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Holiness

Jesus weeps over religion

Today’s Bible reading records some of the saddest times of Jesus’ life. He weeps over the religious leaders of His day, pointing out their hypocrisy, and He weeps over Jerusalem for killing the prophets God sent to her.

In pointing out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, he also tells His disciples and the crowd to listen and obey what the leaders’ say when they sit in Moses’ seat. (Matthew 23:3) There may be two reasons Jesus told them to do this:

  1. Sitting in Moses’ seat confers God’s authority. Regardless of their personal lives, these leaders are still speaking God’s truth. To disobey the leaders is to disobey God.
  2. Even on this side of the cross, obedience is still required. Just because Jesus has paid our sin-debt doesn’t mean that we can live however we want. I preach grace. I preach mercy. I preach these things because I have received so much grace and mercy. I preach these things because I believe these are important truths for God’s people to hear. But grace and mercy are not opposed to obedience. They empower obedience!

Application

As you contemplate the grace and mercy that God has given to you as a believer, do you think you can live however you want? Are believers no longer bound to live moral, God-pleasing lives? Let me ask you, “What Bible verses are you getting that from?”

If believers were released from obedience, then why do the Apostles give commands in the book of Acts and in their letters? Even in the fifty days between the Resurrection and the Day of Pentecost, Jesus gave His disciples commands to obey:

  • Go back to Jerusalem and wait for the promised Holy Spirit
  • Make disciples by baptizing and teaching obedience

Obedience on this side of the cross is empowered by justification. It is empowered by grace and mercy. It is empowered by the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. We don’t obey in order to get God’s favor. Rather, we already have God’s favor which empowers us to want to obey Him. (Galatians 5:16, Romans 1:5)

Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will experience the tension between our “already justification” and our “not-yet justification”. Like Paul in Romans 7, we will do things we don’t want to do, and we won’t do the things we do want to do. (Romans 7:15-24)

And while we struggle in our conflicting desires on this side of eternity, Paul reminds us in Romans 8:1, there is no condemnation for believers.

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reading One Book

In today’s Bible reading, we see a couple of occasions when the Jewish leaders posed “academic” questions, trying to entrap him, or at least distract him. “Should we pay taxes or not?” “Who will be a woman’s husband in the resurrection if her husband dies, her next husband dies, etc.?” “Which is the greatest commandment?” “What is the Messiah’s relationship to David?”

To think… The Sadducees asked Jesus questions about a Resurrection they didn’t even believe in.

Only one of these questions really mattered. I confess, it’s easy to get distracted with “academic” questions. I remember spending many late nights discussing deep theological issues in the stairway in the Men’s Dorm at Southwestern Seminary. Some of the questions were good and challenging. Many were just distractions from studies and many were distractions from my walk with the Lord.

I’m glad that someone asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment. The Jewish leaders had developed a commentary on the Old Covenant Law. Then they developed a commentary on the commentary. By this point, they had over six hundred laws that divided hairs on what could and what couldn’t be done without breaking the Sabbath. At least someone had the guts to ask Jesus that question!

As He often did, He cut right through all of the “academics” and went straight for the heart: The greatest commandment is to love God with all that you are and to love others as you love yourself.

Application

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I have several T-shirts to spare. It’s easy to get distracted with the “academics” and miss the “heart of the matter” which is actually the “matter of the heart”. It’s so easy to amass a library of hundreds of books about the Bible, prayer, the Christian life, etc. written by godly people and not read the one Book that God wrote. Making the connections between my head and my heart is a daily struggle.

How about you? Do you find yourself talking about God or talking with God? Do you find yourself reading about the Bible or reading the Bible? Do you find yourself talking about loving others or loving others? Do you find yourself talking about holiness or pursuing it?

Take some time today to think about what you think about. Then take some time to get to know the One you talk about by taking some time to actually open your Bible and read it, study it, and meditate on it.

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Up front, I want to apologize for this long post. It is by far the longest I have ever written. But like with all of my devotionals, I hope you will find this one helpful, encouraging, and applicable.

Admittedly, I can be quite political in my Social Media posts. But I don’t like to get political in my preaching or Bible teaching. I really don’t. But the Bible continues speaks to today, even on cultural and political issues, and especially on moral issues.

As we begin today’s Bible reading in Matthew 19, we are faced with Jesus’ statements on very hot contemporary topics in the Christian Life: divorce/remarriage and sex/gender.

Under the Old Covenant, Moses permitted divorce under just a few situations. (Deuteronomy 24:1–4) Requiring that a divorce certificate to be given had a couple of purposes: it restricted the reasons why a husband could put away his wife; he couldn’t just divorce her because she burned the toast. If you remember the story of Jesus’ birth, Joseph considered putting away Mary. He would have justification to do so if she had been unfaithful during their betrothal/marriage. Given that she was pregnant, it would be obvious — apart from an immaculate conception — that she had been with another man. Also, given the cultural situation of the day, giving a divorce certificate gave rights to a divorced wife that she didn’t otherwise have. Just like the command of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was a way God limited His people, divorce did the same.

Note: Jesus’ statements on divorce spoke specifically to the Old Testament teachings on divorce. He was not addressing modern, American “no-fault” divorce.

Jesus’ comments on divorce were right in line with the Old Covenant. Nothing Jesus ever did, broke the Old Covenant; instead, He fulfilled it.

“Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17–18 CSB)

The second cultural hot topic that Jesus addressed in today’s Bible reading is sex/gender.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that he who created them in the beginning made them male and female, and he also said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? (Matthew 19:4–5 CSB)

Going back to Genesis 1:27, Jesus points out that God created mankind with two sexes/genders. A person is born either a male or a female. Period.

One of the reasons God created two sexes/genders is for procreation. Sexuality, as God created it, was to be a part of us, but it wasn’t all of us. That’s one key area where modern culture has gone off the rails. If you remove God from the equation, you’re going to come up with the wrong answer.

If you remove God from the equation,
you’re going to come up with the wrong answer.

When Moses penned the Pentateuch (the First Five Books of the Old Testament), and when Jesus and Paul addressed sexuality in the New Testament, there were no categories of “sexual identity” (the sex you “identify with”) and “sexual preference” (the sex of the person/people to whom you are attracted). Neither was there a category of “gender fluidity” (the idea that someone’s sexual identity or sexual preference can change).

The Bible doesn’t address these categories, because they were unknown at the time. Similarly, the Bible doesn’t address the topic of nuclear energy. These categories of understanding and discussion didn’t exist at the time.

So what do you do with those who claim to not “identify” with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth? And what do you do with those who claim they are attracted to someone of their own sex/gender?

If one is to believe that the Bible is true because it is God-breathed it (literally “expired” in 2Timothy 3:16), that the Bible is completely authoritative, and that the Bible is relevant for all time, these questions must be answered with a Biblical answer.

And while the Bible doesn’t address the issues of “identity” and “preference”, the Bible is very clear about behavior. The Bible consistently condemns homosexual sexual behavior. Some have twisted the Biblical treatment of the subject to say that God only condemns homosexuality when it is disrespectful and otherwise “not loving”. Or they dismiss the authority of the Bible outright. Either that or try to insist that those statements are “culturally conditioned” to the Biblical times and do not apply today.

Although this has been the longest post I’ve ever written, I don’t want to write a dissertation on the topic of the Bible and homosexuality. Kevin DeYoung very clearly and quite exhaustively addressed the issue in his What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality. (affiliate link) Note: I highly recommend this book to anyone, from straight to LGBTQ+ because this is an issue that every Bible-believer should be well-versed in. This is too important of a cultural issue to withdraw from the conversation.

The issues of “identity” and “preference” are not addressed by the Bible, but there are applications we can — and should — make of clear Bible verses on closely-related issues.

Take a look at Matthew 19:12.

“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (CSB)

Eunuchs are mentioned several times in the Bible. In Acts 8, Dr. Luke tells us about a eunuch from Ethiopia, a man who is quite influential and is actually in charge of the nation’s treasury. We know that the king’s eunuch helped to prepare Esther and other young women to prepare for meeting the king. (Esther 2:3)

Jesus comments here that some were eunuchs from birth, some were made eunuchs by men, and some made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of heaven. Eunuchs were men who had been castrated. I don’t think it would not be out of line include in this label those males who had been born with disfigured and otherwise dysfunctional genitals. It would be safe to define a eunuch as a male who could not perform sexually like most other men. As such, they lived their lives accordingly — in celibacy.

Given that the Bible consistently condemns homosexual behavior, would it be out of the question to apply Jesus’ comments about eunuchs to those who are “same-sex attracted”? Could we not apply Jesus’ words to encourage same-sex attracted individuals to pursue a life of celibacy, just like unmarried heterosexuals should?

Regardless of whether they feel that they were “born that way”, everyone makes choices based on their preferences: whether it’s drinking coffee with cream and sugar vs. straight black, or whether it’s to have sexual relations outside of marriage with someone of the opposite sex … or of the same sex.

Sex outside marriage — heterosexual or homosexual — and drunkenness are condemned by the Bible, without regard to “desire” or “preference”. And even if someone were to be born an alcoholic, every alcoholic decides to take that first drink, and every drink since.

Application

I hope you have seen how the Bible applies to issues that it does not directly address. The Bible is relevant to your life and mine.

When you come to Bible passages you don’t like, you need to ask questions of the Bible text. Ask other believers what they see in the passage. Look at the passage. Ask what it says.

Only after you see what it says should you can ask how it applies. Don’t make the mistake of asking “What does it mean to you?” before you answer, “What does it say?” and “What did it mean back then?”

These are basic principles of reading, studying and understanding the Bible. It is crucial to understand these principles and to apply them every time you read and study your Bible.

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Once again, Jesus highlights the importance of relationship over religion. In today’s Bible reading, He drives home His point as He quotes Isaiah.

The Lord said: These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service— yet their hearts are far from me, and human rules direct their worship of me. Isaiah 29:13 (CSB)

Over and over again throughout His ministry, Jesus highlights passages from the Old Testament (His Bible) that emphasize that He is all about relationship, not religion. In our passage today from Matthew 15, the Pharisees and Scribes ask Jesus, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” (Matthew 15:2 CSB) These religious leaders were all about religion. They were all about rules. They were all about doing the good things and not doing the bad things.

Religion looks good. Moralism looks good. Good behavior looks good. But beneath the good-looking veneer of religion, moralism, and good behavior lies the ugly truth that without a relationship with Jesus Christ, you cannot have a right standing before God. (John 17:3, Matthew 7:21-23)

Five hundred years ago, the Reformers definitively answered the question, “How can a person be justified before God?” or “How can people have a right standing before God?” They said that according to God’s Word, people can only be justified by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. And they said that God alone is glorified in justification.

Notice in that statement, there is no mention of religious rituals. There is no mention of baptism. There is no mention of religious behavior. There is no mention of cleaning up your life first. There is no mention of praying a prayer. There is no mention of anything like that. It is only by being in a relationship with Jesus Christ that anyone has any hope of being right with God. Period.

And that’s why religious people in Jesus’ day — and ours too! — don’t get it. They think it’s up to them to make themselves good enough to be accepted by God. The only problem with that is that no one has ever been good enough to be accepted by God.

as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. Romans 3:10–12 (CSB)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 (CSB)

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. Galatians 2:21 (CSB)

Application

So what about you? You probably call yourself a Christian, a Believer, a Christ-follower. So? You can call yourself anything you want. You can “self-identify” however you want. But the condition of your heart is what matters.

On what basis do you make a claim to be right with God? If your claim has anything to do with you or your behavior, you probably need to go back to the previous paragraphs and rethink your claim.

Sure, good behavior is important. But if you have a right standing before a Holy, Sovereign God, it is only because of what has been done for you, not by you.

That’s good news! That’s the gospel!

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Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
He has conquered sin and death!
He has made a way for us to be made right with a Holy God.

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