An Encouragement to Think About Revelation 4&5
This past Sunday in our adult Sunday School class we continued our studies in the book of Revelation.
Having managed to make it through Revelation 1-3 without getting at all sidetracked by sensationalism and/or the kinds of speculative nonsense that puts so many people off of Revelation, we found ourselves Sunday looking at Chapters 4&5. In those chapters the Apostle John is carried away to the very throne room of heaven itself and while there he sees many wonderful and comforting things. Through our study I was personally reminded of why Revelation 4&5 are some of my favorite chapters in all of the Bible.
Why Not Give it a Read?
Why Not Give it a Listen?
Once you've read the passage please make the time to listen to one of the finest talks I’ve ever heard on Revelation 4&5. It was delivered by Christian Apologist and Oxford University Professor of Mathematics, Dr. John Lennox at the '09 Basics Conference. I was in the audience that night and remember the talk very well. It was a great blessing to me and pray it might be a blessing to you too.
The Bible reveals that sex was created by God and is good. It was His idea. The very first recorded words of God addressed to mankind encapsulate the Bible’s teachings on sex: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This very positive command demonstrates that sex was meant to glorify God, cement the bond between husband and wife, be experienced exclusively between one man and one woman in the marriage relationship, and propagate the human race.
On this side of the fall, sex and sexuality are distorted to lesser or greater degrees. However, today there is controversy about homosexuality raging in evangelical circles and, increasingly, in Reformed churches as well. Not only is homosexuality often presented as good but it is also presented as something to be pursued with God’s blessing. It is alarming that the acceptance of homosexual behavior among professing evangelicals is increasing. We hear from some people that the kind of homosexual relationships we see today (loving, monogamous ones) aren’t addressed in Scripture. Although this trend seems likely to continue, these revisionist views must be rejected by followers of Jesus Christ.
God’s Word is firm in its negative view of homosexuality and same-sex sexual desire. The Bible is the infallible standard by which we must view homosexuality and understand the gospel remedy for it. Unfortunately, the reliability of the Bible in this area has been questioned by many today who claim the Christian faith. Christians who view Scripture as authoritative and inspired must not accept this watered-down view of God’s Word. The Bible reveals God’s assessment regarding the problems of the human heart, homosexuality being one of many.
How are Christians to think about homosexuality? We need to understand it in three ways. First, homosexuality in Scripture is always spoken of in terms of an action—something done physically with another person, or an internal, active thought pattern of the mind and heart. The Greek word most often used to describe homosexuality in the New Testament is arsenokoitēs, which refers to a male lying with another male. Therefore, whenever it is mentioned, it’s always defined in terms of an activity, a behavior, or a person who engages in that behavior of heart and body.
Second, homosexuality is labeled as sin in every place it is mentioned. It’s prohibited and is expressly seen as contrary to God’s will. Scripture states this clearly in Genesis 19:4–9; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; 1 Timothy 1:9–10; and Jude 7. Romans 1:24–27 also describes the activity of heart-centered passion and lust, as well as the behavior. It references both men and women. The behavior is listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11, where we also learn that it was the history of some Christians in the early church. Among those who had experienced salvation were former practitioners of homosexuality.
Therefore, not only is homosexual behavior of body and heart defined as sin, but it is also portrayed as a consequence and effect of the fall. Referring to the reality of sex gone awry, Leviticus 18:6–19 lists more than a dozen forms of sexual sin, including homosexuality and sex with animals. Again, the gravity of sexual sin, particularly homosexuality, is stated strongly in Romans 1:24–26 using vivid and stunning phrases such as “the lust of their hearts to impurity,” “dishonorable passions,” and having a “debased mind.” That is in addition to the verses in Jude that speak of “perversion of the grace of God into sensuality” and of people who “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.” This latter designation is specifically tied to what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah.
But did God really have to convey that misusing sex in the aforementioned ways (and, by inference, the desires leading to that misuse) is prohibited and seen as sin? Of course. Our desires, especially our sexual desires, are never neutral. To see same-sex desire as neutral, especially when that desire either objectifies the other person sexually or sees the person merely as an object of sexual passion, is to misunderstand the depth and intricacy of sin. In Scripture, the heart is often seen as the seat of our desires. In Mark 7:21, Jesus describes the heart as the seat of all sexual immorality and sensuality. These propensities are portrayed as evil things that come from within. He is talking about desire, whether the object of that desire is someone of the opposite sex or the same sex. James 1:14–15 tells us we are lured and enticed by our desires and that desire gives birth to sin. Desire is not an impartial part of our being, but rather a very active part of it.
Admittedly, these views of Scripture are widely rejected. There is an overarching factor in the attempt to legitimize homosexuality biblically. Simply put, in today’s culture, our sociology is increasingly interpreting, defining, and determining our theology. What do I mean by that? There was a time when believers routinely looked to the Bible both to know how to think about issues of life and to find solutions to the dilemmas they faced, including issues surrounding sex and sexuality. No more. Today, the impact and influence of one’s social network and experience with friends and family have displaced what the Bible might say on this topic. Another term to understand this transfer of authority and credibility away from God’s Word to personal experience is cultural accommodation. Today, it seems that many people believe that the Scriptures must bow to our experiences or those of others.
We must also note that homosexuality is never described in Scripture as a condition or state of being. Contrary to the modern idea of an innate homosexual “orientation”—a term only frequently used in the last twenty-five years or so—this concept is not found in Scripture. It’s assumed in the Bible that we can become inclined or “oriented” to anything to which we continually give our minds and hearts. Do something in thought or action enough times and over a long enough period, and it will become ingrained in us.
However, we have to be careful of simplistic thinking here, especially when we think of our responsibility—something many don’t believe they have when it comes to their same-sex desires or behavior. We are the product of complex interactions of many factors over many years. Why are some prone to any number of psychosocial persuasions, including anger, depression, or chemical dependency? Here is the answer: we do not always choose our struggles or temptations, although we bear responsibility for what we do with them. They develop in us through a complicated interaction of temperament, internal and external influences, and our own hungry, broken, and sinful selves.
We easily and by nature cooperate with these influences so that habits of heart and behavior become strong and ruling. In one sense, we are the sum of thousands of small decisions we have made. We have cooperated with our cultivated desires. So, despite the external factors that may have been in play in the development of those temptations we find particularly enticing, we are still responsible for leading godly lives, including in the area of sexuality.
Finally, we need to understand that God offers forgiveness, a clean record, and restoration through Jesus Christ for all repentant sinners, including those who have a history of homosexual behavior and other sins. He not only forgives us as we are prone to misuse His gift of sex and sexuality, but His grace actually “trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12). This does not necessarily mean that we can pretend as if we hadn’t misused sex as part of our history or that illicit sexual desires will not continue to trouble us or be a source of temptation, but it does mean that the grace of God gives us power for transformed living as followers of Jesus Christ. He enables us to resist temptation and live unto His glory.
Christ mediates this grace and empowers believers, but the church, the body of Christ, also plays a crucial role. I overheard a pastor once say, “Repentance is killing that which is killing me without killing myself. ” I don’t know anyone who can do that all by himself. Learning to walk in obedience and put to death our sin and our sinful nature is never something to be attempted alone or in isolation. Biblical change is a community activity. The call of the church is to offer support and encouragement to those who experience same-sex attractions and other sexual temptations. Walking with those who are tempted in this way means we help bear the burdens of their struggles and temptations, offering friendship and fellowship, and helping them to believe for the first time or to re-believe the gospel every day. That’s what Christ does for us and what we need to do for others in dealing with sexual sin. In so doing, we will also be reminded that we, too, are forgiven for our transgressions.
The above article was authored by John Freeman, president of Harvest USA, a Reformed ministry aiding individuals affected by sexual sin. Freeman is also the author of Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex.
This article originally appeared in Tabletalk magazine and is also available online at www.ligonier.org/tabletalk
Assuming you are nerdy enough you might enjoy my presentation of a paper about Martin Luther's personal understanding of the doctrine of sanctification especially as some in Reformed circles accuse Luther of having no real understanding of sanctification at all. I contend that by examining Luther in his own words even we Reformed believers can discover otherwise.
Just in case you don't know
WHO WAS MARTIN LUTHER?
Martin Luther (Nov 10, 1483 - Feb 18, 1546) was a German theologian, an Augustinian monk, and an ecclesiastical reformer whose teachings inspired the Reformation and deeply influenced the doctrines and culture of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions. Luther's call to the Church to return to the teachings of the Bible led to the formation of new traditions within Christianity and to the Counter-Reformation, the Roman Catholic reaction to these movements.
Luther's contributions to Western civilization went beyond the life of the Christian Church. Luther's translations of the Bible helped to develop a standard version of the German language and added several principles to the art of translation. Luther's hymns inspired the development of congregational singing in Christianity.
Rev. R Crabtree
"...a son, a husband, a father of 6, a friend, a Presbyterian