Monday, July 26, 2010

Book Recommendations & Bad Teaching

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church titled "Jesus and Marriage". Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

We interrupt this blog entry to bring you the following two book recommendations. The first is John Piper's This Momentary Marriage. This book helps set the foundation of marriage from a biblical perspective, and it does so in a very practical way. Second is a book by Dave Harvey called When Sinners Say "I Do". The title of the book says it all...the focus is on the power of the gospel in a marriage. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog entry.

As you could imagine, I ran into many different teachings while preparing for a sermon on marriage and divorce. I wanted to briefly address one of those teachings...namely, the idea of "repenting of an adulterous remarriage."

Those who speak of such a thing use, as their foundation, verses like Mark 10:11-12: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." In their zeal to hold to the Bible's teaching on the permanence of marriage and God's hatred of divorce, these well-meaning believers say that if one has remarried, that person should repent by leaving the second marriage and either (1) reconcile with their former husband/wife or (2) remain single. Their logic is that God does not see this second marriage as a real marriage at all, so leaving that person is only a divorce in the legal sense. Therefore, the person repenting is only leaving an adulterous affair and going back to their marriage.

This idea has great appeal to some people, but we must consider what the Scripture says. Is it true that these second marriages are only 'marriages' in our society but not really marriages before God? If the answer is 'yes,' this has incredible implications...wouldn't you agree? My answer to this is that these second marriages are real marriages, and they should not be broken in an attempt to repent. Let me share why I answer in this way.

Let's read Jesus' words from Mark 10:11 again: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her..." When we read these words, we must first note that the plain reading in our English translations tells us that the adultery Jesus is talking about happens in the act of marrying another. When we look to the original language, we find that the word for 'marries' is the word 'gameo.' When this word is used, it always refers to real marriage...the coming together of a man and woman in a lifelong covenant before God. Here are a few examples of where this Greek word appears (and I have purposely excluded any that may be labeled as adulterous re-marriage in order to make the point):

1. When the disciples heard Jesus' teaching on marriage in Matthew 19, they responded, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry [gameo]" (v. 10). In other words, if marriage is to be as permanent as you say, Jesus, maybe we shouldn't get married at all!
2. In talking about the days that were leading up to the flood of Genesis 6, Jesus says that normal activities were happening. People were "eating and drinking, marrying [gameo] and giving in marriage" (Mt. 24:38).
3. In the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14, one of the excuses for not coming to the banquet to which a man was invited was "I have married [gameo] a wife" (v. 20).
4. In 1 Corinthians 7:9, Paul writes, "But if they [i.e. the unmarried and widows] cannot exercise self-control, they should marry [gameo]. For it is better to marry [gameo] than to be aflame with passion."
5. Other texts where this word appears are 1 Cor. 7:24, 1 Cor. 7:33-34, 1 Tim. 4:3, 1 Tim. 5:11, 1 Tim. 5:14.

All of these texts refer to real marriages, so I conclude that the marriage Jesus speaks of in Mark 10:11-12 is a real marriage. Those who say that God doesn't really see this as a real marriage should have difficulty here. 'Marry another' cannot only mean that the divorced man has begun a sexually monogamous relationship with another woman, or vice versa. Marriage, in the Scripture, is never merely used to describe a sexually monogamous relationship. Rather, 'marry another' must mean a man and woman have come together in a lifelong covenant before God.

Since this is the case, then we must say that God would hate the breaking of this marriage covenant as much as He hated the first. Jesus would say, of this second marriage, that God created them male and female, that the man has been joined to his wife, and that the two are one. Jesus would conclude, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" (Mk. 10:9). Man must not assert his prerogative to divorce even if he thinks he's doing a good thing to try and reconcile with a first spouse. Why? Because it is a real marriage, and God brings together real marriages.

One good thing becomes clear from examining this bad teaching. It is very difficult to demonstrate biblical repentance once you have married another person. Biblical repentance does not merely involve being sorry about is a change in one's mind that changes one's behavior. Repenting of lying, for example, is not just feeling bad about telling lies or confessing your sin to the person to whom you lied. It's actually a change in your mind about the act of lying that leads to the avoidance of lying. That becomes difficult when the sin for which repentance is needed shows itself in a lifelong covenant relationship.

That may be a bit confusing, but the long and short is this...those who are divorced and contemplating remarriage must take the words of Mark 10:11-12 very seriously. Those who are married and contemplating divorce should take the words of Mark 10:11-12 very seriously. Marriage, divorce, and remarraige are not always easy subjects, and for many, it is connected to a lot of pain. So, while we want to uphold the truth of the Bible with regard to even difficult subjects, we want be sure that we do so in a way that communicates compassion to all who are hurting.

In doing this, our prayer is to do as Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:15-16: "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Power to Pursue Holiness

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church titled "Greatness as a Disciple of Jesus, Part 2". Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

When we read Mark 9:43-50, there is no doubt that Jesus wants His disciples to pursue holiness. They must identify those things which cause them to stumble or sin, they must take radical action to remove such sin from their lives, or they will face the unquenchable, eternal fires of hell. They cannot pursue holiness half-heartedly, for losing their saltiness would mean uselessness as a disciple. Yes...Jesus wants His disciples to be holy, and that includes us.

As one looks at a passage like this, it is important to remember that it is not in competition with the gospel of salvation by grace through faith. Jesus is not saying that rather than be justified by faith, one could chose to do so by obeying the law...exerting effort to be as holy as possible. No, Jesus is not giving mankind a second way to heaven...He's simply describing saving faith. He is informing us what the way of faith will look like in daily life. Faith cuts off a hand and tears out an eye for the sake of holiness. Faith denies self, takes up the cross, and loses life in order to gain life eternal. In saying these things, Jesus lays the foundation for James 2. Jesus says 'pursue holiness or you will go to hell,' and James says, 'Faith without works is dead.'

So, where does the Christian find the power to pursue holiness in the way Jesus describes?When we read the letters of Paul to various churches, we find a clue. The typical form of Paul's letter is that they begin with the gospel...they speak of the great work that God has done in rescuing unholy sinners from their sinfulness. They speak of how God has provided Jesus Christ as the propitiation for our sins, satisfying God's wrath and releasing us from our due penalty. They remind us that we were dead in our sins and transgressions until God made us alive together with Christ, uniting us to Him through faith.

Then, as the letters go on, we find ethical exhortations to be obeyed. These commands, when obeyed, become part of the pursuit of holiness. They involve areas of life like our speech, our marriages, our parenting, our business relationships, our relationships in the family of God, our sexuality, our minds, and more. There is no doubt that Paul wants his readers to pursue holiness with the same kind of fervor that Jesus prescribed.

Why is it Paul's general form to proclaim the gospel and then call his readers to holy living? It is his form because calling people to holy living is the application of the gospel to every day life, and if the gospel isn't right, then the holy livingwon't be right either. It is the gospel that defines sin, it is the gospel that reminds us of our nature, it is the gospel that teaches how sin has been dealt with, it is the gospel which teaches us of the Holy Spirit's role in our lives, and much more.

Without the clarity of the gospel, the pursuit of holiness goes terribly wrong. There will be times when we gain ground in some area of life (i.e.- the tongue, the mind, our marriage, etc.). There will also be times when fail miserably. At both of these points, the gospel reminds us that we are not more or less acceptable to God on the basis of our performance. The only way that we are acceptable to God is because of what Jesus Christ has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection.

This is freeing for both the moments of success and the moments of failure. How? For the failure, it encourages us not to give up on our pursuit of holiness. It warns us not to sin all the more so that grace may abound...God forbid it! (Rom. 6:1-2) No, the gospel will remind us that we were once enemies of God, but now we are His children through being adopted as sons. We will remember that Christ's righteousness has given us an unshakable standing before God, and we are free from the trap of legalistic, performance-based Christianity.

If a Christian is growing in holiness and feels he is gaining a better standing before God, then his pride has gotten the best of him. When we are succeeding in the mortification of sin and the cultivation of holiness in our lives, we must remember two things: (1) Believing that we have contributed to our standing before God means that we think something is lacking in the person and work of Christ, and this is an error we must steer clear of. (2) The gospel reminds us we are prone to wander, and this brings the believer back to reality so that he raises the shield of faith and continues fighting for holiness. In this way, the gospel frees us from our own pride and self-sufficiency, so that we can pursue our holiness with no confidence in our own flesh.

So, the gospel encourages the one failing in their pursuit of holiness, and the gospel humbles the one succeeding. Both are needed, and both grow out of our constantly remembering the gospel...that God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). Through faith in Christ, we are justified before God, and the Holy Spirit lives within us, enabling us to will and to do all that God desires...enabling us to pursue holiness...enabling us to follow Jesus' call and Paul's call (for they are one and the same): Be who you are! God has made us holy in His sight, and this gospel truth gives us the power (through encouragement and humility) to pursue holiness.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Paul's Great Missionary Letter

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church titled "Greatness as a Disciple of Jesus". Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

The gospel of Mark points us to "Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (1:1). In the first 7 1/2 chapters, we see mounting evidence of Christ's power over nature, demons, disease, and death. In chapters 8, 9, and 10, we see Jesus turn to His disciples and teach them about what it will mean to be His be a be a Christian. Studying Mark 8:31-38, we hear of things like (1) denying ourselves, (2) preparing to share in Jesus' rejection and suffering, (3) losing our lives so we will gain them, and (4) standing with Christ rather than being ashamed of Him.

When we come to Mark 9:30-42, we read of the disciples' foolish quest to be known as great. In response, Jesus tells them what it means to be truly great as His disciple. Apparently, Jesus was not interested in half-hearted mediocrity in those who were following Him. He wanted committed, ambitious, great committed that they would deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow ambitious for life that they would lose their lives for great that when they stand before the Father, Christ would not be ashamed of them. They would not be great in the sense that they had hoped...with throngs of people adoring them, wanting them to autograph their synagogue scrolls. However, they were to strive for greatness.

As we follow the story of these men and of the first church, we read of their commitment, we read of their ambition, and we read of their greatness. Jesus said that greatness would mean being humble and willing to serve indiscriminately...even serving a child. If you think serving a child brings humility, it's nothing compared to a Jew humbling himself to include the Gentiles in the same congregation...yet, that's what happens as the gospel goes forward. The disciples of Jesus were so committed that they wound up in jail, so ambitious that they would not stop looking for ways to expand the influence of the gospel, and so great that the Gentile dogs would now be known as brothers. It wasn't an easy road, but it was the road to which they were called by Jesus.

Even as we read a letter like Romans, we see Paul's ambition come through. In giving a series of lectures on the book of Romans, Dick Lucas tells a fictional story (based on real experiences) that I want to relate as best as I can remember. He speaks of going to a Bible college/seminary and talking with the president. The president of the institution goes on and on about how they have a brilliant group of young men writing various doctoral dissertations on Romans, and they're really making breakthroughs in some of Paul's grammatical usage. Then, Dick Lucas asks, "So, how many will you be sending into mission work?" Puzzled, the president looks at him and says, "Mr. Lucas, this is a theological institution." His point was that despite what many ivory-towered theologians may think, Paul did not write the letter simply to be a theological treatise.

We know that Paul does not know this congregation of believers in Rome, and part of what he is doing in this letter is seeking to establish a connection with them in the gospel. He wants them to know it and love it and live in light of it...but why? Is there more than just that? Is there a another purpose for this connection? When we read Romans 15, we see something that may answer these questions. If you look at verse 24, Paul indicates that he wants to come and see them and preach the gospel among them (the preaching is mentioned back in 1:15) as he goes on to Spain.

He's going to deliver money that was collected for the poor in collected from Gentile believers (v. 25-27). Once that's finished he wants to go to Spain by way of Rome (v. 28), and that stopping in Rome, he wants to be refreshed by them (v. 32). In other words, Paul's goal is Spain...Rome is just a launching pad for reaching the pagans in Spain. Romans 15:20 indicates that Paul does not see his mission as preaching where the gospel is already established. He has written letters where the gospel has been established (Corinth, for example), but he does not want to "build on someone else's foundation" (v. 20). However, in this massively theological letter, Paul wants to establish commonality in the gospel with these believers so that they will refresh and support him as he goes on to virgin territory.

If we miss this fact, we miss a major part of why Paul wrote the letter to the Romans. He is not writing a systematic theology...He is writing a missionary letter. His ambitious heart is driving him to Spain, and Rome is the best, most strategic place from which Paul can launch his ministry to that part of the world. He is not interested in being known as great, for to live is Christ (Phil. 1:21). Rather, he wants to actually be great. He doesn't want to stay in places where churches are established and be a gospel celebrity...rather, he wants to be last of all and servant of all...even to the Spaniards.

As Paul was ambitious to be great in humbly serving those he had never seen, so we too must remain ambitious in our gospel efforts. We must live with our eyes open to gospel opportunities. We must pray for God to grant us this kind of Pauline spirit to seek unreached places for the gospel seed to be planted and watered. Jesus is not interested in half-hearted, mediocre disciples, so included...must not settle for half-hearted mediocrity.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Supremacy of God in Our Lives

[This entry follows a sermon titled "Hope for the Hopeless." Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

Jesus is the only hope for the hopeless. The Scripture reveals a desperately sinful humanity with no hope of standing justified before a holy God. It is in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, God has all that is necessary so that all who believe in Christ are justified and have peace with God (Romans 5:1).

In Mark 9:14-29, Mark describes a hopeless father and his hopeless, demon-possessed boy. Originally, they encountered Jesus' disciples, and the boys condition was as hopeless after that encounter as it was beforehand...the faithless, prayerless disciples could do nothing. Yet, when Jesus descends the mountain and enters the scene, things change. He is supreme over the powerful demon, and He is supreme over His disciples. The supremacy of Jesus Christ over all things is one of the main highlights of this text of Scripture.

In our culture today, there is a plethora of religious choices for one who is searching. Yet, the Scripture is clear...the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not on an equal plan with these other religious choices. He is superior. Look at how Psalm 115:4-7 describes the other gods that men concoct and worship: "Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound from their throat." God is clear about these other gods: "I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God..." (Isaiah 45:5).

In other words, any god that is not the one true and living God is no god at is vain imagination to believe that any other god even compares to the God of the Bible. This truth was illustrated powerfully in the city of Ashdod, when the Philistines had captured the ark of God and placed it in the temple of their pagan god, Dagon (1 Samuel 5). When they came into the temple the next morning, Dagon was face down in front of the ark. The people put the god back in has to wonder why a god needs men to put it back in place, but that's beside the point. Again, the next day, Dagon was face down, but this time, both his hands and head were cut off. No god can withstand the presence of the God of Israel...unlike pagan gods, Yahweh's power is real, His presence is real, and He is living.

This is a significant theological truth. If we are truly believers in God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, then we must believe this as well. We cannot even entertain the thought that "we've chosen the religion that's best for us, and other people choose what's best for them, and we're all okay" Serving a God who says all other gods are dead, vain, hopeless, and worthless means something. We must believe what God says and actually live like it. We must do as the psalmist says in Psalm 138 - "I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise" (v. 1). In the midst of the pantheon of gods that fill men's imaginations and affections, our hearts and thoughts will be filled with praise for our God.

So, thinking in this way, evangelism is transformed. No longer am I trying to get my friend to "change his religious preference." I am seeking to help him see his false view of life and of himself and of religion, and I want him to see that the only true religion is one that exalts and trusts in Jesus Christ. Becoming a Christian is not "picking a religious path," it is having one's eyes opened to the only true God, to the hopeless condition of our souls, and to the provision made through the supreme life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It's a shift from believing a lie to believing the truth...from exalting dead gods who can do nothing for us to exalting the living God who has done everything on our behalf.

Do we believe this about Jesus...that He is supreme? Is it reflected in the way we think, speak, act, and live? If not, what will it mean for us to live in a way that He is supreme in our hearts and minds? These are questions that each of us must answer on our knees...with open Bibles.