Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Mercy

When Divorce Is Good and Holy… Christians Are Confused

Someone recently forwarded me an article called ‘When Divorce is Good and Holy‘ and asked for my thoughts. I don’t typically respond to other people’s posts publicly but when I read this one, I felt a strong sense of urgency within my own heart to reply. When it comes to issues like marriage, which are so close to the heart of God, we need to think very carefully.

The premise of the article is simple: If Jesus upholds divorce as a legitimate option then we ought to view it as good and holy, when carried out according to his teaching. Therefore, we ought to stop criticizing those who want a divorce (for legitimate reasons like pornography use, etc.), and we must stop compelling them to stay in the marriage as if it is the only thing that would please God. In fact, the author goes one step further: He even asserts that when divorce is upheld as the good and holy option that it is, divorce rates and pornography use will decline.

I take several issues with that line of thinking. A few of them are outlined below.

1. The Law Never, Never, Never Empowers Righteousness

Hard temporal consequences for our sin can slow and stop our pursuits of sin. Perhaps evangelical divorce rates would actually decline.

This teaching is essentially functioning according to a law & sanction system. If you break the law, you will suffer the consequences. The thought is that potential enforcement of the law will bring change.

Now, the law teaches righteousness inasmuch as it shows us God’s hatred for sin and love for what is just. But the law is powerless to bring about holiness. In fact, the power of sin is the law (1 Cor 15.56) and it brings death.

Does the law have an effect in slowing the progress of sin? Yes, it certainly can (though it can have the opposite effect too, cf. Rom 7.7-11). But are we only looking for changed behaviour or changed hearts? If we are seeking changed hearts, is law sufficient?

What good did the threat of law-enforcement do Israel? Certainly, she didn’t immediately become like the nations around her. But eventually, she did. The progress of sin was slowed, but the hearts of the people were unchanged. And that’s simply not good enough.

It is only through free grace, welcome, reconciliation, and forgiveness, that hearts are won and changed. Grace gives life; the law kills. If the end goal is the changed heart of the sinning spouse, rather than simply behaviour change, shouldn’t we aim for grace?

If bad spouses are going to become good spouses we don’t need the law hung over our heads so much grace held in front of our eyes.

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The First Stone

To Test Us

It still amazes me how little the church of Christ can sometimes actually look like Christ. And I say that as a leader of the church, myself bearing the brunt of the blame.

The hypocritical media and self-appointed moral police of our city have brought a man before us who has been caught (on video) in sin. Death threats, drunken stupors, and binges of crack-cocaine — all from a man who should be an example and a leader. They have set this man in our midst. They are testing us, as a society now. It’s clear how the majority of our city feel. As a church, how will we respond to Mayor Rob Ford?

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford speaks from the podium at the cenotaph during a Remembrance Day service in Toronto on Monday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford speaks from the podium at the cenotaph during a Remembrance Day service in Toronto on Monday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The world knows that the righteous law of God condemns these things. They remind us of that and ask, ‘So what do you say?’ They say this to test us, that they might catch us in hypocrisy and discredit us. Are we a people of mercy or judgement? If we don’t draw a hard line now, how can we speak out against other moral issues facing our culture? But what are we to do when the matter is so clear that even the immoral are offended?

Leaked videos have proven it, blog commenters have spoken; can there be any doubt? What will we do with him?

Our Response to Date

Sadly, some Christians have prioritized politics over personal integrity. ‘He has good politics, even if his life is a disaster,’ we say. And we overlook how he has offended a Holy God and betrayed the City that vested trust in him.

Sadly, other Christians don’t look any different than the world. Here is a chance to stand with the world, rather than against it for a change. ‘We can show them that we’re not weird political conservatives with blinders on, we can see this is wrong too!’

But you know what’s missing in both of those responses? Jesus’ response.
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Is Your Jesus This Awesome?

This week someone sent me the following two excerpts from Spurgeon. My heart was blessed!

The combined effect was to freshly wow me with the wonderful thought of the bigness,  awesomeness, and merciful kindness of Jesus. I pray to God that as I grow as a Christian I would grow even more in more wonder, awe, and love for Christ.

I want to be captivated by his majesty and his intimacy, his fellowship and his forgiveness, his goodness and his glory.

What about you? Is your Jesus this awesome?

See how red your guilt is. Mark the scarlet stain. If you were to wash your soul in the Atlantic Ocean, you might incarnadine every wave that washes all its shores, and yet the crimson spots of your transgression would still remain. But plunge into the “fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins,” and in an instant you are whiter than snow. Every speck, spot, and stain of sin is gone, and gone forever.

I bear my testimony that there is no joy to be found in all this world like that of sweet communion with Christ. I would barter all else there is of heaven for that. Indeed, that is heaven. As for the harps of gold and the streets like clear glass and the songs of seraphs and the shouts of the redeemed, one could very well give all these up, counting them as a drop in a bucket, if we might forever live in fellowship and communion with Jesus.

Eight Years of God’s Goodness

Today Stacey and I are celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary. It is a great day for me to reflect on God’s goodness and kindness to us as a couple and as a family over these past several years.

In God’s Mercy I Got a Wife

I have frequently quoted Don Carson’s distinction between mercy and grace: ‘Grace is a loving response when love is undeserved, and mercy is a loving response prompted by the misery and helplessness of the one on whom the love is to be showered. Grace answers the undeserving; mercy answers the miserable’ (from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Confrontation with the World, 24-25).

God clearly gave me a wife in mercy. I was miserable, pitiable, and helpless. I was eating A&W far too often to survive past the age of 30 till she came along. I was so reclusive that I probably would have made a better mortician (and I had thought about it!) than a pastor, but now our house is a happening place. Her strengths clearly complement my weaknesses.

God, in his mercy gave me not just any wife, but my wife in particular.

By God’s Grace I Still Have a Wife

Since our wedding day I have shown myself again and again to be undeserving of Stacey’s kindness and favour. And that’s not just humble-talk. I mean honestly and truly, I have sinned against her in horrible acts and words of selfishness that I had never envisioned saying to my wife (or to anyone!). But time and again she has embodied God’s grace and forgiven me.

Some time ago, when I was younger, I heard from someone that it would be foolish to marry a girl / guy whose parents are divorced. History repeats, as the logic goes. Well, happily, Stacey and I both ignored that advice and married each other. God’s grace overcomes such foolish human notions. The fact that we, as children from divorced families, can live together faithfully and happily is a testimony to God’s grace.

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He Spoke

Last night at the dinner table, we were discussing our Fighter Verse for this week at church (Exodus 34.6-7). When God speaks about himself, the first thing he says is, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression…’. I asked the two older girls which of those things about God was their favourite.

One of our girls thought that ‘merciful’ might be her favourite, but she wasn’t sure what mercy was. So we tried helping her understand the difference between mercy and grace. DA Carson talks about the difference between mercy and grace in this way:

The two terms are frequently synonymous; but where there is a distinction between the two, it appears that grace is a loving response when love is undeserved, and mercy is a loving response prompted by the misery and helplessness of the one on whom the love is to be showered. Grace answers the undeserving; mercy answers the miserable. (Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Confrontation with the World, 24-25)

Now, of course I didn’t cite Carson to my four year-old. But we did try to show her that grace and mercy are both expressions of God’s goodness to those (like us) who don’t deserve to know his goodness and couldn’t help ourselves. I think they got it.

So I asked them, ‘What are some ways that God has been merciful to us?’ I expected the usual Sunday School answers (‘Jesus!’) and not much more. What one of my daughters said, though, really gave me cause to pause and consider. She simply said ‘He spoke.’

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The Answer to Everything

I’ve been preparing lately to begin preaching through the book of 1 Timothy at GFC. Any time you begin a new book, there is always a lot of background reading that you have to do to set the stage for where the book is going to take you. Most of what you read never makes it into the sermons, but it helps you understand what are the main themes of the book, what’s the historical context, what’s the background of the people being talked about, and things like that.

In particular, I’ve been reading today all kinds of speculation about what the doctrinal problems were that faced Timothy and Titus in their local churches. Since Paul doesn’t specify in any of the three letters exactly what the heresy is that they’re dealing with, we’re left to fill in the gaps by putting together hints and drawing inferences — not ideal exegesis.

Anyway, this thought struck me as I was reading: ‘Isn’t it interesting that God never details for us what the doctrinal problem was; I guess he didn’t want us to know. I wonder why that is…?’

Then I got to a particularly helpful section of Mounce’s commentary where he says, basically, it doesn’t matter on one level what the issue was; Paul’s answer to everything is the gospel.

Ding! The bulb above my head flicked on.

The very fact that the individual errors aren’t highlighted serves to draw those problems to the background and highlight the one great thing that’s the answer to everything: the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s the point. No matter what the problem is in your local church, the answer is always found in a right understanding of what God has done for a fallen people in his Son Jesus Christ, by the power of his Holy Spirit.

And here’s how Mounce concisely summarizes that glorious gospel, the answer to everything:

God has acted in grace and mercy through the death of Christ with an offer of forgiveness, to which people must respond in faith, turning from evil, receiving empowerment through God’s Spirit, and looking forward to eternal life. (William D. Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles, WBC v.46, lxxvi.)

So if you want to be a part of the answer instead of a part of the problem in your church, ask yourself this: Am I focusing on the gospel? Is the gospel part of my conversation? Do I speak it with others? Is it an essential part of my ministry in my local church?

The gospel is glorious truth, and one that we can never major on enough. That’s what Timothy and Titus had to be reminded of and that’s what we must remember.

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