Contentions

October 11, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Church History, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Principles and Methods

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

One of the perpetual dangers of sinners in society is contention – the work of the flesh that we focus upon today. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are… contentions.” Webster defines contention as “Strife; struggle; a violent effort to obtain something, or to resist a person, claim or injury; contest; quarrel.”

Such contentions are characteristic of sinners in society and so are always a temptation for the Church Militant which is a society of sinful men and women. The Corinthian church, you may recall, was rife with contentions. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:11, “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.” These contentions saw the rise of party spirit within the congregation. “I am of Paul,” said some. “I am of Apollos,” said others. But Paul rebukes both, “For where there are envy, contentions, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:3) To give way to contentions, Paul insists, is to revert to our fallen nature and ignore the Lord who has saved us and united us together as one people. There is, Paul writes, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph 4:5). Hence, we are to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). By one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body not many. Contentions are of the flesh, our fallen nature.

So why do contentions arise? Contentions arise from pride. Paul informs Timothy that the contentious man “is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words…” (1 Tim 6:4). The contentious man does not weigh matters rightly. He prides himself on his wisdom and discernment but through pride destroys the unity of the Church. He makes every mole hill a mountain and insists that all must agree with him or the church is going to fall into irreparable apostasy. Now, of course, the threat of apostasy is real; there are genuine mountains. But the contentious man cannot distinguish them from his personal preferences.

So what of you? Are you able to distinguish major from minor issues? Are you endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Are you putting to death the temptation to party spirit? Homeschoolers versus dayschoolers; gluteners vs non-gluteners; maskers vs non-maskers; winebibbers vs teetotalers. Among a people who take Scripture seriously, who take theology seriously, and who want to do all things well, there is always the danger of holding our theology in such a way that we destroy the very Church which Christ gave His life to save. So beware your heart; beware the lure of pride; always be open to correction; and pray regularly that God would preserve us all from contentions.

Reminded that contentions arise from a proud and disagreeable spirit and that we are often tempted to pride and contention, let us kneel as we are able and confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Our Hearts as Idol Factories

September 6, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Church History, Depravity, Greek Gods, Image of God, Meditations, Sin, Ten Commandments, Trinity, Worship

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Human beings are intrinsically religious creatures. We all have a sensus divinitatis, a sense of the divine, which God Himself has planted within us. However, because of our rebellion against God, we all likewise have a bent away from the Living God. We are inclined toward idolatry; our hearts are, in the words of John Calvin, an idol factory. And it is this work of the flesh that we focus upon in Paul’s list today. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are… idolatry.”

Idolatry is the worship of false gods or the worship of the true god through physical images. Idolatry has a bewitching power, enslaving nations and regularly tempting the people of God. So the people of Israel constructed the golden calf in the wilderness. Gideon had to cut down the altar of Baal which Israel had erected in his hometown. Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel and filled Israel with the worship of the Baals and Ashtoreths such that Elijah believed he alone remained faithful. Our fathers regularly turned to idols and so brought on themselves the wrath and judgment of God.

This tendency toward idolatry did not cease with Christ’s incarnation. Christians have regularly turned away from the Triune God to some lesser deity. In the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Ebionites taught that the Eternal Son of God was just a man while the Docetists taught that He was not man at all. In the great Trinitarian controversies of the 3rd and 4th centuries that resulted in the crafting of the Nicene Creed, the Arians taught that Jesus was not divine but some lesser being. In the 18th and 19th centuries, such idolatries multiplied. The Unitarians insisted that the Eternal Son was just a great moral teacher and example; the Jehovah’s Witnesses rescucitated the idolatry of Arius; the Mormons taught that the Eternal Son of God was some perverse offspring of a carnal union between deity and humanity.

Church history, in other words, illustrates that Paul’s warning against idolatry is necessary. The human heart bends toward idolatry. And so Paul warned the Corinthians, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor 10:14). We must remain ever faithful to the Triune God as He has revealed Himself in His Word.

One of the chief traps that has ensnared God’s people in idolatry has been intermarriage with idolaters. God warned the people of Israel:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you… You shall make no covenant with them nor… shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods…” (Dt 7:1-4)

Despite this warning, the Israelites regularly intermarried with their pagan neighbors and fell into idolatry. Nehemiah reminded our fathers, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God… Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin” (Neh 13:25-26).

So if you are single and would like to be married – listen to the voice of the Lord – you may not marry a non-Christian! To do so is to court temptation and put yourself in danger of God’s wrath and judgment. As Paul reminded the Corinthians:

14Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God… (2 Cor 6:14–16) 

Reminded that God is jealous the affections of His people and would have us to avoid the worship of other gods, let us acknowledge that we and our father have often turned away from God to idols. 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.

Jesus the Only Savior

November 10, 2019 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Church History, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Glorification, Lord's Day, Meditations, Worship

On November 9th I had the privilege of participating in the ordination and installation of Adam Harris as the new pastor of Trinity Covenant Church (CREC) in Fort St. John, British Columbia. The next day, I was also privileged to participate in the worship service by giving the following exhortation:

Isaiah 45:22–25 (NKJV)

22 “Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. 23 I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath. 24 He shall say, ‘Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, And all shall be ashamed Who are incensed against Him. 25 In the LORD all the descendants of Israel Shall be justified, and shall glory.’ ”

It is an auspicious and glorious occasion that has brought us together today. We have arrived here from our residences in and around Fort St. John; we have flown here from our houses in Oregon and Idaho; we have driven here from our homes in Ontario and Alberta. We have gathered with one accord to perform one of our central joys and duties as the people of God.

So what is it that has brought us together? It is to worship the Lord of glory. Now perhaps you thought I was going to say that it is the ordination and installation of Pastor Harris to Gospel ministry that has drawn us together. But it is not. For as significant as his ordination and installation to pastoral ministry is, his call to ministry is itself a means to an end – and that end is the worship and praise of the Lord of glory throughout the world. Pastor Harris is not the one whom Trinity Covenant Church and Fort St. John need. Jesus is the one you need. So we have gathered together to glory in Him; gathered together to worship Him; gathered together to kneel before Him; gathered together to take oaths in His Name and to claim the righteousness of Jesus Christ as our own.

Peter reminds us that “there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved” than that of Jesus Christ our Lord. He is our Savior; He is our Deliverer; in Him do we trust. As glorious as Pastor Harris’ ordination is, he himself will tell you that it is nothing to the exaltation of Jesus Christ as the Lord of all the earth. But we often turn from our Lord to other gods; turn from the Living God to put our confidence in princes or people or pastors or pagan gods. We forsake the fountain of living waters and build for ourselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. Our Scripture today reminds us that the goal of God’s work in the world through His Church, through His ministers, and through His Providential governance is to ween us away from the worship of other gods and to instill within us an unswerving loyalty to Him. Jesus is the only Savior.

So reminded this morning that we are to seek the Lord alone to be saved, let us confess that we are routinely tempted to place our hope for salvation in our man-made idols rather than in the Lord of glory.

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.