White Paper #3: Our Challenges

Challenges Ahead of the Church

With the Lord’s interaction with the Samaritan woman in mind, the faithful Christian Church faces several challenges.

#1: Address the driving force behind the narrative: pursuing individual happiness.

The modern sexual narrative clearly differs from God’s word in its propositions and practices.  At some point, that must be addressed.  Why?  To win?  No—that’s not why Jesus addressed the Samaritan woman.  We must do it because compassion calls for it: if it is sinful, it is also enslaving.  John 8:34:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.

Romans 6:16

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

The main reason we cannot just “live and let live” or celebrate sexual diversity is because to live in a way contrary to God’s word isn’t freeing—it is enslaving.  Love demands that we not turn away from those who are sexually broken.

But it is more than sinful: it is sinister.  It co-opts God’s design in us that our souls would be joyful in the Lord.  That principle in us is perverted into the pursuit of physical happiness.  In effect, we must keep in mind that the soul is more important than the body—because as we see in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: it is.  This will keep us away from potential pitfalls like an over-emphasis on the person’s lifestyle—something the church has historically been rightly blamed for (like when the disciples returned to Jesus at the well they wondered why He spoke to a Samaritan woman.)

  • Sure trans and bi and homosexual is sin and no one who practices these as a lifestyle will be saved (1 Corinthians 6:10—is very clear) but helping someone turn away from brokenness requires more than using the Law.

Remembering the soul is more important than the body will also help us rightly categorize their anger, their insults and their efforts to cancel us.  In other words, those things come out of a sinful, suffering soul that has been challenged. It is sinful and sinister and yet it issues from a soul that is convinced happiness—now—is the highest good and not the greater joy in the pursuit of God now and heaven in the next life.

  • It is looking for happiness in brokenness and it will fail in this life and be condemned in the next.

#2: Breaking down echo-chambers.

The modern culture can be compared to a mason jar filled with glass marbles.  Each marble is next to but not in the next.  Rub them hard enough together and they won’t join (like Play-Doh)—they will shatter.  Our culture has become like that mason jar: each marble is a person who curates his life including in it only those voices and influences that make him happy.

This is especially obvious on social media.  Indeed social media has been training our culture to make echo chambers.  TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat—not a single one of the most popular social media apps makes our community for us.  This is also true for music and video streaming services.  These each require us to make our own community—that’s part of why they have become so popular. It makes sense then if I’m looking for influences that will make me happy I will include only those and actively exclude those that don’t. Hence, I am sovereign over my marble—I am the god of my life.

There are a number of problems with this (obviously).  One of the largest is this cannot cope with reality.  God hasn’t wired this world or His providence so that we can act like gods over our lives.  No one can do this.  This is why, as a culture, we have never been angrier.  We have never so lacked the ability to disagree.  We haven’t had so much difficulty just speaking to each other.  We can’t have conversations in which we disagree without the threat of getting canceled, ignored or marginalized. 

  • People will not be coaxed out of the so-called “safety” of their echo chambers.

The one way to break down the echo chamber is the gospel.  The gospel shatters my small marble that I am protecting with huge emotion with a message that tells me what’s in my marble is actually garbage—and real beautiful and free life is found somewhere else.  Of course we know this is the path to freedom but it is destructive before that.  

#3: (AIC, 35) Addressing the modern identity narrative: identity, freedom and power.

Identity. Christian teaching about sexuality no longer makes sense because the modern view is that “…sexuality is crucial for the expression of identity.”  Our sexuality is the pathway to unlocking our true and deep feelings and desires—to be authentically “me.”  “I am truly who I am when I am having sex with whomever I choose or I’m expressing whatever sexuality makes me happy.”

  • “…identity is now found in one’s desires, while in the past it was found in one’s duties and relationships with God, family and community.”

“Be true to yourself” and “live your own truth” or “no one can tell you who you are but you” are the repeated mantras and they are everywhere. The modern self is based on feelings and there is nothing rock solid or unchanging about feelings—feelings can change depending on what we eat. This is all very fragile, isn’t it?  My choice and my feelings are supreme and it is up to me to pursue what makes me happy. And everyone needs to get on board with making me happy.  

Freedom and power. Believe it or not, it is no surprise that this is also Critical Race Theory’s ascending hour.  CRT supercharges all of this: the CRT lens says the world is made of the oppressed (who are unhappy) and the oppressors. In a culture committed to personal happiness, of course it makes sense that those who stand in the way of this pursuit are actually “oppressors.” The sexual traditions and teaching from ancient texts are repressive and constraining: they are oppressing our ability to express ourselves sexually so they must be ignored

Is it any surprise the millennials and younger generation consider themselves religious  “Nones” or no religion? “The meaning of life is to determine who you are and to throw off the shackles of an oppressive society that refuses to accept and include you.” Isn’t this the message of the Oscars, The Little MermaidFrozenMulanMillion Dollar Baby, RuPaul, Caitlyn Jenner, Lia Thomas and “Be all you can be”?  

There is a power element here as well.  This we see in categories like “micro-aggressions” and safe spaces, statue removal and approved censorship. For the so-called “oppressed” their use of language trumps all others—try refusing to call a person by his chosen pronouns: there have been educators fired for that!   Our culture is now giving power over to those who are consumed with personal happiness uninformed by reason, wisdom or religion.  The young now dictate to the old.  It is a Machiavellian culture modeled after the Lord of the Flies.

#4: Rooting the church’s teaching in its full theology rather than simply its ethics: placing human sexuality in the broader framework of the Bible.

Historically, the church has had mainly one sexual message: No sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. While that is a true representation of biblical teaching, it minimizes all the rest of the Bible’s teaching on sex and sexuality. This was pointed out in an article written by a woman struggling with homosexuality written to her pastor: “Seven Things I Wish My Pastor Knew about my Sexuality.

From the AIC, 40:

Christian theology answers that sex is part of the image of God–it must image God and in particular, His redeeming love. Sex is not about enhancing one’s power but about mutually giving up power to one another in love, as Christ did for us. The Christian answer to “Why must sex be within heterosexual marriage?” gets us into the very heart of the gospel. We should not, then, present the sex ethic without rooting it in the Bible’s doctrines of God, of creation and of redemption….So what is sex for? It is a signpost pointing to God’s design of saving love, and it is a means for experiencing something of that same pattern of love at the horizontal level between two human beings that we know at the vertical level in Christ.

This is our missionary moment.

An Open Letter to Public Servants, Part I

Dear Public Servant,

You have already been long embarked on a mission to bring a political agenda to the municipal, state or national stage.  This path seems sometimes long and always arduous.  As a political student, spectator and sometimes participant (as a voter), I thank and commend you for choosing this area of service.  Having served in this nation’s military for years, I recognize the presence of the costs in many areas of your life.  Thank you.  Do not grow weary in this endeavor – see it through.  If you are headed into the November general elections, it seems that God, who rules both the realms of the Church and the State, may prosper your path and place you into a position of influence.  That is exciting!  As you continue your work toward that end, I wanted to write you; even to begin a conversation with you.

First, it is not necessary for you to agree with me that God rules both realms or that He is the one who may grant you success: this is what I believe (and, as a local talk show radio host says, “you’re welcome to it”).  We have for too long judged someone by virtue of his adherence to a religious manifesto (Christian or Secular).  The Founding Fathers saw something different.  Theirs was a commitment to found a country in part for religious freedom.  That really means something, namely, folks should be free to follow the dictates of their conscience.  (At what point did we lose this view?)  Surely their expectation was that men and women of principle (including religious principle) would bring those into governance.  But not so that they could pursue a Christian or Secular nation (any more than a French nation, for example).

It seems to a large degree our public servants have lost their nerve.  Is it because they have navigated away from principles that lead to good government?  “Principles?  Like what?”  Some would say biblical principles; others secular ones.  Something else.  How is it that our nation has prospered over this 200 years with such a varying degree of religious belief and practice? Has it been by force of arms that one group prevailed over another?  How can men and women of legitimate and real differences govern and be governed together?

This is one of those questions that has never been more important.  Scads of young people and other disaffected voters acted in 2008 to usher into political power those who were different than the status quo.  Maybe it was the Democratic Party platform that persuaded these voters; maybe not.  In fact, “hope” and “change” and whatever people annexed to those concepts is what won the day.

This is part of the reason for my letter to you: it is likely that God has prospered your path towards elected office irrespective of your religious beliefs.  That is, in spite of them rather than because of them. This is important for you to consider.  Long many have held that we need more Christians (or non-Christians) in public office simply because the broader goal of politics must surely be a Christian America (or Secular America).  I urge you to search the Bible and you will see that God has no such goal as a Christian or Secular America.  No.  His goals are far different when we start to consider what He has revealed to us in the Bible.  Nor must this encourage those of you who think that secularism should reign.  Neither is true.

I asked earlier how we have succeeded in forging out a national history that has involved men and women of almost every political stripe?  How are we to govern and be governed in our climate of uber-partisanship?  It is not wrong to answer that question by exploring what the founders initially saw as the pathway to governing.  Do we think that we alone live in a time of discord?  Let’s not be so arrogant as to think that our fathers wouldn’t (or didn’t) understand precisely the pressures to govern a disparate and independent people.  Surely, at the headwaters of our founding there were more factions than today!

So, secondly, the Declaration of Independence speaks of several concepts that can guide us and, I hope, you as well.  These are summed as the “laws of nature.”  Among them: distinction-making, decency, self-evident truth, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, justice, safety, prudence, definitions of evil and patience.  Each of these concepts drawn from the laws of nature were enshrined in our national origins.

Distinction-making.  You ask, “Where is that in the Declaration?”  It is the Declaration.  This document (as every document like it) is where distinction-making either takes place or is recorded.  The colonists categorize in the Declaration the ways in which the Crown acted tyrannically.  These included such things as making laws that were too difficult to obey, calling convocations in locations that made attendance impossible, quartering standing Army troops in peace, etc.  Experiences and burdens that all could agree where not necessary or right.  We wrongly fear distinction-making today.  We eschew calling nations to account for harboring terrorists, for calling out greedy capitalists, for dressing down corrupt government officials or even for equal treatment.  Yet, we cannot govern if we fear making distinctions.  For these things must be done.

Decency.  Turn on the TV and seek examples of decency; ask congressional staffers about examples of decency.  Indecency is rampant – even having touched the White House in years past.  Decency, according to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary is that which is “morally praiseworthy.”  We go astray if we ask “whose morals?”  (We continue to prove my first point.)  Language, dress, decorum and vocations that advance honor to all men are decent.  That means prostitution, crime, corruption, immodesty, pornography, violence and vulgarity are not honorable and should be restricted by law.  For whom do these things produce decency?


Forgiveness is…

Forgiveness might be one of the most significant concepts in relationships.  It also might be the most misunderstood.

First, we cannot discuss forgiveness if we depart from the basis of forgiveness with God: the death of Christ.  Christ’s blood has satisfied the justice of God, having broken down the walls between God and us.  Paul the apostle applies this in Ephesians 2:13-15 where he explains this means in Christ there is no barrier between us.  What is important to note is the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13b) is the same basis of forgiveness between believers.  When I was brought near to God through Christ, I was also brought near to all others who were previously brought near to God through Christ; Paul highlights this in Ephesians 4:32.

But what is the nature of forgiveness?  It is the actual wiping away of our sins so that they no longer testify against us.  It is two-fold: event and process.

Event: asking and granting forgiveness on the basis of someone else’s work

Process: remembering and living in that event in the strength of someone else’s work

When are the “events” of forgiveness between God and us? When I first repent and believe in Him and each time I repent and believe (: 1 John 1:9)  What is the “process” of forgiveness for God and us?  He chooses to remember the blood of Christ on our behalf instead of our sins and we continue to repent when we sin.  Why does God keep doing this?  Because our forgiveness is not founded on our perfections but Christ’s; we have Christ’s perfection counted to us rather than our imperfections counted to us.

When we consider these things between men and women in the faith, it is functionally no different.  For the Christian, forgiveness is always a possibility.  We sometimes act as if what someone has done against us is so serious that it is beyond forgiveness.  There may be genuine and horrific sin against you but the Scripture tells us that it is not unforgivable. When are we typically unforgiving people?  In three cases: a) when we forget what God has done in forgiving us (Matthew 18:23-33); b) when we belittle our own transgressions against God and, c) when we forget just what had to happen so that we could live as free-people.  For the Christian, forgiveness is also a duty.  As we will see from passages like Luke 17:3-5 and Ephesians 4:32, we must choose forgiveness.  God clearly holds us to forgive even so that we might be forgiven:

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:37)

We may overlook offenses or we may only ever be able to adopt a disposition of forgiveness due to an unrepentant sinner, but these at least we must do.

For the Christian, forgiveness is a gift.  One of the two principal words for forgiveness in the Old Testament has as its core idea, “to lighten by lifting.”  We will discuss the nature of sin as incurring a debt.  Many know what it is like to carry debts: houses, cars, credit cards, etc., none of these is desirable and we long for a time when we are debt-free.

Forgiveness is the means that God has ordained that we would experience relationships debt-free.  In other words, through forgiveness we may have closeness, openness and safety that we would not have without it.

Forgiveness is not.

We often persist in sinful un-forgiveness because we don’t know what it means!  Or we have a view of it that makes forgiving too hard.  In the Bible, forgiveness is not a feeling.  Therefore it isn’t only required when someone has recovered a sense of affection or good will towards a sinner (how easy would that be?).  Instead, it is an act of the will after all God commands us to do so.  Forgiveness is not passive.  As we said above, to forgive involves someone sinned against canceling a live debt that he is owed.  It involves both the sinner and the one sinned against to think-speak-act.  It is also not forgetting.  Forgetting is passive and is never guaranteed.  We cannot think that until we have forgotten we have forgiven or that if we’ve forgotten we’ve forgiven.  It is not excusing.  As we will see, forgiveness is transactional and so it automatically assumes a wrong done for it to be valid.  Sin creates debts that we as humans instinctively recognize (cf. Romans 2:14-15).  We also recognize that as we sin against others we are saddled with a deepening burden for that debt over time.

Forgiveness does not allow this as it doesn’t automatically release a wrongdoer of the consequences.  Consequences are often our teachers that instruct us and keep us from repeating sins against God and other people.  Forgiveness takes the reality of sin into account and sets us on this path of learning (cf. Numbers 14:20-23 and 2 Samuel 12:11-14).

Forgiveness is.

As a process, it is keeping no active record.

Jeremiah 31:34b: “…For I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.”

Isaiah 43:25: “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.

Psalm 103:11-12: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

Psalm 130:3-4: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”

1 Corinthians 13:5: “…[love] does not take into account a wrong suffered” (NASB)

Forgiveness is canceling debts people owe you.  When people sin, they create a debt; they owe you.  Ken Sande writes that to forgive is, “To release from liability to suffer penalty or punishment and to bestow favor freely and unconditionally.”  How did the Matthew 18 parable depict this?  First, Jesus equates sin (18:15, “if your brother sins…”) with debts (18:23, “settle accounts with his servant”).  Secondly, Jesus equates forgiveness (Luke 17:3, “…and if he repents, forgive him”) with exacting payment (18:24-25, “one [servant] was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  And since he could not pay…”).  Sin creates a debt while forgiveness cancels the debt.  In other words, forgiveness means that someone has done a wrong against you and they owe you / deserve punishment but you give up your right to recoup what they owe / punish them.

Forgiveness is costly.  Sin-debts are real: they violate the covenants between people.  Sin-debts are specific: those violations are never vague as they transgress real boundaries (see the Ten Commandments for example).  Sin-debts are costly: they weigh on both parties.  And sin-debts have lingering effects.  Forgiveness minimizes none of these things.

Forgiveness is hard work: Matthew 18:22. What must’ve the disciples thought when Jesus answered the way He did?

[Isn’t there a limit!  That’s too much!]

Forgiveness works.

There is a distinct process in forgiveness written in many places.  Luke 17:3-5 provides a condensed and effective summary.  First, forgiveness is an event that involves a confrontation: 17:3, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; if he repents, forgive him.”  In order to bring about forgiveness, there must be a confrontation.  It must either be initiated by the one sinned against as in this case (cf. Matthew 18:15) or by the one who committed the sin (Matthew 5:23-24). So, who has the burden of forgiveness?  The sinner and the saint.

Still, Jesus highlights that it is also a process: 17:4, “and if he sins against you seven times in the day and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent’ you must forgive him.”  Someone who commits sin and repents must be forgiven.  Lane and Tripp say, “The principle [of Luke 17:5] applies to countless offenses and even the same endlessly repeated offense.  We’re tempted to think that once we have forgiven someone we’re done.  But forgiving someone is not just a past event.  It’s something we must continue to practice even when we’re dealing with an offense we have already forgiven.”  In other words, the process of forgiveness is on-going or willful.  Or acts of our conscious choice each time we have the opportunity or the need.  Remember that God holds our sins against us no more when He forgives.  He certainly remembers, but chooses not to act on a past, forgiven incident.  It is a canceled debt.

  • Would it make sense if a bank, whose debt you paid off, came to you and wanted to keep talking about the debt you used to owe?

When we say, “I forgive you,” we are pledging ourselves to this process where we actively say to each other:

I will not think about this incident anymore;

I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you;

I will not talk to others about this incident;

I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

For each incident “I forgive you” means an affirmative answer to each of these questions about the incident.  No one should suggest forgiveness is easy.  In order to absorb the wrongs done, God will have to strengthen the offended party.  Forgiveness in the strength of self-will lasts a very short time, if at all.  Each offense contains painful detail, a decision to absorb them, a looking past the urge to punish and a commitment to treat the offender almost as if he never did them!  Who is up to this task?!

Forgiveness’ language.

Language in forgiveness is very important. What is the difference between “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me”?  Usually, “I’m sorry” involves accidents while “Please forgive me” addresses sins committed.  “I’m sorry” is sometimes very unrepentant; merely “I’m sorry I got caught” or “I’m sorry your such a wimp and you can’t handle this,” etc.  “Please forgive me for…” makes no mistaking that a debt settlement is underway!

Jay Adams says, “Seeking forgiveness is not apologizing.  There is nothing in the Bible about apologizing…[it is] the world’s substitute for forgiveness that doesn’t get the job done.  You apologize, and say “I’m sorry” but have not admitted your sin.  The offended party feels awkward, not knowing how to respond.  You are still holding the ball.  You have asked him to do nothing.”

The nature of sin is to create a debt, something objective.  The nature of forgiveness is to forgive that debt in detail.  Repentance and forgiveness must carry specificity in the language.  When we confront an offense, we must be specific.  We must be able to point to specific violations of God’s law (not preferences, remember?).  So, be specific:

“I believe you have sinned against me by your coarse language”

“I believe you have sinned against me by not leading our family and asking me to do so”

You see that to use this language does two things: a) points out a biblical wrong has been done – this isn’t just a preference that’s been violated and, b) it calls the offender to action.

The response mirrors the confrontation:

“Please forgive me for using coarse language and treating you as if you aren’t truly valuable to me”

“Please forgive me for failing to lead our family”

You see that to respond in this language admits to both points above: a) a sin’s been committed and, b) action is being taken.


An unrepentant sinner may not keep us from forgiveness.  Mark 11:25 says, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (see also Luke 6:28 and Acts 7:60).  God calls us to an attitude of forgiveness towards those who sin against us.  We may have to hold onto an attitude of forgiveness until the offender repents.  The attitude of forgiveness will transition into actual forgiveness when a sinner repents and asks for forgiveness.  However, this may never happen.  To fail to have an attitude of forgiveness violates Mark 11:25 and will inevitably lead to bitterness (Ephesians 4:31; Hebrews 12:15).