Want a few good reasons to take pride in the city of Birmingham? New York Magazine offer a few . . .
I was invited by the staff team of Magdalen Road Church to speak to them on the topic of the inerrancy of Scripture. Here are four God reasons for Christians to have confidence that what the Bible says, God says.
1. God is a God of truth (taken from Words of Life by Tim Ward)
The claim that the Bible is inerrant is a conclusion drawn directly from what Scripture says about God, and about itself in relation to God. Scripture says, as we have seen, that it is breathed out by God, as his own words. In addition, in Scripture God states with great clarity that his character is such that he cannot lie, and that he alone is utterly truthful and trustworthy (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18) . . . It is therefore right to conclude that Scripture’s words will borrow their qualities from God.
2. God is a God of love (taken from Essentials by John Stott & David Edwards)
Is [it] a reliable revelation? Indeed, we have strong Christian reasons for expecting God to have given us one. We both believe [Stott in reply to Edwards view of Scripture] God said and did something through Jesus Christ which was unique in itself and decisive for the salvation of the world. Is it not inconceivable, therefore, that God should first have spoken and acted in Christ and then have allowed his saving word and deed to be lost in the mists of antiquity? If God’s good news was meant for everybody, which it was and is, then he must have made provision for its reliable preservation, so that all people in all places at all times could have beneficial access to it. This is an a priori deduction from our basic Christian beliefs about God, Christ and salvation.
3. God is a God worthy of our trust (taken from Essentials by John Stott & David Edwards)
John Stott describes this one as his most important argument:
Submission to Scripture is for us Evangelicals a sign of our submission to Christ, a test of our loyalty to him. We find it extremely impressive that our incarnate Lord, whose own authority amazed his contemporaries, should have subordinated himself to the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures as he did, regarding them as his Father’s written word.
If submission to Scripture was right for him, as it was, it must be right for us also.
4. God is a God deserving of our obedience (taken from Evangelical Affirmations by Kenneth Kantzer)
Christians hold the Bible to be the Word of God (and inerrant) because they are convinced that Jesus, the Lord of the Church, believed it and taught his disciples to believe it.
The conclusion of the matter?
When it comes to whether we can trust the Bible we’re really asking questions much bigger than what is the Bible, we’re asking what is our God like. Who God is and what God has done gives us reason for confidence.
I took a marriage preparation session for a number of engaged couples at our church last week. There were lots of things I would have been very happy to discuss not least all of the many practical issues that a couple face as they get ready to marry. But rather than start there I wanted to start with the biggest issue facing any human relationship: Am I willing to let this person change me?
Tim Keller in The Reason for God writes: One of the principles of love – either love for a friend or romantic love – is that you have to lose independence to attain greater intimacy. If you want ‘freedom’ of love – the fulfillment, security, sense of worth that it brings – you must limit your freedom in many ways. You cannot enter a deep relationship and still make unilateral decisions or allow your friend or lover no say in how you live your life. To experience the joy and freedom of love, you must give up personal autonomy.’
For a love relationship to be healthy there must be a mutual loss of independence. It can’t be just one way. Both sides must say to the other, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you even though it means a sacrifice for me.’
In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us – in his incarnation and atonement. In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death. On the cross, he submitted to our condition – as sinners – and died in our place to forgive us. In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you though it means sacrifice for me.’ If he has done this for us, we can and should say the same to God and others.
In summary: As God has changed for you, so you can now change for him.
That’s exactly what we find in a passage like Philippians 2:1-18.
2:5-11 tells of Christ’s willingness to leave the glories of heaven and become a man, taking the form of a servant, being willing to die, and to die on a cross (a cursed death – the worst death). From the highest place it is possible to be, at the right-hand of God, Christ now occupied the lowest place it is possible to be, cursed on a cross.
Either side of these verses are a call for our relationships with one another to be utterly transformed by this gospel pattern.
So, 2:2-4 we read: make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (NIV).
And 2:14-15: Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” (NIV).
The power to live well in a marriage comes from our willingness to change and to let our marriage partner be God’s change-agent. Christ’s willingness to change for us gives us every reason to change for him and to let him use others to do exactly that. As we learn to welcome change and to say to our marriage partners,for Christ’s sake, I need you to change me to be more like him so our marriages grow stronger.
Today’s Telegraph contains the moving story of how Patricia Machin forgave the man whose crime of careless driving killed her husband. Ruth Dudley Edwards reports
Mrs Machin wrote Williamson a letter to use in his defence in which she said that on the day of the accident, “however bad it was for me, I realise it was 1,000 times worse for you…” This astonished the defence counsel, who said he struggled “to find words to express what is conveyed through the contents and the intentions”. Mrs Machin was in court on Tuesday as Williamson was given a suspended sentence.
But then Edwards, herself an atheist, goes on to say But why were people so astonished? Mrs Machin and her late husband were Christians who really lived up to their beliefs.No truer word has been spoken. Christians are under an obligation to forgive in a way no-one else. There is no other creed on earth that compels forgiveness because the obligation to forgive flows from our direct experience of forgiveness. CS Lewis writes To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. Only the Christian must forgive.
But whilst it is an easy thing to say that the Christian must forgive it is still an extraordinary thing if the Christian can find the resources and resolve necessary to forgive. Again as Lewis says Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive … And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger.
The command to forgive comes from the gospel and the ability to forgive comes from the gospel too. When tempted to hate those who have hurt us and caused us undue pain the Christian seeks from God the ability to do the God-like thing and that is to choose to take the pain and hurt on ourselves rather than our ‘enemy’. God absorbed his own wrath when he suffered on the cross. In Christ, we too learn to bear the pain, commit it to God, seek his healing and hold out forgiveness to those who have wronged us. That is no easy thing. Praise God today for the example and courage of Mrs Machin
A thought-provoking article in today’s Times (£) on the pitfall of over-parenting. Alice Thomson looks at a new book called Minimalist Parenting which challenges the modern-day preoccupation of raising kids a world in which ‘children have become passive projects constructed by their mothers.’ The key? They discovered that they enjoyed their children more when they were doing less.
Last Saturday morning the men at City Church gave some time to thinking through issues of sexual purity. This post is the second part of my handout that went with the talk. Part one is here
3) Go to God with your behaviour
Know the compassion of a gracious God . ‘The Lord pities his people’ – JC Ryle
Your natural instinct is to turn to yourself, instead of to Jesus. This is true of all sin, but it’s obvious in your struggle with pornography because it’s a solitary pursuit. Your pornographic sins are, by definition, only about you: what you want, what you hope for, and what you long for. When you are facing hard or disappointing circumstances—boredom, loneliness, money problems, fighting with a spouse, distance from a friend—it’s easy (and instinctive) to turn in on yourself and try to escape your troubles by going to your fantasy life.
Apply the gospel to your behaviour
The gospel is not only a comfort for you as you struggle with sin. It is God’s very means of fighting sin. Just saying ‘no’ or taking cold showers is not a way to fight something that has a first-place in our hearts. The only thing that roots out sin is to replace that sin with a higher or greater love. Loving Christ more than we love sin breaks its attraction and therefore its power over us.
Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) preached a sermon entitled The expulsive power of a new affection in which he set out exactly how the Christian can and should fight sin:
Salvation by grace, salvation by free grace, salvation not by obedience but according to the mercy of God, is indispensable. . . to. . . godliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel. . . and you take away the power of the Gospel to melt and reconcile. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity of the Gospel which so many dread as the germ of Antinomianism [permission to sin without consequence], is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against sin.
Along with the light of a free Gospel, the love of the Gospel enters. To the measure that you impair Gospel freeness, you also chase away this love. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart as a devoted thing to God, and to eschew ungodliness.
[Why is this grateful love so important?] It is rare that any of our [bad habits or flaws] disappear by a mere process of natural extinction. At least, it is very seldom that this is done through the process of reasoning. . . or by the force of mental determination. But what cannot be destroyed may be thrown out—just as one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its power entirely as the reigning affection in the mind.
So, eventually, a boy may cease to be a slave of his appetite. How? Because a [more 'mature'] taste has brought it into subordination. The youth ceases to idolize [sensual] pleasure. Why? Because the idol of wealth has. . . gotten the ascendancy. Even the love of money can cease to have mastery over the heart because it is drawn into the whirl of [ideology and politics] and he is now lorded over by a love of power [and moral superiority]. But in none of these transformations is the heart left without an object to worship. Its desire for one particular object may be conquered—but its desire to have some object. . . is unconquerable. . . .
The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one. . . It is only. . . when, through faith in Jesus Christ, as we are received as God’s children, that the spirit of adoption is poured out on us—and the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires. That is the only way that deliverance is possible.
Thus, for true change to occur. . . it is not enough. . . to hold out to the world a mirror of its own imperfections. It is not enough to demonstrate the evanescent character of your Christian life. . . or to speak to the conscience. . . of its foolishness. . . Rather, try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts, for the love of Him who is greater than the world.
4) Go to others that they might be God’s change-agents in your life
Christian growth comes in and through community. Sexual sin has a hold on us because we do not use the resources God has given to fight it. That resource includes others. Rick Warren writes:
If you’re losing the battle against a persistent bad habit, an addiction, or a temptation, and you’re stuck in a repeating cycle of good intention-failure-guilt, you will not get better on your own. You need the help of other people. Some temptations are only overcome with the help of a partner who prays for you, encourages you, and holds you accountable.
a) Who are you willing and able to talk to about these issues?
b) Who is going to remind you of the gospel in the midst of your struggle?
c) What accountability can you build into these relationships?
d) What protections can you put in place to help you in the fight?
Conclusion – Hope and the power of the gospel
What seems so small and so weak (an acorn) has the power to break even the strongest stone. So the gospel is powerful to set you free from even the most besetting of sins. However you feel about the battle with lust the gospel is able not only to save you from your sins and to comfort you in your falls but to give you some level of victory over sins like lust.
Tim Keller tells the following story about the power of the gospel that is in you.
A minister was in Italy, and there he saw the grave of a man who had died centuries before who was an unbeliever and completely against Christianity, but a little afraid of it too. So the man had a huge stone slab put over his grave so he would not have to be raised from the dead in case there is a resurrection from the dead. He had insignias put all over the slab saying, “I do not want to be raised from the dead. I don’t believe in it.” Evidently, when he was buried, an acorn must have fallen into the grave. So a hundred years later the acorn had grown up through the grave and split that slab. It was now a tall towering oak tree. The minister looked at it and asked, “If an acorn, which has power of biological life in it, can split a slab of that magnitude, what can the acorn of God’s resurrection power do in a person’s life?”
The minute you decide to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, the power of the Holy Spirit comes into your life. It’s the power of the resurrection—the same thing that raised Jesus from the dead …. Think of the things you see as immovable slabs in your life—your bitterness, your insecurity, your fears, your self-doubts. Those things can be split and rolled off. The more you know him, the more you grow into the power of the resurrection.
Post-script: Why marriage won’t fix things
It’s not about sex, not even about lust, it’s about you and the gospel. Tim Chester comments,
It you’re not yet married, porn is a sin against your future wife. You’re also creating a set of expectations that bears no relation to real sex or real marriage. You’re storing up a database of images that will compete with your future wife. You’re gifting the devil, a reservoir of temptations to use against you.
Using porn is a bad way of preparing not to use it when you’re married! Every time you use porn, you’re giving it more control over your heart. You’re sowing a bitter harvest for your married life.
The closing story of my sermon from Sunday evening and in particular Philippians 1:12…
I want to leave you with the story, the true story of the man who advanced the gospel even on the deck of the titanic. The story is itself told in this book The Titanic’s Last Hero by Moody Adams.
On the night that the Titanic sunk, and those 1500 lives were lost, the widower John Harper was travelling with his 6 year old daughter Nana en route to Chicago. Harper was also a Christian, and a church minister on his way to Chicago to preach at Moody Chapel.
When the iceberg struck and the evacuations began, Harper immediately took his daughter to a lifeboat. He bent down and having kissed his little girl, he said goodbye, telling her that she would see him again someday.
As the waters rose and the ship began to lurch upwards, accounts tell of how little Harper thought of his own situation instead his concern were others in danger of death who did not know Christ. Perhaps he could have pleaded to accompany his daughter who was otherwise orphaned but accounts tell of how he choose to spend those final hours seeking to save others. He was seen making his way up the deck yelling, “Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats!”
On that fateful night 1528 people went into the freezing waters. Survivors tell of how John Harper could be seen swimming desperately between those in the waters talking to them of Christ and seeking to lead them to faith in him in their dying moments. He swam up to one young man who had climbed up on a piece of debris and asked him between breaths, “Are you saved?” The young man replied that he was not.
Harper tried to lead him to Christ but the man refused him. Harper responded by taking off his life jacket, throwing it to the man saying, “Here then, you need this more than I do…” Harper swam away to seek to lead other dying men to Christ. Amazingly, a few minutes later Harper swam back to the young man and succeeded in leading him to faith in Christ.
You might ask how we know of what happened in that conversation between two dying men. Of the 1528 people in those freezing waters only six were rescued by the lifeboats, remarkably one of them was the young man. Four years later, at a survivors’ meeting, he spoke of how Harper had led him to faith in Christ. He also described how Harper had tried to swim back to help other people, before finally succumbing through fatigue and the intense cold. Harper’s last words before his death in those North Atlantic waters were, “Believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”
God has you where he wants you. For Paul that was a prison cell in a Roman jail. For Harper it was on-board the Titanic and both men knew that God had them where he wanted them so that the gospel may advance.
To live is Christ, to die is gain
The book’s tribute continues
While the flames of other ambitions flickered and died, John Harper’s burned even brighter as he sank into a watery grave. When death forced others to face the folly of life’s pursuits, John Harper’s goal of winning men to Jesus Christ became more vital as he breathed his final breaths.
(HT: Gerard Chrispin and his commentary Philippians for today: Priorities from Prison in which I found this remarkable story.)
The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at any time heaven and earth should flee away at His glance. If He were the truth, then we could really say that all the Christian images-of kingship were a historical accident of which our religion ought to be cleansed.
It is with a shock that we discover them to be indispensable. You have had a shock like that before, in connection with smaller matters –when the line pulls at your hand, when something breathes beside you in the darkness. So here; the shock comes at the precise moment when the thrill of life is communicated to us along the clue we have been following. It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. “Look out! ” we cry, “it’s alive.” And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back–I would have done so myself if I could–and proceed no further with Christianity. An “impersonal God” -well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads –better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap –best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband-that is quite another matter.
There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God”!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?
John Stott as a young man was a pacifist even going so far as to join the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship during the second world war. Reflecting on that time he said:
I was sent to at least three clergymen to be sorted out, and looking back I am really horrified at how badly they dealt with me. Not one of them introduced my mind to the concept of the just war. I had never heard of the just war theory.
But as Timothy Dudley Smith records, The day would come when his own study of the Scriptures would carry him beyond any simplistic viewpoint and he would resign his membership [of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship].
What Stott discovered is that when it comes to what the Bible teaches not all killing is forbidden. All death is a tragedy but not always a breach of the 6th commandment. Stott rooted this theology of just war in Romans 13:1-7 in which Paul teaches that God has given authority to the state to act as an agent of his justice in this world which extends to taking life. In his Bible Speaks Today commentary Stott argues from Romans 13:1-7 that the state has an authority from God to act as his agent to take life. In summary form he argues;
The state has a God-given authority and a God-given role (v.1)
(remember than when Paul was writing there were NO Christian authorities)
To rebel against the state is to rebel against God (v.2)
Three times Paul tells us that the state is God’s servant (v.4a, 4c, 6)
That role includes rewarding those who do good (v.3, 4)
That role includes punishing those who do evil (v.4)
The punishment extends to taking of life (v.4)
Christians should submit to the authority of the state not only because of fear but conscience (v.5)
Turn the other cheek?
What then should we do with passages of the Bible that seem to suggest that Christians are to turn the other cheek? Passages to which Stott himself appealed as a young man? In his book Issues facing Christians today Stott addresses the issue of just war and focuses our attention on the fact that the very verses that preceed Romans 13:1-7, are a call for Christians to love their enemies, Romans 12:17-21. Clearly Paul is not seeking to contradict himself here.
The reason why wrath, revenge and retribution are forbidden us is not because they are in themselves wrong reactions to evil, but because they are God’s prerogative, not ours…It is better, then, to see the end of Romans 12 and the beginning of Romans 13 as complementary to one another.
And here is his key conclusion:
Members of God’s new community can be both private individuals and state officials. In the former role we are never to take personal revenge or repay evil for evil, but rather we are to bless our persecutors(12:14),serve our enemies (12:20) and seek to overcome evil with good (12:21). In the latter role, however, if we are called by God to serve as police or prison officers or judges, we are God’s agents in the punishment of evil-doers. True, ‘vengence’ and ‘wrath’ belong to God, but one way in which he executes his judgement on evil-doers today is through the state.
Stott then sees a natural extension of the same Scriptural principles when the disturber of the peace is not just an individual or group but another nation. The state’s God-given authority encompasses restraint and resistance of evildoers who are aggressors rather than criminals, and so the protection of its citizen’s rights when threatened from outside as well as from inside.
And so John Stott came to change his mind. We cannot say that war is wrong in itself. War has sometimes been, and maybe again, the weapon of God’s wrath and righteous judgment.
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