What Is Love?

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

Love is in the air – or is it?

There has been a lot of talk recently about what love is and who has been hindering it. Politicians are coming out about it and the courts are getting ready to come down on it. A recent tweet from the President reads, “Every American should be able to marry the person they love. #LoveIsLove”

This sounds like a good hashtag. It seems legitimate on one level. Who would dare hinder true love from being complete? Why would anyone stand in opposition to love? Wouldn’t it be hatred to oppose love?

The problem is that love is not up for a vote. Love is not play-doh to be smushed into any shape we want. Love cannot be determined by popular consensus, humanity, or any political party.

The problem with the “Love is love” motto is that it actually distorts love.

The good news is that we can define love. We can answer the question. There is hope in the world because love actually exists and is not up for debate. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

God is love and he is the one who defines the term. We should also note that it is of paramount importance that we get love right. The one who does not love does not know God.

If God calls something evil, then it is unloving to support it. If God calls something good, then it is hatred to oppose it.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

God has called homosexuality a sin and his definition is not outdated. It is not the unpardonable sin, but it is nonetheless a sin. (Rom 1:24-27; 1 Tim 1:10) God has called marriage good and requires the marriage bed to remain undefiled. (Heb 13:4)  To place sin into the marriage bed is opposing the very author and definer of love Himself – God.

The stunning reality of this whole ordeal is that Love took on human flesh and died a brutal death for sinners. Jesus is the embodiment of love and he bore the wrath of God for anyone who would turn from their sin and believe in His name. Jesus is not afraid of any sin – including homosexuality. He took the terrible wrath of God full on when he died upon the tree. He rose victoriously from the grave to offer forgiveness to anyone who would turn from their sin and believe.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived:neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed,you were sanctified,you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

What is love? It is God extending mercy to anyone who will call upon his name. It is telling others about what God has done and what he says about the world. It is upholding truth, mercy, and justice in accordance with God’s Word.

What is hatred? It is distorting love and defining it however we feel. It is opposing truth, beauty, goodness, and God’s created order. It is rejecting the good news of Jesus for sinners.

If we become the arbiters of marital love, then we can make it into whatever we desire. We can “love” a man, woman, child, cat, or all of the above. The possibilities are only bound by our options.

But there is more at risk than crumbling our society. If we appoint ourselves as the captain of our own love boat, we will either shipwreck or remain drifting at sea. In the effort to obtain “love”, we will actually miss it. We will seek our own desires but never be satisfied.

The call of the hour is to lay down every sinful desire and run to the loving arms of God.

Happy Intercession Day

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

It is important to note that the story does not end with Jesus rising from the dead. Christians may understand Christ’s resurrection, but the emphasis of Christ’s exaltation could be neglected. Jesus ascends into heaven and sits down at the right hand of God the Father. God placed Jesus on display for all to see, enjoy, and obey.

I was recently jarred by this idea when reading New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ by Dr. Tom Schreiner. He argues that it is the exaltation of Christ through the resurrection that crowns Jesus as king. All of the prophecies in the Old Testament about the Messiah are fulfilled and proven true in this event. In Psalm 110:1, God tells God to sit at His right hand. God the Father asks God the Son to join him on his ruling throne. In Acts 2:36, the Apostle Peter realizes this and says, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus who you crucified.”

This means that Jesus was in some sense not ruling as king until this event.

“We know from the Gospel of Luke that Jesus was the Christ during his earthly ministry, and therefore this verse does not teach that Jesus “became” Lord and Christ only when raised from the dead. The point of the verse is that Jesus became the exalted Lord and Christ only at his exaltation. He did not reign as Lord and Christ until he was raised from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand.” (292-293)

It is a very stunning statement to say that Jesus did not reign as Lord and Christ until he was raised from the dead. Nevertheless, this appears to make the most sense of Acts 2:36. Jesus is crowned king of Israel and assumes his royal place of honor. Thousands of generations had been waiting for this moment and the resurrection of Christ enable it to happen.

In Luke 4:8, Jesus himself recognized and preached that the Holy Spirit had anointed him according to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Jesus has always been divine and was the Messiah upon entering the world. Even though he was already the Messiah, he was not yet reigning at the right hand of God. Schreiner points this out commenting on Philippians 2:9-11. “Jesus is exalted as Lord because of his humiliation. The Son of God, of course, reigned with the Father eternally. But Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man, was exalted as Lord only at the resurrection.” (326.) Jesus was called to suffer on the cross in obedience to the Father before he would be exalted on high. The exaltation of Christ through resurrection is the appointment of his reign as the victorious messianic king.

Without the resurrection of Jesus, believers would not have a living mediator between them and God the Father. By rising from the dead, Jesus proves that he truly was the Christ who suffered for the sins of the world. The believer can be assured of a future hope because of the exaltation of Christ through the resurrection. Christ is currently praying to God on behalf of us. Hebrews 7:25 testifies to this reality when it says, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Celebrate Easter and have a Happy Intercession Day!

Cloak Cleaning

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

If you were to ask John the Baptist what you should do in order to repent, he might tell you to clean out your closet.  In Luke 3, crowds came to hear the crazy-eyed, camel-skinned man speak on behalf of God. They came to be baptized and were rebuked. (I have never seen a pastor respond this way when someone responds to an evangelistic invitation.)

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from God’s wrath? Produce fruit consistent with repentance. God is ready to cut you down with an ax! Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

These are strong words from John that demand a response. John is not looking for lip service or a baptismal certificate. He wants everyone who claims God to prove themselves by their works. In one breath he shouts “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29), and in another he demands intentional life change. John would readily agree that faith without works is dead.

The crowds then ask, “What should we do? What does repentance look like for us?”

John tells them to share their shirts. “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.” (Luke 3:11 HCSB)

The rest of the passage continues with different groups of people asking the same question and John giving them specific instructions. Tax collectors are to be honest and not steal. Soldiers are to be satisfied with their pay and not bully. Yet the generic call to the crowds is a “spring cleaning” lesson. Clean out your closet and give your cloaks away.

While growing up, my mom would frequently have me “purge” my closet. Out with the old and in with the new. She would frequently hand me a large trash bag and send me on a cloak clearing mission. After loading the trash bag full, we would drive to the local Goodwill. Although I did not realize the significance of this in the moment, I am thankful for this example.

Did you receive another shirt at another conference? Feel free to give it away. Did you get new clothes for Christmas? Bless others who did not receive any presents or could not afford a conference. We only have one back, but most of us have more than one shirt.
Let the poor enjoy your garments rather than the moths. Don’t even be afraid to be so generous that you give away those unworn shirts that have “sentimental” value.

Is there a homeless shelter in your area that is in need of towels, socks, or shirts? Is there a woman’s choice center that could use some of your closet? Is there an international student that could use some good clothes? Is there someone in your church who is in need?

I wonder what John the Baptist would say if a group of us Americans went down to be dipped in the Jordan. Would he exhort us to store up treasure in heaven where moths cannot destroy?

This Spring, let us allow Jesus to walk into our walk-in closets. Let us allow Him to clean our hearts and our wardrobes. We might be surprised that purging our closets is proof that Christ has purged our souls.

Don’t Spread the Gospel?

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

There are moments when a good Bible reader should be somewhat perplexed by the Scriptures. One of them is when Jesus tells his disciples not to talk about him.

On multiple occasions, Jesus performs miracles and then forbids those nearby not to tell anyone. When Jesus heals the deaf man in Mark 8:35-36, Jesus “charged them to tell no one.” Earlier in Mark 3:11-12, as Jesus cast out many demons they would shout out his identity. “And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.”

It is interesting that repeatedly in the book of Mark Jesus forbids people to spread his news, but they usually do not listen. Jesus’ fame catches like wildfire throughout the surrounding regions and crowds gather to meet him. It appears that these massive gatherings actually hinder Jesus’ mission.

Jesus cleanses a leper in Mark 1:40-45 and “sternly charged him… and said to him see that you say nothing to anyone…” Yet in verse 45, the leper “went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no long openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” It appears that Jesus was unable to enter into towns to preach because he had become so popular. In a strange turn of events, the spreading of his fame was beginning to hinder his purpose in coming.

Jesus did come to heal the sick, cast out demons, and preach the good news of the kingdom to the poor. However, Jesus mainly came to earth in order to die for the sins of the world and rise from the dead as the victorious Messiah. If word about the true identity of the Messiah spread too quickly, Jesus may have been hindered from fulfilling his main mission.

The people wanted a different type of Messiah than a bloody crucified Messiah. In Mark 8:30 when Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus told the disciples to “tell no one about him.”  Following this Jesus told his disciples of the death and resurrection. “And he said this plainly, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Even Peter did not understand the mission of Jesus when Jesus told him plainly at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus had to rebuke Peter because Peter opposed Jesus going to the cross. One can only imagine the uproar from the multitudes if Jesus had revealed his true mission to them. By veiling his identity to the masses, Jesus was able to keep on target to Golgotha and be unhindered in his plan.

This reasoning for the Messianic secret is confirmed with the story of the demoniac in Mark 5:1-20. After Jesus casts out the Legion of demons from the man, the man begged to travel with Jesus. Despite the urgent pleas of the man, Jesus refused his request and told him to return hope to “tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:19) This is in stark contrast to the previous behavior of Jesus. Instead of telling the man to be quiet, Jesus tells him to go proclaim the good news.

Why the sudden change in commands for Jesus? Mark 5:20 gives the reader a clue. “And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” The man was not from the area and would not be a hindrance to Jesus and his mission. The man was from a region of ten Gentile cities to the East. It would advance, rather than hinder, the cause of Christ for this man to return to his family.

When Jesus was coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration he told Peter, James and John “to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” (Mark 9:9) Now that time had come and the disciples were commanded to tell the world the gospel of Jesus Christ. Clearly, Mark himself is obeying this command when he starts his gospel, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

The message cannot be kept secret any longer. The personal ministry of every Christian is to understand the mission of Jesus, believe upon his saving work, and proclaim this message to all the nations. The gospel of Mark concludes with Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James visiting the tomb of Jesus. To their utter shock, the stone had been rolled back and Jesus was alive. An angel comforts them and says, “Do not be alarmed… but go, tell his disciples…” (Mark 16:6-7)

The word is out and the rumors are true. Jesus has risen from the dead. He is the Messiah and offers salvation to anyone who believes.

Tremble, believe, and rejoice. But whatever you do, don’t keep it a secret. Tell everyone.

Oxymorons and the Image of God

 

by Sean Perron


There is absolute truth and it absolutely matters. Christians must love truth because they follow the Truth.
Everything is staked on what we believe.

I want to be the kind of man who lives and dies for the Scriptures. Yet, the great irony is that in my defense of the Bible, I can often sin against others and therefore violate the Bible. If I am not careful, I can treat people of opposing views as completely evil. My view of them becomes one-sided and I only think of them as someone who doesn’t believe [blank].

People are more complex than this and I find myself shocked at times when,

  • I receive a kind note from a pro-abortion friend who asks about my life says they are praying for me.
  • I see a theistic evolutionist who gives sacrificially to the poor.
  • I hear of a universalist who welcomes the broken into their home to minister to them.


Perhaps even reading these lines grates against you. Indeed they should. God wants our doctrine and our lives to match and everyone of the above examples is an oxymoron. These friends claim love Jesus but are believing false teaching.

How should we engage those we strongly disagree with?
I do not have all the answers, but here are some thoughts from the book of James.

1) Be slow to anger (James 1:20)
Be slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Check your heart.
Jesus remained sinless the entire time he flipped tables and drove out the hypocrites. Do not have as high of expectations for yourself. Often times our righteous anger is self-driven. We are so sinful that we can claim a good cause and spew our venom at the same time. Love is not easily angered. There are times when our blood should boil, but we must have our hand on the stove dial, and there always needs to be love in our burner.

2) Give mercy as you have been given mercy (James 2:13)
For judgement is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.
If the person you are critiquing believes the true gospel, treat him as you would a brother. We have the right to strongly disagree, but we do not have the right to sin against one another. Give the benefit of the doubt and do not treat a brother or sister like a dirt bag to drag through the mud.

3) Tame the Tongue (James 3:2-10)
With our tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the image of God. This ought not be! In our critique, do we show honor to the individual? Or do we curse the ground they walk on?
Do we treat them as people created by God for his glory? Do we give them respect? Or do we treat them like vermin to be exterminated?

4) Love your neighbor as yourself (James 2:8)
Treat others as you would want them to treat you. Be fair in your representation of their arguments. Do not use Ad Hominem arguments that attack them rather than their beliefs. Cultivate a genuine love for them in your heart. Pray for them and long for them to believe truth. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same?”

5) Be confident and calm in Christ (James 3:13-18)
Even though we have the right to bear arms, let us load our arsenal with bullets of truth, love, meekness, and humility.
In our conversations, let us be winsome and confident in the truth. The wisdom that is from above is gentle, open to reason, full of mercy, good fruits, impartial and sincere. Let us display this confidence by maintaining control in the conversation and not yelling at those who disagree. Christ does not need our help in convincing others of the truth. He simply calls us to be faithful to share the truth in love with all meekness.

6) Do not speak evil against one another, brothers (James 4:11)
God does not want us to slander his creation. Let us be careful that we do not sin against God while we represent him to the watching world. Let us be especially careful when we talk about brothers and sisters when they are not around. God hears every word about his craftsmanship and takes it seriously. Even liberals are made in the image of God and we should treat them as such.

7) Bring people back from wandering (James 5:20)
God does not call us to be pacifists when his glory is at stake and souls are on the line. God rejoices when one wandering soul returns to the truth and repents. Let us be people who speak the truth boldly in sincere love.

Blessed are those who proclaim truth to all people and treat them as people made in the image of God.

String Lights and the Law

by Sean Perron

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery”, also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. James 2:10-11

It might serve us well to meditate on the magnitude of God. His holiness should not be a passing thought or a mere tweet to scroll over. The purity of God deserves more than a polite nod.

James 2:10-11 exposes an uncomfortable reality. If we transgress one law, we are actually guilty for breaking the whole law. If we miss one command, we shame the whole army. If we fumble one ball, we lose the whole game.

How can this be? James says it is because all the commands are traced back to the mouth of God. Every law connects us to the Lawgiver. “For he who said… also said…”

It is similar to decorating tents with string lights, or wrapping an Evergreen with Christmas bulbs. When you finally plug in the lights, ten work and the other thousand refuse to even blink. The entire strand is out simply because one busted bulb has severed the connection.

Each broken law beckons God’s attention. Each sin is a stab at God.
Such an offense against an eternally good God demands damnation.

It might serve us well to pondered the weight of the beams that Jesus took upon his back. The slightest arrogant thought, the faintest lustful fantasy, or the quietest judging critique, all scream “Crucify Him!”  Even the smallest sin demanded that Jesus be pinned to the wood. We need to be staggered by this truth.

Yet, it is gloriously true that even the smallest drop of Jesus’ blood can cover the most hideous act.  The most grievous crime is not too much for the blood of God. Perhaps too strong for the blood of bulls and goats, but not too strong for the veins of Christ.

We need to ponder the severity of sin. The screams of our sin, the weight of the cross, and the blackness of every blunder.

Let us come out from the darkness and into the marvelous light of Christ. Screams of sin are silenced by the nail pierced feet of Christ. Burdens of the law crack with the Words of the God-man. And the blackness of sin is swallowed by a mercy that triumphs over judgement.

Let us come out from under the Law, and come follow Christ.

Adapted from the sermon James 2:10-13: Is the Christian under the Mosaic Law? Delivered at the Sunday Night Bible Study at Crossing Church

Photo by Sam Hearn. Sam Hearn Photography

Babies and Bathwater

by Spencer Harmon

Baptism is a big deal.  When someone becomes a Christian, they are not merely subscribing to a local club that meets on Sundays; rather, a supernatural work of God has taken place.  Christians believe that when someone puts their trust in Jesus their old “self” – with its selfish desires, rebellious disposition toward God, and cold heart – dies, and a new “self” – with a heart inclined to obey God, love his Word, and pursue righteousness – is born.  It is this reality that baptism declares.  Baptism is symbolic – it talks to us and reminds us of these transcendent truths.  It screams out that just as this person is plunged down into these waters that envelop them so their old self has been plunged down into death with Christ; just as they rise out of the water and gasp for air, so their new self has arisen with Christ.

For Protestant Christians, there have been two views as to who should be baptized:  1) those who have professed faith in Christ (credo baptists); and 2) those who have professed faith in Christ and their children (paedo baptists).  I’m a credo baptist.  I don’t think you should baptize babies.

One of the strongest arguments for believer’s baptism can be made from an Old Testament passage:  Jeremiah 31:31-34.  It is here that God Himself delineates through His prophet Jeremiah his “new covenant”  This is God’s new agreement with his people that binds him to treat them in a certain way so long as they keep their end of the bargain.  However, the problem with God’s people over history is that they have never been able to keep their end of the bargain.  They always worship the idol; they always complain in the desert.  But God has a plan – a new covenant.  The newness of this covenant is found in that fact that God promises to give his people a heart that actually wants to keep the law (verse 33).  God promises that everyone will know him in a saving way, and that all of their sins will be forgiven.  God says that this new covenant will not be like “the covenant that I made with [your] fathers” (verse 32).  The newness of the new covenant is found in the fundamental difference between the people of God before and after the coming of Jesus.  Before Christ, the covenant members were those who were born into the people of God – this means that there where people who really loved God in the community, and those that just were among the group, but did not really know the Lord.  After Christ, God’s covenant members are only those who have been regenerated (i.e. given a new heart that truly loves God).

If Jeremiah is interpreted as an announcement of a regenerated covenant community, those who support baptizing infants need to reconsider their view.  For if the covenant community is only those who have been regenerated, then it follows that the mark of the covenant community – baptism – should be limited to this specific group of people.  The new covenant has a new sign and it is reserved for people who have new hearts.

Some Practical Concerns

  1.   It seems inconsistent for a paedo baptist not to include infants in the Lord’s Supper.  If they are seeking to emphasize the continuity of God’s dealings with his people in one overarching covenant, it would seem consistent to include the children of the God’s people in this rite as well.  However, this would pose problems.  First, if children participate in the Lord’s Supper, it seems like this would say something that is not true.  When I take the Lord’s Supper, my pastors say to me, “Spencer, this is the body of Christ broken for you; This is the blood of Christ poured out for you”  But we can’t honestly say this to babies until they make a profession of faith.  Second, babies are incapable of examining their conscience, or confessing sin (one of the things baptism should push a believer towards), so why should they participate in the Lord’s Supper?  Yet infant baptism seems to lead to this.
  2.   Another concern is that church discipline seems to lose its relevance.  If children are included in the people of God by baptism, how do you determine if they are ever not a part of the true covenant community?  If the church is constantly a mixed community of both believers and unbelievers, why would any church discipline a non-Christian from their midst if it has embraced a mixed church?  Some may object that if a paedo baptist church knew that there was an unbeliever in their midst, they would most certainly discipline them.  Yet, for every baby that is baptized, an unbeliever is added to their community.  Why the inconsistency in church discipline?

Conclusion

Baptism is a secondary issue, but not a small issue.  Baptism is the sign of salvation, and how the church understands this sign of salvation matter immensely.  To misunderstand the issue of baptism is to run the risk of false assurance to those baptized as children, and a distortion of a beautiful portrayal of salvation.  Although evangelical Christians ought to keep the main thing the main thing, we ought to openly acknowledge our disagreements over these important issues.  So, let there continue to be conferences; let pastors be together for the gospel, and let evangelicals make coalitions; nevertheless, let there be an open and plain acknowledgement of these distinctive beliefs that make whole denominations form.  For these issues are exceptionally important, and ought to be treated like it.  So, keep the baby, but throw out the bathwater.