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Archive for the ‘Lifestyle’ Category

That we live in strange times is akin to saying the sun is bright. Conservative Americans have seen their country’s moral universe turned inside out, especially with the 5-4 edict of the Supreme Court last summer pronouncing same-sex marriage the law of the land.

Not only is same-sex marriage now law, we are seeing that sexual freedom trumps religious freedom. Christian bakers and florists have been targeted by same-sex marriage folk in order to force those Christians to embrace homosexual weddings or face legal retribution. Under threats from the National Football League and big entertainment and big business, the governor of Georgia vetoed a state bill that would have protected ministers from having to perform such weddings. The Wall Street Journal described the bill in this way: “The ‘Free Exercise Protection Act,’ passed earlier this month, allows faith-based organizations to decline services or fire employees over discordant religious beliefs. The bill also aims to protect religious officials from having to perform marriage ceremonies or other services ‘in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion,’ according to the legislation.”

North Carolina’s state legislature passed and its governor signed a law that requires persons to use the restroom of their biological gender. That is hardly radical, is it? The state has come under fire from liberal groups who think that transgender persons should be able to use the rest room of their perceived psychological gender, not biological.

So this is the slide into radical depravity down which western culture is descending and, in truth, should not be unsurprising. The apostle Paul wrote almost two millennia ago: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:24–27).

As sad it is to watch our culture’s collapse into moral degeneracy, not to mention what this will mean for our children and grandchildren, it is beyond sad to watch professing Christians follow the culture. Have breathed the philosophical air of secular education and popular entertainment, many professing Christians, including both younger and older persons, see little, if anything at all, wrong with sexual intimacy (either heterosexual or homosexual) outside of marriage, same-sex unions, or people changing their sexual identification. Others, who are more traditional about such matters, openly and proudly support political candidates who support abortion rights or who boast about their sexual “conquests.”

Why is this? Why do the folk next door who are in church on Sunday follow the popular trends of culture? Many right answers could be offered, but one stands out: the Bible simply is not viewed as authoritative over our lives. It may be “the good Book,” but it is held as a book of general guidelines instead of specific precepts.

It really does not matter how much of the Bible we know, how much we memorize, how many times we read it, or how much we revere it if we do not believe that it is the written Word of God that has authority over our thinking and our actions. Jesus’ condemnation of the religious leaders of his day could be given to many of our day: “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:7–9).

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The sin of not judging

That times have changed is a given. Consider the moral landscape of America in 2012. If you oppose abortion on demand, you are against women’s health. If you believe that only a man and woman can be united in marriage, you are opposed to basic human rights. If you go even further and pronounce that homosexuality is sinful, you are a danger to society.

What was unthinkable a few decades ago is being pushed as a human right in the twenty-first century. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced in October 2011: “We need marriage equality in every state in this nation. Otherwise, no state really has marriage equality, and we will not rest until it is a reality.”

Our neighbor to the north gives us a good idea of where we are headed. From Canada comes this bit of “enlightened” thinking: “Under Alberta’s new Education Act, homeschoolers and faith-based schools will not be permitted to teach that homosexual acts are sinful as part of their academic program, says the spokesperson for Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk. ‘Whatever the nature of schooling—homeschool, private school, Catholic school—we do not tolerate disrespect for differences,’ Donna McColl, Lukaszuk’s assistant director of communications, told LifeSiteNews on Wednesday evening. ‘You can affirm the family’s ideology in your family life, you just can’t do it as part of your educational study and instruction,’ she added.”

Many professing Christians have unwittingly bought into our culture’s relativistic approach to morality. “Jesus said to ‘judge not,’ so who am I to call homosexuality wrong? We don’t know why a woman would want an abortion, so we shouldn’t judge.” And the thinking knows no limit. “He left his wife? Well, no one knows what goes on behind closed doors. We shouldn’t judge.” “They are living together? Who are we to judge? Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” And on and on it goes.

In his Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus did teach: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). The judging prohibited is that judging which arises out of a heart of self-righteousness and hypocrisy. It is right to judge sin as sin. The doing of sin is wrong and should be judged as such. What is wrong is looking at the offender from a position of moral superiority. “Well, I would never do that!”

Proper judging denounces the wrong because of God’s standard, not because we ourselves are morally superior to the person who committed the act. Proper judging acknowledges that the act would be wrong if we ourselves committed it. Proper judging acknowledges that we ourselves are capable of committing the same sin were God to remove protecting grace from us.

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul laments a situation in the church in which a man who had taken his father’s mother, evidently the younger man’s stepmother, into an immoral relationship. Paul writes, “For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing” (5:3). Paul judged the offender as having committed a heinous sin: “sexual immorality . . . of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans” (5:1). Paul writes, “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (5:2). The “removing,” though, was not a meting out of punishment to “get rid of” the offender: “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (5:5). Paul condemned the church because it had refused to judge.

The Jesus who said “Judge not” is the same Jesus who said “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).

We live in a culture that prohibits judging, though the very ones prohibiting judging judge all the time. They judge that what has traditionally been deemed immoral is now moral. They judge that those of us who hold to traditional morality are out of step with the times, that we are trying to “shove your religion down our throats.”

And yet we must not cower behind our sanctuary walls and refuse to confront the sins of our culture. While confronting those sins, however, we must not fail to confront our own. The standard is not our morality. The standard is the Word of God.

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Good works, anyone?

We recognize that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are central and essential to our salvation. Were Christ not made sin in our stead, the wrath of God would justly come upon us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Were Christ not resurrected, we would remain in our sin (1 Corinthians 15:17). The resurrection reveals that the death of Christ was sufficient to satisfy God’s wrath.

The death of Christ, though, not only affects our standing with God. It also affects our living in the world. In Titus 2:14, Paul makes this declaration: “[Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” [ESV].

Paul writes that Christ “gave himself for us,” revealing that his death was “voluntary, exhaustive, and substitutionary,” as D. Edmond Hiebert points out. Christ’s death was voluntary in that he lay down his life (John 10:18), exhaustive in that he gave of himself completely (John 6:51), and substitutionary in that he died in the place of believers (Galatians 1:4). Christ came to earth “to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Paul presents a two-fold purpose for the death of Christ in Titus 2:14. The first purpose is negative: “to redeem us from all lawlessness.” Sinners are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:17), being in rebellion to the law of God. Christ has delivered those who believe in him from that slavery, having freed them to be able to live unto righteousness. Stephen Charnock [1628-1680] maintains, “All our works before repentance are dead works (Hebrews 6:1). And these works have no true beauty in them, with whatsoever gloss they may appear to a natural eye. A dead body may have something of the features and beauty of a living, but it is but the beauty of a carcass, not of a man. . . . Since man, therefore, is spiritually dead, he cannot perform a living service. As a natural death causes incapacitate for natural actions, so a spiritual death must incapacitate for spiritual actions.”

Paul writes to Titus that the second purpose for the death of Christ is positive: “to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Those who are redeemed have been freed from the guilt of sin and are thereby the unique people of Christ. Concerning the Greek word which is translated as his own possession in the ESV, William Barclay writes, “It means reserved for; and it was specially used for that part of the spoils of a battle or a campaign which the king who had conquered set apart specially for himself. Through the work of Jesus Christ, the Christian becomes fit to be the special possession of God.” God has saved us primarily for his purpose, not for our pleasure.

As “his own possession,” Christians do not grudgingly perform good works out of a sense of obligation or coercion; they zealously perform good works because they are now God’s own possession. Peter understood this distinctive relationship between Christ and believers and between belief and good works: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Likewise, Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 that Christians are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

It is not that we lead godly lives because we are supposed to do so and we grudgingly comply. We have been liberated by the death of Christ from the power of sin and are now able to do what before we could not have done. As followers of our crucified and resurrected Lord, may our lives be characterized as being “zealous for good works.”

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