Cannon Beach Q&A, Part 1
Last week I spoke at Cannon Beach Conference Center in Cannon Beach, Oregon. On Friday morning we had a question and answer session based on questions we had received from the audience. During the Q&A time, contemporary Christian musician Clay Crosse served as moderator. This turned out to be one of the best sessions of the week.
We have posted the audio of that session so you can listen online. For the next several days I'm going to post some of the questions along with brief summaries of my answers.
If God cannot look on sin, why does Satan come into his presence in the book of Job?
The question refers to the fact that Satan appears in Job 1 when the angels present themselves before the Lord. Verse 6 says that "Satan also came with them." That fact emphasizes the absolute sovereignty of God over all things, including the devil himself. Though Satan has been roaming throughout the earth (v. 7 and compare with 1 Peter 5:8), he must give an account of his activities to the Lord. He is not equal with God, and even in his rebellion he still must answer to the Almighty. We can assume from this that Satan was not permitted to lie or to commit any other acts of rebellion while in the presence of God. Though he is evil through and through, he must answer truthfully to the Lord.
We can't get to heaven by our works but only through Jesus Christ. Is there a sin that breaks that relationship, such as recanting your faith? if there is no sin that can kick me out of the family of God, why should we lead a virtuous life?
The question implies that fear of losing our salvation somehow impels us to obedience or that we will live virtuously because we fear that God will remove our salvation if we don't. It helps to remember that the Christian life is truly life "with Christ." Because he now lives in us (Colossians 1:27), we have a new disposition to love and serve him. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that we become a "new creation" through our relationship with Christ. This means that Christianity at its heart is not a religion. It's a relationship with Jesus himself. Let me give you my favorite definition of a Christian. A Christian is a person in whom Christ now lives (Galatians 2:20).
Can we do things displease the Lord? The answer is yes. But though we displease him, he will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Just as my three sons can never cease being my sons, I can never cease to be a child of God. I would hope that if my sons should ever sin grievously, they will remember that I still love them. Nothing they do can undo the relationship that exists between us. In the same way, those who are truly born again by the Spirit can never be "un-born", not even by their own sinful choices.
When I think of my earthly father, I realize that he was not a perfect man (no earthly father is perfect), but I loved and respected him and wanted to please him. I knew it was an honor to be "Dr. Pritchard's son" and with that honor came an obligation that remains with me to this day, 36 years after he died. I still bear his name and want to live so that I bring credit to him. In the same way, I want to honor my Lord and live so that others think well of him.
How do you respond to your enemies? How do you reconcile Matthew 5, Psalms, Romans 12?
Evil manifests itself in different ways in the world and our responses will correspondingly be different at different times. While Matthew 5 speaks of turning the other cheek, the so-called Imprecatory Psalms (see for example Psalm 7, Psalm 55, Psalm 58) are those in which the Lord is asked to take vengeance upon evildoers. Sometimes very colorful language is used, such as "Smite them hip and thigh" and "Break their jaws" as part of a larger prayer to God.
Anger often is a very legitimate emotion in the face of blatant evil. If we can hear about child trafficking and not get angry, then something is wrong with us. If we hear about adultery, broken marriages, broken homes, latchkey kids, violence in the streets, crack cocaine being sold like candy on street corners, if those things happen and we don't care, then we need to take a good look in the mirror because something is wrong with us. If the legalized murder of one million unborn babies through abortion doesn't offend us, then perhaps we've gotten too comfortable with sin. So there is a time and place when we respond with strong emotion when we pray. It's not wrong to ask God to bring the evildoers to justice, to stop them in their tracks, and to bring upon them what they planned to do to others.
But that is not the whole story. Especially when we have been personally injured or when our loved ones have been hurt, we are not to lash out in anger or take matters in our own hands. We are to bless those who curse us (Luke 6:27-28). This requires supernatural grace. I have found it helpful when I am very angry to express my feelings to the Lord and then pray that the Lord would give to my enemies the blessings I seek for myself. Sometimes I have said, "Lord, if you have to make a choice, bless them first." Somehow that seems to unclog the channel so that I can forgive and begin to move toward healing in my own heart.
We don't need to "reconcile" those passages because they aren't really in conflict. They simply speak to different moments in life. Not all anger is sinful (Ephesians 4:26), but the only way to move beyond it is to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and bless those who have hurt us deeply.
What do we say to "Gay Christians" who insist their gay lifestyle is consistent with Christianity and want us to accept what they do?
The answer is not difficult though putting it into practice may be very hard for us. We are called to treat all men with love and respect as those who with us are made in God's image. But we must not compromise what the Bible says. When God says something is sin, that should settle the matter for us. So unless we are prepared to stand in judgment over the Bible and say that we know more than God does, we must say to our friends that sin is not decided by the latest opinion poll. If we lower the standard God himself has set, how will we ever help those caught in sexual sin? Redefining sin traps the sinner because it gives him no hope of forgiveness and redemption.
Should we expect that "Gay Christians" will be happy with what we say? Probably not. Will it end up breaking some friendships? Possibly. But we have no choice. We can be friends with people from all backgrounds, but we must not call evil good and good evil. And while we can be friends with "Gay Christians," we cannot extend Christian fellowship to them and pretend that Romans 1 doesn't mater. In the end, this isn't about sexual behavior. It's about biblical authority. Will we place ourselves under the authority of God's Word even when society at large mocks us as narrow-minded fools? I would rather be thought a fool by the world than someday be called unfaithful when I stand before the Lord.