Motivation for Obedience

We believe that God is God meaning that He does whatever He pleases (see Psalm 135:6). We believe that He controls everything, from ants in driveway cracks to the color of lights on the White House. We also believe that God writes all things into existence for His glory, and in light of His unmatched wisdom and power, we would be right to conclude that what we see around us is ultimately the best way for Him to be seen as great.

One practical sanctification question for those with straight theology about God’s sovereignty is this: If God is in control, and if He gets glory whether I obey or not, then why should I pursue obedience or be concerned when I sin?

Most Christians who are savvy enough to ask this already know that God commands righteousness. He explicitly said, “Don’t sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1) even though more grace would seem to bring Him more glory. Yet sometimes this simple order doesn’t satisfy all the way down. We still might question if the sovereign God isn’t at least a little disingenuous.

God does desire His glory. He also desires our obedience. He also gets glory when we don’t obey. But when we don’t obey, we don’t have joy.

God told Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). God was and still is honored through Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness but this didn’t make Pharaoh feel better. God wrote Judas’ part in the gospel story (Matthew 26:24) and must be praised for it, but Judas did not get joy. God gets glory, in some way, even when we sin, but we do not get joy.

This is yet another evidence that we are not robots, that God desires more from us than a warm body to play a part. If you are holding onto sin, especially if you are trying justify it theologically, confess and repent motivated by a desire for joy. We pray like David, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:12). Everything brings God glory, but not everything brings us joy. He offers us both.

Not That Far Apart

Over the last couple days I’ve argued that the start of our cultural problems is when man rejects God as God. The Supreme Court and the cover of “Vanity Fair” are fruit from an unsubmissive root. Then I gave three things that Christians could do. And we really must do something.

If the church fails to apply the central truth of Christianity to social problems correctly, someone else will do so incorrectly. (Carl. F. H. Henry)

Of course we will be less effective if we are hypocrites. If we do not acknowledge God ourselves or adorn God’s saving doctrine, we set ourselves up as targets. Of course we will be less effective if we argue politics without tying our politics to God’s principles. There is no neutral way; everywhere is a God/god demanding service. And of course we will be less effective if we are unrighteous in how we address unrighteousness, if we are proud when we talk about grace, angry when we talk about mercy, unwilling to sacrifice when we talk about love.

I wish that I had done more in the fight before now. I don’t mostly regret a failure to teach, but more my failure to acknowledge the Trinity and the Trinitarian shape of life. I have sinned by limiting God’s interests only to the verses that talk about Christ and the cross instead of realizing how those verses require us to take our our crosses daily…in relationships and responsibilities on earth. I have not adorned doctrine; I have been angry and selfish. I need to pray more, love more, sacrifice more.

But now is a great time for growing. Doing the “normal” (right) things will shine more brightly as the darkness increases. Husbands, now is your chance! Mothers, do something! Today, on the 4th of July, “don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). I know Paul was talking about spiritual freedom not national freedom, but the two are not that far apart as it turns out.

The Supreme Court of Heaven and Earth has one Judge and He already revealed His ruling. We see the consequences of rejecting His categories and disobeying Him in the first few pages of the Bible. We also see God respond with both justice and mercy. May He have mercy on us.

Mr. and Mrs. Grumpybottoms

Yesterday I wrote that the sins in our culture are not worse than the original sin in the Garden of Eden. That said, our sins are bad and getting worse, or they at least have better marketing. What can we do? Are we supposed to do anything? Who is the “we”? The church? Individual Christians? American citizens? Pastors? Parents?

Within the first twenty-four hours after the Supreme ruining on marriage, the most common response I saw among evangelical Christians went something such as, “We don’t care about politics, we still have the gospel.” Of course, if we really didn’t care about politics, why do we need to encourage ourselves that we don’t care? Is it because we lost? If the vote had been 5-4 the other way, would we care then? Would we have praised God for the (temporary) victory…inappropriately? Were we wrong to be praying for the decision before it was made? Are we not supposed to pray for our political representatives and judges, or are we just to pray that they would get saved? Even that requires care, though, because if God did save them, wouldn’t we expect them to leave their non-gospel jobs so that they could pray more…like us?

If Genesis 1-3 is true, then it is a false dilemma to say that we can only care about the gospel or we can care about our relationships and responsibilities on earth. We are not supposed to trust politics or politicians to save us, but neither do we trust gospel presentations to save us. We trust in Christ, presented to us in the gospel. And if a group of people trusted Christ, wouldn’t they want to interact with one another in a way that honors Christ? Isn’t that fundamental to government and law, that we will be rewarded or punished according to how we love one another?

Gospel and government are not an either/or. Christians put them in opposition because they don’t understand either of them. Gospel and government are a both/and, or better, a first then second, or better yet, a first and fifth (with family and work and church spheres in between). My investment in the gospel is an investment in government (though not always immediately visible, just as my investment in breakfast for my kids is an investment in my grandkids, though it’ll take some time for that to work out), and my investment in government is only worth what I’ve gotten from the gospel. I want a man to confess that Jesus is Lord. That has consequences that include his house, and his local court house, and the White House.

It isn’t the church’s job (or authority) to run everything. A pastor shouldn’t be the President or be the boss of the President. But it is the church’s job to worship God, and worship changes people. It is the church’s job to make disciples with dual citizenship who love their responsibilities to both countries. As those disciples are going, they should see all the world under the rule of Christ. Disciples should think and vote and tweet and talk with their neighbors. If a disciple made a disciple, and both of them were being transformed as they worshiped Christ, and then one of those disciples became a Senator or a Judge or a President, then that disciple should do his work under Christ and for Christ.

So we should do something. What should we do?

We should see fit to acknowledge God.

This is the first thing that the Bible teaches us to do in Genesis 1-3. This is the first problem Paul listed about a crumbling culture in Romans 1. We don’t work backwards from the fruit to the root, in our case, pouring all our energy into appealing to reverse the Supreme Court’s hauteur. When we see that the fruit is bad we need to get down to the root.

Christians have failed to acknowledge God everywhere. Unbelievers don’t, sure. But believers certainly should. We acknowledge God for a couple hours on Sunday morning, and maybe for a few devotional minutes during the week. But we tend to acknowledge Him as Lord of the Church, not the Lord of heaven and earth. We still tend to ignore the antithesis and accept neutral spaces. For example, the most subtle yet despicable part of my public schooling was the constantly unspoken lesson: who cares if God is there? But anyone who does not see fit to acknowledge God loses his mind (is given over to a “debased mind”). This can’t help but make a mess of business, family, education, and government. Believers must continue to be transformed by the renewal of their minds.

The root of homosexuality, and the root of our cultural loss of common sense, is unbelief. Unbelief doesn’t just affect personal morals, it affects public enforcement of morals. Christians are the first ones who need to believe that believing in God affects everything.

We should adorn the doctrine of God.

Paul wrote this phrase about adorning the doctrine of God our savior in Titus 2 to slaves.

Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:9–10)

The message of the chapter up to this exhortation to slaves has been about doctrine. Starting in verse 1, Paul exhorted Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Then in verse 10 he describes a life purpose to “adorn the doctrine.” Doctrine ought to be beautified by behavior. Decorate the doctrine by your deeds. The following paragraph reasons further about what the doctrine of grace does.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14)

Grace trains us for living godly lives, grace purifies a people, grace makes us zealous for good works. In light of verses 1-10, those “good works” include older men having character, older women teaching younger women about being wives and mothers, younger men being self-controlled. It’s largely an in-house, among family work. Even slaves should slave in such a way to make the doctrine look good.

There was a time when more people in our country identified themselves as Christians. But, while many have been faithful, many others have not made the gospel look good. How many kids have grown up in “Christian” homes wanting to get away from, not be like, their parents? Instead of seeing that the problem is sin, they misdiagnose the problem to be “traditional” marriage.

If we do not want to be Mr. and Mrs. Grumpybottoms, the conservative cranks who always rain on Rainbow Parades (there is irony there, right? And you saw the picture of the White House lit up with the colors of the rainbow, not even realizing how the symbol they’ve chosen commemorates the fact that God promised not to flood the earth for such debauchery), then we must have something in addition to showing sinners that sinfulness is wrong. We must tell and show them how obedience to God is better. We are not saying No for No’s sake. We are saying No for Yes’s sake, but God gets to decide what is No for sake of Yes, something He started to do in the Garden. We ought to be able to give an account for our criticism beyond the fact that we are good at being critical Christians. Unless we give an account of God’s world from our joy in it, we are just condemning others for not following our course of unhappiness.

One of the observations about the dark lunacy of homosexual “marriage” is that it cannot reproduce itself. That’s obvious. Homosexual partners still want to be considered a family, and even do “family” things such as raise children. Where are those children going to come from? Heterosexual spouses, and some Christian spouses included, have made it so that it will be a long time before demand surpasses the supply of available kids. There will be plenty to adopt because we won’t live and love righteously as man and woman. Men have taken dominion to fight the physical pains of labor but not the spiritual judgment that keeps parents from caring about, or being able to care for, offspring. Homosexuals don’t care about where kids will come from because they know that we don’t care.

Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cynics. You are campaigning for the laws of the next generation, and you are more effective, one way or another, than any marketing guru could dream.

We should announce the good news of forgiveness and freedom in Jesus Christ.

Were it not for grace, we would have more obvious sins than we do, whatever they might be. Grace opened our eyes to see sin, to seek forgiveness, to believe in Jesus as Savior, and to learn obedience to Him. All of it is by grace. None of it is deserved.

Grace is how we got all the good we have. Grace is the answer for everyone. Grace does not deny the need for grace; it calls sin, sin. It delivers from wrath, and it also straightens the perverse, brings dignity out of dishonor, restores what was being destroyed. Grace offers covering for guilt. And grace gives meaning to life, grace makes us free under God. Peter reminds us,

you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18–19)

We who know Genesis 1-3 know the nature of man. We know better than men why they act self-destructively. We also know that every man will give an account to his Creator, and that his Creator offers salvation through the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross. The good news of Jesus Christ is that all who repent and believe, who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. This must be our message to men blinded and enslaved by sin.

Our Cultural Garden

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled last Friday that no State has the right to make it illegal for a man to “marry” a man and for a woman to “marry” a woman. This is on the heels of national news and controversy over a man changing himself into a woman (adding some female parts to his male parts). Some women are mad that this defines womanhood according to bodily features, and pink nail polish. There is also outrage over the Confederate flag presumed to represent motives behind the murder of nine people in Charleston even though no outrage is directed over the US flag which flies over thousands of murders day by day, all claimed it in the name of “liberty.” And, of course, our celebration of Independence Day is a couple days away. Do we, as those who worship the LORD God, Creator of heaven and earth, have a way to explain what we see? Do we have any message in the midst of this?

I took a (sort of) break from Genesis last Sunday to preach about these questions. In fact, I think the ancient chapters of the Bible reveal decisive answers for now.

Let’s start with an argument from greater to lesser. If man entertains the idea that he could be God, then it is less difficult for him to entertain the idea that he could be not a man. He could fancy himself to be a woman. He could figure he could do with another man what he could do with a woman. The step from heterosexuality to homosexuality is shorter than the step from humanity into divinity. Jumping between genders is easier than jumping into deity.

If a pot toys with trying to be the Potter, it is less surprising if a pot toys with trying to be a plate rather than a pot. A man who believes he could be God could believe he could be, or do, anything.

The greater sin is exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden. The woman believed the serpent when he told her that if she ate of the fruit, her eyes would be opened and she would be like God (Genesis 3:5). She would be free from His throttle and restraints. Whatever it was exactly that motivated the man to eat, when he did, he claimed by his conduct that he knew better than God. He put himself in the position of judging God. He was all the god he needed.

Where does that end? Once a man decides that he doesn’t need to listen to God, why should he listen to “nature,” or science, or history, or court rulings, or neighbors? He trumps God; who can trump him?

Abortion and same-sex mirage (as Doug Wilson can’t help but continue to call it) under government license, or ESPN giving Bruce Jenner a “courage” award, each of these sins are found in seed form in Adam’s rebellion. The sins in our cultural garden are not worse than the sin in the first garden. All sins stem from denying the Creator’s authority.

Romans reveals this same chain of sin. A man who rejects God the Creator, who will not honor Him or give Him thanks, exchanges the glory of God for that of man. “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28). Men worship and serve the creature, including themselves, and

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)

This is part of the reason why our attention to Genesis changes culture, even if that is only visible in the little cultures/communities of our life together. Genesis 2:24 is a great definition of marriage, but we first need a great understanding of God, the One who gives life and makes marriage. Seeing Him as the creative Giver of all our good, and seeing the serpent as a subtle deceiver, changes how we listen to our options.

Living together, fornication, easy (no-fault) divorce, adultery, are all forms of covenant breaking that disregard God’s word. Though there have always been some abnormally immoral, we are now in a time when that sort of immorality is claimed to be normal. In one sense we’ve worked up to the extreme cases, in another sense we still haven’t done anything as stupid as try to be God.

The original sin went contrary to nature. What should have been more obvious than that man was not God? Man’s defiance was perverse (deviating from what was right and good), dishonorable (shameful, not exalting), and destructive. So it is with every sin, and some are more obvious. Men and women act contrary to nature–as defined by nature’s Maker–and this is the inevitable consequence when men do not see fit to acknowledge God.

When Obergefell Falls

Part stone slung at Goliath, part song sung at Grendel’s mom, read the whole charge from Toby Sumpter that starts with this:

We are being taunted. The giant’s name is Obergefell; he is a six-fingered descendent of the Anakim. He has come out onto the battlefield arrayed in his impressive armor. He wears the media elites like a helmet of brass, and on his chest, he wears the deep pockets of multibillion dollar corporate CEOs. On his legs and shoulders he is clad with the brass of the apathetic masses. He is the hero of the Philistines, the champion of the so-called progressives. He beats his chest and defies the Christian Church, and the Philistine armies cheer and wave their flags and mock the God of Noah, the God of Israel, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He Has Us Covered

Even if you’ve heard it before, sometimes it’s good to cover the same ground again. When Jesus died on the cross He covered our sins.

Cover is an interesting concept. To cover the bill is not to put your salad plate on top of it, but to pay the full amount. To cover a mistake, at least in a good way and not a cover-up, is to do what it takes to fix the problem.

Cover is a way to speak about atonement as well. David sang so.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:1)

The Lord covers our guilt, restores us to fellowship with Him, and overcomes many of the consequences of our sin. When Adam and Eve knew that they were naked, the LORD covered them better than they covered themselves. When we knew that we were naked in our filth, the Lord covered us with the righteousness of His own Son.

Even more than that,

For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:4–5)

He will cover our mortality with eternal life. The clothing is the life of Jesus Christ. It is mercy to us even as the bread and the cup reminds us of the judgment. So the Lord’s Supper is a sober celebration that He has us covered.

Running Out of Generations

Christians don’t listen to Immanuel Kant much, or get our worldview of marching orders from him. But his take on Genesis 3 may represent a typical, if unspoken, view of the many about man.

[Genesis 3 reveals the] transition from an uncultured, merely animal condition to the state of humanity, from bondage to instinct to rational control—-in a word, from the tutelage of nature to the state of freedom. (quoted in “Conjectural Beginning of Human History,” in Kant on History, 60)

Kant believed that Adam and Eve’s choice in the Eden truly liberated them. They did not remain bound by outside restraints like animals but rather exalted humanity into a better position. Now man is free. Now we have meaning. Now we can celebrate.

What comes to mind immediately is that Kant can’t read. Shame, pain, sweat, fight, banishment, and death come as consequences of the fall. With freedom like that, who wants it?

But this is our constant sin, deciding that we will be rid of God’s yoke. God does allow us to trade, though. We can exchange His yoke of obedience for His judgment on disobedience. According to His Son, the yoke is easy and burden is light. How true that is compared to the burden of sin, let alone the weight of judgement.

Our nation is playing a big game of make-believe, pretending that we can make the game however we want. But throwing off the definition of marriage or manhood or murder will destroy us just as throwing off the definition of breathing. We are running out of truth, sense, virtue, money, and generations. But we are not running out of hope if we repent. May God help us to read the story better.

His Shots Will Backfire

We understand now that the ultimate fulfillment of God’s curse on the serpent, namely, that the seed of the woman would crush his head (Genesis 3:15), is Jesus. It is similar to Paul’s explanation of how Jesus is the one seed fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, “promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one. And to ‘your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16). There is no doubt that Jesus took all the devil’s teeth.

But that’s not all. Near the end of his letter to the Romans Paul wrote:

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Romans 16:20)

Passing over the deliberate word play between divine peace doing divine crushing, look who is the divine instrument of the crushing: “your feet,” that is, the believers reading the epistle. If Jesus were the crusher in this passage, Paul would have started the benediction earlier. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under Jesus’ feet through whom you have grace.” Instead, the collective church is the offspring of the woman who crush the serpent’s head.

How do we do that? By the grace of Jesus with us. That’s got to be part of the reason why the benediction of grace follows the promise of victory. His grace enables us to escape the snare of the devil (2 Timothy 2:26), to resist him (1 Peter 5:9; James 4:7), and to fight and defeat him. The saints crush the serpent in Christ.

We are not a defeated people. This does not mean that we are out of the the enemy’s cross-hairs, it does mean that his shots will backfire. We may be worn out, beat up, or even killed in the battle, but we cannot lose.

Paternity Tests

Confession of sin is an issue of fatherhood. I don’t mean that father’s are the most important confessors, though dads can’t help but make a mess of things at home if they don’t. Instead, I mean that confession of sin is an issue that reveals spiritual fatherhood. How we react to sin makes it evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil.

The apostle John wrote,

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:8–9)

There are a few things that stand out here. First, there are two types of people: children of God and children of the devil (also known as seed of the woman and seed of the serpent, Genesis 3:15). Second, paternity precipitates manners. Every child has the nature of his father and acts accordingly. The fruit doesn’t fall too far from the father. Third, it is possible to identify which family a man belongs in by resemblance, at least over time. Ongoing conduct is a sure test. You will know them by their fruit.

As Christians, the children of God, we should remember whose family we belong to, pursue the holiness of our calling, and keep on confessing and making it right with our heavenly Father. If we find ourselves putting on the uniform of the devil, let us put it off and put on Christ who appeared to defeat the works of sin.