Archive for the 'Ethics' Category


i am crucified with christ (2)… dead to law

If we are dead and our life is hid with Christ in God we will discover that this death is not simply to sin. Our death, in Christ, has even farther-reaching implications.   We have died not only to sin but to every power and authority that would seek to control us in a fallen world.  Death severs all relationships in this world. 

If in Roms 6 we are said to be dead to sin, then in Roms 7 we have died to the law for law, like sin, is an authority in the world.

Dead to the Law


  • Is the law the ‘rule of life’ for Christians?
  • Where does the NT regularly direct us for the source and shape of our sanctification?
  • Should Christians have certain ‘holy days’ and observe festivals such as lent?
  • Are candles, impressive buildings, and other aesthetic and sensory stimulation an aid to (an advance in) Christian worship?

In Romans 7, Paul tells us that we are dead to the Law, that is, to God’s Law, the Mosaic Covenant and its commandments (and we may safely say, by implication, to all other rudimentary morality codes as binding authorities  Cf. Gals 4:9).  In Ch 6 he hinted at this when he said,

 Rom 6:14 (ESV)
 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

His point is that the Law has no authority in the life of the believer, he is not ‘under it’ rather he lives in another realm, the realm and reign of grace (Roms 3:21-30, 5:2,15-21).  Grace and law are different realms with opposing principles of rule.  In Romans 7:1-6 he makes  essentially the same point through the metaphor of marriage.

Rom 7:1-6 (ESV)
Or do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to those who know the law-that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

In the patriarchal culture of the C1 a woman submitted to the authority of her husband and did so until he died.  Paul uses this analogy to show how Christian obedience (particularly Christian Jews to whom the law specifically applied 7:1) is no longer to the law but to Christ for death has brought about a change in authorities (or husbands).  Jewish believers were ‘married to the law’ (the Mosaic Covenant had been the authority that controlled their lives) but in death (and the analogy is inverted in that it is the woman who dies not the husband) they have been freed from this marriage to marry another, namely Christ.  Consequently, their former husband has no rights or power over them.  They are not obligated to him any more.  Why?  They have died and no longer live in the realm or world where law has authority and rights.  Indeed, as those married to Christ, to subject themselves to the requirements of the law would make them bigamists.

Now the function of the Law in redemptive history is a big one that generates much controversy.  We cannot hope to deal with it at any length in this post.  Let me sum up briefly the two main functions of the Law as I understand them (as Paul outlines them in Romans).

  • The Law was given to reveal the reality of sin
Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Sin always existed in a fallen world but the law revealed its nature and true power.  Law  (an explicitly articulated command generally accompanied by a sanction) made explicit what was previously implicit and so increased the gravity of the offence; sin became more sinful for it became an infraction or transgression of a legal demand.  Further, because fallen human nature meant none could keep the law, indeed all railed against it, sin is seen in its true colours as an evil malignant destructive enslaving power (Cf. 4:15, 5:13,14, 5:20, 7:7-12; Cf. Gals 3:19).  Law came in to increase the trespass (Roms 5:20) by exposing, exaggerating and exciting it.  

Rom 5:13-14 (ESV)
 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
  • The Law was given to point to Christ
Rom 3:21-22 (ESV)
 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:

It pointed to Christ a) by showing the moral bankruptcy of humanity and so the need of a Saviour b) by foreshadowing the coming Saviour and salvation in various ways.  Other functions of the Law may be added, such as being a hard taskmaster that would contrast more clearly the liberty in Christ (Gals 3:23-25), but these are subsidiaries of the main two functions, namely to give knowledge of sin and knowledge of Christ.

Most evangelicals will happily agree that the Christian is not ‘under law’ as a means of justification.  The Law (many will agree, though not all) was a covenant of works.  Life was promised for a life of law-keeping righteousness; law’s premise was ‘this do and live’ (Ex 24:7; Lev 18:5; Deut 8:1; Lk 10:28; Roms 10:5; Gals 3:12 Cf. Roms 7:10; Gals 3:21).  Law offered ‘life’ on the basis of obedience, it did not assume life, in fact it assumed the absence of life (thus, this do and live).

However, although the Law promised life upon obedience, life by law-keeping was impossible because law-keeping for sinners under it was impossible.  Addressed as it was to fallen humanity, it was only a counsel of despair (Roms 7:7-10).  Instead of providing life it became a vehicle of death; the curse of a broken law fell on the law-breaker and all under it were law-breakers (Deut 11:26-28, 27:26, 30:15-20; Gals 3:10).  From its inception it was clear that the revelation of law, although promising life, could only purvey death (Ex 19:12, 20:19).  We need only read the many death threats explicit in the law to see its danger to sinful people.  It is probably not without significance that the Law-giver, Moses, dies outside the Promised Land; typically it confirmed the inability of law to bless.  Thus, what offered life, because of the corruption of human nature, became an administration of death (Rom 7:10; 2 Cor 3:6,7).  By the works of the law no flesh would be justified for by the law came only knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20).  The Law only condemns and brings wrath (Rom 4:15).  Humanity under law needed to be rescued from it.  This is, in fact, what happened in Christ.  As Paul says to Jewish Galatian believers (in Galatians ‘us’ and ‘we’ refers to Jews and ‘you’ refers to gentiles)

Gal 3:11-14 (ESV2011)
 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Law and faith, like Law and gospel-promise, are opposite in principle (Gals 3:12, 18).

The majority of the above will have unanimous consent among evangelicals.  However, while many will happily affirm that we are not ‘under law’ for justification some (many) will just as vehemently affirm that we are ‘under law’ for our sanctification.  The law, they say, takes us to Christ for our justification but Christ takes us to the law for our sanctification.   The law they will insist is the believer’s ‘rule of life’.  Such assertions are entirely mistaken.  Paul does not imply we are not under law for one aspect of salvation but under it for another; Christ is the source of both justification and sanctification for the Christian.  Christ, not the law, is the believer’s rule of life.  We ought to walk as he walked (1 Jn 2:6).  Christ is sufficient for all things.

For Paul, we are either married to the law or we are not married to the law.  He makes no subtle nuances or qualifications here.  Theologians,and theological systems may do so, but Paul does not.  There is no half-way house regarding Law, we are either under it or not under it, either obligated to it or not obligated to it.  We are not free from the law for justification but married to it for sanctification.  The relationship is absolute and admits of no exceptions.  If we are married to Christ then we are not married to the law and vice versa (Gals 5:4).  We are not bigamists and even less are we encouraged by Christ to be such, the very suggestion is blasphemous.  The second husband never sends us back to the first saying ‘obey him’.

The law is not the means or measure of our sanctification, Christ is.  Indeed the law can no more sanctify than justify.  Paul is clear and emphatic on this.  Romans 7, where Paul discusses the believers relationship to law, is less concerned with the question of justification than it is with that of sanctification.  The law produces only ‘the fruit of death’ (7:5).  It is a wife-beater demanding love but unable to either create or provoke it.  Only by being freed from it (through death) and married in resurrection life to Christ can we produce ‘fruit for God’ (7:4).  All of this is sanctification and it is Christ who is its source not law, decidedly not law.

Yes, we are told, but the law is how Christ sanctifies believers?  He sends us back to the law as our rule of life.  Implied bigamy aside, why do you say this?  Where does the NT teach this?  Paul says something quite different.

Rom 7:6 (ESV)
 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

And what does the Spirit do?  Does he send us back to the law and say follow that code?  Does he tell new believers that the Christian life is a whole series of rules and regulations that they must learn and observe – for that is what the law is?  Does he say, ‘go back to the Ten Commandments and keep them’?  Does he say, ‘grow in grace by growing in the knowledge of the law’?   No he doesn’t.  Only rarely in the NT is the Mosaic Code explicitly cited in the context of moral living and never as an absolute authority requiring obedience.  The new way of the Spirit is not to send us back to the old way of the written code. This is palpable contradiction and folly.

We are not directed to the law for holiness but to the gospel.  The measure of a holy life is Christ not the law.  We grow in grace and in the knowledge (not of law) but of Christ Jesus.  The work of the Spirit is to floodlight Christ.  He points us to Christ and the grace and truth in him (Jn 15:26).  In the gospel we have the means, motive and measure of sanctification.  It is grace, not law that saves a wretch like me.  Grace teaches our heart to believe and relieves our fears.  It is grace that brought me safe thus far and grace that will lead me home.  Married to Christ we learn from Christ and are sanctified by him (Eph 4:20, 5:25-27). Living by the Spirit we walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:20).  Under grace, we are taught by grace.

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV2011)
 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

And here is highlighted precisely the difference between the method of the Law and the method of the Spirit.  The law makes us look inside ourselves and examine our lives.  It suggests righteous living comes through keeping a long list of rules and regulations and so inevitably engenders introspection and despair as we self-analyse and constantly find ourselves falling short.  Look at the person under law in Roms 7;  he is constantly looking within, constantly focussing on the ‘I’ and constantly finding only failure and frustration.  The Spirit by contrast takes us outside of self.  He focuses our attention on Christ.  He sets our mind and affections on things above.  He gives us a vision of Christ and as we gaze on a glorified Christ we are changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.

2Cor 3:18 (ESV)
 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We never need more than Christ.  In him, God’s fullness dwells (Cols 1:18).  In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Cols 2:3).  We are complete/filled in him (Cols 2:10).  What draws our hearts to hate sin is not a set of rules but a growing love for Christ.  What teaches us the ugliness of sin is the beauty of Christ.  It is the clean fresh air of heaven that makes us conscious of the foul air of earth.  We do not focus on mere restraints that when all is said and done outline only the basic rudiments of morality, but on Christ and all he has accomplished, and it is this that gives our soul power to live with God’s sentence of death upon the flesh and so produce fruit for God (7:5).

An imperfect illustration

Suppose you are driving along the road and you keep seeing road signs saying drive at thirty.  Do you obey them?  You see speeding cameras too.  You may break but it will be an external obedience – your heart won’t be in it.  Your heart resists them and wants to find ways of thwarting and outwitting them.  The law and its sanction only creates the desire to breach.

But supposing you have just viewed a beautiful sunset, or just got engaged to the girl you love, or just met and been bowled over by the person who made the road rules – will you still want to break them?  Will your heart filled with glory by the sunset, the love of the woman you adore, the worth of the one who created the rules, not find itself driving in such a way as reflects these experiences.

Let me say, if you have been taken up with Christ you will drive differently behind the wheel than if you’re simply focussing on road signs.

To the Colossian Christians who were in danger of adopting a gospel that added a number of things to Christ, including OT law, Paul says,

Col 2:6-7 (ESV)
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Everything for life and godliness resides in Christ.  Mark this well.  If you need to go beyond Christ you are on dangerous ground.  These Colossian believers were in such danger.  They were in danger not simply of adopting the law as a rule of life for sanctification but as a rule for religious observance.  They were creating a religious calendar of OT rituals and regulations such as were found in the law.  They were being encouraged to observe days, months, seasons as well as abstaining from certain foods that were to do with ritual holiness.  Paul is perplexed and appalled.  They have not grasped the significance of the cross.  Notice what he says

Col 2:8-23 (ESV)
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations- “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)-according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Do you see his point?  The cross ended all this form of externally imposed religious observance.  We have died to the world in which this kind of religion had place. Law was a religion designed for man in the flesh not in the Spirit (Gal 3:2, 4:21-31).  Its very basis is sensuous or fleshly.  It focuses on externals and on sensory and aesthetic experience.  It placed great emphasis on impressive buildings (the temple) religious clothing, smells and bells; candles and altars, rituals and regulations.

But all this belongs to the old age before Christ.  In Christ we died to this.  Now we must grasp this today for evangelicalism is rushing headlong down the route of religious paraphernalia.  At one time the observing of liturgical calendars, special religious feasts like lent, the use of candles, incense and icons were denounced by evangelicals now they are embraced.  Evangelicals want a religion of ‘flesh’.  We want the sensory and aesthetic mistakenly thinking a sensory or aesthetic experience is an authentic gospel-driven spiritual experience (Hebs 12:18).

We must understand that magnificent buildings, stirring music, impressive oratory, and ethereal rites do not bring us closer to God.  They will not produce the slightest knowledge of God nor lead us into a holy life.  They are, says Paul, of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh, instead they feed it.  Christ, and Christ alone, the Christ seen by the eye of faith, leads us to God.  We come to the Father through him (Jn 14:6).  That is why Paul says,

Col 3:1-4 (ESV)
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Instead of a focus on what is earthly (buildings, altars, incense, music, oratory, rituals, ascetic practices etc) we must seek what is in heaven.  We must focus on Christ.  He is the source of our life.  He is our satisfaction.  He is our food and drink.  He is our vision.  He is our altar.  He is our High Priest.  He is our sacrifice.  He stirs and satisfies the heart.  As Robert Murray McCheyne used to say, ‘No man can ever need more than is freely given in Christ’ We live by faith not sight.  We like Moses endure seeing him that is invisible.

No, law, in all its forms, is an authority for men in the flesh, for people ‘alive in this world’ but we are not in the flesh we are in the Spirit if the Spirit of God lives in us.  We do not live by and in the shadow we live by and in the substance; we do not seek the things of spiritual infancy but of spiritual maturity.  Christ not law is the source of our life; Zion not Sinai is the mountain to which we come (Hebs 12:18-24)

None of this is to say we cannot learn from the law nor even less that there are no obligations or responsibilities in the Christian life; we can and there are.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for instruction, reproof, training in righteousness… (2 Tim 3:16).   However, it is one thing to read OT Scripture (through the prism of redemptive history) and learn from it, it is quite another to say that the law is a ‘rule of life’ for the believer for to say this is to make the law an authority we must obey.  Let me summarise some of the problems such a mistake creates.

  • It obliges us to qualify Paul’s insistence that we are not under law.  This is exegetically indefensible.
  • It emasculates the law.   If we accept its authority then we must also accept its sanctions (Gals 3:10).  To try to ‘draw its teeth’ is to demean it.  Sanctions (blessings and cursings) lie at the heart of the covenant; they give it glory (Ex 19:18-25, 20:18, 24:16,17; Deut 5:24, 28:58-68; Hebs 12:18-21)  We cannot reject the Law as a route of justification and embrace it as a rule of sanctification for the covenant does not give us this permission.   It is a covenant which cannot be altered.  We must accept it totally on its own terms or not at all.
  • It means living culturally as a Jew.  If we are obliged to keep one command of law we must keep them all.  Law is a covenant agreement.  We cannot be obliged to keep some but free to ignore others (Matt 5:19; Gals 3:10, 5:2,3; Jas 2:10).  We cannot enforce the Ten Commandments and jettison or modify the many other commands of the covenant.  The covenant demands obedience to all or it is broken (Ex 19:8, 24:3; Deut 27:26).  Accepting the covenant means accepting a Judaistic lifestyle.
  • It means keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the seventh day and not the first day and to change the day to another day was unacceptable and covenant-breaking.  The Sabbath was the sign of the covenant (Ex 31:13; Ezek 20:12, 20). That Christianity focuses on another day strongly enforces that we are not under law; to abandon the Sabbath was by implication to be free from the covenant.
  • It means embracing what belongs to infancy and is ‘weak and beggarly not intended for sons (Gal 4:1-11) . Law is a rudimentary moral code that Christians ought to have no need to hear anyway.  We should not need to be told not to steal, commit adultery etc.  The works of the flesh are obvious (Gal 5:19).  Christian holiness should be beyond these prohibitions (1 Tim 1:6-11).  

Life under grace, by the Spirit, married to Christ, produces a morality in excess of laws demands.  Law expressed the demands of relationships existing in this life and no more. It did not require that a man lay down his life for his friends, far less that he lay down his life for his enemies.  It did not conceive or demand pure self-sacrificial love motivated by nothing other than pure love.  This is a life modelled only by Christ who reveals the Father’s heart.  Such Christ-modelled, grace-induced, Spirit-enabled love is the heart of Christianity.  Such love fulfils the law (Roms 8:4, 13:8,10; Gals 5:14) and fulfilment in Scripture usually eclipses/excels the original expectation.  Or to put it another way, against such Christ-like, Spirit-produced love there is no law (Gals 5:23).

Gal 5:1-14 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery… For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The cross means an end to law-keeping religion.  For Paul and for the early Jewish converts this was precisely its offence (Gal 5:11) and the reason why they were being persecuted by their fellow Jews (Gal 6:11-16).  The world will tolerate religion that makes much of ‘the flesh’ but it will not tolerate Christ. Christ and all who follow him it will crucify.  We must live as those crucified with Christ, as those who having received the law’s own sentence of death, have died to it.  Such is the effect of the cross in Christian living.

Gal 5:1 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.


more on same-sex marriage

Further to my previous post with links to the same-sex marriage debate I’d like to recommend one other.  My friend Jonathan McLatchie has an excellent post here.  Although general in scope, it addresses the Scottish situation.


same-sex marriage and christian reactions

Same-sex marriage is high on the cultural agenda these days.  As Christians, it is important that our thinking on this issue is biblically informed and guided and not simply visceral.   It is also important that we are able to present our understanding as clearly as possible both to other Christians and to non-Christians.  Below are some links that will help to educate us on the issues.  I do not necessarily agree with all that they say but they present a good launching pad for reflection.  It is also worth reading the comments on some as they often present the opposing case inviting us to clearer engagement.

Let me say, it is absolutely clear to me same-sex marriage has no biblical support and for a Christian it is completely forbidden.  It is clear to me too that churches which promote or condone same-sex marriage among their members are apostate in nature and should be avoided.  Bible teachers who so teach should be disciplined by the church as false teachers.  The harder question to answer for me is how far Christians should oppose same-sex marriage being made legal by society.

The bigger question here of course is the role that God expects of his people in society.  Or, to frame this question in contemporary jargon – what is the mission of the church?  Some questions in the mix include: is the church called to be a moral policeman in society; is the church mission to ‘redeem culture'; if we have an obligation to oppose society’s evils then where do we start and where do we stop; where do we find this moral imperative upon the church to attempt to change culture in Scripture?

On the other side many will ask, when faced with injustice and the ability to do something about it, should Christians pass by on the other side?

See, here here here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


abortion as it is

This is not a reasoned argument against abortion, though such can be easily given, it is a plea to conscience and humanity.  If you are not squeamish see here and here.  Can we doubt God’s judgement on such a culture?


should christians go on strike?

Recently a friend suggested I write a post on whether Christians should go on strike.  I have not done so but a post that does can be found here.   The basic perspective and spirit of this post I thoroughly agree with and I think the writer (Louis Kinsey, an evangelical Church of Scotland minister) makes important and perceptive points.  I would add just a few observations, some underlining and others developing what he says.

1.  In the final analysis striking is a matter of personal conscience.  What is important is that Christians make a decision whether to strike or not based on conscience and not pragmatism nor the pressure of others.

2. In the UK striking is for many workers a legal option.  Industrial action is part of the legal provision of the country to help sustain equity in the balance of power between employer and employee.   Equity in power is a good thing in a fallen world and if withdrawing labour is part of the Government’s lawful mechanism for maintaining it then Christians may well feel freedom of conscience in exerting their rights (sometimes Paul used his rights and sometimes he did not).

3. We must be absolutely clear about our motives in striking (or not).  If we strike, we must be sure we are not simply motivated by dissatisfaction, greed and envy; is participating in the strike for my good or for the good of society?  If we don’t strike, we should be sure that we are not simply avoiding a loss of pay while allowing others to make sacrifices from which we benefit.  One possible option here is to contribute our wage to charity should we choose not to strike.

4.  We should consider carefully the wider context and implications.  The value to society of striking in the midst of a world recession should be weighed.

5.  We should consider carefully and in the light of Scripture the wider questions regarding justice.  Evangelicals today regularly tell us that God cares about justice.  This is true.  However, he also cares about how justice is achieved.  There are a number of correlated questions here.  How does God intend to bring about righteousness?  How far is personal justice a legitimate goal for a believer?  How far should we go in pursuing justice for others?  Does God intend  his people to pursue justice by coercion?  What does the way of the cross say to us about the God’s way of achieving ‘shalom’ in a fallen world?  When do Christians exercise their rights and when do they choose to forego them for higher Kingdom interests?

You may wish to further read here.


reacting to the sermon on the mount – a spiritual health check

Over the centuries the Sermon on the Mount has been subjected to many interpretations. —the older Catholic interpreters referred to,“two tiers of Christians,” the Lutherans viewed it as  “law to prepare for the Gospel,”the Calvinist as a “mandate for the state,” the nineteenth–century liberals conceived it as “social optimism”, an ethic for socially creating the Kingdom of God,  Schweitzer saw it as an  apocalyptic “interim ethic,” others, more hostile, a pitiful  ethic that negates the core of what it is to be human, and old–line dispensationalism placed it in the end-time tribulation or the Millennium — most today understand it as part of Jesus’ “already but not yet” ethic for the Kingdom of God.

The ‘interpretation’ we impose on the sermon tends to colour how we react to it and how we react says a lot about where we are spiritually.  Below are four reactions.  Which best describes yours?

you despise it

This is the most grave of all reactions to the sermon.  It reveals a heart deeply antagonistic to God.  This reaction was that of the C19 German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.  Nietzsche despised Christianity and its values.  He considered them weak and demeaning.  Far from dying to self, in poverty of spirit and meekness, man must be assertive.  He must seek power, glory and greatness.  ‘Be what you are’ was his motto, and, as a motto for man in sin, this is massively self-deifying and destructive.  Man is god.  Man is supreme.  Man must dominate.   In personal strength and not weakness is man’s destiny.   The values of the Sermon on the Mount are to be despised as a ‘slave morality’.  Nietzsche’s philosophy met with a fair degree of resistance in his (more Christian) time but it has become the prevailing view of many in the West today.  It is the brazen bold assertiveness of Adam in the garden without pretence or hypocrisy.  Nietzsche is the philosopher whose hubris declared the death of God.  In time of course it was Neitzsche who died, as defiant in death as in life.  His friend, Gast, gave his funeral oration, proclaiming: “Holy be your name to all future generations!”  Adam had come of age.

you admire it

For many over the centuries, however, the Sermon on the Mount has been admired and lauded.  Many moralists of society pointed to the Sermon on the Mount as a blueprint for society.  Gandhi, a Hindu teacher said of it,

Of all the things I have read what remained with me forever was that Jesus came almost to give a new law – not an eye for an eye but to receive two blows when only one was given, and to go two miles when they were asked to go one. I came to see that the Sermon on the Mount was the whole of Christianity for him who wanted to live a Christian life. It is that sermon that has endeared Jesus to me.”   

For Gandhi, the sermon presented the ideal virtues of non-resistance and pacificism. Gandhi was influenced by Leo Tolstoy who believed the pacificism of the sermon was a model for society.  The Kingdom of God arrrived as men embraced these values.  In the final analysis, it appears for both, and for many others, the Kingdom of God was not much more than aspiring to the life of the Sermon on the Mount.  Some grasped more than others the impossibly high standard of righteousness the sermon required (Tolstoy renounced all his wealth and became an ascetic in pursuit of its righteousness)  but few grasped that to enter the Kingdom and live this life to any degree one had to be ‘born again’ (Jn 3); the Kingdom is not firstly a life to be lived but a Lord to be trusted.   Death to self and the life of the sermon comes through the death and resurrection of another before it becomes our own.

In the final analysis, the belief of old-time liberals that moral living will bring the kingdom of God perishes on the rock of human nature.  It fails to recognise that the sermon is not compatible with fallen human nature.  Nietzsche had complete clarity in this point; his view of the sermon is more true to human nature as it is however desperate it may be.  Any unregenerate human heart who has an inkling of the thrust of the sermon does not find it is a message to admire but one to fear and hate.  The sermon crushes fallen human nature and leaves it dead.

you are  crushed by it

For many, the sermon is a message of despair.  They read the sermon and they recognise its impossibility.  They feel their powerlessness before it.  It leaves them, as Roms 5 says, knowing they are ‘without strength’.    The sermon acts, for them, upon conscience like ‘law’, that is, it makes them conscious of their sin.  In fact, its very commands incite rebellion in the heart.  They resent it.  Thy are condemned by it.  It makes them fear and resent God.  Lutherans tend to view the sermon this way, or at least many modern Lutherans do.

Now in many ways this is a good thing.  The Spirit of God often uses the sermon to convict of sin just like he uses the Mosaic Law, or our innate values.  Moreover, conviction of sin and a sense of our malaise is a healthy and necessary prerequisite to salvation.  It is far more promising than moral smugness.  Those who believe themselves well have no need of a doctor, only the sick:  the righteous (or those who think they are righteous) have no need of a Saviour, but Christ came to call ‘sinners’ to repentance (Lk 5:32).

But let me make a point in passing.  While the sermon or ‘law’ makes us conscious of sin it does not provide a Saviour or hope of forgiveness.  Indeed, law never does.  Law can only condemn.  It cannot lead us to repentance.  It doesn’t make us hate our sin, only know it and its consequences.  It doesn’t offer mercy or forgiveness (I speak of law, in principle as God’s demands apart from sacrifice).  Only the gospel can do this.  It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance (Roms 2).   It is the assurance of grace that makes repentance even a possibility.  Repeatedly this point is made in Scripture (Ps 78:34,35; Isa 55:7; Joel 2:13; Acts 2:38). Pure law provides only death; only grace shows the way of life.

For the unbeliever therefore, perhaps the first step towards faith, may be to be convicted of sin by this sermon.   For the careless who presume upon God’s grace and treat it ‘cheaply’ the sermon warns of houses built on sand and shakes false assurance.  But what of the ‘believer’?  Should a believer approach the sermon in fear and trepidation?  Should he/she be afraid to read it because it condemns?    Should the heart of faith read this sermon and be crushed by it?  Although many answer yes, I cannot agree.  Christ’s words are never intended to crush his people as they seek to follow him.  They may and should crush the flesh, but not the believer.

you delight in it

The believer rejoices in the sermon.   Like the psalmist in the OT he ‘delights in the law of the Lord’.   His ear is opened morning by morning to hear as one instructed (Ps 50:4).  He does not approach the sermon as a word of law to condemn rather, he comes as one who stands consciously in grace (Roms 5:1).  He rejoices in the fact that his iniquities are forgiven and his sin is covered (Roms 4).  By faith he grasps that he is seated with Christ in heavenly places, holy and accepted and before God in a place of love (Eph 1).  For him there is no accusation (Roms 8:1).  God is for him and who or what can be against him.  He stands secure in the knowledge that nothing can separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus his Lord.

In this security he reads the sermon and his holy soul – the life he has in the Spirit – rejoices in it.  What the sermon teaches his spirit affirms.   This is the life of Christ that pulsates within.   Yes, his flesh rebels against it, but it is this very flesh he wishes, by the Spirit, to put to death.  If his eye offends he desires to pluck it out.  The divine nature of which he is a partaker delights in poverty of spirit and meekness.   It envies godliness.  It lusts after Christlikeness.  It yearns to know Christ and the power of his resurrection expressed in fellowship with his sufferings.  This is the life of faith, the life of a ‘believer’.

Yes, there will be failure.  But, in failure, faith finds confidence that we have an intercessor in the heavens, Jesus Christ the Righteous who restores us.  We know that when we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Thus, we do not constantly look back in regret, or inwardly in defeat, but we look up in faith, and forward in anticipation as we seek to lay hold of that for which God has laid hold of us.  Faith denies condemnation, accusation, impossibility, and defeat any voice.  It does not doubt or despair or stand condemned but is strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

We live in confidence that what the sermon exhorts us to hear and do God works in us as he enables us to will and do for his own good pleasure.  Thus for the ‘believer’ who lives in gospel faith the sermon is nothing less than ‘the good, acceptable and perfect will of God’ which is his daily meat.

How do you react to the sermon on the Mount?  Do you despise it, admire it, fear it, or delight in it?


how would you persuade christians to turn away from adultery?

I have regularly argued that the way to holiness is not through teaching that the Mosaic law is binding on the Christian conscience and that it must be obeyed.  A mentality of ‘law-keeping’ is not the way to grow in grace.  This does not mean that we cannot learn from the OT  law.  We can.  Christians living in the Spirit mine the Scriptures, for they know that among other things  they are profitable ‘for training in righteousness’ ‘(2 Tim 3:16).  Yet they frame all they discover about righteous living within gospel realities.

Let me illustrate what I mean.  How should a preacher persuade believers to turn away from adultery?  Below is an example of how such an exhortation may be made.  Note it uses the OT but does so recognising its redemptive-historical setting.  And note too that the gospel provides the main framework and rationale for rejecting adultery.

My brothers and sisters, we ought to loathe adultery.  David’s adultery, although forgiven, brought ramifications that devastated his family.  God is opposed to adultery and adulterers.  Don’t you know that in the OT the very heart of the law of Moses condemned adultery in its Ten Words.  So great was God’s hatred of adultery among his OT people that the law demanded the sentence of death for adulterers.  Does this not tell us how seriously God views it?   Indeed the law was only codifying and formally forbidding what men universally know in their hearts.  All cultures oppose adultery.  All codes of behaviour condemn it.

But brothers and sisters, unconverted folks may need to be reminded adultery is a sin and will bring judgement for they harden their hearts against God, but we should not. We have the life of God in our souls. This life finds adultery unthinkable. Every instinct of your renewed nature is repelled by adultery. God’s Spirit within lusts for purity not impurity. 

It is to this end of purity that we have been justified in Christ.  Why did we seek justification? We did so because we wanted to be cleared of sin. We wanted to be done with it. We saw how sinful and offensive it was and how deserving of judgement. We wished to be finished with it.  That is what we were saying when we came to God in repentance seeking his forgiveness.  How then can we allow ourselves to be attracted again to that same sin that we died to in the death of Jesus that we may be freed from it?  We wished to cease being slaves of sin and become instead slaves of righteousness (Rom 6).  That is what we have been freed from accusation and sin to become.  Our calling is to yield our bodies as instruments of righteousness and not impurity.

How can you abuse your body in this way? Your body is not yours to do with what you will. It is bought with a price and belongs to the Lord. Glorify God with your body do not use it to bring disgrace on his name. Christ’s death was precisely because of the horror and ugliness of adultery. He died that we may be cleansed from sins like this and lives that he may enable us flee them.  The grace of God renews us and recreates us in the image of Christ.  Don’t you want to be like Christ?  Of course you do, this is the desire of every renewed heart.  It is the longing of every son of the Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God and Christ is a kingdom of righteousness, loyalty, truth and faithfulness. Adultery is the very opposite of this. Don’t you know that no adulterer will inherit the Kingdom of God.  The Eternal City of God in which the righteous dwell has no adulterers.  Nothing impure enters there.  We read in Revelation that ‘outside are adulterers’

Brothers and sisters, we are people who have been delivered from sin, we have a nature that is altogether new, we are a new creation in Christ living for a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells let’s put off these impurities of the old life because of which the wrath of God is coming and let us live as the people of God with pure hearts that hate every suggestion of sin and unrighteousness…’

Much more of course could be said but I think this sample-sermonette illustrates how the gospel creates a godly people and how turning away from adultery can be considered an imperative of the gospel.


struggling with homosexual temptations?

The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality but purity.’


gospel obedience, the obedience of sons

​​​​​​​​I am w
riting to you children, ​​​​​​​because you know the Father. ​​​ 1John 2:13 (ESV)

Many Christians struggle deeply with their failure and sin.  We know we ought to be like Jesus (or perfect as our heavenly father is perfect) but we know just as surely that we are not.  As a result we often feel failures and live with a sense of condemnation.   This sense of condemnation and accusation is compounded significantly if we think of obedience in terms of law-keeping and many of us do.   It is a kind of default position for the flesh that always thinks in terms of personal achievement and personal justification.  To further complicate matters,  many believers are taught in their churches to think of  gospel obligations as ‘law’.  Preachers tell them that they must keep the law for their sanctification.  Thus the instinct of the flesh (law-keeping) is institutionalised in  Christian theology.

Obedience viewed as law-keeping is strongly embedded in most flavours of Reformed and Lutheran thinking.   Many Lutherans, viewing obedience as ‘law-keeping’ yet gospel instincts telling them law-keeping is sub-Christian or wrong, reject all preaching that calls for obedience labelling it legalistic.  Preach the great indicatives of the faith, they say, and ignore the imperatives, these are only law that condemns.    Any pursuit of ‘good works’ is legalism.  All our righteous deeds, even as believers, are ‘filthy rags’.   Some Reformed folks, influenced by this brand of Lutheranism (and perhaps reacting against law-preaching in their own experience) energetically extol God’s grace in the gospel, particularly in justification, but are extremely reluctant to speak of gospel imperatives or obligations.  The gospel they say is ‘trust’ not ‘trust and obey’.  It is ‘resting and not wrestling’ or ‘trusting and not trying’.    Now this is most misguided and dangerous and it flows ultimately from the false and misguided notion that Christian obligations are ‘law’.

Other Reformed believers react strongly to this dismissive approach to ‘trying’ and ‘effort’ in the Christian life, not least because the NT is full of exhortations that believers not only ‘trust’ but that they ‘obey’ and ‘make every effort’ in their Christian life; the NT even speaks of ‘the obedience of faith’ , a phrase which bookends the great exposition of the gospel in Romans (Roms 1:5:16:26).   Indeed it is full of calls for Christians to be marked by ‘good works’.   They rightly note too that these injunctions to godly living are not intended to function as the OT Mosaic Law did, that is, to show up our failure and bring us to an end of ourselves, rather they are aspirational commands for the believer in the life of faith.  NT injunctions are not intended to condemn but to counsel and convey the life of faith.  All this, this brand of Reformed thinking ‘gets’, but then they go and spoil it all by calling these gospel obligations ‘law’ and even telling believers that the Mosaic Law itself is a ‘rule of life’ for a Christian and binding on his conscience, or at least, and somewhat inconsistently, the Ten Commandments are.

The root problem, I believe, in this angst about obedience many experience, is the underlying assumption, that Christian obligation is ‘law’.  As soon as we see our call to gospel obedience as a call to ‘law-keeping’ then we think of God as a ‘Law-Giver’ and relate to him as such.  All gospel truths revealing God is our Father and we are sons seeking, like his beloved Son, our Lord, to do what our Father does (Jn 5:19), being morally what our Father is, being sons of our Father in heaven (Matt 5:45) and pleasing to him (Jn 8:29, Matt 6:4) is compromised and eclipsed by thinking of  him as Law-Giver and his directing in our lives as ‘law'; Father and Law-Giver become hopelessly entangled and gospel freedom is quagmired.

The truth is that ‘law’ keeps God at a distance.  When the OC was given the people were afraid to draw near, indeed they were forbidden on fear of death from drawing near (Ex 19,20).  When Moses came down from the Mountain and his face shone with the glory of  God, the people were unable to look at his face and had to hide until the glory faded (2 Cor 3).  Why?  The glory of God in the Law condemned.  It was simply holy demand. Law by its nature creates distance between God and his people.  This is Paul’s contention in Galatians 3.  When God made a covenant with Abraham he spoke to Abraham directly without intermediaries but not so with the Law.  There intermediaries came into play – in other words, distance was intrinsic to the Law (Gal 3:19).   Relating to God through ‘law’ is like the child in a wealthy C1 home being brought up by a guardian or disciplinarian (in our times, a boarding school!).  His relationship was with the tutor – his father was a distant figure.  In fact, he felt (and was) no better than a slave (Gal 3:24-4:3).  It was a form of captivity from which the child longed to be freed (Gal 3:23).  Little wonder Paul preached a gospel that ‘redeemed from the law’ (Gal 4:4).

And note this last text well, it is not here  freedom from sin, but freedom from the law.  And it is not freedom from the law in one form only to be sent back to another, it is freedom in every sense.  The statement is abstract and absolute and there are no qualifications; believers are not under law but under grace (Roms 6:14,15).  Grace, not law, rules the Christian life in every area.  The mature son (Gals 4:4) is not sent back to the law to be a child all over again – he lives instead as a mature son by the power of the indwelling Spirit.  He needs no such disciplinarian (as law) to keep in check and restrain him, for the indwelling Spirit of grace gives him the maturity to discern what is sinful and wrong, to reject it, and to embrace what is pleasing to his Father.  Sons don’t have disciplinarians (or a book of rules with sanctions) to train them, they have the maturity to discern and do what their father does (this would be meaningful particularly to Jewish readers whose sons became involved in the father’s business and were like their father – to be otherwise was to shame them and him).

And so, even in part to frame our relationship with God in terms of the OC (law and a Law-Giver) is pernicious.  It distances us from God and engenders a relationship of servile fear.  We immediately become either ‘law-keepers’ or ‘law-breakers’, and whichever, a mentality of fear and bondage is established in our hearts and minds.  With such a legalistic view of our relationship imposing itself, it is no wonder many believers live with an oppressive even morbid sense of condemnation and accusation.  When we conceive of obedience in terms of law-keeping and disobedience in terms of law-breaking it is only natural we begin to feel anxious about our ‘performance’,  haunted by our failures, and have a foreboding of imminent punishment.

And so, it seems as if, whether because of the default legalism of the flesh or institutionalised legalism in the church,  many of us find it difficult to live and obey within a healthy gospel liberty. We have not grasped and entered fully where grace has placed us in Christ, that is, recognising that our obedience flows from: being sons of God and knowing him as Father; having the indwelling Christ, that is, divine life, in our heart through the Spirit; and  from imitating Christ as younger children imitate an elder and admired sibling.  This is a great tragedy and ultimately the work of the Evil One who likes to rob us of our joy in God and God of his delight in our wholehearted obedience.

Now it would be good to look at Scripture and try to trace out  the contours of our position in Christ and our obedience through Scripture and I am tempted to do so.  But I will resist the temptation and perhaps do so some other time.  In the meantime, let me simply recount the reply I gave to someone who was  annoyed by my claim that all this ‘law-keeping’ mentality was sub-Christian at best and demanded to know how I ‘imagined’ obedience.

My response was something like this…

As a young father, I well remember my one-year old son taking his first steps.  I was sitting in one side of the room and he was wobbling precariously on his pegs while balancing against a chair some few yards away.  I held out my hands and called on him to walk towards me.  I knew he was ready to go and just needed some encouragement and direction.  After a fleeting hesitation he began to waddle unsteadily across the few yards towards me.  He managed to cover the whole few metres on two wobbling legs and podgy feet without resorting to his default ambulation, crawling.  It was a moment of great celebration.  I gave him a big congratulatory hug and he gave a big contented smile.

Now spiritually this is us.  I am like a baby trying to take his first steps. I look to my Father and see his encouragement to walk towards him and I start walking (like Peter in the water to his Master) keeping my eye on him.  I may totter a little.  I may even fall and have to struggle to my feet and try again.  If I fall I am sorry but I don’t feel my Father loves me less. I don’t feel condemned.  I don’t expect punishment, or fear I’m not his son.  He is still smiling encouragingly.  He applauds the few steps I managed and urges me to get up and try some more. And I do so.

This view of obedience is as far from law-keeping as night from day but it is very close to the biblical picture.  When as a father I encouraged my son to walk towards me I wasn’t asking him to do what was beyond him.  I knew human beings walk; I didn’t ask him to do something that was alien to his nature.   Nor did I encourage him to walk when he was a month old.  I waited until he was ready.    Everything about his being at that point was ready and wanted to walk.  It was natural to him.  Instinctive.  Walking is what human beings do.  I was encouraging him to do what he was made to do.

Nor did the thought cross his mind (or mine) that he was in trouble if he fell.  He was secure in his Father’s love.  The command came with open arms.   Had he fallen, I would not have been ready to come down on him like a ton of bricks.  There was no punishment for failure.  Now don’t get me wrong, when he did something deliberately naughty he was disciplined.  When he rebelled against authority there were consequences.  But punishment and consequences were in the context of a loving family and not a law-court.  Fathers discipline in love and because of love (Heb 12).  As Christians, our failure at times is wilful and deliberate and incurs our heavenly Father’s displeasure and discipline, and if we are thinking rightly we will welcome this and acknowledge its necessity and benefit.  Some failure, however, is falling when we are trying to walk and that is a different matter.

Neither my son nor I have siblings.  We are only children. Often where there is an older brother or sister the child learns more quickly.  He tends to copy the older sibling.  In a sense the Lord Jesus is like that to us.  He has lived the life of faith before us and done so perfectly.  He inspires us and sets the example and we learn from him (Heb 12).  But yet again we are seeing growth and obedience within a family context.

My son learned to walk.  Then I taught him how to ride a scooter… then a bicycle… then sail a windsurf Board… then drive a car…  Each stage in life brought a new challenge, a new opportunity for growth and development and for relationship.   For all of these were occasions of Father/Son intimacy and joy; he found joy in my pleasure at his accomplishment and I found joy in his willingness to learn and his success.

Such is life in the family of God.  The life of faith and obedience as our heavenly Father develops within us all the potentialities of the eternal life he has given through Christ.  Today, my son is an adult and many of his skills, mannerisms, and human characteristics are similar to mine; nature and nurture have taken their course.  Sometimes the likeness is uncanny and scary (for I am fallen and not the best source of nature and nurture).  But which father does not get pleasure when he sees himself in his son (and which son does not delight to see his father in him)?   Which father does not rejoice in the intimacy of an adult relationship with his son?   And which son does not cherish this relationship – only sin destroys this?   My son knows what my mind will be on many things almost without asking.  Our thinking on many issues travels down similar grooves.  We can often work in tandem without words.   Of course the analogy is not quite exact.  He is his mother’s son too and this creates complications… but you get the illustration.

Sure, this is just an illustration.  It is not the whole picture, not by any manner of means.  But it is far nearer the biblical perspective of Christian obedience and growth than our default legalism and the institutionalised legalism of aspects of Reformed theology.

I could have sent my boy off as a child to Boarding School and put him under the care of tutors and disciplinarians.    Had I done so then he would have learned through punishment and hardship.  He would have seen me as a more remote figure in the background and perhaps a much harder one (such is life directed by law).  But I didn’t.  He grew up in his father’s house, knowing his father and his father’s love, and that made all the difference. (Cf. Gal 4).

Let’s grow up in the Father’s house, knowing the Father.  And preachers, please don’t send us to boarding school.

Gal 3:23-4:7 (ESV)
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.  I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. 


homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, evangelical hypocrisy

Have you noticed how hot and bothered (righteously indignant) we conservative evangelicals get about the acceptance of homosexuality by society and yet how apparently indifferent we are to divorce and remarriage in the church?   We are appalled at the acceptance of homosexuality by the world and indeed by the wider church and yet divorce and remarriage in conservative evangelical circles today scarcely raises a concerned eyebrow.

There is a basic inconsistency here.  There is deep hypocrisy.

The God who condemns homosexual relationships equally is opposed to divorce and remarriage.  He is the God who says:

Mal 2:16 (RSV)
“For I hate divorce, says the LORD the God of Israel… So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.”

Now, I know that there is room for some debate and difference of opinion on who (if any) God permits to divorce and remarry.   Personally, I think he allows (as a last resort) divorce on very narrow grounds and it is a moot point whether he allows remarriage at all.  Be that as it may, my object in this post is not to debate which position is biblically cogent but to focus – somewhat aghast – on our increasingly default attitude.   We evangelicals seem more-and-more to have an outlook on divorce and remarriage that differs little from the world; divorce is regrettable but ‘that’s life’ and remarriage is taken for-granted.  In any case, it is a private matter and nothing to do with anyone else.

We fail to take seriously Christ’s plain teaching that divorce is far from God’s ideal and in fact remarriage in most cases is a form of adultery.

Matt 19:3-9 (ESV)
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

By whatever criteria we apply, divorce and remarriage is a cause for serious concern and reflection.  Apart from anything else we may be making ourselves adulterers.

Now don’t get me wrong,  I am sure few if any believers divorce without a great deal of heartache and soul-searching.  Over the last thirty years, I have known a good number of Christian couples who have divorced and none did so lightly.  Divorce for all was traumatic.  It rocked all involved to the roots of their being.  Those divorces I have witnessed close-up have been truly tragic and destructive events.  No-one emerged unscathed.  I feel deeply for those who experience divorce and pray that God will preserve Christian marriages and his people from the devastation that is divorce.  I hope my concerns are not without compassion to those caught up in a divorce, especially those who find themselves there through no fault of their own.

Again, I am not so much thinking of the divorcing couples themselves as the culture in our churches  that sanctions it (and remarriage).  For one thing, the assumption is that divorced people are naturally free to remarry.  In fact, any suggestion that divorced folks should remain single thereafter is likely to shock.  At one time,  the very idea of remarriage would have occasioned outrage, now outrage is likely to flow from any querying of the legitimacy of remarriage.  The person ‘out in the cold’ is not the one who remarries but the one who remonstrates.  The climate is utterly different.

Not so long ago, remarriage (by Christians) on what were considered biblically acceptable grounds were quiet affairs.  Those remarrying realized, at best, remarriage implied previous failure and remarriage was on sufferance (divine forbearance) rather than a cause for celebration.  Now remarriage is celebrated as enthusiastically as an initial marriage.  There seems little sensibility to its irregularity and incongruity.

Few seem to see the anomaly.  Fresh ’til death do us part’ vows – generally before God –  are taken, the very undertaking of which only serves to demonstrate the failure to honour such vows of commitment in a previous marriage.  Can Christians celebrate this contradiction?  Can they witness with equanimity new vows that make a mockery of old ones, join in the banter and celebrations  that follow, and blithely forget the trail of destruction and disobedience that has led to this point?  Of course, each must decide for himself whether to attend a remarriage that has little biblical sanction.  Various factors come into play in deciding.  However, when I hear Christians speaking with unreserved delight about dubious remarriages, I begin to wonder where the Lordship of Christ features in our thinking.   Would we be so unalloyed in our pleasure at a same-sex wedding?  Would we celebrate an adulterous affair entered (remembering Jesus stigmatizes many remarriages as legalized adultery)?

I am told that I am too hard.  Of course the divorced person must remarry.  Am I going to sentence him/her to a life of singleness?  Surely this does not reflect the love and acceptance of Christ.  I am always slightly bemused by this reasoning.  I think of countless men and women who have not found a Christian partner in life and rather than marry a non-Christian have remained unmarried.  Somehow for them this is just par for the course but the poor divorcee must have our full support in remarrying.  The logic doesn’t stack up.  There are worse things than going through life single.  I guess the marriage that led to divorce became such a thing.  In any case the believer does not live with happiness in this life his chief goal and need.  He lives for the life to come – for the coming Kingdom of God (in which there will be no marriage).  Thus we read:

Matt 19:10-12 (ESV)
The disciples said to him [Jesus], “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth [perhaps homosexuals] , and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” 

For some, commitment to the Kingdom of God means they will remain unmarried and this certainly includes, homosexually inclined people who feel unable to enter a heterosexual marriage, those who do not find a Christian partner, and those who separate from their partner on unbiblical grounds and for whom remarriage (and probably divorce) is expressly forbidden by Christ, their King.

We are far removed from this kind of thinking in many of our churches today.  So accepted is divorce and remarriage that it is possible to do/be both and to hold a position of leadership in a local church – another ‘norm’ expressly forbidden in Scripture.

1Tim 3:1-7 (ESV)
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Notice that what is an ‘ought’ for all Christians is a ‘must’ for spiritual leaders. Leaders (elders) must be ‘above reproach’.  Notice too what the first example of being ‘above reproach’ is; he must be ‘the husband of one wife’.  Paul’s point is that while people may be converted and become part of the church with ‘anomalous’ relationships (perhaps polygamous marriage or perhaps an unlawful remarriage) such believers should not hold office in the church.  The anomalous relationship (that could not be undone) debarred them from public leadership in the church because it was a poor witness to the world and poor example other believers.

Church leaders cannot simply bow to the wishes of the divorcee who wants to remarry.  They have an obligation to uphold by both example and command the dominical and apostolic teaching on divorce and remarriage.  A little leaven, leavens the whole.  It is simply nonsense to say that those whose marriages are stable should not judge.  They must judge.  If we are only to judge in situations we have personally experienced, then few will judge.  If only homosexual people can criticise homosexual practice then we are on a hiding to nothing.  Imagine a court where the judge must have committed the acts he is called to judge before being qualified to judge.  The suggestion is farcical.  The biblical premise for being competent to judge is spirituality not similar failure (1 Cor 2, 6).

Churches need to regain biblical standards (and backbone) on divorce and remarriage.  If how we deal with divorce and remarriage today in many conservative evangelical churches had been how it was dealt with in the first 1500 years of church history the low level of divorce and remarriage in Christendom for centuries would never have happened.

Why are we so keen to institutionalize divorce and remarriage?  Why do we accept such a trojan horse? Not only is it generally condemned in Scripture but society itself recognises its problems.  The percentage of breakdown in second marriages is considerably higher than in  firsts (almost double):  the baggage the new marriage brings puts a considerable strain on it from the word go;  children may accept a divorce but rarely accept and  settle well to a remarriage; and if you have broken vows a first time its easier to do so the second time.  If the increasing incidence of divorce and remarriage in society is reeking havoc there what will a similar pattern mean for the church?

And it is a mistake to confuse this with the embrace and acceptance of the gospel.  The gospel invites sinners but it does not promote sin.  The church is the community of the forgiven but not of the flagrantly and wilfully disobedient.  The forgiven are called to forsake sin and follow holiness without which no man will see the Lord.

Am I being hard?  Perhaps.  But sometimes the Bible is hard.  Love can be hard.  The way of the cross is hard – it makes no provision for ‘the flesh’.  The better question is – am I being biblical?  And, am I being truthful and faithful?  Conservative evangelicals simply cannot hold with integrity a firm line on what the Bible teaches on homosexuality while driving a truck through its teaching on divorce and remarriage.  It’s easy to be principled about issues we rarely face: it is much harder to be principled about issues that sit on our lap.  Yet it is precisely here that our faithfulness to Christ is tested and found out.


love wins, but which love?

God is love.  Love is ‘of God’.  Love is without doubt a quality of the life we have in God.  If we have not love we have nothing.  Out of the triad of graces, faith hope and love, the greatest is love.  Yet we must not make the mistake of thinking every act of love is necessarily good.  Indeed it appears to have been an act of love that resulted in the first sin.  Eve ate of the forbidden fruit because she was deceived by the serpent.  Adam was not deceived.  He ate because Eve gave him the fruit.  He ate to please his wife.

1Tim 2:11-14 (ESV)
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

United to his wife Adam followed her, not deceived by the serpent but through the weakness of his affection, into sin and death.

Adam and Eve of course are but a type of the true Adam and Eve.  Their union is a physical picture of the real marriage of God’s purpose, the spiritual union of Christ and his church (Eph 5).  But, as so often is the case, the type is cast not simply in comparison but in contrast.  For if Adam’s weak and indulgent love led to sin and death, then Christ’s strong and true love will lead to justification and life.  If Adam follows his deceived and guilty bride into sin and death, then Christ will do the same but he will follow not in weakness and disobedience but in self-giving love that he may take upon himself her sins and condemnation.  His is not love acting in moral weakness but love acting in moral strength.

Adam ‘love’ is rampant today.  It is the ‘love’ that permits.  The love that indulges and cannot forbid.  It yields to what God has refused.   It will not take a stand for fear of appearing hard and strict.  Thus every kind of forbidden fruit agenda is given a green light and the result is death.  Tragically this ‘love’ wins in the church as well as the world.  It is the love that concedes all the human heart wants.  It concedes feminist agendas and every disobedience that the heart may covet.   It is the love that refuses to say ‘no’.

We are called to Christ-love.  The love that calls sin what it is.  The love that sees God’s people with all their faults and sins yet loves them nonetheless.  It is a love that will move heaven and earth in the interests of sanctifying the church.  It will not serve by excusing or condoning or yielding to sin one iota but will seek to promote purity of life and doctrine.  Out of love for the church it will strenuously oppose sin and promote godliness and Christlikeness.  It will not water down God’s hard words.  However much desired and courted it will not accede to the lie of the serpent,  ‘You will not surely die’,  instead it will nourish and protect by speaking the truth in love.  It will rejoice too in proclaiming the gospel of forgiveness and life.  Undoubtedly it will be seen as tough love and by many as not loving at all yet undaunted it will pour out its life in the interests of others.  It will not stand outside and above in haughty criticism but will identify itself with those it loves in all their need and work self-sacrificially and tirelessly that they may blossom in the moral beauty of holiness.  And this love, and only this love, wins in the end.

The question we each must ask is  which ‘love’ is ours; is it Adam-love or Christ-love?


the sexual revolution

I have less time at the moment to write posts of my own so I will take the opportunity to point out others worth reading.  Denny Burk points out this interesting and helpful article on the sexual revolution’s evident illogicalities and follies.   Well worth reading.

the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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