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Christian Living

February 29, 2012

I have been asked to write about the Christian position on birth control. This is something I have discussed in the past, but there are many ways to approach the topic and this time I would like to approach it from a bit of a different angle. I intend to share how I have gone about arriving at my own position. I will begin by immediately stating what the Bible clearly forbids when it comes to birth control. From there I will survey the Bible to find principles that are helpful in the discussion. That will take us to the end of this article, leaving me to say more another day.

We begin here: The Bible is silent on any explicit discussion of the subject of birth control. (If you are wondering about Onan, feel free to scroll to the bottom of this article.) Nowhere in the Bible does God command that a couple must or should use birth control at any stage in their marriage. Likewise, nowhere in the Bible does God explicitly forbid the use of birth control. It’s not that birth control did not exist in the day the Bible was written, but simply that God, for his own good purposes, chose not to give us explicit direction. However, the Bible has so much to say about marriage and sexuality and family and human life that we are not simply left guessing and hoping for the best.

What God Forbids

From what the Bible teaches about life and marriage, we can all affirm that two methods of birth control are clearly forbidden by Scripture.

God Forbids Abstinence. The Bible tells us that spouses are not to deprive one another but, rather, are to regularly enjoy the sexual relationship. The only exception is given by the Apostle Paul who says that a couple may abstain for a short time in order to devote themselves to prayer. “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). Long-term abstinence within marriage is not to be used as a method of birth control.

February 27, 2012

I am better at sinning than asking forgiveness. This morning, as if to prove this, I found myself thinking about a situation that came up a couple of years ago. For weeks I had been trying to figure out something with a nearby bank—something that should have been simple. It had been a comedy of errors. Every time I tried to do something (anything!), it seemed that their incompetence or ignorance conspired against me. I would receive a phone call telling me to come in and sign papers, but when I got there I would be told that the papers were actually still at the head office. The next time I went to the bank they ran around the branch scraping together some paperwork, all the while calling across the branch with personal details of my account and its contents (despite all kinds of other customers milling about). After a couple of weeks of this I had to admit that I had been holding on just to satisfy my own morbid curiosity as to whether they could actually follow through on any of their promises.

Finally I was told I could drop by to fill out the paperwork for a safe deposit box they had reserved for me. When I arrived at the branch I was told that all of the boxes were already spoken for. A little vein in my forehead started throbbing. I tried to explain with decreasing self-control that every time they called me to the branch I took time out of my day only to find that they had been wrong. The girl behind the counter explained that her manager and all other superiors were out at the moment but that they would call me when they arrived later. Of course I could also wait at the bank if I preferred. I rolled my eyes, barked something grumpy and stormed away with a black rain cloud over my head.

Fifteen minutes after I got home the branch called and left a message to say that there was a safe deposit box for me after all. Once again I headed back to the branch just hoping that I’d be able to get in a word or two with that manager. There was so much I wanted to say. I was ready. I was prepped.

February 20, 2012

My recent studies of Ephesians have marked me deeply. It may be that the most important application to my life has been in the awareness of Satan’s work around me and, on that basis, learning how to stand firm. Ephesians 6 is a powerful call to be aware of the enemy and his army; it teaches that there is an enemy who devotes his entire existence to the destruction of God’s work and God’s people. Every Christian is engaged in battle against him.

In his grace the Lord gives spiritual armor to equip us to fight this spiritual battle. What is God’s armor? Paul lists six things, six pieces of armor that allow you to stand in this battle.

Stand by arming yourself with truth. You arm yourself by fastening on the belt of truth. You arm yourself with truth by knowing the facts of what is true, by confessing the doctrine of the Bible. Once you know what is true and are growing in your knowledge of it, you practice the truth. You live your life in a way that shows that you actually believe these things and that they really do matter. Truth is not merely abstract facts, but the way we live our lives. If you don’t live like it’s true, you don’t really believe that it’s true! So arm yourself for battle, arm yourself to defeat Satan, by knowing what is true and living out that truth.

Stand by arming yourself with righteousness. You arm yourself by fastening on the breastplate, the body armor, of righteousness. You put on righteousness when you put on your new identity in Christ. You put on righteousness when you know and believe and proclaim that you are no longer a slave to sin, you are no longer dead in sin, but are now alive in Christ. When you became a Christian you were given a whole new identity and now you are now constantly battling to be who you are, to put on this new identity. Satan often calls this identity into question, trying to convince you that you still belong to him. But you can turn back his attacks by embracing and believing the truth that you belong to Christ.

February 08, 2012

The Prius Fallacy: “a belief that switching to an ostensibly more benign form of consumption turns consumption itself into a boon for the environment.” That’s how David Owen, in his recent Wall Street Journal article, “It’s Too Easy Being Green,” defines the Prius Fallacy. Here’s how he illustrates it in action:

A favorite trick of people who consider themselves friends of the environment is reframing luxury consumption preferences as gifts to humanity. A new car, a solar-powered swimming-pool heater, a 200-mile-an-hour train that makes intercity travel more pleasant and less expensive, better-tasting tomatoes—these are the sacrifices we’re prepared to make for the future of the planet.

He lays on the sarcasm pretty thick in that last sentence, but in case you don’t catch it in the article he finishes with the clarification, “Our capacity for self-deception can be breathtaking.”

Owen’s article is insightful and rather humorous as he considers what many of us find ourselves thinking about consumption: that by substituting what we would ordinarily consume with a different product (which, typically, also happens to be nicer, more expensive and “greener”) we’re somehow consuming less. But that’s not true. The result is that we actually end up consuming more, and justifying it more.

Even when we act with what we believe to be the best of intentions, our efforts are often at cross-purposes with our goals. Increasing the efficiency of lighting encourages us to illuminate more. Relieving traffic congestion reduces the appeal of public transit and fuels the growth of suburban sprawl. A robust market for ethanol exacerbates global hunger by diverting cropland from the production of food.

Near the end of the article he gets at the heart of what is going on:

February 07, 2012

For thousands of years soldiers have known that to defeat your enemy you must know your enemy. If you go into a battle blind, with no knowledge of the army against you, you can expect to be defeated. But the better you know your enemy—the way he moves, the way he attacks, the kinds of weaponry he uses—the more you can be prepared to defeat him.

In Ephesians 6, as Paul draws to the close of this letter, he begins to speak about spiritual warfare and portrays the Christian life as a battleground. When he does that, he introduces the enemy of the Christian and tells us five things about him.

The enemy leader is Satan

The enemy is led by Satan. Paul tells us that we need to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” The first thing he does is name the enemy general or the enemy king. This army is led by Satan. Ever since he fell into sin, Satan has been the enemy of God and God’s people. He is not the only enemy, but the arch-enemy, the leader of all the others.

Satan is unlike God in that he is not omnipresent—he is not present everywhere. He is a created being who can be in only one place at one time, but like any general, he has many captains and soldiers to do his work for him. So we battle against Satan the way Allied soldiers in the Second World War battled against Hitler: Not directly, but by battling against his foot soldiers. But all the while, we know that it is really Satan who is behind the enemy forces and that he is the ultimate enemy.

The enemy is spiritual

The enemy is spiritual. Paul says “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil.” This tells us that our enemy is a spiritual enemy. If we are to battle a spiritual enemy, it stands to reason that we need spiritual armour. Paul goes on to say, of course, that the Lord provides us exactly the armour we need. This also means that our battle is not against other people—not first and foremost—but against spiritual forces. Your unbelieving neighbor is not your enemy; he is a person created in God’s image who has been taken captive by the enemy and is in dire need of rescue. But your battle is not with him; your battle is a spiritual one against spiritual forces.

February 06, 2012

This is my once-monthly post on the Puritan John Owen. In this series of posts I am sharing some of what John Owen says about putting sin to death, or what he calls mortification. I have been going through John Owen’s book Overcoming Sin and Temptation and trying to distill each chapter to its essence—to a few choice quotes that capture the flavor of what Owen is trying to communicate.

So far we’ve looked at The Foundation of Mortification, we’ve been encouraged to Daily Put Sin to Death, to understand that It Is the Holy Spirit Who Puts Sin to Death and to acknowledge that Your Spiritual Life Depends Upon Killing Sin. Last month we saw What It Is Not to Put Sin to Death. Today we look to the flip-side of last month’s teaching and see what it is to put sin to death.

Here are the three things Owen teaches…

Mortification Consists of a Habitual Weakening of Sin

Though this quote serves as introduction rather than the main point, I thought it was too good not to share:

The reason why a natural man is not always perpetually in the pursuit of some one lust, night and day, is because he has many to serve, every one crying to be satisfied; thence he is carried on with great variety, but still in general he lies toward the satisfaction of self.

Owen is a straight-shooter! He says that the only reason you are not absolutely consumed with any one sin is that you have many other sins to serve. And then he goes on to share the first thing you need to know about putting sin to death.

The first thing in mortification is the weakening of this habit of sin or lust, that it shall not, with that violence, earnestness, frequency, rise up, conceive, tumultuate, provoke, entice, disquiet as naturally as it is apt to do.

The first thing to observe as you begin to put sin to death is that sin becomes progressively weaker so that over time it does not rise up with the same violence, frequency or force. This means that success against sin is not only in destroying it entirely, but in weakening its grasp on us.

February 02, 2012

Do you remember when you used to have a memory? Do you remember when you could actually remember stuff and when you actually needed to remember stuff? You know, stuff like phone numbers or recipes or Bible verses. Those days seem to be nearing an end. An interesting new study from psychology professors at Columbia University, the University Of Wisconsin-Madison, and Harvard University comes to this rather startling conclusion: “We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools.” It’s not just that we are no longer remembering things, but we are entrusting to our tools the things we used to entrust to ourselves. In this way we are becoming symbiotic with our tools, with our machines, forming an interdependent kind of relationship.

It is the ease with which we access information through the Internet that has gotten us here. The days of solving our questions by going to the library, searching the index system and looking for the book in the midst of all the shelves are long since gone. The days of walking over the bookcase and pulling out the relevant volume of the encyclopedia are gone as well. Instead, we now head straight to our computers or cell phones or iPads—whatever it is that we use to connect to the Internet.

The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger. No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can “Google” the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue. The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.

Just like people used to think “book” when they wanted information, we now think “computer” and “Google.” With information so easily accessible and so bountiful, we have less reason than ever to invest the time and effort necessary to move that information into our minds—to fully internalize it. Instead we trust that the Internet will retain it and we value only the ability to know where to find it. The more convinced we are that the information will always be available to us online, the less likely we are to memorize it. Instead we just remember where we can access it when we need it again.

February 01, 2012

Last week I shared three articles titled A Picture-Perfect Marriage. That short series looked to Ephesians 5 and the great mystery that is marriage. I showed from that text that marriage is, and always has been, a portrait of Christ and his church. But at the end of it all I was left with a question: What is the role of the sexual relationship in this great mystery? I had to take a shot at answering that question at a recent conference and want to share today how I understand it.

We have established that marriage is a portrait of Christ and the church and that both husband and wife have a part to play in this portrait. The wife completes her part when she joyfully submits to the leadership of her husband and the husband completes his part when he joyfully and lovingly gives himself up for his wife. But how does the sexual relationship fit into God’s good design for marriage? I will admit from the outset that the answer isn’t quite as clear in Scripture as I might have expected, but I will give it a try and eagerly await your feedback.

God’s Good Design

It ought to go without saying that the Bible knows no good in sex outside of the marriage relationship. In love God says that within marriage sex is to be enjoyed and to be enjoyed freely and regularly; in love God says that outside marriage, sex of any kind is strictly forbidden. Why? Because God designed sex for a specific purpose and that purpose can only be expressed within marriage. Any other expression of sexuality, whether that is adultery or fornication or any kind of self-centered sex—all of these things ignore God’s design for sex and reinterprets it according to our sinful designs.

To understand why God says that sex is to exist only within marriage, we need to look at the covenantal nature of the marriage relationship. Marriage is a covenant that a husband and wife enter into, a covenant in which they come together before God and before other people and are made one. It is not the rings or the white dress or even the sexual union that makes marriage, but the covenant (which is why, in older times, betrothal was considered as unbreakable as marriage). While husband and wife obviously remain two individuals, two independent life forms, there is now a sense in which God regards them as one entity. Each is now responsible to the other and joined to the other to such an extent that in some mysterious way God now views them as being one. In Ephesians 5 Paul goes all the way back to Genesis 2 and reminds the reader that “a man shall leave his mother and father and be joined to his wife and the two shall be one flesh.”

January 30, 2012

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Francis Schaeffer. Though I never met the man and though I haven’t read more than small pieces of his books, I owe a great debt of gratitude to him. Schaeffer shaped me by first shaping my parents. To mark this date I asked my parents if they would tell how Francis Schaeffer saved their saved souls.

(This afternoon you’ll have a chance to win The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer)

Francis SchaefferFrancis Schaeffer did not save my soul. But he did save my saved soul. Let me explain.

My husband, John, and I became Christians in 1972. Neither one of us has had a moment’s doubt about the truth claims of Scripture since that time. But those first years were very difficult, nonetheless, both doctrinally and emotionally. Why?

We became Christians through Pentecostals, as do so many. They were fine people—loving, supportive, passionate in their faith. But, their theological flaws quickly exhausted us to the point we could not see our way forward in Christian life. What were these flaws? The most important was their two-tier approach to knowing God. The Bible was considered an important means to knowledge of God, undoubtedly. But, the superior way, just as undoubtedly, was to know God “directly”. Not through the medium of Scripture but im-mediately, mystically, through the revelations and experiences of tongues and prophecies. Sounds good in one sense, doesn’t it? But, as I said above, in practice, how exhausting! God’s ways and thoughts had to be known day by day rather than once and for all. In no time, we were two worn out little pilgrims. I remember saying to John, “There is no more security in Christian life than there is in non-Christian living.”

And then a wonderful friend told us about Francis Schaeffer. At the first possible opportunity, on our honeymoon to be exact!, we stopped by Swiss L’Abri. We read all of Schaeffer’s books. We spent a summer at English L’Abri.  And, four years later, we took our then-family of two boys—Andrew and baby challies.com (aka Tim)—back to English L’Abri for an entire year.

January 25, 2012

Over the past two days I have been writing about Ephesians 5 and the great mystery of marriage—that in some way marriage is a portrait, a reflection, of the relationship of Christ to his church. In the first article I introduced this metaphor and in the second I spoke about how the wife completes her part of the picture.

Paul now speaks to husbands and here is what he says (in Ephesians 5:25:32): Husbands, you make your marriage an accurate portrait of the real marriage when you give up your life to your wife. You have the unique task of displaying the gospel in your willing, joyful, loving leadership of your wife. In this relationship that is meant to be a portrait of the relationship of Christ to the church, the husband is called to be an accurate portrait of Christ. Husbands, you are to be toward your wife as Christ is toward his church. That is a little bit abstract so let’s see how it takes shape by asking three questions: What, how and why?


What is a husband to do to? Husband, love your wife and give yourself up for her. Notice that Paul does not exactly parallel what he has said to wives. He does not immediately command you to be the head of your wife. He has told your wife to submit to your leadership, but he doesn’t begin by saying, “Husbands, lead!” Instead, he tells you to be filled with love for your wife. You are to lead in love, to give yourself up. This is not love as we may think of it in our culture—love as an emotion or love as something that is purely physical. True love is an act of will. It requires action. You are not commanded to be romantically warm and fuzzy with your wife, though hopefully you have that too, but you are told to act in love toward her. 

The model for your love is Christ’s love for his people. How did Christ love his people? How much did he love his bride? He loved in action, not just in words or feelings. He gave himself up for her. He gave up his life. Christ gave himself up, he did not get given up. He was active and deliberate. Christ may still have shown love for us if he went to the cross kicking and screaming and protesting his innocence and begging to be let go. But how much more is his love displayed in his willing sacrifice, in going to the cross of his own volition. You display your love for your wife when you willingly, joyfully give yourself up for her.