Abstinence Almost Killed Me!

original photo credit: Jo Naylor via photopin cc
original photo credit: Jo Naylor via photopin cc

Just about every area of U.S. culture these days seems to be inundated with sexuality. Advertising? Saturated with sexual images. Movies? Full of steamy and explicit passion. Sports? Does the term, “wardrobe malfunction”, bring anything to mind?

I personally believe that greed is the primary factor contributing to our sexual saturation. Astute marketers in pursuit of big profits have successfully managed to manipulate our culture to the point that we cannot seem to escape this overemphasis on sex. Our entire society is paying the price.

It’s not that sex has ever been unimportant. Let’s not forget that God was the original designer of the human body. Long before the days of internet porn, the King of the Universe created us as sexual beings. Sex feels good because God made it that way. That, in itself, should tell us something.

The problem is not that God frowns upon sexual activity in principle, but that our cultural norms have transgressed the healthy boundaries designed by our Creator. A river running within its banks can provide immense pleasure and benefit, but let it overflow those boundaries and destruction of all sorts is certain.

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc
photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

The fact that Christians now live in the age of grace does not provide a license for us to live according to our world’s standards. The Bible teaches that we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-9) and nowhere is this truer than in the world of eros. Can such statements be biblically supported without returning to the legalistic requirements of the Mosaic Law? Absolutely!

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” . . . So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Genesis 2:18-25 (NASB)

Thus the marriage covenant was established by God for the benefit of humanity. Unless God clearly communicates a change in His standards, His silence cannot be interpreted as an approval of our cultural standards. Only God has the authority to change a covenant He instituted (Galatians 3:15), and any such changes are clearly established in the Scriptures (e.g. from the Old Covenant to the New). Jesus Himself upheld the standard of marriage (Matthew 19:3-12), as did the Apostle Paul (Titus 1:5-6).

I argue, therefore, that sexual immorality, by New Testament definition, involves sexual activity that occurs outside of the boundaries of a marriage covenant between one man and one woman. The entire Bible has a lot to say about this issue, much of which is unpleasant at best (see http://www.openbible.info/topics/sexual_immorality).

The fact that my wife and I have been married for almost 30 years has nothing to do with my opinion on this matter. Due to our scriptural convictions, I never touched Debi inappropriately during the two years in which we dated prior to our wedding day, although, as a typical red-blooded young male, I felt at times that the abstinence was going to kill me! We understood then, and continue to agree now, that it falls upon humanity to conform itself to God’s design, not vice versa.

photo credit: Joe Hastings via photopin cc
photo credit: Joe Hastings via photopin cc

Sex dominates our culture, I’ll give you that. But sex is also sacred, established by God to celebrate the unity of covenant love in marriage. Those who use an argument of grace in an attempt to nullify God’s design open the floodgates for unclean waters to pollute and destroy the very fabric of society. Or, to use another appropriate metaphor, play with fire and you will get burned. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But the smoldering fires of sin will eventually consume everything they touch. It’s not abstinence that gives sway to death but obedience to sexual passions that lie outside of God’s design.

Have you transgressed the boundaries of God’s design for sexuality? Most of us have at one point or another, and, thankfully, forgiveness is readily available for those who are willing to humble themselves and repent. May our Lord grant us the wisdom and grace to reign over our unhealthy desires–not to indulge them!

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Do This in Remembrance of Me?

original photo credit: steakpinball via photopin cc
original photo credit: steakpinball via photopin cc

It’s easy to get confused when trying to understand how the Mosaic Law relates to the New Covenant of grace. I am intrigued by Romans 4:14-15 (NASB):

For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

Our initial reaction upon reading this verse might be to think that it is impossible to sin now that we are free from the requirements of the Mosaic Law. We would do well to consider the context of this passage. Paul was writing to Jews about both Jews and Gentiles, and how they were to respectively gain their right standing before God. His point was that Jews could not be justified by their age-old reliance upon obedience to the Law. This does not mean, however, that the Christian faith is entirely void of all laws.

The kingdom of God is governed by one primary law—the royal law:

 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. James 2:8 (NASB)

Jesus raised the bar even higher in John 13:34 (NASB):

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

City of Brotherly Love
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This is where our second Greek word for love, philia, comes into play. And in case you were wondering, this is where the name Philadelphia finds its roots as the city of brotherly love—although I’m not exactly sure how accurate that description is in our day. I’ll be perfectly honest here—the problem isn’t limited to the city of Philadelphia; I think that very, very few professing Christians pay any serious attention to Christ’s command for us to love our brothers and sisters of the faith with the same measure of love modeled by Jesus.

Why do I feel this way? Well, it may have something to do with the fact that heaping judgment and contempt on other Christians is more of a common practice than a rare exception. What we don’t seem to understand is that Jesus is personally affected by our treatment of His covenant children. (see Matthew 25:31-46). Whenever I look down my nose with contempt at one of my Christian brothers, I might as well have Jesus Himself in my sights. What a scary thought!

What happens when we transgress God’s royal law of love? We heap condemnation upon ourselves—especially when we profess our devotion to the New Covenant in Christ.

photo credit: Evan Courtney via photopin cc
photo credit: Evan Courtney via photopin cc

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (NASB)

Does it really matter how we treat the body of Christ–our New Covenant brothers and sisters? Absolutely! Do you truly want to honor God with your life? Let love govern your behavior–all of it.

The topic is worthy of far more time and effort than a single blog post and so I will address it with more detail in my next book. For now, however, these are essential thoughts to ponder. The King of the Universe cares more about our love—or lack thereof—for one another far more than most of us will allow ourselves to believe.

A Love Song for Eternity

Original photo credit: kelsey_lovefusionphoto via photopin cc
Original photo credit: kelsey_lovefusionphoto via photopin cc

I’ve never written a love song—I am not gifted in music—but I’ve certainly listened to a few in my day. Love songs, it seems, run the gamut from what might be more appropriately called lust songs to those that idealize faithful and long lasting devotion. Titles are even more diverse, including famous hits like “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” “Baby Love,” “Lean on Me,” and “I’ll Be There.”

If I had the ability to write a love song about God, I think it would be titled, “Perfect Love”. No human example can even begin to compare to the mind bending agape love of our Creator. Let’s face it, selfless love is highly regarded and yet we all have a whole lot of selfishness that somehow manages to contaminate just about everything we do.

[Agape] Love of God means total commitment and total trust (Mt. 5:29–30; 6:24ff.). In particular, it involves a renunciation of mammon and of vainglory (Mt. 6:24b, 30ff.). It also calls for resistance to persecution, which is a fiery test of the loyalty of love (Mt. 10:17ff.; 5:10ff.).[1]

Hour of the Soul
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The context of the New Covenant is clear: our agape love for God is far more than a momentary feeling of excitement that comes when we realize how much He has blessed us. The depth of God’s love for us was never meant to be a one way street. He has never failed to give everything for our sakes, nor will He hesitate to expect the same measure of devotion from us.

“And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.’” Luke 10:25-28 (NASB)

I don’t know about you, but I have difficulty seeing Christ’s command to love God as anything but all encompassing.

“with all your heart . . . with all your soul . . . with all your strength . . . with all your mind”

Are you willing to:

–        Go wherever He calls?

–        Do whatever He asks?

–        Surrender anything He requests?

–        Give all He desires?

photo credit: Chris Van Den Berg via CreationSwap
photo credit: Chris Van Den Berg via CreationSwap

Being a Christian is not about following a list of rules, but living by one law (love God with all that we are) that governs our every action. Until we get this one thing settled, it’s virtually impossible to address specific types of behavior. People who draw their meaning of love from pop culture will be in the habit of practicing selfish love, if such a creature exists. They will find a way to justify almost any action under the banner of grace.

I realize that this all sounds rather heavy, but it’s not nearly so much about the “have to” as it is the “get to”. Love, in its purest form flows out of a desire to give fully of oneself to another. What an awesome, undeserved privilege it is for us to even have the chance for such a mutual relationship with the King of kings and the Lord of lords! Despite my selfish tendencies, this is not an opportunity that I want to squander. How about you?


[1] Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (8). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

The Grace Dilemma

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The New Covenant is amazing! We are free from the requirements of the Old Testament Law and now have a profound measure of freedom under God’s paradigm of grace. I have, however, made it clear over my last several posts that grace is not a license to live in any manner imaginable, and that our Savior fully expects us to die to our old sinful natures.

The connecting point between freedom and obedience creates a huge point of confusion for many of us. If we are no longer under law because of grace, and if grace empowers us to a new lifestyle, how do we know exactly what’s acceptable to God and what isn’t? On the surface, it all feels very nebulous, but if we dig a little deeper, we can find a basic New Covenant framework to help guide our actions. We begin by examining God’s primary expectations under the New Covenant:

 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. John 15:9-10 (NASB)

Photo by Sam Hakes
Photo by Sam Hakes

In a previous post, I laid out the two predominant commands of New Testament Christianity: faith and love. For the purpose of our current context, we’ll focus primarily on the Bible’s central command—to love God with all that we have and to love those around us (Matthew 22:34-40).

Love, according to the Scriptures, is so much more than our culture’s definition of love. How often do we see Hollywood celebrities getting married because they are deeply in love, only to hear of them filing for divorce a couple of years later?

I can’t help but contrast their example with that of my late neighbors, John and Roseann Palilla. As they aged well beyond the age of retirement, John and Rosanne continued to set a powerful example of faithful love, both as parents and as spouses. Sadly, Rosanne developed Parkinson’s disease, and although her mind remained sharp, her physical issues created a huge burden for both her and John. For as long as he was physically able, John faithfully cared for his frail wife’s every need—even to the point of exhausting himself. Eventually, they had to enter a personal care home where they lived together until death came knocking.

Love, in its very essence, is both free and constrained. John Palilla, for example, freely chose to marry Rosanne, but the strength of that love constrained him to be a one woman man—and a faithful one at that.

Palilla love, as opposed to Hollywood love, would undoubtedly be closer to heaven’s standard. Faithful, sacrificial, selfless love, according to the Scriptures is to be the driving force that governs our decision making processes. Thus, the one law that defines New Testament living is the law of love (Romans 13:8-10), which James also calls the law of liberty (James 1:25) and the royal law (James 2:8).

Dilemma
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Understanding these things doesn’t answer all of our questions, but it does point us in the right direction. In my next post, we’ll take a brief look at what I like to call covenant love and then we’ll address three specific applications that will help us to understand that our dilemma isn’t as much about confusion over what’s right and wrong as it is about a struggle between loving others and selfishly pursuing what we want.

The Twofold Beauty of Grace

Cosette
Drawing by Émile Bayard – Public Domain

Just about anyone who has seen Les Miserables—even those unaccustomed to spontaneously breaking out into song—can attest to the powerfully redemptive nature of the work. I can’t help but wonder, however, how many of the modern cast truly understand the faith-based intricacies of the story. Victor Hugo, the original book’s author, possessed a particularly clear grasp of the law/grace dynamic with which the Christian Gospel is interwoven.

One of the most powerful images of grace that I have ever seen can be found in the scene in with Monseigneur Bienvenu. Here the priest not only forgives Jean Valjean of his transgressions but also enables him to begin a new life with the gift of the silver place settings, including the candlesticks. Unmerited favor is indeed a proper definition of grace, but it is not the full definition of grace. The power of grace can carry us further than even many Christians realize.

How gracious would God be if He extended unmerited favor to His people, but failed to give them the ability to live according to His expectations? Not gracious at all. Like Jean Valjean, we need not only favor beyond what we deserve but also the power to live a new life. Favor alone will not free us from the trap of a sinful lifestyle–for that, we need the means to forge a new trail. Grace is the answer to our need in every imaginable way.

Whether or not we grasp the two-fold nature of grace can be a matter of life and death. In my day, I have met no small number of people who mistakenly assumed grace to be nothing more than a get out of jail free card. It really doesn’t matter how we live, they suppose, because God’s grace to forgive is always available in abundance. They fail to understand that grace is the pathway to a new life, not a stamp of approval on the old. Freedom from the Mosaic Law does not mean license. Freedom from the Law means freedom from the dominion of sin.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:12-14 (NASB)

Downloading Grace
Image by Sam Hakes

Do you see it? Grace gives us the power to reign over the dominion of sin—not an excuse to be controlled by our fallen desires. The issue isn’t one of perfection but one of characterization. Are we children of God who sometimes sin but find the unmerited favor to start afresh, or are our lives characterized by the lustful desires of our old, fallen natures? Those who learn to operate by God’s paradigm of grace through faith in Christ will grow stronger and stronger in their ability to say no to sin’s desires. Herein lies the twofold beauty of grace: through the cross of Christ, we find an amazing measure of undeserved favor and the ability to live a new and better life.

There are many areas of learning that can occupy our energies but grasping the nature of grace is essential to life. To dig a little deeper, you can check out the following 15-minute video clip from my Search for Me identity series:

Chapter 6 – Section 1 – The Search for Me from Search for Me Ministries, Inc. on Vimeo.

The Greatest Holiday Ever!

photo credit: |vvaldzen| via photopin cc
photo credit: |vvaldzen| via photopin cc

There is something about Easter that sets it apart as one of the most significant holidays to celebrate. Thanksgiving and Christmas rank right up there, of course, but aside from peanut butter eggs and sugary peeps, Resurrection Sunday continues to be one of the most meaningful days on the calendar.

One thing that I especially appreciate about this three-day holiday experience is that it conveys a profound message of hope while still maintaining a firm grasp on reality. In a natural sense, there is very little good about Good Friday, and yet, its continued remembrance provides an ongoing reminder of humanity’s desperate need. Sin is dark and violent—a reality that we dare not ignore. Yet through the cross, not only is sin addressed but it is dealt a fatal blow with Christ’s resurrection from the grave.

The timing of Easter is also quite meaningful as it signals the arrival of new life bursting forth after the long, cold months of winter. The lengthening days and increased warmth of the sun provide a powerful sense of hope and anticipation. What an awesome time of year!

If there is one word that I could use to describe Easter, it would be new. That we speak of new life is evident, but a greater dimension remains that often receives only lip service. The resurrection of Jesus Christ marks the initiation of the New Covenant. The original meaning of new in a Biblical Greek context doesn’t simply mean a more contemporary version of something one already owns. Rather, it speaks of something entirely new and different compared to what has previously existed.

photo credit: mbtrama via photopin cc
photo credit: mbtrama via photopin cc

If I decide, for example, to purchase a new car to replace the one that I already own, I am simply buying another vehicle of a similar type. But if I chose to purchase a car that also serves as a boat, a submarine, and an airplane, I would obtain a vehicle that is unlike anything known to all of my neighbors, friends, and relatives.

The New Covenant, while yet another in a series of sacred and binding relationships between man and God, is totally different from any type of relationship previously known to humanity. Through the New Covenant of grace, we are offered the extreme privilege of being able to relate to God on His terms—not through the law-based existence of our ancestors.

People who are repulsed by the all of the judgment seen in the Old Testament often focus on only a small piece of the puzzle. One of our most deadly errors is to miss the fact that the Apostle Paul compares the Mosiac Law to a harsh school-master who points the way toward the New Covenant of grace.

Before the coming of faith we were all imprisoned under the power of the Law, with our only hope of deliverance the faith that was to be shown to us. Or, to change the metaphor, the Law was like a strict governess in charge of us until we went to the school of Christ and learned to be justified by faith in him. Once we had that faith we were completely free from the governess’s authority. Galatians 3:23-25 (Phillips)

photo credit: Michael 1952 via photopin cc
photo credit: Michael 1952 via photopin cc

This passage calls to mind the image of a strict Catholic school nun of an earlier era. (I know that they weren’t all hard-nosed, but there were enough mean ones to make the stereotype somewhat viable; each of my Catholic childhood friends had his own traumatic story to tell.) Step out of line in any way and you could be sure that Sister Mary Meanheart would immediately smack your fingers with her wooden ruler—her continued harshness awakening within each heart an intense desire for salvation, or, at the very least, a nicer nun.

God never intended the Mosaic Law and its judgments to be a permanent way of life. His goal was to show the futility of a legalistic worldview and leave us longing for a new type of existence. This realization makes it especially unfortunate that we so often define Christian maturity in light of how well people obey certain rules. At its very core, the Gospel is a message of freedom, not one of requirements and obligations.

Not only does Easter mark the arrival of spring, it indicates the initiation of a truly new way of life—one filled with hope and peace and everything good. For those who grasp the true meaning of the season, this is a holiday worth celebrating!

Repulsed by Old Testament Judgment? Good!

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photo credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc

Have you ever taken the time to think about God’s character? John 3:16 is a popular passage that speaks of how much God loves us.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)

On the other hand, those who read through certain sections of the Old Testament will envision a wrathful God pouring out harsh judgment for seemingly obscure reasons. These conflicting perspectives make it very difficult for some people to put any type of real confidence in our Creator. But it doesn’t need to be that way! The contrast makes perfect sense if we understand the nature of God’s relationship with the human race.

There were times of judgment before Moses arrived on the scene, but they were few and far between. I already highlighted the flood of Noah, which probably affected a relatively small number of people. (The Earth wasn’t nearly as populated in those days.) God also poured out judgments against Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness, against Egypt for their cruel treatment of ancient Israel, and against the Amalekites for attacking His favored people. However, one particular event during the lifetime of Moses drastically changed the picture. What was it? The arrival of the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments.

photo credit: functoruser via photopin cc
photo credit: functoruser via photopin cc

Before the the Law, it seemed to take a long time for God’s anger to build before He would render judgment. But after the Law, judgment was both frequent and furious. However, it wasn’t God’s character that changed over the course of time but rather the manner in which He related to humanity. Law breeds judgment.

What we fail to understand is that living by law was man’s choice, not God’s. There was only one rule in the garden of Eden, meaning almost unlimited freedom. But in choosing to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve chose to live by standards of right and wrong rather than by a love-motivated relationship with their Creator. Laws of various sorts now govern the motivation and behavior of the human heart.

The Mosaic Law was not the first of its kind. In fact, there are three or four other legal codes on record that predate Moses. Again, living by law-based standards is innate to the human heart. Thus, in giving the Mosaic Law, God was giving the opportunity for humans to relate to Him on our terms. This point should not be taken lightly! When we find ourselves repulsed reading about the judgmental acts of the Old Testament, we should realize that God was also repulsed. He judged, not because He enjoyed wreaking death and destruction, but to allow us to taste the full fruit of a law-based existence.

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc
photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

It is interesting to note that in speaking of the Old Covenant Law, Jesus never called it, “My Law” or “My Father’s Law”. Instead, He called it, “the Law”, “the Law of Moses”, or “your Law”. In the end, the purpose of the Mosaic Law was to point us to Jesus Christ who came to us full of grace and truth.

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. John 1:17 (NASB)

Christ related to us on His terms; in Jesus we find an accurate representation of the Father’s heart. While this may seem to be just another point of doctrine, grasping the full ramifications of its reality is nothing short of transformational. Are you repulsed by all of the judgment found in the Old Testament? Good. Your heart may be ready for some much-needed grace!