Results tagged “sexual sin” from Reformation21 Blog

Keeping Desire and Temptation in Their Place


In the history of theological debate, one of the most important steps towards doctrinal clarity involves getting the terminology right. The ancient church sorted through the Trinitarian debate by clarifying the distinction between "essence" and "person." Likewise, the Reformation haggled over the proper meaning of "righteousness" and "justification."

A similar need has now arisen in 21st century, as Christians respond to the sexual challenges of postmodernity. In this case, the key terms are "desire" and "temptation." We need a clear understanding of these biblical terms in order to address the matter biblically, especially when it comes to heated debates regarding same-sex attraction (SSA). For instance, the question is raised as to whether a same-sex attracted person must mortify his or her desires. Likewise, denominations like the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) have wrestled over whether a person may soundly self-identify as a "gay Christian."

As these matters are debated, the two sides often speak of "desire" and "temptation" in differing ways. When it comes to SSA, we frequently hear, "There is nothing sinful about being tempted." Defenders of an SSA identity assert, "Even Jesus was 'tempted in every way' (Heb. 4:15), just as we are."

These arguments, however, often involve a category confusion between "desire" and "temptation." A key verse here is James 1:14. The prior verse denies that God is the source of temptation to sin: "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'" (Ja. 1:13). James then adds: "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire" (Ja. 1:14). A study of "tempted" and "desire" in this verse will help us keep the concepts straight.

The Greek word for temptation is peirasmos, or in its verb form peirazo. If we consult the standard Greek dictionary, we find that is basic meaning is that of "testing." According to Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich (BAG), peirazo means "to make a trial of" or "put to the test." Likewise, a peirasmos is a test or trial. Peter uses its to say: "you have been grieved by various trials" (1 Pet. 1:6). These trials may have various features, including trials that God wills for the blessing of his people (never to incite them into sin, as James insists). The same word is translated "tempted" or "temptation," when the trial involves an inducement to sin. Matthew 4:1 uses a form of peirazo to describe Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. The key feature of this biblical word for "temptation" is that it is an event rather than a disposition. Temptation is something that happens outside a person, rather than inside.

A proper definition of temptation helps us to understand what it means that Jesus "in every respect has been tempted as we are" (Heb. 4:15). The writer of Hebrews was not indicating that Jesus had an inner turmoil over disordered or sinful desires. The reason that Jesus was tempted as we are, "yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15), is that his desires and affections were perfect and holy. Yet Jesus suffered under temptation in a variety of sinless ways. For instance, his hunger was tormented when Satan tempted him to misuse his divine prerogative (Mt. 4:3). Likewise, Jesus' patience and his holy will suffered when "the Pharisees and Sadducees came, . . . to test him" (Mt. 16:1). 

To say that Jesus was tempted is not to say that he struggled with inward sinful desires. It is certainly a false analogy to posit - as has been done in the SSA debate - an analogy between a person's inward struggle over same-sex attraction (or any other sinful desire, for that matter) and Jesus' struggle with temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus' torment over temptation involved what was going to happen to him rather than sinful desires in him.

James' second key word in James 1:14 is desire. He insists that temptation leads to sin when one is "lured and enticed by his own desire." The Greek word here is epithumia, which has a standard translation of "desire, longing, or craving" (BAG). While the word can be used in a neutral or even positive sense, its overwhelming use in the New Testament is that of sinful desires and cravings. Whereas temptation is an event happening outside us, desire is a disposition acting within us. When we find that sinful desire is operating within us - in a fleeting sense or as a settled disposition - the Christian's calling is to repent of desire while seeking the inward cleansing that God provides by his grace (1 Cor. 6:9-11). James writes that it is desire which conceives and "gives birth to sin" (Ja. 1:15), so sinful desire is the prime target of the inward mortification that is so necessary to a Christian's sanctification.

If we keep desire and temptation in their proper biblical place, this will help us to focus where James and the rest of the Bible directs our attention. We have, in general, little to no control over temptation - external events that may incite us into sin. Neither do we control our desires, such is the plight of our fallen state! But we do have the means of grace to apply to our sinful desires through faith, trusting God's power and mercy to work inward change in coordination with our active, faith-driven effort. These sinful desires encompass the entire lexicon of the fallen condition, including greed, pride, hatred, and lust. In many cases, these desires are tightly woven into our character in ways that we may not even understand. 

How wonderful it is, then, that we are loved by a God of supernatural grace, with power to heal, cleanse, and make holy. For many of us, the grace of mortification will play out slowly and painfully over a long course of life, with many discouragements along the way - those who struggle with same-sex attraction often chronicle this struggle, to which we should respond with loving encouragement in the Lord. But struggle we must, seeking to keep desire in its place - which is to say, in the grave where Jesus died to put an end to sin.

The trouble is not with temptation itself, but with the sinful, disordered desires within, which is why the grace of God commands us:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  On account of these the wrath of God is coming.  In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth (Col. 3:5-8).

Richard D. Phillips (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church of Greenville, South Carolina. He is a council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, and coeditor of the Reformed Expository Commentary series.

Related Links 

"In" with the World


Over the last few weeks, former pastor and Christian author Josh Harris has made a public resurgence through his shocking Instagram announcement. This is sad news, and we should mourn over it. When any supposed brother or sister in the faith announces they have fallen away--whether publicly or privately--our response ought to be prayerful, gentle, and soaked with tears. 

However, his particular announcement also serves as a reminder of the sneaking temptation to seek affirmation outside of Christ. Even as Josh broadcasts falling away from the Christian faith, he goes on to offer an apology to the LGBTQ+ community, writing,

"I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry." 

No doubt Josh's apology is motivated by a sincere desire to extend love. He is acting on desires and themes he learned, believed, and preached as both a pastor and a Christian. Christ himself came to love the unlovable, to extend grace to those desperately needing it, to shine light where only darkness once reigned. Though we're not always great at it, humans feel deep in their bones the desire to be loved and accepted, and to extend the same to others. And there may be real places where apology to the individuals in the LGTBQ+ community is necessary. Every human should be valued and respected as a fellow image-bearer of God. 

With that said, Josh's apology brings up a timely and relevant issue: Misconstrued righteousness. As Reformed Christians, we are taught and believe that true righteousness comes only through Christ. We affirm that, in our mysterious union with Christ, his righteousness becomes our righteousness. As Paul writes, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). We who could do no good on our own must cling to Christ; only then will we have the righteousness needed to stand confidently before God. Christ is our affirmation and commendation before the Father. Righteousness is found only in the Person of Christ; we need not pursue affirmation from any other than Christ alone. 

In today's culture, however, there is another supposed means of righteousness--what I will call "worldly righteousness." I understand that the term "worldly" gets thrown around, so allow me to attempt a definition: By worldly, I have in mind the whole of the philosophies and ideas that coalesce in order to form a particular godless and humanistic worldview. In short, I mean the Zeitgeist, or spirit of the age. For instance, Christians believe that joy is found only in glorifying God through making him Lord and obeying his Word. The Zeitgeist claims that joy is found only in self-independence, self-affirmation, and self-love (these are the actual words used). This is a righteousness wholly distinct from Christian righteousness, acquired in whatever way the current age deems to be right and good and honorable.

Here is where Josh's recent post is helpful. He articulates this worldly righteousness regarding the very complex and difficult issue of LGBTQ+ tolerance and acceptance. According to the Zeitgeist, real righteousness, robust wisdom, and authentic love are found in the total acceptance and praise of another's lifestyle. To remain "in" with the world, one must adhere to and affirm what the world adheres to and affirms. And Josh has decided to do this, trading the truth of God's Word for the philosophy of the age. He has traded Scripture's definition of holiness and goodness for the holiness and goodness of the world. Specifically, he has traded Scripture's clear teaching regarding the sin of homosexuality for the teaching of the world which deems this perfectly good, holy, and beneficial. 

For this decision, he has gained, in a sense, the whole world. He has earned the world's respect for his authenticity and honest struggle against old confines. He will have new friends affirming, encouraging, and welcoming him with open arms. And these new friends will declare him righteous. 

Josh's story matters for Christians, because his temptation to worldly righteousness will become the ever-increasing temptation for every believer. The decision lies between two ways of righteousness: The biblical way finds the alien righteousness of Christ accounted unto the believer as a gift; the worldly way finds the self-declared and mutually-affirmed righteousness of the world... at the cost of forsaking biblical truth. And in the eyes of the world, that cost just a few archaic and intolerant ideas. 

The pressure to accept this cost is already mounting; whether in journalism, social media, or entertainment, there is an ever-ballooning pressure to become a friend of the world. If you do, you gain the world's affirmation, its welcome, and access to its table. You get to be on the inside. Most people want to be "in," something that C.S. Lewis wrote about in his essay, "The Inner Ring." In this case, accepting the worldly righteousness is the way to become (what Lewis calls) an "inner ringer," reassured that you are "in" with the world. And that will be your reward.

Jesus had something to say about this decision in Matthew's Gospel. After telling his disciples that the cost of following him would mean bearing their own crosses, he turns and asks a rhetorical question:

"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" (Matt. 16:26).

We know this is a rhetorical question because the answer for Jesus is obvious: There is zero profit in gaining the whole world. For Jesus, the profit at stake is eternal life with himself, enjoying eternal fullness of love with God. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus made the point that for their hollow good works, the Pharisees "have received their reward" (6:2). That reward was the praise of people. The profit for gaining the whole world works the same way. For joining hands with the world, a person gains the fickle praise of other people, and that's all. It is just as Chaucer illustrated in The House of Fame: The praise of people amounts to nothing more than having your name etched in a wall of ice. 

For his apology, Joshua Harris gets his name added to that wall of ice. A similar offer stands open to us all. In whose affirmation and commendation will you rest your soul? In whose righteousness will you stake your profit? These are the questions before us. May we consider well our answer. 

Kevin Vollema is pursuing his Master of Divinity at Reformed Theological Seminary. He is also an intern at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi.

Related Links

Leaving the Faith: Reflections of a Prodigal by Lisa Robinson Spencer

Gurnall on Celebrity Pastors by Jeremy Walker

Apostasy Lit: Why Do They Leave? by Steve Nichols

Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread by Carl Trueman

[Editorial Note: This is the tenth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Article 10:

Sexuality and Marriage

WE AFFIRM that God created mankind male and female and that this divinely determined distinction is good, proper, and to be celebrated. Maleness and femaleness are biologically determined at conception and are not subject to change. The curse of sin results in sinful, disordered affections that manifest in some people as same-sex attraction. Salvation grants sanctifying power to renounce such dishonorable affections as sinful and to mortify them by the Spirit. We further affirm that God's design for marriage is that one woman and one man live in a one-flesh, covenantal, sexual relationship until separated by death. Those who lack the desire or opportunity for marriage are called to serve God in singleness and chastity. This is as noble a calling as marriage.

WE DENY that human sexuality is a socially constructed concept. We also deny that one's sex can be fluid. We reject "gay Christian" as a legitimate biblical category. We further deny that any kind of partnership or union can properly be called marriage other than one man and one woman in lifelong covenant together. We further deny that people should be identified as "sexual minorities"--which serves as a cultural classification rather than one that honors the image-bearing character of human sexuality as created by God.

Article X of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel encapsulates two thousand years of basic Christian belief on the nature of sexuality and marriage. For the vast majority of generations of Christians down through the ages there would be nothing at all controversial about these assertions, and past generations would have wondered why we even took the time to include it.

But we live in 2018 and the revolution in Western culture is undeniable. That revolution has extended to such behaviors as homosexuality or "gay marriage" or transsexualism the very status of "human rights," so they must be addressed by any statement speaking to the topic of justice in light of biblical norms and revelation.

In direct contrast to the spirit of the age the statement affirms the goodness of the so-called "male-female binary." Maleness is not something that is "toxic," but something good and right and necessary in God's design. Likewise to be a female is to be created by God with a good, proper, and beautiful purpose. Rather than being ashamed at being so "backward," we should be openly celebrating these good elements of God's creation.

We do not show love to confused, or even rebellious, individuals who transgress God's creative categories of male and female. Though a tiny percentage of people are genetically impacted by medical conditions that lead to gender ambiguity, the vast bulk of "transsexuality" is a matter of the mind and heart, not the body. But our gender is determined by God's will in our creation, and is not subject to alteration based upon our feelings, wants, or desires. There has rarely been a time in history when mankind has displayed such an open and wanton rebellion against God's right to rule over humanity than in the modern transsexual movement.

In the same vein God has the right, as Creator, to not only make His creatures male and female, He has the right to determine the proper parameters within which that divinely-ordained sexuality is to be expressed. Due to the fall of man into sin, some experience disordered and confused attractions for the same sex. A small percentage experience these desires from their earliest memories, while the large majority are impacted by later sexual experiences resulting in a disturbance of normal sexual desire. The consistent teaching of Scripture is that homosexual behavior is opposed to God's will and destructive of human flourishing. The Apostle Paul identified numerous sinful behaviors in writing to the church at Corinth, among them the sin of homosexuality, but then he wrote, "and such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11). The verb is inarguably past-tense which is why the Statement, in the denial portion, rejects the terminology of "gay Christian." As offensive as it is to cultural elites today, the Bible offers hope in the gospel to those who will repent and seek God's ways with their whole heart.

If God, as Creator, fashions mankind as male and female, and then orders the expression of that sexuality as He sees fit, it follows necessarily that His institution of marriage is the logical outcome of the preceding exercises of His divine rights. Marriage is, in fact, a divine institution, biblically revealed to have been designed by, and established by God directly without human cooperation or assistance. No governmental entity existed when God ordained marriage, and, therefore, no later governmental institution has the right to alter, change, or make void, that institution. It is rooted firmly in the created order of male and female, is oriented toward the fulfillment of both the man and woman, together, and toward the raising up of families with children who have in their parents models of how they should live in the future. There can be no question that the most radical and foundational changes in Western culture that have led to the greatest denigrations of human dignity all stem from the collapse of a culture-wide focus upon the sanctity and propriety of Christian marriage as taught in the pages of the Bible.

The truly radical nature of the revolution in morality and ethics sweeping Western culture today is seen most fully in the adoption of so-called "same-sex marriage," a phrase that would have puzzled every generation of humanity globally only a few decades ago. It is, of course, a massive redefinition of the term and the institution based upon a revolution in worldview. Utter human autonomy is now the watchword of the social elites, so that any person is what they think themselves to be. The resulting moral and ethical chaos is all around us. Biological males using bathrooms for women resulting in children either living in fear using the facilities or simply having to "wait to get home." Female athletes left panting in a distant second and third by a "transgender female" who is actually biologically male winning the gold medal in record fashion. Children being adopted into same-sex families, purposefully being denied the model of a father and a mother in relationship to one another. Surgical and chemical mutilation of healthy bodies of both little boys and girls all because of either real (and rare) gender confusion or due to "copy cat" socially-encouraged experimentation. Parents refusing to "gender" their children but to "leave it to them to figure out." Governmental entities allowing for birth certificates with "other" as a gender option. The proper, good societal roles of mothers and fathers mocked and ridiculed and identified as being "backward." The list goes on and on and on. Each society that embraces these revolutionary concepts finds it impossible to stop the acceleration into utter moral and ethical anarchy.

The source of all of this chaos--chaos that is damaging to human happiness and flourishing? As the Statement puts it, it is a refusal to "honor the image-bearing character of human sexuality as created by God." Our secular age has rejected the Creator and therefore has no room for "image-bearing" or transcendent value or objective truth. The downward spiral only spins more tightly as it descends to disaster. God's Word calls us to the upward spiral of life that is based upon the gospel and God's revelation of His purposes in creation. The Scriptures are clear and compelling in their teaching in this vital area, and we would do well to pay very close attention and heed their admonitions.

Are Some Sins Worse Than Others?

One of my close friends was telling me about a recent interaction he had at a Reformed seminary with a student who was preparing to go into college ministry. In the course of their conversation, my friend and this seminarian entered in on the subject of sexual sin. This young man insisted that there is no sexual sin that is more heinous than another. My friend pushed back on that idea, explaining to him that the Scriptures and our Reformed Confessions teach otherwise. The young man then gave my friend the common rebuttal, "Jesus talked more about self-righteousness than sexual sin; and, he said that self-righteousness was worse than sexual sin." Ironically, this response only lends support to the idea that some sins are more heinous than others. However, it has sadly become the most common way in which many pastors have recently sought to downplay the severity of sexual sin. Contrary to the current narrative, the Scriptures, the Reformed Confessions and principles of nature teach us that some sins are more reprehensible than others.

Twice in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus references Sodom and Gomorrah in order to teach varying degrees of condemnation for the unrepentant. When he first commissioned his disciples to preach the Gospel to the cities in Israel, Jesus told them, 

"Whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!" 

Then, after the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum rejected His words and works, Jesus said to his disciples, 

"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes...And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you."

Commenting on Jesus' appeal to Sodom, John Calvin wrote: 

"Christ mentioned Sodom rather than other cities, not only because it went beyond them all in villainous crimes, but because God destroyed it in an extraordinary manner, that it might serve as an example to all ages, and that its very name might be held in abomination. And we need not wonder if Christ declares that they will be treated less severely than those who refuse to hear the gospel. When men deny the authority of Him who made and formed them, when they refuse to listen to his voice, nay, reject disdainfully his gentle invitations, and withhold the confidence which is due to his gracious promises, such impiety is the utmost accumulation, as it were, of all crimes. But if the rejection of that obscure preaching was followed by such dreadful vengeance, how awful must be the punishment that awaits those who reject Christ when he speaks openly!"1

The purpose of Jesus' appeal to Sodom and Gomorrah was not to lighten the sin of those cities. It was to heighten the sin of the cities in which he did his mighty works and wonders. When he wanted to find the most egregious example with which to draw a comparison, Christ appealed to those cities that were engaging in homosexual gang rape and violence. In Israel in Jesus' day, no civilizations were considered to be as far gone as those of Sodom and Gomorrah. When God spoke through the Old Testament prophets about the sin and judgment of Israel and the nations, He often did so by comparing them with Sodom (Isaiah 1:9, 10; 3:9; 13:19; Jer. 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Ezekiel 16:46, 48, 53, 55, 56; Amos 4:11; Zeph. 2:9). 

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 83 captures the essence of Jesus' teaching: 

Q. 83. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous? 

A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others. 

The Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 151 explains that the aggravations of offense are based a number of different factors. The first of which has respect to the persons offending. When explaining what they meant when they spoke of "persons offending," the members of the Westminster Assembly wrote:

"If they be of riper (i.e. older) age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others." 

Certainly, no one would take issue with this explanation--at least, not in part. Our society unequivocally acknowledges that it is a heightened offense for men who hold positions of power to abuse that power in order to prey on women for sexual gratification. When God places men or women in positions of power or influence, such individuals have an increased responsibility to use that power for the glory of God and the well-being of others. When, instead, men or women chose to abuse that power for self-pleasing ends, God considers it to be a more heinous sin. This is just one small example of what the members of the Assembly mean when they refer "aggregations" and "aggravations" 

While there is a great deal more to unpack and glean from Westminster Larger Catechism 151, it is important for us to note what the members of the Assembly say in Larger Catechism 152

Q. 152. What does every sin deserve at the hands of God? 

A. Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and against his righteous law, deserves his wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come; and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.

Though some sins are most certainly more abhorent than others--and deserve greater judgment than others--"every sin, even the least...deserves the wrath and curse" of God and "cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ." There are no grounds for anyone to think that he or she is in a better spiritual position than others by nature. We are all, by nature, under the wrath and curse of God (Eph. 2:1-4). Just because we may not have fallen into some particular sin doesn't mean that we are, by nature, more righteous than others. The Scriptures level the playing field, so to speak, at this point. All of us are condemned by the Law of God, by nature, because of our natural depravity (Rom. 3:19; Gal. 3:22). Neither does this, in any way whatsoever, give us a license to make light of what we may deem to be "less heinous sin." We cannot, because of Jesus' teaching on varying degrees of judgment, downplay even the least sin in our lives. The same Jesus that teaches us that there are varying degrees of judgment teaches us that if we so much as look at someone to lust after them we have already committed adultery with them in our hearts; and are, therefore, liable to judgment--unless we repent (Matt. 5:28-30). Additionally, we must acknowledge that the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover the sins of any, no matter what sins they have committed or what sinful lifestyles they have embraced. If men and women will repent and turn to Christ, trusting only in His blood and righteousness, they will be forgiven and redeemed. The blood of Jesus is of such infinite and eternal value that it covers every sin of those for whom it was shed, no matter how atrocious that sin. 

We looked at the most popular posts from across Alliance websites in 2017. Did you miss one of these last year? Do you want to read one your favorites again? Just click the article title! 

10Calvin's Life: The Servetus Affair by Jeffrey Stivason

Opponents of John Calvin are quick to blame him for the trial and execution of Michael Servetus. But is that fair? Jeffrey Stivason offers a brief history of the event and Calvin's involvement. 

9. Marital Love Must Be Sexual by Joel Beeke

This is the last in a series of posts about the Puritan view of marriage. The Puritans emphasized the romantic side of marriage, and considered monogamous sexual union in marriage as holy, necessary, and good. 

8. No Little Women: Know What We've Got Before She's Gone by Grant Van Leuven

Grant wrote this beautiful piece in February, reflecting on femininity and the value of womanhood after the passing of his wife only five months earlier.

7. Game of Dethroning Sexual Sin by Nick Batzig

Should Christians watch a show like Game of Thrones, which is widely-acclaimed yet filled with explicit and debauched sexuality? Nick Batzig offers some insight into this divisive issue. 

6. Words Matter: Recovering Godly Speech in a Culture of Profanity by Jon Payne

"So what does the Bible teach about our words?" Jon Payne asks this question in an age of obscenity. His answer: "God created our mouths to be fountains of blessing, not gutters of cursing."

5. Mike Pence, "Truth's Table" and Fencing the Law by Richard Phillips

2017 was a year of conversations (and battles) over sexuality and gender. In this article, Richard Phillips navigates some difficult issues, pointing out both problems in the culture and pitfalls we face in the Church. 

4. A Few Questions About the New CBMW Statement by Aimee Byrd

The Nashville Statement, published in late August, offers what many consider to be an orthodox and biblical understanding of human sexuality. Yet Aimee Byrd has a few reservations, particularly related to the CBMW's stance on gender roles and the Trinity. 

3. The Slippery Slope and the Jesus Box by Richard Phillips

Some think it possible to flirt with liberal doctrines and still maintain orthodox faith in Christ. As the example of Fred Harrell shows, the slope towards heresy may be more slippery than they think. 

2. Sundays are for Babies by Megan Hill

Small children may disrupt your Sunday morning, but this day of rest is for them too! As Megan Hill remarks, "Sundays may mean disrupted naps and delayed meals, but our children are trading earthly provision for something far better for their undying souls." 

1. Pray for Your Church Leaders by Christina Fox

Church Leaders and their families carry heavy loads, beset on all sides with stress and temptation. Christiana Fox calls us to remember them in our prayers, knowing that "the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working" (James 5:16). 

That's all for now. We look forward to 2018, and to another year of proclaiming biblical truth!


Hollywood, Capitol Hill and the Human Heart

As more women bring to light the heinous sexual misconduct of male celebrities and politicians, it would do us good to remember two all-important truths: First, God's word testifies to the pervasive depravity of all men and women (Rom. 3:10-18); and, second, Scripture holds out the universal remedy for sinful men and women--namely, Christ and him crucified. To make this observation is in no way whatsoever to downplay the urgent need we have to protect women from sexual predators and to put punitive measures in place to prevent sexual harassment and abuse of all shapes and forms. It is, however, to highlight that there are dangers associated with the media's fixation on only one or two forms of sexual sin, while neglecting the biblical testimony about the pervasive spiritual depravity of men and women. When depravity is denied, the Gospel is inevitably neglected or rejected. When the Gospel is neglected or rejected, there can be no prospect of forgiveness, cleansing, restoration and renewal--the hope of which Scripture constantly holds forth while bringing indictments against the sin of mankind.  

We ought to welcome an exposure of sexual sin in a culture that has celebrated, embraced and fought for every other conceivable form of sexual sin. However, only highlighting one or two specific forms of sexual depravity will have the inevitable and undesired result of fueling self-righteousness among those outraged by it. When the media singles out one particular sexual sin, while approving almost all other forms, one who hasn't fallen into a socially unacceptable form of sexual sin begins to go on a self-righteous rampage about the sin of others while refusing to acknowledge his or her own depravity. 

There is no outrage in the media about the absolutely hellish nature of pornography and the destructive nature it has on marriages, young people and on society as a whole. As our culture rejects the clear teaching of Scripture, and increasingly promotes and defends polyamorous, incestuous and every conceivable form of androgynous and homoerotic act, we are sliding into a veritable pit of sexual depravity. The media would have us believe that the great problem in Hollywood and Capitol Hill is the problem of power structures that allow men to abuse that power in order to gratify sexual desire. The news outlets may shine an occasional spotlight on the female teacher who engaged in inappropriate sexual relations with an underage student; but, it is men in positions of power that are the chief perpetrators. Nevertheless, it is not power structures that lead male politicians and celebrities or female teachers into sexually depraved acts. If we only focus on nurture, to the neglect of nature, we will ultimately bring about nothing lasting. 

The Scriptures are clear that the problem in Hollywood and Capitol Hill is the problem of the human heart. We are all fallen in Adam (Romans 5:12-21). The guilt and corruption of Adam's sin was imputed to all of his descendants. There is no other explanation for why Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Anthony Weiner, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore and Al Franken have done the repulsive things they have done. There is no other explanation for why you and I have done all of the sinful things that we have done. 

When the Apostle Paul set forth the Bible's exposure of our depravity, he explained: "the Scripture imprisoned everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (Gal. 3:22). The Scripture exposes sin and confines all men and women under sin's dominion and condemnation so that those who will believe on Christ will come to him for forgiveness and redemption. If all we do is agree with the secular world about the heinousness of one or two forms of sexual sin, and throw our support to the call for accountability and repercussions, we are simply wielding God's Law. However, when we acknowledge the testimony of Scripture about our own pervasive depravity and our need for Christ, we will be all the more ready to extend the hope of forgiveness and cleansing in Christ to those whose depravity has been publicly exposed. This is an opportunity for the church to speak to the culture at a time when the culture is still acknowledging certain forms of sin and depravity. The window may be small, and the moment is passing by quickly; but, if we have eyes to see and hearts that are burdened for the lost, we will seek to seize the moment for the redemption of both men and women around us.  

When Calling Yourself a "Christian" Isn't Enough


As a new Christian, I was very interested in studying cults. I studied the nuances of Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarianism, and so on. When we think of cults, we tend to think of groups that not only pervert what the Bible says about salvation, but especially that depart from what Christianity has long taught since the very beginning. One of the other interesting features of cults is that they desperately want to be seen as in the mainstream of Christianity. When the Mormons come to my house, they insist that they're "Christians" - in fact the last ones that came to my house told me they're evangelicals.

Recently, I was reflecting on an important point that Dr. Trueman has been making for a number of years--namely, that the term "evangelical" has not only lost its meaning, but that it probably needs to be abandoned altogether.

Is it possible that the term "Christian," like "Evangelical," isn't enough? Since the Nashville Statement was released this past week we have seen a number of negative responses from people also wanting to claim the name of Christian. I have seen many people claiming that suicides among the LGBTQ community will skyrocket every time Christians reaffirm what they've always said on these issues. I have seen nobody try to argue that what is in the Nashville Statement is innovative or foreign to what Christianity has always taught.

Truthfully I don't see engagement from the dissenters when it comes to the text. I do see the modern shaming, naming, and bullying tactics of the crowd being employed in full-force. I don't see anyone carrying the flag for historic Christianity who is opposing the Nashville Statement. There is no effort on the part of the dissenters to make any connections with the teachings that have been part of the catholic (universal) church since Christ established it.

In this regard, one of the most important books that have been released in the last year was the book Unchanging Witness, by Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Unchanging Witness approaches the theological question of human sexuality from two fronts--the historical front and the exegetical front. Fortson and Grams spend most of the book examining every biblical text that refers to human sexuality, and especially to homosexual behavior. They spend about a quarter of the book surveying direct quotations from the early Church Fathers, the church during the Middle Ages, and the church during the renaissance/Reformation period. Their overall argument is that not only do the Scriptures teach with unanimity and clarity that homosexual behavior is sinful, but their larger point is that the church in history has spoken with one unanimous and unchanging voice on this specific question. Lutherans and Calvinists may differ on the Lord's Supper. Methodists and Baptists may disagree over how to baptize. Baptists may disagree with Baptists over the five points of Calvinism (the list goes on). No Christian church or denomination ever disagreed on the morality of homosexuality.

Here's the real money quote from Unchanging Witness

"On the issue of homosexual practice, no person or church or group should say that biblical texts mean something other than what the church has said all along because...both Scripture and the church have clearly and consistently said the same thing. The issue comes down to this: the authority of Scripture and the relevance of the church's teaching" (Fortson and Grams, pg. 5).

This is precisely where I wish to come back around to the question of whether it's enough to just claim the name "Christian." The people who are spearheading the 'Gay Christian' movement are innovators in the extreme. They must argue that there is no relevance to the church's teaching on the subject of sexual behavior, because there is no argument to be made in that regard. Can someone really claim to be Christian while enjoying the church's teaching (perhaps) on the doctrine of God while they at the same time willfully jettison its interpretation of what the Bible says about human sexual behavior? They can, perhaps, but they would be 'Christian' in name only. It is our relationship to the history of the church that makes our claim to be Christians meaningful. Wolfhart Pannenburg said this:

"If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norms, and recognized homosexual unions as personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical grounds but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" (Christianity Today, November 11, 1996, pg. 37).

Whatever you think of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood... whatever you think of the helpfulness of issuing public statements signed by hundreds of professors and pastors... whatever you think about the CBMW's willingness or unwillingness to deal with the errors that they put forth during the ESS controversy... an objective reading of the Nashville Statement ought to ring true to all people who are Christians in any sense that our forefathers would have recognized. Those who belong to the cult of Evangelical Libertinism are howling in pain right now, but they should be recognized for what they are: a fringe cult masquerading as Christians, just like the Mormons and Watchtower folks.


Game of Dethroning Sexual Sin

Yesterday, Kevin DeYoung kicked the proverbial hornet's nest when he wrote a post titled, "I Don't Understand Christians Watching Game of Thrones." That post was swiftly met with a tirade of social media attacks, such as, "The Bible has many, many more violent and lewd scenes than Game of Thrones...know your Bible, Kevin," "[you] shouldn't expect consciences to be the same" and "Bad idea denouncing what you have no experience with..." Honestly, it was painful to read through the emotionally charged, biblically weak and grammatically poor responses to DeYoung's encouragement for professing believers to pursue holiness in regard to what we set before our eyes on television.

Before saying anything else, I want to confess that, over the years, I have watched television shows and movies that I ought not to have watched--entertainment that I did not watch to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). While I have not watched Game of Thrones, I have watched a litany of other shows that are subject to similar criticisms as those raised by Piper and DeYoung. Those which I have watched have had enough sexual content and innuendos in them to fall into a category similar to that of Game of Thrones. While I have fast forwarded through as many of those scenes as I could whenever they appeared, I now confess that I should not have watched the show in the first place. I am no more like Christ and no more fruitful in the work of His Kingdom for having watched them. I have asked the Lord to forgive me for having watched things that I shouldn't have watched and that I did not watch to His glory. I say this to confess my own sinfulness at the outset.

What are we to do, then, when it comes to fix a limit on what a Christian should and should not watch? Is drawing such a line tantamount to fundamentalism? Are we to simply chalk everything up to a case of personal liberty of conscience? Is it legitimate to compare the sex in the Bible to the sex in a show like Game of Thrones? We must ask and answer these and related questions, if we are to get to the bottom of a Christian ethic regarding what we watch and what we are to abstain from watching. 

To be absolutely clear, I would defend liberty of conscience--as set out in our Protestant confessions--to the grave. As the Westminster Confession of Faith (ch. 20.2) states:

"God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also." 

This means that we must be exceedingly guarded against listening to the commandments of men or binding others to the commandments of men. To be sure, Fundamentalism has been largely built on the sinking foundation of the doctrine and commandments of men. When men and women suggest that a Christian should not drink or watch movies they are falling into the snare of what the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 2: 

"If you died with Christ to the basic principles of the world, why as though living in the world do you subject yourself to regulations: Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle; all of which all concern things which perish with the using--according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Col. 2:22-23). 

Clearly there is a word of warning here for all of us. Telling others that they cannot eat or drink some particular food or drink (even--and especially--under the notion that others have been hurt by such food or drink), or that they cannot watch television or go to the movies, does not change someone's heart. In fact, it gives people a sense that true religion is found in external conformity to ascetic doctrines of men. The Apostle went so far as to call this sort of thing "self-made religion." This does not belong to the realm of true Christian freedom and holiness that we gain by our union with Christ. 

For this reason, I believe that it is unwise to have a checklist with which to bind someone's conscience. However, there must be guiding principles for us to follow if we are to navigate our way through this life, regarding that which we watch on television. 

We would all admit that the Bible forbids certain things that make their way into film or television. There has to be a standard by which we can determine what is and what is not sinful for us to watch. In Psalm 101:3, David says, "I will set nothing wicked before my eyes." Even if David is employing metaphorical language, he is doing so in such a way as to intimate that we should not be entertaining evil. Watching gratuitous sex scenes never builds up. Watching gratuitous sex scenes never strengthens our hearts to fight against sexual immorality. In fact, I would argue (and, I will most certainly argue with you) that doing so desensitizes us to sexual sin and makes us more susceptible to falling into it. I have never had a friend tell me, "I just saw this intense sex scene on such and such a show and I've never been so close to the Lord." That has never happened in all of human history, and, honestly, it never will. When we lay sophistry aside, we all know that we should be guarding our hearts and minds a whole lot more, not a whole lot less, in a day when wickedness pours through the television like floodwaters. 

What about the artistic element to cinematography? Isn't there an artistic element to the shows that we watch? This is not as easy to answer as some many suppose. Every true believer will readily admit that watching porn is sinful (I trust that we would all say that pornography is not only sinful, but that it is hellish in nature). However, what if someone argued that porn has an element of artistic value? After all, the human body is beautiful and the act of sexual intimacy--in the proper context--is full of beauty. So, can we chalk porn up to artistic expressions of beauty with which Christians may entertain themselves? What if it had a great plot, storytelling and character development accompanying the sexual scenes? The biblical answer is a resounding and emphatic, "No!"--for the simple reason that we, who are united to Christ, are to "abstain from fleshly lusts which wars against the soul." God calls us to "flee sexual immorality" (1 Cor. 6:18), and warns us that those who practice such things "will not inherit the Kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9). To this end, we must ever guard against every form of calling "evil good, and good evil" (Isaiah 5:20). 

Self-deception is a real and present danger for believers. Many convince themselves that watching "soft porn" (because that is precisely the secular classification that many of the scenes in television shows today would have received 20 years ago) in the opening episodes on a television show isn't that bad because "while there is intense violence and sexual scenes in the opening episodes, the show mellows out in later seasons." That, it seems to me, is equivalent to us saying, "I can indulge in a little fleshly desire because it is not as bad as it could be" or "I only engaged in this sin or that sin for a little while because it didn't last that long." 

Add to this the fact that the wickedness with which we are confronted today in television and film has risen progressively and almost imperceptibly over the years. We are all like the "frog in the kettle"--being cooked without noticing that, all along the way, the temperature was rising a little at a time. While there were plenty of sexually immoral shows and movies 20 years ago, the sexual immorality was predominately heterosexual adultery in nature. Now, we have intense homosexual, multiple partner and S&M scenes on many--if not most--television shows. The point is simple: heterosexual immorality was never enough. The world was not content with "some" sexual sin. There is an ever intensifying aspect to what Hollywood portrays.

We must not forget that Hollywood is also targeting every sort of person with demographically driven sexual sin. Housewives are the main intended audience of movies like Magic Mike and 50 Shades of Grey. In all of this, there is a systemic unravelling of the foundations of morality that should leave Christians deeply disturbed. It can and will only get worse; and, we better wake up to the dangers of it for our own souls and the souls of our children!

What about the claim that the Bible has a lot more violence and gratuitous sex than Hollywood? While acknowledging that fundamentalism has unhelpfully downplayed the raw nature of Scripture regarding human depravity, the Bible sets out violence and sex--not as good things with which to entertain us but as evil things to be abhorred and fled by the covenant people of God. Even when the Scriptural portrayal of sexual sin is set out, the Holy Spirit normally employs discretionary language (the graphic language of Ezekiel and Hosea are exceptions). The Scripture gives us cameos of depravity to show us our need for the Redeemer. Hollywood is not giving us these things to drive us to Christ--even if one were to argue that the depravity portrayed in shows and movies reminds them of the fallenness of this world. 

Frankly, it would be impossible to treat each and every objection to what John Piper and Kevin DeYoung have suggested about watching Game of Thrones (a 1000 page book would need to be written). But, what is written in Scripture ought to be enough to make us want to be more careful about what we put before our eyes, not less careful. If we cannot watch something to the glory of God (and you honestly have to answer the question in your conscience as to whether you are doing so), then we shouldn't be watching it. That is not fundamentalist legalism. It is a call to radical holiness for the glory of God. God the Father chose us and God the Son purchased us with His blood so that we would be holy and without blame before Him in love. Let's live as those who have been "bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:20)--even with the precious blood of Jesus.