Pillars of Faith

The Holy Spirit (Pillars of Faith Series)

Holy Spirit: We believe that the Holy Spirit indwells believers (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), confirming their salvation (Romans 8:14-16) and enabling them to bear godly fruit (Galatians 5:22). We believe that the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). He is the source of all power and all acceptable worship and service.The Holy Spirit also empowers believers to have a bold and effective witness (i.e Luke 12:12), so He manifests His gifts in their daily lives for the edification of the church and as a testimony to the world. He never removes Himself from the Church; He is always testifying of Christ; He is always seeking to focus believers on Jesus, not on themselves, their gifts, or their experiences.

- from the CLG Statement of Faith

The primary roles of the Holy Spirit are:

  •  the restraint of evil in the world to the measure of God’s divine will;
  •  the conviction of the world respecting sin, righteousness, and judgment;
  •  the regeneration of all believers;
  •  the continuous indwelling and anointing of all who are saved;
  •  the provision of gifts as He sees fit;
  •  the manifestation of fruit in all, for the purpose of ministry to all;
  •  the continual filling for power, teaching, and service among  those who are committed to and yielded to Jesus Christ.

The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) is the result of a Spirit-filled life, and evidence of spiritual maturity. True followers of God will be known by their fruit (Matthew 7:16).

The gifts of the Spirit are different manifestations of the Spirit to build up the body (Isaiah 11:5; I Corinthians 12:1-11). They ought always directly point people toward God (John 15:26; John 16:13-14). We are instructed to diligently seek the gifts (I Corinthians 12:31, 14:1), but they must be exercised in an orderly and understandable way (I Corinthians 14:26-33), and used in the context of love (I Corinthians 13:1-13), lest our expression cause others to stumble (1 Corinthians 8). We have different gifts given as the Holy Spirit wills, and the gifts must be expressed in love, sincerity, and in a way which honors others above ourselves (Romans 12:1-10).

The Holy Spirit "gives gifts as He will” (I Corinthians 12:7-11). We are recipients of these gifts by grace and God’s good mercy. There is no formula for gaining gifts, and there is no one gift that is a more definitive sign of His presence. Every attempt should be made to use the gifts in humility and service, so that we may share the desire of Jesus: that God must increase and we must decrease (John 3:30).

Spiritual gifts are enablements or capacities God gives to individuals. Because they are freely given, they cannot be earned. These gifts are for the benefit of others, and are given to the entire church more than to individuals. They are meant to build up, encourage, and comfort the church. They are also far more varied than we often realize.

  • Prophecy (boldly proclaiming God’s mind and purpose) 1 Corinthians 12, 14; Micah 3:8
  • Serving (a wide variety of ministries that “make the dust fly”) - 1 Peter 4; 1 Corinthians 12:5
  • Teaching - (explaining God’s truth) Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4
  • Working - (bringing energy to a project) 1 Corinthians 12:6
  • Exhortation (motivational skills; encouragement) - Romans 12
  • Giving (joyful, sacrificial generosity) Romans 12
  • Mercy (compassion) - Romans 12
  • Intercession (prayer) Romans 8:26, 27
  • Wisdom (knowledge rightly applied to situations) James 1:5; Numbers 27
  • Words of Wisdom (giving insightful, practical knowledge) - 1 Corinthians 12
  • Words of Knowledge (giving insight into doctrine/spiritual truth) - 1 Corinthians 12
  • Faith (unwavering commitment) - 1 Corinthians 12
  • Healing (miraculous interventions for sickness) 1 Corinthians 12
  • Miracles - (supernatural acts)1 Corinthians 12
  • Discerning spirits (insight into the “spirit” of a situation) - 1 Corinthians 12
  • Tongues (gifted in human or heavenly languages) - 1 Corinthians 12, 14
  • Interpretation of Tongues - (translating those languages) 1 Corinthians 12, 14
  • Apostle (unique to the founding of the church) - 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4
  • Leadership (church planters and church sustainers) - Romans 12
  • Pastor (“shepherds” who guide and lead) - Ephesians 4
  • Evangelist/Missionary (boldness in sharing the gospel) Acts 1:8; 5:32; 26:22; 1 John 5:6; Ephesians 4
  • Helps (helping/serving the poor and downtrodden) 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Romans 16:1-4; 12
  • Administration (the ability to give oversight) 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Samuel 11 and 16
  • Celibacy (refraining from sex with purity) 1 Corinthians 7:7
  • Marriage (committing to a covenant with integrity) 1 Corinthians 7:7
  • Hospitality (openness and friendliness) 1 Peter 4:9-10
  • Craftsmanship (building, construction) Exodus 31:3; 35:30-35
  • The Arts (music, poetry, prose, painting...) - Exodus 31:2-6; Exodus 35:25-26; Psalm 150:3-5 Luke 1:1-3
  • Voluntary Poverty (forgoing wealth without envy or jealousy) 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
  • Business Sense (reward from hard work and investment) Ecclesiastes 3,5
  • Courage (as seen in Gideon) Judges 6
  • Strength (as seen in Samson) Judges 13
  • Architectural Engineering (planning; constructing; building) 1 Chronicles 28

The Holy Spirit is also creative, and that He gives us the wisdom and ability to learn to use His power appropriately and contextually in new situations – new wine need new wineskins (Luke 5: 36-39). This enables us to be considerate of the effect and impact on those around us (I Corinthians 14:40). The expression and use of the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit will vary from culture to culture, person to person, and season to season.  What is a beneficial and edifying expression in one place, time, or individual may or may not be equally beneficial or edifying in another. 

The Church (Pillars of Faith Series)

“We believe that the Church is Christ’s symbolic body in the earth (Colossians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 12:27), and that it should reveal His character, His message, and His love to the world.  We believe that the Church is to go into all the world, preach the gospel, and make disciples. This will lead people to have fellowship with God (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:15,16) and community with others (1 Corinthians 12:13).”

- from the CLG Statement of Faith

I (Karl Meszaros) was somewhat surprised to be the guy to speak on this subject. I’ve been a Christian for roughly 16 years. I came to Christ in a very logical fashion. I basically read myself in. I started with the creation; I then read about how we got the Bible. Finally, I ended with studying about the nature of God. Reading really helped with many theological things.

God the father was a fairly easy for me to understand. He seemed like a black and white kind of guy, so there was no problem there. Jesus was also not a problem for me.  The idea that God took human form and became one of us was a powerful concept. The Holy Spirit was a little more difficult as there are more debates on the work and the person of the Holy Spirit.  However, I was able to work through my issues there as well.

While all this paid dividends, it didn’t help me too much with understanding the church. I became a Christian when I was 28. Because I wasn’t raised in the church my ideas about who and what they were. My view was that they were more like the Amish in the movie Witness. When I was around Christians, I found that they weren’t these perfect little people. I found myself agreeing with Nietzsche when he said, “I would believe in their salvation if they looked a little more like people who have been saved”.

The more I was around Christians, the more they let me down, the more I questioned the value of the church. Given today’s technology and sheer amount of material available, I began to wonder why I even need the church.  What’s the point; what possible value could it have?

Does it feel like I jumped into the middle of a sermon? Did you notice where I started? I started at what is the value of the church to me? We do this with several church things: Am I being fed? Do I like the music style? Do I like the programs? We start at ‘me’ and not at Jesus. I would like to put forth that we often get into theological trouble when we start with ‘I’ and not Jesus. With that in mind, I would like to clear our heads of our preconceived notions of what the church is and what it means. Let’s begin where the church started…with Jesus

Jesus and the Church

 The first time we see ‘church’ show up in the Bible is Matthew 16:18. There we read (beginning in verse 13):

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter,and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

There are many things that we can say about this passage, but I want to focus on the word “church.” The word in Greek is ekkelsia. It literally means ‘assembly’. The word originally was used for civil or political purposes. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, ekkelsia was used for Israel. In Acts 19, the word is twice used to describe a mob and once for a voting group. If you were writing in Greek, you could use the word for any group of people.So what we have here is this: Jesus is going to build a new group of people. 

What’s the Point of the Church?

So now we have the meaning, but what are supposed to do with it? Many theologians look at the Church as a convergence between the great commandment in Matthew 22:37-39 and the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

  • Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22)
  • Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28)

The Church, said Archbishop William Temple, “is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for its nonmembers.” Church exists to love God and to make disciples. I don’t think it’s a secret that the church and its members stumble in their attempts at meeting these lofty goals. There is a story often told about Stravinsky.  He had written a new piece with a difficult violin passage. After it had been in rehearsal for several weeks, the solo violinist came to Stravinsky and said he was sorry, he had tried his best, but the passage was too difficult and no violinist could play it. Stravinsky said, 'I understand that. What I am after is the sound of someone trying to play it.'

The Church: Some Assembly Required

Notice that we don’t see here anything about the individual? There are no “I” statements. ‘Church’ is a word built on plurality.  It reminds of how the Avengers are called to assemble. They don't fight alone; they need each other in order to accomplish their goals. Church isn’t an individual sport either. Though not spoken specifically about Church, one of the 1st things we hear God say is that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). “There are two things we can’t do alone,” said Paul Tournier. “One is to be married, the other is to be a Christian.”

One reason we need others is that Church is meant to be the place where we work out our theology together. Things like the creeds and the councils help us illuminate our theological path. The people I know who most often get off track theologically are those who tend to stay away from Church.

Church is also the place we work out our lives together. We started attending one of CLG’s small groups last year.  I wasn’t too excited about it. The groups I’ve been in had been strictly social and my schedule is a little tight for social things.  However, this group was different. William and Esther are a part of the group; they started asking hard questions. I was really uncomfortable at first, but I grew a lot because of it. It was Hebrews 10:24-25 in action: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.”

If you’ve been to my Facebook wall you’ll notice that I have conflicts with people from church over mostly unimportant things: Lebron vs Jordan, digital vs paper. And what in the world does the Captain see in Maria? However, I’ve also wrestled with many weightier topics over many a meal with people from this assembly.

  • What is the value of prayer?
  • How do reconcile Hell with a loving God?
  • What is the nature of the Trinity?
  • Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

The Church isn’t always an easy place to be. Like Nascar car drivers in a tight race, we sometimes trade paint. It’s not uncommon to be rubbed the wrong way or to wonder why we should even show up. There are some Sundays I would consider atheism if would get me a couple more hours worth of sleep!  However, church is necessary for discipleship and growth as a follower of Christ. Earl Palmer summed up the value of church well:

"When California's Milpitas High School orchestra attempts Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the result is appalling," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if the performance made old Ludwig roll over in his grave despite his deafness. You might ask: 'Why bother? Why inflict on those poor kids the terrible burden of trying to render what the immortal Beethoven had in mind? Not even the great Chicago Symphony Orchestra can attain that perfection.' My answer is this: The Milpitas High School orchestra will give some people in that audience and this will be their only encounter with Beethoven's great Ninth Symphony. Far from perfection, it is nevertheless the only way they will hear Beethoven's message."

 This is the value of assembling to me.  We are flawed and often times struggle to produce what it is that God would have us do.  But, it is only in assembling that we can show a lost and hurting world the reality of Jesus Christ.

Christians…assemble!                          

The Sanctity of Life (Pillars of Faith Series)

Our Statement of Faith: “We believe that all human life is sacred and created by God in His image (Genesis 1:27). Human life is of inestimable worth in all its dimensions, including pre-born babies, the aged, the physically or mentally challenged, and every other stage or condition from conception through natural death. We are therefore called to defend, protect, and value all human life (Psalm139).”

This statement could potentially cover a lot of issues, but I am going to focus today on the one that is most ‘front and center’ in our culture: abortion. Historically, Christians have agreed that the unborn child is a human being, and that stopping the pregnancy causes the death of that child. I am going to give four different arguments for this position.

1. THE ARGUMENT FROM SCRIPTURE

Old Testament

  • "Did not He who made me in the womb make him, and the same one fashion us in the womb? (Job 31:15)
  • “For You shaped me, inside and out.
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath. I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe.
You have approached even the smallest details with excellence;
 Your works are wonderful;
I carry this knowledge deep within my soul. You see all things; nothing about me was hidden from You
As I took shape in secret,
carefully crafted in the heart of the earth before I was born from its womb. You see all things;
You saw me growing, changing in my mother’s womb…”(Psalm 139:13-16
  • “But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you,
who formed you from the womb and will help you:
Fear not…” (Isaiah 44:2)
  • “…the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you before birth…’” (Isaiah 44:24)
  • The Eternal One singled me out, even before I was born.
He called me and named me when I was still in my mother’s belly. Even then, God was preparing my mouth to speak like a sharp sword... And now the Eternal who watched, shaped, and made me His own servant
from the womb has determined to restore Jacob’s family…” (Isaiah 49:1,5)
  • "Before I even formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew all about you.
Before you drew your first breath, I had already chosen you
to be My prophet to speak My word to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5)

There is no discussion in the Old Testament about what we would call elective abortion (“a legal abortion without medical justification”) because a Jewish mother would not have even contemplated choosing to do this.[1] However, there is at least one specific reference in the Mosaic Law about what to do if someone causes harm to a pregnant woman:

 "And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that the child comes forth, yet there is no injury [premature birth], he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any injury [to the woman or the miscarried baby], then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise...." (Exodus 21:22-25)[2]

In other words, the penalty for the harm experienced by both mother and child is the same.

New Testament

Once again, we don’t see a clear injunction in the New Testament against elective abortion, most likely because the books in the New Testament were written by Jewish people coming out of a culture where abortion simply was not done.[3] However, the humanity of the unborn is once again supported. 

  • Of John the Baptist: "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother's womb." (Luke 1:15)
  • “At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41) The Greek word “babe,” brephos, is used equally of an unborn child and an infant (see Luke 2:12, 16; Acts 7:19).
  • Paul talked about God, “He who had set me apart, even before I was born, and called me through His grace…” (Galatians 1:15)

John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit and responded to Mary’s voice while in his mother’s womb; Paul was called by God’s grace while still in the womb. 

THE ARGUMENT FROM CHURCH HISTORY

In Judaism, there was a consensus on a number of important things:

  • people were made in God’s image
  • children were a blessing (so elective abortion was unthinkable)
  • the unborn were humans deserving of protection

However, they did not have access to the scientific knowledge we have now about how the unborn develop, so there was not always a consensus  about when that humanity with all its moral status ‘kicked in.’ Some argued that full humanity began at conception, others when the baby was fully formed, others at the moment of quickening, others at viability. [4] 

In spite of this uncertainty, there were clear teachings about how seriously they viewed the issue. Josephus (a first-century Jewish historian) stated, “The law orders all the offspring be brought up, and forbids women either to cause abortion or to make away with the fetus.” A woman who did so was considered to have committed infanticide because she destroyed a “soul” and hence diminished the race.

When specifically addressing the issue of abortion, the early Church built on the foundation already in place and unhesitatingly condemned abortion as the killing of an innocent person. The church was now drawing Greek and Roman converts, people for whom abortion and infanticide were considered regular aspects of life, and we see the stated position of the church clarifying as history unfolds. 

  • The epistle of Barnabas (approx. 125): "Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born."
  • The Didache (approx. 140): " Do not murder a child by abortion, nor commit infanticide.”
  • Athenagoras wrote A Plea for the Christians (approx. 177) to debunk the charge that Christians kill infants during their worship services in order to eat their flesh and drink their blood.  “And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it.”
  • Clement of Alexandria, in The Tutor (approx. 200): “Those who use abortifacient medicines to hide their fornication are causing the outright destruction, together with the fetus, of the whole human race.”
  • Hippolytus of Rome, in Refutation of All Heresies (approx. 210): “Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family or excessive wealth. Behold into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time!”
  • Tertullian, in Apologetics (approx. 213): " It makes no difference whether one take away the life once born or destroy it as it comes to birth. He is a man who is to be a man; the fruit is always present in the seed.”
  • The Council of Ancyra in A.D. 315 decreed: “Concerning women who commit fornication and destroy that which they have conceived or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them [from Communion] until the hour of death and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees.”  
  • Basil the Great, in Letter to Amphilochius (approx. 360): “The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. With us there is no nice enquiry as to its being formed or unformed. . .”
  • Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and Resurrection (approx. 370): “But there is no disagreement or doubt that those which are being nourished in the womb have growth and spatial movement. So the remaining alternative is to suppose that soul and body have one and the same beginning.”
  • Chrysostom, in a homily on Romans (approx. 390): “Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? Where there are many efforts at abortion? Where there is murder before the birth?”
  • Jerome, in Letter to Eustochium (approx. 400): “Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion,” which he called “child murder.”
  • Sixth Ecumenical Council (in Trullo) in 680: “Those who give drugs procuring abortion and those who receive poisons to kill the fetus are subjected to the penalty of murder.”[5]

Throughout early church history, there is a consistent message: abortion is the taking of human life. In addition, you begin to see clear statements that the body and soul are connected at birth, and that life begins from the moment of conception.

THE ARGUMENT FROM BIOLOGY

I’ve talked before about how the revelation of the Bible coincides with God’s revelation through His creation.  In other words, if all truth is God’s truth, we would expect the Bible and the world, when properly understood, to give the same message. In the case of the unborn, we see science and biology bringing clarity to the question of life. There is a clear consensus that life begins at conception.

  • "It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and resultant mingling of the nuclear material that each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual." (Bradley M. Patten, Human Embryology, 3rd ed., New York: McGraw Hill, 1968, page 43.)
  • "Every time a sperm cell and ovum unite a new being is created which is alive and will continue to live unless its death is brought about by some specific condition." (E. L. Potter and J. M. Craig, Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant, 3rd ed., Chicago: Year Book Medical Publishers, 1975, page vii.)
  • The beginning of a single human life is from a biological point of view a simple and straightforward matter - the beginning is conception."  (Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, Report, 97th Congress, 1st Session, 1981.)
  • "Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being - a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings." (Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, Ibid.) 
  • “The science of embryology is clear. From the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. Therefore, every ‘successful’ abortion ends the life of a living human being.” (Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life, Crossway Books, 2009, p. 35.)
  • “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization (which, incidentally, is not a ‘moment’) is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.” (Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd ed., New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001, p.8.)
  • “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).” (Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th ed., Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003, p.2.)
  • “It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens.’ Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.” (Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp.85-86.)[6]
  • Dr. Warren Hern, author of Abortion Practice, told Planned Parenthood: “We have reached a point in this particular technology [D&E abortion] where there is no possibility of denying an act of destruction. It is before one’s eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current.”
  • In 1970, an editorial in California Medicine noted: “Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra-or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices. It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected.” 
  • Former Planned Parenthood President Dr. Alan Guttmacher was perplexed that anyone would question these basic scientific facts. "This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn't part of the common knowledge," he wrote in his book Life in the Making. (A. Guttmacher, Life in the Making: The Story of Human Procreation, New York: Viking Press, 1933, p. 3.)
  • A Planned Parenthood brochure in 1963 noted, “Abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun.  It is dangerous to your life and health.”[i]
  • Faye Wattleton, the longest reigning president Planned Parenthood, told Ms. Magazine: “I think we have deluded ourselves into believing that people don't know that abortion is killing. So any pretense that abortion is not killing is a signal of our ambivalence, a signal that we cannot say yes, it kills a fetus.”[7]
  • Bernard Nathanson co-founder of NARAL, in an article for the New England Journal of Medicine in 1974: "There is no longer serious doubt in my mind that human life exists within the womb from the very onset of pregnancy..."[8]

ARGUMENT FROM PHILOSOPHY

Philosophy supports the Biblical narrative, historical Christian position, and biology Scott Klusendorff (Life Training Institute) and Greg Koukl (Stand To Reason) have highlighted the four ways in which an unborn child differs from one who is born (Size, Level of development, Environment, and Degree of dependency), none of which justifies the elective killing the unborn.

Size

 The unborn is clearly smaller than a born human. This does not mean they are not a person. Three-year-olds are smaller than a teenagers. Can we kill them? Our value is not based on our size. In the same way, though the unborn is smaller than a born child, this is not a justifiable reason for killing the unborn.

Level of development

 The unborn is also less developed than a born human being, but this is irrelevant to personhood. A four year-old girl can’t bear children because her reproductive system is less developed than a fourteen year-old girl. She is still as equally valuable as a child-bearing teen – or a seventy-year old grandmother. We can’t disqualify the unborn from personhood simply because they are less developed than older human beings, and this includes going back to the most fundamental starting point of our development.

Another way of thinking of this is asking the question: Were you ever not you? Of course not. If you were to walk backward through your life history, you would walk back to the moment of your conception. 

Environment

You location has no bearing on the value of who you are. Being inside or outside a house changes nothing; being inside our atmosphere or out of it does not change an astronaut’s humanity. In the same way, a journey from inside the womb to outside the womb changes nothing about one’s humanity or personhood. If you are a person when you are born, you were a person the moment before that too. Even Peter Singer agrees with this. Singer, an ethicist at Princeton, argues that infanticide should be legal for at least a month after birth. That’s a horrible but consistent idea for him. He wrote in his book Practical Ethics:“The liberal search for a morally crucial dividing line between the newborn baby and the fetus has failed to yield any event or stage of development that can bear the weight of separating those with a right to life from those who lack such a right.” [9]

I agree. To Singer, that means if we can kill the unborn we can kill the born. He badly misses the point. If we can’t kill the born, we shouldn’t kill the unborn either.

 Degree of dependency

Sometimes people cite ‘viability’ as a marker for when the unborn should be considered human. But newborns and toddlers are hardly viable in the truest sense of the world. They must be fed and cared for by someone else. Is Peter Singer right? Should parents be allowed to kill children until they are independent in terms of their need for basic sustenance? No. Your humanity is not connected to your dependency. If it were, people in hospitals would be less human. People at the end of life would be less human. People who are handicapped physically or mentally would be less human. Yes, the unborn depends on her mother, but this says nothing about their humanity and value.[ii]

This SLED acronym actually speaks to a broader pro-life position: no human being – regardless of size, level of development, place of residence or degree of dependence – should be excluded from the community of human persons and the rights and protections that follow.

You may have noticed I did not reference any “hard cases” such as rape and incest,[10] serious medical difficulties in the baby,[11] or times the mother’s life is in danger.[12] These are situations that need to be answered carefully, compassionately and truthfully, but they are broader than the purposes of this article. 

THE RESPONSE OF CHRISTIANS 

Three ways in which Christians can be faithfully present in our culture on this issue:

  • Use your voice and your vote in the public square. We have the privilege (if not the duty) of being involved in a political process that gives us a vote and a voice. The early church could not do that. We can. [13] We need to educate ourselves, then be truthful, bold and tactful in defense of the unborn. We have plenty of platforms and opportunities to speak about these issues. Write, speak, re-post articles on Facebook, learn how to hashtag so pro-life articles and stories trend to the top of a news feed. It makes a difference. Candidates are usually pretty clear where they stand on this issue. The Supreme Court is a wild card here, and I’m increasingly disheartened by how the political process actually works. But as long as we have a voice and a vote, we should use them wisely.[14]
  • The abortion numbers are trending down and have been for a while now in the United States.[15] As I have been surfing pro-life sites, they credit two main things: ultrasound images and relationships. Ultrasounds show what goes on in the womb in a way that is intuitively strong. Watching someone’s baby develop on Facebook as the mom posts ultrasound pictures is powerful. Relationships are an increasingly necessary context for conversations that are loving, truthful, and bold. If you want to see abortion numbers continue to drop, put yourself in situations where you will become part of a personal discussion about the unborn in a way that displays truth and grace.
  • Be involved in caring for physical and emotional needs. Get involved with places like Pregnancy Care Center, El Nido (in Costa Rica) or other organizations that provide tangible acceptance and care for physical and emotional needs (or simply look around you for opportunities). It’s what the early church did. “The early Church provided places of refuge for pregnant women in desperate situations (usually convents), places where women would find acceptance and medical care. Not only did the Church try to provide for the physical needs of mothers, it also provided for their psychological and spiritual needs—needs that abortion completely overlooks. The early Church also ran orphanages for the children born of unwanted pregnancies, and it is perhaps no co-incidence that many of the Church’s greatest saints started life as such orphans. As pagan antiquity became a thing of the past with the triumph of Christianity, so in large part did abortifacient poisons and infanticide.” – T.L. Frazier 
  • Help to create a church community that embodies the grace, forgiveness and hope that only Christ can offer.[16] There is a danger that we will just be known for being against abortion, when in reality the church is called to be for Christ – and the salvation, forgiveness, healing and hope that is found only through Christ (and hopefully embodied by his people, the church).There is also a danger we will stand on a spiritual pedestal on this issue. In Luke 18, Jesus contrasts two people offering prayers. The Pharisee says, “I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don't cheat, I don't sin, and I don't commit adultery. I'm certainly not like that tax collector!” Meanwhile, the tax collector, a Jewish traitor and one of the most reviled men in the community, is praying a prayer that honors God: “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” Jesus said, “"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. Remember: the ground is level at the foot of the cross. There is no place for superiority, pride, or shaming judgment. We all must   confess our sins, receive Christ’s forgiveness, and constantly be renewed in newness of life.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

ENDNOTES

[1] “That an Israelite parent might consider intentionally aborting a foetus seems almost beyond the moral horizon of the Torah's original audience. For in the moral environment where the law was first received, the memory of genocide and infanticide was still fresh [and] every birth was precious.” Lenn E. Goodman, Judaism, Human Rights, and Human Values, OUP 1998

[2] “What Exodus 21:22 Says about Abortion.” Stand To Reason.   Some think this just refers to a punishment if the mother dies or is injured. This article makes a clear and compelling argument that the punishment applied equally if either the mother or the child was the victim.

[3] “Dead Silence: Must The Bible Say Abortion Is Wrong Before We Can Know It’s Wrong?” 

[4] The State of Israel is now worlds away from the Old Testament perspective. See “Israel’s abortion law now among world’s most liberal.”

[5] The Early Church on Abortion. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/EarlyChurchAbortion.php

[6] The list so far was taken from “Even “Pro-Choice” Philosophers Admit: Human Life Begins at Fertilization.” 

[7] “A new human being comes into existence during the process of fertilization.” 

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Peter Singer’s Bold Defense of Infanticide.” 

[10] “The Hard Cases Objection: Does Rape Justify Abortion?” 

[11] “Is Abortion permissible for Fetal Deformity?” 

[12] “Is Abortion Justifiable In The Hard Cases?” 

[13] “But so long as Christianity remained a disfavored--and sometimes persecuted--religion, their appeals to the pagan government to act against infanticide were ineffectual in changing government policy. Even so, Christians worked against infanticide by prohibiting its members from practicing it, voicing their moral view on infanticide to the pagan world, and by providing for the relief of the poor and actually taking in and supporting babies which had been left to die by exposure by their pagan parents." http://www.christiancadre.org/member_contrib/cp_infanticide.html

[14] Right To Life’s Voting Guide. 

[15] “Abortions Declining Greatly Across Most of US.” 

[16] “Can God Forgive Abortions?” 

[i] “Suppose we are back in the pre-digital photo days, and you have a Polaroid camera and you have taken a picture that you think is unique and valuable — let’s say a picture of a jaguar darting out from a Mexican jungle. The jaguar has now disappeared, so you are never going to get that picture again in your life, and you really care about it. (I am trying to make this example comparable to a human being, for we say that every human being is uniquely valuable.) You pull the tab out and as you are waiting for it to develop, I grab it away from you and rip it open, thus destroying it. When you get really angry at me, I say blithely, ‘You’re crazy. That was just a brown smudge. I cannot fathom why anyone would care about brown smudges.’ Wouldn’t you think that I were the insane one? Your photo was already there. We just couldn’t see it yet.” (Richard Stith, “Does Making Babies Make Sense? Why So Many People Find it Difficult to See Humanity in a Developing Foetus.”)

 

Marriage and Sexuality (Pillars of Faith Series)

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“We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female. Together they reflect the image and nature of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman as delineated in Scripture (Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 19:5-6). It is intended to be a covenant by which they unite themselves for life in a single, exclusive union, ordered toward the well-being of the spouses an designed to be the environment for the procreation and upbringing of children.”

Sex is a topic that more than most others strikes at our emotions, our sense of self-worth, even our sense of identity. I think this kind of tension actually matches the importance of this topic biblically.[1] The Apostle Paul wrote that whatever we do, even if it’s just eating and drinking, we should do it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). That includes sex. And like other natural acts, sometimes we glorify God with what we do, and sometimes we do not.

I’m going to make a case this morning for a biblical view of sex and of marriage. I’m not going to talk about the challenges of being single[2], or whether it’s better to be single or married[3], or about roles in marriage[4], or about overcoming or recovering from sexual sin[5]. Those are important topics, but they are not the focus today. I am going to talk about a biblical view of sex, which will lead us into a biblical view of marriage.

There are at least three common misconceptions about sex found either in church or in our culture.

  • The first misconception is that sex is simply a natural appetite like eating or drinking. The fact that we want to have sex means we ought to have sex; in fact, ignoring or stifling our impulse is unhealthy. If someone is cranky, they just need to have sex. In the 60’s, the way to stop making war was to make love. The idea is that if sexual satisfaction follows sexual desire, all will be well.
  • The second misconception is that sex is embarrassing, maybe even shameful, and our sex drive is something that needs to be squelched. I grew up in a church culture that sent this message. When people got married, they had this nagging thought that they probably shouldn't be enjoying sex. They had absorbed the notion that sexual desire was dirty and sexually desirable people were somehow bad, and that was not an easy lesson to unlearn.[6]
  • The third misconception is that sex is a critical form of self-expression and personal fulfillment, a way to find yourself and be truly happy. In this view, sex is primarily for individual fulfillment and self-realization. Those who want to put boundaries around sex are actually stifling the personal growth of others. At best, these moral policemen are jealous of the sex lives of others or scared by the power of sexuality. At worst they are bullying or coercing people to accept the bully’s notion of sexuality morality.

A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE ON SEX

The Bible offers a far more complex, compelling and beautiful view.

  • The Bible disagrees that sex is something about which we should be ashamed of or embarrassed. God created sex and sexuality; the Bible celebrates it (Song of Solomon; Proverbs 5;19); the New Testament actually commands it for people who are married (1 Corinthians 7). The Bible is clear that sex is supposed to bring, pleasure, joy, laughter, intimacy, trust, self-giving, mutual care and comfort.
  • The Bible agrees that sex is a powerful drive that God placed in us, but disagrees that ignoring or stifling impulses is necessarily unhealthy. Like our drives for food and drink, the sex drive has been distorted because of sin. Sex needs boundaries not because sex is something to be feared, but because sex is something to be revered. This is done by living within God’s design, and sometimes that means we will go against our desires. The latest World Magazine had an article about a pastor, a married man who struggled with same-sex attraction. At one point he noted, “What I have to tell myself over and over again: To act on my impulses is a denial of my real that that God created. To not act on that is an affirmation of myself.” [7]
  • The Bible agrees that sex can bring individual happiness and fulfillment (read Song of Solomon if you have any questions), but the Bible disagrees that this is the purpose of sex. Throughout the rest of the morning I will be making the case that sex is so much more than this. 

THE BIBLICAL CONTEXT FOR  SEX: COVENANT

I am going to offer a biblical view of sex that may use language that is unfamiliar to you, at least in this context: God intends sex to be an act of covenantal commitment between a man and a woman. Let’s start with what we mean by covenantal commitment.  In biblical times, a covenant was a strong bond, an oath, in which two people would pledge mutual faithfulness and commitment, often at the cost of their life. There would be equal privileges and responsibilities between the parties involved; they would each played a necessary and complementary role in fulfilling this mutual oath. Covenants were complex, serious, and deeply binding.

 When Adam and Eve “cleave,” that’s a covenant word (Genesis 2:22-25. Malachi 2:14 and Proverbs 2:17 also use ‘covenant’ to describe marriage). I am going to quote Tim Keller and his wife extensively here (from The Meaning Of Marriage) because they explain this better than I can:

“The covenant brings every aspect of two person’s lives together. They essentially merge into a single legal, social, economic unit… they donate themselves wholly to the other… Sex is understood as both a sign of the personal, legal union and a means to accomplish it. The Bible says don’t unite with someone physically unless you are also willing to unite with the person emotionally, personally, socially, economically, and legally. Don’t become physically naked and vulnerable to the other person without becoming vulnerable in every other way, because you have given up your freedom and bound yourself in marriage. Then, once you have given yourself in marriage, sex is a way of maintaining and deepening that union as the years go by. 

Sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, ‘I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.’ You must not use sex to say anything less. So, according to the Bible, a covenant is necessary for sex. It creates a place of security for vulnerability and intimacy. But though a marriage covenant is necessary for sex, sex is also necessary for the maintenance of the covenant. It is your covenant renewal service.”

 This was entirely at odds with how the rest of the world viewed sex when the Bible was written. Sex was just simply not associated with all these ideas. Broadly speaking, there were those who used others and those who were used. Gender and age were usually of no consequence. Sex was one of the more obvious ways in which the strong used the weak for their purposes. [8]

The idea that the act of sex was meant to initiate the covenant of marriage or that an ongoing, active sex life as a ‘covenant renewal service’ probably sounds as unusual to us as it did to the original audience. Yet we see that from the beginning God was declaring that even the sex lives of His people were to be holy - literally “called out” or separated, set aside for God’s design and purpose.

This idea of starting and renewing a covenant provided a constant reminder between both husband and wife would have entirely changed the dynamic of sex. Instead of using or being used, sex was a way of saying, “I have committed to you, I have pledged to give myself wholly to you. We are bound together in every way and on every level. We have no secrets; we are naked and unashamed; we are a covenanted union of service, sacrifice and love.”

Let me give you just one example of how this shows up in one of the most famous of love poems, the Song of Solomon (or the Song of Songs). There are two times in Song of Solomon that the bride says, “I am my beloved’s and he is mine; he browses among the lilies” (2:16 and 6:3) Have you ever wondered what that means? What does belonging to each other have to do with browsing through a flower garden? In Song of Solomon 4:5, Solomon praises his wife by saying, “Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.” When it’s her turn, she says, “I am my beloved’s an he is mine” then borrows his metaphor and makes him the gazelle. Why? The marital covenant is designed to be initiated, sealed and celebrated by sexual love.[9]

Considering the profound nature of a covenant and the role sex plays in creating and affirming it, it shouldn't surprise us that from the beginning the Bible insists that any sexual activity ought to be limited to the marriage covenant.  When we engage in an act of covenantal promise when it is not a promise, we break God’s design – we sin[10] - and initiate events that have a ripple effect that contributes to the brokenness of the world (the Old Testament is full of examples of this).

We want to have sex just be about bodies and biology when we so choose, and have it be about affection, commitment and love when we so choose. It doesn’t work that way. By design, “Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, ‘I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.’” (Keller) Sex was meant to initiate or confirm a lasting, legal, personal, all-encompassing covenant. And when our bodies communicate something different from what we say or believe, there’s a deep tension that arises.

I think we know this even if we don’t consciously think it or say it. Think of the phrases, “This is no strings attached. This is just a hook-up. We are just friends. This won’t change anything between us. Let’s not read too much into this.” But the words we exchange and the desire to ‘not let it get complicated’ won’t change our bodies or God’s design. Sex was made to unite and bind us in an exclusive, permanent covenant, not make us wonder if we performed well enough, or if the other person will be there in the morning, or how we can go about it next time without getting so emotionally involved.

I Corinthians 6:17ff  is often quoted in reference to this binding nature inherent to sex. Paul notes, “Do you not know that a person who is united in intimacy with a prostitute is one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’” 

Paul wasn’t just saying, “Do you know if you combine bodies you will combine bodies?” That’s pretty obvious. Paul is simply referring back to Genesis 2:24 (and Jesus’ affirmation of it in Matthew 19) where a husband and wife ‘cleave’ together, reminding his readers that every sex act is an act of covenant whether we want it to be or not. I suspect that’s why Paul says that sexual sins are unique (1 Corinthians 6:18). There is no other act that by its very nature is meant to initiate or affirm a covenant. The context of sex is covenantal marriage. We are not designed to give our bodies in this way to someone with whom we have not made a covenant for life.[i]

Christopher West has written that “all questions of morality, then, are questions about how to align human desire with the divine design so we can reach our heavenly destiny. This is the proper context in which to understand the Christian sexual ethic. It’s not a prudish list of prohibitions designed to keep us from having fun in this life; it’s a call to realign our desires with authentic love so we can be truly happy both here and in the next life.” 

THE BIBLICAL NATURE OF MARRIAGE

So we've talked about a biblical view of sex as well as its covenantal context. Now let’s look at the nature of that marriage covenant. The Bible reveals the theology; God’s creation provides further support for this biblical ideal. Let’s start with what the Bible says about the theology behind the nature of marriage.

1. The Bible Reveals How Marriage Is Meant To Reflect The Nature Of God 

 A. Male and female together display the fullness of God’s image. “Then God said, "Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground. So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27).  

We see right away in Genesis a hint of Trinity – a God who has one essence, but three persons. We also see that in order for humanity to bear that image, just a man or just a woman was not sufficient. Both are needed to full capture the image God has embedded in us. Our creation as male and female is what Christopher West calls a “sacramental reality: a physical sign of something transcendent, spiritual, and even divine.” 

B.  Marriage between a man and a woman represents God’s nature. To quote the Keller’s at length again (and I am blending several paragraphs):

“There is a hint that the relationship between male and female is a reflection of the relationships within the Godhead itself – the Trinity. Although all people, men and women, are bearers of God’s image, resembling him as his children, reflecting his glory, and representing him as stewards over nature, it requires the unique union of male and female within the one flesh of marriage to reflect the relationship of life within the triune God. 

As Genesis says, male and female are “like-opposite” each other – both radically different and yet incomplete without each other. God’s plan for married couples involves two people of different sexes making the commitment and sacrifice that is involved in embracing the Other and performing different roles in the act of creation, which brings about deep unity because of the profound complementarity between the sexes. [This] tells us something of the relationships between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

 The “two becoming one”[11] is an echo, an earthly representation of the three-in-one nature of the triune God. We see in the Trinity, that the Son is not the Father, the Father is not the Holy Spirit, etc, yet all three even as they are different persons – they are the complementarian ‘other’ – the three become one essence. So in marriage, the husband is not the wife – they are the complementarian ‘other’ – and yet they, too, become one.

N.T Wright has noted, "If you believe in what it says in Genesis 1 about God making heaven and earth—and the binaries in Genesis are so important—that heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on and so on, and you end up with male and female. It’s all about God making complementary pairs which are meant to work together. The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth."

This is the theological reason why the Bible never discusses marriage as the union between people of the same sex. Same-sex couples cannot be the “like-opposite” union of “otherness” that represent the triune image of a complementary and life-creating God.[ii] This is why, as a pastor, I cannot perform a same-sex marriage ceremony. It’s not a question of liking or disliking the people involved. It’s about being sure that if I am going to give a pastoral blessing to the marriage of two people, it must be a union that aligns with Scriptural authority.[iii]

2. Human Design Reveals That Marriage Is Uniquely Oriented As An Institution For A Particular Purpose.

Christians have traditionally pointed to some obvious facts about God’s creation to confirm the complementary union of men and women in marriage. The argument goes something like this. 

  • People are inherently incomplete with respect to one key biological function: making babies.
  • Only a man and a woman can form a union that is essentially oriented toward the uniquely complementarian purpose of conceiving children and raising them together.[iv]

And this brings us back to our statement of faith:

“We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female. Together they reflect the image and nature of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman as delineated in Scripture (Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 19:5-6). It is intended to be a covenant by which they unite themselves for life in a single, exclusive union, ordered toward the well-being of the spouses and designed to be the environment for the procreation and upbringing of children.”

[1] RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy and Kathy Keller

The Mingling of Souls, Matt Chandler

Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, John Piper and Justin Taylor

Real Sex, Lauren Winner

The Thrill of the Chaste, Dawn Eden

Fill These Hearts: God, Sex and the Universal Longing, Christopher West

[2] “Confessions of a Sex-Starved Single” (todayschristianwoman.com)

   “ Single In Christ And A Sexual Being" (equip.org)

[3]  “The Single Person’s Good Desire for Sex” (desiringgod.org)

[4]  “Made…In Complementary Community” – Part 1  (clgonline.org)

[5]  “Erasing Shame: Finding Forgiveness For Sexual Sin” (boundless.org)

[6] “The general message hanging in the air for a lot of people raised in Christian homes was this: Your desires (especially your sexual desires) are bad, and they will only get you in trouble. So you need to repress, ignore, or otherwise annihilate them. But follow all of these rules and you’ll be a good, upstanding Christian citizen.” – Christpher West, Fill These Hearts

[7] “Loving Your Neighbor And Your Gender,” November 14, 2015

[8] SEX IN THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST

Martha Nussbaum, professor of philosophy at Brown University, has written that the ancients were no more concerned with people's gender preference than people today are with others' eating preferences: “Ancient categories of sexual experience differed considerably from our own... The central distinction in sexual morality was the distinction between active and passive roles. The gender of the object... is not in itself morally problematic. Boys and women are very often treated interchangeably as objects of [male] desire. What is socially important is to penetrate rather than to be penetrated. Sex is understood fundamentally not as interaction, but as a doing of some thing to someone...”

[9] For more on the imagery in Song of Solomon, “The Hunt” is a decent introduction to the language of Song of Solomon (http://www.christdeaf.org/bible/TheHunt.html.)  See also, “What’s The Difference Between Erotica And The Song Of Solomon?” (thegospelcoaltion.org)

[10] See the sermon in this pillars series on “Sin and Salvation” on our website. 

[11] “As Stan Grenz points out in his book Sexual Ethics, singles can also mirror Christ's love. In marriage, we're to be committed to only one person—;it's exclusive. But there's also an ever-expanding sense of God's love where he keeps reaching out, establishing relationships with more and more people. Singles can demonstrate expanding love by having nonexclusive relationships. In not having a covenant relationship with a spouse, they can have more relationships, which demonstrates a different aspect of the character of God.” – “Sex and The Single Christian,” Steve Tracy (christianitytoday.com)

[i] One does not need the Bible to see that waiting to have sex until marriage and limiting one’s sex life to that partner clearly provides a healthier sex life for both individuals and their family. For some introductory information, the following may be helpful:

  • The Health Benefits of Marriage,” Focus on the Family.
  • What Are The Advantages of Monogamy?” Tough Questions Answered
  • “A monogamous sexual partnership in formal marriage evidently produces the greatest satisfaction and pleasure.” (Social Organization of Sexuality)
  • A US News and World Report story from State Universtiy of New York and the University of Chicago noted that of all sexually active people, “....the people who reported being most physically pleased and emotionally satisfied were married couples... Physical and emotional satisfaction started to decline when people had more than one sexual partner.”

In addition, pornography – which not only fails to form covenants but celebrates sex devoid of anything remotely related to covenant – clearly undermines individuals and the community. For some introductory information, the following articles from Salvo Magazine (salvomag.com) may be helpful:

  • “Slave Master How Pornography Drugs & Changes Your Brain”
  • “Porn Is Not Free”
  • “Porn In The USA”
  • “The Porn Factor” “The Science of Pornography”             

________________________

[ii] Two things are biblically clear by the end of the New Testament era: 1) marriage is intended to be a permanent, faithful, sacrificially loving covenant between a husband and wife, and 2) the only proper context for sex is within the confines of that kind of marriage. Pornography, heterosexual promiscuity, adultery, and a homosexual lifestyle all take place outside of God’s design for sex. Homosexuality is a culturally hot topic right now, so I will respond to that one in particular.

We must remember that we are all sinner who are  recipients of God’s forgiveness and grace. If God forgives, heals and restores me and places me in church community, who am I to refuse to pass that on to others? Unfortunately, the church often drops the ball here. The church should be a place of refuge, hope, and godly formation for the disenfranchised, oppressed, wounded, and sinful.The goal for all Christians is to show love and compassion paired with a call to repentance and transformation into a new and better way of life (“I’m glad God saved and delivered me from my sins. He can do the same for you. Let’s walk through this together.”)  Repentance requires a commitment to be a different kind of person – not a perfect one, but one committed to ongoing, deeper discipleship in which all areas of life are surrendered at the foot of the cross – and that includes our sexual identity and practice. I recommend the following resources: 

________________________

[iii] Obviously, the state has the power to do otherwise. I think we will probably see an increasing trend in churches to separate civil ceremonies from church ceremonies, with the state sanctioning legal rights and the church celebrating biblical covenant. See “The Marriage Pledge” for more info. 

____________________

[iv] KIDS AND PARENTS

One does not need a Bible to note that a stable, low conflict, faithful marriage between the biological mother and father provides children with the statistically healthiest home. This clearly does not claim that other situations (such as adoption or single-parent homes) result in unhealthy kids, are necessarily unstable or are full of conflict. It merely claims there is a generally predictable situation which is optimal for children, and as such it ought to be uniquely acknowledged and promoted.

Eternal Destiny (Pillars of Faith Series)

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“Eternal Destiny: We believe in the resurrection of the saved and the lost, and that both will stand before the judgment seat of Christ; the saved will enter into everlasting life in God’s presence, and the lost will be sent into everlasting death, devoid of the presence of God. (Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 9:43-48; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:11-15; Revelation 21:8).”

Today we are going to talk about where we go when we die. There is a lot that could be said, but I want to focus on three key biblical claims. 

  1. After physical death, our conscious existence continues.
  2. We will wait for the final day of God’s judgment (Matthew 12:36) in a state of blessedness or despair (Luke 23).
  3. After the final day of God’s judgment, all people will be consigned to eternal death in Hell absent the presence of God, or raised in a glorified body (1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:49) to eternal life, fully in the presence of God (Matthew 25) in a New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation 21).

 

AFTER DEATH, OUR CONSCIOUS EXISTENCE CONTINUES

In the Old Testament, there’s only one word which indicated an afterlife, and that is sheol. It was probably a Hebrew version of the commonly held belief in the Ancient Near East (ANE) of the underworld, “the House of Dust and Darkness.” It was the realm of departed spirits. In ANE thought, this was an unpleasant place for all people. The Jews also believed in a three-tiered heaven: the atmosphere (Genesis 1:7-8), outer space or the firmament, (Genesis 22:17), and a place where God lives (Job 22:12; 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). However, this was not part of the language of an afterlife as much as an identification of the realms of the universe.

Sheol was apparently sufficient for God’s purposes at this point in talking about the world to come. The writers of the Old Testament used this word 65 times to mean hell, grave or the pit (depending on the translation).

  • The rebellious sons of Korah “went down alive into the realm of the dead” after the ground opened up under their feet (Numbers 16)
  • Jacob and Abraham planned to meet family there (Genesis 37:35; Genesis 15:15)
  • God will deliver Israel from Sheol (Hosea 13:14)
  • God will redeem His people from Sheol (Psalm 49). Perhaps a decent analogy is that just like the Jews looked forward to living in the Promised Land in Caanan, they hoped for an equivalent land in the life to come.
  • When Daniel received a messenger from God, he was told, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2)

This perspective from Daniel introduces what we see more clearly in the New Testament through the teaching of Jesus and the writings in Scripture.

AFTER WE DIE, OUR EXISTENCE CONTINUES AS WE WAIT FOR THE FINAL DAY OF GOD’S JUDGMENT (MATTHEW 12:36) IN A STATE OF BLESSEDNESS OR DESPAIR (LUKE 23).

In the New Testament, the state of despair is called Hades; the state of blessedness is called Paradise. (Some theologians say Paradise is the ‘blessed’ part of Hades. I am separating them because I think it does better justice to the passages of Scripture that describe them.) Hades was the Greek term for the realm of the dead, an “eternal retirement” where the dead are less substantial (and less happy) versions of themselves. In Greek literature hades meant a variety of things:

  • a grave or tomb
  • the domain of the dead
  • place where dead spirits go

 Once again, biblical writers borrowed a well-known word to describe what happens after death. The New Testament writers use hades eleven times (Matthew 11:23, 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27; 1 Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14) as a state of existence where those who are not saved wait until Jesus returns and the world is judged.

  •  "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not prevail. (Matthew 16:18)
  • This is where Jesus went after his death - “[David] foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.” (Acts 2:31) When we say in the Apostles Creed that Jesus ‘descended into hell,’ it’s a reference to Hades (Matthew 12:40; Ephesians 4:9)
  • Death and Hades are linked together (Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13-14), and are both judged and thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13-14) at the end of human history.

Paradise (paradeisos – a garden or park) is a parallel place to Hades, a place in which those who have committed their lives to God dwell more fully in the presence of God as they wait for the end of human history. According to Strong’s Concordance, the Jews though it was neither in earth nor in heaven, but the souls of the righteous went there at death. We see this captured in the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16: 19-31.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

There is disagreement about whether this is a parable or a real story, but there is agreement about an important truth here: after this life ends, Hades is not the only option – there is also a Paradise (here called “Abraham’s side”) that offers blessing and goodness. We see this mentioned more times in the New Testament:

  • When Jesus was talking to one of the thieves on the crosses, he referred to paradise (“Today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:42-43)
  • He told Mary Magdelene, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the My Father.” (John 20:17) If heaven is where God dwells, this implies that he had gone to Paradise without going to the heavenly abode “where God dwells.”
  • Paul was taken up into this paradise when he talks about a vision of the ‘third heaven” in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4.

So when we die, our existence continues either in the torment of Hades or the blessedness of Paradise as we all wait for the final day of judgment when God wraps up human history with the final judgment. After the judgment, we go to one of two final, eternal destinations - what we typically mean when we talk about Heaven or Hell.

AFTER THE FINAL DAY OF GOD’S JUDGMENT, ALL PEOPLE WILL BE CONSIGNED TO ETERNAL DEATH IN HELL ABSENT THE PRESENCE OF GOD, OR RAISED IN A GLORIFIED BODY (1 CORINTHIANS 15; PHILIPPIANS 3:21; 1 CORINTHIANS 15:49) TO ETERNAL LIFE, FULLY IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD (MATTHEW 25) IN A NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH (REVELATION 21).

Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica:

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)

Gehenna is the word most commonly used in the New Testament as “hell.” Gehenna is found in 12 verses: Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; and James 3:6.*  It’s from the Hebrew ge-hinnom, or "valley of Hinnom." In this valley, idolatrous Jews burned their children in sacrifice to Molech during the Old Testament times. This valley eventually became the place where people threw all kinds of refuse, including the dead bodies of animals and of criminals. A fire burned continuously there.

  • Gehenna is used to describe the final, everlasting judgment of the wicked (Matthew 25:41;46).
  • This future, punishing world is also referred to as a place of fire (Matthew 13:42) and destruction (apollymi -Matthew 7:13-14; 10:28; Romans 9:22; 2 Peter 3:6, and olethron, in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).
  • It is a place of utter darkness and weeping/gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12; Luke 13:28). Different theologians have described Hell as characterized by guilt, regret, despair and destruction (of the self or of others), personal existence lacking goodness, full of ruin, waste, mental anguish, the loss of all that is beautiful and meaningful, and completely devoid of the presence of Christ. All common grace, all traces of the good and perfect gifts that comes from God will be gone.
  • It is a ‘second death’ (Revelation 2:11; Matthew 10:28).  Hell was made for the Devil and his angels; they are spiritual beings, so this would seem to be a punishment intended for the spiritual side of our human nature Matthew 25:41).  So it will be or those who are sent to hell. This punishment is a type of second death in which the soul suffers (Matthew 10:28). **

I like how C.S. Lewis summarizes:

“In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: ‘What are you asking God to do?’ To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone [shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might]? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does… “  (C. S. Lewis)

CHRISTIANS WILL BE RAISED IN A GLORIFIED BODY (1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:49) TO ETERNAL LIFE FULLY IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD (Matthew 25) IN A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1).

Paul said (Romans 8:23) that Christians eagerly await the redemption of our bodies. To the skeptics in Corinth who just weren’t convinced God could pull off a physical resurrection because of what they all knew happened to buried bodies, Paul supplied three analogies for the reality of bodily resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

  • A seed and a full-grown plant (1 Corinthians 15:36) The physical, mortal body will be raised as a new and better kind of physical, immortal body.
  • Different kinds of flesh (1 Corinthians 15:39). Just as there are different kinds of flesh in this life, why not believe God can raise us into another kind of flesh in the next?
  • Different kinds of bodies (1 Corinthians 15:40-41) Just like celestial bodies differ in glory, the new body we receive will be a different kind of glory altogether.

He concludes with, “So also is the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:42). Several paragraphs later he concludes:

Now listen to this: brothers and sisters, this present body is not able to inherit the kingdom of God any more than decay can inherit that which lasts forever. Stay close because I am going to tell you a mystery—something you may have trouble understanding: we will not all fall asleep in death, but we will all be transformed. It will all happen so fast, in a blink, a mere flutter of the eye. The last trumpet will call, and the dead will be raised from their graves with a body that does not, cannot decay. All of us will be changed! We’ll step out of our mortal clothes and slide into immortal bodies, replacing everything that is subject to death with eternal life. And, when we are all redressed with bodies that do not, cannot decay, when we put immortality over our mortal frames, then it will be as Scripture says: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is you victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:50-55)

So, where will Christians go after Paradise? When the New Testament speaks of heaven or the heavens, several words or phrases are used:***

  • Doxa – infinite worth, renown, or glory. “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” (Romans 8:18)
  • Ouranos - the sky, or the dwelling place of God (“Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed by your name…” Matthew 6:9; 7:21; Ephesians 6:9; Ephesians 4:10; Revelation 21)
  • Hupselos - on high, lofty, highly esteemed (“ When [Jesus] had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3)
  • Epouranios – in the heavenly realm, the sphere of spiritual activity (“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.”  Ephesians 1:3 as well as 1:20 ; 2:6 ; 3:10 ; 6:12)
  • Eternal Kingdom (“Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:11)

They all refer to the realm of God, but the important thing is that they describe the presence of God, not the location of God. In Heaven we will see Jesus face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2), and we will become as much like him as is possible for us (John 3:2). We will see his glory, power, and beauty in its fullness. As one hymn put it, it will be “joy unspeakable, and full of glory.” That just tells us about the experience of finally, fully being in the presence of Christ. If that was all we knew, it would be sufficient.

But the Bible tells us more.

Considering how all of creation has been groaning as it awaits God’s redemption (Romans 8:22), it makes sense that the earth itself will be made new. We will not fly away to some distant place. God will come to us (Revelation 21:3). This new Heaven and Earth will be the eternal home of God’s people. The Bible uses all kinds of imagery to try to capture this redeemed reality.

  • It’s a peaceable kingdom where predators and prey will get along, and children will play with the deadliest of animals (Isaiah 11).
  • It’s a banquet, a symbol suggesting fullness and fellowship and celebration (Revelation 19:9).
  • It’s a place where pavement is like transparent gold (Revelation 21:21), a symbol showing that the glory of heaven is immeasurably greater than what we can imagine.
  • It’s a place where we receive crowns (2 Timothy 4:8) symbols of reigning in the light of God’s splendor, power and glory.
  • It’s a place where we will get a new wardrobe that symbolizes the fact that we will be cleansed of all sin (Revelation 3:5)
  • It’s a Kingdom, where we, the children of the King, are finally home.

The classic passage on this is from John’s vision in Revelation:

I looked again and could hardly believe my eyes. Everything above me was new. Everything below me was new. Everything around me was new because the heaven and earth that had been passed away, and the sea was gone, completely. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride on her wedding day, adorned for her husband and for His eyes only.  

And I heard a great voice, coming from the throne. See, the home of God is with His people.
He will live among them;
They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them. The prophecies are fulfilled:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; Mourning no more, crying no more, pain no more,
For the first things have gone away.” And the One who sat on the throne announced to His creation,See, I am making all things new…” 

No one or nothing will labor under any curse any longer. And the throne of God and of the Lamb will sit prominently in the city. God’s servants will continually serve and worship Him. They will be able to look upon His face, and His name will be written on their foreheads. Darkness will never again fall on this city. They will not require the light of a lamp or of the sun because the Lord God will be their illumination. By His light, they will reign throughout the ages.” (Revelation 21: 1-5; 22:3-5)

If theologians are correct, we will serve and reign on this new earth in a very practical, physical sense. Part of our ongoing, continuous worship of God will be that we will steward and enjoy the earth like God intended. I believe the language of the Bible suggests we will explore, create, paint, write, build, sing, laugh, emote, think, - we will become fully alive in a wholly good heaven and earth in the presence of the unfiltered goodness, truth and light of God.

We will be fully at peace with God, fully at peace with each other, fully at peace with God’s created, new world, that we will tend and work and explore and enjoy, and fully at peace within - our hopes fulfilled; our hearts no longer restless because they have found rest forever in Christ.

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 KEY SOURCES

 The Bible  :)

C.S. Lewis – assorted texts; also, I recommend The Great Divorce

Timothy Keller - sermons

N.T. Wright – assorted essays

Randy Alcorn – Heaven: Biblical Answers to Common Questions

Erwin Lutzer – One Minute After You Die

Ken Boa – Sense and Nonsense About Heaven and Hell

Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (carm.org)

 

 ENDNOTES 

* The langue of Hell in the Bible allows for but does not require physical torment. John Calvin, among many other theologians, thought the flames and darkness are the best human metaphors for the agony of an existence without Christ. The Bible also allows for but does not require the annihilation of those who are not saved – that is, the belief that souls are destroyed in hell (the eternal or everlasting nature of the punishment simply means the second, spiritual death is necessary and irrevocable).

** Tartarus was where the Greeks believed the really wicked people eventually landed. It was far below Hades, and was just a flat-out bad place to go (the Titans, rebels against the gods, were imprisoned there).. We see tartarus used only once in the New Testament, and it’s not a future intended for people: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). 

*** The modern view of heaven began in the 1700’s with Emanuel Swedenborg. He said angels are perfected people, claimed there are three heavens, and thought we could learn a lot for people claiming to make personal visits to heaven. He claimed to have talked with angels about heaven and hell for thirteen years. This trend has escalated recently with all the NDE stories.  Biblically speaking, NDE’s are not stories of resurrections from heaven or hell; at best, they are returning from hades/paradise - a claim I think merits criticism. They are full of elements that are extra-biblical at best and anti-biblical at worst.

BONUS, LENGTHY QUOTE FROM N.T. WRIGHT

In our vision, after the last judgment, heaven and earth are joined as one, and the new Jerusalem descends to earth, adorned like a bride adorned for her husband, as God at last comes to dwell among human beings (Rev. 21:1-3). In this new heaven and new earth, righteousness finally finds a home (2 Peter 3:13). The whole cosmos will be lit up with God’s presence, and all on earth will be filled with joy. All whose names were written in the Book of Life will inherit this joy, and the nations at long last will walk by the light (Rev. 21:24). Led by Christ, all that live will bow the knee with joy before God, and He will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28)…

Sadly, some will resist to the very end, and perversely choose the misery that comes from insisting on their own way over surrender to God’s love... It is absurd, and it is unreasonable, and it staggers belief, but it will be so. Some will refuse to repent, even at the cost of entry into the city of joy. By their own insistence, they will remain outside the city, wrapped in their pride, clinging to their sins (Rev. 22:15). Their lot is Gehenna, the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Rev. 21:8).

The whole universe is hurtling to Christ and to the light which fills all with joy… But what of those who refuse the light and with triumphant obstinacy refuse to surrender to it? Since the whole world will be filled with light, they will be pushed outside of it, to the borders, to the dark fringes where existence shades off into near non-existence. Their own swollen will, victorious to the end, will bind them hand and foot, and they will remain in the outer darkness, outside the cosmos of light, away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power (Mt. 8:12, 2 Thess. 1:9). The lake of fire, the flame which burns but gives no light, and which was never meant for humanity but only for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41), was not built by God as a holding cell to punish people. But it is the only realm left for people who refuse to dwell in joyful penitence in the world God made. What other fate is left for them? If the whole universe is filled with God and they refuse to live with Him, where else can they go? All that is left for them is to remain in their self-chosen misery, at the intersection of God’s wrath against sin and their own refusal of His love. In that place, there is only weeping, and the gnashing of teeth.

Since Christ first entered the world through His incarnation, the universe has been in the process of separating and splitting apart. Since the Cross and Resurrection, it has been coming apart at the seams, as light separates from darkness, righteousness from sin, penitence from pride. At the last judgment, that separation will be complete, and all people will forever abide in what their deeds and hearts have chosen.

 – N. T Wright,  quoted in “Heaven and Hell in the Scriptures”

The Nature of God (Pillars of Faith Series)

Lots of peoplel have lots of ideas about God. Are all the ideas true? Simply saying "I believe in God" isn’t enough. In order to have faith in the God of the Bible, we have to believe in the right God. To explain this, I need to talk about God’s essence That may sound weird, but I bet you’re familiar with the concept.

Coffee could be weak, cold, decaf, sugar, cream…  Espresso? Folgers? But what about Pepsi? Does that count as coffee? There is a difference between the characteristics or attributes of coffee vs the essence of coffee. What is the essential essence? At what point is coffee not coffee? Reducing something to that which is necessary, or essential, leaves us with essence.Essence is  the defining characteristic of a thing. Coffee must come from coffee beans. This is not picky or mean - it’s just the truth!

We think about attributes and essence all the time without knowing it. Think about all the conversations you have had with organic eaters. They are all about purity - nothing unnatural - nothing unknown. They’re looking for purity through the entire food chain as well as the production. They feel it is vitally important to get this right. How do they do it? It’s not something they just know. It requires reading labels, studying blogs, talking to others… It’s a full-time commitment that never ends.

Do we take our theology this seriously? Can we elaborate what we believe about God and why? Can we do it as well as health care, coffee, diets, superheroes, computer, phone, sports… We should be able to, because what you think about God touches everything. When it comes to theology, we should be reading at least as many labels, talking to at least as many people, studying at least as many books, etc. I’m talking about pursuit, not perfection. It’s impossible to have 100% pure water, but imperative to aim for it. It’s impossible to have 100% perfect theology, but imperative to aim for it. We should always be seeking to find our false beliefs, and correct them.

I’ve heard the claim, “Relationship more important than proper theology.” Let’s try a parallel to see if that’s true. Can I relate to my wife, Aubrey, properly if I do not know who she is? You might ask her after the service. She’s the tall, redhead, loves summer, hates going north, can’t stand farms or ships… That’s not true, of course. And if I thought it was, you would rightly say, “You don’t know your wife.” In the same way, can I relate to God properly if I do not know who he is? Theology is important!

Some questions we’ll be looking at: What are the characteristics of God? What is essential about God? Figuring out these answers will help us tell the difference between true and false gods. Knowing who God is helps me spot the impostors. There are some very popular teachings that have God all wrong:

  • A “god” who is “in everything” is not the God of the bible
  • A “god” who created the world then walked away is not the God of the bible
  • A “god” who will do whatever you say is not…
  • A “god” who approves of whatever you do is not...

 So, how do we know about God? Well, only God gets to declare who he is. Our speculations and opinions don’t matter. God uses General revelation (nature) & special revelation (the Bible and Jesus) to show who He is. We don’t get to define God. What we think doesn’t matter if it doesn’t square with scripture. We learn about God, from God. His revelation in the Bible is not complete, but it is sufficient. It doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about God, but it tells us everything we need to know about God. He is knowable, yet incomprehensible. We can know him truly, but we cannot know him fully. Much about God is unfathomable, but the mystery begins after we’ve looked at all we can know, not before.

There is a God (evident from nature and scripture) Hebrews 11:6  says, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists.” If you don’t believe that, you can’t be a Christian.  A Godless Christianity cannot save. Believing God exists is the beginning of our theology.

God is simple. There is a doctrine called Divine Simplicity. (It simply means not uncomplicated, or without parts). We describe people by attributes that exist outside of them, but God’s attributes are things that do not exist apart from him. When we talk about things like love, mercy, justice, holiness, wisdom, and wrath - we are observing things that do not exist apart from God.

God has characteristics, and they cannot be taken away. In fact, nothing about God needs to be, or even can be, stripped away. Everything about him is essential. One way of putting it is, “God is pure essence”

God is one. “The Lord is God and there is none other besides him”  (Deuteronomy 4:35). Christians are monotheists, which just means we believe there is one God. This belief is essential to Christianity, but it is not complete. Muslims believe in One God, but are going to hell. Mormons believe in many gods, but going to hell. “Believing in God” is not enough, because only the God of the bible can save. So it is imperative that you get the right one.

 God is a trinity. Here’s a topic that has confused many people. The Bible sometimes refers to God in plural (“Let us make man in our image” Genesis 1:26; “In the beginning, God…” Genesis 1:1  - Elohim is plural). Many other times, the Bible refers to God in singular (“Tell them I AM sent you” is a notable example). How do we reconcile this? As we saw above, the bible is adamant that there is only one God. So where does the plural come from?

Let’s go back to essence. God has only one of those, yet the Bible speaks of the Father/Son/Holy Spirit as all having this essence. The plurality spoken of is personhood. So, God is one in essence, three in person (1 ‘what’ and 3 ‘who’). Rejecting the trinity is heresy because of where it takes you. Historically, the church has been very creative in ways to reject trinity:

  • modalism (shape shifter) Problem: Who was Jesus praying to?
  • docetism (illusion/hologram) Problem: An illusion can’t suffer, bleed, and atone for our sins.
  • tritheism (three Gods)Problem: Destroys monotheism
  • partialism (three parts) Problem: Destroys simplicity. Not fully God, each is only ⅓ God.

Why do I think this is important? Because I don’t want to see your faith shipwrecked. Timothy was a pastor that the apostle Paul was mentoring. Paul’s letters to Timothy were the last things he wrote. In these letters, Paul gave Timothy instructions and warnings. He told him that people would leave the faith because they would follow teachers who opposed God and his commandments. He repeatedly encouraged him to teach sound doctrine and avoid false. He told him that his own people would want him to teach the things they wanted to hear rather than the truth. What does that mean for us? Are there things we want to hear that are not true?

  • "I know God says not to do this, but he'll forgive me so it’s ok."
  • "If I do this for God, he'll do this for me."
  • "I may not be perfect, but I'm better than most people. Plus I go to church and give money to homeless people sometimes. God will count that toward my account."
  • "If I find a promise anywhere in the bible, I can claim it for myself and God has to honor that promise for me. "
  • “God is love, so he wouldn’t send people to hell or tell people who they can’t marry”

Are these things that the Bible says are true about God, or are they things that we want to be true about God? The Bible describes God. These are the attributes I referred to earlier. If we say anything about God that contradicts the Bible, we are using God’s name in vain. And doing that is making a God to our own liking. A God of your own making cannot save you.

Paul gave Timothy a pretty good rundown in the opening of the first letter he sent him. The law is good. It is good because it condemns sinners and shows them their faults. But God doesn’t leave them there. He sent Christ to save sinners. Those who pervert or twist that are wrong, so fight the good fight! Those who turned to another gospel have shipwrecked their faith.

Much more must be said that I don’t have time to say. Knowing God is a terrifying privilege. He is love but he is also just. He is mercy but he is also wrath. He is all of these things simultaneously. He will not be mocked. So while the one who himself is love will win, that doesn't mean it will be sunshine and happiness for everyone. The judgment that comes when God wins will be a bitter and fearsome day for many, many people. That's why learning proper doctrine is so important. Unless you truly know God, you have shipwrecked your faith and you are dead in your sins.

Scripture is clear. God does not save the whole world. He does save, but he does so on his terms. We must understand that in every sin, he is the one chiefly offended. Our hearts are wicked and depraved, and we deserve nothing. However, in his mercy, he has provided a means of salvation. He has given his son - Jesus, who was God himself - to die in our place and spare our souls. He is preparing a place for those who accept his offer of forgiveness. He has also described the plans he has for those who reject it. Only this God can save you. A God of your own making cannot save you. Knowing this God will change your life. If you know this God, you cannot help but worship him. Proper knowledge of this God will drive you to repentance, to worship, and quite likely to an emotional response. It is a certainty. But it doesn't work the other way. None of these things will lead you to God.

If you weren’t aware of him before, now you are. And that puts you in a tough spot. Repent. Place your faith in Christ. Get to know God as he really is instead of the popular myths you have made up or heard from someone else. God is good, but he is just. And that is both good and terrible news.

Sin and Salvation (Pillars of Faith Series)

From our statement of faith:

Sin: We believe that we sin when we disobey the commands of God’s inspired Word and reject His authority. All of us have sinned and are therefore, in our natural state, lost and separated from God. We believe men and women were created in the image of God (Genesis 2:26). However, by a voluntary act of the will, Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3:6). As a result, mankind began to die spiritually (Romans 5:12-19). Sin separated humankind from God (Ephesians 2:11-18) and left us in a fallen or sinful condition (Romans 3:23; Genesis 1:26,27; Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:6; Romans 5:12-19).

Salvation: We believe that God the Father showed His love for all people by sending His Son to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. (Luke 18:27; John 3:16,17; Romans 11:33; 1 Peter 1:16; 1 John 4:7-10; Revelation 4:8.) We believe Jesus’ death paid the penalty our sins warranted, and His resurrection grants us the life we could not attain - both of these being necessary to reconcile us to right-standing before God.” (Matthew 16:16,17 and 25:31-46; Mark 14:61,62; Luke 1:34,35 and 2:7; John 1:1 and 1:14 and 5:22-30 and 10:30 and 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22-24.)  It is not through our efforts (Acts 4:12 John 3:3; Romans 10:13-15; Ephesians 2:8; 
Titus 2:11; Titus 3:5-7)When we admit our sin, confess that Jesus is Lord, and repent, we become a new creation and are gradually transformed into the image of Christ (Galatians 5:22, 23; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Corinthians 3:18)

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God made the world good.

Over and over in the opening of Genesis, we read that God created and declared it ‘good’ (towb, good in the widest sense). As opposed to other ancient creation stories where everything was created by an act of violence, this was an act of artistry, care, and design.This was a world where ‘shalom’ characterized life. Shalom is a Hebrew word found throughout the Old Testament that means peace, harmony, interconnectedness, wholeness, fullness of life. It’s life as it ought to be in a world without sin, brokenness or despair.

There is a problem.

Adam and Eve are given a choice – to be obedient to God and live within God’s design or choose their own way (the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). They choose their own way, and immediately the world begins to break apart. “And so sin entered the world, and death by sin.” Now a life characterized by harmony and wholeness would be full of chaos and brokenness.  Now there would be violence instead of gentleness, deception instead of truth, rebellion instead of obedience.

As Genesis unfolds, we see the original version of “that escalated quickly.” Cain kills Abel; soon men are bragging that they’ve killed a ton of people; before long, the whole world is evil in God’s sight (and the New Testament writers say we will repeat those days). After the Flood, it’s not too long before people are building a tower to God to make a name for themselves. Paul would eventually write to the church in Rome that all of creation groans as it waits for redemption. We are in ‘bondage to decay’ and ‘subject to futility’ (Romans 8).

We know the source of the problem: sin.

It’s deeply embedded in all of us from the moment we are born. For all the criticism we have of Adam and Eve, we would have done the same. They are what we call archetypes, real people who in a broader sense are all of us. Their story would have been our story. “So sin entered the world, and death by sin; so death has passed on to all people, for all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Contrary to those who think we are born good or innocent, the Bible insists that we are not only born sinful, we default to sin. It’s our natural programming.

  • All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)
  • Apart from God, we are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6, 16-17)
  • The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
  • We have bodies of death in need of deliverance (Romans 7:24)

The Bible doesn’t use the word ‘sin’ in the original language. The word sin comes from the Old 
English word synn, which is from the Germanic sunta or the Latin word sons, both of which mean guilty. (HT John Oakes, “What Are The Origins of the Word Sin?”) The Biblical writers were pretty creative with how many ways they expressed the many reasons we are guilty. 

1)   hamartia; to miss the mark. “We all fall short of (or “miss”) the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) The devil has done this from the beginning (1 John 3:8)

2)   Paraptoma; trespass. A blunder.  (Matthew 6:14-15)

3)   Parabasos; crossing a specific line.  Think of an athletic field in which there are boundaries you cannot cross without penalty (Galatians 3:19)

4)   chatta’ah : willful going against what one knows is right and accidentally going 
against the divine order of things (Leviticus 4:14; Exodus 32:34)

5)   pasha: rebel; breaking a rule that has been established (Jeremiah 3:13)

6)   avon: willful 
or continuing sin (Genesis 15:16)

7)   adikia; injustice (Luke 18:6; 1 John 5;17).  Action that causes visible harm to another person in violation of divine standard

8)   Anomia; lawlessness.  When we read, “Whoever commits sin (hamartia) also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23; 1 John 3:4), we see that even the most accidental of well-intentioned moments of sin are like the worst.

You've heard how people in very snowy countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland) have 300 different words for types of snow? There is a lot of snow and a lot of different conditions, so they want to be very precise. Apparently, the biblical writers saw a lot of sin, and they wanted to be precise.  

Why is sin so pervasive? Because we want to rule ourselves. We want to do life on our own terms: like Adam and Eve, we want to be like God, deciding what’s right and wrong. We want to worship and obey a god of our choosing. If we don’t live for God, we will live for something else that will function in God’s place. We will worship things other than God. We will order our life in the service of things other than God that we think will bring us happiness and fulfillment if we can just do them right or better.

  • Sex/Sexuality
  • Jobs/Vocation
  • Toys/money/things
  • Children and Family
  • Reputation (what you are know for)
  • Comfort/Pleasure
  • Intelligence
  • Talent
  • Political or Social Causes
  • Appearance (personal and social)
  • Self-control/orderliness

 You may be looking at this list and thinking there is a pretty clear hierarchy here. Someone who lives to be really smart is obviously a better person than someone who lives to greedily accumulate stuff. A self-controlled person is clearly better than someone who lives for their own personal comfort or just pursues any pleasure they can find, right? Basically, you may be looking at this list, seeing one that applies to you, and finding ways to convince yourself it’s better than the others.

 It’s not, and here’s why.

We begin to ‘lean on’ these things to bring us peace, or happiness, or hope. Instead of ordering our life around Jesus, we turn to one of these things and just try to do them more and better so that that broken shalom within us and around us will heal. We tend to think in this in terms of the scandalous sins, but the Bible doesn’t. Paul wrote in Romans 14:23 that any action that does not have its foundation in faith is sin.

We begin to build our identity on these things. We don’t turn to Jesus to find the value, worth and dignity we have as image bearers of God (or children of God if we have committed our life to Christ). We look to these other things, and we begin to identify ourselves by them. All sin leads to us building a false foundation for who we are and why we matter. Any of these can become that thing that we rely on to give us value, worth, dignity and even hope.  Without actually saying it, we think doing these things just right will save us from the groaning of this broken world in us and around us. And when we begin to put that much pressure on these things…

 We become enslaved to these things, and we enslave those around us to our cause. We become zealots on behalf of our own sinful cause.

  • We overparent. We smother our kids because they bear the terrible weight of our worth, and we judge those around us whose kids aren’t as outwardly put together as ours.
  • We pursue as many partners as we can to continually validate our desirability; we pressure those we are with to complete us; and lash out at anyone who criticizes.
  • We spend inordinate amounts of time making money, or looking good, or studying so we can justify our existence. Anyone who gets in our way pays the price, and we look down on those who aren’t as focused and driven as we are.
  • We are consumed by keeping every aspect of our life in our control on our terms. Any disruption receives our scorn or wrath, and we just assume people who aren’t as controlling of their circumstances (“as purposeful and put together”?)are either dumb, lazy or bad.

Do you see the destructiveness of this sinful pattern? How even small things lead us here? Because we have given our lives to a false savior – and that’s idolatry. That’s a breaking of the First Commandment. All sin begins in idolatry - which is why all sin deserves an equal judgment.

In maybe the worst kind of idolatry, we turn to religious works – keeping the rules, always doing more to feel closer to God or earn God’s favor, showing others how important we are by the crucial things we all do, desperately trying to get rid of the bleak, relentless, gnawing emptiness. And we aren’t worshiping God at all but ourselves. That kind of religious grandstanding is “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), the most ritually unclean thing you could imagine in Jewish culture.

 There is a solution. 

 That fact that we can be saved from our sinfulness is the heart of the gospel, the "good news." And the only way we can be saved is through Jesus Christ. 

The objective basis and means of salvation is God's sovereign and gracious choice to be "God with us" in the person of Jesus Christ, who is described as both author and mediator of salvation ( Heb 2:10 ; 7:25 ). But the movement of Jesus' life goes through the cross and resurrection. It is therefore "Christ crucified" that is of central importance for salvation ( 1 Cor 1:23 ), for "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" ( 1 Cor 15:3 ) and was handed to death for our trespasses ( Rom 4:25 ). What Jesus did in our name he also did in our place, giving "his life as a ransom for many" ( Matt 20:28 ). And if Christ demonstrated his love by dying when we were still sinners, how much more shall we now be saved by his life? ( Rom 5:8-10 ). So critical is the resurrection to the future hope of salvation that ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ ( 1 Cor 15:17 ).  (“Salvation,” http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/salvation/)

Because of Christ, we are saved from hell, the eternal PENALTY of sin; a overwhelming debt we build all our lives will be covered because Jesus has gone to the Cross to take our just penalty upon himself. The wages or cost of sin is still death; it’s just that Jesus paid it for you. 

Justice must be served because God is just;  and to save just one of us, it would have cost him a crucifixion. This should always humble us, because it reminds us that we are more sinful than we want to admit. But mercy must be offered because God is merciful. To save just one of us, Jesus was willing to do this. This should always encourage us, because it reminds us that God’s love for us is so much deeper than we can ever imagine. 

Because of Christ, we are being saved from the present POWER of sin. We were once dead in sin. We were incapable of bringing ourselves to life, and we were going to inevitably default to sin. Because the Holy Spirit is now in us, we have God’s power to break what the Bible calls “chains” of sin. We will struggle with temptation, but we are not doomed to failure. We will see all those idols for what they are, and we will increasingly see Jesus for who he is. God will work in us (in a process we call sanctification) so that we lean on him; we build a real foundation of value worth, and dignity (our identity) in how Christ sees us, not how we or other see us.  

One day, we will be saved from the PRESENCE of sin. In heaven, shalom will be restored.  The New Heaven and New Earth will not be broken, and neither will we. 

“But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

_______________________________________________________

 So why a cross?

Forgiveness involves suffering on the part of the one forgiving. The greater the forgiveness, the greater the suffering. We experience this in small ways all the time. When we forgive people, we not only take the pain of the original hurt (against our happiness, reputation, self-image, etc), but we give up the right to inflict the same in return. We give up making them feel what we felt. No one just forgives as if it is nothing. True forgiveness will cost us something. And the greater the sin that needs to be forgiven, the greater the cost of forgiveness.

 “God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

 

Jesus (Pillars of Faith Series)

“We believe in the historical reality of Jesus Christ as the only incarnation of God. We believe in His deity, His virgin birth (Matthew 1:18-23), His sinless life  (Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22), His miracles (Acts 2:22; Acts 10:38), His substitutionary death (1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21), His bodily resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:6; Luke 24:39; 1 Corinthians 15:4), His ascension to the right hand of the Father (Acts 1:9; Acts 1:11; Acts 2:33; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:3), His intercession for the sins of His people (1 Timothy 2:5-6), and His future personal return in power and glory (Acts 1:10-11).”

We believe in the historical reality of Jesus Christ as the only incarnation of God. We believe in His deity. Jesus is unique. No one else in human history was, is, or will be like him. The miracle of the incarnation is that Jesus remained fully God while he participated fully in human life as a man. We see ways in which God made himself visible and known in the Old Testament, but only once did he incarnate (become human). Jesus was not simply an enlightened being (Buddhism), he was not just one of thousands of gods (Hinduism). He was not simply a prophet (Islam). He was not the kind of being that we can one day become (Mormonism).

His virgin birth (Matthew 1:18-23). If you are wanting a scientific explanation as to how this happened, I have none to offer. It’s a miracle, which simply means God accomplished something supernaturally that would not have happened naturally. We don’t claim God had sex with Mary, like the Greeks and Romans would have assumed a god would do. In a way that honored Mary’s purity, heaven and earth became one in the person of Jesus Christ.

His sinless life (Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22).  He was tempted as a man (so Jesus is what we often call “a sympathetic advocate” on our behalf when we pray for forgiveness for our sin), but he resisted as God. He understood the power of temptation but never compromised his perfection and holiness. When it is time for you to give an answer for your life to God, if you have accepted the lordship of Jesus in your life, a sinless Christ will stand in your place and say, “He or she is with me.” The perfection of Christ will be granted to you – not because you earned it, but because you committed your life to the One who did.

His miracles (Acts 2:22; Acts 10:38).  It’s what we expect of divinity. The Creator moves in the creation. God set up what we now call ‘laws’ to give an order, structure, coherence and predictability to the physical world. #science. But God’s not bound by them. God interjects Himself into the system God created, and the system responds like God created it to respond. So, yeah, there are a lot of miracles. If God exists, it goes with the territory. If Jesus was God, he can do them too.

C.S. Lewis compared God’s miraculous intervention in the world to the way events are influenced inside a fishbowl. If someone bumps a table supporting a fishbowl, the pebbles will shake and the water will ripple.  If the fish are committed to seeking an explanation only inside the fishbowl, because they do not believe anything exists outside the fishbowl, they will never find an adequate explanation for what happened.  Maybe they think believing otherwise allows for a “God” who violates the laws of the nature in the fishbowl.  But if the fishbowl hadn’t been effected, laws governing all of reality, not just the reality of the fishbowl, would have broken.  In other words, an orderly and predictable world absorbs and reacts to miracles.  Not responding would actually be the problem.

His substitutionary death (1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21) and His bodily resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:6; Luke 24:39; 1 Corinthians 15:4). A just God demands justice; a merciful God provides a way out.  Jesus’ death cancelled the obligation for us to pay the ultimate penalty for our own sin. He paid what we could not. Justice is an important thing, but it’s not the only thing. And in a cosmic turn of events that no other religion even remotely claims – God so loves the world that He absorbs His own righteous demand for justice so that the people he loves can experience his mercy (more in this in a couple weeks…the concept of covenant is crucial here).

  • Our sin breaks God’s just law (think back to an analogy everyone in the Ancient Near East and in the Jewish and Roman culture of the first century would have understood: living in a Kingdom with a King. Law-breaking is a treasonous dishonoring of the Lawgiver, the King)
  • God’s justice demands that the price of this treasonous sin be paid, and the price is death.
  • If the price is paid, the offender will be forgiven – but of course, it will be too late.
  • However, as an act of mercy, the offender can be forgiven and live if the price is paid by a substitute. (In the Old Testament, we see the concept enacted in the scapegoat as well as the many ways in which substitutionary acts could pay the penalty of breaking the Mosaic law)
  • If the one who offers to pay the debt of the sinner is also sinful, they will merely be paying their own sinful debt, the one for whom they are giving their life will not benefit. 
  • Therefore, the only answer is a sinless person, who is provided by the King – Himself, in the person of the sinless Christ.
  • The price is paid on behalf of the sinner, who is forgiven, set free and given new life – as an adopted child of the King.

His ascension to the right hand of the Father (Acts 1:9; Acts 1:11; Acts 2:33; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:3) and his intercession for the sins of His people (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  

If His death shows us the lengths to which he was willing to go to save us, then His resurrection shows us the power he has to do it. His resurrection means life is possible for us “though we were dead in our sins.” Because He suffered, died, and rose from the dead, we can be raised from spiritual death in this life, and ultimately be raised to an entirely new life with Christ for eternity.

“The right hand” imagery is a picture of power. Jesus did not rise in broken weakness after a crucifixion. Hebrews 2:10 says Jesus’ glory was consummated or perfected in His suffering. If you thought he was awesome before, you should have seen him after His resurrection (this is anthropomorphic language…it’s an image…biblical writers are doing their best to describe a God whose glory just gets more stunning the more we understand him).

His intercession….

Let’s be honest. We are prone to point, especially when the sin of others is easy to see, and especially when it lets us channel our anger or grief at sin to other people.  We often see what these ‘pointable sins’ are when something bad happens and we say, “Well, God is judging America because of (and let’s be honest about the Big Four) sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortion, and homosexuality.”  You know what's missing from that list? Everything else that the Bible identifies as sin, especially the ones that we don’t want to point out in ourselves.

  • Pride (I’m just better)
  • Lust (I want that… a lot…)
  • Anger (inappropriate and impactful)
  • Theft (from money to online piracy to time to virtue/innocence)
  • Deceit (covering up truth that needs to be known)
  • Rebellion (against the proper authorities in your life)
  • Judgment (of the heart, motivations, intentions)
  • Bitterness (I deserve better…you don’t)
  • Gossip (Did you know…?  Would you pray for…?)
  • Greed (lack of contentment of things or people or circumstances)
  • Envy (active dislike for people for whom life is better)
  • Hardness of heart (the recognition of sin and its impact on the world does not move you – neither does the lostness of sinners)
  • Laziness (not purposeful rest – I mean you are just flat-out lazy)
  • Meanness (attitude, words. Insults – and passive aggressive is the worst)
  • Dishonor and disrespect (trample on God’s image bearers)

Why highlight this on sermon about Jesus? Because if you don’t see your sin, you will never appreciate the awesome nature of Jesus Christ.We might get all the theology – we might have a way of understanding the incarnation and substitutional atonement, and we’ve watched The Passion, and we sent copies of the Jesus movie all around the world. But if we don’t understand why the phrase “Jesus loves you” ought to undo us, we will never understand the awesome nature of Jesus Christ.

Let’s make it more personal. If everyone else in this room nailed it – never sinned, just lived perfectly – do you know what Jesus would have to do for you? He would have to become human, live a perfect life, die with the weight of your sin on His shoulders, then rise again and advocate just for you.  Don't be thinking,“I hope my spouse is getting this. I wish my kids were here.  I wonder if Anthony is listening to his own sermon? They really need to be broken in repentance.”  I’m sure they all do. I know I do. But if you don’t see that you do too, you will never appreciate the awesomeness of Christ – and you will be insufferable to live with.

Why did Jesus have to become human? Because of your sin.

Why did Jesus have to die? Because of your sin.

Why does Jesus intercede for you now? Why does he have to continue to function as an advocate? Because of your sin.

 The good news is that in spite of all that, Jesus did not come to the world to bring condemnation but to bring salvation. I don’t point these things up so we are overwhelmed by condemnation. I want us to be in awe of salvation. 

“The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope — at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you.” Timothy Keller

“...We must say to ourselves something like this: 'Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn't think "I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me." No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us - denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him - and in the greatest act of love in history, he STAYED. He said, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely.” – Timothy Keller

Jesus’ love isn’t a trivial, easy love offered to us because we are so awesome. It’s a love that required a death and resurrection so that we, the dead, can be raised to life. So that we, the image bearers of God, can show the world what it looks like when a God of Salvation loves and then saves the most unlovable and the most hopelessly lost for our good and His glory.

His future personal return in power and glory (Acts 1:10-11). There will be a day when the world sees the glory and power of Christ. There will be a day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God. 

The BIble (Pillars of Faith Series)

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There is a lot of criticism of the Bible right now. “It’s old, it’s unreliable, it doesn’t reflect modern understandings, it’s just another religious outlook.” Some would even say it is destructive. And yet we as Christians turn to it. In 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Paul says to Timothy, “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Our statement of faith reads: “We believe the Holy Bible to be the inspired Word of God, inerrant in its original manuscripts. It is our standard for faith and practice and the measure by which all of life and personal revelation is to be evaluated.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21)

So let’s talk about the Bible. Why do we believe what we do about the Bible, and why does it matter? This will be a very brief overview; I encourage you to use the resources listed at the end.

 We claim the Bible is ‘breathed out,’ or inspired: God expressed himself accurately, uniquely and sufficiently through human authors.  All communication occurs in a context, so the writers use their language (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek), their jargon and their personality (there are different styles), but God inspired them and guided them so that they wrote accurately. The Bible is unique in that it is the only revelation from God to which we ascribe this level of trust. There is no other revelation that carries the authority of the Bible. It is sufficient means not only is it the only revelation of this nature that we have, it’s the only revelation of this nature that we need.

We claim the Bible is inerrant: “When all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm”  (Dr. Paul Feinberg). To say this confidently, we need to be confident that what we have today is what we are supposed to have, and that we are able to interpret it properly. Fortunately, that’s our next sections J

We claim the Bible is canonical (the books are the right books). The ‘canon’ is a ruler, a measure by which all other claims to revelation are judged. Let's look at how both of these sections of the Bible became part of the canon.

OLD TESTAMENT

  • Ezra, in the late 5th century BC, gave  22 books to the Sopherim (priests who performed their functions at the Temple, and who eventually became the Sanhedrin). These books were kept in the Temple.
  •  Shortly after, the Jews closed the Old Testament canon, because “ the succession of prophets ceased” (Josephus) and “the Holy Spirit departed from Israel.” (Talmud) 
  • Daniel, in the 7th century BC wrote (Daniel 9:2): “in the first year of his reign [Darius], I, Daniel understood from the scrolls, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” The book of Jeremiah was part of a larger collection of books/scrolls that Daniel considered authoritative.
  • The Prologue to Ecclesiasticus, written by a Jewish scribe about middle 2nd century B.C., mentions a Greek translation of “the Law itself, the Prophecies, and the rest of the books.” The implication is that there exists a collection of books that was then translated into Greek. (the info in the last two paragraphs are  from http://www.credomag.com/2015/03/25/how-did-we-get-the-old-testament-paul-d-wegner/)

Josephus wrote in the first century AD: “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have] but only twenty-two books (they combined the 39 to 22), which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind until his death…but as to the time from the death of Moses until the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life.”

NEW TESTAMENT

 There were six requirements for a book to make it into the New Testament:

A.  Apostolicity: Was the book written by a first generation apostle or disciple?

B. Antiquity: Was the authorship by a Christian leader from the church’s first generation?

C. Authenticity: Do historical traditions affirm the writings’ authorship and authority?

D. Ubiquity: Did the book have a history of "continuous and widespread approval” among Christians?

E. Universality: Is the book consistent with the OT and known NT writings?

F. Effect: Does the book change lives? Does it have a spiritual and moral effect?

 The shape of the accepted books took place fairly quickly considering how long it would have taken for the writing to circulate and be discussed. Paul was writing in the 50’s; Matthew, Mark and Luke were written in the 70’s.

  • Clement of Rome: eight New Testament books (A.D. 95)
  • Polycarp, a disciple of John the Apostle: 15 books (A.D. 108)
  • Ignatius of Antioch: seven books (A.D. 115) 
  • Irenaeus, in 130 A.D.: current canon, with some reservations
  • Origen, in 185: current canon with some reservations
  • 150-180: most current NT books were widely accepted
  • 200 A.D.: Muratorian Fragment records a list of books very similar to what we have today
  • Athanasius, AD 367 - accepted them all
  • Following councils affirm the core canon, though some traditions add certain books (deuterocanonical books)

We claim the Bible is reliable. It has been preserved accurately.

The Massoretes in the 10th century (around 916 A.D.) had complete copies of Old Testament books such as Isaiah.  When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 in Qumran, we found a complete copy of the book of Isaiah, both books of Samuel and fragments of almost every book in the Old Testament (dated to 100 BC). So how do the Massoret and Qumran texts compare with 1,000 years difference between the two texts? In Isaiah 53, only 17 letters are different. 10 are spelling differences (honor/honour). 4 are additional conjunctions (‘and’). One is the last 3 letters for the Hebrew word for light, added to complete the thought of "they shall see" at the end of verse 11.

From A.D. 100 - 300, there are 36,000 early quotations of the New Testament in the existing documents from the early church fathers. We could basically recreate the New Testament from these writing if we needed to. These two quotes summarize the validity and trustworthiness of the Bible:

"There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament… if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt." F. F. Bruce 

" It can be asserted with confidence that the sacred text is exact and valid and that no article of faith and no moral precept in it has been distorted or lost." - B.B Warfield

 We claim the Bible is knowable. It can be studied accurately.

 “We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense.  The literal sense is… the meaning which the writer expressed.  Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text. This means the correct interpretation is the one which discovers the meaning of the text in its grammatical forms and in the historical, cultural context in which the text is expressed.” Chicago Statement on Biblical Innerancy

There are three things to remember as we seek to read the Bible accurately.

Know the TRANSLATION.

Versions range from literal, word-for-word translations (King James) to versions that paraphrase with modern language (The message). Here is a good discussion on types of translations. I like reading biblegateway.com so I can read side-by-side translations that use different styles to communicate the same message.

Meaning always flows from the top down, so know the CONTEXT

“We can easily forget that Scripture is a foreign land and that reading the Bible is a crosscultural experience”  (Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes). Here are some  practical example of this principle in action: 

  • when Ruth uncovers Boaz’s feet and lays down beside him (Ruth 3:4), she is not seducing him. She is asking him to assume the responsibility for her care, as her husband.
  • when you hear the violent will take the Kingdom of Heaven by force {Matthew 11:12}, it’s an analogy to sheep bursting out of pen after being penned up all night.

A word is in a sentence…paragraph…section…book, etc. Take the time to read the context. 

 Know the PURPOSE

  • Is it instructive (and to whom?): Take of your shoes (to Moses); don’t get tattoos (to the Jews for culture-bound reasons); “love your enemies…pray for them” (to all). All the sections are interactions, but the first two are not for us!
  • Corrective (and for what purpose?): Many things in NT letters were written to correct.  For example, the Corinthian ladies wear a covering, and men were told not to cover their head. I’m convinced that had to do with creating a culture in the church where all people had value and dignity, and with offering a testimony to the community that clearly displayed why the early church was not like the pagan temples. We don't insists that women cover their heads and men don't, but we do seek to obey the principle behind the correction Paul gave the church in Corinth. The Bible contains timeless principles that are sometimes expressed in timely ways. We always seek to understand the expression so we can honor the principle.
  • Descriptive:  You find this in many Old Testament stories, and a lot of the Book of Acts. Not everything is meant to be read as a standard. Sometimes it just describes life. We don’t sacrifice the first thing we see after a military victory, like Jephthah did with his daughter in Judges 10; we don’t meet in Jewish temples or homes for church usually (Acts 2:46).

 We claim the Bible is true.

 “… here is a faith firmly rooted in certain... historical events, a faith which would be false and misleading if those events had not actually taken place, but which, if they did take place, is unique in its relevance and exclusive in its demands on our allegiance. For these events did not merely set a process in motion and then themselves sink back into the past. The unique historical origin of Christianity is ascribed permanent, authoritative, absolute significance; what happened once is said to have happened once for all..." J.N.D Anderson

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

 http://biblos.com.  An excellent site with parallel versions, links to other similar verses, cross references, commentary, and explanations of Hebrew and Greek words.

http://www.biblegateway.com.   Bible Gateway has a searchable online Bible in over 100 versions and 50 languages. There are reading plans, commentaries, dictionaries, e-books, etc.

http://www.followtherabbi.com/Brix?pageID=1458.  Ray Vander Laan’s site called “Follow the Rabbi.”   An intriguing look into Jewish worldviews and customs, as well as other cultural insights that are helpful in understanding the venue in which the Bible was written.

http://www.str.org/site/PageServer.  Greg Koukl’s site, Stand To Reason, has a ton of helpful information, including a lot of insight on how to read the Bible accurately. Just search “Reading the Bible” on his site, and you will be off and running.

http://bible.cc/.  A great online parallel Bible with TONS of resources. My personal favorite.

Cold Case Christianity (http://coldcasechristianity.com) – the website and J. Warner Wallace’s books, Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene. Wallace is a fantastic resource for looking at the historicity and reliability of the Bible as well as the Christian faith.

Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions, by Craig Blomberg (I have not read it ,but it’s been highly recommended).

The Case for Christ and The Case For Faith by Lee Strobel

 Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, by Kenneth Bailey.

Insights into Bible Times and Customs, by G Christian Weiss, published by Moody Press.

Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Bivin and Roy Blizzard.

Hard Sayings of the Bible, by Walter Kaiser, F.F. Bruce, and others. P

Is God a Moral Monster?  Making Sense of the Old Testament God, by Paul Copan.   A book on how to read the Old and New Testament faithfully, with a focus on understanding God in the Old Testament.

Hard Saying of the Old Testament, by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.  Insight into the historical, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds of troublesome passages in the Old Testament.

Hard Sayings of Paul, by Manfred T. Brauch. This book takes forty-eight different teachings of Paul, and provides background and context.

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, be E. Randolph Roberts and Brandon O’Brien

Series on Biblical books by Timothy Keller (such as Galatians For You) or N.T. Wright (his New Testament for Everyone set)

What We Believe (Pillars of Faith Series)

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We become what we believe.  We are formed by what we think is true and good. We might not always be consistent, but our lives follow the trajectory of our beliefs. David wrote in Psalm 115:

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear;
 noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk;
 and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them are like them;
 so are all who trust in them. (Psalm 115:4-8)

We become like what we believe – and ultimately, what we worship.

So we are going to walk through our statement of faith, which is what we as a church confirm that we believe. Now, we don’t think we are the only church that preaches the gospel. I grew up Mennonite, went to a Baptist college for my bachelor’s degree, and studied Reformed thought for my masters. They all preached the gospel. There are numerous churches just in Traverse City that are faithful to the gospel.

Our statement of faith affirms and is based on the classic Christian creeds. Creed comes from the Latin word ‘credo’, meaning 'I believe'.  When the early church wrestled with differing theological views, they formed formal statements of belief. As time went on, they became more detailed as they more specifically addressed new challenges.

We see the first statements emerging within the New Testament itself.

  • 55 AD: “Yet for us there is one God, the Father,  from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Corinthians 8:6)
  • 55 AD “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7)
  • 62 AD “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)
  • 67 AD “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of  our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16)

Iraneus is the first non-biblical writer to record a creed. He wrote in approximately 180 AD of what he called the Rule of Faith

: “. . . this faith: in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race . . .”

Hippolytus (225 AD) wrote this account of a baptismal service:

 When the person being baptized goes down into the water, he who baptizes him, putting his hand on him, shall say: "Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty?"  And the person being baptized shall say: "I believe." Then holding his hand on his head, he shall baptize him once.

And then he shall say: "Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried, and rose again the third day, alive from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead?" And when he says: "I believe," he is baptized again. And again he shall say: "Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, in the holy church, and the resurrection of the body?" The person being baptized shall say: "I believe," and then he is baptized a third time.

From the foundational statements in the New Testament and the ongoing record of creedal recitations in the early church, two key formalized creeds emerged:  the Nicene Creed (320) and the Apostolic Creed (390). What follows is a combination of the two:

  • I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; 
  • And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us [all] for our salvation, came down from heaven, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary and made man; he suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell (or the dead). The third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty: from thence he shall come in glory to judge the quick and the dead, and whose Kingdom shall have no end;
  • I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
  • I believe in the holy catholic and apostolic church:
  • the communion of saints:
  • The forgiveness of sins:
  • The resurrection of the body (the dead):
  • And the life everlasting in the world to come. Amen.

Around the 1500’s you start to see Confessions of Faith that include statements on the Bible (Belgic Confession of Faith in 1561, Heidelberg Catechism in 1563, London Baptist Confession of Faith in 1689, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978). You also begin to see statements of faith that begin to address more specific areas of life typically as a response to  cultural challenges that were impacting how Christians lived what they believed, such as the Manhattan Declaration published in 2009.

From this foundation, we have built our foundational beliefs at CLG. Our statement of faith is more detailed than the historic creeds (as is the case with most churches), but in the midst of the detail we seek to affirm what the Christian church broadly and historically has affirmed to be true in a way that allows room for differing perspectives on details even as we unite on the fundamentals, and we affirm historic Christian belief on several cultural issues that are increasingly challenging how Christians live their beliefs.   

The Bible: We believe the Holy Bible to be the inspired Word of God, inerrant in its original manuscripts. It is our standard for faith and practice and the measure by which all of life and personal revelation is to be evaluated. (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21)

God (The Father): We believe that there is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (John 8:54-59). He is Creator, Redeemer and the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. We believe that God is omnipotent (He can do anything that can be done), omniscient (He knows anything that can be known), omnipresent (there is no place or circumstance of which God is unaware or in which he is not active), and unchanging. He is perfect in holiness, infinite in wisdom, and measureless in power.

God (The Son, Jesus Christ): We believe in the historical reality of Jesus Christ as the only incarnation of God. We believe in His deity, His virgin birth (Matthew 1:18-23), His sinless life  (Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22), His miracles (Acts 2:22; Acts 10:38), His substitutionary death (1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21), His bodily resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:6; Luke 24:39; 1 Corinthians 15:4), His ascension to the right hand of the Father (Acts 1:9; Acts 1:11; Acts 2:33; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:3), His intercession for the sins of His people (1 Timothy 2:5-6), and His future personal return in power and glory (Acts 1:10-11).

God (the Holy Spirit): We believe that the Holy Spirit indwells believers (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), confirming their salvation (Romans 8:14-16) and enabling them to bear godly fruit (Galatians 5:22). We believe that the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). The Holy Spirit also empowers believers to have a bold and effective witness (i.e Luke 12:12), so He manifests His gifts in their daily lives for the edification of the church and as a testimony to the world.

The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) is the result of a Spirit-filled life, and evidence of spiritual maturity. True followers of God will be known by their fruit (Matthew 7:16).

The gifts of the Spirit are different manifestations of the Spirit to build up the body (Isaiah 11:5; I Corinthians 12:1-11). They ought always directly point people toward God (John 15:26; John 16:13-14). We are instructed to diligently seek the gifts (I Corinthians 12:31, 14:1), but they must be exercised in an orderly and understandable way (I Corinthians 14:26-33) and used in the context of love (I Corinthians 13:1-13), lest our expression cause others to stumble (1 Corinthians 8).

We have different gifts given as the Holy Spirit wills, and the gifts must be expressed in love, sincerity, and in a way which honors others above ourselves (Romans 12:1-10).

Sin: We believe that we sin (i.e, “hamartia,” in Romans 3:23, and “chata” in Judges 20:16 and Exodus 20:20) when we disobey the commands of God’s inspired Word and reject His authority All of us have sinned and are therefore, in our natural state, lost and separated from God. We believe men and women were created in the image of God (Genesis 2:26). However, by a voluntary act of the will, Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3:6). As a result, mankind began to die spiritually (Romans 5:12-19). Sin separated humankind from God (Ephesians 2:11-18) and left us in a fallen or sinful condition (Romans 3:23; Genesis 1:26,27; Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:6; Romans 5:12-19).

Salvation: We believe that God the Father showed His love for all people by sending His Son to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. (Luke 18:27; John 3:16,17; Romans 11:33; 1 Peter 1:16; 1 John 4:7-10; Revelation 4:8)

We believe Jesus’ death paid the penalty our sins warranted, and His resurrection grants us the life we could not attain - both of these being necessary to reconcile us to right-standing before God. (Matthew 16:16,17 and 25:31-46; Mark 14:61,62; Luke 1:34,35 and 2:7; John 1:1 and 1:14 and 5:22-30 and 10:30 and 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22-24.)  It is not through our efforts (Acts 4:12;  John 3:3; Romans 10:13-15; Ephesians 2:8; 
Titus 2:11; Titus 3:5-7).

When we admit our sin, confess that Jesus is Lord, and repent, we become a new creation and are gradually transformed into the image of Christ (Galatians 5:22, 23; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Corinthians 3:18)

Eternal Destiny: We believe in the resurrection of the saved and the lost, and that both will stand before the judgment seat of Christ; the saved will enter into everlasting life in God’s presence, and the lost will be sent into everlasting death, devoid of the presence of God. (Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 9:43-48; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:11-15; Revelation 21:8).

The Church: We believe that the Church is Christ’s symbolic body in the earth (Colossians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 12:27), and that it should reveal His character, His message, and His love to the world.  We believe that the Church is to go into all the world, preach the gospel, and make disciples. This will lead people to have fellowship with God (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:15,16) and community with others (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Human Life: We believe that all human life is sacred and created by God in His image (Genesis 1:27). Human life is of inestimable worth in all its dimensions, including pre-born babies, the aged, the physically or mentally challenged, and every other stage or condition from conception through natural death. We are therefore called to defend, protect, and value all human life. (Psalm139)

Marriage and Sexuality: We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female. Together they reflect the image and nature of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman as delineated in Scripture (Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 19:5-6). It is intended to be a covenant by which they unite themselves for life in a single, exclusive union, ordered toward the well-being of the spouses and designed to be the environment for the procreation and upbringing of children.