Reading the Scriptures Honestly

Rightly Reading and Interpreting

God’s Word

One essential belief of most evangelical churches today is that the Word of God, the Scriptures, must be read, understood, and received “literally,” as in the following quotation:  

Do you approach all of the passages in the Bible from a consistently literal viewpoint, seeking to understand the language of the Bible in a natural and normal way, understanding the language in its obvious sense? May God help us to come to His Word in simple childlike faith and humbly take Him at His Word, letting the Bible say what it says, and not forcing it to say what we want it to say or think it should say!

In other words, we must not seek to read into the Scriptures what we want them to say according to our own beliefs, but instead to take from the Scriptures what they actually say, according to a “normal” reading, not a “solipsistic” (or extremely egocentric) reading.  

(See my recent Blog article that includes a discussion of Solipsism by clicking here).

Examples of Misreadings

Several passages from the Scriptures reveal the importance of “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (II Timothy 2:15), such as what John wrote in the Book of Revelation:

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

The Apostle Peter also makes a similar statement:

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.  (II Peter 1:20-21)

We must assume, therefore, that God’s Word is His Word, and He meant what He said, or what He communicated to His servants to write.  

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16)

Recently, I have found that some well-meaning Christians have tended not to interpret the Scriptures according to a normal, or obvious, interpretation.  Typically, they may faithfully adhere to their Church’s Statement of Faith/Belief, or merely repeat what they learned in seminary or read in a famous teacher’s book.  Plus, they may tend to disregard certain verses that may seem to contradict their preferred teachings.

See for example, the following passage:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:11-14).

I was using this passage in a teaching to show that the ministry gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers were given to the Church for a number of reasons, but the timeline is clearly stated: These ministries were given to protect Christians from false teachings until. . .” 1.) we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, 2.) to a mature man, 3.) to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (v. 13).  

A plain, normal understanding of this passage shows, therefore, that these ministry gifts are to be in operation until these conditions have been met, conditions which clearly do not exist in the Church today.  

It must be, therefore, that these ministries need to be fully functioning in the Church, not dismissed or negated, as some recent teachings, such as the following, have proclaimed:

Like the apostles, however, their office ceased with the completion of the New Testament, just as the Old Testament prophets disappeared when that testament was completed, some 400 years before Christ. The church was established “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20). Once the foundation was laid, the work of the apostles and prophets was finished. (First Corinthians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1984], pp. 322–24) (Source).

Here is the primary passage, again from the Apostle Paul, used to demonstrate that the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the “ministry gifts” (See I Corinthians 12:27-28 below) have passed away and are no longer functioning in the Church:

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

Paul continues in I Corinthians 13:8-11 to say,

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” 

This passage, in particular, has been interpreted to mean that the Church has become mature and no longer needs the kind of help a “child” needs, especially since the “perfect” has come, meaning the completed Scriptures, presumably even anachronistically including the rest of Paul’s letters and John’s Book of Revelation.

Since we have the Bible, it is assumed, we no longer need the Holy Spirit’s gifts of wisdom and discernment, in spite of the demonic age in which we live.  We no longer need words of edification and exhortation (prophecy) or the gift of faith.

Frankly, however, having lived and grown in numerous Churches from infancy, I have yet to encounter any local Church that is “mature,” or  no longer needed the “childish things” that the Holy Spirit provides.  In fact, the Lord Jesus gave the following message to His disciples before His ascension:  

 “But before all these things [His Second Coming], they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. (Luke 21:12-15)

Jesus, therefore, promised that the words and wisdom we will need when we face persecution will be provided to us.  In fact, Jesus told His followers that through the power of the Holy Spirit, they would be His witnesses to the whole world before His coming again:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:8-11)

We might easily conclude, therefore, that the promise of the Holy Spirit was given not only to the early Church, but also to the Church of all ages until His coming again.  Jesus Himself is the “perfect” who is to come.

The term Apostle, according to the Greek language, means “one who is sent away” to deliver a message or messages.  In some ways, our term “missionary” very much conforms to this idea, and, significantly, this word is based on the Latin translation of the Greek word (Source).  

In a sense, therefore, we continue to have Apostles in the Church today.  Any person who declares that He is an apostle, however, is probably not an apostle, given the abuses such a person usually inflicts on Believers for his own gain.  It is no wonder, therefore, why so many churches have taught that this particular ministry gift is no longer viable today, even in spite of the Scriptural mandates for these ministries.  

The ministry gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to ensure that we believers mature and not be led astray by false teachings.  Not surprisingly, the Church today is weakened constantly by such teachings which declare that ministry gifts such as apostles and prophets are no longer valid in the Church, leading to divisions and strife, as well as a lack of maturity in the Body of Christ.  

Another Example

The following verses from the Book of Hebrews contain a warning, one which would not have been written were it not significantly important.  See if you recognize the warning:

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits. For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. (Hebrews 6:1-8)

Understood according to the strictures of literal interpretation, this passage may nevertheless be disturbing to those who have accepted the “once saved always saved” teaching so common among evangelicals today.  Also termed “The Security of the Believer,” this teaching contains an important promise and blessing most Christians accept, providing as it does the assurance that the love of God is “unconditional,” as the Apostle Paul teaches in I Corinthians 13:4-7:

 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

This security is for the believer, however, not the unbeliever. Therefore, the passage in Hebrews serves as a warning to the complacent and those who at some point in their lives may not decide to continue to make Jesus Lord of their lives.  The passage in Hebrews makes clear that those being warned are true believers, for they have done the following:  They have 1.) been enlightened, 2.) tasted of the Heavenly gift, 3.) have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 4.) and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.

These conditions refute the proposal that those who “fall away” were never truly born-again believers in the first place, so they were never truly saved from their sins by the blood and Lordship of Jesus.  Therefore, it is said, they have fallen away from what was never theirs.  

Unfortunately, however, this theory does not adhere to the plain language of the passage in Hebrews.  The warning is clear to all who proclaim that Jesus is their Lord:  Do not fall away, or it may be impossible to renew you to repentance, having again crucified again the Son of God and put Him to open shame.  

Although this may be an extreme example, the warning still pertains to all Christians.  In particular, it does not allow for opportunities to engage in sinful behaviors without reaping the resulting consequences.  These sinful behaviors are prohibited precisely because they result in harmful effects in the lives of those who engage in them.  Adultery, for example, devastates the lives of those who choose it, as well as the lives of the innocent children. Fornication and other sexual sins are equally harmful, and true followers of Jesus cannot remain faithful to their promises to Him while engaging in these sins.  

Unfortunately, the “once saved, always saved” teaching, while providing assurance of God’s faithfulness to the Believer, nevertheless tends to imply the idea that sinful lives are acceptable to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Advice for Young Adults About Premarital Sex

RISKY SEXUAL BEHAVIOR REDEFINED:

COUNSELING TIPS for TEENAGERS ABOUT PREMARITAL SEX

by

David Kanski

Pastor at Emmanuel Community Church

Jersey Shore, Pennsyvania

Within the helping professions of social services, health care, and psychology exists a genuine and legitimate concern for what is commonly referred to as “high-risk sexual behaviors” among adolescents. High risk behaviors are usually defined as unprotected sex (sexual activity without condom use), having multiple sex partners, or sexual activity under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These behaviors are risky because they may result in contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or an unplanned pregnancy. Therefore, the underlying assumption is that not all sexual activity by young people is risky, and that by responsible behavior the hazards of sexual behavior are expunged.

However, this paper will attempt to show that any sexual engagement outside of a monogamous, life-time commitment introduces other grave risks which are beyond the scope of much of the current discourse: risks to emotional well-being and risks to a young person’s future ability to form a permanent attachment to a life partner. With an understanding of these emotional and relational risks of sexual activity, parents will be better equipped to help adolescents and young adults avoid repercussions that are often pernicious and far-reaching.

EMOTIONAL RISKS

“For human beings, of course, sex is about much more than the body. Our entire person is involved. That’s why sex has uniquely powerful emotional and spiritual consequences. And there is no condom for the heart” (Lickona, 2004a, p.56).

Thomas Lickona, a developmental psychologist, has identified numerous dangerous, emotional consequences of premature sexual involvement that, most often, “last a long time, even into marriage and parenting” (Lickona, 2007, para. 12).

  • Regret and self-recrimination are among the most common repercussions sexually active teens experience (Lickona, 2007). Teenage boys and girls can both experience painful regret following a sexual relationship, but girls are usually more vulnerable because research shows that there are gender differences when it comes to sexual scenarios: “Women are likely to have sex to strengthen relationships and increase intimacy, whereas men are likely to have sex to gain physical pleasure” (Davis, 2008, p.468). A girl is more likely to approach sex to prove her love, leading her to experience the terrible pain of feeling used when, after having had sex, the boy is no longer interested in her. “According to a 2000 survey conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 72% of teenage girls and 55% of boys who have had sexual intercourse say they wish they had waited” (Lickona, 2004a, p. 86). A large number of young people are burdened by sexual regrets for many years after their sexual encounters.
  • Loss of self-esteem and self-respect is another consequence (Lickona, 2007), and sometimes that loss of self-respect makes a person vulnerable to further uncommitted sex, resulting in a devastating downward spiral.
  • The corruption of character is a likely result when we treat others as objects to be used for sexual pleasure (Lickona, 2007). Personal character is deformed when our selfish desires lead us to lie (“I love you”), or use coercion (“I’ll break up with you if you don’t”), to get sex.
  • Damage to the ability to trust can also occur. “Young people who feel used or betrayed after the break-up of a sexual relationship may experience difficulty trusting in future relationships” (Lickona, 2007, para 76).
  • Stunted personal development is another consequence Lickona identifies (2007). When a romantic relationship becomes sexual, teenagers tend to become so absorbed that other important relationships are neglected, and opportunities are missed which may never come again.
  • Depression is one of the most serious consequences of adolescents’ becoming sexually involved (Lickona, 2007). New research in the area of neuroscience has revealed that sexual activity triggers the release of powerful bonding hormones in both males and females (Bush, 2008; see also McElhaney, 2010). When the sexual partners are in a committed relationship, these bonds promote harmony and joy; but for non-committed couples, such bonding becomes the source of pain and despair. When these relationships come to an end, at least one of the partners will most likely experience a profound sense of loss, betrayal, and abandonment.

Most adolescents begin to engage sexually in the context of a romantic relationship because they believe they have found their one true love with whom they will share the rest of their lives. The likelihood is that the relationship will end before long, however, because throughout adolescence and early adulthood, the human personality changes rapidly. The biggest changes in personality traits occur from childhood through the 20s (Dahl, 2014, para. 7). The brain, also, is not fully developed until people reach their mid20s (“Understanding”, n.d., para. 2-3). Studies have shown that the median duration of adolescent romantic relationships is between 12 and 16 months (Karney, 2007, p. 20).

The powerful emotional bonding that occurs when romantic relationships become sexual, together with the transient nature of teenage romances, has resulted in a drastic increase in depression among sexually involved teens. Teenage boys who are sexually active are more than twice as likely to be depressed compared to those who are not sexually active (Rector, 2003). The outlook is even more dismal for sexually active girls, who are more than three times more likely to be depressed than are girls who are not sexually active (Rector, 2003).

A full quarter (25.3 percent) of teenage girls who are sexually active report that they are depressed all, most, or a lot of the time. By contrast, only 7.7 percent of teenage girls who are not sexually active report that they are depressed all, most, or a lot of the time. (Rector, 2003a, para. 11)

In the two charts below, Rector (2003a, para. 11) breaks down the data taken from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, Wave II, 1996:

Kanski #1        Kansk;i #2

  •  Lickona also warns about the clear link between sexual activity among teens and attempted suicides (2007). Girls who are sexually active are almost three times more likely to attempt suicide than are non-sexually active girls. Over 14 percent of sexually active girls report having attempted suicide, compared to only 5.1 percent of sexually inactive girls. Boys who are sexually active are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than are non-sexually active boys. Six percent of sexually active boys have attempted suicide, compared to only 0.7 percent of sexually inactive boys who have attempted suicide (Rector, 2003a).

RELATIONAL RISKS

  • Another of the most serious repercussions of teenage sexual involvement is the negative effects on marriage (Lickona, 2007). As detailed above, when people engage sexually with another person, their brains release hormones that cause them to bond and emotionally attach to the person with whom they engage. However, if they unattach from that person and reattach to another sexual partner, once or perhaps even multiple times, the ability to stay attached is significantly weakened, and “it is common for the first bond to haunt all future relationships” (Joy, 1985, p. 59).

Studies have shown that when people have had multiple sexual partners before marriage, they are more likely to divorce because they actually weaken the pathways that are necessary to attach at the deep and necessary emotional level important for marriage. (Bush, 2008, para. 13)

With repeated attaching and unattaching, the brain actually gets molded not to

accept the deep emotional bonding that is necessary for a lasting commitment.

“One huge result for the permissive is that when they do marry, they’re more likely to have a divorce than people who were virgins when they got married” (McIlhaney, 2010, para.13).

Sociologist, Jay Teachman, conducted a study to determine the association between premarital sex, premarital cohabitation, and the risk of divorce among women. Teachman concluded that “intimate premarital relationships with other men are associated with a substantial increase in the likelihood of divorce” (2003, p. 445).

TIPS FOR COUNSELING TEENAGERS ABOUT SEX

Faced with a cultural environment in which casual sex is the norm, how can we equip our teenagers and young adults to make good sexual choices which will promote happiness and emotional well-being, while protecting their futures and their future marriages? Lickona quotes the rationale of one college senior, who expresses a moral ambiguity common in our contemporary culture, “I got sexually involved because I couldn’t answer the question, Why shouldn’t  I have sex?’” (Lickona, 2004b, p. 5).

In order to abstain from premature sex, young people need internallyheld convictions about why it makes sense to save sexual intimacy for a truly committed relationship, with support from their families and their faith communities to live out these convictions (Lickona, 2004b, p. 4).

Kanski #3

1. Link to personal happiness

First of all, young people should be told that sexual activity in teen years is clearly linked to reduced personal happiness. Teenage boys and girls who are sexually active are significantly less likely to be happy, compared to teens who are not sexually active. The next “Depression and Sexual Activity” table illustrates the findings of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, Wave II, 1996 (Rector, 2003a).

Rector notes that “a full 60.2 percent of sexually inactive girls report that they “rarely or never” feel depressed. For sexually active teen girls, the number is far lower: only 36.8 percent” (2003a, para.13). For either gender, however, the data makes it clear that adolescents who are not sexually active are markedly happier than those who are active.

The impact of sexual activity on personal happiness persists even into adulthood. A report entitled, “The Harmful Effects of Early Sexual Activity and Multiple Sexual Partners Among Women,” found the following:
“an inverse relationship between personal happiness and the number of lifetime non-marital sexual partners. The greater the number of non-marital sex partners, the lower the probability of personal happiness” (Rector, 2003b, p. 20).
Fifty-six percent of women who have had sex only with men they married report that they are “very happy, while only 37 percent of women with five non-marital sex partners report that they are very happy (2003b).

The report also found that delaying sexual activity is linked to greater happiness. More than half the women who waited until their mid-20’s to have sex reported that they are “very happy(Rector, 2003b, p.13). The younger a woman was when she began sexual activity, the less likely she was to report high levels of happiness. Only a third of women who began sexual activity as young teenagers reported that they were currently “very happy” (2003b, p.13).

2. The Link to a happy marriage

Most teenagers report that they dream of being happily married someday (Lickona, 2007). In light of this fact, teens need to be told about the link between abstinence and the prospects for a future happy and stable marriage.

They should be taught to ask themselves the following question, before they consider engaging in any sexual activity: 

“What sexual decisions at this point in my life will help me realize my dream of a happy marriage? What problems might this sexual intimacy cause for me or my eventual marriage? What precious gift am I stealing from my future spouse?” (2007, para 14).

The Bible exhorts, “Let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Heb. 13:4). Fornication, or pre-marital sex, is one way the marriage bed is defiled. Many married men and women, report having flashbacks to earlier sexual encounters, along with the tendency, sometimes beyond their control, to compare their spouse with previous partners (McDowell, 1987, pp. 285-288). As McDowell observes, “Our sexual experiences seem to be written in ‘indelible ink’ in our memories, never to be erased” (1987, p. 286).

The following chart illustrates that over 80% of women who never had a sexual partner other than with their husbands were in a stable marriage. By contrast, women who had even one sexual partner prior to her husband were significantly less likely to have a stable marriage. The greater the increase in the number of non-marital sex partners, the lower the probability of marriage stability (Rector, 2003b, p. 18). 

                 Kanski Big Chart

The emotional and spiritual bond that is created between two people through the sexual act is too precious to be exploited for the sake of a transient, uncommitted liaison. “Marriage is essential to provide an adequate protection for the jewel of pair bonding in a relationship” (Joy, 1985, p. 54).

3. Don’t believe the hype

Young people need to be told not to believe the hype that “everyone’s doing it.” Joe McIlhaney, MD, founder of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, excoriates the Planned Parenthood organization for bombarding kids and parents with the distortion that “essentially all high school students will be having sex by the time of graduation” (McIlhaney, 2015). The truth is that “nationwide stats show that the majority of kids in high school are still virgins” (2015, para.6).

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s latest data: High school students who have not had sexual intercourse are now in the majority (53%), and have been for the past 15 years (“Trends,” 2013). And of those who have had sex, nearly three-quarters of teen girls and nearly two-thirds of all teens admit that they wished they had waited longer before becoming sexually active. (Rector, 2003a).

Young people also need to be told not to believe the hype that virgins are looked down upon or stigmatized by their peers. In 2014, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy conducted a survey of attitudes and opinions of young adults regarding virginity and sexual experiences (“Virginity,” 2015). The survey found that young adults’ attitudes toward virginity are positive ones. Less than 1 percent of young adults say they think less of someone their age who has not had sex, and 46 percent of young adults say they “feel respect” for other young adults who have not had sex. Eighty-six percent say it is important for young teens to know that “it’s okay to be a virgin when you graduate from high school” (2015, para. 2).

4. Explain the benefits of waiting

It’s important to help teens realize the physical and emotional dangers of premature sex; however, too often, we leave them ill-equipped to face the inevitable temptation because we have not also made them aware of the rewards of saving sex for a truly committed love relationship.

  • Waiting will improve the quality of a couple’s relationships because they will spend more time getting to know each other.
  • Waiting will increase a person’s self-respect.
  • Waiting preserves a clear conscience and provides peace of mind, with no guilt,  conflicts, and no regrets.
  • Waiting will help people to find the right mate, one who will value them for the person they are.
  • By waiting, people develop character, and they will be able to attract a person of character, the kind of person people want to spend their lives with.

When a young adult does find the right person, waiting will allow the bond between the couple to grow deep and strong enough to last a lifetime.  Finally, Likona makes the following observation:

  • Waiting results in a better sexual relationship in marriage — free of comparisons and based on trust. By waiting, a person is being faithful to his other spouse even before meeting him or her. (Lickona, 2007)

Professional Counselor, Debra Fileta, elaborates this last point on her blogpost entitled, 5 Reasons Married Sex is Best!:

1.) Married Sex offers Unmatched Emotional Intimacy:

The commitment of marriage provides a safety that allows two people to be totally vulnerable to one another, which leads to great emotional intimacy, and the deeper the emotional connection between two people, the greater the sexual intimacy.

2.) Married Sex Provides An Ongoing Psychological Connection:

The beautiful thing about marital sex is that it’s not actually about the sex; it’s about something so much bigger, and greater, and more meaningful. It’s about a constant connection with another human being throughout the journey of life. This deep psychological connection between two people who truly know, love, serve, and sacrifice for one another spills out into sex and turns it into something more meaningful than anything Hollywood can muster.

3.) Married Sex Thrives in the Safety and Security of a Forever Commitment:

 Like anything worthwhile in life, a deep and meaningful sexual relationship takes time, effort, and a whole lot of practice. The beauty of marital sex as God intended for it to be is that there’s no rush. There is time to learn, time to grow, time to savor, and time to enjoy.

4.) Married Sex Maximizes the Physical Pleasures of Familiarity:

To know and be known is one of life’s most amazing gifts. Within the familiarity of marriage, we are more than free to try new things, but we’re also free to enjoy the same things again, and again. Gone is the pressure to “look perfect” or to “be an expert” because within the familiarity of a healthy marriage you are already known, already loved, already desired, and already accepted just as you are.

5.) Married Sex Involves a Supernatural Spiritual Oneness:

The beauty of sex within the framework of a loving, committed, God-honoring marriage is that there is a love present that surpasses all understanding. It’s an unconditional love between two people that overflows into their life, into their marriage, and into their bedroom. (Fileta, 2015)

5. Parental involvement.

The final tip for parents in counseling their teenagers about sex is, don’t underestimate your influence in their lives. It is hard to believe, sometimes, that you have any impact on their behavior, especially when they don’t seem to care or even want to hear what you say, and may at times seem to be ignoring you altogether, but the research indicates that parents do strongly influence their teens’ sexual behavior (“Parents,” 2015).

In survey after survey, children report that they want to talk to their parents about their sex-related questions, that it would be easier to delay sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents, and that parents influence their decisions about sex more than friends do. (“Tips,” 2015, para. 4)

  • Parental Guidance: Teenagers whose parents discussed the social and moral consequences of being sexually active are more likely to be abstinent, and youths whose parents talked to them about what is right and wrong in sexual behavior are far more likely to be abstinent than those whose parents did not (“Parents,” 2015). Research also shows that teens are significantly affected when parents strongly disapprove of their being sexually active (“Parents,” 2015), so it’s important to be clear and specific about family beliefs and values about sex, and to communicate those plainly. Also, be ready to explain why you have those beliefs and values.
  • Parental Monitoring: Children whose parents monitor them more closely are less likely to be sexually active when they are in their teens” (“Parents,” 2015). Rules and curfews should be clear and lovingly reinforced. Openly and respectfully discuss with your teenagers the standard of behavior you expect from them. And know what your kids are watching, reading, and listening to. TV shows, movies, music videos, magazines, and the internet are saturated with material sending the wrong messages. “Young adults list Mediaas the main source of pressure to be become sexually active(“Virginity,” 2015, para 5).

It is common in our current culture to hear people talk about “safe sex. A recent Google search brought up websites entitled “Safe Sex for Teens,” “A Woman’s Guide to Safe Sex Basics,” and, “10 Ways to Make Safe Sex Fun.” The truth is, however, there is no such thing safe sex outside of marriage. Sex is too powerful to ever be “safe,” because with every sexual encounter we give a part of ourselves to another person.

In the current culture, sex may often seem like a casual thing. But sex is an act that is full of consequences. Sex, as one philosopher observed, is essentially deep. That’s a very good reason to save it for marriage, the deepest and most loving commitment two people can make to each other. (Lickona, 2004b).

REFERENCES

Bush, F., & McIlhaney, J. (2008) “Hooked: The Bonding Power of Sex.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from FamilyLife Web Site:mhttp://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/parenting/challenges/sexua -purity/hooked-the-bonding-power-of-sex.

Dahl, M. (2014, November 24).  “How Much Can You Really Change After You Turn 30?” Retrieved December 9 2015, from NYMag.com Web Site: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/11/how-much-can-you-really-change-after-30.html#.

Davis, S. F., & Buskist, W. F. (Eds.) . (2008). 21st Century Psychology: A Reference Handbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Fileta, D. (2015). “5 Reasons Married Sex is Best!” Retrieved December 9 2015, from True Love Dates Website: http://truelovedates.com/5-reasons-married-sex-is-best/.

Holy Bible, English Standard Version. (2007). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Joy, D. (1985). Bonding: Relationships in the Image of GodWaco, TX: Word Books Publisher.

Karney, B., Beckett, M., Collins, R., Shaw, R. (2007). Adolescent Romantic Relationships as Precursors of Healthy Adult Marriages. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.

Lickona, T. (2004a). Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues. New York: Touchstone.

Lickona, T. (2004b). How to Talk to Kids About Sex, Love, and Character.

Retrieved December 9 2015, from The State University of New York Cortland Website: https://www2.cortland.edu/dotAsset/20ec200d-f585-4968-b1d2-c439fb2622e3.pdf.

Lickona, T. (2007). “The Neglected Heart: The Emotional Dangers of Premature Sexual Involvement.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from Catholic Education Resource Center Website: http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/marriage-and-family/sexuality/the-neglected-heart-the-emotional-dangers-of-premature-sexual involvement.html.

McDowell, J., & Day, D. (1987). Why Wait?: What You Need to Know about the Teenage Sexuality Crisis. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

McIlhaney, J. (2010) “Sexually Indulgent Now, Marriage Ruined Later?” Retrieved December 9 2015, from CBN News Website: http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/healthscience/2010/march/sexually-indulgent-now-marriage-ruined-later/?mobile=false.

McIlhaney, J. (2015). “Comprehensive Sex Ed Curricula Distorts Truth.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from the Medical Institute for Sexual Health Website: https://www.medinstitute.org/2015/07/comprehensive-sex-ed-curricula-distorts-truth/.

Mintle, L. (2011). “Helping Your Young Adult Resist Pre-marital Sex.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from CBN Family Matters Website:http://blogs.cbn.com/familymatters/archive/2011/09/01/helping-your-young-adult-resist-pre-marital-sex.asp.

“Parents Influence on Adolescents Sexual Behavior.” (2015). Retrieved December 9 2015, from The Heritage Foundation Website: http://www.familyfacts.org/briefs/42/parents-influence-on-adolescents-sexual-behavior.

Rector, R. E., Johnson, K., & Noyes, L. R. (2003a). “Sexually Active Teenagers Are More Likely to Be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from Center for Data Analysis Website: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2003/06/sexually-active- teenagers-are-more-likely-to-be-depressed#_ftn1.

Rector, R. E., Johnson, K. A., Noyes, L. R., & Martin, S. (2003b). The Harmful Effects of Early Sexual Activity and Multiple Sexual Partners Among Women: A Book of Charts. Retrieved December 9, 2015 from The Heritage Foundation Website: http://s3.amazonaws.com/thf_media/2003/pdf/Bookofcharts.pdf

Teachman, J. (2003). “Premarital sex, premarital cohabitation, and the risk of subsequent marital dissolution among women.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(2), 444-455

“Tips for Parents.” (2015). Retrieved December 9 2015, from Office of Adolescent Health Website: http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-health-topics/reproductive-health/teen-pregnancy/tips-for-parents.html.

“Trends in the Prevalence of Sexual Behaviors and HIV Testing National YRBS: 1991—2013.” Retrieved December 9, 2015 from YRBSS CDC Website: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/trends/us_sexual_trend_yrbs.pdf.

“Understanding the Teen Brain.” (n.d.). In University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 9 2015, from University of Rochester Medical Center Web Site: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3051.

“Virginity Revisited.” (2015). Retrieved December 9 2015, from Medical Institute for Sexual Health Websitehttps://www.medinstitute.org/2015/06/virginity-revisited/.

 

The Mystery of Grace

What Is Grace?

The Apostle Paul clearly taught that Grace was a fundamental component of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Here is what he wrote in the later part of his life as he journeyed towards Jerusalem:

And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:22-24)

His ministry, he wrote, consisted primarily of testifying of the “gospel of the grace of God.”

The word “grace” is the English translation of the Greek word χάρις (charis), which means “that which brings delight, joy, happiness, or good fortune.” (12)

Today, the term has been adapted to mean the prayers said before a meal or to describe the beauty of a ballet dancer’s movements.  Throughout the history of the Church, however, the theological implications of Paul’s teachings have been much debated, and they are equally controversial in today’s Christian world.

Most recently, primarily because of the difficulty new Christians have in living holy lives, due to the extreme sinfulness of the conditions in today’s world, the term “hyper-grace” has been introduced to describe the teachings of those who believe that once Christians have been born-again, they no longer need to repent of their sins because they are automatically forgiven by the Blood of Jesus the moment they are committed” (Source).

You Must Be Born Again

The example of Nicodemus is especially helpful in clarifying this issue, for although he was a teacher and a Pharisee who tried in all ways to follow the Laws of Moses, Jesus told him that he needed to be “born again” to see the Kingdom of God.  Merely attempting to obey the Laws of Moses, or practice holy living, in one’s own strength and power is not enough; instead, one must first be regenerated, or born again, and then to begin living and walking in the Holy Spirit rather than in the flesh.

The Prophet Ezekiel looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s grace, prophesying that all believers would no longer be heirs of Adam’s sinful nature, but instead would be regenerated: 

And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God (Ezekiel 11:19-20).

The Apostle Paul also taught the following truths to the New Testament Church:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, (II Corinthians 5:17-18).

In fact, the phrase “new creature” means “new creation,” or a “whole new species of being that has never before existed.”

Indeed, when our Heavenly Father sees us after we are born again in Christ, He sees us as His children, and we call Him “Our Father,” as in the prayer Jesus taught His disciples (See Matthew 6:9-13).  Also, the Apostle Paul consistently taught that we believers need to see ourselves the same way:

Also, the Apostle Paul taught that we believers need to see ourselves the same way, as born again children of God, no longer bound by our prior sinful nature inherited from Adam:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (II Corinthians 3:18)

The Apostle Paul and the other New Testament writers agreed in their exhortations to believers that Christians must not “sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1).

In his teachings to the Romans, Paul also related that we have received abundant grace:

For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)

Further, Paul taught that we cannot receive either justification or righteousness by our own works:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:4-9).

The Problem of Legalism

It is through faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our redemption that we are saved, therefore, not by our own works.  The Laws of the Old Testament, says the writer of the Book of Hebrews, were given to prove to us that we cannot follow them completely.  They were given to teach us about our own inadequacies inherent in our sinful natures.

The Apostle Paul wrote that sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).

Some have taken this truth, however, to conclude that they may continue in sin, continue to live unrepentant, sinful lives, so that “God’s grace may abound,” although Paul explicitly denies this false teaching:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:1-3).

Have you ever tried actually to keep your New Year’s resolutions?

How easy is it to follow a diet to lose weight?  Knowing what I cannot eat only means I want it even more because I continue to think about what I cannot have!

Relying on our own strength and will power to conform to God’s standards of holiness and righteousness is actually impossible, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Too many Christians live lives of frustration as they attempt to be holy by using their own abilities and resources.  They resort to legalism, demanding that not only they but also all Christians follow a list of laws that demonstrate their holiness.  When I was a child, these included not listening to the Beatles, not dancing to popular music, and not going to a bowling alley or a movie theater.

It was through one man’s sin that many were made sinners (read the story of the Fall of Adam in the book of Genesis).  In His mercy, God instituted a system of redemption for the Children of Israel  (see the “Laws of Moses” in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible).  By God’s grace, they received forgiveness through the keeping of the Laws of Moses, which entails relying on the blood sacrifices of animals that take the place of the sinners’ subjection t”o the “law of sin and death,” removing the sins of the people and redeeming the Israelites from the consequences of their sin.

In the same way, Jesus was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” or so John the Baptist described Him.

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:18-21).

Notice the last part of this passage, which states that “even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21).

The Law was given, therefore, to show us what is sinful, not to demand under the New Covenant that we follow absolutely all of the rituals given by Moses. Grace reigns, therefore, and we can rely on the promises of God for His unmerited favor; He is not holding our sins against us because of the redemption we have gained through the sacrifice of Jesus, who took our punishment upon Himself on the cross.

It is difficult to imagine how God’s grace might be amplified even more than the grace provided by the superlative nature of God’s love towards us since while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  However, some Christian preachers and teachers have illogically decided that sinning actually allows God’s grace to work (as if He needs our help!).

In fact, many Christians have concluded that they may continue to live in sin and have never truly repented of their sins, merely continuing in their prior sinful conditions.  Such ideas have led to multiple accusations of “hypocrisy” against the Church and particularly among Church leaders, whose sins are loudly declared in the media.   However, these false teachings  of hyper-grace teachers explicitly contradict the clear teachings of the New Testament:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Significantly, just making a decision not to overeat or not to view pornography makes doing so all the more difficult because the “Law” we impose on ourselves only keeps the temptation before us day and night.  Under the New Covenant, we have been filled with the Holy Spirit and made to be new creatures; consequently, we should “have no more consciousness of sin.”

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4)

Instead of vainly attempting to follow the letter of the Law of Moses, therefore, God has given us a better way as a result of His grace.

The way of righteousness is not written on tablets of stone, giving us a constant awareness of sin in our lives, but instead, His Laws are written on our hearts since we have been regenerated as new creatures in Christ, having been born again.  See the following passage in Hebrews 10:16-18, quoting from Jeremiah 31:33:

This is the covenant that I will make with them
After those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws upon their heart,
And on their mind I will write them,”He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:16-18)

Paul gives specific direction on how we can avoid having a consciousness of sin (always thinking about what is sinful): “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things (Phlippians 4:8).

Jesus taught in the New Testament that we are in the process of being transformed, or “metamorphosized” to become like Him:

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

(See more in this article and the subsequent articles.)

The Work of the Holy Spirit

Therefore, through the Holy Spirit, who was given to the Church as our Teacher and the one who convicts of the sin in our lives, as we “take up our cross” and “follow Him daily” (Luke 9:23), we are being changed into His image from day to day.  This takes place by exercising our free will, choosing to follow Him and not the ways of Satan or the world.  The road we walk is narrow, not broad:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Too many Christians teachers have denigrated the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Believers, declaring that the works and operations of the Holy Spirit ceased when the Apostles passed away.

Once again, false teachings have arisen as a result of over-reactions to abuses in the Church.  Legalism has resulted in the “Hyper-grace” movement, and the excesses of some charismatic, or “pentecostal,” believers have led to a dispensational dogma that opposes, essentially, any and all operations of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit was given by Christ to the whole Church: to as many as the Lord, Our God, shall call (Acts 2:38-40).  Since the Holy Spirit was given as our Teacher, we are also taught not to “quench” the Spirit’s fire in our lives in any way (See I Thessalonians 5:19).  The Spirit instructs us in the ways of righteousness, having begun the work of regeneration in our lives by causing us to be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6).

To summarize, I will point to what the Apostle Paul wrote in the Eighth Chapter of Romans:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).

This means that we Christians have been set free from legalism (trying to follow the “law of sin and death.”  However, we still must live our lives not “according to the flesh,” or according to the lusts of our bodies, but “according to the Spirit.”  Our continual desire must be to be filled with the Spirit so that we do not follow the lusts of the flesh.  God in His mercy and grace has forgiven us of all sin, but we must choose to walk in the steps of Christ, a narrow road indeed!

 

 

 

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