By / Nov 26

“If I hear the word ‘Daddy’ again, I’m going to scream!”

I've heard myself saying those words. And, in my defense, it was loud around here. I was trying to work on something, and all I could hear were feet pounding down the stairs with my boys competing with one another to tell me one thing after another. I just wanted five minutes of silence.

My vocal chords were still vibrating when an image hit my brain. It was the picture of me, on my face, praying for children. The house was certainly quiet then. And in those years of infertility and miscarriage and seemingly unanswered prayers, I would have given anything to hear steps on that staircase. I feared I would never hear the word “Daddy,” ever, directed to me. Come to think of it, I even wrote a book about the Christian cry of “Abba, Father.”

And now I was annoyed. Why? It wasn’t that I’d changed my mind about the blessing of children. It was that my family had become “normal” to me. In the absence of children, the blessing was forefront on my mind. But in their presence, they’d become expected, part of what I expected from my day-to-day existence. And that’s what’s so dangerous.

Gratitude is spiritual warfare. I’m convinced my turn of imagination that day was conviction of sin, a personal uprooting of my own idolatry by the Spirit of Christ. What I need to fear most is what seems normal to me.

We’re all, in some way or other, in the same place the people of Israel were in in Joshua 23 and 24. Joshua, their warrior-leader, stands before them and recounts all the blessings God has given, reminding them that “not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord God promised concerning you” (Josh. 23:14a). Joshua said, “All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed” (Josh. 23:14b).

And yet, as Joshua foretold (and Moses before him), the people would soon be in the land of olive trees and wine presses. These things, what they’d cried for in the wilderness, would soon seem “normal” to them. And, soon enough, they’d crave more and more, so much so that they’d chase after Canaanite idols to get what they wanted.

This is what some philosophers call “hedonic adaptation.” We tend to adjust to the level of happiness or prosperity we have. We grow to expect it, to not even notice it. And then we want more. That’s why it’s so hard for people to come down in standard of living. It’s easy to move from a studio apartment to a two-story house, but it’s awful to do the reverse. Few people have a problem going from a 1985 Ford Fairmont to a brand new BMW, but it’s incomprehensible to go the other direction.

This is the way of all flesh, as it is pulled toward the abyss by the satanic powers. It is always so. The garden of Eden becomes mere vegetation for blinded humans in the beginning. The mountains and caves become mere covering for blinded humans in the end.

The Spirit of Christ draws us toward gratitude because the Spirit convicts us of our creatureliness. We’re dependent on breath, on bread, on love, and these things come, personally, as gifts from a Father (Jas. 1:17).

Is there anything in your life that you’ve grown accustomed to? Is there something you prayed for, fervently, in pleading in its absence that you haven’t prayed for, fervently, in thanksgiving in its presence? There’s several such things in my life, and, I fear, many more that I don’t even think about.

This article originally published here.

By / Sep 19

A few months ago, I attended a conference where the speaker shared about his counsel to those battling sexual sin. Paraphrasing, he said, “Imagine every impure action as another thrust of the spear into the side of Jesus.” Woe! What a sobering and sickening image! Can you say that? Should you think that, really?

Never before had I heard someone speak so graphically about the need for the use of imagination in our fight against temptation. However, as I have reflected on his point, I am increasingly convinced he is exactly right.

Imagination, when rightly used, is one of the most powerful tools God gives us to put off the old nature and to walk in the new. After all, Jesus himself said to those battling lust, “gouge out your eye” and “cut off your hand” (Matt 5:29–30). But it is not just for lust. In every area of life, we need to train and retool our imagination for the purpose of sanctification and greater gospel service.

Imagination in the Bible

The Bible is filled with imagery. From the Spirit brooding over the waters (Genesis 1) to John’s vision of a glorious city, dressed like a virgin bride (Revelation 21), the Bible drips with word pictures like the Matrix rains green code. Jesus regularly employs parables to capture the imagination of his disciples. The prophets of old spoke of Israel as a harlot, while Paul speaks of the church as a radiant bride.

The question is, do you see it? In a way that most fast-paced Americans don’t appreciate, Scripture begs to be pondered s . . l . . o . . w . . l . . y.

When Psalm 32:8-9 says, “Be not like a horse or a mule, . . . which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you,” it moves us to stop and reflect: What is it about these animals that must be avoided? Is it the same thing for each beast? Or are these they expressing two opposite errors—e.g., the error of running ahead of God like a wild horse and the error of lagging behind God like a stubborn mule?  The imagery fires the imagination and impresses upon us the need to walk humbly with our God.

Moreover, Scripture calls us to discipline our imaginations. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that we are to “take captive every thought to Christ.” Because Satan wages war with words of deception, Jesus’ disciples “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” by means of ‘thought-control.’ Only this mental exercise is not some metaphysical séance. Rather, it is meditation on the propositions and poetry of God’s Word.

To wield the Sword well—another image, I might add—takes not only a right doctrine but a sanctified imagination. Such an imagination begins with learning the gospel and God’s view of the world (Rom 12:1–2), but soon this renewed mind must and will generate new thoughts that serve the needs of those around us. While some believers may be more creative than others, imagining acts of kindness for others is not limited to creative-types. It is a universal calling for everyone purchased by God to do good works. We all must employ our minds to imagine that which is excellent and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8).

Three Places Where Imagination is Key:
Sincere Sympathy, Holy Outrage, and Practical Service

Let’s get more specific. Instead of talking in the abstract about imagining concrete ways of doing gospel-empowered good, let’s consider three ways imagination serves as the link between good intentions and good works.

First, a sanctified imagination creates sincere sympathy. Think about the last time you heard sad news. How did you feel? Chances are if you have experienced a similar pain, you were quick to empathize. But if the mourner experienced something foreign to you, you may have been slower to weep with the one who was weeping. What to do? The answer, of course, is to pray that God would comfort that person. But is that all? I don’t think so.

Using our imagination, we can conceive of what a widow goes through on the anniversary of her husband’s death, even if we’ve never been married. By means of a sanctified mind we can consider what a son misses when he grows up without a father, or what a father of four worries about when he loses his job. In short, we don’t need to have shared the same experience to minister comfort, but we do need is an imagination that makes up the difference.

Second, a sanctified imagination fuels holy outrage. In Ephesians 4:26 Paul quotes Psalm 4:4, saying, “Be angry and do not sin.” For most of us, we need to guard against undue anger. However, in a world where moral outrage is dulled by a diet of sitcoms and emotionless news reporting, many Christians need to learn how to “be angry.” Here again, “pondering”—not visceral experience—is key (see Psalm 4:4–5).

For instance, how should we feel about sex trafficking or late term abortion? To begin with, we must let the truth of God’s word inform our thinking. But after that, what? Is it enough to have cognitive data? Can statistics alone form our moral conscience? I think not.

Before, during, and after we encounter these travesties in print or in person, we must use our minds to aid our hearts feel the effect of men stealing girls from their homes or babies being mutilated in their mother’s wombs. Of course, this kind of deliberate rumination is unpleasant and painful; some might unnecessary or even wrong-headed. But honestly, how else will we learn to hate the horrors of sex trafficking and abortion, unless we feel with the victims, and with the Lord, the heinousness of the crimes?

The same goes for any other form of brutality, abuse, or ethical injustice. Personal narratives are needed to grow our moral conscience. And when personal experiences are lacking—either because of distance or present circumstance—biblically-informed contemplation of our neighbors need is what we need to prepare our hearts for the day when we do meet those suffering from injustice.

In truth, we cannot personally tackle every moral dilemma in the world, but we can and must cultivate a moral conscience that abhors every kind of injustice. A sanctified imagination does that by creating in us a holy outrage at sin and a deepening love for Christ who alone can make all things new.

Third, a sanctified imagination quickens practical service. The golden rule demands a sanctified imagination, for without it we would regularly bless others in the very same way we want to be blessed. In other words, when we love another, we need to think about who they are, what they need, and how they will receive our love. This requires imagining the living conditions of another and prayerfully considering what would serve this person. Husbands desperately need to think this way, but so do social workers and car manufacturers.

In the home, husbands love their wives best when they imagine new ways to serve them—according to what delights the wife, not the husband. In the workplace, engineers show love by thinking about how the products they are making will improve life for the people who buy their cars. Social workers show love by dreaming up an elaborate birthday party for the child who has never received a present.

On it goes. In every arena of life, imagination will help you be a better servant and a better lover. Indeed, without such imagination, you will grow tired in your compassion. Likewise, without a creative imagination the person who rejects your offer of the gospel will probably not hear it again from you. Yet, with a Spirit-led, gospel-driven imagination, there are countless ways to insert the gospel into the natural rhythms of life and conversation. After all, Jesus is the Maker of all things, and all things point back to him (Eph 1:10).

Creativity is for All New Creations in Christ

Of course, genuine service can happen with little creativity. Jesus said that a simple cup of cold water given in his name would be rewarded (Matt 10:42; cf. 25:35–40). Yet, in some instances the only way to deliver a cup of water involves the ingenuity of international travel and the problem-solving of purifying dirty water.

All the same, if we desire to be salt and light in the world and to share the gospel with the poor and needy, a sanctified imagination will be necessary. Especially among those people who are hard to love or hard to reach, a sanctified imagination is not optional but essential. It is part of the bridge system that moves vertical faith to horizontal love. It flows from a mind renewed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it has an endless array of applications.

Give it a shot this week. As you read the Scripture, pay attention to the imagery. Ask God to awaken your imagination. Instead of filling your mind with the endless images of television and YouTube, let the Word of God prompt your creativity. Begin to imagine what you can do to serve others and to share the message of Christ’s cross and resurrection, the only message that sanctifies the mind and brings peace and justice to the world.

By / Sep 17

A dear pastor friend of mine who, like me, finds himself of necessity involved in trying to keep casino gambling out of Kentucky asked me to share some biblical reasons why I believe gambling is wrong. I actually wrote most of the following in 2005 and it was published in the Western Recorder. In order that it might contribute to the debate that now consumes our state, as well as inform some of my students who think it an adiapherous avocation, I share it once again with the conviction that a follower of Christ has no business gambling.

Simply put, gambling is sin.

If no passage of Scripture explicitly forbids it, can we with confidence claim that gambling is wrong, a moral evil, sin? With good reason, Christians are hesitant to label sins that the Bible doesn’t mention, yet we often have to distill principles from the Bible that we apply to contemporary situations. Pornography, computer hacking, or cheating on tests aren’t mentioned in the Bible either, yet believers who want to live like Jesus know intuitively and correctly that these behaviors run counter to the will of God. While biblical texts may not mention them explicitly, biblical principles speak to them directly.

In the same way, the ethics of Scripture clearly teach that gambling is wrong and a sin against God, not for one single reason but for many. The slot machine, casino, or poker table are not for believers submitted to the Lordship of Christ.

Many Christians object that if they budget a certain amount of their discretionary entertainment funds for gambling and don’t go beyond that, what’s the harm? After all, Christian people waste money on all kinds of diversions. Far from convincing me that gambling is not necessarily wrong, this particular argument actually confirms it in my mind, because it reveals a complete disregard for what one’s participation in gambling does to others. This argument reveals a self-centeredness and lack of concern for weaker brothers and sisters that believers ought to find disturbing (Rom. 14:21). In reality, even Christians who are not personally hurt by it are not free to participate in an industry that preys on the weak and the poor.

The Bible is full of references to God’s view of economics. In the garden of Eden, even before sin entered the world, God established a work ethic by which humanity was to exist (Gen. 1:28-30) Part of God’s creation of man in his own image was that man would work for his food. While God provided it, Adam and Eve had to exercise “dominion” over the plants and animals and till the soil, working for their sustenance. After they sinned, work changed to a more laborious task, but it remained the way God provided for them. In other words, God’s way is that we should earn what we get.

Think about these reasons why gambling violates Christian principles:

  • Working and investing for a living is based on a win/win scenario, but gambling is always win/lose. God put his stamp of approval on commerce and work. When a carpenter builds a cabinet and gets paid, both parties win. One of them gets the cabinets she wanted, and one of them gets the money he desired. They can both feel good about the transaction. Not so with gambling. Someone always loses and pays a price.
  • Gambling is motivated by greed. Let’s be honest and admit that greed lies at the heart of all gambling. The desire to get something for nothing is really another name for covetousness (Exod. 20:17; Prov. 21:25-26).
  • Gambling is a wasteful use of the Lord’s money. I doubt that many Christians who gamble tithe, but even if they do, New Testament Christians understand that God doesn’t have the right to only ten percent of our money, but all of it. Even though I am a tither, I am still required to be a steward of all I have because it belongs to God. I am no freer to gamble with God’s money than I am with anyone else’s. Even though others might waste the Lord’s money on equally frivolous things, their sin doesn’t excuse mine.

Gambling shows a lack of love for my neighbor. If I really love my neighbor, I want only what is for his good (Matt. 22:39, 1 Cor. 10:24). When legislators talk about putting casinos on the state line so we can prey on the greed and weakness of our neighbors, they reveal the harmful assault that gambling really is. Can I in good conscience support something that preys on the weaknesses and indulges the worst instincts of the precious people around me?
Gambling fails to consider innocent families. We might be tempted to think that if a person gambles away all of his money, then that is his problem and serves him right. But what of his ten-year-old son who can’t afford school supplies? What of his wife who has to work to pay off the credit cards she didn’t even know she had? What of his ailing parents who cannot count on his help in their senior years? What of his daughter’s college education? Proverbs 15:27 says “A greedy man brings trouble to his family,” and nowhere is that more obvious than in the gambling industry.

Gambling shows no concern for God’s glory. A Jesus-follower should try to glorify God in everything (1 Cor. 10:31), and use his or her money to accomplish good for the kingdom (Matt. 6:19-21, 24).

Gambling is not an act of faith but a game of chance. Paul wrote that “Everything that is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). The Christian life is to be lived in dependence on God to meet all needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).

Jesus wouldn’t do it. Can you picture Jesus sitting at a slot machine with a cup full of quarters? He was interested in doing his Father’s business, alleviating suffering and grief, not contributing to it.

By / Aug 20

1. Because it goes against God’s original design

The prohibition against adultery doesn’t make sense until we understand God’s original design for sexual expression within the confines of marriage. From the beginning, God established a blueprint for the family. He saw that it was not good for man to be alone, and he created woman. Adam and Eve together reflected the image of God in their relationship of trust and love.

In Genesis 2:24-25, we read: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” God’s design was for one man to be united with one woman as one flesh. Man would leave his father and mother in order to form a new family. In the innocence and purity of the garden of Eden, they would live together naked and not feel any shame.

2. Because it destroys marriages and families

The glorious picture of marital bliss in the garden was shattered by human sin. When the first couple sinned against God, they became separated from God. The marriage covenant is still powerful, but because of sin, it is a fractured version of what God originally intended. Trust is broken. Marriages are imperfect. Many fall apart.

Throughout Old Testament history, we see how marriage was damaged as a result of sin in the world. Men mistreated women by betraying them or taking multiple wives. Adultery became commonplace.

A well-known story of adultery in the Old Testament is King David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. Here we see a strong king who followed after God’s heart but fell to the sin of adultery. David, the giant-killer and mighty warrior, saw from the rooftop of his palace a beautiful woman bathing. What the king wanted, the king got. Disregarding the fact she was married to Uriah—a soldier on the front lines of his army fighting for Israel—David slept with her.

After Bathsheba informed him she was pregnant, David sent for Uriah, thinking he could cover up his sin by having Uriah spend the night with his wife. But Uriah was a faithful servant who extolled the virtues of his king and his soldiers. Even David’s plot to use alcohol to dull Uriah’s senses didn’t work. Uriah didn’t sleep with his wife, and the secret pregnancy would soon be known. The lust that led David to adultery next led him to lie and then led him to kill. In a remarkable display of depravity, David sent Uriah to the front lines and ordered the military commander to pull back during the fighting so Uriah would die.

David did not get away with this act of cruelty. God’s law was clear, and God’s law was intended to guide his people to a life filled with joy. David’s sin reaped severe consequences for his family and his country.

3. Because it damages a picture of the gospel

You may wonder what God’s law about adultery has to do with the gospel. In Galatians 3:24, Paul wrote that “the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” If we apply this verse about the law in general to the specific law against adultery, we see that this Commandment (like a guardian) was meant to protect marriage. It protects the design of what God established from the beginning.

The law also protected marriage as a picture of the gospel. The apostle Paul wrote that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). Marriage is connected to Christ in that it paints a picture of our relationship with God.

In Matthew 19:5-6, Jesus reaffirmed the Old Testament’s vision of a man leaving his family to become one flesh with his wife. This passage demonstrates the fact that Christ came to fulfill the law, not abolish it. It also demonstrates the importance of fidelity in marriage. Jesus went so far as to say, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

God is the One who joins man and woman together. Marriage is more than a document that deals with assets, rights and obligations. It is the physical, lasting union of a man and woman for life. Adultery is the tearing apart of the “one flesh” God has established. That’s why it damages people emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.

4. Because it is an expression of spiritual adultery

Physical adultery may be against a spouse, but there is always a spiritual component that is against God. That’s why David, who sinned against Bathsheba and her husband, when confessing his sin, cried out to God for forgiveness: “Against you, you only, have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4). Physical adultery is an expression of spiritual adultery.

In Scripture, God often describes his relationship with his people in terms of a marriage covenant. The expectation is love and fidelity. God is faithful and constantly pursuing his people, but his people “cheat” on him by running after idols.

Through the prophets Hosea and Ezekiel, God described his relationship with the nation of Israel in graphic terms. God said that he covered the nakedness of Israel and entered into a covenant with “her,” giving the nation a female description in order to compare his relationship with Israel to that of a groom and bride. He bestowed wealth and gifts on his beloved, but the nation chose to worship idols. Ezekiel 16:15 says: “But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his.”

The seriousness with which God takes our sin is a sign that God desires to receive glory and love from us. He desires to have a relationship with his people, and this relationship must be exclusive.

As believers, our relationship with Christ is now described in terms of a bride and groom. In James 4:4, we read that friendship with the world is hostility toward God. Those who give themselves over to worldly patterns of thought and behavior are “adulteresses”—serious language from a God serious about loving his people!

This story was originally published here. Learn about The Gospel Project here.

By / May 28

I’m afraid of parking garages. When I walk across these dimly lit, empty lots with plenty of places for a lurker to hide I, almost instinctively, hold my keys in my fist ready to defend myself because I know that at any moment a prowler could attack. It is a sad reality, but all too true.

One may argue that treatment of women is not getting better, even as social stigmas surrounding emotional and physical abuse grow. But the reason is not because we are not consumed with gender inequality and feminist ideology.  

On the heels of a killing spree by Elliot Rodger at University of California, Santa Barbara that led to the death of four men and two women, the hashtag #YesAllWomen was born. A YouTube video posted by Rodgers shortly before his rampage blamed his rage on the women he felt rejected him. 

According to Topsy, the #YesAllWomen campaign was tweeted more than 1.8 million times, mostly by women sharing testimonies of abuse, discrimination and harassment. Such a cultural outcry requires the church to take notice. As followers of the greatest healer and comforter, we must respond with compassion, love and share the hope we ourselves (many women hurt in some form by men) found in Jesus Christ.  

The body of Christ is currently working to support women abused by men, as we should. Yet sadly, another Twitter tag, #YesAllBiblicalWomen, is being co-opted by religious feminists and liberal Christians to focus once again on presumed gender inequality in the church.

So out of the ashes of a terrible tragedy motivated by evil, we see tweets like these:

Emotional and physical harm against women is real. But resolution will never be found in hasty preconceived notions and finger pointing at men in the church.

Gender inequality and the religious left’s accompanying talking points are not the crux of this heartbreaking tragedy that led to the death of four men, two women and wounding of 13 others. The problem isn’t sexism, it is sin.

Contrary to what some religious feminists or liberal Christians will tell you, the Bible does not prescribe violence against women (this argument is sometimes made in an attempt to prove that Scripture is contradictory and therefore not always applicable to our lives). What Scripture does do is record how our sinful nature has perpetuated the harming of human beings by other human beings.

The vicious cycle of sin has gone round throughout history taking various forms and causing pain and suffering for both women and men. Though it takes different shapes, sin does not discriminate against gender, skin color, religion or geography. Sometimes sin even cloaks itself in Christianity, but it is still sin.

Sin lurks in the depths of us all stirring feelings of control, self-gratification, anger, bitterness and hatred. As Christian women, we know that the eradication of sin does not come in the form of feminist slogans nor man-hating retaliation.

There is only one solution to the problem of sin: Jesus. Through Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection, we are transformed, sanctified and offered aid against future recurrences of sin. For this reason, daily I am thankful.

Remember the words of Romans 7:24-25, which applies to men and women, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

By / Mar 21

Hello, I’m Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and you are listening to Questions and Ethics. This is the program where we take a question that you are struggling with and look at it through the lens of the kingdom of Christ as found in the Bible.

The question today comes from a man named Tony who writes in and says, “Dr. Moore, I’m having a difficult time. Our church has recovered what we believe to be the biblical understanding of church discipline. We have someone who was in persistent sin, wouldn’t repent, so we followed the Matthew 18 steps toward church discipline, ending at excommunication. We removed him from the membership of the church.” Tony says, “I ran into this guy at a local restaurant, and he wanted to talk, and we ordered a meal and sat and talked through various things. And I really am feeling guilty now, because doesn’t the Bible say that we are supposed to shun people who are under church discipline and not to eat with them? And that’s exactly what I did. I ate with him. So did I do the wrong thing?”

Well, Tony, that is a good question because it’s been so long since many churches have exercised biblical church discipline because we haven’t seen it in our context in a long time. It’s sometimes very difficult to know what to do. We don’t have some of those sorts of intuitions that are formed just from repetition of seeing something done over and over and over again. So, for instance, most people don’t have to think about, or most churches don’t have to think about—Wait a minute! What do we do? How do we do a baptism?—because they’ve seen baptisms done. They may do it differently than the last generation of the church did, but they’ve got a prototype. For a lot of churches, though, church discipline is kind of like that first generation of Baptists in the seventeenth century recovering a New Testament doctrine that they’d never really seen done—the immersion of a believer in water. And so how do we do this when we haven’t seen it done? All we really have are the biblical texts and then something way, way, way back in our history. So we have to think that through.

So this is a good question. A lot of people assume that somebody under church discipline is somebody that we ought to shun, that we ought to mistreat even. And so sometimes people will think well, because the Bible says, “Do not even eat with such a one,” and because Jesus says in Matthew 18 to treat that person as a tax collector and a Gentile, then when I run into that person in the grocery store I shouldn’t say anything, or if I sit down in Starbucks and this person sits down next to me, I ought to put down the coffee—does that constitute eating? No! I don’t think that’s what those biblical texts are talking about. I think the main issue that those texts are talking about is the question of who is a brother or sister and who is a neighbor. Who is part of the family? Who is outside of the family? That’s why Jesus is saying, for instance, in Matthew, chapter 18, he says that if the one that you have confronted repents then he says you have “gained a brother,” verse 15 of chapter 18. So the language there is a brother and then of tax collector and Gentile.

Now, of course, how does Jesus treat tax collectors and Gentiles? He doesn’t treat tax collectors and Gentiles with shunning. He doesn’t avoid them. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons that Jesus is often being confronted and one of the reasons that Jesus is often being criticized is because he won’t shun tax collectors and sinners, because he does hang out with tax collectors and sinners. The question is whether or not there is a clear marking out of who is on the inside of the church and so has a responsibility to live up to those responsibilities that Jesus has given to the church as a kingdom of priests, and who’s not—who is on the outside and who needs to be evangelized?

So when Paul says in I Corinthians, chapter 5, when he says in verse 12, “What have I to with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” and he says the one who is excommunicated, the one who is put out of the body, he says, “I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler, not to even eat with such a one,” I think the issue there for the Apostle Paul is the Lord’s table, the gathering as the family and the people of Christ around the Lord’s table, and not to associate in such a way that would give someone the assurance that he is a brother or a sister in a case when that assurance is false. So when somebody is excommunicated from the body, I think that means you treat that person exactly as you would an unbeliever. So you don’t give that person any reason to kind of hide behind oh, well, I’m really a Christian; I’m really in fellowship with Christ. You don’t invite that person to the Lord’s table. You don’t give that person the sorts of responsibilities within the church that would come along with being a brother or sister in Christ. You instead make it very clear you are dealing with someone who is on the outside.

Now, why? Because what is the point of church discipline? The point of church discipline is not to punish people. The point of church discipline is not to stigmatize people. The point of church discipline is not just to get people out of here. The point of church discipline is redemptive. You are handing, as a church, Paul says, that person, “over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved,” Paul says. So what is the ultimate hope? The ultimate hope is that that person will repent. Because in church discipline you are dealing either with somebody who knows Christ and is walking away from Christ, in which case, “my sheep hear my voice,” Jesus says, as the good shepherd; the voice of the church in handing him over is something that the Spirit uses to convict and to bring that Christian back into right fellowship. Or you are dealing with somebody who is not a believer—he or she has never experienced the new birth; so that person is now being evangelized.

So what do you do when you sit down with that guy in the restaurant, Tony? I think what you ought to do is to treat him exactly as you would any other unbeliever. You don’t know if he’s an unbeliever, but the scripture says you treat him as such until he comes to repentance. So you treat him with kindness and you treat him with evangelistic zeal. So you want to talk to that person and then you want to get to the point where you say, “What’s going on with you, John? Let’s talk about what’s happening in your life. Don’t wander away from the Lord. Don’t do this. Come to repentance.” That’s the way that you seek to treat this person so you don’t ignore the discipline. You don’t act as though you are still right back in the Sunday school class or wherever you were with this person. But you don’t shun that person either. You seek to apply the gospel, the blood of Christ is offered to you. The opportunity to come back home is offered to you. You do that with humility. You do that with conviction, and you do that with kindness so that ultimately you pray that you are going to see that person right back—repentant, restored to fellowship in the church. And then you don’t hold it against him. You move forward as someone who, as Jesus says in the parable of the prodigal, someone who was dead and has now been restored again to life. That’s the hope.

So I don’t think shunning. I think instead a distinction between those who are part of the church and those who are outside of the church.

Thanks so much for listening to Questions and Ethics. For more resources on living out the Christian life according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, check out our website at erlc.com. And then send me your question. Maybe you’ve been reading the Bible and you’ve come across a passage that’s difficult for you to understand. Or maybe you’ve been having a conversation with a neighbor; or something you’ve seen on Facebook or on Twitter that you are wondering how should I think about this as a Christian. Or maybe it is something that you are wrestling with in your workplace or in your marriage or in your family or in your church. Well, send it to me at [email protected] or via Twitter at #askrdm. So until next time, seek the kingdom, and walk the line. This is Russell Moore.

By / Mar 18

At this year's ERLC Leadership Summit on “The Gospel and Human Sexuality,” J.D. Greear will be speaking on “Mending Fences: The Gospel and Pastoral Care for Sexual Sin.” Greear serves as the lead pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

If you are interested in attending the Summit, go here.

At the ERLC Leadership Summit, you will be speaking on “Mending Fences: The Gospel and Pastoral Care for Sexual Sin”. Why is this an important issue for evangelical churches to consider?

Sexual sin is the place where the gospel intersects unbelievers most acutely. When we can show that sex is often the expression of our most deeply held idols, and that the gospel provides a better answer to the questions sex presents, we gain an audience with those who otherwise might have little interest in what we have to say. I have seen God use this issue to convert the unbeliever and transform the believer in ways few other issues have.

When you think about sexual sin, what is a key aspect of that issue that churches aren’t addressing adequately? Why is that the case?

Churches often treat extra-marital sex as simply disobedience to a “thou shalt not” command. While it is certainly that, it is much more. Churches need to go behind the overt manifestation of sin to the idolatrous roots that generate it As Paul Tripp says, “We worship our way into sin, we have to worship our way out of it.”

This conference seeks to apply the gospel to issues related to human sexuality. What are some ways the gospel relates to sexual sin? 

The gospel not only promises cleansing for the stain of sin. It also presents us with a love that is greater than the enticements of the flesh. The only way to overcome the power of sex over us is to discover the greater power in the gospel. The only way to be liberated from the allure of sexual sin is to be captivated by an even more beautiful treasure. God’s acceptance is the power that liberates us from sexual sin, not the reward for having liberated ourselves.

If evangelical churches transformed the way they handled the subject of sexual sin, how would it reshape their congregations?

Quite simply, many church members would begin to feel like the pastor understands what is going on in their heart. The unbeliever who comes to the church in 1 Corinthians 14:25 has the secrets of his heart revealed, and says, “Surely God is among you!” When we can preach about the idolatry of sex—and the pain that it causes—winsomely, we reveal the secrets of the heart and elicit a similar response today. I have always aimed to preach like a counselor that can open up the depths of the gospel on one hand and the human heart on the other—and apply the beauty of the former to the dysfunction of the latter.

Register for the Summit here.