This message is directly specifically at teenagers, but just for kicks, I’ll post it here anyway! It was preached for teen Sunday School at my church this morning.
There are three basic, looming decisions facing any Christian teenager as their high school days come to a close and they face the prospect of escaping from home (at last!) and starting life on their own.
Am I a Christian? Do I live out my own faith or have I just been borrowing from my parents?
What career will I choose?
Who and when will I get married?
For a Christian teenager seeking to be true to God, each of these life-altering decisions are (hopefully) seen in the context of what God’s will for his life is. Questions such as these will naturally swirl through the mind:
What God want me to do?
Should I go to college? Which college?
Who does God have for me to marry?
Will I ever get married?
We all probably remember wrestling with these issues in our own lives. In this lesson, I take a brief look at what a passage of Scripture has to say about (1) God’s universal will for every Christian and (2) discerning God’s will for our individual lives. The important takeaway is this:
God’s specific will for our lives is predicated on His universal will for Christians. Basically, if we aren’t interested in fulfilling our most basic responsibility as Christians and walking worthy of God, then we’re wasting our time praying to God and asking for guidance and help on specific issues. First things first, after all!
God does not reveal His specific will for our lives in a comprehensive, direct revelation. We frequently can only see God’s providential hand in our lives after the fact, years later, as we look back on life events. He does not provide us with a PDF instruction booklet outlining His specific plan for our lives! We have to make important decisions day by day as we (1) search the Scriptures, (2) pray earnestly for guidance, (3) weigh the counsel of other Christians we respect and finally (4) simply doing what we believe is best in light of all these factors. God will work through these situations to work things together for good.
We may not always appreciate or like what God has in store for us! However, if we can truly call ourselves children of God who have repented of our sins and trusted in Christ as Savior, we can trust God and live by faith as we await His glorious return!
I honestly wish I had much more time to flesh this out. Hopefully it was a blessing to our teens in church, and perhaps even to you. The Gospel of Mark continues next week.
The phenomena of “cultural Christianity” is not a new one. The label “carnal Christian” has been bandied about regularly in literature and in the blogosphere. Christians of every theological stripe know “carnal” or “cultural” Christians. Pick whichever label you like best, or even invent your own – you know these people. They claim repentance from sin and salvation through Christ alone. They come to church more or less regularly . . . sort of! They sit more or less attentively in the pews and may even tithe faithfully. They go through the motions. And yet . . . there is no discernable joy of Christ in their lives. There is no growth. To borrow a phrase from Paul Tripp (2008), there is a “gospel gap” in their lives. Their FaceBook pages abound with worldliness; perhaps you’ve even secretly hid them from your news feed! Their children walk and talk like everybody else. There is no concept of separation, holiness or imitation of God in their lives. They are indistinguishable from normal, everyday, unsaved “good people.”
These folks are legion. Some are undoubtedly saved, others are undoubtedly not. I’m not interested in debating that issue right now. What is significant is that too many Christians have little conception of who Christ is, what they were saved from and what their calling as Christians is. We’ll look at what Paul had to say on this very matter:
We Were Once Dead (Eph 2:1-3)
Christians sometimes seem to lose sense of both (1) what they were saved from and, (2) the grace of God in performing this marvelous work. We lose focus on the gift of salvation and our attentions turn inward, to temporal matters. Paul, writing to the faithful saints at Ephesus (Eph 2:1), emphasized the grace of God in salvation in very powerful, stark terms.
Christians were once dead in the trespasses and sins they walked in (Eph 2:1-2). This is a spiritual death, a sinful nature we all inherited from Adam (Rom 5:12). In this sinful state, there is absolutely nothing meritorious in us that God can find pleasure in or accept as grounds for salvation.
“Now in this dreadful disordered condition, are all of us brought into the world: for as the root is, such must the branches be. Accordingly we are told, “That Adam beget a son in his own likeness;” or, with the same corrupt nature which he himself had, after he had eaten the forbidden fruit. And experience as well as scripture proves, that we also are altogether born in sin and corruption; and therefore incapable, whilst in such a state, to hole communion with God. For as light cannot have communion with darkness, so God can have no communion with such polluted sons of Belial,” (Whitefield).
Paul went on to describe the nature of this spiritual death, observing that we followed the “course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” (Eph 2:2). We were completely different prior to salvation by Christ. We served a different master, as it were, and that master was Satan. We once lived as “sons of disobedience,” mimicking the ways of our former master.
“. . . carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind,” (Eph 2:3).
We were by nature the children of wrath (see also Jn 3:36). Paul paints a very frank picture of a Christian’s former state. “These verses picture the hopeless unbeliever as a part of the world system, controlled by Satan, indulging the flesh, and destined to experience God’s wrath,” (Constable, 2013, 28). This is what we were saved from and, moreover, it is what we deserve. God was not obligated to save anybody. He chose to.
We are transferred from the realm of Satan to the realm of God upon repentance of our sins and saving faith in Christ. We did belong to Satan but now belong to God. The chain which once bound us to sin has been broken!
Now We Are Alive! (Eph 2:4-9)
God is rich in mercy because of the “great love” He has for us. Even while we were yet dead in our trespasses and sins, He made us alive together with Christ (Eph 2:4-5). The initiative here is clearly with God, underscoring our complete inability to come to Him on our own or claim merit in any fashion. We are saved by grace, or unmerited favor (Eph 2:5). He has given us heavenly citizenship (Eph 2:6). This was done so that, in the coming ages, He might demonstrate the immeasurable riches of His grace and kindness in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:7). The supreme demonstration of this grace is salvation, which is “not your own doing” (Eph 2:8). Paul wrote that this salvation was “not a result of works, so that no one may boast,” (Eph 2:9). The entire thrust of this passage is the surpassing grace of God in salvation.
What’s the Point? (Eph 2:10)
We were saved for a purpose, not to glory in our own election and while away our lives in idleness. This is the root of the issue with nominal Christians – they claim but Christ but display no urgency to live for Him in any discernable way! There is no power of the Gospel in their lives. It is merely a cultural thing.
I like baseball. I like the Blackhawks. I like CSI: New York. I’m a Christian. God Bless America.
Too many Christians have lost any real sense of what it actually means to be a Christian. They have no Christian identity. How different this is from what Paul wrote:
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Eph 2:10).
Christians who have been saved in ages past, are being saved today and will be saved tomorrow are His workmanship. This election to salvation is not a call to privilege but a choosing of service to God (Rom 12:1-2). We were created in Christ Jesus specifically for good works. There is no way to get around this statement from Paul. A fervent desire to serve the Lord should be the practical outworking and fruit of our salvation. If we Christians can wrap our heads around this fact, then Paul’s call to present ourselves as “living sacrifices” takes on a whole new significance. It should change our lives. It should compel us to serve Christ in whichever way we can, in accordance with the various talents, gifts and abilities He has seen fit to bestow upon us. Too many Christians are not fulfilling their calling but are on spiritual autopilot.
We know these people. They are our friends and neighbors. They worship together with us in church. Perhaps they were once living for the Lord, but have fallen on hard times. Maybe they were always nominal and tentative in their faith. Regardless of the circumstance, we have a duty to exhort and encourage our brothers and sisters in the faith, stirring them up to love and good works (Heb 10:24-25). God is not pleased by lukewarm Christians (Rev 3:16).
We all need to grasp what the “grace of God” really means, and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age as we wait for Christ’s return (Titus 2:12-13). There is no place in our lives for a complacent Christianity. Let us resolve to not allow this complacency and nominalism to characterize our own lives, and to encourage and exhort our brethren to not allow it to come to pass in theirs either.
“Hail, happy saints! For your heaven is begun on earth: you have already received the first fruits of the Spirit, and are patiently waiting till that blessed change come, when your harvest shall be complete. I see and admire you, though, alas! at so great a distance from you: your life, I know, is hid with Christ in God. You have comforts, you have meat to eat, which a sinful, carnal, ridiculing world knows nothing of. Christ’s yoke is not become easy to you, and his burden light. You have passed through the pangs of the new birth, and now rejoice that Christ Jesus is spiritually formed in your hearts. You know what it is to dwell in Christ, and Christ in you. Like Jacob’s ladder, although your bodies are on earth, yet your souls and hearts are in heaven: and by your faith and constant recollection, like the blessed angels, you do always behold the face of your Father which is in heaven,” (Whitefield).
The Lord’s Prayer is one of the most famous portions of Scripture. It is known throughout the world, and can perhaps be counted along with Jn 3:16 as one of the handful of Biblical passages that non-Christians will recognize. It is also a very misunderstood passage. Some take it as a literal prayer that should be repeated verbatim periodically. This author, as a newly saved Christian, recited the Lord’s Prayer every night for several weeks, and felt closer to God as a result!
There are any numbers of ways to interpret the Sermon on the Mount. This paper takes the interim approach, which sees it as an ethic for believers before the inauguration of the kingdom. The original audience were Jews who expected Christ to establish His millennial reign, as He had been preaching (Mk 1:14-15). The fact that His kingdom was not inaugurated at that time does not negate the Sermon as a whole; it merely means it is still applicable to Christians today who still await the kingdom God promised Israel (2 Sam 7:16). “The sermon is primarily addressed to disciples exhorting them to a righteous life in view of the coming kingdom.”
It may more properly be termed “The Disciples’ Prayer!” If any prayer may be associated with Jesus Christ, surely it is John 17. It is not a literal prayer, but a model prayer. Christ teaches Christians how to pray, how to approach our Holy God and the proper heart attitude a believer must have before participating in the marvelous honor of intercessory prayer.
5 And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
Christ presupposes His disciples will pray. “And when you pray,” not “and if you pray.” This tells us that prayer is an assumed component of the Christian life. Matthew Henry’s observation is a pointed rebuke to all Christians who reject this vital element of worship; “You may as soon find a living man that does not breathe, as a living Christian that does not pray . . . If prayerless, then graceless.”
Prayer must be entered into with the right attitude. Christians seek to glorify their Father in heaven and never themselves (1 Cor 10:31). The triune Godhead planned and decreed everything in eternity past (Ps 139; Eph 1:11, 3:11), created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2), died for the sins of wicked men (Jn 3:16) and is at work convicting humanity of sin and His own righteousness even now (Jn 16:7-11). He alone is deserving of praise, honor and worship.
Prayer, and all worship in general, is an issue of the heart (Deut 10:16). “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him,” (Jn 4:23).
6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Prayer is an intimate conversation, between the believer and his Lord. There is no place for ostentation here. It is a private worship where sinful men can bring their cares, worries and petitions before the Holy God who saved them from sin and darkness.
Christ was not literally instructing His disciples to find themselves a convenient closet. This author ministered to well-meaning teenagers who returned from a “mission’s institute” of questionable reputation and doctrine, where they were instructed to actually pray for hours in closets or darkened rooms!
The Greek for room, ταμεῖον, means chamber, closet or a place of retirement and privacy. It also means inner room. The word itself is used to denote a small storeroom attached to a Jewish house. The context here does not suggest Christ wanted His disciples to seek out unoccupied storerooms; it merely suggests privacy – the very opposite of ostentation. As one scholar explained, “it would have been the only room provided with a door, and at least one commentator observes that it had become almost a proverbial expression for a place where one could go and not be seen.”
It is not the location of the prayer offered; it is the heart of the humble petitioner who offers the prayer that Christ was concerned with. Believers have the privilege of working with God through intercessory prayer; it is shameful to come before Him with anything less than a humble and contrite spirit. Those who pray more often in public than in private before the Holy God are typically less interested in God’s approval than human praise. Frequently, prayers and petitions are offered in public worship services. There is nothing wrong with public prayer, (it is encouraged!), but when aspirations for flattery gain ascendency over a heart-felt petition before God a Christian is in trouble.
“All display should be avoided in devotion: He who addresses God must be wholly engrossed with thoughts of his own wants, and of Him whose grace he entreats. Such abstraction will convert the most public place into a ταμεῖον.” As John Phillips noted, “since God is omnipresent, we can transform any corner into a cathedral and pray.”
A Christian who prays for the vain glory and honor of men will receive little to no reward. God abhorred the sacrifices and offerings of sinful Israel, because their heart was absent (Isa 1:10-20). Even the Israelites’ prayers were in vain (Isa 1:15). God’s people are characterized by a circumcision of the heart (Deut 10:16; Rom 2:29). Christians who pray in this spirit will be rewarded according to His sovereign will. Those who seek the praise of men will not be. God’s people must keep their hearts set on Him (Pr 4:23), for “what will it avail us to have the good word of our fellow-servants, if our Master do not say, Well done?
7 And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
God knows His children’s struggles and needs, yet He granted His people the honor of working with Him anyway. Prayer does not become more efficacious with fancy phraseology or eloquent speech. Rote formalism and false piety are nothing more than unnecessary and “empty phrases.”
Blomberg suggests Christ is cautioning against endless repetitions of the same prayers; “God wants to give us good gifts; therefore, we need not badger him with our requests.” This is not the case. Rather than discouraging “excessive” prayer, Christ is discouraging the wrong approach to prayer – one characterized by false eloquence and flowery speech, as if God would be moved by such feeble piety.
The word for “empty phrases” or the more familiar “vain repetitions” is βαττολογεω, which means to babble. It also means to prattle, speak much, or use many words. Therefore, when Christ tells His followers to not “heap up empty phrases,” he is referring to vain and endless prayers – prattling done with the intent to be heard more. Again, this is a heart issue. “His point is that His disciples should avoid meaningless, repetitive prayers offered under the misconception that mere length will make prayers efficacious.” Prayer need not be a prescribed length, done in a prescribed place or be fashioned from prescribed words – it simply needs to be heartfelt and honest. With the right heart, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” (Jas 5:16b, KJV). There is no such thing as “excessive prayer” uttered in the correct spirit before God.
Reverence for God
9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Christ was not demanding a recitation of this prayer, but offered it as a model for prayer. The KJV (“After this manner therefore pray ye”) and NASB (“Pray, then, in this way”) seem to capture the force of this meaning more clearly than the ESV. Carson explained that Christ meant, “this is how [not what] you should pray.” The context itself demonstrates the prayer was never meant to be repeated literally, especially in light of Christ’s admonition against vain repetitions and empty phrases (Mt 6:7-8).
The first thing Christ teaches Christians is an awareness of who they are speaking to. Believers ought to speak honestly with God but always remember they are speaking to God. Prayers must never be offered with careless informality, as though He were merely a friend. At the same time, the privilege of knowing God and addressing Him as “Father” implies relationship, familiarity and trust. There is a fine line between a relationship with God through honest prayer, as a child to their heavenly Father, and the careless familiarity and contempt of presumptuous prayer. God is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Pr 18:24). “The phrase ‘in heaven; balances this intimacy with an affirmation of God’s sovereignty and majesty.”
God’s name will be hallowed in the end, when He receives all the worship due His name. Indeed, this entire model prayer forces Christians to put things into the proper perspective of the kingdom that is to come. “There can be no doubt that the first request looks to the time when all nations shall worship God in the millennial age.”
Submission to God
10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Our attitude in prayer, indeed in all things, must be humility and submissiveness to God. His kingdom will come. His will shall be done. Are Christians willing to see His will done? Are Christians keen to offer themselves as living sacrifices for His work (Rom 12:1)? Are believers trusting in the grace of God to train them to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ? (Titus 2:12-14). Do God’s children fully appreciate that their salvation was done with a specific purpose? “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Eph 2:10).
It is a privilege to be used of God in His unfolding plan for His kingdom. Christ was emphasizing the vital necessity of a submissive spirit, anchored on the foundational truth that God is sovereign. Prayer to Him simply must reflect this; “prayer is to include the request that His will be accomplished today on earth as it is being accomplished in heaven, that is, fully and willingly.”
This verse, like the last, is clearly eschatological. All God’s people struggle in this present, evil world all while waiting for their blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). Meanwhile, He is purifying believers for His own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).
“We make Christ but a titular Prince, if we call him King, and do not do his will: having prayed that he may rule us, we pray that we may in everything be ruled by him.” Prayers must reflect a humility and reverence for God’s program for the ages.
11 Give us this day our daily bread
Too often, requests for physical provision occupy an unbalanced proportion of a Christian’s prayer life. Christ’s model prayer contains but one small verse on this issue; He expands on this principle later in the chapter (Mt 6:25-34). John Phillips’ point here is especially illuminating;
Analysis of our own prayers will often reveal preoccupation with the material side of life; we pray mostly about how we are to be fed, where we are to live, what we are to wear, Aunt Suzy’s illness, Uncle Joe’s need for a better job. We should not stop praying for these topics. The Lord taught us to include them in our prayers; but material requests are to be kept in their right place and proportion.
Christ also teaches His children that all daily provisions are from God. It is easy to become complacent, comfortable and lazy in prayer. All blessings are from God. “It is a lesson easily forgotten when wealth multiples and absolute self-sufficiency is portrayed as a virtue.”
Imitators of God
12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
It is “natural,” in man’s fallen, sinful condition to harbor anger, bitterness and ill will towards others. However, Paul specifically called believers to shed the old way of life and put on the new self, created in the likeness of God.
But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,to put off your old self,which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:20-24).
So often, however, the exact opposite is true. How can men approach the Holy God, who forgave and continues to forgive the sins of His elect, while at the same time refusing to forgive others for real or perceived wrongs? Christians are called to be imitators of God (Eph 5:1). Christ commands Christians to have the right spirit when they pray. His words here act as a subtle rebuke to all believers, past, present and future. He presupposes His children will come before Him with a clear conscience, holding ill will toward nobody.
There are clear eschatological overtones here. “It is impossible for one to be in fellowship with God as long as he harbors ill will in his heart. The disciples were to be always spiritually prepared for the coming of the kingdom.” God’s standards for conduct have always been predicated on His holiness (Lev 19:2; 1 Pet 1:16). The kingdom is not yet here, and Christians cannot somehow inaugurate the kingdom through a pattern of holy, righteous living. Rather, all believers are commanded to live holy lives as a witness for Him in this present age, while waiting patiently for Christ to return. Disciples must pattern the kingdom in their own individual lives as a light for the lost (Mt 5:14-16). This carries over to prayer life.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
If Christians are not talking with God, they will not stick with God! “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh,” (Gal 5:16). Men cannot stand against Satan alone; they need the help of the only One who resisted Satan’s temptations (Mk 1:12-13; Mt 4:1-11). He accomplished what Adam and Eve could not – He triumphed over Satan when tempted.
God cannot tempt anybody with evil (Jas 1:13); but He is sovereign over all. He sends false teachers, “who long ago were designated for this condemnation,” (Jude 4) to test believers. Moses also warned Israel that false teachers assess true love for God; “For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,” (Deut 13:3b). This touches on the distinction between God’s direct and indirect providence in working His will in believer’s lives.
“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it,” (1 Cor 10:13). He will not allow Christians to be tempted above what they are able to bear. Trials bring about a positive change in character (Jas 1:2-4). Strength to endure these trials and grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ is possible only through Christ. Believers are commanded to pray for their walk with the Lord; for strength to resist the devil (Jas 4:7b), for courage to avoid temptation and perseverance to struggle daily – to discipline their bodies (1 Cor 9:24-27). Only by steadfast prayer can Christians overcome the temptations of Satan.
It is easy to forget this is a spiritual battle, not a physical one (Eph 6:12). In this context of dependence on God, Paul spoke movingly of his own struggles;
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (1 Cor 12:7-9).
God allowed this trial, this “thorn in the flesh,” to harass Paul so as to keep him humble (2 Cor 12:7a). It was a teaching tool, part of His purifying a peculiar people for Himself (Titus 2:14). God is magnified and exalted in His children’s weakness (2 Cor 12:9). As Thomas Constable noted, “[i]t refers not so much to solicitation to evil, as to trials that test the character.”
Christians are not alone; when they sin they have an advocate with God the Father (1 Jn 2:1). Believers are elect according to the foreknowledge of God, chosen from before the foundations of the world (1 Pet 1:2; Eph 1:4; Jn 6:65). They are saved by faith in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ in their stead (Jn 3:16) and convicted of sin and righteousness by the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:8). The whole of the triune Godhead is active in every aspect of our lives; as John Frame observed, the Father plans, the Son executes and the Spirit applies.Taking refuge in this glorious truth, Christ teaches believers to not lean on their own understanding and power in this present world, but to lean on the everlasting arms of God instead. His model prayer teaches believers to reflect this reality in their own prayers to God – all too often it does not.
The Lord’s Prayer teaches Christians many things, each of them vital to a successful prayer life.
It presupposes that believers will pray, as a practical component of the Christian life (Mt 6:5a).
God does not honor or accept false prayer, characterized by hypocrisy and vain, empty repetitions in an attempt to impress God or men (Mt 6:5, 7-8).
He desires heart-felt, authentic communication with His children (Mt 6:6).
Christians must approach God with reverence in prayer (Mt 6:9).
Christians must have a submissive spirit to God’s will in prayer (Mt 6:10).
Physical provision should be a matter of prayer, but in due proportion. God has promised to take care of His children (Mt 6:11, 25-34).
Christians must be imitators of God and forgive others, just as God forgave them.
Christians must cultivate a dependence on God and pray for deliverance from evil, which is the only way to have victory over any sin.
In every respect, Christians are to pattern Christ’s kingdom on earth before an unbelieving world. I shall repeat something I mentioned earlier:
The kingdom is not yet here, and Christians cannot somehow inaugurate the kingdom through a pattern of holy, righteous living. Rather, all believers are commanded to live holy lives as a witness for Him in this present age, while waiting patiently for Christ to return. Disciples must pattern the kingdom in their own individual lives as a light for the lost (Mt 5:14-16). This carries over to prayer life.
Prayer is a critical, vital part of the victorious Christian life. Christ’s model prayer illustrates just how crucial proper prayer is for all believers; in past times, today and in the days to come until Christ establishes His kingdom.
Barbieri, Louis Jr. “Matthew,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1985.
Blomberg, Craig. “Matthew,” vol. 22, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.
Carson, D.A. “Matthew,” vol. 8, The Expositors Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985.
. See Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 356-362. Horton’s entire Chapter 7 on God’s providence is simply excellent.
 Thomas Constable, Matthew (Dallas, TX: Soniclight, 2013), 116.
. John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 694.
A while back, I dedicated an apologetics class to a very sad article entitled “Why I Raise My Children Without God.” The article was written by a young mother for CNN’s iReport back in January 2013. There is nothing “new” in her objections; indeed, there are really only two issues for the Christian to deal with in her entire letter;
(1) She is Biblically illiterate and does not understand the God she is attacking; and
(2) She has questions about how God could permit suffering
These objections should prove no big hurdle for the average Christian. The fact that they do speaks volumes about the state of Christianity. The article is linked above, and re-produced in total below. The discussion and response to her objections are in MP3 format below.
Before you start – I must re-emphasize something which is very important. Apologetics and theology go hand in hand; and we must approach this woman’s questions with a humble and contrite spirit. This is not about having cue-card responses down; Christians are called to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and strength (Deut 6:4). Apologetics is merely the practical outworking of this earnest desire to please God.
When my son was around 3 years old, he used to ask me a lot of questions about heaven. Where is it? How do people walk without a body? How will I find you? You know the questions that kids ask.
For over a year, I lied to him and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven. Like most parents, I love my child so much that I didn’t want him to be scared. I wanted him to feel safe and loved and full of hope. But the trade-off was that I would have to make stuff up, and I would have to brainwash him into believing stories that didn’t make sense, stories that I didn’t believe either.
One day he would know this, and he would not trust my judgment. He would know that I built an elaborate tale—not unlike the one we tell children about Santa—to explain the inconsistent and illogical legend of God.
And so I thought it was only right to be honest with my children. I am a non-believer, and for years I’ve been on the fringe in my community. As a blogger, though, I’ve found that there are many other parents out there like me. We are creating the next generation of kids, and there is a wave of young agnostics, atheists, free thinkers and humanists rising up through the ranks who will, hopefully, lower our nation’s religious fever.
Here are a few of the reasons why I am raising my children without God.
God is a bad parent and role model.
If God is our father, then he is not a good parent. Good parents don’t allow their children to inflict harm on others. Good people don’t stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women and children. They don’t condone violence and abuse. “He has given us free will,” you say? Our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.
God is not logical.
How many times have you heard, “Why did God allow this to happen?” And this: “It’s not for us to understand.” Translate: We don’t understand, so we will not think about it or deal with the issue. Take for example the senseless tragedy in Newtown. Rather than address the problem of guns in America, we defer responsibility to God. He had a reason. He wanted more angels. Only he knows why. We write poems saying that we told God to leave our schools. Now he’s making us pay the price. If there is a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God who loves his children, does it make sense that he would allow murders, child abuse, wars, brutal beatings, torture and millions of heinous acts to be committed throughout the history of mankind? Doesn’t this go against everything Christ taught us in the New Testament?
The question we should be asking is this: “Why did we allow this to happen?” How can we fix this? No imaginary person is going to give us the answers or tell us why. Only we have the ability to be logical and to problem solve, and we should not abdicate these responsibilities to “God” just because a topic is tough or uncomfortable to address.
God is not fair.
If God is fair, then why does he answer the silly prayers of some while allowing other, serious requests, to go unanswered? I have known people who pray that they can find money to buy new furniture. (Answered.) I have known people who pray to God to help them win a soccer match. (Answered.) Why are the prayers of parents with dying children not answered?
If God is fair, then why are some babies born with heart defects, autism, missing limbs or conjoined to another baby? Clearly, all men are not created equally. Why is a good man beaten senseless on the street while an evil man finds great wealth taking advantage of others? This is not fair. A game maker who allows luck to rule mankind’s existence has not created a fair game.
God does not protect the innocent.
He does not keep our children safe. As a society, we stand up and speak for those who cannot. We protect our little ones as much as possible. When a child is kidnapped, we work together to find the child. We do not tolerate abuse and neglect. Why can’t God, with all his powers of omnipotence, protect the innocent?
God is not present.
He is not here. Telling our children to love a person they cannot see, smell, touch or hear does not make sense. It means that we teach children to love an image, an image that lives only in their imaginations. What we teach them, in effect, is to love an idea that we have created, one that is based in our fears and our hopes.
God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good
A child should make moral choices for the right reasons. Telling him that he must behave because God is watching means that his morality will be externally focused rather than internally structured. It’s like telling a child to behave or Santa won’t bring presents. When we take God out of the picture, we place responsibility of doing the right thing onto the shoulders of our children. No, they won’t go to heaven or rule their own planets when they die, but they can sleep better at night. They will make their family proud. They will feel better about who they are. They will be decent people.
God Teaches Narcissism
“God has a plan for you.” Telling kids there is a big guy in the sky who has a special path for them makes children narcissistic; it makes them think the world is at their disposal and that, no matter what happens, it doesn’t really matter because God is in control. That gives kids a sense of false security and creates selfishness. “No matter what I do, God loves me and forgives me. He knows my purpose. I am special.” The irony is that, while we tell this story to our kids, other children are abused and murdered, starved and neglected. All part of God’s plan, right?
When we raise kids without God, we tell them the truth—we are no more special than the next creature. We are just a very, very small part of a big, big machine–whether that machine is nature or society–the influence we have is minuscule. The realization of our insignificance gives us a true sense of humbleness.
I understand why people need God. I understand why people need heaven. It is terrifying to think that we are all alone in this universe, that one day we—along with the children we love so much—will cease to exist. The idea of God and an afterlife gives many of us structure, community and hope.
I do not want religion to go away. I only want religion to be kept at home or in church where it belongs. It’s a personal effect, like a toothbrush or a pair of shoes. It’s not something to be used or worn by strangers. I want my children to be free not to believe and to know that our schools and our government will make decisions based on what is logical, just and fair—not on what they believe an imaginary God wants.
The account of Jesus feeding the 5000 is the only miracle account which appears in all four Gospels. Ironically, Christ fed far more than 5000 that afternoon. There are several truths for Christians in this account for everyday life;
Jesus is a new type of Moses, leading His people to the wilderness, miraculously providing food, acting like a shepherd to a leaderless people. Is Christ your teacher, or is the world?
God supplies our needs in the way He feels best. Are you content with what He has given you?
God works through us to accomplish His will. Are we allowing ourselves to be used?
This sermon was preached on Sunday Morning, 09JUN13, for Teen Sunday School at my church.
I discussed the issue of homosexuality in apologetics class at my church this evening. I am burdened to share that, far too often, I believe Christians do not demonstrate the love of Christ to homosexuals.
Homosexuality is one grievous sin among many which men commit. Running from the issue, or holding homosexuals at arm’s length is not the answer. Jesus Christ is the answer, for this or any other sin men struggle with. Too many Christians have such a visceral reaction to the sin that it impedes evangelism of a group of folks who sorely need the Gospel.
Nobody would advocate ministering to alcoholics by deriding them, barring the church doors to them or calling them “lushes” from the pulpit. Nor would many Christians think it were a good practice to minister to drug addicts by calling them “junkies.” Yet, some of us would not hesitate to shout the word “sodomite” from the pulpit, almost relishing the chance to condemn this particular sin. It does need to be condemned, in no uncertain terms, but if we’re being deliberately spiteful while we’re doing it we achieve precisely nothing.
I have written a Biblical theology on the issue of homosexuality in the New Testament elsewhere on this blog, for those who are seeking an in-depth study. I also embedded two videos explaining the same within the blog itself. However, here I want to present the moving testimony of Rosaria Butterfield, a committed lesbian intellectual who came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through the kind, loving ministry of a local church. This is the kind of love we must show to homosexuals, or any person struggling with any sin. Do not condone the sin, and do call the person to repentance and faith in Christ – but don’t be deliberately spiteful and hateful while doing so.
This testimony is 60 mins long. In this age of sound bites and limited attention spans, I may be criticized for expecting you to watch something so long. Believe me, it is worth it. I hope it convicts us all.
We are increasingly living a world that (1) denies there are standards for anything, and (2) is Biblically illiterate. Join us as we watch the Apostle Paul deal with these very same issues on Mar’s Hill.
* This video and the accompanying notes were originally produced for an apologetics class I teach at my church, hence the opening and closing credits! I pray this modest study will be of use to some of you . . .
This article is a work in progress. It was originally a paper for Seminary. Much work remains to be done. This article will be updated as new material is added. As it stands now, it is a brief Biblical Theology of homosexuality from the New Testament.
The Scriptures expressly state that homosexuality is a sin; however, all-too often this issue is reduced to proof-texting and exhaustive parsing of words in the original languages. While this is certainly necessary and a worthy endeavor, the issue goes far deeper than exegeting words. It goes beyond proof-texting and strikes at the heart of what it means to be a Christian and part of God’s family.
Some unrepentant homosexuals who claim the title of “Christian” justify their behavior on the basis of biology – “God made me this way, so you must accept me.” Such a position is not grounded on faithful exegesis but on a secular benchmark for morality. “The growing attempt to provide a niche for the homosexual lifestyle in society is part of a much bigger problem that reflects the death of moral absolutes.” Scripture teaches a very different paradigm.
At the outset, one thing must be made perfectly clear – homosexuality is but one grievous sin among many which men commit. Running from the issue, or holding homosexuals at arm’s length is not the answer. Jesus Christ is the answer, for this or any other sin men struggle with. Too many Christians have such a visceral reaction to the sin that it impedes evangelism of a group of folks who sorely need the Gospel.
This paper will argue for two basic principles from Scripture regarding homosexuality.
(1) Homosexuality is explicitly characterized as a sin in Scripture.
(2) Scriptures expressly state Christians are to lead holy lives. God has certain standards and expectations of His people – expectations which are rooted in His intrinsic holiness. We are to die to the flesh and grow in Christ (1 Cor 5:17). Christians are commanded to lead holy lives, acceptable before God. This necessarily precludes, by God’s own standard, unrepentant homosexual activity .
The paper will present a Biblical Theology of this issue, following the NT in chronological fashion and tracing the development of these two themes from the Gospels onward.
The author holds several presuppositions from the OT text which cannot be argued for, given the necessary scope of this paper. They are as follows;
(1) God created man and woman in His own image (Gen 1:26-27).
(2) Men and woman were created specifically by God, who gave them the breath of life (Gen 2:7), as His special creatures to have dominion over all others (Gen 1:26b).
(3) God appointed man as a vice-regent or royal steward over His creation (Gen 1:26, 28; 2:5,15) and made woman to be man’s special helper in this appointed task (Gen 2:18, 20b).
(4) The only sanctioned sexual activity for mankind is between one man and one woman in marriage (Gen 2:21-24). This union is a covenant relationship, clearly monogamous, and is rooted in God’s command for men to procreate and subdue the earth (Gen 1:28).
Jesus did not deal with homosexuality specifically, but He did clearly call men to two very specific commands; (1) repentance from sins, and (2) belief in the Gospel (Mk 1:14-15). Christ uttered these words in his initial ministry to the Jews, who were certainly quite familiar with the OT law regarding sexual immorality and righteous living (Lev 18:22; 19:2). Christ certainly did not have half-measures in mind; “repentance and belief cannot be applied to certain areas of life but not to others; rather, they lay claim to the total allegiance of believers.”
Holiness and purity of life are a vital components to lifestyle evangelism (Mt 5:13-16). Christians are to be a light to the world, in the same fashion the Israelites were commanded to be a kingdom of priests, drawing all nations to themselves and ultimately God (Mt 5:13-16; Ex 19:5-6).
The dispensation of the law was still binding at the time Christ spoke those words. Christ called His Jewish listeners to meet this standard; the same one God gave to Moses so long ago. His audience could not fail to recognize that Christ was calling them to repent of their sins, believe He was their Messiah, the fulfillment of the Mosaic law, and draw all nations to God by their own example. The law included clear prohibitions against homosexuality (Lev 18:22). Christ’s admonitions to “let your light so shine before others” (Mt 5:16), when understood in the context of His Jewish audience, clearly prohibited homosexual activity. If they could not fulfill the calling to be a testimony for Him, “they were useless as far as God’s purposes are concerned.”
Christ had the same idea in mind when he identified the two “greatest commandments” which characterized Israel’s responsibility before God. (1) Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and (2) love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:37-39; Deut 6:5; Lev 19:34). These two commandments summed up the entire corpus of the Mosaic law (Mt 22:40). Christ was telling the Pharisees that a willing, all-encompassing love for God was essential; He echoed Moses’ words to Israel – God sought a circumcision of the heart (Deut 10:16). This necessarily entailed a whole-hearted commitment to the Mosaic law, including prohibitions against homosexuality and all other forms of immorality.
If Christ, in His early ministry to the Jews, was calling them to repent and conform to the Mosaic law out of love for Him, He surely condemned homosexual behavior.
The Pauline Epistles
Paul was emphatic about both the sin of homosexuality in general and God’s expectation that Christians live holy lives for the God who saved them.
Grace and apostleship in Jesus Christ will bring about obedience for those who are called to faith in Christ (Rom 1:5). Apparently, Christ intends to achieve a specific goal in the lives of the elect – namely, obedience of faith.
Dishonoring of Their Bodies
All men willfully suppress the truth about God in unrighteousness – this makes God very wrathful and angry precisely because natural revelation testifies to His power and glory. Men are left without excuse for rejecting Him (Rom 1:18-20). Nevertheless, men willfully dishonor the God who created them and creation itself. Men imagined God did not exist; they became vain in their imaginations and their foolish hearts were darkened. Their worldly wisdom was really folly and they exchanged worship of the one true God for worldly objects with no power or worth whatsoever (Rom 1:21-23).
It was for this very reason that God gave them over to sexual perversion, the “dishonoring of their bodies before themselves,” (Rom 1:24b). Paul provides specifics about this sexual perversion shortly (v. 26-28), but it is critical to note that God did not impel rebellious sinners to do these evil deeds. He simply removed His divine restraint on man’s sinful, fallen lusts and allowed them to go their own way – “God actively let people go.” Men dishonored their bodies, which Paul repeatedly referred to as a temple of God in other epistles, by abusing them in a fashion dishonoring to God and His image which they bear in the flesh. They reject God and worship the creature more than the creator. “It is not that men grant God a relative honor in their devotion, but none at all. They have wholly rid themselves of Him.”
These “dishonorable passions” (Rom 1:26) God gave them over to clearly included homosexual acts. Both women and men exchanged natural relations for those which are contrary to nature and were “consumed with passion for one another” (Rom 1:27). The basis for the term “dishonorable passions” is that the only natural sexual relationship the Bible recognizes is distinctly heterosexual between married men and women (Gen 2:21-24; Mt 19:4-6).
Once again men were allowed to pursue their sinful desires as the consequence of God’s wrath for their willful rebellion (Rom 1:26); “God simply took His hands off and let willful rejection of Himself produce its ugly results in human life.” God abandoned men to their lusts (Rom 1:28). This removal of divine restraint produced all manner of wicked behavior, homosexuality being only one among many defiling acts (Rom 1:29-31). Attempts by some commentators to claim that Paul merely imposed cultural standards on his audience fail at this point. Paul was not addressing basing his condemnation of homosexual behavior on cultural mores of the time, “he addressed same-sex relations from the transcultural perspective of God’s created order.”
Paul reminds us that men are entirely without excuse and know “God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die,” (Rom 1:32a). All men have God’s law written on their heart (Rom 2:14-15) because they are created in His very image. Yet still, men willfully and intelligently reject God and not only commit such evil acts, but positively approve of them (Rom 1:32b).
Christ is the only possible object of saving faith (Acts 4:12). Christians, including those who condone an unrepentant homosexual lifestyle, cannot lay a foundation which is not built upon Christ (1 Cor 3:11). He is the only foundation. Paul went on to state that God’s temple is holy, and Christians are that temple (1 Cor 3:17). This is very important – Christ is the only foundation and Christians have an inherent obligation to live holy lives. “Do you not know that youare God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy them (1 Cor 3:17). “God in His justice and holiness cannot allow part of His holy work to be damaged without bringing retribution.” Because of what God did for them, Christians are called to conform to God’s standard – not their own. There are consequences for violating this standard.
God’s standard for sexual morality is enforced repeatedly throughout the Pauline Epistles. Any sexual behavior outside the established boundaries is unacceptable in the sight of God. Paul condemned a Corinthian Christian for sexual relations with his mother (1 Cor 5:1). The man was unrepentant and arrogant, and Paul recommended the offender be removed from fellowship (1 Cor 5:2,5). Christians should never even associate with believers involved in sexual immorality of any kind, necessarily including homosexuality (1 Cor 5:11). Paul even ordered the “evil person” be put out from among the fellowship of believers (1 Cor 5:13).
A Christian stands with Christ and judges the entire world at the end of days, including angels! (1 Cor 6:2; 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6). Yet, Paul accused the Corinthians of being incompetent to perform this task because of their sin (1 Cor 6:2). The wicked eill not inherit the Kingdom of God precisely because of their sin (1 Cor 6:9), but the saints were acting no differently. Neither homosexuals or the sexually immoral will ever inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).
A Christian saved by God’s grace belongs to the Lord; his body is not his own (1 Cor 6:13b-20; 2 Cor 6:16-18). “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body,” (1 Cor 16:13b). Paul went on to state plainly “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:18a). How can a Christian fulfill the command to “do all to the glory of God” and walk in a manner worthy of Him (1 Cor 10:31; Col 1:10; 2 Thes 2:12) if he dishonors God by abusing the temple of his body by homosexual behavior?
Sanctification cannot come about with unrepentant sin, including homosexuality. Paul wrote we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another,” (2 Cor 3:18). Sanctification is progressive; “Christlikeness is the goal of the Christian walk.” As one commentator observed, the goal of Christlikeness and the means to Christlikeness mutually inform each other. Homosexuality is in conflict with God’s standard – sanctification cannot occur with the barrier of unrepentant homosexual sin in place.
Christians must give up self-rule, or autonomy, and submit to have God as the authority over their life. Submission to God has necessary implications for lifestyle and holiness. Jesus Christ is Lord, and Christians are His servants (2 Cor 4:5b) This is not popular doctrine; the original sin of Adam and Eve, a desire for autonomy from God and His standards, lives on even today.
Those whom God, in His grace, saves from hell are a new creation. The old nature has passed away (2 Cor 5:17). This new nature, this regeneration should produce a desire for positive change towards God and His standards of holiness. “The new life of devotion to Christ means that one has new attitudes and actions.” Absent a repentant heart and a desire to conform sexual behavior to God’s standards, a man is not regenerated and does not have saving faith in Christ.
Paul continues the theme of holiness demanded of the Christian in the epistle to the Ephesians. A Christian’s election, by God’s grace before the world was even created, is predicated on the expectation that “we should be holy and blameless before him,” (Eph 1:4). Prior to regeneration, men are dead in trespasses and sins in a world energized and influenced by Satan (Eph 2:1-2). God, in His mercy, made some alive in Christ to demonstrate His unending grace (Eph 2:4-7). Paul concludes this passage by reminded Christians of their obligations to God; “for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Eph 2:10). Salvation is intended to produce the good works that attest their reality; therefore Christians will prove their faith by works. Shameless homosexuality [AH10] does indeed prove faith, but certainly not faith in Christ. Paul covered precisely the same ground later in the same letter (Eph 4:18-23), and drives the point home unequivocally;
But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:20-23).
Christians have an inherent responsibility to conform, to the best of their sinful ability, to the image of the God who created them. “Believers are new people in Christ, and hence they can no longer live as Gentiles live.” There is a command to move towards God and all that entails, not remain separated from Him. Indeed, Christians must imitate God;
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints (Eph 5:1-3).
Homosexuality is incompatible with the basic conception of what it means to be a holy people. Sexual immorality is not proper among the saints. Scripture recognizes no middle ground on this issue. Paul exhorted Christians to “let your manner of life be worthyof the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27a). This is the duty of every Christian, and implicit in this command is the recognition that certain, specific standards exist which are “worthy” of the gospel. Homosexuality and all other manner of sexual immorality are not worthy of God or His holiness.
Christians are to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15). Blameless simply means “above reproach.” They must align themselves with God’s values instead of their own, so the world cannot accuse them. They must seek things above, not on things on the earth. Earthly passions, including all sexual immorality, must be put to death. It is because of this sin that the wrath of God is coming upon mankind (Col 3:5-6).
Paul wrote joyfully to the Thessalonians, and wished the Lord would “establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints,” (1 Thess 3:13). The theme of progressive sanctification has re-surfaced; the goal is holiness before God – always looking forward to the glorious appearance of Christ.
Paul, writing to his disciple Timothy, plainly labeled homosexuality as contrary to sound doctrine, which alone is compatible with God (1 Tim 1:10-11). “Paul’s yardstick for measuring what is and is not sound teaching . . . was the message of God’s great news in Christ.” Any serious Christian would agree that God’s revelation is the only yardstick for holy living.
Paul urged Timothy to soldier on in the faith. He warned Timothy against false teachers and against irrelevant babble and exclaimed, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity,” (2 Tim 2:19). If Timothy kept and cleansed himself from what was dishonorable, he would be a vessel to the Lord for honorable use; “set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work,” (2 Tim 2:21b). This holds true for all Christians; to be used by God one must be vessels fit for honorable use. Homosexuality is dishonorable and incompatible with God’s holiness.
The prohibitions against sin are commandments from God, and if Christians love God His commandments are never grievous (1 Jn 5:3, KJV). Paul, in his epistle to Titus, taught him about the role of God’s grace in producing Godly behavior in a Christian’s life (Titus 2:11-14). There are several important principles to glean from this text.
The Gospel itself, as the message of the grace of God (Titus 2:11) teaches Christians to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions – necessarily including homosexuality. It teaches Christians to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while they await Christ’s return (Titus 2:12-13). This upright lifestyle is rooted in God’s holiness and thus, by definition, diametrically opposed to homosexual behavior.
Christ’s sacrifice, sufficient for all but efficient for only those who believe, was made for a specific purpose – to redeem the elect from lawlessness and purify a people for His possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). In a manner characteristic of the covenant with Israel at Sinai (Ex 19:5-6), God is faithful to keep His portion of the agreement. Are Christians?
A holy people was His purpose in paying such a fearful price. Therefore, knowing what all He has done and why He has done it, a Christian who truly loves Christ and looks forward to His return will pay any price to bring his life into conformity with his beloved Lord’s will.
Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to continue their growth in Christ. The very will of God, to aid them in sanctification, is that they explicitly abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess 4:3). “To a Christian the will of God is clear: holiness and sexual immorality are mutually exclusive. No appeal to Christian liberty can justify fornication.” Christians must control their own body, which Paul has repeatedly called the temple of God, in holiness and honor, in a manner unlike those who do not know God (1 Thess 4:4-5).
Paul went on to justify, once again, the reasoning behind the prohibition against sexual immorality – God’s holiness. “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness,” (1 Thess 4:7). Unrepentant sin in a Christian’s life goes against God’s calling for His elect people. “A holy life demonstrates God’s supernatural power at work overcoming what is natural, and it glorifies God.” Sin does not.
This is not a suggestion or merely helpful advice – it is a command from God. Paul minces no words in his conclusion on the matter; “therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you,” (1 Thess 4:8). Sexual purity is nothing more than a practical application of God’s calling to holiness. Paul did not invent this decree; they were the logical consequences of divine revelation. To reject God’s standards for His elect people is to reject God Himself. God gave the Holy Spirit to believers as a helper after Christ’ ascension (Jn 14:16; 17:7-11). Christians will have help in their struggle against sin; but they must have a desire to change. That desire only comes as a product of a regenerated heart in a true follower of Christ.
James does not discuss homosexuality explicitly, but he did demand Christians live holy lives. He called friendship with the world adultery against God. More than mere adultery, they are enemies of God! (Jas 4:4). God is opposed to people who lift themselves up and are filled with pride, but He gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:5-6). Christians cannot be double-minded about sin and worldliness – they must be cleansed inwardly and outwardly (Jas 4:8b). Homosexuality cannot be part of a Christian’s lifestyle; true desire change comes about from a repentant heart. Outward conformity flows naturally from a God-given inward regeneration of the heart.
Peter gave the most explicit command in the NT for Christians to live holy lives (1 Pet 1:13-16). He called Christians to be serious and prepare their minds for action, looking forward to the return of Christ. “Rather than being controlled by outside circumstances, believers should be directed from within.”
Christians, just like obedient children, should not be conformed to their former passions (Rom 1:24-26). Rather, they must be holy in all their conduct (1 Pet 1:14-15). This echoes the same sentiments Paul wrote to the Romans (Rom 12:2a). There is a very clear command for a lifestyle change as a result of regeneration.
Peter’s justification is found in God’s expectations from OT Israel; “since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy,’” (1 Pet 1:16; Lev 19:2). Again, the same theme is repeated. Christians must imitate God to the best of their fallen ability; the mark they press towards is God’s own standard – complete holiness.
A Christian cannot demonstrate love for his neighbor unless he first loves God with all his heart, soul and might. These two imperatives are the commandments the law and prophets are built upon (Mt 22:34-40). One cannot love God and be engaged in unrepentant homosexual behavior at the same time; sin and holiness are at odds with each other. One is a wicked product of a fallen world, the other an attribute of the Holy God who rules over all creation.
Peter went on to tie the believer’s responsibilities back to the Mosaic Covenant once again;
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Pet 2:9-10; Ex 19:5-6).
Elsewhere, Peter specifically labeled the homosexual sin of Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of what would happen to the ungodly (2 Pet 2:6). It is clear Peter was not sympathetic to homosexuality; it is a sin of the ungodly and unregenerate.
John was very blunt about the same double-mindedness that James spoke against. “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth,” (1 Jn 1:6). Christians will be known by their fruit. The polar opposites of “darkness” and “light” are used repeatedly throughout Scripture to signify Satan and God, respectively. Somebody who claims Christ but who participates in homosexuality and other lusts of the flesh is a liar. God’s people must walk in the light, and the blood of Christ will cleanse His people from all sin, including homosexuality (1 Jn 1:7).
John wrote that love of the world is the mark of an unregenerate heart (1 Jn 2:15). All sinful desires, lusts of the flesh and the eyes, are from the world (1 Jn 2:16). Elsewhere, Paul clearly identified sexual immorality as a work of the flesh (Gal 5:19). The world, along with all its desires, is perishing but God’s people will stand forever (1 Jn 2:17).
John was not suggesting a Christian will never struggle with sin (1 Jn 1:6), but rather, those who make a deliberate, unrepentant practice of sinning are not God’s children.
Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 Jn 3:8-10).
John is very clear; love for the world and all that entails (including homosexuality), is opposed to God in every respect. Christians still struggle with sin such as homosexuality in this “vile body” (Phil 3:21) but their whole bent of life will be away from sin. A true love for God will produce a desire to keep his commandments (1 Jn 5:2; 2 Jn 6).
Jude, like Peter, made a specific reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. He wrote of God’s faithfulness to judge and condemn false teachers who “pervert[ed] the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ,” (Jude 4b). These unbelievers, masquerading as Christians, turned God’s marvelous grace into a license to do whatever their sinful lusts desired (Rom 1:24-26; Gal 5:19-21). God, Jude asserted, is always faithful to judge those who rebel against Him (Jude 5-6).
It is in this context, that of the perversion of God’s grace into sensuality, that homosexuality is condemned;
“Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire,” (Jude 7).
The wicked sin of homosexuality is an explicit example of who will suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. Not homosexuals only, but all who follow their sinful passions and continue to willfully reject God (Rom 1:18).
The entire NT testifies to two very basic facts; (1) Christians are called to lead holy lives before God, and (2) Homosexuality is a sin, and therefore incompatible with the holiness of God. The thesis has been demonstrated both by Christ and the written epistles of His disciples throughout the entire NT.
Jesus preached conformity to the Mosaic law, which explicitly condemned homosexual behavior. This conformity to the law, itself based on God’s eternal attribute of holiness, was predicated on an all-encompassing love for Him. The apostles had a unified message on this point which upholds the thesis quite directly. Homosexuality and the holiness of God are mutually exclusive – they cannot co-exist.
One commentator wrote poignantly about the church’s responsibility to the homosexual;
The church does the homosexual no favor when it condones his behavior based on some ingenious interpretation or on some sentimental relationship it has with him. Homosexuals do not deserve a weakened spirituality, much less a sentimental pity. They need raw honesty from the church about their doomed state unless they come to repentance and faith in Christ.
Along with honesty, Christian love is sorely needed. Nobody would advocate ministering to alcoholics by deriding them, barring the church doors to them or calling them “lushes” from the pulpit. Yet, some Christians would not hesitate to shout the word “sodomite” from the pulpit, almost relishing the chance to condemn this particular sin. It does need to be condemned, in no uncertain terms, but if we’re being deliberately spiteful while we’re doing it we achieve precisely nothing.
Homosexuals are not arbitrarily condemned to the flames as an exclusive group; rather, all sinners who continue to willfully reject Christ and prefer self-rule to God’s rule will justly suffer eternal damnation. God, by His grace, softens the hearts of sinners and changes their disposition away from Satan and towards Himself. Homosexuals are no exception, and the Gospel is the only cure for this and any other sin in a fallen world.
Constable, Thomas L. “Thessalonians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.
Edwards, James R. The Gospel of Mark. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
Haas, Guenther. “Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice,” Global Journal of Classical Theology 01:2 (Feb 1999): no page numbers.
Harrison, Everett F. “Romans,” vol. 10, The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.
Hodges, Zane C. “1 John,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.
Hoehner, Harold W. “Ephesians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.
Holloman, Henry W. “The Relation of Christlikeness to Spiritual Growth,” Michigan Theological Journal 05:1 (Spring 1994): 57-85.
Lightner, Robert P. “Philippians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.
Litfin, A. Duane. “1 Timothy,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.
Litfin, A. Duane. “Titus,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.
Lowery, David K. “2 Corinthians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.
Malik, David E. “The Condemnation of Homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27,” Bibliotheca Sacra 150:599 (Jul 1993): 327-340.
Matthews, Kenneth A. “Genesis 1-11:26,” vol. 1a, The New American Commentary, ed. Roy Clendenen. Nashville: B&H, 1996.
Montoya, Alex D. “Homosexuality and The Church,” The Masters Seminary Journal 11:2 (Fall 2000): 155-168.
Raymer, Roger M. “1 Peter,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.
Toussaint, Stanley. Behold the King. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980.
Witmer, John A. “Romans,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.
Wood, A. Skevington. “Ephesians,” vol. 11, The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.
. For an analysis of common pro-homosexual exegesis of Scripture, see Guenther Haas, “Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice,” Global Journal of Classical Theology 01:2 (Feb 1999), no page numbers.
. Sherwood O. Cole, “Biology, Homosexuality and the Biblical Doctrine of Sin,” Bibliotheca Sacra 157:627 (Jul 2000), 350.
. Kenneth A. Matthews, “Genesis 1-11:26,” vol. 1a, The New American Commentary, ed. Roy Clendenen (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1996), 222-225.
. James R. Edwards, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 46.
. Stanley Toussaint, Behold the King (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1980), 98.
. John A. Witmer, “Romans,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 443.
. Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” vol. 10, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 25.
. Roger M. Raymer, “1 Peter,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 843.
. It is beyond the scope of this paper to engage the more liberal charge that homosexuality was not the sin of that wicked city. The author will assume, for the purposes of this NT study, that homosexuality was the defining sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.
. Zane C. Hodges, “1 John,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 894.
 Alex D. Montoya, “Homosexuality And The Church,” The Masters Seminary Journal 11:2 (Fall 2000), 166