The Bible and Sexual Immorality

The 21st century doesn’t have a monopoly on sexual sin. Sexual wickedness has haunted every age since the fall of man. God has used water, fire and the sword to scrub previous civilizations clean of their moral rot. The Greek and Roman cultures were both so morally corrupt that they finally imploded – weakened and destroyed by their own lust. But what does seem to be unique to our day is that professing Christians – Bible toting, Bible believing Christians – have become quite at home in a culture deeply entrenched in all manner of sexual evil.  It doesn’t shock us. It doesn’t upset us. It doesn’t offend our consciences. The truth is, that unless it is really bad, sexual immorality just seems normal – even entertaining to many present day church folks! Many would even admit to telling dirty jokes, viewing pornography and watching sexuality explicit movies! This, however, is not the biblical norm.

Sexual Immorality (porneia) is Sub-Christian

Sexual immorality [any illicit sexual behavior including adultery, fornication, homosexuality, incest, prostitution, rape, lust, bestiality, pornography , sexual touch with someone who is not my spouse and voyeurism] is included on every list of “sins” in both Old and New Testaments. Jesus, Paul and all the Biblical writers understood and taught that sexual activity outside of marriage between and man and a woman was wrong. The first Jerusalem Council made it very clear to the new converts coming out of paganism and into the Church that sexual immorality is “sub-Christian” and is unacceptable. Sexual immorality is so incompatible with the Christian life that Paul tells the Ephesian church that it is not enough to just not do these sins , “but among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place . . .” (Eph. 5:3-4).

Sexual Immorality is a Sin against the Body

The culture of our day insists that the freedom to express ourselves sexually in any way we choose is essential to our identity has human beings. But God’s Word plainly says that the body belongs to Him and immoral sexual behavior is a sin “against the body” (I Cor. 6:15-20). Many sins bring defilement and destruction to the body but sexual immorality goes further and desecrates the body in the same mystical way that the temple is desecrated by bringing an idol into it.

Sexual Immorality is so Highly Contagious that we dare not have

Intimate Fellowship with People who are Sexually Immoral

In I Cor. 5: 6-7, 9-11 Paul tells the Corinthians, “your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world … since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality—not even to eat with such a one”. Paul is quite blunt here. He makes it plain that we don’t “coddle” but rather “cut off” the sexually immoral person who claims to be a Christian yet chooses to persist in their immorality. The Corinthian man who pursued an incestuous relationship was to be handed “over to Satan.” This does not mean we do not show them love. It means we show them “tough love”. Love and grace are redemptive and transformative – not just accepting and tolerant.

Sexual Immorality has Irreversible Consequences

Proverbs 6:27-33 says, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished. People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry, but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold; he will give all the goods of his house. He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself. He will get wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will not be wiped away”.

How does the church deal with Sexual Immorality?

1. Create a zero tolerance for all sexual immorality. This means condemning all inappropriate sexual behavior and all sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman.

2. When sexual immorality happens within the body of Christ, discipline should be administered fairly and without impartiality.

3. Preach the Gospel. It is only the Gospel of Jesus Christ that can free anyone from the bondage of sexual sin. Counseling has many good things to offer in the healing and helping processes, but only the power of the gospel and walking in the Spirit frees from the “lust of the flesh.”

4. Lead – don’t just react. Teach people, especially young people, how to establish Biblical guardrails in their life. Guardrails are established in a safe zone to keep us from going into an unsafe zone. The idea is to help them choose behavior that keeps them some distance away from disaster.

5. Be redemptive. Create an environment that makes it easy to confess failure, seek help and find forgiveness.

The Church – A Community of Faith

– Winter 2011

The Church – A Community of Faith

America is blessed with a lot of churches.  Some sit astride prominent street corners proudly displaying their architectural glory while others are tucked away indiscreetly between a used shoe store and a day old bakery in a weary strip mall on the tired side of town.  Some have one word names like “Grace.”  Others have names so long that you can’t say the full name without stopping to breathe. Most have the stereotypical church look, while others resemble something between a cinema and a warehouse.  It is not, however, the architect they display, the appellation they wear, or the affiliations they boast that makes them a church.

The New Testament doesn’t provide a simple concise definition of the Church other than what is found in the meaning of the Greek word for Church (ekklesia) which is “the called out ones.”   What it does provide is long narratives portraying the Church in action, colorful word pictures of what the church is like, specific duties that the Church should fulfill, doctrinal standards that the Church should teach and prophetic insights of how the Church can stray from the path and lose its way.

History has taught us that the Church needs periods of reformation and times of revival to keep it doctrinally sound, morally pure and faithful to its calling. At other times, the Church needs change that is less radical and might be described as a course correction.  These internal corrections need to be made because the Church has a hard time keeping its balance.    Certain imbalances can be attributed to the peculiarities of leadership.  Others are derived from simply over-emphasizing one truth to the neglect of other balancing truths. The worse imbalances, however, grow out of the fertile soil of fear. When the church and its leaders do what they do or fail to do what they should do out of fear, the church will inevitably suffer from some imbalance.

The Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement, by its very nature, is a challenge to the CHM to address particular areas of weakness or failure. The call is not designed to enumerate all the good things that could be said about the CHM.  Article III of the call speaks to the CHM’s community of faith and addresses some of the imbalances in the way the CHM views its own community of faith and the community of faith at large.  I think it is important to note that even though these imbalances are real and need addressed, the average conservative holiness church is a wonderful place to worship.  In my opinion, they still offer one of the best environments available to raise a family; hear the Word of God fearlessly proclaimed; feel conviction for sin while at the same time find the power of grace; hear fervent praying; sense the moving of God’s Spirit; worship with people who are serious about everyday holiness; and find an environment that truly helps one to keep his feet on the narrow path that leads to life eternal!

Nevertheless, the CHM does have a significant imbalance in the way it views its own differing communities of faith as well as how it views the larger community of faith.  The Movement at large and the various denominations within suffer from a culture of suspicion toward those who do not share their particularities.  They also suffer from a certain insularity that robs them of the insight, wisdom and balance that could be derived from the larger Christian community.  This condition varies in degree from denomination to denomination and from church to church, but it is present and needs to be honestly confronted and openly addressed.

A Culture of Suspicion

The CHM highly values the Biblical call to separation from the world.  As appropriate and good as this may be, inherent in any serious commitment to “Biblical separation” is the temptation to be suspicious of others who may have a lesser degree or even a greater degree of separation that we do.  Just as the call to holy living can veer off the path into perfectionism, the call to separation from the world can veer off the path into isolationism – an isolation that breeds a carnal suspicion of anyone and everyone that doesn’t see it like I do or share my particular version of how the faithful ought to manifest their faith. This has been a perennial bane for the CHM.   Rev. Tom Reed says this kind of suspicion has caused us to “play God – determining who is or is not a Christian based on the way we see things.”  Clearly if this suspicion is left unchecked, it will lead to a spirit of judging and condemnation of the larger community of faith as well as to divisions within our own CHM family.  Even now many groups within the CHM will not use a speaker from another group within the CHM because of suspicion and fear. Conservative leaders could use their influence and voice to help remedy this disease with a cure that doesn’t require anyone to compromise their corporate values or personal convictions.  It only requires a renewed understanding and commitment to the teachings of I Cor. 8-10 and Rom. 14.  Add to that a fresh supply of the “love of God poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” and we can be well on our way to removing the ethos of suspicion and division among us.

A Detachment from the Larger Christian Community

In I Cor. 12 Paul reminds us that the Church is a body made up of many different members; each contributing something that the other members cannot give.  This has an application to both the local body and to the larger body of Christ.  It seems to me that God has given the various traditions of the Christian Church particular insights into truth and practice that He has not given in the same degree to all.  He must expect us to learn from one another.  I have learned much about prayer by reading from both Catholic and Evangelical writers.  I have   been immeasurably enriched by the writings and teachings of evangelicals like C. S. Lewis, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Ravi Zacharias and Chuck Colson.  The expository preaching and teaching of men like John MacArthur, David Jeremiah and Howard Hendricks have added great value to the life of the whole Church and challenged others to take the Scriptures more seriously.  The work of William Booth, Mother Teresa and Erlo Stegen have challenged me to the core of my spiritual being to be mindful of the downtrodden and disenfranchised among us.  Where would America’s families be today without the ministry of James Dobson?  Personally, no one has challenged me more in the area of spiritual intimacy and holiness than Dennis Kinlaw and John Oswalt.

It must be noted that not a single name mentioned above identifies with the CHM.  Yet each one of them has spoken powerfully into my life and the lives of many conservative holiness people.  In preparation for writing this article I spoke with the Rev. Tom Reed, who is an elder statesman within the CHM.  He shared with me a list of men outside our tradition who have been used of God to advance his own spiritual life.  He mentioned: H.A. Ironsides (a former pastor of Moody church), A.W. Tozer (he visited his church often on Sunday evenings), Paul Rees, Vance Havner, S. M. Lockridge and Howard Hendricks.  He added this insightful comment, “these were not holiness men but they were holy men and I refuse to write them off just because they see some things differently than me”.

The CHM has tended to isolate themselves from these “outside” voices.  They fear that they might be a corruptive or a persuasive influence, or even worse, that if we allow anyone to minister to us that does not fully share all our values we have somehow compromised and demeaned those values.  Some of this kind of thinking grows out of simple fear.  In other cases I think it is because we have failed to distinguish between a Romans 14 category issue (opinions, preferences, interpretations, etc…) and a Galatians 1 category issue (false doctrine or heresy) and have treated all outside voices as if they were in the Galatians 1 category.  Mature leaders should be more discerning than this. I know many laymen who already exercise this kind of discernment by means of radio, books, CD’s and DVD’s that they buy and listen to.

Let me clear, I am not advocating an open door policy on “outside voices”.  I am certainly not encouraging local churches to open up their pulpits to men and women from other traditions.  What I am suggesting is that in our large conventions, conferences and forums we need to occasionally hear what our brothers and sisters outside the CHM have to say to us. God is working powerfully in His world through many of these choice servants. There are many outside our little circle who are far outstripping us in their passion for the lost, their zeal for the disenfranchised, their insight into scripture and their love for holiness. To hear what they are doing, to be challenged by their successes and to learn from their insight will not and does not diminish my love for my Zion nor make me want to jettison my spiritual tradition and values!  It simply makes me a better servant of the Lord!

We Have Something to Offer the Church

The sword of isolation cuts two ways.  We are cut off from what the larger Christian community can give us and the larger Christian community is cut off from what we can bring to it. The CHM is the beneficiary of hundreds of years of rich holiness heritage.  We have grown up embracing and experiencing truths that some in the body of Christ will never know or experience. We have some preachers who are as capable and anointed as any out there anywhere.  Our emphasis on personal transformation, purity of heart, perfect love, real character development, growth in grace and freedom from the power of sin are emphasis that are needed by the larger body of Christ!  Surely what God has freely bestowed on us we ought to freely share with others!

My plea is not for some silly, stupid ecumenicalism!  It is a simple plea for us to both reap and share the bounty of spiritual riches that are ours in Christ and found within the various members of His Body – including our own.  The late H. E. Schmul, one of the greatest conservative holiness statesmen I ever knew, use to lead us in singing, “I don’t care what church you belong to, Just as long as for Calvary you stand.  Just as long as your heart beats with my heart, You’re my brother, so give me your hand”.  Somebody strike the tune and let’s sing it again!

Made for Intimacy

–Winter of 2004

Made for Intimacy

Theologians sometimes speak of a God-shaped vacuum within us.  What they are describing is an inner emptiness at the core of our being that only God can fill.  Our Creator has designed us that way; it’s a part of being made in His image. Just as the divine Persons live in intimate Trinitarian relationship, so human persons cannot be complete without intimate relationships. Our inner emptiness is only removed by a relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  We were created for intimacy.

The first glimpses we have of God and man are ones showing the importance of intimacy.  God teaches Adam that it’s not good for him to be alone and provides Eve as his wife. Then we see God strolling along with Adam and Eve, in the cool of the day, enjoying one another’s company and the beauties of Eden’s paradise.  This is a scene that is repeated often in the opening pages of the Bible.   God walks and talks with Enoch, Noah, and Abraham.  It’s as if He wants to make clear early on His overwhelming desire and need to relate to us in intimate fellowship.

Yet most of us know far more about the absence of intimacy than the reality of it. Our culture is permeated with a sense of aloneness and isolation.  Far too many of the people I meet (including Christians) do not carry the marks of intimate fellowship with God.

The psalmist David knew something about the joy of intimacy as well as the agonizing pain of emptiness.  David was taken from tending sheep to become one of the most powerful kings of Israel.  He drank deeply from the fountain of success.  He had victory in battle, power over others, and abundant wealth.  Yet, these things couldn’t fill his inner life.  He cried, “As the deer longs for the water brook, so longs my souls for You, Oh God.”  David knew that communion with God was more important than anything else. He said it this way, “There is one thing I have desired of the Lord, and I will seek it; to live with Him in His house all the days of my life, to contemplate His beauty, and to study at His feet.”   The driving passion of David’s life was to maintain intimate union and communion with God.  If he could only accomplish one thing in life, then intimacy with God would be that one thing.

That sounds strange to Western Christians who live in a culture passionate about success and driven to accumulate.  Yet Jesus shows his agreement with David when he stood between a stressed out Martha and a seeking Mary and said to Martha, “One thing is essential, and Mary has chosen it.”

When we choose intimacy with God, we find an inner joy and peace that nothing can take away.  When we choose preoccupation with earthly things (no matter how legitimate), we find disappointment, frustration, resentment, self-centeredness, anger and sometimes bitterness.

Intimacy with God is the only answer to inner emptiness.  And it can only be found in being loved by God, loving Him in return, and walking in intimate union and communion with Him.  If you lack the intimacy you know you should have, whatever the reason, draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.


–March of 2003


In last year’s winter issue I shared my list of New Year’s Resolutions and pledged to write an article on each one.  The second of those resolutions was a commitment to enlarge my understanding of spirituality.  My findings are offered to you in this article.  So that you can understand what I mean by spirituality, let me offer you a working definition that Klaus Isslar gives in his book, Wasting Time with God.

Christian spirituality involves a deepening trust and friendship with God for those who are in Christ Jesus.  More specifically, it is an ever growing, experientially dynamic relationship with our Trinitarian God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–through the agency of the indwelling spirit of God.

The Bible assumes it to be self-evident that we can know God intimately.

Leaping out from almost every page of scripture is a God who affects us and is affected by us.  The Old Testament reveals a God that speaks, pleads, loves, works and manifests himself to His people.  He walks with Adam and Eve in the garden, eats with Abraham by his tent, and argues with Moses on the mountaintop.  The gospels give us a front row seat as the eternal Son wraps the garments of human flesh about him, steps onto the stage of life and interacts with man.  Yet, to many, the idea of being intimate with God is still mystical and illusive.  A certain distance remains in their relationship.

 How can we develop spirituality?

Dallas Willard in his book, Renovation of the Heart, says, “The perceived distance and difficulty of entering fully into the divine world and its life is due entirely to our failure to understand that “the way in” is the way of pervasive inner transformation and to our failure to take the small steps that quietly and certainly lead to it.”  The following is what I perceive to be those essential steps.

 Spiritual formation is a deliberate choice.

Like any friendship, you must work at developing friendship with God.  It has to be a priority in your life. The psalmist David passionately wanted to know God above all else. He described his pursuit of God with worlds like: longing, yearning, thirsting and hungering. Jacob’s passion for God kept him wrestling with God all through the night.  To the Apostle Paul nothing mattered more; it was the first priority, total focus and ultimate goal of his life. (Matt. 5:6, Phil. 3:10, James 4:8)

 Spiritual formation is a team effort.

Spiritual development happens experientially as we walk with Jesus Christ.  He invites us to step into the “yoke of training” with Him.  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me…” (Matt. 11:28-30)

Furthermore, we need not be limited by our own experiences to deepen our knowledge of God.  Much can be learned through the stories and experiences of other believers.  Thus, to know God more fully can only come about within a growing and God-knowing community of saints. (Heb. 10:24-25)

 Spiritual formation takes time.

Holy character is developed in a crock-pot not a microwave.  Most of my readers will have to have a change in lifestyle before they ever know God more deeply.  To spend time in reflection, meditation and solitude is a waste of time to most American Christians and in our Western culture wasting time is a sin.  But if we want to model the public life of Jesus then we must follow the pattern of his private life (Luke 5:15-16).

 Spiritual formation requires authenticity.

The Saints of Scripture were honest with God about their feelings.  Abraham was allowed to question and challenge God over the destruction of Sodom.  David made accusations to God of unfairness, betrayal and abandonment.  Jeremiah confronted God with the charge of being tricked.  God can handle that kind of honesty and in fact encourages it.  True intimacy is built on disclosure and openness.

Spiritual formation engages the mind.

One of the freedoms we have as human beings is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon. A mind that is filled with holy influences will be a mind that is strong in retaining the knowledge of God.  Read good books!  Discuss and debate what you’ve learned.  Keep your mind on the stretch for spiritual development.   There have been many great saints who had no formal education, but there were and are no great saints who have not educated their minds in the deep things of God. (Romans 12:1)

 Spiritual formation needs our emotions.

J.I. Packer wrote, “ We must not lose sight of the fact that knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one, and could not indeed be a deep relation between persons were it no so.”

  Spiritual formation uses all the means of grace.

The capacity to remember and abide in God’s presence comes only through steady training.  The classic spiritual disciplines provide that training.  Saints through the ages have used the following disciplines to develop spirituality in their lives: meditation, communication, fasting, journaling/reflection, prayer, accountability, and practicing the presence of God.

 How do we know if we are making progress?

Successful spiritual formation in Christ will be evidenced in our lives.  We will be enabled to walk increasingly in the wholeness, holiness, and power of the Kingdom of God. Yet a vital part, maybe the most vital part, of spiritual formation is not seen but sensed.  Sensed not in our successes but in the keen awareness of what is yet to be done. A man who is being spiritually transformed is like a man carrying a lantern before him on a long, or not so long, pole: the light is in front of him, always lighting up fresh ground and always encouraging him to walk further.

Developing spiritual intimacy with God is a lifelong and eternity-long adventure.  One that is well worth the journey!