FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 17, number 23, June 14, 2018
“They have venom like the venom of a serpent; like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear; so that it does not hear the voice of charmers, or a skilled caster of spells.” -Psalm 58:4.5
Revoice 2018, Evangelizing Homosexuals, Part Two
I hope all of us in the PCA are after the same thing. I think we want to see people who are dead in their trespasses and sins come to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, grow in grace, and become faithful and vibrant members of the local church. Obviously there is a great deal of disparity in how we go about our mission. The Revoice 2018 conference to be held July 26-28 at Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCA), St. Louis is bringing this disparity clearly in view in our denomination and in many other evangelical denominations and independent churches. Some proponents of Revoice 2018 seem sincerely to want to help those in their congregations whom they call believers who struggle with same-sex attraction and suffer the accusations of the evil one. They want to help these “believers” navigate the turbulent waters of their sexual orientation. Calvin Beisner in his post on <theaquilareport.com> June 7, 2018 entitled “A Matter of the Heart: Change from the Inside-Out” succinctly dismantles the notion that so-called “same-sex attraction” is acceptable. He argues correctly that sins of the mind (1 John 4:2,3) just as easily send people to hell as sins of action (1 John 3:10).
I wrote a few weeks ago about how the homosexual agenda, now front and center in the PCA (over fifty percent of PCA members have no problem with same-sex unions), is now following the same hermeneutic as those who are denying a literal, six day creation, which our Westminster Confession of Faith clearly teaches (WCF IV, 1). This hermeneutic has led us to compromise and accommodation on issues of social justice, women, and now homosexuality.
The PCA, and may I also add the Southern Baptist Church (SBC), are greatly divided on a number of issues. Why has this happened? I suggest the answer is our failure to preach the whole gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, what Scripture calls “the New Covenant” gospel. Jeremiah, a contemporary of Ezekiel, records Yahweh’s words to him “Behold, days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel. . . I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall by My people,” (Jeremiah 31:31,33). Ezekiel uses the same restorative language in Ezekiel 36:22-38. Yahweh promises to prove Himself holy among them, that He will take them from the lands and bring them into their own land. Then He says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances,” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
In Scripture the heart of the problem, my friends, invariably is the problem of the heart (Deut.5:29, Is.6:10, Mark 7:21-23). In a very general sense, the Sixteenth Century championed the doctrine of justification, and with good reason, since the Roman Catholic Church had long rejected the doctrine. As much as we all respect Martin Luther and John Calvin, there is very little in their writings on the new birth. Luther’s emphasis was on the doctrine of justification by faith, what some call the centerpiece of the gospel. Thankfully, Calvin went one step further with his duplex gratia, emphasizing justification and sanctification. Because the Holy Spirit was working so powerfully in both Luther and Calvin their flaws did not slow down the Reformation movement. But when the power left them, both their movements began to wane. Wittenberg and Geneva are now both ghost towns, spiritually speaking. The Seventeenth Century of the Puritans recaptured the necessity of holiness of life in the church and in the world. The emphasis there was on sanctification. Again, this is very necessary, but Anglicanism in London failed due to their emphasis on baptismal regeneration, and Calvinism in Amsterdam failed due to their emphasis on presumptive regeneration. Both are now also ghost towns as far as the gospel is concerned. It was not until the Eighteenth Century in England, Scotland, Wales, and Colonial America that the doctrine of regeneration began to have its due. Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Samuel Davies all emphasized the message, “You must be born again.” But alas, American Presbyterians did not stay with the three-fold, New Covenant gospel. If justification is the centerpiece of the gospel, then regeneration is its grounding piece and sanctification is its crowning piece.
Now think about most of the gospel presentations you have heard or learned in the last fifty years. They all seem to be heavy on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It should be clear to all that we have seriously neglected to preach to people, “You must be born again,” and we have also neglected to explain what it means—to receive a spiritual heart transplant. David says, “The wicked are estranged from the womb and those who speak lies go astray from birth. They have venom like the venom of a serpent, like a deaf cobra,” (Psalm 58:3,4). If we teach the catechism to our children, if we have family worship, and if our children benefit from a Christian education, but do not gain a new heart in the convicting and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, then they are lost. In fact they are born lost, together with their parents (Deut.30:6).
I must say in the strongest terms possible that we have neglected to preach to people their utterly lost condition before God. We have failed to drill down with specificity to the utter rebellion, corruption, and perversion in every sinner’s life. The unregenerate sinner has three major problems. He is born with a rebellious heart which loves sin and hates God. I call it a cobra heart, based on Psalm 58:4. Because he has a heart like a cobra, he spits out sin against God and man (Mark 7:21-23). He is vile and filthy before the Holy One, like a menstrual cloth (Isaiah 64:6). Paul came to know this about himself, writing that he counted his self-righteousness as human dung or excrement (Philippians 3:8). So man’s second problem is a filthy past. And all mankind has a third problem as well. According to Scripture, he has a selfish and destructive life that resembles poison. He has a toxic and hellish tongue which is deadly (James 3:6). It is like a herbicide sprayed on a field of soy beans. His poisonous, selfish, destructive life destroys marriages, families, whole nations, and everything it touches. In a similar manner, Paul the apostle says that they have the poison of asps under their lips. Their feet are swift to shed innocent blood (Romans 3:11-18).
But Ezekiel tells us that God in His wonderful mercy offers three solutions. He promises to take out the heart of stone and to replace it with a heart of flesh. Jesus calls it being born again, as did Peter (1 Peter 1:3,4,23), and Paul (Titus 3:4-7). Paul says that we have been buried with Christ through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). That is to say, the cobra heart is killed on the cross (Rom.6:6) and replaced with Jesus’ heart through the resurrection (1 Pet.1:3).
Is it too much to conclude that centuries of neglect in giving the doctrine of regeneration its full weight has left us with a Church full of men and women with hearts like cobras! Is it a stretch to say that our seminaries and colleges have had professors with unregenerate hearts. Those faithful to the Reformed and Presbyterian world and life view certainly thought so when their mother church was taken over by liberals. So did Sub-Saharan evangelical Anglicans when the Lambeth Conference agreed that no homosexual would be elevated to the office of Bishop. We know that the North American branch of the Anglican Church broke that promise, causing an evangelical Archbishop in Africa to call them liars.
Is it too much to conclude that the refusal to tremble at God’s word in the several Old Testament passages which clearly denounce homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13, Leviticus 18:22, Genesis 19) and which culminate in Paul’s assessment that homosexuality is the second phase of God’s judgment (Romans 1:26,27) on an apostate culture! Really now, one must be blind and rebellious to not see the clarity of Paul’s argument.
Finally, is it too much to conclude that the willful and open embrace of same-sex attraction, so-called Gay or Lesbian “brothers and sisters”, Christians addicted to porn, drugs, or alcohol is because they are not Christians at all? After all, a Christian is a new creation in Christ. He has everything he needs pertaining to life and godliness. He is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He therefore is commanded, and has the ability to put off the old man and to put on the new man. He is to put to death the deeds of the body. See Romans 6:12-14, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Galatians 5:16-25, Ephesians 4:17-24, Colossians 3:1-10, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Titus 2:11-14, James 1:21,22.
And because the true believer has the heart of Jesus in regenerating grace, he is justified. His sins are taken away as far as the east is from the west. And because he has received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) he has the power to obey God’s ordinances.
Whenever the church has failed to preach the three-fold, New Covenant gospel we find that over many years the life and vibrancy of the church wanes. Our churches become mausoleums, or as Jesus put it, white-washed sepulchers, clean on the outside but on the inside, full of dead mens bones.
My friends, we need both a love for sinners and a love for God’s holiness. A love for sinners without a love for God’s holiness leads ultimately to cultural accommodation. We must love the sinner enough to warn him of his perilous condition, that he is on the road to hell unless he repents of his sins. At the same time a love for God’s holiness without a love for sinners leads to gospel isolation. We can become so “holy” that we retreat from the hard places in our culture and simply pronounce judgment on all who do not agree with us.