One of our teaching pastors, Brent Van Elswyk, recently taught a sermon on marriage. It was so full of truth and insight that it has taken me over a week to get up the courage to begin to process some of what he said in the sermon. I encourage you to listen to his sermon by clicking on the link below. A lot of what I will share in this post is from his sermon.
Lately I have been wrestling with how to live, as a believer in this non-Christian culture we live in. I know I am to speak the truth, but I have been convicted that I am to speak it in a way that makes it palatable. I want to be sure when someone rejects the gospel, that they are rejecting the gospel itself, not my presentation of it. I have also felt some confusion about I am to speak the truth and show grace at the same time. After hearing the pastor's sermon I've come to a couple of conclusions that I have relieved me of some anxiety. First, speaking the truth and showing grace aren't mutually exclusive; they actually go hand in hand. Jesus modeled this through out the gospels. The only people He ever spoke harshly to, were religious leaders who pretended they were something they weren't and who were placing on others a works salvation that could not save.
The second conclusion I came to was that the ability to do both things simultaneously flows naturally from a deep, personal relationship with Jesus. Having an intimate relationship with Jesus requires I fully understanding the depth of my sin and my need of His lavish grace. It requires that I embrace the fact of His all-consuming, sacrificial love and His payment for my sin. The more time I spend with Him, the more His character and nature "rubs off" on me, allowing me to bear more and more of His image. When I was thinking about what His image looks like I settled on John 1:14, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." As I become more intimately acquainted with the Savior, I'll be filled with His truth and with His grace.
God's creation and design of marriage is a good place to illustrate how living in an ungodly culture plays out. Marriage was established and designed by God on the sixth day of Creation. In Genesis 1:26 God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Notice the pluralistic language--it is referring to the trinity, revealing relationship of the triune God who exists in three persons and, yet, is One. God then paraded animals in front of Adam, awakening in him the desire for a horizontal relationship. He created Eve from Adam's rib. They were the same, but they were also very different. One was male and one was female, not accidentally, but by God's design. Together they reflected an even more complete picture of God as image bearers. This is because their relationship was designed to reflect the relationship of the trinity. Right away marriage was established between the two. Genesis 2:24-25 states: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." They had an intimate satisfying relationship between them and with their Creator and their sexual union sealed the covenant of marriage, providing an intimate bonding, giving them pleasure, and giving them the ability to procreate.
But along came the deceiver. A sneaky of snake who was seeking to destroy what God designed. He came and essentially offered them a counterfeit religion. He did this by casting doubt on God's provisions and God's character. He did this by causing them to doubt their identity as God's image bearers, promising something better that he wasn't even capable of giving. Third, he deceived them into thinking there would be no consequences for the choices they made. Oh, the Serpent--he lured them in with his deceit. Deceived, they took his bait. Discontentment rose up in their hearts and they beheld the God-forbidden fruit and desire gave way to prideful entitlement. And they chose the counterfeit and ate.
They were immediately filled with shame and made clothes in an attempt to hide it. But leaves don't have the power to dissolve shame that wells up, causing a fear of exposure. Leaves don't have the power to clean away the stench of sin and the pride that burns within. Leaves don't have the power to resurrect spirit that has died. Leaves don't have the power to redeem.
Ever since the fall, Satan has offered us all sorts of counterfeits. He has done this by trying to get us to redefine what God has designed. Sexual identity was designed and imprinted into each being by the Creator. Now the enemy is convincing people it is a fluid thing that and one can choose. He is convincing people to redefine marriage using a variety of counterfeits--counterfeits like common-law marriage that has no covenant to protect it, serial marriage in which people repeatedly marry and divorce, same sex marriages that don't have the ability to procreate, polygamy where a man has multiple wives, and there is even suggestion that marriage to children is the way to find happiness. Satan has even offered counterfeits of the sexual act itself. There is premarital sex, extramarital sex, hooking up, pornography, sexual abuse, rape, and sex trafficking. Satan claims sex is no big deal and solely for human pleasure. But any abuse survivor, including this one, will testify that sexual abuse isn't just a physical touch. Its a touch that runs deep all the way to the heart where the spirit and the soul reside. Sex was designed by God to be the "crazy glue" that bonds a man and a woman together. It is the union of two bodies that literally binds souls together.
Brent shared that there are three purposes in marriage. First, marriage was to reflect the relationship Christ has with the church. It is a relationship of choice, entered through a covenant, and sealed by a sexual union. In that covenant we see illustrations of commitment, faithfulness, service, and sacrificial love. In marriage we have the opportunity to make the invisible love of God visible. We have the opportunity to make the invisible commitment of faithfulness of God visible. We have the opportunity to make the relational aspect of God's character visible. God's design of marriage allows us to experience and display the image of God.
Second, marriage is an opportunity to display the gospel of grace. It is an intimate, vulnerable relationship between two people. Because of this our sin, our shame, our wounds, and our selfishness surface, revealing a deep need of grace, forgiveness, and unconditional love. This is played out as each grows to be like Jesus and learns to give love, to serve, to extend grace daily, and to forgive when it is needed. This exposure of our sin and need for grace is an iron sharpening iron process that causes growth and develops His character in us. God's grace is made visible when two people learn to extend grace to each other. His character is visible when they choose to serve when they would rather be served. It is visible when they choose to love when they might feel like hating. It is visible when they show respect when everything in them wants to be disrespectful. It is visible when they forgive when they want to hold a grudge. It is visible when unkindness is repaid with kindness.
Third, marriage is designed to give us a glimpse of heaven. This is hard to believe because we are such broken people and we love so imperfectly. Yet when there is obedience to God's design and each is owning their responsibility to love, to extend grace, to build the other up, and to bond through a sexual union their are huge rewards. These rewards consists of moments of joy, satisfaction, and a sense of fulfillment for which we were created. The shared glimpses of God-painted sunsets a couple enjoys, the bonding experience that takes place through the sexual union, the joy of unmerited kindnesses received, the satisfaction of serving another, the depth of intimacy achieved when our messy sinful selves are exposed and grace is given, the miracle of a new life conceived that bears the image of both parents as well of God, the comfort of a relationship that feels familiar, the risk of passion given, and the freedom of not hiding--these all portray glimpses of heaven and the future fulfillment of our love with Jesus.
So, the question we must ask as believers is, "How do we survive living in a culture full of counterfeits?" First, we commit to going to the word to become familiar enough with the truth that we can recognize the counterfeits Satan is offering. We commit to courageously speaking the truth. Counterfeits create confusion and they devalue the real thing. Marriage was designed to tell a love story between God and His people. But, that design broke down during the fall. As a result, people have been deceived and wounded by counterfeits, not God's original design. We, as believers who are committed to the truth, can teach the truth both verbally and by example. We need to speak the truth! However, we need to do so with compassion. As transparent believers our sinfulness, brokenness, and shame are exposed. We will be more effective image bearers if we bathe our truth in compassion, recognizing that at the fall marriage became more about power and control than serving, more about personal gratification than glorifying God, more about lust than love. Counterfeits are nothing more than false promises that can't be fulfilled. They will never satisfy, they will only create deeper thirst that feels unquenchable. People need the truth, but it needs to be bathed in compassion because counterfeits always leave people wounded. Only God can satisfy the deepest needs of human hearts, not redefined sex, not redefined marriage, not reassigned genders.
Lastly, we need to realize our culture is no different from Jesus' culture. Believers in His day spoke the Truth and both the message and the messengers were hated. They were imprisoned, tortured, burned at the stake, fed to lions, and crucified. Yet, their message prevailed, not through politics, governments, or armies but by the courageous power displayed in their spoken words. It takes courage and compassion to expose counterfeits to those deceived. It is not a task for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of love to be motivated to courageously and compassionately join God's work of exposing the counterfeits of darkness and extending His love and His grace through the gospel.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy the Returning to the Beginning @ www.wendymahill.com
Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!