We have an absolute duty to start training our children in biblical worldview when they are just beyond the toddler years. They’ve got to start understanding that there are some basic truths in life, and that if we abandon them, the whole scheme of living unravels. And marriage is a great example, because very, very few evangelicals, at least that I talk to, have ever heard of marriage talked about this way. They see it as a covenant with one another and with God—the most devout see it that way—but very few people see it as part of the structure of life built into the fact that God has created us and given to us, in His Word, an understanding of man and woman as one, and why that is so, and the purpose of it.
Key point: It’s not just important that the church and Christians uphold natural marriage, but how they do so.
In March of 2013, former US Senator Jim DeMint, then President-elect of the Heritage Foundation, made a video in which he encouraged people everywhere to defend and uphold the millennia-old understanding of marriage—one man and one woman committed to each other for life. This definition rightly is called natural marriage because it harmonizes with what nature teaches about human relationships. Here is a portion of what Senator DeMint said.
The institution of marriage existed long before government to provide children with mothers and fathers. Marriage strengthens civil society and limits government. As our marriage culture weakens, big government grows. Just look at how the welfare state got bigger and bigger as the unwed childbearing rate skyrocketed from single digits in the 1960’s to over 40% off all births today.
Ryan Anderson, also of the Heritage Foundation, elaborated.
Redefining marriage does not simply expand the existing understanding of marriage; it rejects these truths. Marriage is society’s least rest rictive means of ensuring the well-being of children. By encouraging the norms of marriage—monogamy, sexual exclusivity, and permanence—the state strengthens civil society and reduces its own role. The future of this country depends on the future of marriage. The future of marriage depends on citizens understanding what it is and why it matters and demanding that government policies support, not undermine, true marriage.
The future of this country depends on the future of marriage. The future of marriage depends on citizens understanding what it is and why it matters and demanding that government policies support, not undermine, true marriage.
Anderson, a Catholic millennial, gets it! I’m pleased that he does, and as a protestant evangelical baby boomer, I am more than glad to partner with him to defend marriage. I point to his statements as informative and instructive, not just for Christians of all denominations, but also for all citizens concerned about morality and social stability in America.
The church, however, is the most natural place for Christians to come to understand what really is at stake in the debate over the meaning of marriage. With marriage at risk, freedom and societal stability also are at risk, just as Ryan Anderson has said. Moreover, the gospel also is at risk. The stakes couldn’t be higher!
Toward the end that the number of effective advocates for natural marriage might increase, we have been describing items that should characterize the church’s defense of man-woman marriage. Thought not exhaustive, our list contains 12 items. This article carried our discussions of the first two, and last week’s article our insights on items three through six. Ready or not, we now move to items seven through twelve.
Stand with Understanding
Seventh, Christians, both individually and corporately, must uphold God-ordained marriage with greater understanding and depth. Among other things, this means never using trite clichés like these.2
- God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve! Never say this! It trivializes not only God’s creation of human beings as male and female, but also the challenges many young people face as they grapple with sexual feelings, cultural messages about gender identity, and what it means in practical terms to be male or female. Beyond this, it comes off as extremely arrogant in a situation where humility is essential. More on this in a moment.
- I love the sinner, but I hate the sin! While from a biblical perspective homosexuality is a sinful behavior, a gay or lesbian individual sees it as his or her identity. To that person, to “hate the sin” is to hate the individual!
- Homosexuality is a choice. Certainly choices are involved in being homosexual, but this does not mean the gay or lesbian individual chose to have same-sex attraction. In fact, it’s almost certain he or she did not! What does a young person do with these deep feelings he or she doesn’t understand? The individual becomes vulnerable to cultural messages that make homosexuality seem extremely attractive and normal.
The church has a need to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the nature of homosexuality from a theological perspective as well. It is misleading to say things like, Homosexuality is no worse than any other sin if we don’t sufficiently clarify what this means. This statement certainly is true in the sense that every sin is an affront to God’s character and authority. Even one sin, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem, makes us deserving of hell. On other levels, though, all sins are not equal. Furthermore, among sexual sins, homosexuality is unique in that it defies what nature teaches about human sexuality. Note the phrases “natural use” and “against nature” in Romans 1:26-27.
There’s more. Referring to those who refuse to acknowledge God, Paul wrote in verse 24, “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.” In verse 26 the apostle added, “God gave them up to vile passions” (emphasis added). James Montgomery Boice notes
that people tend to think of God’s giving people up to their desires (see vv. 24, 26) as being akin to releasing a porcelain pitcher in outer space and letting it float harmlessly away. Not so. It really is like letting go of the pitcher on earth, where gravity causes it to drop to the ground and possibly shatter completely.
These realities, along with Christians’ love for their homosexual friends and neighbors, compel believers to speak out. Warnings certainly can be issued in an unloving manner, but failing to issue a warning in a perilous or a potentially perilous situation is undeniably unloving. This brings us to the eighth point: the church must exercise greater wisdom. In Proverbs 25:11-12, Solomon, guided by God, offered these keen insights:
11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold
In settings of silver.
12 Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold
Is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear.
As we make the effort to learn what we need to know to become effective defenders of marriage, we also need to pray God will give us the right insights and the right words. We know that our message is difficult to deliver and difficult to hear. Jesus didn’t sugarcoat the task, either. He told His disciples in Matthew 10:16, ““Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” This eighth item emphasizes the first portion of Jesus’ admonition—the need to be “wise as serpents.”
Let us not forget that ultimately, we have good news for our country and for the individuals in it. The words Isaiah the prophet wrote centuries ago still have application today.
6 Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon (Isa. 55:6-7).
18 “Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool” (1:18).
Stand with Humility
Thankfully, God is ready and willing to forgive. We need Him to be, because we are in need of His grace just as desperately as is everyone else. As we are “wise as serpents,” therefore, we also must be as “harmless as doves.” This includes having the ninth item on our list—greater humility!
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom (James 3:13, NIV).
We must never convey an attitude that we are better than anyone else because we aren’t guilty of this sin or that sin—whatever the sin might be. Whatever we have been spared, it is God who has spared us, and only by His grace! We’re not better than anyone else, but because of God’s grace, we are better off! God gets the credit for that—not us, even though we had to receive his offer of grace by exercising repentance and faith (active trust in Jesus Christ).
As Christians, we’re not better than anyone else. Rather, we’re better off because of God’s grace, something He freely makes available to all who are willing to come to Him in repentance and faith.
Stand with the Right Perspective
Tenth, we must make our case with greater reverence and awe. The inspired writer of Hebrews declared, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (NIV). What a privilege we have to be guardians of marriage as God designed it, and consequently the gospel!
Eleventh, we must make our case for marriage with greater resolve. Closely connected with this is making it with greater authority. We always must be gracious, but we need not be on the defensive on this issue! We know we are right, not because our wisdom is superior to anyone else’s, but because of what we have learned as observers of nature and students of Scripture. God did not make a mistake when He designed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. In fact, this divine action was one of the Lord’s richest blessings to humanity. Accordingly, marriage reflects His richest blessing to humanity, the good news—the gospel—of Jesus Christ.
Against this backdrop, we should never be thrown off by statements like “Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality” or “Scripture condemns homosexual acts only in certain contexts.” The Bible is consistent in all that it teaches about human sexuality, marriage, and human relationships.
Having greater resolve and speaking lovingly, yet with authority, we acknowledge a twelfth and final quality that must characterize the church’s case for natural marriage. We must speak with confidence. Again, we need not be put on the defensive with regard to this issue. Let’s learn from the advocates of same-sex marriage. They now have what they sought for so long—government recognition of same-sex unions as marriage—because for decades they contended for this recognition without shame and with great confidence. They didn’t care what people thought of them. Why are we ashamed? Why are we hesitant? History and the truth are on our side!
Homosexual activists didn’t care what people thought of them when they relentlessly and repeatedly contended for same-sex marriage. Why should we be ashamed? History and the truth are on our side!
In his book titled Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, pastor and theologian Ray Ortlund writes, “Everyone who revers the gospel has compelling reasons to champion biblical ethics.…The fact that we too are sinners does not exempt us from taking this stand. Our own sinfulness simply means that we take our stand with humility and honesty. But we must not be silent. What is at stake in our sexuality is nothing less than the gospel itself.”3
Are you willing to speak up? I know of no more worthy causes than marriage and the gospel!
Next time, we will review our discussion of the 12-item list to make sure we get the big picture.
- Part 7 is available here.
- An article showcasing all 12 qualities that must characterize the church’s case for marriage is available here.
Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.
1Charles Colson with Anne Morse, My Final Word, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 144.
2Alan Shlemon of Stand to Reason (STR) cited these three clichés and discouraged their use at STR’s ReTHINK conference in Birmingham, Alabama on April 21-22, 2017.
3Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 115.
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.
Two passages were taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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