Happy Reformation Day!

95 theses

Four hundred and ninety seven years ago today, Martin Luther forever changed Christianity.  The Catholic Church had grown increasingly corrupt and had defiled the Gospel to the point that they instructed people not to read the Scriptures on their own (the Scriptures were not even translated to a language they could understand), they were selling indulgences to the congregation promising their followers that for the right price their sins could be forgiven and the sins of their dead relatives atoned so that they could pass out of purgatory into Heaven, and that they had to observe and practice penance for salvation.

After wrestling with his own salvation, Martin Luther was convicted that these practices were unbiblical and heretical, and he wrote ninety five points dealing specifically with where and how the Church was in error and nailed this document to the front door of the All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Saxony on Oct 31, 1517.

Here, for your contemplating pleasure, is the list he so famously penned, which led to the protestant reformation and doctrine as we know it today:

  1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
  2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
  3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.
  4. The penalty, therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
  5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.
  6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God’s remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.
  7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.
  8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
  9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
  10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.
  11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.
  12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
  13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.
  14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.
  15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
  16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.
  17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.
  18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.
  19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.
  20. Therefore by “full remission of all penalties” the pope means not actually “of all,” but only of those imposed by himself.
  21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;
  22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.
  23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.
  24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release from penalty.
  25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.
  26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess), but by way of intercession.
  27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].
  28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.
  29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.
  30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.
  31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare.
  32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.
  33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;
  34. For these “graces of pardon” concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.
  35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.
  36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.
  37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.
  38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the declaration of divine remission.
  39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition.
  40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].
  41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.
  42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.
  43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;
  44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.
  45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.
  46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons.
  47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter of free will, and not of commandment.
  48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for him more than the money they bring.
  49. Christians are to be taught that the pope’s pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.
  50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter’s church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.
  51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope’s wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.
  52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.
  53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others.
  54. Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this Word.
  55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
  56. The “treasures of the Church,” out of which the pope. grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.
  57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so easily, but only gather them.
  58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.
  59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church’s poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
  60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given by Christ’s merit, are that treasure;
  61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.
  62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
  63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.
  64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
  65. Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches.
  66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they now fish for the riches of men.
  67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the “greatest graces” are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote gain.
  68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.
  69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence.
  70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own dreams instead of the commission of the pope.
  71. He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!
  72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!
  73. The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.
  74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love and truth.
  75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God — this is madness.
  76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.
  77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope.
  78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii.
  79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.
  80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.
  81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.
  82. To wit: — “Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”
  83. Again: — “Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”
  84. Again: — “What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul’s own need, free it for pure love’s sake?”
  85. Again: — “Why are the penitential canons long since in actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in force?”
  86. Again: — “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?”
  87. Again: — “What is it that the pope remits, and what participation does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?”
  88. Again: — “What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?”
  89. “Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal efficacy?”
  90. To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christians unhappy.
  91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, they would not exist.
  92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!
  93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!
  94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;
  95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.

The “Guard Your Heart” Myth.

guard-your-heart

Are you a Christian?  Have you ever dated?  Then you have probably heard the admonition, “Guard your heart”.  Everyone says it, but no one knows what it means.  Some people use it as an excuse for not getting emotionally invested, “I am guarding my heart, keeping him at arm’s length”.  Some people use it as an excuse to not go out on any dates, “I am guarding my heart by not offering myself any temptation”.  Some people use it as a defense, “I am breaking up with you because you are not guarding my heart”.

Solomon, first of all, did not write this proverb in the context of dating.

Wait, what?  What else could it mean?

Solomon said,

Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.

– Prov 4.23

Watch over (or guard) your heart with all diligence because from it flow the springs of life.  Why do we guard our hearts?  Because it is a precious gem that we have to protect until we find our spouse?  No, because from it flow the springs of life.  What does that mean?  Our problem in this world is that we are Spiritually dead and that we have a heart of stone.  But God, when He gives us the gift of faith and salvation, takes out our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh.  The Holy Spirit indwells us, and that new heart of flesh gives us Spiritual life (Ex 36.26).

Our actions prove what is in our hearts.

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”

– Luke 6.45

If our the springs within our hearts are contaminated or dirty, they will produce wickedness.  But if our the springs of life within our hearts are pure and clean, they will produce holiness.  Solomon is exhorting us to make every effort to guard our hearts because he is concerned about us being fundamentally changed.  He does not desire to teach an entire book of proverbs and wisdom for the sake of cleaning up the outside/actions without dealing with the heart/source.

Everyone in every stage of the Christian walk should diligently guard his heart, not just someone who is dating in regards to the potential spouse.  We must guard our hearts against anger, envy, pride, jealousy, and all other roots of sin that will destroy us.  We must also refrain from investing our hearts in triviality and focus on those things of eternal value.

Ok, so is there an application to dating?  Yes, I believe there is.  But the application is simple:  Test the relationship for its level of holiness.  This is not a game of keep away, this is not an excuse for being aloof.  You should never give your heart to another human being, you should only give your heart to God.  When you find someone that you love and want to spend your life with, your heart is still God’s.  Open your heart for others to see, express vulnerability to your potential spouse, and expect your spouse to hold you accountable, but never give your heart to your spouse.  It belongs to God.  If you give your heart to God and rely on Him for the strength to maintain a pure lifespring, only then you can truly love your spouse, your children, your friends, neighbors and enemies.  If you give your heart to your boyfriend or spouse, then you are relying on him for your lifespring.  It will be contaminated.  And you will suck him dry.  And neither of you will glorify God.

That all sounds good and cheery, but what does that look like?  How do we do that?  We start by setting our focus.

“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”

– Col 3.2

When we are renewed, it always starts with our minds.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

– Rom 12.2

When you think about dating, or when you interact with your boyfriend or spouse, consider how God is glorified in your relationship.  Consider how you can love your boyfriend or spouse to the glory of God.  Fight the battle of selfishness and pride by dying to yourself when he acts terribly.  Hold him accountable, point Him to Jesus, and focus on Jesus.  When you get discouraged, angry or upset, pray.  Turn to Jesus, not to your significant other.  Let Jesus change your heart.  Preach truth to yourself and choose to act on truth and not feelings, and trust Jesus that he will take care of the feelings and attitudes.  Fight the sin by clinging to Jesus in your mind.  Your heart will follow.

If you are having a bad day, turn to Jesus.  Pray.  Sing.  Go on a walk and vent.  Your significant other will be able to pull you up for a while, but eventually he will break down, and you will never truly be satisfied.  But Jesus will restore you and encourage and fill your heart.  He Himself is the life giver (Ps 36.9).  If you and your significant other both draw your life and encouragement from Jesus, then you can serve one another without expectation and you will find greater pleasure in one another.  Give your heart to Jesus and let your spouse see that at work.  In that you will find the deepest unity, love and happiness.

So guard your heart.  Fight against the sins of the heart, do not let them take a hold of you.  Give your heart to God, trust Him to protect it, and fight the battles of sin in your mind first and trust God to take care of your heart, providing clean and pure lifesprings that result in holy, righteous and godly living.

Jesus was not created.

jesus-christ-divine

Christianity Today published an article yesterday entitled “New Poll Finds Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies“.  In the report, of professing Christians polled, 16% said that Jesus was the first creature created by God and another 11% were unsure.  If this poll is accurate, that means that one quarter of professing Christians are unclear about the nature of Jesus.

Ever since Jesus returned to Heaven, the question of His nature has been a difficult one.  In fact, it was one of the first major issues that the early Church encountered and was the stimulus for the first Ecumenical council in the year 325 AD.  There were many ideas that emerged: Adoptionism believing Jesus to have been an ordinary man who was chosen and “adopted” by God to be the Savior when He was baptized, Arianism which argued that since Jesus was begotten, there was a time that He did not exist and Sabellianism believed that Jesus was not actually human, only God in a different form (modalism).  The nature of Jesus was the primary concern and explanation given by the Nicene Creed at this first council in 325.  The issue of the role and nature of the Holy Spirit was also grossly unclear, and one of the early church fathers named Tertullian was the first to define and defend the term and doctrine of the trinity – and that was not until the early 3rd century.

It is easy to be confused about the nature of Jesus and the trinity.  But the Cappadocian Fathers (saints and theologians of the early Church) defined the nature of the Trinity for us so that we can understand what Scripture teaches about God, that He is one God, existing in three persons.

One reason for confusion are the identities of Jesus as “the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1.15), and God’s “only begotten son” (John 3.16).  Jesus functioned in the flesh as the only begotten son of God.  Jesus, being both fully God and fully man, was born of a human woman into a human body, but was conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1.35).  He was begotten, and He was the only one physically born as such:  being fully God and fully man.  But Jesus existed before his physical birth.  Occasionally Paul is misunderstood in Colossians by calling Jesus the firstborn of all creation.  We all know that Jesus was born and lived only 2,000 years ago, thousands of years after creation.  But Paul was not referencing Jesus’ physical birth, rather His resurrection.  He was the first born of the dead (Rev 1.5).  Everyone will be resurrected from the dead for judgment, some unto eternal punishment and some unto eternal reward.  Jesus was raised on the third day of His death unto eternal life.  No one else has yet been resurrected from the dead unto eternal life.  Yes, we see all throughout Scripture that God raised multiple people from the dead, but they all died again.  Lazarus is dead, the widow’s son is dead, Dorcus is dead, they are all dead.  But Jesus is alive.

So how, then, do we know that Jesus has been around forever?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.”

– John 1.1-4

John goes on to explain in the next few verses that Jesus Christ Himself was the Word and the Light.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”

– Col 1.15-18

These two passages of Scripture explain clearly that Jesus is God and has existed since the beginning.  Not only that, but through Jesus everything was created and by His power all things are held together.  He is the beginning and He was in the beginning.  He is God.  He has no beginning.  He was not created, but rather is the creator.

Jesus was not created.  He is God.  Let’s worship Him as such.

You may be the only Jesus they meet.

jesus

Have you ever heard the admonition, “Watch how you act, you may be the only Jesus he meets”?

It is very possible that if you travel to a country with a predominant religion other than Christianity, specifically a third world country, you could be the only Christian that another person meets.  I would be willing to bet that that would not be the case here in our comfortable US of A.  But yet parents say this to their children, youth pastors say this to their students, collegiate Bible study leaders say this to their young adults and pastors say this to their congregations.  Even if it is true that you happen to be the only Christian that another person on this enormous planet meets in his lifetime, consider today what it is that you are really saying:  “You better be good enough to convince that person to come to faith.”  Or even worse, “If you screw this up, you are the reason that person will go to Hell.”

Is that really the message that you want to communicate to your children?  Or anyone?  Did you come to faith because of another person?  Or because of Jesus Christ?

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

– Rom 8.29-30

Paul teaches us that the process of salvation is God’s foreknowledge of His own, leading to God predestining them to salvation, calling them to faith, justifying (declaring the verdict: penalty paid), and ultimately saving forever.  God is the controlling force in salvation.  Faith itself is a gift from God.  We are incapable of generating it ourselves or convincing others to have it:

“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.”

– Eph 2.8-9

Scripture teaches us that there are none righteous, and not a single person who is seeking after God (Rom 3.10-12).  We are naturally His enemies, we naturally have animosity towards Him (James 4.4, Rom 8.7).  So if someone hates God, is His enemy and is not seeking after Him, do you really think that someone acting nicely, or someone obeying Scripture will be enough to change the onlooker’s mind?

The danger here is threefold.

  1.  We cannot cause another’s salvation
  2. We cannot cause another to reject God
  3. If we believe or teach that we can affect another’s salvation, we live for others and not for God.

New birth is a miraculous work of God that is not dependent on anyone but God.  Dead men do not say, “I sure wish I were alive” (Eph 1.2), and the unborn do not reach out to potential mothers and ask to be born.  God gives life.  If you believe that you are capable of convincing someone to come to faith, then you will live a life of extreme and unbiblical burden at best, and of heresy at worst.  Why?  Because you will waste all of your time examining what you do, examining the response and trying to craft the perfect presentation of the Gospel, apologetics and witness.  You will devoid yourself of faith and trust, you will carry a burden that is not yours and you will believe yourself to be in the place of God.  Worst of all, you will neglect God, you will not rely on Him to lead, to change others, and you will live a life of duty rather than thankfulness and love.

When people fall away, you will feel guilty.  When people refuse the Gospel, you will take it personally.  When people move on from your church or your Bible study you will be crushed.

This is not a warrant to act wickedly.

What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  May it never be!  How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

– Rom 6.1-2

This is an exhortation to trust God.  God has commanded us to preach the Gospel, to be wise with every word that comes out of our mouth and to make the most of every moment.

“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.  Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”

– Col 4.5-6

But we do not do this because we believe that we can save or change people.  We do it because we love God and are thankful for our salvation.  We are the mouthpiece and God is the one who gives the faith.  He has given us the honor and privilege of being a part of His great work of salvation, but that part is limited to simply being the mouthpiece.  He does the rest.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.6-7

We must be obedient to share.  We must live lives of thankfulness.  We share the Gospel because we are thankful and obedient, not because we can save people.  We look at Jesus when we share the Gospel, not the hearer.  We obey the commandments because we are thankful for salvation and we love Jesus, not because we want others to see how we act and think, “wow, she is different”.

If you live for God, He will be proud to call you His own:

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”

– Heb 11.16

Think about it.  Do you want God to be ashamed of you?  Or do you want that person who may never meet another “Jesus” to to be impressed by you?

It is not about you.  Or me.  Or the only Jesus that people meet.  It is about us being faithful to be the mouthpiece so that that person might meet Jesus.  Let’s not embarrass our saviour or ourselves.  Let’s live for Him and let Him take care of the rest.  My parents used to say it best when we would leave the house, he said,

“Remember who you belong to”.

Live for God in thankfulness and obedience.  Not for anyone else.

In the Thick of Foes

storm

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies.  At the end all his disciples deserted him.  On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers.  For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God.  So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.  There is his commission, his work.  ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

Is Divorce Always A Sin?

divorce

How much time have you spent thinking about, and studying what God has to say about divorce?  As the culture changes, many people now consider marriage a non-permanent endeavor.  We get prenuptial agreements, we think marriage is meant for our happiness, and we file for divorce when things get tough.  “We can just divorce if it does not work out” is a common mindset walking down the aisle.  However, if you run in conservative circles, you might have the understanding that divorce is a sin; there are never grounds for it, anyone who has been divorced has a scarlet D embroidered on their foreheads, and they are forever of bad reputation.  Within the church walls, divorce has become the most heinous and unforgivable of sins, forever disqualifying someone from service to God and honorable repute.

Perhaps the most well known verse about divorce is found in the final book of the Old Testament:

“For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts.  “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

– Mal 2.16

This passage is dynamic in that the people of Israel were experiencing silence from God and they were continuing to go to the temple and offer sacrifices and weep before the Lord, seeking his presence and answers, but God refused to listen to or regard them.  This was a direct consequence of the way that they were treating their wives:

“This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.  Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.  But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring?  Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.”

– Mal 2.13-15

These men had mistreated their wives – “dealt treacherously with them” – and so God refused to listen to them.  We actually see the same teaching in the New Testament as well,

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

– 1 Peter 3.7

But in summary of the bad relationship that was going on between husband and wife, God makes the clear and bold statement:  “I hate divorce”.  This is a unique expression for God.  Many things He says He hates, but they are also labeled as an abomination and therefore sinful:

There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
A false witness who utters lies,
And one who spreads strife among brothers.

– Prov 6.16-19

But divorce He simply says He hates.  He does, however, make provisions and instructions for how and when to use divorce:

He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.  And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

– Matt 19.8-9

Jesus explained that marriage is work of God joining to flesh and making them one (Matt 19.7), and Paul explained extensively that marriage is intended to be a picture of the union of Christ with His Church.  Because of the nature and intention of marriage, it is not meant to be broken.  God hates divorce.  It breaks what He has united and it defames the picture of the union of Christ and His Church.  But because we are sinful, because we can have hard hearts, and because we are incapable of loving and forgiving as God does, He gives us the option of divorce in a select few circumstances.

If one spouse has been sexually unfaithful to the other, the faithful spouse may divorce the unfaithful.  The unfaithful one has broken the covenant through the act of adultery, and while it would be best for the couple to forgive and to be restored, God does not require that of the offended spouse.  In the Mosaic Law, adultery was punishable by death, and consequently set the neglected spouse free, but now we are given the option of freedom from the covenant without the slaying of blood.  The Mosaic Law appeared to give more leeway for divorce, in that adultery was punishable by death and yet there was still an option for divorce when the spouse was found to have “any indecency” (Deut 24.1-4).

This is why the Pharisees were trying to question and corner Jesus:

“Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”

Jesus tightened up the teaching.  Adultery is the only covenant breaker between believing spouses.  Paul adds a dimension to the teaching as well,

“And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.  For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.  Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.”

– 1 Cor 7.13-15

This is regularly defined, in short, as abandonment.  However, the deeper reality here is that if two people are bound by the bond of marriage and one follows Christ while the other does not, the believer is incapable of forcing behavior upon the nonbeliever.  Unless he is compelled by faith in Jesus Christ, we cannot expect our spouse to obey the Scripture.  Therefore, the believing spouse should not divorce the unbelieving spouse, because he knows the teaching of Scripture, he knows that God hates divorce, and he should strive to honor, love and cherish his wife and be a good witness.  If the non-believing spouse reaches a point in the relationship where he is ready to leave, then the believing spouse has no grounds by which to compel him to stay.  And quite frankly, you cannot have a marriage unless both spouses remain in the relationship.

Many churches call this issue abandonment in general, because for a spouse to leave without the grounds of adultery is direct insubordination to God and therefore defines the leaving spouse as a nonbeliever because,

“You will know them by their fruits.  Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.”

– Matt 7.16-17

And also,

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.”

– John 14.23-24

When utilized and preformed according to Biblical instruction, divorce is not a sin.  It is extremely difficult for the offended spouse to walk through the process of divorce without sinning, especially as we understand the love of God to be one that would redeem a sexually unfaithful spouse (Faithful to an Adulter?), but the sinning of slander or any other action does not nullify the allowance of divorce for unfaithfulness or abandonment.  Divorce on any other grounds is a sin because it is the breaking of a covenant by refusing to love and forgive as we have been loved and forgiven.

If a person is in an abusive relationship where their safety is in jeopardy, then separation is allowable while the church pursues the abuser to Biblical repentance, as outlined in Matt 18.  If the abusive partner will not repent, then it is the responsibility of the Church to remove him from the Church and protect the weaker spouse.  It is also the responsibility of the Church to step in and pursue the abandoning and disobedient spouse to repentance – but to remove him from the Church if he will not submit to God’s authority and teaching.  The Church is intended to play a dynamic role in defining the freedom and offering protection for the offended spouse:

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

– Matt 18.15-18

The Church is given both the responsibility and the power to call people to repentance and regard them nonbelievers when they will not repent.  If a person chooses to abandon his spouse for any reason other than adultery, he is to walk through this process, and either submit to God and restore the broken relationship by loving his spouse as God loves the Church, or be excommunicated.

When the Church plays its intended role in divorce, and when one has walked through the process Biblically, not only is he not guilty of sin, he is not tarnished or disqualified from service to God.  We have all sinned and when we are found in Christ we are redeemed of any and all sin.  If we are not overcome by a character flaw, or of bad reputation for habitual sin, then we meet the requirements of Biblical service as outlined in 1 Timothy and Titus.  Being a murderer, being divorced, being a thief, or one who has served time in prison for any offense, does not forever stain one as “not above reproach”.  There is no unpardonable sin in God’s eyes, and if He has redeemed us and set us aside for His service in any form, then no man can declare it otherwise.  We must be mature in our faith and above reproach with no obvious character failures:

An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.  He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.  And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

– 1 Tim 3.2-7

Understanding the Biblical teaching of grace and forgiveness, we must understand the statement “husband of one wife” as in regards to polygamy.  If one can be divorced and set free to remarry without sin, then it cannot be a disqualification for service to God.

This is an extremely difficult and sensitive topic, as most of us have been touched by divorce in some form or another throughout our lives.  I highly recommend, for further study, the extensive explanation that The Church at Brook Hills has composed for their members:  The Gospel and Divorce.

No one can diminish God’s glory

glory

Glory is a strange concept.  The Hebrew word literally translates as “heaviness”, and the Greek word literally translates as “opinion, judgment or view” and also “splendor or brightness” (Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).  We use the term glory outside of religious conversation from time to time, and it is usually in the context of outstanding achievement – often relating to athletics.  And while it is very difficult to define and understand, we all have a concept of glory: the weightiness of worth, the supremacy, the praiseworthiness, the value deserving of highest honor.

In it’s truest sense, God alone has glory.  And we cannot add to it nor take away from it.  C.S. Lewis stated it brilliantly:

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”

– C.S. Lewis

Sometimes we get a little confused because we talk about “giving glory to God” or “glorifying God”.  Scripture regularly admonishes us to glorify God:

“For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

– 1 Cor 6.10

“…but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”

– 1 Peter 4.16

But God’s glory is not contingent upon, nor increased by our praise, honor or admiration.  Nor is it diminished by our slander or disobedience.  To glorify Him simply means to acknowledge and worship Him because of the glory that He has.  That is how Desiring God ministries can build their mission statement as “We exist to help you make God your treasure because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”.  God’s glory is not increased by us knowing Him and being satisfied in Him, rather, we honor Him the most when we are satisfied by Him.

Do you recognize God’s glory?  Do you see His weight and splendor in creation?  In people?  In circumstances?  Do you praise Him for it?

“I am the Lord, that is My name;
I will not give My glory to another,
Nor My praise to graven images.”

– Is 42.8