Occasionally I am asked, “Does a Christian have to keep a journal in order grow more like Jesus Christ?” Of course not. There is no command in Scripture—explicit or implied—requiring the followers of Jesus to keep a journal. And while I’ve written and spoken of the benefits of keeping a spiritual journal, I’ve never written or said that the Bible anywhere obligates Christians to keep a journal. In fact, I have never read or heard anyone making such a claim. Moreover, there is absolutely no evidence—biblical or otherwise—that Jesus kept anything like a spiritual journal.
While we credit the Lord Jesus Christ (since He is a member of the Triune Godhead) with the ultimate inspiration of all the written Word of God, the only account of Jesus physically writing anything during the days of his humanity is when he stooped to write on the ground in John 8:6. That is not to imply that the omniscient Son of God was illiterate in his incarnation. For the New Testament refers to Jesus reading Scripture aloud (Luke 4:16), and it is hard to imagine him receiving an education where one is taught to read but not to write.Does the Bible command it?
So if the Bible does not require a Christian to keep a journal (indeed, a person can be both a devoted Christian and yet completely illiterate), and if Jesus did not keep a journal, why do I encourage followers of Jesus to consider journaling and why did I include entire chapters about this practice in some of my books? I recommend to Christians the discipline of keeping a spiritual journal because (1) something very much like journaling is modeled in Scripture, and because (2) believers throughout church history have found journal-keeping so beneficial to their growth in grace.
For as long as I have written on the subject of spiritual disciplines, I have sought to advocate only those disciplines which are taught or modeled in Scripture. Without this God-inspired means of evaluation, anything and everything that anyone pronounced as profitable for his or her soul could be touted as a spiritual discipline Christians should pursue. Apart from a sola Scriptura standard to guide Christian spirituality, anything from the trivial to the heretical could be claimed as equal in value to personal disciplines as basic as Bible reading and prayer or interpersonal disciplines as important as hearing God’s Word preached and participating in the Lord’s Supper.
And while there may be some intramural debate among Bible-believing Christians about whether certain practices do have scriptural support, it is crucial to recognize the importance of God’s Word as the sufficient means for assessing “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).
Can we say, then, that there is a biblical basis for journaling? While the evidence for it is clearly not as strong as for a personal spiritual discipline like prayer, I believe that something very similar to what has historically been called journaling is found in Scripture by example. In the Psalms, we repeatedly find David writing things such as, “Incline Your ear, O Lord, and answer me; For I am afflicted and needy” (Psalm 86:1). Cries like these are not unlike a believer today writing a heartfelt plea to the Lord in a journal.
When, in the book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah recorded his Godward feelings about the fall of Jerusalem, he was doing something not very different from the Christian today who types his or her Godward feelings into a word processor file named “Journal.” Of course, unlike the words of David and Jeremiah in Scripture, no believer’s writings today are divinely inspired. But the example of these men in writing their prayers, meditations, questions, etc., provides scriptural validation for Christians today to do the same.Jonathan Edwards and journaling
A second reason I advocate journal-keeping is because of the sanctifying benefits that so many Bible-believing Christians throughout history have attributed to the practice. Jonathan Edwards found the discipline so helpful that he kept journals or notebooks of various kinds. He penned a diary, a 500-page journal of “Miscellanies” (basically thoughts on theology), and enormous notebooks with “Notes on Scripture,” “Notes on the Apocalypse,” and reflections on “The Mind.”
A separate collection of “Miscellaneous Observations on Scripture” includes more than ten thousand entries made from 1730 to 1758, according to biographer George Marsden. And the first biography published in America—still in print and still powerfully used by the Lord—was primarily a missionary’s journal to which Edwards attached a short biography and called it The Life and Diary of David Brainerd.
I know only one person who keeps a written record of insights into Scripture, prayers, significant life moments, etc., on a scale comparable to Edwards. Unlike Edwards, most journal-keepers—whether they write by hand, on a word processor, in a blog, or some other way—are not daily journalers. Regardless of the frequency of their entries, however, they journal because God blesses them in it and also because it helps them to practice other spiritual disciplines found in Scripture.
For instance, one friend has told me that he tries to write simply “one key thought” from his Bible reading. He reports that “Some of the most meaningful, the most convicting, the most ‘blessing’ and reinforcing perspectives I’ve ever gotten from Bible study have come from my daily journaling process. . . . God has been pleased to bless this discipline in my life, far more than [I] can express.” As Scottish pastor and author Maurice Roberts put it, “The logic of this practice is inevitable once men have felt the urge to become molded in heart and life to the pattern of Christ.”Should I journal?
So, do you have to keep a spiritual journal? Well, if you are enrolled in my Personal Spiritual Disciplines class at the seminary and you want to pass, the answer is yes. Otherwise, no; journal- keeping is not necessary for Christlikeness.
Many of the greatest Christians in history have kept journals, and many equally godly men and women have not. But I urge you to consider whether you might be among those who would find journaling an easy and practical encouragement the Holy Spirit would use in your growth in grace.
Are you up for an adventure?
It’s not like seeing the Grand Canyon, nor is it like going to an acclaimed restaurant for the first time. This is an adventure of the soul.
You can venture into it wherever you may be. It’s an adventure into the supernatural, into wholesomeness.
If it knocks your socks off, so to speak, it likely will be in a tender, quiet way. This adventure takes place in your mind and heart and in Scripture.
It begins when you pick a passage from the Good Book, as they call it, whether one verse or several, and read it from time to time, perhaps daily or whenever you have a moment. Start with the first phrase or sentence. In a few days, or longer (there’s no hurry), you may be able to repeat it in your heart. Then add the next phrase, then the next until the passage begins to become part of your consciousness.
As the adventure unfolds, you may notice a word, or a few words, or a thought in the passage that begins to affect your life and connect you to the heavenly Father. As you become intimately familiar with the words of the passage, the Holy Spirit may begin to use it to enhance your thoughts, your relationships, your endeavors.
Sometime later, you may gain another revelation or two from the passage. You may sense that it is helping to undergird your life, as if helping you to stay afloat amid the flow of your daily experiences.
You may be stirred to repeat this adventure with another passage, then another, perhaps on different topics such as prayer, your integrity as a person, your hurts and struggles, the quality of your friendships, your readiness to help others.
At some point, whether early on or later in the journey, you may be stirred to know how all this relates to God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit, how faith is a core dynamic in human well-being.
Far different than the Grand Canyon or an extraordinary meal, this adventure can be continuous, transforming you into a precious child of God, a tender soul always ready to venture into new revelations of divine, eternal significance.
Solomon concluded the book of Ecclesiastes, his breathtaking reflection on the meaning of life, with a memorable word about writing: “Of the making many books there is no end . . .” (Ecc. 12:12b). In that vein, there were many, many excellent books published in 2018 related to ministry, including several about Paul’s two-pronged admonition to Timothy for ministers to “keep a watch over your life and doctrine” (I Tim 4:16).
I’m confident many useful books for pastors will roll off the presses in 2019, but as we close out the old year and usher in the new, here are several of the best ministry-related books I read in 2018. If you missed some of these, I’d recommend moving them near the top of your reading in the New Year.
- Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People(Crossway) by Joel Beeke. A temptation for the theologically-driven pastor is to dump all the good things he’s learned on his first congregation. In this excellent book, Joel Beeke (one of my favorite living preachers) shows how Reformed preaching avoids the twin fallacies of sounding like a lecture of being a mere emotional appeal. The best preaching takes theology and appeals to the affections, informs minds and engages hearts. Along the way, Beeke provides insights on preaching from a survey of the Reformers and Puritans, who rediscovered and filled out what he rightly calls “Reformed experiential preaching.”
- The Man of God: His Calling and His Godly Life(Trinity Pulpit Press) by Albert N. Martin. This work is the first of four volumes in the highly-anticipated series on pastoral theology from a veteran pastor who has mentored dozens of men of God over the past several decades. Volume one examines the call to pastoral ministry and the critical call for God-called men to set a watch over the walls of his life.
- The Privilege, Promise, Power & Peril of Doctrinal Preaching(Free Grace Press) by Thomas J. Nettles. How did popular preaching become so weak and doctrine-free? SBTS historian Tom Nettles traces the decline of doctrinal preaching from the robust days of Jonathan Edwards to the modern-day “life coaching” of Joel Osteen.
- Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship(Crossway) by John Piper. It’s far too easy for those of us who prepare sermons every week to forget that our preparation and execution of sermons is, most fundamentally, an act of worship. Piper, like perhaps no contemporary author can, reminds us of this critical truth.
- The Pastor’s Soul: The Call and Care of an Undershepherd(Evangelical Press) by Brian Croft and Jim Savastio. This book is written by two dear friends, both of whom have spent decades in the trenches of local church ministry. I can’t think of two men better positioned to show pastors how to take care of their life and doctrine. This little book is unique in that it details how a pastor should care for his own heart. One of the most helpful chapters is a call to the spiritual discipline of silence, which Southern Equip excerptedthis summer.
- The Preacher’s Catechism(Crossway) by Lewis Allen. These 43 questions and answers, written to reflect the format of historic catechisms, seek to nourish for weary pastors in the thick of ministry. Each chapter features content designed to care for your spiritual health, feeding your mind and heart with life-giving truth aimed at helping you press on in ministry with endurance, contentment, and joy. It’s a good spiritual vitamin for pastors. Read one per day for six weeks.
- Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church(9Marks/Crossway) by John Onwuckekwa. How often does your church pray together? This powerful little volume calls the church back to returning corporate prayer to the heart of ministry. Concise and well-written, the author instructs the church on prayer through two of Jesus’s best-known prayers — the Lord’s Prayer and his petition at Gethsemane. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the book is the way in which the author uses personal anecdotes and even touches of humor to promote the centrality of prayer in the body of Christ.
- Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End(Crossway) by David Gibson. Earlier this year, I, along with my fellow elders, preached through the book of Ecclesiastes. Gibson’s volume was an incredible help to me and helped me point the congregation to Solomon’s central truth that living in light of the finish line helps keep one properly focused on Christ during the race. This little commentary is one of the most compelling books I’ve read on what has become one of my favorite OT books.
- Watchfulness: Recovering a Lost Spiritual Discipline(Reformation Heritage) by Brian G. Hedges. This was my favorite book I read all year and is now one of my favorite spiritual discipline books of all-time. Through biblical exposition and the best of Puritan spirituality, Hedges teases out all the crucial implications of Matthew 26:41—the necessity for all Christians, of keeping a close watch on your life. This lost spiritual discipline is vital for all Christians, but is particularly important for pastors who are called to keep a watch over their own lives as well as the lives of their sheep. This powerful little volume is best read slowly, carefully, and reflectively.
- Graciousness: Tempering the Truth with Love(Reformation Heritage) by John Crotts. For this book, I would almost ditto what I wrote above about the Hedges work. Crotts is an SBTS graduate and a veteran pastor and his impactful little volume provides a much-needed reminder that we are to communicate the truth in a manner befitting the humility of our Lord. The latter chapters include some excellent practical ways for developing graciousness as our default setting in our preaching and teaching as well as in private conversations. Every pastor and future pastor should read both this book and the Hedges work.
- Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope(TGC/Crossway) by Matthew McCullough. With life expectancy twice what it was 200 years ago, even Christians—who ought to know better—tend to live as if they are never going to die. Death is not somebody else’s problem, it’s mine. McCullough, a Boyce College graduate, has written the most compelling book I’ve ever read about death. While this is not directly related to ministry, reading this book served as a powerful (and much-needed) reminder of how to live in light of Jesus’s promises now and positioned me to better teach my congregation how to do the same.
Two I contributed to in 2018
Collin Hansen, who serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, and were privileged to edit two multi-author volumes this past year aimed at pastors in their first few years of ministry, and I’d like to humbly commend them for your reading.
- 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me (TGC/Crossway) seeks to show that seminary education is immensely valuable but is only half the important part of becoming a pastor. A God-called man is only able to learn how to put to work those good things learned in seminary while serving on the front lines of local church ministry. In his preface, SBTS President Albert Mohler compares ministry preparation to basic training in the military—seminary equips you to fight in the war, but only the battlefield makes one a battle-ready soldier.
- 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry (TGC/Baker), seeks to show that suffering is normative in pastoral ministry. The book examines the lives and ministries of 12 men from church history — ranging from the apostle Paul to John Calvin, John Bunyan, Andrew Fuller, J. C. Ryle, and a few less-recognizable names — and details the ways in which they suffered while serving the local church but grew into humble, effective instruments in God’s hands through their affliction.
Como los cristianos confunden el tema de la heterosexualidad (What Christians Get Wrong about Heterosexuality)
Preston Sprinkle republicó un ensayo de 2017 por Greg Coles: “You don’t need to pray that God makes me straight” (“No hay que rogar a Dios que me haga heterosexual”). Salió recientemente en el Center for Faith, Spirituality, and Gender. Coles rechaza fuertemente la idea de la heterosexualidad.
El mensaje de Coles se une a un grupo grandísimo de libros y coloquios que animan los cristianos para involucrarlos en los asuntos LGBT. Se supone que deben compartir “la verdad en amor.” Hay líderes destacados de este movimiento con vínculos en instituciones cristianas. Por ejemplo Mark Yarhouse es catedrático en Regent University.
El Center de Sprinkles se parece a Love Boldly, Faith in America, Reformation Project, Revoice, Spiritual Friendship, New Ways Ministry, y LivingOut. También hay los Metropolitan Community Churches. Hay gente famosa que colabora con ellos, como Jackie Hill Perry, Rosaria Butterfield, Karen Swallow Prior, Wesley Hill, y Sam Allberry.
Estos grupos quieren hacer puentes entre dos perspectivas opuestas. Una adapta la exégesis bíblica a la cultura posmoderna. Cuando toma en cuenta la cultura homosexual de hoy, dicha perspectiva apoya la identidad, el deseo, o hasta los actos homosexuales (lea aquí para estudiar “Lado A” versus “Lado B”.)
La otra perspectiva distingue las culturas de hoy valorizándolas por la autoridad de la Biblia. Siguiendo lo que dice la Biblia, considera pecados las identidades, los deseos, y los actos actuales homosexuales (aquí hay un argumento que relaciona los movimientos sexuales posmodernos con la historia bíblica de Sodoma.)
Coles dice que son parecidas la heterosexualidad y la homosexualidad porque las dos son igualmente rotas y llenas de pecado. Él declara, “gay o straight, somos todos vulnerables a los comportamientos lujuriosos.” Él presenta una decisión entre dos opciones distintas:
- rechazar toda la sexualidad porque toda es igualmente pecaminosa, o
- ofrecer la misma gracia a todos deseos sexuales.
La primera opción les negaría a los cristianos los placeres y la procreación de sexualidad normal. Esto es imposible y no es conforme a lo que manda Jesús (Él glorifica las relaciones íntimas entre hembras y hombres dentro del matrimonio en San Mateo 19:4-12 y en San Marcos 10:6-12.) Les lectores se obligarán a escoger la segunda opción.
Entones la gracia a toda sexualidad se convierte de facto en apoyar el deseo homosexual. Esto es retórico pero no es bíblico.
Si se borran las diferencias entre la heterosexualidad y la homosexualidad, se fortalecen varias creencias pro-LGBT:
- Los deseos son “normales,”
- Los deseos hacen una “identidad,” y
- Es “discriminación” esperar que los homosexuales superen sus deseos, si no esperamos lo mismo con respecto a los heterosexuales.
Aceptadas estas creencias, es muy difícil seguir una ética casta, hasta si tenemos los motivos más puros. Estudien el caso de Julie Rodgers en Wheaton College.
Mientras tanto, los contextos católicos y seculares, homosexuales y heterosexuales, todos dan razones a los evangélicos para tener muchísimo cuidado con esta retórica. La iglesia católica sufre consecuencias catastróficas debidas a los abusos sexuales por sacerdotes. Entre estos ochenta y cinco porciento ocurrieron entre el mismo sexo. También el movimiento MeToo enfocó abusos heterosexuales causados por la pérdida de fronteras sexuales. Los límites ciertos importan. Sin embargo el movimiento para “verdad en amor” se hace siempre más popular.
¿Qué está pasando? En vez de analizar todas las reacciones cristianas a la homosexualidad, uno puede encontrar más ilustración si uno estudia porqué los evangélicos no entienden muy bien la heterosexualidad.
Fui redactor del libro Jephthah’s Daughters (2015). Se incluyó en él un capítulo mío titulado “Problema de Mujeres.” En Norteamérica, muchas veces la fobia del sexo produce un miedo varonil de mujeres y un miedo femenino de hombres. Entonces los hombres evitan las mujeres y las mujeres evitan los hombres. El resultado es una cultura que separa los sexos uno del otro. Nathaniel Hawthorne no inventó por nada sus historias del temor que los puritanos sentían acerca de la sexualidad. De “Rip van Winkle” a Walden, se encuentra una historia muy larga de norteamericanos que huyen de la heterosexualidad doméstica (también investigo este enigma en varios capítulos de Colorful Conservative.)
¿Coles presenta una nueva idea? De verdad tiene siglos. Él y la mayoría de los demás en este movimiento empiezan con una idea equivocada. El gran desafío para los cristianos de hoy no es “¿cómo reaccionamos a la homosexualidad?” sino “¿cómo cultivamos una heterosexualidad bíblica?”
En Génesis 1-2 Dios diseña los machos y las hembras para que acompañen y beneficien uno a otra (y una a otro) por medio del acto sexual. El quinto mandamiento en Éxodo 20:12 presenta “madre” y “padres”—papeles relacionados al acto sexual y a la procreación—como personas que se deben respetar igualmente, para que la “tierra” entera encuentre prosperidad. Rechazar un sexo es rechazar el diseño de Dios en la escritura.
Dios no creó orientaciones sexuales. Él creó sexos. Dios dio a cada sexo un cuerpo capaz de regalar placer físico e hijos al otro sexo. Todos son heterosexuales porque todos nacen en cuerpos de hombre o mujer. Esta verdad no cambia hasta si uno tiene sentimientos muy difíciles contra los cuales uno debe luchar. La homosexualidad no tiene nada que ver con la heterosexualidad y la primera no equivale a la segunda.
Hay gente que sienten deseos poderosos hacia el mismo sexo. Así narra Greg Coles en su ensayo. Pero no cambia la verdad que ya son heterosexuales porque Dios los creó así, así que la Biblia nos cuenta. Los hombres en tal situación tienen que dejar de analizarse a sí mismos para adivinar si pueden hacerse straight—basta ya con aquel debate muy cansado. Necesitan maestros que pueden ayudarlos a invitar muchachas para ver si pueden casarse con una.
Los ministerios deben ayudar la gente a prepararse mentalmente, físicamente, y espiritualmente para el noviazgo deliberado del otro sexo. Coles relata sus propios fracasos cuando no pudo sentir deseo al ver imágenes pornográficas de mujeres desconocidas. Allí él pierde su hilo. Dios creó el cuerpo de este hombre para que sea atractivo a una mujer. Entonces Greg Coles tiene un regalo que debe compartir. Los ministerios deben animar los cristianos a utilizar sus anatomías dadas por Dios. Su anatomía sexual les otorga un talento que se debe compartir según su diseño, no negárselo al otro sexo.
Hemos gastado demasiado tiempo enfocando la cuestión de si el cristianismo prohíbe la homosexualidad o no. En 2019, necesitamos un nuevo discurso sobre una heterosexualidad:
- que sea un bien inherente, si no se abuse,
- que sea incomparable a la homosexualidad, y
- que sea la meta de cualquier ministerio para los cristianos identificados como LGBT.
Los hombres y las mujeres—de hecho todos humanos—tienen los derechos y las obligaciones iguales a estar en tal discurso. Todos deben dejar de decir “la heterosexualidad no es santidad.” Ese refrán es incierto y engañoso. Es un non sequitur. Dios nos diseñó. Su diseño para nosotros es sagrado. Su diseño para nosotros es heterosexual. Hasta un celibato tiene que reconocer la belleza y valor intrínseco del otro sexo. Nadie puede vivir su vida creyendo que el otro sexo no merezca cariño y gozo.
A los que son como Greg Coles, permítanme decirles, “dejen de pensar en la homosexualidad y sean machos como Dios los creó!” Si vuelven sus pensamientos a la oscuridad, oren y llenen sus mentes y corazones del Espíritu Santo.
Preston Sprinkle republished a 2017 essay by Greg Coles: “You don’t need to pray that God makes me straight” at the Center for Faith, Spirituality, and Gender. Coles boldly rejects the idea of heterosexuality.
Coles’s message joins an enormous genre of books and conferences exhorting Christians to engage LGBT issues by speaking the “truth in love.” Key players in the discussion hail from Christian institutions, most notably Mark Yarhouse of Regent University.
Sprinkle’s Center resembles Love Boldly, Faith in America, the Reformation Project, Revoice, Spiritual Friendship, New Ways Ministry, and LivingOut, not to mention the Metropolitan Community Churches. They partner often with Christians like Jackie Hill Perry, Rosaria Butterfield, Karen Swallow Prior, Wesley Hill, and Sam Allberry.
These groups aim to bridge clashing worldviews. One worldview adapts Biblical exegesis to postmodern culture. In noting homosexual culture today, this worldview condones homosexual identity, homosexual desire, or even sodomy itself (see here for “Side A” versus “Side B”.)
The other discerns today’s cultures according to the Bible. Based on what the Bible says, it deems today’s homosexual identity, desire, and intercourse wrong (see here for an argument linking postmodern sexual movements to the Sodom story.)
Coles equates heterosexuality and homosexuality as equally broken and sinful, stating, “Gay or straight, we are all drawn to lustful behaviors.” He offers an either/or choice:
- reject all sex as equally sinful or
- offer the same grace to all sexual inclinations.
The first would deny Christians the pleasures and procreation of normal sex. Since this is impossible and conflicts with Jesus (who glorifies male-female intimacy within marriage in Matthew 19:4-12 and in Mark 10:6-12), readers must choose #2.
Consequently equal grace to all sexuality becomes a de facto endorsement of homosexual desire. This is rhetorical but not Biblical.
The leveling between heterosexuality and homosexuality reinforces LGBT tenets:
- the desires are “normal,”
- the desires form an “identity,” and
- it is “bigoted” to ask that homosexuals repudiate their desires if we do not ask heterosexuals to abandon theirs.
These tenets make it difficult to uphold chastity, even with the best intentions. Study the case of Julie Rodgers at Wheaton College.
Catholic and secular, homosexual and heterosexual contexts all provide grounds for evangelicals to approach such reasoning with caution. The Catholic Church faces catastrophic fallout over sex abuse by clergy, of which 85% was same-sex. A MeToo movement spotlighted heterosexual abuses resulting from the loss of sexual boundaries. Clear limits matter. Yet the “truth in love” movement grows in appeal.
So what’s going on? Rather than scan the Christian responses to homosexuality, one can gain greater insight by examining evangelicals’ failure to understand heterosexuality.
In Jephthah’s Daughters (2015), I included a chapter called “Problem of Women.” In America, fear of sex has often led to a male fear of women and a female fear of men. In response, men avoid women and women avoid men through social arrangements that become sex-segregated. Nathaniel Hawthorne did not construct the Puritans’ fear of sexuality from nothing. From “Rip van Winkle” to Walden, one finds a long history of Americans dreading heterosexual domesticity (I explore this conundrum at length in The Colorful Conservative as well.)
While Coles appears to present a new idea it is actually old. His starting premise, like the premise of most others in this movement, errs: the major challenge facing Christians is not how to respond to homosexuality, but rather how to cultivate a Biblical heterosexuality.
In Genesis 1-2 God designs males and females to fulfill each other through sexual intercourse. The fifth commandment in Exodus 20:12 places “mother” and “father”—roles based on intercourse and procreation—as figures whose respect bestows flourishing on “the land.” Rejecting one sex goes against God’s design in scripture.
God did not create sexual orientations. He created sexes. God gave each sex a body equipped to provide physical pleasure and children to the other sex. Everybody is heterosexual because everyone is either male or female, regardless of what feelings they may grapple with. Homosexuality has nothing to do with heterosexuality and cannot be cast as its corollary.
Some people feel powerful same-sex desires, as Greg Coles narrates in his column. This does not change the fact that they are heterosexual already, because God made them that way, as the Bible tells us. Men in his situation need to stop self-analyzing to see if they can become straight—that is a moot point. They need coaching to help them date marriageable women.
Ministries should help people prepare themselves mentally, physically, and spiritually for deliberate courtship of the opposite sex. Coles relates his own failures to feel desire at random images of women. That misses the point. God created his body to be desirable for a woman, so he has a gift to share. Ministries should encourage Christians to use their God-given anatomies. Their sexed anatomy grants them a pleasurable talent to be shared according to its purpose rather than denied the opposite sex.
The focus on whether Christianity forbids homosexuality has taken too much energy. For 2019, we need to begin a new discussion of heterosexuality as:
- a good in itself, provided that it is not abused,
- incomparable to homosexuality, and
- the necessary end of any ministry for Christians who identify as LGBT.
Males and females—indeed all humans—have equal right and duty to engage in such discussion. People should stop saying “heterosexuality is not holiness.” That statement is vague and misleading, a non-sequitur. God’s design for us is holy and His design is heterosexual. Even a celibate person has to acknowledge the beauty and intrinsic value of the opposite sex. Nobody can live life believing that the opposite sex does not deserve affection and pleasure.
To people like Greg Coles, I can only say, stop thinking about homosexuality and apply your male body to its God-given purpose. If your thoughts go back to dark places, pray and fill your mind and heart with the Holy Spirit.
Paul talks about different roles in the work of God in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul himself remained a pioneer church planter after he started the church at Corinth. Paul’s role is absolutely essential. It was essential in his day, and it remains essential in ours.
However, Paul is not the only model for missionary service presented in his first letter to the Corinthians. Apollos was a church-developing missionary, and his ministry was also absolutely essential. While it is true that new believers have the Spirit and the Word, it is also true that missionaries need to be careful in dealing with new churches on the mission field to avoid creating dependency. However, the apostolic model shown in this text is not “plant and abandon.” This model does not advocate a few follow-up lessons followed by inductive Bible study as all that is needed to keep a church of new believers going. Careful nurture and ongoing instruction are essential.
Apollos had done an essential part of the missionary task in following behind Paul and working with the church to help her members understand the truth and apply it to their lives. In addition to Paul and Apollos, there is another group in view in this text. Paul is gone, and so is Apollos, but there are still leaders in the church. These are the teachers who continue to instruct and guide the fellowship of believers. Paul doesn’t give us names, but these are the ones to whom he will shortly address the warning: “Be careful how you build.”
LAYING THE RIGHT FOUNDATION
Each role — that of Paul, Apollos, and the church leaders — is essential. The pioneers must make sure that they lay the right foundation. And the only foundation that matters, according to Paul, is Jesus Christ. Not just any Jesus will do, however. Only the Jesus of Paul’s gospel, who died for our sins according to the Scriptures, who was buried, and who was raised again on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-4), can serve as an adequate foundation for the church.
I was once in a church that, sadly, abandoned its commitment to the Scripture. In describing the work of evangelizing an unreached people group, I discussed the essential role of Bible translation. Afterwards, a man came up to me and asked, “Why all this fuss about the Bible? The Bible just divides us. Why don’t you simply focus on Jesus?” I responded, “Which Jesus would you like?” Without the witness and control of the word of God, you can make up any Jesus you want — and plenty of people have done so.
The Jesus of whom Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians was a real man, with a real body that could be put to death. This Jesus was the Messiah who fulfilled everything to which the Old Testament pointed. This Jesus was the substitutionary sacrifice for sins. We need missionaries who know the gospel with crystal-clear accuracy and who know how to communicate that gospel effectively across whatever cultural barriers exist. This Jesus is the only foundation worth laying.
BUILDING ON THAT FOUNDATION
However, subsequent builders who come after the pioneer must also build with care, building on the foundation of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul shifts to a building metaphor and talks about the quality of what each person builds; he is talking about the life of the church. This text is not about how individual Christians build their Christian lives, as some think. It is about how believers build Christ’s church. Paul gives two types of materials with which one can build on the foundation of Jesus Christ. The first class is permanent and precious: gold, silver, and precious stones; the second class of material is flimsy and flammable: wood, hay, and straw. God will judge the quality of each person’s work in building the church. God not only cares what each person does in his or her personal, private life. He also cares passionately about what each person does with the church.
The foundation of the church is the gospel of Christ. The pioneer church planter, according to Paul, must build wisely.
SENDING THE BEST INTO THE WORLD
Today’s pioneer missionaries must be among our best people. They must have the best understanding of theology and biblical studies. They must have the best cultural understanding and cross-cultural communication skills. The task of a pioneer missionary is not a fall-back option for those who can’t make it in the states. It requires the best skills. It requires more skill to minister effectively cross-culturally than in your own culture: you must understand Scripture for yourself in your own setting, and then you must understand how to communicate it and apply it in a setting not your own.
Similarly, church-development missionaries like Apollos are still an essential need, and they also must be our best. They also must have the best understanding of the classical theological disciplines. They must also have the very best ability to communicate that knowledge cross-culturally. The message of this text is that God takes his church seriously. Whatever your role may be, build wisely, because your work will be evaluated by fire.
Like Paul, we must also have a passion about building wisely, laying a solid foundation of the complete biblical gospel and building carefully on that foundation both in terms of content and in terms of character. My vision for Southern Seminary is that we would marry these two passions. I want us to be a school that marries a passion for missions with a passion for doing missions rightly. My vision is that we would send our very best to the ends of the earth, where they can lay the foundation of the gospel with skill and integrity and build on that foundation with the whole counsel of God.
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Our youngest daughter has been longing for a certain Christmas gift for weeks. She placed it on every Christmas list she prepared. She told everyone that she wanted a particular doll for Christmas, but somewhere along the way, she got the idea that she would not get it. Her second grade teacher told my wife the other day that our daughter thought we didn’t take her request seriously. All the while, this doll had been hidden away for weeks in anticipation of Christmas.
Since we travel to visit family every Christmas, we celebrate a few days early with just our family of six. All throughout the day, our youngest daughter talked about the doll and how much she wanted to get it for Christmas. My wife and I would occasionally catch each other’s eye and smile. Finally, the time came for our annual family Christmas celebration. After dinner, we distributed gifts and directed each child which gift to open first. Although she was excited to open her first couple of gifts, our daughter kept asking about the doll. Finally, we told her to open her last gift, and there it was. The sheer joy and excitement on her face was indescribable!
Our daughter had spent weeks hoping for one present. Most of her conversations revolved around the possibility of receiving this gift for Christmas. Once she received it, she continued to talk about it. But now she talks about this gift in different terms. She wants everyone to see the doll. She wants everyone to know that she got the doll for Christmas. She wants everyone to enjoy her doll as much as she does.
Is this not how we should feel about the greatest gift ever given? Should we not find great joy in the fact that God has given us the precious gift of His Son?
At this time of year, I like to reflect upon some of the prophecies in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah. In many ways, they remind me of the anticipation that my daughter expressed for receiving the one gift that would make her Christmas special. One of my favorites is found in Isaiah.
In Isaiah 7, God offers Ahaz a sign of His promise. He says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
I can only imagine how Ahaz received this prophecy. Did he anticipate this child would come immediately? Did he inquire about the circumstances of every birth from that point forward? Did he expect to meet Immanuel personally? We may never know the answers to these questions, but we do know that this prophecy was fulfilled very specifically.
Fast forward to the Gospels, and we see a couple—Mary and Joseph—who had an unusual experience. These two were betrothed to be married, but Mary was found to be pregnant. Luke 1:26-38 tells us that the angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary to tell her of the special circumstances of this child’s birth, but Joseph was still unaware.
Imagine with me what a conversation might have looked like between Mary and Joseph the next day. Mary finds Joseph at his carpentry shop and asks him to step outside for a quick conversation. She tells him that she is expecting a child. In shock, he asks her how this could be. She tries to reassure him that all is well because an angel had appeared to her the night before, telling her that she was carrying the Son of God. Joseph must have been flabbergasted and convinced that his soon-to-be bride had lost her mind. Matthew tells us that Joseph even considered sending her away secretly—a righteous act considering that her apparent infidelity could have brought public shame. However, Matthew goes on to report that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph to reveal to him that his betrothed wife was telling the truth. This is where we are pointed back to the prophecy of Isaiah. Matthew records:
But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:20-23).
From the days of Ahaz until the angel revealed to Joseph that his betrothed wife would bear a son, the prophecy of Isaiah was mostly a mystery. Yet that mystery was revealed in Matthew 1:23. The fulfillment of this prophecy gives us great hope. God has come to us. He has made a way for us to be in relationship with Him.
How should we respond? I pray that our joy would be revealed just like the joy on my daughter’s face when she received her most anticipated gift. We do not anticipate this gift any longer; however, we should find great joy in telling others about the gift we have received. May this Christmas be filled with reminders of God’s precious gift and the joy we have in both receiving it and telling others about it.
One of my older children recently posed an excellent question during our family worship time: “Is there a place in the Bible that gives a good, short summary of the real meaning of Christmas?” There are many, of course, but as a pastor tasked with preaching many Advent seasons through the years, I’ve discovered one that may be overlooked: the hymn that Simeon sings after seeing baby Jesus in Luke 2:29-32 and his subsequent words to Joseph and Mary in vv. 34-35. It brings the whole Bible together in a powerful summary.
Who is Simeon? The only time he is mentioned is when the baby Jesus’s parents present him at the temple for purification in accord with the law of Moses. We are only told that he was “righteous and devout” and came to the temple by the Spirit’s drawing. He was a Jewish man waiting for the “consolation” (literally “comfort”) of Israel. He took Jesus up in his arms and praised God for him, then spoke (or perhaps sung) what many scholars believe was a short hymn:
Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your Word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.
Naturally, Jesus’s earthly parents marveled at Simeon’s words. What he said next to Mary brought the ages together:
Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.
A remnant remained
When Jesus was born, the faith of Abraham was crumbling under the legalism of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Yet, even while the people of God suffered under the lash of Roman rule, God still had a remnant.
Simeon’s song is a good summary of the meaning of Christmas. In the span of these few words, promise and fulfillment collide to tell the story of Christ’s Advent. It tells us at least six things about the glorious hope of Christmas:
- This child fulfilled the promises of old
He was the promised consolation of Israel. God had fulfilled his Word and now Simeon could die in peace. Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and is the key to understanding the Bible. He is second Adam who emerged, unlike the first Adam, without sin. He is the true Moses, who has gone into the promised land to prepare a place for his people. He is the true priest who is both our great high priest and the sacrifice itself. He is the final King, the promised relative of David and the ultimate heir to his throne. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the old covenant promises.
- This child brought salvation to all peoples
God has sent his son as a Savior for all peoples, both Jews and Gentiles. He was a light for the Gentiles, who had formerly walked in darkness. As the apostle Paul put in Ephesians 2:12-13, the Gentiles previously were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, those who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
God’s ethnic people already had God’s revelation and are the people through whom the Savior came. There is now one people of God. Christ has broken down the wall of separation that once divided Jew and Gentile and has made for himself one people out of two. J. C. Ryle’s words are poignant here:
The spiritual darkness which had covered the earth for four thousand years was about to be rolled away. The way to pardon and peace with God was about to be thrown open to all mankind. The head of Satan was crushed. Liberty was about to be proclaimed to the captives, and recovering of the sight to the blind. The mighty truth was about to be proclaimed that God could be just, and yet, for Christ’s sake, justify the ungodly … The first stone of God’s kingdom was about to be set up. If this was not ‘good tidings,’ there never were tidings that deserved the name.
- This child was appointed for the rise and fall of many
Christ’s arrival is good news. He is appointed for the rise — or literally, the resurrection — of many in Israel. Christ is the savor of life for those who believe in him (2 Cor. 2:14-16). Many who were once alienated from God by sin will now flee to him and find reconciliation with God. This is the good news of Christmas. Just as Christ raised Lazarus after he had been dead for many days, so will many sinners be raised to newness of life by the Son of God who is fully God and fully man. This good news links the Christmas story with Easter and shows how one is incomplete without the other.
While the good news rescues many, it is a word of judgment for the disbelieving world. God appointed Jesus for the fall (lit. “ruin”) of many. He is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense for all who reject him as Lord and Savior.
- This child would be a sign that is opposed
He would be a mark for all the fiery darts of the evil one. He would be despised and rejected by men. This child and his people would be a city set upon a hill, attacked and hated on every side by all kinds of men throughout the centuries. He would wind up reviled, rejected, and blasphemed, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. In their depravity, sinful men oppose this promised one. Thus, since Scripture here predicts that many will oppose Christ, we should not be surprised when the majority of those around us do not follow him. Love and compassion should compel us to keep praying and proclaiming.
- This child was born to die
Here is the good news of the gospel in miniature. How? Simeon foretells the sorrow that will come upon the Virgin Mary, picturing it as a deep-cutting and heart-piercing sword. This was fulfilled when she stood by the cross and saw her son hanging there, bearing the sin of his people. But her sorrow would turn to joy, for Mary was a sinner in need of grace every bit as much as we are. The sword that pierced her through in the death of her son turned out to be the salvation of her soul. The light has indeed shone in the darkness.
- This child would reveal sinfulness of human hearts
The gospel reveals the true heart of all people. Preaching the cross provokes anger and enmity in some, but agony over sin and repentance unto life in others. To some, it only increases the opposition and culpability, it further hardens their hearts; to others, it brings light to a dark place. To these, Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 4:6 are precious: “For God, who said, Let Light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
For some, Christ is the light of the world; to others, he is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. Many who are righteous in their own eyes will have the truth about their hearts revealed in the light of Christ.
Go tell it
Simeon’s gospel is the good news of Bethlehem and Golgotha. The story of Christmas is never complete without Good Friday and Easter. This Advent season, as we gather to celebrate the Incarnation of our Lord, sing the song of Simeon far and wide — especially to those who still walk in the darkness.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is an intriguing figure in the history of intellectual thought. His is a story of unquestioned genius and remarkable ingenuity. He not only made major contributions to the fields of geometry, probability theory, and various fields of science, but was also an inventor of one of the first calculators. All this before his untimely death at the age of 39! Having lived most of his life as a nominal Christian, in his mid-30s, Pascal had a profound religious experience, sometimes referred to as a “night of fire,” and he thereafter gave his life to the Christian faith.
What’s interesting about Pascal is, even though his magnum opus was to be in Christian apologetics, he saw a limited role for apologetic arguments. He once observed, “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”
Speaking specifically about apologetics, he says:
The metaphysical proofs for the existence of God are so remote from human reasoning and so involved that they make little impact, and, even if they did help some people, it would only be for the moment during which they watched the demonstration, because an hour later they would be afraid they had made a mistake.
Mere intellectual belief versus a confrontation of the heart
What Pascal meant by “proof” here is the (often very complex) formal arguments given in an academic setting. He was not necessarily discounting the value of these arguments in all respects. He was simply making an observation that these formal arguments have a limited value for actually convincing people.
Now, despite the fact that I specialize in philosophy and apologetics, and I see great value in apologetic arguments, I think he’s right! Almost no one in the history of the world has come to believe in Christianity purely on the basis of formal arguments. You can’t, as it is sometimes said, argue someone into heaven.
Pascal thought genuine knowledge of God must involve more than merely being convinced intellectually of its truth. For Pascal, it is knowing in a deeper way. Pascal thought of this as a knowledge of the heart. Heart knowledge, for him, is not simply emotions or desires, but the deepest form of knowing reality, including our intuitive knowledge of first principles. Peter Kreeft has said, “Like Augustine, Pascal knows that the heart is deeper than the head, but like Augustine he does not cut off his own head, or so soften it up with relativism and subjectivism and ‘open-mindedness’ that his brains fall out.”
Why isn’t head knowledge enough?
The reason head knowledge is not enough is, unless there is incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, we tend to believe what we want to believe. In most cases, if we don’t want to believe something, we won’t. We will find ways (often very subtly) to shut ourselves off from the force of arguments. It definitely happens, from time to time, that one succumbs to an argument that keeps us up at night. But this, it seems to me, is the exception.
When it comes to changing our worldviews, it takes a richer confrontation.
A good example of someone reluctantly coming to Christianity is C.S. Lewis. He says, in his autobiography:
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?
Lewis’ full conversion to Christianity came some time later. An important step toward his conversion was coming to see Christianity as a “true myth.” As a literature scholar, Lewis loved the myths of the ancient Greek gods. He found them inspiring and deeply moving. But when it came to the Gospels, though they did not read as myths, they had, in a way, the same kind of depth. After an almost all-night discussion with a couple of his close friends (including J.R.R. Tolkien), it was suggested that the Gospel was like a myth in the sense that it provided a narrative to live by, but, as he says, “with this tremendous difference that it really happened.” This brought together his rational desire for the truth and his desire for meaning and purpose. But it wasn’t an argument. It was a way of understanding the Christian claims that made a huge difference on his journey toward becoming a Christian. Christianity became something to which he was drawn and yielded his life.
The Value of Arguments
This is not to say that apologetic arguments are unimportant. To the contrary, I think they are part of making Christianity attractive. Arguments were certainly important for Lewis in his journey. People have intellectual roadblocks, and it is the arguments that can address these roadblocks. I have known people who think certain objections (e.g., textual issues, the problem of evil, etc.) are simply insurmountable. However, when they see the objection addressed in a thoughtful way, they are intellectually freed up from something that had previously stood as a barrier. This can be a powerful and important moment. But the point is, it is one step in the journey.
No one is simply argued into heaven because this is not the intended purpose of the apologetic arguments. They have great value along the journey of faith, but it takes a lot more than just arguments. Let’s be clear: they don’t save. It is only the Gospel of Jesus Christ that saves (Romans 1:16).
This year, God has used Southern Equip to train hundreds of thousands of pastors, missionaries, counselors, and other gospel leaders – both current and future – for more faithful service. Here is a collection of our most popular resources from 2018.
The post Best Of: The top articles from Southern Equip in 2018 appeared first on Southern Equip.
Seminary Hill Press is the publishing arm of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, publishing books, pamphlets, tracts, and other Christian resources by the institution’s faculty and alumni. In 2018, the press produced multiple titles that would make great Christmas gifts for theologians and laypersons alike. Here are the year’s top five must-have books:
1. Mobilize to Evangelize: The Pastor and Effective Congregational Evangelism, by Matt Queen
Based on his own pastoral experience in the local church, Southwestern Seminary evangelism professor Matt Queen has written a practical guide for pastors who want to champion evangelism in their congregations. Mobilize to Evangelize provides pastors with tools they need to understand and to assess how evangelism is conceived, practiced, and perceived in their congregations. It offers realistic ideas they can implement to mobilize their congregations to evangelize. (Available here.)
2. Let the Text Talk: Preaching that Treats the Text on its Own Terms, by Kyle Walker
God desires His text to do the talking in your sermons. Are you willing to let the text talk? This volume aspires to show you how. It is a humble attempt to help preachers do their best to present themselves approved and unashamed as they handle the Word of God. (Available here.)
3. 31 Truths to Shape Your Youth Ministry, by Richard Ross
Designed to guide adults who value teenagers into a deeper walk with King Jesus, this devotional book aims to shape the hearts of youth leaders so that they, in turn, may shape the hearts of teenagers, turning them into lifetimes disciples of Jesus. The book champions teenagers who adore King Jesus in the power of the Spirit for the glory of God; parents who embrace their call to be the primary spiritual leaders to their children; teenagers who have heart connections with all the generations in the congregation; and churches that equip teenagers and then mobilize them to be the church today. (Available here.)
4. Christian Education on the Plains of Texas, by Jack D. Terry, Jr.
In 1915 on the plains of Texas, Southwestern Seminary established the Department of Religious Pedagogy, which became the first school of religious education anywhere in the world of academia. Founded specifically “to touch the lives not only of the special educational students who will come to study Sunday School work but also the lives of all the students who come to study here,” the school, over the next 100 years, developed into a crucial piece not only of Southwestern Seminary, but of the eternal Kingdom work that would be accomplished by its students.
This volume recounts the first 100 years of this school’s history, covering how the budding department ultimately developed into the Terry School of Church and Family Ministries, as it is known today. (Available here.)
5. In Praise of a God who Saves: 110 Stories of Everyday Evangelism, edited by Alex Sibley
Since Southwestern Seminary was founded in 1908, its students, faculty, and alumni have strived to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This volume comprises 110 stories—one for each year since the seminary’s founding—of the Gospel going forth through the witness of these Southwesterners, with many of them seeing people come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. These stories will both encourage and convict readers in their evangelism, and above all, the stories will inspire them to praise our amazing God for being a God who saves. (Available here.)
To learn more about these and other Seminary Hill Press titles, visit SeminaryHillPress.com.
Trained instincts — that’s how fighter pilots can react immediately to rapidly changing situations as they operate $27 million war machines. When a threat aircraft is closing in, there’s no time for pilots to reason through what to do. They have to rely on instinct, but not just natural instinct. They need instincts shaped deep within them through years of regiment. The countless little decisions they make in the cockpit are automatic, but that doesn’t mean they’re involuntary. The pilot voluntarily trained for them, and in the cockpit he reaps the instinctive benefits of that training.
This is a good illustration of how unintentional sin works. Can we be guilty for sinful responses that seem to erupt in us automatically? Can we really consider sin voluntary if it is not consciously chosen?
Scripture’s view of human experience is complex enough to answer, “yes.” Scripture speaks of involuntary sins as including three characteristics: they are (1) from ignorance of God’s will and therefore (2) not deliberately chosen as hostile acts against God, yet (3) they are disobedient nonetheless. Leviticus 5:17 describes unintentional sin as “doing any of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it.” Peter told his law-celebrating Jewish brothers they “killed the Author of life” because they “acted in ignorance” (Acts 3:15, 17). Paul told his idol-loving Greek audience their long artistic history was actually “the times of ignorance” that God had overlooked (Acts 17:30).
The Jews killed Jesus. The Greeks crafted idols. Both of these actions were instinctive expressions of hearts not conditioned by God’s revealed Word, but by differing (yet equally sinful) sets of beliefs and values. The Jews believed in a legalistic god of their own making and valued their cultural version of righteousness; the Greeks believed in their human-crafted gods and valued the beauty of their own imaginings. Their actions simply expressed these deeper structures of ignorance. The Jews did not intend the killing of Jesus to be a hostile act against God, and the Greeks did not intend their pursuit of earthly pleasure to be a direct rebellion against Him. But they were nonetheless.
So it is with us. Our responses flow from somewhere — from the deeper realities of the hearts we’re stewards of. We are stewards of the deeper realities just as much as we are of the surface expressions. So, we can sin without deliberate choice because we are always acting intuitively out of hearts conditioned by inherited sin. Jesus gave us the general paradigm for this when he told us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34).
Like the fighter pilot’s hours of training, our hearts are under a regimen that gives shape to our intuitive responses — a regimen of beliefs and values that don’t align with Scripture, drilled into us through what we put in our heads, what we receive as wisdom from other sources, what we accept as normal from culture. All of these shape our unintentional sin.
Think of the way sins such as partiality (James 2:1), jealousy (3:14), or harshness (4:2) function in real life. Rarely do people intentionally decide to show partiality. Yet, they’re instinctively drawn to a beautiful person who comes into the room. Why? Because of their established perception of what is attractive. Jealousy is the automatic impulse that arises when my deep value for a certain thing meets my hidden assumption of personal entitlement to it. Harshness is the result of the quiet desires of my heart smacking up against a person I perceive as withholding those desires from me.
These sins tend not to have a moment of decisive action; they sort of emanate from our vitality. And in case that’s not bad enough, these basic unintentional sins can emanate in more complex forms, too: Partiality can express itself as racism, jealousy as workaholism, harshness as manipulation.
Sins of ignorance can only be remedied with knowledge. Far from being an excuse for sin, ignorance is the thing that keeps us in it. We become aware of unintentional sins—and more than that, are given the ability to do something about them—only by an external word from God. In Leviticus, this is a man “realizing his guilt” by knowing the will of God as laid down in Scripture (5:17). Peter’s solution to the Jews’ ignorant murder of Jesus is to refer them to Scripture’s prophecies about Him (Acts 3:18). Paul speaks to the Greeks’ idolatry about the one God not made of gold or silver (17:29). Only then, with this new awareness of truth, can they possibly take the proper action against their unintentional sin: “Repent, therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (3:19).
If we’re using it rightly, Scripture is that uncomfortable knife — a sword, in fact — that cuts deep (Heb. 4:12). But as deeply as it cuts, it is for the purpose of God’s sculpting that glorious, instinctive design He put in us when He saved us. When a person believes God’s Word, he is given a mind characterized by the righteousness of Christ, out of which flows new understanding (1 Cor. 2:14–16). The same design that makes human beings able to sin instinctively is now used for good. When people come to faith in Christ, they receive His righteousness—not just as a declaration of right standing before God (justification), but also as a living power that reshapes their core beliefs and values, and therefore the instinctive responses that flow from them (sanctification). Their automatic responses are characterized by greater righteousness. Trained instincts, but now under a new regimen.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published at Ligonier.
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In recent days, several authors have received attention in the media for proclaiming that the “evangelical purity culture” has harmed young people. One of those authors, a former pastor, invites adults to send her their discarded purity rings so she can melt them and form a sculpture of female genitalia. The sculpture will be used to promote her new book.
Since (humanly speaking) I am considered a cofounder of True Love Waits, I must consider the possibility that this movement harmed rather than blessed a young generation. Ignoring the criticisms that sincere writers have raised would be intellectually dishonest.
If I were a woodworker and if my daughter loved playing softball, I might use a lathe to create a custom bat for her. However, what if a mugger stole that bat and then bashed a girl while taking her purse? I would deeply grieve that something I made was used to harm someone. I would grieve, but I would not feel guilty.
Inviting teenagers into a lifetime of sexual holiness and purity, if consistent with Scripture, is a beautiful thing. When someone takes that message, twists it, and then uses it to bash the young, I grieve—probably more than anyone. But I do not feel guilty, nor do I second-guess the rightness of the original message.
I am well aware that, using the words “True Love Waits,” some leaders twist the beauty of sexuality and present it as dirty and ugly. Others proclaim that all the responsibility for chastity rests with girls and that they alone bear the shame for all sexual failures. Others want to banish all those who stumble to a lifetime of guilt and self-loathing.
I have spent 49 years seeking to bless a young generation. I grieve that distorted messages have harmed some teenagers. And I doubly grieve when I learn that some have carried pain into their adult years. But that grief does not cause me to doubt the beauty and the rightness of the original True Love Waits (TLW) message.
In 1992–1993, Jimmy Hester and I were employees at LifeWay Christian Resources. In those days, the culture was focused on reducing the social and personal consequences of teenage sexual involvement. In the faith community, teenagers and their parents and leaders were looking for something positive and proactive rather than only reactive.
The idea for TLW came to Jimmy and me during several coffee break conversations. Because we were on break, all we had on which to record our ideas were cafeteria napkins.
At the same time, I was serving as a part-time youth pastor. Jimmy and I agreed that I would present the core TLW message to the teenagers and parents in my church. Fifty-three teenagers responded positively to the original message and indicated that they wanted to be identified with a new movement. No one could have guessed that the movement would sweep through 100 denominations and national student organizations in the U.S. and 100 countries worldwide.
If you strip away the distortions, here is the original TLW message:
- TLW is an invitation to sexual purity and holiness among teenagers who believe that God exists, that He defines ultimate truth, that He is the author of the Bible, and that the Bible communicates ultimate truth without error.
- TLW is an invitation to teenagers who believe that God came to earth in human form, that He died on the cross to pay the cost for sin, and that He now offers forgiveness to all because of His sacrifice.
- TLW is an invitation to teenagers who have accepted the forgiveness Christ now offers by faith, repenting of their sins and turning from a life centered on self to a life centered on Him.
- TLW affirms the biblical standard that all sexual expression should take place only between a husband and wife in a biblical marriage. Expressions that involve sexual organs are sexual expressions.
- TLW affirms that Christ-followers embrace and follow biblical standards related to sexual expression because they love, respect and adore Him; because they have decided to follow Him; and because they are full of gratitude for His sacrifice on the cross.
- TLW affirms that a life of sexual purity and holiness is prompted by the greatness of Christ and the power of the Gospel and not by moralistic instruction or behavior modification.
- TLW affirms that children need to hear from birth about the goodness of sex as one of God’s best creations.
- TLW affirms the biblical standard that Christ-followers do not dwell on lustful thoughts toward someone to whom they are not married.
- TLW affirms that boys and girls have an equal responsibility to follow biblical standards in all relationships.
- TLW affirms that no one follows God’s callings perfectly, including the leaders and participants in the TLW movement. We serve a God of second chances.
- TLW affirms that Christ’s death on the cross makes forgiveness for sexual sins possible. God continually picks up His children, dusts them off, and sets them on their way again without shame.
- TLW affirms that Christ-followers who never marry can have rich and full lives and exalt Christ as they live a lifetime without sexual expression.
Multitudes of adults report that the TLW message was an important factor in their sidestepping sexual sin in their teenage years. Multitudes of single adults continue to embrace and live out that message. Multitudes of married adults report that the absence of scarring from their teenage years is a major factor contributing to the beauty and joy of their current sexual expressions. Christ be praised.