advent of Islam. Most of the earliest Christians were Jews, incorporating their encounter with Jesus into their Jewish theology. Nothing of the sort is true of Muhammad, who was neither a Jew nor a Christian. Islam did not elaborate on the Trinity but rejected and replaced it.

For the Christian though, no Trinity means no incarnation of God’s Son in the Person of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ, there would be no salvation from sin, no matter you be religiously Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Without salvation, sin condemns all to an eternal hell. And for Christians, the deity of Christ is non-negotiable, because without his deity, Jesus’ death on the cross would not have been sufficient to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the entire world, He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” – 1 John 2:2

So, do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? A better question is, “Do Christians and Muslims both have a correct understanding of who God is?” To this question, the answer is definitely a big fat NO! And that is this, because of the crucial differences between the Christian and Muslim concepts of God, the two faiths cannot both be true. The biblical God alone addresses and solves the problem of sin by giving his Son, the God man Jesus Christ.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” – John 3:16-18

Are We Guilty Of Embracing The Cult Of Judgmentalism?

One of the accusations thrown at Christians is that we are amongst the most judgemental people in the world. Interestingly enough that accusation comes equally from churched folks as it does from the none churched. Why do we have such a reputation? I don’t think that we aim to judge others – or ourselves, rather I believe that we simply don’t understand grace. For that matter I wonder if we actually believe in grace?

Before I get a few nasty notes let me say this first. I do believe that we need to make character and situational judgment calls. I’m not against judging in the right circumstances and appropriate ways. What I am talking about is ‘judgmentalism’. I believe that there is a huge difference and that I’m not simply splitting hairs. I wrote on this judging thing in another blog which you can check out by following this link:  https://thesavagetheologian.com/2017/10/30/to-judge-or-not-to-judge-what-does-jesus-say/

It’s almost like we are embracing a cult of judgmentalism instead of embracing the gospel of grace. Some time ago a Christian friend came to me in distress. He’d had too much to drink while out with some friends. He’d known them for years and would regularly drink in moderation with them, but on this occasion, he’d lapsed in his self-control. As far as he was concerned, he’d just blown several years of witnessing to them.

We have a prayer ministry offered every Sunday at the end of the service, called the connection corner. We were thinking about how we could encourage more people to make use of it, when one lady said, “Well I’d never use it. I’d hate for other people to assume that I had a problem.” Seriously? Unfortunately, it was serious.

Both these incidents reveal an underlying malaise in many of our churches. I’m not sure we really believe in grace. We do, in the sense that we teach it and assent to it in our confessions. But perhaps we don’t, in the sense of really living it. The issue, I suspect, is something of a misstep in our formula of what it means to live for Christ. It’s like we think we’re Jesus’ PR agents. “If I look good, then Jesus looks good.”So, we hate the thought of not looking good. That’s what Christian failure looks like to the average person I think.

Here’s our problem though. If this mindset of being Jesus’ PR agent permeates a whole church family, our life together becomes a matter of performance. What results is a bunch of underperforming, over expecting Christians putting on their best Christian masks, taking deep breaths, and then heading out to church wondering how long they can keep this charade up. It becomes unbearably exhausting. I know – I’ve done this too many times in the past.

Listen, if Christian parents adopt this mindset, parenting becomes about trying to perform well in front of the kids, making sure they only see the highest standard of Christian behaviour from us. This may be a common way of thinking, but it’s disastrous. It leads to hypocrisy. The reality is, we’re not good, and we can only keep up the façade for a little while before the cracks begin to show.

We all know that our little mini-me’s see it right away anyways. They know what we’re really like and can immediately tell when we try to put a Christian sheen over it. And when we really make a mess of things, the last place we want go to is a church gathering. We’re supposed to look Christian there, so when we know we can’t remotely pretend things are together, it’s easier simply not to go. Best to keep the mess away from the other well put together folks – except that they’re not.

All this is a sign that while we may be professing grace, we’re not actually inhabiting a culture of grace. We’re not Jesus’s PR agents, and he is not our client. We are broken men and women, and he is our Saviour. It’s not the case that I need to look good so Jesus can look good; instead I need to be honest about my colossal spiritual need so he can look all-sufficient so that Jesus can look awesome.

The fact of the matter is that I don’t need to look good so Jesus can look good. In fact, the true reality that I need to wrap my head around is that I need to get really honest about my messiness of life and my colossal spiritual need in order that Jesus can look all-sufficient to everyone else around me.

Bottom line is that I don’t increase so he can increase; Instead I need to speak and live like John the Baptist who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:30. Decreasing means being honest about my flaws, not embarrassed about them. But imagine the difference this would make to our witness. Rather than thinking I have to constantly be looking good and shiny, less sinful than every non-Christian I know, I am instead liberated to be myself, warts and all, so that I can show that my confidence is not in me.

So instead of my friend beating up on himself or for that matter me beating up on my friend who had too much to drink, he now has an amazing opportunity to be an authentic witness to Christ – not by pretending we Christians don’t have any sin, but by demonstrating what we dowith it.

If it’s about performance, then my friend really has blown it and will be too embarrassed to see his friends. But if it’s about repentance, and about forgiveness, then he gets to model that repentance and to show brokenness about sin and sheer relief in a Saviour. That’s the gospel after all.

Envision the difference this would make to our church life. Rather than having a stigma about being anything less than spiritually holy, we can come together as a group of people who are open and free about our colossal spiritual needs. The assumption stops being “We have to be good if we’re coming here,”and instead becomes “You have to be a real mess to show up here – thank goodness I’m not the only one.” Which do you think sounds more inviting? Which is going to foster deeper confession and public repentance?

Imagine a church community that repents often, forgives freely and extends grace continually as a matter of habitual living. Instead of feeling embarrassed about going forward to receive prayer, that would invite us to experience the joy and relief of knowing we’re all ultimately in the same boat. Grace, then, becomes not just a formal doctrine but a felt reality.

We should foster our discipleship machine’s in such a way that the DNA’s of our church gatherings become places where no one is too low, too far gone, too needy – too anything – to worry about not fitting in. Our testimony should not be “I was a mess, then Jesus showed up, and now I’ve got everything together,” but “I was a mess – and I still am – but I’m a mess who belongs to Jesus, a mess he is committed to sorting out. He came to me, has stuck with me, and continues to be my all in all.”

I resonate with John Newton who said, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world – but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

 So Christian friend, let’s give up this cult of judgmentalism and let us live out the gospel of grace. We’ll all be glad we did.

How Do I Talk To My Kids About Homosexuality?

I only have one major point in this article, and it’s this: the best way to talk to your kids about homosexuality is to first talk about healthy sexuality.

In our ministry we’ve recently been preaching an entire book of the Bible in one sermon. I just preached on Judges. Since there are some pretty spicy topics in this book, I sent a PG-13 warning to parents pointing out the rape, murder, and mutilation of the concubine (Judges 19). One mom didn’t read the email. Afterward she confided in me that she hadn’t yet talked to her child about sex, let alone its worldly distortions. Her fears about raising her boys in this world came trembling out as she explained the complicated tight-rope she walks with her lesbian neighbors, their kids, and her own.

How do I talk to my kids about homosexuality?

As a 27-year-old father of a 3-year-old, it seems both unwise and presumptuous to tell godly, mature parents how to talk to their kids about this issue. Nevertheless, if I’m not talking about it, everyone else is. I have an obligation to give some kind of Christian response to secular wisdom, even if it’s tempered by my lack of parental experience.

Questions like the one above will only increase in frequency in today’s cultural climate. But this shouldn’t discourage us. Such questions provide unique platforms to talk about healthy marriage in general. Throw in the divorce rate in the church, and it becomes clear many of us are failing to teach our young people about marriage in any form.

Confused By Love 

I encourage you to watch this Jimmy Kimmel Live video from last summer before reading the rest of this article. It’s funny, fascinating, and demonstrates our world’s view of marriage.

Kimmel’s point is that kids are sophisticated enough to handle the throes of modern love. When asked why people get married, the kids answered, almost universally, “Because you love someone and have a connection to them.” Kimmel—and CNN—were proud to hold this up not only as the final definition of marriage, but also as an apologetic for the legalization and self-evident virtue of same-sex marriage.

After watching the video, it occurred to me that we can’t marry for love anymore. At least, I can’t tell my children that love is the ultimate reason I proposed to their mom. “Because I love her,” though true, is to give an answer the world has thoroughly co-opted. As expected as it seems, “Because I love her” might actually confuse them more than the biblical answer would.

According to Ephesians, Christian marriage isn’t finally about my love for my spouse; it’s about Christ’s love for his.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (5:31–32)

If the world believes our children are sophisticated enough to understand the realities of modern love, let’s one-up them. Let’s show them our kids are capable of understanding the truth of an ancient, eternal love—that marriage isn’t only our response to another’s love, but ultimately a response to our Savior’s sacrificial love. (Though one article can’t address this issue exhaustively, I should also add that Genesis 2 presents all marriage—including non-Christian marriage—as a divinely commissioned creational good. Marriage isn’t only a gospel mirror, then, but a blessing for all humanity, which God established in Eden when he united Adam and Eve.)

Five Ways Christ’s Love Recalibrates Our View of Marriage

1. It elevates marriage beyond something we initiate and sustain to something God initiates and sustains.

“What God has joined together,” Jesus declared concerning marriage, “let no man separate” (Mark 10:9). Marriage is God’s work, God’s idea, God’s plan. It’s not something we get to co-opt, redefine, or bail on. Marriage is a divine work woven through creation to display God’s creative glory and incredible love.

2. It makes marriage ultimately about the gospel.

If the gospel is such great news, our children need to see it work its way into all parts of our lives—including how we see and value our spouses. I desperately want my daughter to know Jesus loves her and died for sinners like her. And I want her to catch a glimpse of that kind of sacrifice in the way I love her mom, so that when she asks I can tell her, “How could I not love your mom this way in light of how Jesus has loved me?”

Additionally, viewing marriage through the lens of the gospel shows our kids marriage isn’t about feeling 100 percent in love 100 percent of the time. Scripture makes clear that marriage isn’t a life of warm fuzzies sustained by the loveliness of our spouse. Rather, it’s sustained by a love that continues even when we become unlovely, bitter, and aged. Gospel marriage is a recapitulation of our salvation—we are deeply sinful yet deeply loved by our Redeemer. Moreover, it relieves us of trying to be perfect husbands and wives by pointing us beyond ourselves to the perfect love of Jesus.

3. It helps us see marriage is a calling to love and serve, not an institution for self-expression and self-fulfillment.

Marriage today is seen as a universal right. In reality, though, it is a gospel-fueled sacrificial responsibility. Through sacrificial suffering for the sanctification of our spouse, marriage reflects Christ’s sacrificial suffering for the glory of the Father.

4. It displays our union with Christ, the essence of our salvation.

Marriage involves two unlike beings—a man and a woman—joining together as one. This mirrors the way God and a sinner—two very unlike beings—become one through the saving grace of Christ.

5. It primes our children for inevitable conversations about the corruptions of godly marriage and sexuality.

It lets them know God has established a standard for marriage and sex, even as they interact with gay neighbors, a friend’s divorced parents, or a buddy having premarital sex. God has already set the standard for what our conversations and relationships should look like, no matter one’s sexual sin. (We are all sexual sinners, after all.) And the Lord’s standards are finally about love, not judgment; for our good, not our harm. As John Piper beautifully writes, “God does not forbid sexual sin because he’s a killjoy, but because he opposes what kills joy.”

When we respond to questions about same-sex marriage in this way, we cut through much political punditing and religious noise. We frontload youth with a view of marriage that is more robust, more profound, and more beautiful than any “because I love her” line. And we give them a biblical perspective that will strengthen and enhance their own marriages one day, if God calls them to it.


Editors’ note: An earlier version of this article originally appeared at RootedMinistry.com.

How Can Christians Impact A World Opposed To Jesus?

The world is celebrating ‘Pride month’ as I write this. Parades, putting on display a show of open rebellion to God’s design of sexuality are promoted as normative family celebrations.

I see several posts on FB that call out to embrace this vision. Posts declaring “Love is Love” showing pictures of same sex couples, or pronouncements stating how we must end any dialogue against same sex relationships, is common place and sadly many of those posts come from church folks.

I write this while sitting on an airline flight, and the magazine in the seat pocket in front of me highlights and presents Pride as achieved through the embracing of the LGBTQ community as though it is the most natural thing to do.

The key article in the magazine is titled  Pride & Joy and is speaking to the pride and joy that has come from the steps made to normalize the gay lifestyle in Canada. Over the past 20 years in Canada, ‘Pride day’ has shifted to become ‘Pride month’. The anticipation and expectation is that society is quickly moving to ‘Pride life’ all year long.

Not only that, the anticipation & expectation is that we will and or must all agree with that vision and if we don’t we are branded as homophobic, accused of hate speech, considered bigoted, old-fashioned or seen as narrow-minded zealots.

For those who hold to the biblical understanding of marriage being instituted by God as a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman for the purpose of companionship, encouragement, sexual intimacy, and procreation. And who believe that sexual intimacy can only be enjoyed and expressed in the marriage relationship, how are we supposed to respond to the neighbour who doesn’t hold to the word of God and this biblical vision?

Can we have an impact or are we too late?

We can get upset post angry or derogatory comments ‘back at em’ on our FB posts, we can try to argue people into the kingdom. We can attempt to be ‘louder’ than the world around us. I have seen and heard much of that approach. But here’s the thing. I don’t think that anyone is listening. And even if they are, they’re not caring about our opinions.

I’ve discovered that one of the reasons people aren’t listening is that we are trying to answer questions nobody is asking. And so instead of stopping to listen to our angsts, we are being shut out.

Think about it. Do you think the average non-believer cares if they’re being biblical? Or that they aren’t following your Christian world view? Why do we continue to expect none-Christians to act like Christians? Christians themselves have a hard-enough time trying to act like a Christian.

Paul said in Romans, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” – Romans 1:18-32

According to Paul, people can’t help having a distorted image of themselves, including their sexuality because of mankind’s sinful propensity to choose ‘idols’ instead of God. Man continues to see distorted images instead of the perfect image of God through Jesus.

So How Can Christians Impact A World So Opposed To Jesus?

It seems that to many, the greatest sin one can commit is the sin of “offending.” We guard our words, our actions, our attitudes, in case others become offended and turn away.

However, I really believe that if Jesus was around today, he would be called intolerant and even a ‘hater’, not because he sought to be divisive but because he wouldn’t be one of those who’d follow the crowd or bend to what is popular.

Sure, Jesus was about love… he cared for those in need and he obviously cared for those on the fringes and those folks who didn’t fit the religious standards. But he was also about truth and about ‘going & sinning no more’.

The average person couldn’t figure him out, which is why later on he lost the majority of his followers. Jesus was divisive, not because he was a jerk, but rather because of what he stood for. As a result he was different then everyone else… and it ultimately cost him.

Fast forward to our world and it seems that most of us work extremely hard to make sure we’re not seen as divisive and different. (Or if we do, we do it more as a badge of honour in our ability to ‘shake up the cultural tree’ than to do it to be Christ like). Either way, if we find that our ‘discipleship’ is acceptable to the masses, and if it doesn’t cost us something, then I think we’re doing it wrong.

The call of discipleship is, fundamentally, a call to allegiance. And as such, Jesus refuses to be an afterthought, a diversion, or a hobby in the lives of those who claim to be his disciples. It is an all or nothing thing, which includes giving up everything to follow him and standing apart from the masses even if that means being unpopular when the masses go opposite God’s way. If we’re not willing to do that – then can we be called a disciple of his?

Listen to these statistics… First, the average family has the television on for over 7 ½ hours a day – that’s just nuts! But then according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, those aged between 8 and 18 years old spent an average of 53 hours per week using electronics.[i]

That’s mind blowing enough, but then add to that the admission that most of us don’t spend more than 10 minutes a day in God’s word let alone spend any time praying other than over a meal. Wow! That should bring us to our knees. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that the church in the West is weak.

Get Grounded 

So, what do we do? It is vital to make Christ the first priority of every aspect and every decision in our lives if we expect to grow in relationship with him and then as a result impact the world around us. The Psalmist tells us how to make that happen. “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

If you have ever seen a satellite picture of the Nile River in Egypt you will appreciate the picture it shows. The land is rich and lush with life along the banks of the flowing river, but as you move away from the water, life becomes scarcer and scarcer, the green turns lighter and lighter until soon all that’s left is a yellow desert. The focus of the picture though is of the green where there is of a continual flowing of refreshing waters that give the tree life, producing the greenery.

The water of the river flows 24/7 and as a result the tree is able to suck up all it requires to live and not only to live but to flourish and produce fruit just like a blessed man (and woman) who is ‘grounded’ by thirst quenching water and nutrient enriched soil.

I’ll admit that if there is one thing that bothers me as a preacher, it’s when people leave a morning worship service after getting their 40 – 60 minute fix of ‘God’, telling me on their way out to the car (and lunch) that they’re excited about living for Jesus because of what they’ve heard and experienced.

That part doesn’t bother me and in fact that is awesome. What bothers me is when I discover later that many of those very same people will, by that same evening, continue to struggle with the very things that they were so sure were conquered after getting excited at church on Sunday morning. I honestly believe that they want to change but don’t or can’t. They want to get close to Jesus but aren’t – Why?

Here’s why… 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 God’s word daily. Follow Jesus daily, get involved with your local church community, places where you can be helped and be held accountable. As the church, we are meant to be a community to build each other up in our faith, continually, not just once a week.

Don’t expect to grow and feel close to Jesus if you are isolating yourself from others who can speak into your life, or if you aren’t putting yourself in a position to learn from his teachings which we get from reading his word and praying and learning how to pray.

Discipleship isn’t a Sunday thing it’s a lifestyle. God wants full custody… not just weekend visits.

 

In Acts 2 we see that the early church met daily and as a result they became grounded in Jesus Christ, and when persecution came the church grew and didn’t fall apart. They were strong and healthy and produced fruit just like the blessed man we see in Psalm 1.

So, let’s be honest with ourselves. We can get all worked up about how this world is going to the dogs and get all bothered about how the church doesn’t seem to have any teeth to combat sin, or for that matter too much teeth, but then not be willing to do what it takes to make Jesus the first priority and seek out what it means to be grounded in him… If that is us, can we actually expect to have an impact?

[i]http://www.zdnet.com/article/study-american-kids-spend-7-5-hours-per-day-using-electronics/

Depression: A Biblical Understanding

I had a great and stimulating conversation with my chiropractor today. That’s not unusual, it seems we normally do. Today however was greater than other times. I think it had to do with the topic. He’s not a church guy and has been clear on the fact that he’s not a Christian. However, he likes to discuss a wide range of subjects whenever I go in, topics such as politics, finances, family and even spirituality.

I’m praying that he will discover Jesus through all our ‘chats’. Today he asked me what my blog topic was about and so of course I told him it was about whether or not it is a sin to be depressed. He asked me if that’s a real question among Christians, and when I assured him that yes it was, he stopped what he was doing, looked at me for a moment, and then asked, “Isn’t that what faith is about”? He’s much closer to knowing Jesus than he knows.

So, is it a sin to be depressed? Does being depressed mean that somehow there is something wrong with our faith? Depression is somewhat of a charged issue among disciples of Jesus. Some flatly declare it to be a sin. The thinking is that depression reveals a lack of faith in God’s promises, or that God would never allow a Spirit filled – Spirit led believer to fall into a state of depression. Some will even say that it is God’s judgment on sinful behaviour, or the depressed individual has done something to invite spiritual oppression.

Some others will claim that that it’s just laziness, because – as the thinking goes – we know that God is good and loving and that we are secure in him, so what is there to be depressed about? We hear things like, “Stiff upper lip and get on with life.”or “Tough it out.”Not really helpful.

Then there are those who declare depression to be nothing more than a medical condition, a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. In other words, depression is really no more wrong than having the flu.

Several others (probably most Christians), aren’t really sure what this ugly beast of depression is. Faith seems somewhat related, but so do brain chemicals. Caught in all of this is the depressed Christian, left to feel guilty, defensive, confused, lost, or simply too depressed to even care what the church thinks. So, is it a sin to be depressed?

To begin to answer that question, I believe it is helpful and I’ll admit encouraging to know that there are many examples of biblical champions struggling with sadness, even to the point of depression. David wrote, “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?” – Psalm 56:8.

David, a man after God’s own heart, did not gloss over his sadness; he expressed it to God. You’ll even find strong heroes of the faith such as Moses and Elijah, confess to God that they preferred to die rather than live in their current reality (Numbers 11:15; 1 Kings 19:3-5).

Interestingly, neither of these men were rebuked by God for their feelings; instead, they all were met with God’s love and provision. Even great church teachers and leaders of the past few centuries were known to suffer from depression, some for most of their lives. Men such as Charles Spurgeon and Martin Luther faced the dark depths of despair at various seasons of life and yet were used greatly by God to further the work of the church. It seems that the Bible isn’t shy about admitting that sadness and finding oneself in a deep funk is part of life, and it is not condemned.

I am not claiming that I am an expert in treating or diagnosing depression. In fact, I wish to emphasize that the purpose of this post today isn’t to definitively define anyone’s condition. I am not about to tell you if your’s or a loved one’s specific case is a result of something clinical, spiritual, physical or a combination of any of those. If you are struggling with depression, allow me encourage you to seek the council of a professional, a pastor who knows you or talk to a close friend. What I am attempting to do is biblically determine whether depression itself is a sin or not.

Truth is, the word depressed is a fairly loose term to begin with. It can refer to a diagnosable medical condition (clinical depression), but it can also refer to a temporary feeling of sadness or apathy or to a nebulous, lingering malaise.

For some people a chemical or hormonal imbalance triggers a depressed state. Having a medical condition is not a sin, however, what brings a person to that condition could berooted in sin. For instance, it is not wrong to have diabetes, but it is wrong to be a glutton (and the two are sometimes related).

Occasionally depression is situational, caused by adverse circumstances such as life changes, a spiritual crisis, etc. Our emotional response to those changes or crises can in turn trigger a chemical imbalance. Knowing that we humans are fearfully and wonderfully made, as the psalmist said in Psalm 139:14, it should come as no surprise then that our biology interacts with our emotions and vice-versa.

Once a person is depressed, the cycle of hormonal imbalance and negative emotions can be difficult to break. Whether the emotions cause the biology to change or the biology causes the emotions to change, the resulting symptoms are the same.

We live in a world of pain where tears of sadness are common. Even Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:35). I think it’s safe to say that there’s no need to always put on a happy face and pretend that things are okay when they are not.

But does that mean then that we are to submit to sadness or depression as the inevitable state? No, we don’t. Even when we’re sad or depressed, disciples are encouraged to see the greater reality of God’s plan. Yes, this world is fallen and often painful. It can be depressing. But God is far greater. He is at work, victoriously.

Moses and Elijah received God’s provision and experienced his refreshing care. Shortly after pouring out his sadness, David praised God. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”– John 16:33

Taking heart does not mean pasting on a smile or ignoring the feeling of emptiness that depression brings. It does not mean neglecting to treat depression through counseling or medication. It does not mean ignoring the relational hurts or the misperceptions that have led to depression (Satan’s lies, if we believe them, will lead us to despair). It does not mean denying the fact that depression could be a lifelong struggle.

What taking heart does mean is bringing all our pain to God. It does mean continuing to trust in him. It does mean believing that what he says about himself and about us is true, even when we don’t feel like it is. It does mean getting the help we need, battling depression rather than giving in to it. We acknowledge the depravity of the world, but we also acknowledge the sufficiency of God.

If you are depressed there are some things you can do to alleviate your anxiety. Make sure that you are staying in the Word, even when you don’t feel like it. Emotions can lead us astray, but God’s Word stands firm and unchanging. Maintain strong faith in God and hold even more tightly to him when you undergo trials and temptations. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God will never allow temptations into our lives that are too much for us to handle. Do not hide away from people and forsake the fellowshipping with other believers. God knows we need community for encouragement and to be loved on.

Is depression a sin? No, it is not, however know that we are still accountable for the response to the affliction, including getting the professional help that is needed. It is not a sin to be depressed, but it is a sin – and not especially helpful in overcoming a depressed state – to give up on God when we are depressed. “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God” – Psalm 43:5.

Is Suicide The Unforgivable Sin?

I love travel documentaries and one of my favourites has been, “Parts Unknown” on CNN hosted by Anthony Bourdain. You can imagine my surprise when I heard that Anthony was found dead by suicide this past Friday June 8th2018. According to his mother, Anthony had everything to live for. “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this,” Gladys Bourdain told the New York Times.

Another celebrity, Kate Spade, sounded happy the night before her body was found in her New York City apartment last Tuesday morning. “There was no indication and no warning she would do this,” her husband Andy Spade said in a heart-wrenching statement published in the Times.

For more than four decades Antoon Leenaars has tried to construct a theory to explain why people kill themselves. Among his findings is that those who die by suicide are often tragically gifted at concealing their true intentions, even from themselves. “We find it in the suicide notes and in the psychological autopsies,” said Leenaars, a Windsor psychologist whose archive of more than 2,000 suicide notes is believed the largest collection of its kind in the world. “There’s both a conscious and unconscious intent to be deceptive, to hide, to mask,” he said.

I think that’s why, for the most part, we are often surprised when someone takes their own life. I haven’t personally experienced a close friend or family member commit suicide, yet I have been around many others who have had close friends or family take their lives, and I can tell you that it can be terribly confusing and heartbreaking. For the friends and family of that person who has taken their own lives, grief can be like a wild animal inside, thrashing to get out. There are times It won’t be contained, spilling out in sobs and screams, while at other times it turns inward, causing those left behind to desperately examine every interaction over the weeks and days preceding their loved one’s death, wondering what they could have done differently. It’s a terrible place to be.

Does the bible say anything about committing suicide?

Is suicide the unforgivable sin? Does the person who self kills go immediately to hell? Within the church community, this controversial topic has unfortunately often been addressed in emotional ways, not through biblical analysis. For example, for those who grew up Roman Catholic the prevailing view is that suicide is definitely a mortal sin, irretrievably sending people to hell. Influenced by the arguments of Augustine and Aquinas, this belief dominated through the Reformation. This of course causes much angst and problems for the survivor to process through. As a result, the approach is most often an emotional one. Besides this traditional position of the Catholic Church, we encounter three others:

1) A true Christian would never commit suicide since God wouldn’t allow it.

2) A Christian may commit suicide but would lose his salvation.

3) A Christian may commit suicide without losing his salvation.

As purposeful as those statements are, we still need to ask what the Bible, not tradition or opinion says. As much as we don’t have all the answers, let’s begin by talking about those truths we do know as revealed in God’s Word.

We know that humanity is totally depraved (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10-18). Of course, we should understand that this doesn’t mean we’re as evil as we could be, but rather that every human capacity – intellect, heart, emotions, will – is tainted by sin. We also know that even after regeneration, a Christian is capable of committing any sin except the unforgiveable one. We see the unforgivable sin mentioned in Mark 3:25-32 and Matthew 12:32. A study of these passages leads us to the conclusion that they are referring to the continual rejection of the Holy Spirit in the work of conversion, ultimately referring to a committed unbeliever.

I think that it’s important to remember as well, that a believer is quite capable of taking the life of someone else, as David did in the case of Uriah, without this action invalidating his salvation. After all, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has forgiven all of our sin – past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 10:11-18). Still, suicide is a serious offense against God because it represents arrogant violation of the gift of life the Creator has given. However, if a genuine believer is theoretically capable of taking another’s life, why is it impossible to conceive he or she could ever take his or her own?

The truth is that the sin a Christian will commit tomorrow was forgiven at Calvary – where Jesus justified us, declaring us positionally righteous. He accomplished this work through one single offering that didn’t need to be repeated again. On the cross Jesus didn’t make us justifiable; he made us justified (Romans 3:23-26; 8:29-30).

Granted, some point out that Scripture contains no instance of a believer committing suicide, while it includes many cases of unbelievers doing so, thus coming to the conclusion that believers simply don’t (won’t) commit suicide. But this is an argument from silence. Scripture doesn’t explicitly mention many things in life. Moreover, some hold suicide robs a Christian of her salvation because it doesn’t provide an opportunity for repentance. But if you were to die right now, would there be any unconfessed sin in your life? I think that we could only say that yes, of course there would be.

The sacrifice that covers the unconfessed sins we have remaining until death is the same sacrifice that would cover a sin like suicide. Suicide is not what determines whether a person gains entrance into heaven anyways. If an unsaved person commits suicide, she has done nothing but “expedite” her journey to hell. However, that person who committed suicide will ultimately be in hell for rejecting salvation through Christ, not because she committed suicide. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18

We should also point out, however, that no one truly knows what was happening in a person’s heart the moment he died. Some people have “deathbed conversions” and accept Christ in the moments before death. It is possible that Anthony Bourdain could have had a last-second change of heart and cry out for God’s mercy, we don’t know, but if he did, we can know that God’s mercy would have reached him even there.

Back to our original question. Issuicide the unforgivable sin? If we’ve established that a Christian is capable of committing any sin, why can’t we conceive that someone could commit the sin of suicide? And if we believe Jesus’ blood is capable of forgiving any sin, wouldn’t his blood cover this sin too? The wonderful truth of the matter is that if Jesus’ sacrifice has made believers perfect forever (look up Hebrews 7:28-10:14), could any sin remove their salvation? Based on scripture, I’d have to say a resounding no – including suicide.

Further to this point, if someone like Moses (and Job, and Elijah, and Jeremiah) came to a point where he wished God would take his life, couldn’t a believer with schizophrenia or extreme depression, who lacks Moses’ strength of character, make this wish a reality? Martin Luther believed that a true believer could be oppressed by demonic powers and thus driven to the point of suicide. The suicide of a believer is evidence that anyone can struggle with despair and that our enemy, Satan, is “a murderer from the beginning” – John 8:44

Having said that, on the basis of Scripture, history, and the experience of God’s people – as well as the indwelling Spirit and the means of grace in the church – it’s most likely that suicides will be rare (though not impossible) for genuine believers.

How should we respond to a survivor?

Even still, when a suicide does occur, we should seek to comfort, not accuse. Instead of identifying the horrors we should seek to comfort the hurting. Our chief focus should be on that about which God has said much (salvation), not on that about which he’s said little (suicide).

Sometimes the best thing we can say to a survivor (friend or family member of someone who took their own life) is NOTHING! In fact, sometimes the best reaction is no words at all, but a hug. There is much comfort that comes with the caring presence of friends, and the assurance others are praying for them. Even still, if you do feel led to say anything, here are some examples you can use that I have found helpful as I have come along side those who are hurting.

“Tell me a favourite memory of…”

“I love you, and my prayers are with you.”

“How can I help you today?” (Following through with errands, grocery shopping, cleaning, going to church with them, etc.)

“I am so sorry for your loss. Words fail.”

“I’m here.”

The best advice to anyone who wants to comfort a suicide survivor is: “Show up, let them see you care, and respect the griever’s right to feel bad for a while (guilt, anger, sadness, etc.). Too many survivors reported “friends” who avoided them altogether after their loved ones’ suicides rather than to risk saying the wrong thing. Please don’t do that, because that hurts most of all.