Tag Archives: Work

The Pastor’s Role in Art as Worship. Reasons for Art as Worship, pt. 3

(This is part of a series. The first two installments are here and here.

Pastors have a great many tools by which they can serve, teach, and love their congregation. Preaching, prayer, writing, one on one counseling, hospitality, acts of service, leadership, administrative tasks, etc…  All exist in the toolbox of the pastor for the sake of accomplishing the equipping of the body of Christ. In many modern churches, preaching is the primary tool that is used to engage the congregation and is often supplemented by blogs, writing, and activities designed to aid in discipleship. Pastors are adept at these tools and we frequently use them in powerful and meaningful ways. In our modern church, the pulpit is used mightily and songs are frequently used to enhance the ministry of the pulpit. Yet, there is another tool that the Christian community appears to have forgotten. That is: art.

Art as worship is not new

ricardo-gomez-angel-367741-unsplashArt is not a new tool in the discipleship of Christians. Francis of Assisi, Jerome, and even Luther recognized the power of art for the discipleship and worship within the Church. Ancient churches were covered with stained glass, paintings, and statues that were used to instruct and inspire! In Christian history, art was used to magnify God through worship, teach people of His great character, and even evangelize those who do not know the truth. One cannot study art history without recognizing the dominant themes of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the day of judgment, and the creative power of God. Art was used to teach, inspire worship, heal, and even console the believer in times of turmoil. Yet, in modern churches, we have reduced the use of art to backgrounds on a screen or environmental lighting.

Art is a tool for worship

markus-spiske-378490-unsplashArt can be a profound tool that can provide a balm to the soul of longing Christian. To gaze in wonder at a piece that is designed to glory in the character and nature of God, or to wander through a poem that challenges the intellect and engages the soul, or to rejoice in the motion of a dance that tells the story of redemption can engage the soul on a level that a sermon of solid conversation cannot. It cannot because it lacks the freedom to uniquely engage the audience without explanation. A freedom found in most clearly in works of art. Two people can be moved in completely unique ways by a piece of art. One can see the beauty and majesty of God in the rendering of a landscape while another can be deeply moved by the courageous-loneliness of a tree within the field of that same landscape.

The Pastor’s responsibility to utilize art.

The pastor of the local church has a profound responsibility in discipleship of their congregation. We are commissioned to love and train the souls of people. We must use all the tools afforded to us and sometimes that means stretching ourselves beyond our ability or preferences. In order to do this, I believe pastors must re-shape the way we think about our role. We must begin to understand our role within our congregation to include: pastor as creative artist, pastor as curator, and pastor as conductor.

  1. tim-wright-506560Pastors as Creative Artist: If we are to teach our people to utilize art in worship, we must model it. You don’t have to be a good artist to model a striving to utilize art in worship. Especially in your personal worship. Draw pictures, use visual aids when you teach, read poetry, exhibit a thirst for material that challenges the intellect and soul without blandly explaining every aspect of itself. Art engages through mystery and expression! As you strive to engage the Lord beyond words, your soul will be strengthened and your ability to lead your people to worship will be enhanced. It might be difficult to do, but your congregation will benefit from the artistic/poetic soul that will result through engaging them on a level beyond their own ability to verbally express themselves. Show them that they can create worship beyond words! Strive to model art as worship through your own efforts.
  2. dev-benjamin-219172-unsplashPastor as Curator: Pastors must curate art as worship. So you can’t paint, draw, or write poetry, and rhythm and message of dance escapes your ability. If you desire to use artistic expressions to teach your people, engage your people in worship, or provide some salve to the soul of your brothers and sisters, then stretch yourself by studying and curating a volume of art that engages the soul. Study art! (Some recommending readings are at the end of this article.) Collect a compendium of poetry, artwork, and performances that exalt the name of God in powerful ways. Then, when your people are in need of inspiration, healing, or teaching, you will have more than just an exposition. You will have an aid to your exposition that will inspire them to worship beyond your ability to verbalize God’s character.
  3. radek-grzybowski-74331-unsplashPastor as Conductor: While you may not be a competent artist, you are surrounded by people who are. I say that in utter confidence, you ARE surrounded by artists. You must enable them to express themselves. You must conduct the worship of your congregation by utilizing the gifts of your people in worship. A conductor does not play every instrument. The conductor directs the combination of the various artists to make one expression. Likewise, the pastor needs to find creative ways to combine the expressions of the various members of the congregation to display Christ! Dig deep into the expressive talents of your people. Equip your people to engage their souls in worship to God! Even if you don’t understand art and it does not resonate with you. It resonates with someone in your congregation!

Pastor, you are a talker… I get it. I’m a talker too. I preach and I value preaching. I engage the Lord through expository sermons and classic hymns of the faith. I like to read weighty theological books and sermons by old dead preachers. And still, I must recognize that my congregation is not going to be solely comprised of people who respond to reading a theological treatise on the impassibility of God or the theologically rich hymns of Martin Luther. There will be some who engage beyond words. They paint, draw, ponder, dance, create, and provide a richness to worship that is valuable and necessary to the empowerment of your congregation and the engagement of a lost world. Stretch yourself! Pastor, this is not about you! Get over your hang-ups and conduct worship, curate volumes of great art, and create expressions of art for your congregation. They will be stronger Christians because of it and you will engage the lost world on a level you would otherwise fail to realize.

What do you think? Is there another role that the pastor can play to help engage the congregation in this unique way? put it in the comments.

chasin francisChasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron 

Chasing Francis is an excellent fictional story about a mega-church pastor who leaves the ministry and is forced to re-evaluate ministry in the face of changing paradigms. He goes on a journey in which he learns about Francis of Assisi and rediscovers what church is.

Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life by Makoto Fujimurafujimura

Culture care is an excellent treatise on engaging culture beyond mere words. Many bemoan the decay of culture. But we all have a responsibility to care for culture, to nurture it in ways that help people thrive. Artist Makoto Fujimura issues a call to cultural stewardship, in which we become generative and feed our culture’s soul with beauty, creativity, and generosity. We serve others as cultural custodians of the future.

ReCreated_4Re-Created: A Poetic Walk Through The Gospel of John by J. Novis Elkins

Re-Created is my own offering to exemplify the gospel through artistic expression. It is a book of poetry intended to be read alongside the gospel of John. As the reader walks through the Gospel, it is my hope that they will encounter Jesus in a fresh and powerful new way.

Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In his letters and papers from prison, Bonhoeffer expresses the value of art in worship. He wrote poems and hymns while imprisoned and models for us the artistic soul of a Christian in captivity. That is a soul that can never really be held captive by anything other than Christ.

piperThe Misery of Job and the Mercy of God by John Piper

This book was my first introduction to the pastor’s use of art to shepherd and teach. Piper lays out a fantastic example of how to utilize poetry and art in worship. It is worth your time and labor to engage with poetry. John Piper is not an artist. His poems are simple and easy to access. He is a pastor who models the use of art in the ministry.

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Reasons for Art as Worship pt. 2

This is part 2 of a series on art as worship. You can find the first one here.

Before I begin, I’d like to clarify: I am not talking about representations or images of God in this article. That is a necessary debate, but not one I am going to undertake at this time. This blog is about utilizing artistic expression in worship. Images of God is a different subject. For a full discussion on that topic, see J.I. Packer’s wonderful work: Knowing God.

As stated in the first article of this series: modern church culture has diminished the value and beauty of art. That is not to say art does not exist in churches or is not utilized. Many churches have embraced performance arts and strive to create atmosphere through lights, worship backgrounds, and décor. However, few have sought out how to engage and lead their congregations to worship in and through art. Yet artistic expression offers the pastor/leader a powerful tool to engage and shepherd the congregation. As I see it, there are at least four different reasons art could benefit our worship.

logic-vs-emotionFirst, art has the ability to engage mind and heart simultaneously. When a person truly engages with art, the mind and heart are both engaged. Art has a special way of conveying emotion and expression that can be interpreted by the viewer. The interpretation is seldom directed, though good art delivers a clear but profound message. Artworks (both performance and static) are observed, seldom explained, and invitational. Good art invites the reader to interpret as they observe. As such, the observer must enter into engagement with the work. Indeed, the Psalmist exclaims God’s greatness through admiration for The LORD’s art in Psalm 8 (c.f. Psalm 92, 102, and 143). When we consider the “work of the hands,” our mind are called to think about what the work communicates. Our heart must search for the application of the work. We find ourselves engaging with the work and responding accordingly. We become the interpreter of the effort and thereby engage in worship.

togetherSecond, art offers an expression that is unique and can express the heart of the individual in a powerful and deeply personal manner. From the artists’ perspective, the production of art allows for individual expression of worship. All people are different. All people are given different gifts (c.f. 1 Cor. 12). A brief study of the tabernacle will reveal that there were many artisans God called and empowered to build and design the tabernacle (Exodus 36). Think about how powerful it would be if churches empowered the artists in their midst to produce art as an act of worship! We would add yet another method to worship the Triune God. We are a vast and multi-talented cast of worshipers! Worship should not be restricted only to those who sing and speak. Local churches ought to reflect the talents that God has given in praise to His name.

Third, art offers a mode of expression that engages senses differently than merely singing, speaking, or listening. In a typical church, there is music and speech. If your church is wealthy enough to add graphics and lighting, there will also be some supportive artistic expression. Graphic arts and setting the atmosphere for worship are valued to some degree in some churches. However, they are seldom considered an act of worship in themselves… only support to worship. It is my contention that churches should think deeply about the art they produce and consider going beyond simply utilizing worship backgrounds. Produce art that can hang and be observed and engaged with. There was a time when even the windows of our churches were efforts to praise God! Produce art that is performed and can inspire the soul. When someone sings, the hearer and the singer are blessed with the beauty of the music, the meaning of the words, and the joining in the song. So our hearts and minds are engaged through our ears and voice. We can do more. We can engage through sight, smell, and touch as well. Art can provide an avenue in which to do that.

DSC00132Fourth, art allows for new corporate expressions of worship that can be blended in a tangible and powerful illustration of the Christian life. When I was a student pastor I used art as an instructional tool to teach students about corporate worship. (You can read those articles here: part 1, part 2.) Painting a large canvas together is a unique way to teach about worship and to train your people to worship well. It stretches our sensibilities to engage in worship with these unique means. We serve a great and transcendent God! Our worship should stretch us. Artistic expressions that stretch us are powerful opportunities for worship.

Art is beautiful in its uniqueness and presentation in a way that no other expression could be. We should produce art as worship for the sake of praising God through beauty. Artistic expressions in our congregation ought not to be diminished but heralded. We must raise the bar for worship. There are expressions that are tremendously powerful and that can ignite the soul that are being under-utilized because we have become artistically illiterate. This can change and our congregations will be the better for it.

If you would like to examine some stretches in worship, I have a few suggestions:

natashas book

First, check out my friend Natasha Miller’s work. She has written a devotional journal that is accompanied by music. The work journal itself is beautiful and the music that accompanies it is inspiring. You can purchase her work here.

 

ReCreated_4

Second, I wrote a book of poetry through the Gospel of John. The poetry and art are my attempt to worship the Lord through artistic expression. You can find it for purchase at Amazon or at Lulu.com.

Finally, I would encourage you to examine the works of Makoto Fujimura. His art will certainly stretch you. A word of warning, his work requires that you linger and let your eyes settle on it in order to adjust to the layers and beauty of the piece.

mako4

O, Christian… Stretch! Stretch yourself in this way, you will be more powerful as a worshiper if you do.

 

Reasons for Art as Worship pt. 1

Modern western Christianity has lost a great foothold that once was a bulwark and balm of Christian discipleship. There was a time in Christian history when the Christian community’s senses were engaged and the mind was elevated to new heights because of the efforts of its adherents to worship the Lord in unique ways. joel-filipe-191372There was a day when we sought to learn of God through the arts and worship Him through artistic expression. We commissioned art, lead society into deep thoughts and engagement with the arts, and even sought to express theology through in our artistic works. Christians once lead the world in expression through the arts. Yet, modern Christians have reduced the Christian’s artistic expression to paintings with crosses in them and songs with short memorable choruses. This should not be! Art of all kinds should spill out from the heart of the Christian community.

There are many reasons to embrace artistic expression in b

oth corporate and private worship. One of the reasons is the infinite character of our God.

300px-Olsen_O_Jerusalem_small

 

  1. God is infinitely creative, therefore his people ought to strive to reflect that creativity. Consider for a moment that God created the earth from nothing and that He commanded man to expand His image across that earth. In the expansion of His image across the earth, that same creativity of God that birthed life must also be reflected in subduing the earth. Likewise, Christians ought to exemplify the creativity of God, for they are the redeemed image of God incarnate! If we claim that Christ has redeemed and changed us, we must display His creativity.
  2. God is infinitely vast, therefore there is no exhaustion of him as a motive for and source of our own creativity. O Christian, if you will try to exhaust the character of God, you will find yourself creating art and beauty that exceeds the scope of understanding. Art has a unique way of simultaneously expanding a mystery and providing intricacy. Unlike almost every other form of expression, artistic works do not narrow the field of view but expand it. Thus, we create art, not to try to narrow our understanding of God, but to expand it. As the expression of worship grows and develops, so our view and understanding of God grows.
  3. God is infinitely expressive, therefore those who claim to know Him ought to create expressions of infinite variety. If we are God’s people, then our communities should produce a variety of worshipful expressions. Poetry, dance, paintings, graphic arts, speeches, music, and anything else imaginable ought to be manifest in the worship of believers, be it corporate or individual. God created you to be His image. That image was marred in the fall. Now, in Jesus, He is re-creating you (Col. 3:9-10). So, be His image bearers and express His character in infinite methodologies.
  4. God is infinitely distinctive, therefore the expression of His glory and character must be infinitely unique. There is never a sunset repeated. There is never a moment the exact same. There is never a cloud that is perfectly mirrored in another. God produces a unique product! Further, there is no copy of Him. There is no other God like Him. Even when someone attempts to copy, mirror, or represent God, the effort is always wholly inadequate. God cannot be replicated, He is too unique and the more we get to know Him, the more distinctive He becomes. He is like none other! Therefore, when we are producing art in praise of the most creative, vast, expressive, and unique being, we must be unique. Worship must be distinctive. Artistic expressions allow for that distinct nature in a way that no other form of expression can.

tim-wright-506560There is much more to say about The Infinite God. What other infinite qualities would you argue for? Put it in the comments. Our communities must recapture the arts. For too long the arts have been the domain of the secular world, it is time we make some waves and produce art for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ! So, what are you waiting for? Go grab a sketch pad, notebook, musical instrument, dance shoes, or computer and create! Express praise to God through the arts.

I have contributed some to this effort most recently by producing a book of sketches and poetry. You can check it out here.

If you’re interested, you can purchase the book

here: Lulu.com  (Use promo code: BOOKSHIP18 for 10 percent off plus free shipping)

or here: Amazon.com

 

 

Colossians 2:16-19; Brief Thoughts

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Those who would accuse the Christian have been sufficiently disarmed. The letter of the law that could once be used to incriminate is now rendered useless in the condemnation of Christians. That Law which once bound the soul to sin and laid such guilt upon the human disposition is now fulfilled in Jesus so that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Romans 8:1). If God no longer lays the judgment of the law upon believers, then no one else has the authority to do so. Because the law can no longer hold the believer in the chains of guilt, the Christian can no longer be held to religious requirements for righteousness. Yet, the disarmed adversary will attempt to bind the believer to the false worship of legalism. So it will be that all true believers will at some point encounter someone who argues that they are to be enslaved to a religious practice.

The adversary, having been made impotent, will inevitably attempt to use subterfuge in the effort to destroy a healthy Christian. Subtle lies and distractions are the only weapons afforded in the arsenal of the enemy of Christ. Though the people who submit to such wicked devices and sinful surrender are confident that their efforts will be rewarded, it is a tragic truth that all their efforts to self-made-righteousness will fall far short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Convinced of the enemy’s lies, the people who fail to grasp the Grace of God in Jesus Christ will attempt to hold all of Chrysostom to their own faulty convictions. So Paul admonishes, do not let them. These religious practices that claim to provide righteousness are false and do not deserve the attention and devotion of Christians.

On a side note: not all religious practices are wicked. However, whenever a religious practice is presented as a requirement for righteousness or fellowship, then that practice becomes legalistic falsehood. It is not wrong to observe a feast or festival. It is wrong to require that observance. Christians are not required to adhere to a system of holiness. Christians strive to be holy, not because it is required, but because they find their delight in holiness.

Religious practices, ordinances, and sacraments (named as such depending on your denominational affiliation) are merely a shadow of the greater reality that is Christ. The substance of faith and the joy of life is secured in Jesus and His work on the cross. Further, the joy of the disciple is found in an ever-deepening pursuit of the knowledge of God. The greatest joy for a believer is knowing and delighting in the presence of God. It is for this reason that Christians can worship with clarity. Christians who recognize that there is a deeper truth within these practices are in the fortunate position that permits them to worship with a greater joy and richer depth. Just as the author of Hebrews explains in Hebrews 8-10, the religious activities that we engage in are not supposed to be the end goal. Rather, these activities are supposed to point us to the deeper reality of Jesus Christ, the Righteous. Understanding this truth can bring meaning to worship and delight to what might otherwise seem rote and forced repetition.

Christians are marked by a tenacious grasping hold of Christ and His character. It is for this reason that Paul exhorts the believers at Colossae this way. No one can stand in judgment or a believer. Further, no one can disqualify a believer because they are holding fast to Christ.

In the modern church, there is a trend towards self-inflated spirituality. Pastors claim authority based on position and assert some sort of mystical power because they are “pastor.” Some denominations train their people to claim that they are speaking the Word of God, encouraging thoughts and attitudes that lead them to address people with obscure prophecies. Even more, engage their congregation by appealing to their emotions and asking them to seek with their hearts. Scripture is the authority among believers. There is no other authority by which one can measure their life. So, when someone attempts to hold another authority above God’s word, that person should be disregarded and called to repent and trust in Christ.

Colossians 2:13-15; Brief thoughts

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

The person who becomes a believer in Jesus Christ has exchanged the death of this world for life. When a person is born, they are born enslaved to the flesh. The flesh is that nature that is compelled to sin and serve its own affections. It is a nature that can do nothing but sin. This is a nature that must be cut away and destroyed. According to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only way to accomplish such a surgical necessity within the heart is through faith in His atoning work on the cross. Prior to faith, every person is in bondage to sin through their flesh. After faith in Jesus, the believer is given a new nature and the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. They need no longer live enslaved to their sins. They are free.

It is important for Christians to remember the depth from which God has drawn them. The believer did not start their journey of faith from a sure footing that they established by their own works. The believer was dead. Consider the implications of that for a moment. Dead. The believer was dead. Not sick, not tired, and certainly not simply misguided. The believer was dead in trespasses, enslaved to sin, and incapable of life. Jesus did not merely offer salvation, but He actually brought life to someone who was dead. A dead person cannot resurrect themselves. They cannot make decisions. They cannot do anything, much less that which is right. A dead person is not capable of good. A dead person is dead.

Where is boasting in this? It is excluded. When a believer truly comprehends that he or she was incapable of life apart from Christ, then there is no judgment cast upon the failures of others. When one can recognize that all people are dead and that there is no hope apart from the work Christ accomplishes, then there is true sympathy and understanding towards the struggles of others. The non-believer is dead. I was once dead too. If I truly grasp this, then there is no judgmental anger towards the non-believer, only pity. For such once was I.

God has given life to dead men in Christ’s resurrection. When Christ was resurrected, God redeemed and rescued those who believe. He took the punishment for sin and laid it on Christ, canceling the debt owed to the law. In Romans 3:21-26, Paul illuminates this profound truth by explaining that God is justified in Jesus’ death. That is to say, Christ Jesus is the reason that God is able to pass over your sins. Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law by serving as the atoning sacrifice for your sin. You have only to believe and trust in that righteousness.

The debt that was laid upon man, because of sin, is canceled in Jesus. The law demanded that your soul be forfeit for the sake of righteousness of God. But God, in His mercy, provided a way for His righteousness to be revealed through Jesus Christ! How tremendous! God set the requirements of the law aside by laying them on Jesus.

In the death of Jesus, God disarmed the enemy! Sin has no claim on the Christian. If you have believed in Jesus Christ, you are no longer enslaved to sin. Indeed, the adversary and rulers of darkness have been disarmed. Think about that for a moment. The enemy has no weapons with which to accuse you. The demands of the law have been answered. The only thing the adversary can do is lie and perjure himself before the court. Just as the high priest Joshua stood before the Lord, accused by Satan, so you stand before the Lord with the assurance that Jesus stands beside us and replaces our filthy rags with His own righteousness (Zechariah 3)! “For who can raise a charge against God’s elect!? It is God who justifies!” (Romans 8:33, c.f. Romans 8:31-39). The enemy is disarmed because of Jesus. God has claimed the victory. O Christian, you are on the winning side! He is faithful and He has won the battle. You have only to trust and learn to walk in Him!

Brief Thoughts; Colossians 2:11-12

11 In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

From the time of Abraham, God’s people were handed a profound, yet simple ritual that would serve as a physical picture of a deep spiritual truth. Circumcision, the removal of flesh from the body, shows what God would do in the heart of His people. On the 8th day, as a sign of continuing Sabbath rest with God, the people of God would circumcise every male. This simple sign would then mark them as permanently in covenant relationship with God. Circumcision was a symbol of a greater spiritual reality. As Paul explains in Romans 4, it is not those who simply bear the physical mark of circumcision that are part of God’s people, but those who are obedient to Him from a clean heart. Circumcision is first and foremost a matter of the heart.

Those who trust in Christ have been circumcised spiritually. The flesh (referred to in some translations as the sinful nature) has been removed in Christ’s death and replaced with a new nature that is clean before God. You see, every person is born with a “flesh nature.” This nature is bent towards sin and is mastered by sin. In Romans 7:1-6, Paul uses the illustration of a marriage to describe this mastery of the law of sin over the flesh. He explains that a marriage contract is not nullified until one party dies. So it is with the law. The flesh is bound to the law of sin and death until one party dies. It is not the law that dies, but the flesh. Those who have trusted in Christ, have been crucified with Christ, effectively killing the flesh and bringing the “body of sin to nothing” (Romans 6:6, c.f. Galatians 5:24).

The identity of a Christian is no longer wrapped up in the flesh. The flesh has been cut off and removed. It is difficult to grasp the nuances of this truth in most English translations. The English language can give the impression that this verse is indicating that “putting off the body of flesh” is something that Christians accomplish of their own will and effort. However, this is not the case. The only verb in verse 11 is the verb for circumcise. The phrases that follow are descriptors of what it means to be circumcised. The phrase, “by putting off the body of the flesh,” could better be translated, “in the putting off of the body of the flesh.” When Paul makes his statement about the flesh, he is clarifying what circumcision is. He is explaining that circumcision is the removal of the nature that has bound a man to sin. Before trusting in Christ, every person is bound to sin by a nature that is enslaved to it. In Christ’s death, that nature dies and is replaced by a new nature that is bound to righteousness through the gentle guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit (c.f. Romans 6).

Christians are no longer bound to sin and death but have been given new life. In Christ’s death, all true believers have died (that is, their flesh natures have died) and, in Christ’s resurrection, all true believers have been given a new nature. (Paul will visit this more in chapter 3:1-10). Like circumcision, baptism now serves as the symbol of this deeper spiritual truth. A believer has been buried with Christ in Baptism and raised to walk a new life (c.f. Romans 6:1-5). It is not the physical act of being dunked in water that changes the nature of the believer, but the removal of the flesh nature and the appeal to God for a clean conscience (1 Peter 3:21). So when a Christian is Baptized, he is symbolically displaying the spiritual reality of what has happened in his soul.

Consider this truth for a moment – Christians no longer have a flesh (sinful nature) for it has been removed by Christ. His work on the cross freed you from that which once bound you to sin and death! When Christ died, the flesh died with Him. When He was raised, a new nature was raised with Him. Now you can walk in obedience! You are no longer tied down to sin and death. If you have trusted in Christ, you are free from the sinful nature and have been raised to walk in new life! A new life that is born out of trust in the sovereign God of all things. This is Christianity. You have been changed. You have been reborn. You are no longer bound by what you once were.

Dear Christian, how long will you go limping between two different opinions? – I Kings 18:21

In 1 Kings 18:17-41, Elijah levels the charge against the people of Israel and their king. He calls out the king and the people for worshiping the false fertility god Baal, demanding they choose between Baal and the LORD. The people must choose! Either submit to the will of the LORD and believe in Him, or follow your own passions and find your help in the worthless Baal.

He stood before the people of Israel to display the Lord’s might, proposing a competition between the LORD and Baal. Which god would answer? The fertility god Baal or the LORD, God of all. Baal was a god that promised fertility and sexual satisfaction. Cultic prostitution and sexual deviance were normative parts of worship within the cult of Baal. As such, the LORD, God of the Hebrews, stands in total opposition to the worship of Baal. The Law of God condemned the very acts of religious fealty in Baal’s religious cultic worship. Two bulls were prepared and Baal could go first. Let your god light the fire.

The 450 men of Baal prepared their altar and pleaded with their god to answer their cries. They danced, begged, preformed rituals, and even cut themselves to bring from their god the desired outcome of fire from heaven. Yet, nothing came. The spectacle went on for hours as Elijah taunted them, fanning their furious attempts to call forth fire from the heavens. The prophets used knives cutting deep into their own flesh and the flesh of others in desperate pleas to secure the answer. Still… silence. All day they worked to call their God to appease their desires. Still… nothing… their god could not bring fire.

The prophets of Baal trusted in that which could not bring fire. They mutilated themselves and begged their god to answer and yet they received nothing. As you read this account in the Bible, you get the feeling that no one has ever challenged these prophets on this scale before. No one says anything save Elijah, who simply taunts them. The entire nation is gathered to watch and sits enraptured, waiting for Baal to answer. The prophets obviously expected their god to answer. Hours of desperation and embarrassment, yet the prophets persist.

This devotion to the false gods of sexual indulgence is not uncommon in our own culture. Promiscuity is the norm and deviant sexual behavior is lauded and even heralded as entertaining (e.g. the 50 shades series). Men and women will spend hours indulging in pornography hoping it will bring fire that will satisfy. They will cut themselves, ruin their relationships, and beg and plead for their false gods to bring fire. The more they beg and plead for their false god to answer, the deeper their despair grows and the more ruinous their scars become. The result of such false worship is a “limping” life. “How long will you go on limping…” (1 Kings 18:21). Elijah recognized the result of such wicked hypocrisy: a limping, unsuccessful life.

Like the prophets of Baal, sinful sexual indulgence works until it is challenged. The moment you confront this false god with an actual need for satisfaction, the god can’t answer. In private, as a prophet of the false god, you can pretend. But, once you need actual satisfaction, the horrific reality sets in and you begin to ruin yourself and everyone around you calling on the false god to answer your need for fire. Pornography and sexual deviance are destructive. These practices destroy intimacy, silence truth, emasculate men, and objectify women. Those who indulge in such activities cause irreparable harm to their own psyche and bring permanent damage to their own ability to relate to others. Further, pornography is fiction! It is an illusion that does not actually satisfy. Finally, these practices pervert the glorious picture of sexual intimacy that God created and thereby damage the person’s ability to engage in the worship of the One True God! Like the worship of Baal, our own modern sexual idolatry has left American Christianity limping and weak.

Now, someone will argue that it is not fair to call someone who indulges in private one of the prophets of Baal. However, remember the beginning of the story. Elijah says, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” [1] Elijah is calling the people of Israel to account. He is not attacking the worship leaders of Baal in his challenge. He is attacking the adherents to the religious activity. Indeed, he is challenging the nation of Israel asking them how long they will persist in worshiping Baal and Yahweh. So this display of mutilation and self-destruction in an attempt to get the false god’s attention is meant for those who would vacillate between two opinions. It is an example for those who would worship Christ and harbor within themselves a worship of false gods. It is for those who have split allegiance. It is intended for us.

Consider for a moment the fruit of seeking satisfaction in the false god of pornography.

  1. You will go on limping in life. You will not run so long as you are tethered to the false fertility god.
  2. You will seek satisfaction that will never bring true fire. While you may convince yourself that you have been satisfied in secret, you will forever stand beside a rotting corpse hoping for fire to fall.
  3. You will do damage to yourself. Just like the prophets cut themselves, so you will scar yourself and leave wounds on your soul that may never fully heal.
  4. You will be angry at the Saints when you are not satisfied and they are. You will feel mocked and scorned when your god does not answer.
  5. You will be ashamed. No need to elaborate on this one.
  6. You will die. If you are a believer, this particular half way worship of Jesus will kill your zeal for Christ. You cannot worship God and sex.

Now let’s consider Elijah’s response to Baal.

Baal’s prophets stand embarrassed after hours of labor. Exhausted and wasted, they watch as Elijah takes the crowd’s attention.

First Elijah rebuilds the altar of the Lord. He does not create a new altar, nor divine some fancy new method for defeating Baal. He rests on the strength of the worship that the Lord has commanded. He rebuilds and places his sacrifice on what God has already set in place. Oh Christian, if you are to claim victory over sin and feel the fire of God fall from the heavens to ignite your soul, you must rely on the altar He has already placed before you. You must rely on Christ’s word. Lay your hopes and sacrifices upon the altar of the Word of God… no other counsel will lead you to overcoming.

Second, Elijah finds his identity in the Lord’s calling of Israel. He rebuilt the altar with 12 stones signifying the 12 tribes of Israel. If we are to defeat sin, we must remember that we belong to Him and are called to Him by Him (c.f. John 6:35-40 and John 10:27). It is paramount that you remember that you do not belong to sin any longer. You are claimed as His own, one of His tribe. You are Christ’s now. If you have trusted in Jesus for salvation, you are no longer slave to sin (c.f. Romans 6 and Ephesians 2:1-10).

Third, Elijah covered the sacrifice with water. We must expect greater things from the One True God. Our requests of Him are so superfluous that we should be ashamed. It is as if we have asked for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when offered any meal we desire prepared by the greatest chef in existence. Perhaps the reason you have not overcome your sin is because you simply have not asked. Or perhaps you do not trust that God can satisfy your needs. Do you really think that your sexual desires are beyond His ability to fulfill? Do you think it’s not within the Lord’s realm of provision? Ask the Lord to provide for you in this way. I have seen many marriages rekindled by such a request. Elijah set his sacrifice up with impossible odds stacked against God Almighty! Yet still… fire fell! He will answer you as well.

Fourth, Elijah prays a simple prayer, asking that the Lord would answer him. His request is that God would answer him so that others would see and that others would be drawn to repent. This is our purpose for life, that the Lord’s name would be made great in us. However, so long as we vacillate between two opinions, we will not rest in the provision of God.

Finally, Elijah kills the false prophets. Pornography must die. It’s that simple, Christian. You must make war on sin and kill the pornographic influences in your life. If you want a life that revels in the power and provision of God, you must be devoted to Christ. Otherwise, you will spend all your time being called to a singular devotion rather than living in it.