PHIL: Hi, I’m Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace to You, and I am in the studio today with John MacArthur. I want to ask him some questions. John, we get hundreds of letters and emails and voicemails every single week from listeners, and we can’t always answer them all in the sort of personal way we’d like to. But in this hour, we want to take an hour and let you answer as many of these questions as you can. And we’ve tried to choose a sort of representative sampling of the kinds of questions that come to us. You know, we get lots of questions about doctrine, and hard Bible verses, and some of the standard questions that you often answer about predestination and Bible prophecy, questions about assurance and eternal security. But today I want to sort of take a different direction and single out for you some of the practical questions that people ask, hard questions about marriage and divorce, family issues, and other matters that are related to practical Christian living. So what I want to do is read some of these questions just as they have come in to us and we’ll see where it goes. Okay?
JOHN: Yeah, okay. I’ll give it my best try. I hope it’ll be helpful.
PHIL: I know you’ll do well.
JOHN: I don’t know what these questions are coming at me, so ...
PHIL: No, you’ve never seen this. I should say that for our listeners; this is totally unrehearsed. And I may embellish things here and there, because I like to see how you answer these questions too. I picked out some questions that I’m not really sure of the answers to so that we can get –
JOHN: You don’t know the answers?
JOHN: But you’re asking me?
PHIL: Yeah, I want to learn this from you.
JOHN: I don’t know about that.
PHIL: We’ll start with some questions about marriage and divorce. You know, we get more hard questions dealing with marital problems and divorce than I think on any other subject, because it’s a hard subject. So here’s one that came in to us.
A listener writes, “I was listening to your sermon ‘How to Win Your Unbelieving Spouse.’ I truly want to learn and do all the Lord wants me to do. I do try to practice serving Him no matter what my husband has said or done to me, so there are things I need advice on. We’ve been married 20 years, and as soon as we got married, he abandoned me. He spends all his free time with his brother. He says the wife’s duty to him is only to cook and clean and be a submissive slave to all his needs. He’s never said, ‘Thank you,’ and never said, ‘I’m sorry.’ Anything I may need his help with produces fear in me, because I know he’ll blow up. So how do I deal with the fear and loneliness and rejection in a way that pleases God?”
JOHN: I think the starting point for that would be that the Lord doesn’t promise us a trouble-free life. You know, in this world, you’ll have tribulation. But the Lord does promise this, that the trying of your faith/suffering has a perfecting work. I used to think that God chooses very carefully who He puts through the most severe suffering, because those who go through the most severe suffering become the most equipped. So I think you have to look at this as the path that God has chosen for you for His own glory. And I’m not just assuming that somewhere down the road in life there’s going to be some great event or some great ministry that’s going to fall into your lap because you’ve suffered, but I can promise you this. You know, when James and John came to Jesus with their mother and said, “We want to sit on the right and the left hand in the kingdom,” He said, “That is not for you to take, and that’s not just for Me to pass out.” And then He went on to say that, “Whoever suffers the most is going to be the most exalted, the most elevated.”
I think eternity is the great equalizer, and I think you have to say, “Look, Job wouldn’t have chosen the suffering that he had,” which was incomprehensibly vast, an all-encompassing suffering. But in the end, he discerned God more clearly. He said, “I have heard of You, the hearing in mine ear. Now I see You; I see You through my suffering.”
And I think even beyond that in life, not only does God produce a perfecting work in us, shaping us, sort of like Paul saying, “Lord, please take this throne in the flesh away. Please take it away. Please take it away,” and the Lord’s saying, “No, I’m not going to do that, because when you’re weak, then you’re strong. This has a perfecting work.” And Paul responds by saying, “So I rejoice in that.”
So I think you have to find the path of joy in the middle of it and realize that God has chosen you for difficulty, chosen you for suffering for His own glory, and that there will be a kind of spiritual development, a kind of spiritual growth and maturity that will come in your life that will make you valuable if you rejoice in this; and that in eternity someday, you will probably be shocked at the grand reward that the Lord provides for you eternally.
PHIL: Yeah. You mentioned Paul’s experience in 2 Corinthians 12, and Paul sort of wraps that up at the end by saying, “His grace is sufficient for me.”
JOHN: Sufficient, yeah. You know, one of the things that severe struggle does or severe suffering does is it drives us to Christ, and that’s a good thing, that’s a good thing. So, you know, this wouldn’t have been the marriage you would have chosen. For most people, I think in most of life, there is just disappointment. I mean it’s epic and ongoing, like in your case. But we all live with disappointment through life. That the nature of life in this world. But His grace is sufficient. This is the lot that He has chosen for you now, but He has a perfecting purpose in mind.
PHIL: Now, she doesn’t expressly say that her husband is an unbeliever, but she’s responding to the series How to Win Your Unbelieving Spouse, and the way she describes this man doesn’t sound like a believer. So she also needs to pray for his salvation.
JOHN: Absolutely. And you’re not guaranteed that he’s going to be saved. But we do know the Bible tells us how to go about reaching out to him with the gospel by how a woman lives. And, yeah, I don’t know what the end of that will be, but I know the responsibility that she has is to live a life that puts Christ on display and makes the gospel believable.
PHIL: Here’s another question from a woman who says that, “My soon-to-be ex-spouse has been served with an order of protection. He told me beautiful lies that led me to make a decision to leave everyone and everything, and as soon as I moved there, I found out that I was in an abusive situation. He would hit me, kick me, slap me, lock me in the basement or in the bedroom, oversee every little thing I did with the aim of getting into arguments so that they would lead to this abuse. He threatened to divorce me over every small issue.”
She says, “This experience leaves me wondering whether God cares about those who are in abusive situations. I wonder why Jesus would tell the husband to give his wife a bill of divorce and send her away if some indecency was found in her. But what about indecency found in the husband? Why should a wife have to suffer at the hands of her abusive husband without protection? Where there is domestic violence, can the wife send the husband away with a bill of divorce and still honor Scripture? I know the Bible says that God hates divorce. But does that mean a wife should remain in an abusive marriage?”
JOHN: Well I would answer firstly by saying you should not remain in an abusive relationship in the place where that abuse takes place. Let’s talk about divorce initially, let’s just talk about safety. We have mechanism in our physical bodies to deflect things that are dangerous. You blink your eyes so your eyes aren’t harmed. You duck when some flying object comes at you.
No. First of all, you need to remove yourself from anyplace where you are vulnerable to that level of harm. And I think God expects that. I mean that’s a mechanism that’s built into everybody. You’re not going to stay there and say, “Well, I have to be married to this guy, so I’ve got to be here; and he can kick me around like a punching bag if he wants.” No. You need to get out of that place and get to a place of safety. And if you have children, you need to get those children to a place of safety. This is just obvious stuff.
Secondly, this is clearly a nonbeliever. I don’t know what he professes or what he confesses, but that is not the behavior of a Christian. If a person is a Christian, he loves his brother, and the most intimate expression of that is to a spouse. This is a non-Christian.
And I would even go further than that and I would say this is a non-Christian who virtually has forfeited any right to a marriage. While he’s not moved away and departed in that sense, he has departed from his responsibility as a husband, and he has turned into a threat to your life rather than a husband who provides and cares for you. So I think I would start by separating and maintaining that separation, not until he says he’s a different guy, but until there’s plenty of evidence that something dramatic has been done in his heart by God Himself and made him a changed man. And I would even think down the road whether he initiates a divorce; you are not bound, under all circumstances, to stay with an unbeliever who has literally violated the intent of that marriage, but hasn’t physically left, but he has violated the marriage to that degree.
PHIL: Yeah. This, by the way, the description of this woman’s situation, is a good example of why church membership is so important and why the need for good sound churches is so critical, because in an ideal situation, this woman would be able to go to the elders of the church and seek their help in addressing these issues with her husband.
JOHN: Last Sunday morning, our elders were meeting before the Sunday morning service, and when I was leaving, they were setting up some chairs in the prayer room, and I said, “What’s going on?” And he said, “Well, there’s a couple coming in, and we’re going to meet them, a few of the elders in this first service.” I said, “What’s it about?” “It’s about a husband who is battering and abusing his wife physically. She is terrified of him. She refuses to live with him. She is living on her own. She feels she’s trapped in this marriage. He professes to be a Christian; it’s evident that he’s not. It’s evident that he doesn’t understand anything about being a Christian, but he’s been around the church here.”
And the elders met with her basically on that very same premise to say, “You do not have to be anywhere near this man.” The elders of the church then come around her as a point of protection, which is what you’re saying, and the elders of the church take essentially the position of saying, “You are not a believer. You have violated this union to such a severe degree.” In fact, our elders gave the same counsel, “Do not go back to this man. Do not go back where he can hurt you. You don’t need to live in terror and fear. This is not a union that you need to be caught and trapped in permanently.”
PHIL: Talk a little bit about what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, turning the other cheek and all. That’s a commandment and a text that is often abused and misapplied today. Some people would say it rules out all self-defense, and it would require a woman in a situation like this to just stay and take it. What was Jesus saying when He said, “Turn the other cheek.”
JOHN: That showed up recently in a very popular preacher’s blog where he said if somebody attacked his wife, he wouldn’t do anything to save the life of his wife and take the life of the attacker.
PHIL: What he said was he wasn’t sure he could justify it doing that.
JOHN: Because his wife is a believer and the attacker is not. Look, if there’s any role that a husband plays, it is as a protector. I mean even in Ephesians 5 it says Christ is the Savior of the body. The husband is the savior of the wife. You have to protect. You have to step in. You have to intervene at all costs to protect the one who has been placed in your care. If there’s anything that is the very essence of marriage, it is to provide safety for the weaker vessel. I mean that’s what marriage does; that’s what a husband must do. I think when you marry a woman, you are pledging before God that you are as Christian – as a Christian – you are as Christ to her: her savior, her protector, her guardian, her purifier – all of those things.
Phil: Yeah. In fact, these questions about abusive spouses, these guys are actually turning marriage on its head. I mean it’s the opposite of what they should do, loving their wives as Christ loved the church. We get so many questions like this. Do you see more of this now than you did when you started in the ministry 45 years ago, or is this a problem, as it seems to me, is becoming an epidemic?
JOHN: Oh, yeah. Well, look, the culture is going down the drain at warp speed. Pornography has corrupted men to a level that is probably beyond our comprehension. It turns loose every wretched impulse and desire in the heart of a man. And then you have had now 25-35 years of self-esteem psychology pumped into kids from the time they go to kindergarten until they get out of the university that, “You’re the most important person in the world.” You have rampant sinfulness in the culture, and sinfulness turns to abusiveness.
Sure, it’s far worse than I’ve ever seen, and it’s not going to get any better. But I just think as the culture becomes more and more base and debased as it drowns in a sea of vile television and movies and corrupt literature, people become more and more corrupt; and it’s going to show up in a marriage. That’s where corruption is unleashed most easily, because the victims are most accessible.
So, yeah, I’ve never seen it to this proportion; and it just seems to be getting worse and worse as we go along. These are not questions that I used to have asked of me 25 years ago in ministry. To find a woman who would say, “My husband is beating me,” was pretty rare. Now, I don’t know that there is a week that goes by that I don’t hear about this going on. And there’s so much deception in our culture. There’s no premium on truth; everybody lies. And everybody from the President, through the Senate and the Congressmen, and the educators, everybody lies, because lying doesn’t matter anymore.
In a postmodern world, there’s no real morality, so everybody lies to get whatever they want to get. And so the culture is just full of liars. People will say anything to get what they want. So women are vulnerable to that absolute absence of honesty, and you don’t know who you’re going to get. And then you can throw another component in. All these ridiculous website dating organizations where you literally find yourself in a relationship going toward a marriage with somebody, listen, whose history you don't know. And now there’s a television program where people meet for the first time at their own wedding.
JOHN: Yeah. So what have you got now? I remind people all the time; you don’t marry a person, you marry history. You marry a wife, and a mom, and a dad, and grandparents and great-grandparents, and siblings – you marry history. So pick whatever the history is that you want to be a part of, because this is not an isolated person dropped out of the sky. Whatever pretense this person makes about himself or herself, this is a product, this is a product. I mean that’s how it works in the world; people are products of their environment. And that idea that you pick a person off the internet and you would expect to have some kind of meaningful, long-lasting relationship that’s beyond the superficial is absurd. And that is why it is so important to marry someone with whom you have had a significant friendship in an environment where Christ is honored. In other words, find your partner at church.
PHIL: All right, here’s a third question from a woman who writes, “Our marriage of 40 years ended when my husband started having an affair with someone he met online. They lived together for two years before he decided to divorce me and marry her.” She says, “I’m having a hard time getting beyond the pain and the loss of my marriage; my hopes and my dreams all shattered. How do I forgive that person who has hurt and destroyed my future? I know I have to forgive; but my life lies in ruins, while my ex-husband has what he wanted. I was committed to our marriage, and I prayed daily according to what I thought was God’s will that He would save the marriage, because God hates divorce. I prayed for years and had prayer warriors praying for His salvation, but nothing changed. Why did God not answer those prayers? I thought I was praying according His will. If God hates divorce and wants all men to come to salvation, I don’t understand why our prayers failed.”
JOHN: First of all, God hates divorce, God hates sin, and there’s divorce everywhere and sin everywhere all the time. The fact that God hates it doesn’t mean it’s not a reality, it’s not present.
Secondly I would say this; your life is not in shambles, your husband’s life is in shambles. Your life is not in shambles. You have the Lord who will never leave you or forsake you. You’ve got to change your perspective. Your husband is a train wreck, you’re not. Your husband is a disaster, you’re not. You have done everything you could do to be obedient and faithful and loyal to your husband.
Your life is not in shambles at all. What you need to do is pour yourself into the church, making Christian friends, connections with family that can be trusted and love the Lord. You need to change your perspective, your outlook. The Lord has rescued you. The Lord has protected you. The Lord has preserved you. He has freed you from something that was destructive. And the judgment will come where the judgment belongs.
The short-term on the surface, your husband has received what he wants. Long-term, nobody gets what he wants by disobeying God, by being an adulterer, by violating a marriage. The one to be pitied is your husband and not you. God’s accounts are long-term accounts; they’re even eternal accounts. And you need to rejoice that the Lord has protected you from something worse. You need to embrace all the opportunities for friendship, fellowship, love, joy, usefulness that are available to you in the church, and the Lord will honor all of that.
PHIL: Yeah. I think it’s important to encourage her with that too, to take the long-term perspective. It’s premature to conclude that God didn’t answer those prayers.
JOHN: Well, and I always say to people, “So you didn’t get a divorce and something worse could have happened.”
JOHN: He’s gone now; you’re freed from that. Did the Lord desire that? No. But does the Lord stop sin? No. He hates divorce. But sometimes He loves you enough not to continue to subject you to that kind of situation; and divorce is the lesser of evils.
PHIL: Yes. And time and long experience has shown me that when the Lord says no to some prayer request that I make, some specific request, it’s always because He wants to give me something that’s better.
JOHN: He knows better.
PHIL: Better, yeah.
JOHN: Yeah, He knows better. And you got better; he got the worst of it. Go back and read Proverbs. You don’t get anything but death when you’re seduced by the woman in the street. That leads you down to the grave, the book of Proverbs says. Over and over again it says it.
PHIL: That applies to the woman on the internet as well.
JOHN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s the woman in the street. She put the flowers on her bed and the perfume on her bed virtually on the internet and seduced the fool, the stranger, and put a ring in his nose and led him to the grave. That’s not you, that’s him.
PHIL: All right. Here’s one more question about marriage. This listener writes, “I recently listened to one of your sermons from 1 Peter 3 about wives submitting to their husbands, and by their chaste behavior drawing them nearer to the Lord without a word. I understand this applies to an unbelieving husband. However, could these principles be applied to a situation where the husband is a believer, yet does not seem to be growing much in the faith? I’m very concerned for my husband’s spiritual growth. He shies away from initiating Bible study together or even praying together, and this weighs heavily on my heart. Very often, I have to pray that the Lord will help me not to be anxious, but prayerful and trusting of Him.”
She says, “I’m continually praying for the right perspective as I vacillate between anxiety and peace and hope. If you could offer any insight into what more I should be doing I’d be eternally grateful.”
JOHN: First thing I would say is rejoice always; and again I say rejoice. Rejoice always; the Lord is at hand, the Lord is near, you’re not forsaken. Rejoice, rejoice. Rejoice in your salvation. Rejoice in God’s grace. Rejoice that His mercies are new every morning; great is His faithfulness.
Rejoice that God loves you the same way He loves His Son, Christ. He loves you in Christ. You’re blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ. Rejoice that you’re on your way to heaven. Rejoice that everything in heaven is going to infinitely more than compensate for whatever challenges you had in this world. Rejoice. Don’t get caught up in what’s wrong with the world and what’s wrong with your husband.
You know, they used to say about a particular guy that he could find the manure pile in any meadow. Do you want to go through life looking for the manure pile in the meadow? But there are people who just – they do that. I mean they can’t see past what’s wrong. That’s got to be abandoned. You’ve got to cultivate joy in your life, joy in the Lord: joy in His love, joy in His grace, joy in the blessings that are poured out to you.
Your marriage isn’t everything you’d want it to be. Your husband isn’t coming down the path the way you’d want him to. Maybe he’s a believer; maybe he’s not. You shouldn’t beat yourself up for that. What does Peter say? “Casting all your care on Him because He cares for me.”
So give it to the Lord, you give your husband to the Lord, and then you rejoice. Turn it over to the Lord and rejoice, and be grateful and joyful; otherwise, what’s going to happen is what’s wrong in your marriage defines you home. It defines your relationships, it defines how you deal with the kids, it defines how you deal with your sisters and brothers and family members, and it defines how you deal with friends at church; and all of a sudden, this thing that’s wrong becomes the defining element of your life, and then your life is defined by that rather than by joy and confidence and trust in the Lord.
Cultivate joy. Cultivate joy. Cultivate joy that you’re loved by God, you’re loved infinitely, you’re loved eternally, you’re loved personally, and all spiritual blessings are yours in Christ. Cultivate that and take whatever life brings. I mean it might be cancer, it might be the death of a child, it might be a husband who can’t get his spiritual act together who maybe is indifferent. But cultivate joy in all that God has provided for you, and just faithfully, prayerfully continue to give counsel to your husband to be the man that he ought to be. If he claims to be a Christian, you ought to see the fruit of that in his life. But be gracious about that. There’s a reason why we’re commanded to be joyful, because it has to be against the grain of the way life goes.
PHIL: Yeah, yeah. I think a lot of women think they’re being encouraging when they’re actually just being naggy.
JOHN: Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, the Bible says, “Look, you haven’t suffered unto blood.” I mean nobody’s killing you. You’re not having bamboo shoved up your fingernails. You’re not being put in a cell somewhere and deprived of food. You’re not starving to death in the desert. Yeah, we would all like to have a perfect marriage and a perfect life and have a perfect husband who is everything that we would want him to, or a perfect wife; cultivate joy, be thankful. It’ll change your perspective. And, you know, hey, life is a vapor that appears for a little time and it vanishes away. Don’t invest more anguish in this life than you need to, because we’re headed for heaven and joy forever.
PHIL: Good answer. All right. Well, you’ve been preaching lately about the family and –
JOHN: I’ve been preaching lately; I’ve been preaching forever.
PHIL: Yeah. But, you know, for a few years there, it seemed like there was a gap between the times you taught on the family.
JOHN: Yeah, that’s true.
PHIL: And lately you’ve been doing it, and I’ve appreciated it, and I know a lot of people have. There are a lot of younger families in our church that are a generation that hadn’t heard the earlier material.
JOHN: Oh, it’s amazing to me, Phil, when I started this series, the response was just a really strong – wow. We were so thankful for this; we haven’t heard this. And it’s hard for me because I’ve been through that for years and years, and this is a new generation who have very warped views of marriage and family currently.
PHIL: Yeah. And our whole culture seems to be – you say this in the beginning of two or three of your books on the family that the culture seems to be mounting a focused attack against the family, and we feel it.
JOHN: How about this; imagine this, imagine. Would you say the family’s under assault in our culture?
JOHN: Yeah, more than any other human institution.
PHIL: Oh, yeah.
JOHN: The attack on the family is far worse than ISIS. What the American federal government, state governments, university system, and school system is doing to the family is worse than ISIS. It’s infinitely worse than ISIS. The destruction of the family is a horror, because it’s destroying civilization/society. And who is the most popular current republican candidate? A guy who has lived with a number of women who weren’t his wife, lived with one woman while he was married, and has been married three times. He’s going to be the President of the United States of America? And is he going to uphold the family as a priority? And then you’ve got escalating same-sex marriage. You’ve got another candidate on the other side who wants to liberate everybody, you know, to have sex with whomever they want, whenever they want. Where are we in this society when our choices are what level of destruction of the family would you like to choose?
PHIL: Yeah, that’s a pretty sobering perspective. And when you think about it, when I was in college even, I don’t think it would have been possible for a divorced person to be elected as President of the United States.
JOHN: Did you know that the amazing thing is I’ve never heard anybody mention that.
PHIL: Yeah, it hasn’t come up as an issue.
JOHN: It doesn’t matter.
PHIL: Yeah, because that’s where our culture’s at. It seems like that’s not a big issue.
All right, here’s another question from a listener who says, “My daughter is getting married in August to a caring, but agnostic man. An attorney friend is conducting the ceremony. Although my daughter professes to be a Christian, her choices in the past several years have not demonstrated obedience to Jesus Christ. She’s told me she does not want a religious ceremony, but she wants me to pray at the ceremony, and has asked me for input concerning the conduct of the ceremony. They’re also considering including Hindu and Indian cultural elements in the ceremony. I’m very concerned about how best to glorify God in this event. I don’t want to pray to the one true God when I’ll be preceded or followed by a Hindu prayer or ritual. Any advice you can provide is very much appreciated.”
JOHN: First of all, look, be honest; your daughter is not a Christian, is not a Christian. How may books, Phil, through the years have I written on true salvation?
JOHN: The Gospel According to Jesus, The Gospel According to the Apostles, and the new one coming out, The Gospel According to Paul. Ashamed of the gospel when the church loses its will to discern. This whole superficial idea that people are Christians when they’re not. And how do you know when someone is a Christian? How do you know that? Because they manifest the desires and the loves of Christians.
PHIL: Spiritual fruit.
JOHN: Spiritual. The only way you know a Christian is not by some profession or some event in the past, but by a changed life. And how is that life changed? It is changed in that they desire to honor God: they love His Word, they love His church, they love His people, they love righteousness. This is not a Christian girl, this is a non-Christian girl; and I think for you to go into a service like that and inject any piece of Christianity would be to aid and abet her illegitimate claim to be a Christian.
I think you need to not be a part of that at all. I wouldn’t even go to an event like that; I wouldn’t even go, let alone participate. I think you just – she has to understand that this is sheer paganism by a professing Christian; that’s not what Christians do. So I think I would lovingly say to her, “You’re not a Christian, and I can’t inject any form of Christianity into a pagan event.”
PHIL: It’s interesting, isn’t it? It’s a common thread in many of these questions, the assumption that because a person claims to be a Christian, or says he is a Christian, or had some sort of experience when he was 12 years old, we’re obliged to take that profession of faith at face value. That’s a major fallacy, isn’t it?
JOHN: Yeah. You know, Phil, it’s interesting to go back in history. This first dawned on me; when I was preaching many, many years ago back in Grand Rapids, and somebody came up to me and started telling the story about the son they had, and they said, “But I know he’s a Christian because he was baptized.” “What? You know he was a Christian?” “Infant baptism.”
“You know he’s a Christian because he was baptized as a baby?” “Well, he went through confirmation.” And I thought, “Well, you know, we’re familiar with that.” In Lutheranism and sacramentalism we get that. But if you move that over to the sort of non-sacramental evangelical world, they’ve got equally superficial definitions of Christianity. It’s not that they were baptized, it’s that they made a decision, you know, they prayed a prayer; equally a fallacious way to identify a Christian.
So what have I spent my whole life trying to do and been basically criticized pretty consistently for doing it; to try to help people understand what true salvation is. People sometimes say, “Why are you on this hobby horse?” Because there are lots of things that don’t determine your eternal destiny; this happens to, right? So if you’re going to be right about something, please let it be salvation.
I did a radio interview earlier today, and I was asked by this guy, “What do you think of Hillsong?” you know, where they have 20,000 people at a music event with lights and smoke and mirrors and all this kind of stuff, and then a simplistic sort of, kind of sentimental approach to the gospel, and he said, “What do you think that is?” I said, “You know what that does? That just produces all kinds of temporary converts. That’s like saying, ‘We welcome the rocky soil and the weedy soil who are going to have an emotional response and no fruit, and wither and die.’”
It’s epidemic. From the baptismal regeneration kind of people all the way to the contemporary church mentality that says, “If we can get the method right, if we can throw the seed the right way, that the power is not in the seed, the power’s in the throwing,” this is everywhere. And I may take the lead from Jesus who said, “Many will say unto Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and I’ll say, ‘Depart from Me, I never knew you, you workers of iniquity.’”
And I would say that to these people, you know, “Wait a minute. The Lord’s going to say to you, ‘I don’t know you; you are a worker of iniquity.’” I mean what else would we emphasize? If we emphasize anything and let this go untouched, then we have failed at the very point that is most critical.
PHIL: Yeah. Amazing how persistent this fallacy is.
JOHN: It shows up in every form imaginable. It just keeps coming at us, coming at us. You know, we argued with it theologically years ago. We were battling a theology that was coming out of Dallas Seminary and it got all over everywhere in the book, The Gospel According to Jesus. Then we answered all their arguments in, The Gospel According to the Apostles. Now the non-lordship easy believism is everywhere in evangelicalism, but nobody talks about the theology of it. They don’t even want to argue about theology; it’s all about pragmatic, methodology, emotions, sentimentalism. So we have it in forms where it doesn’t even carry a theology, it isn’t even defended.
PHIL: I’d say it’s the central theme that has tied your ministry together. I actually have a paper that you wrote when you were a student about Judas, and it was this very thing, that he lived a false life and made a false profession and fooled everybody but Jesus for years.
JOHN: That was my seminary dissertation.
JOHN: And I was even then – you know, I was so fascinated by Judas. But the background of that was I was in college with a guy, but we played football, ran in the same backfield; and he claimed to be a Christian and was in the youth ministry, ended up a Christ-denying criminal. I went to seminary with a guy who was a friend, a good friend, the son of the dean of the seminary. He graduated from seminary and set a Buddhist altar in his house. So I’m trying to process, “What does true conversion look like? How do we know this?”
And I grew up in that kind of decisional regeneration era when you raise your hand, you walk an aisle, your sign a card and you’re now a Christian, where some of the issues weren’t being asked. You know, I think back on my life as a kid and talking to my dad who was a faithful pastor; I don’t think I ever had a conversation with my father about the difference between false conversion and true conversion. I just don’t think they even thought about it. But churches were full of people who as time went on, evidence of the fact that they were not real Christians. Time and truth go hand-in-hand. Give enough time, the truth comes out.
So, yeah, this is not like I could have picked for my life one of a number of equal options. This is the place where you have to fight the battle of clarity, and that’s with regard to, “What is real salvation?”
PHIL: If anything, I think things are worse in the church today than they were when you were younger.
PHIL: It’s become, I think, probably one of the most controversial things you can do is challenge the profession of faith to someone who claims to be a Christian, no matter if he lives like the devil.
JOHN: Well look at the questions you’ve been asking me, the last series of questions. “Well, this person says he’s a Christian,” or, “This person came to Christ.” We give way too much assumption to that claim. That’s exactly what Matthew 7 says: “Many will say, ‘Lord, Lord, we’ve done this, we’ve done that in Your name.’ I don’t know you, you workers of iniquity.” So if you’re a worker of iniquity, your claim is false.
One thing parents have to do, friends have to do, we have to take away the legitimacy of those claims. We have to be as bold as to say, “There is absolutely no reason that I would believe for a moment that you are a Christian. I love you and I’m telling you, you’re on your way to hell.”
PHIL: All right. One more question on the family, and this is a hard one. I really want to see your answer on this one. The listener says, “In order to be a Christian living in a Muslim family, I have to lie. If I don’t, my son will be taken from me by my husband. As I write this, I’m listening to your radio program about principles and lying with tears in my eyes. What do I do? I don’t fear for my own life; death is welcomed. But then my son will not come to saving faith.
“Yes, I live in the U.S., but that doesn’t stop my angry husband or his family. I’m afraid. Courts don’t favor Christians, and there’s nothing I can legally prove my husband has said that would give me full custody. Please give me an answer on what I should do. I love your program; it has helped bring me to Christ. My situation is unfortunately more common than you might know.”
JOHN: Wow. Well, first of all, I would say this country is getting more favorable to Muslims than it is to Christians; it’s a strange twist. First of all, you have to believe that if you what is right, the outcome is in the hands of God: the outcome for your son is in the hands of God, the outcome for your own life is in the hands of God, the disposition of your husband is in the hands of God. You have to believe that. You cannot believe that your own preservation and the salvation of your son is in your hands. It’s not in your hands, it’s in God’s hands. So you can’t overestimate your own necessity in what God may choose to do in the life of your son.
Secondly, I believe that you don’t have to say everything that is true. You don’t have to purposely say everything that is true. There are things that can be true that you believe, and you do not have to profess them or confess them in every environment. If I am called into some threatening situation and somebody asks me if I’m a Christian, even Jesus did not answer on one occasion in His trial. I don’t think you have to say everything. But to lie, that’s different; now you’ve stepped over a line. So I think, first, is the trust in the Lord; secondly is a quiet willingness not to necessarily say everything.
You remember, of course, that even in the gospel of John it talks about Nicodemus being a secret disciple for fear of the Jews. That’s interesting, and yet he was honored; he was honored by God. He was there to anoint the body of Christ. He isn’t really condemned for keeping that. He was in the environment of the Sanhedrin, and hostility, and his life would have been threatened. So finding that balance at some point. My heart goes out.
Grace to You, of course, along with livestream of every Sunday service at Grace Church goes into the Middle East. We livestream every Sunday in the Arabic language to the Middle East, and we're starting to more and more of this kind of feedback. But it’s not just the Middle East, this is coming from America; there is this kind of hostility.
I just think you have to trust the Lord, be a dutiful wife. Maybe you don’t have to say everything, but don’t be put in a position to lie. And I would just go one step beyond that. I think if you can be faithful to your husband and be a faithful wife and a faithful mother, and maintain your joy and a measure of sweetness in that relationship, even though it’s hard, that may mitigate the hostility or the anger to some degree so that, you know – I think if you become a haranguing Christian in that environment, a threatening Christian in that environment, you may make it more difficult.
PHIL: So just to be clear, because I think people sometimes confuse these concepts, you’re saying there are times when it’s okay to conceal the truth.
PHIL: It’s never okay to deny the truth.
JOHN: Right. Well, Jesus said, “If you deny Me, I’ll deny you.”
PHIL: Yeah. And God cannot deny Himself.
PHIL: But He does sometimes conceal the truth.
JOHN: Conceals Himself, yeah.
PHIL: This listener says, “I teach seventh grade math in a public school and we just found out that one of our female students has decided she wants to be a boy. Her mother, who’s a single mother, and the school psychologist are going along with it; she’s only 12. Anyway, the school may want us to talk to our homeroom kids about this girl’s transitioning. I don’t know what to do. They’ll probably tell us what to say, but I may not want to say it, because I won’t agree.
“So I have a couple of questions. One, should I refer to this student as him like they want us to? I haven’t been told to do that yet, but eventually, they will.” And she says, “Number Two, I feel very uncomfortable talking to kids about it when I know God disapproves of this kind of behavior. Is there anything you would suggest I say or do? I want to honor God in my actions. Do you have any advice for me?”
JOHN: First of all, whenever the initial announcement is made, you don’t need to be the one that made it. I’d say, “I’m not making that announcement. I’m not making it.” Secondly, if you had to refer to the student, I’d refer to that student as that student: “Yes, that student over there, that student over there.”
I just think this is so devastating and deadly to kids. A 12-year-old going through this? This is not his will, this is his parents playing games with him. This is tragic. This is the path to terrible personal chaos and destruction. So, yeah, I just don’t think you can – and I understand you’re in a public school; and that’s a great place to be and that’s a great place to minister.
But I think you say to the administration, “Look, I can’t make that announcement. I can’t be the one that makes that. I can’t be the one that basically reads the school policy. You’re going to have to send somebody in who can do that; I’m not doing that.” And I just wouldn’t affirm that identity change in that student; I’d find some kind of neutral way to refer to that student. I don’t know what else to say. And it isn’t just that you’re kind of protecting your own doctrinal convictions, I just think any way that we can help the culture resist this.
PHIL: Yeah. And, you know, it’s becoming so common, I think the time is coming when there will be Christians who actually lose their jobs over things like this. So prepare for that.
JOHN: Oh, there’s no question about that. But, look; again, trust yourself to the Lord. The Lord knows your needs and you’re in His care. You know, you hang in there as long as you can. Look, I went to the retirement of one of our great American generals, one of our great American generals. I went to his retirement in Washington DC and I sat in the room with all these generals. This is a brilliant graduate of one of our great academies, and a brilliant general, basically retiring, stepping down because he couldn’t deal with the demands that were being made on him coming from this gender identity stuff. So we forfeit great leadership, in early retirement in that case.
So, yeah, I think this isn’t going to turn around and go the other way. People say, “Well, it would help to get a republican president.” No, it’s not going to help, because this is in the schools. This is in the schools, which is what this teacher is saying. This starts when you’re in the kindergarten and the first grade and the second grade, and by the time you go through the university system, you don’t have any issues with this kind of stuff at all. I mean you’ve been sold that this is great and noble, good.
Even though it is a – talk about a bald-faced lie, to say you’re a girl when you’re a boy; give me a break. That is an evident lie. That is a lie that everybody knows is a lie. But the issue of truth is so completely evacuated from our culture that you can be a girl and say you’re a boy.
PHIL: Yeah. All right, one more question, and this is a hard one.
JOHN: You’ve said that three times in a row now.
PHIL: They get harder; each one is harder than the previous one. This listener says, “I’m 34 years old. Ten years ago, I was part of an online scam, defrauding people and taking their money. I bought cars and property and more. I stopped that scam over three years ago, and since then, I’ve been listening to your sermons and have come to know Christ, and given my life to the Lord by His grace.
Now I wonder what I should do. I’m completely stressed out, and I hate my sin, and I have no peace. I don’t have the money to pay back all I’ve stolen from people, and I don’t have most of their contact information even if I could repay it all. Your sermons have stripped me naked and convicted me. What should I do next?
JOHN: Well, if you can’t make right what you did wrong, admit it to God – you’ve done that – and now spend the rest of your life sacrificially giving, serving, benefitting. Pour your life into other people. Be selfless; I mean selfless in a radical way. You were selfish in a radical way, you cost people a lot. You can’t go back and pay back those people that you divested in a criminal way.
Look, you can’t go back and fix that, but you can say – you know, confess it the Lord, repent of it to the Lord. I think the fact that you’re guilt-ridden and full of this kind of angst is good; it’s good. I mean that’s a Christian response. If you weren’t a Christian, you’d still be figuring out how to do this again, because it was successful. Just choose a minimal lifestyle, a simple lifestyle, and work as hard as you did when you were doing it to get rich, to provide for somebody else. Just pour your life into other people. Find ways to raise money so that you can give it to people who are in need, so you can give it to ministries, so that you can give it away. Just be the greatest sort of Christian philanthropist you can possibly be, and do nothing for yourself. I think if you – that’s how you reconcile, that’s how you restore. Just pour your life into others and avoid the self-gratification that drove you in the past.
PHIL: Good advice. These have been really hard questions; and thanks for the answers, John. It’s a reminder that a lot of our listeners struggle with lots of pain and deep problems and need encouragement. Give us a few words of encouragement in these final minutes.
JOHN: I just keep thinking of John 16:33, “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good courage; I’ve overcome the world.” Cheer up. Cheer up. You are an overcomer. And what is that by which we overcome? John says our faith. If you have faith in Christ you’re an overcomer.
When you go into the book of Revelation, we’re the overcomers in all those early letters. So you are an overcomer. You are a more than conqueror through Christ, Romans 8. So I just think it’s perspective, again, as I was saying earlier to the letter about the joy issue. Just change your perspective. Be grateful; be thankful.
Again, in preparing for Sunday, going through John 17:20-23 where Jesus says, “Father, I pray that they may be one, even as We are one, and that they may know that You love them the way you love Me.” You know, I was wrestling with that yesterday. He loves us – God does, the Father – the way He loves the Son. And you just start thinking about where that goes. He loves the Son with an infinite love. He loves the Son with an eternal love. He loves the Son with a personal love. He loves the Son with a lavish love. He loves the Son with an immeasurable love. He loves the Son to the full capacity that God has to love, and that’s how He loves us. So know this, that even the challenges of life and the difficulties of life don’t cancel that.
I’m thinking about it this way; there is nothing that can alter His love for His Son, and He lavishes everything on the Son as an act of that love. If there’s nothing that can alter His love for the Son, then there’s nothing that can alter His love for us, because He loves us like He loves His Son. And one way to think of it is He hates our sin, but He also hated sin when it was in Christ. It wasn’t His sin; but when Christ bore sin, He felt the full fury of God’s hatred. So God can love the one and hate the sin that the one bears. He can hate our sin and love us still, because He hated our sin in Christ and loved Him still.
So I think we just have to live in that consciousness that we’re blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, and remember that we are in Christ, and that He said this: “This is My beloved Son in whom I’m well-pleased.” And if I’m in Him, then I’m His beloved son in whom He’s well-pleased. I think we have to lift up our eyes and get them off all the issues in life which we’re told, you know, we’re born into trouble as sparks fly upward, and get our eyes on things above, not on things on the earth.
PHIL: Thank you for that, John. Thanks for your time today. I think Paul was thinking in that same vein when he wrote the end of Romans 8. What you just said sounded like an exact –
JOHN: Yeah. What can separate us from the love of Christ? Nothing.
PHIL: And He’s already given us His Son. How could He withhold anything else from –
JOHN: Any good thing, yeah.
PHIL: Thank you.
JOHN: You’re welcome. Thank you, Phil.
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