Category Archives: Cultural Issues

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Post-Christian Era Evangelism: Programs or Personal


Evangelism has become more and more challenging as our culture has become less and less moored to its Christian heritage. The old ways of thinking, and the old ways of doing “outreach” and “evangelism” do not connect with most people today (and even less so here in New England). Here is the material that the men discussed in our first session at the men’s retreat. It is an effort to help us understand how to think and approach evangelism among people who do not know truth, and who no longer think of the church as a place that provides a “positive influence” in their life.

What Do You Think of When You Hear “Evangelism”

We got a flavor for what you think at the last family meeting. When we asked for feedback on what we might pursue in the future, most of the suggestions were either programs to be administered impersonally, from a distance (like Operation Christmas Child, public service events, etc.), or things that might better be classified as advertising (e.g. Home Show, Cornish Fair, Radio spots, etc.). While all those are good, and we will likely pursue some of them, these are somewhat impersonal and occasional events. Moreover, they involve engaging strangers (if they involve engaging people at all).

Ron Bennett of Navigators probably assesses the mindset of the church in general (from chapter 19 of “Telling the Truth,” edited by D. A. Caron, p. 270-271).

Ask people what they associate with the word evangelism or evangelist and you get answers such as “pushy,” “used-car salesman,” “televangelis,” “door-to-door salesperson,” “Crusades,” and so forth…

…The church that takes evangelism seriously usually schedules some event that will bring in a well-known speaker who proclaims the gospel as a church men’s breakfast or women’s luncheon or couple’s potluck. Only a few members actually invite their neighbors (most don’t know their neighbors), so the audience is made up of regular church attendees with a few relatives who are in town for the weekend. Those who come enjoy seeing their church friends again for the third time that week…

…Frequently when I ask church leaders about their plan for evangelism, I am told of their strategy of hiring a pastor of evangelism. One senior pastor said, “Our evangelism will take off when we can afford to hire someone gifted in evangelism who will set the pace for the rest of us.” This is code for, “I hope to get this monkey off my back and get back to the teaching that I love.”

Gifted in evangelism! I have met some who may be so gifted, but not many. Most evangelism seminars that I have attended were taught by those gifted in evangelism. I have gone away feeling inadequate, guilty, and frustrated. I try for a few days to act like them, but eventually I return to the real me and the seminar notes return to the shelf.

In workshops I have given on the subject, I frequently ask for a show of hands of those who think they are gifted in evangelism. In one seminar, seven out of the seventy said they were. Out of those seven, four had not shared their faith with anyone in the past two years. Of the remaining three, two had shared their faith only once. The response is never higher than 10 percent, and that from a crowd that is interested in the subject. Actually, I find that most people don’t want to be gifted in evangelism. Moreover, most people don’t even want to sit next to people who are gifted in evangelism! Regardless of the percentage of gifted evangelists in any church, there are not enough to build a strategy around. They are an inadequate model. We need models that connect with the other 90 percent of the body if we are to impact our world for Christ.

I appreciate his brutally honest assessment of how many Christians think. He begins by noting that for many Christians (and non-Christians) evangelism is a scary word, packed with misconceptions and historical baggage. Door-to-door, crusades, street evangelism, revival/tent meetings, fire and brimstone – these are all things we would be very uncomfortable inviting our family, neighbors and co-workers to. More recently it has been concerts, coffee houses, bazaars, craft-days, car-washes – things that are easier to participate in (and invite others to), but that have limited aim and effectiveness.

The question is this: Do ANY of these relate generally and effectively in a society like ours that has very little (and increasingly less) appreciation or familiarity with traditional Christianity?

Did you see Bennett’s conclusion: “We need models that connect [lost people] with the other 90 percent of the body if we are to impact our world for Christ.”People used to think, “I could use a little religion in my life,” and those were the standard ways they could get some. People don’t think the first thought, and they can’t relate to the old methods and means (which were mostly acceptable and effective at one point). So what directions should we be thinking and heading?

People, not Programs! Culture, not Curriculum!

We must have a genuine love for people–lost, unbelieving people. And our love for people must be strong enough that we take the time to understand them, and think compassionately and empathetically about how best to communicate the truth of the gospel to them. What kinds of things do we need to understand and change our thinking about?

First, we need to recognize that we live in a “Post-Christian, Postmodern culture.” Our world is increasingly oblivious to the moral and ethical moorings this country (and God’s world in general) was founded upon and designed to reflect. I have bumped up against some striking examples in the past decade. One funny one was the time my wife met someone who didn’t know what a pastor was. Just hearing the word “pastor” conjured up images of cult leader in a 30 year old woman.

Just this past week I was listening to a panel discussion on NPR interacting on the topic of “sexting” (which is the word used to describe young people texting nude or sexually explicit pictures to others. In almost every state this is illegal for minors, not to mention lewd and immodest. That amazing thing was that every member of the panel agreed with the assertion that “this may be illegal, but it is not a moral issue.” I was shocked that the concept of illegal, something legally enforced as a “right or wrong” issue in society, could be so easily severed from the concept of “moral.” Especially given the nature of the issue being discussed.

This is only a illustration of the broader reality that religious terms like sin, salvation, holiness, hell, atonement, forgiveness are foreign or loosely defined terms for most people today. You can’t just use them with the assumption that people know what they mean, or that they agree with your definition. But even beyond the use of terms, simply identifying as a Christian can open you up to misunderstanding. Many people view Christians as increasingly “out of touch” with today’s culture, and unable to speak relevantly to the issues facing the day. In fact, Nick Wood observed at our meeting that we aren’t just perceived as “out of touch,” we are often the ones being accused of being “unloving,” “unkind,” “hateful,” or “hypocritical” just for speaking out against sinful lifestyles, the gay marriage issue, abortion, or any number of other matters.

Christians do believe in truth. Many matters, correctly so, are defined as black and white, right or wrong. In society today this is simply not the way people think. What is “true” or “right” for one person may be different for another. They often view any assertion of absolute truth with profound skepticism. More and more, they see believing in moral absolutes as an archaic way to think. If you try to discuss these issues you will also find that Postmodern people do not value rational, logical arguments. It is not about learning and being “persuaded” about what is right, wrong, good or bad. For many people today, the dialogue is more important than the conclusion. Life is a journey. If your journey is working for you, then it is good. And the more it reflects a measure of anti-establishment, the better. There is no biblical, ethical and moral framework that is commonly accepted in our culture. There is little common ground.

These prevailing philosophies can get in the way of effective evangelism. They help explain why the old ways of “programming” evangelism don’t work very well any more (and especially in New England). Someone getting up in front and “talking AT you” is not how postmodern people like to learn. The skeptic does not want a lecture. The postmodern way is increasingly leaning toward learning by doing. Participation and discovery are more important than principle, and principles are harder to get across apart from practical discovery.

This should give us pause, and inspire some challenging and valid questions. Like, isn’t “the message preached” God’s way. There is a sense in which this is how God has ordained the message to go forth through speaking to others.

Romans 10:14 — How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?

At the same time, the proclamation doesn’t HAVE to be the masses; it can (and we suggest increasingly MUST) be to individuals, by individuals. Some might argue that “preaching” was the method in the gospels and Acts. But careful and thorough investigation will show Jesus being VERY creative and personal in His methods and approach. He “personalized” the message for many using parables, illustrations, object lessons, etc. He engaged and involved the hearer, often in physical ways (feeding, fishing, sowing, serving, etc.) in order to get His lesson across. He was a Master at the science and art of communication. We need to be better at this too. We need to at least as good as possible, and be always seeking to learn, grow, and improve our communication skills. I think we would all agree, the missionary must first learn the language of the people they desire to reach. To not do so would be a miserable error.

That means the most effective “proclaimer” is not going to be a “preacher” speaking to strangers from a pulpit. People’s values demand that the message is delivered in a receivable manner. Genuinely persuasive interaction with others MUST be personal if it is going to be effective (this is even true for pulpit ministry, by the way).

How do we go about personally, compassionately, empathetically, and truthfully communicating the truth of the gospel with others?

Some Suggestions for Personal, Compassionate Gospel Ministry

Some of these are from Susan Hecht’s chapter in the book mentioned earlier, “Telling the Truth.” She writes chapter 17, entitled “Faithfully Relating to Unbelievers in a Relational Age.” I found it very helpful.

(1)  Personally inquire and learn where people are at spiritually, emotionally, socially and intellectually. What motivates them? How do they view life? What discourages them? What problems are they facing?

(2)  Compassionately evaluate how they got there. Why do they believe what they believe? Why do they solve problems the way they do? Was it instruction, experience, failure, influence of others? These things make a big difference in how we interact with them.

(3)  Demonstrate understanding about life. The Bible has categories for explaining and describing life and its joys and sorrows. It also very often does not TRY to explain life and its sorrows (Job, Lamentations, Psalms). Empathy involves being willing to admit there are often not easy answers to life’s dilemmas. But this is also a biblical worldview.

(4)  Persuasion ultimately must involve articulating these things. As we do, we must do it in a way they understand. We might need to define terms that have an obvious meaning to us (like “sin” or “forgiveness”). But this is not a theology lecture. It is a persuasive discussion, one that leads them in an investigation of truth.

(5)  Be less about “religion” and more about “relationship.” This is a better context and springboard for “gospel,” which is the real goal.

(6)  Honesty and genuineness are very important. Don’t hide the fact that you desire everyone to find the joy you know to be true by believing and following Christ. Hiding that agenda will hurt you. But you must ALSO clearly exhibit the goal to love them, serve them, see their greatest good in other practical ways, regardless of whether you are able to “convert” them. Forge long-term friendships, without moral compromise.

Evangelism must NOT be an impersonal and occasional activity. It must be a WAY OF LIFE. It must be LESS about the program or the event, and more about the people and the relationships we have with them. We must be a part of a community, with unbelievers (in the world, but not of the world), displaying a life and speaking the Word in a way that makes Christ attractive and understandable.

This will involve a transformation in the way we think in the church. In order to impact our secular culture for Christ, we must first change our “evangelism culture” in the church.

Can We Really Change “Our Culture” in the Church?

We have done a lot to create a culture of discipling, encouraging, counseling in our church. This has been a slow but effective transformation. As we have said before, we are thrilled at the amount of involvement we have with people at the church. Almost everyone is involved somewhere in personal ministry (Home Fellowship, one-on-one discipleship, Sunday ABF or ministry teams).

Our conclusion: “Evangelism is about people, not programs.” It is about relationships, not “event planning” or “community outreaches.” It is about understanding our culture, not implementing the best curriculum. Most of all, it is about knowing, loving, serving and speaking truth to real human beings in the context of real life. This is about individual Christians being faithful, not the church event planners being on the ball. Everyone can build relationships and lovingly speak into other’s lives. 

There are examples of EVERY kind of gospel ministry in Scripture. There is a place for bold proclamation in the market place. There is a place for personal gospel ministry “in the market” and “at the well” with others. This public or personal ministry must be case-specific and molded to the situation. The way Paul preached in Athens (Acts 17) was not the same way John the Baptist preached to the Jews (Matthew 3). It should be as narrow as the gospel, and as broad as the audience.

It should also follow the example of Jesus. Jesus was first and foremost, a very personal disciple-maker. He chose 12 to “be with Him” as He preached and performed miracles. They got to live with Him, observe Him up close, and then were sent out to imitate and duplicate what He was doing. The vast majority of His works and miracles were compassionately performed for the benefit of those who did not appreciate them and would ultimately reject Him. We should be willing to do the same, simply because we share in the mercy and compassion of Jesus. Jesus was very personal in His dealings with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and in the calling of some of the disciples (Nathaniel).

It should follow the example of the Apostles. It can be bold and courageous, and still geared to the situation (like Paul in Athens, Acts 17;  or in the synagogue; or before the magistrates). Paul was preaching publicly and from house to house.

Acts 20:20–21 — …I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

But it can also be empathetic. Paul was willing to become all things to all people so that some might be saved. To do this, he had to get to know people personally, and he had to make personal and sacrificial choices to love and identify with them.

1 Corinthians 9:20–22 — To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.

Our encouragement and hope is that the members of Christ Community Church catch the vision that the most effective evangelism is the kind that flows out of your personal relationships. Effective evangelism is you speaking personally to people you know and are engaged in real meaningful relationships with. The church will continue to have events and programs that establish our place in the community as a compassionate and caring body. The church will continue to provide public meetings and opportunities that contribute to the overall mission of gospel proclamation. But these programs need to be a complement to what you are doing personally, not a replacement for that. Church programs won’t fulfill FOR you, the personal responsibility YOU have to be an ambassador for Christ.

So let’s all try to think PERSONAL, and not get our minds stuck on PROGRAMS as the only, or even best way, to take the message of the gospel to a lost and dying world.

Romans 1, Homosexuality, and the Judgment of God

In my current preaching series through Romans, our church family had to join with me in navigating the ethical high wire act Romans 1:24-32—the New Testament passage that most clearly and thoroughly discusses the sin of homosexuality. This article is an “edited for reading” version of my two sermon manuscripts on that passage. It is not intended to answer every question that could be asked. Nor does it give any attention to the liberal views of Paul’s writings that attempt to simply dismiss or negate his words by some twist of historical, cultural or literary mumbo-jumbo. It is an attempt to explain the meaning and apply the truth, which is contained in the plain words of Scripture. If you don’t believe the Bible is God’s word to mankind, then you will obviously not like what you are about to read.

philOf course, this topic may SEEM a tad more relevant due to the recent social, moral and political firestorm created by Phil Roberstson, the patriarch of the “Duck Dynasty” empire, whose family is likely working a little bit harder to stay “happy, happy, happy,” since his controversial interview with GQ magazine. Many people are up in arms over the matter, somehow thinking that the loud and passionate objections to his statements are somehow an attack on religious liberty, and our right to freedom of speech. On the contrary, in a country without religious liberty and freedom of speech, he would have been quietly arrested and silenced, and we would be none the wiser about it. No, in America he was FREE to speak in whatever way he wished, and to say whatever it was he wanted to say.

As others have observed, freedom of speech doesn’t guarantee people will LIKE what you say, or AGREE with what you say, or even that others won’t HURT you for what you say. It simply guarantees you won’t be ARRESTED for what you say and believe.

What is made evident through all of this controversy, is the very truth of Romans 1:18-32. It is here that the Apostle Paul broadly describes that men suppress the truth in unrighteousness (1:18), that their foolish hearts are darkened (1:21), that they do not see fit to acknowledge God any longer (1:28), and, that …

Romans 1:32 — … although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

This is our modern culture. It is not just the approximately 3 percent of the population that actually practices homosexuality that is demanding approval. It is a growing population, a virtual majority (if not an actual majority). And, because this is particularly true among young people, it is only a matter of time before every demand will become the law of the land.

john adamsThe words of John Adams, our second president, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, are haunting us now.

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

The Constitution has become a weapon in the hands of the immoral, who are now clearly unbridled by morality and religion. These truths are as relevant as ever, even if now they are so obviously counter-cultural. It is perhaps impossible today, in America, to preach on the text of Romans 1 without it becoming a charged political statement amidst the moral relativism of our society, and its ever-increasing acceptance of immorality. In fact, I believe it is accurate (even if it is a bit reductionistic) to say that the term “immorality” itself is at the root of the entire debate.

Unrighteousness has suppressed the truth about immorality.

Unrighteousness in our society—disregard for God’s moral law—has pulled the moral wool over the eyes of our collective conscience. What is right and wrong has been redefined.

  • Greed is just “ambition”
  • The murder of unborn children is called a “choice,” and is “pro-choice” at that
  • The arrogant and boastful simply have “confidence” and good “self-esteem”
  • Fornication is simply “love” or “sexual freedom”
  • And homosexuality is about “loving relationships,” “personal rights,” or “sexual preference.”

Is there any such thing as “IMMORALITY” today? If there is—if that word is used by many in society at all—it is usually proffered as a condescending way to refer to that archaic, puritan-like way that “old-fashioned” people and church-goers might have once referred to their lifestyle choices. The term “immoral” has almost become a neutral adjective in many people’s vocabulary. “My shirt is blue, my behavior is immoral” [they shrug…no big deal].

“Immoral,” in many people’s minds, is not actually a wrong lifestyle, for which you will give an account to God one day. Immoral is just a way “other people” describe their lifestyle. It is just an adjective, a descriptive term, not a moral category with spiritual and eternal implications. This is so much the case that many Christians are too uncomfortable or intimidated to actually refer to homosexual behavior as “unnatural” and “immoral” if sitting around the lunch table at work with our unsaved friends and co-workers (not even to mention “depraved” or “degrading”).

no hateOf course, I’m not suggesting that Christians should use crass and offensive language just to rile people up. This article is not an attempt to teach you methods and attitudes you should use in helping others see the truth of God’s word. It should go without saying that we must be loving, respectful, dignified and kindhearted to anyone we speak to regarding these matters. The goal of this article is simply to learn and apply from Romans 1 what God has to say about the ever-increasing moral impurity, degrading passions, and depraved minds of the unbelieving.

Allow me to establish the context of Romans to this point. Paul begins his instruction and explanation of the gospel—the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ—by first expounding on the NEED for God to provide this salvation. The Good News of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ alone is the antidote—the solution—to the Bad News of man’s sin and condemnation! How is this presented to us, beginning in Romans 1:18?

Paul declares that God’s wrath is being unveiled and unfurled against mankind, and that mankind deserves this continual expression of God’s just and righteous wrath.

Romans 1:18 — For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

We learned that this UNGODLINESS is “lack of GODWARD devotion,” and that UNRIGHTEOUSNESS refers to the “rejection of God’s Law” that this ungodliness inspires. Refusing to live in devotion to God results in having a heart that is turned inward, that lives devoted to oneself, to one’s own opinions, and to one’s own moral code—no matter how wrong, irrational, or evil it might be.

Mankind justly deserves God’s punishment, because they suppress the truth in their unrighteousness, and this suppression of the truth comes out in various ways, which Paul describes in verses 19-23. What were the various ways Paul describes mankind suppression of the truth in unrighteousness? In those verses, Paul outlines three ways mankind rejects God and invites His just wrath.

1.     Every man rejects the general revelation of God’s invisible attributes (1:19-20)

Romans 1:19–20 — because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Paul describes how mankind denies God’s existence, even though it is made evident to every man’s conscience, or through an honest look at the glories of the creation around him. This is true to the extent that no man will have a valid excuse to deny God’s existence and nature when they stand before Him.

Paul also describes how…

2.     Every man minimizes God’s honor and magnifies his own (1:21)

Romans 1:21 — For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

All mankind can see this glorious world, and they benefit from the wonders and intricacies of it, and yet they do not thank God or honor Him for it. First, they think they deserve it. Then, they speculate about it originating from anything and everything other than His wisdom and goodness, and their hearts become even more hardened to the truth. Those hardened hearts and minds then form an ugly overestimation of their own wisdom.

3.     Every man embraces their own foolishness as wisdom (1:22-23)

Romans 1:22-23 —Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Unbelieving people, with their minds fixated on their own version of the world and the magnificence of their own understanding, promptly exchange ALL that is true about God for the reality they have conceived in their own imagination. This is idolatry (either literal or spiritual idolatry). We live in a world like this. A world where people worship a god of their own imagination, and who are staking their eternal destiny on whatever concept of God, sin and salvation they imagine.

In verses 24 through 32 of this chapter, Paul describes God’s reaction to this frightening and sad reality. He says, in no uncertain terms, that God actively “GIVES THEM OVER” to their sin as a just retribution for their rejection of Him. Notice that the phrase “God gave them over” is used three times in this passage (v. 24, 26, 28).

  • God gave them over … to impurity …
  • God gave them over … to degrading passions …
  • God gave them over … to a depraved mind …

This word is an ACTIVE idea. We can’t conclude it SIMPLY means that God passively let’s go, and “let’s them have what they want” (although there is an element of that). There is something much more active, and intentional, and [in this context] punitive in how this phrase is used.

It is the word that is used for:

  • Christ giving Himself up to death (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2)
  • Men being given over to be imprisoned (Mark 1:14; Acts 8:3)
  • Men being handed over to judgment (Matt. 5:25; 10:17; 18:34)
  • Rebellious angels being delivered to pits of darkness (2 Pet. 2:4)
  • Christ committing Himself to the Father’s care (1 Pet. 2:23)

This term communicates the idea that to be “given over” to something means you are given into conditions where something is purposefully expected and ordered to happen. So, when God “gives them over” to their sin, He is purposefully and intentionally giving them over to conditions and circumstances where certain things are expected to happen, and more importantly, to conditions and circumstances where God will ENSURE that those things happen.

What things? In a phrase, “unrestrained sin, unbridled passions, degrading behavior and all of the consequences of those actions.”

Paul describes this life of unrestrained, unbridled, degrading sin in various ways throughout this passage. It is said to be a just recompense, a divine retribution, natural consequences, unbridled lust, the due penalty of their error, dishonorable, indecent, and a degrading lifestyle of sin.

That leads me to ask the question, “Is this the condition of ALL men? Is this level of impurity and moral degradation something that EVERY man is guilty of? Is this what Paul is saying as he describes mankind’s sinfulness and need for salvation from sin?”

In one sense, “No!” It is true that Paul is painting a picture of the sinfulness of mankind in general. It is true that IN GENERAL these are the intellectual and moral conditions from which we are ALL rescued in our salvation—there is none righteous, no not one! But, we also clearly recognize that not ALL men are given to these things to the SAME degree—even before salvation. I am making the simple and obvious observation that not every soul expresses their fallen moral condition in the same ways, and to the same degree.

So what is Paul describing?

08-Wabash-Levee-break-9I am convinced, Paul is describing the existence of a moral high-water mark (maybe we can call it a moral flood-plain). It is as though God’s restraining grace, God’s patience, is a spiritual levee, a moral flood-wall, which can be breached by the torrents of man’s sin and the flood of man’s immorality. Once this levee of God’s grace is breached, the flood of immorality is no longer contained, and those floodwaters of sin and degradation are let loose to wreak havoc and destruction everywhere it flows.

When does this happen? Only God knows.

What the present verse (24) holds before us, therefore, is the fact that at the proper time—known only to God—impenitent sinners are by that wrath allowed to be swept away by their sins into the pit of their vile passions. By a positive action of God’s will they are finally abandoned (William Hendriksen, p. 75).

This “giving over” is an expression of God’s wrath. And the proper timing and conditions for this “giving over” is known only to God.

But this is what I also KNOW!

That wherever that point was, it was in the past for our country, culture and society.

What happens when “God gives them over” is already happening on a macro-level in our society, and anyone who would argue differently, who would try to make the case that 1:24-32 does not describe our modern Western culture (as it has described others before us) is either uninformed, simply blind, or just too stubborn to admit it.

These words describe the moral floodgates of God’s judgment being released upon an impenitent, unrighteous, God rejecting people. And those three uses of the phrase “God gave them over” mark off the three ways, or three categories of these floodwaters of immorality that are allowed to wreak havoc and destruction on those who cherish it.

MAIN IDEA: Paul describes THREE opened FLOODGATES [of man’s depravity] that release even more moral degradation and divine judgment against man’s sin and immorality.

1.  They are given over to the dishonor of lustful impurity (1:24-25)

Romans 1:24–25 — Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Notice, in verses 24-25, that man’s expression of his depravity finds its source “in the lusts of their hearts.”

This shouldn’t surprise the reader of Scripture. Jesus said:

Mark 7:21–22 — “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.”

That reality highlights that what is happening is at one and the same time, an act of judgment by God (in “giving them over”), and an act of the will on the part of men. He “gives them over” to what their heart desires—and here the desire is said to be a “passionate desire,” a “lust of the heart.”

The epistle of James also teaches us that every sin finds its source in the desires of the heart.

James 1:13–15 — 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

This “lustful impurity” section (v. 24-25) seems to emphasize the ACTIONS that people pursue as an expression of the LUST in their hearts. The second section (“degrading passions” [v. 26-27]) also emphasizes actions, but is more narrowly defined as the sin of homosexuality. The third section (“depraved mind” [v. 28-31]) focuses more on sins of thought and attitude, although there are certainly actions involved.

In 1:24-25 Paul does not mention specific sins of lustful impurity that dishonor the body. What is he referring to? To dishonor the body means to not regard the body with the kind of honor and dignity it merits, as part of a man created in the image and likeness of God. So what sins might he be referring to, which are evident in the lives of those who are given over to sinful passions?

animalhousePaul must have in mind sins that harm the body and dominate our bodily lusts—like gluttony, drunkenness and other forms of substance abuse for instance. In another place Paul relates how the Christian ethic informs and enables believers to control these passions and view them with the proper perspective. This involves a Godward perspective, as well as a perspective that honors God’s design and purposes for the body.

1 Corinthians 6:12–13 — All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.

We can eat, drink, and have sex. But we must eat in a way that honors God (not gluttonous). We must drink in a way that honors God (no drunkenness). And we must have sex in a way that honors God (in the confines of heterosexual marriage).

There are certainly other “bodily dishonoring” sins that are expression of unbridled lusts. Some of these dishonor ones own bodies, and very possibly the bodies of others as well. Prostitution, pedophilia, bestiality and the viewing of pornography are other examples. Self-mutilation, and the perversions of the sadist or masochist are also within this realm of unbridled, lustful passions that dishonor the body. Perhaps closer to home for the typical American, I would note that it seems our culture can’t get enough of CSI, SVU, and shows like them. There seems to be an odd fixation on brutality and perversion against the body (I like a good mystery, but I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore Toto—Agatha Christie, and Alfred Hitchcock are rolling over in their graves). I have not even addressed the kind of mutilation that takes place as part of many pagan religions, some of which I have witnessed personally in my visits to India.

What is the point we are trying to make?

When mankind’s rejection of God reaches a moral tipping point, Paul explains that God gives people over to lustfully desire and pursue things that express, or result in, a disregard and dishonor of the body. Men pursue these things, because they regard the pursuit of their own pleasure and the satisfaction of their own desires more highly than they regard the honor and dignity of having been created in the image and likeness of God. In terms of Paul’s words in Romans 1:25, the CREATURE that is being worshipped, revered, and honored is MAN HIMSELF.

While Paul refers to literal idolatry in 1:23, this section refers to the idolatry of our own pleasure, the worshipful satisfaction of the lust of man’s heart. At that moral tipping point, where men’s pursuit of their own lustful desires has become idolatrous, God gives men over to the unbridled pursuit of them and they begin to experience the dishonor of the bodies, and a fuller measure of God’s wrath—whether that comes directly or indirectly through natural consequences.

Now, the logical progression in Paul’s description of this “divine, giving-over” to sin, impurity, and depravity is that some are so given to fulfilling their own lusts, that they pursue the degrading, indecent, and unnatural sin of homosexuality.

MAIN IDEA: Paul describes THREE opened FLOODGATES [of man’s depravity] that release even more moral degradation and divine judgment against man’s sin and immorality.

2. They are given over to degrading, unnatural, indecent and harmful passions (1:26-27).

Let’s read Paul’s description, and you’ll see these four concepts expressed.

Romans 1:26–27 — For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

First, Paul refers to homosexuality as having its roots in “degrading passions.” This word is usually translated as “dishonor” or “shame.” The idea is that homosexual lust is a “shameful dishonor to the purpose and nature of proper sexual desire.”

There is a proper place and a proper measure of sexual desire. Sexuality was given to mankind as one of God’s gifts. It is part of the gift of loving relationships, and part of what God has designed to naturally draw us together into marriage relationships. It is part of our happy expression of the one-flesh union of marriage.

To use that God-given, passionate desire, in this unnatural way—on members of the same sex—is to shamefully dishonor its very nature and purpose. This is why Paul refers to it this way, as a “degrading passion” (v. 26).

Notice then that Paul says this is, “exchanging the natural function…for that which is unnatural” (1:26b). The natural/unnatural language communicates that homosexuality is “against nature,” or “contrary to nature.” I have linked to information before that answers questions and evaluates current research related to the questions of genetics and this issue. To repeat that would be beyond the scope of this article. I will simply say that the research is grossly misrepresented in the popular press, and the popularly accepted conclusion of there being a “genetic” cause for homosexuality is extremely tenuous at best and completely bogus at worst (if not biased and dishonest).

I believe what the Bible states here very simply. Heterosexual relations are natural. Homosexual relations are unnatural. It is contrary to nature and contrary to the biological construction of the gendered human race. There is, in every way, a simple and natural biology to the physical expression of love in marriage—in the sex-act. At the simplest level it is obvious and natural that our bodies (male and female) are designed to fit together, to come together, in a particular way.

This is how it works with virtually every other gendered species that reproduces—there is an order, a natural order, a gender-specified way that reproduction works.

snailsUnfortunately, if you try to point this out, someone will invariably bring up that some species of animals are “hermaphrodites,” have both male and female parts, and reproduce with themselves. Yes, some snails, worms and 21 families of fish can do this. I will simply ask them, “are you a snail, a worm or a fish?” Of course, once your philosophy is evolutionary, you have cast off the idea that your body has been created with any kind of natural design. So these arguments are shaped by their “foolish speculation,” and “exchanging the truth of God for a lie.” An attempt at open and honest discussion and evaluation of these ideas will rarely be productive.

We should also note that these “unnatural” relations are something that most people would just as soon avoid discussing. It is a known fact that one of the great methods, and a documented strategy of the LGBT community, was to distract and avoid any and all reference to actual “sex-acts” homosexuals engage in. They knew, as well as we do, that there is (in one man’s words) “an inescapable ‘yuck factor’ to homosexual acts” [Todd Pruitt, Reformation21 blog].

Part of the outcry over the comments of Duck Dynasty mogul Phil Robertson, was the crass and insensitive language. Perhaps his language was crass, and reference to specific body parts was not necessary. But if we can extract any principle at all from Paul’s language in Romans 1, let us make clear that there is a certain level of sensitivity that goes too far.

  • We would NEVER call murder “misguided aggression.”
  • We would NEVER call slander “unhindered opinions.”
  • We would NEVER call lying “vague insincerity.”
  • We would NEVER call stealing “inappropriate borrowing.”
  • And, I am convinced we should NEVER call homosexuality “sexual preference!”

If we give that ground, we are practically setting the stage for someone in the next generation to declare that their “sexual preference” is “orgies!” That is NOT a logical leap. It is just another “next step away.”

Here is the practical point I’m trying to make: “Immorality is immoral!”

As Todd Pruitt (article linked above) rightly observes, acts of immorality do not merit the sensitivity and nuance of labeling them something less offensive than they are, in order to avoid embarrassment, or criticism, or the ruffling of feathers. The Bible calls homosexuality immoral, degrading, unnatural, indecent, erroneous, depraved, and worthy of death—and we haven’t left Romans 1 yet. Now, Romans 1 also says many of those same things about greed, envy, strife, deceit, slander, gossip, boasting, disobedience to parents, and being untrustworthy. Our own guilt in many of those regards should soften and season with grace, any discussion we have with others, where the descriptive words [listed above] might be appropriately used.

Are you gentle enough, and prayerful enough, and burdened with love for the lost enough, to speak that way? If not, then you need to repent of your lack of grace and kindness. Knowing the truth, and living the truth are complementary responsibilities.

Now back to the text of Romans 1.

Some students of Scripture have observed that it is interesting that Paul addresses women exchanging natural functions first. This is a curious observation, because homosexuality in ancient Roman culture was a male dominated sin (and I think that is true still today, at about 3 to 1).

Why might Paul mention women first?

S. Lewis Johnson suggests that it was to stress and emphasize its shamefulness. As a natural result of male strength, and the sinful male dominance of the race, women have historically been more “shame-faced” about sexual sin and evil. In other words, because women are the ones usually oppressed, raped, and sinned against sexually, there is a tendency for them to be morally beat down (in a sense). Historically, by choice and because of social necessity, women have been less likely to sin openly and unashamedly in sexual ways.

So, it is suggested (with some validity, I think), that Paul mentions women first as a way of highlighting just how far down the moral ladder the race has fallen. Society has fallen far when even the women are openly sinning without concern for societal norms or public shame. In what little experience I have, I know it is true that when I was a teenager, there were things that only boys talked about with boys, that are now discussed openly and candidly between boys and girls. As well, younger women today, in general, have become more aggressive and crass about their sexuality, and have no qualms about openly and shamelessly discussing it.

But that is not the main point. The main point is that BOTH men and women have exchanged what is natural for what is unnatural.

Romans 1:27 — and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

The text is very clear. Men are trading the natural sexual function of women, burning [enflamed, consumed] in sinful passion for other men, and committing shameful, indecent acts with one another. And despite what we are told about these relationships and acts being part of “a loving relationship,” Paul is not incorrect when he says they are in fact, “receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error” (1:27b).

These acts are not loving, they are physically harmful.

Through 2007, 274,184 men had died of AIDS, whose ONLY risk factor was sex with other men (no blood transfusions, or drug use) [Top Ten Myths About Homosexuality, Family Research Council, 2010, p. 26]. 68% of all AIDS deaths have been among homosexual men (less than 3% of the population, producing 68% of the deaths from a certain disease—this is cause and effect, not statistical manipulation).

HOW does that happen? Unbridled passions!

They are so inflamed with lust, that the risks are ignored! God gives them over, and they are left to suffer the consequences, divinely ordained, for the giving of themselves fully to sin. As our second point states: They are given over to degrading, unnatural, indecent and harmful passions.

That describes the first two floodgates of moral degradation, which emphasize sins against the body. The third floodgate of moral degradation, which is an expression of God’s wrath and of His giving them over to unbridled sin, emphasizes very clearly sins of heart, mind, attitude and behaviors in general.

MAIN IDEA: Paul describes THREE opened FLOODGATES [of man’s depravity] that release even more moral degradation and divine judgment against man’s sin and immorality.

3.   They are given over to fully express the improper practices of a depraved mind (1:28-31)

Paul begins this last section by pointing out that ALL of these sins flow out of having a corrupted, depraved mind—a depraved mind that God “gives them over” to, in order to let it run morally and mentally rampant.

Romans 1:28 — And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,

He says God gives them over to do things which are not “proper.”

[The word means] what is fitting or demanded…by nature, custom, or piety…Paul has in mind what is offensive even to natural human judgment. The decision against God leads to a complete loss of moral sensitivity, the unleashing of unnatural vices, and hence the type of conduct that even healthy pagans regard as improper [Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (386). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.].

What are these vices even pagans regard as improper?

Romans 1:29–31 — being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful.

I do not think it is necessary to do a detailed word study on all 21 of these sins. Most of them have obvious meanings. But notice something observed about this text, tying the ends (v. 18, and v. 32) together. The wrath of God is being revealed against societies described in those terms—that suppress the truth in unrighteousness, live in unrestrained sin, and give hearty approval to others who do the same (1:18, 32). Preacher and theologian, S. Lewis Johnson, observes this as well in his sermon on this passage (emphasis mine):

What is the significance of the spread of immorality, crime, [and] violence in our Western civilization? We are inclined to say, “Well, the spread of immorality, the spread of violence, the spread of crime, the spread of sexual sins, is evidence that we are in danger of judgment by the Lord God.” I’d like for you to notice carefully what Paul is saying. He’s not saying that we are in danger of judgment. That is not Paul’s theory at all. He is saying that these things that we are talking about, the spread of immorality, the spread of sexual sin against God, the spread of violence, the spread of crime, IS the judgment of God.  It is not that we are in danger of judgment; it is that these things are the judgment of God. 

In other words, our original apostasy has brought it to pass, that the kind of life to which we are exposed IS the judgment of God…We are not in danger of judgment. We are under judgment. These things are part of our judgment. Death is at work and this physical death, which is at work in us, proven by the fact that we all die, is not the ultimate penalty. For that death becomes ultimately eternal death in the separation of men from the Lord God. 

…a Harvard sociologist in his book, The Crisis of Our Age, warned that “increases in crime, suicides, mental breakdowns, revolutions, and war, have been symptoms of civilization in the midst of death pangs.” In another article on homosexuals in Time Magazine an author wrote, “At their fullest flowering, the Persian, Greek, Roman, and Moslem civilizations permitted a measure of homosexuality; as they decayed, it became more prevalent.”

The prevalence of these things in our society, is a description of a society that is not just INVITING the judgment of God, but rather, one that is ALREADY SUFFERING the judgment of God. In other words, it is time to stop saying, “If America doesn’t change, God may judge us.” We are already seeing the very judgment and wrath that God says will come upon those who deny Him, and whose hearts are darkened by their foolish speculations.

These are truthful talking points. These things should shape your worldview and your evangelistic interaction with others.

I would like to clarify one concept as we close. It is only those who are separate from Christ, and who have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and whose foolish hearts have been darkened by those lies that will be “given over” to commit these sins as an unrestrained lifestyle, as a regular practice. Believers may commit any of these sins on occasions where the flesh overcomes the spirit. But in contrast to unbelievers, we are not, and cannot be “filled with” (v. 29) them. We will not be “given over” to them, to live this way unrestrained, and unconvicted, and unhindered by the presence and power of the Spirit of God, who dwells in us. We may grieve the Spirit for a time. But it will only be for a time. To use Paul’s word in verse 32, we will not “practice” them as a pattern, and as an approved lifestyle, even though we may stumble into one or another at different points.

The point of that clarification ought to be humbling.

Christians can too easily sit on a spiritual high-horse and have grand, self-righteous perceptions about how much better we are than others. But the only difference between the US and THEMS, is that God SAVED YOU, and He has GIVEN THEM over to those sins. Some people suggest that trying to think that through might just tie your brain in a spiritual knot (and perhaps it might). But such is the nature of God’s saving grace to the believing, and His punitive justice to the unbelieving.

It should humble you.

It should give you a merciful and gracious spirit toward the lost.

This passage SHOULD be the antidote to self-righteousness, but sadly is often the cause of it. That will only be true if people either don’t read the end of the passage, or don’t understand it enough. As Paul will go on to say in the very next verse…

Romans 2:1a – Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment…

The larger point of all of this, from Romans 1:18 through almost the end of chapter 3, is that the entire human race is fallen and corrupt. God’s judgment is justly falling upon us, because of that fact. And mankind needs to recognize the horrific reality of this fact, recognize that the NEWS is BAD for the human race, and that we NEED the GOOD NEWS of the gospel to rescue us from this unfolding and impending wrath of God, to save us from our sin and selfishness, and to transform us into worshippers of God.

Paul is only beginning to paint this picture in Romans 1. The message of Paul’s letter to the Romans is much fuller and deeper than just exposing sin for what it is. The message of Paul’s letter to the Romans is that people can be rescued from this sin, both its penalty and its power. That they can be rescued from condemnation (8:1), and receive the free gift of eternal life instead of the wages of sin, which is death (6:23). My hope is that this article helps explain how the current degradation of American society points us to gravely consider the justice of God, and our need for the gospel.

For more information about the gospel as a whole please follow this link.


How To Win A Spiritual Battle

spiritual warfare


Spiritual Warfare: How to Win

How to win a spiritual battle

To human reasoning, it seems impossible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to accomplish great spiritual feat. To the Jew, the cross is a stumbling block. To the Greek, the cross is foolishness. But to God, it is powerful to rescue His saints from the clutches of the enemy.

The most powerful, mighty, dominating, significant event ever to have taken place in the history of Creation is the death of Christ upon the cross. Never has there been a more decisive battle fought. The crucifixion is a spiritual coup d’état accomplished by an army of One.  The victory was so decisive; the Apostle Paul describes it as a spectacle to behold as Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities; making a public display of them in His triumph. In other words, they suffered a humiliating defeat.

The victory of the cross is astounding considering how it was accomplished. Reflect upon the crucifixion battle strategy: be spit upon, mocked, scorned, whipped, stripped, pierced, crowned with thorns, your blood being poured out upon the ground. To be victorious, be the powerless sufferer. To overcome, be the one who is overcome.  In His great spiritual defeat of His enemies, and our enemies, Jesus demonstrated true glory is found in humility. Strength is found in weakness. Spiritual battles are won with restraint and not by clamoring for rights and privileges. He revealed meekness and restraint as powerful traits. Jesus proved love, mercy, and compassion have no equal and reign supreme on the power measurement scale.

Even more amazing is how Christ could have won the battle. Jesus Christ is almighty, all-knowing, and has all-authority over every inch of the Universe. During His trial and subsequent scourging and condemnation, He could have answered every insult with knowledgeable retorts; revealing humiliating weaknesses of the soldiers who taunted Him. Jesus could have called one angel under His authority to wipe out the all Roman soldiers in Jerusalem. Jesus could have healed himself, come off the cross and established a new government and put Herod in prison. Jesus could have called in a torrential rainstorm to rain on the Pharisees self-righteous parade. His options were without limit. In doing all this, wreaking havoc on His opponents, He would be right and just and celebrated.

The entire crucifixion, from Gethsemane to Golgotha, reeked of injustice. Jesus was innocent. Put it this way, if the crucifixion was a Hollywood movie script, somewhere before the last breath would be the perfect time for the hero of the story to take control and snuff-out the bad guys to the cheers and applause of the audience. But, Jesus didn’t do that. He had a better, more righteous and noble way.

What are we to learn from this magnificent display of meek and humble prowess? What’s the point?  The short of it is this, to win at spiritual battles we must die to self and hold fast to Christ.

The same forces Christ fought against, though they have been defeated, are still active today. We live in the “already-not yet” spiritual reality. It is a span of time between the already of “It is finished” on the cross and the not yet “It is done” destruction of evil prophesied in chapter 21 of the book of Revelation. In this church age, the gathering of the Saints and sanctifying of the bride of Christ, the enemies of Christ still strive against the power of the gospel and all things right and good.

The Apostle Paul tells us of this war, this fight. He says our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. These rulers and forces hate God and His ways. Their way is not the way of our Savior, but the opposite. Their way is to lift up revenge, self-exaltation, ambition, and exploitation as the means to success. The rulers of darkness teach if your enemy has mudslinging insults, you return the insults with even more mudslinging, hitting them where it hurts. “Fight for your rights,” they say, “get what you deserve.” Their way is to rattle the saber and then shock and awe the opponent. Never let the enemy see your weakness. Pursue your dreams at whatever expense, amass a fortune, and cultivate prestige. Our enemies propagate a way which is opposite of the way of the cross.

We are faced with spiritual battles every day. We are assaulted by the slick, seductive teaching of modern culture. Live large. Take pleasure in worldly ways. What God? The powers of darkness tempt us to be selfish, proud, and self-seeking. We are told “the loving thing to do” is to let people live as they want to live. But for those who are in Christ, we know people are destroying themselves with unrighteousness, and they will only find fleeting pleasure. We are demanded to stop interfering and just let people indulge.

As disciples of Christ, we desire and are bound to imitate His humility, meekness, and gentleness. Our battle is a battle of character. We are to destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against what God calls good and right. It is our task to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. When the enemy says, “make much of yourself,” we take that thought captive and say, “wrong thought, make much of Christ.”  When the enemy says, “get even,” we say, “wrong thought, correct thinking says ‘vengeance is Mine’ says the Lord.” When the world teaches us to be self-promoting we remind ourselves we are to do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than ourselves. Instead of “looking out for number one” we know we are not to merely look out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. We are not above our Master.

Seeking success in spiritual battles? You will find the road to success is paved with a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. The road to success is the Calvary Road.






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