‘Neither Do I condemn you’: How I have come to Approach Sexual Sin

I will begin today’s blog post by defining ‘sin.’

I am no expert, but my friends who are familiar with Greek tell me that the Greek word used to describe sin in the book of 1 John is ‘hamartia.’ It basically means, ‘Missing the mark.’ It reminds me of Romans 3:23, which says ‘For there is no distinction: all have sinned and fall short [miss the mark] of the reputation of God.’ I do not view sin so much as a vile thing that we ought to be ashamed of (although it is that). The real problem with sin in my view is that we miss the mark–the best in Christ–that God has for us. Sin is a barrier to the experience of living ‘abundantly’ (John 10:10). I hate sin not only because it is wrong. I hate sin because my Father hates it.

Concerned about sin? Yes, for it is the tragic barrier to real living.

We come now to sexuality. What is a sexual sin? A sexual sin is simply an act or disposition towards sexuality that misses the highest mark–for God’s mark is always highest, best, and most lovely–for sexuality. This of course begs the question: what is God’s mark for sexuality? If I am to strive to be perfect as my perfect Father in heaven desires, what does it even mean for me to be perfect in my sexuality? Jesus gives us a clue in the sermon on the mount. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30 ESV)

Jesus is clear that true holiness will involve a kind of sexual perfection that does not even sin in the mind. For Jesus, the enemy of ‘holy matrimony’ is not inappropriate sexual affairs, but inappropriate imagination. Before an act can be committed, it must be imagined and desired. Jesus is striving for holiness.

Now does this mean that if we mess up, that’s just it, we’re going to hell? No. Not if the first letter of John has anything to say about it. ‘My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ (1 John 2:1 ESV) Jesus himself elaborates here. ‘Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.’ (Matthew 12:30-31 ESV) Every sin and blasphemy, including sexual sin, will be forgiven people. (In my view, even the blasphemy against the Spirit would be forgiven if only the blasphemer would cease to blaspheme, but that is perhaps a topic for another time.)

Okay. There we go. Our terms, sin and sexual sin, are laid out very generally. That’s all fine and dandy. A bit too philosophical, perhaps, but well and good. There is, however, another part of the story that is important for our answer, and that pertains to my story, my background.

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Most of my life, I’ve been a very worrisome guy. Worry seems to be the final frontier for the power of God’s Spirit in my life. May I submit to his purpose for me.

Much of worrying for me pertained to theological issues. I was a young earth creationist, and I believed the people who weren’t were suppressing the truth. I was a deterministic thinker set on Calvinism, and I believed that it was just for God to create people only to torment them forever and ever. I was unsympathetic to alternative interpretations of the Bible to those to which I had been conditioned in my younger days. I believed God was true, but I was terrified–sometimes horrified–of the picture of him that I had so long carried. When the Bible said God desires all people to be saved, I didn’t believe it. When the Bible said God was love, I did not believe it. Anyone with this kind of psychology would feel like I did, at least, so I presume.

When it came to sexuality, I was probably just worried about myself and my friends. I didn’t want us to do the wrong things. I didn’t want us to forsake God. I wanted things to be ‘ok.’

I think I was still wrestling with these thoughts. My meta-cognition is not keen enough for me to recall to what extend I had become more laid back about these issues, but I do have a few guesses.

I began to believe that which I had originally professed, that God is love. I began to believe–for the first time, perhaps–that God loved us ‘while we were still sinners.’ If that is true, what is the difference between my sexual sin and someone else’s sexual sin? Before the cross of Christ, sin and his child death are less than nothing. They have no existence when pitted against grace. I guess I finally came to believe the following two verses:

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)

I realized that before the power and the presence of Jesus Christ our Lord, no sexual sin has power over anyone. (Philosophically of course, people still sin sexually, so has sin won? On my view, no, but again, that may be a topic for another time.)

The point, dear reader, is this. I’ve come to a point in my walk with God in which I utterly trust him to do that which is right. I am not afraid to commit myself or my friends into his loving hands. If I or my friends should fall sexually, I have no doubt that God is able to more than infinitely restore us.

Practically, this means:

1) It is no longer my role to condemn. A person’s sin, I believe, is between himself and God. It is even possible, in my opinion, that some things which would be evil for me are not forbidden to others. There is only one man for whom I may speak on the day in which God judges the secret thoughts of men, and the man is me. Will I try to help others? Yes, of course, but I must help them in the ways in which Christ approves, and apparently, he does not approve of the kind of judgments so often rendered by the representatives of Christianity.

2) It is absolutely my role to demonstrate love to others by keeping doors open for our relationships. If my friends are doing something wrong, I am confident that God can use me to help, even that he can speak without my voice. My actions themselves are a voice in the mouth of God, or so it would seem to me. Would I be demonstrating my love by offering a condemnation that God has forbidden me to give? No. I think not. I will let the Spirit speak to a person’s sin. I will speak to the hearts of people by loving them at the same time that God does–while they are still sinners.

3) It is written in 2 Timothy 4:1-8: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” The appearance of Christ was and is an altogether lovely thing to all that is the good creation of God in this world–including sexuality. I cannot preach a loving thing in an unloving manner. If I am to be concerned about sexual sin, I will do so on the Lord’s terms–through the renewal of my mind, that by testing I my discern that which is excellent and pleasing to God. (Romans 12:1-2)

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It is not so much that I am less concerned about sexual sin than that I am more confident in the power of God through grace. As I pray for myself and my friends and for sexuality on earth to be conducted as it would be in heaven–in holiness, the fear of God, and out of a desire to love, for love is the cardinal virtue with faith and hope–I lack no confidence that he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion in the day of Christ.

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Three Reasons to Reconsider Christian Universalism

“I do not preach universalism, but I do not not preach universalism.”

In an age in which the title ‘fire and brimstone preacher’ is used in some circles as a compliment and the enemies of ‘eternal punishment’ are the Rob Bells of the world, it has become in many Christian Theologies simply taken for granted that although God desires everyone to be saved, not everyone will be saved in the end. (This is different than saying that not everyone is saved now. I cannot conceive of how one can look at a world like ours and conclude that everyone is on the side of a good god.) Universalists are universally understood in many Christian communities to be abjectly wrong.

Is god essentially unable to save everyone, as the open theist claims? Or worse, is he unwilling to, as some forms of Christian determinism contend? Is Christianity just Calvinism, claiming that God is gracious and merciful provided one is of the predetermined elect? Are we saved by free will, or by the will of God?

Many wonderful theologians have provided great explanations for all of the above questions without resorting to universalism. I respect many of them; however, it seems to me that to many Christians (especially evangelicals), it is simply taken for granted that the fate of those who do not put faith in Christ in this life will not receive another chance in the hereafter. Anyone who questions particularism (non-universalism) is immediately understood to be rejecting Scripture and contradicted by it.

Being an inquisitive fellow, I decided to put the doctrine of hell under fire as it is traditionally understood by evangelicals. If the approach has gold and silver and precious stones, the fire will not burn it, but if it is of hay and straw, it itself will be saved, but only as through flames. My findings have more than surprised me.

Below, I present three reasons why I believe evangelicals should rethink the meaning of hell and consider the position that I will call for the purposes of this article ‘eventual universalism.’

  1. The Biblical passages often used in support of a permanent hell do not directly support it. In other words the doctrine of hell as it is traditionally taught does not come from Scripture per se, but from a specific manner of understanding collections of passages that refer descriptively to the judgment of God.
  2. The philosophical reasons to reject hell as permanent are not intrinsically compelling. That is, the philosophical reasons to accept the traditional view of hell do not necessarily outweigh the philosophical reasons to accept it. To the contrary, I believe that universalism has the more compelling philosophical support.
  3. If universalism is true, I believe it would in many respects make coherent Scripture’s description of the character of God and his purposes for creation.

That’s Funny Coming from You: “Face the Facts”

While the morality of non-theistic movements is admirable in significant respects, the logic of atheistic philosophers is occasionally, and in my opinion notably, poor. Below I’ve presented a quotation taken from a commentary on song expressing anti-fundamentalist (in the religious sense) sentiments.

Obviously, intelligence allows an individual to doubt dogmas presented as facts, as well as unfounded assumptions, as it is well-known that assumptions and faith are among the main postulates of so-called “intellectual” religious beliefs (“The blind leading the blind“). However, it must be stressed that emotional belief is quite different, as intelligent people can also be religious due to social or emotional factors. An intelligent person can have beliefs in a god, but still remain critical and open-minded when it comes to institutionalised religion – his or her own, as well as that of others. But let’s face it: God does NOT exist and it would be time for Mankind to grow out of those ancient creeds and use reason instead of superstition.” (taken from <http://www.ironmaidencommentary.com/?url=album14_amolad/commentary14_amolad&lang=eng&link=albums#top&gt;, a commentary on an Iron Maiden song, ‘For the Greater Good of God.’)

According to the author of the commentary, “…it is well-known that assumptions and faith are among the main postulates of so-called “intellectual” religious beliefs (“The blind leading the blind“).” Interestingly enough, it is not really possible to found a philosophical system on postulates that are not primarily assumption–even faith–based. The author will go on to contrast intellectual belief with emotional belief. The distinction is at best unclear, if you asked me.

But the lowest blow of the article comes later. “But let’s face it: God does NOT exist and it would be time for Mankind to grow out of those ancient creeds and use reason instead of superstition.” So asserts the commentator; however, he appears to me to have asserted in a manner that at least closely resembles assumption. At the end of the day, if we were looking for a philosophy that is not based in arbitrary postulates, I would contend that atheism ought not to be the origin or the destination.

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I see where this author is coming from, and in many respects, I suppose that he is right to feel as he does. The moral framework of many atheists movement is actually, in my opinion, quite admirable. Atheists perceive that which many in the religious camp are unwilling to recognize: that almost every single practice of religion tends to turn into appeasing the god(s). (I would argue that this includes most kinds of Christianity, but that is a point for another day.)

I believe that an utterly good mind is behind the existence of the universe. I have chosen to opt for a problem of evil instead of a problem of good.

 

Sacremental Odyssey: What I learned from visiting a Roman Catholic Mass

Having been raised Protestant, my exposure to the Roman Catholic Church has been fairly limited, aside from a mass that my family visited once while on vacation. The usual Protestant dogma concerning Catholics–veneration of Mary, emphasis on tradition and rituals, nominal faith–is upsetting to me, because it sells Protestants short of the approach to Christianity that dominated the first 1,500 years after the life of Christ.

I offer two ideas below that I believe would benefit Protestants–myself included–to consider.

  1. Roman Catholics may venerate Mary, but don’t many Protestants venerate Scripture? “The Bible is the final authority”, it is often stated. That may very well be the case, but for what, and to what end? Without God, without Christ, the Bible is just one of many very old collections of religious texts. Maybe the same goes for Mary in Catholicism. Without God, without Christ, Mary’s just another ancient person. All that aside, if one was to admire any historical figure of Christian faith, Mary would definitely not be a bad choice if we are to believe anything that is written in Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke.
  2. Emphasis on tradition and rituals. I’m surprised to see this criticism emerge from Protestantism, whose most popular theologians seem notably incapable of divorcing their inherited theology–often derived from philosophers and interpreters who are either quoted out of context (C.S. Lewis, anyone?) or otherwise are (or seem) generally fallacious–from what the Bible (which of course is claimed to fit perfectly with the theology of said interpreter) actually teaches.

Introductory thoughts completed, here’s what I did learn visiting a Roman Catholic Mass this evening:

  1. Roman Catholics love to pray. During mass, each member of the audience is expected to pray and to relish the delightful reading of Scripture and well-written liturgy.
  2. Roman Catholics appreciate church history. The clergy trace their ordinal line all the way back to the Apostolic age. A strong emphasis is placed on specific saints in Christian history that–in my view–inspires the Catholic to live a life worthy of the good news.
  3. Roman Catholics go to great lengths to beautify the place of worship. In an age in which the doctrine of the beauty of God is oft hidden beneath the doctrine of the wrath of God–in my view beautiful itself, if properly understood–Catholicism presents a refreshing break from any spirituality unconcerned with beauty.
  4. Roman Catholics feel very in touch with the Global Christian movement. Time would fail me to speak of the benefits of this attitude, especially in light of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, many of Paul’s statements throughout his letters, and the letters of John.

I believe that Protestants should look for ready allies in Roman Catholics who are hungry for the kingdom of God to rule on earth and the peace of Christ to rule in hearts.

The Enemy of my Enemy: Conservative vs. Liberal

Conservative vs. Liberal. True battle, or false dichotomy?

In an age in which many resist labels, many succumb to implicit labels by polarizing their views through a ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ lens. Apparently, this happens more in U.S. academia than in U.K. academia, but the point remains that in the U.S., too often are well-meaning people polarized by self or others for this or that belief that identifies with this or that ‘party’, ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal.’

A view of the world that can split any given issue into ‘black’ and ‘white’, ‘conservative’ or liberal’, is oversimplified.

Instead of bowing to the demands of the idol of party, we ought to approach issues on a case by case basis, letting the data and the results of a given approach speak for themselves.

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” ~ Jesus Christ (John 7:24 ESV)

Speak Friend and Enter: A Welcome to gandalfsbeardblog

Greetings! And welcome to gandalfsbeardblog.

“David Abrams” is the pen name that I will use for the purposes of this site. Aside from Biblical (and science fiction ^_^ ) allusions, the name has no real relationship to my identity.

I was raised and homeschooled in an Evangelical Protestant family, the oldest of six kids (not a Catholic or Mormon family). It would not be possible for me to overstate the gratefulness that I have for the way that my parents raised me in the fear of God. Throughout my life, my hobbies have included Christian studies, Islamic studies, philosophy, science, fantasy (hence ‘gandalfsbeard’), science fiction, music, video games (especially the 3D renditions of The Legend of Zelda), running/jogging, and more. The love of my life said “I do” to me recently and for that I am evermore amazed and thankful. I hold a B.S. in biochemistry and am currently studying organic chemistry in pursuit of a Ph.D.

Throughout the existential crises of my life I have lost many philosophies, but Christianity (Christ) has stuck with me. I remain utterly convinced that God–the mind behind our cosmos–is revealed in Jesus Christ and that his message–the gospel (‘good news’)–is actually the answer to the world’s problems. Unfortunately, it is my present opinion that Christianity has in many respects turned into ‘bad news,’ a far cry from its humble and profound beginnings. It is my desire to devote my life to contending for what I believe to be the truth of the matter, that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19 English Standard Version.) The God who loves while we are still sinners asks us to do the same. What kind of world would it be if we all became a Christ to our neighbors–the reality of neighborhood is made fortunately, painfully obvious by our modernized, globalized world–not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to them the message of reconciliation? To this end I toil and strive, because I have my hope set on the living God, who is the savior of all people. (1 Timothy 4:10.)

It is my yearning that my blog–one of many in an internet age–may be but one of many whispers from the Spirit of Christ in your life, calling you to the God who is love. (1 John 4:8.)

“For I am not ashamed of the good news, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”” (Romans 1:16-17)

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16)

Written for Our Learning: A Word About History and Christianity (Pt. 1)

One of the most important limitations of the historian concerns sources. Historians use ‘primary documents’ and ‘secondary documents’ in their studies. A ‘primary document’ is a document from the time period with which we are concerned. For instance, Codex Sinaiticus, one of the earliest complete Biblical manuscripts, would be considered a primary document from the 3rd century. A ‘secondary document’ is a source written about a source. For example, a history textbook about the life and theology of Paul–such as N.T. Wright’s wonderful recent work–would be considered a secondary document.

Christianity as a historical religion must be approached with an understanding of and a respect for history, for it is only through engaging with the historical narrative that we are able to understand the language and symbols in the Bible and the so-called ‘Church Fathers.’ It is also arguably critical that we make use of the literature and artifacts of the surrounding cultures to which the Christian movement was speaking and in which the Christian movement was living in order to better contextualize the message of Christianity. I think we as Christians ought to adopt a robust appreciation for the practice of a most honest history. N.T. Wright seems to me to have grasped this fundamental concept well. We would do well to imitate his example.

So what are our primary documents when it comes to the Bible? Well, textual experts recognize a number of Biblical manuscripts and fragments from which we are able to piece together the Bible. Strictly speaking, the Bible as we have it today is a composite of the whole collection of these manuscripts and fragments. We owe a profound debt to those throughout history who have preserved this wealth of information for us. I am reminded of the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4 ESV.)


I believe that as we come to recognize these important realities in our approach to hermeneutics, the science of interpreting the Bible, we equip ourselves to be as faithful as possible to the message that was proclaimed in the past and therefore better able to apply it to our present lives and future hope.

Reconciliation: The Meaning of Christianity (Primer 1)

All Biblical quotations from the English Standard Version translation unless otherwise noted.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

The suggestion of Christ? Not the suggestion, but the *law* of Christ.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before the Father is this: to believe the right things? No. To visit the marginalized in their pain. To be a suffering servant–a Christ–to someone else, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:19-25)

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:3)

“If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” (1 John 2:29)

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)