Monday, April 24, 2006

Thunder Over Louisville 2006

A clip I took from the largest fireworks display in America this past Saturday.

Video Hosting - Upload Video - Photo Sharing

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Killing two lies (fear and pride) with one truth (God's sovereignty)

Psa. 50:11 “I know every bird of the mountains,
And everything that moves in the field is Mine."

Matt. 6:26 “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them."

Matt. 10:29 “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father."

Luke 12:6 “Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God."

Matt. 10:31 “So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows."

The glory of repetition

Doug Wilson writes,
Remember the glory of routine. The sun comes up every morning, and when it did so this morning, it did not come up tired and listless, muttering something about six thousand years of this.

The thing which keeps us from exulting in repetitive actions is simply this – sin. We are called to a life of cycles, and this is to be our glory. The pattern of inscrutable repetitions that is set out in the book of Ecclesiastes is something which the righteous, righteous only by grace, can enjoy. This enjoyment is wisdom in a world of vanity.

And this includes our worship. We gather here, again, to do many of the same things, again, and it would be easy to drift off the point. We have a call to worship. We confess our sins. We sing. We pray. We hear the sermon. We eat.

The sinful mind thinks that repetition is the signal to stop thinking, and wander off to something else. But the wise know that repetition is the signal to think about the need for repetition, and the nature of it, and the kindness resident in it.

Take to remember – this service of worship to God is glory to Him, and it is food for us. And a hungry man does not complain about the repetitive nature of the act of eating.

Friday, April 14, 2006

A Good Friday meditation

The Bible presents the atonement as a diamond, having many different facets to its glory. On this Good Friday, we would do well to spend time meditating on some of these.

1) Penal Substitution - I believe this is the heart of gospel and the one aspect of the atonement on which all others are built. When Christ died on the cross, he died in our place and the death was necessary because the judgment he took upon himself was the judgment of a holy God against our sin (i.e. penal). He took our sin and its penalty upon himself. God cannot overlook sin. Either we pay for our own sin, or He provides a substitution.

Gen. 22:1-14, Levi. 4-7, Isaiah 53:4-10, Mk. 10:45, Matt. 20:28, John 10:11-15, Gal. 3:13, Heb. 2:9, Rom. 5:6, 8, 8:32, 2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 2:20, Eph. 5:2, 25, 1 Tim. 2:6, Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 3:18, Heb. 7:26-27, 1 Pet. 2:24, 1 John 2:2

2) Sacrifice - This is included in the very notion of substitution. Christ gives himself as a sacrifice for our sin. Leviticus established a system of blood sacrifice for sin. Yet not just any lamb would do. The lamb had to be blameless, pointing to the sinlessness of Christ. Yet we see that the blood of bulls does not take away sin (Heb. 10:4), so how is it that God forgave sin in the OT? The OT sacrifices are legally tied to the future coming of Christ, apart from which the sacrifices are of no avail. If the blood of bull of goats will do, then why send a savior. Therefore, they are efficacious only in being tied to a future payment, which is in itself fully efficacious.

A helpful example I have heard is buying with a credit card. When we "buy" with credit, we don't actually pay any money, but we sign a legal agreement to a future payment that is so binding because we pledge ourselves to a future payment. Yet, apart from that future payment, the signing means nothing. All the value is in the future payment. Similarly, God forgives sin only on the basis of the future sacrifice that He knows is coming. The wages of sin is death and we owe death for our sin. Animal sacrifices are not adequate. So how is God just in forgiving OT sin? Only in the cross of Christ.

Heb. 9:22, 26, Eph. 1:7, Titus 2:14, 1 Pet. 1:17-20, 2:21-24, 3:18, 1 John 3:5, John 1:29

3) Redemption - Christ’s giving his life as the payment price needed to secure our release from the bondage and guilt of sin. Christ is the one who redeemed you, purchased you. To be a Christian is to belong to one who has bought you and owns you. It is important that we realize that this purchase is made to God. The ransom payment is not to Satan. This would wrongly imply Satan’s autonomous authority. Rather, God’s payment was to God. God’s mercy and love devised a means by which He could pay what God’s justice and holiness demanded.

Heb. 9:14-15, 1 Cor. 6:20, Gal. 3:13, 2 Pet. 2:1, Rev. 5:9, Luke 24:21, Titus 2:14, 1 Pet. 1:18-19

4) Propitiation - This is the appeasement or satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin because of Christ’s payment for our sin and guilt by his death on the cross. So propitiation has implicit substitution. The bad news of the Bible is as bad as it gets: God is wrathful towards us as guilty sinners. The good news of the Bible is as good as it can be: God’s wrath is propitiated, satisfied in the death of another on our behalf.

Rom. 3:25, Heb. 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 4:10

5) Expiation - This is the removal from us sinners of the liability or necessity to suffer sin’s penalty. This is accomplished by the death of Christ. Yet this is only appropriated, efficacious by faith.

2 Cor. 5:17-21, Col. 2:13-14

6) Reconciliation - Through the atonement, there is a change of relationship where alienation and enmity are replaced by peace and acceptance. Before the cross, we were haters toward God (unreasonably so) and He is wrathful towards us (righteously so). So there was needed some kind of intervention to deal with our alienation. So who intervenes? God, the offended party! God sent His Son to remove the enmity between us and God. And now our relationship with God is marked by peace and acceptance.

Yet we see that reconciliation through the cross happens not only horizontally but vertically (Eph. 2:16). The power of the gospel is demonstrated in reconciling those who were at enmity w/ God and those who were at enmity with each other. Therefore, social reconciliation is part and parcel with the gospel. Church planting that never gets out of homogenous church growth is one that doesn’t get the gospel. Horizontal and vertical reconciliation goes together.

Rom. 5:10, 2 Cor. 5:17-20, Eph. 2:16, Col. 1:20-22

7) Christus Victor - Through the cross, Christ is the victor over the powers of darkness, sin, Satan. He reigns over all his (and our) enemies as the victor by his death on the cross.

John 12:28-32, 1 Cor. 15:22-28, Eph. 1:19-23, Col. 2:13-15, Heb. 2:14-15, Rev. 19, 20

8) Moral and Spiritual Example - The death of Christ serves as the greatest example of love for us to follow. Some evangelicals have given this up because this is the liberals’ main view of the atonement. They turn this into all of the cross. Yet, we must not forget that this is a biblical point, just not all there is!

Phil. 2:5ff, 1 Pet. 2:21ff

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Why Christ had to die - To bring in a new covenant

This verse is a great description of the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant and why Christ had to die.
Heb. 9:15 For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
In the Old Covenant ("first covenant") there were two covenant partners, God and Israel. To breach the terms of this covenant was deserving of death. Now, all of Israel sinned against God, yet, many sinners of old trusted God and were counted righteous in spite of their sins. So before God could establish the New Covenant, God had the outstanding debt of death from the transgressions under the Old Covenant. Therefore, Christ had to die to pay for these deaths before the New Covenant could be established. Christ satisfies the terms of the Old Covenant by dying for sinners and in doing so, He can now establish and be the mediator of a new covenant (Jer. 31:31ff).

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Why we need to fight sin - pt. 2

4) “Mortification of sin is one main reason why the Spirit and the new nature are given unto us, that we may have a principle within whereby to oppose sin and lust.”

What is this new nature that Owen is talking about? If you’re a Christian, the Bible says that we have been regenerated and given a new nature. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.” What this new nature entails is that God gives us a new heart that loves Him and hates sin. Now notice, I’m saying a new heart. I’m not even talking about new behaviors or new actions. God does something so much deeper than that. Christianity is NOT about behavior modification. Christianity is not about being forced to do what you hate to do and not doing what you love to do. Christianity is about a person being born again by the Holy Spirit so that you no longer love sin and no longer love this world, but now love God and love the things of God. And that’s the only way it will happen... no amount of willpower, or gritting of teeth will overcome sin. You have to be born again.
Jer. 31:33-34 - this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 - 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
And so, God give us a new heart, and He gives us His Spirit, to help us fight our flesh. And this is the struggle between the Spirit and the flesh that we read about in Romans 6 and Galatians 5. If you are a Christian here today, there is a battle going on right now between the Spirit and the flesh in you. And so we must decide who we are going to ally with in this fight:
“Now this is, first, the most unjust and unreasonable thing in the world; when two combatants are engaged, to bind one and keep him from doing his utmost, and to leave the other at liberty to would him at his pleasure: and second, the foolishest thing in the world to bind him who fights for our eternal condition, and to let him alone who seeks and violently attempts our everlasting ruin. The contest is for our lives and souls.”
Brothers and sisters, if you are in Christ, then that means that God has given you graces and gifts to help you to destroy the sin in your life. And what a gift this is! He has given us the Holy Spirit! Knowing this, how hard should we make sure that we make use of Whom we have received. These gifts and graces were given to us to use and to exercise, not to bury in the ground. If we are not daily mortifying sin by the Spirit, then we are sinning against the goodness, kindness, wisdom, grace and love of God, who has given us all that we need to fight sin.

5) "Negligence in this duty will lead to the deterioration of our souls."

The Bible teaches that when we sin, we harden our hearts against God. There is a real effect that sin has so that the more we sin, the more our soul becomes hardened towards God, and indifferent towards God, and the harder it becomes for us to love the things of God and enjoy His presence. We are not playing games here. There is a real effect of sin on our souls, if you are a human being, Christian or non-Christians. Christians are not immune to the effects of sin on our souls. This is a sobering truth.

The Bible teaches us that there is a point where a soul, through continuous, repeated sin, can become so atrophied and so hardened to God, that he will not be able to repent any longer from sin, and will no longer be able to love the things of God anymore. Oh, this is a dreadful state to be in! It’s not a one time thing, but it’s a process by which the soul and the heart, through a lifestyle of sinfulness, becomes so hardened that it no longer can turn to God and repent any longer and therefore is beyond forgiveness.
Hebrews 3:12-14 - 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

1 John 5:16-17 - 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

Hebrews 12:15-17 - 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
This is a terrifying reality. The Bible warns of this condition that all of us could potentially reach. Yes, Jesus says, if you repent you will be forgiven of your sins. That offer still stands and is absolutely true. But there is a condition of the heart that exists where a person can become so hardened in their sin, that repentance is no longer possible. And if you do reach this position, as much as you might desire repentance, as much as you might be terrified on your deathbed, you will no longer be able to genuinely repent and be saved.

Question: Does that mean that you can lose your salvation? No! The Bible assures us that for those whom God has saved, He will keep them because of His faithfulness. He will keep them from reaching that point of hardness.

So if you do reach that point of hardness, what that proves is that you were never saved to begin with.
1 John 2:19 - 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
If 10, 20, 30 years, from now, you see me, and I am no longer walking in my faith, that I’ve left my wife and kids, and I’m living lecherously and in drunkenness, with no regard for the things of God, and no desire for the His glory or His kingdom… then what that will mean is that all this presently is a charade. It will prove that I was never really a Christian. All the worship leading? It was a love for the spotlight. And all this teaching is a love for the praise of men. Oh how I need to be watchful that I don’t make a shipwreck of my faith and so prove that I was never in Christ to begin with!

Question: So is there no assurance of salvation? This is such a difficult question that I struggled with for the longest time. The reason is because for the longest time, I thought assurance of salvation was mechanical. I prayed a prayer when I was seven, I signed a card, I filled out a form, I got a church membership, I’m saved! I’m finished! But that’s not how assurance of salvation works. True assurance of salvation, a true inward, spiritual confidence of your election and adoption into God’s family, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. And this gift of assurance of salvation is only for those who by faith in God’s promises are persevering in their faith, by the Spirit. It’s not about mechanical mind games. It’s when you are persevering in obedience and love for God and you are sure that He is faithful and will keep you forever. It is possible for a true Christian to be struggling with sin and go through a season of doubt and insecurity. Yet for the true Christian, God will use the fear of hell and fear of falling away, to bring the Christian back to a life of perseverance and holiness. But there is nothing sweeter than the assurance you have of God’s keeping promises over your life, when you are, by grace, and by the Spirit, walking with God.

We need to be ever watchful against sin, because it really has a soul-destroying effect. Oh how vital it is that we daily be mortifying sin in our lives.

6) "Growing in grace and holiness and conformity to our Lord Jesus Christ is impossible without mortification of sin."

I imagine all of us desire to be like Christ. We want to ultimately become loving people, holy people, and sacrificial, brave, merciful, compassionate people. No one wants at the end of his life to be known as selfish, or cowardly. Yet, no matter how much you spend your life giving money to the poor, teaching the Word of God in you small group or in a Sunday school class, or sharing the Gospel with the people around, or going overseas on mission trips, if you don’t daily mortify the sinful nature in you, then all those things will be in vain.
“Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness, who walks not over the neck of his lusts. He, who doth not kill sin in his way, takes no steps towards his journey’s end.”

Monday, April 10, 2006

Why we need to fight sin - pt. 1

The book I have read the most is probably The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, which I have made a custom of reading at least once a year. It is a short book, that can be read in one sitting, but it contains some of the most profound insights into the human nature, the nature of sin, and how we can fight sin. In one chapter, Owen gives us six reasons on the necessity of mortification (the killing) of sin. Here are the first three:

1) “Indwelling sin always abides whilst we are in this world; therefore it is always to be mortified.”

There is no such thing as perfect holiness, perfect obedience, perfect service, here on earth. If anyone thinks that he is perfect, he probably never knew to begin with what it means to be perfect in obedience to any one of God’s commands. Or perhaps, those that would talk about perfectionism don’t know the difference between good and evil, or they deny the teaching of original, indwelling sin, and they bring down the power of Christ in a believer’s life and they re-define holiness and perfection to something that is so weak and watered down that it is attainable by human power.

Regardless how one might invent an earthly perfection that the Gospel never teaches, the Bible clearly affirms that during all our days on earth, we will never attain to moral perfection. Therefore, we will not dare to be wise above what the Bible teaches, and so we say with John Owen that “indwelling sin lives in us in some measure and degree while we are in this world.”
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. – Phil. 3:12

Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. – 2 Cor. 4:16

12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. – 1 Cor. 13:12

17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. – Gal. 5:17

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8

Rom 7:24, Phil. 3:21, Gal. 6:9, Heb 12:1, 2 Cor. 7:1, etc…
2) “Sin does not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still laboring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh.”

If sin were to leave us alone to run after God as hard as we wanted, then okay, we would not have to fight sin. But, we know from the Bible that this indwelling sin nature is ever out to kill us, out to destroy us.
“As sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times, in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion”
In other words, our sinful nature is always hard at work to destroy us, even at moments when we feel that we are safe and secure and there is no way we can fall into temptation... And sure enough, I know from experience that it’s those times that I think “I’m safe from temptation for now”, when I am most prone to fall.

Which one of us can ever say that we ever did anything with God or for God, and indwelling sin did not have a hand in corrupting our actions? As fallen creatures, this is the battle that we will have to fight on earth, for the rest of our days. Therefore, because sin will always be acting, if we are not always mortifying sin, then we are in huge peril. John Owen brings up the point that if you were in a boxing match against a powerful enemy, and all you did was stand still and let him pound you, you would be in huge danger! And sin is more dangerous that the most powerful boxer in the world… it is subtle, strong, watchful, and always at work in the business of killing our souls, and if we are lazy or careless or slothful or foolish in our fight against it, then what can we expect but ruin? We have to protect ourselves, and we have to fight back.
“There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so, while we live in this world.”
If ever you can get sin to stop raging and fighting within you, then you no longer have to fight. But we know from the Bible (and from experience), that from 8 years old, to 18, to 25, to 35, to 85 years old, sin will ever be trying to destroy you, so we must fight back.

3) “Sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting; but, if let alone, if not continually mortified, will bring forth great, cursed scandalous, soul-destroying sins.”
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. – Galatians 5:19-21
These are the kinds of things that sin is ever trying to bring forth in our life. It is not just trying to bring forth small white lies and "insignificant" sins... no, it’s working to bring forth the greatest kinds of God-blaspheming, scandalous, destructive evils that it can. Think about King David… do you really think he realized that his lingering over to look at Bathsheba from the roof of his house would lead to committing adultery, killing a man, trampling on the goodness of God, and destroying his family? Of course not, but the sinful nature that dwelled in him was aiming for all that, and he walked right into it. John Owen writes,
Sin aims always at the utmost: every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin of that kind. Every unclean thought of glance would be adultery, if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression; every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its fullness…. Every rise of lust, might it have its course, would come to the height of villainy. It is like the grave, that is never satisfied. And herein lies no small share of the deceitfulness of sin… It is modest, as it were, in its first motions and proposals; but having once got footing in the heart by them, it constantly makes good its ground, and presses on to some further degrees in the same kind.

This acting and pressing forward, makes the soul take little notice of what an entrance is already made to a falling off from God. It thinks all is indifferently well, if there be no further progress. And so far as the soul is made insensible to any sin,… so far it is hardened. But sin is still pressing forward, because it has no bounds but utter relinquishment of God, and opposition to him. The only reason it proceeds towards its height by degrees, gaining ground by slowly hardening our hearts, is not from its nature, but its deceitfulness.”
Oh, how this should make us tremble. This is probably one of the most frightening statements about sin that I have ever read and I know it’s so true. Sin always aims at the utmost… For every lust, if sin were to be given free reign, it would surely lead to fornication, adultery, or rape. For every thought of anger or revenge or jealousy, if sin were to be given free reign, it would lead to murder, or oppression, or assault. Think about all the Christian leaders that fell to adultery, fell to greed, or financial ruin. I assure you that sin in all its deceitfulness, did not begin by proposing them to a scandalous sin right away. But sin began with a glance, a dissatisfied thought about their own life, a lingering fantasy, a click of a mouse... and through these sins that the pastor thought he had under control, a hardening of the heart begins and slowly the person becomes more bold and brazen in his endeavors. He lies to his wife, he spends more time with a certain person than he should, he writes letters, he re-schedules meetings, and before you know it, his heart is hard and there is no conviction of sin and he makes shipwreck of his faith, leaving a trail of carnage and blood and destruction in his wake.

Why do we have to fight sin? Because sin is not just out to make us into naughty people. Sin is out to destroy us and to destroy our relationship with God and to undermine God’s kingdom on earth.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Paul on homosexuality

I have been corresponding with a friend on the subject of homosexuality. In our day and age, it is imperative that we have clear understanding of what the Bible teaches regarding this topic, because people are going to ask. A good place to start is Paul's letter to the Romans, where speaks on this subject at length.
Rom. 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Rom. 1:26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
There is much that could be gleaned from these passages and Piper's sermons (1, 2) on these passages are helpful. However, I would like to focus on the main point that Paul is making here and it is stunning. In verse 25, man has "exchanged the truth of God for a life" and "worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator". Here, man has given himself to idolatry, and has dishonored God. Even though God made us to worship Him and serve Him (Rom. 1:19-20), we have turned away from Him and given ourselves to idols and lies. Notice, at the root of all sin is self-pride and self-worship. Idolatry and self-worship is fundamentally unnatural. As a result of this, God gave us over to a sin that would be an outward display of our inward unnatural idolatry, namely our abandoning of our natural sexual functions for the unnatural (vs. 24, 26-27). And notice the tragic irony: Just as our idolatry is rooted in self-worship, so is homosexuality a form of self-worship, in that men are inflamed with lust for men, and women for women. All this is unnatural and a departure from God's original created order from Genesis 1-2 that men and women are made to have sex with each other.

There are scholars that argue that Paul was referring to specific forms of homosexuality, such as pederasty (a sexual relationship between an older man and young boy), heterosexuals acting as homosexuals, or homosexual relationships that are not monogamous. Yet, knowing Paul's Jewish background, I am not convinced by their arguments. Thomas Schreiner states it well:
Nevertheless, there is little doubt that Paul condemns all forms of homosexuality. Some in the Greco-Roman world defended and even celebrated homosexuality. But the Jewish tradition is unanimous in condemning it (cf. Gen. 19:1-28; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Deut. 23:17-18; Wis 14:26; T Levi 17.11; T. Naph. 3:3-4, Sib. Or. 3:596-600; Ag. Ap. 2.24, 37; Spec. Laws 3.7). No evidence exists to the contrary. The most natural way of interpreting Paul is to interpret him in continuity with his Jewish tradition. The burden of proof certainly lies on those who see some window for the acceptability of homosexuality in Paul. To read the text as if some exceptions exists is eisegesis. The text contains a general condemnation, with no indication that some forms of homosexuality are acceptable. Nowhere else in Jewish tradition, in the New Testament, or in Paul is there any hint that the practice would ever be admissible. (Schreiner; Paul, Apostle of God's Glory in Christ, p. 317)
Clearly, the apostle Paul teaches that all forms of homosexuality are sinful. Whether or not we believe he is right is another issue, at the very least, let us acknowledge that this is what he teaches!

Yet, when people ask what we believe, communicating this single point is not enough. Paul does not end his letter in Romans 1:25! Paul's point in establishing Romans 1 (and 2-3) is to prepare the way for the Good News of Romans 3:23-26:
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
In communicating the sinfulness of homosexuality, we could make two terrible mistakes. First, we could fail to communicate the hope of the gospel. Our goal in speaking the truth about the sin in our lives is not to leave people condemned and hopeless in their sin. Our goal is ultimately to bring people to a place where they see their guilt before God, so that the news of a sin-bearing Savior will sound like the good news that it is. Second, we could fail by demanding change in the homosexual person before they can receive gospel. The forgiveness of the gospel must be held out freely, to be freely received without any pre-requisite change in the lives of sinners. Sanctification comes after justification. Obedience comes after faith. To expect otherwise would be a futile works-based righteousness. This is the pattern that we see in Paul. It is only after the gospel has been freely offered and received, that Paul gives this command to those who once gave their bodies to dishonor (Rom. 1:24):
Rom. 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

Helpful resources: Thoughts on Homosexuality from Dan's blog, (tons of thoughtful articles and commentaries), Desiring God, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ Resources

Monday, April 03, 2006

"I did not come to abolish but to fulfill"

Within the nations of Israel, rules had to be enacted to place some restraint on less than perfect situations. Divorce was inevitable, so the woman who became its victim might at least receive a certificate indicating her unmarried status so that she could marry again. Violance was unavoidable, so retribution for the injury one had incurred might at least be limited to nothing more harmful than what one had experienced - an eye (and no more) for an eye; a tooth (and no more) for a tooth. The "law of the LORD" was indeed "perfect" for these less than perfect situations in a theocracy that included both the godly and those whose hearts were corrupt.

In contrast, Matthew believed that Jesus was assembling a new people who were "pure in heart" (5:8). For such a people the humane foundation that lay beneath the Mosaic law could be brought to the surface and the Mosaic law brought to its fulfillment. In the situation Jesus envisioned, the only court would be the eschatological judgment of God, and the maximum punishment would not be physical death but hell itself (5:22, 29-30). Evidence in this court would not be outward, physical violations of normal societal statutes but the intentions of the heart (5:22, 28; cf. 6:21; 12:34; 13:15; 15:8, 18; 19:8)

Since Jesus did not define this new people as a political entity, the only standard that mattered would be God's ultimate standard. There should not only be no murder, but none of the hate-filled anger that produces murder (5:21-22). There should not only be no adultery, but there should be no lust, which leads to adultery (5:27-30). Marriage should be the institutionalization of the permanent bonding of two people into one flesh through sexual intercourse, and one's marriage should only be declared a failure if one's spouse was sexually unfaithful (19:3-9; cf. 5:31-32). Disciples of Jesus must not merely limit to a reasonable level of vengeance that they take against those who harm them, but they must do their enemies no violance at all (5:38-42).

This is the sense, therefore, in which Jesus fulfilled the law and in which none of it passed away in his teaching. The Mosaic law had legislated love for God and neighbor in the less than perfect situation of a theocraacy. With the coming of Jesus, God's law could be reduced to its fundamental principles since Jesus' disciples were called upon to "be your heavenly Father is perfect" (5:48). (Thielman, Frank, Theology of the New Testament, pg. 88-89)