by John MacArthur
For us, as Christians in the United States, it’s easy to get
caught up in all the political fervor. It can even be tempting to
think that legislation is the key to solving the moral problems
that plague American society. But is that a right perspective?
John MacArthur addresses this important issue and
underscores a biblical response.
There was a time (in the days of our Puritan forefathers),
when almost every soul in America acknowledged the Ten
Commandments as the cornerstone of ethics and morality.
Today most Americans can’t even name three of the Ten.
There was also a time (not so long ago) when Americans
universally disapproved of homosexuality, adultery, and
divorce; they believed sexual promiscuity is absolutely
wrong; they regarded obscene language as inappropriate;
they saw abortion as unthinkable; and they held public
officials to high moral and ethical standards. Nowadays,
most of the behavior society once deemed immoral is
defended as an inalienable civil right.
How times and the culture have changed! The strong
Christian influence and scriptural standards that shaped
Western culture and American society through the end of
the nineteenth century have given way to practical atheism
and moral relativism. The few vestiges of Christianity in
our culture are at best weak and compromising, and to an
increasingly pagan society they are cultic and bizarre.
In less than fifty years’ time, our nation’s political leaders,
legislative bodies, and courts have adopted a distinctly anti-
Christian attitude and agenda. The country has swept away
the Christian worldview and its principles in the name of
equal rights, political correctness, tolerance, and strict
separation of church and state. Gross immorality—including
homosexuality, abortion, pornography, and other evils—has
been sanctioned not only by society in general but in effect
by the government as well. A portion of our tax dollars are
now used to fund programs and government agencies that
actively engage in blatant advocacy of various immoral
What are Christians to do about it?
Many think this is a political problem that will not be solved
without a political strategy. During the past twenty-five
years, well-meaning Christians have founded a number of
evangelical activist organizations and sunk millions of
dollars into them in an effort to use the apparatus of
politics—lobbying, legislation, demonstration, and boycott—
to counteract the moral decline of American culture. They
pour their energy and other resources into efforts to drum
up a “Christian” political movement that will fight back
against the prevailing anti-Christian culture.
But is that a proper perspective? I believe not. America’s
moral decline is a spiritual problem, not a political one, and
its solution is the gospel, not partisan politics.
LESSONS FROM HISTORY
This is a lesson evangelicals ought to know from church
history. Whenever the church has focused on evangelism
and preaching the gospel, her influence has increased.
When she has sought power by political, cultural, or
military activism, she has damaged or spoiled her
The Crusades during the Middle Ages were waged for the
purpose of regaining Christian control of the Holy Lands.
Few believers today would argue that those efforts were
fruitful. Even when the crusaders enjoyed military success,
the church grew spiritually weaker and more worldly. Other
religious wars and campaigns tinged with political
motivation (such as the Thirty Years’ War in Europe,
Cromwell’s revolution in England, and other skirmishes
during the Reformation era) are all viewed with disapproval,
or at best curiosity, by Christians today. And rightly so.
The military and political ambitions of some of the
Reformers turned out to be a weakness, and ultimately an
impediment to the Reformation. On the other hand, the
strength of the Reformation, and its enduring legacy, was
derived from the fact that Reformation theology shone a
bright spotlight on the way of salvation and brought clarity
to the gospel.
Throughout Protestant history, those segments of the
visible church that have turned their attention to social and
political issues have also compromised sound doctrine and
quickly declined in influence. Early modernists, for
example, explicitly argued that social work and moral
reform were more important than doctrinal precision, and
their movement soon abandoned any semblance of
Today’s evangelical political activists seem to be unaware
of how much their methodology parallels that of liberal
Christians at the start of the twentieth century. Like those
misguided idealists, contemporary evangelicals have
become enamored with temporal issues at the expense of
eternal values. Evangelical activists in essence are simply
preaching a politically conservative version of the old social
gospel, emphasizing social and cultural concerns above
That kind of thinking fosters the view that government is
either our ally (if it supports our special agenda) or our
enemy (if it remains opposed or unresponsive to our voice).
The political strategy becomes the focus of everything, as
if the spiritual fortunes of God’s people rise or fall
depending on who is in office. But the truth is that no
human government can ultimately do anything either to
advance or to thwart God’s kingdom. And the worst, most
despotic worldly government in the end cannot halt the
power of the Holy Spirit or the spread of God’s Word.
To gain a thoroughly biblical and Christian perspective on
political involvement, we should take to heart the words of
the British theologian Robert L. Ottley, delivered at Oxford
University more than one hundred years ago:
The Old Testament may be studied. . .as an instructor in
social righteousness. It exhibits the moral government of
God as attested in his dealings with nations rather than
with individuals; and it was their consciousness of the
action and presence of God in history that made the
prophets preachers, not merely to their countrymen, but
to the world at large. . . .There is indeed significance in
the fact that in spite of their ardent zeal for social reform
they did not as a rule take part in political life or demand
political reforms. They desired. . .not better institutions
but better men. (Aspects of the Old Testament. The
Bampton Lectures, 1897 [London: Longmans, 1898],
LESSONS FROM SCRIPTURE
My point is not that Christians should remain totally
uninvolved in politics or civic activities and causes. They
ought to express their political beliefs in the voting booth,
and it is appropriate to support legitimate measures
designed to correct a glaring social or political wrong.
Complete noninvolvement would be contrary to what God’s
Word says about doing good in society: “Therefore, as we
have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those
who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10; cf. Titus
3:1-2). It would also display a lack of gratitude for whatever
amount of religious freedom the government allows us to
enjoy. Furthermore, such pious apathy toward government
and politics would reveal a lack of appreciation for the
many appropriate legal remedies believers in democracies
have for maintaining or improving the civil order. A certain
amount of healthy and balanced concern with current
trends in government and the community is acceptable, as
long as we realize that that interest is not vital to our
spiritual growth, our righteous testimony, or the
advancement of the kingdom of Christ. Above all, the
believer’s political involvement should never displace the
priority of preaching and teaching the gospel.
There is certainly no prohibition on believers being directly
involved in government as civil servants, as some notable
examples in the Old and New Testaments illustrate. Joseph
in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon are two excellent models of
servants God used in top governmental positions to further
His kingdom. The centurion’s servant (Matt. 8:5-13),
Zaccheus the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10), and Cornelius
the centurion (Acts 10) all continued in public service even
after they experienced the healing or saving power of
Christ. (As far as we know, the Roman proconsul Sergius
Paulus also remained in office after he was converted [Acts
The issue again is one of priority. The greatest temporal
good we can accomplish through political involvement
cannot compare to what the Lord can accomplish through
us in the eternal work of His kingdom. Just as God called
ancient Israel (Ex. 19:6), He has called the church to be a
kingdom of priests, not a kingdom of political activists. The
apostle Peter instructs us, “But you are a chosen
generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own
special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him
who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1
Jesus, as we would expect, perfectly maintained His
Father’s perspective on these matters even though He
lived in a society that was every bit as pagan and corrupt
as today’s culture. In many ways it was much worse than
any of us in Western nations has ever faced. Cruel tyrants
and dictators ruled throughout the region, the institution of
slavery was firmly entrenched—everything was the
antithesis of democracy. King Herod, the Idumean vassal
of Rome who ruled Samaria and Judea, epitomized the
godless kind of autocratic rule: “Then Herod, when he saw
that he was deceived by the wise men [concerning the
whereabouts of the baby Jesus], was exceedingly angry;
and he sent forth and put to death all the male children
who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two
years old and under” (Matt. 2:16).
Few of us have experienced the sort of economic and legal
oppression that the Romans applied to the Jews of Jesus’
day. Tax rates were exorbitant and additional government-
sanctioned abuses by the tax collectors exacerbated the
financial burden on the people. The Jews in Palestine were
afforded almost no civil rights and were treated as an
underprivileged minority that could not make an appeal
against legal injustices. As a result, some Jews were in
constant outward rebellion against Rome.
Fanatical nationalists, known as Zealots, ignored their tax
obligations and violently opposed the government. They
believed that even recognizing a Gentile ruler was wrong
(see Deuteronomy 17:15, “You may not set a foreigner over
you, who is not your brother”). Many Zealots became
assassins, performing acts of terrorism and violence
against both the Romans and other Jews whom they
viewed as traitors.
It is also true that the Roman social system was built on
slavery. The reality of serious abuses of slaves is part of
the historical record. Yet neither Jesus nor any of the
apostles attempted to abolish slavery. Instead, they
commanded slaves to be obedient and used slavery as a
metaphor for believers who were to submit to their Lord
Jesus’ earthly ministry took place right in the midst of that
difficult social and political atmosphere. Many of His
followers, including the Twelve, to varying degrees
expected Him to free them from Rome’s oppressive rule.
But our Lord did not come as a political deliverer or social
reformer. He never issued a call for such changes, even by
peaceful means. Unlike many late twentieth-century
evangelicals, Jesus did not rally supporters to some
grandiose attempt to “capture the culture” for biblical
morality or greater political and religious freedoms.
Christ, however, was not devoid of care and concern for
the daily pain and hardships people endured in their
personal lives. The Gospels record His great empathy and
compassion for sinners. He applied those attitudes in a
tangible, practical way by healing thousands of people of
every kind of disease and affliction, often at great personal
sacrifice to Himself.
Still, as beneficial and appreciated as His ministry to
others’ physical needs was, it was not Jesus’ first priority.
His divine calling was to speak to the hearts and souls of
individual men and women. He proclaimed the good news
of redemption that could reconcile them to the Father and
grant them eternal life. That message far surpasses any
agenda for political, social, or economic reform that can
preoccupy us. Christ did not come to promote some new
social agenda or establish a new moral order. He did come
to establish a new spiritual order, the body of believers
from throughout the ages that constitutes His church. He
did not come to earth to make the old creation moral
through social and governmental reform, but to make new
creatures holy through the saving power of the gospel and
the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. And our Lord and
Savior has commanded us to continue His ministry, with
His supreme priorities in view, with the goal that we might
advance His kingdom: “All authority has been given to Me in
heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all
the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and
of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe
all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with
you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).
In the truest sense, the moral, social, and political state of
a people is irrelevant to the advance of the gospel. Jesus
said that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36).
THE REAL BATTLE
We can’t protect or expand the cause of Christ by human
political and social activism, no matter how great or
sincere the efforts. Ours is a spiritual battle waged against
worldly ideologies and dogmas arrayed against God, and we
achieve victory over them only with the weapon of
Scripture. The apostle Paul writes: “For though we walk in
the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the
weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God
for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and
every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of
God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience
of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
We must reject all that is ungodly and false and never
compromise God’s standards of righteousness. We can do
that in part by desiring the improvement of society’s moral
standards and by approving of measures that would
conform government more toward righteousness. We do
grieve over the rampant indecency, vulgarity, lack of
courtesy and respect for others, deceitfulness, self-
indulgent materialism, and violence that is corroding
society. But in our efforts to support what is good and
wholesome, reject what is evil and corrupt, and make a
profoundly positive impact on our culture, we must use
God’s methods and maintain scriptural priorities.
God is not calling us to wage a culture war that would seek
to transform our countries into “Christian nations.” To
devote all, or even most, of our time, energy, money, and
strategy to putting a façade of morality on the world or
over our governmental and political institutions is to badly
misunderstand our roles as Christians in a spiritually lost
God has above all else called the church to bring sinful
people to salvation through Jesus Christ. Even as the
apostle Paul described his mission to unbelievers, so it is
the primary task of all Christians to reach out to the lost
“to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to
light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may
receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those
who are sanctified by faith in Me [Christ]” (Acts 26:18; cf.
Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9). If we do not evangelize the lost and
make disciples of new converts, nothing else we do for
people—no matter how beneficial it seems—is of any
eternal consequence. Whether a person is an atheist or a
theist, a criminal or a model citizen, sexually promiscuous
and perverse or strictly moral and virtuous, a greedy
materialist or a gracious philanthropist—if he does not have
a saving relationship to Christ, he is going to hell. It makes
no difference if an unsaved person is for or against
abortion, a political liberal or a conservative, a prostitute or
a police officer, he will spend eternity apart from God
unless he repents and believes the gospel.
When the church takes a stance that emphasizes political
activism and social moralizing, it always diverts energy and
resources away from evangelization. Such an antagonistic
position toward the established secular culture invariably
leads believers to feel hostile not only to unsaved
government leaders with whom they disagree, but also
antagonistic toward the unsaved residents of that culture—
neighbors and fellow citizens they ought to love, pray for,
and share the gospel with. To me it is unthinkable that we
become enemies of the very people we seek to win to
Christ, our potential brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Author John Seel pens words that apply in principle to
Christians everywhere and summarize well the believer’s
perspective on political involvement:
A politicized faith not only blurs our priorities, but
weakens our loyalties. Our primary citizenship is not on
earth but in heaven. … Though few evangelicals would
deny this truth in theory, the language of our spiritual
citizenship frequently gets wrapped in the red, white and
blue. Rather than acting as resident aliens of a heavenly
kingdom, too often we sound [and act] like resident
apologists for a Christian America. … Unless we reject the
false reliance on the illusion of Christian America,
evangelicalism will continue to distort the gospel and
thwart a genuine biblical identity…..
American evangelicalism is now covered by layers and
layers of historically shaped attitudes that obscure our
original biblical core. (The Evangelical Pulpit [Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1993], 106-7)
By means of faithful preaching and godly living, believers
are to be the conscience of whatever nation they reside in.
You can confront the culture not with the political and
social activism of man’s wisdom, but with the spiritual
power of God’s Word. Using temporal methods to promote
legislative and judicial change, and resorting to external
efforts of lobbying and intimidation to achieve some sort of
“Christian morality” in society is not our calling—and has no
eternal value. Only the gospel rescues sinners from sin,
death, and hell.
Saturday, June 27, 2015
by John MacArthur
Thursday, April 2, 2015
[This is yet another one of my occasional serieses. In this, I write for our readers who are yoots, for their own benefit; or for parents, to share with their yoots. It'll also work for pastors, especially yoot pastors. Previous examples include A word to Christian yoots, and Why God gave you parents, etc.]
Coarse but pointed joke-that-you've-all-heard-anyway alert in 3... 2... 1....
So this iconic guy's talking with an iconic girl, and asks whether she'd be willing to engage in carnal acts for $1 million.And now, a moment's pause while Pyro readers wonder where this could possibly be going. Play the overture from Handel's Messiah in your head. Daaaa.... da-daaaa....
She considers, shrugs, says, "For a million dollars? I guess."
"Would you do it for $5?" he follows up.
She is shocked, and deeply offended. "What do you think I am?" she rages.
His classic retort: "Oh, we've already established what you are. Now we're just haggling over price."
Now, why is that joke funny to most folks? It's funny because of the surprising clash. In the punch-line, the woman is deeply offended, because she wants to say that her virtue is precious, and he's cheapening it with his $5 suggestion. But the man counters that he already knows her virtue not to be beyond price to her. She can be bought. What she says now is one thing; what she has already said, another.
So you, unmarried Christian reader, start dating an unbeliever. What are you saying?
"What?!" you splutter. "We haven't had sex!"
This isn't about sex. I'm asking what you're saying, what message your choice is communicating.
To whatever degree you're concerned at all about this person's soul, you're trying to tell her/him about Christ, right? You're trying to tell this person that Christ is the One in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17), the source and reason for all the universe (Colossians 1:16), the most important celebrity anywhere, ever (Philippians 2:9-11). You want to persuade him that Christ is Lord of all. And you want him/her to believe that Jesus is all these things, and that He is all these things to you.
But you've already told him that Christ isn't all that. You're just haggling over price.
(Or am I assuming too much? Are there some who are not even concerned whether the people they date are or are not saved? In such cases, the kindest I can say is that such are clueless, loveless, and faithless, and they really need to reconsider the big question, for themselves.)
Let me approach the issue another way.
Would you date a child molestor? Oh, of course not. Instant deal-breaker. Thief, murderer? No and no. Rapist? Never. Those are really bad things.
But not as bad as being an enemy of God (Proverbs 15:9; Ephesians 2:3)? I think we have some seriously skewed priorities.
See, if you are in a dating relationship with someone who doesn't love Christ, you've already said the Christ-issue isn't the issue to you. Her looks, his job, the way she treats you, his sense of humor — whatever; these things matter more to you than Christ does.
You want this person to believe that he is a sinner, under God's wrath, and deserving His judgment. You want him to know that his righteous deeds are as filthy rags, that everything he can produce is not enough for God.
But you've already communicated, by your choice, that what he has is enough for you. That you and he share enough values, goals, aspirations, and affections to create (or even consider) an exclusive and intimate relationship.
See? You've already dealt a death-blow to your own credibility. You really might as well stop talking. Your priorities, your choices, have drowned out your words (cf. the principle of Titus 1:16).
I would think this would be clear-cut to any Biblically-instructed Christian, and am constantly surprised to find that it apparently isn't. But let's extend it a bit.
If someone can credibly check the "Christian"-box, are you all-done? All that remains is attractiveness and basic compatibility, then go buy the dress and rent the tux, chapel, preacherguy?
Well, yes and no. As far as a moral issue, yes. Since the Bible doesn't teach a third "will" of God, by which we (for instance) must discern mystically and ookily what one girl/guy in all the world is The Chosen One for us, basically we may morally marry any (A) available and (B) willing (C) Christian (D) of the opposite sex (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:39). (Sad I have to add all those qualifiers, but here we are.)
But what of wisdom? I heard somewhere it was the principle thing (Proverbs 4:7, CSB).
Here is where churches often depress me. I know of a ladies' group that considered studying The Excellent Wife, by Martha Peace. The idea was rejected, because they didn't want single women to "feel excluded."
My wife and I both thought, "Huh? They're exactly who should be studying this!" The single man/woman is exactly the person who should be looking long and hard at all that marriage entails, before making that next-to-unconditional commitment.
Consider this illustration:
What would you think of a man who spends his free time going from car dealer to car dealer, checking out luxury cars that he will never buy?
He takes them out on a long "test" drive. He floors the accelerator, he jams down the brakes. He swerves around sharp turns, cranks the stereo, kicks the tires, slams the doors, asks question after question about the engine, the wiring, the electronics. He talks to the mechanic. He makes the salesman invest much of his day, and then goes through the whole process of credit checks and dickering about price and bargaining...
...then airily says "Wow, that was fun! Thanks!"
Next day: rinse, and repeat. Another dealer, another car. Another hapless sales staff.
What would you think of a guy like that? Selfish lout, right? Cruel? Jerk? Immature, thoughtless, loveless, graceless, without compassion? World revolves around him? Other people are his toys?
I totally agree.
So what of the person who's dating someone (s)he knows (s)he has no business considering as a spouse?
Brother, you know Ephesians 5:25-33, 1 Peter 3:7, all that? You know that God will call you to love, cherish, serve, protect, and lead your wife. You know you will need to provide for her, honor her exclusively from your heart, and with your body. You will be obliged to lead her in holiness, guard her, lay down your very life for her. You know that a bad choice will have very rough consequences (Proverbs 12:4b; 21:9; 25:24; 27:15-16).
But what if the girl you're dating is vastly more mature than you, or vastly less? What if she is disrespectful, rebellious, and sees no need of a leader? What if she particularly does not respect you, is constantly correcting and bossing you? What if you absolutely dread the very thought of having to cross her will, to any degree? What if disagreements invariably become arguments, and go on and on? How could you put on her a yoke she so obviously is not ready to take? How could you subject your future children to such a household?
What, you never thought of that? Then what have you been thinking about?
Sister, stop nodding for a second. What of you? You know Ephesians 5:22-24, 1 Peter 3:1-7, and all that? You know, do you, that God calls you to respect your husband from your very heart, in the way you think and act? You know that, under God, your husband will be the human authority in your life? That you will be obliged before God to love him, respect him, subordinate yourself to him? That you will be his helper, called to aid him in fulfilling what God has called him to?
So what if the man you're dating does not have what it takes to lead you? What if you find yourself constantly telling him what to do? What if he knows God less well than you, because he knows the Bible less than you? What if he is not prepared to lead you on, because he hasn't even caught up with you yet? What if your spirit is independent, and the thought of subordinating yourself to this man is either unthinkable (because he is so unready), or barely tolerable (because he is so passive and pliable)?
In either case, how can you be so cruel as to lead this woman or man on, letting him or her give this portion of his life to you in exclusion to others, when you know you have no business considering a future with him or her?
Is that loving (Matthew 7:12)?
"But he's started reading his Bible now!" "She's started going to Bible Study!" Great. But know this: what is most telling about another person is what he or she is before taking any interest in you. That indicates her or his heart.
If deathbed conversions are "iffy," dating conversions are doubly so.
This long post could be even longer, but I'll (almost) close with a few summary questions.
Would you consider marrying someone who never, ever washed his body? Yuck! No way, right? What if (s)he never, ever had his heart and conscience washed (Hebrews 9:14; 10:22)? Evidently yes? Hmm.
Would you consider marrying someone who never listened to a word you said? No way. What if (s)he never listened to a word God said (Proverbs 28:4, 9; Romans 10:17)? Evidently yes? Hmm.
Would you let someone drive who didn't care much for traffic laws or signs? Not likely. But you'd consider marrying a man who has no Christian walk, or had none before he got interested in you? Or a woman who hasn't yet taken to heart what God says about her and her role? Evidently yes? Hmm.
And in neither case, if you'd not consider marrying, why date? Just a harmless test-drive?
REAL-LIVE FINAL THOUGHT: I know exactly what some readers will think. They will think, "Well, my (friend/relative) married an unbeliever, and later the Lord saved him, and that worked out great! So I'm just trusting God to save/mature/sanctify my unsaved/immature/rebellious little dew-drop!"
To that, two responses:
First, so if someone sins or does something stupid, and it works out all right, you should do the same? Dude. Seriously. Grow up.
Second, as long as we're trading stories, I've heard stories about people who've pointed real, live, actual, loaded guns straight at other people and pulled the trigger, and the gun jammed. Neat, huh? So if God wants someone to live, he can jam a gun, right?
And if you loaded a pistol and went out to see who God wants to live, and who He wants to die... would that be a good thing?
Or stupid, bad, reckless, insane, and sinful?
Kid, life's not a game. Hasty decisions cast long shadows.
For every reason in this world and the next, wise up.
Last night I was speaking to a Christian Union meeting at our local university about dating and marriage. One of the perennial problems that many young people fall into is getting into relationships with non-Christians. I was exhorting these students to realise that going out with a non-Christian is not an option for the believer. Because dating is a stepping stone to marriage, what the Bible says about whom we may marry applies to whom we may date as well. 1 Corinthians 7.39: A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But even if someone refuses to accept that this command applies to pre-marriage relationships, at best it is incredibly foolish and unloving for a Christian to date a non-Christian. Here are a few points to reinforce this…
1. Dating a non-Christian is incredibly short-sighted. What happens if he doesn’t become a Christian? Even if you can persuade yourself that it is somehow OK to date an unbeliever, you can’t kid yourself that’s it’s OK to marry him/her unless you rip 1 Corinthians 7.39 out of the Bible. So at what point will you pull the plug on the relationship if the boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t become a Christian? After a month? After a year? When he proposes but still hasn’t become a Christian? You’re only storing up hurt for both of you. It’s an incredibly unloving, unkind thing to. What if he says, ‘OK then, I’ll become a Christian.’ How do you know he means it? How does he know he means it? It’s really tantamount to emotional blackmail, because what you’re saying at the end of the day is, ‘If you don’t become a Christian, this relationship will have to end.’
2. Many young people fool themselves into thinking they will be a good witness to the one they’re dating, but if you are truly serious about seeing that person come to Christ, then going out with them is probably about the worst thing you can possibly do. For one thing, you’re teaching them that obeying God’s word carefully and comprehensively isn’t all that important if it gets in the way of something you want to do. But inevitably it is going to confuse their motives—it’s going to be hard for them to separate their interest in the gospel from their interest in you. In most cases this is just a pious-sounding excuse Christians use to ease their conscience as they do what they want to do. God may graciously bring that unbeliever to himself, but it will be in spite of your presumption rather than because of it.
3. Almost invariably what happens in practice is that the Christian is led astray by the relationship. Their zeal and enthusiasm evaporate. It’s hard enough for our young people to keep themselves sexually pure while going out with another Christian who is committed to honouring God with their body before marriage; with a non-Christian this is going to be much more difficult.
4. Beginning a relationship with a non-Christian betrays a failure to realise how utterly different a Christian is from a non-Christian. When two people decide to start a relationship, it’s normally because they share the same values and worldview. But you can’t get two more profoundly different people than a believer and an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6.14-7.1). All the things you have in common are purely superficial and can’t possibly compensate for the huge gulf between you spiritually. Think about it like this. Could you go out with someone who really doesn’t like your family? (This illustration assumes that you like your family!). They might be very polite about it—it’s not that they go around cursing your family up and down, they just don’t want anything to do with them. They don’t ever want to meet them or spend time with them. They don’t really like you seeing them. They don’t want you to talk about them (‘Look, if you want to like your family that’s OK for you, but don’t try to shove them down my throat!’). Could you ever realistically consider marrying someone who thought like that? Why would you even start a relationship with someone who thought like that—who despises these people who are so precious and important to you? Would all the other things you have in common with this person outweigh the fact that they hate your family? Well, if you wouldn’t consider dating someone who didn’t like your earthly family, how much less should you think of dating someone who despises your heavenly Father who matters far more to you even than your family here?
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Every Christian I know has had the experience of coming up against the same sin—again—and wondering, “Will this struggle ever end? Why doesn’t God just remove this?” (If you haven’t had that experience, just give it time.) This seems to be a frustration common to all believers, and not just with sin, either. When we experience any prolonged suffering or pain or discomfort, we have to ask, Why?
This isn’t the question of a skeptic trying to prove that God doesn’t exist—the famous apologetic “problem of evil.” No, this is the personal question of a believer trying to discern what in the world God is doing with the continued struggles in his life. It is the question of someone who reads, “For those who love God, all things work together for good,” and trying to reconcile that theological truth with her present circumstances.
One of the most surprising insights into this question comes from Judges 3. Tucked in between the stories of Othniel and Ehud is a statement that most Christians skip right over. But if we took this truth to heart, we’d have a renewed courage to face our struggles: “Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.” (Judges 3:1-2)
Why did God leave struggles for his people, Israel? Israel’s struggle was tangible and obvious: it came in the form of enemy nations and their armies. So why didn’t God drive them out?
In one sense, as the book of Judges pounds into our heads over and over, the enemy nations are there because Israel didn’t believe God enough to drive them out. But that’s not what Judges 3 says. No, here we see that God left them there to test Israel so that they might learn to fight wars.
God wanted to give Israel the land of Canaan. But apparently, he wanted to do it through struggle. So he continued to test them, to see if they would believe him, to teach them to trust him in their fight. He does the same with us, though (as Paul reminds us) our battle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against spiritual powers. Why doesn’t God remove our struggles when we become Christians? Because he wants us to keep relying on his grace, not on our flesh. As Paul said, some of the weaknesses and trials in our lives are there—by design—to keep us humble.
What this means is that sometimes God allows us to struggle with a lesser sin to keep us from a greater one—pride. Because if you or I were immediately cured from certain sins, we’d become insufferably proud. I know that God has done that with me, specifically in my marriage. The first couple years of my marriage were a struggle for both my wife and me. We had a lot of junk that needed to be exposed. But when I look back, I’m thankful for that time, because it keeps me from becoming self-righteous when I look at problems other people have in their marriages. Struggle is a constant way of driving the proverb, “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” into our hearts.
John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace,” understood this from experience as well. He grew frustrated by the continued sin in his life, until it dawned on him that any remaining sin kept him in desperate need of grace: “The riches of his mercy,” he said, “are more illustrated by the multiplied pardons he bestows upon me, than if I needed no forgiveness at all.”
The persistence of pain in our lives—especially the pain of battling against sin—shouldn’t make us complacent. God didn’t leave the Canaanites so that Israel would eventually get comfortable with them being around. It was just the opposite: he left the Canaanites so that Israel would learn to fight.
So when you are tempted to despair because you continue to struggle, remember what God is doing through your circumstances. Look to Christ, whose resurrection guarantees victory. Look to Christ, who fought for you when you were his enemy. Look to Christ, the only Savior who can give you the strength to stand, and who will pick you up every time you fall. Look to Christ, and fight.
For more on this, be sure to listen to the entire message here.
Monday, February 16, 2015
1) Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and give her new clothes. Then she’s yours. (Deut. 21:11-13)Obviously, this list was written with humor in mind, and some of these "ways," are not prescriptive but descriptive of the sinful ways that God's people have conducted themselves in the past--they are in no way exemplary. But this does demonstrate an important point--people often want the Bible to say certain things, such as how to find a spouse and marry, but they ignore portions of Scripture that don't fit their paradigm. The Bible has more to say about arranged marriages, for example, than it does "courtship" or dating. So then, how do we proceed?
2) “Lay hold on” a virgin who is not betrothed to another man, and "know" her, but afterwards pay her father a sum of money. Then she’s yours. (Deut. 22:28-29)
3) Find a prostitute and marry her. (Hosea 1:1-3)
4) Find a man with seven daughters, and impress him by watering his flock.--Moses (Ex. 2:16-21)
5) Purchase a piece of property, and get a woman as part of the deal.--Boaz (Ruth 4:5-10)
6) Go to a party and hide. When the women come out to dance, grab one and carry her off to be your wife.--Benjaminites (Judges 21:19-25)
7) Have God create a wife for you while you sleep. Note: this will cost you a rib.--Adam (Gen. 2:19-24)
8) Agree to work seven years in exchange for a woman’s hand in marriage. Get tricked into marrying the wrong woman. Then work another seven years for the woman you wanted to marry in the first place. That’s right. Fourteen years of toil for a wife.--Jacob (Gen. 29:15-30)
9) Cut 200 foreskins off of your future father-in-law’s enemies and get his daughter for a wife.--David (1 Sam. 18:27)
10) Even if no one is out there, just wander around a bit and you’ll definitely find someone.--Cain (Gen. 4:16-17)
11) Become the emperor of a huge nation and hold a beauty contest.--Xerxes or Ahasuerus (Esther 2:3-4)
12) When you see someone you like, go home and tell your parents, “I have seen a woman; now get her for me.” If your parents question your decision, simply say, “Get her for me. She’s the one for me.”--Samson (Judges 14:1-3)
13) Kill any husband and take HIS wife. (Prepare to lose four sons though.)--David (2 Sam. 11)
14) Wait for your brother to die. Take his widow. (It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law!)--Onan and Boaz (Deut. or Lev., example in Ruth)
15) Don’t be so picky. Make up for quality with quantity.--Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-3)
16) A wife?--Paul (1st Corinthians, chapter 7)
We have to realize that the Bible does not speak to every issue we will face in life. Just ask Solomon, who had to use wisdom when the two prostitutes came to him claiming to both be the mother of one child. We must follow those things that God has given us. In all of our relationships we have the obligation to exercise the fruit of the Spirit and not mistreat anyone, that is especially true for a prospective spouse. We also have the clear biblical command that a Christian is free to marry whomever he or she chooses, so long as the prospective mate is "in the Lord" (1 Cor. 7.39). But in the end, choosing a spouse calls for wisdom.
The Bible does not give us a specific means by which we can find spouses. Some might be introduced by family or friends. Some might cultivate a letter-writing relationship (or as we might more commonly find it, e-mail, or some form of social media). In some cultures the thought of dating or courting is out of the question. I once walked in on one of my office mates in grad school--he was a Christian training for the ministry in Japan. He was intently reading a file; it looked like a personnel file. Out of curiousity I asked him what he was reading. He told me it was a file on a young woman that his father had sent him. His family, sight unseen (except for a few photos in the file) was arranging his marriage. I was stunned, but nevetheless made aware that godly Christians don't all do things the same way. I.e., just because it's American and Christians do it doesn't mean its biblical or the only way.
The greater doctrinal point here is that in the pursuit of finding a spouse, we must be mindful two things: (1) that we are mindful of God's revealed will in the moral law--we should not violate it in word, thought, or deed; and (2) Christian liberty--where God has spoken, we are bound, but where he has not spoken we are free. We are not bound by the commandments of men. This means that godly Christians may differ in how they live their lives, but it doesn't mean that one is holier than another because she dates and doesn't court.
We should also note that in its collective history, the church has never addressed the issue in its creeds or confessions about how to find a spouse. Perhaps this should tell us that it is a matter of Christian liberty and that in the end, we should rely on God's grace, wisdom, prayer, and godly counsel rather than make claims that the Bible has never made.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Saturday, January 3, 2015
Friday, December 19, 2014
That first Christmas, earth was oblivious to the significance of a simple birth in a quiet town. But heaven wasn’t. The holy angels waited in anticipation to break forth in praise and worship and adoration at the birth of the newborn Christ. This Child’s birth meant deliverance for mankind. The angel told Joseph: “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Unlike Isaac, who ascended the mountain unaware he was to be the sacrifice, Jesus descended from heaven in full awareness of what the Father had in store for Him. Scripture records for us what may have been a farewell message Jesus gave just prior to His incarnation.
When He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.” Then I said, “Behold, I have come . . . to do Your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:5-7)That passage of Scripture gives us a remarkable look at the heart of the Savior before His birth. He knew He was entering the world to be the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin. His body had been divinely prepared by God specifically for that purpose. Jesus was going to die for the sins of the world, and He knew it. Moreover, He was doing it willingly. That was the whole point of the incarnation.
The important issue of Christmas is not so much that Jesus came, but why He came. There was no salvation in His birth. Nor did the sinless way He lived His life have any redemptive force of its own. His example, as flawless as it was, could not rescue men from their sins. Even His teaching, the greatest truth ever revealed to man, could not save us from our sins. There was a price to be paid for our sins. Someone had to die. Only Jesus could do it.
Jesus came to earth, of course, to reveal God to mankind. He came to teach truth. He came to fulfill the Law. He came to offer His kingdom. He came to show us how to live. He came to reveal God’s love. He came to bring peace. He came to heal the sick. He came to minister to the needy.
But all those reasons are incidental to His ultimate purpose. He could have done them all without being born as a human. He could have simply appeared—like the angel of the Lord often did in the Old Testament—and accomplished everything in the list above, without actually becoming a man. But He had one more reason for coming: He came to die.
Here’s a side to the Christmas story that isn’t often told: Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day stagger up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant’s head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear.
Jesus was born to die.
Don’t think I’m trying to put a damper on your Christmas spirit. Far from it—for Jesus’ death, though devised and carried out by men with evil intentions, was in no sense a tragedy. In fact, it represents the greatest victory over evil anyone has ever accomplished.
The author of Hebrews illustrates how the full story of His birth includes His sacrificial death:
But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. . . . Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:9-10, 14-15)It’s appropriate to commemorate the birth of Christ. But don’t make the mistake of leaving Him as a baby in a manger. Keep in mind that His birth was just the first step in God’s glorious plan of redemption. Remember that it’s the triumph of Christ’s sacrificial death that gives meaning to His humble birth. You can’t truly celebrate one without the other.
(Adapted from The Miracle of Christmas.)
Friday, December 12, 2014
– John 1:14 -
That’s a weird way to talk, isn’t it? Especially since we don’t have any Scripture that tells us that Jesus actually pitched any literal tent during his time on Earth. Why say it this way? He’s got at least two other words that he could use here. But John uses this particular word because he wants his readers—who would be familiar with the history of Israel—to recall the tabernacle, the tent of meeting (Ex 27:21), where God met with the Israelites in the Old Testament.
The tabernacle itself was covered over by a tent, which is why the early form of it is called the “tent of meeting.” It was 15 feet wide, 15 feet high, and 45 feet long. The entrance was covered by a curtain or a veil made with fine linen and costly dyes. When a priest entered the tabernacle they were first in the holy place. This was a 30 x 15 x 15 foot room that contained the table that held the Bread of the Presence (Ex 25:23-30), the lampstand (Ex 25:31-40), and the altar of incense (Ex 30:1-5; 37:25-29), all covered in pure gold. Beyond that room was the holy of holies—a 15-foot cube containing nothing but the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25:10-25; 37:1-9).
So that’s the physical tabernacle. But in Exodus 29 we learn something of its significance. There, God is speaking about what the tabernacle will be to the sons of Israel:
- Exodus 29:42 – A place of meeting
- Exodus 29:42 – A place of revelation
- Exodus 29:43 – A place of consecration and sanctification
- Exodus 29:44 – A place of propitiation
- And Exodus 29:45-46 gives the significance of God dwelling among
His people. He says that the very reason He brought them out of Egypt
was so that He would dwell with them. This tabernacle is a big deal.
In chapter 33, we learn a bit more. Verse 7 says that everyone who sought Yahweh came here. This was the place where Israel could have fellowship and communion with their God. And verse 8 says that when Moses would go into the tent, everyone would gaze after him. They would just drop everything. “Hey! Moses is going into the tent of meeting!” They were in awe.
And rightfully so! Verse 9 says that whenever he went in, a pillar of cloud would descend. (What a sight this had to be!) So again we see that this was a place of condescension. Further, the text tells us Yahweh would speak with Moses. That’s revelation again, God speaking to His people. Verse 10 tells us that all the people would worship when they saw the glory of Yahweh revealed in the cloud. So again we see that this was a place of worship. And finally, we’re told that Yahweh would speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. And so this is a place of intimate fellowship.
Finally, in Exodus 40, we have the climax of this story. Everything that Israel has heard up until now has been what the tabernacle would be when it was completed. In chapter 40, construction is finished, and with all Israel watching, God’s glory fills the tabernacle:
“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle” (Ex 40:34-35).
Now Yahweh descends upon His dwelling place, upon His tabernacle. The glory descends in such a way that not even Moses—who had gone into the cloud before, who had seen Yahweh’s glory—could enter into the tent! What an amazing scene! This is God declaring: “I am with My people! I now dwell among them!”
And “throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of Yahweh was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel” (Ex 40:36-38).Christmas: The Word Pitches His Tent Among Us
And so when the Apostle John uses that peculiar word, when he tells his readers the incarnate Word dwelt among them, he is calling our attention here. John is telling us that the way Yahweh descended and dwelt among His people in the Tabernacle,—and spoke with them in communion and revealed Himself for worship—that very same thing is happening in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, the glory of Yahweh is descending and is pitching His tent to dwell among His people!
As we approach the Christmas season, and as you prepare your hearts to praise God for the gift of the incarnation, let this cause you to worship. Be moved to awe and adoration by the fact that the Word—the Eternal God Himself, the agent of the creation of all things, the life and the Light of the world—this Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.