Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

What follows is not a detailed Bible Study; it contains no Bible references as prooftexts. Rather, it is an attempt at a broad overview of the issue, trying to capture the trajectory of the Biblical story and the unfolding revelation of God’s purpose. It started as a facebook comment, but then got too big for its boots, and so it ended up here instead.

In the Old Testament, God gives Israel specific sexuality laws, including the prohibition of homosexual intercourse/relations. For this, the penalty is death by stoning. This is an outworking of the 7th commandment ‘Do not commit adultery’ (Which Jesus shows us in the sermon on the mount is not kept by a simplistic not having sex with someone else’s spouse, but even includes lustful thoughts and possibly the M word), and this 7th commandment is itself founded on the creation of human beings in God’s image as male & female. We also see now that this commandment is much bigger than ‘That’s the way God designed us’ – in that marriage reflects Christ and the Church and God’s big goal for all of history, something that is also hinted at throughout the Old Testament narrative.

So sexual purity is first and foremost about truly reflecting the glory of God, something about which God is extremely jealous, and will defend above everything else. The personal morality and societal benefit is not an end in itself, but a means to a higher, much more glorious and liberating goal. That’s why those things that defaced true marriage received such a harsh penalty. Break the 7th commandment and you essentially slap God in the face. Slap God in the face, and you will get what you deserve: the penalty of death, and the community will clearly understand that God not only defends HIs honour, but He also so loves His people that He will purge evil and injustice from among them.

Then we come to the New Testament. Jesus repeatedly affirms the principle of the 7th commandment, going to Genesis and the creation of man and woman and in some quite strong teaching about divorce. While he does not specifically refer to homosexuality (neither does he mention incest, bestiality, rape etc.), his affirmation of this command shows he affirms all the other applications of it, including the prohibition of homosexuality. ‘Sexual Immorality’ then is a term that covers all the prohibitions of the Torah, not just our modern way of thinking of it as ‘promiscuity’. He makes it clear that God’s standard has not dropped, by even applying extreme measures like cutting off your hand and gouging out your eye – which are given in the context of sexual sin – not as penalties for breaking it, but as examples of how far we must go if we think that we will be able to overcome temptation and sin ourselves. (If you think that the sermon on the mount is the rulebook for Christians to follow, think again. Apply it literally, and you’ll be one eyed and left-handed).

In doing this, Jesus is demonstrating that this commandment is not fulfilled by him in the sense of being made ‘obsolete’ (such as, for example, food laws), but in the sense of him, as the second Adam, perfectly keeping it on our behalf. It’s like he said, ‘Here’s the standard of the law: I’ll raise it to where it truly sits, at a height that you must realise you will never be able to reach because you are sinful, and then I will both keep it on your behalf, and come under the penalty you deserve for not keeping it yourself.’

The Apostles reflect this in their teaching (the Epistles). Paul in Romans uses homosexuality as what seems like the ‘ultimate’ sin in his discussion of humanity’s sinfulness, implying that same sex relations are virtually the lowest we can sink in defacing God’s good design. This is connected to his presentation in Ephesians of human marriage as a picture of Christ and the Church – deface marriage, and you slap God in the face and trash His purpose in Christ. We are called to sexual purity, and the honouring of marriage and family, and to distance ourselves from the world’s expressions of sexuality that are more about personal pleasure and ritual idol worship than they are about loving God and our neighbour.

A Christian is one who seeks to do all things to the Glory of God; as one who loves God they seek to obey His commands, not simply for pragmatic purposes, but in order to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has redeemed them. Homosexuality is abhorrent for a child of God, not because they fear stoning, or even because it may damage the wellbeing of society, but because it trashes the Gospel of the Son who laid down His life for his beloved bride, and who invites those who live by faith in him to attend the ‘wedding supper of the lamb,’ which will be in the new Heavens and new Earth.

So the 7th commandment has been transformed from a prohibition mandating stoning, to a glorious expression of the goodness and faithfulness of a Husband who will never commit adultery against his Bride, and a Bride who so loves the Husband who laid down his life for her that she desires to honour and respect Him by remaining pure in every way.

misused bible

The verse:

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God’” Mark 10:27

How it’s misused:

I can do anything I set my heart on, as long as I have enough faith and believe God for it and ask for His help.

What it’s really saying:

The context of this verse is a discussion about the salvation of those who have set up large barriers between themselves and God – specifically here a man who trusted in his great material wealth, and thought he could earn his way into eternal life. Just before this is the famous phrase, ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ (vs. 25 – something that is technically possible if you have a meat cleaver, a blender and a syringe), in which Jesus highlights the impossibility of a person achieving their own righteousness.

So what is impossible with man (ie. can’t be done by man), but possible with God (ie. can be done by God)? Salvation. Why is this so? Because God is God, and so nothing is impossible for Him.

NOTE: Some names and other details have been changed or removed from the original message to protect the guilty…

Dear Mohid,

It was good to meet you again last week.

Your question was: ‘In our modern times, how is the teaching of Jesus important to us after we abolished many aspects of that time such as slavery and pedophilia? Aren’t we better off?’

My initial response is that, sadly, pedophilia and slavery are still major problems in the world today. Human trafficking and sexual abuse (often of minors) is rampant today, as can be seen by the information given by International Justice Mission –  http://www.ijm.org/. Because of this, Jesus’ teaching about love, justice, unselfish living, and protecting the vulnerable is still very much relevant to the issues we face today. Unfortunately in our sophisticated society, a lot of these human rights abuses, while happening in our own countries, are cleverly concealed, so that many are not aware of them. I would also say, though, that in nations where Christian teaching has been an important part of our culture, these things are not tolerated. Many non-believers who are protesting and acting against these things do not realise that they are working from a Christian ethic. (I dod not know enough about Islamic teaching to say whether this is also true in Islamic countries)

Secondly, I would say that the ultimate goal of Jesus’ teaching on morals and ethics are not so that we should follow them in order to make this world a better place (although if everyone did follow them, the world would be a much better place in many ways). Jesus’ teaching of God’s Law, as seen in the famous Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapters 5-7, is to show us what an incredibly high standard God’s law sets for us – such that even a lustful thought about a woman is considered equal to adultery, and feeling superior to someone is the same as murder. This in turn shows us that we cannot save ourselves by our own works or progress – since we constantly fail to keep this standard. And so Jesus’ ultimate purpose for coming – as Samuel presented – was to do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves through his life, death and resurrection.

This is really the teachings of Jesus. He said in Matthew 20:28, ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ So the Apostles (his followers who wrote down his words), were primarily concerned not with spreading Jesus’ ethical teaching, but the news of his death and resurrection, because it is through faith in Jesus that a person is set free to begin obeying the Law found in the Torah. The Christian teaching, from Jesus himself, is that genuine change does not come when a person simply decides to try to do good by following teachings. Instead, a person needs to be ‘born again’ – literally made a new person in their soul, by the Holy Spirit changing their heart to be able to trust in Jesus.

I hope that answer makes sense. Feel free to reply or to ask any other questions about the Christian view.

Kind regards,

James

Dear James

As you can see my questions are for both Muslims and Christians, and I don’t find them to be able to provide a satisfactory answer. Where Mariam was wedded  the age of 13 to Joseph of the age 90, or where Muhammad married Aisha at the age of nine. The big issue is that such acts were committed from people who were assumed to be the ultimate moral avatars for humanity. At todays measures, such acts could only be accomplished in the dark, and with our moral standards of judging these people very negatively.   

As for the standards  of God, to judge us so harshly for “lustful thoughts” which are encrypted in our survival instincts by god himself displays a major flaw of design. Why would God create us and our survival to depend on such thoughts when it’s a sinful act?. This could easily be said for muslims as well who would stone adulterers who would angry god, yet God would reward them with 72 virgins.

Both religions have existed a long time ago. Both advised to kill for god, rape for god (slavery), hate for god, give money for god, idolise current living men as connected to god (shikh or clergy), stoning, beheading, and the list keeps going countless. Aren’t we better to say no god would ever say such a thing?

Thanking you for your kindness and time. Again you display to me how kind and thoughtful you are after all these years.

Highest regards

Mohid

Dear Mohid

Thanks for your response, and I can understand your difficulties.

I would have to be honest, though, and point out that the issue of pedophilia is only a concern for Islam, as none of the prophets in the Bible were married to children (the Gospel does to mention the age of Mary (Miriam)). Jesus himself taught that ‘causing a little one to stumble’ – which could be understood to include sexual abuse – was a heinous crime, and that it would be better for the perpetrator to have a large stone tied around their next and be thrown into the sea! 

In the Torah, Prophets, Psalms and Gospels, none of the prophets are held up as models of moral perfection for us to follow. All of them, except for Jesus, are example of sinful human beings who, just like us make terrible mistakes and who need to depend on God’s grace and mercy. So we are to follow their example in repenting (turning from our sin) and trusting in God.

The Christian view of instincts – or ‘desires’ – is that while God created human beings (Adam) perfect, with only good desires, we have become corrupt, and sinful by nature. That means that desires that were designed by God for good, like being sexually attracted to our wife, have become distorted, so that we think lustful thoughts about women who are not our wife. This is not strictly how God created us; it is how we have become because of our sinfulness. We can blame no-one but ourselves for this.

And so the harsh penalty is given, not to say, ‘Every society in every place should adopt these laws,’ but rather to highlight the serious nature of sin, and the fact that sin is a matter of the heart. 

What I mean is, every sin starts with a desire. We want to do something, and so we end up doing it. Jesus himself said, 

‘”Whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled.” Thus he declared all foods clean. And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”‘ (Mark 7:18-23)

So the reason God judges us harshly, is to highlight our desperate need for reconciliation with Him, and this reconciliation is found in Jesus. So the One who judges us so severely is also the one who loves us so greatly that He sent His only Son for us.

James

sneak preview of the talk I am about to give 2-4 times these two weeks as part of Jesus Week – ‘Meet the Real Jesus’ at Flinders Uni:

Text: Mark 8:27-38

The concept of God judging is not a palatable idea for many people. It’s the reason why some people reject all forms of religious belief altogether, saying, ‘I can’t believe in a God who will send me to Hell simply for not believing in Him,’ or, ‘God would be a moral monster if he demands that we meet such an unreachable standard, and then sends us to hell if we fail.’

Yet regardless of what intellectual conclusions we make, there is an undeniable reality that human beings have sense of justice, fairness, and an innate desire to see evil and wrongness corrected. If this were not the case, I would have no basis for rejecting or refuting the Christian belief in God as Judge. If I reject the idea of God because, in my view, God is unjust, I am betraying my implicit belief in and desire for truth and justice by saying God does not meet my standard of what is good and right and fair.

We all agree that justice is a good thing, especially when it impacts us directly; if we were to witness our own loved ones brutally killed in front of us, we would feel/know it to be a great travesty if the murderer was set free. We agree that it is right to be angry about the human rights abuses that happen in the world, and we feel a sense of satisfaction when dictators are toppled and criminals are captured, or even when we are simply vindicated and shown to be right when we have been falsely accused. Justice is in our bones, and you could argue that it is a foundation of civilised society.

So why do we get upset when we hear the idea that God will bring justice to this world through Jesus Christ? Why are we happy for human beings to carry out justice, but struggle with the idea of God doing so? Who is more qualified to bring about justice – a good and loving, all knowing God, or imperfect human beings with mixed motives and limited knowledge?

Mark 8:27-38 is a passage that can help us understand something of what it means for Jesus to be our judge.

Twice in this passage Jesus refers to himself as ‘The Son of Man’. This term comes from the Old Testament (The first part of the Bible), from a prophecy by the 4th century BC prophet Daniel. In a vision he saw God on his throne just like a judge in a courtroom; before him were all the nations and peoples of the world. A person whom he described as, ‘One like a Son of Man’ was brought directly into the presence of God, who gave him authority over all the nations of the earth, and all people worshipped him. This ‘Son of Man’ is essentially God’s representative; he rules with God’s full authority.

By using this title for himself, Jesus is claiming to be the one whom Daniel saw in his vision. At another time Jesus said that because he is God’s Son, God the Father has entrusted him with the role of judging the whole world; so each one of us will have to stand before Jesus and be assessed at to whether we meet God’s perfect standard.

This is what Jesus is talking about at the end of this passage when he says in verse 38:

‘Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

The word ashamed here does not just mean ‘embarrassed’ in the way that we might use it. It is a word that means being wrongly aligned, a bit like backing the losing football team, or  being loyal to the wrong side in a war. Jesus says that rejecting Him and his words now, will result in him rejecting us when he comes as judge.

So, what is it about Jesus and his words that is so important for us to not reject? We see this in the first section of the passage.

In verses 27-30 Jesus has asked his disciples who people say he is – and who they say he is. Jesus considers it important that people understand who he is and what his mission is. The public have some ideas, but when Peter says, ‘You are the Christ’, we know from other accounts of this event that Jesus commended him – his view was the right view. ‘The Christ’ means ‘God’s appointed King’ – the one who would set up God’s kingdom; he was promised to the Jewish people over 1000 years earlier, and they had been waiting for Him to arrive all this time. They knew that the Christ would be the king not just of their people, but of the whole world; that he would bring peace and justice to the world, and enable people to truly know and worship God.

This description may sound very similar to the description I just gave of the ‘Son of Man’, and that is because the titles ‘Christ’ and ‘Son of Man’ meant the same thing. They are speaking of the same person – and Jesus is this person.

However both the public and the disciples thought – wrongly – that when the Christ came, he would use military strength to set up his kingdom. That is why Jesus told his disciples not to tell people about him – because he knew the people might start a violent revolution.

Jesus goes on in verses 31-33 to explain how he will set up God’s kingdom: He would suffer, be killed, and rise again after 3 days. This does not sound like a great and powerful king, which is why Peter rebuked him. However he did not understand why Jesus had to die and rise again.

Any kingdom need two elements to be a true kingdom: a King, and citizens. A King without citizens is not really a king. So in order to be the King of God’s kingdom, Jesus must gather for himself those who will be citizens of His kingdom. However, there is one problem. There is not one human being who is worthy or qualified to be a citizen of his kingdom. The Bible tells us that all of humanity has rebelled against God – we have become God’s enemies. We have chosen not to live under God’s loving authority, but instead set ourselves up as the rulers of our own lives and of this world. This is what the Bible calls ‘Sin’. Sin is not primarily bad things we do, but an attitude in our hearts that says, ‘No’ to God. It is a rejection of the relationship with God that we have been created for. As a result, our lives are filled with actions and deeds that reflect this – things we call ‘sins’.

God is rightfully angry at this, because He is good and just and loving, and so He will not tolerate Sin. If we reject a relationship with Him and want nothing to do with Him, the fair punishment for this is Him rejecting us in the same way. And because this sin of rejecting God is so serious – it is essentially ‘cosmic treason’, the punishment must also be just as serious – being cut off from God and all his goodness, forever. And so, as we have seen already, those who reject (are ‘ashamed of’) God by rejecting His Son Jesus – will also be rejected.

Because the core problem of sin is a problem of the heart, we cannot fix this simply by trying to do good things or changing our behaviour. We need to be reconciled to God. The attitude of our heart that causes us to be under God’s anger needs to be dealt with; we owe God a massive debt, and it is a debt that we cannot pay or make up for. If a criminal is found guilty in a court of law, he cannot say to the judge, ‘Please let me off, because I feel really sorry for what I did,’ or ‘I shouldn’t go to prison because I promise to do good from now on.’ If a crime has been committed, the penalty must be paid, otherwise there would be no justice.

This is why Jesus said that he had to die. The penalty we deserve for our treason is death, and since we cannot pay it ourselves, Jesus, the Son of God, has paid it for us. All of God’s anger that was rightfully directed against us, was instead directed against Jesus in our place. And by rising from the dead, Jesus demonstrated that this penalty has been fully paid: the fact that Jesus is no longer dead means that the penalty of death has been paid!

What does this then mean for us right now?

God has given us the means by which we may be reconciled to Him, and by being reconciled, we may become citizens of His kingdom. Through trusting in Jesus – and not in ourselves – we may know with certainty that God has brought us back to Himself.

We see this in the next verse – 34.

Jesus tells people that they should ‘deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him’. He is describing here what in other places the Bible calls ‘repentance and faith’ – or ‘turning and trusting’.

To ‘deny ourselves’ means we recognise that there is nothing we can do to fix our broken relationship. The problem is just too big, and so we need to be prepared to call out to Jesus for Him to save us.

To ‘take up one’s cross’ was quite a shocking thing to say – as in that time and place only the worst criminals – murderers and traitors – were crucified. So it means that we recognise that we actually deserve to face the required punishment for our treason against God! It was not coincidence that God allowed Jesus to die in this way, as him being crucified was a picture of our own crime against Him. This is what ‘repentance’ means: to turn from where we are in our sin and rebellion – to say ‘I am wrong, and God is right!’

The third thing Jesus says is ‘follow me’. This is a picture of trusting. We would only follow someone wherever they go if we knew we could trust them – or rather, if we knew they could be trusted fully. To follow Jesus means to completely depend on him to bring us back to God the Father; to accept that His death and resurrection is the only way that we can come into His Kingdom, since it is the only thing that can fix our problem.

What is the result of this? What does all this mean for someone who turns and trusts in Jesus?

It means we will be citizens of God’s kingdom, with Jesus us our good, loving, fair and just ruler – the Judge of all humanity who loved us so much that He came to bear the judgement for us. What a wonderful person to have as our ruler! It means also that we will have hope – hope for ourselves that we will never be rejected or abandoned by a divine Father who loves us so greatly, and calls us to know Him personally; and hope for this whole universe, that Jesus is ruling over it in its entirety, and will one day return to gather us to be with him, and to renew this whole world and remove all that is evil, unjust, painful and sad. This is the kind of promise that Jesus makes for all who trust Him.

So, will you repent and trust in Jesus?