God’s Guidelines for the “Gray Areas” of Life: Wise Decision-Making in a Wicked World, Part 2

Ethical and moral decision-making presents a great challenge for devoted followers of Jesus in the 21st century context. In 1 Corinthians Paul provides helpful guidelines for navigating what could be called “the gray areas” of the Christian life.

These biblical principles are true anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances. They are extremely helpful in leading us to be wise decision-makers as we live out a gospel-centered ethic.

1). Will this action be helpful to me?
“Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be brought under the control of anything. – 1 Cor. 6:12

“Everything is permissible,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. – 1 Cor. 10:23

Certain actions are not helpful for believers. They don’t build you up or make you better for Jesus. They accomplish little or nothing. To understand this principle, examine the following four statements. “‘Everything is permissible for me'” (6:12; 10:23). “‘Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods,’ but God will do away with both of them” (6:13). “‘Every sin a person can commit is outside the body'” (6:18). “‘It is good for a man not to have relations with a woman'” (7:1). I believe these were all “Corinth slogans.” In other words, these statements were not things Paul was affirming. On the contrary, these were popular sayings that Paul was correcting because they were rooted in a misunderstanding of the implications of the gospel. The first three erred on the side of antinomianism; the last one erred on the side of legalism and asceticism. All were infected with a view of reality that was grounded in a Platonic-type of philosophy that saw matter as evil or, at best, inferior. Thus, some went to one extreme and said, “The body does not matter, so indulge.” Others said, “The body is bad, so I will punish it.”

Paul said there is a third and better way. There is a gospel way! The Lord is for the body (6:13) and He is going to raise it (6:14). In other words, the body is a wonderful gift from God, God has redeemed it in Christ, He is going to resurrect and glorify it and it is a great thing when handled properly. So ask: is a particular activity helpful, profitable, beneficial? Will a particular activity make me better in Christ and raise me to a higher spiritual level? In other words, the question should not be, “Am I free to do it?” The question is, “Is it good for me to do this as a man or woman in Christ?”

2). Will this action potentially enslave me?
“Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be brought under the control of anything. – 1 Cor. 6:12

Paul is confident that he is a slave to only one master. His name is Jesus. No one or no thing is to “be master” (NIV) over us other than Him. I will choose to live a radically Christ-centered life because I belong to Him. You see, there is a danger in living “too close to the edge.” It can be the edge of antinomianism and libertarianism or legalism and asceticism. Either extreme is going to draw you away from Christ, and you will run the risk of being enslaved. Later, in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, Paul will point out that living near the edge of sin can even make one vulnerable to demonic attack and influence. There is little, if any, wisdom in hanging around out here.

The boasts: “I have liberty in Christ” and “I am free under grace” can become something of a moral rationalization that is more likely a personal idol erected for satisfying sensual pleasure. What you convince yourself will hurt no one will lead you yourself into a world of slavery and bondage to the cruelest taskmaster of all: yourself and your own carnal desires. True spiritual freedom is not the right to do what you want, it is the supernatural enablement of Christ to do what you ought and enjoy doing so! Gordon Fee says, “There is a kind of self-deception that inflated spirituality promotes, which suggests to oneself that he/she is acting with freedom and authority, but which in fact is an enslavement of the worst kind-to the very freedom one thinks one has” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 253). Christians must consistently guard themselves against any action that will potentially enslave them. I believe this is a tremendous word of wisdom as it relates to issues like drugs, alcohol, tobacco and pornography just to note a few of the more common destroyers of lives and families in our day. racer online game

A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 10: End Times)

A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 10: End Times)

Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.

Eschatology, as much as any other doctrine, undergirds the theory and practice of mission. As Russ Moore points out in A Theology for the Church, “All of Christian theology points toward an end-an end where Jesus overcomes the satanic reign of death and restores God’s original creation order.” Indeed, “In Scripture the eschaton is not simply tacked on to the gospel at the end. It is instead the vision toward which all of Scripture is pointing-and the vision that grounds the hope of the gathered church and the individual believer. In the face of death, we see faith, hope, and love. This is what we mean when we speak of Christian eschatology-the study of the last things or ultimate matters.”

The doctrine of the end times is broad-ranging, but because of the limited scope of this post, I will address only three aspects of this doctrine, and then point the way toward a missiological appropriation. We will begin with personal eschatology, speaking to the missiological implications of death, heaven, and hell. Next, we will treat cosmic eschatology, speaking to the destiny of the nations and the promise of a new heaven and earth.

The Great Divide

The Christian Scriptures instruct us about death, heaven, and hell. To be concise to the extreme, we may say that death entered the world because of sin (Rom 5:12) and is a tool of Satan’s (Heb 2:14-15). It is appointed to man once to die, and then the judgment. After death, he enters into either eternal damnation or eternal bliss. Eternal torment awaits for those who die apart from Christ (Mt 5:22; 8:12), while eternal bliss is the reward of those who are in Christ (Rev 21:2-4).

This is a difficult doctrine, but a necessary one as it is taught clearly in the Scriptures. Furthermore, it is a great motivator for the Christian and for the church. The Christian must hold three truths together in tension: (1) There is no name other than Christ by which men are saved, and all men who die apart from Christ abide in eternal torment. (2) There are countless millions of people who have practically no access to the gospel, and another two billion who have very little access. They could search for days, weeks, and months, and never find a Bible, a Christian, or a church. (3) We, as believers, have the awesome privilege and responsibility of proclaiming to them the good news. More to the point, those of us in the West have more capacity to proclaim the gospel than Christians in any other part of the globe or at any other time in history.

It is difficult to apprehend and affirm these three truths and choose not to act. Once we hold these three truths in tension, we are faced with a decision. Will we act on the implications of these three truths? There are those who have not heard the gospel; without Christ they will go to Christless eternity; we are able to take the gospel to them. Our response tends to fall into one of three categories: (1) We may change our belief system by rejecting the biblical teaching that salvation comes through Christ alone, in order to ease our conscience. (2) We may ignore these truths, so that our conscience may rest more easily. (3) We may take these truths to heart by offering ourselves to take the gospel to the nations, by building Great Commission churches and seminaries who will take the gospel to the nations, and by praying for and supporting those who do.

The Nations

The Scriptures also have, as a point of focus, the destiny of the nations. The teaching of Christian Scripture is that the gospel will be proclaimed to the whole world: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14). But it is not only that the gospel will be proclaimed. It is also that this gospel is powerful to save worshippers from among all tribes, tongues peoples, and nations: “You are worthy…For you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”

Th ingathering of the nations is not a tack-on to Christian doctrine; it is at the heart of God’s promises. The central promise in the Scriptures is that God would send Messiah, and tightly riveted to it is the promise that Messiah would win the nations unto Himself. God put His Son on the cross in order to purchase the nations. The ingathering of the nations is not an issue merely for the missiologists write about, or for professional missionaries to care about, or for churches to nod toward once a year during Lottie Moon. Rather it is central to all who are Christian because it is central to the work of Christ. We are to be instruments in God’s hands as He makes clear to the world that He is not a tribal deity. He is the Creator, King, and Savior of the nations and we will not know Him in His full splendor until we know Him as the King of the Nations.

The New Heavens & Earth

Finally, the Scriptures declare God’s promise of a new heavens and a new earth. Peter instructs us to “look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). John sees a vision in which there is a new heaven and a new earth, where there remains no pain or tears (Rev 21). And although this teaching does not get much air time in evangelical circles, it is no insignificant doctrine. Indeed, it is the doctrine of creation come full circle. The God who gave us the good creation of the Genesis narrative is the God who will give us a new heavens and a new earth.

In this new universe, God’s image bearers will experience neither sin nor its consequences. No longer will we use our rational capacities to speak falsehoods, or our creative capacities to construct idols. Never again will we use our relational capacities to suppress others and promote ourselves, our moral capacities to slander, rape, or murder. No longer will we live in an environment where tsunamis and floods destroy or where pollution poisons the ground and air. Never again will there be war or rumors of war.

Instead, we will live in unbroken relation with God, with others, with the new universe, and with ourselves. We will be “man fully alive,” man worshipping God in spirit and truth. But what does this doctrine of a new heavens and earth have to do with the mission of the church? Of the many implications, here are three:

First, we may use our God-given human capacities to glorify him in human culture, as a sign of what the new heavens and new earth will be like. We may flesh out the implications of the gospel for the arts, the sciences, and the public square. We may teach our children that it is an honorable thing to be an artist (writer, composer, singer, painter, graphic designer, etc.), a scientist (biologist, chemist, physicist, sociologist, anthropologist), or a participant in the public square (journalist, lawyer, politician, ethicist, educator).

Second, we may seek to glorify God in all of our callings. As Luther pointed out, the Christian has multiple callings, to workplace, family, church, and community. May we speak and live the gospel in all of those contexts so that the glory of God is not limited to the four walls of a church building, but instead is broadcast across every square inch of his universe.

Third, we may demonstrate that if there is anyone who cares about God’s good creation, it is the evangelical Christian. We do not care about it inordinately, or in the wrong way, but we do care. We have a different motivation than do most “environmentalists.” We recognize the creation as God’s good creation. We do not take the gift that God has given us and trash it recklessly. This is an insult to the God who made it and gave it to us to have dominion over it.

Conclusion

The promised Messiah has come, and He will come again to win the nations unto Himself and to reconcile all things unto Himself. He will do this because He loves the world (Jn 3:16-17). In His first coming, He provided the first fruits of that redemption and in the second coming he will provide the consummation of it.

We find ourselves living between those two comings, and the ramifications of this are multiple and significant. First, we must proclaim the gospel not only in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, but also to the ends of the earth. Second, we must seek to glorify him in every facet of creation and culture, and in all of our multiple callings. This is because our God is worthy of worship, and that worship should not be limited or reduced to what happens once a week on Sunday mornings.

We look toward, and hope for, the day when we can join the chorus around the throne and sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 5: What is the Gospel? The Full Orchestra Rendition

Think of your salvation testimony as a melody being played on a quiet instrument-a clarinet or oboe, perhaps. You play the tune for the Lord and to anyone and everyone who will listen. Now imagine that one day, while engrossed in the joy of playing your simple song, you are joined by an enormous, massive orchestra. And not just an orchestra of dozens or even hundreds, but thousands and tens of thousands-and a choir that is even larger.

Their sudden appearance is overwhelming. What’s more, you realize that they didn’t really join you. Rather, it becomes clear that your melody is actually part of a much larger movement of music-a piece marvelous in its intricacy and genius. At that point you realize that your salvation isn’t just about you; your redemption is part of a plan that encompasses heaven and earth.

Some verses in the Bible highlight the benefits of the Gospel for the individual believer, such as when Paul identifies himself with Jesus (“who loved me and gave his life for me.” Gal 2:20d). Other passages emphasize how the Gospel is producing a special people-the church-for God (i.e. “Christ loved the church, and gave himself for her” Eph 5:25). The Bible makes much of what the Gospel means for individual Christians and the corporate church, and we should too.

But that’s not all the Bible has to say about the subject. Not by a long shot. Time after time, in passage after passage (Rom 9-11, Eph. 1-2, Col 1, and Rev 5, just to name a few), the Scriptures unveil the Gospel’s full orchestra rendition. And what a symphony it is! The Gospel is not just about you and me, or even only about the church. The Gospel is for the nations because it is good news of cosmic proportions (Rom 8; Col 1). The Great Commission Resurgence is a call to hear the Gospel as the ballad of the one true epic of history.

So what exactly is the Gospel?

1. The Gospel is “the good news of the Kingdom” (Matt 24:14). The Gospel must be understood within the grand narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation. God has invaded our sin-darkened world-this is really good news! So the Gospel is the “Gospel of God” (Mark 1:14; Rom 1:1; 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Thess 2:2, 8-9) because it is the bulletin that God has acted decisively in history, that he has not left us in darkness, and that in so doing is glorifying himself. Often the Gospel is called the “good news of the Kingdom” because it announces that God has arrived in the person of his Son, King Jesus (Mark 4:23; 9:35). The Gospel declares that Christ has begun to establish his Kingdom and will return to fully reign over his dominion. All Creation looks forward to that day (Rom 8:22-25).

2. The Gospel is the good news of victory-over Satan and death. Pictures of Times Square packed with thousands celebrating the end of WWII have become iconic of the giddy relief felt when dark days give way to victory. That is nothing compared to the worshipful celebration of the redeemed (Rev 5:11-14). By his death, burial, and resurrection, Christ made an open spectacle of our implacable enemies (Col 2:15). On our behalf he defeated death and the Devil (1 Cor 15:54-57; Heb 2:9-15) and established his supremacy over all things (Col 1:13-23).

3. The Gospel is the good news of forgiveness of sins. In his discussion of the Gospel in 1 Cor 15, Paul emphasizes that Christ died “for our sins.” The Gospel is the good news that at Calvary Jesus became our substitute and suffered the wrath of God on our behalf. The blood of Christ is both our propitiation and expiation. It both pleads on the behalf of and cleanses the one who trusts him as Lord and Savior.

4. The Gospel is the good news of reconciliation (Rom 5:6-11; 2 Cor 5:18-21). The Gospel announces that God has reconciled himself to us in Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the true “good news of peace” (Rom 5:1; Eph 6:15). In sum, the Gospel is the joyous news that God, by and through his Son, acted to redeem all things-including us-to himself. This is the Gospel of Christ (1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12; Gal 1:7; 1 Thess 3:2; Rom 15:16).

Yes, the Gospel is about us. But it’s not just about us. It’s not even primarily about us. The Great Commission Resurgence is a call to resist the temptation to think of ourselves as soloists. We are part of the ultimate symphony. What a glorious privilege.