Ecclesiastes: The Vanity of Self-indulgence

Solomon’s Conclusion about Pleasure as Meaning

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” (Verses 9-11)

He arrived at his conclusion after an amazing accumulation of earthly possessions and pleasures. He says he considered all of it. All was vanity and a striving after wind.” The NLT translation says, “There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.” (Verse 11, NLT)

This is contrary to the whole value set of our culture where having lots of money, good times, beautiful music, and lovers is the goal of life. But as so many have found when they get to the top of that ladder, there isn’t anything there.

Solomon says, there’s nothing here. No lasting happiness. No satisfaction that matters. All the money, fame, and women lead to nowhere. There is no material answer to our spiritual problem.

Do you believe that? How does your life this week show that?

Jesus is Better Than Solomon

There is one person in the Bible who eclipses the wealth of Solomon. Who? Satan. In his temptation of Jesus, he offered him all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8). There was one condition. He had to bow to Satan. Imagine the wealth and possessions of the entire world. What would you do if it were offered to you? Would you give in? Some of us compromise our principles for the insanely unlikely chance to win a few million in the lottery. Imagine a lottery of all the wealth of the world.

This was Satan’s to give. As one writer says it, “Everything Solomon pursued, Jesus was tempted by, but resisted.” (Mark Driscoll, as quoted by Philip Graham Ryken, Ecclesiastes, Why Everything Matters, p. 52) Jesus didn’t have to experience the world to know it was empty without God. His response to Satan was, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:10)

Jesus knew where real meaning and joy came from. From God and a right relationship with him.

Jesus is Better Than Earthly Pleasure

 It sounds crazy to the materialist or the hedonist to say that Jesus is better than earthly pleasure. How can Jesus be better than lots of money or lots of sex?

There are many reasons but one obvious one. God has built into every human pleasure what we call “diminishing returns.” No matter what you experience, the next time it isn’t the same. It requires a little more or it needs to be a little different to give the same buzz or whatever. But Jesus transcends the pleasures of this world. Knowing him by faith and growing as a disciple is the real experience of spiritual pleasure that the hedonist tries to get from his material experience. But it never quite gets him there. It’s always disappointing. Like chasing the wind.

But to know Jesus is a joy that doesn’t diminish or blow away. Rather it grows. Imperfectly in this life. But these moments of spiritual joy in Jesus are a foretaste of ultimate and unending joy.

 “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Additional Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

© 2016 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Ecclesiastes: The Futility of Man’s Wisdom

I said in my heart, ‘I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18)

Why is Jesus True Wisdom?

We have to read Ecclesiastes with three eyes: one on the Fall, one on the text, and one forward to Jesus and the cross, which Scripture says is the starting point of true wisdom.

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor. 1:20-25)

Paul highlights why human wisdom fails us. At the root of it is human pride. Kiralee has a habit we are in the process of trying to parent out of her. When we go to put her in her car seat or some other thing, she will quickly insist, “I do it!” We like an independent spirit. But when she insists, we see another thing behind it. I must do it myself. I do it. I think it. I solve it. All of these flow out of man’s most basic problem—the pride that must solve all our problems ourselves.

This is why the real gospel is so offensive and counterintuitive to us. It crushes human pride by not beginning with us, or our effort, wisdom, or reason. It begins with God’s effort and wisdom.

Jesus embodies the truth that mankind needs

Jesus is described in Scripture as the Word, the divine special revelation of God. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) Man’s reason is always butting up against logical and philosophical gnarls. Great thinkers like Stephen Hawking search the mathematical universe for the theory of everything. What are they looking for? Truth that explains the universe.

But they never can find it because reason won’t lead man to the answer. God must fill the gaps. And God has by sending his Son into this world. The Word became flesh. The answer became human.

Human wisdom wants to become the answer. But in reality, the answer becomes human.

Jesus solves man’s unsolvable riddle

Jesus addresses the Rubik’s Cube of man’s existence, death. He does so by cutting the line. Like the fisherman who cuts the line and ties on a new line, Jesus cuts the knot away by his death and replaces the line with new line. New life. His perfect life lived for us replaces the tangled and unsolvable knot of our sin and guilt.

The resurrection of Jesus solves what Hawking and Sartre and Nietzsche and Dawkins and Freud and Darwin and great minds of human history could never figure out. Their graves silently speak of the emptiness of human intellectual accomplishment.

Jesus was resurrected on the third day by the power of God and in his resurrection he eliminated death’s ultimate and eternal claim on us. Logic cannot believe in a resurrection because it requires a supernatural act that man cannot do. But that is the gospel. It is foolishness to the prideful and the rational mind of man but is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

What about you? What keeps you from believing in God’s answer to the riddle of your soul? Must you do it? That’s pride. God requires humility and a repentant spirit who by faith believes Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

The absurdity of life without God can itself motivate us to search for an answer. It has led many to Jesus. Perhaps it will lead you to him too.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

© 2016 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Ecclesiastes: The Futility of Life

“A generation goes, a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.” (Ecclesiastes 1:4)

He says that backwards. We normally say, “A generation comes, a generation goes.” He starts with the departing generation and then the one replacing it. The unending, unstoppable passing of time as seen in the constant going of the older generation and the constant coming of a new generation. The new generation thinks they will always be young, cool, and hip. But quicker than you can blink they become the departing generation. There is always a new one displacing the old one.

Young people today have no idea yet how true this is. But if you’ve been around the block a few times, you know the feeling. It’s the creeping sense that your role and importance, your health and vitality, is slipping. Almost imperceptibly declining. And with it, our sense of importance and place in our world.

Two weeks ago I made a very quick trip to Iowa. My high school invited back the varsity basketball team from the 1985-1986 season to honor the 30th anniversary of the year we went 26-1, the best record by far in school history. We were arguably the best team in school history. It was my senior year. They honored us at halftime (see picture below). It was great to see my old teammates. Great group of guys. It was a privilege to play with them.

Steve's High School Team

A few things stood out to me. One was how old my teammates looked. What happened? Second was the general lack of interest by the current student body. As they introduced us, they gave our stats, and we had polite applause. But we were just old guys from a bygone era. Third was when I asked the current coach, “Why isn’t there a banner for our team in the rafters? They had other years featured, but not the best team in school history?” He said, “Well, there used to be but a former coach took it down and I found it crumpled in the back of a closet.” What? Don’t they realize how amazing we were? How important we were? But that is the way things go. “A generation goes, a generation comes.” What is cool, hip, and really important today, is passé, irrelevant, boring, and forgotten tomorrow.

That’s not encouraging at all! Why write this? If all is meaningless why write 11 more chapters?

Ecclesiastes describes man after the Fall and before the cross. I wonder if chapter 1 feels like your life? Is that the state of your soul as you sit here today? It certainly describes the world with incredible accuracy. We see the decay and anguish all around us. Is there hope?

Chapter 1 is like going to the doctor and hearing that you have a rare form of cancer. The doctor slowly describes the cause, the conditions, and the effects. You listen with shock because the symptoms he describes are what you have been feeling for weeks. Every detail is spot on with your life. His diagnosis perfectly describes your experience.

How do you leave the appointment? Impressed. This guy knows his stuff. I want to hear more, perhaps about a cure? Ecclesiastes is spot on to the world we live in and the world of our own lives and hearts. This guy knows his stuff. Is there a cure?

Here is where one eye looks ahead to the cross of Jesus. Why did Jesus come?

  • “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)
  • “…that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)
  • “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

Jesus Christ came into the world and died on that cross to save hungry people. Futile-living people. Vapor-like people. And on the other side of the cross, everything matters. And it can matter for you too if you put your hope in the faith of the Son of God, repent of your sins, see Jesus as dying for them, and be granted the gift of eternal life. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” My desire is to see God draw the futile-living man or woman to be a faith-living man or woman so that you can experience all of the joy that comes from it.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2016 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Stretchy Love

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7–11 ESV)

I considered just doing verse 8: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Why? The other verses depend on this one. Perhaps that is why Peter says, Above all keep loving one another earnestly.” Paul prioritizes love similarly: “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:8) There are two reasons why love is the most important quality.

Love is what God is like

1 John 4:8 says it succinctly, “God is love.” This doesn’t mean love is God. Rather, it is the defining attribute of who God is. Our working definition of love around Bethel is, “Love is self-giving for the good and joy of another.” God is this within the Trinity as the three members of the Godhead eternally love one another. Their fellowship and unity is an experience of giving selflessness for the joy of the other.

If Christian relationships are truly Christian, they have this orientation of doing what we can for the other person’s good and joy. It is the life of Christ reproduced in the life of the Christian and the church. As children of God, we love because it is the very nature of our Father to love. What is so great about this little proverb here is that it is so honest and real.

Love is what allows Christian relationships to continue

“…Keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

Keep on loving one another. Doesn’t that suggest that “keeping on” loving is difficult? Why? We all can love short-term. We can have our splash and dash love moments. But loving the same people over the long term? That is much harder. I like the book title, Everyone is Normal Until You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg. To be in relationships with other Christians is to be forced to persevere in loving people different from us. Over time, those differences can wear on you. Become annoying. Exasperating. Make you hop quickly to the next church hoping that church has people less annoying than the ones you already know. Guess what you find at the next church?

Here is the beautiful help. This help is the key to any long-term relationship, whether that is friendship or marriage or a family relationship. The kind of love God births in Christians through the gospel is elastic. The Greek word for “covers” has the sense “at full stretch.” Love stretches over a multitude of sins. Love keeps a multitude of sins from ruining Christian community. It stretches like a rubber band. It stretches but doesn’t break. This doesn’t mean that love overlooks sin. It is love that speaks the truth and admonishes and even disciplines out of the church an erring brother or sister.

I think what Peter is getting at is the inevitable interpersonal slights and offenses which varying personalities and preferences in the church always create. It’s that little huffy moment when Mrs. Jones speaks out of frustration. The disappointment that no one called when Mr. Smith needed it. The failure to acknowledge an act of service. The snippy and competitive comment. The words vented in frustration. The fact that any church has any level of unity or fellowship can only be attributed to the people of the church applying stretchy love to a host of little offenses. We all say stupid things. We all do stupid things.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes eloquently on this and talks about Christians who have a wishful dream about what church community should be like but then deal with what it actually is like.

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly….Therefore, will not the very moment of great disillusionment with my brother or sister be incomparably wholesome for me because it so thoroughly teaches me that both of us can never live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ? The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifting.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pp. 36-37)

Are you disillusioned with other Christians or the experience of church with other Christians? Great! You might be on the verge of authentic Christian community. But for this to happen, love has to cover a wide variety of moments that urge us to be offended, hold a grudge, nurse a little bitterness, or simply run away.

Christian love covers those moments because its root is in Christ’s love which did that. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) In fact, not only did Jesus’ love cover sin, it spurred him to personally sacrifice for the offensive people in the first place.

 

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Serving Jesus by Serving His Church

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7–11 ESV)

It must be used to serve one another

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” (Verse 10)

Here is our privilege and responsibility. “Use it to serve one another.” This is a command. Use it. How or where? To serve one another. He is writing to Christians so the “one another” is Christians and the church.

Now as we all know, when we serve others, they are blessed and we are blessed. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) This command to serve others is a means to our own happiness. I wish more people realized this. This would keep us from evaluating service for Christ in terms of our own convenience or comfort: “I’ll try to work it in.”

Peter is calling service and gift-use to be a high priority for every Christian. Is it for you? You might say, but I’m not saved by serving or any kind of good work. No. We are not saved by serving, we are saved for serving. Listen to the balance in Ephesians 2,

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8–10)

Saved by grace? Yes. Saved to grace others? Yes! You were saved for this serving. God ordained our justification by faith and our sanctification by grace-motivated, Spirit-empowered acts of service in the church.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Gender, Sexuality, and Gospel Ministry in 2015

Today I am addressing a subject that is dominating the cultural, political, and spiritual conversations of our nation. Human sexuality, gender, and the nature of marriage have been front and center with the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all fifty states. This decision changes the cultural landscape of our nation. If there was ever a time for clarity on these issues in the church, it is now. Unfortunately, in the time of most critical need, some are going wobbly, even among evangelical Christians. There are whole denominations and leading churches that are following the cultural trend toward gender choice, sexual freedom, and marital redefinition.

This message will be read by different sets of eyes today. Some eyes will see this primarily politically. Other eyes will see this parentally as you have adult children in sexual lifestyles that disappoint you. Some eyes will hear this very personally. You have struggled with same-sex attraction or someone you love does and those relational loyalties shape your perspective.

I’m going to quickly sketch the biblical basis for manhood and womanhood, marriage and sex, before spending more time on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

What is a Man? What is a Woman?

The old joke was that to tell the difference between a boy and a girl you had to look in their genes. G-e-n-e-s. But today that is less funny as gender identities are being disconnected from biological gender or genitalia. Look at this as one of many indications of this trend: Bruce Jenner’s decision to identify as a woman has been lauded as a great and defining moment for our country. The Olympic Men’s Decathlon Gold medal winner’s transgender choice was hailed by ESPN as the most courageous athletic moment of the last year. This sounds bewildering if we don’t understand where all this comes from and why human nature wants so badly to rid itself of these gender and sexual definitions.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26–27)

God purposed in creating the human race that we would first bear his image or his likeness. This is not physical likeness but primarily moral and spiritual. The imago dei is God’s gift to us—self-awareness, moral reasoning, and spiritual meaning. We are so different from the animal and plant world—at least most of us.

But notice how and why God created us in his image. “So God created man in his own image…male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Human gender was purposed by God to reflect his own likeness. This is not to say that God is either male or female or both male and female. Rather, it ties both manhood and womanhood to the nature of God. Since God is the most glorious and awesome being in the universe, our gender reflection of his glorious personhood is also glorious and sacred. To be a man is a great and holy privilege. To be a woman is a great and holy privilege. Remember, God steps back from all his creation including human gender and says, It’s all very, very good! With that God sanctions and elevates the male and female gender and each one’s unique sexual identity.

Adam had male plumbing and was a man. Eve had female plumbing and was a woman. Both are sacred and very good.

What is Marriage?

If gender is based on the character and creative purpose of God, what about marriage? How about we ask Jesus? Some guys did once. They asked him to define what marriage is.

“And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:3–6)

There is so much to say here but for our subject today, please see WHERE Jesus went to define marriage. He went right back to Genesis. Back to the beginning. Back to God’s purpose for it from the start. Here you have the Son of God with the right to define or redefine marriage simply by his own word. But he doesn’t do that. He gets his definition from Scripture and from creation.

There is a gap of thousands of years between Adam and Eve and Jesus. We see in this that time or cultural feelings or beliefs don’t change what marriage essentially is. In fact, what Jesus says here is in the context of a cultural redefinition of marriage. They had redefined the marital covenant and the terms by which divorce could happen. Jesus doesn’t say, Well, the winds of change are blowing and we need to stay relevant. His answer is decidedly countercultural.

Also, see that Jesus connects the male with [husband] and the female with wife. Those are not interchangeable roles or definitions. Jesus says that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman which redefines them by covenant as one. This was so radical for the times that the disciples asked him to clarify if he really meant to say marriage was as covenantally bound as they thought he said. He doubles down. The disciples’ response is classic as they realize how serious Jesus viewed marriage. “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10)

To be clear, God made marriage and defines marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman. If I had more space, I could take you to Ephesians 5 and to what marriage points to. Gender reflects God’s nature and marriage reflects the relationship between Jesus and the church, and is therefore, sacred. It is unchangeable even as the Christ/church relationship is unchangeable and eternal.

What about Homosexuality?

While certainly not a main theme or even a minor theme of the Bible, the Bible doesn’t blush when it talks about homosexuality. There are five main texts that deal with same-sex sexual relations.

  • Genesis 19 – The judgment on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah
  • Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:18-32 – The Holiness Code of sexual ethics
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – One in list of vices/acts of the flesh
  • 1 Timothy 1:9-10 – One in list of vices/acts which the law condemns

One thing is clear, whenever the Bible speaks of homosexuality it does so in a condemning way. There is not one verse in Scripture that celebrates gay sex or encourages God’s people to condone it.

Yet, there are many biblical scholars and pastors who either sympathize or endorse homosexuality. You might say, how can that be? You would be surprised at the eloquent way they can explain it.

How? By primarily explaining the ancient practice of homosexuality as being different from today or at least different from the long-term committed relationships of today. They would say the Bible condemns the older men taking advantage of younger men in relationships. Paul condemns exploitive gay behavior. Or he condemns the promiscuous type, but doesn’t condemn two people of the same sex in a loving, long-term relationship. There are intellectual and educated people that argue those very points persuasively. Many liberal denominations and pastors have found the arguments convincing and have endorsed same-sex marriage. Some have ordained openly gay pastors and ministers. We shouldn’t underestimate the momentum of this movement in Western society. They are established in academia, Hollywood, media, and other elite and culturally powerful positions.

Have you ever sat back and thought, why is this a big deal? Why is this suddenly all that the culture and media seems to want to talk about? Perhaps you are dismayed to hear me speaking about it. Why was there the explosive outrage at Indiana’s RAFRA law back in April? Why is Caitlin Jenner idealized? Why is it so important to quickly redefine millennia of human history’s practice of marriage?

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20)

The Apostle Paul makes an incredible statement here regarding the nature of created things. He says there is a connection between creation and the character of God. God’s nature is seen in the complexity, simplicity, beauty, creativity, size and scope, interdependence, and functionality of the world around us. The natural world, by design, reflects what God is like. It is enough of a witness to God’s character that at the final judgment nobody can claim, you didn’t tell me! All will be without excuse.

This appeal to natural law or “general revelation” is where Paul begins. The visible world and its designed purposes says what God intends and what God is like. Creation tells of its Creator. We know quite a bit about da Vinci by his paintings and the Beatles by their music and your momma by her cooking. But what does man do with this knowledge of God?

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21) Man’s response to God’s revelation of himself is not worship or thanksgiving. Rather, man’s fallen nature revolts against God and the result is a series of devastating “exchanges.”

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:22-23) Rather than worshiping the invisible God of whom creation speaks, man worships creation itself and exchanges the glory of knowing God for the emptiness of deriving meaning from money, sex, and rock-and-roll. The result is God giving us what we want.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1:24-25)

Man trades God-worship for thing-worship, trades purity for impurity, trades honoring God with our bodies for dishonoring God with our bodies. Trading the truth for a lie, then trying to derive meaning from that lie. This exchange has far reaching consequences as it takes us further and further from the blessing of God’s design for us. Enter sexuality.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26–27)

Man takes his no-God ideological starting point to its moral conclusion. Where does it lead? If heterosexuality is a reflection of God’s nature and if marriage is a reflection of God’s purpose for the sexes, and if our sexual expression is to be an act of worship, then the disconnection of these things from the character of God will lead to sexual “exchanging.” Homosexuality is not what God is like. This passage describes the sexual conclusion when man untethers his self-understanding from God. Untether from God and “husband” and “wife” are arbitrary terms. The terms, Father” and “mother” are freedom limiting. Heterosexual sexual union in a covenant marriage is traded for complete sexual freedom with male or female, husband or wife, bisexual partner, threesome, etc.

Yet, why such vitriol today on this issue? Why not simply let it be? Why are the polls changing? Because while not everyone identifies as gay, the majority of America does not want God’s law on heterosexual sex either. To embrace the goose is to embrace the gander. The real idol here is sexual freedom. That sexual god is enshrined in our culture and Americans generally don’t want God or the Ten Commandments meddling with their freedom, whether straight or gay.

What about…

Same-sex attraction?

This deserves more time, but I think it’s important that we see moral distance between temptation to sin and sin itself. Was Jesus tempted sexually? I believe he was, if he was tempted in every way like us yet was without sin. This temptation might be the number one human temptation. Yet he was innocent. Tempted but innocent.

Same-sex attraction is certainly the result of the Fall, but then so is wanting to have sex with anyone not your spouse. Brokenness comes in many shattered forms. As we lovingly labor to help people exchange the lie for the truth, we shouldn’t be surprised that these temptations linger. Same-sex attraction is not itself a sin. Acting on it is. How can we help as a church those who struggle in this way? Sam Allberry is a pastor with personal experience here. In his book, Is God Anti-Gay? he gives us some advice:

  1. Make it easy to talk about
  2. Honor singleness
  3. Remember that church is family
  4. Deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, rather than cultural stereotypes
  5. Provide good pastoral support

Caring for and loving homosexual friends and family?

I have answered this question over the years by encouraging family members to treat it like you would any other sin in someone’s life. You wouldn’t endorse your son’s drug addiction or struggle with porn but you would love them anyway, right?

Too often this sin and struggle is treated like the plague and the family member with a same-sex attraction feels alone right when they need family and Christian community the most.

The church’s response?

This area tests our understanding of the gospel and whether we are broken over our own sin. It’s easy to be the Pharisee praying in the temple thankful you are not like the tax collector or homosexual.

I remember 25 years ago when I was in college, I attended a large, nationally-known pretty stiff-type evangelical church. It had a reputation for being influential. Their pastor was a rather young guy named Ed Dobson. Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, HIV and AIDS were really big news. Magic Johnson shared his HIV diagnosis and it made huge headlines. Ed Dobson began to minister to the gay community of the city by offering to sit and talk and pray with anyone dying of AIDS in the city’s hospitals. This was quite scandalous in this respectable, button-down church.

I was in the service when Ed Dobson said he had received a letter that week from a concerned church member who said, “Pastor, if you keep this up we are going to have homosexuals attending our church.” I’ll never forget him looking up and saying, “That’s right, we will, and they can join all the other liars, cheats, and adulterers we already have here.”

I don’t think anyone wrote him any more letters. What did that moment do at that church? It reminded them of what the gospel says about all of us. For the church to have any effective gospel witness among people struggling in any of these categories, they have to sense our own mourning over our own sin. We don’t affirm the sin but we can offer the grace of God to the sinner. Offer it with the love that Jesus offered the sexually sinful of his day, with whom he ate, talked, and cared for.

I reached out to a man in our church who has struggled for years with same-sex attraction. He is a member in good standing and has found victory over it. I asked him, if you could say anything to Bethel Church about this, what would you say? Here is what he wrote,

“On the topic of same-sex attraction, I would love for Bethel Church to understand that sexual brokenness is a result of sin, and that it leads to sinful behavior, but that being broken is not sin. I think this makes sense to us when we think about someone battling heterosexual lust, but it becomes scary to think the same thing of someone who battles same-sex attraction. Unfortunately, this all-too-common fear is one of the greatest hurdles that people like me will face on the road to healing, because fear prevents fellowship. Here, I thank God for Celebrate Recovery. That community has been so great for my healing because it never forced me to dwell on how evil I am, but rather helped me to let Jesus show me the roots of my sin and the nature of my brokenness. What I found is that my same-sex attraction is essentially an identity crisis lived out in idolatry, and that the solution is worship. My healing has come from Christ through fellowship, and I have hope that as Christ wipes away fear, others like me will find similar healing.”

There is the hope which is only found in the gospel of Jesus. If we compromise on what sin is, we compromise on what the gospel is. Let’s be a church that, like Jesus, is full of grace and truth.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Baptism

“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (1 Peter 3:21–22 ESV)

Baptism’s Importance – Too Low

While I run into people who think baptism is too important (that it’s salvific), my observation is that too many don’t think it important enough. We have somehow disconnected baptism from salvation in ways that contradict baptism’s role in Scripture.

  • “Repent and be baptized.” (Acts 2:38)
  • “So those who received his word were baptized.” (Acts 2:41)
  • “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12)
  • “And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’” (Acts 8:36)
  • “And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18)
  • “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.” (Acts 10:48)
  • “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” (Acts 18:8)
  • “On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:5)

Let’s look at The Great Commission a moment: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) The action verb of importance there is “make disciples.” The rest explains how. Baptize them and teach them. Right there in the summary of what being a Christian is all about we have the important role of baptism and teaching.

You might say, Why didn’t Peter address the issue of professing Christians living for years and NOT being baptized? I suspect there are two reasons. The first is that this is mostly a problem with second and third generation Christians who make a profession of faith but for some reason don’t get around to being baptized. The second reason is that New Testament Christianity didn’t conceive of professing Christians refusing to be baptized.

“There is presently probably the largest unbaptized population of professing Christians in the history of the church. And for most of them it isn’t really something they are too concerned about.” (John MacArthur, “The Case for Believer’s Baptism: The Credo Baptist Position,” www.gty.org/Resources/Print/articles/a360) MacArthur goes on to give five frank reasons professing Christians are not baptized:

  • Ignorant – not taught or wrongly taught
  • Proud – refuse to be humbly obedient
  • Indifferent – not considering obedience important
  • Defiant – unwilling to obey
  • Unregenerate – no concern to honor Christ in this way

All of these reveal too low a concern for the priority of baptism as identification with Jesus and the first act of obedience.

I am not hiding my point here, am I? I don’t want anyone to trust in their baptism for salvation and there should not be any professing Jesus without being baptized. Are you a professing Christian? Have you been baptized? If not, why not? I want everyone to profess Jesus as Savior and be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So what is baptism exactly?

We practice what is known as believer’s baptism or Credo-baptism. We believe the teaching and example of the New Testament is a baptism following a profession of faith. It is an initiation into the Christian life. The mode we practice is immersion in water. We baptize in water because the New Testament church baptized in water. We immerse because the Greek word for baptism means, “To dip; to immerse.” The language of the New Testament indicates water sufficient for baptism, like the Jordan River or the Eunuch with Phillip who said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’” (Acts 8:36) They went down into it. Even 1 Peter 3:21 suggests this as he says people mistake it for washing dirt off the body. Immersion as a mode is the only mode to do that.

The big thing in baptism is identifying with the saving work of Jesus in his death and burial (pictured in going under the water) and resurrection to new life (pictured by coming out of the water). This is known doctrinally as union with Christ. When he died, I died with him. When he was buried I was buried with him. When he was resurrected, I was resurrected with him. I am in a spiritual union with Jesus that connects me with the saving work of Jesus for me.

If I could illustrate it this way, now that we have another daughter, the BabyBjörn Baby Carrier becomes a part of my life again. It allows me to carry her around with me and it leaves my hands free. Where I go, she goes. Where I sit, she sits. The carrier unites her with me and me with her (see example of the dad modeling it in the picture below).

Bjorn

Baptism, by God’s design, symbolically does the same. It spiritually symbolizes my union by faith with Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection. This is where the classic definition of baptism comes from—an outward sign of an inward change. Jesus commanded it. The Apostles modeled it. We follow their words and example.

We see baptism as celebration of what God has done in your life. Over the years we have baptized people from many backgrounds, many journeys. Here’s where I’m at. I just want people to profess Jesus as Savior and be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So I want to ask you, if you have not been baptized, why not? Are you a professing believer in Jesus Christ? Have you “Björned” by faith in his death, burial, and resurrection?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here