Instinct or Understanding

By what standard do we determine what is right? This ought to be an easy question to answer for the Christian. But in our day and age, we are not as solid on this topic as we should be. All in all, there are only two options. You can determine morality by the faithful study of and application of Scripture, or you can determine morality based on your own personal judgment. There are not any other solid choices out there. You choose divine revelation or something else.

In the letter of Jude, we see that there are a people doing evil in the church. They are rejecting biblical morality for their own instinctual standards.

Jude 10 – But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.

The folks causing a problem have two things that they are doing. First, we see that they have gotten to a place where they blaspheme what they do not understand. When a standard is set before them that they do not want to follow, they speak out to revile that standard. In contrast, these people who are enemies of the faith in Jude are led to destruction by their instincts.

Let’s not let this seem mysterious. What is happening is simple. There are people in the church to which Jude is writing who do not understand God’s standards related to human sexuality. This is not to say that they cannot comprehend the command of God, but they do not agree with it. Their desires do not match the command of the word. And since they do not personally like or understand God’s standards, they speak out against the word of God and give themselves over to evil practices that go against God’s word and which will ultimately lead to their own destruction.

How do we know this is about sexuality and not merely about some other failure to follow Scripture? In verse 4, Jude says that these people “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality.” That word behind sensuality is a word that repeatedly appears in biblical condemnations of sexual immorality. As Jude speaks of other immoralities that mirror the licentiousness of these people, he compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah and says that they “likewise indulged in sexual immorality” (verse 7). And, in verse 8, speaking of the practices of the sinful, Jude says that they “defile the flesh.”

Jude is clear. There are people in his day who are in the church who are participating in sexual immorality. When they are challenged to stop sinning against the Lord and destroying themselves in this way, they speak out against the Scriptures. Instead of following the standards present in the word of God, instead of following the clear teachings of the apostles, these people rely on their own minds, their own dreams, their own instincts. And, as Jude said, these people determine their morality like unreasoning animals as they walk themselves into the judgment of God.

In no way am I trying to be personally harsh as I speak of this issue. But I must simply let the word of God say what it says. And God clearly inspired very strong language to describe the sexual immorality that was going on in Jude’s day. We cannot tone this down and be faithful to the word. Giving one’s self over to sexual immorality is deadly. Following our human instincts and passions instead of following what God tells us is right is deadly. And there is nothing good to say for those who would hear the word of God, see God’s standards, and speak out against those standards as if they somehow know what is best for us more so than the God who created us.

Of course, Christians, there is something for us to learn here about sexual immorality. We want to be very wary of any group claiming to follow God, yet which speaks out against the plain biblical standards of human sexuality. God is clear that human instinct will lead us to destruction if not corralled by the protective fence of biblical revelation. God has designed us to glorify him. One of the loveliest ways that we can honor the Lord is by submitting to his perfect plan for our lives and bodies. We are not our own. We are bought at a price. And our loving God intends that we honor him in our sexuality.

But the further truth, the foundational thing that we need to grasp, is that we must determine all morality based on the word of God and not on human instinct. WE are fallen. Our moral compass is corrupt. We lack the wisdom of the Lord. We are not naturally holy. For us to make moral choices that will not lead to destruction requires that we are fully submitted to the perfect word of God. Otherwise we will be misled by the blinding influence of our unreasoning instincts. Submit to Scripture and not to your best guess as to how things ought to be.

Not the Word of Men

There are a few questions that a person must answer in order to be in any way pleasing to God. Miss the answers to these questions, and you will be far from the truth. A person needs to know where we come from. A person needs to understand who Jesus is. A person needs to understand what we must do to be saved.

One more extremely significant question is this: What is the Bible? This is one of the most important questions any person can ask and answer. Get this one right, and you will have a proper foundation set for knowing the ways of God. Miss it, and you will be like a rudderless ship, floundering about without direction.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul, almost in passing, reminds the church there what the Bible is. Paul is here talking about his preaching to these people, and probably including the Old Testament Scriptures as well, but the point carries over to what we now have in the Bible.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 – And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

There are two things to note here. Paul calls his message to the Thessalonians the word of God. And then he goes on to emphasize that it is not the word of men. This is vital. Understand, dear friends, the Bible is the word of God and not the word of men.

Start from the end. What if the Bible is merely the word of men? It might have some wisdom. It might be a somewhat helpful thing. But, if the Bible is merely a collection of the opinions and best guesses of fallible men, it is merely a tool to be used or discarded as we see fit.

But what if the Bible is, as Paul says, the word of God and not of men? Then everything changes. If the Bible is the word of God, it is authoritative. God is our Lord. What he says we must obey. What he wills we must strive to do or be.

If the Bible is the word of God, it is trustworthy. God is perfect. God does not err. It would be insanity to believe that the perfect and holy God of the universe would somehow give to us an errant, flawed, unreliable word and then claim it as his own.

If the Bible is the word of God, then what the Bible says, God says. If we want to know God, we will learn to know him through the word. If we want to be right with God, we do so by the method prescribed in the word. If we want to set our standards in line with those of God, we find those standards in his word.

The Bible is the word of God, not the word of men. Yes, men were used to write it down, but they were carried along by the Holy Spirit of God as he inspired them to pen for us, not the words of men, but the perfect word of God. Let this thought give you the answer to the question about what the Bible is. Know the Bible is the word of God. And let that Bible lead you to faith in and obedience to Jesus.

The Backwardness of Sin

I wonder sometimes if we, as Christians, truly grasp what happens to the human mind that is captivated by sin. I think, theologically, we can speak true things about what it looks like when a person is dead in sin or is following the world, the flesh, and the devil. But, when we think of the world and its practices, I wonder if we really get it.

Consider some of the pet sins of our culture. I’ll not need to name them at this point, as you know if you are paying any attention. Have you noticed how, in our culture, there has been a pattern of acceptance of these sins? Years ago, they were sins that were abhorred by faithful folks. Then, though the sins were abhorred in general, we began to accept their presence. Then, acceptance led to normalization. We began to act as though certain sins were just part of the world we live in. WE began to act as though our best move would be to remain quiet, as culture around us was beginning to accept such practices. And then, before we know it, things that once were abhorred are now applauded and celebrated. Now, all who do not celebrate sins once abhorred are the ones despised by the culture.

That pattern, from abhorrence to applause, is only part of the problem. The other part of the problem is in the local church itself. You see, we want to be loved by the world. Thus, if we are not careful, we begin to compromise on things that the Lord has commanded. We become ashamed of the word of God because we do not want to be social outcasts. Perhaps we hide the word of God because we do not want the world around us to look down on us.

If you look at the words of Jesus, none of this should be a surprise.

John 16:1–4a – 1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

Jesus warned his disciples of hard times to come. He warned them of persecution. Jesus wanted them to understand that the persecution they face is not something he did not see coming.

But take particular note of the attitude of the persecutors. Jesus said that people would be killing Christians, and they would be convinced that they were doing a service to God when they would do so. That is the point that got my attention. It speaks not only to the sin, but to the mindset of those who will come and persecute Christ’s followers.

What I want us to grasp is that this mindset, this thinking that leads to persecution, this darkened thinking is utterly warped and inside-out and upside-down. Jesus warned that men would do that which is as evil a thing as possible, kill servants of the Lord, and they will think, not that they are doing evil, but that they are serving the very God they are attacking. This shows us what sin does to the human mind.

Dear friends, if we are not completely saturated with the word of God, we will let inside-out and upside-down thinking permeate our lives. It is surprisingly easy for Christians to learn to accept what God calls abomination. It is surprisingly easy for Christians to turn what God forbids into something that religious people celebrate. It is surprisingly easy to stop seeing evil as evil.

May we be a people who are biblically minded in all things. May we love the word. May we not allow the world to shape our thinking. May we battle with all our might against the sin that would deceive us into doing that which dishonors God and thinking it to be worship. May we be willing to stand in the face of hardships, knowing that our Savior promised that this world would be hard. May we live for the glory of our God even in a dark world, because we know that the Spirit of God is with us and the Savior we love will return and rule forever.

Four Thoughts from Lamentations 1 and 2

The Book of Lamentations is not often an easy book to read. The words are not hard, but the picture is so very sad. The people of Judah have sinned against God, and the Lord has, as he promised, brought judgment down on the city of Jerusalem. The Babylonians have come in, destroyed the city, and taken most of the people captive. And the prophet Jeremiah witnessed it all.

As I was reading through the first two chapters of Lamentations, a few individual verses got my attention. So, for this post, I decided that I would write a couple of brief thoughts on the verses that stood out to me, some verses which offer thoughts we want to remember.

Lamentations 1:9

Her uncleanness was in her skirts;
she took no thought of her future;
therefore her fall is terrible;
she has no comforter.
“O Lord, behold my affliction,
for the enemy has triumphed!”

The first thought that grabbed my attention is that simple line, “She took no thought for her future.” The people of Jerusalem, by the time of its fall, had simply stopped caring about the future. The people were so into their sin against the Lord that considering the days to come was beyond their scope of thought. They lived for the now, and then they suffered the consequences.

Many of us know what this is like. Around us, we find many who will plan for their financial future. They will plan for retirement and buy insurance. But the same people have no consideration for the Day of the Lord. They are not concerned about what will happen when they meet God. They have not cared about the judgment to come. This is dangerous.

So, the first point I’ll make from Lamentations is the call for us to pay attention to the future. No, I’m not worried so much here about your retirement. Instead, I am suggesting that you take care not to ignore the fact that God has made you for an eternal existence. Think to your future. How will you stand before the Holy God who made you?

Lamentations 1:18

“The Lord is in the right,
for I have rebelled against his word;
but hear, all you peoples,
and see my suffering;
my young women and my young men
have gone into captivity.

The second line that got my attention is the simple phrase, “The Lord is in the right.” Jeremiah has seen the city fall. He has witnessed people going captive to Babylon. And Jeremiah declares that the Lord is in the right.

There are, of course, many reasons that Jeremiah will give us to explain why the Lord is in the right. But what I have on my mind is the simple fact that, regardless of those reasons, Jeremiah is starting from the right place. The assumption that we must make is always that the Lord is in the right. It is impossible for the Holy One to be in the wrong. God has no evil within him. The Lord cannot do evil. The Lord makes no mistakes and is never overpowered. Thus, we must always know that God is God, and that means that God is always in the right.

Lamentations 1:21

“They heard my groaning,
yet there is no one to comfort me.
All my enemies have heard of my trouble;
they are glad that you have done it.
You have brought the day you announced;
now let them be as I am.

The line that got my attention here is the phrase, “You have brought the day you announced.” Jeremiah is here saying that God has judged the people of Jerusalem as the enemies of God looked on and laughed. Now Jeremiah is asking that God also judge those evil men for taking joy in the city’s destruction.

But notice that this day that has brought upon Jeremiah is a day that the Lord had announced. God told the people this would come. God warned against it. But the people did not care. They chose to assume that the Lord would not bring his judgment upon them as he promised. They chose to think that God would not keep his word. And this was to their destruction.

May we learn from this. God keeps his promises. There are things that God has promised that may feel too far off to matter to us. But we dare not assume that God will not keep his word. What God has said, that he will do. Jesus will return. All humanity will stand before his seat of judgment. All in Christ will be rewarded. All apart from Christ will face judgment. These are eternal judgments. But let us not assume that, because they seem far removed from us, they will not come. God will do all he has said he would do.

Lamentations 2:14

Your prophets have seen for you
false and deceptive visions;
they have not exposed your iniquity
to restore your fortunes,
but have seen for you oracles
that are false and misleading.

Here in the final verse I will include for this morning, we see Jeremiah lamenting the fact that the people have fallen for the lies of false prophets. The nation chose not to believe the clear word of God. They chose not to take the words of Holy Scripture to heart. Instead, they chose to believe their own modern teachers who contradicted Scripture with happy promises of prosperity.

Of course this is a danger for our world too. Many people are ignoring Scripture. Many people are preaching things the Bible never said. Many are telling us that God has changed his view on certain actions. But the Lord is unchanged. The word of God still stands. And we must be careful not to listen to those who say what our sinful hearts first want to hear. Instead, we need to hear those who speak to us the true, unchanging, unfettered, uncompromising word of God.

Two Ways to Handle Scripture

How do you respond to the word of God? There are really only two options. A person will either hear the word of the Lord, fear God, and obey, or they will turn their back on the Lord and face judgment.

In Jeremiah 36, watch the response of King Jehoiakim when the word of God is read to him. While sitting near a nice cozy fire, the king had a chance to hear God’s word and repent.

Jeremiah 36:22-24 – 22 It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. 23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. 24 Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments.

Depending on what one believes the word of God to be, this is either a non-event or a terrifying act of hubris.

While there are many different pieces of evidence for the accuracy, authority, and inspiration of Scripture, I’ll not go into them here. The truth is, the word of God is real. The God who made us has spoken to us. He has spoken through prophets and later apostles. He has recorded his word for us in holy Scripture, what we now call the Bible. And to mess with or ignore the Bible is a serious offense before the Lord.

The king heard God’s word, did not like what it said to him, and chose to cut it up and throw it into the fire. That was a terrible move for him. Eventually, King Jehoiakim died and his kingdom went captive to Babylon just as God had said in the words Jehoiakim cut up. But we are not super worried about Jehoiakim anyway. What we need to think about is our own response to the word of God.

Friends, may we be people who honor and respect the Lord by treasuring his word. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16). The word of God tells us who God is and what God requires. The Bible tells us how to be forgiven by God and to live to please him once he has adopted us into his family. May we never ignore God’s word or dishonor God by disrespecting his word.

Two Types of Prophets

Examining the claims of those who claim faith, we find that the message is not consistent. This makes it hard for people from outside the church to understand our claims. After all, one group will say one thing and one another. Who is to say who is right? One group claims a gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Another proclaims a gospel of liberation, of financial prosperity, of throwing off of all restraints. Who is telling the truth? Or do we just get to pick and choose?

In Jeremiah’s day, not long before the fall of Jerusalem in the early sixth century BC, there were contradictory claims coming from the religious. And this is important for us to see. You see, God was only putting forth one message, no matter what multiple groups were claiming.

Jeremiah 14:13-16 – 13 Then I said: “Ah, Lord God, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’ ” 14 And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. 15 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. 16 And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them.

Jeremiah was carrying the word of God to the people. He was warning against the coming judgment of God. He warned the people to turn from their sin. He warned them to prepare for the invasion to come and the captivity to follow.

But other prophets were assuring the people that there was no judgment they would face at all. These prophets told the nation that soon prosperity would overtake them. These men were gaining personal wealth and social status by telling the people things the people already believed and wanted to hear. They were preying on the people’s greed and lust and idolatry to gain influence. And God promised that these men and their followers were in big trouble.

But how do we know? How can we tell who is right? How can we know who speaks the real message of God and who is misleading us? Notice what Jeremiah tells us about himself.

Jeremiah 15:16

Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
O Lord, God of hosts.

Jeremiah tells us that he has the words of God. But, in our world today, who now has the word of God? Who has a genuine message from God? Let me make it simple for you. The one who has a true message from God is not the one claiming personal, supernatural, spiritual revelation. The one who is talking to us from God is not the one who claims that the word of God and the ways of God have changed. The person with the message from God is not the person who is trying to shape Christianity according to the present culture or according to the modern intellectual theories of oppression and power playing. No, these are not and have never been the voice of God.

What is the voice of God? Scripture, Holy Scripture, the Bible is the word of God. The same Scripture that was completed in the first century, that has been preserved for generations, that has been translated for our ability to read it, that is the word of God. And the one who is bringing us the message of God is the one who loves the word, communicates to us the word, and is faithful to cleanly handle and interpret the word. The one bringing us the voice of God is the one not telling us new things, but the old, old story of the holy God who rescues sinners in Christ, God the Son. The one telling the truth is the one who lets Scripture speak for itself, who upholds God standards for justice, for faithful living, for kindness, for marriage, for sexuality, for honesty, for worship, and for all that God commands.

Do you want to know who is telling the truth? Do you want to hear the voice of God? Open the Bible. Study it faithfully and prayerfully. Do not look for hidden codes and secret mysteries. Do not look for ways to make it say the opposite of what it actually says. Just love the word and you will be loving the voice of God. Do not fall for those who claim to speak for God while ignoring or inverting the word of God. But follow the counsel of those who honestly, simply, clearly, and faithfully open the word to the people.

Stopping the Pendulum

Sometimes when I think of issues of error, I imagine a pendulum. What I mean is that there is often an overreaction to error that leads to a contrasting overreaction.

For example, imagine a group comes to a conclusion that their services of worship lack zeal and joy; they are too formal and stiff. What will the reaction be? Often, the response will be to throw off reverence and swing dramatically too far toward a service that is chaotic. Later, perhaps years later, that same group will recognize the disorder and chaos in their services and strive for reverence. But, in doing so, this group might in fac, sap the joy and zeal from the services. The pendulum swings.

Or, take as another example the issue of eschatology. For a time, a church might avoid all discussion of end times theology. Suddenly, the leaders recognize that they have been neglecting this doctrine. The swinging pendulum then leads to a group, if they are not wise, talking end-times non-stop so much so that the focus seems to be totally on the return of Jesus with little focus on living in faithfulness and hope in the present. Then, if the group corrects its course, it may again find itself putting the topic of eschatology away too much and acting as though prophecy simply is not a part of the New Testament.

The picture of a swinging pendulum is one that comes into my mind when I think of issues relating to legalism, especially the moralistic side of legalism. How does the Christian respond to the commands of God? We know God’s word is good. We know that his law is perfect, and his commands are always, absolutely right. But we probably have been in places where a focus on the commands of God has led to a moralistic religion.

I certainly have been among believers who focused so much on rules that they became quite similar to the Pharisees. These folks took simple commands of God and expanded them well beyond biblical intent to prescribe a particular code of conduct for believers that could not be found in the word. You will find such things in commands that appear arbitrary among groups—don’t play cards, don’t listen to music with a syncopated rhythm, don’t ever touch alcohol, here is the dress code for all people at all times, etc.

But what happens if we see a pendulum swing away from such moralism? We need to see that swing stop before it goes too far. Otherwise we end up with antinomianism, a throwing off of all law or commands. You will see this in groups that become so radically grace focused that they are unwilling to call anything sin. You see it in groups that so revel in being “real” and being “authentic” that they refuse to speak out against the actions of anyone in their group for fear that they will come off as not gracious, the only sin they seem to continue to acknowledge. You will see it in groups who claim to be Christians, but who completely ignore the word of God when it comes to social issues or modern morality.

How do we avoid a dangerous pendulum swing between legalism and lawlessness? The answer is in the word. Love the word.

Psalm 119:20, 24

20 My soul is consumed with longing
for your rules at all times.
24 Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.

Look here at how David speaks of God’s law, his rules. He longs for the law of God. He finds the law and testimony of God his delight. There is a genuine love of the word of God—yes, the rules and commands of God—that is present in the heart of a genuinely godly person.

So, if your pendulum is swinging away from Scripture, there is a big problem. If you look at the commands of the word as things about which to be embarrassed, you are headed toward lawlessness. If you see what God says about our lives, our marriages, our sexuality, our finances, our self-control, our eternities and you find it off-putting, you must recognize that there is a problem with your love of the Lord.

But how do we avoid a pendulum swing toward legalism? This is actually simple: love the word. When you genuinely love the word of God, you do not find any reason to think you need to improve upon it. You see God’s affirmation of modesty and his prohibitions against immorality, and you will govern how you dress and behave by that word. You will see God’s word speaking out against drunkenness, and you, when you are of age, will make your own decisions about whether or not drinking at all is wise for you. You will see God’s word speaking about the church being full of reverence, full of joy, living as a family and a body, and you will develop life in accord with biblical commands. As you love the word, you will watch the word counsel you to seek the counsel of other lovers of the word in your local church to help you make word-centered, godly decisions. The more you genuinely love the word, the more you let the word speak, the more that the word alone is your final standard, the more you will avoid both errors of moralism and legalism.

Love the word. Love the word so much that you deeply desire to obey the word. Love the word so much that you do not in any way want to add to it to try to improve it. Stop the pendulum from swinging toward moralism or toward antinomianism, toward legalism or lawlessness, by loving the word of God, all of it.