Monthly Archives: August 2014

Striving vs. Resting

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This Sunday at City Bible Church, we looked at the question, Am I good enough to get to heaven?  Quite simply, No.  This PBC lecture on Ephesians takes a look at what it means to trust in Christ’s completed work rather than trying to be good enough by our own effort.  Are you still striving to please God? Or are you resting in Jesus who has pleased the Father on your behalf?

Resting in Christ (Ephesians 2) from Portland Bible on Vimeo.

Why is the Bible so uptight about sex?

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The following is an article by PBC alum John Adams. After completing his time at PBC, John studied further at Asbury Theological Seminary. Now he teaches God’s word at Institut Biblique l’Alliance de Grâce in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti.

Until quite recently in human history, sex was risky business. The possibility of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease put unlimited sexual license out of the realm of possibility for all but the wealthy. Advances in contraception and “safe sex” and the legalization of abortion on demand have given modern Westerners a sense of invulnerability, and even entitlement, with regard to sex. Sexuality has been placed at the center of one’s personhood; thus, repression of one’s sexual desires is seen as unhealthy or even dangerous, tantamount to renouncing one’s humanity. What does the Bible have to say about human sexuality? Does it have a clear word regarding sexuality that is relevant for the 21st century? I believe that it does. Here are three Biblical teachings that engage the current cultural mindset.

1. Sex is God’s good gift.

It might surprise many people today to learn that the very first thing the Bible says about sex is that it is good, or that the very first command God gives in the Bible concerning sex is to have it. In Genesis 1:28, God blesses the man and woman he has just created and commands them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” In verse 31, looking back on all that he has made, which of course includes sex, God pronounces it “very good.” This theme of the goodness of sex continues in the second chapter of Genesis when God, seeing the man’s loneliness, fashions a woman from his side while he sleeps.

When Adam awakes, it is poetry at first sight. This new creature is “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” he declares. From this point forward, the narrator adds, this natural attraction will lead to commitment, commitment that forges the two into one – “a man will leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (2:24). The chapter ends with the poignant observation that the man and his wife “were both naked and were not ashamed.”

While the Fall corrupted every corner of God’s good creation, including human sexuality (the remainder of Genesis narrates such sexual brokenness as polygamy, incest, and rape), the essential goodness of God’s original gift remains unchanged. The Song of Songs, a poem written to celebrate the joys of erotic, married love in such steamy language that it has attracted censorship or allegorical interpretation at various points in church history, makes this point effectively. While human beings at points have considered sex an embarrassment, God does not. The consistent message of Scripture is that sex, bounded by marriage and God’s good design, is God’s blessing and brings no shame with it.

2. Sex is not the key to a happy life.

The vehemence behind the objections in our culture to the Biblical sexual ethic often proceeds from the unquestioned assumption that sex is essential to a happy life. Sex is often conceptualized as a drive that will inevitably be fulfilled, or even as a physical necessity like food or water. The Bible’s vision of “the good life” and of sex is radically different. Jesus taught that a truly happy life is one oriented to seeking first “the kingdom of God” – the restoration of creation to a state of justice, peace, and joy in which God rules over all and in all. Jesus (who himself never married) clearly taught that in the lives of some people, that pursuit of God’s Kingdom would be best served by the lifelong grace of consecrated chastity (Matt. 19:11-12). The Apostle Paul, who apparently received this gift (1 Cor. 7:7), preferred it to marriage since it brought the potential benefit of “undivided devotion to the Lord” (7:35) though he admitted that each has his own calling from God. While celibacy is not God’s will for everyone, that it is God’s will for anyone indicates that our culture has placed a burden of fulfillment upon erotic love that it simply cannot bear. The high divorce rate in our society (above 40%) and the link between promiscuity and unhappiness would seem to corroborate this idea. Ancient people (including, to a great extent, the church of the first millennium), who in C.S. Lewis’ words often considered friendship “the happiest and most fully human of loves” have much to teach us on this point. Sex is indeed God’s good gift, but it is not essential to a happy life.

3. What you do with your body shapes your soul.

The Bible sees one’s attitudes toward sex and the things of God as inevitably interwoven. In his book The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life, Dennis Hollinger writes, “The link between idolatry and sexual immorality is established [in the Old Testament] by the frequent use of ‘prostituting themselves’ or ‘adultery’ to describe Hebrew idolatry. Israel’s unfaithfulness to God was not only a form of spiritual prostitution or adultery, but it also led to the physical acts themselves.” The Apostle Paul builds upon this idea in Romans 1:18-32, writing that when people exchange the glory of God for idols, God gives them up “in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.” As people worship the works of their hands (essentially worshiping themselves), God gives them up to “dishonorable passions” that corrupt their nature. By refusing to worship God, human beings created in God’s image become unrecognizably disfigured. They cease to resemble God altogether. The purpose of the Bible’s high sexual standards, then, is to prevent us from losing what makes us truly human – the capacity to reflect the image of a holy God. “For you shall be holy, as I am holy” (Lev. 19:2).

The Song of Songs, at once a poem about a pair of newlyweds and a parable of God’s relationship to Israel, fleshes out what such holiness actually looks like. In a soulful passage near the end, the lovers plead,

“Set me as a seal upon your heart as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised” (Song of Songs 8:6-7).

There is no use in trying to parse out the literal from the spiritual here. The newlyweds will be faithful to one another if they burn with “the very flame of the Lord,” the flame with which the Lord Himself burns for Israel, with whom he has made covenant. Anything less than this zealous love – hookups, one-night stands, adultery, “throuples” – falls short of being holy, as he is holy.

In light of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the giving of the Holy Spirit, our sex lives and our spiritual lives are more connected than ever. The Apostle Paul writes that the gift of the Spirit has made Christians’ physical bodies “members of Christ” and a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:12-20). Just as the Temple was sacred space in the Old Testament, so now the Christian’s body is sacred space, a place reserved for the Lord’s dwelling. Since the Christian is now “one spirit with the Lord,” we take the Lord with us wherever we go. It cost Jesus the life in his body to redeem our bodies, so from now on “you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).

In summary, the Bible challenges our culture on sex at almost every point. While it affirms the goodness of sex within heterosexual, monogamous marriage, it also denies that sex is the center of who we are – God calls some to celibacy, including the truest human being who ever lived (Jesus). While difficult, the Biblical boundaries of faithfulness within marriage and celibacy outside of it function as spiritual disciplines, helping shape us into truly human beings who reflect the image of a God who is holy love.

Don’t People from All Religions Experience God?

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Here is an excerpt from When God Goes to Starbucks by Paul Copan (pp 74-75). It can be purchased through Baker Books. This is a summary of his chapter entitled, “Don’t People from All Religions Experience God?” People can have genuine spiritual experiences and they can encounter God without being saved through faith in Christ. These encounters can never replace the need for Jesus but are intended to move us toward him.

  • People can experience God, even if not savingly (e.g., having a profound sense of God’s presence, holiness, transcendence). This phenomenon can contribute to a broader case for God’s existence.
  • Many people across religious lines have claimed to have mystical or numinous encounters with God; people have experienced God’s nearness or transcendence. They can feel dread, awe, impurity, fascination. Religious experience can point us beyond – to a transcendent God.
  • The Christian has come to know God through Christ; by God’s Spirit the Christian is made aware of God’s loving presence and fatherly acceptance (Rom. 5:5; 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Such genuinely saving experiences are life transforming and self-authenticating – not officially requiring evidence or argument (1 John 2:20, 27).
  • Thoughtful Christians, though, must recognize the need to offer public reasons for belief to the questioning outsider. An argument from religious experience is only part of the broader explanatory case for our examinable faith.
  • If something seems quite apparent to me, then I should take it seriously rather than dismiss it, unless there are very good reasons for doing so (the principle of credulity).
  • People may misinterpret a religious experience, but this doesn’t necessarily cancel out a legitimate aspect of that experience – or that the Christian’s saving experience isn’t genuine. (Remember the example of color-blindness.)
  • People may and do “overreport” their religious experiences, but again, this need not negate their experience in its totality. The mystic (e.g. Meister Eckhart) may go too far in talking about absolute union with God. (Here God’s nearness may be overemphasized.) Or she may “filter out” an aspect of God, such as God’s infinity or power.
  • Overreporting doesn’t imply or favor a secularist viewpoint – and both immanence and transcendence characterize the God of Scripture.
  • Yes, delusional people may make religious-experience claims that are simply false. However, if the whole earth is full of God’s glory, we shouldn’t be surprised by people’s encounters with God, however veiled.
  • Genuine religious experiences (a) won’t serve as the basis for an immoral lifestyle, (b) will be on the whole beneficial to the person, (c) will encourage love and self-sacrifice toward others, (d) won’t be self-refuting (e.g., the Buddhist non-self doctrine), (e) will, if the Christian faith is true, match up with Scripture.
  • Calvin’s point about the sensus divinitatis (the sense of the divine) suggests that an encounter with God is properly basic. Proper basicality doesn’t imply infallibility. Such a basic belief is warranted if (a) conditions or circumstances are right, (b) my faculties – rational, emotional, spiritual – are properly functioning in the way they‘ve been designed, and (c) these beliefs are successfully directed toward the truth.
  • Religious experience isn’t reducible to brain activity. Rather, heightened brain activity during a religious experience isn’t surprising if we’ve been made for the capacity to connect with a transcendent God. Evidence suggests that we are intuitive theists. Furthermore, apart from such activity, there are independent reasons (through general and special revelation) to believe in a personal God.
  • Atheism, it appears, takes more effort to sustain since the evidence suggests we are naturally wired to connect with the divine.
  • In the midst of various religious claimants, Jesus of Nazareth offers us guidance in this matter (John 6:68: “Lord, to whom shall we go?”).

 

All Religions Lead to God

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Mario warp zone

“If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic – there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.”

– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, “Rival Conceptions of God”

Lewis is correct. Most religions, in some way, attempt to contemplate the divine; and some of them get closer than others. In this sense we can say that all religions lead to God. Yet, as Pastor Marc pointed out on Sunday, only Jesus leads us through to God in a way that brings us into right-standing with him so that we can fellowship with him (John 14:6).

Paul confirms this line of reasoning in the first chapter of Romans, where he describes the dismal state of humanity without the gospel:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:18-23, NIV).

By observing God’s world, we can not only determine he exists, we can also discover what kind of God he is. That is, through philosophical reasoning we can observe God. But this will not take care of our sin. We can only pretend to be godly, engaging in some sort of religion as a way of ignoring the reality that our sin is separating us from God and that no amount of philosophizing or religious do-goodery can change that. This is why Paul prefaces the above statement by proclaiming, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes … For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last…” (Romans 1:16-17, NIV).

In some way, all religions and philosophies lead to God. But only Christ leads us to right-standing with God and a relationship with him. He has done this by taking our sin and punishment upon himself as he hung on the cross, then rising from the dead in order to offer everlasting life to all those who trust in him completely.

Here are a few videos in which C. S. Lewis compares Christianity to other religions. We featured the first video in a previous post. In it Lewis compares the morality of world religions. The second video is good, but a little brainy. Enjoy.