Sunday, September 17, 2017

DIVORCE



DIVORCE

(See Westminster Confession of faith chapter 24 paras 5 & 6)

Introduction

Charles Hodge has defined a covenant as a promise suspended upon a condition. Marriage is a conditional promise. Therefore marriage, by definition, is a covenant.

The Bible has a great deal to say about covenants. Indeed God never relates to man unless by way of covenant. God covenanted with man as represented by Adam upon man’s creation. But Adam, mankind’s federal head, broke the conditions of the covenant, i.e., the Covenant of Works, and that is why the world is in the mess it is in today!

Sin entered the world when Adam disobeyed the conditions of the creational covenant. Man separated from God in order to covenant instead, i.e., to have an illicit affair, with the devil. Thus mankind became and is dead in its trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1; 5). But the LORD God is most gracious. Indeed He entered the Garden to seek man who sought separation from Him. However, because mankind, in Adam, had wilfully deserted Him, God had grounds to divorce all of mankind. But God is gracious, for instead He announced that He was going to bring about reconciliation. 

However, He did declare that in the process of this promised reconciliation mankind would be separated into two opposing camps. There would be a section of mankind that would remain opposed to God, on account of being united or joined to, and remaining one with the devil. These would therefore receive the penalty for breaking the covenant. That penalty is, of course, everlasting divorce from God – i.e., everlasting death. And there would be another section of mankind (a multitude innumerable, Revelation 7:9) that would be rescued from the devil’s embrace and be reconciled to God. To be reconciled to God is to receive everlasting life.

We see the first announcement of God’s promise to divorce a portion of mankind and reconcile another portion in the words He spoke to the serpent directly after the Fall of man: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” Genesis 3:15.

This helps us to understand what the separation of the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares etc. on the last day (i.e., the Day of Judgment) is all about. There are those who belong to the fallen house of the devil. They are the “seed of the serpent” – i.e., the devil’s “offspring”, mentioned in Genesis 3:15. And there are those belonging to house of the “Seed of the Woman” – the Lord Jesus Christ. These are God’s adopted “offspring”, and will be wed to His Son, Jesus Christ.

In the following we are looking in particular at marital divorce. And already we have seen that marital divorce has come about because of sin. If Adam had not sinned as our covenant representative, then there would be no such thing as marital divorce. But now we live in a fallen world. Therefore there is enmity between people, sometimes even between husbands and their own wives. Sometimes this enmity will lead to marital divorce.

The Divorce Concession

Marriage was ordained by God. But God never ordained divorce. In fact we read in Malachi 2:14b-16 that God hates divorce! In the process of rebuking His people’s unfaithfulness to Him He says: “[T]he LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

Notice at least four obvious things mentioned in these verses: 
1.        The LORD God is witness in marriage. 
2.        A man’s wife is his companion by way of covenant
3.        A man and his wife are one in the marriage covenant. 
4.       The LORD God hates divorce.

I would like us to focus on the fourth point, but first reflect a little on the first three points by acknowledging the fact that there is a spiritual, i.e., a moral, and a legal, and a physical element to marriage.

God witnesses the actions between a husband and his wife. God holds both accountable to their marital oaths and vows. Should one deal treacherously or unfaithfully with the other, God sees it – He witnesses it. Therefore marriage has a spiritual or moral dimension to it in that God is watching the couple’s behaviour. The knowledge that God is watching ought to encourage married couples to behave towards their respective spouses in a God-honouring fashion.

Also, because marriage is a covenant there is also a legal aspect to it. The husband and wife had covenanted, i.e., made a conditional promise to each other. “Till death us do part” was the old way of saying it. Only the death of one or both partners should dissolve the union. The Reformed Book of Common Order puts it this way: “You have taken each other in the sight of God, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in health and in sickness, to love, cherish, and honour, so long as you both shall live.”

So, marital oaths or promises have been sworn to each other. And vows have been made to God. Therefore, those oaths and vows are morally and legally binding. Which is to say that a husband can hold the wife to them, and vice versa.

Also, there is the physical dimension to marriage. The marriage covenant has made the two one in God’s sight. The sex act is the outward physical expression that the two have become one flesh. However, the sex act is more than simply a physical action. It is an engaging of the very essence of the man with the very essence of the woman. In other words, the entire man, body, soul, spirit, mind, emotions etc., in the sex act becomes one with the entire or complete body, soul, spirit etc. of the woman.

Viewed this way it is easy to see why God forbids all sex outside of marriage. For sex beyond the pale of marriage defiles the body God has given us. Which is to say that it defiles the whole man as surely as poison affects the whole man. The Apostle Paul puts it graphically in 1 Corinthians 6:15&16: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For ‘the two,He says, ‘shall become one flesh.’

So we’ve seen then that marriage has spiritual or moral, legal, and physical aspects to it. Likewise God’s covenant with man has at least these three aspects to it. For God held Adam (our representative) responsible for all of his actions in the creation covenant. And we see from even a surface reading of the Malachi 2:14-16 passage (quoted above) that the LORD God holds marriage partners responsible for all of their actions in the marriage covenant.

Now, we’ve noted that the LORD God hates divorce. So, if the LORD God hates divorce, why then does He permit it? The LORD God has given the divorce concession because of sin. We’ve seen already that the LORD God Himself is planning to finally divorce from Himself the “seed of the serpent” (a.k.a. as the “goats” and the “tares”) on Judgment Day.

God is divorcing them, not on a whim, but because of their sin, their spiritual adultery. He has witnessed them break His covenant. Does God have any pleasure in divorcing a portion on mankind? No! The LORD God hates divorce – and so should we. This was the teaching of Jesus when He walked upon this earth. This is why the Pharisees, who are representative of the legalist heart in every man, had a question for Jesus.

We see them test Jesus on the question of marital divorce in Matthew 19:3f.: “The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’” Notice the word “lawful”, “Is it lawful?” The Pharisees cared only about the legalities of a thing. This alerts us to the fact that they had missed, wider than a long Scot’s mile, the grace of divorce! You know the old adage, “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”? That’s the way it was for these Pharisees.

Jesus set the record straight with them: “And He answered them and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” Matthew 19:4-6. Jesus pointed these “seed of the serpent” to the Scriptures – just as He did with their father the devil in the wilderness. They had the Scriptures, the Word of God. The Scriptures witnessed or testified against them.

God had made the man and his wife one flesh – something wonderful! And these men were only interested in how many ways a man could legally divorce his wife! Not being satisfied with His answer: “They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’ He said to them, ‘Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery’” Matthew 19:7-9.

Don’t miss the point of what Jesus is saying here. The Pharisees are alleging that God instituted divorce. Whereas Jesus is telling them that it wasn’t God, but sinful man, who instituted divorce. Which is another way of saying that God ordained marriage, but conceded divorce because of the hardness of man’s sinful heart. In other words, marital divorce is an act of grace on God’s part. And it is for the protection of the innocent party. But sinful man, as represented by the Pharisees, has taken the grace of God and now uses it as a licence to sin. For that’s what divorce without sufficient cause is – it’s sin!

So, we’ve looked then at the divorce concession, and we’ve seen that it is an act of grace on God’s part. God permits divorce to protect the innocent party in a marital relationship.

The Divorce Case

The Pharisees claimed that Moses commanded that if a man at a mere whim wanted to put away his wife all he had to do was give a certificate of divorce. We see Jesus deal with this wanton Scripture-twisting in His Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew 5:31&32. In Matthew 5:31 Jesus says, “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’”

Now, before we consider when a divorce case is truly a divorce case, let’s consider the context of what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:31&32. Jesus has already corrected the Pharisees faulty view of the 7th Commandment in Matthew 5:27f.: “You have heard it said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So let’s note the important connection Jesus is making between breaking the 7th Commandment – “You shall not commit adultery” and marital divorce – which He goes on to deal with. Adultery begins in the heart. For Jesus says in Matthew 15:19&20, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murder, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man…”

Nigel Lee shows us something of the depth of what Christ, in His Sermon on the Mount, is saying about adultery: “For ‘THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY!’ always meant and still means that every man or woman who gazes at a woman or man for the purpose of lusting after him or her, has already defiled him or her in his or her heart!” (Francis Nigel Lee, “Mount Sinai & the Sermon on the Mount”). Notice that adultery in the heart defiles also the person being lusted after!

After mentioning adultery Jesus immediately goes on to say that if your right eye or your right hand causes you to sin (including even committing adultery in the heart), it is better to lose that eye or hand than have your whole body cast into hell. In other words, Jesus is reminding them and us how terrible it is to lose a part of your own body. But even so it is better to lose just a part of you than to have the whole of you cast into hell-fire.

Don’t miss the connection between this and Christ’s comments on divorce that follow. In marriage, a couple is no longer two but now are one flesh. Therefore to consider divorcing your spouse is akin to considering plucking out your own eye or cutting off your own hand! It needs to be given very, very careful consideration, if considered at all. In other words, marital divorce should be no light and easy thing. It’s not just a question of giving your spouse a piece of paper. It’s a matter of life and death, Heaven and Hell! For you, i.e., the innocent party, would be casting that part of your flesh away and discarding it.

So, having demonstrated the seriousness of transgressing the 7th Commandment, Jesus then tackles head-on the question of marital divorce in Matthew 5:31&32: “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”

The Pharisees were on about giving certificates of divorce. But Jesus was on about giving grace! In other words, don’t issue a certificate of divorce for any old thing. Make sure it’s for the right reason – i.e., make sure that you are the innocent party. Otherwise, you may be encouraging her to become an adulteress by giving her an illegitimate or unlawful divorce. For, were she to remarry without being legitimately divorced (i.e., in God’s eyes), you would be placing her in an adulterous situation.

A case for divorce can be made only on the grounds of adultery or wilful desertion that can in no way be remedied by church or civil magistrate. We read at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel that when Joseph discovered that his fiancée, Mary, was with Child, he had it in mind to put her away: “Now the birth of Jesus is as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they had come together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly” Matthew 1:18&19.

So we see that Joseph had concluded that the woman with whom he had covenanted to marry must have become pregnant to another man, i.e., had committed fornication which is forbidden under the “Adultery Commandment”, i.e., the 7th Commandment. However, we know that the angel of the Lord explained to Joseph what actually had happened. However, the point being that we see that this just man had wanted to put away Mary quietly. Therefore we see that sexual immorality and adultery being detected after a contract is entered into, but before marriage, is grounds for the innocent party to dissolve that contract. And, as we’ve already seen, it’s the same for the innocent party after marriage. And when legitimately divorced he or she is free to marry another as if the offending party were dead.

Now, we need to revisit, for a moment, the Pharisee’s question to Jesus regarding Moses and the giving of the certificate of divorce. The Pharisees probably had Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in mind, which speaks of writing a woman a certificate of divorce if the man has found some “uncleanness” in her. The legalistic and graceless Pharisees focused only on the giving of the certificate, and not on the reasons for giving the certificate, i.e., as intended by Moses. In other words, divorce wasn’t simply a question of making sure you gave your unwanted spouse a bit of paper. Rather it was making sure that you had proper grounds for divorce. Thus the certificate of divorce was to protect the innocent party, which is to say that divorce was not to be whimsical – but only upon just cause.

Jesus closed the Pharisaic loophole in Matthew 5:32 by spelling out that divorce may only be given in cases of fornication, i.e., sexual immorality. Though sexual immorality includes adultery, it has a far broader scope. Were adultery the only grounds for divorce then the certificate of divorce Moses spoke of was a death warrant. For death is the maximum penalty for adultery. However, the Deuteronomy 24:1-4 passage assumes that the divorced woman will remarry. Therefore, the “uncleanness” found in her must be broader meaning than adultery as commonly understood today.

Notice Jesus says in Matthew 5:32 that “…whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery…” He’s saying that divorce for an illegitimate reason causes her to commit adultery. Therefore Jesus is presuming that the divorced woman will remarry once divorced. He is not saying that she has already committed adultery, but will be caused to commit adultery if she is divorced for reasons other than sexual immorality.

So, the certificate of divorce Moses mentions in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was given for the prevention of adultery occurring when sinful men dump their wives for no legitimate reason. Therefore the certificate of divorce is an act of God’s grace. The command was given by Moses to prevent divorce and not to secure it – as the Pharisees erroneously held. So, a case for divorce can only be made for reasons of sexual immorality.

What is included in sexual immorality? The New Testament Greek word is pornea – usually translated as fornication. Now, this is where we really need to be careful, otherwise we may end up like the Pharisees Jesus did battle with. The wicked hearts of men are apt to look for all sorts of reasons how to put asunder what God has joined together in marriage!

Now, the NIV uses the words marital unfaithfulness to translate the New Testament Greek word pornea. This is helpful because the two become one flesh in marriage – of which sexual union is its physical expression (not to mention the spiritual and the legal aspects).

Keep in mind that the fornication or the sexual immorality or the marital unfaithfulness Jesus is speaking of is in the context of marriage and divorce. It means that at least one member is being unfaithful to the marriage covenant. In other words, it means that the person is breaking his or her marital vows. To be sure, marital unfaithfulness is generally of a sexual nature. But we have already noted that the marital union is spiritual or moral, legal, and physical.

Therefore, although adultery is included, the word pornea encompasses a far broader spectrum. It has to do with “unchasteness and is a general word for various kinds of sexual immorality and other perverse rebellion…” (Francis Nigel Lee, footnote 123, “Mount Sinai and the Sermon on the Mount”).

The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:15 demonstrates that wilful desertion leaves the innocent party an option of divorce. He is, of course, speaking here of an unbelieving spouse wilfully deserting a believing spouse. And every channel of reconciliation would need to be exhausted before divorce was sought. But the point is that if your spouse has deserted the marriage then you have no marriage. Therefore such wilful desertion is a form of marital unfaithfulness. It certainly deprives the innocent spouse of the affection he or she is due, including sexual affection. So, I don’t think we’re twisting things to state that marital unfaithfulness may also include depriving your spouse of your body without his or her consent, (1 Corinthians 7:4&5).

Therefore, viewed in this way we may (with caution) include wilful desertion under marital unfaithfulness. If “Thou shalt not commit adultery” put positively means, “Be pure and loyal”, then surely it has also to do with sexual purity and sexual loyalty. But we understand that the New Testament Greek word pornea ordinarily refers to sexual disloyalty involving a third party.

In summary, we are stating that God hates divorce, but permits it because of the hardness of men’s hearts. He permits it only in the case of adultery, or more broadly, marital unfaithfulness, or such deliberate desertion that neither the church nor the civil authority can resolve.

Christian couples are not to divorce. However, this is not to say that separation for a time may not be appropriate. But it is to say that Christian couples whose marriages are in trouble are always to seek reconciliation. For is reconciliation not what the Gospel of Christ is all about?

Conclusion

We know that Christians sometimes develop marital troubles like everyone else. Therefore the following quote of Rowland Ward may be helpful. It pertains to wilful desertion by a non-Christian spouse: “Thus we conclude that wilful desertion by an unbeliever after the spouse has become a believer with the intent the desertion be final allows the formal termination of the marriage. This being so remarriage is possible for the one deserted.

“The principle of 1 Corinthians 7:15 would seem capable of extension to cases of wilful and permanent desertion in situations not precisely of the kind noted by Paul, for example by a professing Christian who deserts a spouse (and repudiates thereby his or her own Christian profession) or such cases of cruelty that there is a virtual repudiation of the marriage vows.

“But one should always approach marriage on the basis that there is no easy way out, that vows are to be kept and that work and effort is needed to build and strengthen any relationship. The Bible does not approve divorce; in fact God hates it (Mal. 2:16) but He does allow it as a means of controlling one of the evils sin has brought.” (The Westminster Confession of Faith For the Church Today”, pgs. 175 & 176).

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

MARRIAGE


MARRIAGE

(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 24 paras 1-4)[xxxi]

Introduction

It’s claimed that chimpanzees are genetically 98% the same as human beings. In our day when men are marrying men, and women women, what’s to stop a man marrying a chimp?

Marriage seems to be on the rocks at the moment. As the Theory of Evolution is more and more rammed down the throats of each successive generation at school, is it any wonder that the marriage manual is being rewritten? If the universe got here, not by God but by accident, as children at State schools are now being taught, then there is no rhyme or reason to it. Take this belief system to its logical conclusion and why shouldn’t a man take a monkey in marriage? A monkey can be great little helper about the house!

If you believe that the universe is simply the result of random processes, if you believe in the evolutionary marriage of time and chance, then marriage is whatever you want it to be. Therefore, for you, same sex marriages are okay – not to mention man and monkey marriages.

But, the universe does have a purpose. And every aspect of man – spirit/soul/body, including our adenoids and our appendix etc. – has a purpose. The purpose, the chief end of man, i.e., the whole and complete man, is to wholly and completely glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

At the very beginning, when God, in six days, formed the heavens, the earth, the sea and all that is in them, He gave man a purpose and a duty to fulfil. In Genesis 1:26-28 we read: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” This is the Cultural Mandate.

The aspect of the Cultural Mandate we’re looking at in the following is called Marriage.

Marital Restrictions

Part of the clear instructions God gave to man in the beginning was the command to “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” Multiplying and filling the earth has to do with replicating the image of God. God made man in His own image. Man is to spread the image of God throughout all the earth.

How does man do this? Well, regardless of how amazing it is what they can do nowadays in a petri dish in the science lab, it takes a man and a woman to come together sexually before replication can occur. This is the way God designed it from the beginning. A man and a man cannot produce an offspring the way God designed it. And neither can a woman and a woman, nor a man and a monkey for that matter. It takes one man and one woman to reproduce. Therefore, a marriage will not progress into a family unless the marriage consists of one man and one woman.

Now, let’s not confuse a marriage with a family. A family is an outworking of a marriage. But a marriage is still a marriage even when there are no children. Take Adam and Eve as the prime example. Adam was created first, and then Eve. In Genesis 2:7 we read: “And the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

So, there was a time when there was only one single human being on the earth. And the LORD God had that one single human being observe and name all the living creatures that He had also formed out of the ground. Genesis 2:20, “So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.”

When Adam viewed all the animals he knew exactly what they were, which is to say that for Adam, naming the animals meant that he had studied, classified and catalogued them. He could see that God had formed each species according to its kind. In other words, Adam could see and understand the very essence of the living creatures.

The words “But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him” mean primarily that there was no other creature with which Adam could reproduce his own kind. Apes might be good at aping, but apes cannot ape man when it comes to reproduction. Only man (male with female) can replicate man, because only man is made in the image of God.

Adam could see how special he was when he considered all the living creatures God had made. “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’” Genesis 2:18. What was the helper, that God was going to make, to help Adam with? The helper was to help fulfil the Cultural Mandate, part of which was being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth. That restricts things a great deal, doesn’t it? It shows us that the man needs a woman.

Genesis 2:21-24: “And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed the flesh up in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: ‘This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Now, just as Adam knew what all the living creatures were, so he knew exactly what woman was. None of the living creatures were ‘bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh’ – only Eve. Literally this woman was part of Adam. She had been taken out of his side. Therefore the two literally were one flesh.

Adam was to love his own wife as if she were part of his own body. And Eve was to love her own husband as if he were part of her own body. The Apostle Paul puts it like this in Ephesians 5:28-33: “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

So we see then, that marriage is restricted to being between one man and one woman. God did not take ten of Adam’s ribs and make ten women – He made only one wife for Adam. Therefore it is not lawful for the man to have more wives than one at the same time, or for the woman to have more than one husband at a time. And neither did God take ten ribs and make one woman and nine children. Therefore marriage is still marriage even when there are yet no children.

Now, speaking of children produced by marriage, a common question asked by unbelievers is, where did Cain get his wife? Cain, of course, was Adam and Eve’s second son – right after Abel their first. Calvin, in his commentary on Genesis suggests the Cain and Abel were twins. But that is neither here nor there for what we’re considering.

Now, the reason people ask about Cain’s wife is because of the way we view things nowadays. First off it’s often thought that Adam and Eve only ever had two sons, viz., Cain and Abel. Then, when it is pointed out that Genesis 5:2 tells us that Adam had sons and daughters, therefore Cain married one of his sisters, the accusation of incest is put forth. However, it’s not until you get to the time of Leviticus 18-20 that marital restrictions are spelled out. We see that marrying your own sister is indeed forbidden in Leviticus – which was roughly 2,500 years after Cain married his own sister.

Now, all sorts of sexual immorality is forbidden in Leviticus 18-20, including bestiality. Apes and monkeys are beasts. However, we’re mainly concerned with the restrictions placed upon the marriage between blood relatives and those of affinity in law. (By affinity in law we mean that marriage is forbidden not only between brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, and mothers and sons, etc., but also between brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law etc.). Even after the death of his wife, the man may not marry any of his wife’s relatives nearer in blood than he may of his own relatives, nor the woman of her husband’s relatives nearer in blood than her own.

Now, you might have felt shock and horror well up within you when you thought about Cain marrying his own sister. But if you keep in mind that Adam married his own rib, so to speak, you won’t go too far wrong. Adam said of Eve, “This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…” This is even closer than marrying your own sister! And yet we were not shocked when we thought about this. Why? Well, it’s because we have become accustomed to the restrictions God, 3,500 years ago, placed upon marrying blood relatives. Up until that point God permitted certain marriages He forbids in Leviticus 18. Abraham was permitted by God to marry Sarah, his half sister – with God’s blessing! However, part of the instructions in the Cultural Mandate was to multiply. When mankind had sufficiently multiplied, God placed restrictions on eligible marriage partners.

Now, we’ll mention in passing an apparent exception to the affinity in law restriction. We read in Deuteronomy 25:5 that if a wife’s husband dies, then the dead man’s unmarried brother had the duty to marry the widow. This was to give her a child that her dead husband’s name “may not be blotted out of Israel.” We see this very thing acted out in Genesis 38:8. Therefore it must have been in place long before the Law was given to Moses. But in Genesis 38:8 we read: “And Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your [dead] brother’s wife and marry her, and raise up an heir for your brother.” Of course Onan didn’t exactly comply with the whole thing, but that’s another story. The point being made at this point is that it would appear that it may be permissible for a man to marry his dead brother’s wife.

Now, it makes for great common sense for Christians to marry only in the Lord. Not to mention that there are all those verses of Scripture about not being unequally yoked, etc. But we need to be careful not to enter into marriage with anyone who holds to destructive heresies. Therefore, for example, a Reformed Christian, such us we are, is asking for trouble should he enter into marriage with a Roman Catholic. Roman Catholicism believes the Reformed understanding of the Gospel to be anathema!

We must put the Lord first in all things, including marriage. He would have believers marry only believers. Now, this is not to say that marriages between believers and unbelievers, or even marriages between unbelievers are not true or legitimate marriages. However, it is to say that the Lord would have His people be obedient to Him, even in marriage.

Marital Roles

When we talk about marital roles we are simply talking about men being men and women being women, and not so much about who should do the dishes and who should take out the garbage. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife. And it was ordained to increase the human population with a legitimate issue and furnish the church with a holy offspring. And it was ordained for the prevention of moral impurity.


Now, to talk about things such as a “legitimate issue” and the “prevention of moral impurity” is to suggest that the world we live in is not the same as when God first formed Adam and Eve. Indeed this has been the case ever since Adam, through the ready help of his wife, ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Eve was to be Adam’s helper. She was to help Adam stay obedient to God’s commandments. Instead, she helped him disobey God. And now we live in a fallen world. Therefore, because of the moral impurity of men and women, children have been conceived and born into this world outside of marriage.

Now, even though marriage was ordained by God before the Fall of man, it still remains a major part of the Cultural Mandate – which mandate still remains in full force. However, if you’ve ever walked through “The House of Mirrors” and seen your own reflection bend and twist out of shape, so we should expect to see distortions in humanity (the image of God) this side of the Fall of Man.

Man no longer perfectly images God his creator. We’ve noted already that the institution of marriage is under attack in our own age. And therefore it necessarily follows that so are marital roles. It stands to reason that if people think a marriage may comprise of a same-sex couple, then marital roles must be up for grabs too. It means that people haven’t understood the very essence of marriage. Nor have they understood and believed the very essence of a man and the very essence of a woman.

We’ve already noted the very essence of marriage. When discussing the love of a husband for his wife the Apostle Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says in Ephesians 5:32, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

Marriage is a picture of Christ and His Bride, the Church. To revise and rewrite the marriage manual (as some today are trying to do) is to tamper with a creation ordinance. Put another way, to redefine marriage so that anything other than one man and one woman may be married at any one time is to break the Law of Nature. Clearly it’s to break the Law of God – for sin is the breaking of God’s Moral Law.

However, God instituted marriage. Therefore He wrote the manual for it. And God is the One who put the sexual desire in men and women that marriage is designed to satisfy. So, when sinful men rewrite the book of marriage to accommodate sinful aberrations, (i.e., sexual deviations) they are disobeying the Cultural Mandate to provide a legitimate issue for God. (Not to mention the fact that they are tampering with the very essence of humanity)

Homosexual marriage is a culture of death, not life. It takes a man and a woman to bring forth offspring. If Adam had been given another man for a companion instead of Eve, where would we be today? The human race would have died out!

Now, we know that amazing things can be done in test-tubes and petri dishes in science labs. But marriage is about the two becoming one flesh, which includes sexual intimacy. To be sure, a marriage is still a marriage even when not (Roman Catholically) consummated by the sex act. For Adam was really married to Eve before he “knew” her on their honeymoon.

However, it is through the husband and wife sharing their bodies with each other that produces the legitimate offspring that God wants us to produce. Therefore nature itself rules out same-sex marriage, regardless of the wonders of modern science.

The husband has the role of husband to his own wife, and the wife has the role of wife to her own husband. As Paul says to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:8&9, “For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.” Feminists hate the fact that God made Eve so that she could be Adam’s helper. But this is simply to confuse the roles of husbands and wives in marriage. For marriage is for mutual help for husband and wife. In other words, the “helper” aspect of marriage is two-way.

We’ve mentioned already that one of the reasons God instituted marriage was for the prevention immorality, or moral impurity – including sexual immorality. God did not create Adam and Eve as infants or children (i.e., without sexual desire), but as mature adults. Mankind was created with God’s Law written on their hearts (Romans 2:14&15), including the 7th Commandment. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” was written of course in positive terms, such as “Be pure and loyal.” Only adults are able to commit adult-ery. Children are not adults.Therefore children cannot commit adultery.

Not committing adultery or being pure and loyal means also being sexually pure and sexually loyal. Therefore every husband is to be sexually pure and sexually loyal to his own wife. And every wife is to be sexually pure and sexually loyal to her own husband. Therefore this rules out sex outside of marriage and even sex before marriage. How so? Well, it’s because God has ordained marriage for the mutual help of a husband and wife.

Part of that mutual help includes satisfying the sexual desires God has given us. And to try to satisfy those sexual desires outside of the marriage as God has instituted it, is to engage in morally impure thoughts and behaviour. In short, it is to sin; which is to break God’s Moral Law. So, for marriage to work the way God designed it, there needs to be one man and one woman in the marriage at any one time. The male is the husband and the female is the wife.

Now, we hear lots of Christians nowadays brag about having gifts of healing, speaking in tongues, and that kind of thing. Be that as it may, but have you ever heard of any Christian brag that he has the gift of celibacy? We believe that the Apostle Paul, who was probably a widower, had the gift of celibacy. For he says in 1 Corinthians 7:7-9: “For I wish that all men were even as myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (Albert Barnes comments: “The word unmarried… may refer to those who had never been married, or to widowers.” Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).

So, there are some adults whom God has given the gift of celibacy, which is to say that they are like little children again, in that they are free from sexual desire, i.e., burning with passion. The gift of celibacy is a good gift for a husband and wife to have for those times when they are apart for a spell, such as when one of them is on an overseas trip, and that kind of thing.

But regarding one of the main reasons for marriage the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 7:2: “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.”

Neither the husband nor the wife wants the gift of celibacy when they are together, unless perhaps there is some physical problem where sexual intimacy has become impossible. And there might of course be times such as that mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7:5. There are times when couples will forgo sexual intimacy, such as for fasting and prayer.

Now, if you keep in mind what marriage is a picture of, you won’t go too far wrong when you try to understand the role of the husband and the role of the wife in marriage. The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5 spells out the roles in terms of Christ and His Bride, the Church. Wives are to submit to their own husbands, as to the Lord, he says in Ephesians 5:22. Then he explains why: “For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church, and He is the Saviour of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let wives be to their own husbands in everything” Ephesians 5:23&24. So you see then, that in order to understand marriage, and even the roles of husband and wife in marriage, you must understand the role of the church in the world. Christ and the church is what marriage is all about.

Therefore the godly wife is a picture of the church. And the godly husband is a picture of Christ. For Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 5:25f. “Husbands ought to love their wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

Have you got that? It is the role of the husband to give himself for his wife, which is to say that he is to be about the business of presenting her to the Lord without any spot or wrinkle, i.e., without any moral impurities. In simple terms, the role of the husband is to sanctify and cleanse his own wife with the washing of the Word. The role of the wife is to encourage and let her husband do this. In other words, she’s to treat her husband as if it were the Lord Himself who is teaching her. For is that not the way it is in the Lord’s church? Are we not to be submit ourselves to the Word of Christ as we hear it taught and proclaimed?

Some people think that ecclesiology and church polity are of little significance – “Not a Gospel essential!” is what they say. Well, I put it to you that marriage is a “Gospel essential”. And I say that because the Bible says it! We’ve just briefly noted that one of the reasons God ordained marriage was to furnish the church with a holy offspring. Speaking of a husband and his wife it says in Malachi 2:14b & 15a, “Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring.”

Christ and His Church are one. A husband and his wife are one. Christ seeks a holy and godly offspring (also 1 Corinthians 7:14). Therefore marriage is a “Gospel essential.” For godly marriages producing holy and godly offspring is every bit as important as the conversion of non-Christians to Christianity. Are not both about the extension of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth? Both are about the Church submitting to Jesus Christ, her Husband, in the Cultural Mandate of which the Great Commission is the latter day fulfilment

Conclusion

Marriage is a wonderful thing that has been ordained by God. Therefore it needs to be entered into with both eyes wide open. It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry – even non-Christian people! But only those who are able to give their reasoned consent should marry. This rules out chimpanzees!

When is a child able to give its reasoned consent? In other words at what age should people be allowed to marry? Well, that will vary, won’t it? Are there any Biblical reasons why those who have reached child producing and child bearing age should not marry? – i.e., those having reached adult-hood?

Culturally we think fourteen-year-olds shouldn’t marry because they’re too young. Surely the Lord would wish only that a couple be able to give their mature reasoned (i.e., adult) consent. Sixteen is young, but perhaps old enough? Eighteen and over sounds about right? Is there a Biblical basis for this, a precedent? Adam and Eve weren’t even a day old when God married them! But they both were mature adults. Even so, that was a special instance, wasn’t it? But the institution of marriage began with God marrying Adam and Eve. Therefore that’s where we need to begin our study in order to fully understand the essence of marriage.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Christian Liberty


CHRISTIAN LIBERTY

(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 20)[xxv]

Introduction

If I were to ask you what was the greatest thing enjoyed by the Western world, what would your answer be? What is it that makes the West the West? Surely it would be summed up in one word: Liberty! Liberty or Freedom of speech and expression is what the West is noted for.

Now, where did this liberty come from? Were people in the West always free to voice their opinions? Or was there a time when the Western nations were under tyrannical regimes telling you what you could think, say, and do? Surely it was the Reformation that began in 1517 that brought with it the Liberty we now enjoy in the West.

Before that time the Western nations were in bondage to the papacy. The Pope of Rome would dictate who could marry, on what days you could and couldn’t eat meat and so forth. The papacy kept the western nations in bondage by binding the consciences of men to its traditions and false teachings. But the Reformation changed all that. The Reformation brought freedom from the bondage to all the commandments of men that were contrary to Scripture. How? Well, the Reformation was about rediscovering the Gospel.

Now, the Gospel is sharper than a two-edged sword. The Gospel sword cuts us free FROM bondage. But it also at the same time cuts us free FOR liberty. The Apostle Paul sums up the liberty enjoyed by those nations who have come under the Gospel, (i.e., the Western nations), where he says in Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

Now, you would be correct if you thought that Paul is addressing only Christians in that passage of Scripture. But the point is that the Liberty enjoyed in the Western nations is on account of the Christian Gospel as found only in God’s Word. Remove the Gospel and you effectively remove the people’s freedoms. That’s what Roman Catholicism had done for centuries. But reveal the Gospel and you effectively remove the people’s bondage. This is what the Reformation did for the European nations under Rome’s bondage.

The Liberty of the Christian

Liberty is a long list for the Christian. The list includes liberty from: a) The guilt of sin. b) The condemning wrath of God. c) The curse of the Moral Law. d) The bondage to this present evil world. e) The bondage of Satan. f) The dominion of sin. g) The evil of sufferings. h) The sting of death.  i) The victory of the grave. j) Everlasting damnation.

Let’s consider each of these liberties briefly. Because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross God no longer considers the Christian guilty of breaking His Moral Law. God atoned for the Christian’s guilt by imputing it to His Son who received, and paid in full, the punishment we were due for our sins while on the cross.

And because God has removed the Christian’s guilt from him, the Christian no longer has the condemning wrath of God hovering over him like dark clouds of destruction. This means that the curse of God’s Moral Law has been removed from the Christian.

Christ became a sin-offering or curse-offering on the cross and removed the sin and curse from the Christian. And because the guilt of sin has been removed from the Christian, and the condemning wrath of God, and the curse of the Moral Law, the Christian no longer lives in darkness. Which is to say that the Christian has been presently translated or transferred from the spiritual darkness of this present evil world and into Christ’s kingdom of light. Therefore the Christian is no longer in bondage to the false teachings and the evil philosophies produced by fallen men in the fallen world.

And because he is no longer in bondage to false teaching, the devil has no power over him. Therefore the devil’s cold, clammy, slimy claws have been removed from the Christian. He no longer is able to pull our strings or use us a ventriloquist uses a dummy. Christ’s cross has removed the devil’s hand from up our back. And because the devil has lost his grip on us our bondage or slavery to sin has been broken. The devil only had to suggest things to us and our sinful nature inclined us to obey his suggestions. But now we follow Christ. We don’t listen to the voice of the stranger.

And because we are safe in the hand of Christ and God we no longer suffer evil afflictions. Unlike the non-Christian, the Christian’s sufferings are not judgments of God. Rather they are chastenings of our Heavenly Father for our own good. As the Scripture says: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD… For whom the LORD loves He chastens…” Hebrews 12:5&6.

Therefore the terrible things that happen to you (the Christian) are not happening to you because God hates you, but because God loves you! They are not evil sufferings, but fatherly chastisements. And even death itself has had its sting removed for the Christian. The Christian no longer has to fear death, because it is not the end of the line for him. Unlike the non-Christian who faces everlasting death, the Christian has everlasting life.

And the beauty of everlasting life is that the Christian has it now. Therefore the sting is removed from death for the Christian because he knows that the grave has no power over him. He sees Christ’s resurrection as his own victory over the grave. Therefore for the Christian being put in the grave is like a child being tucked into bed. For it is God our heavenly Father who puts us in our graves when it is time for us to go! But just as He awakened His Son from the grave on that Sunday morning, so will He awaken all His adopted children when it is time for us to get up again.

Though the soul does not sleep, the Christian in his grave is, as it were, ‘sleeping in heavenly rest.’ But, as the Scripture says, there is no peace, no rest for the wicked. However, the Christian has been delivered from everlasting damnation; i.e., restless torment.

So, the liberty enjoyed by the Christian is something to rejoice about! And the Christian does indeed rejoice as one who has heard good news! And he gives thanks to God for that good news. And he does so by coming to God in prayer through Jesus Christ who has given him free access to God through His name on account of His shed blood.

The Christian also delights to worship God in the name of Jesus Christ. And the Christian seeks to worship and serve God by rendering obedience to Him. Therefore God’s Moral Law as summarized in the Ten Commandments is a delight to the Christian. The Christian delights in God’s Moral Law because it instructs him in holiness and righteousness. It’s his rule of life, everlasting life!

And none of what we’ve already looked at was any different for believers in the Old Testament. Abraham is the father of all believers. And “…those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.” Galatians 3:9. The same Gospel we believe was preached beforehand to Abraham (Galatians 3:8), and all believers after him.

The main difference between Old Testament believers and ourselves is that our liberty has been extended further than theirs. The Old Testament believers had Ceremonial Laws to contend with. These Ceremonial Laws pointed to the Christ who was to come. But now that He has come they are no longer needed. So, we don’t need a glorious temple with all its sacrificial system to come before God. Now we have access to God’s throne with greater boldness. And not only that, but New Testament believers have the Holy Spirit in a way not enjoyed by the church in the Old Testament.

To be sure the Holy Spirit was present and ministered to the Old Testament saints. But we have a fuller measure of the Holy Spirit. Which is to say that the God who dwelt in the midst of His people between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, now dwells in the hearts of His people. Which is to say that believers are now the Temple of the living God. Therefore the liberty each Christian has today is that we each have personal access to God.

We no longer need to make annual pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem to access God. So, in a word, the Liberty of the Christian is tied up in the personal access he has to the living God. All the old barriers and obstacles (including our sin) have been removed by Jesus Christ. Everything that stood in our way to God’s throne has been removed by Him.

It is the message of the Gospel that demolishes all these barriers and removes all obstacles. However, the more the Gospel is hid away, the more the barriers of sin are again replaced and rebuilt. Therefore, it is the duty of every Christian to do his bit to keep the Gospel fires burning. This he does by making sure his own conscience is kept clear of all barriers and obstacles to God.

The Liberty of the Conscience

God alone is Lord of the conscience. And if God alone is Lord of the conscience then God alone can grant liberty of conscience. We have seen already the liberty He grants us as Christians. But what does it mean to have liberty of conscience?

Liberty of conscience is the freedom the Christian has to say no to anything contrary to God’s Moral Law. To be sure there might be a price to pay for going against the teachings and commandments of men that are contrary to God’s Word. Just ask the martyrs! However, it’s as Peter and the other Apostles said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29b.

To obey the teachings and commandments of men that are contrary to God’s Law is to betray liberty of conscience. That’s why Paul, as already mentioned, is exhorting Christians in Galatians 5:1 to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

In Romans 14:2 and 15:1 Paul talks about weak believers who are pernickety about what they may and may not eat and drink. This is to say that the one who is weak is conscience-bound. He thinks he is sinning by eating certain foods and drinking certain drinks. And the trouble is that were he to eat and drink that which he thinks he’s forbidden to eat or drink he would be sinning, even though the thing he is doing is not necessarily sinful in itself.

Thus, to go against your own conscience is to sin against God. Therefore, if God alone is Lord of the conscience it would make sense to make sure that God alone has banned the food or drink you are refusing before you bind your own conscience.

However, this area of food, drink, clothing etc. is the area of the adiaphora, i.e., things indifferent. In other words these are the types of things God leaves up to the conscience. We see this illustrated in a careful reading of Romans chapter fourteen, for example.

John Calvin based a great deal of his cultural philosophy on the principle of ‘things indifferent.’ He says: “The third part of Christian freedom lies in this: regarding outward things that are of themselves ‘indifferent,’ we are not bound before God by any religious obligation preventing us from sometimes using them and other times not using them, indifferently. And the knowledge of this freedom is very necessary for us, for if it is lacking, our consciences will have no repose and there will be no end to superstitions.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 3, 19, 7).

The Romish church is famous for binding the consciences of its people by forbidding things permitted by God, and permitting things forbidden by God: as are all Communistic States, for example. The only way to combat this type of bondage is to do what the Prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 8:20: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Is this a strange thing to tell those who have been given liberty by Christ’s Gospel? I hope you can see that the liberty you have been given is the liberty to say no to anything contrary to God’s Word. Surely you can see that your liberty as a Christian comes, not from discarding God’s Law, but rather from studying it and applying it in your life. Which is to say that the more you understand the nature and content of God’s Moral Law the freer you become.

Think about it, if you try to play soccer without knowing the rules you’ll end up being sent off for breaking the rules. If you try to drive a car through a busy city without knowing the rules of driving you’ll be in big trouble. You’ll end up in all sorts of traffic jambs and you’ll be a danger to yourself and to others.

Would you call this kind of thing freedom? Or does it sound more like bondage to ignore and even reject the laws of driving? You shouldn’t even be on the soccer pitch or on the road if you don’t know and obey the rules! Well, apply this principle to living on God’s earth.

Abide by God’s Law for mankind and you will know great freedom on earth. And the more you study, know, and apply God’s Law, the greater your freedom will be. Therefore make sure your conscience is not bound by things contrary to God’s Law, for that is to be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

The Liberty of Culture

Now, we’ve already mentioned the adiaphora, i.e., that great realm of ‘things indifferent.’ The more you study God’s Word the more you’ll learn how vast this realm is. And the more you learn of its vastness, the more you’ll begin to see the great liberty God has given us for developing culture.


This is where Calvinism comes into it’s own. For Calvinism is about doing all things to the glory of God i.e., eating, drinking, or whatever you do. This, in a word, is the regeneration of culture and cultural activity. For Calvin demonstrated from the Scriptures that neither Church nor State has the authority to bind the conscience regarding things that God calls ‘indifferent.’ Therefore, because there is an area of life outside of the jurisdiction of Church and State, men were now at liberty to develop those things that are to do with culture - such as art, music, architecture, food, drink, clothing etc., - without Church or State interference.

This is the freedom we enjoy in Western nations. And it was the Gospel that brought this freedom. This is the freedom to fulfill the Cultural Mandate given by God to man in Genesis (1:26f.)

Now then, paradoxically, the Gospel brings us liberty to keep God’s Law. Therefore to keep God’s Law is to keep our liberty. God’s Law in the realm of the Church is administered through the Session of Elders at the local level. And God’s Law in the realm of the State is administered through Civil Authorities, (Romans 13). And we have seen that God’s Law is administered in the realm of cultural activities through our own conscience.

This third realm where God’s Law gives freedom is the realm where conscience rules. And God alone is the Lord of conscience, and not Church or State.

So, how does a Christian maintain the liberty purchased for him by Christ? He keeps that blood-bought freedom by knowing and keeping the Moral Law out of love for God. For Jesus says, “If you love Me keep My commandments.” John 14:15. Therefore if you would abide in His love you should keep His commandments. For He goes on to say in John 15:10: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

Now, we are quite aware that we don’t always keep His commandments. But how are we aware that we don’t always keep His commandments? Well, it’s because of our conscience, isn’t it? Our conscience accuses us when we go against it. So, what we are saying then is that you are to make sure that your conscience is bound only by what God says in His Word, and not anything said by men contrary to His Word. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:21&22: “Test all things, hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” How do you know what is good and what is evil? Well, it’s “To the law and to the testimony!” The Word of God alone is the rule of life for the Christian. As the Psalmist says, “Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11.

Now, as we begin to work toward a close, I think we’ve sufficiently illustrated that the liberty we’re speaking of is not the liberty to sin. Neither is it a type of liberty that will lead a person to sin. So, in a word, the liberty we have is liberty from bondage for obedience. Which is to say that we have been delivered from all our enemies (sin, Satan, death, the grave etc. etc.) that we might worship and serve the Lord without fear.

God by His grace has granted us liberty that we might serve Him in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives. Now, all of this liberty makes us most valuable members of the Church and society. Which is to say that we are in general law-abiding citizens of state and church. The church has a board of discipline, just as the state has a board of discipline. The Session of Elders operates in the ecclesiastical realm and the Civil Authorities in the realm of the State. But both realms operate under the authority of God. Which is to say that the one complements the other by encouraging obedience to God.

To be sure you may think that this is stretching things a little bit when you look at the governing authorities in Australia (and other Western nations) today. However, just sit down and have a right good think about what the governing authorities are telling us to do or not to do, and see if it lines up with the Word of God. Yes, you’ll find the odd thing here and there, but all in all surely you can see that the liberty we enjoy in this great nation of ours is Gospel liberty.

So, we see then that the Civil Authority in its sphere and the Church in its sphere are at liberty to punish those who publish and practice such opinions contrary to the Moral Law of God. For example, you can see how this applies to the Fourth Commandment. Should the Civil Authorities permit huge department stores to open on the Christian Sabbath? The Civil Authorities must consider what impact Sunday opening will have on the Church. So, we see even in this brief example that Church and State need to work together to promote a God-honouring society.

The Western nation that forgets its Reformational roots is becoming entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Remember indeed that it was the conscience set free from the thought-control of the Church and the State that enabled the Western nations to prosper and develop culturally from the time of the Reformation till today. Remember that the conscience of the people was liberated by the rediscovery of the Gospel. No longer could the Church or the State keep the people in bondage in the realm of the adiaphora.

Henry R Van Til attributes this great emancipation of Western thought to Calvin (which we’ve already touched on): “Now Calvin proclaimed alongside of church and state a third realm, an area of life that has a separate existence and jurisdiction. It is called the sphere of the adiaphora, the things indifferent. This is the court of conscience. No pope nor king may here hold sway.

This area is not restricted to a few insignificant matters of taste and opinion among individuals, but it includes music, architecture, technical learning, science, social festivities, and the everyday question, ‘what shall we eat and what shall we drink and where-withal shall we be clothed?’ Now Calvin proclaims freedom from church and state for this whole large area of life in his doctrine of Christian liberty, making man responsible and accountable to God alone in his conscience.” (The Calvinistic Concept of Culture, p. 99).

Conclusion

Let us “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” We do this by reminding ourselves what we’ve been set free from. And also what we’ve been set free for. We have been delivered from the hands of all our enemies that we might serve the Lord, without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our lives.

“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.