Monday, November 26, 2012

Why were we made?

We are here for God's glory. His ways ARE deep and mysterious, but His Word DOES teach us general principles to help us understand in part.

One important thing to remember is that we are mere creatures, and God owes us nothing, while we owe Him everything. Not only that, but we are sinful creatures, desperately wicked. If not for so many external restraints which God has appointed in the world (laws, governments, police, society, culture, limitations of power), this would be even more manifest. Because we are human, it is especially difficult for us to consider the end of many other humans, but we think too highly of ourselves.

Consider the demons, angelic beings who were originally created good as the others, before they fell. God made no plan of salvation for them, but left them in chains of darkness to await the day of torment. We find this easier to acknowledge and see the justice and righteousness of God in, and how He reveals thereby His just and good holiness and righteousness in not sparing them. Yet with humans, through which He also reveals His infinite grace and mercy in our salvation from sin, we are more troubled (and rightly so), ultimately because those who end in hell are our brethren according to the flesh, and because we are impressed enough with our own unworthiness and sinfulness, and God's divine perfection, that all things must serve His glory, not ours, because He alone is God.

We are the clay, He is the potter, and He must be free to do as He will with the clay. The vessels made for dishonourable use cannot complain against their maker. Neither can the vessels made for honourable use boast as if they formed themselves.

So on the final day, when God reveals His handiwork, and His righteousness is demonstrated in all things, we will be utterly awestruck, even dumbstruck, for all created things will not be able to say a word, except that He alone is the Lord who does as He wills, according to His own divine good beautiful glorious perfections.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Justified by Faith in Christ Alone!

I made a statement about the difference between the faith of the demons (certainty of present condemnation and future torment) and the faith of the Christian (certainty of present forgiveness and future blessedness). The faith of the Christian is saving faith, and James 2 explains very well how this can be seen by us to be different. We *see* that a man is justified not by their profession of faith only, but by how their faith produces the fruit of thankful obedience in them. The examples given are very clear - we see that Abraham had saving faith by his obedience in bringing Isaac to be sacrificed, and as Hebrews 12 explains, he had faith that God could raise the dead, since he believed the promise that God had already given him, that in Isaac the promised seed would be called, and that in this seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. We see that Rahab had saving faith by her attempt to protect and hide the spies in Jericho. This is very helpful, because although we see from this that she genuinely had faith in Jehovah to save her, her act in itself was clearly not sinless, although mixed with good motives, she lied to protect them. So, James is not teaching against what Paul clearly teaches in Romans, that God declares men righteous on the basis of their works, but that we see that they are righteous by the works which their faith produces. They are justified in our sight by works consistent with their profession of faith (where as, those who claim to believe, yet live ungodly, only have "faith" like demons do), but in God's sight, "no flesh shall be justified by the deeds of the law."

This is because neither faith nor works is or can be the basis of justification before God. God's holy standard is perfect and unchangeable as He is perfectly righteous and unchangeable. He cannot deny Himself. Therefore the only one who can be declared righteous (justified) before God, is one who is legally perfectly righteous. Christ alone is perfectly righteous, and He suffered the punishment for the sins of His elect people on the cross. Since He has already taken all our punishment, as our representative Head (as we are His body, in Him), there is no longer any condemnation. God will not, cannot, according to His perfect justice, punish us for what He has punished Christ in our stead. It is explained in Romans, especially chapter 5, that we are justified on the basis of Christ's perfect sacrifice for us. Faith is then, not the basis of justification (which is Christ alone), but the means by which we know in our own conscience, the declaration of God that we are righteous in Christ, only because of what He has done. This is the saving faith miraculously worked in the elect by the Holy Spirit, by which we know the Gospel and are comforted by the knowledge that Christ has fully accomplished our redemption from sin.
"1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement." - Romans 5:1-11.
Romans 3 & 4 emphasises that we are justified through faith in Christ, apart from any works of the law:
"23 For all [both Jew and Gentile] have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:
30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law."
We see here that boasting is specifically excluded because justification is on the basis not of anything we have done or will ever do, but on the basis of Christ's blood. That we are justified (declared righteous by God) only through faith in Him, excludes all boasting of ourselves against anyone else. Saving faith sees Christ as the only ground of our righteousness, and therefore humbles, and removes all boasting. But that both Jew and Gentile are justified in Christ does not make void what was taught in the Old Testament, since this is also how these saints were justified. Paul points to the examples of Abraham and David:
"1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin."
This teaches (v.4) that if a man was justified by his works, then the reward would be a debt of God to that person, and not grace at all. But these examples show that justification is only by grace. Saving faith believes on him that justifies the ungodly - a Christian believes that he is not worthy to be justified on the basis of his works (because he sees that even his best works are still corrupted by sin, as Isaiah 64:6 says). So, a Christian, is one who, like David, see himself as one who has iniquities and sins, but which have been covered and forgiven on the basis of Christ's sacrifice, so that they are not imputed to him, but instead, the righteousness of Christ, his Head and representative, as a second Adam, is imputed to him. Such is the blessedness of the Christian who is justified by saving faith, despite his sinful works.

Now, Romans 6 and 7 make clear the God delivers these justified believers from the dominion and power of sin, so that we can begin to serve righteousness, while making clear that in this life there will still be struggle against the old sinful flesh until it is finally destroyed, and so Romans 8 teaches how we long and hope for this day, ultimately, the day of resurrection at Christ's return. The firm confidence and full assurance of the Christian is expressed clearly:
"15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:"
And that we do not yet experience sinless perfection is taught:
"24 For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?"
If we had attained sinless perfection, we would not still be groaning inwardly, and longing, and hoping for that. Further Romans 8 teaches that all of the elect are justified, again demonstrating the absolute confidence of a true believer, on the basis of Christ's saving work alone:
"28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.
34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
So, to whoever denies that a Christian knows with full assurance through faith that he is justified on the basis of Christ's work alone, I quote again:
"Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."
Happy Reformation Day!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

"He made reconciliation with God a POSSIBILITY"?

"He made reconciliation with God a possibility." Where is this taught in the 66 books of the Bible? That is a denial of the work of Jesus Christ in the Gospel. The Lord Jesus did not simply make salvation a possibility for every single person. He actually saves His people (those graciously unconditionally chosen in love) from their sins by His Spirit bringing us to faith in His propitious sacrifice and to repentance from sin.
"And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins." - Matthew 1:21.
"He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities." - Isaiah 53:11. 
There is not even a hint in Holy Scripture that Christ just makes it possible for us to save ourselves. He is the Saviour, not us. His is the glory, not ours. Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself as the Head of His elect church (which is His body - Ephesians 5). He suffered the punishment dues to us for our sins, that is what it means that He died FOR us, as a substitute. He propitiated the wrath of God therefore, satisfied God's holy justice and righteousness. We know through faith in Christ that we will not be cast into hell, only because Christ has suffered all the just punishment of God already.

God, in His justice cannot send anyone for whom Christ sacrificed Himself to hell, otherwise Christ's sacrifice was not an atoning sacrifice. Can God deny what Christ has done on the cross because many do not believe? Absolutely not. As Christ said in John 17: "I pray not for the world, but for those whom you have given me." As our High Priest, offering Himself as a fully sufficient sacrifice, He prayed not for every single person, but only for those God has given Him. No-one can come to Him unless the Father draws him, as the Lord teaches in John 6. So it is that only those for whom Christ died, are given the gift of the Spirit who creates true faith in us.

 To reduce Christ's work to making salvation a mere possibly for everyone, rather than a reality accomplished for many, but not all, is a denial of Scripture's teaching about the nature, perfection, efficacy, power, and sufficiency of His sacrifice. On the cross Christ purchased the gifts of faith and repentance for His people, so that He does not leave it up to us to make His sacrifice effective - of ourselves we cannot do any good, being dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2), because apart from the Spirit, the carnal mind is enmity against God and cannot be subject to His law (Romans 8). And those who have the Spirit belong to Christ, are known by Him, and saved. These are the sheep for whom He laid down His life, who are brought graciously to believe in Him - not the goats as He teaches in John 10. God alone determines who is saved and who is not. We are not masters of our own destiny - God alone is the King over the universe who determines all things, especially the salvation or damnation of sinful men.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Can Grace Be Common When Considered Theologically?

Biblical grace can be understood in three senses. The first is as an attribute of God within Himself, independently of all the creation, the second is as an attitude towards a creature in accordance with this attribute, and the third is as a power towards that creature in accordance with that attitude. This is where the idea of common grace goes wrong, as it proposes an attitude of gracious favour which does not proceed from God's infinite grace in Himself, and therefore does not result in the gracious power of salvation towards its object. If grace is understood first of all as an attribute within God Himself, which is inseparably united with all His other divine attributes, such as omnipotence and holiness, then it is very apparent that He cannot be gracious toward someone and yet NOT save them.

Also if grace does not proceed from God's grace within Himself which is almighty, just, and so on, where does it come from? And if it is not legally based on the cross of Christ, how is it just? And if it is based on the cross of Christ, how are the recipients not delivered from hell, since Christ's atonement was substitutionary and complete?

What about when God speaks graciously towards Israel as a whole, when many in that nation were actually not saved? God often addresses the entire nation of Israel graciously, but it is directed towards the elect kernel within the nation as considered as an organic whole, like a grain of wheat surrounded by chaff and supported by a stem, or like a wheat field in which tares are also present. John the Baptist spoke of the Day of Judgment when no longer will the chaff be among the wheat, but God would clear His threshing floor.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Homosexuality in the Bible


At the outset, as a Christian, I do not bother entertaining the objections to any passage of Scripture on this or any other issue. It matters not one iota who was the human writer of any passage of Scripture with regard to its authority. Unbelievers may disregard Scripture, and do so at their eternal peril, but any who profess to be Christian must believe the Holy Scriptures to be God’s Word or their profession is empty, since thereby they deny Jesus Christ who is the One who speaks in the Scriptures. Nor does it matter at all that much of the church world today denies many parts of Scripture, and does not obey God’s Word. In doing so, they only show that they are not truly churches at all. Nor is it my intention to deal with all the perverse interpretations of Scripture which ignorant unbelievers attempt to use to claim that it is absurd or otherwise. Anyone honestly interested in the truth may easily look up the relevant passages of Scripture for himself, and see the perversity of the reasoning of unbelievers such as Richard Dawkins who are literally hell-bent on opposing faith in the living God as He is revealed by the Word.
“Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.” – Luke 21:33.
It should be said that the issue of homosexuality is an ethical issue. Every single ethical or moral issue is important because of the spiritual truth about God and His work of salvation. It must be said however that the reason ethical issues ought to concern Christians is not because true Christians seek to stroke their egos by keeping difficult rules, nor is it because we are trying to earn some kind of ticket into heaven by keeping certain laws. True Christians ought to be concerned with doing the will of God (that is, obeying His commandments or laws) out of love for Him, in gratitude for our salvation which has already been accomplished by Christ for everyone who believes in Him. And that is how we know that Christ has died and risen again for our sins: we believe on Him, only by a miracle of grace. This is because Christ purchased at the cross the gift of faith for all those and only those given to Him by the Father. If you believe, you will certainly be saved everlastingly. And as a result, you will be very concerned with moral issues, in order to show your gratitude to God and honour Him. So it should be obvious now that to the unbeliever, homosexuality is not an issue that is cared much about, except that the unbeliever would very much like everyone to approve him, especially because in his conscience he still knows that God does not approve him.

Why One Man and One Woman?

What then is the key spiritual truth which determines our view of homosexuality? Some have claimed it is creation, and that would not be entirely wrong, but there is a far deeper truth behind this. Why did God create humans male and female? It was not, as some have claimed, simply to populate the earth. If this was God’s purpose He could have created humans to be hermaphrodites like earthworms and snails (by the way, there is a significant reason that this behaviour is only natural for these kinds of unpleasant slimy creatures). But even a surface reading of Genesis 2 demonstrates that when God revealed that it was not appropriate for man to be alone, He did not create another man to be with him, but deliberately took flesh and bone from the man’s side and formed it into a woman, specifically to be a companion fitting for man. This tells us that men cannot take the place of a woman in relation to a man. Men can be very good close friends, and love one another very much, as much, or even sometimes more than men can love women or vice versa. But this passage proves that there is a definite role which no man can or may attempt to have in relation to another man. This includes sexual activity. And all sexual activity, according to the Bible, is only appropriate within the bond of marriage.
“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam 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. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” – Genesis 2:18-24.
The fundamental truth that ought to govern our view of homosexuality is the spiritual reality of Christ and the church as presented in Ephesians 5. Not the church building or the institute of the church, but the church itself. The church in this context is the people of God, true Christians redeemed from every tongue, tribe, and nation, gathered throughout all history. This passage teaches us that mystery of marriage is revealed as Christ and the church.
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” – Ephesians 5:22-32.
The passage teaches unmistakeably that marriage is a bond between one man and one woman so that they are one flesh. Marriage is this way precisely because of the spiritual reality of Christ and the church. Christ is united to the church by a holy bond, so that we are of his flesh and of his bones. As in earthly marriage, this heavenly marriage is composed of one husband and one wife. The husband is Jesus Christ who is the head and loves the church and gave Himself for the church on the cross. The wife is the church who is the body and is called to submit to Jesus Christ. This is the spiritual reality that all earthly marriages ought to display a picture of. Therefore there can be no “homosexual marriages”. Anything other than one man and one woman in marriage could not and would not be a picture of Christ and the church. In fact the idea of a “homosexual marriage” is therefore a perversion of this picture.

In the Old Testament there are admittedly various examples of men who married either multiple wives or had additional concubines. However, the Scriptures never ever approve of these situations. In fact, the first polygamy is found in the wicked line of Cain’s descendents. Abraham was very obviously chastised for his taking of Hagar as a concubine, and Jacob’s life was made miserable by his folly in taking a second wife. David and Solomon both brought great trouble on themselves by their wives/concubines. Furthermore, the conclusive word on the issue is the principle taught by our Lord. This instructs us on what Jesus Himself taught about homosexuality in His earthly ministry. It is not true that He never spoke on the issue. That which was in the beginning is the unalterable pattern for marriage: one man and one woman until death.
“… but from the beginning it was not so.” – Matthew 19:8b.

Struggling With Lust

I should think that it ought not to be necessary to also demonstrate that any sexual activity outside marriage (homosexual or otherwise) is sinful. Perhaps this is na├»ve. At any rate, it ought to be sufficient to say that even sexual lusts hidden in the heart are sinful outside of marriage. As always, Christ does not deny the slightest part of the law but emphasizes even more strongly that the moral law is first of all spiritual. It is not primarily concerned with outward behaviour. True obedience to God’s must always begin in the heart, or else it is nothing but hypocrisy. And if it begins in the heart, then it will necessarily affect the outward behaviour also. This means that not only is homosexual practice sinful but also all homosexual lust is sinful. It should also be understood however that not even the godliest saint can keep the law of God perfectly, he only has a small beginning of true obedience, and that not by his own strength, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore a Christian who struggles with lust, whether homosexual or otherwise, ought not despair, but be encouraged that there is a struggle (since those not born again are completely dead in sins), and continue to fight by the power of the Spirit of Christ, in the confident knowledge of their forgiveness, and eventual deliverance and victory.
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28.
That there is deliverance from these sins in Jesus Christ is evident from one of the few passages in the New Testament which directly refers to homosexuality. Some of the members of the Corinthian church had been involved in homosexual practices, but by God’s grace they were converted by the power of the Gospel, and repented of their sins, so that Paul could say concerning them, that they had been cleansed of this.
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” – I Corinthians 6:9-11.
This does not mean that they never struggled with this temptation again however. Each person has different trials and temptations. Sometimes our particular weaknesses are due to our birth, others due to events in God’s providence, but we cannot use this as a reason to blame God. God certainly determines all things, and His perfect wisdom is unsearchable. Consider the case of the man who was born blind in John 9. God made him blind from birth – but Christ explained why. It was so that God’s glory would be displayed in him when he received his sight and more importantly salvation through faith in Christ, so that he became a bold witness for Christ and the grace of God before the Pharisees, suffered for Christ, and worshipped Him at His feet.
“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” – John 9:1-3.
Nevertheless, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God may lead us from temptation. Since we pray that, it would be hypocrisy not to avail ourselves of whatever means God provides for us to avoid temptation. This is a godly, humble thing to do. It is not cowardly or defeatist. It is wise. To refuse means of avoiding temptation is the pride which comes before a fall. For those who struggle to contain their sexual desire, the Bible recommends marriage. Marriage is also a glorious picture of Christ and the church, but God has also given it for this purpose. Some people can live a single life, and that is recommended also as a good choice, especially as doesn’t carry as many earthly cares, but only if continence is not a problem. Seeking marriage means actively, prudently, carefully, wisely seeking a godly spouse who will be a companion for life, trusting that God will provide.
“Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” – I Cor. 7:2-9.

Sodom: An Example

We have already noted that it is not true that Christ never taught anything about the issue of homosexuality. There is another more obvious reference when Christ speaks about Sodom. Sodom was destroyed with fire and brimstone from heaven because of its proud wickedness, especially characterised by rampant homosexuality from which we have the word “sodomy”. Needless to say, such destruction was unusual. In fact in all history it stands out as one of the most dramatic outpourings of God’s wrath in judgment, next only to the global Flood which destroyed billions of lives. Even the plagues of Egypt were not so severe. It stands out as a fiery testimony for all ages of God’s attitude towards this sin. The example given in Genesis 19 is that of all the men, young and old, gathering to gang-rape Lot’s two male visitors (actually angels). When Lot desperately and disgracefully attempts to protect his guest by offering his daughters instead, they even refuse, and finally attempt to assault Lot before the angels rescue him.

The timing of it is very significant. It occurred long before the Law was given through Moses. Homosexuals today often claim that the Bible’s only teaching on homosexuality is in Leviticus, which they ridicule and disregard on account of many things they do not understand. But Sodom was destroyed before the Law was given through Moses. Irrespective of one’s view of Leviticus then, it is abundantly clear just from the example of Sodom, what God’s opinion of homosexuality is. Sodom is exactly that, an example – for all time. It is referred to repeatedly throughout Scripture as an example, in the Old Testament prophets and also in the New Testament letters.  Once God makes an example like this to reveal something about Himself and His holy judgment, He does not do so again. When God speaks in such a manner, we do not ask Him to repeat Himself, we do not need to.

When the Benjamite city of Gibeah had descended to a similarly wicked state (only worse because this was in the church!), God didn’t send down fire and brimstone. However, there was civil war in Israel as a result, and it marked the darkest occasion since entering the promised land, and the tribe of Benjamin was nearly utterly wiped out because of it. The outrage at Gibeah represented the lowest state of moral bankruptcy in Israel, which illustrates how terribly base and vile a sin homosexuality is.

But Christ pronounces heavier condemnation on Capernaum than Sodom. What was the sin of Capernaum? Christ had preached the Gospel there, but the people had refused to repent and believe. Rejecting the preaching of the Gospel brings greater condemnation than sodomy. It is a much worse sin. That must never be forgotten in all the discussion about the seriousness of the sin of homosexuality. Rejection of Christ in the preaching of the Gospel carries a less tolerable judgment of God.

“And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” – Matthew 11:23-24.

Homosexuality as Judgment

With such a dramatic example we should not be surprised if the rest of the Scriptures take little time to make a point of directly condemning homosexuality. Nevertheless, they do in many cases. Some have been mentioned already. Romans 1 is one such passage. Here Scripture presents homosexuality as a punishment from God for sin, specifically the sin of idolatry. After asserting that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against unrighteous men, it goes on to explain why all are without excuse. This is because all know from what is plainly manifest in them, that God is almighty, divine, and must be worshipped. Since the ungodly in their generations refused to worship God as they knew they should, God gave them over to run after worse sins. It specifies lesbianism, and likewise, sodomy and adds what is probably a reference to the harmful effects of these practices. It also declares that these things are “against nature”. Furthermore, the passage adds that despite their knowledge of the severe judgment of God against these things, they have pleasure in all who practice these things.
“For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. … Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” – Romans 1:26-27.
That in itself speaks volumes about why the Bible does not bother to repeatedly address the subject of homosexuality at length. Not only is it obviously “against nature”, but those who do these things know what God’s judgment is concerning them. In fact their homosexuality is a judgment of God already against them. Remember the Christians in Corinth though; even of these, some are saved.

Homosexuality in the Law

Finally it is necessary to insist that the Bible’s teaching concerning homosexuality in Leviticus cannot and must not be ignored. Of the Old Testament Scriptures, Christ said, “Scripture cannot be broken”, and “If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they listen though one should rise from the dead”. The reason it is ridiculed by unbelievers is because they don’t know the first thing about the Bible, and how it is to be interpreted. The first rule of Bible interpretation is always that Scripture alone must interpret Scripture, and probably second is that the New Testament Scriptures interpret the Old Testament. The New Testament therefore teaches us how to understand Leviticus correctly and therefore what to make of its teaching concerning homosexuality.
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:17-19.
Christ is very clear in this passage that we ought not teach anyone to disregard even one of the least of the commandments of the Old Testament. How are we to understand this? Does this mean that we all have to go and live in Canaan, and rebuild an earthly temple to offer sacrifices? Simply, no. Christ teaches us that the law is spiritual (Romans 7:12, 14a). The Old Testament laws may be divided into three categories. One category concerns the ceremonial laws about the priesthood, the temple, the sacrifices and so on. These things were only ever pictures of what was to come. Christ has fulfilled the ceremonial laws by His perfect sacrifice once for all time for us. He is our High Priest and we now need no other ever. The letter to the Hebrews explains all this very well.

Another category is judicial or civil laws. These were laws particular to the Jewish nation and the land in an earthly kingdom including all manner of punishments such as the death penalty. Likewise, these things were pictures of a greater reality to come. Christ is our King, and His kingdom is spiritual in the hearts of His people. The land was only ever a picture of heaven. Furthermore everything that pertained only to the Jews has been discarded because both Jew and Gentile are saved in Christ. This means for example, no more circumcision or food laws (Peter was even explicitly given a vision to demonstrate this). What then of the moral law? Everywhere it is reinforced in the New Testament as the rule of gratitude. As Christ said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” – Romans 13:8-10.
That Paul reiterates these commandments demonstrates that Christians remain bound by the law which is summarised as love for God and for our neighbour. We are not under the law, in the sense of its condemnation. In that sense we are free from it by grace, since Christ has fulfilled the law perfectly for us. But out of love and gratitude for God whose perfect moral character and holy righteousness does not change, we must obey His commandments. What of the command in Leviticus concerning homosexuality then?
“Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife, to defile thyself with her. And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord. Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion. Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.” – Leviticus 18:20-25.
A clearer context could not be found. Here we find the commandment couched in between commandments against adultery, infanticide, and bestiality. Who will claim that these things are now justifiable? Furthermore, and this is the end of controversy, it was for these things that God cast out the ungodly nations that inhabited Canaan. These were not Jews, nor had they received the law – they were not bound by any peculiar Jewish customs, yet God destroyed them for these things. Even more, He says that on account of these things, not only the people, but the very land was defiled, vomiting out these wicked inhabitants. This is the sense in which it describes homosexuality as an “abomination”, a detestable thing in the eyes of God. May God deliver us from this defilement. May He cleanse all His elect from it, gather us together, and present us holy and chaste to Christ.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Recognising a true church requires objective criteria!

A friend recently brought this article to my attention:

What follows is my rather blunt response.

Recognising a true church requires objective criteria!

The translation of Acts 2:43 is very wrong! It's says, "And fear came upon every soul:" That's the reverent loving fear of God which is a mark of every Christian, and the beginning of wisdom. It is seen not in emotional experiences but in obedience to His commandments, as Christ said, if you love me, obey my commandments. In this verse in Acts, Luke is not talking about a sense of awe in their worship services - he's talking about the godly obedience in the hearts of these early Christians.

The first point only begs the question: what is it that glorifies God? To this question, every Tom, Dick, and Harry has a different answer. The only way to judge this is by asking, is this church faithful to SCRIPTURE.

The instruction here is imbalanced because it immediately speaks of the important of good application without insisting upon what must come first - correct sound biblical doctrine. The biblical presentation is different - right knowledge of God always manifests itself in right practice in the lives of believers (otherwise they are hypocrites!). Paul's prayer for the Ephesians begins with this petition for them - heavenly wisdom, knowledge and understanding of God. II Peter sums up the Christian life, "grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ". John 17:3 says, eternal life is this, to know God in Jesus Christ whom He has sent. The Bible is the revelation of Jesus Christ, so that knowledge of the Scriptures is the only source of knowledge of God.

Unbelievers also show seemingly genuine concern for one another, as the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. They may be very warm and naturally affectionate towards one another, united in their rebellion against God. Again, Scripture must be the judge, objectively. We cannot tell what love is in people's hearts except in the expression of it, which we may not be able to distinguish from the "love" of hypocrites!

Furthermore, we must not confuse the healthiness of believers with the healthiness of the church. Obviously the two are related, but remember that there are always hypocrites in the church, and the saints are filled with all manner of weaknesses too, even though there may be nothing wrong with the church. We must not blame the church for all of our own failings and weaknesses. Often there is some blame there, but not at all always!

Historically this subject was dealt with, especially when the church was coming out of apostate Rome. Then it became necessary to establish more clearly how the Bible teaches us to objectively judge what is a church and what is not, because it is not enough for an institution to take to itself the name "church". The Mormon "church" does this (as does Rome) but judged by the Bible, they are not churches at all! So, how do we judge, and how did Christians historically learn to judge this? Again, look at their confessions, where they tell us how the judge, and bear witness of the wisdom that the Spirit worked in their hearts. Guido de Bres, who was martyred for his faith wrote a confession for the Belgian Reformed churches while in prison, which was recognised as so biblical, indisputable, and helpful, in time of great controversy, that the continental European Reformed churches universally approved of it, and began to use it as their official confession. In it, Guido explains what the Bible displays as the three marks by which a church can be recognised. The healthiness of the church is directly related to the church's faithfulness to these.

First, is the pure preaching of the biblical Gospel. That stands to reason for anyone who knows the Bible even a little. It cannot be a church which doesn't preach the true Gospel. The biblical Gospel is simply the good news about Jesus Christ, what He has done to save us. It is not, therefore, instruction about how we may save ourselves by our own will or work, or how to make the world a better place to go to hell from, or how to be successful in life, or any number of other popular false gospels!

Second, is the sacraments that Jesus Christ instituted for His church. A group which doesn't have these two sacraments of the Lord's Supper and baptism, can clearly not be called a church. It is not a church which replaces the sacraments with corruptions that have no bearing to what Christ instituted, such as the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass, or which add to these sacraments many more which Christ never authorised!

Thirdly, is biblical Christian discipline. Christ instituted this too in His church, and gave authority to the church to carry out this discipline with the keys of the kingdom. Naturally, this implies that a church has ruling officebearers (elders who meet the biblical requirements) who can carry out this discipline, according to the biblical mandate and readmit repentant brethren (which also implies official church membership!). This implies also that the elders have the rule over the administration of the sacraments, to refuse those who are impenitent and unbelieving. That which does not have this rule, and corrupts the sacraments by allowing all and any to take part asking no questions cannot be considered a manifestation of the kingdom of God - the church.

Finally, in these, the long-confessed attributes of the church are maintained. Unity, so that we have the same Lord, and believe the same Gospel and so on; catholicity, so that none are excluded or discriminated against on the basis of anything other than impenitence in life or doctrine; holiness maintained by Christian discipline; and apostolicity, doctrinal faithfulness to the teaching of the apostles.

I don't get why this article ignores these long-established doctrines concerning the church.