Holy Week: Redemption Devotion One

WLC Holy Week: Redemption Devotion for Monday, March 26th, 2018

Redemption in the Old Testament

For these three Holy Week Devotions, we will use a very precise definition of the word “redemption.” It means freedom from bondage, which is secured by the payment of a price.” The “price” referred to here is the required “ransom payment” needed to deliver from some sort of slavery or captivity. There are a number of ways that redemption was practiced in the Old Testament. Here are a few:

  • Setting free of a criminal by the ransom price (Ex. 21:30; Isa. 63:4)
  • Setting free of land or property by the ransom price (Lev. 25:24, 29, 33, 51; Jer. 32:7–8)
  • Setting free of the firstborn by the ransom price (Ex. 11:1–12:7; 13:13–15; Num. 3:46–51; 18:16)
  • Setting free of the childless widow to the kinsman-redeemer by the ransom price (Ruth 4:6)
  • Setting free of the sinner from guilt and consequences by the ransom price of the covenant (Ps. 111:9; 130:7; Isa. 59:20)

In ancient Israel, a household typically designated a man to be the go’el or the redeemer. He was responsible for redeeming property. We might compare it to our practice of a father co-signing a car or education loan for his child. If necessary, he designates himself to pay the ransom price in order to set the child free from the bondage of debt. The Israelite go’el avenged a harmed or killed family member by seeking the legal ransom price from the guilty criminal. This is comparable to our legal definition of restitution. In a patriarchal society, a childless man who died suddenly was a great tragedy for his name and inheritance, and a childless widow entered a desperate condition (cf. Gen. 38). Therefore, ancient Israel practiced levirate marriage in order to redeem these situations. Finally, Israel’s God is the Supreme Redeemer, whom they trusted to deliver them from their enemies, who had taken them captive, like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon, and to deliver them from their sins by his faithfulness to the new covenant.

As you think about redemption in the Old Testament today, notice that many of the applications pertain to family relationships. To “free” a family member from bondage always came at great cost to the redeemer. Notice too that the Old Testament speaks of redemption in both the physical and the spiritual realms.

Redemptive Living

Redemption for You:

Physical: Are there any areas of the natural, physical life (e.g., debt, crime against you, emotional or social trauma) in which you need redemption—freedom from bondage secured by someone willing to help with the price? What is your hope in the situation? Have you prayed about it? What other friend or family member may be able to help you navigate this? Are you willing to be honest with them?

Spiritual: Are there any areas in the spiritual life (sin’s temptations, guilt, consequences, Satan’s darkness, influence, or accusations) in which you need redemption? Jesus stands today as your Redeemer. Your Redeemer lives! He has paid the price. Have you singled out the spiritual problem? Have you referenced God’s word to see what it says about that topic? Have you written out your reflections—connecting what God says about this spiritual matter? Have you prayed about it? Have you found authentic fellowship with another man or woman to help apply Christ’s redeeming power?

Redemption for Others:

Physical: Are you in a position to redeem someone who has fallen on hard times, fallen into one of the bondages of the natural life? Inventory your resources and loved ones. Redeem where God may lead you. Remember, the one redeemed can’t possibly pay you back.

Spiritual: Jesus redeemed us by paying a ransom that we could never pay ourselves, nor repay. Have you experienced the power of the gospel in redeeming you from sin’s temptations, guilt, and consequences? Have you experienced freedom from Satan’s darkness, rule, and accusations? If yes, then you are in a position to help others find this freedom in Christ. Inventory your spiritual knowledge, resources, and your loved ones. Redeem where God may lead you. Even if you feel your spiritual experience or resources are meager—remember that our God is strong, and it is he who is at work in you.

Two Cups & the Cup-Bearer: How Can You Be Sure That God Will Come to You in Peace and Not Judgment?

Two Cups

Good Friday is approaching, and in order to taste of its significance, let us turn to God’s word and discover what he has said about two cups. Now, what is a cup? What is the purpose of a cup? The purpose of a cup is to securely hold the contents (usually a liquid for drinking) deposited into it by the one who does the pouring.

The Cup of Wrath

First, consider the cup of wrath. God speaks frequently about this cup in his word. What do you think is inside this cup? The contents of this cup are the terrible wrath and awesome anger of God. Why has he poured such a cup? For whom has he prepared such a cup?

Here are some places in the Bible where the cup of wrath is mentioned or described:

Psalms 75:8 NET

For the LORD holds in his hand a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices, and pours it out. Surely all the wicked of the earth will slurp it up and drink it to its very last drop.

Isaiah 51:17 NET

Wake up! Wake up! Get up, O Jerusalem! You drank from the cup the LORD passed to you, which was full of his anger! You drained dry the goblet full of intoxicating wine.

Jeremiah 25:15–29 NET

So the LORD, the God of Israel, spoke to me in a vision. “Take this cup from my hand. It is filled with the wine of my wrath. Take it and make the nations to whom I send you drink it. When they have drunk it, they will stagger to and fro and act insane. For I will send wars sweeping through them.”

So I took the cup from the LORD’s hand. I made all the nations to whom he sent me drink the wine of his wrath. I made Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and its officials drink it. I did it so Judah would become a ruin. I did it so Judah, its kings, and its officials would become an object of horror and of hissing scorn, an example used in curses. Such is already becoming the case! I made all of these other people drink it: Pharaoh, king of Egypt; his attendants, his officials, his people, the foreigners living in Egypt; all the kings of the land of Uz; all the kings of the land of the Philistines, the people of Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, the people who had been left alive from Ashdod; all the people of Edom, Moab, Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon; all the kings of the coastlands along the sea; the people of Dedan, Tema, Buz, all the desert people who cut their hair short at the temples; all the kings of Arabia who live in the desert; all the kings of Zimri; all the kings of Elam; all the kings of Media; all the kings of the north, whether near or far from one another; and all the other kingdoms which are on the face of the earth. After all of them have drunk the wine of the LORD’s wrath, the king of Babylon must drink it.

Then the LORD said to me, “Tell them that the LORD God of Israel who rules over all says, ‘Drink this cup until you get drunk and vomit. Drink until you fall down and can’t get up. For I will send wars sweeping through you.’ If they refuse to take the cup from your hand and drink it, tell them that the LORD who rules over all says ‘You most certainly must drink it! For take note, I am already beginning to bring disaster on the city that I call my own. So how can you possibly avoid being punished? You will not go unpunished! For I am proclaiming war against all who live on the earth. I, the LORD who rules over all, affirm it!’”

When I was nineteen years old, I began reading through the book of Romans. As I read through chapters 1-3, I realized that this cup that securely held the wrath of God was poured by God himself and was intended, not just for nations, but also for me to drink. God the great Judge of men and women demonstrated that I have broken all of his laws and worshiped other gods. As the first half of Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death.” God poured a cup of wrath for me.

However, the Scripture reveals to us that this same God who is angry and wrathful toward those who break his law is also a God who is merciful and gracious. Yet, how is it that this God has revealed to us that he is merciful and gracious enough that we may escape drinking the cup of his wrath? It’s like Abram in the OT asked, “How can I know that this will happen?” How can I know that God will be merciful?

Our Gracious Cup-Bearer

The cup of God’s wrath appears in the Gospels, but we may be surprised to find the cup in the hand of the Son of God. We may be even more stunned that instead of dishing it out to the nations, he himself drinks it.

Matthew 26:36-42 NET

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and became anguished and distressed. Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” Going a little farther, he threw himself down with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with me for one hour? Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will must be done.”

Mark 14:36

He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

John 18:11

But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath! Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

John 19:30

When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

In his mercy and grace, the Father sent His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, out of heaven to earth so that he might drink the cup of wrath as our substitute and Savior. In a sense, he took on the role of servant by becoming the cup-bearer who tasted the devastating cup laced with the wrath of the holiness of God—a cup that was poured for humanity to drink because of our lawlessness and idolatry was consumed by the obedient, faithful, loyal Son of God! And he drank it all, even the dregs that had settled at the bottom of the cup. He drank this cup as he hung on the cross faithfully enduring the wrath of God that had been intended for you and me to drink. When he finished drinking, he said, “It is finished,” and he died. As cup-bearer of the wrath of God, he died in our place.

Because Jesus drank this cup that was poured out for you and for me, we call the Friday of Holy Week Good Friday.

The Cup of Salvation

Earlier, I mentioned that there is also a second cup. This is the cup that we will drink on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. If I may continue the analogy, Jesus is the resurrected cup-bearer who continually extends to us a cup of salvation, a cup of grace. It is not the drink itself that has become salvation for us. The liquid itself has not become the blood of Jesus. Rather, the cup and the bread testify to us down through history that the blood and body of Jesus were given over on the cross for the salvation of all those who put their faith in Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins and in his resurrection for eternal life.

You see, the cup and the bread of the Lord’s Table answer the question for us, “How can I be sure that God will come to me in peace and not in judgment?” I can with all assurance answer, “The Lord Jesus drank for me the cup of God’s wrath that was due me, and now I sit at the table of the Lord Jesus, where he himself extends to me the cup of the new covenant, in which is the forgiveness of sins by his own blood!”

The Heidelberg Catechism states,

First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely his body was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross . . . Second, as surely as I receive from the hand of the one who serves, and taste with my mouth the bread and the cup of the Lord, given me as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood, so surely he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood.

Come to the Table

If you can say by faith that the Lord Jesus Christ’s body and blood were offered up for you, so that in his death you have the pardon of all your sins before God, and if you by faith can say that in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ you have the hope of eternal life forever with God, then you may partake of the cup and the bread. The Lord’s Table is a table of grace where sinners can come and sit down by faith and testify that they have indeed experienced the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life in the Lord Jesus Christ, because he drank the whole cup of wrath for my sake and now extends to me the cup of salvation. By partaking, we remember and proclaim the Lord Jesus’ death, and we are to do this until he returns for his people. I personally invite you to join us at West Lisbon Church for all of our Holy Week activities beginning this Sunday, April 9th through Easter Sunday, April 16th.

What Is Revival?

Revival

Growing up in Scioto County, Ohio, I remember many little churches decorating the landscape. Every now and then, you would see on the outdoor church sign something like this: “Revival! Sunday through Friday! 7pm each night! Come on out and join us!” As a kid, teenager, and young adult, I attended many of these meetings. There was a very predictable format—a special and very dynamic speaker would be invited; the revival was scheduled; many times special musicians were also brought in, and the altar calls didn’t end until somebody made their way down the aisle.

I think that I was part of a real revival once in that Appalachian country. However, it wasn’t scheduled or coordinated. It also happened at multiple places, rather than at one local church. It wasn’t the result of a solitary, drawn out altar call. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Lord may very well use all of those things—and has before—but the revival I think that I was a part of didn’t fit that repeatable, copyable, scheduled pattern employed over and over again by churches in my hometown area.

Tim Keller spoke on A Biblical Theology of Revival (a.k.a. What Is Revival?) at the 2013 The Gospel Coalition Conference. It is definitely worth an hour of your time. If it doesn’t stir your heart into longing for revival, then maybe you should check your pulse! I’d like to summarize and share some of my own thoughts from Keller’s comments on biblical revival.

Since there are many descriptions and definitions out there on revival, it helps to begin with the same: Biblical revival is “the intensification of the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit” (Keller). So, it is the Holy Spirit doing what he already does, but in a more intense way. What are these ordinary operations? There are 4 that Keller highlights: (1) conviction of sin (John 16:7–11), (2) conversion (Acts 16:14–15; Titus 3:3–7), (3) giving of assurance (Ephesians 1:13–14), and (4) sanctification (growth in holiness) (Romans 8:1–11). The Holy Spirit certainly does more than this in the Christian life, but these are the intensified Holy Spirit operations when there is revival.

When the Holy Spirit intensifies these operations of his, three things seem to happen. First, sleepy Christians wake up. Sleepy Christians are neither happy nor sad enough, Therefore, they do not experience high assurance of salvation (the Spirit bears witness to my spirit — Romans 8:16), nor do they experience deep repentance (godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation — 2 Corinthians 7:10). The difference between a sleepy Christian and an awake Christian can be illustrated in the relationship of a father and a son. A father and a son share a legal relationship. It can be declared that the son is in fact the son of the father and vice versa. I can be officially documented on the birth certificate. Now, imagine when a father embraces his son. The son is not legally more a son, but he is certainly experiencing sonship in more than a legal way.

Second, the nominal Christians get converted. Nominal Christians are those who are baptized, church attending people, but during revival they will come and say, “I was never really a Christian.” These are surprising conversions: church leaders, spouses, long-time members, etc. During times of revival, the Holy Spirit goes through the church, and this is consistent with the pattern of Scripture. When God wants to do a fresh work—be it for judgment or for redemption—he starts with his people.

Third, hard or seemingly impossible to reach non-Christians are powerfully converted. Those dear ones out on the fringes that seem beyond the reach of the church and even God encounter the long arm of God, and the Holy Spirit generously and gloriously converts their souls by the gospel. When sleepy Christians wake up and nominal Christians are converted, the Holy Spirit beautifies the church, even to non-Christians.

Revival, brothers and sisters, is what we need, because it results in both adoration and attraction. An internal shift occurs in our posture toward God resulting in changed lives. If this is what you long for, then the best thing to do is to ask God for it in your own life. Pray for God to wake up, convert, and to reach out. Better still, start a prayer meeting with others to pray for revival. If we ask, seek, and knock, perhaps the Lord will kindly unlock an entry for us into such an experience (Col. 4:2–6).

Returning to my story, once I—a nominal Christian—was truly converted, I returned to the church of my youth to discover that a number of my peers had experienced the same thing. I would describe some of the older Christians around me at that time as having been awakened from slumber! In a very small, rural church, I became one of seven men, who felt a call into full-time gospel ministry. It was very unusual. To my knowledge, five of those seven are still serving in ministry in some capacity. We wouldn’t have probably described it as revival back in those days, because revival to us was predictable and scheduled. However, looking back and knowing what I know now about revival, I think that I experienced a small taste of it, and I long for it again.

The Way of Salvation

When asked about our first fight as a married couple, Aimee and I always recall the same event—the drive home from the airport after our honeymoon. We had spent a week in Florida for our honeymoon, and returned to the Columbus airport in Ohio. We hopped into our car, and for the very first time, we headed to our new apartment together. It was really our first drive home together. Aimee wasn’t headed to her parents’ home, and I wasn’t headed to mine.

I was driving. The problem, however, was that I had not driven in Columbus very much, and I really did not know where I was going. For my younger friends, this was during days prior to smartphones—how I would have dreamed to have had Siri speaking flawless directions into my earbud that day! I was lost in no time, and I was not interested in directions, especially from my new wife; I mean if I couldn’t get us out of Columbus and home, then would I ever be able to lead us in anything?! A fight followed. Long story short, she was right, and my pride was wrong. She knew how to get us home, and I didn’t know which way to go.

That little spat seems so long ago and insignificant now, ten years later. However, there is a set of directions that God wants us to know, which have eternal relevance. God really and truly wants us to know the way of salvation, his way of salvation, without any error or confusion. The problem is that many times when I talk to people about the way of salvation—be it here in rural Illinois, in the south where “everybody is a Christian,” or in the Bronx of New York City—I find that there is more confusion than clarity. Paul’s disciples in Galatia faced confusion about the way of salvation. Some other teachers had followed Paul’s visit to them, and they had spread confusion throughout the church there. Paul wrote a pretty serious warning to them,

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (read “let him go to hell!”). As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6–9).

False teachers had slipped into the Galatian congregation, and they were teaching a “Christ plus works gospel,” which really isn’t the gospel. This “gospel” said that in addition to trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection for salvation, the people also had to be circumcised to truly be saved and a part of God’s forever family.

Even though Paul is very strong in his letter to the Galatians, many people today who would identify themselves as Christians do not understand the true gospel of grace that the Galatians had first received from Paul. Friend, do you know the way of salvation that God himself has provided for you in Christ and through his faithfulness? Compare the graphics below, and ask yourself which way you view as the way of salvation?

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 11.25.14 AM

 

The “works alone” view of salvation often comes up in a conversation like this:

Evangelist: On what basis do you think you are saved and will spend eternity with God?

Person: Well, I think that I have lived a pretty good life—I am a pretty good person. I haven’t cheated on my wife or killed anyone.

The “works alone” person looks at the Ten Commandments and says—I have kept all of these since my youth. God will accept me based upon my good works and keeping of his law. Yet, Paul says in Galatians 2:16 that no one—not even the Jews who first received the law of God—will be justified by works of the law. Paul says in another place—“None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:23). In other words, all of our works are like what Isaiah describes,

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities (Isaiah 64:6–7 ESV).

Isaiah says in another place that our sins have caused a separation between us and God. Therefore, the testimony of Scripture seems to indicate that rather than our works healing the divide between us and God, rather our works and deeds have separated us from God. So, this cannot be the way of salvation.

The “Christ + Works” view of salvation is tricky. Oftentimes, people get confused, because they think that surely God requires obedience as a requirement for salvation in addition to Christ’s work. Many times, the person who holds such a view has no assurance that they are saved and has no certainty when it comes to his/her eternity. Those who teach such a view end up heaping all kinds of regulations and rules onto people that have nothing to do with the way of salvation. A person—even if they once considered themselves saved—might even feel that they didn’t keep up their end of their bargain with God and lost what salvation they may have once possessed. Further, this view misunderstands the place of obedience in the way of salvation. It doesn’t fully recognize that salvation is a process that God initiates, sustains, and finishes. Yes, obedience is a part of salvation, but the important question is where should it be found in the process? Christian salvation can be broken down into three parts:

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 1.11.29 PM

There is much more to salvation than this simple graphic represents, but let’s start here. Justification refers to when God declares a person righteous by faith, like Abraham in Genesis 15:6, “And he [Abraham] believed the Lord, and [the Lord] counted it to him [Abraham] as righteousness.” Paul says it this way in Galatians 2:16, “yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” He says the same thing again in Romans 3:21–22,

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed– namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.

The NET Bible does a good job instructing us that we must believe in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to be justified or made right with God. He did the work and finished it; we just need to trust in its necessity and sufficiency. Justification frees us from the penalty of sin. The step of obedience with regard to justification is to simply believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Genuine justifying faith leads to growth in holiness at a pace and through seasons that God determines. Sanctification refers to the process of spiritual growth, or becoming who we already are in Christ. God’s Spirit gradually over time sanctifies us—makes us holy. Sanctification frees us from the power of sin. The step of obedience here is to continue believing the gospel in such a way that we yield our lives to the death and resurrection of Christ—dying to sin and living a new life. The Galatians also misunderstood this. Look at Galatians 3:1–4,

Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?

We both begin and continue the Christian life by faith and by the Spirit. Later in the letter when Paul warns them about “falling from grace,” he means not that true believers would somehow lose their salvation, but rather true believers who seek to grow by a method of law-keeping cut themselves off from the true means of Christian growth—the grace of God in Christ. Such a person then becomes a useless Christian, drowning in immaturity and carnality, inviting the chastisement of his/her heavenly Father, and out of fellowship with God. The sanctifying power of God through his Spirit in the believer opposes our sinful natures and brings us back if we wander. This prevents any kind of license to sin after we’ve been justified (see Rom. 6:1ff). D. L. Moody once said,

Christians should live in the world, but not be filled with it. A ship lives in the water; but if the water gets into the ship, she goes to the bottom. So Christians may live in the world; but if the world gets into them, they sink.

Lastly, glorification frees us fully and finally from the presence of sin. This is what God’s people will experience in the resurrection or at the rapture of the Church. You can read more about the process of Christian salvation in Romans 8:26–30. The step of obedience here is to rest in the assurance that Christ is enough to save us completely. As the apostle John says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

The “Christ Alone” view of salvation is the true way of salvation. This is it. When the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30 asks Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they respond in 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. . . .” Christ’s own faithfulness on the cross and in the resurrection saves us. It’s Christ plus nothing. You see, God himself has done the work of salvation for us—this is why there will be no boasting in our works, like it says in Ephesians 2:8–9,

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The only boasting in heaven will be about the faithfulness of Jesus’ work.

So, have you trusted in Christ alone for your salvation? There is no other name under heaven by which people may be saved. If you have never trusted Christ alone as your Savior, won’t you do so today? Listen once more to the Scriptures in Titus 3:3–7,

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

I hope you now feel that you have clear directions to get “home” — home to heaven and life with God forever. No one explained the clear directions to God better than Jesus himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Don’t be like I was with my new bride—prideful and arrogant about my own ability to find the way. Humble yourself before God as a sinner, and admit your need for Christ alone to be your Savior. When you first believe, God will justify you and set you free from the penalty of sin, which is hell. Then, he will gradually grow you each day—sanctifying you by faith in the gospel and by the power of his Spirit in you. Finally one day, God will transform you fully and finally—body and soul—and you’ll spend forever with him. May this good news find you today and set you free.

In Christ,

Pastor Rex

Where To Go from Here? Christian Local Church Ministry following the SCOTUS Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

It almost isn’t news anymore. Things come and go so quickly these days in the news. However, the Supreme Court of the United States’ (SCOTUS) decision to nationally secure the right for same-sex couples to marry will no doubt have ripple effects for years to come.

For me, I have been reading about this issue, probably just like you have been. I have read news articles and numerous Christian responses to the SCOTUS decision. Some churches are employing the decision to make a shift themselves on the issue, becoming more accepting of the idea of monogamous, same-sex relationships. Other churches are digging in their heals and getting ready for a wave of religious intolerance like the USA has never seen.

In recent weeks, I have personally received two requests to respond to the issue. One came from a family member who received a disturbingly persuasive argument for same-sex marriage that claimed to be biblical, and the other came from a pastor friend whose daughter attends a church in New York City that recently shifted its stance on the matter of same-sex marriage to become more inclusive. Therefore, I imagine that just as I am receiving emails or letters like this, you probably are too.

I don’t know that I will add anything new to what many have already said—so much ink has already been spilled. However, I do want to at least provide a summary of some things that have already been said. Additionally, I think it is important for us to understand why some evangelical churches are shifting on this issue. Finally, where do we go from here as a local church? It is inevitable I think that some of us will have interactions with homosexuals—whether at work, friends or friends of friends, and perhaps even family members. And we need to be ready to respond in truth and in love.

Why Are Some Churches Shifting on the Issue?

The first and perhaps the major reason churches are making this shift is due to an improper hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the art and science of acquiring the meaning of Scripture; that is, it is interpretive method. Some evangelical Christians today are looking at the major texts that touch directly on the issue of homosexuality (e.g., Gen. 19:5; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9; and 1 Tim. 1:10) and opening themselves up to interpretive methods that aren’t necessarily new, but rather are becoming more publicly preferred in our politically correct climate. I can sum these up into three.

The Postmodern Hermeneutic says that the Bible can say whatever the interpreter wants it to say. There is a movie that illustrates this problematic interpretative method called The Book of Eli. As the story goes, there is one Bible left in the whole world, and Eli has it. Throughout the story it is clear that God is with Eli to protect him and his word. But there is a bad guy. The bad guy knows that whoever has that book can use it to control people; the person who has the “word of God” can make it say whatever he wants in order to make people feel divine obligation to do what he says. President Mark Bailey of Dallas Theological Seminary once wisely stated that,

The inability to exhaust all knowledge does not mean that we cannot know some things.

The point is that, “No,” you may certainly not use the Bible to make it mean whatever you want it to mean. The Spirit of God in the church has a history of interpretation. The Bible many times even interprets itself. So, in the case of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, neither side can simply make the Bible say whatever they would like it to say. The Bible, believe it or not, has its own voice.

The Abused Redemptive Hermeneutic is an unfortunate use of an otherwise good hermeneutic. The redemptive hermeneutic at its most basic level helps us to understand trajectories in Scripture. For example, I think most biblical scholars would admit to redemptive movement in the role of women in religious service as you move from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament. The idea of male headship is continuous throughout Scripture in places like the home and in the pastorate; however, there is also a movement with the nature of salvation in the gospel that further redeems the role of women in the religious life of God’s people. For example, the priesthood of all believers applies to women too. Women receive gifting from the Spirit too in order to help build the church. Whereas in the Old Testament, women were more limited in the religious life and service. The idea of slavery seems to also experience transformation from the old to the new. Not only, does Paul call both slaves and masters to a commonality in Christ, but his letter to Philemon concerning the runaway slave Onesimus was socially different because of the gospel’s implications. Coming to the homosexuality and same-sex issue, I feel that this redemptive hermeneutic has been abused. The reason is because Scripture itself never ever indicates any change in trajectory with regard to homosexual relationships and practices. From the Old to the New, the message is the same—homosexual desire and practice are forbidden. Sexual immorality is treated the same; Marriage is treated the same.

Lastly, the Silence Hermeneutic is probably the most frequently used interpretive method that I see being used in writings on the issue right now. It goes something like this: “Since the Bible does not directly address the issue of monogamous, same-sex marriage and since Jesus himself never spoke to that issue, we can best respond to these relationship by love, acceptance, and inclusion within the body of Christ.” Such adherents would explain away the previously mentioned Bible passages (e.g., Gen. 19:5; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9; and 1 Tim. 1:10) as referring to a kind of exploitive homosexual behavior (such as rape or pederasty) or to an idolatry-based homosexual behavior. The problems with this way of understanding the Bible are very important. First, the Bible never addresses the idea of same-sex marriage because it forbids such sexual possibility. The Bible clearly forbids sexual possibilities with certain people and even with animals; for example, the Christian man is forbidden to consider the sexual possibility of a relationship with another man’s wife. It doesn’t matter if that man chose or did not choose to have feelings for another man’s wife, nor does it matter how strong those urges are, rather it matters that God has forbidden the sexual possibility of such a relationship. Therefore, because the Bible forbids the sexual possibility between a male and another male or a female with another female, we can easily correlate that same-sex marriage is a forbidden relationship. When the Bible uses the phrase “sexual immorality” or in the older versions “fornication” to translate the Greek word πορνεία, the phrase is functioning as a sort of “catch-all” for all of the sexual deviations from God’s original design for human sexuality. I personally see continuity between the Leviticus descriptions in chapter 18 with Jesus’ reference in Matthew 19:9 and with the apostolic decree at the end of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:28–29. So, the question begs, does the Bible view same-sex desire and sexual possibility as sexual immorality (which would preclude the idea of same-sex marriage)? In my view, this is exactly the biblical category to which it belongs, along with premarital sex, adultery, adulterous lust, exploitive sex, incest, idolatry-related sexual practice, etc. Second, the claim of some that Jesus never spoke to the issue is deceptive. When he was asked about divorce (as recorded in the Gospels), his answer was very clear, and the source on which he built his answer happened to be Genesis 2:24 and the broader Genesis 1–2 teaching on the topic of marriage. Therefore, he uses Scripture to provide a proper interpretative answer to the question about divorce (Mark 10; Mathew 19). I think it is fair and safe to assume that he would go back to the exact same place if he were to have been asked whether it was lawful for a man to marry another man, or for a woman to marry another woman. He would go back to the ideal set forth at the beginning. So, we must not trample all over Scripture in order to carry out a desire to become more inclusive and welcoming.

Where Do We Go from Here? Teach Truth; Love Well

My aim here has been to interact with the Scriptures and to assess how other churches are failing to faithfully interpret Scripture on this matter. I realize there are other matters weighing into the discussion, such as the more secular and material arguments for allowing same-sex marriage in the context of a democracy where every person is not a Christian. However, I am a Christian, and we are Christians here at West Lisbon, and for our part in this democracy of ours, to the best of our ability, we begin with what our God has spoken because we believe that adhering to his word leads to general blessings for ourselves and for those whose lives we touch (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:12–16). So, what is a church like ours to do in the midst of this wave of sexual immorality in our culture? Well, I’m convinced that we must continue to teach the truth of God’s word, and we must continue to love as Christ loves. We cannot afford to weaken on these two fronts.

On the truth front, we must faithfully teach God’s design for sexuality between one man and one woman in a committed marriage relationship until death breaks that covenant. We need to uphold this truth not only in the context of same-sex marriage discussions, but also in the face of the cultural trend of no-fault, easy divorce. Starting with our young, we need to instruct them about God’s ideals of sacrificial love and purity as something worth fighting for in relationships, thought-life, and technology consumption. We need to continue to help young people think and pray through the biblical expectation of the lifelong covenant of marriage; help them enjoy their single years pursuing the Redeemer and other significant friendships; prepare them with wisdom about finances and education decisions. We must teach the truth about sin and about the dangers of sexual deviation from God’s design. We must continue to teach the truth about gracious God who loves sinners and who wants to give them power to overcome the slavery of sin in their lives.

In an ideal world and in ideal scenarios, everyone just believes the truth at an early age and brokenness is minimized, and we all sing, “Shout to the Lord.” But what about for those of us who “come broken sexually to be mended, wounded sexually to be healed, desperate sexually to be rescued, empty sexually to be filled”? What about those of us who come to the church a sexual mess? Is there any hope? Yes, there is, and this hope begins to be experienced by the broken person when the church members love well. One of the ways we can love well is by being super passionate about seeing God gift to a person authentic humanity in Christ. If you are passionate about seeing such a thing develop, then you’ll be friends with the broken person. You’ll share God’s story with the broken person. You’ll sacrificially offer your time to the broken person. With specific regard to the same-sex issue of our day, I am convinced that part of authentic humanity—as God intended it in the beginning and which he is giving anew in Christ—is our respective male-ness or female-ness. We were made to be either male or female. I believe sin clouds the capacity of our respective genders to glorify God. Remember, God created us male and female to bear his likeness. This image-bearing potential is restored in Christ, so one of the ways that we love well is by affirming gender distinctions and by helping develop true manhood and true womanhood for the glory of God.

For Your Personal Study and Devotion

As I said earlier, a lot of ink has been spilled on this topic. Here, I’d like to list a few things to read and offer a final prayer for the church and for our world in general. You should be able to Google search all of these articles and books:

“The Bible and Same-Sex Marriage: 6 Common But Mistaken Claims” by Dr. Darrell Bock for The Gospel Coalition

“40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags” by Kevin DeYoung for The Gospel Colation

“Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful?” by Dr. Denny Burk for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung 

The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard B. Hays

Slaves, Women & Homosexuals by Williams J. Webb

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

I also have been reading those who would be on the opposite side of this discussion, and if you would like some of those references, I’d be happy to give you those privately. Just let me know.

Consider the context of Romans 1:18–32, I’d like to leave you with a challenge to pray for the spiritual awakening of our nation. Personally, I think there is a deeper spiritual issue in our nation than homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I would say that these things are symptoms of a bigger, more dangerous, underlying problem. The problem is this: there is a sweeping neglect and suppression of the knowledge of God among Americans, even in the church. We have lived so long in comfort, ease, and recreation, that we have largely forgotten our desperate need for God. Pastor Tony Evans has many times said that the church is the spiritual immune system of the nation, if the immune system is weak, then you will begin to see the effects in the broader culture. What if God is turning us over to the decline in Romans 1:18–32 because we have stopped hungering and thirsting for him? And what if the church is at the center of the problem . . . and the solution? What if one of the ways you can minister to the homosexual community is by praying for personal revival that will lead to awakening in the church that will snowball into revival in the nation? God made and saves us to worship him; if we forget him, things always decline.