29 Nov

The Gospel & the Culture Against Marriage

Is marriage in deep trouble here in America?  Al Mohler thinks so and has written a thought-provoking article on the state of marriage in the United States.  In case you don’t know him, Mohler is the president of the SBC’s flagship seminary, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He’s also a frequent speaker, author, and convention leader.  In my opinion, he’s also the leading Evangelical cultural commentator, and with this article on the state of marriage in America, he points us toward some very troubling trends that should cause us to step up and take notice.  He writes:

And the demographics? Brace yourselves. In 1960, 70 percent of all American adults were married. Now, that number is just over half. Eight times as many children are born out of wedlock as compared to that same year. In the 1960s, two-thirds of all young adults in their twenties were married. Now, only 26 percent of twenty-somethings are married.

Statistics can inform or misinform, and it is possible to find statistical support that puts a happier face on the health of marriage. But in order to find these happier statistics, it is necessary to redefine the question. For example, some marriage defenders will assert, accurately, that most Americans will at some point be married. But that fact lowers the question of marriage to the minimalist level of “at some point.” By any honest measure, marriage is in big trouble.

When Belinda Luscombe argues that marriage is “in purely practical terms just not as necessary as it used to be,” she has a rationale to back up her argument. “Neither men nor women need to be married to have sex or companionship or professional success or respect or even children.” All that is true — when marriage is viewed on the canvas of American culture. Marriage no longer regulates sex. The Sexual Revolution severed sex from marriage in a social sense, and the arrival of The Pill offered a pharmaceutical means of severing sex from reproduction. No-fault divorce arrived as a legal accommodation to marital impermanence, effectively redefining both marital and family law in the process. Social status and professional expectations were liberated from the question of marriage, and many feminists declared that marriage itself was an impediment to the full liberation of women.

And yet, Luscombe ends her argument about the “not as necessary as it used to be” status of marriage with these words — “yet marriage remains revered and desired.” Really? Well, that all depends on how you define reverence and desire.

TIME reports that 40 percent of Americans believe that marriage is now obsolete, up from 28 percent in 1978. Cohabitation is now the norm for American adults — not just before marriage, but increasingly instead of marriage. And American cohabitation is an exceedingly weak arrangement. As Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University explains, Americans “have the shortest cohabiting relationships of any wealthy country in the world.” Less than half of all Americans believe that cohabitation is morally wrong.

Divorce is now an institutionalized part of American life, complete now with an industry putting out divorce announcements, greeting cards, and party plans. The American divorce rate, though now somewhat stable, is so disastrously high that even social scientists are shocked. As Professor Cherlin remarked: “One statistic I saw when writing my book that floored me was that a child living together with unmarried parents in Sweden has a lower chance that his family will disrupt than does a child living with married parents in the U.S.”

These statistics are absolutely shocking!  Now, only 26% of twenty-somethings are married.  Can this be?  Of course, this statistic fuels the rate of children being born out of wedlock because although marriage is being delayed, sex isn’t.  Cohabitation is becoming way more regular and actually replacing marriage.  And divorce party plans?  {sighhhhh}

What we see is a culture concerning the family that is tragically unbiblical.  We as the church of Jesus Christ, now more than ever, need to stand up.  However, the ultimate answer I believe is not found in the plans of groups like the Moral Majority.  Although I deeply respect their heart and believe that their cause was worthy, at this rate, we will be in the not too distant future the moral minority.  Furthermore, we will not change people’s minds through legislation.  Yes, we can restrain evil, but we cannot transform hearts.  That only happens through hearing of the gospel and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit leading to faith.  The gospel is the ultimate answer.  Therefore, if we want to see these trends curtailed, the church must once again be mobilized as a domestic missionary force.  We as Christians talk about evangelizing a lot, particularly we Southern Baptists, but are we actually doing it?  I feel safe in saying that we are not.

No, redeeming our culture is not our primary goal for the world.  You see, our increasingly godless culture is merely a symptom of mankind’s sinful rebellion against God.  The culture will be redeemed when people come to faith and submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, evangelization is our primary goal for the world.  The culture then will begin to correct itself as it comes under the authority of God’s Word.  May these statistics sharpen our resolve to take Jesus to the lost so that they may believe and have abundant life in this life and the life to come!

You can read Mohler’s complete article here.

23 Nov

Rejoice with Thankfulness in Truth

This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for many things, but certainly I’m thankful truth.  No doubt, truth is on the slide given the prevailing philosophies of our day, which mock truth and those that hold to it.  Today’s culture reportedly loves “spirituality” but hates truth.  However, Jesus has clearly said that there is direct relation between freedom and truth.  You see, there’s no freedom apart from truth.  Jesus said it this way, You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free, (John 8:32).  With truth comes freedom, and with freedom comes great joy.  Therefore, we should rejoice in and celebrate truth.  We should be eternally thankful for truth.

In Acts 17, Paul is in the city of Athens, Greece engaging people with the truth of the gospel.  Eventually, this activity lands him in front of the Areopagus, which was basically a court of ideas.  It was this very court that Socrates had stood before five centuries earlier.  The council wanted to hear this “strange new teaching” from Paul, and he gladly obliged.  In his monologue, he laid out for them five truths about God.  In light of the approach of Thanksgiving, I pray that these fives truths will cause you to rejoice in thankfulness.

Truth 1:  God is the maker and sustainer of everything
Paul says in Acts 17:24-25, The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.  This truth is incredibly unpopular today, but it’s one of the most basic premises to biblical truth, second only to the truth that God exists.  That’s why the very first verse of the Bible says, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). And this truth is affirmed time and again throughout the Bible:

  • Psalm 145:5-6, On the glorious splendor of Your majesty And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate. 6 Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, And I will tell of Your greatness.
  • Isaiah 40:28, Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.
  • Ephesians 3:9, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things
  • Colossians 1:16, For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.
  • Revelation 4:11, Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.

God created everything.  While our creativity is a reflection of the image of God in us, our creation of things is not like God’s.  We just rearrange stuff.  God made stuff!  That’s why God needs no earthly temple built with hands.  He made the stuff that we’d build the temple with, and even if we tried, our building couldn’t contain Him.

But God’s not only Creator, He’s also Sustainer.  Everything holds together and has life because God wills for it to.  Colossians 1:17 says of Jesus, He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. That’s why God isn’t served by human hands.  What can we do for Him that He cannot do for Himself?

One of the greatest truths of Scripture is that God doesn’t need us.  Praise God that God wants us, but He doesn’t need us.  Oh, some of us very well might think that we’re God’s gift to God, but He doesn’t need you; He doesn’t need me.  He’s the God of universe, and I am a speck.  The very fact that I even breathing right now is because He desires for me to.  He doesn’t need us for anything, but we need Him for everything

Therefore, rejoice with thankfulness in your benevolent Maker and Sustainer!

Truth 2:  God is sovereign over the nations and history
Paul continues in Acts 17:26, and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.  I’m sure that you all know well the song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”  Isn’t it good to know that the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present God rules over our world?  Amen, it sure is!

However, those attributes of might don’t tell the whole goodness.  In fact, those attributes would be terrible news if God was evil or hateful or stupid.  An all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present deity that is evil, hateful, and stupid is an absolute nightmare.  But praise God that our Ruler couples His power, knowledge, and presence with perfect wisdom, love, and righteousness.  He always does what is best, most-loving, and right.  He’s holy, holy, holy, and no darkness dwells in Him!

Therefore, we rejoice in His providence and oversight.  He’s determined when the nations will rise and when the nations will fall.  He’s determined the dates of our births and the dates of our deaths.  He’s determined our travels and locations.

I don’t know about you, but I trust God of the Bible.  I know that He has promised to work history for His glory and my good because I’m His child.  Therefore, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran rattle their sabers, when Kim Jong-il and North Korea throw out threats, when the Jihadists plot terror, we can rest knowing that God is still on the throne and that He will not abdicate, compromise, or suffer defeat.  He’s got the whole world in His hands and reigns supreme.

Rejoice with thankfulness that God is sovereign over the nations and history!

Truth 3:  God is the self-revelator
Paul tells us in Acts 17:27-29, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, “For we also are His children.” 29 Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.

God has graciously revealed Himself to us.  First, He’s done so through nature.  Psalm 19:1 tell us, The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. A person can study nature and see intelligence and design to the cosmos.  Nature screams that it was created.  In fact, given the overwhelming natural witness to God, I believe that a person has to work very hard to be an atheist.

Nevertheless, while nature declares marvelously that God is, the Bible says that natural revelation is just enough knowledge to condemn us.  It’s just enough to tell us that God is, but it’s not enough to tell us what this God demands of us.  Therefore, those who have only the revelation of nature, as Paul says, grope about in blindness.  Although God’s not far from them, they’ll never find Him.  People everywhere worship, but that’s why many people worship wrongly.  They worship the sun, the moon, and trees.  That’s why idols of gold, silver, and stone abound throughout history.  That’s why they jump into Islam and Scientology and all the other false religions.  Because we have been created by God, we have an innate religious aspect to our lives, but left to ourselves and the light of nature, we’ll never find the true God or please Him.

Therefore, we should praise God that He has revealed more to us through Scripture.  It’s there and there alone that we find out exactly who God is and what He requires of us.  As Paul told us in 2 Timothy 3:16, All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.  We sorely need the Bible, which is the self-revelation of God.

Rejoice with thankfulness that God is the self-revelator!

Truth 4:  God is the judge
Paul delivers some very important news to us in Acts 17:30-31, Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. God has been patient and overlooked a lot of things through the ages, but that time of overlooking is coming to a close.  The fullness of God’s revelation has come in the person of Jesus the Messiah/Christ, and God will soon come as judge over the earth.

For those who are in Christ, this news is a great cause for rejoicing.  We in Christ are saved from the wrath of God that’s coming on the world.  Our sins have been forgiven, and we’ve been set right with God.  The world in which we now live will be transformed.  The curse of Genesis 3 on the entire creation will be lifted, and paradise lost will become paradise restored and improved.  Sin will no longer be a reality or even a possibility, and God will make His dwelling place with mankind.  It will be sweet, to say the least.

But for those who are apart from Christ, this news of God as judge is a great cause for weeping.  You stand upon the precipice of everlasting judgment in hell without a chance before God based upon what you have done.  When you stand before God and hold your works up to Him as evidence that you should be let into heaven, you will be sorely disappointed.  You see, even your righteous works are as filthy rags without Jesus Christ.  Therefore, if you are apart from Christ, I beg you to weep and be sorrowful over your sin, and turn to Jesus so that you will be saved from the judgment to come.

Since God is a righteous judge, guilt and sin cannot go unpunished.  Therefore, you have only two options:  either you pay for your sins, or Jesus pays for your sins.  Christ died so all who will believe on Him have their sins paid for by Him.  Please believe on Christ because God the judge is coming.

We who are in the truth should rejoice with thankfulness that God is the judge.

Truth 5:  God still saves those who love the spiritual but hate the truth
Athens and particularly the Areopagus were full of people who loved spiritual things but hated the truth.  The same sort of people are around today in multitudes.  But I want you to notice what happened to a few of them in Acts 17:32-34, Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. Paul preached the gospel to these people, and God saved some of them, even Dionysius who was part of the Areopagus.  Friends, God is still in the business of saving those who hate truth.  I’m proof that!  Therefore, don’t you ever give up sharing the gospel and sell somebody short.  Don’t ever say, “They’re too hard.  They’re too old.  They’re too cold.”  The regenerating power of the gospel is able to penetrate the deadest heart on the planet.  I’ve seen it happen!  Share the gospel, watch what God does, and be amazed at His grace and power.

Rejoice in thankfulness that God still saves those who love the spiritual but hate the truth.

May this Thanksgiving be a special one for you and your family.  May it be filled with goodness, laughter, warmness, and fun.  May it be founded on the eternal hope that you have in the truth of our great God revealed in Jesus Christ!

Happy Thanksgiving from me and my family to yours!

16 Nov

Is God Against Interracial Marriage?

Sam had for some time had his eye on Monica.  She was stunningly beautiful and had the sort of personality that people gravitated toward.  She just made the people around her feel good with her cheerfulness and laughter.  They had worked together for some time now, and Sam had been trying for a few weeks to muster the courage to ask her out.  He had longed to be with a Christian girl like Monica because the Lord Jesus was so important to Sam.  Although Monica and he had talked several times, the moment just hadn’t been right to see if she was interested in going out.  Plus, Sam had a nagging question in his mind that he just wasn’t sure about.

At the same time, Monica looked forward to work every day because she knew that Sam would be there.  The way he smiled and conducted himself conveyed a sort of tender leadership that Monica looked for in a man.  She had commented to her friends several times about how handsome he was.  They would just giggle.  The word was that he was a Christian, which made him even more attractive to Monica, who loved the Lord Jesus Christ.   She wondered if Sam was ever going to ask her out.  However, despite all of that attraction, Monica had a nagging question in her mind that she just wasn’t sure about.

Little did they know, they were both wondering the same thing. You see, Sam was white, and Monica was black.  Sam had been told while growing up that white people should date only white people, and Monica was raised hearing that black people should date only black people.  If fact, they had even been told by their families that the Bible teaches that races shouldn’t mix.  Given their strong Christian faith, their upbringing, and their growing attraction to one another, they were both left somewhat confused.  Since they both wanted to please God above all, they had each been wondering:  what does the Bible say about interracial dating?

__________

While the scenario above is fictional, the sort of situation depicted is fairly common.  People who are of a different “races” go to school together, work together, and often live in the same communities.  Naturally, they are occasionally attracted to one another, which sometimes leads to dating, marriage, and children (hopefully in that order).  However, given the history and climate of “race relations” here in America, dating and marrying someone from another “race” is often seen as taboo.  While that reality is becoming more lax, there is still a certain tension in the culture that says, “Don’t do that.”

We who claim to be Christian are certainly shaped by our culture, but our culture is not to be our authority because a culture influenced by the depravity of man can be terribly misguided.  Therefore, our authority is the Scripture alone, and given that the Scripture is sufficient to answer life’s questions, to Scripture we’ll turn as I try to answer this question:  does the Bible prohibit interracial dating or marriage?

Race
Let me begin answering that question by saying that the category of “race” is a poor category.  That’s why I’ve put the word race in quotations thus far.  As one author says, “Believing in race is like believing in unicorns because neither race nor unicorns exist in reality,” (Thabiti Anyabwile, “Bearing the Image” in Proclaiming a Cross-centered Theology, p59).  In that chapter, Anyabwile works to convince us that we’ve been looking at the world with a completely unbiblical set of assumptions, namely the assumption of race.  In my opinion, he does a very good job of persuasion.  He argues that the idea of race, as it has been commonly used, causes division because it is rooted in biology.  In other words, the idea of race connotes that there’s a fundamental biological difference between those who are red and yellow, black and white.  It’s as if those of different colors are almost completely different kinds of being.

The situation of “race as biology” further degenerates when it’s coupled with the prevailing evolutionary thought.  One “race” is then thought to be superior others, further advanced in the evolution ladder.  Indeed, Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror was seriously fueled by evolutionary biological thought and eugenics.  However, long before Hitler did what he did, Americans were using essentially the same thought to rationalize slavery.  Therefore, it’s a short walk from the idea of race to racism.

Those that know and love the Bible should easily understand that this idea of race—that people of different skin colors are almost completely of different kinds of being—is patently false.  Every human ever conceived shares a common ancestry through Noah and his wife, and Adam and Eve.  We are certainly of the exact same kind of being, no matter what our outward features look like.  In the end, there is only one race, which is the human race.  That’s why Paul preached that God had made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, (Acts 17:26).

In light of this biblical truth, Anyabwile posits that we should, instead of thinking in the category of “race,” think in the category of “ethnicity.”  “Ethnicity,” he says, “is a fluid construct that includes language, nationality or citizenship, cultural patterns, and perhaps religion,” (p63).  It’s not rooted in biology manifested in skin color, hair texture, eye shape and color, or other obvious markers.  Yes, there are differences between peoples, but these differences are outward instead of inward.  Every person regardless of color bears the image of God.

It’s interesting that the King James Version of the Bible never uses the word “race” except to talk about a running competition.  My preferred translation, the New American Standard Bible, uses “race” five times to talk about a people:  Ezra 9:2, Zechariah 9:6Acts 7:19, James 3:7, and 1 Peter 2:9.  The James verse points to a single race, namely human, while the other four simply point to lineage or ancestry.  Therefore, the modern notion of “race” is absent from the Bible.  Therefore, it should be absent from our thinking as well.

So then, let us reframe the question:  does the Bible prohibit interethnic dating or marriage?

The Old Testament Witness
At first glance, it would certainly seem that God is against interethnic marriage because God prohibited the physical nation of Israel from marrying people of other ethnicities in the Old Testament.  For instance, God says the following to Israel:

  • Exodus 34:10-16, Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the LORD, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you. Be sure to observe what I am commanding you this day: behold, I am going to drive out the Amorite before you, and the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst. But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim—for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God—otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods.
  • Deuteronomy 7:1-4, When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.

In both instances, God indeed tells Israel to not mix in marriage with the ethnicities around them.  Jews were to marry Jews and have Jewish children.  The question is, “Why?”  Is it because God desires to keep people ethnically pure, or is it because God wants to keep people religiously pure?  Clearly, the answer from those passages is that God desires to keep the people of God religiously pure.  He was afraid that if the sons and daughters of Israel married interethnically, their pagan spouses would pull them away from the true faith.

As one might expect sinners to do, Israel disobeyed God and took on foreign, pagan wives, and they did indeed draw Israel away as God had warned.  This sad reality is best illustrated in King Solomon in 1 Kings 11:4, For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. Eventually, it led to great trouble for Israel.

Religious purity was also the motivation behind Ezra’s commandment to the Jews as they returned from Babylonian exile.  While in Babylon, some had married foreign wives and brought them back to Jerusalem.  Along with these foreign wives came pagan religion.  Therefore, Ezra tells the reestablishing nation the following:

  • Ezra 10:10-11, Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful and have married foreign wives adding to the guilt of Israel. Now therefore, make confession to the LORD God of your fathers and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”

It was the temptation and practice of pagan religion that had caused God to send Israel/Judah into captivity in the first place.  Therefore, Ezra desired to begin afresh with religious purity.  He wasn’t concerned with ethnic purity.

So in the end, God is actually prohibiting interreligious marriage.

The New Testament Witness
As we come to the New Testament, we really have more of the same teaching.  Just as God prohibited the physical nation of Israel from marrying outside of the faith in the Old Testament, God prohibits the spiritual nation of Israel, which is the church, from marrying outside of the faith in the New Testament.  In other words, just as Jews were to marry Jews and have Jewish children under the authority of the Old Testament, Christians are to marry Christians and have Christian children under the authority of the New Testament.

We see this truth clearly taught in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18:

  • Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty.

While God commands Christians to avoid partnerships of all sorts with non-Christians, this instruction certainly applies to marriage.  What greater partnership is there on earth than marriage?  Marriage is the only partnership that takes two people and makes them one in God’s eyes.  Therefore, we should heed this text foremost in marriage, and hence dating as well.  Some may read skin color into Paul’s reference about light and darkness, but that interpretation is grossly inaccurate.  Light represents godliness while darkness represents godlessness.  Christians should not marry non-Christians is what the Lord through Paul is communicating.

The same truth is taught in 1 Corinthians 7:39 as Paul taught widows concerning remarriage, A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. These widows were perfectly able to marry whomever they wanted, as long as their potential spouse was “in the Lord.”  In other words, “Ladies—and gentlemen for that matter—marry anybody you want as long as they’re a Christian.  It matters not whether they are red, yellow, black, or white as long as they follow Jesus.”

So once again, God does not prohibit interethnic marriage.  He prohibits interreligious marriage.  The summary of the Bible’s teaching on the question of whom should I date and marry might be best summarized in the graphic to the right:

Of cource, the answer is #3.  God is perfectly happy for a Christian to marry a Christian regardless of ethnicity and a non-Christian to marry a non-Christian regardless of ethnicity but detests for a Christian to marry a non-Christian.  Since dating is the pathway to marriage, the same truth goes for dating as well.

Wisdom Going into Interethnic Dating and Marriage
While you are perfectly able biblically to marry a person of another ethnicity, it is wise to realize that there will be ethnic differences which could be potential problems.  The greater the difference between the two ethnicities, the greater the potential for problems will exist.  Different cultures, and even subcultures, have different communication styles, expectations, and family dynamics.  All of these differences should be considered as you make the decision to marry interethnically.

Futhermore, I sadly say this, but one has to also consider the social stigma that comes with interethnic marriage in some locales due to racism.  You must prepare yourself for this reality.  It could be very hurtful at times.  People very well may say insensitive things to you, or even worse, to your children.  Unfortunately, it’s simply one of the side effects of living in a fallen world riddled with sin.  Nevertheless, God desires you to consider all of these things upfront so that your marriage is not wrecked along the way through the irreconcilable differences so many have experienced.

Conclusion
I long for the day when every vestige of racism is wiped off the face of the earth.  Even more, I long for the day when every hint of prejudice is erased from my own heart.  If what I have laid out for you is truly biblical and you have trouble accepting my teaching, may you beg God to change your heart.  He’s certainly changed mine drastically in this area.  Sadly, there are some Christian homes where the parents are more concerned about their children not marrying someone from another “race” than whether or not they are marrying a Christian.  That’s not the way it should be!

Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that his four little children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.  That’s my dream as well.  I believe we’re moving in that direction, but I also know that it will not be a complete reality until Christ returns, and sin is eradicated in the New Heaven and New Earth.  Until then, may we who are Christians carry on the faith by marrying Christians and together raising Christian children.

12 Nov

Observations Regarding the Shepherd and the Sheep

On October 20th, I had the privilege of delivering the doctrinal message at the Salem Baptist Association annual meeting.  Lonnie Wilkey, who’s the editor of our state Baptist newspaper “Baptist & Reflector,” was in attendance and later asked me to turn a section of my message into an article for the “B&R.”  The following is what I submitted to him.  The article was subsequently published in the November 10th Statewide & Convention editions of the paper.

How do you and your church treat your pastor?  That question is of great importance for the good of your congregation and the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

The biblical position typically called “pastor” is a vital church office for our congregations.  God, according to Ephesians 4:11-16, has called the man who holds this church office to equip the saints for ministry, build up the body in maturity, and protect the congregation from deceptive doctrine.  The primary way he is to go about doing this work, according to John 17:17 and 2 Timothy 4:1-2, is to faithfully and continuously preach the Word of God.

That’s what the pastor is to primarily do for the congregation and how he is to do it, but the question I want to focus on is:  how should the congregation respond to the pastor? Due to the awkwardness of your pastor having to say, “This is how you are to treat me,” many simply don’t address it.  However, it must be addressed for the health of our congregations and our faithfulness to the Bible.  Of course, many jokes have been told about how congregations treat their pastor, but it’s really no laughing matter.

The beginning of the answer to this question is found in the general teaching of how to treat all people, like the Golden Rule, but as we look at the New Testament, we see at least five specific ways in which congregations should respond to their pastor.

First, the congregation should respond with submission.  I know that word doesn’t usually set well with us and our culture, but we are to be a people of shaped by divine revelation.  Look at what Hebrews 13:17 clearly says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”  God has placed your pastor over you and your congregation for your own spiritual good, and you are to submit to his leadership.

So many pastors who are called by God and placed by God in ministry are trying to lead their congregation, but the congregation will not let them.  Perhaps there’s a segment of lay leadership in the congregation that is trying to lead the church instead of allowing the pastor to lead.  Is this happening in your congregation?  If it is, the Scripture in Hebrews says that this sort of thing is of no profit to you, but furthermore, I say that it grieves the Holy Spirit and hinders the growth of God’s kingdom.  Congregations, the Word of God says to submit to your pastors, and I pray that you will do so.

Second, the congregation should respond with trust.  Church member, let me put your mind at ease:  your pastor, if he is truly called of God, loves you and has your best interest in mind.  You can trust him.

Even more though, he doesn’t just love you and have your best interest in mind, he has a vested interest as well.  We just read in Hebrews 13:17 that pastors will give an account as to how they’ve watched over your soul.  That truth means that on the day your pastors gives an account, God will judge him as to whether or not he was faithful and trustworthy.  He’d better be faithful and trustworthy, or he has to deal with God.  That’s why James 3:1 tells us, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”

In my years of vocational ministry, I’ve come across congregations or individual Christians that just didn’t trust their pastor.  (Praise the Lord none of them were the ones I’ve served!)  They, for various reasons, are sort of automatically skeptical, thinking he’s got some sort of secret agenda.  They watch him like a hawk, just waiting for him to slip up in some way so they can point him out.  I even have a dear pastor friend in Kentucky who was told by a woman during an interview with the pastor search committee of the church where he currently serves, “I just want to let you know that I don’t like pastors, and I don’t trust pastors.”  How did that lady get on the pastor search committee?!  What a sour and dysfunction situation to serve in!  Does any of this look like your church?  Give your pastor your trust.

Third, the congregation should respond with prayer. Paul who planted and pastored many churches made one simple request in 1 Thessalonians 5:25, “Brethren, pray for us.”  Churches, if love your pastor, pray for him.  If you think he’s doing excellent work, pray for him that he’ll be sustained and excel even more.  If you think he’s struggling and could do a better job, pray for him that he’ll improve.  The God to whom you are praying is powerful and faithful to help your pastor along.  You often turn to your pastor for prayer, but don’t forget that he needs your prayer just the same, if not more.

Fourth, the congregation should respond with financial support.  We cannot escape the teaching of 1 Timothy 5:17-18, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’”  The pastor of your church should be highly honored, and one of the ways your congregation shows honor is by financial support.  Whether full-time, bivocational, or volunteer, the man in your pulpit works hard at what he does and is worthy of his wages.

However, it doesn’t just come down to wages.  It goes to generosity in general.  Galatians 6:6 tells us, “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.”  Is your church and its individuals stingy with your pastor?  Is your pastor adequately compensated given the financial situation of your church?  Regardless of the financial situation in your church, has your pastor received a raise this year?  Honor your pastor with financial support.

Fifth and finally, the congregation should respond with appreciation and love.  Paul tell us in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”  Friends, whether you realize it or not, pastors are just people too and need encouragement and affirmation.  You know, I’ve found that a pastor usually reaches his highest potential in a church where he is appreciated and loved and will probably move around until he finds that place.  So, if you are seeing that your congregation is fairly frequently looking to fill the pastor position in your church, I kindly suggest looking in the mirror to find out what’s the matter.  Does your pastor know how much you appreciate and love him?  If he doesn’t, you need to remedy that oversight immediately, and if you don’t appreciate or love him, you’ve got some serious heart work at which to attend.  Love and appreciate the man whom God has called to pastor your congregation.

May our churches, along with our attitudes and actions, be molded by the Scripture, and may God bless both the shepherds and the sheep across our state as we glorify God together through the church!

02 Nov

Can Salvation Be Lost?

Can true Christians lose their salvation?  In other words, can a person be truly saved and then truly lost later?

This question is, of course, very important but has been a controversial point throughout the ages.  Many have believed and do believe that true Christians cannot lose their salvation while at the same time many have believed and do believe the opposite.

I believe the Bible to teach that a truly saved person cannot lose their salvation and assume that the vast majority of my readership agrees.  However, if you believe it, can you defend it?  Do you know why, based up the Word of God, you believe what you believe?  If you do not, you should.

This precious doctrine goes by several names.  Here at my church, we prefer to call it the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints.  Some would say that that phrase is too man-centered and prefer to call this doctrine the Preservation of the Saints.   Still others like the term Eternal Security of the Believer.  You’ll also run into many that summarize this doctrine by the name Once Saved, Always Saved.

Of course, each name nuances the doctrine a little bit differently.  In the end, it doesn’t matter what you call the doctrine because it’s the content of the teaching that matters.  Nevertheless, I try to avoid the title Once Saved, Always Saved because so many use it to deny the orthodox teaching of Lordship Salvation.  Usually Once Saved, Always Saved is watered down to become “once you’ve spoken the words of the ‘sinner’s prayer’, you’re forever saved even if you never really follow Jesus.”  This understanding falls way short of the Bible.  Of the remaining three titles, I prefer Perseverance of the Saints because I believe it best captures the content of the doctrine.

So, what is the content of this doctrine?

Article 11 of the West Main Baptist Church Articles of Faith explains the doctrine this way:  “Of the Perseverance of Saints, we believe that only real believers endure to the end, and that they are kept by the power of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

If we look at the larger context of the Southern Baptist Convention, we see that the latest Baptist Faith & Message says it this way in article 5:  “All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”

So, we see that this doctrinal position has two parts to it:  1) The truly saved ones are those who persevere, or continue, in faith until they die; and 2) Those who believe have their faith preserved, or kept in existence, by God so that they will surely be saved.

First, does the Bible teach that the truly saved ones are those who persevere, or continue, in faith until they die?

I say that it indeed does and point to the following passages of Scripture:

  • John 8:31-32, So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
    • Only those who continue in Jesus’ word are truly saved.
  • Matthew 10:22, You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.
    • Enduring in faith until you die is essential to salvation.
  • Colossians 1:22-23, Yet [Jesus] has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—  if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.
    • You know that Jesus has brought you together with God if you continue in the faith until the end of your life.
  • Hebrews 3:14, For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.
    • Jesus is your Savior and Lord if you believe on Him until you die.
  • 1 John 2:19, They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.
    • Those that depart from the faith prove that they were never saved to begin with.

In light of the Scripture, faith that saves is faith that endures until death.  It’s not just praying a prayer and then doing whatever you want with your life.  Our assurance of salvation is not found in a prayer we once prayed or an aisle we once walked.  It’s found in the reality that you still believe on Christ, that you hate your sin, and that you love Jesus.  Saving faith is faith that causes you to follow Jesus for the rest of your life.  It’s faith that bears the fruit of being saved.  There’ll be spiritual growth and life in the person as they follow along.  There’ll be a present love and devotion to God in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, the position that the truly saved ones are those who persevere, or continue, in faith until they die is thoroughly biblical.

But what about the second part of the position?  Does the Bible teach that those who believe have their faith preserved, or kept in existence, by God so that they will surely be saved?

Again, I say that it indeed does and point to the following passages of Scripture:

  • John 6:35-40, Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
    • Jesus will keep the one who comes to Him in faith until the last day.
  • John 10:27-29, My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
    • “No one” includes the person in the Father’s hand too.  The believer has been given to Jesus, and again, He will protect them in faith.
  • John 3:16, For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
    • Eternal life is promised at the moment the person truly believes on Jesus.
  • John 3:36, He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
    • The implication here is that the wrath of God does not abide on the one who believes on Jesus.  He has eternal life.
  • Romans 8:1, Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
    • For the one who believes on Jesus, guilt before God has been erased.
  • Romans 8:28-30, And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
    • God set His love on (foreknew) those who believe on Christ and works in all aspects to deliver them safely to heaven.  He predestined, called, justified, and glorified these individuals.  If you are in Christ, the foreknowing, predestining, calling, and justifying are all past events.  However, glorification is still a future event but is presented in this passage in the past tense because it’s guaranteed.  If you believe on Christ, you’ll surely see heaven.
  • Romans 8:31-39, What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    • Since God is the one who saves us and keeps us, nothing can separate the believer from God.
  • Ephesians 1:13-14, In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
    • When a person believes, they are sealed, or preserved, in Jesus.
  • Philippians 1:6, For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
    • Our perseverance is based upon God’s faithfulness.
  • 1 Peter 1:3-5, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
    • The born-again believer has an inheritance in heaven that will not be lost because God protects it.

There you have it:  the very basis of our salvation and our assurance of salvation is God.  Those whom God saves, He lovingly keeps in the faith until the Day of Judgment.  He will not cast them away.  They will not lose the gift of salvation.  Eternal life begins at repentance and faith and never ends because salvation from beginning to end is a work of God!  Therefore, the position that those who believe have their faith preserved, or kept in existence, by God so that they will surely be saved is thoroughly biblical as well.

So, why do some believe that a person can be truly saved and then truly lost?

I believe they arrive at this wrong conclusion due to a combination of the following four reasons:

1) They observe that it looks like people get saved and then are lost later.
This reason is what I call theology by observation.  They construct a doctrine based upon what they see.  Some person walks the aisle, prays the prayer, gets in the water, and maybe even is faithful for a period of time, but eventually they walk away from the faith.  They are found to be either explicitly faithless later on or at least functionally faithless in that their life bears no fruit of conversion.  It looked like they were saved, but now it looks like they are not.  While this sort of thing should break our hearts, we shouldn’t be surprised by it.  Jesus told us through the parable of the four soils in Matthew 13:3-9 & Matthew 13:18-23 that there will be those individuals who seem to receive the gospel but turn away for various reasons.  These people were not saved.  They only seemed to be.  We simply observed the outer motions of salvation.  However, we cannot build our theology upon observation.  Rather, it must be built upon revelation, the Word of God, which tells us that the truly saved ones are those that endure in the faith until the end and that those that are truly saved are assured of their salvation.  We must stand on revelation and not observation.

2) They misunderstand two texts of Scripture.
Two texts of Scripture are usually used as the case closer for those who believe salvation can be truly gained and then truly lost.  The first is Galatians 5:4, which says, You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. Many take this verse to teach a person can be saved and then lost (fall from grace), but that’s not supported by the context.  Paul is saying that the only way you can be saved is by grace, and when a person moves to put their hope in something other than the work of Jesus Christ, they have fallen out of the scope of grace.  Grace can’t help the self-righteous.

The other text is Hebrews 6:4-6, which says, For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. Admittedly, this one is a tough text for the perseverance position, but in the end, Scripture must be interpreted by Scripture.  Clear texts must interpret this unclear text.  Therefore, I believe this text is talking about those who have been in close proximity to those who are truly saved.  Perhaps these people have even exhibited much of the outward signs of salvation, but in the end they fall away, showing their conversion was false.

One other important note is that if this passage does indeed teach that a person can be truly saved and then truly lost, it also then teaches that once they have been truly saved and truly lost, they can never be saved again (fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance).  Of course, those that teach that a person can lose their salvation believe that a man can be saved, then lost, then saved, then lost, then saved, and so on.  That’s having your theological cake and eating it too.  In other words, you can’t have it both ways.

3) They see God’s keeping us as a violation of “free will.”
The idea of God working to keep and to persevere a believer in the faith offends the sensibilities of those who believe that man possesses libertarian free will.  They believe that it would be unloving and inappropriate for God to bring about not only the beginning of salvation but the ending as well.  They see it as a human right of “free choice” to come to God at any time and walk away at any time.  At least they are consistent.  If it’s totally up to man to be saved, then it must be totally up to man to stay saved.

However, their understanding of free will is not biblical.  Biblical free will is not the ability to act contrary to one’s nature, predisposition, and greatest desires.  Rather, biblical free will is the ability to do what you want to do.  This type is called compatibilist free will.  Maybe you don’t see the difference, but it’s major.

The compatibilist understanding leaves room for the biblical categories of God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s responsibility in salvation to fully coexist.  God saves and keeps nobody against their will.  On the Day of Judgment, nobody will honestly say, “I wanted to walk away from God, but He wouldn’t let me.”  Neither will there be anybody that honestly says, “I wanted to be saved, but God wouldn’t let me.”  In the end, God chose to save and keep us, and we  chose to be saved and kept.  In other words, He works through our wills so that His purposes are brought to pass, but we still do what we want to do.  Our wills are fully operational and never violated.  So, God preserving us and keeping us saved is not a violation of our free will.

4) They believe in works righteousness.
Sadly,  if I had to guess the primary reason why people believe that truly saved persons can lose their salvation, I would guess it’s because they believe that works plays a part in our salvation.  They believe that a person is saved based upon what they have done along with what Jesus has done.  In this way, they are very similar to the Judaizers Paul speaks against in the book of Galatians.  They try to find their righteousness in the Law, which is the Bible’s “do this and don’t do that” statements.

Friend, our salvation is completely gained by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.  It’s based on what He did.  The Scripture is utterly clear in this regard, Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified, (Galatians 2:16).  If we could make ourselves righteous, what did Jesus have to die for?  The bottom line is that we cannot work righteousness.  Therefore, we must believe on Christ in order to be saved, and when that happens, we get His righteousness, and He gets our sinfulness.  Praise Jesus!

Conclusion

May we rejoice in the God who brings about salvation and secures salvation!  Friend, persevere in the faith until the end, and praise God all the way for persevering you!