This is the third post in a look at the question ‘What is marriage?’ We began by recongising that there are at least 5 reasons why we need to look at this issue afresh. In the last post we considered the consequences that have flowed from the radical redefinition of marriage from covenant to contract that has taken place in our society since the 1960’s.
Now I want us to reflect on just how what the Bible teaches us about marriage as a covenant relationship changes the way we might think about marriage. The five headings I’m using come from Andreas Kostenberger’s book God, marriage and family. As we go through each one I’m going to touch briefly on how a marriage covenant points us to a better understanding of God who has made a covenant with us in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If marriage were merely a contract between two parties then it could be temporary but because it is covenant established by God it is permanent. Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:4-6 and in particular his conclusion ‘what God has joined together let not man separate’ makes that clear.When Christians marry we must never marry thinking to ourselves well if things don’t work out for me in this relationship, if I am unhappy, unfulfilled, or if our lives are pulling in different directions then I can always leave.
As Tim Keller says ‘to break faith with your spouse is to break faith with God at the same time.’
James Dobson wrote a letter to his finance shortly before their wedding day and he said ‘I want you to understand and be fully aware of my feelings concerning the marriage covenant we are about to enter. I have been taught at my mother’s knee and in conformity to the word of God that the marriage vows are inviolable and my entering into them I am binding myself absolutely and for life – the idea of estrangement from you through divorce for any reason at all will never be permitted to enter my thinking. I’m not naive on this on the contrary I’m fully aware of the possibility, unlikely as it now appears, that mutual incompatibility or other unforeseen circumstances could result in extreme mental suffering. If such becomes the case I am resolved for my part to accept it as a consequence of the commitment I am now making and to bear if necessary to the end of our lives together.’
How does this point us to God?
This costly sacrifice that comes from committing ourselves by way of covenant is what we see demonstrated by God in the gospel. He made a covenant to love us and he has kept that covenant even though it caused considerable pain to do so.
2. The sacredness of marriage
Because marriage is a relationship not just ordained by God but as John Stott says ‘sealed by God’ only God can end a marriage. It is not for us to decide that a marriage is finished but for God to say it may be finished. Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:1-12 address marriage, divorce and singleness and in this series we will spend quite a bit of time in this passage. In his comments on divorce we read very sobering words that tell us that if we end a marriage for reasons that God has not permitted then any subsequent remarriage is sinful and adulterous. Jesus says, Matt. 19v.9, I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.’ What Jesus teaches in this declaration is that there might be divorces that, whatever we might like to think, are not divorces in God’s eyes. For him the first marriage is not over.
Sealed by God, our marriages are sacred. As his children so we must therefore work on my marriage, invest in it, nurture and feed it.
How does this point us to God? In the gospel we see God practicing what he preaches. However weak our love is and however many times we may fail God his covenant loyalty means that he will not break promise with us or himself. It is a sacred bond. Our relationship with God is not performance-based and he will not withhold his love or his affection because we struggle to honour our commitments. That said, Scripture’s warning is also clear that if we deny Christ and forsake him our covenant with God is broken. ‘If we disown him, he will also disown us’ (2 Tim. 2:12).
3. The intimacy of marriage
In the beginning God says everything in his perfect world is good. That is the constant refrain of chapter 1. But there is one thing that is not good and that is that the man is alone. Now, interestingly, God says it is not good before Adam appears to have noticed that it is not good. There is no evidence in the passage that Adam is lonely. As Christopher Ash points out in Married for God ‘marriage is not there to solve the problems of loneliness.’
Our culture tells us that we will be unfulfilled unless we one day marry. That is not so. In heaven we will not be married, the Lord Jesus never married and many Christians down the ages have testified to lives lived fully for Christ as single people. We will return to this theme later. Rather it is the job that God has given Adam to do that means it is not good for him to be alone.
Marriage is a gift of God to help us fulfil the work God has given us to do. In Genesis 1v27-28 we read ‘so God created man, in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number’
Part of God’s purpose for marriage is godly offspring. Christopher Ash says ‘we ought to want children in marriage because we want to serve God. The Creator entrusts to married couples the awesome privilege and responsibility of pro-creating.’
There are many ways to serve God but the distinctive way in which couples in marriage are to serve God is bringing up godly children. Ash says ‘never despise the significance of parenthood in the service of God! For many, especially mothers what they do as parents will prove more significant in eternity than the most glittering careers in the eyes of the world.’
God’s purpose for marriage addresses two big questions of our day.
Why would God not approve of same-sex marriage?
If marriage is about companionship then it might be that a stable, loving, committed homosexual relationship would be considered equal in God’s eyes with a heterosexual one. But, whilst not the only argument against that conclusion, a key one is that God’s purposes in marriage are pro-creation. I want to point you to this little book called Is God anti-gay? It’s written by a friend of mine, who is a church leader and whilst preferring not to use the title ‘gay’ to describe himself he is someone who is attracted to other men. Drawing on those words of Genesis 1 he says ‘God’s purposes in marriage depend on hetero-sexual relations.’ Marriage is designed to bring children into the world.
Whilst in a perfect world God’s design for every marriage is children, living as we do this side of the fall, sadly, not every marriage enjoys the blessing of children. Jane and I know something of that pain personally having waited 12 years to have kids. If this a personal struggle for you or friends can I commend the book Just the two of us written by a friend.
Why is sex outside of marriage wrong?
God’s design for marriage is that Adam and Eve should express their perfect intimacy through the union of their bodies. In Genesis 2:24 we read ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.’ Sex is the body-language of perfect self-giving intimacy that befits marriage. Sex outside of marriage is to tell a lie with our bodies because when we give our bodies to another – when we are united to them – and yet are not commitment to them through the marriage bond we make one promise with our bodies that we are not ready to make with our whole lives.
The intimacy of marriage does point us to the greater intimacy that God offers to us in the gospel. At the very end of the Bible, in Revelation 21:4, we read ‘God will wipe every tear from their eyes.’ Our need for close, intimate relationship will be fully met in Christ. What many of us are looking for from a marriage is actually to be found in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the next post two further ways in which marriage as covenant changes our view of marriage.
What is marriage?
There can be no doubt that one of the most significant events of 2013 was the passing of legislation by Parliament re-defining marriage. At the heart of the debate, whether acknowledged or not , was the question ‘what kind of relationship is marriage?’ And the reason that Christians and our non-Christian friends have found ourselves talking past each other and have failed to find any common ground is simply this; in our society there has been a silent revolution that has taken place over the past 40 years or more in which marriage has ceased to be understood as a covenant and come to be understood as a contract.
What is the difference?
At the heart of the idea of marriage as contract, Tim Keller argues, is the idea that personal fulfilment and individual happiness. So much so that therefore ‘we stay connected to people only as long as they are meeting our particular needs.’ Many might talk of a marriage being over because ‘we have fallen out of love,’ or ‘have drifted apart.’ Marriage vows still give the impression that marriage is a covenant – huge life-long promises are still made – yet the change in mindset that has also seen the introduction of no-fault divorce demonstrating the reality that marriage in our culture is a contract masquerading as a covenant.
Unlike a contract, in covenants we bind ourselves to another ‘come what may.’ The relationship, rather than personal fulfilment, is the centre. Keller argues that perhaps the only covenantal relationship that we can still relate to in our culture is that of parent and child. Parents put the child and the relationship ahead of individual happiness and comfort. Parents sacrifice and serve and seek the well-being of the other ahead of their own. It’s practically unthinkable to imagine someone coming into work announcing that their relationship with their kids was over. Well until relatively recent times it was almost as unthinkable that the marriage relationship could end.
Here’s a table showing how the change from covenant to contract has impacted marriage. In 2011 there were 117558 divorces, in 1860 there were 103. After the 1969 reform act the figures grow exponentially. Why was divorce so rare for so long? Because in our culture marriage was regarded as a binding covenant.
At least three things flow from this biggest redefinition of marriage away from covenant to contract.
1. Falling marriage rates. The reason people say marriage is ‘just a piece of paper’ is because they are viewing it as an economic contract. Whether or not to marry at all is now really no different from going into the phone shop and weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of a contract phone vs. pay as you go. Co-habitation is simply pay as you go. So the table tracks that general decline over 40 years.
2. General acceptance of no fault divorce ad steep rises in divorce rate. Again, that’s what the table shows us.
3. Freedom to redefine marriage and therefore who may enter the relationship. Why should we exclude same-sex couples who wish to make their commitment to each other if marriage is a contract the terms of which we define. And now that same-sex marriage has been accepted by society it’s not surprising that growing numbers of people want polygamous relationships recognised too. Why should we limit a love agreement to 2 people? So in Brazil last year a civil union was established between a man and two women.
What does this mean for Christians and their view of marriage?
The real danger for us in establishing healthy marriages will probably not come from the challenge presented by the re-definition of marriage that took place last year but the cultural shift that represents the redefinition of marriage from covenant to contract over the past 40 years. What tv and Hollywood have done to redefine marriage is far more likely to shape the way you think about marriage, even your own, than recent events.
Tim Keller writes ‘the very idea of ‘covenant’ is disappearing in our culture. Covenant is therefore a concept that is increasingly foreign to us, and yet the Bible says it is the essence of marriage, so we must take time to understand it.’
For, as we will see in our next post, Jesus says marriage is not a contract but a covenant.
So far in this series we’ve considered how preaching needs to be both biblical and gospel-centred. A sermon is biblical if the big idea of the passage being preached is the main application of the text. A sermon is gospel-driven if the preacher shows how the big idea of the passage is fulfilled in Christ and points to him as saviour and Lord. We turn now to consider gospel-driven preaching.
What is gospel-driven preaching?
A gospel-driven sermon is one that not merely shows how the passage is fulfilled in the gospel but then builds further to show how the gospel enables both our justification and sanctification. The gospel enables the Christian life from beginning to end and thus drives our lives.
Whether or not we have grasped how the gospel enables our obedience of faith will shape the way we preach. Bryan Chapell has said Ultimately, the issue all preachers must confront is what they believe to be the relationship between people’s conduct and God’s acceptance.
How does gospel-driven preaching work?
1. The goal of gospel-driven sermons is to make real to everyone who hears them, both Christian and non-Christian, that they need Jesus more today than yesterday. In particular the Christian increasingly grasps the sense in which he needs to continually trust in Christ and look to him in order to live the life he wants to live.
2. In application, gospel-driven sermons celebrate that the Christian life from beginning to end is a work of grace and a work of God. Our justification is a free gift of God and our sanctification flows from our justification as the spirit-enabled work of God in our lives.
Typically, as we consider Christ, we ask that by his Spirit he might stir up godly-affections, renew our minds and motivate our wills to live for him. But importantly we give the necessary time and consideration to ask just how the gospel, rightly appropriated, can enable the life of faith.
Reading through Ephesians 4:17 to 6:9 we see, time and again that Paul uses gospel indicatives to drive gospel imperatives. Perhaps the most developed example in this passage is Paul’s instruction to husbands to love their wives. He gives us gospel reasons and incentives to obey: we love our wives because Christ loves the church. But through-out the section we find micro-examples eg. don’t get drunk on wine but be filled with the Spirit.
5:1-2 summarises the principle when Paul says Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Good preaching won’t just tell you to do it but will i) move you to obedience and ii) show you what that obedience looks like.
3. Gospel-driven sermon must avoid both legalism and moralism
Tim Keller has helped me, more than any other, to realise that the non-Christian listening to your sermon thinks your message, unless you correct him, is one of legalism. He thinks that religion amounts to ‘obey to be accepted.’ The gospel of justification is the message of free grace. It says ‘because you are accepted, obey!’ Romans 6, Romans 12:1-2, Titus 2:11-14.
The Christian listening to your sermon thinks the message of the gospel is moralism where Christianity amounts to ‘because Jesus has done this for you, you now do this for him.’ Moralistic preaching has terrible consequences for both the individial believer and the church.
The basic problem, is that even Christians do not ordinarily live as if the gospel is true. We don’t really believe the gospel deep down. We are living as if we save ourselves. – Tim Keller
4. Gospel-driven application works hard to make the connection between
- The message of the text as understood by its original hearers
- How it is fulfilled in Christ
- How it leads to gospel change in the lives of Christians and non-Christians
5. Gospel sermons recreate what Tim Keller calls the gospel-renewal dynamic.
At the heart of gospel-driven preaching is the fundamental conviction that the Christian life we are called to live is one we cannot live but Christ can live in us.
[Gospel] preaching assures God’s people that their relationship with him is secure by virtue of God’s provision [and] nourishes the faith that becomes the motivation and enablement of true holiness. God’s people serve God out of love for him and with confidence of his provision. – Bryan Chapell.
6. The result of all of this is that gospel sermons preach the gospel to Christians and non-Christians at one and the same time.
As Keller has often said we need to preach the gospel to the Christian because she needs it for sanctification and the non-Christian who needs it for sanctification.
Some questions to ask of our sermon:
• How do I know that I have preached a gospel sermon over against a moralistic one?
• Have I just told people to obey, to ‘just do it’?
• Have they left thinking that the life the gospel calls on them to try harder?
• Is the heart of my application that the Christian life is a life we cannot live, that Jesus has lived for us and now in him we can begin to live.
In the first extract from my seminar notes on ‘Gospel-centred Biblical preaching’ I focused on the need for preaching to be preaching that does not abuse the text of scripture, nor even use the text of Scripture but serve the text of Scripture. Biblical preaching is preaching in which the Bible sets the agenda for the content of the sermon because the big idea of the passage is the main application of the text.
However, it’s not enough to be biblical (in that sense). Every sermon needs to be biblical in that it is Christ or gospel-centred. In this post we ask how Jesus is the answer to every question a sermon raises, the fulfilment of every hope put forth and therefore the centre of every text.
1. Every text is there to teach us about Jesus
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27 NIV)
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom 15:4 NIV)
The Bible is not Christ-centered because it is generally about Jesus. It is Christ-centered because the Bible’s primary purpose, from beginning to end, is to point us toward the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the salvation and sanctification of sinners. – Darrin Patrick
2. Every text teaches us of our need for a Saviour
A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle, and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution. However grand the language it will be merely much-ado-about-nothing if Christ be not there. And I mean by Christ not merely his example and the ethical precepts of his teaching, but his atoning blood, his wondrous satisfaction made for human sin, and the grand doctrine of ‘believe and live. – C.H. Spurgeon
What does this all look like?
There are a growing number of good books and resources showing how to find Christ and I particularly commend Preaching the whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graham Goldsworthy.
Tim Keller has said
Once you know that all the lines of all the stories and all the climaxes of the inter-canonical
themes converge on Christ, you simply can’t not see that every text is about Jesus. For example:
+ Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is now imputed
to us (1 Cor. 15).
+ Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood that cries out for our acquittal,
not our condemnation (Heb. 12:24).
+ Jesus is the true and better Abraham, who answered the call of God to leave all that was comfortable and
familiar out of obedience to God.
+ Jesus is the true and better Isaac, who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was in the
end sacrificed for us all. God said to Abraham, “now I know you love me, because you did not withhold
your son, your only son whom you love, from me.” Now we can say to God, “now I know that you love me,
because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love, from me.”
+ Jesus is true and better Jacob, who wrestled with God and took the blow of justice we deserved. Now we,
like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
+ Jesus is the true and better Joseph, who sat at the right hand of the king, and used his power to forgive
and save those who betrayed and sold him.
+ Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord, who mediates
a new covenant (Heb. 3).
+ Jesus is the true and better Job —the innocent sufferer who then intercedes for his foolish friends (Job 42).
+ Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory against Goliath was imputed to his people, even though
they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
+ Jesus is the true and better Esther, who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but a heavenly one, and
who didn’t just risk his life but gave it—to save his people.
+ Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so the rest of the ship could be brought
I’ve also been helped to see that when it comes to a specific narrative the ‘hero’ functions in that story in 1 of 3 roles.
• a type of Christ – see Keller’s examples above
• a type of believer trusting in Christ – that could be Abraham being justified by faith Gen. 15, Rom. 4 or David confessing his sin in the psalms eg. Psalms 32, 51.
• a type of unbeliever needing to trust in Christ – for example Abraham in Egypt, Gen. 12.
Let’s take one passage as an example of how New Testament authors quite clearly find Christ in Old Testament narrative – Exodus 2:11-25.
In this passage Moses strikes dead the Egyptian beating one of his own people. How should we find Christ here? When I preached this passage recently I called it God’s rescuer renounces his royal throne to rescue his brother(s). Two very important New Testament texts help us with this passage; Heb 11:24-26 and Acts 7:23-25. In them we find Moses commended for his actions.
Hebrews reminds us that Moses gave up a kingdom to rescue a people because he knew he would inherit a better kingdom
Acts reminds us that the one God raised up to rescue his people rejected him as their rescuer.
So in my sermon I argued that
Jesus is the greater Moses because he saw the suffering of his people and decided to get involved in our world. He is the greater Moses because didn’t forsake a human throne to come to the aid of his brothers he left his throne in heaven to save us. He is the greater Moses because he chose to suffer with his people not just in experiencing loss of status and reputation but choosing to suffer to the extent that he gave his life to death on a cross He is the true Moses because he delivers his people not just from slavery to Pharaoh but from sin and death itself through his own resurrection. Jesus is the true and better Moses because he too was prepared by God to deliver his people through suffering…
3. Every sermon must centre on Jesus
Biblical preaching is gospel-centred preaching. It shows us Christ as our only hope but does so not by
a. assuming the gospel (but not stating it). So in the sermon we learn about faith and life through David, Joshua, etc. but Christ is not mentioned.
b. bolting on the gospel in a way that eases our conscience but is not from the text. We hear valuable gospel truths but cannot relate them to the passage preached.
Instead it shows us Christ as saviour and Lord from a careful application of the passage demonstrating how it always pointed us to Christ.
In the next post we will look at what it means for preaching to be not just gospel-centred but gospel-driven.
Over this past week I’ve taken part in this year’s City to City Europe conference in Prague. Over 200 church-planters from over 60 cities throughout Europe attended and I was asked to speak at a break-out session on the theme of gospel-driven, biblical preaching.
Here are the first part of my notes on what makes for biblical preaching.
A. Biblical Preaching
1. What is biblical preaching?
Biblical preaching is not preaching that beings with a passage being read. As Hadden Robinson has said the Bible doesn’t function like the national anthem before an international sports match. We don’t use it to introduce the fact that a sermon is on the way but then close the bible for the duration of the sermon.
Biblical preaching is not preaching that uses the Bible. Many sermons mention the passage but that does not make a sermon biblical.
Biblical preaching is preaching where the meaning of the passage is the main application of the sermon.
2. Why biblical preaching?
The preacher does not decide what the church needs to hear. Our authority is in the text and our commission is to preach the word.
A faithful preacher should serve the text – Bryan Chapell.
3. Paul’s warning and instruction to Timothy
- There will be those in the church who preach false gospels. Superficially attractive, but without power – 2 Timothy. 3:1-6
- Our role as gospel ministers is to preach the word – 2 Timothy 4:1-5
- Our role is to be a workman who correctly handles the word of God – 2 Timothy 2:15
4. Why might planters be resistant to biblical preaching?
a. To invest considerable time and energy each week in preparing and the preaching Biblical sermons is costly. Time spent doing other things may have to be sacrificed.
b. To put our confidence in a ministry that appears weak, foolish and ineffective is a battle for planters who are seeking quick results.
• Modern trends in preaching deny the authority of the Word in the name of intellectual sophistication – Chappell
• We could add to that a desire for contemporary relevance
• We could add to that a quest for popularity
c. We find it easier to try and do the work of God in our own way
When our goal is to grow a church our temptation is to find easier ways.
For our preaching, the sermon takes on even greater importance as you must be well prepared every week. In general, our experience at Redeemer is that writing sermons takes twice as long as other places. This is because of the need to be clear, concise, logical, winsome, intellectually challenging and personable – all while being accurate. – Tim Keller
5. A definition of biblical preaching
Biblical preaching expounds (explains) the text and applies it.
a. An expository sermon may be defined as a message
i) whose structure and thought are derived from a biblical text,
ii) that covers the scope of the text,
iii) and that explains the features and context of the text
iv) in order to disclose the enduring principles of faithful thinking. Bryan Chapell in Christ-centered biblical preaching
b. Expository preaching points preachers to the biblical text with the instruction begin here…the text itself is the source of the truths we ultimately present. Chapell.
c. Expository preaching sticks closely to the text through-out the sermon showing the hearer why and how we have arrived at a conclusion.
B. Consecutive Biblical preaching
1. A strong case can be made for expository preaching that works through books of the Bible rather than individual passages.
a. The Bible was written in books and the big idea of the book is developed through a series of sermons.
• Sometimes the idea of the book is explicitly stated eg. 1 John 5:13, 1 Peter 5:12,
• Sometimes the idea of the book is there waiting to be discovered eg Col. 2:6-7,
b. Consecutive preaching models how we sit under the Bible as a congregation. Not picking our favourite verses or passages but working through the whole Bible.
c. Consecutive preaching exposes our blind-spots as we preach through passages and explore ideas that we might wish weren’t there but that the text sets before us.
2. Expository preaching, once practised, liberates us from the fear of running out of ideas. We no longer have to think ‘what shall I preach on this week’ because the passage set before us determines our big ideas.
3. Consecutive expository preaching requires even more work (!). For example not just showing the relationship between ideas in the passage for an individual sermon but by having to demonstrate the flow of themes and ideas through a book.
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
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.
She has millions in the bank and a football hunk in her bed – but Victoria Beckham insists she still needs to prove herself every day. The singer and designer puts her success down to hard work and admitted her self-esteem often needed boosting. So began a piece in yesterday’s Metro newspaper reporting the edited highlights of an interview in this month’s Elle magazine with Posh. She says of herself;
When I was on-stage with the Spice Girls, I thought people were there to see the other four and not me. And when I go out with David and people take pictures I think, “They’re here to take David’s pictures.
On her move into the fashion industry she reveals how her fears about herself continue to fuel her ambitions. It was never my intention to prove anybody wrong. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I don’t have to work, I need to work.
What’s more her insecurities find their own expression not just in the need to work but in the way she works. Admitting to being a ‘control freak’ she confesses You’ve got to trust people. Sometimes that’s difficult for me because I want to micro-manage absolutely everything. I can’t hand over. But I’m trying to do that more.
What Victoria Beckham recognises is that our fundamental insecurities about who we are and why we matter often find expression in our work. Whether that is the barely suppressed envy of colleagues or our need to control others or even the need to better them through overwork and unhealthy ambition, we are really struggling with our own identity and place in the world.
Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavour is a book in which he not only highlights these realities and their source but sets out just how the gospel is able to transform our work lives. Through the gospel we no longer need to work for an identity (which will always leave us insecure) but from an identity, given to us in Jesus Christ. Accepted by God, chosen and dearly loved, adopted as his children, our motives for work are transformed. Keller writes;
The truth will change your identity. It will convince you of your real, inestimable value. And ironically, when you see how much you are loved, your work will become far less selfish. Suddenly all the other things in your work life – your influence, your resume,and the benefits they bring you – become just things. You can risk them, spend them, and even lose them. You are free.
Taking the example of Esther in the Bible who as a royal Queen became a person of greatness not by trying to make a name for herself; and you will become a person of greatness not by trying to make yourself into one, but by serving the One who said to his Father, “For your sake, thy will be done.
Tim Keller’s new book Every good endeavour is the subject of conversation on an American TV breakfast show.
In essence the book explores how the gospel of Christ shapes our attitude to work. In the interview Keller says ‘When you make your work your identity you identify with your work and that means if you’re successful it destroys you because it goes to your head. If you’re not successful it destroys you because it goes to your heart and it destroys your self-worth.
Faith gives you an identity that’s not in work or accomplishment and that gives you protection. If successful you stay humble if you’re not successful you have some ballast.
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