What does it mean that the Holy Spirit is a person?

October 29, 2010

The Holy Spirit is often described as different things. In each gospel he is referred to as a dove (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32)

Question:
In my pastor’s sermon last week, he mentioned that the Holy Spirit is NOT a thing, but a PERSON; that we shouldn’t refer to him as an “it” but as “he.”  Interestingly enough, the holy spirit is often depicted as a dove, likely because of the reference in John 1:32. (it’s even depicted as a dove on the book that we’re reading in our small groups!)  Why do you suppose that the Holy Spirit is likened to a dove, or often represented by a dove, if in fact he is a person and God among the trinity?

Answer:
When your pastor was describing the fact that the Holy Spirit is not a ‘thing’, but a ‘person’, he does not mean that the Holy Spirit is a human.  Jesus is the only member of the Trinity who bears that unique distinction. When we describe the Trinity we often describe this mystery as “God in three persons”.  The person of the Father, the person of the Son, and the person of the Holy Spirit.  It’s easy for us to think of a father or a son like a person, but naturally it is more difficult to think of a spirit like it has a personhood.

The Holy Spirit is described in several different ways in scripture, a dove (as you mentioned), wind, breath, or fire.  Typically we would use the third-person-impersonal ‘it’ to describe those kinds of things.  However, because the Holy Spirit is God we remember that the Spirit is personal so we don’t use an impersonal pronoun to refer to him.

The various descriptors for the Spirit in scripture are used because he is a mystery to explain.  In the book of John it doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit IS a dove, the verse uses a simile to describe what was happening at Jesus’ baptism (the translation is “LIKE a dove” or “AS a dove”).  The Spirit may have looked like a dove, but clearly there was something distinctive enough that John knew what he saw was The Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not human, but he is intimately personal.

Should I celebrate Halloween?

October 27, 2010

Halloween: Norman Rockwell cute, or Freddie Krueger Evil?

Question:
What is Halloween?  How should we teach my children on Halloween?  What does bible say about Halloween?

Answer:
When I was growing up, I loved Halloween.  Well, let me be more specific, I loved trick-or-treating, bowls of candy corn, and episodes of “The Simpson’s: Treehouse of Horror”.  My good Christian parents never alluded to the fact that there might be something dark and backward about the holiday so when I came into contact with Christians who did not participate in Halloween I was confused and intrigued.  I want to use this blog post to talk about some of the history of Halloween and it’s interesting connection to the Church, but also to provide some things to think about for parents.  At the end of the day, parents need to make a decision about what they will teach their kids about Halloween so it is important for your spirit to be aware and your mind to be informed of what it is all about.

History of Halloween:

I don’t want to turn this into a dissertation so I’ll strive to be brief.  There is a lot of conflicting information out there about the details concerning our modern celebration of Halloween so I will shy away from those details and try to give a general overview.

Most of our Christian Holidays find their origins in ancient pagan practices.  For example, December 25 is not the actual date that Jesus was born (we don’t know the date), but as early Christians encountered Pagan beliefs and celebrations they used the pagan holidays to help explain the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  That is why Christmas is only days after the winter solstice.  Ancient pagan cultures celebrated the solstice as the mark of the Sun returning, because after December 22 the days begin to get longer instead of shorter. This does not make Christmas a pagan Holiday.  Celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 began as a way of spreading the good news to those who were lost.

Halloween has similar kinds of origins.  Ancient pagan cultures (including the Celts and the Britons) used to celebrate a harvest festival in which one of their gods would summon together the dead from the past year.  Something like a ‘harvest of souls’.  This was a common practice in many pagan cultures including ancient Rome.

Thus, when the Christians began to evangelize and teach about the good news of life after death they helped explain the doctrine of salvation by contextualizing it to the culture of the pagans.  Centuries later, the Church officially established All-Saints Day.  All-Saints Day is the day on the christian calendar that Falls on November 1 (originally it was May 13th).  It is the day on which Christians remember those saints who have gone before us to eternal rest.  On All-Saints Sunday we remember those who have passed away since the previous November 1.

Halloween is the eve of this Christian celebration.  The word ‘Halloween’ is derived from the phrase “All Hallows (saints) Eve” i.e. the eve of All Saints Day.  The evening before All Saints Day became a time of warding off spirits that were evil, people would set out food or drink to appease wandering spirits or unruly people who masqueraded as evil spirits (an early precursor to trick-or-treating).

As you can see, All Hallows Eve, was easily confused and corrupted by the early Celts who where learning about Christianity.  Not because they had sinister motives or witchcraft in mind, but because the new teaching on the communion of the Saints and the celebration of All Saints Day, still lead to some confusion.  That confusion has carried over to today…

Halloween Today:

Many of the practices of Halloween can be traced back directly to the early practices of pagan Celts and the efforts of Catholic missionaries to present them with correct teaching about Christ.  Things like trick-or-treating, pumpkin-carving,  parties, etc all have roots that were positive, not sinister.  Though they were certainly the result of misdirected pagan spirituality which we denounce as a part of our faith.  However, this does not mean it was not evil.  Anything outside the truth of Jesus Christ is evil, especially in the spiritual world that we do not see.

But just as the Christian missionaries sought to supplant the evil spiritual rituals of the Celts and Britons, today the Christian traditions of All Hallows Eve have been supplanted by secular practices and worse.  Those who do practice witchcraft, divination, satanism, or other evil practices have adopted this holiday as their own.  One can see the natural draw after generations of dressing up like evil spirits, horror movies, monsters, and more.

What Should We Do?

As a parent I think you need to pray about this, inform yourself, and teach your kids about Halloween as you go.  Halloween is not evil in-and-of itself, but there are definitely evil things that go along with it, because of the ways we have allowed it to be corrupted.  But the same is true for Christmas as well.  It’s easy for us to say that witchcraft and divination are evil (and they are), but what about the rampant consumerism that goes with Christmas or other Christian holidays.  Many Christians are willing to say, “We’re not going to let our kids participate in Halloween because there is too much spiritual evil on that day.”  But how many of those same parents are willing to say, “I’m not going to buy my kids Christmas presents, because consumerism is such a systematic evil.”

We must be thoughtful about all of the practices in which we participate, especially when our children are involved.  And we must be aware that we live in a world in which spiritual evil is rampant.  I don’t mind dressing up my son on Halloween and sending him out for some candy, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore the spiritual evil that can surround this holiday.  If you feel that Halloween too flippantly engages with that spiritual evil then you need to prayerfully consider those feelings.  But remember, that our cultural practice of Christmas has allowed the spirit of greed and consumerism to place a stranglehold on many people and even our entire economy to the extent that our economic system is dependent on Christmas sales for survival.  There is much we must consider at all times, not just Halloween.

I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippians when he said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).  There are a lot of things that don’t fit that description on Halloween, but if you saw my son dressed up like a little lion last October 31, you might find something ‘pure’ on Halloween to think about.

Am I supposed to feel the Holy Spirit?

October 16, 2010

The Holy Spirit is promised to us, but often we do not feel his presence.

References: Luke 11:13; Ephesians 1:13-14

Questions:
Are we supposed to be able to feel the Holy Spirit?; How am I suppose to know Holy Spirit is in me if I can’t feel the presence?; Is Holy Spirit something go in and out of our body?

Answers:

In Acts chapter 2 Peter tells the crowd in Jerusalem, that if we place our faith in the work of Jesus, repenting or our sins, and identifying ourselves with Him (through baptism), that we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39).  Jesus promised the same as well, expressing how much the father longs to give the gift of the Holy Spirit to his children (Luke 11:13).  The promise is there and it is true, but do we believe it?

We live in a culture that is governed by its feelings.  Therefore, if we don’t feel something the way we think we should feel something then we trust those feelings more than the promises of God.   That is probably one of the reasons why people put too much weight on the gift of speaking in tongues, because it is a gift where we can more readily feel and know the presence of God, which is one of the beautiful things about that gift.  But you need to know that if you are a Christian, then you have the Holy Spirit, he is in you, even if you don’t feel it.

The question we need to ask ourselves is not “do I have the Holy Spirit?”.  The question we need to ask is “Does the Holy Spirit have me?”  When we get hung up on not feeling the Spirit then we are making it more about us than about God.  And God does not gift the Holy Spirit for our sake, he gifts the Spirit for his own purposes in this world, to build up his church and advance his kingdom.

This does not mean that we will not feel the Holy Spirit.  There is no doubt that the Spirit’s power will enable us to do things and accomplish things for God’s kingdom that we never could do without him.  That’s the point of why the spirit is gifted!  As we grow and mature in our relationship with God, the more sensitive and aware of his presence and leading we will become.

Feelings can be deceptive, because we live in a world that is completely corrupted by sin (including our feelings).  But that does not mean that our feelings are completely useless either.  God can redeem the broken parts of our lives, so the idea that we need to completely ignore our feelings is not necessarily true.  That is why we must pray for discernment in our lives, along with the other gifts of the Spirit.  Remember, God’s not holding them back.

How Am I supposed to know if the Holy Spirit is in me if I can’t feel his presence?

Faith.  Just as it is by faith that we know that we are saved by the Grace of God, so also, we must have faith that the spirit is in us.  We place our faith in him.  That is not a one-time thing, it is a day-by-day, moment-by-moment thing.  As we continue to yield our lives to his presence, and avail our lives to his purposes we will come to sense and know his presence more and more.  But it starts with faith, and that too is a gift given by the Spirit.

Is the Holy Spirit something that moves in and out of our body?

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was present and active.  In fact, he was there at creation, taking active part in the forming of the universe (Gen. 1:2).  But the Holy Spirit was not given to people in the same way that the Spirit was given on Pentecost, and to us today.  In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was only gifted to some people and for specific purposes.  Furthermore, in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit may have been removed from people, for example King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14).  Even King David pleaded with God that He would “not take away [his] Holy Spirit” (Psalm 51:11), after he had committed adultery and murder.

In the New Testament however, the Spirit is promised to all who believe, not just some.   And the Spirit will not leave us.  Paul assures of us this security in Ephesians 1:13-14 when he says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 1who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession…”

The Holy Spirit, does not leave us and go away he doesn’t go in and out of our bodies, not if we sin, not if we forget, not if we make him mad.  Sometimes in church we may sing songs that say things like “come Holy Spirit come” or “Lord we want more of You.”  These are not expressions that suggest that the Holy Spirit left us and needs to come back, or that we don’t have enough of the Spirit and we need to ‘get filled’ with more.  The meaning behind those kinds of songs is that we want to see God move, and furthermore we want to make ourselves available to the Spirit.  Less of our agenda means more of his agenda.  But getting the Holy Spirit isn’t like filling up a gas tank.  We already have enough of him (more than enough).

What does it mean to be “charismatic”?

October 13, 2010

I’ll start with the word “Pentecostal.”  Pentecostal refers to those whose theology informs them that there is a second baptism in the Holy Spirit evidenced by the gift of speaking in tongues.  Some go so far as to say that you are not saved unless you show the signs of the Spirit.  Most Pentecostals would consider themselves to be “charismatic” but not all charismatic people consider themselves to be Pentecostal.  The word “charismatic” has become synonymous with churches and people who practice what we would call ‘supernatural’ gifts of the spirit (prophesy, healing, speaking in tongues, etc).  Or worse, some people just think that those who raise their hands in worship or sing passionately are “charismatic”, which is a horrible misunderstanding of the term. Passion for God doesn’t make one charismatic, it simply makes one passionate (as we all should be).  All of God’s people are a charismatic people.  The word simply refers to the “spiritual gifts” in general, and the Holy Spirit has gifted all of us with different gifts to benefit the body of believers. The question is, do we make ourselves available to the Spirit so that those gifts can be used for his purposes.

This is important!  All members of the body of Christ are charismatic people, and any effort to distance ourselves from the supernatural gifts and the word ‘charismatic’ is actually distancing ourselves from what we are supposed to be.  This distancing is somewhat understandable because many within what we call the “charismatic movement” have so over-emphasized the supernatural gifts and have so embraced emotionalism, that other key elements of the faith have been greatly neglected.  In many cases there are abuses that tend to arise when church becomes more about the gifts than about the gift-giver.

Unfortunately, abuses and neglecting important areas of our faith is a problem in many churches, not just charismatic churches.  Liberal mainline churches tend to value social concern at the expense of scripture and truth, evangelical churches tend to value personal salvation at the expense of  justice issues, and charismatic churches tend to value spiritual power at the expense of right doctrine or social concern.  We must seek a balance in our churches.  A lack of understanding concerning the practices and the mystery of supernatural gifts is no good reason to distance ourselves from the amazing gifts that God longs to pour out on all his people.  As Paul says, we should eagerly seek them (1 Cor 14:1).  So start praying that the Spirit of God will gift you with, not what you think you need, but what the church needs.  He wants to give to the church through you.

What is speaking in tongues?

October 13, 2010

 

We are often afraid of what we can't explain, and speaking in tongues is mysterious to many of us.

 

Reference:
1 Corinthians 12-14

Question:
What is speaking in tongues?  Does one need to speak in tongues to show they are saved?

Answer:
Speaking in tongues is among the most hotly debated spiritual gifts in scripture.  Furthermore, the varying teachings on this topic have led to divisions within churches and denominations, as well as the divide between (what we call) ‘charismatic’ and ‘non-charismatic’ churches.   This is sad, since Paul himself describes this gift as among the least of the gifts given by the Holy Spirit.

The most extensive teaching on speaking in tongues is found in 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14.  It is important to read all three chapters because of the context they provide as one tries to understand the gifts of the Spirit.  In this particular letter, Paul is addressing the church in Corinth among whom had risen debate, pride, and disorder in worship as a result of their misuse of the spiritual gifts.  In these passages Paul emphasizes that above all the gifts given by the spirit are faith, hope, and love.  And the greatest of those three is love.  Usually we read that at weddings, but the background of Paul’s writing was the abuse of spiritual gifts in the church, not marriage relationships.  That’s why Paul says in 1 Cor 13:1, “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Some of the people in the Corinthian church had become so enamored with themselves because of their ability to speak in tongues, that they had neglected to love and care for each other.

The reason that Paul calls the gift of tongues the least of the spiritual gifts is because it does not edify the entire body of believers.  It only edifies the spirit of those who pray in tongues (1 Cor 14:4), unless there is an interpretation for what is spoken in tongues (1 Cor 14:5), which is another gift given by the spirit (1 Cor 12:10).  When someone speaks in tongues, usually they do not even know what they are saying (1 Cor. 14:14), unless they have received the gift of interpretation (1 Cor. 14:13).  The NLT, I believe, rightly interprets the idea of “speaking in tongues” as “speaking unknown languages”.  When one speaks in tongues they are not speaking in a known language, it is a spiritual language.  That is why Paul says, “if you have the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking only to God, since people won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious” (1 Cor 14:2).

On pentecost all the believers were recieved a strange gift to speak in other languages. Stranger yet was the fact that the other people understood them.

 

It is believed by some that the gift poured out on Pentecost in Acts 2, was not only the gift of tongues, but it was also the gift of interpretation.  Luke records that everyone present in the upper room “was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability, (Acts 2:4), AND Luke writes in the next two verses, that “Jews from every nation…heard their own languages being spoken by the believers” (Acts 2:5,6).  As the Spirit was gifted on that day in a powerful way, people were not only gifted to speak a spiritual language, but others were gifted to hear it as if it was their own language.  Some just heard it as the babblings of drunk people (Acts 2:13).

The blessing of speaking in tongues is that it engages your spirit with the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 14:14).  It can be a rich blessing in one’s prayer life as they seek to center themselves and allow themselves to connect with God.  But it does not engage your mind, nor does it bless the body of believers around you.  That is why Paul gives such strict guidelines for the Corinthian church concerning tongues, because their worship services were getting out of hand with people trying to out-shout each other in tongues.  This still goes on today in many churches which is surprising considering how clear Paul is about NOT doing that.   He even goes so far as to say that if an unbeliever comes in and sees you shouting in unknown languages they will think you are crazy (1 Cor. 14:23).  And in 1 Corinthians 14:26-28 Paul clearly says that we should only speak in tongues in worship in an orderly way.   If there is someone there to interpret what has been said, and this should be kept to a minimum (2 or 3 at most).

Is speaking in tongues a sign that you are saved?

The idea that you must speak in tongues as the sign of salvation (or as a sign of having the Holy Spirit) comes from the Pentecostal church, but not all ‘charismatics’ believe this.  Speaking in tongues can be one sign that someone has the Holy Spirit, but it is not THE sign.  The most visible sign that the Spirit of God lives in someone should be in the FRUITS of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) rather than in the GIFTS of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:1-11).  The sign that some one has the Holy Spirit is not limited to any one gift, rather the presence of the Spirit is seen in the FRUITS of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Furthermore, the Spirit is given upon our belief in the saving work of Jesus and our repentance of sin.  The Spirit is gifted when we put our faith in Jesus, not at a later time.

Paul is also very clear in saying that not everyone will have the gift of tongues (1 Co 12:29-30).  So how could that be THE sign of salvation OR of having received the Holy Spirit.  The emphasis on making tongues THE sign in the Pentecostal church has made for unhealthy environments where people feel pressured to fake it.  It is pretty easy to fake speaking in tongues if you’ve heard it enough (though some people may be onto you if they have the spiritual gift of discernment – 1 Cor. 12:10).  However, it is a lot more difficult to fake things like love, patience, and the other fruits of the Spirit.  That is where the spiritual barometer should be.  None of us will have all of the spiritual gifts, but we should each bear all the fruit of the Spirit.   And we should eagerly seek gifts that edify the body, not the gifts like tongues that just edify yourself.  Seek gifts like healing, prophesying, or teaching, don’t get hung up on the need to speak in tongues.

Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus

June 30, 2010

Elisha looks on as Elijah is carried into heaven.

Question:

It seems like there are a lot of parallels between Elijah and Jesus.  The miracles, the feeding of many from a small amount of food, the raising back to life of a child, etc.  Miracles were done the same way it seems but with seemingly little impact on the culture. These actions were done by Jesus, with him the whole world got changed.  You don’t hear many people talking about Elisha the Prophet but he seemed to have done many things that Jesus did.

Answer:

There are definitely many similarities between Jesus and the prophets.  In fact Jesus was a prophet himself, or more accurately, Jesus was The Prophet.  In Luke 4:16-30, Jesus launches his ministry by making an outright declaration of his messianic and prophetic role.  “The Spirit is on ME, because he has ANOINTED me to proclaim the good news…” (Luke 4:18).  Even the people observed this about Jesus saying, “They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people” (Luke 7:16).  And Jesus was treated just as poorly as the past prophets of Israel.  In the Gospel of Luke he rebukes the leaders of Israel pointing to the irony of how they always reject the prophets when they are with them, but then glorify them long after they are dead (Luke 11:47-51).  He said this because the leaders of Israel were all trying to reject Jesus, a prophet in their midst.

Elijah and Elisha were special prophets.  God performed some spectacular miracles through Elijah and he is one of the few people in scripture who does not die.  Rather he was whisked away in a chariot to heaven.  Elijah also appears with Jesus and Moses in the account of the transfiguration in Matthew 17:1–13 and Luke 9:28–36.  The prophet Malachi also prophesied that Elijah would return, and Jesus himself confirms that John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come (see Matthew 11:14; 17:10–13).  Elisha was also a prophet of the miraculous, a trait that he received from his predecessor Elijah, who blessed him with a “double portion” of his spirit.

The parallels are certainly present between these great prophets and Jesus.  Jesus of course bears the unique privilege of being the Son of God, not a “Man of God” as Elijah was so often called.  Jesus was divine, and that fact alone is enough to set him apart from these other heavyweight prophets.  Furthermore, God did something with Jesus that had never happened before and still has not happened (not yet at least), God raised Jesus from the dead.  Granted, there are other resurrections in the bible, but Jesus died and rose again and is still risen.  All the others died eventually, and we will die as well, though resurrection awaits all who place their faith in Jesus.

This is no small thing.  The prophets brought powerful messages but saw little if any change among the people.  Jesus death and resurrection was the catalyst that would start a movement that would change the world.  Just look at what happens after his resurrection in the book of Acts.

Elijah and Elisha were great men of God, but Jesus is a savior, a messiah, and indeed God himself.

What’s with the strange events of 1 Kings 13?

June 30, 2010

God sent a lion to kill the unknown prophet from Judah

Reference: 1 Kings 13

Question:
What is this story of the two prophets in 1 King 13 all about?  Why does the one betray the other?

Answer:
You’ll want to make sure your read this one first.  It’s definitely not your typical Bible story.

I think that the main thing we need to take away from this story is the certainty of God’s word, and our need to obey it.  The chapter starts off with an unknown prophet bringing a message from God against King Jeroboam.  Jeroboam had desecrated the Temple and the Alter of God by turning it into a place of idol worship.  But when God clearly speaks a word against Jeroboam, Jeroboam doesn’t change.

God also spoke a word that was for the unknown prophet himself.  God told him, ‘You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came’ (vs.9).  Initially the unknown prophet from Judah adheres to this word.  But when approached by another prophet, the ‘old prophet’, the old prophet lied to the unknown prophet from Judah and told him that an angel of God had said it was okay for him to eat with the old prophet.  Upon hearing this the unknown prophet from Judah disobeyed God and ate with the old prophet.  To our horror and surprise God holds the unknown prophet accountable for going against his word, and a few verses later the unknown prophet was killed by a lion.

It’s hard to know why the old prophet lied to the unknown prophet.  He may have been jealous of the unknown prophet, or he may have just been curious about who he was, but that’s not the point of the story.  Again, the point of this story is the certainty of God’s word and our need to obey it.  The unknown prophet delivered God’s word to King Jeroboam, but he also told Jeroboam what God had said to him, that he “must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came”.  The prophet disobeyed this command and he experienced God’s wrath because of it.  Word of this bizarre occurrence must have spread to the King.  Jeroboam should have seen that the prophets words were true and that God’s words were certain.  Yet amazingly enough, this did not sway the evil idolatrous behavior of Jeroboam.  A lot of times this is the same for us.  We can see God actively proving himself again and again, yet we continue doing our will instead of his will.

We may ask, “why was God so harsh with the man since the old prophet lied to him?”  To ask such a question assumes a couple of things that can be slippery slopes.  First of all, that question assumes that the old prophet was a good man and deserved to live, even though he disobeyed God.  Instead we must remind ourselves that “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Just because the guy is a prophet doesn’t mean that he is outside of God’s wrath and judgment.   No one is.  But Christ took on everyone’s sin and received the wrath of God for us all.  So we need to avoid the thoughts that lead us to a place where we think that there are some people who are good or good enough to avoid the ‘nasty’ side of God.  No one is righteous.  That’s why we need the Righteous One, Jesus, to take up residence in our lives.

Secondly, if we ask the question, “why was God so harsh with the unknown prophet since the old prophet lied to him?” then we ultimately we are making excuses for the man’s disobedience.  We do this too often for ourselves as well.  We allow lies to come into our life that lead us to disobey God.  But the lie didn’t make us sin, we choose to sin.  We can always come up with an excuse to sin, but God’s word is clear to us, just as it was to the unknown prophet.  We can’t make excuses for his sin or our own.  The unknown prophet’s disobedience was clear enough, even if he was deceived.  We allow ourselves to be deceived into disobedience all the time.  But the deception does not nullify the disobedience.  God’s word is certain.

Why is Homosexuality a Sin?

June 27, 2010

2010 New York City Gay Pride Parade

Question:
I know that homosexuality is wrong, but I’m not sure why.  Even for me to say that homosexuality is wrong seems wrong to say it.  The feelings that gay/lesbian people have between each other seems like the same type of love between a man and a woman.

Answer:
There’s no way around it, this issue is complicated.  It would be very easy for us to simply embrace homosexuality and say that it’s okay, this is happening more and more among Christians.  But the easy route is rarely the best route.  There is another easy route that some Christians take, the route of rejecting homosexuals, avoiding them, or even hating them.  Too many Christians take this route as well.  The difficult way to go is the way of Jesus.  Jesus didn’t shy away from the issue of sin, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t loving.  On the contrary, he loved greater than any of us could ever know how to love.  Jesus would lovingly look a sinner right in the face and simply say “…go and sin no more” (John 8:1-11).  We need to be able to do the same thing.

Unfortunately we don’t deal with sin as well as Jesus, but we must follow his lead if we are to be his ambassadors on this earth.  The cross of Christ places on us the difficult demand to call sin ‘sin’, but also to love those who commit the sin.  If we don’t call sin ‘sin’, then we belittle God’s grace, and we make a mockery of the cross.  But the same is true if we don’t love the sinner.  If we fail to love those who sin, then we also belittle God’s grace and make a mockery of the cross.

Those who are not Christians don’t know any better concerning the will of God.  So if a homosexual does not know Jesus, then they cannot be held to the same standards.  But Christians must be held to the highest standard of obedience.  “Be Holy as I am Holy”, that is the call for us.  It is an impossible one, but with the Holy Spirit we can do the impossible task of aligning our wills to God’s will.

What Does God Have to Say? – The Biblical Question

There are several places in scripture that specifically address the sin of homosexual practice.  In the Old Testament Law there are several verses that clearly prohibit sexuality (see Leviticus 18:22 or Leviticus 20:13).  Some proponents of homosexuality may argue that many of the laws of the Old Testament were nullified when Jesus died on the cross.  You may hear arguments like “the bible says that eating shellfish is ‘abominable’ but we all eat shellfish, so to say that gay practice is a sin is a double standard”.  These argument don’t really hold up too well for a few reasons.  First of all Jesus himself reminds us that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-20).  Secondly, these laws concerning homosexuality in Leviticus are morality laws (ethical direction for behavior) not holiness laws (laws for ritual cleanliness).  Lastly, the practice of homosexuality is condemned in the New Testament as well (Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

But the scripture that is most compelling is not the scripture that condemns homosexuality, but the verses that affirm heterosexuality, specifically within the context of marriage.  The bible affirms sexual relationships within the context of marriage, not outside.  And marriage is clearly defined in scripture as the joining of one man and one woman.  Genesis establishes this and both Jesus and Paul affirm it (Matt 19:4-6Ephesians 5:31-33).   When Paul addresses the church in Corinth, he acknowledges that there were all kinds of sexual immoralities in the city and in the church.  Paul answered this problem by affirming the practice of chastity and the institution of marriage between one man and one woman (1 Corinthians 7:1-2).

Why Does the Bible Say It’s Wrong? – The Theological Question

‘The bible says so” should be a good enough answer for those of us who follow Jesus.  But knowing the scriptures that say homosexuality is a sin doesn’t always help us understand why homosexuality is a sin.  So I need to shift from the biblical, to the theological.  The reason why homosexuality is a sin is because it is outside of God’s perfect design, and it is not the way that God designed sex.  When God made this world, he made it perfectly and he called it “good”.  That included everything, the plants (good!), the animals (good!), the man and woman (very good!), and yes even human sexuality (good!!).  Sex was God’s perfect idea, he made it perfect and as we see in Genesis 2:24-25, the perfect world he made included a man and a woman cleaving their naked bodies together.

If you know the story though, you know what happens next.   The man and the woman used their God-given free will and they disobeyed their creator by eating from the tree that was forbidden to them.  This disobedience allowed sin to get a foothold in the world, and when that happened everything that God created was cosmically effected by sin.  Nature was broken, humans were broken, and sexuality was broken as well.  Humans exchanged everything that God had made so perfectly, and they twisted it the way they wanted it to be, including sex.  We see the beginning of this in Genesis 4 when Lamech takes two wives instead of one.  By Genesis 6 God shows his anger at the men of the earth who take any wives that they want, by Genesis 19:4-5 the people of Sodom had completely broken from the perfection that God had created sex to be, and before the end of that same chapter Lot’s daughters have incestuous sex with their father.  The rapid decline from God’s perfection is obvious, and it continues throughout scripture.  Sexual sin is sex outside of God’s intent, outside of his perfect design.  Our sexuality has been profoundly broken by the fall of creation.

Sex is not the only thing broken by the fall.  Our feelings, our desires, and our yearnings are broken too.  Nothing was left undamaged by the fall.  So while I cannot deny that the feelings of gays and lesbians may be very real feelings, that is not the point.  The reality is that those very feelings are the result of sin and the broken world we live in.  Homosexuals are not the only ones with broken feelings and yearnings.  Heterosexuals struggle with this as well.  Many married men and women may have strong feelings of love for people who are not their spouses, but that does not make those feelings right.  Many pedophiles have very real feelings of love for children, but that doesn’t not make those feelings right.   We are tempted and we seek our own wills because sin has effected us to the very core.  As much as we might like to, we cannot justify homosexuality by saying that a gay couple is monogamous, or by saying that they are kind and good people, or by saying that they love each other so much.  The very core of that love is a brokenness caused by sin, and acting out on those feelings is willful disobedience to what God established in creation, and what he has revealed to us in his word.

Why Does it Feel Wrong to Say ‘It’s Wrong’? – The Sociological Question

As mentioned above, our feelings, along with everything else, have been corrupted by sin.  So we can’t always trust our feelings about what is right and wrong.  That is why scripture is so valuable to us.  Without scripture our feelings about right and wrong will default to the standards of our culture.  Thus, the reason it feels wrong for you to say “homosexuality is wrong” is sociological at the core.  In other words, culture has successfully taught us to feel bad when we say homosexuality is wrong.

Few of us want to admit that we are products of our own culture, but we cannot avoid it.   50 years ago it would not have felt wrong for you to say that homosexuality is wrong, but with the advent of the 60’s and the sexual revolution, culture changed in a way that we had not seen for hundreds of years.  Today we live in a culture that has thrown out all traditional values, many of which were rooted in scripture, and we have replaced them with our own taboos.  For example, if you say that a certain belief or behavior is “wrong” then you are committing a big taboo in our culture; and it is a taboo has been ingrained our brains subconsciously from the day we learned how to think.  Furthermore, when it comes to sex, all traditional boundaries have been thrown out the window, especially biblically-defined marriage.  The new boundary is simply the boundary of mutual consent.  When it comes to sex in our culture as long as the other person (or persons) say it’s okay, anything goes.

Cultures may change, but God’s word is timeless.  Today we live in a post-Christian culture that has exchanged many of the foundational sexual values of God and replaced them with an “anything goes” ethic.  It feels wrong to say “homosexuality is wrong” because we mistakenly take our ethical cues from culture instead of scripture.  But as followers of Jesus we must apply a different set of ethical standards to our lives.  Even if it goes against the grain of everything around us.

Check out  Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationships Beyond an Age of Individualism by Dale Kuehne

The sheep and the shepherd (John 10:16)

May 27, 2010

Reference: John 10:16

We know who the shepherd is, the question here is "who's in the flock?"

Question:
What does Jesus mean in John 10:16 when he says ” one on one” – does he mean that he guides each one us one on one?

Answer:
Actually this passage has nothing to do with the manner in which Jesus leads/guides us.  Rather he is speaking specifically about salvation and who receives it.  Jesus does not say that the shepherd leads us “one on one” he says that there is “one flock and one shepherd”.   A flock consists of many sheep, not just one.  It would have been different if he had said there is one sheep and one shepherd.  But he is saying that there is one “flock”, i.e. many sheep.

The significance of this ONE flock lies in the beginning of the verse.  Jesus says that he has “other” sheep.  He is referring to the Gentiles, those outside the Jewish faith.  He suggests here that he will go and get them as well, and through the gate (Jesus), they too will receive salvation.  This is a very radical statement because during Jesus’ time there was great separation between the Jews and the Gentiles.  Yet here he says they will both be a part of the ‘one flock’.

Jesus reminds us that even the people we least suspect are welcome into his flock.  It doesn’t matter if they come from a different culture, a different system of beliefs, or if they look or act a certain way.  But here he also reminds us that those who will pass through the gate must “listen to his voice.”  Many do not.

How did Saul die? (two differing accounts)

May 27, 2010

Reference: 1 Samuel 31:4, 2 Samuel 1:6-10

King Saul commits suicide.

Question:
In 2 Samuel a man came to David claiming that he killed Saul in which David then killed the man because he admitted to killing the anointed one. Previously in 1 Samuel 31-4 when his armor bearer wouldn’t kill Saul, Saul killed himself by falling on his sword. Why the discrepancy?

Answer:
Here we have another issue of a conflict within scripture.  This is not uncommon nor does it give reason to discredit the bible.  Often times there are good explanations for biblical discrepancy, sometimes it is impossible to know for sure.  Some scholars may try to harmonize multiple accounts, i.e. they try to explain the problem in a way that makes both accounts work.  This can be like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

In the case of Saul’s death, there have been attempts to harmonize the account that says Saul committed suicide, and the account in which the Amalekite says that he killed the King. Obviously, Saul could not have both committed suicide and been killed by the Amalekite.

I think that the explanation for the discrepancy can be as simple as saying that the Amalekite lied.  This would not be much of a stretch considering that he brought the information to the (soon-to-be) king of Israel, David.  The ruse may have been an attempt to gain favor from Saul’s arch nemesis David.  Little did he know that David still bore great respect for Saul because he was God’s anointed king.  The Amalekite must have been very surprised when David had him killed for saying that he murdered Israel’s king.

In the 2 Samuel 1 account, note also that it does not say what happened to Saul, it only tells us what the Amalekite said happened.  This is different from the 1 Samuel 31 account in which the narrator simply spells out exactly what happened.  If you read 2 Samuel 4:10 you will see that even David himself does not say that the Amalekite killed Saul.  Rather, David says he killed the Amalekite because of what he said. Thus, it is much more likely that the account of Saul’s suicide in 1 Samuel 31 is the actual account of his death.  Furthermore, there is really no disunity in the two accounts, since one of the accounts is likely a lie told by an enemy of Israel.


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