[July 31]—Abraham

Romans 4:1-12

            As I’ve mentioned over and over and over, the book of Romans is the most theologically complete book of the Bible. It’s the most comprehensive presentation of the Good News, explaining what Jesus did. If you want descriptions of what Jesus did, then you go to the Gospels. But in order to truly understand why he did what he did, what exactly he accomplished for us, and how that affects us today, then you need to turn to the epistles, especially the book of Romans.
            Here’s a question that occurred to me: Paul’s given a pretty good explanation of what happened at the cross and how we get saved in yesterday’s passage, the latter part of chapter three. Why does he go on? Why is there a need for chapters four and five, where he delves even deeper into soteriology—the ins and outs of our salvation?
            Obviously he (under the inspiration of the Spirit) believed that we need further instruction and persuasion on this, and here’s my theory as to why: The Good News of Christ is not only counterintuitive, it runs completely counter to our prideful sinful nature. The natural person—apart from the illumination of the Spirit—looks at the Good News and rejects it as too simple or leading to Antinomianism. Of course it can’t be that simple. Of course we’re going to have to add something to what Jesus did. So Paul spends the next chapter or so just laying out his argument that it really is that simple, that we really are brought into a right relationship with God, that we’re declared righteous in his sight—simply by believing in Jesus and receiving him as Lord and Savior.
            Among his audience, the people who’d have the most trouble accepting this paradigm of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone would undoubtedly be the Jews. They'd had it drilled into them from infancy the primacy of the Law of Moses, that it’d be virtually impossible for someone to be right before God unless they were following it, and this would seem to be contradicting all that. So he brings up two examples to bolster his case.
            First, he presents for our consideration the Father of the Jewish people, Abraham. How was he declared righteous before God? On what was his relationship before God based? Was it his lifestyle, his pattern of obedience? I know—it was his circumcision!!! A lot of Jews believed this pretty much punched your ticket into Heaven.
            Was he justified by works? You might be a little confused by a phrase in vs. 2: If he was justified by works, then “he had something to boast about—but not before God.” What’s he talking about? Well, if he couldn’t boast before God, then before whom could he boast?” The best answer I’ve heard to this is that our works can “justify” us before men, but not before God. This seems to be as good a time as any to talk about the term “justify.”
            The Bible uses it in two very different senses. It can use it in the sense of “be declared righteous or not guilty,” and it’s a legal term referring in this context to God’s courtroom. He’s the Judge of every man, woman, and child who’s ever lived, along with everything else in creation. He gives out reward and punishment based on what we do, based on how our performance conforms to his perfect standards. Of course, as Paul has been hammering over and over and over, none of us will be justified (declared righteous or not guilty) in his court based on our performance. The only way we can ever be justified is by faith in Christ.
            But there’s another sense that the Bible uses “justify,” and this is in the sense of “vindication.” The simplest definition I’ve ever heard of vindication is to be proven right about something. You claim to be following God, however imperfectly. This is the same word the Gospel writer uses when he quotes Jesus as saying that “wisdom is proved right by all her children.” He doesn’t mean that wisdom is declared not guilty in God’s court. That’s why it’s translated the way it is--“being proven right.”
            Before God, the only way we’re ever going to be declared righteous is by faith. But the people around us can’t see our hearts. They can’t see our faith itself, only the actions that our faith leads to. They can’t see our faith in Christ, but they can how we love people in Jesus’ name. Or in Abraham’s case, people around him could see his trust in God by his actions.
            There’s some more we need to examine in this passage, so we’ll examine it more tomorrow. In the meantime, focus on this truth: You’re justified before God by faith alone, but you prove your faith before people by how you act.

Lord Jesus, I’ve trusted you for my salvation, and I trust in you alone for salvation and everything else. You alone are worthy of absolute trust. By your grace, I want to show that.

[July 30]—Righteousness Apart From The Law

Romans 3:21-31

Moses said to his people: “[If] we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”  But Paul’s main point in 1:18-3:20 that we will never be able to obey all his law. Jew and Gentile “alike are all under the power of sin.” So if we’re going to be righteous before God, we’re going to need another source of righteousness.
            Someone once pointed this out to me, and it’s really true: In all the Bible, surely one of the most beautiful words we can ever read is one simple 3-letter one. We were lost, condemned before his Throne, running away from him as fast we could run, and in just about the worst situation we could ever find ourselves. . . BUT. That’s the word.
We were lost. . .BUT.
We were condemned before a just God. . . BUT.
We were all heading into an eternity without any light, any hope, nothing except the punishment we were due. .  .BUT.  
            Enter Jesus. He stepped into this world and lived not only a sinless life, but a perfectly righteous one. He looked people straight in the eye and said “I always do what pleases [the Father].” The Father takes the righteousness of Christ and offers it to us. And how do we receive it? By believing in Jesus, by trusting in him, by placing our faith in him. We’re saved by his righteousness, and faith is the conduit of this gift.
            This is why Paul said that the first thing that’s revealed in the Message he presented was the “righteousness of God.” In the Good News, God’s righteousness is revealed. Yes, we know his righteousness (or at least we can) by how much he hates sin. We can see it in the righteous life of Christ while on earth. But what Paul is referring to here is that God’s righteousness is revealed in the “great transaction” made between Savior and sinner.
            I want to emphasize that this was not God’s problem; it was ours. We were the ones in the mess, and we put ourselves there. But if he wanted to let us into his presence, something had to be done.
In verse 26, Paul hints at another explanation of our problem. God is just. He can't wink at sin, he can't excuse sin, and he can't just let a sinner go. We’re sinners before him. We’ve transgressed his law. He doesn’t take any pleasure in destroying us, so what could be done?
But now because of what Christ did on the cross, he can be both A) just and B) the one who justifies (declares righteous) those who believe in Jesus. His justice and love are both satisfied.
            God presented Jesus as “a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood.” The word “sacrifice of atonement” has also been translated as “propitiation,” which according to Merriam-Webster is the act of making "(someone) pleased or less angry by giving or saying something desired." The Father’s wrath against my sin was poured out on Christ on the cross and was fully satisfied. Jesus bled and died, and his blood--his death--covers my sin once and for all.
            The wisdom of the Almighty is really on display here. It’s so simple that a child of six can understand it well enough, and it’s so deep that the deepest thinkers will never plumb its depths. However, your particular understanding or explanation or theory on how it works is not nearly as important as participating in it. As C. S. Lewis put it, people have been eating food for a very long time before anyone came up with an understanding of nutrition or vitamins. It’s the same with this.
What’s Paul conclusion? There are two things excluded here. First, there’s no room for boasting, no room for pride. You bring nothing to this transaction except your need and your sin.
Second, there’s no room for misunderstanding. He anticipates a major objection to this. Does this notion (salvation by grace through faith) somehow nullify God’s holy standard—as revealed in his Law? Once again, we have the strongest possible negative in the Greek: Never! God Forbid! Never Ever Ever!!!
On the contrary, this upholds his law. How? We’ll get to that soon.

Lord Jesus, I think once again it’s time for me to imitate Job. Time to close my mouth for a while. 

[July 29]—All In The Same (Sinking) Boat

Romans 3:9-20

            If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might have noticed that we’ve already discussed the above passage in a study of soteriology, the theological study of our salvation in Christ. As I mention in that post, ten times he uses a universal term to describe how widespread the problem of sin really is, terms like “all” or “no one” or “not even one.”
            But there are couple of points I’d like to make concerning this which I didn’t before. First and foremost, this is Paul’s grand climax of the “bad news” portion of the book of Romans. Gentiles, having only General Revelation to go on, had a very skewed vision of right and wrong, and their societies reflected that. The Jewish world knew something about God’s standards and sin, but most people in that world assumed that most Jews were considered righteous in God’s eyes due to 1) Their possession of the Law, 2) Their physical ancestry from Abraham, and 3) The fact that they were circumcised. Paul completely repudiates and refutes his Jewish brothers who carried this illusion in chapter two.
            Now we come to the climax, the main point that he’s trying to make before he gets to the Good News: We’re all in the same boat, and the boat is sinking. All of us have sinned before him: “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.” None of us are righteous before him, none of us have a real understanding of God, none of us (on our own) seek him out.
            I think one phrase here might need a little explanation: “No one who does good, not even one.” Is this literally true? Is Paul claiming that no nonbeliever ever does any good? Really? I think what Paul’s talking about is our standing before God. Isaiah said that all our righteous acts before God are like “filthy rags” (literally a menstrual cloth). That’s our righteous acts, not our sins. Even the so-called “good deeds” that you do: helping little old ladies across the street, giving to charity, etc. are still infected by sin at some level. Now, this doesn’t mean that he makes no distinction at all between helping a lady across the street and pushing her in front of a bus, but it does mean that our so-called “righteous acts” aren’t good enough to make up for the bad we do. Also in this context, remember that Paul is talking about our standing before God, as far as our eternal destiny is concerned, not necessarily a bad deed vs. a good deed before men.
            I’d like to make another point off his poetic description of our sinfulness before him. The root problem to all of this is actually mentioned in vs. 18: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This is the root of every sin, everything from a prideful attitude to mass murder: not having a healthy respect for the Almighty's authority. This might shed light on our question in the last paragraph. A person might be doing “good deeds,” but if he’s not doing it out of a God-centered attitude, then that’s a problem in itself.
            What’s the end result of the Law? What’s its real purpose? Well, it has one that’s immediate, and that short-term result leads to much more serious one in the future. Verse 20 says that through the Law we become conscious of sin. God tells us not to steal, we know it, and we do it anyway.
But at the end of human history, when we’re all standing before his Throne of Judgment, his word will stand to condemn us if we’re not covered by the blood of Christ. In the end, whether we’ve had Special Revelation (the Bible) or just General Revelation, “every mouth [will] be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”  Atheists love to mouth off about how they’ll argue with God and won’t accept his judgment over them. Joss Whedon (whose artistic work I love) calls him the “Sky Bully.” Christopher Hitchens claimed to find intolerable the notion that the Lord would hold him accountable for his behavior. But in the end, his word and authority will shut every mouth. All of us will be stripped naked before his eyes. None of us will have any valid excuses, no rationalizations, nothing to justify us. No reason in the world for him to deliver any verdict but “GUILTY.”
            Now that we understand our need for it, we can get to the Good News.

Lord Jesus, you are my Righteousness before the Father, and I claim no other. I’d be a fool to claim any goodness of my own, anything other than your righteousness, and that my sin was laid upon you. The words “thank you” seem so inadequate. 

[July 28]—God’s Faithfulness, And Ours

Romans 3:1-8

            The main point of Romans chapter two was to show the Jews that they were in the same pit as the Gentiles. They trusted in the fact that they had the Law of Moses, their ancestor Abraham, and their circumcision, and that was all they needed. Not so. They broke God’s law repeatedly, circumcision only does any good if it’s on the inside, not just physical, and as he shows later on, being a physical descendant of Abraham is no guarantee of being considered right before God. If anything, having the Law made them worse off and only served to condemn them more.
            Before he finishes up with the bad news and gets to the Good News, however, he needs to address a pressing question that someone might raise: Does being a Jew bring any advantage?
            Paul’s unequivocal answer: YES!!! Now, there were a lot of blessings he could've named. They'd had physical blessings in the time of Moses, Joshua, the Judges, and up to the time of Solomon. When they followed the Lord, they were unstoppable on the battlefield and enjoyed God’s protection and provision. But most important, above all else, they were “entrusted with the very words of God.” The Lord of the universe came down and spoke directly with Abraham and Moses, and those words were recorded for all time. Anyone had access to this. They weren’t secret messages available to a select few. Now granted, many people were illiterate, but the Lord had provided priests and Levites to provide instruction from his word. This word, which he'd given no one else in all history, revealed things about the Lord which no one else knew: The story of creation, who God was/is, his character, his standards, his plan for the nations, rules to govern a society, etc.
And the Jews were entrusted with this. Humanly speaking, if they'd dropped their responsibility, this knowledge about God would be theoretically lost, and all humanity would continue to suffer in darkness and ignorance, just spiraling down like chapter one describes.
Look, I'd never contend that societies influenced by the Bible have ever been perfect. People are sinful, and even the ones who want to obey his instructions do so very imperfectly. But if you take the time to compare societies which have been heavily influenced by the Scriptures versus those which have not been, you see a huge qualitative difference in every aspect.
But the Jews hadn’t followed his instructions; they’d proven unfaithful to their calling. Did this somehow nullify God’s promises? Did their unfaithfulness prove God unfaithful? Paul responds with the strongest negative possible in the Greek: Me Genoito. It’s translated as “Certainly not!” here, and “God forbid” elsewhere. There’s no exact equivalent in English. The closest--as my Greek Professor put it--would be “HECK NO!!!”
Our faithlessness—no matter what we do--never refutes God’s faithfulness. If all of humanity who ever existed in all the history of the world said “A” and God says “Non-A,” then “Let God be true, and every human being a liar!” As C. S. Lewis put it, we get our reasoning power itself from him, so we cannot be right and he wrong any more than water can rise above its source or a tree branch grow when cut off from the tree. He's the Source of all Truth, all justice, all righteousness. To the extent that anything or anyone has any of these things, they get them from him.
            He's accountable to no one, and all are accountable to him and will stand before him to be judged. That’s what the second part of verse 4 is talking about, the quote from Psalm 51.
            Paul sets up a “Devil’s Advocate” argument: Well, if our faithlessness just highlights his faithfulness, then why is anyone condemned? Isn’t it a good thing that God be glorified? He says that some are misquoting him as saying “Let us do evil that good may result.” He addresses this more fully in chapter six, but right now he just takes a moment to thoroughly repudiate it. Anyone who says anything like this is showing—at the very least—that they don’t understand the Message of Jesus. Most probably anyone who’s making this claim is showing enmity towards God’s truth: That’s why he says that they’re justly condemned. Antinomianism is one of the greatest hindrances of the Good News and a very effective tool of the Enemy of our souls.
            So, do you ever listen to his lies? Do you take his grace as a license to sin? Are you willing to go along with the “majority opinion” when it stands with one voice against God’s truth? And do you value his word as highly as you ought?

Father, your word is a lamp to my feet and light for my path. May I cling to it like a man in the ocean clings to the only life preserver he has. 

[July 27]—Words To The Self-Righteous

Romans 2:17-29

            The second half of chapter one dealt with humanity in general, mostly referring to Gentiles. The Jews who heard Paul’s condemnation would've likely pumped their fists and proclaimed “Amen, brother!” But then Paul turned to the religious man, specifically the observant Jew. It was common for Jewish people to think they were righteous before God because 1) They were descended from Abraham, and 2) They had the Law of Moses. 3) They were circumcised. Adherence to the Law was symbolized by circumcision, which is why Paul’s legalistic opponents made such a big deal over it. In fact, the very idea that one could be declared righteous before God without being circumcised would be literally unthinkable to them.
            Now, we need to look at this realistically. Quite frankly, the Jews of Paul’s day tended to take the Scriptures a lot more seriously than they do today. I’m fairly certain I know the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures, if you prefer) a lot better than just about 90% of the Jewish population in America. I certainly take the Scriptures a lot more seriously.
            Therefore, the idea that the main issue confronting Jews today is legalism, like it was in Paul’s day, just isn’t so. There are some Orthodox and Conservative Jewish people, but they’re the minority.
            So I’d like to take some of the things which Paul addresses in today’s passage and apply it as much as possible to a group of people who supposedly do take the Bible seriously. I’m talking about Bible-believing Christians, otherwise known as Evangelicals.
            Does it apply?
            Paul accused the self-righteous Jews of his day—trying to convince them that they need a Savior—by showing that their self-image was completely unjustified. They really did see themselves as “a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children.” They saw themselves as vastly superior to those filthy Gentiles who routinely indulged in idolatry, sexual immorality, violence, etc.
            How’s your self-image? Do you see yourself as superior to the non-Christians around you? Do you look at their behavior and say “Wow, thank God I’m not like that!”?
            Paul has some harsh and piercing questions for you, really for all of us: “You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?” And if you aren’t committing the exact same sins that others do, do you look in pride upon them because of that? I promise, if you let the Holy Spirit examine you, if you cry out  Psalm 139:23-24 to him, he’ll point out something that needs attention. We all tend to be harsher towards people who indulge in sins to which we're not particularly attracted. And that can lead us to somehow act as if we somehow needed the blood of Jesus less than they do, that our sins aren't quite as serious as theirs. 
            Remember, Jeremiah told us that our hearts incline towards wickedness, that we’re masters of self-deception. I can’t count how many times I’ve ranted and raved against someone who’s committed a traffic “sin” against me (like not paying attention when the light changes at a red light), and then catch myself later doing the exact same thing or worse. As the old saying goes, sins are like headlights: Yours are a whole lot more glaring than mine.
            And what’s the result of this? Among other things, Paul mentions something that should chill the heart of every Jesus-loving believer. By his grace, may this never be said of me or you: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you!” Nothing bolsters the antagonism towards Christianity--both among honest seekers and enemies of the Message—than Christians who are caught in an egregious sin, especially while they're displaying a self-righteous attitude like we see here. My friend, there’s nothing that turns people away from following Christ faster than this sort of thing.
            The world is watching, and the Devil laughs while we hand him more ammunition. Let’s not, shall we?

Please Lord Jesus, please please please. Don’t let the Enemy use me to turn someone away from you. 

[July 25]—Next!

Romans 2:1-16

            Now we’re finally back into the book of Romans. Remember, we have to get through the bad news before we get to the Good News, and how bad can it get! The entire second half of chapter one gets darker and darker and darker: Humanity started out knowing God (or at least knowing about him) via Adam and then Noah, but they didn’t acknowledge him or worship him or thank him as he deserved, and that started them on a downward spiral. They went from bad to worse: egregious sexual immorality flourished, what little knowledge about the Lord dwindled, and then society went rotten like exposed meat in the desert sun. Not only did people sin more and more—both against the Lord and against each other (frequently violently)—they invented ways of doing evil, and publicly celebrated their sin and encouraged others to join in.
            But Paul was mainly talking about the Gentiles in chapter one, or so one might think. The Jews were different. They had God’s Law given to them through Moses, laws which left no ambiguity as to what he expected of them. He directly and openly intervened in their history, with theophanies and miraculous deliverances. He’d given them the prophets. He revealed things about himself—his nature, his character, his expectations—which he didn’t reveal to anyone else on earth. Unlike those filthy uncircumcised Gentiles, they knew the Lord. They were special.
            Well, yes, in a way they were special. There’s no denying that they had more revelation than the Gentiles. In fact, theologians have terms for this: General Revelation (which everyone has access to) and Special Revelation (in which God has to initialize, since we’d never figure it out on our own). For more on this, see here
            But here’s where the Jewish people really misunderstood things. They thought that just because they had the Law, God was smiling on them. The implicit (and sometimes explicit) premise was that the Lord had a double standard: One for the Jews and one for the Gentiles. Well, they were partially right. In a sense, he did have a different standard for them: A higher one. The Law would be an incredible blessing, an unmitigated good if they'd kept it.
            In a far deeper sense, of course, there is no double standard. As verse 11 puts it, “God does not show favoritism.” But remember Jesus’ chilling words: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” That’s his unbending principle. He hasn’t given the same amount of revelation to everyone, but everyone will be judged according to the light they have. The more light, the stricter the judgment.
            That’s Paul’s point here, probably addressed to Jews who’d tend towards feeling self-righteous and more-holy-than-thou regarding the Gentiles. Most Jews reading the last half of chapter one would see Paul’s prognosis of sinful humanity and say “Amen! Those filthy Gentiles! You have them described to a ‘T.’ Thank God I’m not like that!” If this sounds vaguely familiar, there’s a reason.
            To that misunderstanding, Paul offers some tough love. If they thought they were pleasing God and following his Law, they weren’t. What they accused the Gentiles of doing, they were doing as well. They were the ultimate hypocrites, passing judgment on others while doing the same things (vs. 3). And in doing so, in their self-righteous pride, they were doing nothing but “storing up wrath against [themselves] for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” On that Day, he'll judge “people’s secrets through Jesus Christ.” To the outside world, they looked like godly, righteous people who barely sinned, if at all. But the Lord knew their heart, and the Law which they supposedly prized so highly--the subject of all their boasting—would only serve to condemn them even more harshly.
            That’s the main point of this passage, serving up some tough love to religious men who thought that they were righteous before God based on their works or their heritage or because they were “special” in his eyes. But before we move on I need to address part of this passage which might seem a little mysterious. Who is Paul talking about in vss. 7-11? At first glance it sounds like he’s abandoning this whole “We’re all sinners and can’t be saved by our own works” theology. Basically he says that if someone seeks after God and lives righteously, if they “do good,” then they could earn eternal life. But if they turn away from him and “do evil,” then the Lord will punish them. Doesn’t this contradict the Message Paul was proclaiming?
            Not at all. What's the magic word again, the one word that clears up so much confusion about the Bible? Context, context, context.  If a person actually sought God and lived righteously, he would reward that, and if they were good enough, he would give them eternal life. But there's no one who'd qualify for this blessing. In the very next chapter, Paul makes it crystal clear that “There is no one righteous, not even one. . .there is no one who seeks God. . . there is no one who does good, not even one [emphasis mine].” Again, that’s the main point of the first three chapters of Romans: We’re all sinners before him, and no one is good enough. He gave us a set of rules, and we didn’t follow them. That’s our problem. We didn't need a little tweaking here and there, or a new set of rules. We desperately needed a Savior.
            So he sent one.

Lord Jesus, I confess that I sometimes resemble that Pharisee in your story more than I’d like to admit. Search me out, and if you find any self-righteousness, pull it out by the roots. Whatever it takes. Please. 

[July 24]-- Straight Talk On Homosexuality, Part Five

For the last couple of days I’ve addressed my fellow believers who agree with me about the sinfulness of homosexuality. Today I’m going to respond to those who disagree with me about this very fundamental issue: Does God consider homosexual behavior a sin?

First, let me clarify some verbiage. You might have noticed that I keep referring to homosexual behavior, not just to homosexuality. The reason I use that term is because I make a distinction between same-sex attraction and the behavior that comes from that attraction. If someone's attracted to someone of the same sex, that’s not in itself sinful; if I’m attracted to a woman who’s not my wife, that’s not sinful either.  That doesn't mean it's harmless. It just means that I'm not judged by God for being attracted to (or tempted towards) something that he says is wrong. The question for me is, “What do I do with the fact that I’m attracted to her? Do I fantasize about her? Do I look at her improperly?” If I do, that is sinful according to the explicit words of my Savior. But just the fact that I’m attracted to her? No. That's something we need to decisively deal with, but it's not in itself a sin.

Now, if someone is attracted to someone of the same sex, that's not healthy. It's an indication that something's seriously gone wrong with that person's sexual makeup. It’s not God’s pattern for someone to be sexually attracted to someone of the same sex, just like it's not God's pattern for my pancreas to not function. Maybe it’s because of choices they’ve made in the past, or maybe there was something that happened in their childhood, or maybe it’s because of something that’s wrong with their genes, or a combo of two or more of them. But the very fact that someone is attracted to anyone who’s not their spouse (whether that person is of the same sex or not) is not sinful in and of itself, it seems to me. Again, the question is “What do you do with that attraction?”

Society says “Just go ahead and indulge your desires. Go for it! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with living the life and having sexual relations with whomever you please."

God says different. His standard is for sexual activity to be confined to marriage between one man with one woman united for life. Anything else--adultery, sex before marriage, lusting after someone who’s not your spouse, or sexual perversity in all its sordid forms--is against his will and falls short of his standard.

So let’s deal with some of the objections:

“You just hate homosexuals, you homophobe!”

No, I don’t hate anyone. I’m trying (however imperfectly) to follow my Savior, who absolutely hates sin and loves sinners, and actually one of the main reasons he hates sin is because he loves sinners. He knows what sin does to us, and he hates it like an oncologist hates cancer. And by the way, calling someone a name doesn’t usually qualify as an argument.

Now, I know that some well-meaning Christians like to quote Lev. 18:22 and other verses in the Old Testament, some of which call for the death penalty for homosexuals. Unfortunately, pro-gay spokesmen have a quick answer: The O.T. calls for the death penalty for a lot of things, like working on the Sabbath or back-talking your parents. I have answers for that, but in order to avoid chasing a lot of rabbits that distract from the issue at hand, I think it’s best to mostly stick to the N.T. because we’re under that Covenant, not the Old One.

And on a side note, I can’t believe I have to say this, but just to make it clear: Neither I, nor any Bible-believing Christian, want to do physical harm or treat as subhuman any person created in God’s image. If anyone does and claims to be following the Bible, I completely repudiate them. They’re not following the Jesus I know.

“Jesus never talked about homosexuality, so apparently God doesn’t think it’s a big deal.”

One of these days I’d like to deal with people who call themselves “Red Letter Christians,” those who like to focus on the words of Jesus in the Gospels and thus discount what the rest of the Bible says. What they seem to have forgotten is that the same Jesus who spoke the words you find in the Gospels also inspired the writings of Paul. The words of Paul come straight from the Throne in Heaven just as much as the Sermon on the Mount. But let’s directly answer the objection.

Jesus spent about three years in public ministry, which was mostly confined to Jewish Israel. He dealt mostly with Jews in his daily life. Among the people with whom he dealt, virtually no one would have any objection to the supposition that God disapproves of homosexuality. It wasn’t an issue. He also never discussed the issue of idolatry during his public ministry. Why? Again, it wasn’t an issue among the people with whom he was dealing.

Unlike Jesus, Paul did deal with the issue, because Roman/Greek society was rife with it. And he addressed it.

And in a very real sense Jesus did deal with this issue. When the religious leaders came to Jesus and asked him about divorce and cited Moses, he clarified the issue for us. God's pattern for marriage (and sexuality as a corollary) wasn't established in Leviticus or Deuteronomy. It was established in Genesis chapters one and two by the marriage of our first parents. Any discussion of any aspect of human sexuality has to start with the pattern our Creator established at the very beginning of human history: One man with one woman united for life.

Once you get that pattern down, then every other issue regarding human sexuality is pretty much settled: Sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality, etc. 

“The homosexuality that’s condemned in the Bible isn’t the same as what we have today. Paul’s condemning man-child sex, or sex with temple prostitutes, not sex between two loving, consensual adults. And Sodom was condemned for oppressing the poor in Ezekiel, not for sexual behavior.”

Um, no. Look up the footnote on 1 Cor. 6:9-11 in the updated NIV. There are two words for homosexuality in the Greek: One for the “passive” partner, and one for the “active” partner, and Paul specifically condemns both.

I know, I know: you’ll see some biblical “scholar” trying to tell you point # 3 above. They’re lying, either to you or to themselves. Here’s the bottom line: Every single time homosexual behavior is mentioned in the Bible, it’s condemned. Not most of the time. All of the time.

And quite frankly, a lot of the other biblical "scholarship" on this issue is really trying to get away from what the Bible clearly says. Talking about exactly why Sodom was destroyed, or about the Levitical prohibition of having sex with your wife during her period, or about Christians' failures re: divorce or other sins is--quite frankly--a distraction from the issue at hand.*

What do you want me to tell you? That something that God condemns is OK? Do you want me to tell you what you want to hear, or the truth?

Let's talk just for a moment about the possibility of getting out of this lifestyle. I'm not going to get into a debate about the science or research or the effectiveness of this program or that program. I'm going to stick to what I know: God's word and the testimony of those whom the Savior has pulled out of this mess. 

It all starts with recognizing that what you're feeling is not in line with God's word. It just so happens that this particular feeling is celebrated in our modern world, while others (like racial hatred) aren't. I believe that it's entirely possible that someone might have an ongoing struggle with this issue, maybe for several years. And the only appropriate response to anyone struggling with this sin is compassion, never a holier-than-thou or self-righteous attitude. 

The world tells someone that if they're attracted to the same sex, they're "born that way," And because they're born that way, not only do they not need to change, they never will, even if they wanted to. That's a lie. Just like in today's passage, up to the present day Christ has rescued people from this lifestyle and restored them to wholeness, or at least as close as we're going to get in a fallen world with sin-wrecked bodies. 

Another lie the world tells you--correlating with the message in the above paragraph--is that because we believe that change is possible, it must mean we think change is easy. Attempts to change sexual attraction are dismissed as trying to "pray away the gay." If someone is attracted to the same sex, then there are apparently deep-seated issues which need to be worked out. Yes, we believe in the power of God to change anyone, to redeem anyone out of any sinful lifestyle. But same-sex attraction seems to me to be a sign of brokenness which probably needs some special attention. There are godly counselors whom the Lord has provided who have training in this area, whom the Lord has used to sensitively bring people back to wholeness. It's usually not overnight, but it can come. 

But the main point of all this is the Good News about Jesus. If you realize and acknowledge that what you’ve been doing is sinful (whatever it is), then he stands ready to forgive, restore, cleanse, and rescue you out of the pit you’ve found yourself in. It all starts with deciding to do things his way instead of your own, asking for his help, and availing yourself of the assistance he provides (his word, the Church, and the Holy Spirit). He might not change you overnight, but that’s the way to get on the right track. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

Father, I completely repudiate any pride, any self-righteousness, and any claim that I’m better than anyone else. I need your grace just as much as the worst sinner out there. May my words and actions reflect that clearly. Above all, I want to reflect you, Lord Jesus. Your love, your mercy, your grace, and your power. 

*I've recently come across a really helpful book in this regard: What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? I'm sure there are plenty of other great resources out there, but Kevin here does an awesome job of dealing with this issue. It's short, very inexpensive, and deals with objections in a sensitive yet thoroughly biblical way. I can't recommend it highly enough. 

[July 23]-- Straight Talk On Homosexuality, Part Four

1 Cor. 6:9-11

            Today we’re discussing the issue of  homosexuality in the light of what I consider to be the most definitive word on the subject. There’s so much we can talk about concerning this, but I think this short passage encapsulates it perfectly, and it really is a great prĂ©cis on our response to the world.
            Paul was addressing the Corinthian church here, and if you think Vegas deserves the name “Sin City,” it has nothing on Corinth. This was a city filled with sexual immorality, idolatry, crime, and a general “party atmosphere.” For most Corinthians, the word “worship” would be associated with temple prostitution. That’s why Paul’s 1st letter to them talks so much about sex, because there were few members in that church who didn’t come out of a background of that mess, at least all the non-Jewish ones.
            And as you might expect, a lot of believers coming out of that background didn’t come out of it completely successfully. There was actually a member in good standing at their church who was living with his (probably Step-) mother.
            And then we come to today’s passage. Paul tells us straight up: Homosexual behavior is not compatible with being a follower of Jesus. He says that anyone who practices this lifestyle will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
            But. . .

  • He also lists some others sins here: adultery (in other words, heterosexual sin), idolatry, theft, drunkenness, slander, or swindling. Is there anyone who can claim they’re completely innocent of the rest of these? If you’re a guy and give into lust, Jesus says you’re an adulterer in your heart. Yes, an unrepentant homosexual is going to Hell. So are unrepentant liars.
           But you say, “But Keith! Romans one seems to single out homosexuality as particularly heinous. Well, it is singled out. But it’s singled out as a sign of a God-abandoning society and lifestyle. Look carefully at it again and examine the process he describes. Once human society abandoned God and didn’t give him what he deserved, he gave them over to “shameful lusts.” But in vs. 28 he continues and says “Furthermore. . .” they went further and further down this downward spiral, and he then lists a whole host of sins, such as slander or disobeying one’s parents. So the idea that homosexual behavior is somehow more egregious than other sins, particularly other forms of sexual immorality, isn’t in the Bible. Just a reminder: God’s standard is to confine any sexual behavior to marriage between one man and one woman united for life. Anything else is unacceptable to him.

            Now for my next caveat. . .

  • No matter why someone is what they are, they don’t have to stay that way. Apparently some of the believers in the Corinthian church had been involved in that lifestyle. “But [they] were washed, [they] were sanctified, [they] were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Jesus’ blood covered their sin, both sexual and non-sexual. And not only that, he’d pulled them out of that lifestyle (“And that is what some of you were”). I’ve never been tempted in the area of homosexual attraction, but I have my own transgressions for which God has forgiven me, and I’m still a work in progress. Just when I think I have a sin “handled,” I discover how far I really fall short of where I’m supposed to be. I’m not where I’m supposed to be, but thank the Lord I’m not what I once was, and I’m not what I will be.
          I think the above point needs some clarification as well. Same-sex attraction--in and of itself--is evidence that something has gone seriously wrong with a person's sexual makeup. That means that the temptations attendant to that lifestyle might not go away overnight. Christ can completely and radically change a person at the moment of salvation so that they're never tempted to indulge in a sinful lifestyle ever again. Sometimes he does that. But with most of us, it's an ongoing process with setbacks and occasional failures, no matter what type of baggage we brought with us. 
          Here’s our message to the homosexual, in a nutshell: 1) Homosexual behavior is a sin, and like every other sin, you can’t hold onto it and place your faith in Christ. Believing in him and repentance (resolving to doing things God’s way instead of your way) are two sides of the same coin. Believing in Jesus and being an unrepentant homosexual are incompatible. 2) No matter what you’ve done, Jesus died for that sin, and stands ready to forgive. I deserve Hell as much as you do. My sins cost Jesus his blood, just like yours did. 3) In Christ, using what he's given us, real change is possible. 
          But just like with Alcoholics Anonymous, it all starts with admitting we have a problem. 
          Per usual, the genius over at Adam4D puts it sooooo much better than I can. If I could have 5 minutes to address every gay out there, this would be exactly what I'd like to say
Father God, I deserve nothing from you but judgment, and you’ve given me nothing but love, mercy, grace, and blessing. When I see someone in front of me who’s fallen into a sin to which I’m not tempted, please root out any pride or self-righteousness, as ruthlessly as you need to. 

[July 22]-- Straight Talk On Homosexuality, Part Three

Genesis 26:1-11

            What’s up, Keith? It seems like in this discussion about homosexuality you’re going to a lot of passages that don’t have anything to do with the topic at hand. What’s this about Isaac?
            The reason I’m bringing up the story about Isaac is because I’m anticipating some blowback from fellow believers on something I said yesterday.
            I’ll put out my thesis, and then touch on the passage above in order to bolster my point: Why are Christians so heavily invested in refuting the notion that same-sex attraction is (at least partially) genetic? If it is (again, at least partially) determined by the genes one inherited, then does that come into conflict with what the Bible teaches?
            First, let me be clear on this. I think why we are what we are is caused by a whole host of factors. I think your upbringing by your parents and the environment in which you’re raised has something to do with it. I think your personal choices will affect who you are later down the line. And your DNA also has an influence on your personal likes, dislikes, personality, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
            The Scripture I picked for today represents something a Bible study on Genesis pointed out to me long ago. Genesis 12, in which Abram (later Abraham) is introduced to us, has a momentous passage on the Lord’s covenant made with him. God blesses him and his descendants, and promised that through him all nations would be blessed. But then. . . in the same chapter, we see him exhibiting rank cowardice and a shameful failure to protect his wife. He was willing to hand his wife over to another man in order to save his own skin. And this wasn't a one-time failure or moment of weakness. This happens again in Genesis 20, and Abraham even says in vs. 13 he says that this is their practice “everywhere we go.”
            In today’s passage we see Isaac doing the exact same thing with another man named Abimelek (possibly a title instead of a name). I mean the exact same thing. Then his son, Jacob, was a con-man extraordinaire (meaning he’s great at lying and deceiving people). Jacob had twelve sons, ten of whom bold-facedly lied to their father about what happened to his favorite son. And finally we have Joseph lying to his brothers (maybe for a good cause, but still). So you see a family pattern--passed down from generation to generation--of deceit and lying.
            We see this in the modern world all the time. If one of your parents had a real problem with alcohol, then odds are you will too. Now, it’s conventional wisdom that true alcoholics have a genetic predisposition which causes them to lose all control regarding booze. Let’s assume for a moment that’s true. If it is true, would that change our theology? Would we have to adjust our teachings on the sin of drunkenness?
            Of course not. An alcoholic can’t simply say “Well, God made me that way.” Actually, no he didn’t. Remember the corollary to the understanding of our sinful nature: None of us are what God created us to be. To take a less controversial topic, I’m diabetic. Did God create me to be a diabetic? Of course not. But in my case, in his providence he’s allowed my pancreas not to work the way it’s supposed to. That’s not how a pancreas is supposed to function, and most of the time (for most people) it works just fine.
            And if someone is attracted to the same sex, something’s not working the way it’s supposed to. That’s not how he originally designed us. That’s why when Jesus was questioned about divorce and his opponents cited Deuteronomy, he went back further than that to the creation of our first parents and their life before the Fall. That’s where we can see humanity and the world the way it was created to be, before sin entered the picture and wrecked everything, affecting every aspect of our existence.
            I really feel the need for some clarification at this point. Just because God doesn't judge you for your sinful inclinations (or temptations), that doesn't mean that those inclinations are healthy or need to be celebrated or cultivated. I think it needs to be repeated for emphasis: If someone is attracted to the same sex, then something's really wrong. Not to be crude or anything, but if anyone is sexually attracted to anything besides the opposite sex, then something within them is not working the way it's supposed to, similar to the way my pancreas isn't working the way God designed it. 
            Let me ask a clarifying question: Why are pro-homosexual activists so eager to prove or assert that sexual orientation is completely genetic? As best as I can tell, here’s their logical thesis:

1) Homosexuality--defined here as same-sex attraction--is completely genetic. It has little or nothing to do with one’s personal choices or the environment in which one was raised.

2) Whatever is genetically predetermined--or that which is a genetic predisposition--is automatically morally neutral or even positive. There are absolutely no genetic predispositions which are morally negative.

3) Therefore, homosexual behavior is morally equivalent to heterosexual behavior, or even to be celebrated more than the norm. People who are attracted to the same sex should never be encouraged to change, and they can never change even if they wanted to.

               That’s basically their argument, whether it’s articulated that way or not. And I completely repudiate premise number 2. Even they wouldn’t buy number 2 if they thought about it dispassionately for a moment, if we were talking about anything other than a sexual lifestyle they want to justify. Again, if we found a “cheater gene” in men, they wouldn’t justify adultery, right? They’d tell a man “I don’t care if you ‘felt’ like cheating on your wife. You can’t just go along with your feelings.” Or at least they should. There are plenty of natural instincts which we have which would not only be socially unacceptable; they’d be completely incompatible with basic civilized society.
                 So my question to my fellow believers is: Why are you invested in disproving that same-sex attraction is at least partially genetically determined? Aren’t you tacitly accepting premise # 2 above? Isn’t the biblical response something more like “OK, let’s assume for the sake of argument that there is a ‘gay gene.’ So what?" The question isn’t "Why do people do the things they do?" The question is, "Does God’s word commend it or condemn it?”
                  I’m running long on this, so I want to give a fuller answer specifically regarding homosexuality tomorrow.

Father God, I’m not what I should be, nor what you created me to be, but thank you that I’m not what I was, and I’m not what I will be. I can’t wait.

[July 21]-- Straight Talk On Homosexuality, Part Two

Romans 5:12-17

            I promise that I’m going to bring this around to the subject at hand, namely homosexuality. Somehow we’ve inherited what’s called a “sinful nature” from Adam. What does that mean in the practical side of things?
You see, this is the point of understanding this concept of a sinful nature. None of us are what God created us to be. Sin has affected every aspect of me: My body needs glasses, and I’m diabetic. I grow old and eventually my body will wear out. My mind is darkened, and my understanding is really inadequate and inaccurate. My emotions aren't immune to this at all. For example, anger—which can be good—is turned towards revenging myself on those who harm me.
            And worst of all, my desires are inclined towards sin.
All of us have been born with an inclination, actually an overwhelming desire, to sin. We’ve been told what’s wrong and in our hearts we know that what we’ve been told is correct. Lying is wrong. Stealing is wrong. Murder is wrong. And not only do we ignore those voices which have told us right from wrong, the very wrongness of sin appeals to us in some perverted way. We get pleasure not just from sinful things (like sex outside of marriage); we get pleasure from the sinfulness of sin.
But just because we’re unalterably attracted to sin doesn’t mean that every type of sin is equally appealing to each one of us. For example, drunkenness has never appealed to me. Alcohol—for the most part—doesn’t really appeal to me. But lust is something I struggle with. Same thing with laziness. I have a host of other sins to which I’m susceptible.
            Others have sins to which they’re susceptible which hold no appeal to me. Others might be tempted to workaholism, something which poses NO danger to me. I’ve never been really tempted to physically hurt someone in anger. I’ve never been tempted to make money an idol or to covet other peoples’ stuff.
            Why is that? Why aren’t I tempted towards greed? Was it my upbringing? Personal choices I made early in life? Or was it my genes which I got from my parents?
            I suspect that it’s a combination of different factors. All of us are a lot more complex than what appears on the surface. To say about anything “The only reason I do X is because. . .” seems pretty foolish, doesn’t it? But surely my genes are at least part of the answer, right?
            But here’s where we come back to the controversial question and answer from yesterday: “Why are some people sexually attracted to people of the same sex?” I don’t know. Why am I tempted to be lazy? I don’t know.
            And let’s get to the really controversial part of my answer yesterday: I don’t care.
            Let’s get back to my laziness. What if they proved—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that laziness is completely caused by one’s genes? Let's assume for a moment that I had absolutely no choice as to whether or not I’d be inclined towards laziness. Neither did my upbringing have any effect at all. No matter what my parents did or didn’t do, no matter what my environment had or lacked, I was going to have a tendency towards laziness. Or lust. Or lying. Or uncontrolled anger.
            What difference would that scientific discovery make in regards to my walk with Christ?  Would that absolve me of responsibility?
            A few years ago I read an article that posited that scientists had supposedly isolated the “cheater” gene in males. It’s an undisputed fact that men tend to stray a lot more often than women in their marriages, right? So let’s assume for a moment that the discovery was absolutely correct, that the only reason men are even inclined to cheat is because of their “Y” chromosome. If a guy got caught cheating, could he dodge responsibility? Could he just say “Well, God made me that way?”
            I reiterate: Assuming that it’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that same-sex attraction is 100% genetic, how would that change my theology? Not a whit. The Bible still condemns homosexual activity, just like it condemns laziness, lying, lust, adultery, hatred, etc.
            Let’s be careful here, shall we? The Bible does not condemn me for sinful inclinations or feelings in and of themselves. Let’s say that I’m strongly tempted to have a wandering eye regarding the ladies. There's something within me, caused by undoubtedly a host of factors, which makes that particular sin appealing to me, while other sins to which others are prone have zero appeal. In biblical terms, I'm heavily tempted towards that sin. That’s not something that God condemns me for. He doesn’t judge me according to the “raw stuff” I’m born with or what I was raised with. He doesn’t judge me based on my desires or my feelings or my inclinations. He judges me based on what I do with what I have. Do I—in God’s grace and power—fight this bad tendency in me? Or do I give in to it, indulge in it, revel in it, and celebrate it?
             Here's a great little cartoon courtesy of Adam4d.com

Lord Jesus, how much I need your grace!  The deeper down I look into myself, the more depressing the picture gets. But one day. . .I’ll be like you. Inside and out. I can’t wait. 

[July 20]—Straight Talk On Homosexuality, Part One

Romans 5:12-17

            You knew I had to do it, right? There’s no way I could bring us to Romans chapter one without talking about one of the most controversial subjects today, namely homosexuality. If there’s another subject that I need to approach more carefully, I don’t know about it. I also submit that there's absolutely no subject in the public discourse in which Christians who take their Bibles seriously are more “out of step” with the zeitgeist. If you even hint that there’s anything wrong with the homosexual lifestyle, you’re a bigot (on the same level as a Klansman), you hate gays, and you’d kill every gay person in the world if you only had the opportunity.
            So Keith, if you’re going to talk about homosexuality, why’d you pick today’s passage? Why not the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? Why not the passage from yesterday? Why not another list of vices from Paul or another writer?
            Because I don’t think those passages are the places to start, because they don’t get to the heart of the debate today. On one side you have just about everyone saying that there's absolutely nothing wrong with the homosexual lifestyle. They claim that homosexuality is completely determined by genetics, that you’re “born” gay. Somehow it’s just taken as a given that someone’s DNA will determine for all time the type of people they’re attracted to.
            On the other side are those who deny this, supposedly for biblical reasons. They deny that anyone is “born” gay; instead, they point to environmental factors or personal choices that the person made early in life.
            I’m going to propose something here which'll definitely anger those on the pro-gay side, and it might anger those who agree with me that homosexual behavior is sinful. Here we go. Are you ready for this?  I don’t know why any one person is attracted to people of the same sex. I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care.
            If it was proven--beyond a shadow of a doubt—that the only reason why people are attracted to the same sex is because of genetics, not because of any other factor, that wouldn't change my theology at all. To the contrary, it would fit right in and even possibly help to confirm it.
            You’ve heard from me--and from several other quarters--the term sinful nature, right? What does that mean? It’s the doctrine that somehow we’ve inherited from Adam the propensity to sin. Despite what you’ve heard elsewhere, man’s nature is not naturally good, nor is it neutral. God, who knows the human heart inside and out, had this verdict about humanity right before the Noahic flood: “[He] saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” And there’s nothing to indicate from Scripture that human nature is any different from that time.
            This doesn’t mean that people are incapable of any good at all. It means that sin has infected every aspect of human existence: Our minds, our emotions, our desires, our physical bodies, etc. There's no institution that isn’t affected by sin: Governments, churches, families, businesses, commerce, etc.
            Now, how did this come about? How exactly did Adam pass down this propensity to sin down to us? Well, the Bible never says. All it says is that 1) Adam sinned, and because of this, 2) sin "entered the world," and 3) it unequivocally says that sin is universal among humanity (with one lone exception). So somehow we must've gotten this propensity to sin from him, otherwise there's no way to explain all 3 points. 
            Does this mean it comes through our genes? I’m not comfortable saying that, but what else do I get from Adam?
            “So Keith, I’m still waiting for how this relates to homosexuality.” I’ve already gone long on this, so we’ll continue it tomorrow.

Father God, we were in a pretty big mess, weren’t we? A mess we put ourselves into. But before we even fell, the Lamb was—in your plan—already slain. You reached out to us, and oh, how it cost you!