The Response of the Church
How should the church respond in a culture where people continually deny the obvious? Even in the midst of a wasteland bereft of truth and stability, they follow myths and lies about human relationships, marriage, and sexuality. They pretend things are as they aren’t, and aren’t as they are. Two things are paramount.
- First, the church must be discerning. it must make sure God’s people aren’t deceived.
- Second, it must lovingly affirm the truth and warn the culture about the destructive path it has chosen.
While Jesus told His disciples to love their enemies (see Matt. 5:43-44), He also warned them to beware of all who would mislead them. So did the apostles.
- Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? (Matt. 7:15-16).
- Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1).
- Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! (Phil. 3:2).
- For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things (Phil. 3:18-19).
- Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ (Col. 2:8).
- But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
- For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward (2 John 7-8).
- Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 3-4).
“But wait!” someone may say. Didn’t Jesus say, “Judge not, that you be not judged”? (Matt. 7:1). Yes, He did, but He was telling His followers not to be hypocritically judgmental (see vv. 2-5). Immediately after offering this warning, He added, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (v. 6).
The church, all too often, is woefully lacking in discretion, discernment, and shrewdness. In fact, shrewdness is the one trait possessed by Satan that believers need to cultivate and use for godly purposes. We must realize that some non-Christians will continue to hold a defiant posture toward God and never will yield to Him. It is not our place to assume anyone is beyond God’s saving reach, but we also must never think, even for a New York minute, that we have the ability to convince people to like us or the values we cherish.
Fully aware of the acidic and unyielding hostility of some who are opposed to righteousness, Jesus told His disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16).
The Duty to Warn
Even in this kind of hostile environment, the church has a duty to warn God’s people and the culture about the destructive path on which the nation is traveling. The call to warn has a rich history both in Scripture and in the church. Let’s examine just one event from American history.
In his message, Edwards sought to convey that anyone who isn’t following Christ and depending on Him for salvation is taking the ultimate risk. For these souls, eternity hangs in the balance, and without Christ, their destination is hell. The response was overwhelming. Pastor Edwards “was interrupted many times before finishing the sermon by people moaning and crying out, ‘What shall I do to be saved?'” Edwards was a prominent leader during the First Great Awakening, which occurred from around 1730-1755.
Jonathan Edwards understood that the good news about Jesus Christ is as wonderful as it is because the bad news about sin is as terrible as it is. If people don’t see how hopeless their situations are without Christ, they surely cannot comprehend how precious and priceless God’s gift of salvation really is.
If people don’t see how hopeless their situations are without Christ, they surely cannot comprehend how precious and priceless God’s gift of salvation really is.
In fact, it’s so valuable it could only be secured by the death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. What can help people see these important things? Like Jonathan Edwards, I believe properly timed and properly framed warnings can open people’s eyes.
A Failure to Warn Is Unloving
While we as believers have been been rightly concerned about the need to express love and compassion to those who disagree with us, I fear that all too often we have let this concern overshadow our responsibility to speak prophetically. Furthermore, we need to understand that a failure to warn when a warning is needed is unloving.
Psalm 19:9-11 says,
The rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Warnings, therefore, aren’t just appropriate. They are necessary. They’re even more necessary in our day, because, looking over the landscape of sermons preached in recent decades, we see that these messages, for the most part, have been bereft of biblical warnings. We need more preachers and Bible study leaders with the clear understanding and boldness possessed by Jonathan Edwards.
Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 say, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” One way that apparently seems right to many today is the way of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Mark it down: This road will lead us as a nation to a very bad place! If America is traveling to destruction by taking the road of redefining marriage (something it clearly is doing), then warnings against distorting and manipulating marriage need to be issued. Certainly this isn’t the only perilous path America is on, but it is one path about which the church has not sufficiently warned the country.
If America is traveling to destruction by taking the road of redefining marriage, then warnings against distorting and manipulating marriage need to be issued. Certainly this isn’t the only perilous path America is on, but it is one path about which the church has not sufficiently warned the country.
As a pastor, you can help the church regain its prophetic voice by making sure you do not neglect your duty to warn God’s people and the culture at large. But what should you preach?
For over a year, I’ve been writing articles and posting them at www.wordfoundations.com. Many of these have been Bible studies that a preacher can easily adapt and use for a morning or evening sermon. I’m highlighting seven such posts here. I encourage you to consider using them in your preaching ministry in the coming weeks and months. Along with the seven, I’m also highlighting four additional posts that provide important background information. While thoroughly consistent with biblical truth, these four posts aren’t Bible studies. Even so, you may find ways to convey the information to your people, as it will enhance their understanding of the times in which we live and how we need to conduct ourselves in them.
- Eight Menacing Trends in the Evangelical Church—While these trends hopefully aren’t true of you and your church, pastors and Christians need to understand what has been happening in the the evangelical church in recent years.
- The Importance of Seeing the Big Picture—Our culture has not swallowed lies about sexuality and about marriage in a vacuum. Almost unconsciously, it traded theistic presuppositions about life for atheistic ones. Now it is embracing the conclusions that flow from those presuppositions.
- Insights for the Long Haul: Understanding and Loving My Homosexual Neighbor—Here are five things you need to know as you make the effort to befriend and minister to your homosexual neighbor, family member, or coworker.
- Ten Ways Same-Sex Marriage Denies Reality—Here are Ten Ways Secularism, through same-sex marriage, is denying life in the real world. The consequences of pretending that things aren’t what they are can be very severe, so we as Christians must sound the alarm!
Sermon and Bible Study Material
- Discernment Needed—Christians cannot be effectively equipped to warn others if they don’t heed the divine warnings God gives in the Bible. This study showcases numerous warnings against falling prey to the lies of the world. Make sure you and the members of your church aren’t deceived.
- Clarity Needed—If you read, study, or preach just one of these messages, this is the one I hope you will choose. God-ordained marriage is a picture that helps people understand why Christ died—so for the sake of effective evangelism alone, we must protect natural marriage.
“Clarity Needed” spotlights the truth that God-ordained marriage is a picture that helps people understand why Christ died. Thus, for the sake of effective evangelism alone, we must protect natural marriage.
- Esse quam videri—Esse quam videri is a Latin phrase that means “to be rather than to seem.” This article explores the ominous nature of a lie and the deadly destination to which it leads. How do we combat lies? We must counter them with the truth!
- Compassion’s Mandate—Christians are told on nearly every front that refusing to accept and celebrate homosexuality and same-sex marriage is bigoted and hateful. Not so! Would a doctor who knows his patient has a deadly disease be compassionate to withhold that information? Of course not. Compassion’s mandate is to declare the truth in love.
- The Supreme Court…Isn’t: Six Things the Bible Tells Us About the State—Christians need to know what the Bible teaches about government and governmental authority. This Bible study explores these teachings. Such authority is delegated by God and can be misused and abused. When government acts outside it’s God-given authority, believers have a duty to hold it accountable.
- Reflections on Repentance—Repentance is seen everywhere as confining, restrictive, and burdensome. Of all people, we as believers know that on the other side of repentance is true freedom. As we present the truth to our family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, we need to pray that God would open their eyes to see how refusing to repent means staying in bondage, and how repenting opens up a fresh, new world of liberty.
- Keep Cultivating and Don’t Lose Heart—Declaring the truth in this culture is risky. This Bible study encourages believers to remember the eternal value of the principles they stand for over against the temporal nature of those things they are tempted to hold with a tight grip. Presenting the truth may require sacrifice, but God will bless with things far more valuable. Never give up!
Keep in mind that nearly all of these posts were written in 2015, and many were written before the Supreme Court issued its marriage ruling. Adaptations still can easily be made. Be aware too that some internet links no longer are valid, but the material in each article still is.
I pray that this post will find its way into many pastors’ studies and many Bible study leaders’ homes. Please use this material to warn God’s people and the culture at large about the perils of the direction in which America is headed.
The writer of Hebrews issued this command and this warning to his readers—including you and me: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Heb. 13:4). If we would honor marriage, we will never withhold the truth about it from a culture that is confused and misinformed. Nor will we fail to warn people.
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.
Realistically, the initial sparks that will ignite reform in our country will most likely be generated by pastors. Bible study leaders also can help. Will you fulfill your duty?
The High Cost of Denying the Obvious home page is available here.
Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.
top image: a barn lot in Dallas, South Dakota, 1936, during the Dust Bowl
photo credit, Crucifixion of Jesus: http://www.lumoproject.com
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.