Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

11
Feb
13

I am crucified with christ (1),,, dead to sin

Recently, I was asked to speak on the implications of the cross in the life of the believer.  The following three posts are simply my presentation on this topic.  I hope they will prove useful.  Please excuse the less literary and more oral nature of the post.

The Living Cross

We are gospel people.  And we are gospel people in the fullest sense. Our lives are created and shaped by the gospel and right at the heart of this gospel is the cross.

The cross is critical to the gospel as this winter series has reminded us.  The cross is God’s answer to the fundamental problem of existence – the problem of human sin. God’s glory and man’s happiness are both jeopardized by human sin.  What is the solution?  The solution, the only solution, God’s solution, is the cross.  There in the death of Jesus all is made right.  God’s glory is vindicated.  His heart of love towards man, even though he is a sinner and a God hater is declared.  His own integrity is revealed as he shows how he can be right while declaring right the ungodly.  His holy wrath is displayed in all its glory against sin yet in a way that exonerates the sinner. The cross is God’s propitiating sacrifice for sins.  There the debt of sinful humanity is more than fully met as Christ who knew no sin became sin for us and underwrote our liabilities. There the stain of sin whose defiling effects have pervaded the whole universe was expunged in Christ through whom God has reconciled all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

At the cross, God’s power is placarded as every cosmic enemy of God and man that found strength through sin was disarmed and defeated and disgraced as Christ triumphed over them by removing the sin that gave them leverage through the sacrifice of himself.

An inglorious Roman cross, paradoxically, is the great revelation of God’s glory and basis of all human happiness. I say paradoxically for of course to any other than those who have eyes of faith the cross is an object of derision.  It is a symbol of folly and failure.  Criminals died on crosses. Failed messianic pretenders died on crosses.  Wisdom, power, salvation did not lie in a cross; it was the opposite of these.  Such is the perceived wisdom of the world.  Yet God’s wisdom delights in confounding the worldly-wise and his power mocks the pretensions of the strong. Ironically, God reveals the glory of his infinite wisdom in the folly of crucifixion, and the glory of his mighty power through the weakness of one crucified.  Such, and much more, is the story of the cross.

In this cross we believe.  Of this cross we preach.  But, and it is an important but, the cross is not simply a spectacle we observe, and a paradox in which we believe, it is an event in which we participate. If our lives as gospel people are gospel-shaped then this means they are cross-shaped.  The cross is not an icon we wear it is an experience we share, our identity, our lives are cross-shaped, they are cruciform. We are a crucified people.  Identities are shaped by histories or narratives; our history, our narrative, is that we have been crucified with Christ.

In Philippians Paul says it succinctly,

Gal 2:20 (ESV2011)
 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

In a sense, Paul’s whole understanding of the Christian life is packed into this text.  It is a life of faith-union with Christ that takes us out of this world and into another.  At conversion by faith and through the Spirit we are united to Christ and share in Christ’s death and resurrection life.  At the cross our moral history as people alive in this world came to an end.  When Christ died we died.  When Christ was raised to a new life in resurrection so too were we.  If Christ is now in heaven then so too are we; holy and without blame before God in Christ is our true moral position.  This is where God sees us and it is here we must see ourselves.  For Paul, Christian living is simply this reality of death and resurrection unpacked and applied.

Our task tonight is to explore some of the ways Paul unpacks this reality, particularly the reality that we are now crucified with Christ and are now dead.  We could turn to may Scriptures to do so but we will limit ourselves to a few.

Firstly, Roms 6.

Died to Sin

Questions

  • What would be your response to someone who said they were a Christian but seem unconcerned about sin in their life?  What would you say to a Christian who said all evangelical talk about seeking holiness was legalistic pietism and a denial of our justification?
  • How would you counsel someone who claims to be addicted to some sin?
  • How would you answer someone who claims to keep trying to die to sin but with no success?
  • What do you say to someone who feels disgusted/hates at who they are and tends to despair?
  • A popular slogan is I am simultaneously a saint and a sinner?  Is this true?
  • How would you counter the claim that the gospel of grace is a licence to sin?

Paul’s answer to each is found in Roms 6.

Paul has taught that we are right with God purely by grace apart from works (Ch 3-5).  We can do nothing to bring about our own salvation.  Our right standing with God is a gift and comes through grace (5:17).  Indeed Paul has just said, where sin has abounded (by law making sin more sinful) God’s grace has abounded all the more (Roms 5:20).

If, however, our salvation is all of grace in the face of human sin and has nothing to do with our own efforts does not this encourage sin?  If my standing with God has nothing to do with my personal responsibility but is sourced in God taking the entire responsibility for my righteousness will I not cavalierly give myself to sin?

Rom 6:1 (ESV2011)
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

Paul’s answer is clear.

Rom 6:2 (ESV2011)
 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Don’t you know, Paul says, your baptism enacts your participation in Christ’s death (2b).  In his death, not only were our sins dealt with (Roms 3:25, 4:7) but so too was sin – the entity or power.  It was dealt with because at the cross the person we were in Adam died; we were crucified with him for the express purpose that sin should lose any rights over us and so any hold upon us (vv 6,7).

You can’t accuse a dead man of sin – he is beyond it.   Sin cannot demand his obedience for he is no longer alive; dead men don’t sin.  Sin has no rights, no claims, no power over someone who is dead.  While a man is alive he is responsible for his actions and will be judged by them but when he is dead he is beyond all of this – he is no longer accountable for them.  Nor is he going to sin again because he is dead. All living people in the world are under the authority of sin.  It rules their lives (Eph 2:1-5).  It dominates their existence.  But dead people are not ruled by sin.  Sin cannot come to a dead person and accuse him or demand his obedience.  He is beyond its jurisdiction, its claims, its sphere of influence and control.

On the cross Jesus placed himself under the jurisdiction of sin.  He took sin’s charges and accusations upon himself.  But in death he moved beyond sin’s authority never to have any relationship with it again.  The death he died to sin, he died once for all, but the life he now lives he lives to God (Roms 6:10).  He rose out of death into a realm where sin had no place, no influence or authority.  He lives now in the presence of God, and for God, never to have to do with sin again.

Now says Paul this is your location as one who participates in Christ.  Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Roms 6:11).  As he is now so are you in this world.  Treat this as the reality of your life.   He does not, in Roms 6, tell us in detail how this is realised in our lives.  He does not tell us that we are born of God, are partakers of the divine nature, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit who enables us to hold the flesh in the place of death and live a new life to God.  All of this will come later.  Here we are simply told it is all the product of living under grace (Roms 6:1,11).  For at the moment he simply wants us to grasp the change in jurisdiction is what the cross achieves and the moral implications it carries.  We are says Paul, as far as this world is concerned, dead.  We no longer live in the realm where responsibility to gain righteousness and life lies in us.  All the responsibilities of the old age have no legitimacy in our lives for we do not live in it.   This is the logic, the moral force, the moral imperative of the cross in your life.  At the cross whatever was involved and entailed in being a son of Adam (authorities, relationships, and responsibilities/obligations to these) came to an end.

But, is not all this talk of gospel grace dangerous?  Is it not a licence to sin?  If you tell a man he is, from God’s perspective, no longer a responsible man living in this world will not this result in antinomianism and freedom to sin?   If you tell him when he does sin that he can say ‘it is no longer I but sin dwelling in me’ (Roms 7:17) is not this a means of passing the buck and promoting evading moral responsibility?  Will it not simply encourage sinning with a sense of impunity?   No, says Paul, for how can we if we have died to sin wish to live any longer in it?  It is a moral contradiction, an incongruity.  The whole reason you became a Christian was to be done with sin.  To be free from its rights over you.  You wished to be free from the great burden of being a failed person.  You saw just how much of a sinner who were and that if you were held responsible for right living  you would ever stand condemned.  You needed to be free from all of this responsibility and this is precisely what God did in the cross.  He took you out of the realm where responsibility for living lay with you and so sin reigned and placed you in another realm, the realm of grace where all is ‘of God’.

Little wonder such teaching frightened people and led to accusations of antinomianism.  But Paul’s response is not to water down his claims.  Rather it is to press home the inner logic of them.   Your participation in Christ has taken you out of the world where sin has rights why would ever want to subject yourself to it again.  If you give yourself to obey sin you have not understood what the cross is all about.  The moral force of the cross means you have done with sin.  The moral imperative is now to live as one dead to sin (one who will never allow it authority again) for that is your new position and standing and anything else is contradiction and inconsistency.

Rom 6:17-18 (ESV)
 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

But you don’t understand sin has a grip on me.  There are sins I am addicted to.  First of all remember we are talking of sin as a force and power not individual sins.  You may commit individual sins because Christians fail and slip back into unbelief.  We fail to live consistently with who we are in Christ.  But this must not shake our confidence in who we are.  We must not think because we sin, we must sin.  Grace has freed you from this power, this tyranny.  Grace works in your heart through the new nature and Spirit so that you need not sin.  You may sin but you are not addicted to sin, nor to any individual sin.  This is a lie of Satan.  You have died to the realm where sin has authority and cannot be resisted.  You live in the realm of grace where the authority is ‘grace’ and so all is of God.  Sin for a Christian should not be regarded as an inevitability to which we resign ourselves.  All God’s power in grace is available to enable you to overcome sin.  You need not yield to sin.  Sin has no longer dominion over you.  It cannot force your obedience.  You may find it difficult to forsake any specific sin but I assure you, in Christ, you can.

It is a matter of faith.  It is a matter of asserting to yourself – I have died to sin’s power, I need not sin, I will not let this particular sin or any other sin have control in my life.  This applies to anything.  It applies to addictions of every kind.  It applies to the draw of pornography, lying, stealing, covetousness, greed, etc.  I must never assume as a Christian these are inevitable for they are not.

A temptation may present itself and do so powerfully but you are free and must tell yourself this.  You must grasp and insist on your new identity in Christ.  This is the fight of faith. Turn away from sin.  Refuse to listen to its lusts and desires.  These are not yours.  They come from the old life to which you have died.  Refuse to listen and refuse to do what the temptation demands.  It may call powerfully, insistently, like a past lover, but you have died to that relationship.  That life has passed.  You may say you do not ‘feel’ you are dead to sin.  This is understandable for indwelling sin (the flesh, or the old person you once were while living in this world) is crying out to be obeyed.  But it is not a matter of how you feel but of living by faith.  Faith lives by what God says not how we feel. Faith believes what God says is true and acts on that basis; it takes God at his word.  Faith inhabits the gospel realities.  Faith is a gospel-shaped life.  Thus Paul writes,

Rom 6:12-14 (ESV)
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

And yet,

I keep trying to die to sin, but I can’t.  All the old desires just keep coming into my mind.  All the old weakness and temptations keep raising their ugly heads.  It seems as if my soul is still full of sin.  But who asked you to try to die to sin?  Certainly not me.  Not the Bible.  Paul doesn’t say we must die to sin he says we have died to sin.  It is a matter of affirming this in faith.  He does not say sin has died.  Sin is still as powerful as ever.  It is still within as insistent as ever.  The flesh (indwelling sin) is always clambering for attention.  Look within and you’ll still see all kinds of volcanic sin ready to erupt.

It is not sin that has died, it is you who died.

This means, in practice, at least two things.

Firstly, it means you must not feel depressed and guilty about the sinful tendencies of your heart.  When you see all kinds of evil smouldering in your heart you must not despair, rather you must refuse ownership.  This is not the real you.  This is the old you who God has declared dead and you must reckon this to be so. The new you (of resurrection faith) is the real and true you.  The old is sin dwelling within.  It is the flesh seeking place and power.  But it is not ‘you’.  You have died and passed through death into a new life.  Therefore you must not feel guilty about these old lusts and desires.  You must not think they are yours, they are not.  You are not responsible for them.  You must disown them.  They belong to a world and personal identity that died at the cross.  Never accept any accusations about these tendencies.  Never take responsibility for them.  Never feel depressed and despairing about them.  God does not view them as you and neither must you.  You are a new person.  You are risen with Christ.  You are the new life created and sustained by God’s indwelling Spirit whom God already sees seated with Christ in heaven, holy and blameless and beyond sin and accusation.  What a glorious freedom the gospel brings from guilt and the terrible crushing sense of failed responsibility and a corrupt heart.

Secondly, we should realise we are not called to try die to these thoughts and inclinations, that is, we are not called to find some way of stopping them arising in your souls.  We can’t stop sinful thoughts and inclinations arising.  What you are called to do is by faith recognise that these are not the real you.  The ‘you’ to whom these belong has been pronounced dead.  This ‘you’ was crucified at the cross.  Judgement has been carried out on this ‘you’.  These are the inclinations of a life which is gone and all you need to do is accept this judgement (concur with it) and live in the light of it.

In other words, refuse to listen to their clambering and cries.  Give them no credence.  No foothold.  When they arise simply dismiss them from your mind.  Remind yourself these all belong to a past you, a former self and you have died to that self and will neither be condemned by it nor conned, cowed, or coerced into obeying it.  Whatever it urges refuse.  This is what Paul means when he says we are, by dependence on God’s Spirit, to put to death ‘the deeds of the body’ (Roms 8).  There may be pain in this, and cost, for the flesh desperately wishes to be pampered, but we must crucify it, or rather recognise it is crucified and treat it as such.

Unconverted folks have great difficulty in looking with equilibrium at the corruption that is in their own hearts for they (rightly) think of what lies in their heart as ‘them’; they are identified by their ‘flesh’ and thus find the truth about themselves hard to face at but Christians should not be like this.  We should be able with a steady eye to look at inner corruption and condemn and disown it for that is precisely what God did with it at the cross and what we accepted in conversion. We realised then that the flesh had no profit and was evil and we have gladly done with it that we may live in a new life of grace, beyond responsibility and its corollary condemnation where all is ‘of God’.

Paul earths this faith-perspective in Ephesians and Colossians.

Eph 4:17-32 (ESV)

 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!- assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, [your having put off] to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and [having put on] to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

 

This is how we live in the reality that we have died to sin and are alive to God (Roms 6:10).   In Colossians, Paul expresses it slightly differently but it is essentially the same point.

Col 3:1-17 (ESV2011)

 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…

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Sin is a moral contradiction for those who participate in the cross.  It is a denial of all we have become in Christ.   How can we who have died to sin live any longer therein?

Let me consider one further point.

What if as a Christian I do sin?  And both experience and Scripture tell us we will and do.  Surely I must take ownership for this sin.  Surely this sin condemns me and defines me.  Surely for this sin I am responsible.  Surely I must hate myself because of this sin?  Well, this is a point where it would be easy to get our thinking skewed.  On the one hand, there is a sense in which of course we do take responsibility for our failure.  We recognise that we have failed to live by faith.  We have not lived as close to Christ and as dependent on the Spirit as we ought and so we have sinned.  Our response should be to feel the shame of our action and hatred for our sin and to confess it with the intent of forsaking it knowing God will be faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

However, and it is a very important ‘however’ we will do this never wavering in our consciousness that we are sons, seated with Christ in heaven, holy and without blame in God’s sight.  We will insist the sin does not define us.  We will insist it is inconsistent with who we are and not a reflection of our proper identity.  We are saints, not sinners.

In this sense we can rightly say, that this sin is not of me but of sin dwelling within me (Roms 7:17).  Its source is not so much in me (the new me) as in the principle of sin that still resides within, namely, ‘the flesh’ (7:18,22).  Thus I will hate the flesh and hate the sin but refuse to hate myself for ‘self’ or my true identity is that of a new person in Christ.  I may as well hate Christ for my life and identity is in him.

Responsibility for sin in any ultimate sense I will reject for responsibility (of the kind that brings judgement) can only be laid at a living person in the world and I am not alive in the world; I am dead, crucified with Christ.  The source from which this sin originated has already been condemned in the flesh of Christ and is no more.  Thus I refuse to wretchedly self-condemn, though, by faith, I do condemn and disown (and hate) the sin and the nature from which it erupted.  By faith I concur with God’s verdict upon this nature and all that flows from it. Through the cross I have now what the writer to the Hebrews calls, ‘no more conscience of sins’.  He does not mean I do not care about sin but that I do not stand condemned by sin.  In Pauline language, I have died to sin and my life is hid with Christ in God.  Or, as in Roms 8

Rom 8:1-4 (ESV)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Praise God for such a salvation.  With Horatius Bonar we exclaim,

I bless the Christ of God, I rest on love divine,
And with unfaltering lip and heart, I call the Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear,
Each lingering shade of gloom.

I praise the God of peace, I trust His truth and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine, My God, my Joy, my Light.
In Him is only good, in me is only ill;
My ill but draws His goodness forth,
And me He loveth still.

’Tis He Who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me; I live because He lives;
My life with Him is hid, my death has passed away,
My clouds have melted into light,
My midnight into day.

 

Some further implications of participation in Christ’s death I will consider in the next couple of posts.

17
Aug
12

olympic reflections

John Stevens has a first class post reflecting on the recent Olympics.  Please take the time to read it here.  Take the time to read his other posts too.

30
May
12

carl trueman sings

Given my own lack of productivity perhaps I should at least point out the productivity of others much worthier than I.  Carl Trueman’s article ‘Doubting on Your Part Does Not Constitute a Crisis of Faith on Mine’ is stellar.  Please read.

16
May
12

apologies

Apologies for continued intermission.  Very busy at moment.  Normal service will assume as soon as possible.  Possibly a few weeks.  :)

25
Apr
12

an apology

For those who regularly drop into this blog let me apologise for a recent drop in productivity.  A number of commitments have prevented me posting recently.  I do hope to post in a few days though it is likely that over the summer months the posts will be less regular.  Thanks for continuing to drop in and read.  I do appreciate it.

21
Feb
12

uk coalition for marriage

‘Yesterday saw the launch of the Coalition for Marriage and its national marriage petition (sign here). Here is the text of the launch speech given by Colin Hart, Campaign Director for the Coalition. I would like to announce the launch of the Coalition for Marriage. The Coalition has one, very simple aim: To support the current definition of marriage and to oppose all plans to redefine it. The law currently defines marriage as “the voluntary union for life, of one man and one woman, to the…’

The above is cited from the Coalition for Marriage website.  You may find the speech in full here.   If you are a UK citizen you may wish to consider signing the petition.

13
Feb
12

fighting the good fight!

21
Sep
11

news flash about icon bashing

For those who know Nicky Mackison he has opened a new blog called ‘IcoNick-last’.  Nicky has an incisive mind and seeks to be biblical in his thinking.  The result is he is good at exposing some of our sacred cows as wanting.  I am not talking about the truths of the gospel to which he is committed but those accretions to the gospel and faith that we begin to treat as part of the faith.  Nicky is good at challenging these and making us think.  If you want to be challenged then visit IcoNick-last.  It can be found here.

It would be wrong however, to give the impression that all will simply be negative.  Nicky is good at exploring live issues in evangelicalism and providing a biblical perspective.  Enjoy.

16
Jul
11

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.

03
May
11

asking questions and questioning

Sorry I have been unable to post much recently.  I want to continue  reflecting on issues that arise from the Bell book ‘Love Wins’ for a few further posts.  One issue is Bell’s technique (similar to that of Brian McLaren) in writing.  His frequent style is to ask questions.  Superficially this seems reasonable, however, the questions are intended not to inquire but to lead.  An excellent post on this technique of Bell’s by Nate Archer is well worth reading.  In fact he has another couple of good posts on ‘Love Wins’ well worth reading.

Archer writes,

Questions are great.  Questions are wonderful, especially when they are being asked in the sense of faith seeking understanding.  Unfortunately, questions can also be asked in another way.  Sometimes questions are nothing more than rhetorical devices being used to make a point, and that is what Bell is doing here. 

Some people ask questions in the sense of faith seeking understanding.  Other people ask questions in the sense of doubt seeking influence

There is a difference between asking questions and questioning.  More precisely, there is a difference between asking questions about what God has told us and questioning what God has told us.  What is annoying is the sly and ingenuous way that some people shift between these two meanings.  They want to retain the nobility of asking questions, but slip in the subversiveness of questioning that which they disagree.

Read the whole post.  In fact, explore the website, Nate has some fine posts.

02
Apr
11

leap of faith or leap of folly

Job 30:22 (ESV) You lift me up on the wind; you make me ride on it, and you toss me about in the roar of the storm.

An old friend who thinks he is still young…

28
Mar
11

freedom of speech

‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear’.”

George Orwell




the cavekeeper

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

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