Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Sexual Immorality and Sanctification in 1 Corinthians 6-7

In an earlier post, I had written about sexuality and marriage as God created and designed it: Marriage in Genesis 2. In today's post, I want to look at the same issue from another passage, 1 Corinthians 6:9-7:16, which approaches sexuality and marriage as it currently exists in our fallen world.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 states that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God and this includes the sexually immoral, adulterers, and homosexuals. These desires and acts are manifestations of rebellion against God's will and design. Do not be deceived, thinking that everyone will inherit a place in God's eternal kingdom and glory. The Corinthians were to therefore turn away from these sins and to discipline those who refused to repent and continued in these ways (1 Cor. 5:11).

1 Corinthians 6:11 goes on to give hope for sinners and to inspire gratitude and humility in the hearts of believers by saying, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." Being justified (accounted righteous) and sanctified (cleansed from defilement and made holy) are benefits purchased by Christ, to be obtained in His name, and they are applied to us by the Spirit of our God who unites us to Christ through faith. Therefore, believers are not "the unrighteous." The blood-washed saints will "inherit the kingdom."

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 then goes on to apply this new identity to the present life of the Christian. It says that your body is a body part of Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit, and a ransomed possession of Christ. Therefore, do not unite Christ to immorality! Do not defile the temple with sin! Do not spurn the great cost of your redemption by using Christ's possession against His will!

Therefore, flee sexual immorality! Make your body holy, consecrated, and governed by Christ. Make it an instrument of righteousness (see also Rom. 6:12-14).

1 Corinthians 7 goes on to describe how one flees sexual immorality. His basic principle is "because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband" (1 Cor. 7:2). Marriage is a duty for most adults. The sexual desire is a natural desire, built into human nature, designed for a good end (Gen. 1:26-2:25), so direct it unto good rather than evil.

In 1 Corinthians 7:3-6, we find it is the duty of married people to not deprive each other sexually, except by mutual agreement for a limited time. Why? (1) Your bodies belong to each other - resulting in mutual rights and duties; and (2) for the prevention of immorality, minimizing Satan's ability to tempt you to sin.

In 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, there is an exception to this general rule of marriage. Singleness has some benefits if one has the gift for it (see 7:32-35). Singleness is not the gift. Continency - the ability to be single without distraction and passion - is the gift (see also Matt. 19:10-12). Those with this gift can still marry, but they do not need to, and they should consider whether they might serve the Lord better as single.

1 Corinthians 7:9 returns back to the normal duty to marry, and to this we might add 7:36-37 and 1 Timothy 5:11-14.

1 Corinthians 7:10-16 goes on to address the topic of divorce. It begins in verses 10-11 by summarizing what Jesus had taught on the subject in the case of marriage between two believers (Matt. 5:31-32, 19:1-9). They should not divorce (divorce in the case of sexual immorality was an exception taught by Jesus and assumed here by Paul), and if they do, they should remain unmarried or be reconciled. Verses 12-16 address the case of a believer's marriage with an unbeliever, a situation not addressed directly by the Lord while He was on earth. In this case, the believer should not leave - the unbelief of one's spouse does not defile the rest of the family (although this type of mixed marriage should not be entered into, see 7:39). But if the unbeliever does not consent to continue their marriage and separates, then the believer must let them go. In such a divorce, they are free of their former marriage and can remarry.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Three Marks of a True Church

How can you identity the church? Does a group become a church just because it gives itself the name? The Protestant Reformers had to deal with this question because their Roman Catholic detractors claimed (and still claim) that Protestants churches were not churches since they were not in union with the Pope and did not always have bishops who could trace back their ordination in unbroken succession to the apostles. Some Protestants, particularly Anglicans, have contested the second claim about ordination, but many Protestants saw that debate as not worth having, since Scripture does not make the unbroken succession of episcopal ordinations necessary for ordination or the existence of a true church. Since the days of the Reformation, identifying true visible churches has continued to be an issue. Roman Catholics maintain their claims, while many Protestants seem to identify a church as any gathering of Christians (with varying definitions of what it means to be a Christian). 

The Scottish Confession of Faith was written in 1560 by John Knox and five other ministers for the newly reformed realm of Scotland. They addressed this issue directly in their 18th chapter where they discuss the "notes" by which the true "kirk" (the Scottish word for church) is distinguished from false kirks. They denied that the "notes, signs, and assured tokens whereby the immaculate spouse of Christ Jesus" are "antiquity, title usurped, lineal descent, place appointed, nor multitude of men approving an error," giving various examples from the Bible to prove their case. Rather, they went on to articulate three "notes" by which the true kirk could be identified:
"The notes, therefore, of the true kirk of God we believe, confess, and avow to be: first, the true preaching of the word of God, into the which God has revealed himself to us, as the writings of the prophets and apostles do declare; secondly, the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus, which must be annexed unto the word and promise of God, to seal and confirm the same in our hearts;[1] last, ecclesiastical discipline uprightly ministered, as God's word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed, and virtue nourished.[2] Wheresoever then these former notes are seen, and of any time continue (be the number [of persons] never so few, about two or three) there, without all doubt, is the true kirk of Christ: who, according to his promise is in the midst of them:[3] not that universal [kirk] (of which we have before spoken) but particular; such as were in Corinth,[4] Galatia,[5] Ephesus,[6] and other places in which the ministry was planted by Paul, and were of himself named the kirks of God."
1. Eph. 2:20; Acts 2:42; John 10:27; 18:37; 1 Cor. 1:13; Matt. 18:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; 1 Cor. 11:24-26; Rom. 4:11. 2. Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5:4-5. 3. Matt. 18:19-20. 4. 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:2. 5. Gal. 1:2. 6. Eph. 1:1; Acts 16:9-10; 18:1, etc.; 20:17, etc.
A year later (1561), these three marks were also articulated in the Belgic Confession, which was written in the Netherlands and later adopted by many of the Reformed churches on the continent of Europe. In article 29, it declares,
"We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church — for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of “the church.”[1] We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there.[2] But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves “the church.” The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel;[3] it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them;[4] it practices church discipline for correcting faults.[5] In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God,[6] rejecting all things contrary to it[7] and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head.[8] By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church—and no one ought to be separated from it."
1. Rev 2:9. 2. Rom 9:6. 3. Gal 1:8; 1 Tim 3:15. 4. Acts 19:3-5; 1 Cor 11:20-29. 5. Mt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:4, 5, 13; 2 Thess 3:6, 14; Tit 3:10. 6. Jn 8:47; Jn 17:20; Acts 17:11; Eph 2:20; Col 1:23; 1 Tim 6:3. 7. 1 Thess 5:21; 1 Tim 6:20; Rev 2:6. 8. Jn 10:14; Eph 5:23; Col 1:18.
It is important to be a member of the church - not only the universal church, but a local assembly of Christians where these three ordinances of Christ are established, with a recognized leadership capable of administering them. Every church will have its errors and faults, but join a church where you can find Christ's ordinances of Word, sacrament, and discipline (which is broader than merely excommunication, but includes discipleship, correction, and admonition, all with the goal of repentance and growth). Of course, these marks are not the entirety of a church - they are the skeleton or the foundation. As Christ works through His appointed means, His people respond in faith and love, engaging in shared worship, mutual edification, and loving help.

Friday, August 16, 2019

What It Actually Means to Be Citizens of Heaven

Recently I have begun recording short videos to share on Facebook and YouTube, and here is the latest one. I have written about this subject before - and I believe you will continue to see some overlap between what I write on this blog and say in these videos - but it is an exciting concept worth repeating. What did Paul mean when he said that Christians are citizens of heaven? In about three minutes, I seek to explain Paul's often misunderstood point about our heavenly citizenship.
"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself." (Philippians 3:20–21) 
"Only let your manner of life be [πολιτεύεσθε, behave as citizens] worthy of the gospel of Christ..." (Philippians 1:27)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Necessity of the Pastoral Office

In the passage below, John Calvin writes on the importance of the ordained leaders of the church. He and other Protestant Reformers taught the importance of the Bible as the final standard that judges all human authority, as well as the necessity of direct and personal faith in Christ. Some modern Protestants have taken this truth to mean that the organized church and its officers are unnecessary or even a hinderance. Yet the Reformers also realized that Christ, in this same Bible, also appointed the ministry of evangelists, pastors, and teachers to build up the church in this prophetic and apostolic Scripture. Here Calvin comments on Ephesians 4:4-16, which speaks of how Christ "gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ..." (Ephesians 4:11–13).
"By these words he shows that the ministry of men, which God employs in governing the Church, is a principal bond by which believers are kept together in one body. He also intimates, that the Church cannot be kept safe, unless supported by those guards to which the Lord has been pleased to commit its safety. Christ “ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph. 4:10). The mode of filling is this: By the ministers to whom he has committed this office, and given grace to discharge it, he dispenses and distributes his gifts to the Church, and thus exhibits himself as in a manner actually present by exerting the energy of his Spirit in this his institution, so as to prevent it from being vain or fruitless. In this way, the renewal of the saints is accomplished, and the body of Christ is edified; in this way we grow up in all things unto Him who is the Head, and unite with one another; in this way we are all brought into the unity of Christ, provided prophecy flourishes among us, provided we receive his apostles, and despise not the doctrine which is administered to us. Whoever, therefore, studies to abolish this order and kind of government of which we speak, or disparages it as of minor importance, plots the devastation, or rather the ruin and destruction, of the Church. For neither are the light and heat of the sun, nor meat and drink, so necessary to sustain and cherish the present life, as is the apostolical and pastoral office to preserve a Church in the earth." (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.3.2)

Friday, August 9, 2019

Praying and Listening to God

"If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination." (Proverbs 28:9)
This makes sense if you think about it. This is one thing that separates prayer from a shopping list or a daydream. Prayer functions in a two-way relationship where we speak to God while listening attentively to what He has said to us in His word. Otherwise, prayer devolves into an abomination, an expression of a relationship that we have created to revolve around us. God is to be obeyed and worshipped. He is not to be used. He gives good gifts to us as our Father, not as a bank account. Let us continue to call upon our merciful Savior, seeking His aid and mercy, but let us also turn our ears to what He has said to us. For as God said through the prophet Isaiah,
"But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word."
(Isaiah 66:2) 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Born Again to Love One Another

"[22] Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, [23] since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; [24] for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
[25] but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you. [1] So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. [2] Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—[3] if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good." (1 Peter 1:22–2:3)
In this passage, the apostle Peter tells his readers to do three things: (1) to love one another earnestly from a pure heart, (2) to put away malicious attitudes and practices opposite to this sincere love, and (3) to long for the pure spiritual milk of the Lord. He gives the following reasons:

1. Put away malice and hypocrisy and love one another, since you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for this purpose (1:22). A purpose and result of this purification is a "sincere brotherly love." Peter exhorts them to love earnestly and whole heartedly because they now have the heart that is capable of doing such a thing and because they were delivered from the dominion of sin for this purpose. Now, saying that you have purified your soul is not the way you might expect him to put it. Usually the Bible speaks of purification being a work of God. But viewing it from the side of human responsibility, how have Christians purified their souls? By their obedience to the truth. Interestingly, Peter uses similar terms in his speech at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. There he says, of both Jews and Gentiles, that God had "cleansed their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:9). Therefore, the "obedience to the truth" in 1 Peter refers to the fact that they have responded to the gospel with faith, and had thus received its benefits, including the initial purification of their souls. In verse 22 he emphasizes their believing response to the word; in the next verse, he emphasizes the grace of God which made this believing response happen:

2. Put away malice and hypocrisy and love one another, since you have been born again by the word of God (1:23-25). The word of God is living and active - God uses it to create the world out of nothing and to bring life from the dead, writing it on the hearts of His people by His Spirit. Our doctrinal statements call this "effectual calling" (i.e. the calling of God that has saving effect). Not only have Christians obeyed the truth - they have been born again by it. This is how they are able to obey it. Peter uses an analogy in this passage of the conception, birth, and growth of an infant. Our natural birth resulted from conception by the seed of mortal and fallen man, but our new birth resulted from conception by the seed of the abiding word of God. Because this word is living and abiding, it causes permanent results, giving us a new nature which grows unto sincere love for one another. This nature grows unto its intended end as it continues to be fed by this abiding word. This leads us to the third duty:

3. Long for pure spiritual milk, for you are newborn infants who need milk to grow (2:2). You have been born again, having been conceived by the word, and this makes you a newborn infant. My wife and I have a newborn infant, and we know the importance of milk and growth. Our baby is designed and intended for growth, but she needs milk to do so. Likewise, Christians are designed and intended to love earnestly and sincerely and to put away malice and hypocrisy, but they need the word of God to grow in this way. Here "salvation" is considered broadly, including all the benefits of Christ, including the way of life that He produces in His people. To grow up into this salvation, long for the word of God. Do not long only for an intellectual knowledge of the word - although that is necessary - but also a believing and submissive reception of this word, so that by it, your union with Christ might grow and your new nature flourish. Long for it, desire it, the way a baby longs for her milk.

Peter concludes this section with an additional appeal: "if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good" (2:3). Have you not tasted that the Lord is good? You have received this word - has it not been a good thing? You want more of it, right? Malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander do not tase good and they rot the insides. But the word of the Lord is good, producing growth in love that comes from a pure heart.
"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!"
(Psalm 34:8)