Simplifying Assumptions

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a re-occurring conversation with several people.  Not surprisingly, the topic of that conversation has been on my mind a good deal lately:  Namely, the state of marriage in Iowa.

Let’s get two things straight before I begin:  I have never been married before.  And, in the future, I intend to make, as Thomas Jefferson put it, “entangling alliances with no one.”  Hence, my views can only be based on indirect experience, and my understanding of the Scripture.  At the same time, I have yet to hear a compelling, (Biblical or secular) argument to contradict these views.

In order to gain insight into the operation of a complex real-world system, engineers often make broad assumptions that minimize calculation.  While these conjectures often ignore details and extreme cases, they can be a powerful tool in understanding the overall behavior of the system.  This is what I’ve done in forming my current view of marriage.  There will be minor exceptions to a few of the following ideas, but I believe they match very well on the whole with both the Bible and common sense:

Let all humankind be divided into two groups:

  • Group A: Those who have chosen to reject Christ (Rom 3:23).
  • Group B: Recipients of God’s free gift of salvation (Rom 3:24).

From even a cursory look at God’s Word, it’s clear that there are two completely different standards by which groups A and B are spiritually judged by God:

  • Standard A: The standard of the Law:  Since God cannot tolerate ANY sin  (James 2:10), there is absolutely no hope (Matt 3:12, Rom 1:18-28) for those who do not receive supernatural cleansing from sin.
  • Standard B: The standard of Christ:  Once a person expresses faith in Christ’s ability to remove one’s sin, and commits his or her life to serving God, all of that person’s past, present, and future sin is erased (1 John 1:9).  As a voluntary measure of love and gratitude for Christ, His followers are given the command and power to live life in accordance with God’s Word (1 John 1:6, Rom 6).

In keeping with these, let us assume two types of sin:

  • Type A: Committed by an unbeliever.  Without the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life, sin wields great power over a person, which they are unable to overcome — hence the term “slaves to sin” (Rom 6:5-7).
  • Type B: Committed by a believer.  Since God’s children have the power to resist temptation (1 Cor 10:13) there is no excuse for a believer to willingly disobey God.

All this gives rise to the following proposition:

Salvation first, then life-change.

In light of Scripture, there is no question whether or not homosexuality is a sin.  However, non-Christians who happen to be gay are in exactly the same spiritual state as non-Christians who happen to be devout Buddists.  By the same token, a Christian can’t honestly call himself or herself a follower of Christ if he or she is knowingly involved in any sinful way of living.  Whether this lifestyle is one of sin is gossip, hatefulness, or homosexuality, true believers will consistently steps to eventually “walk in the light”.

Thus, while there are moral absolutes, it makes no sense for the government to make laws which do not have clear secular benefit.  Because they are indwelt with Christ, believers have no need of moral legislation.  Conversely, there is no spiritual benefit (to Christians or non-Christians) to forcing unbelievers to be moral unbelievers.

There is a logical extension of this reasoning that implies that the legally-recognized institution of marriage (as opposed to the church-recognized institution) also makes no sense.  But, that will have to wait until another day.  🙂

Some keep the Sabbath going to church…

Emily Dickinson has an interesting poem about her unique relationship with God. Part or me thinks it would be better to live my life and faith a little closer to the natural world that He made — that church (and other institutions involving people) have become a distraction from true communion with our Maker. Sometimes, I almost start to confuse the ideal worlds I create in my head with reality — but they always get destroyed as soon as I turn away from the window.

However, as easy as it is to find problems in the church and humanity — and as much as I’d like to blame someone else for the slump in my Sunday fervor, I fear that all too often, I don’t take the time to keep the Sabbath at all. Inside. And it would be the same whether I spent my time at a man-made church or in an orchard cathedral. I’d like to say that the lack of consistency with spiritual content on my blog is no reflection on my life, but … but even though I’m in no position to teach anyone else, God did teach me something in church today.

The message was about Ezra — and the return to Jerusalem. I’m not sure if this was the intended point of the sermon, but the fact that that God was bringing His people back brought out His redemptive power in a way that I haven’t thought about in a long time. These were the people that had rejected God with their whole hearts — and (for a period of about 70 years) it appeared that God had finally given up on them as He said he would if they didn’t repent. But He brought them back! He built them a new temple, and restored them to the land — and trusted them against all hope and against all reason to do His will!

Of course, it would have been so much better if they had never fallen away. The exiles would never again be the mighty nation they once were — and they knew it. But there’s no use fretting over what might have been. If we’re given another chance to do something for God (even if it’s not what we once could have done), that’s an infinite opportunity for gratefulness. And, it’s a chance to do what you can for Someone who still believes in you — even when He shouldn’t!

Reading through the "Boring" Books of the Bible

For many people, books like Leviticus and Numbers seem tedious and unnecessary. They ask “Why do I, a 21st-century Christian, need to know anything about ceremonial uncleanness or the results of Moses’ census?” However, we ought to remember that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable…” (2 Tim 3:16) Actually, a short glance through the introduction to Paul’s letter to Timothy will show us a very helpful way of studying the various “boring” books of the Old Testament (or any book of the Bible, for that matter!):

1 Tim 1:3-17

  1. (v. 3) Be open to God’s showing you something new — but more importantly, don’t forget to listen when He’s re-showing you something old.
  2. (v.4a) God doesn’t expect you to come up with fancy symbolic meanings for obscure passages (ex. typifying every article of the tabernacle). Though these can be interesting and helpful at times, they often distract from the main purpose of reading God’s Word.
  3. (v.4b) Hear what God has to say on the various topics in His word — realizing that no matter what you believe or have been told about what’s right and what’s wrong, God’s opinion is always correct. That is to say, reconcile your convictions to God’s Word — not the other way around.
  4. (v.5) So, what is the main purpose of reading God’s Word, anyway — and once again, why did God include all of those passages about skin diseases and animal sacrifices? Well, as Paul puts it, every passage we read is to produce “love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.” Therefore, hidden within each one of those “uninteresting” OT passages, God has a personal message to you. Paul even tells us what these little messages are about: “How you can love someone today”; “How you can start learning to have a pure heart today”; “How to keep a good conscience today”; and “How to live with sincere faith for the next 24 hours.” This sums up to: “What God wants you to live like right now.”
  5. (v.8-17) Here’s a [very loose!] paraphrase of Paul’s example of how he applied this method of Bible-reading: “So, I was just reading about all of these laws God made for people. There were laws for rebellious people, laws for kidnappers, laws for liars… I had read them so many times before that they seemed dry and overworn, at first. But, then, as I read on, I began to notice more and more laws that I, personally, had broken. ‘Goodness me!,’ I said to myself, ‘According to the law, God ought to have taken my life by now… I wonder why He hasn’t — and more than that, why does He allow a law-breaker like me to serve Him in the ministry?’ Of course, God answered my question right away: He wanted me to be an example to other people of how Christ can turn people’s lives around. And then, He reminded me that I need to live like He wants me to if I am to be a good example of His craftsmanship.” Paul didn’t actually say this, but you can bet that God then brought out some passage or phrase that brought to mind exactly how to live as a good example that day.

You see, God has a personal message to you within every passage of His word. Look for it, ask Him to reveal it to you, and when He does, listen to it and apply it to your life. That’s what God intended Bible study to be. Now, stop reading this article and go find out what God has to say to you!