Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What Our Political Views Reveal About Our Love of God and Biblical Conviction

In our world today, especially in the United States of America, we are a part of a democratic system that allows an incredible amount of freedom compared to most other countries. Indeed, this desire for freedom filled the sails of the first pilgrims and settlers as they traveled here and tried to carve out a living in a completely raw land.

For some pilgrims they only wanted freedom to build their own houses wherever they wanted. For many others, they sought religious freedom from persecution back home. No matter the case, the people wanted freedom from oppression.

Only a handful of centuries and 44 Presidents later, we are growing up in a culture that has only ever known this freedom and has become groomed to think in such a context all of the time. The way in which we cast ballots and vote for whomever we want to fill a political office reveals that the people determine what goes on in this country. The people can essentially vote themselves freedoms and restrictions. They vote themselves money and taxes. They vote themselves leaders that think like them or that will do what they want. They vote in a way that is informed by their own views on morality and what is “right” to them.

This is the rule of American life. The United States of America is deemed sovereign. The Constitution is deemed as authoritative. The citizens of America are deemed a free people and each century has revealed the growing yearning for more and more freedoms. With this demand for certain freedoms comes arguments from all sides on which freedoms are necessary and what Constitutional amendments should still apply to modern times.

God, Who’s throne is the heavens with the Earth as His footstool, has given us governmental institutions to protect us from enemies outside and keep us in control from within. Romans 13 makes very clear that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (13:1).

Whether a particular government is godly or not does not matter. We are still under their authority and expected to be subject to them, no matter the freedoms they allow or disallow us, so long as we are not commanded to sin. If the government took our guns away, we can be upset about it, but in our anger we should not sin and retaliate, though a controllable appeals process would be completely acceptable. If we really understood and rested in the sovereignty of God, then gun control would be the least of our worries.

Some of the godliest people we read about in our historical accounts lived under the most oppressive governmental situations—regimes of anti-Christian sentiment. Just think back to the medieval ages and into the Reformation period when persecution started coming from the government and even the very church that purported to represent God. John Huss, Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, John Calvin—to name a few—were not exactly free men like we would consider ourselves today in America. Their dedication to sola Scriptura (“scripture alone”) got many of them killed.

Let’s go back further. Think about Joseph and Daniel in the Bible. They served at the highest levels of government, neither of which honored God, yet they maintained their faithfulness to God in belief and in practice even when it threatened their lives. They had no ability to weigh in on a moral code that would help restrain their nation’s vice. They were not given authority to write laws that would come more into line with the law of God.

If Daniel or Joseph were given an opportunity to vote for their civilization’s establishment of moral law—like we can today—how do you think they would make their decisions? Would they vote for laws that allowed gay marriage, or obliterated the lines between men and women in their unique roles? Would they call that a civil right? Would they vote for the freedom of killing children in the womb? Would they call that an issue of a woman’s health and thus her own prerogative and right? Would they vote for no-fault divorce? Would they vote for leaders who campaigned on legalizing these rights?

Put another way, would Daniel or Joseph allow “freedom” to dethrone God and His law?

To our deep shame, many professing Christians today do just that. In the name of freedom we have separated our conviction of Scripture from the checkbox on the ballot. In the secrecy of the local school gymnasium’s voting booth, we are abandoning God’s clear commandments and working against His call for us to be holy and to go out and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ that will save people from the penalty of the very sins we are voting to make legal.

As Christians, we can’t have it both ways.

The freedom we have in America is an amazing gift in itself! Why would we then take that gift and use it to rebel against God? We have political parties in this country that campaign on legalizing the very things that Scripture has condemned since the beginning of time and we are arrogant about it.

The Democratic Party today prides itself on tolerance of just about everything. Abortion is approved. Homosexuality and gay marriage is applauded. Light drug use is acceptable. These are at both the federal and state levels. Every professing Christian that votes for someone with these beliefs and for someone who has the intention of applying these beliefs to governmental rule is participating in a proactive assault against God and His Word. They are declaring that they are at odds with God and, by way of legislation, showing themselves to be an enemy of God.

In Romans 1, Paul talks about how people rebel against God and suppress the truth by their unrighteousness and—although God is known to them—they exchange the glory of Him for idols. For these reasons we are told that “God gave them up” over and over.

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves…” (1:24).

“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” (1:26-27).

“God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (1:28-31).

What we see here is a condemnation of all kinds of specific sin, yet it is also generalized in the final list to cover nearly all sin in itself, i.e. “haters of God”. Hating God necessarily means you do not love God and we know that Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Even the phrase “inventors of sin” implies that you don’t need to have the Bible list every specific sin in order to know it is sin. The fruit of the Spirit of God makes abundantly clear what is good and acceptable, the final characteristic (fruit) in that list being self-control.

The clinching verse of the day follows our Romans passage. This is so important for us to come to grips with and pastors need to do a better job of speaking to the implications of how we vote as voting for people who promote unrighteousness is a sin of culpability:

“Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (1:32).

Here, Scripture shows us that the sinner is not only the one fleshing out the sins as outlined above, but it is also the person approving the practice of it. This verse literally reveals the fact that few Christians run in liberal circles at the governmental level as the policy of their liberality is grounded in their being liberated from any outside source placing a restraint on their lifestyle.

Again, think again about Joseph and Daniel. Too far removed to be relevant? If someone were to think that, it would sadly prove the extent to which the Bible is authoritative for their life, which reveals the real problem.

It is important to remember that to God, “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet 3:8). This means that Daniel and Joseph would have had the chance to vote just 3 or four days ago! Do you really think that time has softened God’s wrath on unrighteousness? Has His holiness slipped? Has His hatred of sin waned? Friends, no.

Christians are people who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and now walk according to the Spirit by the grace of God.

Listen: The Spirit of God would not contradict Himself and His eternal decrees by actually moving someone to vote in favor of legalizing sexual immorality, infanticide, and a loss of self-control in drug use—the very things that the Spirit of God has written against in Holy Writ.

Unfortunately, no one particular political party is exempt from this rebellious nature. Even the Republican party is starting to slip into the same moral dilemma. In fact, some are already there. There is going to come a time when the best vote will be a fill-in-the-blank because you cannot in good conscience use your wonderful right to vote for approvers of iniquity.

Why vote at all? Perhaps there are times when we don’t vote, but the main question is whether or not we are honoring God in the voter’s box, or hating God. We must be thinking bigger than us. We must be humbled and recognize who God is and what He has said and that we are obligated—rather, we are eager—to do what glorifies Him!

At this point in our country there is virtually no objective standard that is recognized as a moral code, which has allowed room for people to campaign on platforms like the Libertarian party. Again, the term liberty is being used because it has become a term signifying a liberation from moral restrictions. The only way to think about this kind of freedom is to completely ignore God.

The Libertarian agenda would decrease or completely eradicate laws against prostitution, sodomy, gambling, drug use, etc. They don’t consider these crimes. Why? They do not involve hurting other people or their property. They are consensual acts. This is right off of the Libertarian Party website.

What many politicians end up doing is redefining what sin is. They are the target of Isaiah’s warning:

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (5:20).

Our country believes that we are mainly good people who are and should be free to do what we want because that is where the true principle of freedom lays. Moral boundaries have become intrusive and offensive in a culture that rejects God and His authoritative Word.

There is, in reality, only one freedom we have as sinners—before we are redeemed by God’s grace—and it is found in our being free of righteousness all while we are enslaved to sin (Rom 6:20). This is the reality of the state of fallen man. When sinners create laws to allow the freedom to sin, they are really reveling in their slavery to it.

The Apostle Paul wrote to those Roman Christians who gave up their sin and turned to Christ:

“What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:21-23).

Where is actual freedom? It is in the redemptive work of Christ Jesus. Will Christians ever vote America into a perfectly moral state? No chance. However, we must not aid in its decline. Even if we were to establish all of God’s laws in an effort to make a “moral” country . . . that does not actually make anyone a Christian, so our original concern of sharing the Gospel of Christ remains the same.

Again I ask: Where is actual freedom? The Christian should know this more than anyone else. We should not approve and vote for sin to be legal. Voting for the freedom to sin is antithetical to the holiness of God. We will be held accountable for the people we vote into power.

Where is actual freedom? It is only found where there is no sin. That is true freedom.

“When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:16), (emphasis mine).

The Democratic, Republican, or Libertarian party may have the best plan for the middle class, or for tax reform, or for crime, but if they can’t get the definition of life, marriage, familial matters and sexuality right, then why would we lend our support to them when it offends God? Let’s be honest, if they can’t get those basic fundamental definitions right, do you really think they will be able to handle the vast complexities of financial reform anyway? Not a chance.

Don’t selfishly prioritize the middle class and financial reform over the preservation of children and familial constructs. Don’t dethrone God for the sake of our self-perceived notion of freedom. Let us vote and act like people who are indwelled with the Holy Spirit of God, the testimony of the Word, and with full conviction (1 Thess 1:5).

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).

In His Sovereign Grip,


Monday, June 16, 2014

When Christians Take God's Name in Vain

I have sensed an interesting trend. It seemed good at first, but now I am left with a sense of grief. Have you ever wondered why it is that Jesus’ name is somehow becoming “easier” to say and use? I mean, really easy. Too easy. Casual, even! Here is what I mean…the context in which people speak of our Lord Jesus Christ seems too often to drop the Lord and the Christ while throwing his first name around for every silly fancy that comes to mind. As a family member recently put it, too many people treat our Lord as if He is just the guy next door that we can talk to however we like. Reverence and awe seem to be a scarce disposition among the saints nowadays.

The name of our Lord Jesus Christ is sacred. Jesus is, after all, God Himself in the flesh. How, and in what context, we utter it ought to be done with the highest regard for Him and His glory. The truth of the matter is…the way we use the Name(s) of God is a direct representation of how high or low we actually view God.

The context in which people speak of our Lord Jesus Christ seems too often to drop the ‘Lord’ and the ‘Christ’.

When you say His Name, does it reveal your reverence and awe of Him? Respect? Adoration? Love? Fear? The highest regard? The recognition of your depravity which has been regenerated to a new creation by grace and mercy, which you should have never received? Does it?

Or, when we say His Name, is it in jest? Casual? Light-hearted? Silly? Irreverent? Meaningless? Worthless? In vain? With no regard to His sovereignty? No regard to His worthiness? Is it?

Dear Christian, this is serious. The way that we speak of God reveals what we really think of God.

Some of the most painful things for me to hear in this world are not necessarily the vulgar words from the mouths of unbelievers, but the way that the Name of our holy and almighty God is misused. The worst case scenario, though, is when someone who is a professing believer in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior – uses His name in vain.

A.W. Tozer once said something to the effect that anyone who uses God’s name in vain is revealing their lack of the fear of God. You do not fear God if you misuse His Name. Plain and simple.

The most recent article I wrote was on the subject of the words in our worship music and how vital it is that they are theologically sound and God-exalting. Words are important. It is by the very Word of God that we live (Matt. 4:4). It is with words that we understand meaning and ultimately, understand truth.

The Apostle Paul said, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? […] So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14-15,17).

God has purposed words to convey meaning.

Additionally, we will actually give an account for every single careless word that we speak (Matt. 12:36). If we cannot bridle our tongue, then our religion is deemed worthless (Js. 1:26). It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks, whether good or evil (Lk. 6:45)!

If our day to day words are so important to God and so necessary for communicating meaning, worth, value, or understanding, then why do we ever utter the Name of our Almighty God with anything but careful fear?

The word “fear” is a word with joint meanings, essentially: reverence & awe. It comes from the Greek word phobos.

The command to “fear God” is found all throughout Scripture.

King Solomon said that the whole duty of man is to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecc. 12:13).

The Apostle Peter: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God” (1 Pet. 2:17a).

The angel in Revelation 14:7 said, “Fear God and give Him glory.”

It is this disposition that marks the true believer. It is this disposition of reverence and awe that will naturally manifest itself in our words, especially in the way that we speak His holy Name.

When the earthquake took place right after Christ yielded up His spirit on the cross and died, Matthew 27:54, in the ESV, says that the centurion was filled with awe (phobos). The NAS says that he was filled with fear (phobos)!

When we are told to fear God, we are told to stand in awe of Him. When we utter His Name, how do we sound doing it? What is the intent of our comment? Are we making a passing comedic comment to someone, or are we elevating one’s gaze to Him in awe? Are we dropping His Name in our anger, or are we praising His Name in reverence?

The kicker is this: Many people don’t understand the extent to which taking God’s name in vain can go. Put another way, there are countless ways that we can use His Name in vain, without ever prefacing it with “Oh my”.

For one thing, when rightly and reverently stated, one can say, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for my iniquity has risen higher than my head, and my guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (Ez. 9:6).

Or consider David: “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:8). Or, “O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me” (Ps. 25:2).

In every instance the writers are crying out to God. They are actually talking to Him. They are not talking to someone else; they are not joking about something; they are not mad at something. They are praying directly to God, so they are addressing God directly.

The definition of “vain” is this: without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless; ineffectual or unsuccessful.

Now let’s have the heart-breaking moment of recalling anytime we said God’s name that wasn’t expressing real value, worth, reverence, or importance.

Friends, I think many more of us are guilty of this than we think. We should never say His Name unless we have an intent to talk to Him in prayer; teach about Him; or speak reverently of Him in general. Otherwise, don’t waste His Name in worthless, unimportant talk. Don’t speak His name in vain.

God has spoken very clearly on this issue. If He has something to say about His own name, then we need to take it to heart:

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7).

Deuteronomy 5:11 reiterates the same thing.

Think about how else the term “in vain” is used in Scripture. It always means unsuccessful, pointless, worthless:

“A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding” (Prov. 14:6).

In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9).

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Ps. 127:1).

Now let’s use this last verse as a spring-board to understanding something better: On the flip side, nothing that God does is in vain. Since He is all-powerful and sovereign and ordains blessing and calamity, He guarantees the outcome of what He decrees all by Himself. He never says anything in vain because everything He says is of immense value, importance, significance and worth. Everything that He says is going to happen…will indeed happen! It will be effectual and successful.

I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them” (Ez. 6:10).

“[God’s] grace toward [Paul] was not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:10).

We must seek to be more like our God who has called us to worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23) and in reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28). Only God’s enemies take His Name in vain (Ps. 139:20). May we not align ourselves with them!

Here’s an interesting fact about the saints of God. By definition, we are a reverent people. The Greek word for “saint” is hagios, but it is almost always translated as holy, although it is also used to describe the people of God. No wonder as we are called by God to be what…? Holy as He is (1 Pet. 1:15).

The word hagios is similar to the Greek word hagnos, which means: exciting reverence; pure. When we read the letters from the apostles we see the word hagios used for the saints as well as the Holy (hagios) Spirit to indicate that we are indwelled by Him and made holy by Him. The saints are the holy priesthood, the holy nation chosen by God (1 Pet. 2:5,9). They are the holy people who revere God in word and deed!

Do we act like it? If the Holy Spirit has truly regenerated us, then we will.

The reality is this: the way we use God’s name reveals a very deep truth about us. It reveals if we are people of conviction and maturity, or scant beliefs and immaturity. It could be the difference between being a true Christian or not.

A person who continually meditates on God’s Word day and night; who knows that it is by His Word that they live; and that the only way to really know God and His heart is through His revelation; then they will not be prone to speak of God casually, or indifferently. They will be very careful not to take His Name in vain. This person will speak with tenderness in their voice and with a humble disposition because they know who it is they are speaking about and they know that the holy God of Heaven demands reverence in our utterance at all times.

A person who doesn’t take the Bible serious enough to study it deeply, let alone read semi-regularly, will be much more prone to taking God’s name in vain because they have much less information to go off of when speaking of God. If you speak about God in an inaccurate way, you are taking His Name in vain. If you speak about God in a deceptive way, then you are taking His Name in vain.

When churches across the globe promise health, wealth, prosperity, power, healings, visions, new revelation, salvation by works, etc…they are all taking God’s Name in vain (Matt. 15:9). They are using His Name in a false, unworthy and irreverent manner. They are using His Name in a way that is ineffectual and powerless.

In many churches today, I fear that the man Jesus is only respected as the Son of Man and that’s it. The way that many Christians speak of our Lord Jesus Christ is in a way that a Mormon or Muslim would be comfortable…a good guy who can show us practical ways to live a good life!

I fear that we are insufficiently addressing our Lord and Savior when we don’t address Him as our Lord and Savior and as God Himself. We must be much more careful in how we teach about God and how we talk about Him in our day to day conversations. If the unbelieving world doesn’t notice a sense of reverence and seriousness in us when talking about God, then what message is that sending?

“From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised” (Psalm 113:3)!

Let us not be casual or indifferent about the living God. Let us not be arrogant or presumptuous in how we speak of the one, true, holy God. Let us not ever say His Name unless it is in praise, in teaching, or in pointing people to Scripture, or to know Him better. Don’t forget, we’re talking about the holiness of God in all of His manifestations – Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Don’t misuse any of His Names.

If we ever say God’s name in a way that is not meant for praise or reverence or exaltation, then we are taking His Name in vain and we must confess this sin and repent of it (turn away from it) and cease doing it.

Soli Deo Gloria!