Sanctification, Sin

Throwback Thursday ~ 6 Reasons to Recapture Righteous Anger

Originally published November 3, 2017

Do you ever get the sense that anger is a problem in the church these days? It’s more apparent if you’re on social media, but even if you’re not you’ve probably seen Christians acting in anger in your church and Christian groups you belong to. Maybe even among your Christian family and friends.

In the evangelical social construct today’s Christian women have built and immersed themselves in where “being nice” is the highest attribute we can attain to, anger – any anger whatsoever – is usually seen as sin. The antipode of the sweet, effervescent, always-positive, don’t-rock-the-boat church ladies we’re “supposed” to be.

Time to pick up the biggest rocks we can find and smash that pretty pink stained glass window, ladies.

The problem with anger in the church is not anger itself, but that Christians get angry about the wrong things instead of the right things, and act on that anger – sometimes even anger over the right things – in the wrong way. There are many things Christians should be angry about. Indeed, if Christians got angry about the things we’re supposed to get angry about and acted on that anger in a biblical way, the church would be better – and more Christlike – for it. But what are the right and godly reasons for getting angry and acting on that anger?

1.
Anger Is an Attribute of God

No character trait God exhibits can ever be considered intrinsically sinful because God is holy and perfect. God displays anger numerous times in the Bible, yet we know God is without sin. Therefore, we know that the emotion of anger itself is not a sin. It can’t be, or that would make God a sinner, and, by definition, not God. God’s anger demonstrates for us that there are times and situations in which anger is holy and good, and that there are godly ways to act on that anger.

2.
Imago Dei

People are made in the image of God. The creation reflects – albeit dimly and sinfully – the Creator. No one has to teach us how to feel anger or love or justice or desire. Those things are just there, hard wired into us from the womb simply because we’re image bearers. Our sin nature is where the train jumps the tracks with those attributes, because sin causes us to apply those attributes to the wrong objects (loving an idol, desiring someone else’s spouse) and to express those attributes in wrong ways (vengeance, abuse).

3.
Multi-Tasking Attributes

God is simultaneously perfect in love, power, wrath, kindness, compassion, anger, justice, mercy, grace, patience, and all His other attributes. When we see Him pouring out His wrath, that doesn’t mean His attributes of love and compassion have disappeared. When God executes judgment, that doesn’t mean He has ceased to be a merciful and patient God. All of God’s attributes are 100% present and potent all of the time. And – though filtered through our sinful flesh – the same is true for Christians. Expressing anger over the right things in a godly way does not cancel out the fact that you’re also loving, kind, patient, peaceful, or joyful. God created us to reflect His nature by simultaneously exhibiting His attributes in a godly way.

4.
Symbiotic Anger

How can we know whether we’re getting angry over the right things or the wrong things? It is right and good to be angry over the things that anger God – idolatry, the defaming of His name, false doctrine, sin in the church, people who harm or take advantage of the innocent and vulnerable, dishonesty, cruelty, deception, the failure to do what is right – first and foremost when we see these sins in our own hearts and lives, but also against others who perpetrate these sins. But we may not be angry for sinful reasons such as pride, selfishness, impatience, self-righteousness, inflexibility, greed, hate, bigotry, lust, and personal preferences. What the Bible shows God getting angry about we should be angry about, too.

5.
Anger Versus Sadness

A few months ago on social media, I mentioned an incident in which a male member of a certain church sinfully took advantage of several female members of that church. Without exception, every Christian woman (and many of the men) who commented on the incident made the statement (or some variation of it), “That’s so sad.” There are many aspects of a sinful situation over which it’s appropriate to feel sad. It was right to feel sad for this man’s completely innocent wife and children, as well as his victims and the church, who all suffered as a result of his sin. Jesus wept over the effect sin had on His beloved Jerusalem and the rift that sin created between God’s people and Himself. But, interestingly, both Matthew and Luke show us an instance of Jesus’ sorrow over sin immediately preceding or followed by an instance of Jesus’ anger over sin. It’s fine to feel sad for the people who innocently suffer as a result of someone else’s sin. It’s godly to grieve over the general effects and ultimate consequences of sin. But don’t stop there. We should also be angry at sin and at those who blaspheme the name of God and harm others by committing sin. The biblical instances of God being angry over sin and those who perpetrate it far outnumber the instances of God grieving over the effects of sin. Sadness is good, but it shouldn’t replace godly anger toward sin.

6.
Harness the Wild Stallion

Up until now, we’ve mostly been looking at the emotion of anger, but the emotion of anger usually leads to action. The fact that the emotion usually leads to action doesn’t mean the emotion always should lead to action. Sometimes it shouldn’t lead to action at all. Sometimes it shouldn’t lead to action right away. Sometimes it shouldn’t lead to action from you, but from a more appropriate person.

But most of the time, if you’re experiencing righteous anger over the right things, that godly anger should motivate you to take godly action using godly methods. And one of those godly methods is understanding the difference between letting the wild stallion of anger tear madly around the corral and putting a bit and bridle in its mouth to harness and guide all of that energy into plowing a field or pulling a wagon. Venting your anger to a friend might make you feel better temporarily, but it does nothing to fix the problems created by the sin you’re angry about. Harness your anger with the fruit of the Spirit and use that anger as a tool to energize and motivate you to help the victims of sin, call the sinner to repentance, set up a plan to prevent this sin from happening again, and repair the damage done by sin.

How often do you become righteously angry over sin? When you hear a false teacher twist God’s Word, do you blow it off as no big deal? Does it faze you at all when church members refuse to submit to your pastor’s biblical leadership? Do you lend an ear when your best friend verbally eviscerates her godly husband to you?

Ladies, there are things worth getting angry about. Righteous anger is not a bad, unloving, or unladylike thing. If someone intentionally hurt your child, you would come unglued because you love him so much. What does it say about our love for the Lord when we defend people who mock Him, give the benefit of the doubt to those who defame Him, or yawn apathetically when people rebel against Christ and His Word? When someone blasphemes the name of the holy God of the universe, the Savior who willingly endured the cross for your sin, why wouldn’t you get angry about that? When someone attacks, betrays, or perpetrates evil upon a fellow image bearer – especially if that person is a brother or sister in Christ – you are right to be angry at both the sin and the sinner.

Anger over sin and evil is good and holy. God exhibits anger over sin and evil, and we, as His image bearers, should share His indignation. When Christians are angry over the right things and use that anger to fuel a godly response to sin it makes the church more biblically healthy and grows it to greater Christlikeness.

Sanctification, Sin

Throwback Thursday ~ Wise to the Ways of the Worldly: 4 Ways Worldliness Sneaks In, and the Scriptures to Slay It

Originally published August 31, 2018

Lately, every time I turn around, I keep bumping up against the same biblical concept. It’s showing up in my personal Bible study time. In Sunday School. In sermons. Even in a revival my husband and I served at this week.

Worldliness, and the need for Christians to be set apart.

What is worldliness? It’s thinking, acting, and “attituding” the way lost people think, act, and attitude. It’s taking everything in through a fleshly filter instead of a biblical one and putting yourself out there through a fleshly filter instead of a biblical one. It’s dealing with the world around you in any way Jesus wouldn’t.

God has called His people to be set apart from the world from day one. (OK, day six, if you want to get all technical about it.) You can’t be more set apart than living at an address God personally designed for you and plopped you down in the middle of.

The whole purpose of the Promised Land, the Law, driving out the pagan nations and destroying them, depending on God to miraculously win wars and conquer the enemy, was for God to set apart a people for Himself. To raise up a nation that the rest of the world could look at and say, “Hey, those Israelite folks are different, and their God is different, too. What’s their one God got that our pantheon doesn’t?”.

Jesus reminded God’s people what it looked like to be different and set apart from the world. So did His disciples. And the New Testament is chock full of passages in which the apostles exhort Christians and the church to be holy and distinct from the world in heart, mind, and behavior.

Why? Because being different, and holy, and counter-cultural is weird, and counter-intuitive, and attention-grabbing to the world. And once we’ve got their attention, we’ve got an opportunity to share the gospel with them.

Yes, sister, God has called you to be a weirdo for Jesus.

And you’re going to have to fight the flesh to do it, because worldliness is insidious and subtle. Just like that sneaky, slimy serpent slithered in to paradise with no alarm bells ringing, we modern day Eves often don’t even notice worldliness has slipped in and tempted us to think and act in ways it has never even occurred to us aren’t godly. Sure, we don’t drink, and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with boys who do. And we don’t rob banks or murder people. But is that all there is to it? Avoiding the big, bad, behavioral no-no’s?

Before Eve ever extended her hand to pluck the fruit off the tree, Satan had already won several skirmishes with her heart. He had gotten her to doubt God’s character, disbelieve God’s word, and disregard God’s desires in favor of her own. And isn’t he still doing that with us today? Jesus warned us:

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45

As we look at these four ways worldliness can tiptoe into our actions unannounced and unnoticed, let’s also think about how our actions are merely the fruit of what’s going on in our hearts.

What are some of those sneaky snakes of worldliness, and how can we mortify those sins and respond in a godly way?

1.
Being quick to take offense

It’s getting to the point where you can hardly carry on a mundane, “Nice weather we’re having,” conversation any more without being accused of racism, gender bias, or having some sort of “privilege”. Even compliments and positive comments are likely to be twisted and heard by the easily offended as insults or condescension.

Think of the way Jesus endured and responded to the verbal abuse and false accusations intentionally and maliciously hurled at Him. Can you imagine Him freaking out at an innocent, offhand remark, someone’s tone of voice, or somebody unintentionally sticking her foot in her mouth?

Neither can I, yet this form of worldliness is probably my biggest area of weakness. It’s just the pride of life, pure and simple. (Well, not pure, I guess.) How dare anyone ruffle my feathers!

And how do I respond? Maybe the same way you do. I get my back up and strike back, fighting fire with fire. I rarely take a moment to step back and think that maybe this person didn’t intend for her tone to sound like that, or maybe to her that word means something different than what it means to me, or maybe she’s just PMS-ing today, or maybe I misheard or misinterpreted what she actually said. I don’t think, “How can I respond in godly love to this person?”. I don’t think at all. I just vomit my fleshly emotions all over her. Instead, I’m to respond in patience, kindness, and love, even if the situation calls for standing firm on Scripture without budging.

The Serpent Slayer:

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:16-18

2.
Being “Tolerant”

The world has been torturing this poor word “tolerant” for at least a few decades now. The definition has morphed from its actual meaning of “peacefully putting up with something that bothers you” to “embracing and celebrating any and every behavior and ideology (except biblical Christianity) as worthy and valid.” You’re not even allowed to think someone else’s worldview or behavior is wrong. You have to think it’s good or you’re a terrible person.

Now, of course, most Christians would not go around blatantly proclaiming that any old religion is just fine or that sexual immorality and perversion are perfectly acceptable or that abortion is a valid health care choice. But what about shying away from sharing the gospel with our Muslim neighbor for fear of appearing to be an Islamophobe? What about attending the homosexual “wedding” of a friend or loved one in order not to offend him and to maintain the relationship? What about failing to stand up for what’s right at work when unethical practices are the industry standard?

The Bible is very clear that following Christ and loyalty to His Word divides people. It divides family members from one another. It divides friends from one another, and it divides God’s people from those who claim to be God’s people and from the rest of the world. Jesus came to unite repentant sinners to God, not to unite unrepentant sinners to saved people. We must do what is right and biblical, refusing to participate in sinful and worldly activities, and lovingly, yet firmly, calling sinners to repentance and faith in Christ, even if it costs us family members, friends, our reputations, our churches, or our jobs.

The Serpent Slayer:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34-39

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God…Submit yourselves therefore to God. James 4:4,7a

3.
Being Flippant or Consumeristic about Church

The world has no reason to think going to church is important. Why would they? They’re lost. And if they do darken the door of a church, it’s not because they love Christ and want to worship Him, it’s ultimately for self-centered reasons. To assuage their guilt, to get Mom or the wife off their back, to feel better about themselves, to satisfy their curiosity.

Gathering to worship God is what genuinely regenerated Christians do. We have a God-given craving for fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ and approaching His throne in prayer, praise, and the study of His Word together. Skipping church at the drop of a hat, shopping around for a church with all the slappy happy bells and whistles that make you comfortable, demanding that your church cater to your feelings, opinions, and preferences, strolling in with a “what’s in it for me” attitude? Uh uh. Those are worldly, self-centered attitudes, and might even indicate that you’re not saved.

Christians see faithfully attending and serving at church as vital to their relationship with Christ and other Christians. It’s not, “What’s in it for me?” but “How can I serve you?”. It’s not, “What did I get out of the worship service?” but “How can I wholeheartedly throw myself into the worship of Christ?”.

The Serpent Slayer:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:10

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, Hebrews 12:28

4.
Being Defiant

If ever there were a generation of Americans who treated defying authority as the national pastime, this is it. Have you seen all the videos of people pulled over by the police who refuse to comply with their every request, sometimes even turning violent? How about the way wives these days run their marriages and treat their husbands like children? And the way children are allowed to rebel at school and at home? What about the rioting in the streets we’ve seen over the last few years?

The more I study the New Testament, the more passages I find instructing Christians to submit to the authorities in our lives. I’m not sure if I’d call it a major theme of the New Testament, but it sure isn’t a minor one. We’re to submit to the government, governing officials, earthly “masters” (literally if we’re slaves, figuratively – bosses, supervisors, etc. – if we’re not), wives are to submit to our husbands, children are to submit to their parents, and church members are to submit to our pastors and elders. Every human institution.

God’s people are a submitting people. Submitting to the authorities in our lives paints a picture for the watching world that one day every knee will bow in submission to the ultimate authority – God. And because God is our ultimate authority, the only time we disobey the human authorities in our lives is when what they’re asking us to do would cause us to disobey or dishonor God. Otherwise, we humble ourselves and joyfully and graciously submit.

The Serpent Slayer:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. 1 Peter 2:13a

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29

 

There are so many more ways Satan tempts Christians to act like the world. We put our faith in politicians to fix things rather than in God. We approach the world with a posture of entitlement and demand our rights instead of laying them down to serve others. We lash out in bitterness at those who have hurt us, holding grudges and cutting them out of our lives instead of forgiving as Christ has forgiven us. The list could go on and on.

But however worldliness manifests itself, it all has the same serpentine root in the heart: doubting God’s character, disbelieving God’s Word, and disregarding God’s desires. And when our hearts become ambivalent about God, and we push His desires and directives aside, the void that’s left has to be filled with something.

That “something” is the idol of self. I want to do what I want to do and I don’t want anybody standing in my way. This thing, or person, or idea makes me happy and comfortable, and keeping it is more important to me than what God says about it. That’s ultimately what’s going on in our hearts when we think, speak, and act in worldly ways.

out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks

Submit to the Scriptures. Be subject to the Savior. Slay the serpent of worldliness.


What are some other forms of worldliness that can sneak into our lives,
and what Scriptures can we use to combat them?

Obedience, Prayer, Sanctification, Sin

Throwback Thursday ~ When God Answers the “Wrong” Prayer

Originally published July 27, 2018

“Lord, I’m just so frustrated!” I fussed, as I approached the time I had set aside for prayer this morning. Once again, the “I don’t want to” of my flesh was pulling against the “I know I need to” of my spirit like a heavy duty tow truck tugging on a kitten.

So I just ditched it. Well…sort of.

Prayer is pouring out your heart to God, right? Well, I turned on the water cannon. Reverently, of course…but with passion.

I told God how sick I was of this all-too-frequent stumbling block my flesh presented when it was time to pray, especially when I knew from experience that the feeling was fleeting and would go away after I had been praying for a few minutes. I told Him I was tired of a million other things I’d rather be doing, that I needed to do, coming to mind and further crowding out my desire to pray. I told Him I was sorry for all the times I had given in to the flesh and skipped my prayer time. I told Him I wanted Him to make this feeling go away and never come back.

As I poured out my complaint before Him, the Holy Spirit began leading me to examine the why of this whole situation. What was bringing about this pull of the flesh against prayer?

And that’s when it happened. God answered the “wrong¹” prayer.

You see, one of the things I pray every day is that God will reveal to me any sins I’m unaware I’m committing and lead me to repent of and forsake them.

And in that moment, that’s the prayer He chose to answer.

Not the prayer for the provision of an item my family needs. Not the prayer for healing of a loved one. Not the prayer that He would save all the lost people on my list.

Not the prayer I really wanted Him to answer.

God chose to reveal my sin to me.

You know why my flesh so often balks at prayer? Because in the dark, unsanctified recesses of my heart, I’m frustrated with God for not doing what I ask Him to do – now. I come to Him day after day, month after month, sometimes year after year, confessing the same sins, asking for the same provisions, and presenting the same requests, and I don’t see Him doing what I want Him to do when I want Him to do it.

Never mind that I could list hundreds of my prayers that He actually has answered, many of them in amazing ways. Never mind that I know what the Bible says about prayer well enough to teach on it and write articles about it. Never mind that I really do believe that God will answer my prayers for His glory and my good.

Uh uh. My flesh throws all of that right out the window and wants God to be my cosmic errand boy, delivering the goods on my timetable. I am selfish. I want everything to go my way immediately.

So that was pretty humiliating…but God didn’t stop there. No, there was more.

He opened my eyes to the fact that this sin problem I have relating to Him vertically is basically the same sin problem I have relating to people horizontally.

I yell at people in traffic to get out of my way. I get annoyed with my husband, irritated with my children, and impatient with fellow church members because I want them to do what I want, and I want them to do it now. I am selfish. I want everything to go my way immediately.

Oh, wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 

Paul was really onto something there. Fortunately, he answers his own question in his very next sentence:

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:25a

Jesus. Jesus can help me to mortify this sin. And I can obey Him as He does His good work in me. How?

assuming that you have heard about [Jesus] and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:21-24

I stop doing the sin (put off the old self). I remember what God’s Word says about that sin and about the righteousness I’m supposed to do instead (be renewed in mind). I do the righteous thing instead of the sin (put on the new self).

Ephesians 4 goes on to give some examples of what this looks like when dealing with real life sin:

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:25-32

See how that works?

Stop lying. Remember what God’s Word says about lying and truth. Speak truth instead of lying.

Stop stealing. Remember what God’s Word says about stealing and the godly way to acquire and steward material things. Work an honest job and share with others instead of stealing.

Seems pretty simple and logical, right? It’s pretty clear cut when we’re talking about sinful actions. I can keep my mouth shut so lies and corrupting talk don’t come out and choose kind and truthful words to speak instead. I can keep my hands in my pockets or avoid that tempting store so I won’t steal, and get a job and share with others instead. But how in the world do I “put off” a sinful attitude like bitterness, wrath, anger and malice (and in my case, selfishness) when it’s just a feeling that pops up in my heart unbidden?

The world will tell you that you can’t control your feelings. And for the world, that’s true. It’s part of the sin nature of a lost person, the “old self”, to live your life by your feelings, even to be controlled by them. But that’s not the case for someone who has been genuinely born again and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Part of the Fruit of the Spirit (the evidence that the Spirit is indwelling you) is self-control. That doesn’t just mean saying no to that second piece of cake. It’s the idea that sin is not our master anymore. We do not have to listen to and be controlled by sin, we can say no to it because we want to say yes to our new Master – Christ – and be controlled by Him.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Romans 6:12-14

Notice the wording here. It’s not “do your best” or “try” not to let your old master control you. It’s an authoritative, weighty, no-nonsense command: “Let not sin reign…sin will have no dominion”. God would not command us to do something that we’re incapable of doing, or that the Holy Spirit will not empower us to do. We can control and put off sinful thoughts, feelings, and attitudes.

Martin Luther once helpfully said:

“You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

I think about that quote often when it comes to putting off ungodly thoughts that pop into my brain. Here’s how it works:

First, preemptively pray the “wrong” prayer – the one your flesh won’t want God to answer – that He will make you aware of and convict you of sinful thoughts, feelings, and attitudes.

Next, when one of those thoughts rears its ugly head, stop what you’re doing, repent, and kick that rotten vulture right out of your hair. Make a definitive, proactive, Holy Spirit empowered decision of the will that you are not going to think that way. It helps me to say it out loud: “No. That thought is wrong. The Bible says ____ about that. I am not going to think that.” You might get some weird looks if you’re in public, but, hey, mortifying sin is worth it, right?

I tend to combine the “put off” (stop it) and “renew your mind” (What does the Bible say?) steps because pulling the Sword out of its sheath is a good way to kill sin. It’s the way Jesus modeled for us.

But how can I “put on” a right thought, feeling, or attitude? I mean, you can’t just conjure up godly feelings, can you? No. But what you can do is gather up nest-building materials for that “sweet Heavenly dove²”, the Holy Spirit, so He can shape your thoughts, feelings, and attitudes in a godly way:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8-9

There are godly things we can think about and godly things we can do (“practice”) that cooperate with the work the Holy Spirit is doing in our hearts.

Instead of thinking about that prayer that God isn’t answering right now, I can think about the prayers He has answered. And I can do something too. I can thank Him for those answered prayers and all of His good attributes in answering prayer.

Instead of thinking about how and when I want God to do things, I can think about His sovereignty and how good that is for me and everyone else. I can also do something: I can recite Bible verses I’ve memorized about the situation and sing songs of praise to Him.

Instead of thinking about how someone else is frustrating me by not doing what I want her to do, I can think about how she is made in the image of God, valuable to Him, and precious in His sight. What can I do? I can stop and pray for her. I can speak a word of encouragement to her. I can bless her with a gift or by serving her.

Thinking and practicing ungodly things feeds and grows your ungodly thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. But thinking and practicing godly things feeds and develops your godly thoughts, feelings, and attitudes.

Back in the Stone Age when dinosaurs roamed the earth and computers were brand new, programmers used to have a saying: “Garbage in, garbage out.” In other words, if you fed faulty commands into the computer, the performance you got out of the computer was going to be faulty, too.

The Christian heart is very much the same. “Godly in, godly out.” If you feed godliness into your heart, godliness will start coming out in your thoughts, words, and actions.

We don’t have to be mastered by sinful thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and by putting off the old self, renewing our minds through God’s Word, and putting on the new self by thinking and practicing godly things, we can grow more and more obedient to our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, words, and actions.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try to remember that the next time God answers the “wrong” prayer.


¹Please note that the word “wrong” as it refers to God answering prayer refers to my having the wrong attitude or perspective. God is perfect and has never, and will never, do anything wrong.
²From the hymn Sweet, Sweet Spirit by Doris Akers
Church, Sin, Southern Baptist/SBC

Preventative Measures: 6 Steps SBC Churches Can Take to Prevent Sexual Abuse

I’m taking a short summer break this week. I hope you’ll enjoy this article from the archives. The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is also taking place this week. Will you please pray that God will bring conviction of sin, repentance, and obedience to God’s Word?


Originally published February 22, 2019

The state I live in is heavily Catholic and Southern Baptist. For many years, journalists and others have been delving into the gobsmacking number – thousands – of pedophile and sexually abusive Catholic clergy across the globe, and, in recent months, my own local paper has been tackling the issue as it pertains to priests and other Catholic leaders in our area who have been revealed as abusers. So I was kind of prepared for the Southern Baptist Convention to be the next entity to be investigated. My guess is that either Presbyterians or Mormons will be next.

It’s absolutely appropriate that the news media conducted this kind of investigation into the SBC. What’s not appropriate is that SBC leadership appeared not to be ready for it because – at least from my perspective as the average person in the pew – it’s not something the Convention has a history of policing itself on in any appreciable way. SBC leadership should have been ready and eager to fling the doors wide open and transparently welcome any sort of investigation by the media, demonstrating whatever progress has been made in dealing with perverts in our pulpits. Instead, they seemed to be caught virtually unprepared despite the fact that the signs of the times should have indicated to them that this was coming.

In my opinion, the Houston Chronicle did an excellent job of exposing the problems with abuse in the SBC in its three-part series of articles, even taking the time to explain the crucial point of church autonomy, which sets SBC churches apart from the governing structure of Catholicism and other organizations, and which has, in many cases enabled abusers to move from church to church undetected. SBC leaders who have explained that they have no authority to force churches to participate in any sort of registry of abusers and the credibly accused are correct (but couldn’t it be voluntary?). SBC leadership, unfortunately, has no such authority over individual churches. Each church has to set its own standards and methods for preventing abuse. So what can individual, autonomous churches do to prevent abuse?

1.
Preach the Gospel

That might sound pretty basic, but it’s one of the basics we desperately need to get back to. We need to be churches who hammer on the gospel – the wretchedness of sin, the supreme holiness of God, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection, grace, mercy, repentance, forgiveness – week in and week out. Not only is that…well…it’s just what any biblical church is supposed to do, but my guess is that the vast majority of the perpetrators in these abuse cases are not actually Christians – despite what they may claim or what office they might hold – they are false converts because a lot of churches they’ve been part of have neglected their duty to preach the gospel.

Too many SBC churches teach an easy – “Just repeat this quick little prayer, and boom, you’re in!” – believism that unrepentant sinners hang their eternal hats on as a “Get out of Hell, Free!” card. They’ve never found themselves filthy and undone before an unfathomably holy God because they’ve never been confronted by that God or that characterization of their sin in the preaching and teaching of their churches. Could some of these perpetrators be genuinely regenerated Christians? It’s possible, but not likely. By and large, true Christians are not out there abusing others – it’s the false converts.

2.
Meaningful Membership

Some churches have done away with formal membership altogether. Everybody’s welcome, come and go whenever you want, if you want, no requirements, no accountability. That’s not biblical, nor is it how the church has handled membership over the course of church history.

Traditionally there have been three main ways to join a SBC church: a newly saved person makes a public profession of his faith to the church body and is baptized into membership, or membership can be transferred from one church to another. You can transfer your membership by promise of letter (your previous church sends a letter to your current church recommending or not recommending that you be accepted for membership) or by statement (when obtaining a letter from a previous church isn’t possible, this is an “honor system” personal testimony that you are a baptized Believer).

Promise of letter in particular is a decent and biblical system that needs to be upheld, adhered to, and taken gravely seriously rather than just waving every Tom, Dick, and Harry through the wide open doors of the church. And in the case of new church members and new staff members (new staff members have to transfer their membership, too), it could help curb abuse if both the sending and receiving churches would look upon it as far more than a mere formality.

One of the very valid problems the Chronicle articles cite is that sending churches (the churches the abusers came from) did not inform subsequent churches of the problems with the abuser. They silently foisted people they knew were dangerous onto unsuspecting congregations. If sending churches would respond honestly to inquiries from receiving churches (the churches the abusers are going to) about their former staff and members, and if receiving churches would ask probing, personal questions rather than sending out perfunctory form letters, that would be a good start to making more headway on preventing abuse.

Furthermore, meaningful membership makes it harder for people to anonymously breeze in to the church, abuse, and slip out before anybody realizes what’s going on. There are sexual abusers out there who find and attend churches with loosey-goosey membership policies for the express purpose of cultivating a pool of victims. They know these churches are blindly and ignorantly trusting, so they show up for a couple of weeks, talk a good game, and promptly volunteer to work in the nursery or with the youth. If your church has a firm membership policy, required membership class, requires members to sign a church covenant, only allows church members (not just anybody who wants to or seems talented) to serve in any office, task, role, or capacity – and only after they have been members for a specified amount of time (ex: must have been a faithful member for at least six months to teach, serve on a committee, etc.), that sort of abuser isn’t going to waste his time or chance being caught by attending your church.

3.
Church Discipline

One of the failings of far too many SBC (and other) churches is sweeping sin under the rug and refusing to biblically exercise church discipline before it’s too late and calamity strikes. Church discipline isn’t just for the “big” sins like a pastor who commits adultery. Church discipline is for all observable, unrepentant, biblically defined sin. If we have verifiable knowledge that a brother or sister in our church is sinning, we have the obligation not to please ourselves by turning a blind eye and avoiding a confrontation, but to lovingly go to that person and plead with her, for her own restoration and reconciliation to Christ, to repent and walk blamelessly. Often (hopefully), that first step in the church discipline process precludes the need for the remaining two.

Churches that consistently, lovingly, and biblically practice church discipline help prevent abuse in four ways:

First of all, nobody wakes up one morning and decides to start sexually abusing others. There are always “smaller” sins leading up to abuse – obscene comments, dirty jokes, leering, pornography, inappropriate touching in public. If we would address those “smaller” sins when we see them happening, we might just prevent the potential abuser from continually hardening his heart by getting away with sin, bring the gospel to bear on his life, and keep him from becoming an abuser in the first place. He might actually get saved, which is one of the goals of church discipline.

Second, if a church cultivates an atmosphere of practicing church discipline, unrepentant abusers aren’t going to hang around long. They don’t want to be caught.

Third, if a church ends up having to go through all the steps of church discipline with an unrepentant potential abuser, the last step – bringing this person before the church to remove him from membership – is public. Church members are made aware of the problems with this person so they can avoid being victimized by him and the procedure of removing the potential abuser from church membership goes into the church records. When he then goes to a new church, that receiving church should inquire of the sending church about him (see “Meaningful Membership” above). The sending church can then provide the record of his removal so the receiving church will be aware of the problems with this person.

Fourth, if we practice church discipline on the “smaller” sins with an unrepentant abuser, he is likely to be removed from membership in the church before he gets to the point of abusing someone.

Another aspect of church discipline is tightening up the rolls and removing members who are dead (no, I’m not kidding), have moved away, have stopped attending, or are no longer members in good standing for other reasons. This may not prevent someone from abusing, but at least if he does abuse, the media won’t be able to report that he’s (still) a member of your church, thus tarnishing your church’s, and possibly God’s, good name.

4.
Take Biblical Requirements for Leadership Seriously

It’s not like the Bible doesn’t tell us what kind of man should be a pastor, elder, or deacon. It’s right there, in black and white, twice, in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. And yet there are churches who barely give those requirements a glance in favor of “more important” qualities they want in a pastor: Does he have at least a master’s degree from seminary? Is he a certain age? Does he rub elbows with Christian celebrities? Does he have a track record of successful building programs, fundraising, and attracting lots of new members? Is he charismatic and a dynamic speaker? None of those things are inherently bad unless they take precedence over the biblical qualifications.

But when churches are hiring men as pastors, youth directors, etc., whom they know have been in prison for abuse, as the Chronicle articles cited, we have to think some other factor is more important to those churches than the biblical requirements. Because someone who has been accused, tried, convicted, and imprisoned by worldly courts for sexual abuse is no longer “above reproach” – the very first requirement in both passages (and Titus mentions it twice for emphasis) – he is not “respectable”, and he is not “well thought of by outsiders”. The very existence of the Chronicle’s articles proves that. It boggles the mind that something like this has to be said to professing Christians who are supposedly spiritually mature and biblically knowledgeable enough to be on the pastor search committees for their churches, but people who have criminal records as sex abusers are permanently disqualified from professional ministry because they no longer meet these biblical requirements. (And just as an aside, if your church has a “no hire” policy for men who have ever been divorced for any reason but yet you’ll hire a convicted sexual abuser…well…I’m just at a loss for words at that level of hypocrisy. OK, maybe one word: repent.)

But, “forgiveness for repentant sinners!” I can hear compassionate Christians cry out. Absolutely. Absolutely. I have a loved one who was radically and genuinely saved while he was in prison for child molestation. God can and does save sexual abusers, and those forgiven Christians need a church home just like everybody else does. We lovingly welcome into membership repentant sinners who are transparent with the church about their previous sin and who volunteer to be kept accountable. But we do not put them back into the position of pastor, elder, deacon, etc., first because they are biblically disqualified, and second, because it is not loving to that person nor to the rest of the church to allow him access to facets of church life that would tempt him back into sin. And it is putting God to the test to intentionally put such a person into a tempting situation as some sort of way of “proving” that God has really saved this person. We would not make a convicted embezzler the church treasurer and we should not be putting sexual abusers in positions that would tempt or allow them to abuse again – even volunteer positions. That doesn’t mean we doubt their salvation or the work God has done in their hearts, that means we recognize that Satan is cruel and crafty and we humbly admit that we still succumb to temptations to sin. It’s not holding a grudge or unforgiveness, it’s exercising biblical wisdom.

5.
Stop Being Afraid

When we allow the fear of man to determine our actions instead of the fear of God, we are in grave spiritual error. Peter and the apostles stood up to the authorities who threatened and imprisoned them, insisted on obeying God’s Word, boldly declared, “We must obey God rather than men,” took their licks like men, went away rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name, and kept right on trucking in obedience to God. How far have we fallen when we won’t even address a brother’s sin with him because we’re afraid of confrontation? When we cover up a predator’s behavior and unleash him on others because we’re afraid of a defamation lawsuit? When we must obey men rather than God because we’re more afraid of the earthly consequences than spiritual consequences – because we don’t trust God to take care of us or His church?

Brothers and sisters, this must not be.

Should we act wisely? Of course. Make sure we’re obeying the law and not hurting anyone as far as we’re able? Certainly. Get some legal advice? Absolutely. But when the rubber meets the road of choosing what’s right in God’s eyes versus what’s safe or comfortable in our own eyes, we choose what’s right in God’s eyes every time and we trust Him with the outcome. The God who parts seas, cools furnaces, and raises the dead is powerful enough to handle court cases and the ire of sinful men. Let us say with the Psalms and the Proverbs:

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
Proverbs 29:25

…in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Psalm 56:11

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
Psalm 118:6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
Proverbs 3:5-7

6.
Practical Wisdom

Do the practical stuff. God has given us brains, experience, resources, and promises us wisdom. We would be failing to honor Him if we did not make use of all of those blessings in order to protect our churches from predators.

Perform criminal background checks on all staff members and on anyone who works with children, the disabled, or vulnerable adults regardless of how well you know them or how trustworthy you think they are.

Check references on every employee from the pastor to the janitor. Do it thoroughly and diligently, not flippantly.

Put accountability measures in place such as requiring at least two adults be present in children’s and youth activities and classes at all times. No teen or adult – including the pastor, youth pastor or any other staff member – should ever be alone with a child on church property or at church functions.

Hold training sessions for the whole church on your church’s security measures, and how to report suspicious behavior and suspected abuse. Specifically address parents on the issue of trusting other adults in the church. Time after time, we hear that children are victimized because parents have left their child alone with a pastor or other Christian adult assuming that person was trustworthy. Teach them instead to assume that any adult – regardless of his title or position – who seeks to be alone with a child is untrustworthy.

Explore the services of organizations like Ministry Safe and others who can help you make your church a safer place. Pick the brains of sister churches who have put precautions in place for helpful suggestions and resources.

 

In the aftermath of bombshell news of abuse, the most common line of reasoning is, “How can we fix this? What can we do?”. Thoughts turn to practical solutions. That’s not wrong. In fact, it’s very, very right. We should make every effort to put pragmatic safeguards in place. But we can’t focus on the practical and tangible and leave out the spiritual. Because abuse is a spiritual issue way before it’s a safety issue. And if we get the spiritual part of it right from the get go, we drastically reduce the chances that we’ll have to fall back on practical safety measures. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and a church striving to uphold the highest Scriptural standards of holiness will find itself fortified with tons of both.

Mailbag, Sin

The Mailbag: If someone follows false teachers or teaches false doctrine for a long time, is she saved?

 

I have heard pastors say that believers can sin for a ‘season’ without repentance. In regards to professing believers who follow false teachers, what is a ‘season’? Can they continue following them for months? Years?

Is it possible that someone who is a false teacher is actually saved? Could she truly believe the biblical gospel even though, for decades, she has been terribly mishandling God’s Word, and has been on an increasing trajectory of sin and false doctrine?

I’ve combined two questions for this edition of The Mailbag because they are very closely related, if not, in fact, the same basic question.

I’m glad you asked. This is such an important issue to think through because, unfortunately, we are surrounded by professing Christians walking down these paths.

When I hear people use the the term “season” when referring to the Christian life, it’s been my experience that they usually mean “an indeterminate period of time”. In my mind, a “season” is longer than a couple of weeks, but shorter than several decades. That really narrows it down, doesn’t it? :0) But if you asked a hundred Christians what a season is, you’d probably get a hundred different answers.

When Christians say that someone can sin “for a season” they are likely alluding to the King James translation of Hebrews 11:25:

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
Hebrews 11:24-25

You might want to take a look at some other reliable translations alongside the King James. The primary emphasis of the end of verse 25 is that the pleasure our flesh gets from sinning is fleeting, transitory, temporary. But the KJV looks at another petal on the same rosebud and helpfully explains that because that pleasure is temporary, the time spent happily wallowing in that sin should, consequently, also be temporary. The prodigal son is a good example of this. Once he found himself in the pigpen, sin wasn’t much fun any more, and that’s when his thoughts turned to repentance.¹

The next issues we need to tackle are sin and salvation. Here’s what we know:

🕇 Anybody who has a basic grasp of the biblical definition of sin knows that even the most Christlike Christians still sin and that sinless perfectionism is a bunch of hooey and hubris.

🕇 We also know that someone whom God has reached down and genuinely saved cannot lose her salvation due to sin. So the issue we’re grappling with in this particular instance is not whether or not a genuine Christian can lose her salvation by sinning, but whether or not a person who lives in sin for a long period of time is actually saved as she professes to be.

🕇 Finally, we know that there are false converts among us, who appear to be Christians for a “season,” and then walk away from the faith never to return, proving that they were never truly saved in the first place.

So how can we tell the difference between a genuine Christian who is temporarily walking in sin and a false convert who’s on her way out the door?

Most of the time, if she’s still claiming to be a Christian, we can’t know with certainty.

Often, the only way to know for sure that a person who seemed to be a Christian isn’t saved is if she either a) unequivocally renounces Christianity (i.e. “I no longer believe in God,” “I used to be a Christian,” etc.) or b) picks up a new belief system that clearly puts her outside the camp of Christianity, (i.e. “I don’t believe in the Trinity,” “I don’t believe Jesus was God,” “I’m now a Mormon,” etc.). In other words, if a person tells you she’s not a Christian, you can believe her.

But for the person who is sinning, following false teachers, or teaching false doctrine (that doesn’t conflict with biblical soteriology), and claims to be a Christian, it can be harder to tell. Why? Because we aren’t God.

When Samuel was trying to figure out which one of Jesse’s sons to anoint as the next king of Israel, God told him something that’s very instructive to this issue:

When they came, [Samuel] looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:6-7

Regardless of what someone appears or claims to be on the outside, only God knows the heart of each person. And that’s really good news for us, because it relieves us of the burden of having to read another person’s heart. That’s God’s job, not ours.

God judges hearts, we judge behavior.

God has given the church – Believers – the responsibility of seeing to the spiritual welfare of our fellow church members who are sinning. We handle the tangible, visible “action” part of the situation, and God works through our words and actions to handle the invisible, spiritual part of the situation in whatever way He may choose to handle it. And God has given us very clear instructions in Scripture about how to regard, evaluate, and handle these kinds of situations.

🕇 God clearly explains to us throughout Scripture exactly what constitutes sin and false doctrine. We compare what someone is teaching, believing, or doing with the applicable, rightly handled, in context Scriptures. If the person’s teaching, beliefs, or behavior isn’t in compliance with those Scriptures, the person is sinning.

🕇 God vests Christians with the responsibility of lovingly confronting sin in our brothers and sisters and urging them to repent and be reconciled to God, and He explains to us, in Scripture, how to do this.

🕇 God makes clear in John 10 that people He has genuinely saved – His sheep – will not listen to the voice of a stranger (false teacher). I have experienced the truth of this statement myself and seen it play out in the lives of dozens of women over the years: “I went to a women’s Bible study when I was a young Christian where they were using materials by [a false teacher]. I was really uncomfortable because I knew something was wrong, even though I wasn’t sure what it was. Years later, looking back and having learned my Bible, I now see I felt that way because I was being taught false doctrine.”

🕇 The overwhelming majority of the Scriptures dealing with false teachers seem to indicate that unrepentant false teachers are not saved. (I discussed these Scriptures in my article Can a False Teacher Be a Christian?.) But, again, with those who profess to believe the biblical gospel, we cannot know their hearts with certainty, and we do not have to. We evaluate their visible teaching and behavior according to Scripture and carry out the procedures for dealing with sin in the Body that God has prescribed in His Word.

How long of a “season” can someone walk in sin, follow a false teacher, or teach (non-soteriological) false doctrine before we know for certain she’s not saved? The farthest I will go is to say that the longer a person walks in increasing rebellion against God and His Word, the less likely it is that that person is genuinely saved. Saved people hate their sin. Saved people respond humbly and obediently to biblical correction. Saved people repent. But how long that takes varies from individual to individual. It’s impossible to put a number of days, weeks, months or years on it, and with many people who profess to be Christians while doing these things, we may never know this side of Glory.


¹THERE IS DISAGREEMENT AMONG SOME CHRISTIANS AS TO WHETHER THE PRODIGAL SON REPRESENTS A LOST PERSON WHO SUBSEQUENTLY GOT SAVED, OR WHETHER HE REPRESENTS SOMEONE WHO WAS SAVED, FELL INTO SIN FOR A SEASON, THEN CAME TO HIS SENSES AND REPENTED. I TEND TO BELIEVE THE FORMER DUE TO CONTEXT (SEE LUKE 15:1-2). JESUS WAS ADDRESSING PHARISEES (REPRESENTED BY THE OLDER SON) WHO WERE CRITICIZING HIM FOR RECEIVING AND EATING WITH SINNERS (GENTILES; THE LOST). AT ANY RATE, I’M ONLY USING THE PRODIGAL SON HERE TO DEMONSTRATE THE TRANSITORY NATURE OF THE PLEASURE OF SIN.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.