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Posts tagged ‘holiness’

The Place of Prayer

SOURCE:  R. C. Sproul/Ligionier Ministries

What is the goal of the Christian life?

Godliness born of obedience to Christ. Obedience unlocks the riches of the Christian experience. Prayer is what prompts and nurtures obedience, putting the heart into the proper “frame of mind” to desire obedience.

Of course, knowledge is also important because without it, we cannot know what God requires. However, knowledge and truth will remain abstract unless we commune with God in prayer. It is the Holy Spirit who teaches, inspires, and illumines God’s Word to us. He mediates the Word of God and assists us in responding to the Father in prayer.

Prayer has a vital place in the life of the Christian.

First, it is an absolute prerequisite for salvation.

Some people cannot hear; yet though deaf, they can be saved. Some may not be able to see; yet though blind, they can be saved. Knowledge of the Good News—salvation through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—will come from one source or another, but in the final analysis, a person must humbly ask God for salvation. The prayer of salvation is the one prayer of the wicked God has said he will hear.

What do those in heaven have in common? Several things. They have all been justified, having put their faith in the atonement of Christ. They are all praising God. And they have all prayed for salvation. To be without prayer is to be without God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the hope and reality of heaven.

Second, one of the surest marks of the Christian is his prayer life.

One might pray and not be a Christian, but one could not possibly be a Christian and not pray. Romans 8:15 tells us that the spiritual adoption that has made us sons of God causes us to cry out in verbal expressions: “Abba! Father.” Prayer is to the Christian what breath is to life, yet no duty of the Christian is so neglected.

Prayer, at least private prayer, is difficult to do out of a false motive. One might preach out of a false motive, as do the false prophets; one might be involved in Christian activities out of false motives. Many of the externals of religion might be done from false motives, but it is highly unlikely that anyone would commune with God out of some improper motive. Matthew 7 tells us that in the “last day,” many will stand at the Judgment and tell Christ of their great and noble deeds done in his name, but his response will be that he does not know them.

So, we are invited, even commanded, to pray.

Prayer is both a privilege and a duty, and any duty can become laborious. Prayer, like any means of growth for the Christian, requires work. In a sense, prayer is unnatural to us. Though we were created for fellowship and communion with God, the effects of the Fall have left most of us lazy and indifferent toward something as important as prayer. Rebirth quickens a new desire for communion with God, but sin resists the Spirit.

We can take comfort from the fact that God knows our hearts and hears our unspoken petitions more than the words that emanate from our lips. Whenever we are unable to express the deep feelings and emotions of our souls or when we are completely unclear about what it is for which we ought to be praying, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.

Romans 8:26-27 says, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

When we don’t know how to pray or what to pray for in a given situation, the Holy Spirit assists us. There is reason to believe from the text that if we pray incorrectly, the Holy Spirit corrects the error in our prayers before he takes them before the Father, for verse 27 tells us that he “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Prayer is the secret of holiness—if holiness, indeed, has anything secretive about it. If we examine the lives of the great saints of the church, we find that they were great people of prayer. John Wesley once remarked that he didn’t think much of ministers who didn’t spend at least four hours per day in prayer. Luther said that he prayed regularly for an hour every day except when he experienced a particularly busy day. Then he prayed for two hours.

The neglect of prayer is a major cause of stagnation in the Christian life.

Consider the example of Peter in Luke 22:39-62. Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray as was his custom and told his disciples, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” The disciples fell asleep instead. The next thing Peter did was try to take on the Roman army with a sword; then he denied Christ. Peter did not pray and as a result fell into temptation. What is true of Peter is also true of all of us: we fall in private before we ever fall in public.

Is there a right and wrong time for prayer?

Isaiah 50:4 talks about the morning as the time when God gives the desire to pray on a daily basis and about renewed confidence in God. But there are other passages that give times of prayer during all times of the day. No part of the day is set apart as being more sanctified than another. Jesus prayed in the morning, during the day, and sometimes all night long. There is evidence that he had a time set aside for prayer; however, considering the relationship Jesus had with the Father, we know that communion between them never stopped.

First Thessalonians 5:17 commands us to pray without ceasing. It means that we are to be in a continual state of communion with our Father.

Excerpt from Does Prayer Change Things? by R.C. Sproul

Homosexuality: Tammy’s Story (4)

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Lee/Tammy Webb-Witholt

“Jesus told the people who had faith in him, ‘If you keep on obeying what I have said, you truly are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32 CEV

Today Tammy tells about finding her true identity: “If you had asked me if I was born gay, I would have given you a resounding ‘yes.’ I considered this as unchangeable as the fact that my hair was blond and eyes blue or that I was raised in Africa by missionary parents and lived in a boarding school from the age of seven.

“But the journey I’ve taken with God has convinced me that I was not born gay. I began to realize that although I ‘felt’ as though I was defined by my homosexuality, that was not who God created me to be. The power of God’s Holy Word and his truth supersede any false sense of identity we may possess—which is why I love his Word so much. God was not just calling me from homosexuality to heterosexuality. He was calling me to discipleship, to holiness.

“If you are on a similar journey, I encourage you not to focus on what you are leaving behind, but to focus on Jesus Christ. He loves you unconditionally. He will give you the strength you need. He has a good plan for your life and will help you become all he has designed you to be.”

Are you hiding some truth about your life—from God, from others and even from yourself? Truth is the only way to total freedom. Ask God to help you desire the truth. And then as He reveals truth to you as you pray and study the Bible, embrace it. Stop running from it. Allow God to take away your fears—and rejoice in the freedom that only he can give.

Lord, please help me know the truth about myself. Help me stop hiding behind fear, anger, rebellion, embarrassment—anything that will keep me from being honest with you, with my loved ones and with myself. Help me focus on Jesus. Help me experience the freedom that only comes with knowing the truth. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Lessons Learned: Moving from Homosexuality to Holiness by Tammy Webb-Witholt. This group study offers biblical tools, along with an abundance of hope, to anyone struggling with homosexuality.

Homosexuality: Tammy’s Story (1)

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Lee/Tammy Webb-Witholt

 

“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:20-24 NIV

Dr. Jimmy Lee interviewed Tammy Webb-Witholt on several of our radio programs. [These] devotions are taken largely from the thoughts expressed in those interviews.

Twenty years ago, Tammy moved out of a lesbian lifestyle into a walk with God. Today she is ministering to people struggling with homosexuality and to churches who want to minister to these individuals. 

“One of the first things I learned,” began Tammy, “was that the love of my life that I had searched for so diligently could only be found in a personal relationship with Jesus.

“During my eight years in the gay world, my quest for security and lasting love became an endless cycle of relationships that I hoped would bring healing and perfect love. I proudly displayed my gay relationships to the world, but not one relationship filled the void that remained in my heart.

“Early one morning after leaving a party, I realized I had been looking in all the wrong places for love and security. When I called out to God, it seemed as though a dam broke in my heart. I confessed my sins and told God that I needed him, but he should not get his hopes up because I could not change who I was. I promised to do two things: read the Bible and attend church once a week.

“Though this was a small step toward God, he—like the father in the story of the prodigal son—ran toward me with open arms. And so began my journey from homosexuality to holiness. Along that journey, I have learned beyond a doubt that there is only one place of complete love and security—Jesus.”

Are you looking in wrong places for love and security? Perhaps you too are struggling with homosexuality. Or maybe you are looking for love and security in an unhealthy heterosexual relationship, or in striving to be a people pleaser. Tammy discovered that Jesus is the only place to find total love and security. And as she came to him in total honesty and repentance, he ran toward her with open arms.

 His open arms of love are waiting for you as well.

Prayer
Jesus, I am beginning to realize that I have been looking in all the wrong places for love and security. Please forgive me for all I have done wrong. Thank you for opening your arms of love to me. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Lessons Learned: Moving from Homosexuality to Holiness by Tammy Webb-Witholt. This group study offers biblical tools, along with an abundance of hope, to anyone struggling with homosexuality.

Self-righteous Goodness OR Unrighteous Badness: GRACE Will Cover It All

SOURCE:  Tullian Tchividjian

Nothing is more difficult for us to get our minds around than the unconditional grace of God.

It offends our deepest sensibilities. We are actually conditioned against unconditionality–we are told in a thousand different ways that accomplishment precedes acceptance and achievement precedes approval.

Grace Messes Up Your Hair

Society demands two-way love. Everything’s conditional; if you achieve only then will you receive: meaning, security, respect, love, and so on. But grace, as Paul Zahl points out, is one-way love, “Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable.”

Like Job’s friends, we naturally conclude that good people get good stuff and bad people get bad stuff. The idea that bad people get good stuff is thickly counterintuitive; it seems terribly unfair and offends our sense of justice. Even those of us who have tasted the radical saving grace of God find it intuitively difficult not to put conditions on grace.

The truth is that a “yes grace, but” posture is the kind of posture that perpetuates slavery in our lives and in the church.

Grace is radically unbalanced. It has no “but”; it’s unconditional, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and undomesticated. As Doug Wilson put it recently, “Grace is wild. Grace unsettles everything. Grace overflows the banks. Grace messes up your hair. Grace is not tame. In fact, unless we are making the devout nervous, we are not preaching grace as we ought.”

Grace Wrecks, Then Rescues

With this in mind, let’s look at Luke 7:36-50. This is the famous account of the sinful woman (most likely a prostitute) barging into a party of religious leaders and washing the feet of Jesus with her tears of repentance. Two rescues are happening in this passage: the obvious rescue of the immoral person but also the rescue of the moral person.

Only in the gospel does love precede loveliness. Everywhere else loveliness precedes love.

Normally, when we think of people in need of God’s rescuing grace, we think of the unrighteous and the immoral. But, what’s fascinating to me is, throughout the Bible, the immoral person gets the gospel before the moral person. It’s the prostitute who gets grace and the Pharisee who doesn’t. What we see in this story is God’s grace wrecks and then rescues, not only the promiscuous, but also the pious.

The Pharisee in this story can’t understand what Jesus is doing by allowing this woman to touch him because he assumes that God is for the clean and competent. But Jesus shows God is for the unclean and incompetent, and when measured against God’s perfect holiness, we’re all unclean and incompetent. Jesus shows the Pharisee the gospel isn’t for winners, but losers. It’s for the weak and messed-up person, not the strong and mighty person. It’s not for the well-behaved, but the dead.

Mortal Not Moral

Remember: Jesus came not to put into effect a moral reformation but a mortal resurrection (moral reformations can, and have, taken place throughout history without Jesus. But only Jesus can raise the dead, over and over and over again). As Gerhard Forde put it, “Christianity is not the move from vice to virtue, but rather the move from virtue to grace.”

Wrecking every religious category he had, Jesus tells the Pharisee he has a lot to learn from the prostitute, not the other way around.

What we see in this story is God’s grace wrecks and then rescues, not only the promiscuous, but also the pious.

The prostitute, on the other hand, walks into a party of religious people and falls at the feet of Jesus without any care as to what others are thinking and saying. She’s at the end of herself. More than wanting to avoid an uncomfortable situation, she wanted to be clean–she needed to be forgiven. She was acutely aware of her guilt and shame. She knew she needed help. She understood at a profound level that God’s grace doesn’t demand you get clean before you come to Jesus. Rather, our only hope for getting clean is to come to Jesus.

Only in the Gospel does love precede loveliness. Everywhere else loveliness precedes love.

Release Your Guilt and Shame

What the Pharisee, the prostitute, and everyone in-between need to remember every day is that Christ offers forgiveness full and free from both our self-righteous goodness and our unrighteous badness. This is the hardest thing for us to believe as Christians. We think it’s a mark of spiritual maturity to hang on to our guilt and shame. We’ve sickly concluded that the worse we feel, the better we actually are. The declaration of Psalm 103:12 is the most difficult for us to grasp and embrace: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Or, as Corrie ten Boom once said, “God takes our sins—the past, present, and future—and dumps them in the sea and puts up a sign that says ‘No Fishing Allowed.’” This seems too good to be true…it can’t be that simple, that easy, that real!

God’s grace doesn’t demand you get clean before you come to Jesus.

It is true! No strings attached. No but’s. No conditions. No need for balance. If you are a Christian, you are right now under the completely sufficient imputed righteousness of Christ. Your pardon is full and final. In Christ, you’re forgiven. You’re clean. It is finished.

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Tullian Tchividjian is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Why Won’t YOU Bless Me?

Why does God sometimes withhold the one thing we long for so desperately?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Mark Littleton

All through the Church there are Christians who live in sorrow. They’re not necessarily poor. They don’t lack health or friends or pleasure. But there is something, perhaps just one thing, that they yearn for. It’s a blessing they can never obtain by their wits, schemes, perseverance, or charm. Only God can grant it. Nevertheless, for some reason God refuses to answer yes.

Though they pray, though they ask others to pray, though they listen to tapes, read books, and even slip into manipulation and threats on occasion, nothing changes.

I think of Judy. A vivacious, kind woman. She, sings, dances, and organizes special events at church that I all enjoy. She’s attractive and interesting. She has an excellent career. But unlike many women today who live happy and productive lives singly, she wants a husband. Yet, she is approaching her late thirties and has not found a man she feels would be right for her. She’s struggled with depression, anger, frustration, and simply learning to wait. She’s even “given it over to the Lord.” It would be easy to tell her, “He’ll come along,” or “Look at it as a blessing.” But I have also known that loneliness. It’s an ache.

I think of Doug. Converted several years ago, he is zealous, exuberant, excited about Jesus. But the shrill cry of his heart is, “Lord, bring my family to Jesus. Don’t let them perish.” His father is old. His mother is embedded in religious ritual. There isn’t much time left. But God seems not even to have moved, let alone converted.

I think of others. Chuck—out of work, yet nothing opens up. Don and Mary—strong Christians, but their teenaged children reject Christ and the faith. Brenda—her alcoholic husband shows no interest in the gospel, Jesus, or even her love.

And I think of Hannah, the woman “of a sorrowful spirit” (1 Sam. 1:15, KJV). She knew well what it was to cry for God’s blessing and to watch her prayers crash to the ground in resounding no’s from Heaven.

Have you been there?

Often, you’re obsessed with that one desire. You can’t shake it. Even though you tell yourself, “What’s it matter? It’s only a little thing,” it doesn’t work. It is the only thing that matters.

Hannah’s desire for a child built in her mind over the years to a gigantic crescendo. As she aged, she became deeply depressed. While some women would have gritted their teeth and plodded on, Hannah was ready to give up. The question seemed to screech through her mind daily: Will I die never having brought a child into the world? For her, life wasn’t worth living if she couldn’t become a mother.

If your happiness is marred by a deep longing, I have good news for you: The desire for and delay of God’s blessing—of any kind—can actually launch you into a deeper and greater fellowship with Him. Why does God sometimes delay, sometimes withhold, a legitimate blessing? Hannah’s story offers us much insight into the problem.

TO DEVELOP HOLINESS

God was more concerned about making Hannah a woman of God than a mother for God. Becoming a mother isn’t difficult. It’s turning mothers into the likeness of Jesus that takes work.

Scripture teaches that God is sovereign. Paul tells us in Eph. 1:11 that He “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” He is Lord of all. Nothing that comes to pass surprises Him, catches Him off guard, or stumps Him. He planned it all from beginning to end. Nothing escapes His scrutiny and control. He’s in charge.

Applied in Hannah’s circumstances, this means that not only was God aware and concerned about her problem, but He, in His perfect wisdom, had planned it this way for His own purpose: the development of holiness in her life.

We all tend to rebel against this truth. “You mean God made her barren?” “You mean He put her through all that pain?” “You mean God is the cause of all this trouble?”

Not the cause. But yes, it was part of His plan. In order to develop character in Hannah, God orchestrated the events of her life toward that end. To bring about true godlikeness in her life, He withheld the blessing.

Look at the byproducts of Hannah’s time of trial: patience, endurance, a fervent prayer life, intimate knowledge of God, a passion for holiness. Would these things have come apart from her pain? In order to produce a Samuel, God first had to produce a Hannah.

TO TEACH US PERSISTENCE

Hannah’s experience brought out a second truth about why God delays His blessing. Wanting a blessing teaches us to persist. Hannah soon discovered there was no one who could help her but God. The doctors offered nothing. Her friends had given up. Even her own husband, who was normally so supportive, finally came to the place where he said, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (1 Sam. 1:8). Hannah found there was only One who could do anything about her problem.

Yet, although God seemed to refuse to bless, to say no to her requests, Hannah kept coming back. Verse 3 says they came “year after year.” Same prayer. Same requests. Same hope. Same answer. She didn’t give up.

In this regard, many Christians fall prey to a Satanic ploy that says, “Well, I prayed about it. God didn’t answer. So I guess it’s not His will.” And they give up. But is that what God intends?

The lack of a speedy answer to prayer is no reason for laziness in prayer. Many times we see people in Scripture pleading with God, believing they could influence His decisions. It wasn’t that they thought they could change His eternal will. They didn’t know His will! No one knows God’s eternal will until it’s history. There is never a reason to think, Whatever He wants will be. So why pray? Rather, Hannah thought, This is what I want, Lord. You said, “Ask.” So I’m asking.

As a sophomore in college in 1970 I wanted to buy a car. My father and I talked about it at length. We considered an MG, but he reminded me that I’d only be able to take one passenger to and from school. We cruised around the used car lots looking for my dream machine.

One lot featured a 1959 Dodge. “A good family car,” the salesman told us. Dad liked it. I nixed it. We looked at another MG. “Too much money,” said Dad. I said, “I can get a loan.” “From who?” he asked. I gave him a long, mournful look, then gave up.

Then one day someone called and told Dad about a lady who was selling a 1965 white Ford Mustang. “Four on the floor, 289 four barrel, less than 40,000 miles. Creampuff condition. It’s for you.” He raced me over. We checked it out, drove it around. I had to have it. We bought it, and I screeched off into the sunset.

I often think of seeking God’s blessing as like that time with my dad. It’s a process of working together. There’s give and take. There’s discussion, examination, hope, despair, a crisis, a climax. Prayer is an earnest discussion between two persons who love one another. You work out a solution to a problem that both believe is the wisest course. Had Hannah not gone through a time without blessing, she might never have learned to pray with power.

TO GIVE US GOD’S BEST

That brings us to a third principle: Lacking God’s blessing for a time may lead to far greater blessing up ahead.

God loved Hannah so much that He wouldn’t give her second best. He could have landed six kids in her lap by the age of sixteen. But He made her wait, for a reason. He wanted her to bear a Samuel. Not just some nameless kid like Peninnah’s boys. Samuel, a prophet of God. Sometimes God’s best blessing is the one preceded by the greatest pain. God loves us too much to let us get the goods too easily.

My friend Bill Scott told me about a birthday he had as a child. For years he had begged his parents for a horse. But as time wore on, he gave up on it. Shortly before his twelfth birthday, his Dad asked him what he wanted. “Blue jeans,” he said.

When he pranced downstairs on the morning of his birthday, he was ready to tug on those blue jeans. But his father simply asked him to go out to the barn. Bill asked where his present was. “You’ll get it,” Dad said. “But go out to the barn first. Make sure there’s plenty of hay.”

Bill was upset. He wanted those blue jeans. He threw such a corker, his dad finally said to his mother, “We’d better get this guy some blue jeans.” She rushed him out and bought a pair.

Dressed in his Levi finery, he was ready for the barn. He ambled out and discovered a horse in the stall by the hay, saddled and ready to go. He ran back to the house and shouted, “There’s a horse out there.” “Right,” said Dad. “It’s yours, Bill. For your birthday.” Bill was astonished. He wanted blue jeans, and his father wanted to give him a horse.

You have to think about that. We fight God all the time about such things. We want what we want when we want it! And God doesn’t want to give us what we want. He wants to give us the things we can only dream about.

What blessing are you seeking now? How long have you waited? Two years? Five? Ten? Maybe you need to ask, “What is God trying to give me that I haven’t thought about?”

In the end, Hannah’s lack of a blessing became one of God’s greatest blessings. God withheld lesser blessings to give her the greatest of all: not just a son, but holiness, intimate knowledge of God, a sweet and gentle spirit.

So what blessing are you seeking that God simply refuses to give?

Perhaps the real question is, what do you see God doing in your life now that proves it’s worth the wait?

It’s Your Decision – Choose Well!

SOURCE: Adapted from  Stepping Stones

We trust in a lot of things to save us. The strength of a chair to save us from falling. The power of a bridge to support our weight so we don’t plummet to the river below. The ability of a driver in oncoming traffic to stay on his side of the yellow line to prevent us from crashing.

Webster defines trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something.” When we trust in Jesus, we believe that He is God’s Son and that His sacrifice pays the price for our sin. We are relying on and trusting God’s character … and His ability to do what He has promised. Ultimately, we are trusting His character and integrity to be who He promised, and in His power and strength, and ultimately, in the truth of His love.

Trusting in Christ is the foundation, the first step, to a relationship with God. Faith that Christ paid the penalty that was due for all our sins. Realizing nothing else could erase the barrier of sin that stands between God’s holiness and us. Saving trust is the greatest coping mechanism we can ever use, as it restores our relationship with God forever, and assures our eternal place in Heaven with Him.

Satan is working hard to get us to believe one of two things. 1 – We really aren’t that bad, don’t need a God (even if He does exist), and can earn His favor by doing lots of good deeds. 2 – We are so wretched that God doesn’t love us or can’t save us from our sins, or we have to work to re-earn His favor instead of trusting in Jesus’ death for our payment. Then, if we do trust Jesus for salvation, we get complacent and start trusting other worldly elements for our daily safety.

Today’s scripture is one of many that explain the gospel message. We all fall short of God’s standard … we all have sinned … and so none of us can have a relationship with God on our own merit or power. The good news is that God loved us enough to send his Son Jesus to make a way for us. Jesus died on the cross and paid the price for every sin committed by man … past, present and future. That is the incomparable power of the Cross. Our responsibility is to trust Jesus as our Lord and Savior. When we do this, we are made right with God and can enjoy a personal relationship with him. We cannot, nor do we need to add to the Cross. And thankfully, nothing we do can undo the power of the Cross once we have trusted.

Today, ask yourself these questions: Have I trusted in Jesus? Have I received His love and His sacrifice for my sin? If I have, do I express that in my attitudes, perceptions, and actions each day? What is the evidence I trust in God and not in my intellect, bank account, friends, looks, health, etc? If I lost any or all of these things would I still trust in God? He loves you with a love you can’t even begin to comprehend. And He is trustworthy. He will never leave you. He will never disappoint you. He will always love you. In this world of uncertainty, there is no hope. But in Jesus there is every hope. That, you can trust in.

Your decision; choose well.

Prayer

Dear Father God, I realize that I am not worthy to be in Your presence. But I believe that Jesus paid the price for my sin and that through Him I can come to You. I receive Him now as my savior. Don’t let that be the last step, but just the first step of my growing trust in You … for all my daily matters in this world, not just for my life in Heaven. Please forgive my sins. I want to follow and trust in Jesus. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One you sent to set me free, Jesus Christ.

The Truth

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3:22-23

Marriage As It Was Meant to Be

Adapted from:   Different By Design by John MacArthur

Ephesians 5:22-33, Luke 1:38, Genesis 2:24, Deut. 22:6
Our entertainment-saturated society helps feed all sorts of illusions about reality. The fantasy of the perfect romantic and sexual relationship, the perfect lifestyle, and the perfect body all prove unattainable because the reality never lives up to the expectation.

The worst fallout comes in the marriage relationship. When two people can’t live up to each other’s expectations, they’ll look for their fantasized satisfaction in the next relationship, the next experience, the next excitement. But that path leads only to self-destruction and emptiness.

Marriage is the capstone of the family, the building block of human civilization. A society that does not honor and protect marriage undermines its very existence. Why? Because one of God’s designs for marriage is to show the next generation how a husband and wife demonstrate reciprocal, sacrificial love toward each other.

But when husbands and wives forsake that love, their marriage fails to be what God intended. When marriage fails, the whole family falls apart; when the family fails, the whole society suffers. And stories of societal suffering fill the headlines every day.

Now, more than ever before, is the time for Christians to declare and put on display what the Bible declares: God’s standard for marriage and the family is the only standard that can produce meaning, happiness, and fulfillment.

Divine Directives for Wives

One of the most explicit passages of Scripture that outlines God’s standard for marriage is Ephesians 5:22-33. Wives often bear the brunt of that section, but the majority of the passage deals with the husband’s attitude toward and responsibilities for his wife. Nonetheless, here’s the wife’s responsibility before the Lord:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything (vv. 22-24).

Submission in no way implies a difference in essence or worth; it does refer, however, to a willing submission of oneself. Wives, submission is to be your voluntary response to God’s will–it’s a willingness to give up your rights to other believers in general and ordained authority in particular, in this case your own husband.

Husbands aren’t to treat their wives like slaves, barking commands at them; they are to treat their wives as equals, assuming their God-given responsibility of caring, protecting, and providing for them.

Likewise wives fulfill their God-given responsibility when they submit willingly to their own husbands. That reflects not only the depth of intimacy and vitality in their relationship, but also the sense of ownership a wife has for her husband.

Keep in mind that the wife’s submission requires intelligent participation: “Mere listless, thoughtless subjection is not desirable if ever possible. The quick wit, the clear moral discernment, the fine instincts of a wife make of her a counselor whose influence is invaluable and almost unbounded” (Charles R. Erdman, The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and to Philemon [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966], 103).

Elisabeth Elliot, writing on “The Essence of Femininity,” offers a fitting summary of God’s ideal for wives:

Unlike Eve, whose response to God was calculating and self-serving, the virgin Mary’s answer holds no hesitation about risks or losses or the interruption of her own plans. It is an utter and unconditional self-giving: “I am the Lord’s servant … May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). This is what I understand to be the essence of femininity. It means surrender.

Think of a bride. She surrenders her independence, her name, her destiny, her will, herself to the bridegroom in marriage … The gentle and quiet spirit of which Peter speaks, calling it “of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4), is the true femininity, which found its epitome in Mary (John Piper, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood [Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1991], 398, 532, emphasis added).

Divine Directives for Husbands

After giving the divine guidelines for the wife’s submission, Paul devotes the next nine verses of Ephesians 5 to explain the husband’s duty to submit to his wife through his love for her: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church” (v. 25). The Lord’s pattern of love for His church is the husband’s pattern of love for his wife, and it is manifest in four ways.

Sacrificial Love

Christ loved the church by giving “Himself up for her.” The husband who loves his wife as Christ loves His church will give up everything he has for his wife, including his life if necessary.

Most of you husbands would give verbal assent to that–literally dying for your wife is such a remote possibility for most of you. But I would speculate that it is much more difficult to make lesser, but actual sacrifices for her.

Husbands, when you put aside your own likes, desires, opinions, preferences, and welfare to please your wife and meet her needs, then you are truly dying to self to live for your wife. And that is what Christ’s love demands.

Purifying Love

Christ loved the church sacrificially with this goal in mind:

That He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless (vv. 26-27).

Love wants only the best for the one it loves, and it cannot bear for a loved one to be corrupted or misled by anything evil or harmful. If you really love your wife, you’ll do everything in your power to maintain her holiness, virtue, and purity every day you live.

That obviously means doing nothing to defile her. Don’t expose her to or let her indulge in anything that would bring impurity into her life. Don’t tempt her to sin by, say, inducing an argument out of her on a subject you know is sensitive to her. Love always seeks to purify.

Caring Love

Another aspect of divine love is this:

Husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church (vv. 28-29).

The word translated “cherishes” literally means “to warm with body heat”–it is used to describe a bird sitting on her nest (e.g., Deut. 22:6). Husbands, you are to provide a secure, warm, safe haven for your wife.

When your wife needs strength, give her strength. When she needs encouragement, give it to her. Whatever she needs, you are obligated to supply as best you can. God chose you to provide for and protect her, to nourish and cherish her, and to do so “as Christ also does the church.”

Unbreakable Love

For a husband to love his wife as Christ loves His church he must love her with an unbreakable love. In this direct quotation from Genesis 2:24, Paul emphasizes the permanence as well as the unity of marriage: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh” (v. 31). And God’s standard for marriage still hasn’t changed.

Husbands, your union with your wife is permanent. When you got married, you had to leave, cleave, and become one with your wife–never go back on that. Let your wife rest in the security of knowing that you belong to her, for life.

Just as the body of Christ is indivisible, God’s ideal for marriage is that it be indivisible. As Christ is one with His church, you husbands are one with your wives.

Paul goes on to say, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (v. 32). Why is submission as well as sacrificial, purifying, and caring love so strongly emphasized in Scripture? Because the sacredness of the church is wed to the sacredness of marriage.

Christian, your marriage is a testimony to the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. Your marriage will either tell the truth about that relationship, or it will tell a lie.

What is your marriage saying to the watching world? If you’ll walk in the power of the Spirit, yield to His Word, and be mutually submissive, you can know that God will bless you abundantly and glorify His Son through your marriage.

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