Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 4

If marriage is allowed to die, future generations likely will inherit a godless culture. We simply must have an answer in defense of biblical marriage that persuades the culture to protect and esteem the biblical design for human relationships, family structure, and social order—for the sake of the gospel in America.
—S. Michael Craven1

 

Go here to read an expanded version of this article.
Part 3 is available here.
View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

From 1968 to 1990, Robertson McQuilken served as the third president of Columbia International University (CIU) in Columbia, South Carolina. McQuilken distinguished “himself as a spiritual and practical visionary.” Enrollment doubled, for example, and the school founded two radio stations. Moreover, McQuilken oversaw advancements in CIU’s accreditation status, expansion of its seminary and graduate programs, and enlargement of the school’s physical campus. It was a busy and fruitful 22 years. Immediately prior to coming to CIU, Robertson had been a missionary and a church planter in Japan for 12 years.2

The decision to leave Japan to take the helm of Columbia International University, McQuilken has said, “was the most difficult I have had to make.”3 By contrast, 22 years later and eight years prior to retirement, the choice to step down was “painful” but “one of the easiest.”4

Robertson’s wife, Muriel, had Alzheimer’s disease, and she now needed round-the-clock care. Robertson felt he’d already made his decision 42 years earlier when, at his wedding, he formally “promised to take care of Muriel ‘in sickness and in health…till death do us part.’”5 Hear this 2-minute excerpt from his resignation speech.

Robertson was Muriel’s caregiver for 13 years, until she died at 81 on September 20, 2003. He declared, “I don’t see how I could have any more grief.” Yet his life was not over. Robertson would live 13 years beyond Muriel’s passing. In 2005 he remarried and even was able to return, to some extent, to a public ministry. He lived to be 88 years of age and passed away on June 2, 2016.

Supernatural Help to Reflect a Supernatural Love

While some may see this story as “too perfect” for today’s world and the relationships that prevail in it, we as believers know that God exists and offers supernatural resources to His Son’s followers. As Christians, we have “the mind of Christ” and the Holy Spirit, who produces supernatural fruit in our lives. “He who abides in Me, and I in him,” Jesus said, “bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

There’s something else we as believers have, as well. We have the relationship of Christ and His church as a model of what marriage is supposed to look like. Because the bond between Christ and His church is all about the gospel, marriage is to reflect the gospel—the best news ever announced.

Perhaps an illustration will help. Just as Mirror Lake in the image at the top reflects Oregon’s Mt. Hood on the surface of its waters, Christian marriage gives people a glimpse of Christ’s relationship to the church and the gospel.


Christians must have good marriages, but we also must uphold God’s design for marriage—for the sake of the gospel.


People who are unfamiliar with Christ’s sacrifice for His church surely can at least begin to understand it when they see sacrificial love demonstrated in Christian marriages. Yet, as important as good marriages are, we must do more than have good marriages. We also must uphold God’s design for marriage—for the sake of the gospel. It is my prayer that this retelling of the McQuilkens’ story will help Christians understand this truth.

The Responsibility to Point the Way Back

Alarmingly, society is losing its grip on what marriage is, and what it is supposed to be. In a BreakPoint commentary dated March 31, 2017 and titled “The Silent Suffering of Gay Men,” John  Stonestreet astutely observed that for a variety of reasons “the debate over gay ‘marriage’ and homosexuality has largely fizzled out…[a]nd that’s a shame, because so-called ‘progress isn’t bringing about the rosy picture we were promised.”

The church must reignite this debate! It is in a unique and strategic position to help society get out of the mess that has resulted from redefining marriage—and I don’t just mean redefining marriage through Obergefell. The meaning of marriage has been under assault for decades!


God’s people must teach the next generation of Christians why and how God’s Word is right about marriage.


To begin with, God’s people must teach the next generation of Christians why and how God’s Word is right about marriage. This includes explaining how natural marriage represents the gospel.

What the Church Must Do

Here is the beginning of a 12-item list of qualities that must characterize the church’s case for natural marriage. We’ll examine two items now, and next time the remaining ten.

First, believers must contend for marriage with greater sincerity. All too often Christians and the church have ignored the marriage issue as too controversial. It will turn people away! People will misunderstand! Yet marriage really is about the gospel, and upholding God’s design can indeed help non-Christians see and understand the gospel. We need to really believe this! As Martyn Lloyd-Jones observed, “When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.”

Second, we must uphold marriage with greater authenticity. We need to work on our own marriages and, with God’s help, bring them to a clearer representation of Christ’s relationship with His church. Marriages like the McQuilkens’ can inspire us to do this. On a regular basis, Focus on the Family offers encouragement and appropriate challenges toward this end. Tune in to the broadcast and visit this excellent ministry online. Family Life is another such ministry. More directly, however, churches must step up to the plate to teach and equip men and women to be better husbands and wives—and to teach young people to become men and women of God who will be better husbands and wives when they’re married.

Remember, however, that as important as good marriages are, this isn’t just about having good marriages, but about upholding marriage.

We’re just getting started on our 12-item list. We have ten more items to discuss.

We’ll tackle them next time. See you then!

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1S. Michael Craven, Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2009), 151.

2Robertson’s McQuilken’s work and ministry through the years is summarized beautifully in this this CIU video.

3,4Robertson McQuilken, A Promise Kept: The Story of an Unforgettable Love, (Carol Stream, IL: 2006), 21.

5Ibid., 22.

 

 

Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 3

[M]arriage is never only about the couple. It is always about the larger community.…In fact it always includes concern about the next generation as well. We seem to have forgotten this.
—Glenn T. Stanton and Dr. Bill Maier1

 

Part 2 is available here.
View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

In their excellent book titled Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting,2 Glenn Stanton and Bill Meier make the observations we have quoted above. Not coincidently, their insights apply to the gospel as well.

The gospel is never only about Christ and the church. It is always about the world. In fact it always includes concern about the next generation.

Marriage, you see, is all about the gospel.

Here are two important ways God-ordained marriage reflects the gospel—the good news—of Jesus Christ.

The Nature of the Relationship Itself

Read Ephesians 5:22-33 and reflect on the word mystery in verse 32. The relationship between Christ and His church is mysterious on many levels, one of which we see reflected in the “way of a man with a young woman.” Proverbs 30:18-19 (NIV) declares,

There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a young woman.

No same-sex “marriage” has any comparable relational mystery.


All same-sex relationships lack the relational mystery inherent in heterosexual bonds.


Significantly, it is the differences between a man and a woman that provide the platform for a healthy marriage (see Gen. 2:18-25); and similarly, it is the differences between Christ and His church (and what those are) that set the stage God to initiate a rescue operation to save humanity.

In his insightful book, Growth into Manhood, former homosexual Alan Medinger highlights four sets of contrasting qualities between masculinity and femininity. The second of these is that the essence of masculinity is initiation and the essence of femininity is response. Medinger observes that since God is the ultimate initiator, it is entirely appropriate that He would reveal Himself in the masculine role of Father. We, as responders to God, are all feminine in this sense. Moreover, Medinger notes, it is fitting that we who are followers of Christ are called His bride.3 This is at the heart of the gospel’s good news!4

We do well to elaborate a bit more. In the plan God implemented to save sinners, Christ, God’s Son, came to earth as a man and pursued them so they could experience His love and forgiveness and become His bride. As Christ’s bride, His followers share in His victories! Hymn writer Samuel John Stone (1839-1900) expressed it this way:

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

Procreation

At the dawn of time, God instructed Adam and Eve, the first married couple, to “Be fruitful and multiply.” Marriage is about reproduction; yet no same-sex relationship, even if it’s called a marriage, ever can reproduce.


No homosexual union can reproduce; only a heterosexual union can do that.


The gospel is about reproduction as well. In fact, if anything has to do with reproduction, the gospel does! We see this clearly in New Testament. Go here for several examples.

God Involves His People

It is noteworthy that God invariably uses His people—members of Christ’s bride, the church—as He draws non-Christians to Himself. Consider Paul’s conversion to Christ. Jesus supernaturally appeared to him on the road to Damascus, (see Acts 9:1-9), but God also sent his servant Ananias to him in Damascus to minister to him (add vv. 10-19).

Even those who have come to Christ by reading the Bible have read Scripture human beings have printed. God uses the words and influence of His people every day to bring people to Christ. Initially we might wonder why God has placed such a limitation on Himself, but we find the answer in the truth that His people are a part of Christ’s bride, the church. We know that in a marriage relationship, both the groom and the bride are involved in the reproductive process.

We need to be careful not to press this point too far, of course. It is the Holy Spirit who regenerates and gives new life. Still, the point is made. God does not work to reproduce spiritual life without involving the bride of Christ in the process, and we as Christ’s bride cannot produce spiritual fruit without relying on Christ (see John 15:1-5).


The mysterious dynamic of the marriage relationship and the ability of the married couple to procreate are two significant ways marriage mirrors the Christian gospel.


Losing Man-Woman Marriage in Society Makes Sharing the Gospel Even Harder

So, God-ordained marriage, and God-ordained marriage alone, reflects the relationship of Christ and the church. It therefore reflects the gospel. If our society loses a clear understanding of what marriage is—and we’re far down that road already—it will lose a window through which it can gain a clear understanding of the reason Christ died. With marriage at stake, the gospel is at stake. Despite these urgent realities, the church seems oblivious to what really is happening—and ironically, she herself is the bride!


With marriage at stake, the gospel is at stake!


One of the best ways the church can demonstrate faithfulness to her Husband, and one of the most effective ways she can champion the gospel, is to articulately contend for the God-ordained definition of marriage both within and beyond her own walls. Granted, the insights we’ve highlighted here are best emphasized within the church, so let’s start there. All church leaders must be involved in this effort, but pastors are going to have to take the initiative.


Do you really care about the gospel? Then defend God-ordained marriage.


Do you really care about the gospel? Then defend God-ordained marriage. Learn, and help other believers learn, how marriage showcases the gospel.

Next time, we’ll begin to explore some specific ways God’s people can rise to this challenge.

Part 4 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.


Notes:

1,2Glenn T. Stanton and Dr. Bill Maier, Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 12.

3Alan Medinger, Growth into Manhood, (Colorado Springs, CO: Shaw, 2000), 85.

4Some points of clarification are in order. We should note that both men and women are members of God’s highest creation, for God made both in His image. At the same time, as we have said, God has revealed Himself to humanity in masculine terms, as a Father. This does not mean we never see evidence of feminine traits in God or in His dealings with humanity (here is one such example).

Another important point is that we are not saying a man provides salvation for his wife. It is Christ and Christ alone who provides salvation for the church, which is made up of both male and female members. Both men and women are sinners and need Christ equally. We are affirming the ideal of marriage as presented in Ephesians 5, including the truth that the lifelong union of one man and one woman mirrors the relationship of Christ and the church.


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

One passage was taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 2

Advocates of so-called “gay marriage” make the argument “that to deny homosexuals marriage is manifestly unfair. But it’s not unfair. Gays and lesbians are not unworthy of marriage; they are incapable of marriage.”
Charles Colson

 

Part 1 is available here.
View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Last time we talked about the culture’s influence on the church with regard to the definition of marriage. Most in the modern evangelical church probably still believe in man-woman marriage. Even so, it’s clear the culture has influenced the church’s thinking with regard to society’s bedrock institution. More on that in a moment.

Marriage mirrors Christ’s relationship to the church, so it also represents the gospel—God’s plan of salvation and the best news ever announced.

Yet the church seems to have forgotten, or it frequently overlooks, this truth. If marriage represents the gospel, we ought not hesitate to make the case for either—or for both!

How Did We Get Here?

It is helpful to explore just how we as Christians fell into this trap. In an important BreakPoint commentary, John Stonestreet provides both insights and background. Meet Dr. Abigail Rine, who has taught classes “on gender theory at George Fox University, an evangelical school in the Quaker tradition.” She reports that her students “arrive in my class thoroughly versed in the language and categories of identity politics; they are reticent to disagree with anything for fear of seeming intolerant—except, of course, what they perceive to be intolerant.”

Unfortunately, Rine’s students find arguments for man-woman marriage intolerant, even those that articulately connect the lifelong, loving commitment of one man and one woman to childbearing, childrearing, and the relational bonds arising within the family unit. We must realize these students represent many, perhaps even most, young evangelicals.

Have these young people with Christian upbringings heard a solid biblical case for man-woman marriage? No, Stonestreet says, “only…wooden proof-texting.” Moreover, they already see marriage as the very thing defenders of traditional marriage describe as “revisionist”—a two-person union based on emotions, romance, and sex. Why do they see it this way? On a practical level, this is the definition of marriage on which they were raised! Yes, it had biblical and heterosexual overtones, but nothing deeper. This thin veneer hasn’t been enough to prevent these young people from taking the definition of marriage they were taught and reshaping it into the one the culture is promoting.


What have most Christian young people heard at church to help them understand the biblical basis for man-woman marriage? According to John Stonestreet, little more “wooden proof-texting.” This probably is true of most Christian adults as well.


Rine astutely observes that

the redefinition [of marriage] began decades ago, in the wake of the sexual revolution. Once the link between sexuality and procreation was severed in our cultural imagination, marriage morphed into an exclusive romantic bond that has only an arbitrary relationship to reproduction. It is this redefinition, arguably, that has given rise to the same-sex marriage movement, rather than the other way around, and as the broader culture has shifted on this issue, so have many young evangelicals.

Stonestreet notes that the idea of marriage as an arena for sexual intimacy alone, divorced from procreation, is promoted everywhere. “Even in the Church,” he admits, “children have become an optional add-on to married life rather than its primary purpose.” The church, influenced by the culture, has unwittingly set the stage for the young people in its midst to become convinced of a thoroughly unbiblical idea!


The church, influenced by the culture, has unwittingly set the stage for the young people in its midst to become convinced of a thoroughly unbiblical idea.


What can the church do about this? Obviously, it needs to rediscover and reaffirm the connection between marriage and children. Put another way, it needs once again to celebrate children as assets and blessings. Scripture declares,

Don’t you see that children are GOD’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows
Are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
with your quivers full of children!
Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you;
You’ll sweep them right off your doorstep (Psalm 127:3-5, The Message)

This doesn’t mean making childless couples or couples with one or two children feel guilty. It does mean encouraging parents and celebrating children in both large and small families. Moreover, the church must not miss the big picture. Having children isn’t just about families and the individuals within them, but society as well.1

Perhaps even more fundamentally, however, the church needs to rediscover and uphold the truth that a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman mirrors the gospel. It also needs to train Christians, especially young believers, along these lines.

Next time we will examine two specific ways marriage reflects the gospel. The church can start with these truths and begin to emphasize and teach them with fresh enthusiasm. Actually, it must!

Be sure to return!

Part 3 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

top image: Parents with child statue, Hrobákova street, Petržalka, Bratislava


Note:

1Go here, here, and here.


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture in this article has been taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 1

Marriage is not a human invention; it is a divine revelation. Its design never was our own made-up arrangement of infinite malleability. It was given to us, at the beginning of all things, as a brightly shining fixity of eternal significance. We might not always live up to its true grandeur. None of us does so perfectly. But we have no right to redefine it, and we have every reason to revere it.
Ray Ortland

 

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Jesus’ disciples frequently didn’t understand what their Master was teaching. For one thing, Jesus regularly said what His hearers least expected. Add to this that the disciples had their own expectations, and these had been shaped by the mood and culture of the day.

Consider Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ. Apparently very soon after making his confession, Peter rebuked Jesus for saying He—Jesus—would suffer, die, and rise again. Jesus responded with some very strong words: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Unwittingly and unintentionally, Peter spoke on behalf of Satan!

These and similar situations in the Gospels might well prompt us to ask, “Why did the disciples fail to understand?” I would like to suggest we ought to be asking another, more pertinent question: How is it that we fail to understand spiritual truths that also are of paramount importance? Well, we also have been influenced by the culture.


Why do we fail to understand spiritual truths that are just as important as those truths the disciples failed to see? We, too, have been influenced by the culture!


The Truth About Marriage

The meaning and significance of marriage provide perhaps the best example. In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul wrote,

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 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. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

I fear many Christians today find it difficult to deal with this passage without cringing over the word submit in verse 22. This is clear evidence of the culture’s influence. Of course, we need to be sensitive to the perspectives and hurts of those we’re trying to reach—but note carefully—in verse 21, which immediately precedes the statements he makes about marriage, Paul writes, “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” Thus, the context affirms mutual deferment of self for others.

There’s something even more important. Marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church. Thus, especially among Christians, marriage is to model that relationship. Jesus is Lord, but He never “lords it over” anyone. Likewise, no husband ever has the right to “lord it over” his wife.


Jesus is Lord, but He never “lords it over” anyone. Likewise, no husband ever has the right to “lord it over” his wife.


Marriage Showcases the Gospel

You see, Christ does not expect His followers to submit to Him without ever having submitted Himself for their benefit. Because marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, it’s also a picture of the gospel. A church in England drives this point home clearly and effectively with this video.

This is what 21st century Christians in the West seem to be so slow to understand—despite the renewed emphasis on the importance of the gospel in evangelical circles. Our lack of understanding weakens our presentation of the gospel.


Failing to understand the connections between marriage and the gospel actually weakens our ability to effectively present the gospel.


“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” Paul declared. We can be certain he wasn’t ashamed of marriage, either, even though he may never have married. If we claim to be unashamed of the gospel but hesitate to defend marriage, perhaps we’re not as supportive of the gospel as we think.


If we claim to be unashamed of the gospel but hesitate to defend marriage, perhaps we’re not as supportive of the gospel as we think.


Just how did we get to this point? We’ll explore that question next time. Stay tuned!

Part 2 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

top image: Courtship by Edmund Leighton

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Absolute Truth Really Is All About God

 Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 17

Consider the atheist who is outraged at seeing a violent murder on the ten o’clock news. He is very upset and hopes that the murderer will be punished for his wicked actions. But in his view of the world, why should he be angry? In an atheistic, evolutionary universe where people are just animals, murder is no different than a lion killing an antelope. But we don’t punish the lion! If people are just chemical accidents, then why punish one for killing another?…[Moreover, m]any atheists behave morally and expect others to behave morally as well. But absolute morality simply does not comport with atheism.
Dr. Jason Lisle

Truth always carries with it confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation regardless of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.
Francis Schaeffer

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Part 16 is available here.

The Declaration of Independence begins with this insightful and profound statement:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

The acknowledgement of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” is more than significant. The Founders affirmed the existence of a set of standards coming from God and reflected in nature, or the natural world. It’s true that the Declaration does not mention a specific God; the point of the document was not theological. Moreover, our early leaders believed strongly in religious liberty. Even so, God’s existence is assumed, not argued—and equally assumed is the idea that laws, including principles that affirm human dignity and a set of standards of right and wrong, are an inherent part of the natural order of things. These standards originate from outside—and not from within—humanity and human reason.


Truth comes from outside human beings, not from within.


Writing for the Heritage Foundation, Mark David Hall addresses the question “Did America Have a Christian Founding?” He essentially answers by saying, “It depends on what is meant by ‘a Christian founding,’” but affirms the answer is yes if the phrase means biblical principles and ideas strongly influenced America’s architects. “I believe,” Hall writes, “that an excellent case can be made that Christianity had a profound influence on the Founders.” He cites five specific examples, including these.

  1. Their faith taught them that humans were sinful.…
  2. They firmly believed that God ordained moral standards, that legislation should be made in accordance with these standards, and that moral laws took precedence over human laws.

The idea of absolute truth, therefore, was an important principle informing and guiding America’s Founders as they led the Colonies to separate from Great Britain and as they drafted the US Constitution. Although it didn’t originate in the United States, the affirmation of absolute truth can rightly be called an American ideal.

Last week we highlighted five specific characteristics of Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients, and we used Blaine Adamson, Jack Phillips, and Barronelle Stutzman as representative examples. Against the backdrop of America’s founding, I want to underscore a point we dare not miss from our previous discussion. Here I am elaborating on last week’s fifth point, the importance of affirming and living by the right principles.

Blaine Adamson, Darold and Barronelle Stutzman, Kelvin Cochran, Evelyn and Donald Knapp, and Jack Phillips

Adamson, Phillips, Stutzman, and others are upholding principles that originated outside themselves. They are not willing to risk everything to have the right to follow their own feelings on a matter. If an individual is going to risk everything, he or she ought to risk it for something more certain than that! ADF clients are upholding the truth—absolute truth that reflects universal standards of right and wrong. These arise from God and His character.

God is the Architect of all that is, including morality and ethics.
Ancient of Days by William Blake (1757-1827)1

Yet their convictions run even deeper than that. Their beliefs are rooted, not just in ideals or principles, but in God Himself and their sense of accountability to Him. Last week’s three-minute audio clip contained clear evidence of this from the perspective of each client. This one-minute excerpt presents that core evidence. You’ll hear Adamson first, Phillips second, and Stutzman third.

To be clear, an individual doesn’t have to believe in God to believe in moral principles or absolute truth. However, the existence of absolutes is best explained by the existence of God, as apologist J. Warner Wallace has pointed out.

Confronted with the hostility, pressure, and expressions of hate that ADF clients surely must experience, these courageous men and women are not following their feelings. They’re not following their opinions either, although their opinions align with what they know to be true.


Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients aren’t following their feelings or opinions. Rather, they’re putting everything on the line because of what they know to be true and because they are compelled to obey the God who is the source of all truth.


They are putting everything on the line because of what they know to be true and because they are compelled to obey the God who is the source of all truth. It’s all the more reason to follow their examples. As Barrnelle Stutzman affirms, “you can’t be lukewarm” in your commitment to Christ.

What have you risked lately because you’re a Christian?

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

1Use of Blake’s work is not to be construed as an endorsement of his religious views. Ancient of Days does, however, symbolically highlight a number of divine traits that are consistent with the authority and creative power of the God of orthodox Christianity, which we do affirm.

top image: portion of an 1869 US postage stamp commemorating the presentation of the Declaration of Independence

Modern Heroes: The Clients of Alliance Defending Freedom

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 16

When God looks for someone to accomplish His purposes on earth, what kind of man or woman is He looking for?…To begin with, we see that God uses ordinary people.…Who else does He use? He uses truly spiritual people. I’m not speaking here of some pompous “holier-than-thou” type, but the real thing. The most spiritual people I have met have been very down to earth.…[Moreover, w]hen God looks for people He wants to use, He also looks for faithful people.
Greg Laurie

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

A young couple on their way home from church wanted to make sure their young son understood at least something about what the pastor had said in his sermon. “Eric,” asked the dad, “do you remember what Pastor Jack preached about today?”

Eric beamed. “Uh-huh. He preached on the Bible verse that says, “Many are cold, and a few are frozen.”1

Unfortunately, this description applies to a great many churchgoers today. Even so, you won’t find any frozen—or even cold—folks among the clients being served by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Senior legal counsel Jim Campbell has emphasized that ADF’s clients aren’t “super Christians.” Rather, God calls ordinary people who love Him, and He enables them to take courageous stands for truth and religious liberty. Moreover, Campbell says, the call to protect religious freedom is a call to everyone.

Here’s an illustration that helps us understand. When artist paints a beautiful picture, no one says, “Wow! What a great brush that artist used!” In a similar way, God gets the credit when He uses His people to contend for His truth before a watching world. Even so, ADF clients still have a lot to teach us through the examples they offer and the faithfulness they demonstrate.


The call to protect religious freedom is a call to everyone.
—Jim Campbell—


How is the faithfulness of Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients manifested? I’ll name five specific ways. These overlap, but each is worthy of mentioning as a distinctive trait. Even though I’ll draw from a variety of sources, all of the characteristics I’ll highlight here are evident in these three ADF videos that tell the stories of clients Blaine Adamson, Jack Phillips, and Barronelle Stutzman. You also can hear each of them in that order in this three-minute audio clip, compiled from four different ADF videos.2

The Kentucky Court of Appeals sided with Adamson on May 12 (also go here), but its ruling may not be the end of the story.

Blaine Adamson of Hands-On Originals in Lexington, Kentucky

Phillips and Stutzman thus far have lost their legal battles. Phillips currently is waiting to hear if the US Supreme Court will hear his case, and Stutzman has said she will ask the Supreme Court to consider hers, as well.

Neither Frozen nor Even Cold

Just what are ADF clients like? First, they have passion about their work and about serving others in it. They love people, and they find great satisfaction in serving them. They also do excellent work in their respective professions. It’s common for ADF clients to be accused of being hateful, but Jack Phillips has said, “You don’t get into the birthday business and the party business if you’re a hater, if you don’t like people. I love people.”

Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado

Second, ADF clients have a right sense of purpose. They live their lives to glorify God, and an important part of honoring Him is serving people. When The Daily Signal asked Barronelle Stutzman what is the best part of her job as a florist, she said, “My customers and being creative.” She didn’t arrange flowers for the same-sex wedding of a longtime friend, she said, “because my faith teaches me that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington

Isaiah 41:10 is her favorite Bible verse, and she has no regrets. You won’t see any evidence of animosity, either. Barronelle says if the homosexual man who is suing her walked through the door of her business today, she would hug him, catch up on what’s happening in his life, and continue to serve him. You can tell she really means it!

Blaine says, “I want God to find joy in what we do and how we work, how we treat our employees, and the messages we print. So if someone walks in and says, ‘Hey, I want you to help promote something,’ I can’t promote something that I know goes against what pleases Him.”

Jack says baking a cake for a same-sex wedding would send a statement that says “we don’t want God to be part of our lives except for on Sunday. No, we want Him to run our lives…every day in any way that He wants.”

Third, ADF clients have the right perspective. Taking the long view, they refuse to walk the path of least resistance today.

ADF clients remind us of the heroes of the faith named in Hebrews 11, who, by the way, also were very ordinary and imperfect people. Consider Moses, who initially offered a wide range of excuses when God called Him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Yet the inspired writer of Hebrews says of Moses, “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). We can say something very similar about Blaine, Jack, and Barronelle.

Jack has declared, “God does everything according to his plan. And so nothing is a coincidence.… I’ve come to the realization that God does what he wants to do and uses who he wants to use, however he wants.” Is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop judgmental? Not at all! He really doesn’t have a holier-than-thou attitude. One Bible passage that encourages him is Titus 3:3-7, which “says that at one time we too were foolish and disobedient, deceived, enslaved to all kinds of passions and pleasures. I was in that boat too,” he adds, but God “redeemed me through his son.”

And take note! This is important! ADF clients don’t just have the right perspective about their own situations, but also the right point of view about the world, life, people, relationships, and the rest of reality. They see life through the clear lens of biblical teaching. C. S. Lewis expressed this well when he said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”


I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
—C. S. Lewis—


Fourth, the men, women, and young people ADF serves have the right priorities. What are some biblical priorities that should guide our lives? Dr. Mark Corts recommends these four—and we see all of them in Blaine, Jack, Barronelle, and others.

  • The unseen over the seen. When Abram and Lot, Abram’s nephew, had to separate, Lot chose what he saw—the well-watered plain of Jordan. Enticed by what he saw, Lot missed the importance of what he didn’t see—the moral depravity of nearby Sodom and Gomorrah (see 13:1-13). Later he would pay a heavy price for his choice.
  • The eternal over the temporal. As he led God’s people out of Egypt, Moses invested his life in doing God’s will and shunned sin’s fleeting, temporary pleasures (see 11:24-25).
  • Quality over quantity. In Judges 7:1-7, God cut Gideon’s army down from 32,000 men to 300 and then used that small number to win an important battle over the Midianties.
  • The difficult over the easy. In recommending that God’s people take Canaan, Joshua and Caleb gave a minority report and countered the fearful advice of the ten other spies. It isn’t easy to go against the crowd, but because they did, of those 20 or more years of age, Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter the promised land, even as everyone else died (see 13; 14:1-10,26-30).

Fifth and finally (even though this isn’t by any means an exhaustive list), in one ADF client after another, we see men and women who affirm and live by the right principles. For much of this year, through a series of articles, we’ve been “Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes.” This post stands as a part of that series.

You see, ADF clients are showing us and the rest of the world how to embrace absolute truth without being absolutists, people who want to shove their views down everyone else’s throats. These champions of liberty are taking the stands they are taking because they see the world clearly from a biblical perspective and have resolved to follow the God of the Bible. They recognize that right and wrong are part of the real world, and they simply want to be able to do what they believe is right. Put another way, they, like everyone else, just want the freedom to live their lives according to their beliefs. They therefore are taking appropriate steps to resist having the views of secularism and relativism shoved down their own throats!


ADF clients are showing us and the rest of the world how to embrace absolute truth without being absolutists, people who want to shove their views down everyone else’s throats. They simply don’t want to have the views of secularism rammed down their own throats!


An important question arises at this point. When a Christian business owner refuses, even politely, to perform a service at a same-sex wedding or to do a job that would affirm homosexuality or something else directly in conflict with biblical teaching—how does such a refusal reflect Christ’s love? Here’s the answer. It never is

loving to participate in a lie, which is exactly what Stutzman…and many others are now being told they must do. Pray for an increasing number of pastors to have courage to publicly stand with these believers and to explain to their people the importance of biblical marriage.

Actually, performing any service that directly or officially affirms a falsehood demonstrates a lack of love—and dishonors Christ. Of course, it never is fun to take an unpopular stand on behalf of the truth. It’s tough to be misunderstood. Yet, contrary to conventional wisdom, such stands can have a long-range positive effect on people and the culture. In a previous discussion of Barronelle’s case, we cited an important lesson from history.

The first 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.

Examples to Follow

With this post, I commend to you the examples of ADF clients Blane Adamson, Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, and others. Let’s cultivate in our own lives the traits we’ve seen in them. They encourage us to

  • have passion about our work and about serving others through it,
  • maintain a right sense of purpose in our everyday lives and seek to glorify God in all we do,
  • maintain the right perspective by becoming and remaining worldview Christians,
  • cultivate and live according to biblical priorities, and
  • uphold the principles of absolute truth and contend for the recognition of absolutes in the public square.

We don’t have to become ADF clients to do these things—but if we do them, I guarantee we will avoid becoming frozen churchgoers.

We’ll even avoid growing cold.


A Helpful Resource for Creative Professionals
Alliance Defending Freedom offers a helpful resource to all creative professionals. Get your free copy of Create Freely from this page.


Part 15 is available here.

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1In Matthew 22:14 Jesus declared, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

2The videos used in the audio clip can be seen here, here, here, and here.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Digging Deeper: Learning More About Divine Wrath—Four Helpful Insights

 Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 15

God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.
J. I. Packer

It is amazing that we hesitate to talk about the wrath of God, for fear of making sinners feel fearful. The fear they feel this side of the grave will be nothing compared to the fear they feel when they stand before Almighty God.
Ray Comfort

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
—The Apostle Paul to the Colossian Christians in Colossians 3:5-6 (NIV)—

You can access summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Last week we highlighted Romans 1:18, which tells us “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (see the larger context of this verse here). The Greek word translated wrath reflects not only God’s judgment and punishment for wrongdoing, but also the divine anger on from which the judgment and punishment arise. This term is of special interest to us because of the implications it has, especially for those “who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”

We should be aware that this word can refer to human ire, as it does in several places, including Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3:8. In both these verses it is translated anger. Here we will examine four Bible passages that use the term to refer to divine indignation and offer insights about each one. Even though our study will be far from exhaustive, looking at the “big picture” of God’s wrath will give us a helpful glimpse of His wrath to come. Moreover, we also will gain a sense of urgency about where all people, including you and me, stand before the Lord. In places where the word translated wrath in Romans 1:18 appears, we will show the English word representing it in bold text.

Passage # 1: Matthew 3:7-8

Matthew 3:7-8 says this about John the Baptist,

7 But when he saw man of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.”

Clearly John was referring to divine wrath that would be exercised at a later time. Matthew 3:1-12 provides the larger context for these verses.

Insight # 1: Repentance is essential to avoiding God’s wrath. Be forewarned, however! One cannot merely “go through the motions” of repentance and expect God to overlook his or her sin; a person must turn from sin to God and “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8).

Passage # 2: John 3:36

In John 3:36 we again see the words of John the Baptist. He declared,

St. John the Baptist Preaching, by Mattia Preti

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

The context for this statement is John 3:25-36.

Insight # 2: If an individual isn’t actively trusting in Jesus for salvation and eternal life, that person does not possess it at all (see 1 John 5:11-12); rather, he or she is the object of God’s wrath, even now. God’s mercy often mitigates His wrath in the present (see Lam. 3:22), but divine wrath still is a reality, and it will not be restrained forever. Only one way of escape exists. When a person relies on Christ for salvation, he or she is permanently shielded from God’s wrath, because Christ bore God’s fury and punishment for sin for that individual (see Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9).

Taken together, Matthew 3:7-8 and John 3:36 show the connections between sincere repentance, active faith in Christ for salvation, possession of eternal life, and a life transformed by Jesus Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:17).

Passage # 3: Revelation 6:15-17

In Revelation 6:15-17, the apostle John wrote,

15 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

The larger context for these verses is Revelation 6:12-17.

Pastor Jerry Cosper writes,

The Day of the Lord [uppercase letters] is a period of time in which God will deal with wicked men directly and dramatically in judgment. Today a man may be a blasphemer of God, an atheist, can denounce God and teach bad doctrine. And it seems like God does nothing about it.

But the day designated in Scripture as “the day of the Lord” [lowercase letters] is coming when God will punish human sin, and He will deal in wrath and in judgment with a Christ-rejecting world. One thing we are sure of, that God in His own way will bring every soul into judgment.

Now remember this is a picture of what will be happening right before the Day of the Lord comes. It hasn’t come yet. This is just the breaking of the seals of God’s Book of Destiny. The worst judgments are yet to come.

Insight # 3: While the Book of Revelation calls us to engage in in-depth study, many of its teachings are crystal clear at the outset. We readily see in this passage that the wrath of God is unspeakably terrible for those who experience it. Remember that among those who will experience God’s wrath, and even are experiencing it already, are those who, through their sinful actions, deny the realities arising from God and His rule. Recall Romans 1:18: “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

God’s wrath then will be manifested differently than it is now, but the fact that we’re speaking of divine wrath both then and now should command our attention, instill fear in our hearts, and incite us to concern, prayer, and action.

Note in Revelation 6:16 that this is the “wrath of the Lamb”—the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This is the theme of our next passage.

Passage # 4: Revelation 19:15-16

 Revelation 19:15-16 describes Jesus, God’s Son, as the Supreme Conqueror and Judge:

15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS.”

The larger context for these verses is Revelation 19:11-21.

Insight # 4: Jesus, who is Savior to all who rely on Him for eternal life, will return to earth and act as Supreme Judge over all (see 2 Tim. 4:1-2). He will rule over the nations “with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:15-16). Even though Jesus shields His followers from the Father’s wrath against sin,1 we cannot separate the Son of God from His authority and prerogative to exercise divine wrath (see John 5:26-29).

Landscape with Noah’s Thank Offering by Joseph Anton Koch

Consider the worldwide flood of Noah. The water buoyed the ark, which kept its occupants safe, but at the same time this same water destroyed all who were outside. The apostle Peter alluded to these realities in 1 Peter 3:18-22 and 2 Peter 2:4-10. So also, when divine judgment comes at the end of the age, those who are in Christ will be protected from His wrath, yet everyone outside Him will face “condemnation” (see John 5:29).

Conclusion

Divine wrath is a reality everyone must face, so a person ignores it to his or her own peril. It stands regardless of all human feelings and opinions, and in spite of every claim to the contrary. Come to terms with God’s wrath now, admit you deserve it in its full force, and take advantage of the protection Christ offers in Himself, since He experienced God’s fury fully on the cross on your behalf. If you don’t, then one day and forever you will experience it at a level of unmitigated horror and devastation (see Matt. 25:44-46; Romans 3:23; 6:23; Rev. 25:44-46).


Divine wrath is a reality everyone must face, so a person ignores it to his or her own peril. It stands regardless of all human feelings and opinions, and in spite of every claim to the contrary.


No one can blame God, either. He has done all He can do to shield you from divine punishment, even sacrificing His own Son in the process.

We have seen a snapshot of God’s wrath to come, but what about His wrath that “is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness”? (Rom. 1:18, NIV). We will explore this aspect of absolute truth soon in an upcoming post.


Note:

1In his excellent book, The Story of Reality ([Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017], 117), Gregory Koukl explains,

Jesus came to earth to save sinners. The statement is so common to our ears, it is easy to miss its significance. Save means to “rescue from imminent danger.” Jesus came to rescue us because we were in danger. What was that danger? What was Jesus rescuing us from? Here is the answer. Jesus did not come to rescue us from our ignorance or our poverty or our oppressors or even from ourselves. Jesus came to rescue us from the Father.”

Then, in a footnote appearing on page 190, Koukl adds this for clarification: “Jesus saves us from the Father, but His intention is not at odds with the Father since it was the Father who, out of love, sent Jesus to rescue the world in the first place.”


Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

top image: The Preaching of St. John the Baptist by Pieter Bruegel the Elder; photo taken by Yelkrokoyade, 20/07/2013; more info available here

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

One passage was taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

God Is Angry, and Here’s Why

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 14

It is hard to imagine anything in religion more repugnant to people than the wrath of God, and it is easy to see why.…The notion of a “vengeful” God strikes us as inconsistent with a God of love. This seems right at first, but the complaint is based on a misunderstanding. God’s love is not a thing in itself, so to speak, but is tied, like all of his attributes, to his goodness, the very goodness we are inclined to question when evil runs rampant. “Why doesn’t God do something?” We wonder. Yet we cry foul when we learn God will do something decisive about evil and we are the evildoers.
—Gregory Koukl1

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder, and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep of the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.
Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”—

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
the apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Romans 5:6-9—

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Before distributing the final exam, the college professor told his class his last test would have a strict time limit. “Ladies and gentlemen, you have 90 minutes and only 90 minutes to complete this test. If you go over that time, I will have to lower your grade substantially for this class.”

An hour passed. Seventy minutes. Then the students began to finish—a few at first, then more. They rose from their seats, placed their work on the professor’s desk, and quietly left the room. At the end of the hour-and-a-half period, one student remained, and he kept working. The professor sat silently at his desk and watched him intently—but the student didn’t look up even once. Then, at a full 20 minutes past the deadline, he rose from his chair with paper in hand and walked to the front of the room.

“Young man,” said the professor, “you know you took more than your allotted time to complete this exam. I’m afraid I’m going to have to reduce your grade to a point where it really will hurt you. I would not be fair to everyone else in the class if I didn’t.”

“Sir,” responded the student, “do you know who I am?”

“No, I don’t” said the professor.

“Good!” He then randomly inserted his own test in the stack of exams on the desk. Grateful he’d been able to hide his own paper among those of his fellow students, he smiled at the professor, wished him a good afternoon, and walked out of the room.

Bad News That Gets Even Worse

“Wow, that’s a pretty sharp kid!” someone might say. Maybe so, but his tactic absolutely will not work for the biggest test of all—life’s final exam. You see, God not only knows who each one of us is, He knows all. Moreover, He overlooks nothing, and He doesn’t grade on a curve.

As hard as this news is, there’s more. It actually gets worse. God is angry. In Romans 1:18, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declared, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and righteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Actually, the New International Version translates the tense of the verb even more clearly:2 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,” (emphasis added). Paul went on in subsequent statements to elaborate on ways this was occurring, but for now let’s consider the realities that God is angry, His anger is real, and it affects people directly.


God’s character determines reality, and anything contrary to His character invokes His wrath. This is how things are, regardless of feelings or opinions to the contrary. 


We said earlier that “God determines reality; people don’t.” Moreover, we’ve sought throughout this series to convey that God didn’t arbitrarily determine what reality would be, even though certainly He made deliberate choices. More to the point, God’s character determines reality, and anything contrary to His character invokes His wrath. This is the way things are, regardless of feelings or opinions to the contrary. The Greek word translated wrath in Romans 1:18 reflects not only God’s judgment and punishment for wrongdoing, but also the divine anger on which the judgment and punishment are based.

The Reason for God’s Anger

Why is God angry? We first need to know that the Lord has revealed Himself through nature and the created order. We call this “general revelation.” We use the term “special revelation” to refer to revelation occurring when God transcends nature and reveals Himself in miraculous ways, including through Scripture, and especially through His Son, Jesus Christ. In the Bible God speaks of His unveiling Himself in nature. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” wrote David in what we now know as Psalm 19, “And the firmament shows His handiwork.

Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4).

Asher Brown Durand, The Catskills1859

Note verse 3 in particular. Nature and the ordered world speak a universal language, one everyone can understand. They testify clearly to God’s glory. Furthermore, in Romans 1:20, Paul wrote that God’s deity and power are clearly evident in creation, so much so that people “are without excuse.” Verses 18-23 of Romans 1 provide a context that helps us more fully understand.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things (Rom. 1:18-23).

Please note these phrases and clauses. God is revealing His wrath (verse 18) against this backdrop.

  • Verse 19: “what may be known of God is manifest in them”
  • Verse 19: “God has shown it to them”
  • Verse 20: “clearly seen,” “understood,” “without excuse”

Even though people saw and comprehended the truth about God, the passage tells us, “they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 21). Consequently, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18).

Do you now see why God is angry? He effectively painted a portrait of Himself on the canvas of nature, declaring that He exists and created everything that is. He spoke—and speaks—so clearly that no one can fail to understand. God’s self-portrait is unambiguous. Specifically, since “His eternal power and Godhead” (v. 20) are evident, people know from what they see in nature to look for God, not in nature, but beyond it. Yes, it’s true that we need to know more about God than creation tells us, but here we are concerned with what people have done with the initial information they have received. People have ignored and rejected God’s revelation!


God has made Himself known, and people have ignored and rejected God’s revelation!


We are reminded of the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14. While this parable has multiple implications, we must not miss this main point: The king invited people to his son’s wedding, and they refused to come. They even “made light of it” (v. 5). We therefore readily understand why the king “was furious” and took action against them (see v. 7). Romans 1 presents a similar scenario.

A Warning for Everyone

The situation is dire for those who turn a cold shoulder to what they know about God, but we must read Romans 1 with great humility. No one is immune from responding to God’s revelation in the way Romans 1 describes. We need only look at Psalm 19 to see this. After describing God’s portrait of Himself in creation and how the Lord’s laws and ways were supremely valuable, David wrote, “Who can understand his [own] errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me.” (Psalm 19:12-13). As God declares in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; who can know it?” If Romans 1:18-32 does not describe you, it is only because of God’s grace that it does not!

A Great Urgency

Again, we return to the truth “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18). This may upset us, but because it is true, we need to know and understand what this means. The Greek word translated wrath in Romans 1:18 appears in numerous other places in the New Testament, including Romans 5:6-9, which we cited at the top. Examining several Bible passages that carry the term will help us gain the understanding we need, along with a sense of urgency about where people—including you and me—stand before the Lord.

Next week, we’ll look at 4 Bible passages that tell us about divine wrath.

Yes, the bad news is bad—no question about it. Even so, we have hope. Just as God’s character exudes wrath, so also is His character the source of our hope.

Don’t miss next week’s discussion!

Part 15 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

One passages was taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Notes:

1Gregory Koukl, The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 97.

2James Montgomery Boice, Romans, Volume 1, Justification by Faith, Romans 1–4, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), 133.

The National Day of Prayer in America

A Rich History and a Great Need

What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer. What a thrill would sweep this country. What renewed hope and courage would grip the Americans at this hour of peril.
Billy Graham in Washington, DC in 1952, making a declaration that eventually would bear the fruit of an annual National Day of Prayer in the United States—

We are postponing the next installment in our series on absolute truth for one week so we can focus this week on the National Day of Prayer (NDP). We won’t abandon the theme of truth totally, however. As we will see, this theme is a part of the fabric of the NDP and the Christian heritage of our nation.

On Thursday, May 4, the 66th annual observance of the National Day of Prayer will be held in the United States. Prayer is deeply rooted in America’s history and heritage. Watch this report from several years ago, given by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. Perkins tells us about the first prayer in the Continental Congress, which was offered on September 7, 1774 in Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia. For an even more detailed account, go here.

On numerous occasions throughout America’s history, the leaders of the nation have urged the people to pray (also see this and this from WallBuilders). In 1952, a bill passed Congress that called on the president each year to set aside a special day other than Sunday for observing a National Day of Prayer (NDP). President Harry S. Truman signed the bill into law and issued a proclamation on June 17, 1952. The first annual NDP took place on Friday, July 4th of that same year. You can read President Truman’s presidential proclamation here. You can read presidential proclamations for the National Day of Prayer for subsequent years, at the links on this page.

The 2017 NDP proclamation by President Trump says, in part,

The religious liberty guaranteed by the Constitution is not a favor from the government, but a natural right bestowed by God.  Our Constitution and our laws that protect religious freedom merely recognize the right that all people have by virtue of their humanity.  As Thomas Jefferson wisely questioned:  “can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?”


In prayer, let us ask that God’s light may illuminate the minds and hearts of our people and our leaders, so that we may meet the challenges that lie before us with courage and wisdom and justice. In prayer let us recall with confidence the promise of old that if we humble ourselves before God and pray and seek His face, He will surely hear and forgive and heal and bless our land.
—President Ronald Reagan, in his National Day of Prayer Proclamation for 1986—


In 1988, 36 years after the 1952 statute was passed, an amendment to the law established the first Thursday in May as the nation’s annual NDP. What a rich history this special day has!

Of course, the many NDP events held nationwide, as well as those in Washington, DC, have to be planned and coordinated. Founded in 1983, the National Day of Prayer Task Force is a non-profit organization that oversees these events. It doesn’t plan every event nationwide but provides administrative guidance to ensure continuity and unity of purpose. The NDP website states, “The mission of the National Day of Prayer Task Force is to mobilize prayer in America and to encourage personal repentance and righteousness in the culture.”

The theme for the 2017 National Day of Prayer is

For Your Great Name’s Sake, Hear us…Forgive us…Heal us!

These ideals are taken from Daniel 9:19 and 2 Chronicles 7:14.

O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name” (Dan. 9:19). You can read Daniel’s entire prayer from Daniel 9 here.

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chron. 7:14).

In this video, National Day of Prayer Chairperson Anne Graham Lots explains the background of the 2017 theme.

Mrs. Lotz has written a prayer for the 2017 NDP observance. She understands the precarious and dangerous place to which we as a nation have drifted. She realizes that we as a people have abandoned the truth and the God of truth. She sees our desperate need for God and points to the hope that only He offers. Her prayer exposes the ugliness of our national sins and challenges us to repent. The prayer says, in part,

We confess national addiction to sex. To money. To pleasure. To entertainment. To pornography.  To technology. To drugs. To alcohol. To food. To television. To popularity. To ourselves.…We confess our foolishness of denying You as the one, true, living God, our Creator to whom we are accountable, living as though our lives are a cosmic accident with no eternal significance, purpose or meaning.…We confess that we have marginalized truth and mainstreamed lies.…

Therefore, we turn to You with tears of shame and a heart of fear for the judgment we are provoking. We repent of our sin. Please, God of Our Fathers, do not back away from us. Do not remove Your hand of blessing on us. As we return to You with humility…With sincerity…Out of necessity…With a desperate sense of urgency.  Please! Return to us! Hear our prayer. Forgive our sin. Heal our land.


We Americans “have marginalized truth and mainstreamed lies.”
—Anne Graham Lotz, in her National Prayer, written for the National Day of Prayer, 2017—


Read the prayer Anne Graham Lotz has written! Pray it with sincerity and share it with others! Go to the NDP website, find a prayer event in your local area, and participate in it.

It is difficult to think of a time when prayer was more urgently needed for the United States of America than it is today—the many problems and challenges our country has faced during its 241-year history not withstanding. We need a moral and spiritual awakening! We need to rediscover the principles upon which our Founders built this country! We need God! We will find Him, however, only when we pray, seek His face, and repent of our sins. As a means to these ends, we observe the National Day of Prayer on Thursday, May 4, 2017.

Won’t you plead with God for America on that day and beyond?

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 13

God Reveals Truth About Himself: Eleven Things You Need to Know

God cloaks himself in invisibility and leaves the world to guess, hope, and kill over his identity and existence? This is love?
—author C. J. Anderson in No Kingdom Come— 

He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
—Jesus in Luke 16:31, explaining that people who refuse to heed what the Scriptures teach about how to avoid eternal torment also will refuse to believe a person who has returned from the dead—

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
—The Lord in Jeremiah 19:13

There is a God.
Rush Limbaugh, in his “35 Undeniable Truths of Life”

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

We come in our series on absolute truth to consider truths God has revealed about Himself to humanity. Note carefully that these are objective truths, realities that are in place and operative for all people, everywhere, at all times, and in all circumstances—regardless of any and all human opinions or sentiments to the contrary. We call them objective truths because they have truth as their object. Thus, these realities exist outside human opinion or influence.


Truth about God is not subjective, but objective—outside of personal opinions and perspectives. It applies to all people, everywhere, at all times, and in all circumstances.


In what we now know as Psalm 19, David wrote,

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth (Psalm 19:1-6).

The apostle Paul affirmed David’s testimony in Romans 1, and he issued a warning. We must heed what nature tells us. Here’s what Paul said.

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20)

Let’s carefully note several things from these verses.

First, those who deny or suppress the truth about God face His judgment (see v. 18).

Second, people suppress the truth about God “by their wickedness” (see v. 18; also see John 3:16-21). It follows, then, that God is perfect and holy. The prophet Isaiah declared that “the eyes of the arrogant [will be] humbled,” and “the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts” (Isa. 5:15-16).

Third, the truth about God is plain to all, even to those who refuse to believe it, and even if they claim evidence for God’s existence is lacking (see Rom. 1:19). Just how plain is God’s revelation? Another New Testament verse containing the word translated plain will help us understand.

In Acts 4, the Jewish authorities were angry with Peter and John for having healed a man in Jesus’ name and then proclaiming Jesus as the only way to salvation (see Acts 3). Conferring together, the Jews said, “What should we do with these men? For an obvious sign, evident to all who live in Jerusalem, has been done through them, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16, HCSB, emphasis added). In this verse, the Greek word translated obvious is gnostos, which means “well known” or “notable.” It is the adjective form of the word ginosko, which means “to know.” Against this backdrop, the word translated plain in Romans 1:19 also appears. It is translated as evident in Acts 4:16. Just how evident was the miracle? So evident and obvious that the Jews were forced to admit, “We cannot deny it.”

Unlike the Jewish authorities in Acts 4, [many and perhaps most] Americans today are denying the undeniable.

Fourth, it is God who has made truth about Himself plain (see v. 19).

Fifth, God has revealed Himself through His creation (see v. 20). Accidents may happen, but no accident or random force ever could produce the ordered world in which we live. As human beings, we also are a part of God’s created order, and amazing miracles, at that! (Also go here.)

Sixth, Paul states that God’s “invisible qualities,” specifically His “eternal power and divine nature,” have been made evident in and through creation (see v. 20).

Seventh, God’s revealed truth is understood (see v. 20). The word translated understood means “perceived with the mind.” Having seen God’s revelation, people “get it.” They might not realize they’ve “gotten it,” but they have anyway.

We should stop here and point out that this seventh principle underscores the objective nature of the truth the Supreme Being has unveiled about Himself. Note carefully:

  • The truth about God is outside humanity and human influence. No person or group “creates” it; it simply is. We know it and understand it because God has revealed it to us, but it exists independent of us.
  • People understand the truth and either accept it or reject it. Their opinions to the contrary do not change it or alter it in any way.
  • Subjective responses to God’s revealed truth do, however, make all the difference in the world in people’s lives. Here’s why. A response to God’s revealed truth, whether negative or positive, influences God’s posture toward an individual. We readily should understand this, because we see this in human relationships all the time. God made the first move by creating us, but we sinned against Him. God acted again and again with overtures toward us, ultimately sending His Son to die for us (more on this in a moment). God loves all people, and nothing anyone can do will keep Him from loving them. Even so, when an individual rejects the innate understanding God has given him or her about Himself, He will respect that choice, even though He wanted it to be different. When is a rejection final? We cannot fully know. This is why Scripture repeatedly warns people not to put off accepting God’s revealed truth about Himself and the salvation He offers.

Eighth, because of the God-given understanding they possess, “people are without excuse” before the Lord (v. 20). They cannot say God didn’t reveal Himself in clear, discernible ways—because He has done just that!

Why Doesn’t God Erase All Doubts About His Existence and About What He Is Like?

Sometimes people ask, “If God really is real, why doesn’t He simply reveal Himself in ways that make His existence undeniable and undebatable? Why doesn’t He just prove Himself beyond all doubt?” Some, like author C. J. Anderson, whom we cited at the top, apparently already have concluded God has hidden Himself. But has He?

Let’s respond to this objection with three points, all of which are interrelated. These will be the ninth, tenth, and eleventh items on our longer list.

First on our short list and ninth on our long one, if God were to disclose Himself in a way that would “blow us away,” His disclosure really would blow us away!


If God were to disclose Himself in a way that would “blow us away,” we truly would be blown away!


One day God will reveal Himself in this way, but because of His mercy, He hasn’t yet. Here’s the catch. With proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is real, we no longer would be able to choose to love Him. Why? We cannot be free to choose to love God unless we’re also free to reject Him and His overtures of love to us. Consider this insightful parable by Søren Kierkegaard.

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden. How could he declare his love for her?  In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist—no one dared resist him.  But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage…that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal…For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

God wants us to have fellowship with Him. No human being ever can be totally equal to Him, but we must have a way of approaching Him. God provided that way in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. To the degree that He could, without ceasing to be God, Jesus became our equal!

Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God Himself. God speaks through nature and His Word, the Bible, but He came to us personally in Jesus. Jesus was God from eternity past, but He lowered Himself to became a human being. He lived a perfect life and then died a terrible death on a cross to pay the penalty for human sin.

When we seriously consider the harsh realities involved in Jesus’ death on our behalf, can we really maintain a straight face and claim God has not revealed Himself sufficiently? While we haven’t received proof beyond all doubt that God is real, we do have proof beyond all reasonable doubt. As Christian businessman and layman Robert Laidlaw declared, “Christ has done all. I say it reverently; He can do no more. He has borne the penalty of your sin also; He has been raised by the power of God the Father, and now He presents Himself to you. Will you accept Him as Savior and crown Him as your Lord?”

This is Christ’s invitation to you and to everyone else. Unwilling to strong-arm His way into any person’s life, Jesus offers Himself to all. The Holy Spirit applies Jesus’ life-giving, stain-cleansing blood to the accounts of all who welcome Him into their hearts and lives. Accordingly, we can respond to Jesus’ invitation to us by repenting of our sins and trusting Him to give us eternal life as He promised.


Christ has done all. I say it reverently; He can do no more. 
—Robert Laidlaw—


There is a second reason God doesn’t yet disclose Himself in totally irrefutable ways. Because it especially puts the onus on us, this tenth truth should make us quake in our boots. Jesus indicated during His ministry that God reveals Himself increasingly to those who respond with open hearts to the revelations He’s already provided. On the other hand, if a person already has his or her mind made up, that individual cannot blame God for not revealing more. People like this may be brilliant by human standards, but they lack true understanding. They are “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 1:7).

Third (and eleventh on our longer list), God doesn’t want mechanical allegiance, but real love. We should be quick to understand this, because we desire the same in our own relationships. It’s appropriate, therefore, that the inspired writer of Hebrews declared, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). If you’re not put in a position to trust God, you won’t. Moreover, you cannot have a meaningful relationship with anyone you do not trust!


You cannot have a meaningful relationship with someone you don’t trust!


Take some time this week and reflect on these eleven absolute truths about God’s revelation of Himself to humanity (a PDF is available here). Next week we’ll return to Romans 1 and make additional observations.

Paul was just getting started.

Part 14 is available here.

top image: Jesus Stilling the Tempest by James Tissot (see Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, and Luke 8:22-25.)

image credit: photo of candy cane rose—Susie Clay

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture passages are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The passage designated HCSB was taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®,  Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.