The Problem of Ever Increasing Permissiveness! Personally, I blame Christians…

Here in England it is the 50th anniversary of the repeal of the law that criminalised homosexual acts, a law that I personally abhor was ever on the statute books. It is not for governments to be legislating regarding sexual immorality, whether homosexual or heterosexual. There is a vast difference between behaviours that are sinful in the Lord’s sight, and those which should also be criminalised. What consenting adults do behind closed doors, so long as no-one is being hurt, or no other laws are being broken, is not the business of governments.

But of course the mere fact that it is such an anniversary means that we are being bombarded with even more gay propaganda than usual, and anyone would think that nothing could be more virtuous, or of greater praise, than behaviour that my parent’s generation took for granted as being morally dubious. I deeply regret that there are those who want to treat gay folk badly, whose bigoted thinking is that they should be discriminated against, or thought of as being second class citizens. Such treatment should no more apply to gay people that to straight people who do things one might disapprove of morally. Tolerance is not the same thing as approval, but rather the acknowledgement of the right to behave in ways one disagrees with. As a Christian it seems to me that tolerance should undergird all our relationships, and especially our relationships with those who make no claim to be following the Lord Jesus. We should therefore no more despise the gay community than we would people who drink too much, use bad language, gamble or take drugs, or who do anything else we might disapprove of. The essence of our discipleship is that we are saved sinners, so to take an especially high and mighty attitude against those who are gay just because they are gay, as if this is more sinful than other sinful things, is not only ridiculous, but hypocritical and obnoxiously self-righteous. Indeed, I am always quick to say that some of the nicest and most engaging folk I have ever met are gay, and the idea that anyone should be treated badly, or honoured and respected as a human being any the less less merely on the basis of their sexual preferences is a truly horrible one.

But what I want to comment on in this post is that all the polls are showing that each new emerging generation of genuine Bible-believing evangelical Christians are more and more open to the idea that sexual immorality, whether homosexual or heterosexual in nature, is acceptable to the Lord, and ought not to be regarded as being sinful in the way the Christian Church has traditionally taught. In other words, even evangelical Bible-believing Christians are increasingly discounting biblical teaching concerning sexual morality and family life. Why is this? Well, I think the answer is pretty clear…and pretty damningly clear as well!

If you jump out of tree you will inevitably proceed downwards and not up. The force of gravity inexorably drags everything towards the lowest point; and so it is with sin. Left to ourselves, even as Christians, we instinctively veer towards sin as opposed to righteousness. So basically, any excuse we can grant ourselves to justify moral laxness becomes actual working permission to get away with sinful behaviour we would not otherwise allow ourselves to indulge in. So if the previous generation of Christians have long since stopped calling certain sinful things sin in order to excuse and indulge themselves, then why shouldn’t the following generation of Christians widen the parameters of what is allowable as far as they are concerned?

What I am getting to is simply this: The last couple of generations of genuine evangelical Bible-believing Christians have, by and large, ignored what scripture teaches concerning two vitally important aspects of marriage and family life. Firstly, they have largely thrown out what God’s Word teaches regarding the sanctity of marriage by legitimising divorce and remarriage in situations where scripture does not. “Till death do us part…”, though still regarded in theory a solemn vow, has actually been considered optional for even genuine Christians for a very long time. Ask yourself: How many churches do you know of that would impose church discipline on any in their midst planning to illegitimately divorce with a view to remarriage. Secondly, Christians have virtually monolithically rejected what scripture teaches regarding gender differences and function. The clear biblical teaching of the headship of the husband coupled with the duty of wives to be submissive to them, plus that leadership in the church is for the menfolk, has not only been either explained away or just completely ignored, but those believers who do adhere to biblical practise regarding it all are often castigated by their fellow Christians for so doing.

What possible grounds, then, can Christians who reject what scripture teaches regarding the sanctity of marriage and gender differences, have for being surprised by a new generation of Christians who have decided to ignore what God’s Word teaches regarding sexuality. If it is legitimate for my generation of Christians to have rejected aspects of scripture’s teaching regarding family life (i.e. longevity of marriage and male headship), then why should it be considered it wrong for a newer generation of believers to reject others? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and it is hypocritical to say otherwise.

A significant proportion of genuine evangelical Bible-believing Christians in the West who were born from the eighties onwards simply have no problem with either gay sex or gay marriage, whilst older believers are horrified by such an outlook and completely baffled how it could have come to this. But I simply ask, what did we expect! If an older generation of Christians consider themselves free to reject certain biblical teachings, then what shouldn’t a newer generation consider themselves free to ditch a few more?

So yes, I do indeed blame Christians! As Western society has become more and more lax regarding the sanctity of marriage and family life, so also did Christians in that society. We bowed down to culture and not the authority of scripture. But I don’t primarily blame the current Christian generation for rejecting the bits of the Bible they don’t like. I rather blame those believers born in the 40’s and 50’s onwards who started the process off as far as Christians were concerned, who wanted easy divorce and remarriage so they could have their sexual cake and eat it too if a marriage didn’t suit them, and who then caved into the emerging surrounding cultural feminism so as to secure an easier life.

My conclusion is simply this: any Christian who thinks sexual sin, of whatever kind, is acceptable, should repent and get right with the God, and start living in obedience to His Word. But I think too that those believers who are horrified by what is now happening, but who are feminists, and who condone easy divorce and remarriage, should repent also. It was, after all, those two compromises with the world that kicked this whole thing off! It is nothing short of the most blatant hypocrisy to want to draw a line at sin C, because you think it’s going too far, having previously declared sins A and B to be alright because they happened to suit you!

“Every word of God is flawless. He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” (Proverbs 30:5-6)

A Little Bit of Honest Introspection!

It was only when I reached my forties that I began to truly appreciate the sheer folly of my youth, including my early years as a believer. But now I’m in my sixties I look back on those same years with not merely shame, but abject horror at just how raw, spiritually immature and casual about unrepentant sin in my life I was. Such, I have to say, is my less than glowing assessment of my formative years as a follower of Jesus.

But I am not discouraged! Indeed, I am actually somewhat pleased by this! After all, Jesus came precisely to save helpless sinners such as I then was, and the mere fact that I looked back on myself with such honesty in the way I did 20 years ago, along with the way I now view those same years, tells me that I have grown and matured in the Lord at least in some measure over the intervening years. Not that I am no longer horrified by my sin though for the older I get the more aware I become of it’s deceptiveness, it’s sheer ability to parade itself as something other than the evil it is! But it is nevertheless a clear witness to the measure of God’s grace in me that, however spiritually dull and prone to self-blindness and deception I am, I have nonetheless grown increasingly aware of my constant need of repentance, humility before God and man, and forgiveness. Such is undoubtedly an indication of a growing maturity in the Lord.

What I am discouraged about though is that so many believers, and I have known an awful lot through the years, decidedly don’t share a similar assessment of themselves. Maybe I’m just more sinful than they are, and a poorer-than-average example of what a follower of Jesus ought to be like; but I rather doubt it. No, the problem isn’t that I’m alarmingly mega-sinful in some way that others are not, but rather that so many believers are fundamentally dishonest in their assessment of themselves and just live in denial of how sinful they actually are!

In the years I’ve followed the Lord I’ve become aware of certain underlying principles which comprise the real evidence of whether or not someone is truly growing in the Lord, or merely going through the outward motions. Whether they have a genuine ongoing actual personal closeness to Him, or merely an outward form of godliness. And one of those principles is: What do they do with their sin? What do they do when sin in their lives is revealed? And in particular, what do they do with the third parties the Lord so often uses, in whatever way, as part of that process? Do they come clean and repent? Or do they just stage a cover up, deny everything and in their minds discredit – and, if possible, discredit in the minds of others – any who are party to that sin being revealed in their lives and brought to the light?

If we are not being honest about our sin and failure before the Lord then it is difficult to see how we are being honest and upright regarding anything else that particularly matters. It’s a bit like those politicians who get caught cheating on their wives but assure us that we can still trust them when it comes to stuff like policy, governing and spending our hard earned taxes! (Trust me! I’m a politician!)

So hey, if you live your Christian life hanging on to the Lord for dear life because you dare not trust yourself but for one minute to live in your own strength, then join the club! It’s called Christian fellowship! But if you don’t really think you’re overly sinful, and that you’re doing pretty well in your discipleship, and you aren’t having to struggle daily against stuff like pride, covetousness, selfishness – it’s what the Bible calls ‘crucifying the flesh’ – then please, keep your distance. Because all you will do is get in the way of those who are more honest in the Lord than you are, and be a hindrance to those who do want to grow in godliness on their way to Heaven, and not just get there having pursued a selfish worldly life down here. Those believers who are more honest than you will, of course, sweat blood and shed tears in their attempts to love you and to serve you, and to bring you to a better place, but if you just deny the extent of your sinfulness and resist laying your life down on the altar of selflessness all the time, then what more can they do?

Nothing brings greater joy to the Father than seeing repentance in the lives of those He has created. Therefore, knowing that we are so truly known of Him precisely in all our sinfulness and depravity, yet so truly and deeply loved nonetheless, then what greater joy can there be than a life lived not having to hide from Him any more, and in simple open and honest acknowledgement of how evil we are? And I know that many Christians would resist using the word ‘evil’ of themselves; indeed, would see it as being overly negative – damaging to their mental well-being even – yet Jesus clearly said, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” (Matthew 7:11)

There is nothing negative about being honest with a doctor about symptoms that suggest a disease he can provide a cure for. And the cure for our sinfulness, for the deceit and depravity of our hearts, is the Lord Jesus, who gave His life precisely that we might be forgiven and cleansed. But growing in that truth and knowing the power of the Holy Spirit bringing it progressively to fruition within us down the years begins, and continues, with us being honest about how sinful and needy we actually are.

When I was that young man who was, quite genuinely, seeking to follow the Lord, I came across a Christian book with the title ‘Repentance, the Joy-Filled Life’. It terrified me! But only because I hadn’t come to the place of being able to just be honest about sin. I was yet insecure in the Lord’s love for me and feared it to be contingent upon good performance and on me not sinning very much. Not much joy in that, believe me! But discovering, as I eventually did more and more, that the Lord wanted me to be honest because He loved me so greatly, and not because He didn’t love me very much because I was so bad, changed everything. But now repentance, though still painful to my pride and the lingering self-righteousness that characterises all of us, is sheer relief and my very life-line to the One who has saved me. Like the kissing and making up of lovers who have spoiled their love as the result of whatever came between them – though of course it is never the Lord who causes the wrong – it is the joy of relationship renewed and discipleship restored. I even enjoy Star Trek is all the more because of such repentance, to say nothing of having an even greater life with Belinda and Bethany. After all, what fun is there to be had living with the constant gnawing of a bad conscience in denial of whatever the Holy Spirit is convicting you of?

King David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Might such be true of ourselves also!

The Joy of Repentance

I can truly say that I want to please the Lord. For all the things I am not sure of, and everything I still don’t understand and can’t work out or properly comprehend, I am nevertheless absolutely clear that I do want to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. My problem is, however, the sin that stands so distressingly in the way. I want to please Him, yet know my heart to be full of pride, selfishness, covetousness, self-righteousness and all kinds of evil. In what possible way, then, can I please a holy God? Well, there is a way; and it not only pleases Him, it utterly delights His heart:

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”(Luke 15:3-10)

And there you have it! Those verses don’t say that it is the angels who rejoice, though I’m sure they do, but that there is rejoicing going on before them. And so I ask: Who is it in Heaven before Whom the angels stand? Answer! The Lord Himself! Imagine! The Almighty God rejoices when a sinner repents. It would obviously be so much the better if I could please Him by not actually being sinful any more, and that day will certainly come when I am with Him having been freed from this body, and it should certainly be the case for all of us that we are seeing a progressive victory in overcoming sin in our lives, but it is nevertheless wonderful to know that, in the meantime, being honest about sin, and coming clean through confession when we have sinned, brings Him joy. In other words, I can’t please Him with sinlessness (if only I could), but I can bring Him pleasure and joy through ongoing confession and repentance.

Now there are those who would argue that the rejoicing alluded to in the above verses is limited to a sinner’s initial conversion; that is, when they first come to the Lord in repentance and faith, and of course it most most certainly does include that. But in the same way that a father is joyful at the birth of his child, and then joyful from that moment onwards, so too is the Lord thrilled not just when we are born again, but continuously as we grow in Him throughout the ensuing years. There is no way I can properly express the joy I knew when Bethany was born, yet that joy has increased as every year has gone by, and not in any way decreased. Whatever thrilled me about her when she was born, and she thrilled me beyond words, still thrills me all the more as each month goes by as I have watched her grow and develop. What a sad father who knows joy for their child’s birth, yet not throughout the years that follow. In fact, in becoming a father I have experienced an ongoing paradox which I’ve never been able to properly describe, though I do intend to have a jolly good go!

At whatever point in time I look back to as Bethany’s father I know that I was as thrilled to bits with her as I could have been. When she was a baby my overwhelming feeling was, “Man, this is amazing! She’s incredible! It just can’t get any better than this! Please Lord, don’t ever let this change!” Then, when she was a toddler I was thinking, “Man, this is amazing! She’s incredible! It just can’t get any better than this! Please Lord, don’t ever let her change!” Then, when she was small child I thought, “Man, this is amazing! She’s incredible! It just can’t get any better than this! Please Lord, don’t ever let her change!” Then when she got to her teens I thought…and so on and so forth, right up to this very new morning as I write!

From the moment she was born I thought she was absolutely amazing and, just as did Belinda, I fell utterly and completely in love with her. At any given moment it was completely beyond me how she could be any better, and I could only see any change as a negative and a step down. I therefore longed that she never would. Yet as each and every ensuing minute, hour, day, week, month and year passed, it was equally utterly beyond me at any one of those given moments also how this fatherhood thing could get any better, and my ongoing desire was always, at any given time, that she would never change. And yet, by definition, she was changing all the time, if only in that she was slowly, but surely, in the process of growing up. So I could never imagine how it could have gotten any better because I knew it was already as good as it could possibly be, and so I therefore didn’t want anything to change; but of course she did change, and yet I was still always, in any given moment, thinking, “Man, this just doesn’t get any better! Please Lord, don’t let her ever change” And so it goes on…

For me, therefore, fatherhood has been to live in a completely paradoxical state of being utterly unable, at any given moment, to imagine how being my daughters father could get any better, thereby never wanting anything to change in such regard, yet finding the exact same thing to also be the case at every point during the ensuing years, meaning that it was actually getting better all the time, and that she was changing and growing, even though it seemed to me at any one moment that it never could get any better or that her changing could ever be an improvement. At any given present moment I could look back on any given past moment at which I genuinely perceived that neither parenthood, nor Bethany, could have gotten any better, therefore yearning for it to never change, yet whilst still perceiving exactly the same thing in any given present moment, which, by definition, meant it had obviously gotten better, and precisely because she had changed…yet it still couldn’t have gotten any better because it was already as good as it could get…and…and…Man, life sure is strange…!!!

However confusing all this might seem it’s really just a description of what it means to love someone…and I love my daughter very, very much. She is, quite simply, wonderful, and always has been, but of course it is as much my love for her that I am describing as it is a description of her, and that is the real point here when it comes to us understanding in what ways we can be pleasing to the Lord! Because however deep and real my love for Bethany is – and it is extremely deep and intensely real – it is as nothing compared to how deep and real God’s love is for me…and therefore for you! And He loves us in exactly this same paradoxical way that I have just described in regards to my own fatherhood. His joy at our repentance, indeed, His joy at us, is not just for when we are born again and when we first come to Him in repentance and surrender, but precisely, just like our human parenting, from that point onwards. We have been born again into His family and have therefore become His children, and that in itself makes Him extremely happy; but it is wonderful in the extreme to know too that, whereas I make Him happy simply because I am His child; indeed, I can’t but make Him happy in such regard – after all, I can’t ever stop being His son – I can actually bring Him joy and pleasure on top of that by being on-goingly honest, and repentant, concerning my sin.

My joy over Bethany is therefore actually two-fold: firstly, simply because she is my daughter; but secondly, because she truly is as delightful, kind, godly and gracious a young lady as you could wish to meet. (Just ask anyone who knows her!)  And although it is wonderful enough to know that we please the Lord simply because we are His children, I for one nevertheless want to please Him also by the way I actually am; that is, by living in honesty, confession and repentance of my sins. Many Christians, I am greatly saddened to say, aren’t particularly honest about their sins or repentant of them, but at least I can be if I so choose. And that choice brings me joy in knowing not just that the Lord both forgives and restores me, but that it actually brings Him joy and happiness that I am so living.

Like my joy over Bethany, the joy of repentance is also twofold: It is joyful for the one who is penitent because of the peace and forgiveness it brings, but it is also a joy to such a one’s Father in Heaven Who finds infinite pleasure in His children being honest about their wrongdoing, and then saying sorry not just to Him, but to each other as well.

As a young Christian, before I properly understood what the Lord’s grace actually was, and what it actually meant, I was uncomfortable in the extreme with the subject matter we are here discussing, and I remember coming across a book, the title of which utterly baffled me. It was called, “Repentance: the Joy-Filled Life!” Just the title frightened the life out me, and I wouldn’t have dared read it back then in a million years. But now? Well, now I get it! And man, how wonderfully I get it too!

The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to boldly approach the throne of grace in a time of need to receive mercy and help. Firstly, thrones are usually representative of power and strength, not grace and mercy. But then Jesus sits on this throne, and so I feel safe. Secondly, I come boldly and not in snivelling fear! Why?Because I’m qualified! I meet the criteria for approaching! And thirdly, I get what I come for! That is, grace, mercy and forgiveness! And why? Because my need, every day, even as a believer – no, precisely because I’m a believer – is to have my sins cleansed and removed by the Lamb of God Who takest away the sins of the world; mine included!

A Rather Dangerous Thing To Do…

DangerAfter I had known the Lord for about five years I did something which, looking back, was a bit of a spiritually dangerous thing to do. It was most certainly an absolutely right and biblical thing to do, and I have no doubt whatsoever that the Lord Himself led me to do it, but it was nonetheless decidedly risky. I asked the Lord to show me the true extent of my sinfulness and what it meant to carry the cross. I asked Him to show me what it meant to die daily to self and be one with Him in His death and resurrection. I am not exaggerating in any way at all when I say that, over the years that followed, I truly didn’t know what hit me.

There is no doubt in my mind that I really did know before then that I was a sinner. Indeed, the night I came to the Lord, totally out of the blue, I knew for the first time in my life that I was sinful and in need of His forgiveness and mercy. It was not a concept I had in any way previously comprehended, but that night I really was a penitent sinner cut down by a deep and abiding conviction of my depravity before God and the need for both forgiveness and cleansing. In other words, I was no fair-weather convert having responded to some perverted evangelistic message to the mere effect that God loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life. No! I knew beyond doubt that night that I was quite deservedly headed for a terrible and godless eternity, and that the Lord was commanding me to repent and to surrender to Him in the obedience of saving faith.

But however real that was, and it was extremely real, it doesn’t change the fact that the conviction of sin that I experienced upon my initial conversion, and over the handful of years that followed was, so to speak, just a taster. It was a sample, if you will, and a very small one at that, and it was only after several years of God dealing with me following that prayer that He began to show me something of the full extent of my sinfulness. Only then did I actually begin to appreciate and understand the sheer extent of the deceptiveness and evil of my heart. He demonstrated to me, quite terribly, that the simple truth was that, even though I had been a Christian for some years, I was still largely blind to the sin in me He yet wanted to reveal to me and deliver me from.

There are all manner of ways to describe the great need of the hour for those who claim to be followers of Jesus. Becoming comprehensively biblical! Growing in godliness! Coming into maturity! Living in obedience to Him! Yes, of course! But what it really boils down to is this: far too many believers who have been believers for years appear to be still largely ignorant of what their sins actually are. They live more in accordance with a kind of accepted, but rather wooly, Christian cultural ‘mindset’ then in deliberate comprehensive obedience to what the Bible actually teaches. They have, it would appear, called a ‘truce’ with the world, embracing a morally respectable, yet completely worldly, godlessness, where things like pride, covetousness, selfishness, the love of money and pursuit of material affluence go largely un-judged.

Part of what I do involves me, at times, in having to engage with brothers in the Lord, and sometimes their wives too, who are in process of shipwrecking their faith. Whether it be through immorality, bitterness and resentment, the love of money, or whatever, my desire and aim is to bring them to repentance and restoration, and freedom from the folly that has overtaken them. It is a joy when success becomes apparent, but heartbreak beyond words should they refuse to put lives in order.

But such situations, and here’s my point, make me realise yet again, as it should do us all, the sheer depth and danger of my own sinfulness, and how easily, but for the grace of the Lord, I could go the same way. As believers we must indeed judge each another and hold one another to account, just as scripture commands us to do (1 Corinthians 5), yet none of us dare forget, but for an instant, that we all stand in equal danger of any who are falling by the wayside, and thus forsaking the Lord and shipwrecking their faith. Scripture warns us of the deceptiveness of sin, and it behoves each one of to periodically quite intentionally ask the Lord to show us afresh just how sinful and prone to deception and self-righteousness we actually are.

“Search me O God and try my heart, and see if there be any wicked way in me.” So cried out the Psalmist in an exhortation we dare not ignore. Paul quite undeniably categorised some Christians as being carnal as opposed to being spiritual, and herein lies the difference between the two. Carnal Christians are little aware of their sinfulness and, broadly speaking, consider their lives to be theirs to do with petty much as they please. The probably won’t be sexually immoral or tell too many lies or anything like that, but outside of the ‘blatant’ stuff still perceive life to be lived in whatever way they fancy. Spiritual Christians however, in complete contrast, are not only fully aware of their sin, they also greatly fear it! They therefore surrender all, every day, lest in failing to do so they surrender instead to the sin they so greatly dread.

Further, carnal Christians will probably consider what I have written as being far too dour and negative for them. Spiritual Christians, however (and I use this phrase as does Paul in 1 Corinthians), will read these words not only with a sense of gratitude for the reminder, but also with a sense of the sheer joy that comes from knowing not only that their sins are forgiven, but that because they are also living in daily repentance, they don’t have to keep trying to deny, hide or excuse them any more.

We shall return to this in the next post…