Christmas—Divinely Orchestrated, Part 3: The Wonderful, Glorious Aftermath of Christmas

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.
Rod Martin

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 “[1] God sent forth His Son, [2] born of a woman, [3] born under the law [4] 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.

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

image credits: looking down the road (top image) and Christmas tree: lightstock.com

Scriptures marked NKJV have been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scriptures marked NLT have been taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Christmas—Divinely Orchestrated, Part 2

Becoming One of Us and Paying Our Penalty

 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.
Robert Laidlaw

Last week we began exploring ways in which God prepared the world arrival of His Son. We considered Galatians 4:4-5 in the New King James Version; let’s read it now in the New International Version.

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, ElizabethMary, Joseph, Caesar AugustusShepherds, 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.

How was His birth unique? First, His existence did not begin at conception, because He had no beginning. As God, He has been alive from eternity past. Second, He was conceived in a virgin. Mary had had no sexual activity with any man. Third, related to this, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and caused the conception to occur. Fourth, although He became a human being, Jesus never ceased to be God. Finally (although this isn’t an exhaustive list), Jesus was born without having been or tainted or marred by sin and would remain holy and righteous.

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.

He cried, became hungry, and “had to have his diaper changed.” Moreover, He grew as other children did. He experienced childhood and grew into manhood.

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.


Here’s the deal. Everyone has sinned and disobeyed God’s law, and in the Court of Heaven, the penalty for even the “slightest” sin is death. Jesus was crucified; He was executed on a Roman cross as though He had committed a capital crime. Instead, everyone else was guilty! Dying as One who was totally innocent, Jesus made it possible for sinners to be forgiven of their sins and to come to know God and have fellowship with Him.

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.

  1. Jesus had to be God and totally sinless Himself, and
  2. 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.

  1. 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:

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Note:

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

image credits: Mary in labor and Jesus on the cross: www.lumoproject.com

Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations in this article are from the New International Version. THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

 

 

Christmas—Divinely Orchestrated, Part 1

Setting the Stage for Jesus’ Birth

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men.
Benjamin Franklin, at the Constitutional Convention of 1787—

The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.
He makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and guides them.
Psalm 103:19; Job 12:23

One day in a fall semester Greek class during my time in seminary, my New Testament Greek professor spoke in a very serious tone to me and my fellow students. He was giving us an appropriate and timely warning. “Friends, let me tell you something very important. This may be the most important thing you hear all semester. If you buy anything for your children for Christmas this year that carries the label “SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED” on the box, pay someone to put it together for you!”

Unfortunately, a great many Christmas gifts don’t come fully assembled right out of the box, so moms, and perhaps especially dads, have stories to tell about putting toys and other gifts together through the years. You can hear one such story from one of America’s finest preachers here.

“Some assembly” also was required leading up to the very first Christmas. In Galatians 4:4-5, the apostle Paul wrote,

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.

The phrase “fullness of the time” is both interesting and significant. The New Living Translation renders verse 4 this way: “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.”

We must not assume that “the right time” or circumstances came automatically. Rather, God’s hand was involved in setting the stage for His Son’s arrival. Thus, when Jesus came, everything was in place. In ways that clearly underscored God’s absolute control over history but that didn’t treat human beings as robots devoid of free will, God prepared the world for His Son’s birth. Once He had done so, the time was right. We stand in marvel and awe over all that God did! We must understand that we are the direct beneficiaries of His work!

The ancient Greeks had two words that were translated “time.” Simply put, one of them refers to a season of time or opportunity and the other to chronological time. Learn more about these Greek words here.

In Galatians 4:4, Paul used the word chronos, the term from which our English word chronology is derived. “Fullness of time” refers to events and circumstances God brought together in history that made that point in time perfect for Jesus’ arrival. Bible scholar Warren Wiersbe1 mentions several factors.

  • Old religions were fading out, essentially collapsing under their own weight as they proved to lack substance and validity. New religious teachings were taking hold and enticing potential adherents. Spiritual hunger was pervasive.
  • Talk of a Deliverer also was widespread. The Jews in particular were expecting a Deliverer to free them from oppression.
  • Thus, across the Roman Empire, people were anxious with anticipation and expectation.
  • Furthermore, the Roman Empire’s grip on much of the then-known world meant an extensive peace prevailed; so did a practical unity among various peoples ruled by the Romans, even though many weren’t happy with Roman rule.

  • Related to this, Roman citizens enjoyed legal protection of their rights.
  • The system of roads across the empire enhanced both travel and commerce.
  • Greek and Roman military victories put the Latin and Greek languages in widespread use, enhancing communication as well (also go here).

All of this would enhance the spread of the religious movement that soon would come—Christianity. As the Psalmist wrote, “[T]he kingdom is the LORD’s, And He rules over the nations” (Ps. 22:28).

We can add to the above list that God also was arranging for hundreds of situations to unfold in fulfillment of ancient prophecies regarding the Messiah. In a devotional dated May 6, 2009 and appearing in Our Daily Bread, Joseph Stowell mentions this factor as well as the external conditions that God made ripe for the spread of Christianity.

Jesus’ arrival during the Roman Empire’s Pax Romana (the peace of Rome) was perfect timing. The known world was united by one language of commerce [Latin; also go here]. A network of global trade routes provided open access to the whole world. All of this guaranteed that the gospel could move rapidly in one tongue. No visas. No impenetrable borders. Only unhindered access to help spread the news of the Savior whose crucifixion fulfilled the prophecy of the Lamb who would be slain for our sins (Isa. 53). All in God’s perfect timing!

 

Thus, God brought together—He “assembled”—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. Christmas is about Jesus, of course; but it’s about the world as well—and not just the world generally, but people specifically, including you and me. God is the ultimate expert orchestrator!


In preparation for His Son’s birth, God assembled everything that was required on the world stage relating to the national, political, spiritual, linguistic, and commercial facets of life.


As the first Christmas approached, divine “assembly” also was essential in more intimate and personal realms. Next week, we will consider the remainder of verse 4 and the first portion of verse 5: “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.”

Probably no task of assembly ever has been greater, but no God is more powerful than ours.

Furthermore, no Christmas gift ever has been as wonderful as Jesus!

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Note:

1Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, vol. 1, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1989), 706.

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 Scripture quotation has been taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Photo credits: top (first) image and third image: www.lumoproject.com

 

The Challenge Before Us

[I]f we and our posterity reject religious instruction and authority, violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality, and recklessly destroy the political constitution, which holds us together, no man can tell, how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us, that shall bury all our glory in profound obscurity.
Daniel Webster, February 23, 1852, speaking before the New York Historical Society—

Daniel Webster

The results of the 2016 election are instructive for Christians on many levels. While believers have much for which to be thankful, some of the ballot initiatives sound alarm bells for Christians, the culture, and the nation at large.

By 65 percent to 35 percent, Colorado voters passed a law allowing doctors to prescribe a life-ending drug to a terminally-ill patient who requests it. Melissa Ortiz, a resident of Washington, DC, which also recently passed a similar law, is alarmed. She writes, “Joining five other states that have legalized this practice, the tragic choice by Colorado voters reflects how our nation is quick to devalue life and deny that suffering has meaning.” Ortiz and others are rightly concerned that the “right to die” will in many cases become pressure to die: In states that allow a doctor to prescribe end-of-life drugs to a terminally-ill patient’s request, “a growing number of sick people are being denied medical treatment coverage and offered assisted suicide instead.”


In states that permit physician-assisted suicide, the “right to die” often is becoming the pressure to die.


Here’s another alarm bell. A recent survey found that 60 percent of Christians agreed that “physicians should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in ending their life.” Moreover, 38 percent of evangelicals agreed, either somewhat or strongly, with this idea: “When a person is facing a painful terminal disease, it is morally acceptable to ask for a physician’s aid in taking his or her own life.”

Assisted-suicide wasn’t the only issue before voters. In at least 3—and probably in 4—out of 5 states, they approved laws permitting the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. In California, Massachusetts, and Nevada, the votes weren’t even close. Recreational marijuana also likely passed in Maine. Only in Arizona was it narrowly defeated, although Arizona permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota approved laws allowing for medical marijuana use. Thus, now more than half of the states have laws permitting marijuana usage in some form. Many sound, practical reasons exist for opposing the legalization of pot for fun—and many even exist for opposing medical marijuana as well (also go here and here).

What should Christians believe about this issue? The Family Research Council’s Rob Schwarzwalder addresses this question clearly and concisely in this article. He reminds us of the physical dangers the drug poses, that as believers we are stewards of our bodies, that we have an obligation to obey the law (marijuana use still is illegal at the federal level), and that substance abuse has ties to the occult. Moreover, contends Schwarzwalder, the Christian is to exercise self-control in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, “substance abuse, including the use of marijuana as a vehicle for recreation, offers a stark contrast to submission to the King of kings.”

What do Christians believe about marijuana usage? A survey done in 2013 found that among 18-29 year olds who call themselves Christians, 45 percent admitted to having used marijuana, and 50 percent either “strongly favored” or “favored” legalizing the substance. Among all age groups of Christians, 39 percent favored legalization and 54 percent opposed it.

In discussing the results of these ballot initiatives, WallBuilders Live! co-host David Barton lamented the place where the culture—and Christians—have arrived. Physician-assisted suicide and marijuana usage—especially recreational marijuana—could not have been approved without a widespread disregard for moral and ethical standards of right and wrong. The culture, and Christians as well, have abandoned a belief in absolute truth. Read and hear David Barton’s comments on this page.

This is not to say every question has a simple, straightforward, up or down answer from a biblical perspective. Some issues are more complicated than others; some leave room for debate among sincere Christians. Discussion among Christians over medical marijuana use is understandable, for example; but let’s not be naïve. Legalization of medical marijuana often is a gateway to legalization of recreational pot—and as we already have said, use of the substance is against federal law.

Abusing one’s body with drugs and taking one’s own life, however, are crystal clear issues, and Barton is right. Acceptance of these unethical and unbiblical ideas has occurred because the foundational concept has eroded that absolute truth exists and applies to everyone, everywhere, in all circumstances. Sadly, the American people, including Christians, no longer believe in right and wrong.

Author and Christian speaker Josh McDowell has studied this trend. He cites surveys to back up his contention that even Christians are abandoning the idea that truth is objective and exists apart from themselves.

  • 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!

Can anyone cite any evidence that the number has improved since 2011? David Barton is right. Ballot initiatives don’t offer any encouragement!

Yet another poll cited by McDowell found that just six percent of American teens believe in the existence of truth apart from themselves. Also, there’s just a 5 percent difference between Christian and non-Christians on this issue.

Conservatism, contends David Barton, is being redefined by the cultural tide. Whereas being a conservative used to automatically mean, among other things, upholding traditional moral and ethical standards, the connection between these values and conservatism is being severed. Barton rightly points out that “we know from the Declaration of Independence that limited government starts with your view of God. If you don’t have a God-view and a moral view of government, you will not end up with limited government. So that’s the one thing that I think we have to work on in coming years.”

Indeed, without abandoning its primary responsibility of spreading the gospel, the church must help its own members and the culture understand that absolute truth not only exists, but will be an ally if we cooperate with it.

Christians who don’t believe in absolutes have missed a core teaching of the Bible and the Christian faith. Americans who don’t believe in them have missed a central tenet of the human experience and the American experiment.

The need is critical. Much more needs to be said about it, so we’ll explore it in greater depth in future posts.

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Thanksgiving in America 101, Part 2

 Thanksgiving and Religious Liberty

Government is instituted to protect property of every sort…. Conscience is the most sacred of all property.1

A man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.2

—Founding Father James Madison—

James Madison played a vital role in the founding of the United States, serving the new nation in a variety of important position during its earliest years. He was

  • influential in drafting the Virginia constitution,
  • a member of the Virginia House of Delegates (1776-1777; 1784-1786),
  • a member of the Continental Congress (1780-1783; 1786-1788),
  • a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, representing Virginia,
  • a member of the US House of Representatives from the 5th district of Virginia (1789-1793)
  • a member of the US House of Representatives from the 15th district of Virginia (1793-1797),
  • Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), and
  • the 4th President of the United States (1809-1817).

Significantly, Madison has been called the Father of the US Constitution and the Father of the Bill of Rights (also go here). His work in getting the Constitution ratified was vital on many levels, including his role in addressing the states’ demand that the Constitution include a bill of rights.

Running against James Monroe for one of Virginia’s seats in the newly created House of Representatives, Madison promised to work diligently to add a bill of rights (also go here). He was elected and kept his promise. In the 12 articles that made up the proposed bill of rights sent to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789, “several of Madison’s concepts, if not his exact wording,” appeared. On December 15, 1791, 10 of the 12 were ratified by the required three-fourths of state legislatures, and they have stood through the years as America’s official Bill of Rights.3 These amendments wisely were enacted to restrain the federal government from encroaching on the liberties of America’s citizens—and again, James Madison had no small part in the process. Author and historian William J. Bennett writes that “no figure of antiquity—no Greek like Pericles or Solon, no Roman like Cicero or Cincinnatus—can claim an equal standing with Madison as lawgiver and champion of liberty.”

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Understanding Madison’s contribution to American liberty will help us appreciate the importance of a special part of his proclamation for a day of prayer and thanksgiving. On July 23, 1813, President Madison issued a proclamation setting aside Thursday, September 9 of that same year for prayer, and to render unto God “thanks for the many blessings He has bestowed on the people of the United States.”

At the time, the United States was involved in the War of 1812, a conflict that had begun the previous year and that would not end until 1815. James “Madison had not seriously prepared for war and lacked a strategy or good generals. The war began poorly, as Americans suffered defeat after defeat by smaller forces.”

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In October of 1812, US Forces were defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights in Canada.

October of 1813, however, witnessed a turning point for America, and by the war’s end in 1815, a renewed spirit of patriotism spread throughout the nation. Let us not overlook the fact that the president called the nation to prayer just weeks before the tide began to turn for the United States.


Let us not overlook the fact that the president called the nation to prayer just weeks before the tide began to turn for the United States.


In his proclamation, which you can read here, America’s chief executive highlighted several examples of God’s favor on America, including the fact

that He has blessed the United States with a political Constitution rounded on the will and authority of the whole people and guaranteeing to each individual security, not only of his person and his property, but of those sacred rights of conscience so essential to his present happiness and so dear to his future hopes.

This clause reflects some of Madison’s priorities as he worked on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He, as much or more than all the other men who deliberated over the details of both, keenly understood that to maintain a free society, religious liberty and rights of conscience had to be protected.


Only when religious liberty and rights of conscience are protected can the people of a nation remain free.


In his proclamation, Madison also referred directly to the war that was at hand and the challenges it had brought upon the young nation. Accordingly, he underscored the need for calling out to God. The needs were great, so the occasion would be a serious one. September 9 was to be “a day of public humiliation and prayer.”

Having issued the call and set forth the rationale for observing the special day, President James Madison went out of his way to emphasize that no one would be forced to participate. Hear these words from the past and realize their import for the present.

If the public homage of a people can ever be worthy the favorable regard of the Holy and Omniscient Being to whom it is addressed, it must be that in which those who join in it are guided only by their free choice, by the impulse of their hearts and the dictates of their consciences; and such a spectacle must be interesting to all Christian nations as proving that religion, that gift of Heaven for the good of man, freed from all coercive edicts, from that unhallowed connection with the powers of this world which corrupts religion into an instrument or an usurper of the policy of the state, and making no appeal but to reason, to the heart, and to the conscience, can spread its benign influence everywhere and can attract to the divine altar those freewill offerings of humble supplication, thanksgiving, and praise which alone can be acceptable to Him whom no hypocrisy can deceive and no forced sacrifices propitiate.

Last week we observed Thanksgiving and highlighted the history of the holiday in America, even before it became an annual observance.

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Two weeks ago, we considered florist Barronelle Stutzman’s appearance before the Supreme Court in Washington state. Refusing to violate her conscience, Mrs. Stutzman turned down the opportunity to arrange flowers for the same-sex wedding of a longtime friend. She subsequently was sued, and she may lose everything for taking this stand.

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It is against this backdrop that we consider President Madison’s centuries-old proclamation, one of the early calls for prayer and thanksgiving issued in America. Recognizing both Madison’s roles in the founding of our nation as well as the fact the 1813 prayer observance occurred within a few years of the ratification of the Constitution, we need to make sure we take to heart our fourth president’s clear statements about religious liberty.

If under the Constitution no one could be forced to violate his or her conscience to participate in a solemn day of thanksgiving and prayer, then, under the same Constitution, neither can anyone ever be required to violate his or her conscience regarding the definition of marriage. James Madison is in a position to speak authoritatively on the matter, and while he didn’t specifically address Barronelle’s situation, he’s told us enough to eliminate every doubt about where he would stand—and where the Constitution stands. It’s crystal clear where James Madison would stand on same-sex marriage, but even apart from that, it’s also abundantly evident that he would say the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, upholds Barronelle Stutzman’s rights of conscience.

Read carefully again, if you have not already, the two quotes from James Madison at the top of this post. Significantly, our 4th president also said, “Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power.”


Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power.
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James Madison’s insights could not be more relevant for America today, 203 years later, near the close of 2016. Let us fight to preserve the principles for which he labored tirelessly more than two centuries ago.

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1http://www.heritage.org/initiatives/first-principles/primary-sources/madison-on-property

2https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jamesmadis398100.html

3The special program “We Hold These Truths” by Norman Corwin commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1941.