“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to comes” (1 Tim. 4:1-8).
According to a recent survey, which we can take with a grain of salt, but ought not dismiss:
- 94% of Evangelical Christians agree sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin.
- But 65% don’t believe in original sin.
- And worse, 43% agree with the statement that Jesus was a great teacher, but not God.
That’s not good, huh? It’s downright frightening to think that the end result of a good chunk of the Christianity in America could be a bunch of virgins in hell, isn’t it? It’s great so many Evangelical Christians surveyed agree with the scriptural teaching on something like marriage as the proper relationship for sexual intimacy.
It’s not so good that, if they meant what they answered, 43% of those Christians aren’t, well, Christians, because they deny the divinity of Christ. I’ve sometimes heard Christians say that the Bible is “Basic Instructions before Leaving Earth.” I think that explains how we get numbers like this in a survey.
If our relationship with God is primarily about instructions, commands, behavior, then we’ll be well-versed in the do’s and don’ts, the checklists, but not in what matters most, the center of all Christian teaching and the Christian life, Jesus Christ. It is Christ who is the beating heart of the “these things” Paul put before us earlier in this letter and which we are to set before others now.
“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:4-5). This world is more than a collection of things to touch or not touch, do or not do, say or not say. This world is a gift, like our salvation, like our Jesus, who is our God, the Word who reveals God to us not only in what he said but in the meat on his bones, the One in whom and through whom we pray.
If our relationship with God is primarily about instructions, commands, behavior, then we’ll be well-versed in the do’s and don’ts, the checklists, but not in what matters most.
Bodily training has value. It’s good to discipline the flesh, to take care of our health, to cultivate virtue. But there is something more. What we do with our bodies, in the classroom, on the field, in the workplace, wherever we might be, is a product of faith or unbelief, of hope in the promise or of doubt and despair, of freedom in the gifts of God or slavery to myths or foods or slogans, to dos and don’ts, to checklists.
Do you remember why God gave his Old Testament people some of the additional laws he gave them, which don’t apply today? Some were to point to the coming of the Savior, but some also, Jesus says, were because there were people who were hard of heart. They lacked belief, and so God was curbing excessive sin. Those rules were concessions to the flesh, not a means for faithful obedience.
Do you remember what Jesus told the religious leaders of his day – again and again – that they’d done with the law? He said they’d turned it into a tool for self-justification rather than a mirror to show them their need. They’d taken something meant to diagnose a problem and made it a treatment. They’d missed the point. And do you know what gets lost when that happens? Jesus Christ, God for us. And if Jesus gets lost, we are lost.
Jesus didn’t come to earth to be the guy we don’t have sex for. He didn’t come because he had enough with all the fornication. He came to save sinners, to set free. That’s what pulled him down from heaven. That’s what held him to the cross.
Yes, sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin. Yes, the church should preach the law with respect to it. But, no, that’s never the final word or the primary reason for the church’s existence. Christ is bigger than marrying or not marrying, than sex or food or anything else like that.
We don’t start with behavior and work toward Christ. We start with Christ and everything works out from there.
Christ has called you to so much more than rules. Christ has called you to God, and that changes everything, because Christ is God, for you. This is the good teaching Paul set before Timothy. This is the good teaching we are to set before others. In Christ, all is now gift, and you are free, not for sin, but in faith, for each other.
Live free, then.
Let God’s will shape your own so that his works become your works, not by compulsion, as a concession to the flesh or for reward, as self-justification, but because you are his and heis yours.
It’s faith active in love, in Christ, true God.Should we get surveyed sometime, let’s be 100% confident of that. Amen.