Filled with Wickedness

November 3, 2019 in Bible - NT - Romans, Depravity, Human Condition, Judgment, Justice, King Jesus, Meditations, Politics, Providence, Responsibility, Sexuality, Trials

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that God is just. When peoples spurn Him, He eventually hands them over to utter debasement and societal instability. Their debased minds bear increasingly bitter fruit. Paul lists no fewer than twenty three fruits of a debased mind. Today we consider the third of these: wickedness. Paul writes that unbelieving societies are “filled with… wickedness.”

The Greek word behind the English “wickedness” is pon-e-ria which is also translated as evil, depravity, iniquity, even ugliness. In Mark 7:22 Jesus reminds us that, like other sins, wickedness (pon-e-ria) emerges from the heart. It is the fruit of a heart that neither loves God nor treasures His law. Etymologist Günther Harder writes that in the Bible those who practice wickedness “are those who do not seek Yahweh or His commands, who will not be guided by Him. Who is wicked is thus measured by God, by His commands, and by obedience to them. God determines what is evil, and in this sense evil is to be understood simply as that which is contrary to God” (TDNT). Majority vote doesn’t define evil; social convention doesn’t define evil; gallup polling doesn’t define evil. God define evil. Our task as humans is to conform our understanding to His.

The leader of wickedness is the devil himself. Those who practice wickedness (pon-e-ria) are children of the wicked one (pon-e-ros). So “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 Jn 5:19). To be delivered from wickedness, therefore, is to escape the snare of the devil (2 Tim 2:26). So Jesus instructs us, in the Lord’s Prayer, to pray that God would deliver us from evil (pon-e-rou) inspired as it is by the evil one, whose kingdom we want to see destroyed and uprooted.

So what does wickedness look like? The book of Deuteronomy describes the contours of wickedness with a repeated command: “So you shall put away the wickedness (pon-e-ron) from among you.” This wickedness includes idolatry (Dt 17:7), rebellion against judicial sentences (17:12), bearing false witness (19:19), rebellion against parental authority (21:21), sexual fraud and deceit (22:21), adultery (22:22), and kidnapping (24:7). In times of debasement, when God is handing a society over to judgment, such wickedness increases. For example, at the culmination of the book of Judges, a time of God’s judgment on Israel, the Benjamites commit a great wickedness when they rape and murder the Levite’s concubine (Judg 20:13). In Jeremiah’s day, also a time of God’s judgment, all segments of society – priests, prophets, kings, people – are characterized by wickedness (Jer 23:11; 32:32). And in Jesus’ day, the decisive moment of judgment for the people and city of Jerusalem, the Pharisees clean the outside of the cup but inside they are full of wickedness (Lk 11:39). They had no love for God nor for His law.

All this reminds us that it is God’s grace alone that preserves a society from wickedness. When we fail to honor Him and to listen to His voice, He justly hands us over to increasing wickedness. And, as wickedness increases, we incur even greater wrath for ourselves and disarray for our society. Is there no hope, then? No way of escape? There is only hope in Jesus Christ. We must confess our wickedness, repent of it, and seek the forgiveness of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

So what of you? Have you welcomed the law of God, embraced it, and allowed it to shape your definition of wickedness? Or have you been swayed by the spirit of the age, the wicked one himself, into redefining wickedness by some other standard?

Reminded that societies under judgment are full of wickedness and conscious that we are seeing such wickedness grow in our day, let us confess that we have been listening to the lies of the wicked one, endeavoring to decide for ourselves what constitutes wickedness. And as we confess, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Filled with Sexual Immorality

October 13, 2019 in Bible - NT - Romans, Depravity, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Love, Marriage, Meditations, Politics, Sanctification, Sexuality, Sin, Ten Commandments

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that God is just. When peoples spurn Him, He eventually hands them over to utter debasement and societal instability. Their debased minds bear increasingly bitter fruit. Paul lists no fewer than twenty three fruits of a debased mind. Today we consider the second of these: sexual immorality. Paul writes that unbelieving societies are “filled with… sexual immorality.”

The Greek word behind the English “sexual immorality” is porneia. Porneia refers to sexual sin generally. It encompasses all types of sexual sin: lusts, the indulgence of illicit sexual thoughts or actions; fornication, sexual relations between a man and a woman neither of whom is married; adultery, sexual relations between a man and woman at least one of whom is married; perversion, sexual acts between those of the same sex or with other creatures. A society that is under judgment, a debased society, is one in which such sexual immorality expands and grows – and, tragically, we witness this in our own day.

Jesus reminds us that sexual immorality emerges from the heart (Mt 15:19). It is borne of a heart that rejects God and repudiates His revealed will, His Word. It sees God’s law as a restriction on its freedoms rather than as the path of freedom itself. So the unbelieving heart concludes that the good life is to be found in the path of sexual licentiousness – speaking of women as objects of sexual gratification, scrawling obscenities on bathroom walls, dressing immodestly by making sure others notice the size of one’s breasts or the length of one’s skirt, viewing pornography, engaging in fornications, adulteries, perversions, etc. This, the unbelieving heart concludes, is the path of true liberty. But far from being the path of liberty, sexual immorality is the path of slavery, destruction, guilt, and mental disorder.

The believing heart, on the other hand, trusts that God has designed us to live in accord with His revealed law. The believing heart concludes that the good life is to be found in the path of sexual purity – as a single man or woman, keeping myself sexually celibate, avoiding lusts, immodesties, pornography, fornications, adulteries, and perversions; as a married man or woman, rejoicing in my sexual relationship with my spouse, being sexually faithful, shunning behavior that would make my spouse jealous or arouse the sexual desires of another. This, the beleiving heart concludes rightly, is the path of true liberty.

You see, the Scriptures insist that the problem with sexual immorality is not the sex – the problem is the immorality. God created us sexual creatures. He commanded the first man and the first woman to be fruitful and multiply, a command which necessarily entailed sexual intimacy, an intimacy that preceded the fall and was part of the very good creation. As Paul reminds us in Hebrews 13:4, sexual intimacy within the context of marriage is honorable and undefiled. Immorality distorts that good gift. Like a vandal spray painting the Mona Lisa, the sexually immoral man or woman vandalizes the beauty of sex.

So what of you? Single men, are you guarding your heart, your mouth, your eyes, and yourself from lust, lewd speech, pornography, and sexual immorality? Single women, are you guarding your heart from sexual vanity, your body from sexually provocative clothing, and your garden from those who would break in and trample it? Married men, are you guarding your heart and your eyes, delighting yourself in your wife, and letting her breasts satisfy you at all times? Married women, are you giving yourself to your husband and guarding yourself from flirting with or longing for other men?

Reminded that our sexuality is a gift and that the path of sexual purity is the path of life, let us confess that we have distorted God’s good gift and engaged in sexual immorality. And as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Filled with All Unrighteousness

September 29, 2019 in Bible - NT - 1 Thessalonians, Bible - NT - Romans, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Human Condition, Meditations, Responsibility

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that God is just. When peoples spurn Him, He eventually hands them over to utter debasement and societal instability. Their debased minds bear increasingly bitter fruit. In our text, Paul lists no fewer than twenty three fruits of a debased mind, fruits which characterize a society’s descent into barbarism. Today we consider the first of these character traits: all unrighteousness. Paul writes that unbelieving societies are “filled with all unrighteousness.”

In the universe that God has made, there is a fixed standard for moral and immoral behavior. That standard is God’s moral law. To practice righteousness is to live according to the standard; to practice unrighteousness is to ignore or violate it. To be filled with all unrighteousness, therefore, is to be filled with a hatred for God’s law, it is to be lawless and a lawbreaker. When we repudiate the knowledge of God, we eventually repudiate the knowledge of righteousness. “Righteousness, what’s that?”

Because the unrighteous man hates God’s fixed moral standard, hates the truth, the Scriptures frequently contrast unrighteousness and truth. For instance, Paul writes that those who are perishing do“not believe the truth but [take] pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thes 2:12). Unrighteousness versus truth. Similarly, earlier in Romans 1, Paul insists that God’s wrath is directed against all “ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). And he concludes in Romans 2:8 that because unbelievers “do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness,” therefore they will endure God’s “indignation and wrath.” Unrighteousness hates the truth.

With no fixed standard for moral and immoral behavior, those who are filled with all unrighteousness not only hate the truth, they also cannot define real love. Paul writes that “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10b) and that love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). God’s law is the truth and to speak truth, to uphold truth, to treasure truth is to love my neighbor. God’s law empowers us to define love accurately. But when we cast off God’s law, when we cast off the truth, then we no longer know what love is; our conception of “love” careens about like a drunken man.

Notice, therefore, that our calling as the people of God is to treasure God’s moral law. His law is the truth; His law defines true love; His law is light and life. So Paul outlines our responsibility as the people of God in Romans 6:13, “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” We are to treasure God’s law and practice it in our lives. We are to be filled with all righteousness.

So what of you? Do you treasure God’s law and permit it to define true love? Are you loyal to the truth and determined to help others by upholding it and refusing to lie? Or have you compromised the truth, pretended that the truth is malleable, and so failed to love your neighbor?

Reminded that we are to be filled with all righteousness, that we are to love and treasure God’s moral law, let us confess that we often follow the temptations of the evil, of our sinful nature, and of the world in the practice of unrighteousness. And as you are able, let us kneel before the Lord as we confess our sin. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.

The Descent into Utter Debasement

September 22, 2019 in Abortion, Apologetics, Bible - NT - Romans, Children, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Confession, Creation, Depravity, Heart, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Meditations, Politics, Responsibility, Sanctification, Sexuality, Sin, Temptation

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

This morning we continue our survey of Romans 1. Paul reminds us that unbelief never remains isolated in the head and the heart; it inevitably bears fruit. Over time, unbelief degenerates into idolatry, immorality, homosexuality, and thence into utter debasement and societal instability; its fruit is barbarism whereas the fruit of faith is civilization.

Today we begin to examine the descent into utter debasement and societal instability. God is just. Therefore, when we refuse to repent in the face of widespread idolatry, immorality, and homosexuality, when, in Paul’s words, we do not like to retain God in [our] knowledge, then God hands us over to our sin. He gives us over, Paul writes, to a debased mind… This debased mind then reveals itself in the practice of those things which are not fitting.

So what does Paul mean by a debased mind? A debased mind is one that is adulterated, corrupted, twisted. It is the type of mind that argues that no-fault divorce is good for society and good for children; it is the type of mind that believes we can increase wealth by confiscating others’ rightful property; it is the type of mind that defends pornography as freedom of expression; it is the type of mind that cannot distinguish a boy from a girl; it is the type of mind that imagines that having drag queens read to little children and groom them for sexual exploitation is praiseworthy; it is the type of mind that thinks coercing people to make cakes for sodomite unions is just; it is the type of mind that thinks it is merciful to permit mentally confused people to change their sex on their birth certificate.

A debased mind, in other words, is a mind that has lost its moral compass. In our case, succumbing to the internal logic of relativism, our debased mind no longer has the ability to distinguish good from evil, justice from injustice, or kindness from cruelty. “A righteous man,” Solomon notes in Proverbs 12:10, “has regard for the life of his animal, but even the compassion of the wicked is cruel.” Societies that rebel against God eventually lose what used to be called “common sense”; God gives them over to a debased mind.

When God hands a people over to a debased mind, that debased mind begins to manifest itself in action. We do those things that are not fitting, that do not reflect our true glory as men and women made in the image of God. We were created to rule over the world in righteousness, faithfulness, and truth; to erect civilizations to the glory and honor of God. But a debased mind degenerates into barbarism, cruelty, injustice, and dishonor.

In coming weeks, we will explore these actions in more detail. For now, suffice it to say that our dishonorable actions are the outworking of our debased mind. Our debased mind is the root; the dishonorable actions are the fruit. Therefore, what is our calling as the people of God? What is your calling as a follower of Christ? Paul commands in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Your calling is to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, to study the Word of God and permit it to shape your mind anew, so that you can begin to practice that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

So what of you? Are you conforming yourself to the world or are you being transformed by the renewing of your mind? If you are not being transformed, if you are not purposely renewing your mind through study of and meditation upon the Word of God, then let me assure you that you are being conformed. Transform or conform – those are the only options.

Reminded that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, let us confess that we are often conformed to the world instead. And as you are able, let us kneel before the Lord as we confess our sin. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.

The Descent into Homosexuality

September 15, 2019 in Apologetics, Bible - NT - Romans, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Confession, Depravity, Heart, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Judgment, Justice, Marriage, Meditations, Politics, Responsibility, Sexuality, Sin, Sovereignty of God

Romans 1:26–27 (NKJV)

26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

This morning we continue our survey of Romans 1. We have seen that when peoples rebel against the Living God, that unbelief never remains isolated in the head and the heart. Unbelief inevitably works itself out into idolatry and thence into immorality, then into unnatural homosexual lusts, and, finally, into utter debasement and societal instability. In other words, barbarism is the fruit of unbelief while civilization is the fruit of faith.

Today we examine the descent into unnatural homosexual lusts. Paul writes, “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions…” In other words, when groups of people fail to repent in the face of widespread sexual immorality and its devastating consequences, then the just God hands them over to even more degrading practices. As we emphasized last week, not all sins are equal. Some sins are more heinous in the sight of God than others. Among these more heinous sins is that of unnatural homosexual lust and behavior. Paul writes clearly, “For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful…” Despite attempts to reinterpret Paul, it is clear that he is addressing homosexual longings and acts among both women and men. A woman who pursues another woman sexually or a man who pursues another man sexually is committing a grievous sin.

So why is homosexual desire and behavior so sinful? First, Paul insists that it is against nature. “…women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman…” Both lesbianism and sodomy are affronts to the God who made mankind both male and female, who made men to respond sexually to women and women to respond sexually to men. To indulge in same sex attraction or acts is to rebel against one’s very nature as male or female and, hence, to rebel against the God who created one male or female.

Therefore, second, Paul describes this behavior as shameful: “…men with men committing what is shameful.” While a man who lusts over a woman or a woman over a man is committing a grave sin, their sin, distorted though it is, reflects their underlying nature; it is a sin that can have a lawful outlet in matrimony. And, as Paul reminds us, the marriage bed is undefiled (Heb 13:4), sanctified to the glory and honor of the Creator. The homosexual bed, however, whether united in a faux (fake) marriage or not, is always and in every situation shameful and degrading. There is no lawful outlet for homosexual longings.

Therefore, homosexual longings are, in Paul’s assessment, vile passions. They are passions, that is, desires that dwell in the heart; and it is from these desires in the heart, Jesus tells us, that sins emerge (cf. Mk 7:21). Homosexual acts are but the fruit of homosexual desires – and it is the desires that are, in Paul’s words, vile – the Greek word means infamous, dishonorable, reproachful, disgraceful. They are passions which can never be lawfully fulfilled. And so the passions themselves, as well as the acts which proceed from them, must be confessed as sin and forsaken.

Because these passions are vile, God faithfully reveals their character even to those who practice them. How does He do so? Paul writes that the practitioners receive in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” God visits those who practice these sins with troubled consciences, mental disorders, and sexually transmitted diseases, and, in so doing, calls them to repent, to turn from darkness and return to the light.

But we as a people have not heeded these calls to repentance, have we? Our entertainment industries thrust such perversions upon us; our media outlets increasingly praise perverse sexual behaviors; major businesses tout their allegiance to gay pride; the Supreme Court of the United States has compelled the States to recognize same sex unions in Obergefell; and even our own city forbids business owners and others from “discriminating” against perverse sexual behavior. We are guilty.

As we come into the presence of the Lord, therefore, let us lead our culture in the way of confession. Let us acknowledge our sin and pray that God would have mercy upon us, enabling us to embrace our identity as male or female and escape our coming judgment. And as we confess our sin to the Lord, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Descent into Immorality

September 8, 2019 in Apologetics, Bible - NT - Romans, Church History, Confession, Depravity, Evangelism, Hell, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Image of God, Judgment, Justice, Meditations, Providence, Sexuality, Sin, Temptation

Romans 1:24–25 (NKJV)

24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

This morning we continue our survey of Romans 1. When peoples reject the Living God, they descend from unbelief into idolatry into immorality into unnatural homosexual lusts and thence into utter debasement and societal instability. As we have noted, Paul insists that civilization is the fruit of faith whereas barbarism is the fruit of unbelief.

Today we examine the descent into immorality. Individuals are notoriously and, at times, gloriously inconsistent. We act in ways at odds with what we profess to believe. Consequently, you can have an unbelieving neighbor who is a remarkably kind, gracious, and pleasant fellow and a believing acquaintance who is a narrow, caustic, and unpleasant one. Individuals are frequently inconsistent.

But groups of people, cultures, are always consistent with their most basic presuppositions; they always begin to act in a way consistent with their most fundamental and cherished beliefs. And one of the consistent outworkings of unbelief and idolatry is sexual immorality, sexual rebellion. A survey of the idolatrous cultures of the world illustrates this: among the Canaanites, for example, two of the most prominent deities were Baal and Asherah, fertility gods whose rites included mass orgies. In Rome, one of the most popular cults was that of the phallus, the male reproductive organ. And you are no doubt aware of the many cult prostitutes who served patrons at the various pagan shrines. Idolatry degenerates into immorality: pornography, fornication, adultery, polygamy, concubinage, prostitution, voyerism, sexual abuse, sexual trafficking, ad nauseam.

Why? Well consider America’s descent into public immorality that sprouted in the 1960s and has continued to grow to the present. The form of idolatry in Western Civilization is secularism and its dominant story line is Darwinism or macro-evolution. According to Darwinism, men are but sophisticated animals, in no way unique and in no way accountable to our Creator. Indeed, we are self-created and determine our own purpose. Since the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, American society has increasingly absorbed this presupposition, this basic belief.

In Paul’s words, “we exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” You see, if we acknowledge that there is a glorious and incorruptible God who has created us in His image to use our bodies with honor and to respect the sexuality of our neighbors, then we will strive to display the glory of God in our sexual conduct. This was once our most cherished belief as a people. But we rejected this truth; we embraced the lie that we are just animals. And what has happened? God has given us over to our lie: we have begun to act like animals and to follow our baser instincts. We have declared that restrictions on sexual behavior are no more than prudery, hold-overs of an uptight generation. Dishonoring our bodies? That’s silly! Sex is just a natural and necessary function like breathing. Honor is irrelevant.

Paul’s words remind us that ideas have consequences. Groups of people always act consistently with their most cherished beliefs; God is not mocked. What a man sows, what a culture sows, that will he also reap. And when we begin to reap the terrible harvest – the immorality itself, the battered women, the abused children, the aborted babies, the STDs, the mental illnesses – that harvest is God’s wake up call, God’s summons to repent and return to Him.

But we have not done so, have we? We have doubled down on the lie. So this morning, as we enter into the presence of the Lord of glory, let us lead our culture in the way of confession. Let us acknowledge our sin and pray that God would have mercy upon us, enabling us to treat one another with honor and integrity again. And as we confess our sin to the Lord, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Descent into Idolatry

September 1, 2019 in Apologetics, Atheism, Bible - NT - Romans, Church History, Greek Gods, Human Condition, Judgment, Meditations, Politics, Sovereignty of God, Truth

Romans 1:18–23 (NKJV)

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

Several weeks ago we began a study of Romans 1. Paul declares that when peoples reject the Living God, they descend from unbelief into idolatry into immorality into unnatural homosexual lusts and thence into utter debasement and societal instability. In other words, the fruit of unbelief is barbarism whereas the fruit of faith is civilization.

Having discussed unbelief itself, we proceed to idolatry. Paul writes that our unbelief degenerates into idolatry – unbelieving men “became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” In other words, Paul insists that idolatry is an affliction of our minds and of our hearts. First, he says that men became futile in their thoughts. Idolatry is a problem of the mind. The idolater exchanges “the glory of the incorruptible God” for “an image made like corruptible man”; he exchanges the solid foundation of rationality for no foundation at all. You see, if there is an incorruptible God, a God who exists over and above all things, who has created all and who is Himself the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty, then the world as we know it and experience it makes sense. It makes sense that there are mathematical formulas, moral laws, and intricate designs. The world and all things in it reflect the grandeur of God.

But if there is no such God, if the idolaters are right and the gods are just part of the world or if the gods don’t really exist at all and we’re just alone in the world, then there is no foundation for reason and rationality. For example, materialists declare that only physical properties are real, that there are no spiritual entities, no universal truths; but then they set out to justify their contentions using mathematical formulas and principles. Really, where is the material of which mathematics is made? Darwinists claim that humans are just sophisticated animals and yet insist that we have a moral obligation to care for the planet. Really, where did morals come from? Relativists claim that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and yet turn away in revulsion from rotting flesh. Really, why isn’t rotting flesh lovely? Idolatry is a problem is the mind; it cannot provide a foundation for truth, goodness, and beauty.

But idolatry is also a problem of the heart. Paul writes that “their foolish hearts were darkened.” Our loves and desires are corrupted such that we call truth, error, we call good, evil, and we call beauty, ugliness. So John Calvin was right to remark that the human heart is an idol factory. We erect false gods so that we can cling to our unbelief, because to acknowledge the true God would be to confront the truth about ourselves and our need for a Savior, a Savior who can renew our hearts and teach us to love what is true, good, and beautiful again.

Idolatry, therefore, is a problem of the mind and a problem of the heart. But hear the Word of God: there is a source of truth, goodness, and beauty. That Source is the Eternal Word of God who took on human flesh and dwelt among us. Why is the world rational, why does it reflect eternal mathematical principles, why do we find the Fibonacci Sequence again and again and again? Because all things were made by the Eternal Logos and reflect His genius. Why do men long for justice, complain about unfairness, and condemn the dictator who butchers his people? Because in Him was life, and the life was the light of men. Why do we delight to catch a glimpse of the Western Tanager, to sit and watch a sunset, and to stair into the starry heavens? Because He is glorious and full of grace and truth.

So what of you? Are you still clinging to your irrational and dark idolatry? Then hear the voice of Christ. Turn from your sin and turn in faith to the Living God. Reminded that as humans, we are so prone to turn from God to idols, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord. And as you are able, let us kneel before the Lord as we confess our sins to Him. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Heart of Unbelief

August 11, 2019 in Apologetics, Atheism, Bible - NT - Romans, Church History, Confession, Eschatology, Human Condition, Meditations, Politics

Romans 1:18–23 (NKJV)

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

When nations apostatize and reject the Living God, they imagine that they can do so with impunity. They say, “The Lord does not see, nor does the God of Jacob understand” (Ps 94:7). But this is a delusion. God sees and understands – and, as the Righteous Judge, He deals with these peoples in a predictable manner, a manner that Paul outlines in Romans 1. Peoples who reject the Living God descend from unbelief into idolatry into immorality into unnatural homosexual lusts and thence into utter debasement and societal instability. In other words, civilization is the fruit of faith whereas barbarism is the fruit of unbelief.

Paul begins his discussion of God’s dealings with unbelieving man at the fountainhead: unbelief itself. God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men because all men know God and yet they suppress that knowledge in unrighteousness. This is why, Scripturally speaking, the dilemma of the ignorant native who has never heard the Gospel and who is condemned for refusing to believe in Jesus is fictitious. The native isn’t guilty for refusing to believe in Jesus – he is guilty because he refuses to listen to his own conscience and to worship the God he knows created him. Our basic problem as human beings is not that we have failed to trust in Jesus for salvation. Jesus is the solution to our problem. Our problem is our sin. We have rebelled against God and we know it.

Paul writes that “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful…” Even in our unbelief, we all know God and we do two things: first, we refuse to glorify God as God and, second, we refuse to give thanks to Him. So let’s consider these two things.

First, we refuse to glorify God as God. Unbelief fails to worship the God who is worthy of all praise. We will offer praise to sticks and stones; we will bow down before idols of our own devising; we will pray to our ancestors; we will deify the state and look to government to save us; we will act as a law unto ourselves; anything to avoid praising the Living God who has created heaven and earth and who speaks to us in our conscience. In our unbelief, we refuse to glorify God as God.

Second, we refuse to give thanks to God. At its heart, unbelief is ungrateful. We will pretend that all we have and all we are is the gift of some other god, or the fruit of our own labor, or the gift of the fatherland, or an inheritance from family, or a random happen-chance; anything to avoid giving thanks to the Living God who has given us life, breath, and all things. In our unbelief, we refuse to give thanks to God.

So if the heart of unbelief is a refusal to worship God as God and a refusal to give Him thanks, then what ought to characterize those who claim to believe? The heart of belief is a willingness to glorify God as God – to worship Him faithfully – and to give thanks to Him for all His many gifts. And this is why we have gathered here this day. We have gathered to glorify God as God and to give Him thanks.

So as we gather in His presence, if you have lived thus far in unbelief, refusing to glorify God as God and refusing to give Him thanks, then let me urge you to repent, to confess your sin in Jesus’ Name, and to seek God’s forgiveness – Jesus is the solution to your problem. If, on the other hand, you have already believed, then let us too bow before our God in humility, acknowledging that we often fail to glorify Him as is His due and to give Him thanks as we ought. And as you are able, let us kneel before the Lord as we confess our sins to Him. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Cultivating Hope

October 7, 2018 in Bible - NT - Romans, Ecclesiology, Lord's Day, Meditations, Postmillennialism, Preaching, Resurrection, Word of God

The following was my exhortation for the worship service which Trinity Church held during the 2018 Knox Presbytery (CREC) Stated Meeting. It was a privilege to host presbytery here in Coeur d’Alene and to worship with old friends and new. May the Lord continue to bless our presbytery and give us men of hope to preach in our pulpits and people of hope to fill our pews.

Romans 15:4 (NKJV)

4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.

As ministers of the Gospel and officers in Christ’s Church, our fundamental duty is to give our people the Word of God. The Good Shepherd makes His people lie down in green pastures and leads them beside still waters. So as under-shepherds we are to teach our people to love and cherish the Word of God, to drink deeply of the law and the prophets, to chew regularly on the psalms and the Gospels, and to feast freely on the epistles and Revelation. The Word of God is to be our meat and drink.

Paul’s words to the Romans in our text today remind us how we should teach the Word of God. First, he writes that whatever things were written before were written for our learning. The Scriptures were written for our instruction. As we preach and teach the Word of God, therefore, we must do so in such a way that our people grow in their understanding of the Word. The greatest commandment includes loving the Lord our God with all our minds. Therefore we must instruct God’s people, we must engage their minds with our teaching.

This instruction, however, is never to be merely academic. Jonathan Edwards reminds us, “Our people do not so much need to have their heads stored, as to have their hearts touched; and they stand in greatest need of that sort of preaching which has the greatest tendency to do this.” So Paul reminds us that the Scriptures were written in order that we… might have hope. The end of our instruction is to foster hope in our flocks – hope for God’s work in the world and hope for God’s work in their own lives.

So how do we cultivate this sense of hope among our people? Paul writes that we do this through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures. First, through the patience of the Scriptures. One of the ways that we are to feed the hope of our people is by reminding them of God’s patient and persistent work in history and in their lives. When we fail to perceive immediate change – either in our personal fight against sin or in the advance of the Gospel in history – we can grow discouraged. Is there no hope of victory? One of the glorious things that the Scriptures do is remind us that God is patient. He works slowly over the course of our lives, growing us in holiness and righteousness as we walk by faith. And He works slowly over the course of history, causing the Name of His Son to be exalted in the earth. As Isaiah assures us, God’s Servant will not fail nor grow discouraged until He has established justice in the earth.

Second, we feed the hope of our people through the comfort of the Scriptures. We are to remind them regularly of God’s mercy and grace, to direct their vision again and again to the loveliness of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When discouraged by their sin, we point them to Jesus who died on the cross. When overwhelmed with daily tasks, we point them to Jesus who has poured out His Spirit upon us. When despairing of historical progress, we point them to Jesus who sits enthroned at God’s right hand.

So how are you doing? If you are a minister of the Gospel or the head of a family, have you been teaching your flock the Word in such a way that you are enabling them to have hope? And do you embody that hope in your own life? Or have you become discouraged and overwhelmed with the tasks of the day, forgetting the patience and comfort of the Scriptures?

Reminded that we often lose hope, becoming discouraged by our own indwelling sin or disheartened by setbacks in God’s work in history, let us confess our lack of hope to the Lord. And as you are able let us kneel together as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.