Monday, March 31, 2008

Is marriage a commandment?

During our discussion of the Reformed worldview in class on Saturday, Dr. Griffith taught about affirming the goodness of creation, nature, and bodily life; and the preservation and importance of the “creation ordinances”: work, Sabbath, marriage, procreation, and possibly the state. These roles and commands given to man were not only meant to bless him and order his life before the Fall as ways for him to reflect the image and work of God himself. These structures and ordinances continue even now, for two reasons. They are reinstituted in Genesis 9 after the Flood and re-creation (though sin’s curse now corrupts everything); and both Jesus and Paul base their ethical appeals in the pre-Fall creation order itself (e.g., Matt. 19:4-6; 1 Cor. 6:16; 11:8-12, 14; Eph. 5:31). Dr. Griffith’s point was to teach about how God, in his “common grace,” upholds and preserves this order even after the Fall, allowing mankind to participate in his life and still fulfill his original role, though now imperfectly.

A wise Campus Crusade staff member named Roger Hershey once said something that has guided many of my decisions: “Instead of asking what God’s will is for your life, ask instead how your life can fit into God’s will.” In other words, base your choices around the purposes of God’s heart do everything to his glory. “Walk as children of light . . . and try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:8, 10). As long as I’m committed to doing God-honoring things that he takes pleasure in, I’m living in God’s will for my life. So this makes me wonder: Is marriage more than just a good idea, even a commandment?

Marriage and Completing Creation

God decreed that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). This was the first time anything in creation was not “good” or “very good.” His work was yet unfinished and incomplete, so he decreed that a partner be made and given to Adam for him to rejoice in and to “know” (vv. 18-25; 4:1). In other words, God decreed that man should marry. Verse 18 makes this explicit, but it’s implied elsewhere. Verse 24 says that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The emphasis on shall render an implicit command; God’s statutes are always “you shall” or “you shall not.” (The NIV’s use of “will” is weak. This isn’t just a statement about what will occur in the future.) Therefore marriage is not only “good,” but it completes God’s work of creation itself.

Marriage and the Image of the Triune God

Jesus’ use of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in Matthew 19:4-6 reveals something most striking about marriage. He says that a man shall be joined to his wife and become one flesh—a joining done by God himself—because from the beginning God created them “male and female.” This is a reference to Genesis 1:26-27.

And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . .”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Here we see one God with one image who speaks of himself in the plural: “Let us,” “our image.” God makes man (singular) in his own image (singular), yet man is created male and female (plural, separate persons). The two together bear the (one) image of God. This is probably why Jesus is so adamant about preserving the marital union: it most fully reflects the image of God himself, the whole purpose for which mankind was created in the first place. Man married is more fully human and more glorifying to God.

How, exactly, does this male-female marital communion reflect God’s image? These two distinct and different persons, one original and one derived yet equal, united by a bond of mutual love and delight reflect the Trinity itself. “Let us make man in our image.” Adopting a somewhat Augustinian view, Jonathan Edwards argues that God’s Spirit is the very love of God itself. Within the Godhead, “the Son is the Deity generated by God’s [self-]understanding, or having an idea of himself; the Holy Ghost is the divine essence flowing out, or breathed forth, in infinite love and delight." [1] Upon exhaustive exposition of biblical texts, Edwards says elsewhere of the Holy Spirit that he is “the deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s infinite love to and delight in Himself [as he knows himself in the eternally generated Son, who is the ‘Divine idea,’ God’s own consciousness of himself]." [2]

This spiritual union of mutually expressed love, joy, and affection may be alluded to in Malachi 2:15, where the prophet rails against divorce. It’s a notoriously difficult passage to translate, but the gist is similar in most versions.

Did he not make them [husband and wife] one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? (ESV; “in their union” is implied)

But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? (NKJV)

Didn’t God make you one body and spirit with her? (GNT)

If this is so, marriage mirrors the Trinity, and only within marriage does “our image” show in man.

Furthermore, it’s interesting to note the relationship of verse 24 to the preceding verses in Genesis 2. The Lord takes a rib from Man and fashions Woman from it. Notice that the woman is not created ex nihilo, “from nothing.” She is formed from the man’s own body. Therefore Adam is able to joyfully exclaim,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.

Notice how this parallels the relationship of the Father to his eternally begotten Son. The Son was not created; instead, all things were created through him (Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). He was begotten, that is, he is eternally generated from the Father and shares the very same being or essence as him (homo ousios). The woman was formed from the man’s essence and substance, his flesh, equal in essence and glory yet a distinct person with a different role. This Trinitarian perspective on the male-female relationship further enhances the view that marriage reflects the image of God more perfectly and, amazingly, brings us into the life of the Triune God himself.

Marriage and Procreation

Another command—actually, a blessing—God gives to mankind is to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This command is repeated to Noah’s family after the flood (Gen. 9:1, 7). The rest of Genesis tells the sad story of man’s determined efforts not to fill the earth (the tower at Babel, Gen. 11:1-9) and not to bear offspring (Onan and Tamar, 38:8-10). And the whole framework of the Genesis “accounts” is built not around main characters, but their children (e.g., the “account of Terah” is actually about Abraham; the “account of Jacob” is about Joseph.) And God’s covenant with Abraham is to be fulfilled through his seed, a promise to give him land and a multitude of offspring. God clearly cares about building and sustaining families.

Such fecundity, however, can only be accomplished within marriage. Sure, children can be born illegitimately, but God wants “godly offspring” conceived within marriage. “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15). Children born in accordance with God’s character have to come from God-imaging marriage.

One can argue that God’s procreation mandate finds its true fulfillment the Great Commission, where Spirit-born children spring up throughout the earth (Matt. 28:19; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). But even though the kingdom had come in Jesus Christ, he doesn’t dissolve marriage nor neglect children. Rather, he affirms and upholds them. (See Matthew 19:13-15. Immediately after rebuking the Pharisees for their selfish dissolution of the family, Jesus invites and blesses little children.)

Marriage and Knowing God

God’s great desire revealed throughout his Word, even “eternal life,” is that we would intimately know him within a self-binding, self-giving covenantal relationship. He pledges his steadfast love (chesed) and says, “You shall be my people, and I shall be your God.” One person belongs to the other. Is this not a perfect definition of marriage? When we enter wedlock, we can more fully understand the way God relates to his people (Isa. 54:4-10; 62:4-5; Hos. 1 – 3) and how Christ the Bridegroom cherishes his Bride, the church, who is one body with him (Eph. 5:22-33). In fact, the same word used in the Old Testament for “knowing” God is used of the sexual intimacy between a husband and his wife (Gen. 4:1; Hos. 2:20; cf. Matt. 1:25). Conversely, the Bible also speaks often of sin and transgression as “adultery” against God. The gravity of infidelity takes on a lot more weight to those who are married.

Marriage and Wisdom

Wisdom (a possible allusion to the second Person of the Godhead) declares in Proverbs that "whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD" (8:35). That sounds like everything else in Proverbs. But read carefully Proverbs 18:22: "He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD." Seeking and obtaining a wife is paralleled with seeking and obtaining wisdom, the path to life in the fear of the Lord, and both please God so as to obtain his favor.

Psalm 128 says almost the same thing, albeit in different words. Sandwiched between the promise of blessing to those who fear the Lord are the creation ordinances of productive work, a fruitful wife, and a bounty of children. [3] Sin's curses are repealed, and God showers his favor. So, does walking in wisdom demand marriage? Probably not. But they are certainly not divorced from one another, either. Marriage pleases God and is even a wonderful gift from him.


Taking all of these together, I think a case can be made that, extenuating circumstances notwithstanding (such as certain ministerial commitments; 1 Cor. 7:32-35), God desires that his people should not stay single, but should marry. I have not taken time here to evaluate Paul’s arguments for celibacy and singleness in the ever-perplexing 1 Corinthians 7. Nor have I dealt with Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 19:12 that some people “have renounced marriage [literally ‘have made themselves eunuchs’] because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it” (NIV). Within the kingdom of God, and because of the problems of sinful abuse of marriage, some people are called to remain single. But I think that God certainly esteems marriage above singleness. It is, as Paul says, “what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:10). This doesn’t mean that now is necessarily the best time for someone to marry, and being single today isn’t a sin. And marriage can also be entered into for purely selfish reasons, such as choosing a husband because he’s rich and you’re lazy, or choosing a wife because all you want to do is have sex. But lived in a way that considers and honors God’s revealed will, marriage is certainly a wonderful blessing from him. It pleases him, makes us more fully human in his image, and brings us into a deeper participation in and understanding of God and the created order. If you’re able to marry, walk in God’s will—get serious about marriage!

[1] Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies,” a-500, 468 [405]. Quoted in John Hannah, “Love as the Foundation of Theology: The Practical Implications of Jonathan Edwards’ Doctrine of the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” The Practical Calvinist, ed. Peter A. Lillback (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2002), 269.

[2] Jonathan Edwards, “An Essay on the Trinity,” Treatise on Grace and Other Posthumously Published Writings, ed. Paul Helm (Cambridge: James Clarke and Co. Ltd., 1971), 118. Quoted in John Piper, The Pleasures of God (Sisters, Oreg.: Multnomah, 2000), 45.

[3] The keen eye will notice that many psalms have a chiastic structure with thematic “bookends” and a key verse or idea in the center. Here the blessing of a wife “like a fruitful vine within your house” is in the center of vv. 1-6, sandwiched between “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD.” Her fruitfulness implies an abundance of sexual intimacy in the marriage (cf. SS 7:6-12). Staying within the home is contrasted with the adulterous woman whose “water” is scattered abroad in the streets (Prov. 5:15-16) and the mistress whose "feet do not stay at home" (7:6-12).

Sunday, March 9, 2008

When I became a man, I gave up childish ways

Every day I receive a new e-mail from Christianity Today magazine. Today was an article titled, "Wanted: Young Men in the Church." Its thesis is that the church is sorely lacking in young, single men because this demographic wants to, in large measure, live self-centered and irresponsible lives--that is, until the reality-checks of marriage and children sinks in.

I found this article somewhat surprising, honestly. My friend Craig and I were talking just today about how, even as young as we are (26 and 24, respectively), we want to tackle life's demands in responsible, mature wisdom, not in blissful ignorance. We were talking about how we once thought that our parents and all adults seemed to know what they were doing, had their acts together, had life figured out. I realize now that that's not true at all. Most of the time I feel clueless and overwhelmed. I wish I could drive home and have my parents take care of everything. But they can't. And I really wouldn't want that, anyway. Counsel from them is good, but I've never been one to take handouts; there's little dignity in that.

Responsibility and leadership are tough. Being a man of integrity and character is even tougher. But I don't want to be some drifter through life, never having a clue what I want to do and letting the latest whim decide my choices. If that were so, my name would be Joey, Ross, or Chandler; but as it is, it's Andrew: literally, "masculine" or "courageous, strong". At the end of a lengthy letter urging the worldly Corinthian neophyte Christians toward a life of obedient discipleship, St. Paul sums it up with this final exhortation:

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (16:13)

"Act like men." "Be Andrew," it might say. The fact is, the church needs men as leaders, and not just married men. Read through 1 Corinthians, and you'll find men at the root of most of the problems and disorder and sinfulness. A leading church-planting pastor in the Seattle area, Mark Driscoll, made a video in which he urged pastors: "Win the men, win the church." He too laments how young men are more concerned with playing X-Box and "banging their girlfriends" (Driscoll is known for being bluntly graphic) than with a life of missional, self-denying, cross-carrying discipleship.

But I wonder: What is causing this? Is it John Eldredge and salvation as a "sacred romance"? (Which is ironic, considering he wrote Wild at Heart not only to show that he knows more about books and movies than about the Bible, but also to urge men to be more manly.) That may be. But I think the fact comes back to the sin in our hearts. It takes sacrifice and a lot of prayer to be a discerning, bold male. We want to be lazy, so why bother? And there's no difference between men and women, right? So who does that make me? And if Mom and Dad are willing to take me under their wing, then why bother being responsible?

Of course I am over-simplifying these things--an act I myself despise. There is one place to start: with myself. Who wants to be immature and irresponsible? I, for one, do not. "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways" (1 Cor. 13:11).

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Canons of Dort and the Perseverance of the Saints

So it is not by their own merits or strength but by God’s undeserved mercy that they [those who are beloved before time; Romans 8:28-30] neither forfeit faith and grace totally nor remain in their downfalls to the end and are lost. With respect to themselves this not only could easily happen, but also undoubtedly would happen; but with respect to God it cannot possibly happen, since his plan cannot be changed, his promise cannot fail, the calling according to his purpose cannot be revoked, the merit of Christ as well as his interceding and preserving cannot be nullified, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be invalidated nor wiped out.

-- The Canons of Dort, point 5, article 8

Preserved for God's pleasure

If you read my previous post, you might mistakenly come to think that God cherishes and preserves us because of something inherently worthwhile within us. Perhaps you might think, “God longs for me so much; he needs me to be happy and whole.” There is a degree of truth to that. But the Bible will not allow us to think that salvation has to do with God’s delight in man. Rather, all of redemption happens because of God’s delight in himself. All of history unfolds from God and for God. His people were created, are being redeemed, and will be glorified for the sake of his own delight—just as others will be passed over and left in just judgment and perdition for the same reasons (though we cannot probe too deeply into such mysteries or wag a finger at God in blame).

The first description of mankind, indeed, the goal and purpose for his being, is to be the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). The human race was created for the purpose of reflecting God back to himself, like a mirror. The image is not God himself; but in the image God sees himself. [1] Sadly, that image was marred and corrupted by Adam’s willing fall into sin.

We later learn of the true Man, the perfectly obedient human who shines with beauty everywhere that fallen Adam is dull: Jesus the Son. He is spoken of as the consummate image of God in all his glory.

The God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4:4)

He is the image of the invisible God. (Col. 1:15)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. (Heb. 1:3)

How is it that Jesus bears his Father’s own image? It is because in Jesus, as the image (Greek eikon), God himself dwells and is manifested. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Christ]” (Col. 1:19 NIV). God sees his own reflection and nature stamped on his Son and rejoices—for there is no one more glorious or beautiful or admirable than God himself. Therefore, God cannot fail to take great pleasure in his beloved, image-bearing Son.

But the good news is that this image doesn’t dwell in some esoteric, disembodied, Gnostic Christ; it dwells in the Word made flesh. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). And in our union with Christ, we as humans are also definitively found in this bodily Eikon. “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him” (vv. 9-10). [2]

The great news of our sanctification and recreation is that in Christ, we come to see and know God truly. Thus we are transformed into his image from one degree of glory to another. “You . . . have put on the new self [literally “new man,” that is, Jesus], which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10; cf. Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:24). God has reclaimed us for himself so that we will reflect his glory back to him (Rom. 8:29). And that we shall do (1 John 3:2)!

Because we’re saved to bear God’s image, our progress in holiness in time, as well as our final sinless glorification in eternity, are absolutely assured. As God’s delight is, above all things, in himself, he cannot but find the consummate of all joys in his own image and nature. The letter to the Ephesians tells that we are blessed in Christ “according to the good pleasure of his [God’s] will” (1:5, 9) and that all might result in “the praise of his glory.” The chief aim in all God’s saving works is his own pleasure and joy—and there can be none greater than pleasure in himself. Because our glorification involves our complete re-imaging of God, it is as certain as God’s gladness in his own image. We have a sure hope! “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which as a great reward” (Heb. 10:35).


[1] For a concise but helpful explanation of this, check out chapter 7 of John Frame’s introduction to systematic theology, Salvation Belongs to the Lord (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2006).

[2] In case you needed another reason to defend the true deity and true humanity of Jesus, here surely is one.

You have need of perseverance

“You have need of perseverance,” the author of the letter to the Hebrews urges his audience (10:36). But why?

This past weekend during the first week of class, we were talking about the truth that God saves sinners. (This teaching is put forth in what has somewhat unfortunately become called the Five Points of Calvinism.) When we were talking about the doctrine of the Preservation of the Elect (a.k.a. Perseverance of the Saints), Dr. Griffith asked us, “Why is perseverance in faith necessary? Why can’t we just be justified at some point upon making a ‘decision for Christ’ and then live as we please?”

The question stumped me somewhat. But then I realized this: The very nature of faith and salvation demands it. How so? Because God’s saving work—not only in what happens to us, but also the prize we receive—is fellowship (union; Greek koinonia) with Christ. “God . . . has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). Salvation is, by its very nature, a relationship. And we exercise this relationship by a life of obedient faith in the Messiah’s sufficiency as Savior and Mediator and his supremacy as Lord and King. “Believers are called into the fellowship of Christ and fellowship means communion," explains John Murray. "The life of faith is one of living union and communion with the exalted and ever-present Redeemer” [1]. As long as we have salvation, we must have a humble, repentant faith; the presence of God’s gracious in-Christ redemption can never be divorced from trust in him. So if we are to inherit eternal life, we must have an eternal faith.

But this is glorious news, comforting news, filling me with a “joy unspeakable and full of glory." Left on our own, the demand for persevering faith would be but “dismay and Christless dread” [2]. But we forget: it is the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—with whom we have fellowship; it is to a Person we are united. Salvation does not exist as an abstraction or a philosophical construct; it is not a lofty idea or an mechanical process. It is a gracious covenantal bond between a Shepherd and the flock under his care, a Bridegroom and his bride, a Father and his son, a Lord and his servant. The word used throughout the Scriptures for this is chesed, a word so full of meaning that English translations fail to pin it down. Try as they might—“unfailing love” (NIV), “steadfast love” (ESV), “lovingkindness” (NASB), “loyal love” or “merciful love” (The Message)—they can but dance around it. Perhaps only the tongues of angels are fit for its expression.

So we’re not stuck to persevere on our own. We have the full backing and upholding and undying, self-binding love of the very heart of God himself. I cannot stress enough that salvation belongs a Person. His name is Everlasting Father, whose desires and commitments are never fickle and never revoked. His name is Almighty God and King of Kings, wielding omnipotent power and authority to crush all enemies and secure the future of his loved ones. His name is Compassionate Priest, who sympathizes with us, deals tenderly with us in our weaknesses, and who ever lives to make intercession for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). His name is Advocate, Counselor, and Pledge, an indwelling guarantee who keeps us secure and breathes into our hearts his very own life and glory.

"Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Christ Jesus our Lord, is faithful." (1 Cor. 1:8-9)


[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955) 169. Murray continues beautifully: “The life of faith is the life of love, and the life of love is the life of fellowship, or mystic communion with him who ever lives to make intercession for his people and who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. It is a fellowship with him who has an inexhaustible reservoir of sympathy with his people’s temptations, afflictions, and infirmities because he was tempted in all points like as they were, yet without sin. The life of faith cannot be that of cold metallic assent. It must have the passion and warmth of love and communion because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion. ‘Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ’ (1 John 1:3)” (Ibid., 169-70). So much for calling Calvinists cold, dour, mechanical folk!

[2] Ibid., 165.

Tom Carson: an ordinary pastor

How fitting--on the heels of my last post comes D. A. Carson's latest book, Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor. It's a biography of his own dad's faithfulness in shepherding a small flock in once-predominantly Roman Catholic Quebec. Carson's closing words are about the life of his father Tom, but I am sure they ring true of many other men (and even some women) who trust more in the Holy Spirit to build and strengthen the church than in their own programs and appeal.

Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people … testify how much he loved them. He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book. He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough. He was not a far-sighted visionary, but he looked forward to eternity. He was not a gifted administrator, but there is no text that says “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators.” His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his children and grandchildren remember his laughter. Only rarely did he break through his pattern of reserve and speak deeply and intimately with his children, but he modeled Christian virtues to them. He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stir things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle. His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive. He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists.

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on the television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side, all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne-room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man—he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor—but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.”

If there was ever a life well lived, it sounds to me like Tom Carson was the one who lived it. It almost brought me to tears to read this about him, because it is just like the picture of the life I long to live, in all its humble beauty.