Two Shall Become One

Having just preached on one of Jesus’ more controversial teachings, I wanted to make my manuscript was available to the faithful believers at Southside Baptist Church so that it may be of help to them–and hopefully it will be of help to others as well.  Ironically, this is around the 15th anniversary of a seminary paper I wrote on this same topic while in a New Testament Survey class under one of my father’s in the faith, Dr. Ken Easley.

May the Lord be pleased to expand our understanding of His glory and our need of Him!

Two Shall become One (Mark.10:1-12)
Before we read our Scripture, let me begin with a few cautions.  Any sermon you hear ought to be listened to carefully.  If that’s true for any sermon, it’s especially true of this one.  The topic we address today is incredibly prone to misunderstanding.

Divorce is no easy subject because many of you have experienced the pain it can mete out.  Many of your parents divorced.  Many of you have divorced.  Simply bringing up the topic can evoke deep-seated feelings associated with the uprooting of our most intimate relationships—husband and wife, parents and child.

The Church has responded with extreme errors.  At times, she’s been too harsh, saying divorce and remarriage are never permissible for any reason, making divorcees feel like second-class Christians, as if divorce is equivalent to the unpardonable sin—and that’s wrong, and no better than divorce itself.

At other times, the Church has overcorrected and become too soft, as if it’s no big deal, saying divorce and remarriage are permissible for any reason.  In doing so, the Church has compromised the holiness of marriage and God’s intentions for it.

Both errors seem like the proper approach in the moment, but both are destructive in the long run.  So what’s the right answer?

     Mark 10:1-12—“ And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the   Jordan, and crowds gathered to him a-gain. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (English Standard Version)

Mark tells us Jesus is making His way into Judea by way of the area “beyond the Jordan” (v.1a), also known as Perea.  He’s teaching the crowds (v.1b), and the Pharisees show up “to test him”.  They ask, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (v.2).  Matthew’s Gospel adds the phrase “for any cause?” (Matt. 19:3), further evidence they’re trying to trap Him.

The Pharisees throw Jesus into the debate between the Hillel and the Shammai views.  All Jews agree divorce and remarriage is allowable in the case of adultery.  The debate is whether there are any other permissible reasons.  The Pharisees are trying to provoke Jesus, perhaps hoping to see Him martyred like John the Baptist.  Remember Herod Antipas had married his own sister-in-law, and John had denounced the union and was beheaded for it.  So what can we say about divorce?

1.  Our view of divorce must come from the Bible and not our individual feelings (vv.3-8). Jesus answers the Pharisees, “What did Moses command you?” (v.3).  The idea is, “Who cares about Hillel and Shammai?  What has God said?”  They answer, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away” (v.4).  They’re referring to Deuteronomy 24, which contains the much contended word that divided the two sides.

     Deuteronomy 24:1—“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house.

The word indecency is the debated word; and it comes down to emphasis, or should we say emphasis.  The Hillel view said divorce and remarriage are permitted for “any indecency”.  Examples they gave for divorcing a woman included burning the toast, talking to a man, or exposing her ankles while twirling.  The Shammai view said divorce and remarriage are permitted for “any indecency,” usually understood to be sexual immorality.

But Jesus didn’t side with either.  “Because of your hard-ness of heart he wrote you this commandment” (v.5).  That’s important because upon closer inspection of what Moses writes (Dt.24:3-4), God never commands divorce in cases of indecency but only acknowledges that divorce happens because of sinful hearts.

Jesus then quotes Scripture too but a Scripture that predates the Mosaic Law and predates the need for the Law because there was no sin in the beginning.  Jesus says, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ” (v.6; cf. Gen. 1:27).   “ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.” (vv.7-8; cf. Gen.2:24).

Jesus is retightening the screws of God’s original intention for marriage so tightly it shocks the disciples, “And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter” (v.10).

2.  Marriage is a lifetime covenant (vv.5-9). As a covenant, marriage reflects God’s covenant keeping character.  This is why Jesus says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (v.9).  The concession Moses made for divorce was not to open the door wide for divorce but to discourage and warn against it.  Why is Jesus so adamant on this point?

      3.  Marriage is a work of God (v.9). Even if a husband and wife are not Christians, marriage is still a work of God’s providence and evidence of God’s law written on the (Rom.2:14-16).

     4.  Divorce is never pleasing to God. There is no such thing as a divorce that pleases God and brings Him honor (Mal.2:16).  To say otherwise would be like saying there are times when lying or stealing please God.  Of course, God can take divorce and work good out of it, but that does not give us permission.

Yet, sometimes divorce is the lesser of two evils.  For example, God commanded Israel not to intermarry with pagan idol worshipers (Dt.7:3-4), but many did it anyway.  In Ezra 10:3, the solution was to divorce the pagan wives.  But this does not mean Christians should divorce unbelievers today. In the New Testament, we are commanded to stay if the unbeliever agrees to it (1 Cor.7:13).

     5.  Marriage can be dissolved because of sexual immorality (vv.10-12). In Matthew’s Gospel, we find what the Church calls the “exception clause” for divorce, meaning divorce in such cases may not be sin for one of the spouses.  “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt.19:9; cf. 5:32).  Notice we’re saying sexual immorality can dissolve a marriage, but it doesn’t have to.

The reason sexual immorality can dissolve a marriage is because it strikes at the most unique and intimate aspect of marriage.  Therefore, sex outside of marriage is the vilest threat to its holiness.  In the Old Testament, the penalty for adultery was death (Lev. 20:10).  That would end the marriage!

But Jesus uses the Greek word porneia, a word covering every kind of sexual sin.  It would include a husband raping his wife for example.  And thinking of sexual immorality this way should at least make us sympathetic to the possibility of allowing divorce in cases of persistent physical abuse because such behavior is so far removed from what it means for a husband to love his wife as Christ loves the Church and a wife submitting to her husband as unto the Lord (Eph.5:25-33).  All sin erodes the foundation of marriage, but these are like an earthquake.  And spouses are faced with the decision: Do I renew this broken covenant or dissolve it.

      6.  Marriage can be dissolved because of desertion (1 Cor. 7:15).  The nature of the New Covenant in Christ’s blood is so different from the Old that the Holy Spirit inspires Paul to give a second “exception clause” for divorce.

     1 Corinthians 7:15—But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

     7.  Divorce should never be easy to obtain. Even when divorce is permissible, is it always the best option?  No, it should always be the last option.  Spouses should persistently aim for reconciliation.

Since divorce is permissible in cases of sexual immorality and desertion by an unbeliever, we believe remarriage is permissible in such cases.  But what about remarriage after an unlawful divorce?

     8.  Remarriage after an unlawful divorce leads to adultery (vv.11-12). “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (vv.11-12).  The disciples exclaim in Matthew’s Gospel, “It is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10b).  Jesus agrees: “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given” (Matt. 19:11).  Staying married is a supernatural act of God’s providence.

     9.  Remarriage might be permissible if a divorce occurs prior to conversion.  We are stretching Scripture to the edge, so we want to be careful.  But my personal conviction is that if you were an unbeliever at the time of your divorce, then remarriage is permissible without being adultery.

      Colossians 2:13-14—And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumci-sion of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

There is no record of debt against a Christian for pre-conversion divorce and no legal demand that a Christian remain unmarried.

     10.  Remarriage does not consign someone to perpetual adultery. Only the initial consummation of the new marriage is adulterous.  Otherwise there would be no room for God’s grace and God’s forgiveness for the sins of divorce and adultery.  The gospel would not be good news for those who have sinned in this way.  But there are no scarlet-Ds or scarlet-As on the chest of those who repent of their sin and trust Christ for pardon.

Desiring marriage?
1.  Don’t marry an unbeliever (2 Cor.6:14-15)
2.  Don’t consider divorce an option
3.  Don’t underestimate the struggles of marriage
4.  Remember that marriage is about Christ and not you

Contemplating divorce?
1.  Make sure it’s your last option
2.  Make sure it’s for biblical reasons

Desiring remarriage?
1.  Make sure your prior divorce had biblical grounds
2.  Resolve all issues from the previous marriage (as far as it’s up to you)
3.  Make sure you are humble about your divorce (this is evidence of true repentance)

Self-Induced Faith

There’s a lot of confusion out there when it comes to the word “faith”.  Most of it creeps in over time as people become increasingly removed from the biblical concept.  Of course, some use the Bible to justify their self-revelatory versions of “faith”.  And everyone but atheists (whose “faith” is in “nothing-ness”) seem to have some kind of “faith,” usually affectionately termed “my faith”.

The trouble with these misconceptions of faith is they’re mostly self-induced, meaning faith is treated like something you must drum-up from within, more like an emotion.

So what’s the big problem with self-induced faith?
1. Self-induced faith hijacks the doctrine of sin.  It underestimates the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God.  We are more wicked than we know; and God is more holy than we can conceive.  Human depravity is total.  Our mind, will, and emotions are incapable of the righteousness required by God to enter His eternal presence.  As Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
 
2. Self-induced faith hijacks salvation through faith alone in Christ alone.  Self-induced “faith” is really “faith in faith”–or more specifically, faith in self.  Often, people with self-induced faith talk more about being “spiritual” than having faith because they aren’t keen on historical, propositional truth as recorded in the Bible.  The result is a self-induced faith directed toward self while biblical faith is directed toward Jesus.  And any faith directed toward the self is by definition a “faith + works” system of salvation that falls short of God’s glory.

3. Self-induced faith hijacks salvation by God’s grace alone. If “faith” is something you must work up in yourself, God’s grace is rendered meaningless. God grace is God’s undeserved favor, meaning no amount of good deeds or self-actualization (aka, “name it and claim it”) can earn God’s grace.  You can’t earn that which is un-earnable.  Self-induced faith turns biblical faith into “works of the law”.

4. Self-induced faith hijacks the doctrine of perseverance.  If faith is something you are primarily responsible for coming up with, then faith is something you are primarily responsible for maintaining.  And there is no guarantee that you will keep “the faith”.

Biblical Faith
Biblical faith, on the other hand, acknowledges man’s inability to come to God for salvation on his own because it recognizes the sinfulness of sin and the holiness of God.

Biblical faith acknowledges that man’s only hope is trusting (faithing) in Jesus Christ alone for deliverance from his sin debt to God.

Therefore, biblical faith in Christ alone is the Christian’s only hope of salvation and perseverance because only biblical faith depends on God’s grace.  Biblical faith is grace-dependent.  In fact, faith is a gift of God’s grace.

Ephesians 2:8–For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

Philippians 1:29–For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.

We can no more perfectly obey the command to “Believe” than the command of “Do not lie.”  Faith must first be granted by God according to His eternal purposes.  But self-induced faith turns biblical faith into “works of the law” rather than a gift of grace.

So how do you know you have received the gift of faith?  That’s the question people often pose in reaction to salvation by God grace through a faith that is itself a gift of grace.  If you are trusting in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins and living out the “obedience of faith” (Rom.1:5; 16:26), then you’ve received His grace.

Sola Fide,
Jeremy Vanatta

Southside Baptist’s Website

I’m very excited and thankful for the launching of Southside Baptist Church’s website.  It still needs a little work, but for the most part it’s ready to go.  I encourage you to look it over.  We pray it will be blessing to many!  If we can be of any help to you in your walk with Jesus, please let us know.

http://www.ssbclebanon.com

Sola Gratia,
Jeremy Vanatta

Santa Would Make a Horrible god

Have you ever really thought about it that way: that Santa would make a horrible god?  He would.  Receiving good things from Santa requires you to be “nice” rather than “naughty”, “good” rather than “bad”.  In some ways, that is similar to the true God of Christianity.  God does reward the righteous.

But what is Santa’s definition, or standard, of “good”?  If the definition of good is when a person’s “good” deeds outweigh his bad, then I guess Santa then must make distinctions between those whose “good” deeds are at 51% versus those at 63%, 75%, and 81%, etc.  Shouldn’t those with more “goodness” get more “good” things?  And I guess, all those who fall below the 51% mark get nothing.  Those that come in at 49% get the same nothing as those who are only 1% “good”.

What a horrible god Santa would make.  I imagine many a million kids on Christmas morning discover that apparently they’re not “good” enough, that they just didn’t measure up to Santa’s standard of righteousness.  And what hope do they have?  None, because Santa would make a horrible god.  They have no way of knowing what 51% looks like.  Worse yet, why would anyone think that 51% good is good enough, or even 99% for that matter?  Is a glass of water with only 1% pig manure “good” enough.  This is why we need Jesus so desperately.

Jesus didn’t come into the world to just make it possible for us to be righteous.  Jesus came into the world to be our righteousness through His perfectly obedient life, His perfect substitutionary death on the cross, and His perfect victory over sin and death.  All who put their faith in Jesus as there only hope, turning from their sin and turning to Him, will receive His imputed righteousness.  The gift of Heaven is not based on being naughty or nice; it’s based on the perfection of Christ on our behalf and distributed according to the riches of God’s grace and mercy in accordance with His sovereign purpose.  May God be gracious to us and our children as we teach them to treasure Jesus this Christmas.

Sola Gratia,
Jeremy Vanatta

Antinomianism: Still Extant and Slippery

I am recently finishing up an interesting book I wanted to recommend to those interested in the topic of Antinomianism.  Mark Jones has written an excellent historical and theological analysis of the subject in his book “Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest?”

The most significant take away of the book is how the Antinomian view of sanctification claims a high Christology in regards to God’s grace and justification by faith alone yet falls desperately short of the Christo-centric approach to which they claim to hold.

Read it for yourself, and be challenged by its conclusion that justification by faith alone in no way does away with the reality of a grace-fueled sanctification of a faith that works hard to kill indwelling sin and obey God.

Sola Gratia,
Jeremy Vanatta

Man-Centered Methods in Parenting

As discussed in the previous article Beyond Behavior: Dealing with the Heart, parenting is no easy task because we are not just dealing with our children that sin.  We are also dealing with our own sinful hearts.  In order to discipline our children biblically, we must be aware of the ways in which our sinful pride manifests itself in our parenting.  At the end of the day, our sin is pride and can be rightly described as very much man-centered rather than Christ-centered.  Here are what seem to be the primary manifestations of prideful discipline in parenting.

1.  Anger: Unrighteous anger is probably the greatest obstacle to godly parenting.  I would also include the use of threats in this category because of their close relationship.  In just one outburst of sinful anger, we can destroy days or weeks of godly parenting.  Anger is a man-centered method of parenting because it puts the focus on fear of the parent rather than fear of God.  Using anger as a parenting method usually only leads to bitterness in the hearts of both child and parent.  Sinful anger is very critical, demanding, harsh, and the child will struggle to see any real love in dad or mom.  There is such a thing as righteous anger, but parents must be prudent.

2.  Humiliation: Humiliation in parenting is when the parent plays on the child’s emotions in order to induce “feelings” of repentance in the child.  The problem with the use of humiliation is that it produces only a worldly sorrow rather than a godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10).  Further, it only serves to debase the child and produce bitterness in them.  Remembering the Golden Rule is crucial for avoiding the humiliation of our children in the process of disciplining (Matt. 7:12).

2 Corinthians 7:10—For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret,  whereas worldly grief produces death.

Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

3.  Delayed Obedience:  Another common mistake that Christian parents make is in substituting the requirement of biblical obedience for a lesser form of obedience that is delayed.  We would never want our children to be delayed in their obedience about crossing a street, touching a hot stove, or snorting cocaine because the damage will already have been done.  The same is true with all issues of obedience.  While grace should abound toward the child, parents must insist that their children do what they say, when they say it, with an attitude of respect.  Delayed obedience is really just a more subtle form of making threats.

4.  Bribery:  The use of bribery in parenting is the attempt of the parent to change a child’s behavior through the use of enticement.  The problem with this man-centered method is that the parent is appealing to the child’s sin-nature.  In effect, the child’s selfishness is being fertilized.  They are being taught to obey for the sake of getting something they want and not simply for the joy of knowing that they have done what is right.  Here we must make a difference between bribery and reward.  Bribery is always negative because of its aim to entice.  Rewards, however, can be a good way of showing grace and appreciation to a child.  Normally, rewards should not be pre-announced to the child but should be a kind of surprising-grace.

Undoubtedly, there are other man-centered methods of discipline in parenting, but these should help Christians recognize the more prominent ones.  By God’s grace, may we discipline our children in a Christ-like way.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

Precious Babies

Among the most sensitive issues with which pastors must deal is the question of salvation regarding babies and very young children that die, whether in utero, infancy, or prior to conscious awareness of sin.  (I would also include here the mentally impaired/special needs person, but for the sake of this article I will simply use the terms baby/babies.)  Because of the deeply personal sensitivity of this issue, I will make four clear and concise statements that I believe are plainly supported by God’s Word.

1.  Babies are not innocent:  This is harshest of the four, but the Bible teaches that there is no such category as an innocent person.  Not only are we born sinful, but we are conceived in the womb as sinful (Jn. 3:1-12; Eph. 2:1-5; Ps. 51:5).  Sin was imputed to us through our ancestor Adam (Rom. 5:12-21).  Physical death, no matter how early or late in life, demonstrates we are connected to the guilt of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:13-14).

Psalm 51:5—Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Psalm 58:3—The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.

Romans 5:12-14— Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

Romans 9:10-13—And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born

2.  Babies are incapable of seeing the revelation of God through conscienceBabies have Adam’s sin-nature, but at least two passages of Scripture in the New Testament give us hope for babies.  Both John 9:41 and Romans 1:20 teach that people will be judged for their sin because they are naturally capable of seeing God’s revelation yet reject this knowledge of God.  Thus, we may safely conclude that because babies are incapable of seeing or knowing God’s revelation through conscience, God will extend His grace to them in the same way that He extends grace to conscience sinners, delivering them from spiritual blindness.

John 9:41—Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”

Romans 1:20—For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse

3.  Babies that die will be saved by grace: While there is no proof-text verse that we can turn to in the Bible that babies that die will go to heaven, I do believe they will be saved based on principles found throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  The following verses lend themselves in support of this conviction (bold type is added for emphasis).

2 Samuel 12:21-23— Then his servants said to him [David] , “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.”  He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.

Psalm 22:9-10—Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breast.  On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Luke 1:15—“For he [John the Baptist] will be great before the Lord.  And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.

4.  Those who never hear the gospel will be damned eternally:  I have added this fourth statement because talking about babies as being “ignorant” of their need for salvation inevitably leads some to conclude that people who never have an opportunity to hear the gospel will either be saved or at least given a future opportunity to believe.

This category of the “ignorant”, however, is different than babies.  People who never hear the gospel are not ignorant of God’s existence or their sin against Him (Rom. 1).  Although these people are ignorant of God’s saving work through Jesus, they are guilty and accountable because both creation and their own conscience bear witness of God and His righteousness (Rom. 1).  The evidence of their judgment is physical death (Rom. 5:14).

Death’s reign over mankind spares no one.  The good news is that babies are covered by the blood of Jesus by God’s grace.  The bad news is that people who never hear the gospel aren’t.  Why?  Because those who sinned between Adam and Moses are examples of what happens to people who never hear God’s truth.  They are held accountable for their sin even though they do not sin in the same way as Adam, that is by disobeying a direct command (Rom.5:14).  Yet, they are held accountable because they have a universal God-consciousness written on their hearts.

Romans 2:12a, 14-15—For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, . . . For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

By no means do I think I’m an authority on the issue of what happens to babies that die, but I do believe the Bible gives enough clues to conclude that in God’s mysterious providence they are a part of God’s elect and precious in His sight.  It is my prayer that families who have faced the loss of a baby would find hope and peace in the words of Jesus: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt.19:13).

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta