I’ve often thanked God for my golden retriever, Champ—my dog when I was growing up. I have lots of great memories of running and playing and hanging out with Champ. I especially remember the many times when he crawled into my sleeping bag as I lay in my backyard looking up at the stars.
You might really love animals. If you do, that’s good. If you’ve ever had a pet that died (or several, or maybe lots, like thirty-seven gerbils), you’re probably wondering if you’ll see him or her again.
God, who created the animals, has touched many people’s lives through them. It would be simple for him to re-create a pet in Heaven if he wants to. He’s the giver of all good gifts, not the taker of them.
God loves to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:9-11). So if it would please you to have one or more of your pets with you on the New Earth, that may be a good enough reason for God to make it happen.
Aren’t you glad you’ve had two hamsters, a rabbit, a calico cat, and a chocolate lab? That might mean that you will be a pet owner on the New Earth, too. Or if your family wasn’t able to have a pet, Heaven may be the place where you’ll have a pet for the first time, and all of your friends will unselfishly share their pets with you.
The most important passage on this subject may be Romans 8:18-22. (You can read it yourself.) It says that “all creation” suffers because of human sin and longs for the deliverance that will come with our resurrection. It’s like everything around us is yearning to be made free from suffering. But there is good news—nothing in creation will rot or die after God raises us from the dead. And our resurrection will apparently be the means by which all creation will be restored to its former glory, and go beyond it.
I think there’s every reason to believe that “all creation” that longs for deliverance includes the animals. At the time when God’s people are raised from the dead, creation will experience what it longs for. It will be “set free from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21, ESV).
Romans 8 hints that some of the animals that lived and suffered and died on this old Earth will be the same ones restored to life in God’s earthly kingdom that’s to come. They suffered because of our sin, so their bodies will be freed when we receive our new bodies. They will then live in a world where they will never hurt each other or people or be hurt by anyone.
So here’s the question: If any animals on this old Earth will experience life without suffering on the New Earth, won’t some of those animals probably be our pets?
It seems to me God could do one of three things on the New Earth: (1) create entirely new animals; (2) bring back to life animals that have suffered in our present world, giving them new bodies that will last forever; (3) create some animals brand-new and bring back to life some old ones. Only God knows for sure what he plans to do. But Romans 8 leads me to believe that on the New Earth we will likely live again with some of the pets we have loved.
Randy Alcorn and Linda Washington, Heaven for Kids (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Kids, 2012).
In Genesis 4:17 we read that “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch.” Many people wonder where Cain found a wife, and this question undermines their faith in the book of Genesis. Actually, though, the question is not difficult to answer.
Adam and Eve had other children after the births of Cain, Abel, and Seth. Genesis 5:4 tells us, “The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters.” Eight hundred years is a long time to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28)!
Adam and Eve were the first man and woman, and God had commanded them and their descendants to be fruitful and multiply, so Cain probably married one of his many sisters. Given the long life spans at that time, he could have married a niece or even a grandniece.
In the early years of the human race, no genetic defects had yet developed as a result of the fall of man. By the time of Abraham, God had not yet declared this kind of marriage to be contrary to His will (see Genesis 20:12). Apparently, incest was not prohibited until the time of Moses (Leviticus 18:7-17; 20:11-12,14,17,20-21).
Ron Rhodes, 5-Minute Apologetics for Today: 365 Quick Answers to Key Questions (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2010).
My aim in this chapter is to argue from Scripture and experience that interracial marriage is not only permitted by God but is a positive good in our day. It is not just to be tolerated, but celebrated. America is ambivalent about this. On the one hand, interracial marriage has been advancing:
Half of all Asians are now marrying non-Asians; by the third generation half of all Hispanics are also marrying outside the ethnic group. The black intermarriage rate is slowly but steadily rising. The categories “Hispanic,” “Asian,” and “white” (always questionable) are fast becoming a positive anachronism, and even “black” is a label that is fraying at the edges.1
On the other hand, the history of resistance, while changing, is still with us. There is opposition to interracial marriage from all sides.
Thankfully, this strange word, miscegenation, is not known the way it used to be. It means “the interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types.” It used to be found in the law books of many states—as prohibited.2
“As late as 1958, only 4 per cent of American whites approved of inter-racial marriage.”3 Interracial marriage was against the law in sixteen states in 1967 when the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision struck down those laws.4 Not until 1998 did South Carolina, the state I grew up in, remove from the state constitution language that prohibited “marriage of a white person with a Negro or mulatto or a person who shall have one-eighth or more Negro blood.”5 “According to a Mason-Dixon poll four months before the vote, 22 [percent] of South Carolina voters were opposed to the removal of this clause. It had been introduced in 1895.”6
The legislature in Alabama took until the year 2000 to remove from the state constitution Article IV, Section 102, which said, “The Legislature shall never pass any law to authorize or legalize any marriage between any white person and a Negro, or a descendant of a Negro.”7 That law had been introduced in 1901. “According to a poll conducted by the Mobile Register in September of 2000, 19 [percent] of voters said that they would not remove section 102.… However, 64 [percent] said that they would vote to remove it.”8
That is very fresh historically. I spent the first eighteen years of my life growing up in a state where interracial marriage between white and black was illegal. When those laws were struck down by the Loving case in 1967, I was a senior in college. From a historical perspective, that is almost like yesterday. Laws reflect deep convictions. Often the change in conviction lags far behind the change in law. That is certainly the case with regard to interracial marriage.9
When I was preparing to preach on this topic in January of 2005, the first website that came up on my Google search for Martin Luther King and interracial marriage was the website of the Ku Klux Klan, which still had this anachronistic quote: “Interracial marriage is a violation of God’s Law and a communist ploy to weaken America.” Communist?
Many African Americans believe interracial marriage erodes the solidarity of the African American community. Lawrence Otis Graham wrote that “interracial marriage undermines [African-Americans’] ability to introduce our children to black role models who accept their racial identity with pride.”10
Some whites oppose interracial marriage for a different reason. Syndicated columnist H. Millard wrote:
We are seeing the death of the American and his replacement with a non-European type who now has enough mass in our society to pervert European-American ways.… White people … are going to have to struggle mightily to survive the Neo-Melting Pot and avoid being part of the one-size-fits-all human model. Call it what it is: Genocide and extinction of the white genotype.11
One personal letter I received from a white Christian man went like this:
As individuals, they are precious souls for whom Christ died and whom we are to love and seek to win. As a race, however, they are unique and different and have their own culture.… I would never marry a black. Why? Because I believe God made the races, separated them and set the bounds of their habitation (Deuteronomy 32:8; Acts 17:26).
As individuals, they are precious souls for whom Christ died and whom we are to love and seek to win. As a race, however, they are unique and different and have their own culture.… I would never marry a black. Why? Because I believe God made the races, separated them and set the bounds of their habitation (Deuteronomy 32:8; Acts 17:26).
He made them uniquely different and intended that these distinctions remain. God never intended the human race to become a mixed or mongrel race. So, while I am strongly opposed to segregation, I favor separation that the uniqueness with which God made them is maintained.
To these opposing views, I would add my own experience. I was a Southern teenage racist (by almost any definition), and since I am a sinner still, I do not doubt that elements of it remain in me, to my dismay. For these lingering attitudes and actions, I repent and set my heart against them.
Racism is a very difficult reality to define. But let’s again make use of the definition that the Presbyterian Church in America decided on in the summer of 2004: “Racism is an explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over other races.”12 That is what I mean when I say I was a racist growing up in Greenville, South Carolina. My attitudes and actions were demeaning and disrespectful toward nonwhites, and blacks were the only nonwhites I knew. At the heart of those attitudes was opposition to interracial marriage.
As I mentioned in the introduction, my mother, who literally washed my mouth out with soap once for saying “Shut up!” to my sister, would have washed my mouth out with gasoline if she knew how foul my mouth was racially. She was, under God, the seed of my salvation in more ways than one. As I mentioned previously, after our church voted not to admit blacks in 1963, when I was seventeen, my mother ushered the black guests at my sister’s wedding right into the main sanctuary herself because the ushers wouldn’t do it. I was on my way to redemption.
In 1967 my wife, Noël, and I attended the Urbana Missions Conference. I was a senior at Wheaton College. There we heard Warren Webster, former missionary to Pakistan, answer a student’s question: “What if your daughter falls in love with a Pakistani while you’re on the mission field and wants to marry him?” With great forcefulness, he said something like, “Better a Christian Pakistani than a godless white American!” The impact on us was profound.
Four years later I wrote a paper called “The Ethics of Interracial Marriage” for Lewis Smedes in an ethics class at Fuller Seminary. I still have it. For me that was a biblical settling of the matter, and I have not gone back from what I saw there. The Bible does not oppose or forbid interracial marriages. And there are circumstances which together with biblical principles make interracial marriage in many cases a positive good.
Now I am a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. One quick walk through the pictorial directory of our church gives me a rough count of 203 non-Anglos pictured in the book. I am sure I missed some, and that more have joined since the directory was printed in 2005. And I am sure the definition of Anglo is so vague that someone will be bothered that I even tried to count. But the point is this: many of them are children and teenagers and single young men and women. This means very simply that we as a church need a clear place to stand on interracial marriage. Church is the most natural and proper place to find a spouse. And some of them will find each other across racial lines.
John Piper, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 203–206.
QA sermon in our church regarding tattoos has stirred a debate in our home, and I need your help to clarify a couple of things.
1. Based on Leviticus 19:28 and 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, would someone who gets a tattoo be honoring God with his/her body?
2. If so, how does this differ from ear piercing?
3. How can we apply one law from the Old Testament and discard others, specifically the laws in Leviticus about cutting hair on the sides, mixing crops in the field, etc.?
A The New Covenant is not composed of 50 percent of the Old Covenant. It’s not 60-40, 80-20, or even 95-5. It is all new. All of it. We cannot decide which Old Covenant laws, prohibitions, statutes, or ordinances are “in effect” and which have been nailed to the cross. No human being can do that—no minister, no priest, no scholar—for it is clear that nothing in the Old Covenant is binding/required for the Christian today. Nothing, as stipulated in the Old Covenant, is required for Christians.
There are laws and principles in the Old Covenant that teachings of the New Covenant are based upon, but when they are, they are clearly enunciated in the New Testament. If they are not, then there is no clear mandate that Christians have to pick and choose from the Old Covenant, or to teach that some of the Old Covenant is required for Christians while other parts are not.
What about your specific question . . . ear piercing, cutting hair, mixing crops, and tattoos? Sincere and well-intentioned Christians, church leaders, and pastors often decide that they need to make a statement and draw a line in the sand about what they believe to be a negative social or cultural trend. They realize that they should base their convictions in and on the Bible, so they do. They often search for and find a place in the Bible that agrees with their a priori conclusion. This practice is called proof-texting—or script-torture.
Years ago, when the Beatles first became popular, some Christians were convinced that their music was at the very best bad, and at the worst evil, because the Beatles had “long hair.” They thus condemned the Beatles and their music by saying that long hair is a shame to a man, quoting 1 Corinthians 11:14. But, 1) that is not what the passage in 1 Corinthians means, and 2) even if it did, there are many cultural difficulties with determining what constitutes long hair for a man. For example, Roman men, at the time of the writing of 1 Corinthians, wore their hair much shorter than did the Jews of Palestine. The Beatles, and their music, may have been good, bad, or somewhere in between, but to try to force the Bible to line up behind cultural values we prefer is biblically dishonest.
Regarding tattoos: the prohibition you note in Leviticus has to do with a specific practice in that day and age that had religious overtones, not the practice that most men and women (specifically the young) find appealing today. We should not try to infer that the Bible (and hence God) agrees with us, when in fact the Bible is silent.
I personally happen to believe that a young man or woman who gets multiple tattoos is one day going to wish he or she had not covered their body with these markings. Scarring your skin with the name of a boy-or girlfriend who may well not wind up as your spouse is not a smart, long-term decision; but for those who only live in the moment, it seems exciting. Perhaps the concern of a message, a sermon, or a discussion on this topic ought to be about long-term consequences of decisions that we make today—and how we all, young and old, need to keep that principle (which is biblical) in mind.
Greg Albrecht, Between Religious Rocks and Life’s Hard Places: 101 Answers to Tough Questions about What You Believe (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007).
HOMOSEXUALITY Sexual relations between people of the same sex. When discussing homosexuality, the biblical emphasis is on behavior, and the verdict is always that it is sinful.
Homosexuality is a consequence of rejecting the created order. The prima facie case against homosexuality in the Scripture is found in God’s creative plan for human sexuality. God created mankind as male and female, to procreate within the context of marriage (Gen. 1:27–28; 2:18–24). This creation order for human sexuality received the endorsement of both the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 10:6–9; Matt. 19:4–6) and the Apostle Paul (Eph. 5:31). On the surface, homosexual behavior should be recognized as sinful because it violates God’s original plan for heterosexual monogamy.
Against this background of God’s creation scheme for human sexual expression, Paul makes a theological argument in Rom. 1:18–32 that homosexuality is one consequence of rejecting God as Creator and His created order. Paul indicates that both male homosexuality and female lesbianism result from a denial of God. He begins by showing that through rejection of the “creation” (1:20) and “the Creator” (1:25) women “exchanged natural sexual intercourse for what is unnatural” (1:26 HCSB). He adds also that the men “left natural sexual intercourse with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males” (1:27 HCSB). Paul’s argument: Because these people reject God, He gives them over to the desires of their own sinful hearts. In the course of this text, Paul uses several other negative terms to describe homosexuality, such as “uncleanness,” “dishonor,” “vile passions,” “error,” “debased mind,” and “not fitting.” In addition, homosexuality is included here in a serious list of vices that are deserving of death, not only for those who practice but also for those who approve (1:32).
As to modern notions of “homosexual orientation,” a scriptural perspective will view any same sex inclinations at least as harmful as proclivities toward any other sin, as negative consequences of fallen human nature that is inclined towards sin. In light of Rom. 1, homosexual predisposition may also be an indication and outworking of earlier and other sin(s).
Homosexuality is a sin that results in judgment. The first mention of homosexuality in the Bible depicts God’s judgment upon it as sin. It was the outstanding transgression of Sodom and Gomorrah. The severity of the judgment, which came because of homosexuality, indicates the seriousness of this sin (Gen. 19:1–11). Both cities were destroyed as “the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire” (19:24 NASB). The NT commentary on this event is that these two cities were turned to ashes as a matter of God’s holy wrath, specifically because their inhabitants had given themselves to “sexual immorality and practiced perversions” (2 Pet. 2:6–7; Jude 7).
Some pro-homosexual interpreters have claimed that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not homosexuality per se, but homosexual gang rape. While it is accurate to say that the men of Sodom sought to rape Lot’s guests, the text does not indicate that the sex would have been acceptable if only the angelic visitors had consented. Also, the fact that God’s judgment came upon two entire cities argues that it was not just the one instance of gang rape in Sodom that was an offense to God. Instead, God’s announced plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah before the rape incident occurred indicates that the practice of homosexual behavior in both cities was an affront to the holiness of God. When the homosexuals demanded carnally “to know” Lot’s guests, they were merely attempting again what they had been doing for some time. Lot protested, “Do not act wickedly” (Gen. 19:7 NASB). But long before this, when Lot initially pitched his tent toward the city, we read “the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD” (13:13 NASB). Again, before the attempted gang rape, God said, “Their sin is exceedingly grave” (18:20 NASB), and Abraham also said they were “wicked” (18:23, 25).
Another pro-homosexual interpretation is that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitality, not homosexuality or homosexual rape. An appeal is made from Ezek. 16:49 that Sodom was judged for violating the hospitality code. From this passage, the claim is made of Gen. 19 that the men of Sodom wanted “to know” (yadaʿ) Lot’s guests only in the sense of “getting acquainted with them.” However, yadaʿ is used in a sexual way in the OT at least 10 times, and half of these uses occur in Genesis. Added to this, the context of Gen. 19 argues for the sexual meaning of “to know.” It makes no sense to say that yadaʿ means “acquainted with” in verse 8 where Lot says his daughters had not “known” any men. Certainly they were acquainted with men of the city. But they had not sexually “known” any men.
The “inhospitality” interpreters also point to the absence of any mention of homosexuality in other passages that hold up Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of judgment, such as Isa. 1:10; Jer. 23:14; Matt. 10:14–15; and Luke 10:10–12. There are also several problems with this approach. First, these texts do not exclude homosexuality. In the case of Ezek. 16:49, sexual sins should be viewed as a form of selfishness. Besides, the next verse (16:50) shows that the sin was sexual by calling it an “abomination.” In Lev. 18:22 this same word is used to describe homosexual sins. Most of all, the problem with this view is that the 2 Peter and Jude passages do link the judgment of the cities to the sexual sin of homosexuality, and this does not contradict in any way the other judgment passages. For this reason, those who take the authority of Scripture seriously will reject the pro-homosexual/inhospitality view (Judg. 19:16–24).
Violation of Old Testament law The Holiness Code, which conveyed God’s demands for ordering the life of His covenant people, contained two clear prohibitions against homosexual activity. In a large section on sexual morality which should be viewed as an extension of the seventh commandment, “The LORD spoke to Moses saying … ‘You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female’ ” (Lev. 18:1, 22 NASB). Then later, repeating with 18:22 that homosexuality is an “abomination,” Lev. 20:13 adds, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them … shall surely be put to death.”
Violation of New Testament ethic In 1 Tim. 1:8–10 Paul discusses the value of the OT law in the present era, if used wisely. It is to be used to judge “sinners.” Then he includes “homosexuals” (arsenokoitai) in his vice list, which delineates those who are “the ungodly.” Also in 1 Cor. 6:9–11 “homosexuals” appears in a similar vice list, and Paul comments that anyone who continues in these sins will not inherit the kingdom of God. Arsenokoites refers to the active partner in the homosexual act. However, in addition to “homosexuals” in 1 Cor. 6:9, Paul adds a second word, “effeminate” (malakoi). Malakoi refers to the passive member in the homosexual relationship. The point is that both passive and active kinds of “homosexual” behavior are sinful, ungodly, and disqualify one from entrance into the kingdom of God.
Forgivable and changeable through Jesus Christ However ungodly and undeserving of heaven any homosexual might be, there is the opportunity to be forgiven, changed, and declared righteous through Jesus Christ. Paul continues in 1 Cor. 6:11 (HCSB) to say, “Some of you were like this.” The Corinthian church evidently contained some former homosexuals who had been converted. Furthermore, Paul adds of them, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The homosexual who repents and believes receives the same cleansing, sanctification, and justification as every other believer who turns from sin to Christ.
Jerry A. Johnson
Jerry A. Johnson, “Homosexuality,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 777–779.
There have been women pastors and Bible teachers in the history of the church, but there were almost none up until 1850. There were very few from 1850 to 1950, although some charismatic groups and some groups that placed a high emphasis on personal calling and evidence of effective ministry (such as Wesleyans and Nazarenes) did have some women pastors.
The most significant increase in the number of women pastors occurred from 1950 to the present, and it has come largely in more liberal denominations. However, some evangelical groups have also been part of this trend, particularly since the 1970s and 1980s.
So in the last 150 years, there is some historical precedent for women pastors and Bible teachers, but it is not as strong as egalitarians would have us believe, and it is small compared with the entire history of the church. In any case, our final standard of what is right and wrong must be Scripture, not church history.
Claims of God’s evident blessing on women’s pastoral ministry, claims that God is calling certain women to be pastors and Bible teachers to be men, claims about the uniqueness of this time in history, and claims that manhood and womanhood aren’t really different must be answered with the affirmation that the Bible alone is our final authority, not our experiences.
Therefore, the egalitarian claims in this chapter do have some interest, and they must be considered, but ultimately the answer to the controversy must be found in Scripture, not in evidence from history or personal experience.
Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More than One Hundred Disputed Questions (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 489.
Not only is it unbiblical to pray to the dead, but we believe that it is also wrong to pray for the dead. There are several Protestant objections to praying for the dead. The most important ones are the following:
Praying for the dead contradicts the separation of death. The Bible speaks of death as separating the living from the departed. Paul speaks of death as “departure” from earth and being with Christ (Phil. 1:23; cf. 2 Tim. 4:6). It is when we “leave the body” (2 Cor. 5:7). Luke 16:26 speaks of a “great chasm” between the living and the dead. Paul speaks of death separating loved ones until they are reunited at the resurrection (1 Thess. 4:13–18). In all of Scripture death is a veil that seals off the living from the dead. Any attempted contacts with the dead are not only futile but forbidden (Deut. 18:11) because of the possibility of demonic deception (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1).
Praying for the dead contradicts the example of David. When David’s baby was alive but seriously ill he prayed for it fervently. However, when the baby died he ceased praying for it immediately.48 When asked why, he replied, “While the child was living, I fasted and wept, thinking, ‘Perhaps the LORD will grant me the child’s life.’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to be with him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:22–23). It is clear that David, who as a prophet of God claimed that “the spirit of the LORD spoke through me” (2 Sam. 23:2), believed that prayers for the dead were ineffective. For if he believed that any prayer for the dead was effective, he certainly would have attempted it in his most desperate hour. In fact, in all of his many spiritual writings in the Psalms about how to communicate with God David never once even suggested that we pray for the dead.
Praying for the dead contradicts the example of Jesus. When Jesus lost his close friend Lazarus by death he never prayed to God for him.49 He simply resurrected him with the command “Lazarus, come forth!” Rather than pray for the dead, Jesus prayed for the living. At Lazarus’s graveside Jesus prayed, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41–42). Ironically, many reverse this by weeping for the living who stray and praying for the dead, while Jesus wept for the dead (John 11:35) and prayed for the living (11:41–42). The practice of praying for the dead is not the only time that humanly initiated religious practice has made void the teaching of Sacred Scripture (cf. Matt. 15:6).
Praying for the dead contradicts the sacrifice of Christ. As we have already noted, the whole idea that our prayers or works can do anything on behalf of the dead is contrary to the all-sufficiency of the completed work of Christ on the Cross. His mediation and intercession for them (1 John 2:1–2) are more than sufficient. When Jesus died and rose again the work of salvation was “finished” (John 19:30; cf. 17:4; Heb. 10:14). When he purged our sins he “took his seat” at the right hand of God (Heb. 1:3) since there was absolutely nothing more to do for our salvation. The whole concept of praying for the dead “that they might be freed from sin” is an insult to the finished work of Christ, “who freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:5). Jesus not only obtained salvation from all our sins at one time but, as our great high priest (Heb. 7), he alone implements it for all time (see chaps. 12 and 13)
Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995), 353–354.
“Be still, and know that I am God!” PSALM 46:10 NRSV
In our minds we are continually chattering with ourselves, and the purpose of meditation is to stop it. To begin with, maybe we try to concentrate on a single subject—the flame of a candle, the row of peas we are weeding, our own breath. When other subjects float up to distract us, we escape them by simply taking note of them and then letting them float away without thinking about them. We keep returning to the in-and-out of our breathing until there is no room left in us for anything else. To the candle flame until we ourselves start to flicker and burn. To the weeds until we become only a pair of grubby hands pulling them. In time we discover that we are no longer chattering.
If we persist, every once and so often we may find ourselves entering the suburbs of a state where we are conscious but no longer conscious of anything in particular, where we have let go of almost everything.
The end of meditation is to become empty enough to be filled with the kind of stillness the psalmist has in mind.
Frederick Buechner et al., Faith That Matters: 365 Devotions from Classic Christian Leaders (Grand Rapids, MI: HarperOne, 2018).
Beside assurance and acceptance, a growing Christian has four basic needs. He needs protection, fellowship, food, and training.
He needs protection. Paul continued to undergo the pains of childbirth for his converts till Christ was formed in them (see Gal. 4:19). He prayed for the Corinthians that they would not do anything wrong (see 2 Cor. 13:7).
New babies need protection. In a hospital nursery the nurses sterilize everything; they wear masks to protect the new little lives from germs. New life is tender and fragile, and must be protected from disease. So it is with new babes in Christ. They need protection from false cults and a variety of attacks by the enemy. People spreading the disease of false religion will show up at their door. The convert’s old cronies will try to entice him back into the old paths. A former girlfriend will want to renew the relationship. Satan, as a roaring lion, will try to destroy him. So he must be protected and immunized with the Word of God.
He needs fellowship. He has been bom into a family and he needs the fellowship of his brothers and sisters in Christ. When my wife and I came to Christ, a woman in the church we attended took special pains to make sure we met Christian couples our age. She took time to look up passages in the Bible for us in answer to the many questions we had. She would introduce us to others in the congregation who would invite us to their homes for fellowship during the week. A farmer, a banker, a barber—they extended their lives to us and made us feel at home and welcome in the Sunday school and church.
I would still go out with some of my old ex-Marine buddies occasionally, but these people from church stuck with Virginia and me like a peel on an orange. I know our language and lifestyle must have caused them some concern and no doubt even offended some of them, but they overlooked it. Babies occasionally make messes, do foolish things, and may be somewhat of a bother. So are babies in the spiritual realm. Our new friends from church didn’t let it bother them, and after some months I noticed something. I felt more at home with these new friends than I did with the people I had known most of my life. The Spirit of God, who had made us part of the body of Christ, was beginning to make us feel part of the body.
When I was in high school, I worked in a bakery. Frequently we would make batches of frosting for cakes and chocolate donuts. I would take great lumps of broken chocolate, put them in a pan, and warm them over a low fire. The chocolate lumps would begin to melt, stick together, and finally blend into one pan full of melted chocolate.
That’s what Christian fellowship is all about. Not a group of people in one building like marbles in a bag, but like lumps of chocolate that have blended together and become part of one another. This only happens through the ministry of the Holy Spirit as He slowly warms our hearts together in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Gal. 5:22-23).
He needs food. Natural babies need to be fed regularly. Spiritual babies need the same regularity in their feeding. And their spiritual food is the Word of God. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3).
You give the new believer food in two ways. One is to teach him the Word. When my wife and I would visit in the homes of our new Christian friends, the conversation would invariably turn to spiritual things. We would ask questions, and they would get out their Bibles and share the answers with us. I soon became convinced that every answer to every question was in that Book. When they didn’t have an answer to a question I asked, they would go to other leaders in the church who would help them with it and they in turn would share that answer with us. I was also learning the Scriptures in Sunday school and church.
But it wasn’t till I met Waldron Scott that I learned the second way of feeding on the Word. My friends fed me from the Bible, but Scotty taught me to feed myself. He took Virginia and me through some basic question and answer Bible studies where we had to dig out the answers ourselves. He taught us to memorize Scripture for ourselves. He showed us how we could feed ourselves from the Bible.
So, in order to help a new Christian grow, you must teach him the Word, share it with him, but also teach him how to dig in for himself. Do your best to get him off the spiritual milk bottle. Do your best to help him pass the stage where you have to spoon feed him his spiritual pablum. Teach him to feed himself.
Unless you teach him that vital habit, he will be dependent on others for the rest of his life. God wants him to grow and develop into a strong disciple of Jesus Christ who can, in turn, meet the needs of others and eventually teach them to repeat the process.
He needs training. Again Paul left us an example, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children” (1 Thess. 2:11). His example of a father is interesting.
A father does not teach his child everything. He does not teach him world history or geometry, but he sees to it that his child goes to school. He may turn him over to a swimming instructor to teach him how to swim; he may take him to a soccer coach to teach him to play that sport. Someone else may teach him the art of photography or the techniques of skiing, but the father is responsible for the overall development of the child.
In your training of the new believer, you should focus on the “how to” of things. The answers to “why?” will come later, but at first the new Christian needs to learn how. Paul told the Thessalonians, “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more” (1 Thess. 4:1).
The growing believer needs to learn how to have a time of morning prayer and Bible reading, how to memorize the Word of God, how to do Bible study, how to share the gospel in a simple and clear manner. These things will take time, but it is your responsibility to teach them to him.
All of this presupposes that you are doing these things yourself. When Waldron Scott started me on Scripture memory, he told me, “Here’s something that has been a great help to me.” And he gave me a small packet of verses, the Beginning with Christ pack.
What if he had said, “Here’s something that will probably be of some help to you. Personally, I have never done it myself? How would that have impressed me? Not too well.
Being an example is one of the best ways to teach another person. Paul stated, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9).
Don Rosenberger was an admiral’s writer at Pearl Harbor during World War II. Kenny Watters was a Christian who worked in the same office with Don. After Kenny had led Don to Christ, Don noticed that Kenny came to the office a half hour early, took his Bible out of his desk, and read it before beginning his day’s work.
Don assumed that this was what Christians did, so he started coming in half an hour early and reading his Bible. Then Don noticed that after work Kenny would go out on a hillside, lie down, and pray. So Don began going to the other side of the hill, lying down, and praying as well.
One evening Kenny took him into the mess hall and showed him some charts on the wall. (The chaplain had allowed Kenny to use the mess hall for this purpose.) There were men’s names on these charts with Xs and numbers on the lines between the names. Kenny explained that these represented the progress each Christian sailor had made in his Bible study and Scripture memory. He then asked if Don wanted his name on the wall with the others.
“You bet!” Don replied.
When Don saw what these other men were doing, he wanted to do it too. He was motivated by their example and what they were doing, for he knew that these things could be done by others as well. They showed him how to get started, and he was off and running to become the Christian leader he later became.
LeRoy Eims and Robert E. Coleman, The Lost Art of Disciple Making (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).
"What were the most important things that others taught you or did for you when you were a fledgling believer?" This is a question I asked several Christians recently. Their answers were remarkably similar and boiled dawn to three main areas.
A love for God’s Word. "I’d been a Christian for many years" explained Jan, "But I never read my Bible. I thought it was enough to listen to the Sunday sermon. Tricia taught me how to have a quiet time, how to read through the Bible in a year, how to do Bible study, and how to memorize Scripture. Suddenly I was taking in more Bible Calories’ than I’d ever consumed before. And they were making me FAT! (Tricia told me that stood for Faithful-Available-Teachable.) I never realized how hungry I was for God’s Word—until someone spread it all out before me like a banquet."
A genuine concern for the person. Karen’s first experience with being discipled was a negative one. "I felt this constant pressure to perform. I knew I’d never live up to my mentor’s expectations—so why try!" She was understandably wary of inviting help from anyone else. Then Betty came along. "Betty didn’t just want to know how many verses I’d memorized or how many people I’d witnessed to. She cared about every little detail of my life. She really liked spending time with me. I knew she truly cared, and so I was much more in responsive to her help."
A practical model. Tim met Christ while in college and immediately connected with a Christian ministry on campus. He listened to people talk about doing dorm evangelism, but he had no idea how to share his faith. He made sure he was always unavailable when it was evangelism time. "Then David approached me. He asked me if I would like to try witnessing to some people in the Student Union that evening. I was too terrified to say anything, so David just sort of swept me off my feet and into the Union."
"I’ll talk, you pray," David told Tim. And that’s how it went for the next few weeks. Tim watched David field questions and respond graciously to rejections. David included Tim more and more in the conversation. Tim learned how to give his testimony and present the gospel—and to do both with confidence—because of David’s modeling.
Every person you disciple will be unique. But all of them will benefit from a discipler who helps them dig riches from the Bible, who truly cares for them, and who provides a practical model.
Discipleship Journal, Issue 102 (November/December 1997) (NavPress, 1997).