Friday, 30 July 2010

EastEnders





I’m not sure if there has ever been as much Bible quoted in a soap opera as in the last couple of weeks in EastEnders.

While much-loved veteran character Dot Cotton has always enjoyed peppering her conversations with the odd verse, her fondness for the Word has been dramatically overtaken by Pentecostal Pastor Lucas Johnson, who has been belting out pieces of scripture to anyone within earshot.

Unfortunately, given that he is a murdering psychopath who has taken to twisting the Bible to suit his evil plans, this hasn’t exactly been a cause for celebration. Especially since one of his favourite verses appears to be Deuteronomy 17: 12 – “The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the Lord your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel .”

He used this verse as an excuse to almost strangle his own wife, Denise, when she refused to be baptised. When he decided to keep her prisoner in a basement instead, he killed someone else and identified the body as Denise to make it look like she had committed suicide. It was the third person Lucas had murdered or left to die while pretending to be an upright man of God.

So far, so bad, leading to a number of Christians writing in to the BBC to complain about their portrayal of a pastor. But this week, other characters have been fighting Bible verse with Bible verse. Denise, who Lucas locked up with only a Bible for reading material, discovered that it’s not all the hell-fire and brimstone her husband favours.


“I think God’s horrified that someone like you takes his words and twists them to fit his own evil purpose,” she told him.

“I mean, have you actually read the Bible, Lucas? I mean all of it, not just the bits that suit you. Matthew chapter 22 verse 39: You shall love your neighbour as you love yourself. What do you understand by ‘love your neighbour’?”

And one of the young Christians in his Bible class had another pertinent question for him.

“I was reading Matthew chapter 7 verse 15,” she said.

“It says ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly, they are ravening wolves’.

“How can you tell if a prophet is false or not?”

This question also rang in my mind as I watched another programme this week – Channel 4’s Dispatches: Britain ’s Witch Children. The programme accused three pastors of abusing their position of authority to ask for money or sexual favours to exorcise members of their congregation – some of whom were children – from demonic possession.

It may not seem too hard for Christians to discern that a pastor who tells a member of his congregation that she must sleep with him to rid her family of witchcraft is a false prophet.

But some vulnerable people, particularly when they have a strong sense of respect for their church leaders, may be – and many have been – deceived.

Our non-Christian friends, watching Dispatches and seeing that Lucas can use Bible verses to condone his horrendous behaviour, may well ask if our faith can be too easily used as a passport for abuse.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to us as Christians that these false prophets exist, because we are warned about them repeatedly in God’s word.

As Denise pointed out to Lucas, that’s why it’s vitally important to take the Bible in its full context, and make sure we know it well – following the mandate of 2 Timothy 2:15, to correctly handle the word of truth.

As Jesus said in Matthew 12:33: “a tree is recognised by its fruit.” There are many places, particularly in the epistles, where the difference between good and bad fruit is explored.

Galatians 5 is a good start. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control haven’t exactly been evident in Lucas Johnson. And thankfully in EastEnders, his sins have found him out.



Charis Gibson - Senior Press Officer

Talk to People Rather than about Them

                            

Recall that in Luke 18:9, Luke introduces the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector like this: "He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt." It may seem minor at first, but notice that it says that Jesus told this parable TO some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. It does not say he spoke this parableABOUT them. Jesus was looking the Pharisees in the eye and telling them a parable that implied that they were self-righteous. He was not talking about them but to them.
Though it may seem minor, it contains a lesson that is huge for the health of our church. Let's be like this. Let's not talk to others about people's faults. Let's talk to themabout their faults. It is easy - and far too tasty on the tongue of our sinful souls - to talk about people. But it is hard - and often tastes bitter - to talk to them. When you are talking about them, they can't correct you or turn the tables and make you the problem. But if you talk to them about a problem, it can be very painful. So it feels safer to talk about people rather than talking to them.

But Jesus does not call us to make safe choices. He calls us to make loving choices. In the short run, love is often more painful than self-protecting conflict-avoidance. But in the long run, our consciences condemn us for this easy path and we do little good for others. So let's be more like Jesus in this case and not talk about people, but talk to them, both with words of encouragement, because of the evidences of grace we see in their lives, and with words of caution or warning or correction or even rebuke. Paul urged us to use the full range of words for the full range of needs: "Admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all" (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

I don't mean you can't criticize President Bush without calling him on the phone first. And I don't mean you can't discuss my sermon, both negatively and positively, without coming to me. Public figures put themselves on the line and understand that everyone will have an opinion about what they say. That's okay. What I mean is when you know a brother or a sister is in the grip of some sinful attitude or behavior, take the log out of your eye, and then go to them and try to help them with humble biblical counsel.

Perhaps tell them a parable. That's what Jesus did in Luke 18:9-14. And it's what Nathan did for David, after his sin with Bathsheba and toward Uriah (2 Samuel 12:1-4). But you don't have to be that creative. Caring about the person you confront matters more than creativity.
My longing for our church is that we be free from gossip. Let's be forthright and honest and courageous and humble. Jesus was amazingly blunt at times. Love sometimes sounds like that. He could have easily been accused of callousness or lovelessness. But we know he was the most loving person who ever lived. So let's follow him in this matter. He died for us so that all the logs and specks in our eyes may be forgiven. That should give us both courage and care in dealing with others. Especially when we realize that the faults of our brothers and sisters have also been forgiven by Jesus.

What an amazing standing place we have for relationships. A forgiven, justified, Spirit-indwelt community of people who love to grow in grace. Thank you for loving to trust and follow Jesus in the way of talking to each other rather than about each other.

Pastor John

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website:www.desiringGod.org. Email: mail@desiringGod.org.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Loving the Word and keeping pure

The psalmist poses a question in psalm 119:9, ‘how can a young man keep his way pure?’ And then he answers his own question, ‘by living according to your word’. In our visual sensual age where ungodly images are being propagated openly, that it almost becomes impossible to avoid, how can a young man keep his way pure? 


Women who dress immodestly, aiming to entice men to gaze upon them; how can a young man keep his way pure from being enticed by them? To these questions, I have but one answer and it is the same as that of the psalmist which is by living according to your word. The psalmist goes on to say that ‘Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you’ v11. This is the key to how a young man can keep his way pure amidst the numerous visual temptations that surrounds him. Simple meditation on the sweet delight of scripture will be ample to sustain one’s urges from falling prey to the devilish pleasure of fleshly lust. Peter writes in 1 peter 3:15 ‘But in your heart set apart Christ as Lord’. If Christ is set apart as Lord in our hearts then his desires will rule us and our eyes will be healthy, though temptations may surround us we will not yield to it because something else is ruling our hearts. 


It is important that meditation on the word of God becomes part of our daily diet because it is the water for our thirsty souls; and the word is made alive by the Spirit in us which stirs and delights our souls because we see Christ Jesus.  The longer one does not eat one remains hungry, then every kind of food brought to him becomes desirable; but when one is full, even honey is not desired, so it is with us when we are satiated with the word of God and full of it, that now, the desires of the things of this world which are opposed to scripture becomes undesirable. But it is to be said with great sadness that many unlike the psalmist cannot say that ‘with my whole heart I have sought you. Oh, let me not wander from your commandments’v 10. But rather we seek many things and do not set Christ as Lord in our hearts and we see reading the bible as something we have to do as a Christian duty rather than delighting and enjoying reading the word which is all about Jesus.


I pray for me and for us all that like the psalmist we may say ‘Blessed are you , O LORD! Teach me your statutes, with my lips I have declared all the judgements of your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and contemplate your ways. I will delight myself in your statues, I will not forget your word’, v12-16.


So how can a young man keep his way pure? I believe you now know the answer to that question.


K.Oni

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Regeneration before faith

Regeneration refers to the secret act of God in which he gives us new spiritual life. This is necessary because we are all spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) and also we are unable to understand or accept  the things that comes from the Spirit of God, (1 Cor 2:14). Our nature is naturally hostile towards God and our rebellious nature deter us from coming towards him. Jesus said that ‘no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him’, (john 6:44). If this is our condition, being dead, hostile and unable to come to God spiritually then how can we come to have faith in Jesus?

Faith is seeing and knowing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, (2 Cor 4:6) and scripture asserts that in order to have this faith one must be regenerated. There must have been an initial work of God in the unbelievers heart that woos him, draws, enables the unbeliever to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and then he believes. ‘For God, who said let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’, (2 cor 4:6). Thus regeneration comes before faith for without this secret act of God then the unbeliever remains in blindness; for the god of this age has blinded their eyes from seeing the light of the gospel in the face of Jesus Christ.

In john chapter 3 Jesus says to Nicodemus that unless one is born again one cannot enter the kingdom of God and what makes a person born again is the Spirit which acts accordingly as He wills.  The Spirit moves first and cause the unbeliever to be born again and then the unbeliever can now truthfully say that Jesus is Lord and fully surrender their lives to him for they have seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Then you may ask, is evangelism then hopeless and should we not just lock ourselves away praying endlessly and never engaging  with the unbelievers? To hold this view is to completely deject the entirety of scripture and negate our responsibility. We are to preach the gospel to all creatures, inviting them all to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Peter emphasizes the necessity of preaching and regeneration when he writes ‘for you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God, (1 peter 2:23). And James 1:18 also says that God chose to give us birth through the word of truth.

Regeneration therefore comes before faith and regeneration is all of God and nothing to do with us, ‘God gave them the right to become children- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will but of God’, (1 John 1:13). But also the earlier part of the text which reads ‘yet all who received him, to those who believed in his name He gave the right to become children of God’. So, regeneration and saving faith are so close to each other that both happens almost simultaneously

K.Oni

Friday, 23 July 2010

Returning in surrender


I have sinned my Lord
Against thee I have rebelled
Like the children of Israel I have complained
And harnessed unbelief
I have turned and despised your kindness
I have enslaved myself again in Egypt
Where Pharaoh ruled over me and brought no delight
You have called me to worship
And how I have groaned on the journey
Yet you walk ahead when you could have smoked me
I am sorry, but let my repentance not be like Pharaoh
No more will I walk in the ways of my wickedness
But to you I gladly surrender and obey once again

K.Oni

Would you ban the Burqa?


First Belgium did it, then came France, and now even Syria have done it,
Spain decided not to and a British Government minister declared that to
do so would be un-British. Some segments of the less literary press
questioned when our Government would stand up to the PC brigade and
a Member of Parliament is fighting a one man campaign over it.

Welcome to the great Burqa debate. Over the past few months a series of
countries have discussed and are now passing measures to ban
the wearing of some Islamic headdresses in public places.  Belgium 
became the first country in Europe to put such a ban in place earlier this 
year and last week France followed suit.  After Syria announced a ban
in all public and private universities, Spain on Tuesday rejected a
proposal that would ban coverings showing only the eyes. It seems 
to be the done thing right now, at least, to think about banning
the Burqa. 

Although I am inclined to agree with Damian Green, the Minister 
for Immigration, when he made clear that the Government would 
not be supporting a ban, his reasoning is slightly worrying.  
After all, who would decide what is and what isn't 'British'? And is 
’Britishness’ the correct determinate for whether something should
or shouldn't be done? Many would argue that the Burqa
is 'unBritish' and an opinion poll suggests such a ban would
be popular.I guess in a technical sense the burqa itself isn't British, 
as it is an idea that has been imported from another culture and 
is deeply unfamiliar, and often uncomfortable. It is almost as
though we want to guarantee an external conformity to a western
style of appearance that speaks of freedom.

The Burqa is often seen as a sign of male domination over women, 
and that sticks in the throat of a society doing all things possible to
promote gender equality. There are certainly also some security 
concerns that need to be acknowledged, highlighted by the
suspected terrorist who fled the country under a veil. And there is
the effect it has on relationships, because
communication is about a lot more than speech. In contexts such 
as schools and hospitals a full face covering is harder to defend – 
in fact case law has established that a teaching assistant was 
not allowed to insist on wearing the Niqab.

The covering up of a gender also grates against the perpetual quest 
for liberty that we seem to be engaged in. But surely liberty falls apart 
if we are illiberal in forcing people to be liberal.

This also highlights a tendency for the state to intercede as a 
quasi-theological arbiter of what is and isn't essential to the practice
of religion. If this was in relation to an area of Christian doctrine, we 
would protest against the Government telling the church what the 
outworking of their faith should look like. It is not the domain of the 
state to decide what is and isn't acceptable, just as it cannot decide 
what is and isn’t ‘British’. 

One other objection I feel it is essential to quash is that Christians 
don't receive the same level of freedom in predominantly Muslim 
countries. 1 Peter 2 tells us clearly that we do not defend the cause of 
Christ by complaining at our treatment. Tom Wright comments in 
Virtue Reborn (c.f. pp109-114) that it is in this regard that we should 
most closely look to Jesus as a model for our behaviour, doing 
what had not been done before, modelling forgiveness to those who 
would revile and torture.  

Christianity is a faith based on grace. It is not about obligation and 
therefore how people choose to ex press their beliefs will vary. Some 
will want to wear a cross and some may not.  Christianity does not rely 
on how we appear, or what we do, but it is about where our heart is,
and the heart cannot be compelled to believe. If we want to defend our
liberty to live out our beliefs, then surely we must accept that others will 
live out their beliefs in ways that may leave us profoundly uncomfortable. 

Danny Webster - Parliamentary Officer

You can post a comment about this article at:
http://www.eauk.org/fnt/would-you-ban-the-burqa.cfm

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Five things to remember when presenting the Gospel

Telling someone the gospel may be harder than we might have first thought. Maybe you have been in conversations and someone ask you to tell them the good news of Christianity and then you find yourself completely tongue tied and you just don’t know where to start. Or maybe you are in a Christian setting and the leader has just set an activity where you have to try and explain the gospel to another person and you just cant keep a coherent presentation. If this is you and in the past it has been me and I have to keep refreshing my memory so that I don’t forget the essentials of the gospel and not make it into what I want to make it but rather to proclaim the historical gospel message. In this presentation there are five points which you can remember but also there are many helpful presentations out there that really makes it easy for beliviers to know how to share their faith. E.g. http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/2wtl/


This summary is taking from  a book called evangelism explosion which aims to equip churches with how to train laymen to be effective evangelist and disciple makers. I want to emphasise that the power is not in the system or in the methodology but in the the Holy Spirit, so let your confident be in him; but it is helpful to know how to rightfully handle the word of truth and share your faith with great clarity.


 I have personally summarized and included additional points which I thought would be helpful.

GRACE
Heaven is a free gift- Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
It is not earned or deserved- it is completely free because "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes will not perish but have everlasting life", (John 3:16).

MAN
Is a sinner- The bible teaches us that all of us have sinned and that we have all fallen short of God’s standard. To get  into heaven we would have to be perfect as Jesus once said “You therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”, and Romans 3:23 says that “but all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God".
Cannot save himself- Because we have all fallen short we can not save ourselves so the bible says that, “For by grace you have been saved through faith….not because of works lest any man should boast”, (Ephesians 2:8,9).

GOD
Is merciful- therefore doesn’t want to punish us even though we are guilty for breaking is commandments, hurting him and hurting one another. But God is just and Holy and must deal with sin. But he loves us very much and this is the dilemma, either God gives us what we deserve for our sins or he finds a way in which he can forgive the guilty without himself being a bad judge. Since we don’t have the solution, God came up with the solution which sinners like me and you can be forgiven even if don’t deserve it. Romans 3:25-27

JESUS CHRIST
Who he is- the infinite God-man. According to the bible, Jesus Christ is God, the second person of the trinity, the creator of the universe. The bible says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, (John 1:1,14). God came down in human flesh.
What He did- He paid for our sins and purchased heaven for us, which he offers as a gift. The bible says that one day, we will all be judged. All our sins and everything we have ever done will be on display and if we are found guilty then we will go to hell. The truth as we have already seen is that there is no one good and we are all guilty. in the old testament God’s provision for sin was described in all the foreshadowing and types where a lamb would have to be sacrificed but the bible tells us that this could never really take away our sins or the guilt of it. In the new testament a phrophet named John the Baptist announced that God’s perfect Lamb had finally come which was Jesus. Because we were “all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord laid on him all of our iniquities”, (Isaiah 53:6). Therefore Jesus Christ became our substitute, Jesus willingly took my place so that I don’t’ have face God’s judgement and have fellowship with Jesus and God because my sins separated me from them and now that my sins is been dealt with by Jesus on the cross, I can come freely and know the one who created me. Jesus purchased a place for us in heaven. It is a free gift, give to us in love. Jesus was then raised from the dead after he suffered for us so that we can know that his sacrifice was accepted and that we are truly forgiven. This is known as the resurrection. But gifts are to be received so how do you receive it?

FAITH
What it is not- mere intellectual assent nor temporal faith. May people believe that Jesus Christ lived and died and rose again. And they suppose that this is faith. But this is merely an intellectual assent to certain historical facts. Other people think that they may have faith in Christ, but when you ask them what they really mean they are only trusting in Christ for the temporal things of life, such as health, or their children, or their finances or strength or guidance. But what the bible means by faith is trusting in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation- resting our hope of eternal life in Christ.
What it is- trusting Jesus alone for salvation. People can only trust in two things either on our own efforts or the efforts of Jesus Christ. So the motive for living a Christian life is gratitude for all what God has done for us in Jesus. The bible says that,  “the love of Christ controls us”, (2 Corinthians 5:14). 

And then you can close off by asking them if they would receive this gift of eternal life and repent of their sins and trust Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

K.Oni

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Sex and the Single Person

By John Piper
If the Bible addresses an issue with unrelenting frequency and urgency, and if that issue is one of the strongest natural forces in the world today, then ministers of the Word of God are obligated sooner or later to declare God's will on that issue. The sexual life of the unmarried person is of great concern to God. Even those of you who have not entrusted yourselves to Christ for salvation and do not love God, even you are obligated to obey what God has to say about your sexual desires. Though you rebel against his ownership, you are God's. He made you and has an absolute right to tell you what is good for you. He sent Jesus Christ into the world to overcome your rebellion and to make peace by the blood of his cross. And my prayer at the very outset is that you might turn from your rebellion and unbelief and disobedience, and that you might trust Christ for forgiveness and live for the glory of God.

Your Body Is Not Your Own

Then I would be able to say to everyone in this room, do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).
O, what an offensive word to our rebel human nature. The body in which you dwell is not yours to do with simply as you please. God bought your body from the curse of sin by the payment of his own Son, and now your body should serve one all-encompassing purpose: "Glorify, God in your body." As Paul said in Romans 6:12-14,
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies to make you obey their passions. Do not yield yourselves to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as people who have been brought from death to life, and your bodily parts to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
God is concerned about what you do with your body. He created them, he bought them, he owns them, he indwells them, and what we do with them demonstrates to the world who our Lord is. If I were to stop here with this general admonition, our consciences would give us some guidance in specific cases, say, of whether we should smoke, or drink, or use drugs, or overeat, or never exercise, or get too little sleep, or engage in sexual relations outside marriage, or masturbate, or wear enticing clothing, or other things that misuse or abuse the body. But what our consciences approve and disapprove of is not always an accurate guide to what God approves of. Therefore, the Bible goes beyond the general admonition, "Glorify God in your body," to the more specific guidance, especially in the matter of sexual desires. So I aim to be more specific, too.

Why Did God Invent Sexual Desire?

The question I want to start with is this: Why did God invent sexual desire? Before I try to answer that question from Scripture, let me define sexual desire. First of all, I am not including homosexual desires. Until I have a chance to preach on homosexuality I'll just say three things about it:
  1. If you are here and homosexual, I pray that you will not feel driven away, but will stay and seek help.
  2. The practice of homosexuality is sin; it is contrary to God's revealed will.
  3. Homosexual desires, like many other kinds of desires, are abnormal, and those who have them should seek through prayer, fellowship, and Christian counseling to be changed. It is not easy, but it is possible.
When I ask the question, why God created sexual desire, I have in mind that normal craving for sexual stimulation and intimacy that begins with early adolescence and continues, for some it seems, indefinitely, but for many mellows out into a less visceral craving but nevertheless real desire for personal and bodily intimacy. I acknowledge that in these years of sexual desire there are many people with very vigorous, and people with very mild, sexual desires. I don't mean to treat anyone along this continuum as better or worse than another. When I speak of those with sexual desires I refer to the vast majority of people who from their early adolescence have to deal one way or another with God-given sexual appetite.
Now, why did he create it? Let me give one brief answer and one expanded answer. The brief answer comes from Genesis 1:27, 28, "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it."' Since sexual desire aims finally at consummation in sexual intercourse, and sexual intercourse is the means that man and woman have of multiplying and filling the earth, therefore, I infer that one of the reasons God created us with sexual desire is to see to it that mankind would indeed fill the earth with people. And for some people procreation of children is the only justification for seeking gratification of sexual desires. But we will see in more detail next week, when we talk about sexual relations in marriage, that the apostle Paul has quite a different view.
A second answer to the question, why God created sexual desire, is found, I believe, in 1 Timothy 4:1-5,
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
In this text Paul is trying to help Timothy know what to say when false teachers arise (and there were some already at Ephesus) who teach that gratification of sexual appetite in marriage and the gratification of appetite for food should be cut back as far as possible. That means, abstain from marriage altogether and avoid unnecessary foods. It is no accident that Paul mentions marriage and eating together here and then treats them as one problem. Because the issue is really bodily pleasure, unnecessary bodily pleasure, whether through sexual stimulation or through eating food. The false teachers said, "Cut bodily pleasure to the minimum that will allow you to live."
Paul's response to this ascetic teaching is very plain in verses 4 and 5:
Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
Why did God create sexual desire and sexual intercourse to satisfy it? Why did God create hunger and food to satisfy it? Verse 3 gives a very straightforward answer: "God created (these things) to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth." All the unnecessary, innocent pleasures of life (and there are thousands of them) were created by God to be occasions for thanksgiving to God by those who believe and know the truth. The reason God created sexual desire and the event of sexual intercourse to satisfy it is not merely to fill the earth with people, but also to give another unique and exquisite occasion for the ascent of thanks from two hearts full of gratitude for God's gift of sexuality.
And let us not be deceived by the world. This gift was designed for believers and no one else. Look at verse 3, "God created these things to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe." By its very design it can only be for believers, because it is designed as an occasion for thanksgiving. But those who do not "know the truth"—the truth, namely, that God is the giver of all good gifts and worthy to be glorified and thanked—those who hold down this truth (Romans 1:18, 25) and do not trust in God cannot satisfy their sexual desires according to the design of God. All their sexual behavior is sin because it does not spring from faith in God (Romans 14:23) and does not result in thanks to God. Sexual pleasure belongs rightfully only to believers. All others are thieves and robbers. Don't ever let the world deceive you into thinking that we Christians are trying to borrow and purify a limited amount of the world's pleasure. God created sexual pleasure for his subjects alone, and the world has rebelled against him and stolen his gifts and corrupted them and debased them and turned them into weapons of destruction and laughed at those who remain faithful to the King and use his gifts according to his Word. But we will not be deceived. The gift is ours, and we will consecrate it, that is, we will keep it pure, as Paul says in verse 5, "by the word of God and prayer."
Since we believe that God designed sexual desire and that he gave it to us for our good (otherwise we wouldn't give thanks), we infer something that is completely reasonable, namely, that God knows how each of his creatures can make the most of this desire and that, therefore, his Word is an infallible guide to maximum sexual fulfillment. I said this is a reasonable inference. Only so if you really trust God. The world will laugh its head off at the thought that biblical restraints make for maximum sex. But if we believe that God is good and that in Christ he has forgiven all our sins, then we must believe that his words of guidance on sexual matters will bring us the greatest possible fulfillment, even if it means total abstinence.

Why Is Sexual Fulfillment Intended Only for Marriage?

Now, what are his words of guidance to those who are not married? The Greek word from which we get "pornography" is porneia. In the New Testament porneia is translated as "fornication," "unchastity," or "immorality." Generally (though not always) it refers to sexual promiscuity of unmarried people. In Matthew 15:19 Jesus says, "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication." Here it stands side by side with adultery, adultery being the specific sin of sexual unfaithfulness in marriage, and fornication being the more general word covering illicit sexual relations for persons who are not married.
The New Testament as well as the Old condemns fornication, or sexual intercourse outside marriage, as sin. In Galatians 5:19 Paul lists it with the works of the flesh. In 2 Corinthians 12:21 he is ready to weep over those who have not repented of this sin. In Ephesians 5:3 he says fornication should never have to be named among Christians. In Colossians 3:5 fornication is first on Paul's list of things we should put to death in ourselves. And in Revelation 9:21 it is listed with murder, sorcery, and theft as things a hardened people would not repent of.
In 1 Corinthians 7:2 Paul says,
Because of temptation to immorality (i.e., fornication) each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
Then he goes on in verses 8 and 9:
To the unmarried (men and women) and to the widows I say it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.
The point I want to take from these verses is that, according to Scripture, all sexual intercourse before marriage is immoral. There are many man-centered moralists today who admit that indiscriminate sexual relations are wrong but who argue that, when a couple is engaged or has a deep friendship, then things are different and sexual relations are a legitimate expression of love. But the biblical view cannot be stretched to cover that concession. Paul considers the possibility that a couple may be aflame with passion for each other, and his one and only release from continence is marriage: "If they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry!" God not only created sexual desire, but he also created the perfect sphere for its gratification, marriage. And any attempt to alter his design is not only immoral before God, but destructive of personal relations and individual fulfillment.
This raises the next question: Why did God command that we find gratification for our sexual desires only in marriage? To the best of my knowledge, God does not give us a direct answer to this question in his Word, nor is he obligated to. Sometimes God leaves the wisdom of his commands for us to discover by experience. Those who disobey him discover it through tragedy. Those who obey discover it through patience and joy.
The way I have tried to understand God's wisdom and love in limiting sexual intercourse to marriage is by asking, "What is it that distinguishes marriage from all other heterosexual relations?" The biblical answer to that question is that marriage is distinguished from other chosen relationships by its permanence. Marriage is a commitment made for a lifetime, till death do us part. 1 Corinthians 7:39,
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
There is no other relationship between a man and a woman requiring that kind of permanent commitment. Therefore, in marriage God has designed a unique and stable and lasting relation for our most intimate expression of love. I believe experience confirms that something good and beautiful is lost from our sexual intimacy in marriage if we gave ourselves away outside that union. God can forgive that sin, but the scar he does not remove. The act will never be the same again. There is an inexpressible deepening of the union of marriage, which God intended, when a husband and wife can lie beside each other in perfect peace and freedom and say, "What I have just given you I have never given to another." I speak to those for whom it is not too late: Do not throw that away.
I find it helpful to use the analogy of Jesus' words in Matthew 7:6, "Don't cast your pearls before swine." It is possible to debase the truth by dispensing it willy-nilly. There are some truths that are too precious to be discussed in hostile, worldly settings. That's the way it is with our bodies, too. Nobody dispenses his bodily affections indiscriminately. You don't shake hands with all the people you nod to. You don't hug all the people you shake hands with. You don't kiss all the people you hug. And I would argue that there is a pearl of great value, a pearl of emotional, spiritual, physical intimacy, which can only be placed in one container without being debased and ruined, and that is the strong, permanent velvet-lined case of marriage. The unique, personal sexual fulfillment in the permanence of marriage for those who have kept themselves pure is one of the best explanations for why God limited the gratification of sexual desires to marriage.
The implication of all this for the single person with average sexual desires is not easy. Even if a person gets married in his early twenties, he is confronted with a preceding decade of sexual stress. And for those who remain single, whether by choice or not, the problem of handling sexual desires continues much longer. What help can we give to these people, among whom I include everybody from thirteen years on up who is unmarried and yet feels desires for sexual stimulation and gratification? My main burden for you in this category is that you glorify God in your bodies by keeping yourself free from any enslavement, except to God. In Romans 6:16 Paul said,
Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
And in 1 Corinthians 6:12 the proud Corinthian libertines said, "All things are lawful for me," but Paul responded, "Yet I will not be enslaved by anything." The meaning of that little interchange is that it is possible to be enslaved in the name of freedom. That is the situation in the world today. In the name of sexual freedom, we are a nation enslaved to our sexual cravings. If you want to know what a nation is hooked on, just observe what the media masters use to get and hold our attention. Sex sells everything. It sells movies, cars, furniture, clothes, booze, news, cigarettes, and sporting gear. Sex sells because we are a nation enslaved to the second, third, and fourth look at the body in the picture. But it shall not be so among you, because you have been set free from sin and are now enslaved to God. Therefore, glorify God by keeping yourself free from the enslaving forces of the world.

Ten Words of Counsel for Single People

I have ten words of counsel for persons who are not married but who have to deal with sexual desires. Some of these have a masculine orientation because I know the male temptation firsthand but not the female. Some are dos and some are don'ts, but all aim to be positive in that they are intended to help you preserve your freedom from any enslavement but God's.
First, do not seek regular sexual gratification through masturbation, that is, the stimulation of your own self to sexual orgasm or climax. Masturbation does not solve sexual pressure for very long, it tends to become habitual, it produces guilt, and it contradicts the God-given design of sexuality. Our bodies and desires were designed for the sexual union of persons, and masturbation contradicts that design. But perhaps worst of all, masturbation is inevitably accompanied and enabled by sexual fantasies in the mind which we would not allow ourselves in reality and so we become like the Pharisees: well scrubbed on the outside, but inside full of perversions.
Second, do not seek sexual satisfaction through touching or being touched by another person, even if you stop short of sexual intercourse. Everyone knows that intimate touching is the prelude and preparation for sexual intercourse, and therefore it belongs where that event belongs, namely, in marriage. Where the permanent commitment that characterizes marriage is missing, caressing becomes depersonalized manipulation; it turns the other's body into a masturbation device to get a private physical thrill. God made us in such a way that if we try to turn that moment of touching into a personal, spiritual expression of love, we are not able to do it without making promises of faithfulness. Implicit in our hearts at that moment is the statement: You may touch me because you have promised never to leave me nor forsake me. You may have me because you are me. We are so made that we cry out for permanence when giving away our most intimate gifts. They belong in marriage.
Third, avoid unnecessary sexual stimulation. It doesn't take any brains to know that there are enough X-rated movie houses and adult bookstores in this city to keep a person livid 24 hours a day. To visit these crummy places is temptation enough. But the real test is what you do with the more legitimate sources of sexual stimulation. PG movies, Timemagazine, the newspaper, television, drugstore magazine racks, rock music lyrics. In our society you cannot escape sexual stimulation, but you can refuse to seek it. And you can avoid it often when you see it coming. This is the great test of whether we are enslaved or free—can we say no to the slave driver in our bodies who wants us to keep on looking and keep on lusting.
Fourth, when the stimulation comes and the desire starts to rise, perform a very conscious act of transfer onto Christ. I wish I had learned this much earlier in my life. While riding down the road, if some billboard or marquee puts a desire into my mind for some illegitimate sexual pleasure, I take that desire and say, "Jesus, you are my Lord and my God, and my greatest desire is to know and love and obey you, so this desire is really for you. I take it from your competitor, I purge it, and I direct it to you. Thank you for freeing me from the bondage of sin." It is remarkable what control we can gain over the direction our desires take, if we really long to please Christ.
Fifth, pray that God would give you, in ever-increasing strength, a longing to know and love and obey him above all else. I read a sermon once entitled, "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection." The point was, there is no better way to overcome a bad desire than to push it out with a new one. It is in prayer that we summon the divine help to produce in us that new desire for God.
Sixth, bathe your mind in God's Word. Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17). There is nothing that renews the mind and enables it to assess things God's way like regular meditation on the Word of God. The person who does not arm himself with the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) is going to lose in the battle for his or her body.
Seventh, keep yourself busy, and when it is time for leisure, choose things that are pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Idleness in a world like ours is asking for trouble. It is much harder for sexual temptation to gain a foothold when we are busy at some productive task. And if you need some fresh air, walk in a park, not down Hennepin Avenue.
Eighth, don't spend too much time alone. Be with Christian people often. Don't forsake the assembling of yourselves together, but encourage one another, stir each other up to love and good works. Talk of your struggles with trusted friends. Pray for each other and hold each other accountable.
Ninth, strive to think of all people, especially people of the opposite sex, in relation to eternity. It is not easy to fantasize about a person if you think about the eternal torment they may shortly be suffering in hell because of their unbelief. Nor is it easy to disrobe in your imagination a person you know to be an eternal sister or brother in Christ. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:16, "From now on we know no one according to the flesh." We view everybody from God's eternal perspective.
Finally, resolve to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and he will add to you everything you need sexually. It may be a spouse. It may be the grace and freedom to be single and pure and content. That is up to God. Ours is to seek the kingdom. Or to put it another way, our all-consuming passion must be to glorify God in our bodies by keeping ourselves free from every enslavement but one: the joyful, fulfilling slavery to God.