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Morality

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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Just about every day, I read posts from several pastor groups on Facebook. Many of the groups are very supportive, providing a “safe place” for pastors to air their frustrations without worrying that their comments will be seen by mean-spirited church members. Other pastors will add a “praying for you” comment or a “Praying Hands” emoji. Sometimes other pastors will point out errors in someone’s thinking, bringing them back to a Biblical foundation for discussion.

And then there are others.

It seems that some people feel they are God’s gift to pastors, someone whose divine destiny is to correct everything that’s wrong with everyone else’s theology. Rarely does such hard-worded rebuke — in the absence of a relationship with the other person — accomplish anything substantive. And then other people (with no relationship with each other) chime in and the “flame wars” begin.

In today’s Bible reading, Paul says it shouldn’t be like this. He says that if someone falls into temptation (or wrong theology or practice), they should be gently corrected and restored. (Galatians 6:1) This gentle correction is only possible in the context of a relationship between people. And this gentle correction is almost impossible when using Social Media.

The bigger context of Paul’s remarks is that we should be about encouraging each other, bearing each other’s burdens, humbly remembering that at any time, any of us could make some bad choices.

Application

Humility is a scarce character trait. But developing it will keep a check on your mouth and on your behavior. When someone steps up and either offers to correct a wrong belief you have or exposes a sin you’re involved in, listen. They could be completely wrong in what they’re saying. Or they could be correct and you could be wrong. Don’t “get your panties in a wad”, but listen. Ask them to help you (even if you’re right and they’re wrong).

God gave us two eyes and two ears and only one mouth. Perhaps He designed us to look and listen more than speak. (see James 1:19)

When you speak and when you listen, do it with a humble attitude.

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temptation

When someone confides that they’re having an issue with one sin or another, it’s easy to throw a few Bible verses at them, recommend a book to read on dealing with that sin, send them to a Bible study — or throw the Book at them, condemning them for what they have just bared their soul about. Unfortunately, those things rarely work.

Paul gives us a very practical lesson in today’s Bible reading on how to avoid sin. I borrowed today’s title from Erik Raymond, though Paul’s theology of dealing with sin is the same regardless of if the sin is lust, gossip, gluttony, or any other: fight the desire to sin with a better desire.

CS Lewis remarked that our problem isn’t that we desire pleasure; our problem is that we are “far too easily satisfied.”

Paul says that the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit are against each other (Galatians 5:17) and that if we will only walk by the Spirit, we will not carry out the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). Note: When Paul uses the word “flesh”, he’s referring to the part of us that has not yet been fully redeemed (and it won’t be until we cross over to the other side of eternity).

Paul says we are free, but he cautions us to not use that freedom as an opportunity to sin. Elsewhere (1 Corinthians 8:4–13) he says that there is nothing wrong with eating meat that’s been sacrificed to an idol, but that if eating idol-sacrificed meat causes a weaker believer to stumble, he’ll never eat idol-sacrificed meat again. That closely parallel’s Galatians 5:13’s statement that we should be motivated by love and not cause someone else to fall into temptation.

Application

Believer, you are free! You have been freed from slavery to sin’s pleasures. Now, living out that freedom may be difficult. Paul recommends fighting sin’s pleasures with better pleasures.

John Piper calls it Christian Hedonism. The idea behind this seeming oxymoron is that only Jesus can truly satisfy our deepest pleasures.

The next time you are tempted to fall into a sinful behavior, ask God to show you how He can satisfy you more than that behavior. And realize that the behavior only reveals that there’s something wrong with your relationship with Him.

Fall in love with Jesus.
Walk in the Spirit’s power, and you won’t fall into sin.

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Today’s Bible reading is Galatians 1. Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to counter a dangerous theology that added to Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice.

A group of Judaizers (not just “Jews”) said that Jesus’ death was sufficient for our forgiveness, but in order to be a good Christian, you have to be a good Jew, obeying the Old Testament Law, including the rite of circumcision. Paul was quite vocal in his response.

Paul says,

I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! Galatians 1:6–8 (CSB)

I’m glad that the Christian Standard Bible brings out the differences in Paul’s word choices that some other translations gloss over. By using the words different and another, the CSB points out that the gospel preached by these Judaizers is not just a little different from the gospel that Paul (and the other apostles) preached. The gospel they preached isn’t just an additional gospel than what Paul and the apostles preached. The Judaizers’ gospel is an entirely different gospel. It has little-to-no resemblance to the real deal.

Application

If you are a believer, a true child of God, you don’t have to add to your salvation (as if you really could!). Jesus accomplished everything necessary to make you righteous in God’s eyes. Because of what Jesus did, your salvation has been fully secured. You don’t have to — and you cannot — add to what He has done to make God any happier with you than He already is!

Sure, with being a child of God, there are commands in Scripture that still apply, but you can obey with a completely clear conscience and obey since you already have a relationship with your Father — as opposed to obey in order to have or maintain a relationship with Him.

That’s good news! That’s the gospel!

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