While I don’t like being misquoted — or at least quoted in a false context — there isn’t much use complaining about my name being attached to the misleading promo. The people who know me, and know of my disdain for the “prosperity gospel,” will chuckle at the misrepresentation. And the people who don’t know me won’t care what I think.
When I think of the reasons that have led me to pen this letter, I get sad.
I never intended to walk away from the faith. There is so much about Jesus that I like: his personality, his teaching, his example.
I never wanted to walk away from Jesus or his followers, but I feel like I’m left with no choice.
Stuart Robinson, one of the leading Southern Presbyterian theologians of the 19th Century, set down 8 points of interpretion of Genesis 3:15 in his biblical-theological masterpiece Discourses of Redemption. In short, Robinson was seeking to highlight what our first parents could have known from the first preaching of the Gospel (what he called “the Gospel creed”) when he wrote…
The relationship of homosexuality to Christianity is without doubt one of the main subjects of cultural conversation today. If you are a Christian in New York City, it is nearly impossible to talk about your faith without this subject being raised. Although it is not central to the gospel message at the heart of Christianity, right now the cultural moment requires that we be prepared to address this issue whenever we are publicly identified as Christians.
Yes, there are more theological resources in this country than anywhere else in the world at any time in history. There are more ways to learn than ever before: through conferences, online sermons and lectures, by blogs and interviews and apps and videos. But I believe the church still needs the seminary. There are things the seminary can do that the even the biggest, best, and brightest church won’t be able to accomplish.
As Rosaria Butterfield began her lecture about her journey and “train wreck conversion” from a lesbian professor to a Christian, a pastor’s wife and mother of four, nine students in the front row of the audience stood up silently, took off their jackets, turned their backs to Butterfield and linked arms in front of a packed Oval Theater guarded by two University Police officers and two security officers.
About once a week, I get a text message from a good friend of mine out of the blue. This week, it read like this: “Half of what causes my heartache on a daily basis is parts of my pride dying on a daily basis.” Simple, sweet, but very true. This one sentence communicates something many Christ-followers can probably relate to – following Christ can be painful, it can hurt. It often means giving up your own desires.
This idea got me thinking, saying things like “Following Jesus can be painful,” or “Following Jesus is dangerous” aren’t exactly attractive phrases that build church attendance. So why would we continue to preach a message that doesn’t initially sound attractive? What does it mean to suffer for the gospel?
Not everyone faces intense persecution in this life. Following Christ will always inevitable come with the sacrifice of your desires and your wants. Why?
Jesus is the great physician, and like any good physician, he diagnoses and heals the sick. When Jesus enters your life, he’s like a surgeon who lays out your very soul on the operating table and he pronounces it “sick, dying, near death.” He informs you that you’re dying from the worst of all diseases and it is eating away at the lifeless shell you call a body. What makes matters worse is your sickness is so severe that it has made you delusional, to the point that you don’t even think you need help. But the surgeon unapologetically asks no questions. He wastes no time. This is an emergency procedure. He takes no time giving you medications to lessen the pain, he has no qualms over what it will cost. This surgery will be painful, and you will suffer.
And like a good surgeon, he begins his operation. He tells you that while you think you have life-giving blood flowing through you, it is actually poison. So he begins hooking up an IV. Immediately the liquid begins to flow. But the solution pumping through you isn’t a clear medicated solution. Its dark, its red, its thick. What is this, you ask this surgeon? “My blood. This is my blood. I’ve shed it for you.“
As his blood begins flowing, he takes out his knife. This isn’t just a small looking knife like you would expect from any other surgeon, it looks more like a machete. It’s large, sharp, and looks more suited for chopping down a tree than operating on a human. “Your pride has made you delusional,” he says “and this will allow me to address the problem.” And with a giant swing, he hacks off what looks like a life-sucking mass and it falls to the floor. Immediately you’re overcome with a realization of your need. You begin to wonder what is wrong with you. “Humility and a realization of your need. It is necessary for life.“
The procedure continues. The pain is extreme. You know you loved your pride, it was what fed your life. You don’t want to give it up. You can’t help but scream and weep. But a new feeling overtakes you, and for the first time you feel a new sense of life beating through you. “What is this,” you ask. “Life. You’re beginning to feel life.”
Having experienced such immense pain and what felt like great personal loss, surely the surgery must be over. You feel content with this new idea of life that is flowing through your veins. Why hasn’t the surgeon let you off the table? He pulls out his smaller knife, a scalpel. What is this new knife for? “I need to get in your heart,” he says. “You have idols in your heart and they’re obstructing the flow of my blood.”
With excruciating precision you can feel the shape of your heart change. Incisions so deep are being made that you can’t fathom why this might be worth it. You begin to think that you might’ve just preferred death.
“The end of the procedure is near now,” he says.
Just a little bit longer.
Finally, the procedure is done. You ask the surgeon to take off the bindings that were holding you down to the table. “What bindings? The only bindings I removed were the ones to bring you here.”
He soon holds up the mirror, and the person you see is not the person that began the operation. You’re astounded by what you see. It’s beautiful. You don’t even remember what you used to look like. You ask for a picture so you can see what you used to be. “We don’t keep those kind of records here.”
You ask the surgeon, “What is this, and what have you done?”
“I’ve made you like me, child.”
“I put you through all of that pain because I love you, and I’m the only one who could save you.”
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
So over the past weekend, my wife and I met up with some of her friends to go apple picking at a local orchard. If I’m going to be honest, when I go to apple orchards or local farms, I am not excited for the fruit picking so much as I am excited to buy all the cool jams, seasonings, and other products they sell that you can’t find in a grocery store. Maybe this means I have a consumer problem, I’m not sure!
As we were picking the apples, I couldn’t help but notice the thick smell of rotten, vinegary apples that saturated the tree fields. This is because many of the apples had fallen off the tree and for some time had been rotting in the soil. The smell and sight of these nasty apples immediately reminded me of one of my favorite sermon illustrations from Pastor Paul Tripp. I’ve heard him use his illustration of a pulpy apple tree many times before. It is no coincidence then that when I came home and continued reading Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, he used the illustration again! This was clearly a direct sign from God that I needed to blog about it (sarcasm).
Pastor Tripp’s illustration is concerned with addressing the matters of the heart. Tripp is a pastor who is very active and concerned with Biblical counseling. I’ve heard him speak in person at The Gospel Coalition conference, read numerous articles and book excerpts, and heard a handful of sermons. What I love about Tripp’s approach is that he understands how all of our approaches to eradicating and fighting sin in our lives must be concerned with matters of the heart. Too often, he says, our approach to looking at sin in our lives involves just step-by-step plans to prevent behaviors, but the desires of our heart never change.
Let’s take a look at his illustration:
Let’s say I have an apple tree in my backyard. Each year its apples are dry, wrinkled, brown and pulpy. After several seasons my wife says, “It doesn’t make any sense to have this huge tree and never be able to eat any apples. Can’t you do something?” One day my wife looks out the window to see me in the yard, carrying branch cutters, an industrial grade staple gun, a ladder, and two bushels of apples.
I climb the ladder, cut off all the pulpy apples, and staple shiny, red apples onto every branch of the tree. From a distance our tree looks like it is full of a beautiful harvest. But if you were my wife, what would you be thinking of me at this moment?
If a tree produces bad apples year after year, there is something drastically wrong with its system, down to its very roots. I won’t solve the problem by stapling new apples onto the branches. They also will rot because they are not attached to a life-giving system. And next spring, I will have the same problem again. I will not see a new crop of healthy apples because my solution has not gone to the heart of the problem. If the tree’s roots remain unchanged, it will never produce good apples.
The point is that, in personal ministry, much of what we do to produce growth and change in ourselves and others is little more than “fruit stapling.” It attempts to exchange apples for apples without examining the heart, the root behind the behavior. This is the very thing for which Christ criticized the Pharisees. – Instruments in the Redeemers Hands, 63
This illustration is just too good! I am in complete agreement with Tripp, that much of what the Church offers is merely a system of exchanging apples for apples without getting to the heart of the problem. The Bible again and again speaks plainly to this, but I’m not sure why we so often miss it. I love the example God gives us in Jeremiah 2. When God sends Jeremiah to speak to Israel about their numerous sins and lack of faithfulness towards him, what is the message he gives to Jeremiah?
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water. – Jer. 2:13
God did not give Jeremiah a list of numerous sins that the Israelites could topically address with any law-keeping system. God was, and has always been, concerned with matters of the heart. And in this case, as it always is, his people were covetous idolaters with a heart problem.
Much could be said to the subject of addressing heart change, but for now I will leave the reader with four questions. When seeking to fight sin in your life, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you want to fight your sin simply because you know (intellectually) it is bad? Or is your desire to fight sin growing out of a genuine hatred for your sin and a genuine love for Christ?
- How does the gospel inform how you’re addressing your sin problem? The gospel is applicable to any and all sins.
- Would the world be able to offer the same advice you’re giving yourself? The Christian has a unique advantage in fighting sinful behavior the world does not have: Christ and the Holy Spirit, through the power of the gospel. Don’t waste your time on a 10-step plan to remedying anger that involves “counting to ten” and “going on long walks to alleviate stress.” These steps may be useful, but they don’t address your heart problem.
- Finally, are you merely putting a plan in place that will prevent behavior, or are you applying the gospel to your heart so that your very desires change?
Many of you know that I recently got married to an amazing and beautiful woman. It has been about a month now, and while not without our own struggles, I thank God every day for this gift of marriage and the gift of having a bride.
I also continually thank God for the grace he had towards us in our dating relationship. While certainly vulnerable to the temptations and lusts of giving into sexual desires, by God’s grace and mercy we remained pure during our dating and engagement relationship. Admittedly, there came a time when we realized even kissing led to too much temptation, and God gave us the wisdom to realize we just needed to stop altogether.
You might be wondering why I would open a blog post with these details. Well, I share this for a couple reasons. One, to be transparent about the fact that even though we were able to remain pure, we were completely aware of the temptations and desires of our flesh. Two, as an example that remaining pure outside of marriage is entirely possible. This leads me into the subject of today’s post.
Sexual sin is pervasive and has completely infiltrated the Church today. It is rampant and it is everywhere.
Before I continue, a clarification needs to be made. When I speak of rampant sexual sin, I am not speaking of the Christian who is genuinely fighting their struggles with pornography and lust. Our daily struggles with sin is something that continues so long as we are on this side of glory. What I am instead speaking of here is the apathy, laziness and general approval of sexual sin that exists in the Church.
The Western culture has reached a place in its progression through time where complete and total freedom in regards to sexuality is one of the fundamental pillars of society. I’d spend time citing examples to prove my point, but just turn to any major news network or prime-time television show and it will make the point for me.
In contrast to the culture, the Church should embody a Biblical and Godly view of sexuality and marriage. What has instead happened has been a remarkable change in what it means to follow God’s Word in this area. People like the idea of Christianity and having a Savior for their sins, but they do not like the idea of having to submit in all areas of their lives. The recent book by the Barna Research Group entitled You Lost Me puts it this way:
“…many perceive the church and the faith to be repressive. One-fourth of young adults with a Christian background said they do not want to follow all the church’s rules (25 percent). One-fifth described wanting more freedom in life and not finding it in church (21 percent). One-sixth indicated they have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them (17 percent). And one-eighth said they feel as if they have to live a “double life” between their faith and their real life (12 percent).“
In a culture where sexual freedom is an ideal to strive for, the Church buckles under pressure. Instead of standing for what the Bible speaks on sexuality, sexual freedom is a respectable part of Church culture. Cohabitation, per-marital sex, pornography, adultery, and open relationships have become a norm in many Church settings.
It should be no surprise to us then when Church attendance diminishes, passion for evangelism and outreach ceases, and churches altogether die out. Any brief study of the Bible will show us that in the majority of cases where sin is listed, fighting sexual sin is of utmost importance. Let’s take a look at a few verses:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; – 1 Thess. 4:3
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality – Gal. 5:19
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. –1 Co 6:18–20.
Any number of verses could continue to be cited in regards to sexual sin. Have you ever pondered why sexual sin is almost always mentioned first in lists of sins, and seems to generally carry more of a weight than sins of other “categories?”
It is for this reason: sexual sin weakens our conscious and clouds our thoughts in ways that most other sins don’t. Whenever sexual sin is present, we grow apathetic in drawing near to Christ because we don’t want him to overcome our weaknesses. We then grow distant and feel ashamed in our lack of passion for God. Finally, we end up distancing ourselves from other Christians because they don’t want them to know about our sin. Fear, guilt, resentment and anger can only result from apathy towards sexual sin. Therefore, we can expect that where apathy towards sexual sin abounds, faithfulness, conversions and a zeal for God will decrease.
To further the problem of killing our own zeal and passion for Jesus, when we give in to sexual sin as if it is acceptable for the Christian life, it entirely kills our witness to the unbeliever. Nobody wants to join a lukewarm church. Nobody wants to listen to someone who has no passion, doesn’t practice what they preach, and obviously explains away certain principles to make themselves feel better. Either the text as a whole is authoritative, or none of it is.
I am convinced that when people leave the Church, it is normally not for intellectual or other reasons. More often than not, people leave the Church or back away from their communities because they love their sin more than they love Christ and they do not want to expose it. Why? Because in the darkness we can hide our sin, but drawing near to our communities and to Christ means crossing over from darkness to light, and thus exposing our sin.
Ultimately, our apathy towards sexual sin fails to give God the glory he is due, and fails to allow the Bible to be authoritative over our lives as it was meant to.
As a Church, what should our response be? In short, it is crucial we do a better job at a God-glorifying and Christ-exalting view of sexuality. I may write on this more in the future (I guarantee I will), but for now I will leave you with this quote by Tim Keller:
Contrary to the Platonist view, the Bible teaches that sex is very good (Gen. 1:31). God would not create and command something to be done in marriage (1 Cor. 7:3–5) that was not good. The Song of Solomon is filled with barefaced rejoicing in sexual pleasure. In fact, the Bible can be very uncomfortable for the prudish.
Contrary to the realist “sex-as-appetite” view, the Bible teaches that sexual desires are broken and usually idolatrous. All by themselves, sexual appetites are not a safe guide, and we are instructed to flee our lusts (1 Cor. 6:18). Our sexual appetite does not operate the same as our other appetites. To illustrate this point, C. S. Lewis asks us to imagine a planet where people pay money to watch someone eat a mutton chop, where people ogle magazine pictures of food. If we landed on such a planet, we would think that the appetite of these people was seriously deranged. Yet that is just how modern people approach sex.
Contrary to the romantic view, the Bible teaches that love and sex are not primary for individual happiness. What the Bible says about sex and marriage “has a singularly foreign sound for those of us brought up on romantic notions of marriage and sex. We are struck by the stark realism of the Pauline recommendations in 1 Corinthians 7 . . . but [most of all by] the early church’s legitimation of singleness as a form of life [which] symbolized the necessity of the church to grow through witness and conversion.”
The Bible views sex not primarily as self-fulfillment but as a way to know Christ and build his kingdom. That view undercuts both the traditional society’s idolatry of sex-for-social-standing and the secular society’s idolatry of sex-for-personal-fulfillment.