Advance the Indispensability of Jesus Together

The Surprising Dispensability of the Leader

The 2014 NCAA Football season for the Ohio State Buckeyes had as many twists and turns as your favorite roller coaster ride. On two occasions, injuries threatened to undo their successful run. As a fan of the Buckeyes, I remember watching the quarterback situation unfold, and after each injury thinking—“That guy is indispensable; the season’s over.” Each time, the next guy who stepped in proved me wrong.

In August, starting quarterback, Braxton Miller, was injured and out for the remainder of the season. Second-string quarterback, J. T. Barrett, replaced Miller, and he continued the Buckeyes success on the field. However, in November of that same season, Barrett was injured and would miss the remaining games, including any Bowl games or Championship attempt.

The weight of the season fell upon third-string, red shirt sophomore Cardale Jones. The first start of his college career took place in the Big Ten Championship against the Wisconsin Badgers. Jones led the Buckeyes to a 59–0 blowout victory. Next, he started in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the number one ranked, the dreaded Alabama Crimson Tide. Jones led the Buckeyes to a Sugar Bowl victory, 42–35. Then, it was onto the National Championship Game against the Oregon Ducks. Jones’ success continued and delivered a 42–20 win against the Ducks and a 2014 National Championship to the Buckeyes.

Over the years, I’ve had similar, personal experiences when I’ve had the privilege to work with young, pastoral interns. I am convinced that most if not all of them will accomplish far more than I ever will for the kingdom if they continue to follow our Lord faithfully. They will soon catch up and surpass me in the things that once made me their superior (i.e., the one leading the internship). Be it education, tech savvy, experience, networking, or ability; I am confident (and hopeful) that they will go far beyond whatever reach I may have in my lifetime for the gospel.

Which means this: I am dispensable.

The Dispensable Steward of the Indispensable Promise

In our study of Genesis, we are finishing up the Abrahamic story. He’s a pivotal figure in the unfolding of the program of God—his calling, his faith, his experience. Yet, he dies. He dies while the promises of God are barely realized. We can’t help but feel that the Patriarch of the patriarchs drew his last breath before his time—even if he was 175 years old.

Concerning Abraham’s death, Allen Ross writes in his commentary on Genesis entitled Creation & Blessing,

The message in this part is straightforward: believers will die, and so they must ensure that the work begun in them by God will continue as God desires. It may be through their children, children in the faith, or by some other means; but no one may personalize the program so that no thought is given to the next generation . . . Even though faithful believers die, the program of God to bless the world continues . . . We’re part of something much bigger than ourselves . . . No one is indispensable in God’s program. Good people die (some when they’re young and some when they’re old), and others take up the task to continue God’s program.

So, the question begs, “If I am dispensable (and I am), then what indispensable thing can I hand off to the next generation?” What thing of lasting, eternal substance and weight can I pass on that will endure — come what may in the world?

Think back to Abraham’s journey of faith. The longer he walked in the light of God’s promise, the more singular and pure his faith and devotion became to that promise. The major turning point happens in chapter 22, when he has to offer up Isaac. The writer of Hebrews gives us divine commentary on the event:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,” and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there (11:17–19).

Whether it was his belief that God could raise Isaac from the dead, his actions to secure a burial site at the Cave of Machpelah in Canaan, or his efforts to select Isaac as his sole heir, all these things reveal that Abraham had finally captured what was truly indispensable — it was the promise. He realized that the promise was much bigger than him. Abraham may have been the initial partner in the bilateral agreement; he didn’t view himself as the sole owner and beneficiary of the blessings. The patriarch came to realize his role as the dispensable steward of the indispensable promise.

Now, don’t misunderstand. By saying that Abraham was dispensable, I’m not implying that he didn’t have worth as a person or that he wasn’t important to God — obviously he was and is. However, as the biblical story demonstrates, even he was replaceable. His own life and position was not superior to the program of God. Think of the links in a chain. Every link is important, and every link has to steward the weight that bears upon it for the whole chain to complete its purpose and job. Yet, we also recognize that a link in a chain can be replaced by the one who created it and gave it purpose.

Stewarding the Indispensable

As Abraham’s faith matured, he understood his stewardship better and his actions aligned accordingly. Here are three ways his mature faith strengthened his stewardship of the promise:

  1. He sacrificially stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God led him to believe in the power of God to raise the dead.
  2. He securely stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God caused him to make decisions that aligned with the details of God’s promise, regarding its location in Canaan.
  3. He selectively stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God brought a singular focus on God’s selection of Isaac.

Today, we are charged with being the dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise of God in Jesus Christ. In what way has the story of Abraham challenged you to mature in your faith and stewardship of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The power of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ—I believe—provides us with incredible room and liberty to steward the gospel sacrificially. Having demonstrated that he can raise the dead, what sacrifice is there that should cause us hesitation or doubt? At the end of Paul’s famous chapter on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he writes, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” The reality of the resurrection frees us to sacrificially steward the gospel for the next generation. Here’s the list of sacrifices mentioned in the New Testament, enabled by the power of the resurrection:

  • The Sacrifice of Our Bodily Activities for the Benefit of Others and the Glory of God (Rom. 12:1).
  • The Sacrifice of Selfless Love (Eph. 5:2).
  • The Sacrifice of Pouring Out Your Life for the Community (Phil. 2:17).
  • The Sacrifice of Generosity with Money (Phil. 4:18).
  • The Sacrifice of Praise, Good Deeds, and Sharing/Fellowship (Heb. 13:15–16).
  • The Sacrifice of a Spiritual Life (1 Pet. 2:5 and following).

When Abraham purchased the field and burial plot in Machpelah, he sent a clear message—“I believe the promise, and I’m not turning back.” What decisions do you need to make in order to prepare and position the next generation to receive and pass on the gospel?

I think one of the most important ways we can securely steward the gospel to the next generation is by making clear decisions that allow young people to see the unique value and power of the gospel in our lives. When they look at your bank statement, do they see a clear commitment to the gospel? Do they see the clear priority of the gospel in your family calendar? When they watch your marriage, do they see mom and dad clearly yielding to the Spirit in their dying to sin and raising to a new and better way? Do they see grandma and grandpa’s clear decision not to ever retire from ministry and service, even though they’ve retired from their vocations?

In Abraham’s day, Isaac was God’s clear choice. He was selective—he did not choose Ishmael or the sons of Keturah. The program of blessing selectively continued through Isaac. Today, God’s selection to continue his program of blessing is Jesus Christ, his beloved Son. Therefore, I believe that we selectively steward the gospel by making Christ visible to a watching world. “Throw some paint on the Invisible Man”; through our words and deeds, let’s give shape to Jesus and the announcement of his good news. Convict the world of sin; convince them of God’s love; and call them to the truth.

We learn from the apostles’ example in the book of Acts that the best way to help people “see Jesus” is to get out where they are with our works and message. While this may imply “leaving the building” so to speak, it may also mean employing the building and its programs or ministries to meet people where they are in life. So, if you believe that God has selected to continue his program of blessing through Jesus Christ alone, what are you doing to help paint this picture for people? How are you stewarding God’s selection of Jesus?

Blessing Beyond Our Lifetime

If we steward the gospel of Jesus sacrificially, securely, and selectively, then we will pass on that which is indispensable to the next generation. We’ll build momentum that will last beyond our lifetime. We will effectively be the dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise. 

In the epic story of The Lord of the Rings there is only one truth, one promise that was indispensable — the ring of power had to be destroyed in the fire of Mount Doom. Before they destroyed the ring, everyone believed the fulfillment of the promise depended upon someone bearing the ring to the fire. After the fulfillment, everyone believed it to be the key event that ushered in an era of blessing.

Along the journey the team members who joined the fellowship to destroy the ring proved dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise. They sacrificed for it, secured it, and devoted to this promise with a singular aim. They advanced the cause together and experienced the blessings of the finished work together. By mature faith in the promise, they passed on blessing that would last far beyond their lifetime. Before us today is the opportunity to advance the indispensability of Jesus together. I pray that we’ll steward it well.

Abram: Believer, Worshiper, & Proclaimer

The song titled “I’ve Been Everywhere” sparks a connection for most to Johnny Cash. Cash recorded the song in 1996. However, the song has a long history and broad impact. It was originally written by Geoff Mack, an Australian country singer, in 1959 and made popular by Lucky Starr in 1962. In the U.S.A., the song was made popular first by Hank Snow (1962), then Lynn Anderson (1970), long before Johnny Cash gave it a go. In addition to North America and Australia, the song also took flight in New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, parts of Asia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and a number of other places. Literally, the song has been everywhere (Yes, I did use wikipedia for this info ;-)).

In his day, Abram was a globetrotter. His family’s journey to follow the Lord (cf. Josh. 24:2; Gen. 31:53) took them on a +1,000 mile journey from the Ur of the Chaldeans to the land of Canaan, and eventually into Egypt and back to Canaan. We know that there was a stop at Haran along the way (11:31–32), where Terah spent his final days. In Haran, Abram received the call from the Lord, apparently the God of his father Terah, to leave his familiar land, relatives, and reputation and trust the Lord to give him a new land, a new people, and a new reputation. (12:1–2). The Lord then commanded him to be a blessing, promising that he would bless those who blessed Abram, curse those who took Abram too lightly, and that in him, the Lord would bless all the families of the earth. Later on as Scripture unfolds (cf. Matthew 1; Luke 3; Romans 4; Galatians 3–4), we learn that Jesus Christ is the divine aim of this promise, in whom God would succeed in bringing blessing to all the families of the earth.

Returning to Genesis 12:4–9, we find an example of obedient faith in Abram, in spite of tremendous obstacles—Sarah’s barrenness (11:30), Abram’s age (12:4), the pagan religion that permeated Canaan (12:6), and later on a forbidding famine (12:9). Not only do we see obedient faith in his leaving and clinging to the new things God promised him, but also we see two expressions of faith as he travels through the land of Canaan.

First, Abram worshiped God in a hostile environment. While he was surrounded by people who worshiped other so-called gods, Abram built altars in their midst as visible markers and expressions of his faith in the Lord. He built altars in 12:7 and in 12:8. The altar he built in Shechem, near the oak of Moreh, is significant for a number of reasons. First, he built it in response to God appearing to him. It marked God’s confirmation of his verbal calling to Abram while he was in Haran. Second, his worship was significant because of what the Lord promised—offspring and land—neither of which Abram had in his possession at that time. Third, his altar was significant because of where he built it. The oak of Moreh was most likely the location of a Canaanite shrine of worship. Abram was expressing his faith in the Lord in a very bold way. Lastly, his worship is significant because this place would not be forgotten by his descendants. His worship became legendary. Joshua would choose this place to call Israel to covenant renewal with the Lord at this same location (Josh. 24). The location of Abram’s second altar—between Bethel and Ai—would also not be far from the Israelite reader’s mind, as they recalled significant events that unfolded in those cities. Bethel, “the house of God,” was where Jacob had his dream (28:10–22) and became a place of covenant renewal for him (35:1–15). Ai recalls the battle that stifled Israel’s confident conquest due to disobedience and led to another time of covenant renewal (Joshua 7–8).

Second, Abram not only worshiped the Lord, but he also proclaimed the name of the Lord. This is most likely the meaning of the phrase “called upon the name of the Lord” in 12:8. Two commentators—Cassuto and Ross—believe that Abram had a history of proselytizing even before this. They understand the phrase “the people that they had acquired” in 12:5 to refer to proselytes, not to slaves or servants, because of the use of the Hebrew word nepes for “people.”

The beginning of Abram’s story is remarkable. It’s no wonder that Israel and the Church look to him as the quintessential father of faith. He left the familiar. He believed in the face of amazing obstacles. God spoke; Abram obeyed. He worshiped openly. He proclaimed so that others knew the Lord. He did all of this in a hostile environment and as he waited for God to accomplish what was yet unseen to him. Saint Augustine is quoted as having said,

God does not expect us to submit our faith to him without reason, but the very limits of our reason make faith a necessity.

Now, we are not Abram. Abram is a unique, one-of-a-kind figure in Scripture. If you don’t think so, when was the last time God asked you to do what he asked Abram to do in Genesis 22? The answer is never! Nor would he. God was doing something special in and through Abram. Something that you and I benefit from by being found in Christ—the long-awaited “seed of Abraham” (Romans 4; Galatians 3–4). We also benefit from Abram’s example in spiritual living. It is impossible to please God—no matter who you are—without faith. Genuine faith obeys God’s word. Faith many times forces us to leave what is familiar to meet and serve God in something new. It has been said that the African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of nearly 35 feet in a single bound! Yet these amazing animals can be kept in an enclosure in a zoo with even a short, solid wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall. There are always obstacles to trusting God—infertility, age, health, finances, hostile work or family environments, foggy futures, unexpected catastrophes. Abram shows us how to worship and proclaim the name of the Lord by faith, when the solutions and provisions are still distant and haven’t yet taken shape.

Creation and Evolution: Introducing Genesis

Creation Genesis

Creation Evolution Ancient Hebrew Universe

Creation. Evolution. Ancient and Modern people have observe(d) the universe. Above, you’ll see the ancient Hebrew conception of the universe. The ancient Hebrews were also surrounded by various and diverse cultural and theological narratives about the origin of all things. In our day, there are also many opinions — some emphasize theology, some emphasize science, some trying to harmonize the two — regarding the origin of the universe. I hope that the notes and resources shared below assist you in gaining a better grasp at what is being said in the early chapters of Genesis.

 

Helpful Definitions for Creation and Evolution

Evolution

It is the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form. Micro-evolution is evolutionary change within a species or small group of organisms, especially over a short period. Macro-evolution is major evolutionary transition from one type of organism to another occurring at the level of the species and higher taxa.

Natural Selection

The process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring is called natural selection. The theory of its action was first fully expounded by Charles Darwin and is now believed to be the main process that brings about evolution. If I understand it correctly, atheistic evolutionists would say that natural selection is the “mind” behind evolution. However, theistic evolutionists would believe that God is the “mind” behind the use of natural selection in the natural processes of evolution.

Creation

Creation is the bringing into existence of the universe, especially when regarded as an act of God ex nihilo (“out of nothing”).

Abiogenesis

It is the original evolution of life or living organisms from inorganic or inanimate substances. Spontaneous Generation was one hypothesis of abiogenesis. This is the supposed production of living organisms from nonliving matter, as inferred from the apparent appearance of life in some supposedly sterile environments. Dismissed in 18th century. Biopoiesis is a more recent articulation of abiogenesis, which is a process by which living organisms are thought to develop from nonliving matter, and the basis of a theory on the origin of life on Earth. According to this theory, conditions were such that, at one time in Earth’s history, life was created from nonliving material, probably in the sea, which contained the necessary chemicals. During this process, molecules slowly grouped, then regrouped, forming ever more efficient means for energy transformation and becoming capable of reproduction.

Epistemology

Epistemology is the study of how humans know things, or acquire knowledge. The Christian understand both science and revelation to be sources of human knowledge.

General Revelation

The universe is believed to be one way in which God has chosen to make himself and certain attributes known to all people.

Special Revelation

The Bible, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, miracles are special ways in which God has chosen to make himself known to people at various places and at various times. We learn many more specifics about God and his nature through special revelation.

Christian Views on Origins and Creation

Theistic Evolution

God created the universe and everything in it by means of natural processes. See BioLogos for detailed articles and videos explaining this view.

Gap Theory

Creation Evolution Gap Theory
from Blue Letter Bible Article “Nine Views of Creation”
God intends the reader of Scripture and Creation to understand an unspecified but implied “Gap” between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. A variation of this theory is called the Restoration Theory. The Scofield Reference Bible study notes explain the Gap Theory, and Dr. Tony Evans articulates the Restoration Theory in his writings and sermons on Spiritual Warfare. Genesis 1:2 describes the earth as an unfurnished, unsightly, wasteland shrouded in darkness. Gap Theory proponents ascribe this to the fall of Satan and its effect upon the earth.

Day-Age Theory

The term “day” in Genesis 1 represents ages or eras of creation rather than literal 24-hour days.

Apparent-Age Theory

God created the universe and everything in it with apparent age. As the wine Jesus created from water in John 2 had apparent age, so then did the universe come into being with maturity.

Punctuated 24-Hour Theory

While the term “day” is a literal, 24-hour day, the Punctuated Theory teaches that there were unspecified “gaps” between each day of creation.

Scientific Creationism

Scientific Creationism aims to provide scientific support for the literal reading of the narrative of Genesis 1 and holds that the earth is young (e.g., approximately 10,000 or so years old). Henry Morris and the group Answers in Genesis are two of the leading proponents of this view.

24-Hour Interpretation

This view, like the one previously mentioned, holds to a straightforward reading of Genesis 1. “Day” means a literal 24-hour day. It does not differ significantly from the previous view. Perhaps, they should be combined. One variation that may occur is that Scientific Creationism may at times look at its particular interpretation of scientific data in order to arrive at the young earth, 24-hour view; whereas, the 24-hour interpretation tries to start with Scripture.

Instantaneous Creation

Some early church writers such as Augustine and Origen believed that God created the universe virtually instantaneously, wondering something like, “Why would it take God a whole day to create the universe by the power of his word?” Therefore, the “day” in Genesis 1 was not literal for them, but different than many Christians today who look to “add” time to the “day,” instead they sought to “shrink” the day to an instant.

Framework Interpretation

Creation Evolution Framework
from Blue Letter Bible article “Nine Views of Creation”
This view also attempts to start with Scripture and work out toward explanation of origins and creation. It views the “days” of creation as providing a framework for understanding creations kingdoms and their respective kings. Therefore, it does not understand the intent of the original author as trying to give us a literal rendering of the origin of the universe, but rather than chronology, the aim of Genesis 1 is to give the theological ordering of the creation.

Historical Creationism

This interesting view, represented most recently by John H. Sailhamer, teaches that the creation of the universe is recorded in Genesis 1:1. The verses following detail God’s creation of Eden and his preparation of it for his people. Theologically, “Eden” continues to function throughout the story of the Bible as the place of blessing to which God is calling his people to return. It shares similarities with the Gap Theory. The “place of blessing” theme can be seen and realized in God’s call of Israel to the promised land and in God’s call of the church into the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem.

Temple Creation

John Walton’s works The Lost World of Genesis One and Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology are also theological renderings of Genesis 1. He claims that Genesis 1 describes God creating a temple for himself on the earth, which he calls the garden of Eden. This temple theme can be traced throughout Scripture — the tabernacle, the temple, the church, and finally a “return to Eden” in the new heaven and new earth.

Essential Considerations for the Christian

  1. Christians everywhere for all times have believed that the God of the Bible is the “great Cause” of the universe. The Apostles’ Creed says, “We believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” We must hold to God as Creator.
  2. Humanity is God’s special, most unique creation. A linguistic analysis of Genesis 1, such as the one performed by Robert Bergen in the book Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?, reveals that the author’s clear intention is to cause the reader to focus on verses 24–31 as the central episode of the narrative. The rest of Scripture affirms the uniqueness of humanity among created things. Therefore, the Christian’s view of origins and creation—whatever it may be—must also affirm the unique place of humanity in God’s creation purposes. I believe this also carries significant ethical implications.
  3. The one man-sin-death theme is carefully woven through the entire biblical narrative. Whether Adam is the literal first man or is the divinely appointed federal head of humanity, the Christian must somehow maintain this theme in his or her view of origins and creation. Further and in my opinion, the most difficult harmonization between Christian theology and evolutionary theory is the role of death in each narrative. There seems to be no way to interpret death as a positive feature or experience in the biblical story. It is an enemy to be overcome by resurrection. Yet, in typical evolutionary theory, death is a vehicle of positive process and development. To some, it is something that helps creation develop and flourish; to others, it is in the very least necessary, even if unpleasant.
  4. The Bible is authoritative, and I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, so long as such a view of inerrancy is informed with regard to literary genres and their required needs for interpretation. The church everywhere and for all times has always believed in the authority of the Scriptures. So, how does today’s Christian manage the authority of Scripture with the authority of Science? It is a delicate walk; yet I believe that there is a way to do it, even to find harmony between the two. I have to, because I believe the same God who revealed himself in the Bible is the same God who makes himself known in study of the universe. May we be humble and astounded by the greatness of our God in our pursuit and study of his world and his word.

Navigating Relationships in the Christian Life: Singleness and Marriage

Singleness

A lady wanted to marry four different men in her lifetime. She said each one would help her with the four things she needed most. First, she wanted to marry a banker. Second, a movie star. Next, a clergyman. And finally, a funeral director. When asked why, she answered, “One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go!” (Chuck Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life).

Well, that’s certainly one way of looking at it! Last Sunday at West Lisbon, we began the last of four sermon series that have highlighted our core Biblical and Historical Principles: (1) The Worship of God, (2) The Gospel Mission, (3) The Spiritual Life, and (4) The Family. Last week, we sought to recover God’s vision for the family, which starts with recognizing God’s original intent and purpose in creating humanity. He created us to be his image-bearers, singing us into being (Gen.1:27), and he blessed humanity, giving them special power and privilege to fill the earth with the image of God and to carry our his purposes in history. This Sunday, May 15th, we’ll look at how strong singles strengthen the mission of the gospel (1 Cor. 7:25–35).

In light of the series and our current sermon topics, I decided to write to you about navigating relationships in the Christian life. It is my hope to employ my experience and the Bible to give direction to those who are single with no intention to marry right now, others who are single and actively seeking a potential spouse, and even those who are presently engaged to be married to another. At the end, I’ll also reference some further reading on the topic.

At the beginning of 2002, I was a new Christian, in the middle of college and undecided about my degree and career path, and engaged to be married. By the end of 2002, I was still growing in my Christian faith with a new burden to learn from the Bible what it meant to be a Christian man and servant-leader. I also switched colleges in order to study Bible and Theology. I was no longer engaged to be married. I wondered if I ever would get married, if God had called me to a life of singleness, and if I was capable of being a godly husband. In hindsight, I see so many things that I did wrong, but I did one thing that was very helpful to my spiritual growth—I took two years to read, study, pray, and develop relationships with other godly men with the aim of becoming one myself by God’s grace. There was nothing magical about two years, it just happened to be the period of time that God gave to me to figure some things out. There are six principles that I learned to navigate during that time that I want to share with you and which I hope are helpful to your walk with Christ: Mission, Love, Purity, Trust, Loyalty, and Community.

Navigating Mission

Did you know that you were created for a mission? Not just any mission, but God’s mission. Genesis 1:26–28 explains that God made humanity for the purposes of bearing his image and ruling as his representatives on the earth. Image-bearing refers primarily to the spiritual side of our identity. Remember, God is spirit (John 4:24), so the way in which we bear his image is spiritual. In Genesis 1:26 and 28, God also blessed humanity with dominion over the earth. Tony Evans describes this dominion as

ruling on God’s behalf in history so that history comes under God’s authority.

God sang you into existence (Gen. 1:27), and he created you for the ultimate mission. Life is all about this mission. It also implies that there is opposition. Why else would God’s rule and dominion need to be established so that the earth is filled with his image-bearers? Satan opposes God and his rule, and therefore, he opposes humans and their God-given mission. We are God’s representatives sent into enemy territory.

Reading in Genesis 3, we discover that Satan gained what appeared to be a key victory over our first parents. In the temptation, Adam and Eve failed to bear God’s image, and they failed to exercise their dominion over the creatures of the sea, air, and land by submitting themselves to the snake. Sin shattered the image-bearers; humans surrendered their dominion to the enemy. However, God resolved to continue his plan to fill the earth with his glory and dominion. Now, the mission is not so much about procreation as it is spiritual rebirth. Jesus said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3; cf. Titus 3:3–7).

Notice how the rule of God is now tied together with the new birth by the Spirit. How do we participate in this mission of new birth leading to a recovery of God’s rule? We must proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. His faithful death and resurrection regenerates the soul, restores the image-bearing mission of humanity, and makes way for the kingdom of God on the earth.

If you are single, have you methodically and intentionally thought through the implications of the gospel mission on your life? Is God finished utilizing your single years for his “gospel-schooling”? Remember,

For we are his poem, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

If you are considering marriage or are already married, how is God calling you as a couple to give your lives for the gospel mission? Humans were created for image-bearing and for God’s dominion. Jesus saves us to restore this mission. This is bedrock. This is why you exist. It’s why you’re here, and his grace has everything you need to live a life of significance—single or married.

Navigating Love

I once bought—hook, line, and sinker—into our culture’s description of love. Even Merriam-Webster is too simplistic when it comes to defining love,

a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person; attraction that includes sexual desire; the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship; a person you love in a romantic way.

Notice the words . . . feeling . . . attraction . . . romantic. For sure, this is one side of love—companionship, affection, feeling, and romance—but our American concept of love ignores the key element of love—choice that leads to selfless action. Biblical love is the love that denies oneself for the benefit and interest of others. The love of God for us through the work of Christ is described in this way.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3–5).

Later, the apostle John writes,

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers (1 John 3:16).

This kind of sacrificial love is demanded of husbands in Ephesians 5:25.

When we are born again, believing in Jesus Christ, God begins again to shape us into his image-bearers. The Holy Spirit indwells us, and his presence is accompanied by a fruitfulness, part of which is this kind of love. I learned years ago that the single life is a training ground for this kind of sacrificial love. There are tons of opportunities to learn and yield to the Holy Spirit, so that he may shape you into a person who chooses to love. There are parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, nephews, nieces, co-workers, friends, fellow Christians, and others with whom you can share life together and develop this Christ-like love. If you’re single, has God finished using your single years to school you in sacrificial love? If you are engaged, are you ready to love in this way? Do you feel that your fiancé is also prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to thrive in your marriage and mission? If you’ve been married awhile, where are you struggling to choose to love? What is preventing you from laying down your life for your spouse?

Navigating Purity

When I was born again in 2001, God opened my eyes to the sexual sewage that I had been swimming in for years. I needed to change my mind about sexuality. Instead of assuming that I knew what was proper, I needed to humbly receive God’s clear teaching on the theme of purity in the spiritual life of one who has been born again and who was being restored in Christ to bear God’s image again. Psalm 119:9 has always stuck with me from those days, “How shall a young man keep his way pure?” asks the Psalmist. He answers, “By keeping it according to your word.” Therefore, God has something to say about purity, and since he is the designer of our sexuality, then it seems best to let him speak into this area of our lives.

As the sexual sewage of the world continues to accumulate more and more, God’s truth about purity continues to set us free. The real question is, do you want purity? Do you really want to be pure? Do you really want what the Holy Spirit wants for your life? Stop treating purity like it’s some line, as if you’re still pure so long as you don’t break some rule you’ve set up for yourself. Purity is a direction of the heart. You either want it, or you don’t. You either love what God loves, or you don’t. If you don’t, find in God the grace you need to repent, and allow the word of God to renew your mind. If you do, then you can trust that he will continue to direct the desires of your heart into paths of purity.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday (Psalms 37:3–6).

Don’t make purity a cloudy mystery. God has not left us to walk around aimlessly in some sexual fog. Be authentic and honest; let’s be real, and stop justifying immorality. God’s will on sexual purity is not confusing; it’s very clear. From the beginning, he designed sexuality to be experienced within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. He has sanctified the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4; cf. 1 Cor. 7:3–5). He hasn’t changed his view. His design still works best for his glory and our enjoyment. Remember, the works of the sinful nature are obvious—they’re not mysterious—and they are trying to deceive, destroy, and to rob you of genuine sexuality, worship, relationships, and order (Gal. 5:19–21; cf. 1 Thess. 4:3–8).

Do you have a heading? Is the compass of your spiritual life pointed in the direction of purity? It is best to find this heading while you’re single. Establish a direction and a delight in purity before you enter into a relationship. Don’t enter a relationship unprepared. Be ready to lead toward purity. If you are already in a relationship in which you’ve lost purity, take the necessary steps to regain purity. If you’re dating or engaged and purity has been lost, get out of the relationship, or in the very least postpone any big plans. Sexual immorality clouds discernment and vision. Saying the “I-dos” won’t all of a sudden create a culture of purity in your relationship. Remember how urgent Jesus was about handling the temptations of the world, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (Matthew 18:7–9). If you are married and immorality has crept into your marriage, get help quick. Don’t try to bear the burden alone; let spiritually mature brothers and sisters walk alongside you so that you may begin to imagine a pathway into healing and perhaps even restoration.

There’s more to say, but for now, let’s conclude part one of Navigating Singleness and Marriage in the Christian Life. In the June Messenger, we’ll pick up part two and learn to navigate trust, loyalty, and community. Here are a number of books to pick up for further reading and help in navigating the waters of singleness and marriage:

This Momentary Marriage by John Piper (http://www.desiringgod.org/books/this-momentary-marriage)
The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller (http://www.timothykeller.com/books/the-meaning-of-marriage)
Our Story . . . His Story by Rick Rood
I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris (btw, some Christians hate this book; but it helped me tremendously)
Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris
Not Even a Hint by Joshua Harris
Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn (http://www.everymanministries.com)
Every Woman’s Battle by Shannon Etheridge (http://familylifetoday.com/series/every-woman-s-battle/)
Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot

I hope that part one has been encouraging to you and that these resources equip you for godliness and for experiencing God personally and in your relationships.