The Foundation and Benefits of Absolute Truth True Liberty Is Grounded in a Recognition of Absolute Truth
There are three points of doctrine the belief of which forms the foundation of all morality. The first is the existence of God; the second is the immortality of the human soul; and the third is a future state of rewards and punishments. Suppose it possible for a man to disbelieve either of these three articles of faith and that man will have no conscience, he will have no other law than that of the tiger or the shark. The laws of man may bind him in chains or may put him to death, but they never can make him wise, virtuous, or happy.
—John Quincy Adams—
[N]either the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. Here therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.
Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.
A Jewish rabbi bound on a plane for Israel soon discovered he was seated next to one of the leaders of Israel’s socialist labor movement. After the plane became airborne, a student of the rabbi who was seated several rows behind him approached him and offered him his slippers. “Here are your slippers, sir,” he said, “You’ll feel more comfortable in them, since your feet swell terribly on the plane.” A short time later the same young man came forward again and offered the rabbi several sandwiches. “Your wife fixed these for your lunch, sir. We know you’ll like them much better than the food the airline will offer.”
These were not isolated incidents, but a pattern; the student returned on numerous occasions to check on the rabbi, to offer him something to make his flight more pleasant, or to serve him in some other way. All of this made quite an impression on the socialist leader, who finally turned to his seatmate and said, “Wow! I’m so impressed with your son! I have four grown sons, and never in all my life have they offered to serve me as your son has waited on you. Why is he so attentive to you?”
“I have to be honest with you,” said the rabbi. “This young man is not my son but my student. His service, as good as it is, is nothing compared to the assistance my own son would give me if he were here.
“The reason the members of the next generation, including members of our own families, treat us as they do is quite simple. All of them are living according to the ideas and principles we’ve taught them. You decided some time ago to tell them that you—and they—descended from apes, and this is what you taught them. They know intuitively this means that you are one generation closer to being a monkey than they are, so it’s only natural that they would expect you to serve them. I, on the other hand, have taught my children and students that we have been created by God Himself. They understand this puts me one generation closer to the Source of Ultimate Truth, and they treat me in accord with this understanding. We reap what we sow.”1
Of course, just as the socialist leader’s belief in evolution does not prove God doesn’t exist, neither does the rabbi’s belief in divine creation prove that He does. What our story does demonstrate is that a belief in God is conducive to civil behavior, and ultimately to a civil society. It also sets the stage for us to see that true freedom can exist only in a society grounded in virtue. Without virtue, freedom unravels into chaos, which leads to bigger government and, finally, to tyranny.
Consider the positive virtues inherent in the rabbi’s perspective. A belief in being created by God helps a person to cultivate a variety of noble qualities in his or her life, including these.
A sense of responsibility
A sense of accountability
Respect for others
Respect for one’s elders
Respect for one’s peers, grounded in the truth that all of human life is valuable because God creates it in His image
And to think—we got all this just from considering the implications of the rabbi’s observations on the plane!
Yet there’s more. While selfishness and pursuit of personal pleasure tend to foster distrust and tension in relationships, the virtues listed above promote numerous priceless benefits, including stronger and more fulfilling relationships and a greater sense of fulfillment and happiness.
On a societal level as well, virtues establish and maintain order and stability. A virtuous people exercise a positive self-restraint that makes true freedom in society possible. The other side of the coin is that without virtue, self-restraint is non-existent as well. Without self-restraint, chaos, then tyranny, inevitably follow.
Virtue, let us not forget, flourishes in the soil of a belief in God and an awareness of one’s accountability to Him. A belief in absolute truth also is a part of this mix. To be accountable to God means to understand that He holds us to a high and unchanging standard—His. If this make you feel straight-jacketed and unfairly confined, think of a train, which has been designed and built to travel along railroad tracks. The train constructed neither itself nor the tracks. Human beings built both of these for a purpose. The train accomplishes its purpose when it runs on the tracks that fit its design.
In like manner, God designed people for a purpose that ultimately can be fulfilled only when they are aware of their accountability to Him. Yes, this is confining in some ways, but it is liberating in many more.
The rabbi is right. So are the statesmen we’ve quoted at the top. And so is Founding Father Fisher Ames, who said, “The happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend on piety, religion, and morality.”
Let us do all we can to help our society rediscover and re-implement this principle. Once again, absolute truth is far more liberating than confining when we cooperate with it. Why? Because it is part of the uncompromising, unyielding, unbending, real world in which we live. Reality isn’t mean, it just is. Because it is what it is, it will hit you in the face if you try to defy it.
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.
—attributed to Reformation leader Martin Luther—
A condensed version of this article is available here.
Luke 14:25 says of Jesus, “Now great multitudes went with Him.” Apparently, at this point in His ministry, Jesus had quite a following. Probably not all of these individuals were committed to Him, but they at least were curious—and their numbers were plentiful. Why, then, would Jesus do what He did next? Beginning in verse 25, the passage goes on to say,
And He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. 34 “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? 35 It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Again, why would Jesus challenge the people in this way? Weren’t things going well enough? Surely His presentation would cause some, and probably many, to turn away. Why would He want to ruin a good thing? You’d think He’d at least wait until later to deliver this kind of message! We see that He offered a similar challenge to the man we often call the rich young ruler.
Twenty-first century American Christianity tends to resist saying or doing anything that would bring down its numbers, but we need to understand that Jesus simply was being honest. If you think following Jesus will be easy, think again. Elsewhere, Jesus told His disciples,
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”
One individual who understands the meaning of these words experientially is Barronelle Stutzman, the Richland, Washington florist who is being sued for everything she owns because she politely turned down the opportunity to use her talent at the same-sex wedding of a longtime friend. We have highlighted her case in several Word Foundations posts (for examples, go here and here). This past Thursday, February 16, the Supreme Court of Washington issued a unanimous, nine to nothingruling against Barronelle. Never mind that the left has exercised its right to refuse to perform services because of the political and moral convictions it espouses (you can read about examples here, here, and here). The left simply cannot allow anyone to disagree with its own beliefs about sexuality and marriage—or about anything else it deems important, for that matter—and get away with it. We should note, of course, that not everyone in the LGBT community holds this perspective (also go here), but militant activists and the prevailing culture do.
The Appalling Silence of the Church
On the very same day the ruling was issued, Barronelle appeared with her attorney, Kristen Waggoner, on Line of Fire, the radio program of Dr. Michael Brown. You can download the entire program here. Also, you can listen to the portion of the show where Brown interviewed Stutzman and Waggoner here. Dr. Brown wrote an article about the ruling on February 16 as well. He declared,
There is only one thing more appalling than the Washington Supreme Court’s 9-0 ruling against religious liberty today. It is the silence of Christian leaders across America, leaders who choose convenience over confrontation, leaders who would rather be popular than prophetic, leaders who prefer the favor of people over the favor of the God. Shame on these silent leaders. Today is a day to stand.…
Friends, what [we are] witnessing today is a breathtaking abuse of power, an extreme overreach by the government, a shocking example of LGBT activism out of control, yet over the next 7 days, church services will come and go without a word being spoken, and over the next 48 hours, the Christian blogosphere will remain relatively quiet. How can this be?
Dr. Brown asks a very important question. Why would church leaders and other Christians avoid talking about this issue? Perhaps the answer is tied to the reason we would wonder why in the world Jesus would tell His inquirers just how difficult it would be to become and remain a one of His committed followers.
The reasons for the silence among churches and Christians include fear of intimidation, the desire to avoid controversy, a fear of losing people because of having offended them, and a desire to “stick to preaching the gospel.” In this post I want to address some of these issues and thereby challenge Christian leaders and laymen to stand publicly with Barronelle Stutzman.
Let’s examine four realities.
First, Jesus wanted everyone following Him to know that for true disciples, a cost was involved. As a simple example, consider repentance, which Jesus indicated is essential for salvation. Also look back and read the passage of Scripture we cited when we started. Are we unwilling to challenge people with the full truth of the gospel? Perhaps more to the point, are we unwilling to bear any cost ourselves?
Are we unwilling to bear any of the costs associated with being a disciple of Christ?
We certainly can do nothing to earn salvation, but I’m not talking about doing anything to be saved. I’m talking about what we do because we have been saved. If we claim to be Christians, then according to our own professions, we are willing to identify with Jesus Christ. Barronelle Stutzman determined she had to draw the line at the point of marriage, because of what marriage is. It is not at all farfetched to say that Barronelle’s unwillingness to arrange flowers for a same-sex “wedding” represents a resolve to stand with Christ and identify with Him and with the God of the Bible. Marriage, the lifetime union of one man and one woman, was designed by the Creator to promote order, companionship, nurture of the next generation, and individual and societal cohesiveness and stability. In addition, if all of that weren’t enough, it’s also a picture of Christ and the church. Again, Barronelle is taking a stand at the point of marriage. Are we now going to cop out at this same point? For the professing Christian, this makes absolutely no sense.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
Consider the following declarations, presented in the probable order in which Jesus gave them.1 You can go here to see all of them printed on one page.
Note especially Mark 8:38: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” About marriage, Jesus spoke very explicitly (see Matthew 19:1-6 and Mark 10:1-9). Thus, of these words about marriage we are warned by Jesus Himself not to be ashamed.
Second, a church leader or a Christian layperson might remain silent because his or her priorities are out of whack—and here I’m being very serious. In a previous post subtitled “Eight Menacing Trends in the American Evangelical Church,” we elaborated on the following misplaced priorities. We mentioned this post in a recent article but didn’t quote from it. There’s much more to the article than the list, but here we will quote the points on the list without elaboration. Please read the original article for more information.
The church has focused on attracting people and keeping people, and it has failed to challenge them.
The church has equated loving people with not offending them.
The church has emphasized God’s love to the point of effectively neglecting His holiness and wrath.
The church has endeavored to win converts and failed to make disciples.
The church has upheld the benefits of salvation and avoided talking about its demands.
The church has presented Christianity in terms of its implications for individuals alone and overlooked its benefits for the culture.
While recognizing that Jesus was compassionate, loving, and kind, the church has largely ignored the fact that He was controversial.
The church has failed to understand and acknowledge that the followers of Christ are at war with the forces of evil.
Let me be clear. I absolutely am sympathetic with church leaders who are concerned that if the church is not careful, it can come across as hateful and mean to unchurched people, including gays, lesbians, and other members of the LGBT community. Christians always are without excuse for being insensitive, unkind, or hateful to anyone, period. My point here, however, is that even when the church is careful, it still will be perceived by some as being insensitive, unkind, and hateful. Why? Because the gospel itself is offensive: “It is inherently offensive because it exposes sinners as guilty before a holy God.” There’s no way around this, and looking for ways around it constitutes an attempt, however unintentional, to water down the truth of the gospel. Failing to present the truth about God’s holiness and wrath helps no one, and in fact, it is quite harmful.
Marriage and the Gospel
Third, Barronelle Stutzman’s case underscores the truth that in the battle over natural marriage, the gospel is at stake. Here I am not saying that the gospel can be changed or manipulated by those who oppose it or by anyone else. No, the gospel is what it is because it has been divinely written and orchestrated, and because it is divinely offered to humanity. Nothing can or ever will change this.
Here’s what I am saying. When we as Christians living in the early 21st century in the United States of America share the gospel (something, by the way, that Christ has commanded us to do), we share it not only (1) with sinners in need of a Savior, but also (2) in a particular cultural and political context. If the political and cultural climate does not recognize our right to follow our deeply held convictions about marriage today (convictions that align with thousands of years of practice in countries worldwide), can it really be long before sharing the gospel itself is outlawed? This is not a farfetched idea.
Relentless efforts to silence voices like Barronelle’s move us ever closer to this point. Let’s understand that leftists and secularists already have gotten what they said they wanted; marriage has been redefined in the United States. Take note: Barronelle’s polite refusal to supply and arrange flowers for a same-sex wedding didn’t keep the wedding from occurring. Let’s put it another way. If this were about only the definition of marriage, then why are leftists threatening to take away everything Barronelle Stutzman owns? The Supreme Court already has ruled that nationwide, two men can “marry” each other, and two women also can enter into a relationship the state will recognize as a “marriage.”
Yet, even though homosexual activists now have what they’ve said was their ultimate goal, they’re not stopping. Barronelle and others in similar situations must acquiesce. They must comply and align with the left on this issue. To the activists, the supreme prize wasn’t really redefining marriage. It’s what’s behind natural marriage that raises ire and incites panic on their part.
The Real Rub
Just what is behind natural marriage and the case to restore it and to preserve it? Many things, but here I’ll name three:
the God of nature and all the rest of the created order, and ultimately
Rebellious sinners, including you and me in the natural inclinations of our hearts, absolutely cannot abide anything that points directly to human accountability to and guilt before a holy God. Marriage as an exclusive union between one man and one woman, however subtly, does just that! Why? Because it also points to the salvation that Jesus made possible for His bride, the church.
In a previous post we said something similar about the Ark Encounter, a theme park in Northern Kentucky that includes a life-sized Noah’s ark. Answers in Genesis (AiG) is the parent ministry of the Ark Encounter. Opposition to the building of the ark and the opening of the park was vicious and even involved a crucial legal battle.
As a religious entity, Answers in Genesis had to fight for the right to hire only those whose beliefs aligned with its theological and moral convictions. It also had to fight for the right to participate in a state sponsored incentives program designed to make it easier for venues to attract visitors to Kentucky. Why would people who didn’t believe the Genesis account be so vehemently opposed to the Ark Encounter? Why would a gay or lesbian even want to work for AiG in the first place? Here’s what we said.
Reading between the lines, one gets the distinct impression that the problem these people are having isn’t primarily what they see as taxpayer-funded discrimination, but the fact that AiG and other Christian entities, including many churches, believe what the Bible teaches about sexuality, marriage, God, creation, and sin in the first place.
It runs even deeper than that. The ark of Noah, like the cross of Christ, offers strong reminders of humanity’s guilt before a righteous God. It is just as AiG states in its Ark Project Vision Statement: The ark is “a sign to the world that God’s Word is true and its message of salvation must be heeded (Romans 3:4, 5:12). Just as the Ark in Noah’s day was a sign of salvation, as well as judgment, an Ark rebuilt today can be a sign to point to Jesus Christ, the Ark of our salvation, and to coming judgment (2 Peter 3:5-13; John 10:9).”
In the cultural and political context in which we currently live, natural, man-woman marriage is like the ark of Noah. Consider these words from a well-known Bible passage, John 3:16-21.
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
We can express this even more explicitly by repeating something we’ve already said. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. In other words, it’s a picture of the gospel. This is why I say in the title of this post that “Christians Must Stand with Barronelle Stutzman—for the Very Same Reason the Left Is Obsessed with Crushing Her.” This case really is about the gospel!
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).
In recent years, a resurgence of reformed theology has taken place in the American evangelical church. Participants in this movement have encouraged the church to rediscover and reemphasize Reformation theology, and, accordingly, have offered a renewed emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a variety of ways, this has been beneficial for the church and for society at large. Yet respectfully, I am compelled to make this sobering observation. Barronelle Stutzman and others who are laying everything on the line to uphold God-ordained marriage are doing a lot more than affirming marriage. They are championing the gospel! If members of the New Reformed movement respond by looking the other way and refusing to publicly support people like Barronelle, then are they not offering empty words when they say they are affirming the gospel?
Hold it! Church leaders and Christians who don’t consider themselves a part of the New Reformed movement aren’t off the hook, either. Not by a long shot! It’s your job to uphold the gospel by defending marriage as well. Anyone professing the name of Christ is obligated by virtue of his or her allegiance to Christ to defend natural marriage. The inspired writer of Hebrews made this crystal clear when he wrote, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb. 13:4, NIV).
The Risk of Being Misunderstood
“But wait!” someone might say. “I don’t want to be misunderstood.” This is our fourth consideration. I appreciate this desire, of course. No one wants to be misunderstood. Yet if we fail to uphold marriage, there’s no doubt we’ll be misunderstood. Granted, if we do uphold it, we run the risk of being misunderstood on some levels—but at least we will be misunderstood for the right reason instead of because we were ashamed of Jesus’ words about the first institution God established at the dawn of time!
A history lesson will help us at this point. The early Christians were accused of many things, including cannibalism, atheism, and a lack of patriotism—and that’s just three of the items on a ten-item list. If any people ever were misunderstood, the early Christians were! Yet, according to Pastor Greg Laurie, “they came to be known as those who turned their world upside down.” He must have been thinking of Acts 17:6.
Clarity Desperately Needed
In April, 2015, a little more than two months before the Obergefell marriage decision was released by the United States Supreme Court, I wrote about how divinely crafted symbols were being distorted in society, and how they weren’t even being clearly presented in the church. I said this:
We can be assured that God is keenly aware of divine signs and images that are being misrepresented today. Thousands of years ago, God placed the first rainbow in the sky as a reminder of His faithfulness after the flood of Noah (see Gen. 9:8-17), but in 2015 many people see rainbow colors and celebrate evil in the name of the politically correct principles of “diversity” and “inclusiveness.” Then there’s marriage—a sacred institution ordained and instituted by God (see Gen. 2:18-25) as well as a picture of Christ’s relationship with His church (see Eph. 5:22-32). Needless to say, that picture is being muddied and distorted everywhere people look. If marriage is redefined in America, how can it possibly continue to represent in society anything close to the relationship God ordained it to represent? If we lose marriage, we lose an image that helps people understand why Christ died. While we cannot expect non-Christians to act as Christians, neither can we ignore the fact that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and for many years upheld those ideals. Yet in recent decades in this country, we have, as a nation, kicked God out of public life. Given all the opportunities we as Americans have had to hear and respond to God’s truth, we must understand that God will hold us accountable.
How You Can Help
Here are some ways you can support Barronelle Stutzman in her fight for religious liberty.
Pray for her and for others who are refusing to follow the state rather than their consciences and their God.
Give financially. Through Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), you can contribute to help finance Baronelle’s own case, which now is headed to the Supreme Court. The ACLU recently received $24 million from its supporters to litigate against people like Barronelle. ADF is attempting to counter this force with resources from freedom-loving and liberty-loving Americans who understand the importance of religious liberty. Learn more about this from David and Jason Benham in this video. Donate here. Be aware also that Samaritan’s Purse, which is headed by Franklin Graham, will accept funds given to help persecuted Christians in the United States. You can give by calling this organization at 1-800-528-1980.
Help Barronelle Stutzman by contributing financially to Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization offering her legal assistance. You can donate to help offset the legal expenses here.
Encourage President Trump to sign an executive order that would provide at least a measure of protection for religious freedom. This wouldn’t resolve the entire problem, but it would be a positive step.
Spread the word about the threat to religious liberty in this country and the importance of protecting it and preserving it. Don’t be intimidated! Speak up!
I close with an acknowledgement that I know what I’m encouraging you to do isn’t easy. It’s hard—especially in a culture that misunderstands the gospel and hates Christians. Against this backdrop, we do well to remember that in upholding marriage, we must never neglect our other responsibilities as believers, including loving, caring, helping, and serving—being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. As we exercise love and uphold truth, we can be assured that God will use us to attract non-Christians to the Savior.
Just as He used the first Christians during the days of the early church.
1According to Steven L. Cox and Kendell H. Easley, eds., Harmony of the Gospels, (Nashville: Holman, 2007). This harmony is based on the text of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, even though I have cited the New King James Version in this article. Moreover, Cox and Easley drew from the work of John A. Broadus and A. T. Robertson, who worked together to publish A Harmony of the Gospels (1893). Robertson continued this work and in 1922 published a revision titled A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christed Based on the Broadus Harmony in the Revised Version.
I’ve been writing and posting my insights at www.wordfoundations.com since March of 2015. Over that period of time, I’ve been able to build a library that I pray God will use to help people—especially young people, but also pastors, educators, and other leaders—better understand truth, reality, and the culture. Although all the material I’ve written remains mine, I’ve produced my work in a volunteer capacity for an outstanding organization, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
This week’s post is the one hundredth Word Foundations article. In view of the special relationship I have with ADF, I believe it is fitting for me, in this threshold piece, to highlight the excellent work of Alan Sears at Alliance Defending Freedom.
Soon, I will be releasing the 100th Word Foundations article, but it isn’t ready for publication just yet. This week I’m posting a series of four one-minute radio spots I wrote in 2014. These are even more relevant today than they were when I wrote them two-and-a-half years ago. As indicated above, the series addresses a crisis of biblical illiteracy.
Here is part 1. You can access part 2 at the end of part 1, part 3 at the end of part 2, and part 4 at the end of part 3. I hope you find this information enlightening and helpful.
—B. Nathaniel Sullivan—
The Widespread Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy
A crisis is defined as a troublesome, difficult, or dangerous situation. Biblical illiteracy in the church is a true crisis. Dr. Kenneth Berding is in a position to know. Currently, he’s a New Testament professor at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology. Earlier, teaching at another school, Dr. Berding told each of his students to summarize an Old Testament character’s life. “Joshua was the son of a nun,” wrote one young man. Not only did he not know that Nun was Joshua’s father’s name; he also apparently wasn’t aware that the first Catholic nuns arrived on the world scene many centuries after Joshua’s lifetime. Another of Dr. Berding’s students, a young woman who wasn’t new to Christianity, asked after class if Saul, the man Jesus confronted on the road to Damascus, also served a king in Israel. Why is biblical illiteracy so severe and so pervasive? Tune in next time.
Years After the Constitutional Convention of 1787, in the Throes of the Civil War, America’s Leaders Look to the Founders—and the Constitution—to Guide the Nation out of Slavery
It is often said that the Constitution is “a bundle of compromises,” implying that those who wrote the document abandoned principle in favor of cutting eighteenth-century backroom deals whenever possible to protect their own interests.…But the presence of compromise—often simply splitting the difference—does not necessarily prove the principle was thrown by the wayside.…In some cases, accepting compromise might be the wise course in order to preserve principles that might be fully achieved only with the passage of time. Which is to say that any compromise must be understood in light of the larger principles at issue.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is “perhaps the most famous speech ever—and it took two minutes.” Yet many do not know the details about the ceremony at which Lincoln spoke. They are worthy of our consideration today. We begin with background information about the two Civil War battles that led up to that ceremony.
On July 1–3, 1863, Union and Confederate troops engaged in a conflict that resulted in the highest number of casualties of any of the battles of the American Civil War. Fighting occurred in and near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. General Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia against Union troops commanded by Major General George Meade. Lee hoped to capitalize on the success Confederate forces had seen at Chancellorsville, in northern Virginia, on April 30–May 6. That victory had come at the cost of heavy casualties, however. On the Confederate side, 10,746 troops were killed or wounded, and on the Union side, 11,368. Significantly for the South, Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was fatally shot on May 2 by friendly fire at Chancellorsville. Jackson died several days later, on May 10. While Lee was encouraged by the victory at Chancellorsville, Jackson’s death was a severe blow. Lee described the loss as being akin to his losing his right arm.
Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, in the latter part of June, General Lee resolved to go on the offensive, and he led army into south-central Pennsylvania. On Wednesday, July 1, the advancing Confederates clashed with the Union’s Army of the Potomac, commanded by General George G. Meade, at the crossroads town of Gettysburg. The next day saw even heavier fighting, as the Confederates attacked the Federals on both left and right. On July 3, Lee ordered an attack by fewer than 15,000 troops on the enemy’s center at Cemetery Ridge. The assault, known as “Pickett’s Charge,” [pictured at the top] managed to pierce the Union lines but eventually failed, at the cost of thousands of rebel casualties, and Lee was forced to withdraw his battered army toward Virginia on July 4.
The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the American Civil War. Combined casualties—the dead and wounded on both sides—numbered from 46,000 to 51,000.
Dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg
Just over four months after the pivotal battle, in a public ceremony on the afternoon of November 19, 1863, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg was dedicated. A month earlier, efforts had begun to relocate the bodies of slain soldiers from the battlefield, where they had been buried initially, to the cemetery. David Wills, representing the committee in charge of the ceremony, invited President Lincoln to speak. Wills wrote, “It is the desire, that, after the Oration, you, as Chief Executive of the nation, formally set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks.”
“The oration” was to be delivered by featured speaker Edward Everett. Well known, eloquent, and very articulate, Everett had served in numerous public leadership positions, including governor of Massachusetts, Minister to Great Britain, a US Representative, a US Senator, and US Secretary of State. Lengthy speeches were typical at dedication ceremonies during this time period, and Everett’s speech on this occasion was no exception. He crafted and delivered from memory an oration “full of beautiful language and logic, that explained the significance and the tragedy of the Battle of Gettysburg, the standoff during the Civil War with the most causalities, often [now] thought of as a turning point.” Everett talked for two hours. You can read his complete speech here. The featured speaker concluded with these words.
Surely I would do no injustice to the other noble achievements of the war, which have reflected such honor on both arms of the service, and have entitled the armies and the navy of the United States, their officers and men, to the warmest thanks and the richest rewards which a grateful people can pay. But they, I am sure, will join us in saying, as we bid farewell to the dust of these martyr-heroes, that wheresoever throughout the civilized world the accounts of this great warfare are read, and down to the latest period of recorded time, in the glorious annals of our common country, there will be no brighter page than that which relates The Battles of Gettysburg.
After Everett finished speaking, the Baltimore Glee Club sang a hymn. Then President Lincoln rose and spoke very briefly. Delivering what we now know as his “Gettysburg Address,” the president wasted no time in honing in on the purpose for which the nation had been founded “four score and seven years” earlier: The Founders “brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln highlighted a similar theme as he concluded his brief remarks, challenging his hearers “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln (highlighted in sepia) at Gettysburg. This is one of two confirmed photos of the president on this occasion.
Among those deeply moved by Lincoln’s remarks was Edward Everett himself. The next day, he wrote to the president and said, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Echoing the Nation’s Founders
In two minutes and with words that we still remember today, Lincoln reunited in Americans’ minds the war effort and the principles upon on the nation had been founded. He reaffirmed “liberty…and…the proposition that all men [—people—] are created equal.” And although the Founders did not use these words in the founding documents, Lincoln upheld their ideal of government “of the people, by the people, [and] for the people.” Eleven months earlier, commensurate with these principles, the president issued the Emancipation Proclamation which, with “a single stroke,…changed the federal legal status of more than 3 million enslaved people in the designated areas of the South from ‘slave’ to ‘free.’”
Meet Frederick Douglass
President Lincoln wasn’t alone in affirming the founding principles of America as the nation moved to end the scourge of slavery, but perhaps no one became a more articulate defender of the US Constitution than Frederick Douglass.
We present a brief summary of Douglass’s early years here to demonstrate that he knew all about slavery, for he experienced it firsthand. He was no mere observer or bystander. His insights on slavery and racism in relation to the Constitution, therefore, need to be appreciated and heeded in our day. In fact, I believe they need to be rediscovered and showcased for everyone to hear and understand.
Born into Slavery
On a plantation in Talbot County, Maryland, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in February, 1818—we’re uncertain of the exact day—as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. It was rumored that his father was his master, but he was unable to verify the rumor. Young Frederick never knew his mother, for he was separated from her early on, and she died when Frederick was ten. He lived with his maternal grandmother for several years, then at age seven was separated from her.
Frederick was moved several times in during his childhood and finally was sent to Baltimore to serve Hugh and Sophia Auld in that city. Sophia began to teach 12-year old Frederick the alphabet, but Hugh disapproved and eventually convinced his wife slaves ought not to be educated. Fortunately, it was too late! Frederick now knew the alphabet, and he worked to teach himself to read and write. By observing both children and adults and by practicing reading whenever he could, he was able to master these skills. As he read newspapers, books, brochures, the Bible, and other literature, the young man was able to formulate his own perspectives on slavery and other issues. He later said that The Columbian Orator, a textbook for school children published in 1797, heavily influenced his thinking.
At thirteen, Frederick learned from a white Methodist preacher that God loved him in a personal and life-changing way. Later, Frederick recalled,
He thought that all men, great and small, bond and free, were sinners in the sight of God; that they were by nature rebels against his government; and that they must repent of their sins, and be reconciled to God through Christ.
He also described the change that took place in his own heart.
Though for weeks I was a poor broken-hearted mourner traveling through doubts and fears, I finally found my burden lightened, and my heart relieved. I loved all mankind, slaveholders not excepted, though I abhorred slavery more than ever. I saw the world in a new light and my great concern was to have everybody converted. My desire to learn increased, and especially did I want a thorough acquaintance with the contents of the Bible.
Still a slave, Frederick was sent to work for William Freeland. On Feeeland’s plantation, Frederick taught his fellow slaves to read the New Testament at weekly Sunday Bible study. The class grew to more than 40. Mr. Freeland did not resist Frederick’s effort, but plantation owners nearby became uneasy and even angry over the idea of educating slaves. They raided Frederick’s class and put an end to the Bible and reading lessons the young slave was giving.
In 1833 Frederick turned 15. He was placed under the authority and in the service of Edward Covey, a man with a reputation of treating slaves harshly. Soon Frederick turned 16, and Mr. Covey was using his “slave-breaking” approach against Frederick with abandon. He routinely whipped and beat the teenager, who almost gave up in despair. Frederick began to resist physically, though, and Covey stopped beating him after Frederick overpowered him in a fight.
On several occasions, Frederick attempted to escape to freedom. He was unsuccessful until September 3, 1838. In less than a full day, he made his way to New York City and freedom. Later he would describe the feelings he had when he arrived on free soil. His statement, a portion of which we present below, showcases his expert communication skills.
My free life began on the third of September, 1838. On the morning of the fourth of that month, after an anxious and most perilous but safe journey, I found myself in the big city of New York, a FREE MAN—one more added to the mighty throng which, like the confused waves of the troubled sea, surged to and fro between the lofty walls of Broadway. Though dazzled with the wonders which met me on every hand, my thoughts could not be much withdrawn from my strange situation. For the moment, the dreams of my youth and the hopes of my manhood were completely fulfilled. The bonds that had held me to “old master” were broken. No man now had a right to call me his slave or assert mastery over me. I was in the rough and tumble of an outdoor world, to take my chance with the rest of its busy number. I have often been asked how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me. If life is more than breath and the “quick round of blood,” I lived more in that one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe. In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York, I said: “I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.” Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.
In 1837, several months before arriving in New York, Frederick had met a free black woman in Baltimore. Anna Murray captivated his heart. He sent for her after obtaining his freedom, and the two were married just days later, on September 15, 1838. Their marriage would last until her death nearly 44 years later. To avoid being caught, the couple initially used the surname Johnson. Soon they would arrive and settle in New Bedford, Massachusetts and would stay for a while with an abolitionist couple named Nathan and Mary Johnson. It was then they began introducing themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Douglass.
Advocate for Liberty
In 1841, Douglass metWilliam Lloyd Garrison and John A. Collins—two prominent abolitionists—at an anti-slavery convention. Collins suggested Douglass become a paid speaker for the anti-slavery cause, and Douglass agreed to do so for three months. He was so well-received by audiences that the arrangement lasted for four years!
In many speeches, Douglass told of his life as a slave. In 1845 he used those presentations as the starting point for an autobiography of his life. In both America and Europe, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave was wildly popular, but many challenged the idea that a former slave could become such an excellent writer—especially without formal training. According to cliffsnotes.com, “Some thought that the text was a clever counterfeit document produced by abolitionists and passed off as Douglass’s writing. In fact, Douglass was so frequently confronted by such skeptics in the North that he had to finally demonstrate his oratory skills in order to prove his intellectual capacity.”
History.com summarizes Douglass’s life as an advocate for freedom this way:
Frederick Douglass (1818-95) was a prominent American abolitionist, author and orator. Born a slave, Douglass escaped at age 20 and went on to become a world-renowned anti-slavery activist. His three autobiographies are considered important works of the slave narrative tradition as well as classics of American autobiography. Douglass’s work as a reformer ranged from his abolitionist activities in the early 1840s to his attacks on Jim Crow and lynching in the 1890s. For 16 years he edited an influential black newspaper and achieved international fame as an inspiring and persuasive speaker and writer. In thousands of speeches and editorials, he levied a powerful indictment against slavery and racism, provided an indomitable voice of hope for his people, embraced antislavery politics and preached his own brand of American ideals.
Defender of the Constitution
Indeed, Douglass was a powerful force for the cause of freedom and liberty for all. Yet we must understand that his “own brand of American ideals” did not represent a departure from the principles the founders enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. This point is at the heart of this article.
Douglass’s “own brand of American ideals” did not represent a departure from the principles the founders enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. In fact, it affirmed them.
It was widely known that abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison believed the Constitution upheld and sanctioned slavery in the United States: “Calling the Constitution a ‘covenant with death’ and ‘an agreement with Hell,’ he refused to participate in American electoral politics because to do so meant supporting ‘the pro-slavery, war sanctioning Constitution of the United States.’ Instead, under the slogan ‘No Union with Slaveholders,’ the Garrisonians repeatedly argued for a dissolution of the Union.”
Initially Douglass agreed with these abolitionists because of the compromises on slavery the Framers of the Constitution had forged when they met in 1787. Eventually, though, he studied the matter for himself and was compelled to break with the Garrisonians. He concluded the Constitution actually was an anti-slavery document. In his 1855 autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, Douglass recalled,
[W]hen I escaped from slavery, into contact with a class of abolitionists regarding the constitution as a slaveholding instrument, and finding their views supported by the united and entire history of every department of the government, it is not strange that I assumed the constitution to be just what their interpretation made it. I was bound, not only by their superior knowledge, to take their opinions as the true ones, in respect to the subject, but also because I had no means of showing their unsoundness. But for the responsibility of conducting a public journal, and the necessity imposed upon me of meeting opposite views from abolitionists in this state, I should in all probability have remained as firm in my disunion views as any other disciple of William Lloyd Garrison.
My new circumstances compelled me to re-think the whole subject, and to study, with some care, not only the just and proper rules of legal interpretation, but the origin, design, nature, rights, powers, and duties of civil government, and also the relations which human beings sustain to it. By such a course of thought and reading, I was conducted to the conclusion that the constitution of the United States—inaugurated “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty”—could not well have been designed at the same time to maintain and perpetuate a system of rapine and murder, like slavery; especially, as not one word can be found in the constitution to authorize such a belief. Then, again, if the declared purposes of an instrument are to govern the meaning of all its parts and details, as they clearly should, the constitution of our country is our warrant for the abolition of slavery in every state in the American Union.
Historian David Barton recounts Douglass’s quest and affirms his conclusions.
As we have seen, Douglass understood a great deal more than the background behind the Three-Fifths Clause; he understood the Constitution as a whole, and he sought to make his findings known to all Americans. Here are a few more of his insights.
Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.
Abolish slavery tomorrow, and not a sentence or syllable of the Constitution need be altered. It was purposely so framed as to give no claim, no sanction to the claim, of property in man. If in its origin slavery had any relation to the government, it was only as the scaffolding to the magnificent structure, to be removed as soon as the building was completed.
The Constitution of the United States knows no distinction between citizens on account of color. Neither does it know any difference between a citizen of a state and a citizen of the United States.
Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the constitution is a Glorious Liberty Document!
There is no negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution.
Frederick Douglass’s Legacy
As this last statement from Frederick Douglass attests, Americans have not always lived up to the principles upon which their country was founded or to the US Constitution. Dr. Martin Luther King said as much at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech:
In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
While Dr. King was right to point out that white Americans had failed to treat blacks as their equals, he also was right in echoing Frederick Douglass’s confidence in the Founders of America and in the Constitution they drafted. The principles on which this country was founded and the US Constitution continue to pull us back to our obligation to fulfill the promise to let every individual, regardless of race, live as a free individual in an ordered society. It’s true that a great Civil War should not have had to occur to end slavery; and it’s equally true that blacks should not have had to endure the struggles they faced during the Civil Rights era just to be treated fairly. Yet it is not true that slaves automatically would have been better off if the anti-slavery delegates at the Constitutional Convention had drawn a line in the sand and refused to budge on the issue of slavery. Progressives are wont to imply anti-slavery delegates at the convention ought to be blamed for allowing slavery to continue because they did not give the pro-slavery delegates an ultimatum. Walter Williams writes,
A question that we might ask those academic hustlers who use slavery to attack and criticize the legitimacy of our founding is: Would black Americans, yesteryear and today, have been better off if the Constitution had not been ratified—with the Northern states having gone their way and the Southern states having gone theirs—and, as a consequence, no union had been created? I think not.
It is clear that like Mr. Williams, Frederick Douglass keenly understood that preservation of the Union under the provisions of the Constitution eventually would make slaves infinitely better off. With freedom they were afforded equality and rights, at least as far as the founding documents were concerned. And there was no better place to start than with the founding principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—the supreme law of the land.
Preservation of the Union under the provisions of the Constitution eventually would make slaves infinitely better off.
This video not only provides a review of our excursion into history in this series thus far; it also helps us understand the harsh realities the Framers knew they would face if the colonies, now independent states, did not remain united.2
Ignorance of our history, coupled with an inability to think critically, has provided considerable ammunition for those who want to divide us in pursuit of their agenda. Their agenda is to undermine the legitimacy of our Constitution in order to gain greater control over our lives. Their main targets are the nation’s youths. The teaching establishment, at our public schools and colleges, is being used to undermine American values.
Ignorance of our history, coupled with an inability to think critically, has provided considerable ammunition for those who want to divide us in pursuit of their agenda. —Walter Williams—
To counter this misinformation, we must teach our children and their peers the truth about leaders who understood both the value and the price of authentic liberty.
This article is part 3 of a ten-part series titled “The Importance of Getting History Right: Uncovering the Truth About Racism at the Founding of America and Beyond.”
1Matthew Spalding, We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future, (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2009), 130.
2I noticed one error in this presentation. At 6 minutes, 50 seconds in, the host of the program, Dan Willoughby, states, “Two provisions were put into the Constitution that might lend a hand to the abolitionists’ cause. First was a clause that would not allow slave importation into the states after a period of 20 years, and the other tied federal taxation to population in the same way representation was linked.” The underlined portion is not entirely correct. While the Slave Trade Clauseprohibited Congress from ending the slave trade until 1808 (and permitted it to do so as of January 1 of that year), the clause itself did not end it, nor did it require Congress to end it. On March 2, 1807, Congress passed, and president Jefferson signed into law, a provision to end the trade effective January 1, 1808.
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They’ve got this foolish concept that man evolved from something that even a microscope cannot see it. They’ve got this foolish idea that once upon a time I lived in water and then crawled out of the water, lost my tail, and became a monkey. They’ve got this foolish idea that man evolved from an animal.…If man once came from monkey, where are the monkeys that are having men today? Who put a stop on the play? Horses are still bringing forth colts. Cows are still having calves. Chickens are still having chickens. If monkey first made man, where is monkey now?…And one of the reasons why men, boys and girls, are acting the way they’re acting is because the schools are telling them that they’re animals. We’ve got to tell them that they are God’s choicest creation!
—Rev. E. V. Hill, speaking at a Promise Keepers event at Anaheim Stadium (now Angel Stadium) in Anaheim, California, June 30, 19941—
Last time I made a bold claim. I used the sinking of the Titanic as an example of how false beliefs can give rise to some very horrific scenarios. I said relativism, because of its reliance on feelings rather than truth, “sets up one false idea after another! Relativists might ‘get it right’ from time to time but won’t consistently. And yes, the results can be just as disastrous as the sinking of the Titanic—and even worse!”
You may think I’m grandstanding, but I assure you, I’m not. To validate my point, however, I’ll need to show the relationship between relativism and evolution, as well as the relationships between evolution and several other movements and ideas. Alan Wilson and Matt Thomas, whom we met last week, will help us see these connections.
Relativism, Evolution, and a Materialistic Worldview
Alan Wilson had just completed his first semester of college and came home to talk to his pastor, Matt Thomas, about absolute truth, morality, and right and wrong. Matt helped Alan see what really was going on with regard to his fellow students’ perspectives about morality and values. Not surprisingly, nearly all Alan’s fellow students had taken positions that differed strongly from what Alan had been taught as a child and as a teenager, both at home and at church.
Matt explained that they didn’t believe what they believed about things like right and wrong, abortion, homosexuality, and absolute truth because they’d evaluated each item individually. Instead they had adopted a worldview—a set of presuppositions about life and the world—that gave way to their beliefs about all of these issues and more. They’d even done this unconsciously, “under the radar.” You can read an account of most of Alan’s and Matt’s conversation here. In their conversation, Pastor Thomas alluded to a connection between relativism and evolution. Simply put, the former descended from the latter. Can you spot the place(s) Matt alluded to these? See if you can, then see if you agree with my assessment. Matt told Alan,
“It’s important to remember that a worldview can’t be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. Worldviews require faith. Someone may think they are really throwing their weight around when they ask you how anyone can be certain a particular lifestyle choice or action is wrong, but on what authority does he base his conclusion that no one can speak with such certainty? His belief that that no objective standard of right and wrong exists rests on his assumption that God doesn’t exist—or at least on his adherence to a belief system that assumes God’s nonexistence. Sure, he may say he believes in God, but think about it—the God in which he believes permits people to do whatever they feel like doing. That doesn’t sound like much of a God, does it?” Alan nodded, indicating to Matt that what he was saying made a great deal of sense. Matt added, “Evolutionists may claim that evolution is pure science and that all objections to it are totally religious and therefore invalid—but many of them cling to their belief in Darwinism with religious fervor. Just as theism is a religious belief, so is atheism.”
You see, the theory of evolution says life on earth, including human life, originated as a result of random chance. If that is the case, then a meaningful, purposeful, personal God does not exist. Neither does absolute truth, so each person might as well “make up his or her own truth.” This is relativism arising from a materialistic worldview (a set of presuppositions that says the material universe is all there is). You can talk all you want about how God used evolutionary processes to create life; but, respectfully, all such talk is just hot air. Evolution by definition relies heavily on chance and random processes; so if God intentionally used any process, it couldn’t have been random. In other words, the idea that God “created” through evolutionary processes is a non-starter. It violates the law of non-contradiction. Just as smooth wrinkles can’t exist, neither can purposeful chance (also go here).
It’s especially true that random forces can’t account for the uniqueness of human beings. People have instincts, just like animals do; but they also have many qualities other life forms do not, including the abilities to reason, relate, communicate, appreciate beauty, and abhor ugliness. Nature says loudly and clearly that random forces could never have given rise to human life.
Evolutionists will object and say that chance isn’t the only force involved in evolution; things like mutations and natural selection also are involved. Mutations and natural selection clearly do influence what characteristics thrive from generation to generation within a specific species, but it’s difficult to see how these factors could even have been present at the origin of life. Various genetic changes within a species—we call these examples of microevolution —do not give rise to another species altogether. That would be macroevolution.
Darwinists often cite examples of microevolution to prove that macroevolution actually took place. This is misleading, at best.
Without macroevolution, the entire theory that one type of animal—say, a human being—descended from a completely different type, such as a reptile or a fish, completely breaks down (see the quote from E. V. Hill at the top). Darwinists have a habit of citing examples of microevolution to prove that macroevolution actually took place. This is misleading, at best.
A growing number of professional scientists are speaking out and expressing scientific doubts about Darwinism. You can learn more about their concerns here.
Connecting the Dots
Perhaps one day we will be able to examine evolution more specifically, but for now I want to take a “wide-angle” look at evolution by connecting the dots between it and its descendants. Along these lines, there’s more to relate about Alan’s visit with his pastor. That visit really challenged Alan’s thinking and opened his eyes. Over time Alan began to see relationships not only between evolution and relativism, but also between evolution each of the following.
a lack of personal restraint in society
the sexual revolution and its fruit, including promiscuity, reliance on abortion as birth control, homosexuality, the redefinition of marriage, and transgenderism
environmentalism, including efforts to combat global warming by eliminating use of fossil fuels and relying exclusively on “clean energy”
the animal rights movement
the eugenics movement
There even is a connection between evolution and Hitler’s efforts to eliminate the Jewish people. Go here to learn more about how Alan came to see all these connections. Keep in mind that this account originally was written in June of 2015, so some of the examples cited won’t now be front-page news. That’s OK. They still make their points quite well.
Relativism, you see, does not stand alone, so as we examine the damage it has caused, we need to see this damage in terms of the big picture—relativism and other related ideas and movements.
A quick review: We’ve seen that relativism is connected to evolution, which is related to each of the bulleted items above and to the Nazis’ genocidal effort against the Jews. It doesn’t stop with these, either. This article points to even more (also go here). Thus, as bad as the Titanic disaster was, relativism and its friends and family members have given rise to many more—and worse—horrific atrocities.
Good Intentions, Good Feelings, and Horrific Results
In closing, I’d like to add one more specific example to the above list. The video below featuring John Stossel obviously was made several years ago. Here is a video he made on the same topic made more recently.
In neither one did Stossel discuss how the problems highlighted relate to a particular worldview, but you can, can’t you? How has a particular worldview contributed to the problems Stossel describes, and how is relativism a part of the mix?
We’ll return to our series on absolute truth in two weeks to discuss some of the benefits arising from a belief in absolutes. Be sure to return next week for a very special post.
It becomes very difficult to live in a completely relativistic world.…Suppose you are waiting in your car at a train crossing, and a train is coming down the tracks at 60 miles an hour. You know that if you drive your car out in front of that train, you are not going to be “relatively” dead—you are going to be “absolutely” dead. We can’t live by [a perspective that doesn’t acknowledge this and other clear realities].
—Dr. D. James Kennedy1—
We are discussing the importance of contending for absolute truth in a world captivated by relativism. Last week we examined why people are so taken in by this philosophy. Relativism has a great deal of emotional and social appeal, but it isn’t intellectually sound. Here are seven reasons why.
Christians believe in absolute standards of right and wrong, standards determined by the character of a holy God. Believing in absolutes necessarily means believing all opinions are not equally valid. Relativists reject this perspective outright, so they don’t really see all opinions as equal, either—but they pretend to anyway, using “tolerance” as a mantra.
An astute observer of culture as well as a skilled preacher, Dr. D. James Kennedy noted that students everywhere in America are taught that absolute truth doesn’t exist. When one teacher said to his class that no one can know anything with certainty, a student responded, “Are you sure of that?”
“Yes, absolutely certain.”2
This defies all logic. No one can credibly assert we can know that nothing is knowable! The first law of rational thought is the law of non-contradiction, which says that a principle and its opposite can’t mutually be true. Both can be wrong, but both cannot be right.
Trying to defy the law of non-contradiction can exact a heavy price. Inevitably, relativism prompts people to assume things that are absolutely false, and sooner or later, reality hits.
One is reminded of the “unsinkable” Titanic. On her maiden voyage in April of 1912, this luxury ship hit an iceberg and plunged to a watery grave, carrying 1,500 passengers and crew with her. My point is not that the designers and builders of the Titanic believed the ship to be unsinkable because they didn’t believe in absolute truth; probably other factors were involved, including arrogance and “the best information available.” Reality doesn’t play favorites, however; it doesn’t care what elements make up the foundation underlying any false idea. Even “good intentions” won’t hold reality at bay. Foundations are vitally important because shaky ones give rise to shaky ideas and solid ones uphold reliable ideas. We need to see that because feelings are a poor foundation for living one’s life (also go here), relativism sets up one false idea after another! Relativists might “get it right” from time to time but won’t consistently. And yes, the results can be just as disastrous as the sinking of the Titanic—and even worse!
Second, absolutes do exist, and they are self-evident. They are in place and in effect every day, profoundly, yet quite often subtly, influencing the lives and behavior of everyone, everywhere, in all circumstances and situations. Every time a person looks at his watch, takes a measurement of some sort, uses a cell phone, drives a car, eats a meal or a snack, writes a check, or does any one of a countless number of other things, that person is relying on standards and principles he or she assumes to be reliably true.
Every time a person looks at his watch, takes a measurement of some sort, uses a cell phone, drives a car, eats a meal or a snack, writes a check, or does any one of a countless number of other things, that person is relying on standards and principles he or she assumes to be reliably true.
These principles don’t always have to be extremely precise in every situation, but they are precise enough to rule out any arbitrary or random influence.
Sometimes absolutes aren’t this subtle, and in crisis situations they even can be extremely precise and demanding. Just ask the crew of Apollo 13, which lifted off at 2:13 p.m. EST on April 11, 1970, from the Kennedy Space Center. You may recall that this mission would have produced the third landing on the moon had it not been for an explosion that changed everything. When the spacecraft was 200,000 miles from the earth and 45,000 miles from the moon, tanks carrying oxygen and hydrogen exploded, causing the spacecraft to shake violently.
As soon as Mission Control [MC] realized the extent of the damage, those in charge changed the goal of the mission: Get the crew back alive! To accomplish this, MC worked feverishly around the clock to overcome obstacles. They performed endless calculations to make sure that their actions and those of the crew would enhance rather than thwart the chances of a safe return.
In other words, they grappled with absolutes! Here is a report of the drama that unfolded. Let’s examine just one episode from that report. The Command Module [CM] and the Lunar Module [LM] had to be separated before the final leg of the journey home.
How could the two sections be separated in a way that would place the LM far enough away from CM before re-entry occurred? Normal separation procedures were not possible because of a lack of power and the lack of the service module, which by then had been jettisoned. The SM had been badly damaged anyway. MC had anticipated this issue and had contacted Grumman Aerospace Corporation, the manufacturer of the LM, to help resolve it:
Grumman called on the engineering expertise of the University of Toronto. A team of six UT engineers was formed, led by senior scientist Bernard Etkin, to solve the problem in one day. The team concluded that pressurizing the tunnel connecting the Lunar Module to the Command Module just before separation would provide the force necessary to push the two modules a safe distance away from each other just prior to re-entry. The team had 6 hours to compute the pressure required, using slide rules. They needed an accurate calculation, as too high a pressure might damage the hatch and its seal, causing the astronauts to burn up; too low a pressure would fail to provide sufficient separation of the LM. Grumman relayed their calculation to NASA, and from there in turn to the astronauts, who used it successfully.
Again, MC and the crew of Apollo 13 had to overcome obstacles by wrestling with absolutes. Even so, the unyielding realities they discovered—and with which they essentially cooperated—became their allies in the effort to bring the crew safely back to earth.
Third, people everywhere benefit from absolutes in the physical world, whether they realize it or not. For example, gravity makes ordered life on the earth possible.
Here is what we said in part 5 of “Misinformed and Misled: How a Distorted Perspective on Rights is Leading America into Tyranny.”
With very few exceptions, it isn’t desirable for people to live in a world of fantasy and illusion. Mature people must grapple with reality. People need to eat! The bills have to be paid! The real world is messy, but it is the one we live in—yet it’s also the one in which we can find fulfillment and satisfaction, if we adjust to life’s demands and cooperate with its realities.
The law of gravity provides a great example. No one can step out of a 10th story window and expect to go anywhere but down, and fast! Gravity prevents us from safely doing a great number of things. Yet when we cooperate with it, we benefit immensely. Why? In a great many ways, gravity, which is part of “the natural order of things,” makes ordered life on earth possible.
Marriage, as humanity has understood it for centuries, is very much like gravity in this regard. When a society respects marriage as an institution uniting one man and one woman in a committed, lifelong relationship, it’s clear that it limits that society in certain ways. Perhaps it’s not as clear that it liberates it in many more! Clear or not, this is the truth!
This affirmation about marriage reflects our fourth principle: Absolutes exist in the moral realm, just as they do in the physical realm. Proof of their existence may not be as convincing initially as proof of absolutes in the physical realm, but evidence still abounds.
Charles Colson, who converted to Christianity in the throes of Watergate, became an articulate defender of the Christian faith and of absolute truth. Once a TV host who had completed an interview with him told him how frustrated he was with Christians. “You’re absolutists,” he said. “You’re trying to impose your views on others.”
Colson tried to explain that believing in absolutes doesn’t make an individual an absolutist, and that a great many benefits come from a belief in absolute truth—but he was getting nowhere. Then he recalled that the man loved sailing. “Have you ever been out in your boat at night, under a cloudless sky, and used the stars to determine your direction?” The man answered that he had. Colson added, “Suppose for just a moment the stars had no reliable order, that one night they were positioned in one pattern across the night sky and the next night they were totally rearranged. Could you navigate then?”
“No,” said the TV host, “of course I couldn’t.” The tone of his voice let Colson know he just might have gotten through. Just as the set and unyielding pattern of the stars can prevent an experienced sailor from getting lost at sea, the moral map made up of absolute, unyielding principles can keep a person from making a great many perilous turns in life.
Just as the set and unyielding pattern of the stars can prevent an experienced sailor from getting lost at sea, the moral map made up of absolute, unyielding principles can keep a person from making a great many perilous turns in life.
Now, imagine now that you are a “fly on the wall” in the office of Pastor Matt Thomas as he talks to Alan Wilson, a college freshman in his church. You can read Alan’s story and an account of the conversation between Alan and his pastor here. This account sheds even more light on the nature of absolute truth. Here is the concluding paragraph.
Matt went on to point out that those who say they don’t believe in right and wrong actually don’t live that way. They may say absolute truth doesn’t exist, but if someone steals from them, they will be the first ones to appeal to a standard, and on the basis of that standard, object. “All people,” said Matt, “appeal to various values and standards, even if they never realize they are doing so. Innately, each person has a standard of fairness he or she is quick to advocate.”
The last point pastor Matt made in the report is our fifth. People—even those who claim to be relativists—appeal to absolutes in the moral realm, especially when they feel their own rights have been violated.
If relativism were true, then the Watergate scandal wouldn’t have mattered, would it? Yet even today, nearly 45 years later, almost no one would suggest that the lawbreakers shouldn’t have been prosecuted. Dr. Mark Corts, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at the time, wrote about the scandal in the May 2, 1973 edition of the church’s weekly newsletter. Even though Dr. Corts understandably used “Christian terms” like commandments and sin, his point about the importance of a moral foundation should demonstrate even to relativists that their prize philosophy robs everyone—not just Christians—of benefits only moral absolutes can offer.
The President [Nixon] is trying to clean house. Yesterday four staff resignations were accepted and the President has pledged that the guilty parties will be brought to justice. Sin does have a way of finding us out and this has been demonstrated in no more vivid way than the Watergate affair.…
In the end, greed or covetousness is the king of sins. The last of the commandments was intended to summarize all the rest which Moses gave. But in the final analysis, greed, bald covetousness is at the bottom of all sin. It is an expression of man challenging God, to get what he wants instead of what God wants for him, and to get it at any cost. It was totally unnecessary for the masterminds behind the President’s re-election campaign to bug the Democratic headquarters, for right near the whole country knew the outcome of the election already, including probably McGovern. Why then did those political dock workers do what they did? I believe they did it because of greed, covetousness. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Feeling the end justifies the means, they felt “the other side” were enemies of the republic. And in their misguided zeal, they became what they were fighting, enemies of the republic. For if we cannot have some moral base in our political system, [no foundation will exist] for the American people to express their feelings, exercise their rights, and share in the selection of their leaders. Everyone [sic] of us has something to learn from this experience. The moral lessons for us seem to be abounding everywhere in public life. But then what else can we expect in a world that had become morally schizophrenic, with no absolute standards, and each man “doing what is right in his own sight”?
Also, consider this. Who, even today, would oppose Dr. Martin Luther King, the great civil rights leader whom we honor this coming Monday and every year on or near his birthday? King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jailabout how an otherwise law-abiding citizen could legitimately advocate breaking some laws, even as he or she obeyed others. King explained that “there are two kinds of laws: just laws…and unjust laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws, but conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Here Dr. King not only acknowledged the existence of absolute truth; he also affirmed its authority.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. affirmed both the existence and authority of absolute truth.
On a personal level as well, people, even those who claim they don’t believe in God, inevitably will appeal to a standard of right and wrong whenever they feel their own personal rights have been violated. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis astutely observed,
Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining “It’s not fair” before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter, but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there is no such thing as Right and Wrong—in other words, if there is no Law of Nature—what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of Nature just like anyone else?
It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.
Sixth, it’s clear, therefore, that people know innately that absolute truth exists.
If relativism were true and absolute truth were not real, people would not even need to be told absolutes don’t exist! Something deep inside the human spirit, however, says they do, and people listen to these inside voices. Individuals reveal this on a daily basis with both their words and actions, as we have seen. Scripture says the law is “written in their hearts.”
We began by saying that relativism is inconsistent. To this principle we now add elements that make up our seventh point. We have seen the evidence for these elements throughout this post. Relativism is inconsistent—so much so that it collapses under its own weight. It does not work in the real world.
Unfortunately, the elements that entice people to affirm relativism also act to blind them to its inconsistencies and failures. On this point, advocates of absolute truth must be relentless in helping people see what really is happening.
The natural world gives us a window into the unchanging nature of God and therefore the unchanging nature of morality—right and wrong. Truth is like the law of gravity. It is not something that is negotiable, nor is it something that can be invented by each person. Instead, it is observable. It also is discovered, and it applies to everyone at all times and in all places. Adjusting ourselves to accept and conform to the realities we discover paves the way for fulfillment and happiness in life.
Next week, we’ll examine some of the destruction and devastation relativism and its philosophical ancestor, evolution, have caused.
Two-and-a-half years ago I wrote a series of very brief articles for use as one-minute radio spots. Some of them offered observations about current events that now seem out-of-date; but many, like this one, remain timeless.
If It Sounds Good—Beware!
The sexual revolution of the 1960s didn’t just change people’s thinking about sexuality; it brought about a shift in perspectives on right and wrong. People today don’t see truth, right, and wrong as things to be discovered; they believe each person can create his or her own truth.1 This is relativism, which says all opinions are equally valid. This sounds good, but it is fatally flawed.
Christians believe in absolute standards of right and wrong, standards determined by the character of a holy God. Believing in absolutes necessarily means believing all opinions are not equally valid. Relativists reject this perspective outright, so they don’t really see all opinions as equal, either—but they pretend to anyway, using “tolerance” as a mantra. So, modern “tolerance” leaves no room for a belief in absolutes.
In this and several future posts, I’d like to explore these ideas. This week, let’s examine elements behind the phrase “This sounds good,” which is located near the bottom of the first paragraph. Unfortunately, relativism is very enticing—so much so that even many Christians have bought into the idea that truth is relative. In our post for December 9, 2016, we cited these statistics:
More than 25 years ago, 51 percent of evangelical Christians rejected a belief in absolutes.
In 1994, the percentage rose to 62 percent, and
in 1999, to 78 percent.
In 2011 the percentage of evangelical Christians not believing in absolute truth reached a staggering 91 percent!
The article for December 9 went on to lament that the results of ballot initiatives in 2016 offered no encouragement at all that the trend had reversed since 2011.
People in the general population readily can be carried along by the cultural tide, and Christians can too if they haven’t been properly grounded at church. Sadly, the church has failed in its duty to declare the truth and to ground believers in it. In a previous post titled “Eight Menacing Trends,” we explored the church’s failure in this regard. Please, carve out a few minutes to read or review this important article!
Against this backdrop, let’s explore why the philosophy of relativism is so widely attractive. We need to understand this if we are going to be effective in persuading people to recognize the existence of absolutes. Consider the following realities.
First, relativism appeals to people’s emotions. The notion that everyone can be right in what he or she believes sounds good and noble.
Second, relativism appeals to people’s imaginations. As a philosophy, it offers people the opportunity to create their own world of “reality.” One is reminded of what Walt Disney said of Fantasyland at the opening of Disneyland on July 17, 1955: “Here is a land of imagination, hopes and dreams. In this timeless land of enchantment the age of chivalry, magic and make-believe are reborn and fairy tales come true. Fantasyland is dedicated to the young and the young at heart, to those who believe that when you wish upon a star your dreams do come true.” Visiting Fantasyland is one thing, but relativism invites people to live there. This portends disaster, because fantasies can’t survive in the real world.
Visiting Fantasyland is one thing, but relativism invites people to live there.
Castle Neuschwanstein of Bavaria, one of the structures that inspired the Cinderella’s Castles located at the Disney theme parks
Third, social pressure to espouse relativism is extremely intense. This factor has at least two aspects. First, to reject relativism is to reject a belief held by “everyone else.” Who wants to be different from the crowd?
Fourth, add to the loneliness of being in the minority the difficulty of taking an unpopular stand. This is the second aspect to the social pressure surrounding a belief in relativism, and it has both positive and negative forces. On the one hand, believing truth to be relative positions a person to be seen as affirming and “tolerant” of others. Who among us doesn’t want to be viewed as magnanimous? On the other, a person who says absolute truth exists has taken a position that makes him or her a target of vicious criticism. Of course, no one wants to be condemned as judgmental or to be accused of hate—but do you see the irony here? Those who condemn people for being hateful and judgmental actually are being hateful and judgmental themselves!
Fifth, believing in absolutes not only puts a person at risk for vitriol and strong criticism; it also requires a person to think through his or her position and to defend it intellectually, at least in his or her own mind. Put another way, believing truth to be relative is the “PLR”—the “path of least resistance.”
Sixth, relativism appeals to human pride.
I want to spend just a few minutes exploring this last item, for it probably is the primary reason relativism is so attractive. Scripture proves just how relevant it is even in its opening pages, because even there it reveals pride as a core reason for the mess in which humanity finds itself.
In Genesis 1 and 2 we see that at the dawn of creation God created a perfect world with a perfect garden, and He put Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, in it and given them constructive work to do. He placed only one prohibition on them; they were not to eat from the fruit from one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (see Gen. 1:26-31; 2:15-25). Perfection disappeared in Genesis 3. Satan, in the form of the serpent, enticed Eve to disobey God. Here is how it happened.
1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate (Gen. 3:1-6, emphasis added).
We see here that Satan not only enticed Eve with good-looking fruit and with lies that confused her about God’s intentions for her and for Adam, he also enticed her with the temptation to play god! This temptation appeals to pride as does nothing else! Note also the connections between pride, playing God, and relativism. Essentially Satan said, “Eve, you can make up your own reality! You can make up your own truth! You can become like God!”
Instead, when they sinned, Adam and Eve died spiritually and began to die physically as well. God also expelled them from the perfect environment where He originally had placed them. The top image is a detailed section of Italian painter Masaccio’s 1425 fresco titled “The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden.” The artist didn’t get everything right in his painting; God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins before expelling them. His depictions Adam’s and Eve’s expressions of horror and shame, however, are quite fitting and appropriate.
The late Dr. Mark Corts pastored Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for nearly 40 years. A powerful and insightful preacher, Dr. Corts offered many keen observations from the pulpit during his ministry. Here is one of them: The essence of sin is always trying to be like God without God.
The essence of sin is always trying to be like God without God.
—Dr. Mark Corts—
After we—the members of the human race—fell into sin, God implemented a plan to make us like Himself, but that plan requires us to surrender to Him and follow His way, not our own.
We said earlier in the radio commentary that “Christians believe in absolute standards of right and wrong, standards determined by the character of a holy God.” We’ll explore this statement in a future post, but for now, don’t miss these important points.
God determines reality; people don’t.
As people created by God, we must live in the real world, the world God also has created.
When a person buys into the lie of relativism and attempts to come up with his or her own reality and live according to it, that person is playing god.
Pride always is at the heart of the temptation to play god.
In a classic and entertaining lecture called “God’s Way or My Way,” speaker and bestselling author Frank Peretti examines the disastrous results of trying to live one’s own way rather than God’s. Peretti’s speech recently was made available on Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk radio program. I commend these broadcasts to you as a wonderful introduction to the battle for the recognition of absolute truth.
Next week, we’ll continue our discussion of this critical battle. Be sure to return.
Every once in a while, I am asked, “What’s it like to be adopted?” I was two days old when my parents chose me to be their son. Being adopted is an amazing thing. I was taken from a situation that probably would not have turned out well and was given the opportunity to grow up in a loving Christian home. I became a member of a new family. I had a new identity, a new name, a new opportunity, and eventually a new inheritance. I was chosen! Adoption into God’s family is all of that and infinitely more.
In ancient Israel slavery was permitted but regulated by Old Testament law. God never intended for people to be mistreated or abused. Among other things, the regulations included a limited time frame for servitude. Exodus 21:1-6 and Deuteronomy 15:12-18 highlight this limitation, but in these passages is another provision that absolutely arrests our attention. In Deuteronomy through Moses, the Lord declared,
Moses received the law from God and then gave it to the Israelites.
12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; 14 you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the Lord your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today. 16 And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, 17 then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise. 18 It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has been worth a double hired servant in serving you six years. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.”
Imagine having been a servant for six long years. The day of your release is near, and this is a date on the calendar you looked forward to, especially in the early days of your time of service. Yet now, as you think about leaving your master, you wonder if you really desire your freedom more than serving him. Your master is a kind man who’s been good to you and treated you extremely well. He even loves you, and you have grown to love him. In the end, you come to realize that while you once couldn’t wait for the day when you would be set free, you now want to serve your master the rest of your life.
It’s difficult in our culture to imagine being willing to remain in service to a master and to choose that life over freedom, but Old Testament law made a provision for such a choice. The key to understanding the choice isn’t in contrasting freedom to servitude; we’ll hit a dead end there! The key is in understanding the heart of a master who creates and maintains a loving and warm environment from which even his servant cannot walk away.
Who means so much to you—who has treated you so wonderfully and so well—that you want to serve that person forever? For Christians, this shouldn’t be a difficult question to answer. Christmas, which we just recently have celebrated, reminds us of the Lord’s great love for us—a love that is without parallel in the world. For the past two weeks, we have considered God’s great overture of love as presented in Galatians 4:4-5 (NKJV).
4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
Two weeks ago, we explored the meaning of the phrase “the fullness of the time.” Last week we examined the truths that “ God sent forth His Son,  born of a woman,  born under the law  to redeem those who were under the law.” This week we want to discover something of what God ultimately intended when He initiated Christmas— “that we might receive the adoption as sons.” This is the glorious, wonderful, aftermath of Christmas! On what more wonderful theme can we reflect as we transition into a new year?
As we explore this topic, keep in mind that the spiritual truths we will examine are absolute, concrete realities for those who believe in Christ. We are not considering something we want to happen or imaging a scenario that is “too good to be true.” No! Instead, it is true, and we as Christians need to live accordingly!
Consider these passages that showcase the theme of adoption into God’s family. Links have been added for clarity and to enhance personal study.
[D]ear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. (Rom. 8:12-17, NLT).
The Apostle Paul by Rembrandt
[Y]ou are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you (Gal. 3:26-29, NLT).
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure (Eph. 1:3-5, NLT).
See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. 2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. 3 And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. 5 And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. 6 Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.7 Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. 8 But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. 9 Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. 10 So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God (1 John 3:1-10, NLT).
This last passage is a powerful reminder that being adopted into God’s family changes everything about the believer’s perspective. The world cannot understand a Christian’s motivation to live a pure life, but the Christian knows: Anyone who is in Christ “is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV). The Christian isn’t reformed, but transformed because of being made alive in Christ and being adopted into God’s family! In a small way, in the language of our opening illustration, it’s like the difference between your serving your master because you have to, and choosing to serve him because no one else in the world ever has loved you as he has or treated you so well.
One evening, a fire broke out in a home where a grandmother lived with her young grandson. The fire spread rapidly, trapping the young boy in his room. The grandmother attempted to save him but perished in the fire; and it appeared the boy, too, would not survive. Then a man broke through the crowd of onlookers. He grabbed hold of the iron drainpipe that ran down the side of the house next to the boy’s bedroom window. Climbing up, rescuing the child, and climbing back down again as the lad held tightly onto his neck, the man brought him at last to safety.
The child’s life had been spared, but who now would be his guardian? He had no other living relatives. Two months after the fire, a hearing was held. Several people in the town asked to be considered, including a professor at a nearby college, a restaurant owner, and one of the community’s wealthiest couples. All of them presented compelling cases for the boy to come live with them, but the judge noted he seemed indifferent to each one. Then a man walked to the front of the room and said he wanted to adopt the orphaned youngster. He held up his hands before the crowd so everyone present could see they were badly discolored and scared.
The boy looked up when he heard the man speak. Beaming with delight, he ran into his arms. He knew this man had rescued him from the fire. The hot iron pipe had burned the man’s hands, leaving them permanently blemished. No one needed to say anything more. Those scars demonstrated to the judge and to everyone else present that the boy’s rightful place was in the home of the man who had saved him.
After relating this story, Dr. Bill Bright writes that just as the rescuer’s scars ended the debate over whom should have custody of the young boy, Jesus’ nail-scared hands demonstrate decisively that we belong to the One who died for us on the cross. Realizing no one ever could love us more or in any better way than Jesus has, we understand that living for Him and serving Him are the greatest privileges of our lives.
It makes sense, then, that these will be the greatest privileges we will have in 2017, as well.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.…For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
—John 1:1,14; 3:17—
God acts like the judge in this anecdote. It is on record that of two young men who studied law together, one rose to a seat on the Bench, while the other took to drink and wasted his life. On one occasion this poor fellow was brought before his old companion, charged with a crime. The lawyers present wondered what kind of justice would be administered by the judge under such trying circumstances. To their surprise, he sentenced his one-time companion to the heaviest penalty the law would allow, and then paid the fine himself and set his old friend free.…[You see,] God the Father, God the Son [Jesus Christ], and God the Holy Spirit are one God. The same God against whom we had sinned passed the judgment, paid the penalty, and now offers you a full and free pardon, based upon [His own] absolute righteousness.
4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
Using the NIV’s rendering, we indicated that “the set time had fully come” after God had placed on the world stage “all that was required for the birth of His Son as far as the world’s national, political, spiritual, linguistic, and commercial climates were concerned.”
This week we will give attention to these phrases in the passage.
God sent his Son
born of a woman
born under the law
to redeem those under the law
God’s work to prepare the world externally for His Son’s birth was remarkable, but equally remarkable were His “internal” actions to involve human beings in the process. The names of these people represent lives that were directly involved in Jesus’ birth and the events surrounding it. While some were willing participants, others God used without their thoroughly knowing or understanding: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Caesar Augustus, Shepherds, Herod the Great, and Wise Men from the East.
In particular, God’s bringing Mary and Joseph into the process leaves us in awe and wonder. Risking rumor and great misunderstanding, the couple obeyed God and even were honored to have the special responsibilities He was giving them. Remember what the Lord was doing; Paul told us in Galatians 4:4: “God sent his Son” to the earth. Jesus would make a very unusual entrance in some ways and a very ordinary entrance in others.
Yet His birth was quite ordinary as well. Jesus was born as a real baby into the world’s surroundings—surroundings that actually were quite primitive for a child’s birth, even according to the standards of His day.
As the apostle John stated in His Gospel, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Being God’s Son, Jesus revealed divine glory in the process, thus bringing us truth about God (see v. 14)—and about life, death, sin, salvation, and us!
The apostle Paul underscored the reality that Jesus was both divine and human in these two phrases in Galatians 4:4: “God sent his Son” and “born of a woman.” This is the miracle of the incarnation, God in human flesh! Christmas emphasizes the miracle for us, and, pondering it, we are overwhelmed—especially when we realize why Jesus came. He came to die—to give His life to pay the penalty for the sins of humanity.
Jesus came to die to pay the penalty for people’s sins.
But did Jesus have to die? Yes, he absolutely had to die to solve the core problem facing humanity. Not only was no other remedy for the problem of human sin available, no other remedy even was possible! As Paul wrote in Romans 5:6-8,
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
In a previous post, we cited these insightful words from Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer. Originally offered in one of Schaeffer’s Christmas sermons, they are especially powerful now. Jesus, God’s only Son,
lies in the manger for a reason. Because He loves the world, He has come not just to eliminate the peripheral results of man’s fall (though these will be totally removed at His second coming); He is here to cut the nerve of man’s real dilemma, to solve the problem from which all other problems flow. The “condition of man” is not what modern man thinks it is. Man is a sinner who needs an overwhelming love. Jesus has come to save His people from their sins. This is not to say that He has no interest in…other things now, but we must not get the matters reversed—the central thing is central1
The “condition of man” is not what modern man thinks it is. —Francis Schaeffer—
So Jesus came to die. Significantly, His death could not count as payment for anyone else’s sin unless three things were true of Him. Already we have highlighted the first two, which address Jesus’ divinity and humanity separately.
Jesus had to be God and totally sinless Himself, and
He had to be a human being, for only a human can die for another person.
The third quality combines the essential requirements of humanity and divinity into one.
As a human being, Jesus had to have lived a sinless life, despite temptations to do wrong. Had He sinned, His death would go to pay for His own sins and could not be applied to anyone else’s account.
Thankfully, Jesus was “born under the law” and obeyed it perfectly. He Himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Moreover, the inspired writer of Hebrews testified, “For we [who have asked God to credit Jesus’ death to our accounts] do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Heb. 4:15). The writer continued, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16).
Those who have believed in Jesus and received Him into their lives—those who have had His death credited to their accounts and on that basis experienced God’s forgiveness—have been redeemed, or bought back, by God. Through His death, therefore, Jesus accomplished the purpose for which He came—“to redeem those under the law.”
Remember that this statement comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. Of all people, they needed to hear this! They were being enticed to think that what Jesus already had done on the cross wasn’t enough to secure their forgiveness, that they also needed to keep various aspects of the law. Paul reminded them that for their salvation, Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection needed nothing from them other than turning away from the old way of life and being willing to be bought back. Christians live exemplary lives, not to obtain salvation, but because they have been saved.
Thus, the Christmas gift of Jesus means an offer of salvation to all. Relying on Him for redemption, we escape the punishment of hell that our sin otherwise would require us to endure!
This is the good news of Christmas, but there is more! It gets even better! Next week we’ll explore what receiving “adoption to sonship” means for us in practical terms. I can think of no more wonderful realities to explore as we transition into a new year.
I close this week with President Ronald Reagan’s Christmas address, delivered 35 years ago this year, on December 23, 1981:
1Francis Schaeffer, “What Difference Has Looking Made? (A Christmas Study)” No Little People, in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Vol. 3: A Christian View of Spirituality, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982) 123-124.
top image: Announcement to the Shepherds by Abraham Bloemaert, c. 1600