By James Brown Jr.
An area where we are naïve to the workings of Satan is in the area of the family. There are a multitude of ministries and bloggers devoted to this subject. However, not all the information on parenting and child raising on the internet is godly.
One of the ways antinomian and libertarian thought is infiltrating the Church is through family ministry.
One of the ways antinomian and libertarian thought is infiltrating the Church is through family ministry.
While it is essential for the Church to be engaged in teaching about marriage and parenting, this can only be accomplished according to the authority of Scripture. Today, a lot of what is being passed off as Biblical teaching is everything but Biblical. Much of it is based off of reactionary thinking rather than the systematic doctrine of the Church. Since reactionary views are without a foundational source, philosophy, psychology and populism are needed to give some sense of authority.
In the end, anything outside of Scripture is based on humanistic reactions, experience and logic. Unfortunately, these works of the flesh are manifesting themselves in both legalistic and libertarian forms. Both are unbiblical and destructive to the gospel and the family.
Today, the rising tide is to be found in libertarian or antinomian forms. We are given many reasons for the use of humanistic reason but the main scapegoat is legalism. While we should be opposed to legalism, the antinomians are using this term against any who uphold the holiness of God, the three uses of the law, sin, guilt, condemnation and so on.
This term now carries the same effect as “racism” in our society. It is not used in any true meaning of the word but only to avoid a true debate on the issues. In our pop culture, any debate essentially ends as soon as it is hurled against one’s opponent. Once you are called a legalist nothing you say matters.
Most engaged in this type of argumentation do not even realize it. They are so blinded by their reactionary vision they can never discuss the standard of Christian thought.
One blogger wrote, “I turned 31 this year, and I grew up in the Bible belt. It’s possible that much of what I’ll write today is fueled by that context, but I think it does stretch further than a small strip that reaches from one side of America to the other.”
Here lies the problem—the standard of his viewpoints are his own experiences rather than the Word of God. We are not to form our opinions based upon the context of our experience but on the authority of God.
To jump from one extreme to another based upon the abuse of doctrine or practice is unstable. It will only result in a continuous cycle of being tossed about with every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14).
This influence of modern culture is even swaying the Reformed Church. One of the popular terms we hear among family ministries is “heart focused.” Although we are to be heart focused this is really a reaction to a time when our society was over-focused on outward conformity. It also stems from the influence of modern culture that is hostile to rules and judgment.
What is really being conveyed in the context of our society is that we do not believe in rules, discipline, correction, punishment and a standard of behavior. Or at the least, we do not consider these things very important. What we are doing is going from one extreme to another rather than relying upon the inerrant and sufficient Word of God.
When we raise this issue we are subjected to absolute denial and angry reactions from those who are promoting elements of libertarian or antinomian thought.
In an attempt to confuse the issues, we have been bombarded with statements concerning the gospel being the preeminent focus. Whether it is the pro-homosexual lobby in Evangelicalism or the anti-spanking blog activist, the message is the same—love, acceptance and the focus on the gospel and not on rules.
We are told that rules equal legalism and that love makes rules void. But this is not what Jesus said in John 14:15 when He told His disciples, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
One of the problems is thinking that man can direct the heart. Because one focuses on the heart does not mean they are utilizing the gospel. Neither does upholding God’s standard of behavior necessitate a denial of the gospel.
To over simplify this issue has only increased confusion on the topic. We cannot cut corners or cut out the whole counsel of God. The whole picture must be seen to be understood.
We have tried over the past few months to engage these issues without being specific in relation to the statements and advocates of this modern deception. It has not been our desire to ignite new wars or inflame old ones. But this has proved to be ineffective to meet these new challenges head-on.
In order to hold fast to sound doctrine, it is necessary that we address these issues in love but without compromise. This means that as topics such as this continue to harm the Church, we must point them out and rebuke them by the Word of God.
Part of our mission in this ministry is to call for greater Christian unity. However, Biblical unity can only be attained in Biblical doctrine. It is our hope that addressing these issues will be in the spirit of iron sharpening iron in Christian love and brotherhood.
“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” –Proverbs 27:17
However, we also understand this is usually not the case in today’s hostile environment. There is so much anger, hatred of the brethren, hatred of absolute standards, and schisms in the body of Christ that the desire for unity is overshadowed by the love of destruction and death.
Nevertheless, if we cannot have these conversations about topics vital to the Church and our nation, we are in serious trouble. Therefore, we pray that with this article and in our future endeavors to defend the faith, our brethren will understand that it is for the sake of the gospel and the purity of the Church that we strive “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).
One of the biggest problems is the over simplification of the issues. Recently, I read where one author was blurring the distinction between love and delight. The question put forth in the article was
"Do your kids think that God or you will only be pleased with them if they obey him and obey you?" The purpose of the article was to promote the idea that parents should unconditionally be pleased with their children.
But loving and delighting are too different things. True love is eternal but delighting (being pleased with) can be temporary. Unfortunately, Americans have defined love as being pleased with someone or something. We say we love ice cream when really we delight in it because of the pleasure it gives us.
But is this really the kind of love God commended toward us? This lack of distinction confuses the nature of God.
The Bible clearly states in Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Notice, His love is commended to us when we were sinners or disobedient. It was not that He delighted in that we were sinners but loved us in spite of our sinfulness.
To make sure there is no confusion here, we are talking about those whom God predestined before the foundation of the world unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto Himself (Ephesians 1:5). We are speaking about His children.
So, are there times when God is unhappy with His children? Notice what Moses told the Old Covenant people of God.
“Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee.” –Deuteronomy 8:5
The implications of this verse are evident—the Lord is displeased with His children when they are disobedient. There are numerous examples in the Old Testament but notice the following affirmations of this fact.
“And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.” –Numbers 11:1“O God, thou hast cast us off, thou hast scattered us, thou hast been displeased; O turn thyself to us again.” –Psalm 60:1“The LORD hath been sore displeased with your fathers.” –Zechariah 1:2
Countless examples can be given when the Lord was displeased with the people of Israel. Was the Lord not displeased with the children of Israel when they refused to go take the land of Canaan? Was the Lord not displeased with David when he murdered Uriah and committed adultery with Bathsheba? Was God not displeased with Israel's and Judah’s idolatry?
Was this displeasure a lack of love or a lack of delight?
Was this displeasure a lack of love or a lack of delight?
David understood the distinction when he wrote in Psalm 37:23, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.”
The Lord delights in holiness and finds no pleasure in sin. Yet, this does not diminish His love for His children. Because He loves them He cannot delight in their disobedience. His love is so great that He will correct His disobedient children because He delights in true sonship.
“For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” –Proverbs 3:12
Is God a legalist; a tyrant; a bad parent who is distorting the gospel? God forbid that our message today would imply such heresy.
God’s love is perfectly pure, holy and eternal. Therefore, He will not let His children destroy themselves in sin.
“If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.” –Psalm 89:30-34
The Psalmist gives testimony to the graciousness of God’s correction.
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes…I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.” –Psalm 119:71, 75
When was the last time you heard of correction in the context of God’s love and grace? Probably not too often in today’s libertarian environment. But we see this love of God demonstrated over and over in the correction of His Old Covenant people.
Yet, this is where many are avoiding the above facts and distorting the gospel. In denying the harmony of the Old and New economy of the Covenant of Grace, they will state that we are no longer under the Old Covenant, implying it is a dispensation of law, and that we are now under grace.
However, the writer of Hebrews upholds this eternal truth in Hebrews 12:5-11, which was first proclaimed in the Old Testament and here restated in the New Testament.
"And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”
Yes, God chastens and rebukes His children because we are His sons and because He loves us. The Scripture here states that only bastards do not receive chastisement and rebuke. Why? Because a loving father will not delight in or allow the disobedience of His children.
Why then are so many teaching or in the least implying a bastardized doctrine of the gospel and parenting?
The gospel begins with the authority of God and His standards of righteousness. The problem is not God’s authority or demand of obedience to His commandments but the depravity of man. The standard of righteousness will never change because it is the expressed will of God.
“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” –Isaiah 8:20“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” –2 Timothy 3:16-17
Man has fallen short of this standard of righteousness as revealed in Creation and through the Scriptures. As a result, man abides under the wrath of God.
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” –Romans 8:7-8
In the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin wrote, “The two things, therefore, are to be distinctly observed—viz. that being thus perverted and corrupted in all the parts of our nature, we are, merely on account of such corruption, deservedly condemned by God, to whom nothing is acceptable but righteousness, innocence, and purity.”1
A few sentences later Calvin further elaborates, “And the Apostle most distinctly testifies, that ‘death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.’ (Rom. v. 12); that is, are involved in original sin, and polluted by its stain. Hence, even infants brining their condemnation with them from their mother’s womb, suffer not for another’s, but for their own defect. For although they have not yet produced the fruits of their own unrighteousness, they have the seed implanted in them. Nay, their whole nature is, as it were, a seed-bed of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God. Hence it follows, that it is properly deemed sinful in the sight of God; for there could be no condemnation without guilt.”2
There is a grave danger among those who are seeking to remove the condemnation and guilt of sin. Under the guise of grace, this is also being promoted in parenting. We are being told that condemnation and guilt are detrimental to the gospel. This is a corruption of free grace as our society continues to turn God’s grace into licentiousness.
“For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” –Jude 1:4
The condemnation and guilt of our sin should drive us to fall down before the Cross praying “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Instead, we are attempting to remove the very motivation and need of grace.
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” –Romans 8:2-4
The message of the gospel begins with the depravity of man. Man cannot be righteous. Without the conviction of sin and the realization of man’s hopeless condition, salvation is impossible. This depravity is so complete the Scriptures describe it as being “dead in trespasses and sins.”
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;” –Ephesians 2:1“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;” –Colossians 2:13“Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” –Ephesians 2:5
This message of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness is being castigated as legalism. One blogger wrote, “Yes, sin is serious, and should not be minimized or ignored, but I don't want my children cowering in fear of some angry God waiting to whack them any time they do something wrong…After all, it is always the goodness of God that draws sinners, right? Yes, God is high and holy, and righteously wrathful toward unrepentant sinners.”
What is troubling is the context and attitude demonstrated in the previous statement. The blogger does not want her children “cowering in fear of some angry God.” Is this the attitude we want our children to approach God? Is this how we want to represent a holy God to our children?
This attitude will breed arrogance and a flippant attitude about sin. It will also make this “angry God” the one who has the problem and not us.
This is a scary place to be. Grace should not make us arrogant but should humble us more and more as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
“A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit.” –Proverbs 29:23“And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” –Matthew 23:12“But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” –James 4:6
Those on whom this grace is granted will acknowledge, confess and trust in the merits of Christ alone for the remission of their sins. With the acknowledgement of sin also comes the acceptance of our condemnation. We come to God humbly knowing we deserve the wrath of God.
The blogger also indicates a false understanding of the goodness of God. The goodness of God includes justice, holiness, punishment, and chastisement. God uses these things to work grace in the elect.
Scripture also commands us to use both sides of the coin in our evangelism.
“And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” –Jude 22, 23
It is the fear of God and the love of God that draws us unto Him through Jesus Christ. Yet, both are because of His goodness. What’s more, even in the fear of God we find love and in the love of God fear. God’s love is not antinomian but contains commandments and chastisement for failure to obey. Why? Because He loves us!
The gospel then is not a redefining of the standard, a lessening of the standard or a tolerance of falling short of the standard. The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ coming to save sinners and make them righteous, both legally and practically, before God.
Grace is not excusing sin but remedying sin through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. God’s wrath against the unjust has been satisfied for those who are in Christ. Jesus lived a sinless life to perform the demands of the law for those whom the Father hath given unto the Son. He did what we could not do in perfectly fulfilling the law of God.
Justification is not God looking the other way at our sin but the righteousness of the law has been imputed unto us and the wrath of God executed upon our sin. This was performed, accomplished and affected for us completely through Christ.
While God’s wrath has been satisfied for the justification of our sins, God is still displeased with His children when they fail to be conformed to the righteousness of Christ in sanctification. Outside of Christ this displeasure is damnation upon the sinner but in Christ it is correction through chastisement upon the saint.
God did not save us to leave us in our sin but to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Sin is never excused in the sinner or in the saint and neither are we to excuse sin in our children.
Yes, God chastises His children because He loves them. He works grace in our lives in order to make us holy. This is how we are also to represent God to our children.
“For they [earthly fathers] verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he [Heavenly Father] for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” –Hebrews 12:10-11
1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge [WM. B. Errdman’s Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1989] Book II, p. 217
2. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge [WM. B. Errdman’s Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1989] Book II, p. 217-218