The truth matters to people. It matters to people a lot. It has been held in such high regard that people have fought for what they believe is the truth, people have died for the truth, people have spent their whole lives looking for the truth. Take the Iraq war for example. What annoyed people more than anything was the fact that they had been lied to by Bush and Blair about WMDs. How often have you felt hurt because your friend lied to you?
Human beings love the truth. We hold it dear and above all we want to know the truth. We want to be in possession of it. We hate not knowing the truth. We hate being deceived.
This means that a lot of people get really angry when Christians claim to hold the exclusive truth in this world. They splutter indignantly and say “How can Christians claim to hold the exclusive truth?” little realising the irony of their statement.
So here is the first of two posts on Truth. In this post I’ll look at the defining attributes that all truths hold and in the next I’ll apply them to Christianity.
Truths can never contradict each other
This makes logical sense. If two ‘truths’ said the exact opposite of each other then one of them must be a lie. If two men look at a blue pen and one says “it is blue” and the other “it is red” then only one is speaking the truth.
All truth is exclusive
Truth excludes all other possibilities. If the pen is blue then this excludes the truth that the pen is red. Truth by its very nature creates a division between the fact it proposes and everything else. There is no such thing as a non-exclusive truth. The blue pen cannot be red.
All truths must agree with each other
This connects back to the first point. If two truths contradict each other then they cannot both be true. One must be a lie. Similarly if someone was to make multiple truth claims then for everything they said to be truth everything said would have to agree. If you have two pens of different colours they cannot both be called blue.
The existence of one truth means the existence of many lies
If there is something that is true it must mean that anything that is contrary to it is not true i.e. a lie. The pen is blue is the truth so the pen being white, black, red, orange, yellow, purple, etc are all lies. Lies will always outnumber truths.
Your opinion on the truth does not make it any less true
If I have a blue pen and you insist it is a red pen then that does not make the blue pen turn red. It just makes you wrong. Even if no one believed in a truth it would still be true. For example everyone once thought the world has flat but that did not make the truth of the Earth’s spherical nature any less true.
I’m sure I have you complete agreement so far. It’s all pretty obvious isn’t it? The difficultly comes when we move from the truth about colours of pen to the realms of spiritual truth claims.
Spiritual truths claims are any truth claims that seek to explain the supernatural world. We have Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, New Age-ism, etc, etc, any religion. But spiritual truth claims also include atheism which explains the supernatural by explaining it away and it includes every philosophy out there as well which seeks to fill the void left by there being no spiritual reality.
Now let’s apply our attributes of truth to spiritual truth…
There can only be one spiritual truth
We have Christianity, Islam, Atheism, Buddhism, New Age-ism, Humanism, etc, etc A vast array of opposing belief systems and truth claims. They cannot all be right! Truths cannot contradict each other. They are not all talking about the same truth. Atheism and Christianity cannot both be right. Islam and Christianity cannot both be right.
You may object that all religions say the same things anyway and make the same spiritual truth claims. I beg to differ; if you study religions you would very quickly realise that their truth claims are so different and diverse for it to be impossible for them all to be right. Sure, they may agree on the existence of a God/gods but they differ wildly in who god is and what god does. To say all religions say the same thing would be like asserting that all economists say the same thing because they all talk about economics.
There can only be one true belief system in this world because every other belief system contradicts all others. I’ll repeat myself. There is only one spiritual truth. Logically this is undeniable.
There are many spiritual lies
Since we know there can only be one truth then it makes sense that considering the variety of different spiritual truth claims there are many lies. If Atheism is true then everything else is a lie. If Christianity is true then everything else is a lie. The existence of such a large number of lies is not evidence to the fact that the truth is not true.
Everyone has what they consider to be an exclusive truth
This is what is so ironic about people asking Christians how they can insist they have the exclusive truth. Because in the very act of asking they are implying that Christianity is not true and therefore that they have the truth. This truth excludes the possibility of Christianity being true and is therefore exclusive.
Sorry if this is making your head hurt. Let’s use an analogy. James has a blue pen. He tells Jack it is blue. Jack asks him how he can be so sure that the truth of the blueness of the pen is exclusive. In doing so Jack is saying that the pen might not be blue. In other words he’s implying that the real truth is that the pen is another colour. Jack has just made a claim to an exclusive truth.
Your opinion on spiritual truth doesn’t make the truth less true
If God is true then your opinion on that truth will have no affect on it. You might not want there to be a God but the truth will still remain. You can say you do not believe in God but if his existence is true then his existence is true. You cannot change the truth simply because you do not like it.
In the same way if the Atheists’ claim to truth is correct then though I may not like it I am still wrong.
Spiritual Truth claims matter
By this point some of you may be wondering why people get so bothered by spiritual truth claims. You may be ‘agnostic’ or apathetic to these claims. You may struggle to care either way.
But now you’re asserting your own claim to exclusive truth. You are asserting that Atheism, Christianity, Islam, etc are not worth bothering about. You’re asserting your own truth that these subjects are fruitless to discuss and that they don’t matter.
Yet if you consider the claims all belief systems make then you should care. All spiritual claims make assertions about what happens when you die, Heaven and Hell, how you should live you life now, what God wants you to do and much more. Even Atheism asserts some extremely important truth claims – there is nothing after death, morality is bunk (ok, I’m being purposely annoying here to my atheist friends; my critique of Atheism will be another post.)
All spiritual truth claims involve faith
Whoa! Slow down Benjamin, you say. And I realise what I’m saying here so bear with me. Let’s first of all answer the question: what is faith? Well as the Oxford English dictionary puts it:
Faith, n, complete trust or confidence; firm belief esp. without logical truth; spiritual apprehension of divine truth apart from proof
Or as the writer of Hebrews puts it:
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”
Hebrews 11 v 1
I’m sure you’ll all accept that religious spiritual truth claims require faith. I could argue over the logicalness of faith but in general faith is being certain of what we do not see. The question I’m sure you’re asking is: how does Atheism involve faith?
Well, Atheism’s spiritual truth claim is that the supernatural, unseen, spiritual world does not exist. Atheism works on a what you see is what you get principle. It makes this claim because science is a logical tool that deals only with the natural world. It can offer no say either way on the existence of a supernatural world. That falls out of its boundaries. Atheism says that because science can offer no opinion on the spiritual world and spiritual realities then they do not exist. If science cannot explain it then it cannot exist. This then is a claim to faith. Atheism requires there to be faith that this conclusion is correct rather than say the conclusion of Christianity which it that science offers no opinion, these realities still exist and are explained to us in the Bible. Atheism makes a claim that cannot be proved and therefore involves faith.
What have we established?
First is that only one spiritual truth can exist because truths can never contradict each other. Second is that since truth is exclusive by its very nature the Christian claim to exclusive truth is entirely logically. Third is that everyone makes claims to exclusive truths. Fifth is that your opinion on spiritual truth does affect the truthfulness of said spiritual truth. And lastly we saw that all claims about a spiritual truth rely on faith.
In my next post I’m going to look at and explain Christian truth claims. I welcome any criticism and I’m well aware that this was only an introduction to a potentially vast subject.
In my previous post (here) I identified what lust is, how it is sinful and the process of grace we need to be freed from it. In this post I’ll look at specific steps we can take in order to grow in grace and put sin to death. Again, I must stress that these are not legalistic guidelines; it is not by our own power that we do this but through Christ’s.
Prayer – This should be a no brainer but I know how easy it is to forget to pray. As Christians we need to be praying for purity of thought and action every single day. When we feel lustful temptations: pray. When we’re confronted with a lustful picture: look away and pray. Even when we think we’re doing fine: pray.
There is no such thing as too much prayer. And while you are praying make sure to pray for the purity of your friends as well in case they forget. Pray, pray, pray. It focuses the mind away from the pleasures of the flesh and onto the spiritual pleasures of God.
Bible reading – We need to constantly remind ourselves about the truths of lust. It is a sin. It will not bring lasting pleasure. Reading the Bible will re-affirm these Biblical truths. Start with Romans 13 v 14
“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Memorising verses like these and many others can be a real benefit when lustful temptations strike. Repeat these verses to yourself to remind you of the truth.
Sowing in the Spirit – any type of Spiritual activity will help you combat any temptation. Go to church, worship God, read a Christian book, study the Bible, anything that has God at its direct centre. Do it. As Paul urges us:
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
Galatians 6 v 7 – 8
Do not sow in the flesh but in the Spirit. Focus on God. Avoid lustful situations. Flee from sin. Pursue holiness.
What does sowing in the flesh look like?
Sowing in the flesh means we do anything that condones or praises sin. So in this case anything that glorifies lust needs to go. The easiest way to combat lustful temptation is not during the heat of the moment but rather beforehand. We should seek to avoid as much lust as possible i.e. not sow in the flesh. We also need to remember that we will all have lust triggers that we will need to avoid:
Certain times of day – are bad for us. Typically this is early in the morning and late in the evening. Do what you can to avoid placing yourself in a situation where lustful temptation is easy to give way to and these times. Listen to Christian music, always set a bedside alarm so you get up and you’re not lying in bed with nothing to do, stick up Bible verses around your bed, pray before you go to bed and when you get up. Sleep with your bedroom door open.
Locations – Maybe abathroom, bed, friend’s house, bookshop with ‘smutty’ books, a beach, part of town, etc. Avoid. If you have to go there do so only with much prayer and an accountable friend.
Television/computer games – We can’t be foolish here. All these entertainment mediums are constantly portraying lust as something good or using lust to sell you something. Cut it out. If it’s lustful you don’t want to be entertained by it. Be aware that even watching a soap can lead you to lust. Take drastic measures. As Jesus says:
“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
Matthew 5 v 30
Cut off any lustful media. Yes, even One Tree Hill. You may not think it is affecting you but it probably is. And the less said about the Inbetweeners the better – just because it’s funny does not make it good. In fact, comedy is a really easy way for lust to get into our heads. And guys: some computer games have a lot of lust in them. Not COD but many others will. Again, cut it out.
Movies - too often we think we can ‘handle’ films we know will be bad for us. Again, this is the wrong way of thinking about things. It’s not even a hint of lust not how much lust can I handle. As a general rule: avoid 18s. Avoid lust ridden teen comedies. Even rom coms could be affecting your behaviour.
Magazines – Again, see above, if it causes you to think lustful thoughts cut it out. Also consider the affect of fashion magazines that may have a bad influence of how you think about yourself. Do not covert a model’s beauty. Living without even a hint of lust may mean living without even a hint of Vogue.
Books – Romantic novels may seem harmless but they often portray sex outside marriage or adultery or other lustful sins in a positive light. If a book has a sex scene in it either skip those pages or stop reading. Avoid trash novels. Women’s literature is especially bad.
Internet – Porn is just a Google search away. If you struggle with this then try moving your laptop to a busy area of your house/flat. Don’t use the laptop when and where you are alone. Stick a Bible verse on it. Listen to Christian music whilst browsing the internet. Have a Bible next to your computer. Be radical – cancel your internet if that is what it takes. Never go online just to browse aimlessly.
Music – is really quite a subtle temptation. Music bypasses our logic and plays with our emotions. In generally a lot of modern songs are about lust, sex outside marriage, adulterous affairs, etc. Not healthy. Be prepared to prune your music collection.
Thought life – we need to be able to control our own thoughts. If a lustful though enters our heads then get into the practise of thinking about God instead. Pray for holy thoughts.
Above all, let’s not be half hearted in our attempts. Sure, we like watching TV, reading, sleeping in, going to the beach, etc. But if it leads us to lustful sin then cut it out. Sure, these measures may seem drastic but we need to root lust out of our lives. Anything that it takes we should do.
And now let’s look at some specific lustful sins:
Masturbation – follow much of the above advice. Masturbation is usually the end result of a long trail of lustful temptation. And remember that God centred sex happens in marriage between a man and a woman. Masturbation is a self centred, isolated, perverted image of Biblical sex. Take things one day at a time. And this may sound contradictory but Christians can become too focused on Masturbation – remember that lust is at its heart. And also remember that lust is just one of many sins that we need to put to death.
Relationship - our relationships with the opposite sex can be just as lustful as anything else. We must be careful to act with complete purity and holiness in our relationships. We must not push for any form of sexual intimacy before marriage. We can do a lot to help each other here. Women that means dressing attractively not to attract. Virtuous rather than seductive. Guys, this means watching the signals we send as Harris puts it: “There are certain things a guy can do or say to girls that are equivalent of a male cleavage.” Above all, we can pray for each other!
And one of the best steps you can take to fighting lust:
Accountability - What is the worst thing you can do if you struggle with lust? Answer: keep quiet about it. Seriously, don’t. Tell a godly person you know. In saying this DO NOT tell someone of the opposite sex - that could just lead you into more lust! Find someone who will question you regularly about how you are coping with lustful temptations. You need someone who can challenge you and who you can trust as well. Someone who will still build you up even when you fail by reminding you of Jesus’ forgiveness. Don’t be afraid to ask older Christians.
Do not be proud about this – we’re all sinners here. You need someone to pray for you, challenge you and encourage you. And if you can find someone who struggles in different areas to you.
It’s too much, I can’t do it.
I have just given a ton of advice here and it is a lot to take in. Start by changing one thing and then build up. Don’t become discouraged. Remember the promises of the Bible:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengths me.”
Philippians 4 v 13
“That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12 v 10
You have Christ on your side. You can do all things. Lust is still subject to God’s authority.
I have committed too many lustful sins
Perhaps you feel as if you have gone too far. You’re committed a terrible lustful sin. You’ve sinned again and again and again and again and again. You feel as though Jesus couldn’t possibly forgive you for all that lust!
He has. I can put it no other way. Banish all thoughts to the contrary out of your head. Your sins are forgiven. When you repent God forgets them all. Take heart!
Your struggle with lust is different from my struggle with lust. Yet we share the same God that can work miracles in our life. Remember: God wants us to be holy. He is more than willing to help us. When we are at our weakest he is at his strongest.
We like to be foolish about lust. We like to think it is something we can control. Or we like to think it’s completely beyond us. The truth is it is something that only Christ can control but we have Christ on our side so it is not beyond us!
I urge you then to think deeply about how what you read, see and hear can affect you. It may not seem so at the time but any exposure to lustful thinking can be deadly. So really think about the advice I’ve given. Be prepared to take radical action. Be prepared to give up things you like. But above all: Pray! Read your Bible! Mediate on God’s promises and on his commands! Combat the lies of lust with the truth of God’s word. And find someone to be accountable with.
Oh yes, and buy “Sex is not the problem (lust is)” by Joshua Harris. It is very readable, good solid Biblical stuff and extremely helpful. Much of this post is based on that book. Only his book is better. At £6.12 it is a bargain and you can buy it instead of that lust filled book/DVD/game you were going to buy.
Yes. You do. So buy this book: “Sex is not the problem – lust is” by Joshua Harris. It talks about the gift God has given us: sex and the way we pervert this gift: lust. Ok, moving on. Everyone struggles with lust in varying degrees.According to Harris there is little difference between men and women except in the type of lustful sin. The world around us is permeated with lust, our culture celebrates it, the media proclaims it and the internet is saturated with it. If I was to pick on a defining sin of our current generation it would be lust. Yet in Christian circles it is often the elephant in the room, we prefer not to discuss it, to keep it hidden.
This achieves nothing; in fact, it probably is more damaging than anything else. For it is when we feel as though we face a sin alone that we are most vulnerable. The purpose of this post then is to have a frank discussion about lust and the Biblical view on it. Despite a dazzling array of euphemisms available I’m going to be blunt but at the same time not crude with my language.
What is lust?
First things first: lust is not sex.
Sex is a God given gift to the human race. God is not ‘anti-sex’ in fact he actively encourages it by commanding the humanity to ‘be fruitful and increase in number’ (Genesis 1 v 28). Therefore our sex drive is not something to feel bad about but rather something to thank God for. We have been unashamedly created as sexual creatures.
But in saying all this Biblically speaking sex has a time and a place. And that time and that place is in a marriage between a man and a woman.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
Genesis 2 v 24
What then is lust?
Lust is craving what God has forbidden. As Piper puts it: “Lust is sexual desire minus honour and holiness.”
It is not just the obvious lustful sins of pornography, masturbation and sex outside of marriage it is also erotic literature, sexual fantasies, impure thoughts, any sexual action or thought that falls out of marriage. Also, lust does not necessarily involve nakedness. A poster of a ‘cute’ male celebrity can lead to lust as easily as a pornographic poster. Focusing on a scantily clad woman is just as wrong as looking at pictures of naked women.
What is lust not?
Lust is not being attracted to someone or noticing that they are good looking. Lust is not looking forward to sex within marriage. Lust is not having a strong desire to have sex. Lust is not experiencing sexual temptation.
What matters is HOW we think of sex. HOW we think about the opposite sex. What we DO when we are tempted by lust. Let’s say you notice an attractive member of the opposite sex, nothing wrong there, but if you start to mentally undress them then there is something wrong. Or if a lustful thought enters your mind and you dwell on it; that again is wrong.
Why is lust wrong?
A large number of people would say that there is nothing wrong with giving into our lustful desires as long as we are careful. Why is lust wrong if sex isn’t?
Lust coverts the forbidden. There is only one person you’re allowed to entertain sexual thoughts or actions about and that’s your spouse. Lust makes us grasp at what God has forbidden. It is an idolatrous desire that places our sexual desire above our ‘God’ desire. It is idolatrous because we are making ourselves God by having what God has forbidden now, instead of when he intends i.e. in marriage.
Lust cannot be satisfied. Lust is never full, it always craves more, as soon as the object of lust is obtained it wants more. All the porn in the world can’t satisfy it. You’ll never be able to sleep with enough people. As Paul writes:
“Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.”
Ephesians 4 v 19
Lust may involve our body but it still offends God.
“For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”
1 Thessalonians 4 v 7 – 8
What is God’s standard for lust?
Some people may think that we’re allowed some lust. A little here, not much, it can’t hurt can it? Well God sets a higher standard.
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality”
Ephesians 5 v 3
Not even a hint. No lust. Ever. None. At all.
NO! That’s impossible! I can’t do that! I could never do that!
You’re completely right. Humanly speaking that standard is unattainable. Humanly speaking we would have no hope of ever meeting God’s holy standard. But whatever made you think we were dealing on purely human terms?
How then can I stop my lustful sin?
You can’t. Put every thought of you doing so out your head. There is only one way to keep God’s holy standard.
It is through God’s grace that we can fight lustful temptation; it is through his grace that we can have not even a hint of lust in our lives, through God’s grace we can do the impossible.
What is this grace?
God’s grace is given to us as we have been freed from our sin by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. As Paul writes:
“For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”
Romans 6 v 14
It is easy to say “What can I do to stop me from sinning lustfully?” We like to think there is something we can do. But the answer is that we can do nothing. Jesus has done everything for us. We are justified in his sight.
Explain this justification
Justification is one of my favourite words! It is the awesome fact that as Christians our status before God is blameless. When we repent our sins are counted as nothing. Jesus’ perfect record is ours. So, having all our sin and guilt dealt with, and being given Jesus’ righteousness, we are FREE to live for Him. His grace motivates us. The only sin we can kill is a forgiven sin.
Stopping giving in to lustful sin will not make us ‘more saved’. We will not appear better in God’s sight because we already appear perfect thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross. He rescued us from sin. And he rescued us from lust. When we fall into lustful sin for the millionth time and cry for repentance we are forgiven. The truth is that when we come to God in repentance then he forgets our sin. If you struggle with this wonderful fact try saying this:
“Blessed is the man, whose sin the Lord does not count against him”
Psalm 32 v 2
Only replace ‘the man’ with your name. So I would say:
“Blessed is Ben Mildred, whose sin the Lord does not count against him.”
Remember this. This is what Jesus has done for you.
Why bother trying to stop sinning lustfully? Why bother trying to stop sinning when we have a blank cheque? If Christ forgives all things let’s go crazy!
But what you’re missing is a process known as Sanctification. I know; another long yet still equally amazing word.
Sanctification is the process by which the Christian becomes more like Christ. As we progress in our Christian life then God works in our lives. He roots out sin and guides us towards being more and more holy. All those who are justified are sanctified – justification and sanctification go hand in had together.
Is you have truly been justified then you will want to be truly sanctified! Christians can sin but they can’t go on sinning. Christians cannot help but hate sinning. They have the Holy Spirit within them and he works to convict us of our sin and puts within us a desire to be holy.
What has this to do with lust?
We need to get our motives sorted out. We need to want to live lust free lives not because that will make us saved but because we want to live holy lives before the Lord. And above all we need to recognize that it is the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in our lives that will allow us to be without a hint of lust. We need therefore to invite the Spirit in and submit to his work.
Our sexual desires must bow before God. We must submit our sexual desires before the Spirit.
Above all we need a balance. It is not by our own works. But that does not mean that we do nothing. Yet we must not be legalistic. We are completely forgiven before God. But equally we must act towards pursing a holier life. I think this balance is best summed up in Galatians 5.
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
v 24 - 25
As Christians our sinful nature has been overcome by the salvation Jesus brings. As saved beings we live in the Spirit – this is an act of God. But we are called to ‘keep in step’ with the Spirit. That requires action on our part and continued grace from God.
That’s part 1. The truth of justification and sanctification can apply to any and every sin in our life. In part 2 I’ll look at specific practical steps for dealing with the problem of lust. It is important to remember that your struggle with lust will be a daily one, you're never going to be completely free of lustful desires but through thr grace of God and the working of his Holy Spirit we have everything we need to fight against lust and triumph!
If you want/need more help on the matter then please, please, please buy “Sex is not the problem (lust is)” by Joshua Harris. It is very readable, good solid Biblical stuff and extremely helpful. Much of this post is based on that book. Only his book is better. At £6.12 it is a bargain and you can buy it instead of that lust filled book/DVD/game you were going to buy.
Just as something to think about before you read my next post here's a verse from Galations:
"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
Galatians 6 v 7 – 8
Are you sowing in the flesh? Are you sowing seeds of lust? Find out more in Part 2 coming tomorrow
Despite my original post on the Death Penalty being the longest one I’ve written so far there was still a lot of ground I didn’t cover. Mainly this was in an effort to be concise and also because I felt (and still feel) that the original post stands as an argument in its own right. But there have been several objections raised: the main one written by Rachael (link) in the comments section of the Death Penalty post. I urge you to read it because I don’t have space to reproduce here. Without further ado…
“The other day about why he thinks there is biblical evidence to support capital punishment here in the 21st century”
This line is taken from a brief note on Rachael’s blog which you can read here. Now, I have a major issue with this sentence and it’s this: why is the 21st century different? Since Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent resurrection from the dead in about 30AD humanity has been living in the end of the days. That is the time between Jesus’ resurrection and his Second Coming. This means that we still live in a godless, sinful, rebellious and disobedient world which has turned its back on God. 2010AD is no different from 100AD. God’s Holy law has not been changed. Genesis 9 v 5 still stands.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man
By man his blood shall be shed;
For in the image of God
Has God made man.”
This verse is not part of Mosaic law and has never been overturned! This command still stands today. And Jesus’ command regarding the nature of Old Testament law still stands.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
Matthew 5 v 17
We should not make the mistake of naively assuming that the century we live in is somehow ‘superior’ to all the ones gone before. We are not more ‘civilised’. Humanity is still just a sinful as it was and God’s law is still just as applicable as it was. Could Jesus be any more clear? The Law still stands! Jesus came to fulfil the law not abolish it.
The Death Penalty is an extreme view
This argument wasn’t part of Rachael’s but it ties in nicely with what I have just been saying. Historically speaking the death penalty and Christianity were not seen to be contradictory for roughly 1900 years. And it has really only been since the 1950s that there has been a serious move away from the Death Penalty. What does this tell us? Well, the great theologians of the past – Calvin, Luther, etc – fully supported the death penalty. Great times of revival and spiritual light have been and gone and no one ever questioned the validity of it.
It has only been within the last fifty years that Christian began to oppose it. Now, this breaks with a 1900 year history so should be questioned doubly carefully before accepting it. Have the last fifty years been ones of a strong church? No. Has great error crept into the church during the past fifty years? Yes. I know this is a historically argument rather than a Biblical one but we can’t just ignore 1900 years of Christian history and proclaim that these Christians were in some way ‘misguided’. They had the same Bible we have today! Their views are still important. Calvin and Luther never saw anything wrong with the Death Penalty because they saw what the Bible teaches about it.
In your first post you just quoted random Bible verses!
Come now, this is hardly fair; they were hardly random in choice. And anyway to quote another ‘random’ verse:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,”
2 Timothy 3 v 16
All of the Bible is God breathed, not just the New Testament, the Old Testament as well. The Bible verses I quoted still stand today. They cannot be ignored, they cannot be proclaimed redundant and they cannot be proclaimed false.
Commands that apply to individuals also apply to authorities
There is a problem this argument runs in to. And the problem is Romans 12. The latter part of Romans 12 is all about love. As Paul writes:
“Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” v 21
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” v 17
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay, says the Lord’” v 19
These three verses are a good summary of the arguments I hear against the Death Penalty. You may be wondering why I still believe the Death Penalty considering I have read and agreed with the verses.
Well, Romans 13 goes onto say:
“For he [the ruler] is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong do not be afraid for he does not bear the sword in vain. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on wrongdoing.” v4
What shall we say? Did Paul forget what he wrote just a chapter before? Of course not! Paul differentiates between our commands as individual Christians and the commands for rulers and authorities. Notice as well, rulers do God’s bidding as they are God’s servants. The Death Penalty isn’t just man killing another man but God exercising his power of judgement through human authority.
Should punishment be retributive or rehabilitating?
Rachael argues that punishment for crimes (in this case specifically murder) have to be geared towards ‘curing’ the criminal of the criminal urges they possess. That a murderer goes into prison and comes out never to murder again.
But is this a Biblical view on punishment?
In short: no. In fact I would even go as far to say that it is a very dangerous view to hold. Why? Because it suggests that man can cure sin! It suggests that imprisonment can somehow get rid of the sinful desires inside of a murderer’s heart. That the murderer will exit the prison less of a sinner that he was going in. The pride! The arrogance! But as Christians we know that the sinful and wretched heart of a murderer (of all of us!) can only be cured through Christ Jesus. Man cannot rehabilitate sin away. 70% of all criminals go onto reoffend. Although I don’t know the exact murderer re-offend rate it’s bound to be close. Why? Because an act of sin hardens the conscience and makes it easier to commit the same sin again. By committing a murder a person has hardened his conscience and this makes it easier for them to murder again. The Death Penalty then is an act of love towards the rest of society by removing someone who has been known to murder and could easily murder again. Only Jesus can make a man’s heart new, no prison system can
In addition, let us look to the Bible and see how God punishes the wicked we see that he punishes his people (the Israelites) in order to turn them back to him but he punishes the evil nations of the world with retribution in too many example to mention here. Also Mosaic Law is firmly based on retribution – let the severity of punishment be aligned to the severity of the crime.
But Jesus says to love your enemy, etc…
“So he [Jesus] made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle, he scattered the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables.”
John 2 v 15
The New King James Version reads “drove all from the temple area, and the sheep and the oxen.”
In other words Jesus had no problem saying “love your enemies” and whipping those that had broken God’s direct law out of the temple courts. He did not attempt to ‘rehabilitate’ them but directly punished them for their sin. Here Jesus was acting in full authority and power.
We are called to replicate that authority. We are called to be more like Jesus. This does not mean that as individuals we go out and whip people but we should support a strong justice system that seeks to punish the evildoer for his deeds not to cure him because he deserves to be punished and because sin cannot be cured!
We should love justice more than murderers.
The passage from Romans only applied to the Romans
Why? Paul does not say that it only applies to the Roman government. It is a command to all authorities to reward good and punish evil. Saying otherwise would be like saying that the commands for a holy life in Timothy only apply to Timothy. Or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount only applied to the Jews. Paul deals with rulers as a concept not specifically Roman rulers.
“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience”
Romans 8 v 3 – 5
When Paul talks of rulers he talks of all rulers from Roman times until the ultimate ruler Christ Jesus returns in power and authority to judge us all. The current Labour Government is an ‘agent of wrath’. A particularly rubbish one but an agent nevertheless. And as such it is called to take up the sword against evil. Paul is talking about a Biblical ruler would do. He sets a standard for all rulers to follow.
As Christians we must submit to authority while they continue to reward good and punish evil with the sword. It is only when they start to reward evil and punish good that we are called to not submit.
The Church needs to minister to those imprisoned
Yes! By all means, in times past then those on death row were given the choice to talk to a minister and it is good to be spreading the glorious salvation of the gospel to those facing eternity. But this does not negate their punishment. They still have to be justly punished for their crimes.
The Death Penalty is combating evil with evil
We know that nothing evil comes from the Lord. Yet in the Old Testament he commands his people on 16 crimes that deserve the penalty of death. Therefore the death penalty cannot be evil. It is justice. We live in a fallen and sinful world; harsh punishments are required to keep evil men in check.
God will punish murder for us
Indeed, God will punish all of us with death. But he uses authorities as his instruments for punishing criminals in this life.
Death is God’s right not ours
True, but once again he delegates part of this power to human authorities as seen throughout the Bible. In the same way that God uses Babylon to punish the Jews for rebelling against him he uses human authorities to punish murderers with death. Mosaic Law shows us this as well – rulers and authorities have every right to use the death penalty to punish murder with death.
Being against the Death Penalty makes Christians stand out
Considering that public opinion today is largely against the death penalty should that actually say ‘makes Christians stand in”?
Condemning someone to death means that they lose out on a chance to be converted
Basically, the argument runs that the longer someone is alive the more chance they have to be converted. If murderers got the death penalty rather than go to prison then they lose 50+ years of their life when they could have been saved.
The only thing I can say is that God is in complete control of who and who is not converted. If a murderer is going to be converted then they will be regardless of the sentence past. Remember, we deal not in human terms of time but in God terms of his sovereignty over all things.
The cornerstone of my argument is Genesis 9 v 5
“Whoever sheds the blood of man
By man his blood shall be shed;
For in the image of God
Has God made man.”
This sums up a correct Christian, loving, attitude towards crime and punishment. Put a love for justice before our love for the evildoer. For in the same way God loves us all but still sends unbelievers to Hell. (Yet, his love was great enough so as to provide sinners with a way to salvation! Jesus had to take the punishment that God required.) God is holiness and justice and love, all three together, no contradictions and we are called to be like God! We need to submit to this command of the Lord’s. For all things that come from God are good - even the Death Penalty. Love and the Death Penalty are not two opposing views but rather they walk hand in hand under the glorious banner of justice.
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Picture the scene: you’re in the front line of a vast army, all around you men mutter to themselves, prayers, words, devotions, anything. In the distance you see another army so large as to dwarf yours. It’s coming closer, soon you can pick out the individual faces of the men opposing you, you feel a bead of sweat trail down your back, you stamp your feet into the hard ground, you feel the men around you shift and move, the call goes out! SWORDS! All around you men unsheathe their weapons, metal flashes in the sunlight, swords are pointed towards the enemy, you see a similar array of deadly weaponry being carried in your enemies’ hands. You swallow nervously and reach for your sword. It’s not there. You’ve gone and left it at camp. You’re a wally. A first class, top notch, imbecilic wally. You flush in painful embarrassment. You’ve made the most basic mistake possible. The only consolation you have is that you’re not going to live with the shame for much longer. In fact you’re not going to live for much longer.
Ladies and Gentlemen: that wally was me. What an irrevocable fool I was! There was standing on the front line without a bally sword to wield.
Er, you’ve not been in any battle
Wrong, I was and still am. You see the whole of humanity is engaged in a spiritual war where there are only two sides: Christians and everybody else. Christians have Jesus Christ as their Leader, their Lord and Saviour. Everybody else has the Devil as their slave master.
So I was on the front line of a spiritual battle. I was up against the forces of darkness. Quite literally. The unseen spiritual realties are just as real as the seen physical realities.
Right, so what’s this about a sword?
All Christians need one. To both defend themselves and attack back at the enemy. By our sword we live or die.
So all Christians need to buy a sword?
Nope, well maybe, but in all likelihood they already have a sword. They’re just not using it.
Look, I don’t have a sword.
“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Ephesians 6 v 17
As Christians our sword is the Word of God. The Bible.
What’s so important about the Bible?
Everything! It is the foundation stone of our faith, the cornerstone of our salvation, by it Christians grow spiritually. That is why leaving my sword, leaving my Bible behind was so stupid. Christians need to read the Bible and they need to do it regularly. In past years I haven’t: I’ve gone days, weeks without reading it. I’ve been too ‘busy’, I’ve ‘forgotten’, it just wasn’t a priority for me.
Because the Bible is God’s Word! His direct and holy revelation of himself. You see, Christians live in a world of lies and deceit. Overtime we can come to start believing in these lies and falsehood. We can become down and discouraged. Yet everytime we read the Bible it sweeps these lies from our minds. The absolute truth of the Bible is the only effective way to combat the lies of this world. And we need to remind ourselves of the Truth constantly because we are being reminded of the lies just as constantly.
As Jesus says:
"It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Matthew 4 v 4
When Jesus spoke those words do you know what happened? The Devil fled! God’s word causes the Devil to flee from us! In the same way that not eating would mean we starve; not reading the Bible means our spiritual life is starved. We become led astray, we become weak and helpless. Our souls don’t burn as brightly.
I know this to be true! For all of 3rd, 4th, 5th and most of 6th year at school I rarely read my Bible, I rarely prayed and I suffered for it. Looking back on it now I can’t believe how low my spiritual life was. What’s worse was that I was blind to my own inadequacy. I was blind to my own failure. But in the mercy of God I was challenged. I was on a weekend away with the CU and each talk the guy made hit home with painful, shameful accuracy. When I returned home I made sure that reading the Bible was my top priority. And God kept me reading it!
Any other reasons why?
YES! The Bible allows us to glimpse the glory of God, it reveals his character, it reveals his will, it sings his praises, it tells of his grace, love and wrath. It contains a thousand promises from God to us today. It is always up to date, it is always relevant, it is always scientifically accurate. It sets down God’s law, it tells of the glorious salvation that all men need, the Word is Jesus and Jesus is the Word. When we read God’s Word we are reading God himself!
It is used to bring people into the Kingdom of God, it judges the wicked, makes humble the proud, it saves lives, it saves sinners. It enlightens, encourages, challenges, builds up, tears down, it is in places beautiful, it can be terrible, it is the absolute truth in this lying world. It is more powerful than any nuclear weapon, it can withstand any attack, it is the best selling book on this planet, it outsells Richard Dawkins, it is the Christian’s comfort, our compass through life, it contains everything we need to know, it will never go out of fashion.
It is perfect, holy, all powerful, all knowing, all loving, all just, all glorious, in short the Word of God represents the very God that wrote it!
After all, why do I quote it so often? Because it is God’s word. My posts are only accurate in so far as they are aligned with God’s word. The minute I stray from the truth of the Bible is the minute in which I could fall into error.
What benefits does Bible reading bring?
As Psalm 1 says:
“But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.”
Psalm 1 v 2 – 3
Here the law of the Lord is just another name for the Word of God. As Christians our delight should be in the Word of God. For when we read it and mediate on it we prosper. Fact.
What other benefits does reading the Bible bring?
In the same way that prayer is a two way conversation between man and God so is the Bible a two way conversation between God and us. Reading the Bible is not a passive experience. It speaks not just to our minds but directly to our souls. The Holy Spirit with Christians confirms the truths of the Bible and applies them to our lives. As we read the Bible God speaks to us!
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,”
2 Timothy 3 v 16
God-breathed! God permeates the entire Bible. All of it useful. All of it helpful. All of necessary to get anywhere in the Christian life.
But more than that: reading the Bible refreshes the spirit. If God in his mercy hadn’t revealed my depths of folly in not reading the Bible then I would have never discovered the encouragement of Psalm 91, I would never have fully appreciated Romans, I would never have been challenged by Timothy, learned from the life of David, had my views corrected on the power of grace! If I hadn’t started reading the Bible in earnest I shudder to think what I would be like now.
I find reading the Bible hard
Join the club; there are times when it seems like the last thing I want to do in the world. My advice to you is to get into the habit of reading the Bible regularly. Bible takes top priority, set aside a time each day when you WILL read the Bible. Personally I read it over and just after Breakfast (and when I’m blogging!). I do this because I have breakfast everyday so I read the Bible everyday. Obviously you’re life is different from mine – the key thing is to make sure that nothing else gets in the way of reading the Bible.
Isn’t reading the Bible everyday legalistic
No, it’s just wise. Sure, reading the Bible everyday won’t make you more saved than you already are. But it will make you grow spiritually; you will grow in righteousness for God’s word has God’s power in it. A power to transform our lives: to break down our masks, to uncover our sin and force us into repentance. And to build us up, to teach us God’s ways, to bring into the light what would otherwise be dark.
I find the Bible hard to understand in places
Yes, the Bible contains difficult passages, Revelation for example but the truth is we have been given the Holy Spirit – God in our hearts. Through the Holy Spirit we can reach a level of understanding we alone would never reach. We’ll never fully understand the Bible but this shouldn’t surprise us we can’t fully understand God.
Yet in saying all this the most important truths of the Bible are simple to understand. We’re sinners, we need a Saviour, Jesus’ death on the cross provided that salvation. Oh yes, and as Christians we NEED to read the Bible.
You can be a Christian and not read the Bible but you’ll be like the man who forgot his sword – dead. We’re in a battle people! The forces of darkness would just love to get their hands on a weaponless Christian. If we don’t have the Word of God how can we fight the Devil? How can we resist lies? How can we grow closer to God? If we aren’t reading the Bible we’re useless. As the Children’s song went:
“Read your Bible and pray everyday and you’ll grow, grow, grow.”
It really is that simple.
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