Two Shall Become One

Having just preached on one of Jesus’ more controversial teachings, I wanted to make my manuscript 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

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

Confessions

I am thankful for the kindness of God in allowing me to read Saint Augustine’s Confessions.  I can say that it has impacted my understanding of God and of myself as much as any other book that I have ever read (aside from the Bible mind you).  I only wish that someone would have clued me into this great treasure many years ago because it would have been helpful in so many spiritual battles.

One of the first things I noticed as I began reading is Augustine’s utter awe of God.  Not one sentence in this book spoke of God flippantly.  Rather, God was held in the highest esteem, yet it was done without any hint of legalistic rigidity.

There is one thing evident above all others: Augustine had been changed by the sovereign grace of God, by the life-giving Spirit of God.  Whereas he was once enslaved to sexual promiscuity and man-centered philosophy, God awakended him to new life.  As he sat in a garden contemplating his spiritual state, he heard a voice of a child from a nearby house chanting, “Pick up and read, pick up and read.”  So he did, and in the providence of God, Augustine opened to Romans 13:13-14, which said, “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts.”  His often quoted conversion is recorded this way:

“I neither wished nor needed to read further.  At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart.  All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.”

Later in the book Augustine described his conversion this way: “You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.  You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness.  You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you.  I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you.  You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”

These kinds of statements in the Confessions about the grace of God in salvation through Jesus Christ bring the Christian reader to a point of worship.  It would be hard to imagine how a genuine believer could read such words and be unmoved.  To think back and remember how God calls sinners like me out of darkness into spiritual light humbles me and brings me to worship God for His work of salvation.  My earnest prayer is that any reader of this article would read the testimony of Augustine and that God would do the same in them.  May He turn dark hearts to light!  May He turn light hearts to ever brighter lights!  May He show every reader that no good thing lies within us, and that we need Him more than our next breath!

Well, time and space would not permit me to share the numerous quotations that set my soul soaring and those that brought me to the depths of the valley, but suffice it to say that this book is worth the read.  It takes a little while to get used to reading a fourth-century document like this, but if you pick up a good translation of it, this will help immensely (I read the Oxford World’s Classic printing translated by Henry Chadwick, and it was excellent).  Also the last two or three chapters are quite philosophical in their approach to the topic of time, so be aware of that as well.

Aside from these cautions, “Pick up and read, pick up and read!”

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta

The Ephesians 4 Project: Religious Liberty

The Baptist Faith & Message 2000
Article XVII:  Religious Liberty
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

Unifying Principles of Article XVII
On this Independence Day holiday weekend, it is most appropriate that I post this particular article.  History is replete with examples of the blunders and abuses that occur when religion and the state become too cozy.  I think of the atrocities infamously known as the Crusades, Nazism, and various Islamic dictatorships.  This is why I am glad that the Baptist Faith & Message contains Article XVII on Religious Liberty.  Since God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but a Divine Independent, the church should be wary of promoting secular politics within its body.  The BF & M leaves no stone unturned on this issue but makes it abundantly clear that, “Church and state should be separate.”  Rather, the church should “render loyal obedience thereto [the state] in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God.”  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that our churches are to be religiously free from and yet conditionally accountable to the state.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta

The Ephesians 4 Project: God’s Purpose of Grace

The Baptist Faith & Message 2000
Article V:  God’s Purpose of Grace
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

Unifying Principles from Article V
The doctrine of election may be the most debated doctrine in the Baptist Faith & Message.  The debate usually revolves around one’s precise understanding of the doctrine, specifically whether one should view election as unconditional or conditional.  The purpose of The Ephesians 4 Project, however, is not to resolve this longstanding argument but to demonstrate that the Baptist Faith & Message’s statement on election is thorough enough for Southern Baptist’s holding to either unconditional or conditional election to agree to disagree, which in fact we have been doing for all of our existence as a denomination to one degree or another.

First, we need to define the terms unconditional and conditional election.  While there may be some Baptists that have found their way to a seemingly tenable “middle of the road” view of election, these two terms represent where the majority of Baptists have landed.  The following definitions themselves may not satisfy every sector of Southern Baptist life, but they are accurate enough for us to carry on an honest conversation in this article.

Unconditional election is an act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but solely because of His sovereign good pleasure.  Conditional election is an act of God before creation in which He chooses people whom He foresees responding positively to God’s offer of salvation.  In a nutshell, proponents of conditional election assert that God’s election is conditioned by man’s faith, that is God makes His elective decision based on man’s decision.  Proponents of unconditional election assert that God’s election is unconditioned, that is nothing outside of God affects His elective decision but is simply God’s sovereign choice.

We can see immediately why this can be such a controversial issue, but we must fight the temptation to be lured into a divisive debate.  In order to avoid uncooperative attitudes among Southern Baptists, let’s focus on what unifies us from the BF & M’s wording:

  1. Election is based on God’s “gracious purpose.”
  2. Election produces regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification in believing sinners.
  3. Election in no way violates man’s free agency.
  4. Election in no way nullifies the means to the end of salvation such as evangelism, preaching, prayer.
  5. Election is all about “the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness.”
  6. Election is “infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable,” and as such believers have no room for boasting.
  7. Election affirms the perseverance of the saints because God has accepted believers in Christ who are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

As long as Southern Baptists agree that God is sovereign in salvation yet man has real opportunities to turn to God for salvation, let’s be unified and preach the gospel together.  The fact remains that the doctrine of election should be a cause of rejoicing in God’s grace rather than in any effort put forth by man.  Further, the fact remains that no matter one’s view of election, no one can or will be saved unless we proclaim the gospel to unbelievers (Rom. 10:14-17) and that anyone who genuinely wants to be saved can and will be saved by trusting Christ (Jn. 3: 14-16; Rom. 10:8-13).  May God unify the SBC around Article V of the BF & M.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta

The Ephesians 4 Project: Man

The Baptist Faith & Message 2000
Article III: Man
Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation. In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.

Unifying Principles from Article III
The BF & M again presents a unifying statement of doctrine.  Southern Baptists can easily affirm that man is a special creation of God who has sinned against God and now stands in need of salvation.

There is, however, the potential for disagreement in one area of the BF & M’s wording of the doctrine of man in the phrase that man “fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. . . . as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. (italics added).  There are some Southern Baptists that would rather this section read more affirmatively of total depravity.  Total depravity is the doctrine that represents the understanding that man is born with original sin, that is an inherited sin-nature from Adam.  Total depravity does not mean that man is as sinful as he could be, but that sin has corrupted every aspect of man: including the body, mind, and will.  Proponents of this understanding would likely prefer that the BF & M read something like, “his [man’s] posterity inherit a nature and environment corrupted by sin.”

Even so, Baptists of all theological stripes agree that man has a depraved nature in need of regeneration, confirmed with the BF & M’s statement, “Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God.”  While some may disagree over some of the nuisances of this doctrine, Southern Baptists actually agree on more than they do not, and this is where an autonomous congregation’s use of their own doctrinal statement can be helpful as they hammer out differences in interpretations.

No matter our varying theological stripes, the gospel message will be proclaimed the same by Baptists that agree that man has a serious problem with sin and is in need of God’s redeeming grace and love.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta