Tag archives: Bible

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 2): Rahab Endured the Crisis of Protecting Her Family

by Joy Zavalick

December 21, 2021

This is the second part of a five-part series. Read our previous entry on Tamar.

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The second woman identified by Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Christ is Rahab. When Scripture first introduces us to Rahab in Joshua 2, she is a Canaanite prostitute living in the city of Jericho at the time that the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land. Two spies sent by Joshua to scout out the fortified city of Jericho secretly lodged in Rahab’s house. When word reached Jericho’s king that Israelite spies were inside the city, he commanded Rahab to turn them over. However, she sent the king’s men to search elsewhere instead of betraying the spies’ true location.

Rahab had heard about the mighty deeds of Israel’s God and decided her fear of this God and love for her family were worth the risk. In the face of impending death for herself and her family, Rahab saved the lives of the Israelite spies by hiding them from the king and asked them to do the same for her and her family, acknowledging, “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”

The spies assured Rahab that they would spare her when the Lord delivered the land into their hands, so long as she tied a red cord to her window and kept her family members inside during the impending attack. When the Israelites eventually surrounded Jericho in Joshua 6, God miraculously delivered the city into their hands. Prior to the battle, Joshua commanded his men to spare Rahab and her family because she had honored her word to protect the spies.

Rahab and her family were rescued and brought into the camp of the Israelites, where she married a member of the tribe of Judah named Salmon. According to Jewish tradition, Salmon may have been one of the two spies whose lives Rahab had saved. Rahab was either the mother or direct ancestor of Boaz, whose marriage to Ruth is named later in the genealogy of Christ. The Lord transformed Rahab from a prostitute and a woman who likely worshipped pagan gods to the wife of an Israelite and an ancestor of the Messiah, thus adopting a Gentile woman into His family.

Rahab’s brave actions embodied obedience to the charge God gave Joshua himself in Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Hundreds of years later, Rahab’s faith was even included in the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11. Many women today face circumstances that seem insurmountable and approach motherhood with trepidation. Rahab modeled a response to fearful circumstances that constitutes courage, trust, and devotion to God.

Rahab’s story can encourage women (and men) that their past does not have to define them. God did not have to include a prostitute in the family line of Christ. He did so to demonstrate that no life on earth is too broken, shameful, or deeply steeped in sin that He cannot redeem it and use it for His glory. Rahab’s family lineage went on to produce the Messiah, who spent His time on earth ministering to those lost in sin, as well as the needy and the downcast, in further affirmation of God’s love even for those that society rejects or those who start out their lives far away from God.

Rahab’s actions on behalf of her family also contradict the modern narrative of individualism. Just as Rahab risked much to protect her family, women and men facing unplanned or unwanted pregnancies ought to consider their duty as mothers and fathers to their unborn children rather than using abortion to bypass that responsibility.

Tragically, the pain of abortion is already part of many women’s stories. Rahab’s example shows that women who have something in their past that they are ashamed of ought not to distance themselves from the Lord but rather draw near to the throne of grace and accept the mercy that is theirs in Christ.

Resources such as Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard exist to bring healing to women who have suffered the pain of abortion and to help them to lead lives reconciled to God. For women who, like Rahab, have worked as prostitutes, resources such as Gems helps provide an exit from the commercial sex industry. Additionally, for trafficking victims who were involuntarily forced into the sex industry, organizations such as Justice Ministries assist with rescue and coping with trauma.

Rahab’s story shows that being strong and courageous can take many different forms—sometimes, it is simply choosing to trust the Lord and serve one’s family that can produce the greatest fruit.

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 1): Tamar Endured the Crisis of Familial Abandonment

by Joy Zavalick

December 20, 2021

The genealogy of Jesus, as recorded in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, includes many of the most recognizable and celebrated men of the Judeo-Christian tradition, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the kings David and Solomon. Five women are also listed as being among Jesus Christ’s earthly ancestors: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and, of course, his mother Mary.

In the coming days, we will explore the lives of these women. Each one faced challenging circumstances and endured hardships, but ultimately God saw fit to include them in the family line of the Messiah. Moreover, given that Matthew’s genealogy is not comprehensive—and that the inclusion of women’s names in a genealogy was unique for Matthew’s time and culture—we can be sure that each of these five women were included in this list for a reason. The Lord evidently wants us to learn important truths about His grace by considering these women and their stories. The beauty of God’s plan is that the unique “crises” that each woman faced ultimately led to Christmas.

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The first woman listed in the genealogy is Tamar, who was the daughter-in-law of Judah, one of the 12 sons of Jacob. Genesis 38 says that Tamar’s husband, Er, was put to death by the Lord for unspecified wickedness. According to custom, it was the responsibility of Er’s brother, Onan, through “levirate marriage,” to marry his brother’s widow in order to provide an heir and keep property in the family. Onan, however, refused to accept this responsibility (likely motivated by sinful desires to assume the position of family leadership and a double inheritance). Because of his failure to fulfill the duties of levirate marriage, he sinned against his deceased brother and Tamar. For his actions, he was also put to death (v. 10).

After the death of his second son, Judah was fearful of giving any more sons to a woman he thought might be cursed, so he sent Tamar away to live in her father’s household. Although Judah promised Tamar that he would give her his third son in marriage, he evidently had no intention of keeping his word. This abandonment of Tamar was a grave evil.

Years later, Tamar learned that her father-in-law was visiting her hometown. Determined to carry on the family lineage of her late husband, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute. Judah, not recognizing her as his daughter-in-law, solicited her and impregnated her. Three months later, Judah learned that Tamar had conceived a child and demanded she be put to death for prostitution. This hypocritical demand reveals not only the inconsistent manner in which men and women were treated in that day, but also puts in sharper relief the evil of Judah’s abandonment of a woman he was supposed to provide for and protect. Tamar immediately revealed that Judah was the father of her child. Judah responded that his daughter-in-law had been “more righteous than I” and rescinded his call for the death penalty.

The story of Tamar reveals God’s enduring faithfulness to Abraham in allowing the line of Judah to continue so that Jesus could be born from it. Tamar gave birth to twin boys—Perez and Zerah. From the line of Perez came King David, and later, Jesus Christ—the Son of God.

God saw fit to use Tamar, a widow who faced the crises of being abandoned by her family, feeling that she had no recourse but to act as a prostitute, and having her father-in-law threaten to have her killed, in the story of His Son’s birth.

Today, many women, like Tamar, are abandoned by their families. Many women feel their only option is to allow men to use them. Many women face abuse from those who should love and protect them. These women can find encouragement in God’s faithfulness to Tamar—a woman who was never deserted by God, even when her earthly circumstances were less than ideal.

Women who find themselves in situations like Tamar should know there are people ready to support them as they work to raise their children. Approximately 3,000 pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) are available across the country, seeking to provide material support, emotional encouragement, and spiritual healing to pregnant mothers facing difficult life circumstances. These centers allow women to advocate for their children even when they lack support from those who are closest to them.

Although Tamar’s husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law all failed to love and care for her, and although Tamar’s act of prostitution was immoral, God still provided for her and saw fit to include Tamar and her family in the earthly lineage of His Son. Tamar’s life proves that God’s mercy is endless, and His ability to bring good out of our missteps is boundless.

The Redeeming Gift of Adoption

by Molly Carman

December 1, 2021

The majority of individuals are blessed to be born and raised by their biological parents. However, many children across our nation are waiting for a family to welcome them home through the process of adoption. According to the Adoption Network, two percent of Americans have adopted children into their homes—roughly 140,000 children are adopted in the United States each year, with nearly 1.5 million children adopted in America today.

Saturday, November 20th was National Adoption Day when courts across America celebrated the finalization of adoption cases. For children seeking a forever home and adoptive parents, this day is eagerly awaited with joy. This year, National Adoption Day is an especially relevant reminder that adoption may very well become even more critical if the Supreme Court rules to overturn Roe v. Wade in the pivotal Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that is being argued there today. If Roe is overturned or scaled back by the Court and abortion is increasingly restricted in more states as a result, there will be thousands more unplanned babies that will be born that will be in great need of being adopted.

Family is such a blessing, and for those who have faced tragedy or unexpected circumstances, adoption is a redeeming gift and a way to find family again. Adoption is particularly significant for Christians as it is a picture of our relationship in the family of God. Just as children waiting for adoption are hoping for their forever home, Christians have been adopted as sons and daughters of God and await Christ’s return when we will be reunited and go to our eternal home of glory.

Scripture speaks frequently about God’s hearts for orphans. James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Orphans and widows were the most vulnerable individuals in the ancient world, and for the most part this is still true today. God has had a heart for the vulnerable from the founding of Israel. When Moses received the law he commanded them, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child” (Ex. 22:22). In the Old Testament, Israel is often referred to as God’s son whom He cared for, saved, and redeemed.

In explaining the gospel, New Testament authors often use language that refers to believers as orphans before they were saved and adopted as sons and co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17). We are orphans because sin separates us from God our Father, and we are unable to be reconciled to Him in our own strength or actions. Without redemption from sin, we are condemned to eternal separation from God through death. However, Scripture reminds us, “that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8) and it is through Christ’s death that we are no longer separated from our Heavenly Father but are reconciled and adopted into His eternal kingdom. John says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God” (1:12). This message is reiterated in Paul’s letter to the Galatians where he explains, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (3:26). Christ also promised the disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:8), referring to His second coming when He will fully redeem us and bring us home.

Adoption is a biblical value and is a tangible representation of God’s desired relationship with humanity. While not everyone will be able to welcome children into their homes permanently or temporarily, Christians are called to love the least of these. Christians should be intentional to promote this beautiful representation of redemption and healing, remembering that “we love because He [Christ] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). 

National Adoption Day is an opportunity to celebrate children who have found loving and safe homes. The U.S.A. Coalition of National Partners, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Alliance for Children’s Action Network, and the Freddie Mac Foundation all came together to found National Adoption Day. It began in 2000 when these coalition partners asked seven cities to open their courts the Saturday before Thanksgiving to finalize and celebrate adoption. The event was a huge success, and by 2014 over 400 cities were participating. By 2018, nearly 70,000 children in foster care had their adoption finalized on this day.

Anyone can participate in National Adoption Day and help raise awareness for the thousands of children who are in foster care and waiting to find their forever home. Whether or not the Lord is calling your family to adopt, Christians everywhere should remember that Christ is preparing an eternal home for all those who are redeemed by His sacrifice.

From Eating to Dining: How Shared Meals Reveal What It Means to Be Human

by Dan Hart

November 24, 2021

In 2019, a disheartening survey was released on the eating habits of Americans. It found that only 48 percent of respondents eat at the dining room table, with 47 percent saying they eat on the couch or in their bedrooms instead. Tellingly, 72 percent of respondents also said that they grew up eating in the dining room. This is the latest illustration of a trend that has been happening for quite some time in America. Families and households are putting less of an emphasis on one of the most fundamental pillars of family and communal life—a shared meal.

Social science bears out the central importance that family dinner has on positive outcomes for children, including lower rates of drug abuse, teen pregnancy, depression, obesity, and eating disorders as well as higher grade-point average, self-esteem, and vocabulary. But the benefits of family meals—or any shared meal—go much deeper than what social science can prove. Dining together fills an innate need that all human beings crave: the desire for true communion and fellowship with our Creator and with one another.

The Centrality of the Meal in Scripture

Scripture tells us a great deal about just how fundamental meals are to human flourishing. Moreover, the Bible contains many examples of how the provision of food often served as a means for teaching important spiritual truths. For example, in the Old Testament, God fed the Israelites manna in the desert. Despite their disobedience (which resulted in the people having to wander in the desert for 40 years), He fed them, teaching them to depend and rely on Him for their daily sustenance (Exodus 16). Similarly, throughout the gospels, Jesus chooses a shared meal as the context not only for building relationships but for enacting His salvific plan.

His desire for forming intimate bonds over a shared meal is shown through His dinner with tax collectors and sinners at the home of Levi (Luke 5:29-32), eating at the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), dining at the home of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:25-42), and staying at the home of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Strikingly, Jesus also emphasizes communal dining with His disciples in His resurrected body. He sups with two disciples that He meets on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), with His disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 14:35-48), and again with His disciples on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius, sharing a miraculous catch of fish and bread over a charcoal fire (John 21:1-14).

Indeed, Christ’s plan of salvation is miraculously revealed multiple times in the context of a shared meal. It is at a wedding feast at Cana that Jesus performs His first miracle of turning water into wine, ushering in His public ministry (John 2:1-11). After feeding the souls of 5,000 men (besides women and children, which means the total number may have been as much as 15,000) by teaching them about the kingdom of God, He orchestrates a miraculous, spontaneous dinner for everybody when He multiplies a few loaves and fish to feed the entire throng, so much so that there are 12 wicker baskets left over after everyone has eaten their fill (Matthew 14:13-21, Luke 9:10-36). At the Last Supper, Christ reveals a fundamental aspect of His sacrificial mission through sharing bread and wine with His disciples (Luke 22:14-23).

It’s clear that Christ placed great emphasis on the importance of the meal as a conduit for revealing the depth of His love for His flock. But a natural question arises here—why did Christ do this? What is the true nature and potential of a shared meal?

From Eating to Dining”

Judging by the survey referenced earlier, for the most part, eating has become a pretty mundane and isolated exercise for many Americans. At the same time, the popularity of cooking shows and eating out prove that even the fragmented nature of everyday life in our culture has not fully tamped down the pleasures of a good meal. Even so, what our culture seems to lack is a true understanding of just how meaningful meals can and should be. As Leon Kass has reflected upon at length in his profound book The Hungry Soul, the ordinary nature of eating takes on a whole new meaning when we intentionally make an effort to move “from eating to dining”—from eating for the primary purpose of satisfying a grumbling stomach to instead dining with others through a shared experience of food and conversation.

Human instinct tells us that there is something unparalleled and intangibly communal about a dinner table filled with delicious food to share and enjoy together. This is illustrated by the fact that a shared meal is the only human activity that engages all five of our senses at once. We see the food spread out before us and the people we are sharing it with, we smell the aromas which heighten and anticipate our appetites and enhance our eating experience, we touch our forks and knives to eat and pass around the dinner rolls, we taste, relish, and consume our meal, and we listen to the merriment and clinking dinnerware and partake in conversation.

To be sure, a shared meal gives us arguably the richest opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation that has the potential to draw us closer to one another. Aristotle once wrote about how “the truest human intimacy takes place in good conversation.” And as John Cuddeback has observed, “[G]ood conversation … does more than give seasoning to life. It is the beating heart of a real communion of persons, of a happy life-together with those we love.”

Of course, meaningful conversation doesn’t always happen on its own. The best way to facilitate true fellowship is to pray for those who will dine with us and for uplifting conversation that leads to greater intimacy with each other and the Lord. When we fully invest ourselves in a meal shared with others, it has the power to nourish the mind, body, and soul all at once. Because God created us as embodied beings comprised of both bodies and souls, nourishing our physical hunger through eating naturally nourishes our minds and hearts. As we engage in rich conversation, we draw closer and grow in intimacy with each other. Our souls are in turn nourished by this communion we achieve with others during the meal. Since our minds, bodies, and souls are in union with each other, when one is nourished, they are all nourished. It is in this act of dining that we can harness the true communal potential of shared meals that our Creator intended them to be.

It is in this way that a meal shared with others can become a taste of the divine feast in heaven where we will be in total communion not only with all the redeemed but with the communion of love found in the Holy Trinity.

Practical Ways to Enhance a Shared Meal

At this point you might be thinking, “It’s all well and good that meals have such great potential to be so meaningful, but how can we expect to have this kind of experience consistently?” It’s true that we can’t expect every meal to be a profound experience, but there are a few simple, practical ways we can be more intentional about making a shared meal a truly communal and edifying experience for all.

1. Spend a little extra love and care preparing everyday meals.

Anyone who has prepared an elaborate meal for a dinner party, a family reunion, or Thanksgiving knows how much work it can be but also how rewarding it is to experience the appreciation guests express over a well-received meal. This experience can not only be immensely rewarding for the host, but also for the guests: who can’t help but feel well cared for after being served a delicious meal?

In the same way, parents or anyone else cooking for others can make dinnertime consistently special by preparing healthy, hearty meals that aren’t elaborate and time-consuming. The Family Dinner Project has some great tips on how to do this.

2. Start dinner earlier in the evening.

When possible, try to start dinner or appetizers as early in the evening as you can. When everyone has their hunger nourished earlier in the evening, it will set the tone for a better overall mood and will allow for a more extended time of fellowship after the meal.

Social science has also found strong benefits for earlier dinners for families. A recent study found that “‘parents who eat dinner before 6:15 p.m. … spend 11% more quality time with children, and spend 14% more overall time with children’ in the evening than those who eat later.”

3. Say a prayer of thanksgiving after the meal.

Most believers pray a blessing over meals before digging in, but less common is the traditional Christian practice of saying a prayer of thanksgiving afterward. Saying a post-meal blessing can help set a grateful tone before partaking in an extended time of fellowship after a meal and serves as an acknowledgment that what everyone just took part in was a sacred experience. While there is always the option of spontaneous prayer, here is a simple, common prayer of thanksgiving.

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For Americans, Thanksgiving has the most potential to be the ultimate dining experience—it has remained the most popular holiday next to Christmas. This speaks to the power that is inherently present in a shared meal with loved ones—our human natures are drawn to celebratory feasts like a moth to flame.

This Thanksgiving, may we reach for ever greater heights of communion with our family and friends, and in so doing strive for greater communion with our Creator, the master of the eternal, heavenly banquet.

5 Bible Passages That Affirm the Personhood of the Unborn

by Rachael Tracy

November 17, 2021

From the uncertain fate of the Texas Heartbeat Act to the upcoming oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion continues to be a hot-button issue in America. As the country awaits the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in these cases, Christians should take the time to consider what exactly the Bible teaches on the subject of human dignity and abortion. Here are several Scripture passages that affirm life beginning in the womb and the personhood of the unborn child.

1. Psalm 139:13-16

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

King David’s exposition of how God dealt with him while he was still in his mother’s womb is perhaps the most well-known and frequently cited passage of Scripture pertaining to the pro-life argument. David’s usage of the personal pronouns “my” and “I” demonstrates an unquestioning assumption of his unborn self’s personhood. Furthermore, David uses the word “wonderful” to describe the gestation process more than once. This word choice emphasizes the intentionality of the process of fetal development; God is present in the smallest parts of our lives, even before we are born.

2. Luke 1:39-45

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would beg a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

This passage affirms the personhood and value of the unborn in several ways. First, Elizabeth calls Mary a mother, despite Mary being in the very early stages of her pregnancy. Second, upon hearing Mary’s voice, the unborn John the Baptist leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, meaning John is a person capable of emotion. Third, John’s reaction also means he was capable of recognizing Mary’s voice and acknowledging the unborn Messiah even in utero. Fourth, this encounter represents a partial fulfilment of John’s life purpose: to herald the arrival of Jesus as the Messiah. Even before he was born, John had begun to fulfill his life’s calling. Finally, Elizabeth also affirms the deity of Jesus when she refers to Him as her Lord and again when she and John are filled with the Holy Spirit in the mere presence of prenatal Jesus. It makes the important point that Jesus’ incarnation did not begin at birth but conception.

3. Jeremiah 1:4-5

Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

God’s call of the prophet Jeremiah is yet another example of the Bible acknowledging the personhood of the unborn. God consecrated Jeremiah and appointed him to be a prophet while he was still in his mother’s womb. Before Jeremiah was even born, God already had a plan for his life. Not only that, but God said He personally formed Jeremiah and knew him in utero.

4. Psalm 51:5-6

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you desire truth in the inward being, you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

In this psalm, David is asking God for forgiveness after committing adultery with Bathsheba. While David is laying his sin before God, he begins to trace his sin to its origin, concluding that he has always been a sinner, even from when he was in his mother’s womb. The personal pronouns used by David to describe his time in the womb also point to his agency and personhood. As an unborn baby, David was not an impersonal entity, but a person with the agency to be a sinner—and a person desired by God.

5. Judges 13:3-5

And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Here, an angel tells Manoah’s wife that she will conceive and give birth to Samson, who will be a Nazarite “from the womb,” meaning God had a plan for Samson prior to and from the moment of his conception. Nazarites were Israelites whose lives were consecrated to the service of God (Num. 6). Samson’s mother is even instructed to follow the same restrictions a Nazarite must follow while she is pregnant with Samson. The angel uses the personal pronouns “his” and “he” when talking about the boy’s Nazarite status, providing both personhood and agency to a preborn Samson. The plan for Samson’s life, the personal language used to refer to him, and his vocation while in utero all point to Samson being a person known and wanted by God before he was born.

Considering all these verses, it is clear that the Bible is undoubtedly pro-life (even more passages are discussed in the FRC publication “Biblical Principles for Pro-Life Engagement”). The Bible might lack an explicit statement that abortion is morally indefensible, but the principles displayed in these and many other verses point to a God who has intentionally created us all with a plan. He knows and loves each person before they are even born. As we approach the Dobbs oral arguments, Christians must be prepared to stand and defend unborn life and should work to end the scourge of abortion. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Rachael Tracy is an intern at FRC’s Center for Biblical Worldview.

**On Thursday, November 18th at 8 pm EDT, FRC is participating in a church-led initiative to pray for the upcoming Dobbs case. You can learn more about this free event and sign up at PrayforDobbs.com.

Thinking Biblically About Freedom

by Dan Hart

November 5, 2021

What is freedom?

It’s a question at the heart of the American experiment. Our national anthem dubs us “the land of the free.” Our Declaration of Independence proclaims that America “ought to be Free and Independent States.” Our Constitution’s stated purpose is to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

In a certain sense, America has been seeking the meaning of freedom since the country’s founding. In asserting our independence from Britain, we declared that all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It was an extraordinarily bold statement, but it also left the fundamental concepts of “liberty” and “happiness” open to interpretation. Perhaps that was Thomas Jefferson’s intention in writing those words, to set forth an ideal that America could eternally strive to define and reach for, and in doing so, create the freest and most prosperous country the world has ever known.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Great American Paradox

Jefferson followed up his declaration of man’s unalienable rights with these words: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Consent of the governed was not a completely new idea; the king of England ruled with the consent of Parliament, which represented the people. However, our Founders took this principle of consent even further by establishing a constitutional republic—foregoing a monarch and entrusting lawmaking to representatives elected by the people.

This leads us to the central paradox of the American experiment. By choosing to define civic freedom in this way, America took a great gamble—it bestowed governing power to a majority, trusting that that majority would decide against tyranny. Ever since then, an uneasy and terrifying possibility has lingered in the back of the American consciousness: If a majority of Americans are somehow convinced that freedom should be abolished, they could in theory “freely” choose tyranny.

A modern iteration of this paradox is currently playing itself out in our culture. On one hand, a sizeable portion of Americans believes that freedom is the ability to do whatever one wants whenever one wants, usually with a vaguely defined caveat that one’s free choices should not “harm” somebody else. But on the other hand, another large portion of Americans believes that freedom is innately tied to virtue and responsibility—in other words, an authentically “free” choice must be not only for one’s own good but also for the general welfare of society at large.

At first glance, there may not seem to be much difference between these two views. But there’s a crucial difference: The first view sees personal autonomy as the highest good, whereas the second view sees personal virtue as the highest good. Here again, we come up against a fundamental paradox and an open question. In a country where everyone is free to decide for themselves what the definition of freedom is, how long can that country maintain some semblance of unity before devolving into either fascism or an anarchy of moral relativism?

The True Source of Freedom

As Christians, we know that true freedom can only come when we freely choose to live in accordance with God’s law. The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church concisely states this truth well:

By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.” [Romans 6:17]

In America, we see a culture that is awash in the abuse of freedom. In the name of “freedom of choice,” the lives of unborn babies are extinguished in their mothers’ wombs, often due to pressure from fathers and family members. In the name of “freedom of expression,” pornography clogs the internet and sweeps up millions of Americans into the slavery of addiction. In the name of “freely choosing one’s identity,” children are indoctrinated, speech is restricted, and people are canceled. The list goes on and on.

One of the greatest tragedies of the Christian life is to witness others make wrong and poor choices about freedom that lead to enslavement to sin and, ultimately, spiritual death. But herein lies the golden opportunity for American believers. As faithful Christians, we have discovered the only true source for happiness, contentment, and true freedom: faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to His laws. Thus, by “always be[ing] prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15), we can help spread a true understanding of freedom to our family members, friends, coworkers, and anyone else in our circles of influence, always remembering to “do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).

A Moral and Religious People”

By God’s grace, America has remained a flawed but free country for 238 years, arguably the longest-standing democracy in the world. But, as former President Ronald Reagan famously said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Indeed, we are seeing authoritarianism creep its way into American life as we speak.

This is why for Christian citizens, American freedom will always be bittersweet. We treasure our freedom to believe and live out our faith in our daily lives, but we also know that it could vanish if enough of our fellow citizens make terrible choices. Consequently, believers ought to not only share their faith with boldness and work to educate their friends and neighbors on the values of civic freedom, but we should also bear witness to what will truly set the human heart free: to do what one ought to in accordance with God’s law. As our second President John Adams wisely observed, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Despite the precarious nature of American freedom, there is a silver lining in it. The very fact that our country remains free only by the choice of its citizens is a stark reminder for Christians that our true home is not here. As brilliant as our Founding Fathers were in establishing our constitutional republic, it is impossible for fallen human beings to create a system of government that will deliver a utopian paradise (despite what some believe). The paradox of American freedom reminds believers that there is only one truly free place—the heavenly kingdom ruled by our Creator. And while we are called to be good citizens of both the City of God and City of Man (Phil. 3:20), we are nevertheless “sojourners and exiles” in this world (2 Peter 2:11).

To be a Christian citizen of America is to be a person of trust. We harness the opportunities that American freedom gives us by witnessing to the gospel and leave the rest up to God. What could be more freeing than that?

Your Heart Was Made For Love

by Mikayla Simpson

October 19, 2021

Deep down, we all want to love people well. We can’t help it. We are made to worship and made to love, but sometimes the way we choose to prioritize our loves isn’t how it was meant to be. Without realizing it, our well-intentioned affection for people or things can turn into idolatry. Idolatry is dangerous because as we worship and love someone or something that cannot fill the wholeness in our hearts, we are left unsatisfied. We feel this emptiness because we are made for more.

Since the Fall of Man, Things Are Not as They Should Be

G. K. Chesterton once said, “When we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing. We worship anything.” Because we have a sinful nature, we do not worship God as we should. Instead, we seek after the things of the world, expecting them to satisfy us. We open our arms to broken things, expecting them to fill us. As we draw out of these broken wells that “can hold no water,” our thirst remains unquenched (Jer. 2:13). Sometimes, we choose to worship the creature we can touch rather than the Creator who is above. In doing so, we abandon our greatest love (Rom. 1:22-24, Rev. 2:4) and craft gods out of good gifts. At face value, these gifts are not necessarily bad things to love, but our affections become distorted and disordered when God is not our first love.

In Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols, Brad Bigney defines an idol as “anything or anyone that captures our hearts, minds, and affections more than God.” Loving isn’t wrong; in fact, God created us with a great capacity to love, but loving anything more than God is idolatrous. This disloyalty flies blatantly in the face of God, saddens Him, and is sin. For He has said, “have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:2). Idols are poor gods that too often take and use us. They don’t treat us well, and they promise pleasure that they can’t deliver on, leaving us guilty, alone, and always wanting more. Bigney puts it well when he says that “sin is what we do when we’re not satisfied in God.” When we become impatient or discontent, we turn to sin, worshiping idols mistakenly believing that they are more reliable than God.

Identifying Personal Idols

Idols are the hidden matters of the heart. To identify these matters of the heart, Bigney offers a few questions to help us identify our idols:

  1. Am I willing to sin to get this?
  2. Am I willing to sin if I think I’m going to lose this?
  3. Do I turn to this as a refuge and comfort instead of going to God?
  4. What are your goals, expectations, and intentions?
  5. What would make you happy?
  6. What do you see as your rights?
  7. What do you fear?
  8. When you are pressured or tense, where do you turn?

It can be tempting to rely on our own understanding because there is a way that seems right to us but is actually very wrong (Prov. 14:12). That’s why we need the Lord—who searches out the heart and tests the mind (Jer. 17:10)—to weigh our hearts and direct our steps (Prov. 16:9, 21:2).

Ask the Lord to show you your sin, then let His Word reveal the hidden matters of your heart. Inviting Him into this gutting process will expose and dethrone the idols in your life. Let this intimate surgery carve out the festering loves that keep you from drawing closer to God. Press His words into the hollow places that these idols leave behind. Let the words pierce you. Let them fill you. Allow God’s Word to dwell in you richly. He is the One who gives us a new heart and a new spirit (Ezk. 11:19). Bigney encourages his readers engaging in this soulful surgery to remember to “glance at your heart but gaze at Christ.” We should examine the chasms and crevices of our hearts but ultimately set our eyes on Christ to renew our hearts.

We Only Fulfill Our Purpose When We Worship God

Apart from God, we will never be satisfied. The fourth-century theologian Augustine correctly observed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they can find their rest in you.” As God exposes our heart, His Spirit renews and transforms our heart by realigning our desires with His will so that we do not live by our natural desires but instead can walk in the newness of life. When we walk in step with the Spirit, we are transformed.

God wants the good life for His children, and apart from Him, we have no good thing (Ps. 16:2, 63:3-4). We were formed for God that we would praise Him and bring Him glory (Is. 43:21). In fact, we cannot do better than God’s best for us because His very presence quenches our soul with a fullness of joy and pleasure that never comes to an end (Ps. 16:11).

But in order to know that fullness of joy, we must come. We must seek. And we must worship Him. James says, “Draw near to the Lord and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). The extent of our surrender to God is the extent of our satisfaction. He is the greatest pleasure and highest treasure. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we must search out our hearts to determine what we must surrender, then actively remove the idols that hinder us from worshiping Christ as our highest treasure.

No one else in all the earth is like God. As Isaiah notes, He “stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them like a tent to dwell in” (Is. 40:22). The One who created the galaxies and stars and calls them by name knows our names and came to earth to die and redeem us so He could bring us closer to Himself. He is the One our hearts long to worship. But if He is not our first love, we will always be empty. So, love Him. Worship Him. Your heart was made for this.

Mikayla Simpson interned with the Center for Biblical Worldview.

What To Believe About Issues Jesus Didn’t Discuss

by Joseph Backholm

October 15, 2021

A favorite argument of those trying to push the boundaries of Christian ethics is an argument from silence. It usually goes something like this: “Jesus never talked about [insert issue], so that means He doesn’t care.” 

However, arguments from silence are a type of logical fallacy. The lack of evidence for something does not mean the gaps in our knowledge should be filled with assumptions. Furthermore, every parent who has heard their child say, “You didn’t see me do it,” understands that those who depend most heavily on a lack of proof might not be prioritizing the truth.

When it comes to the Christian life, arguments from silence are more than just sloppy thinking. They might also be evidence of a heart that is more interested in getting its own way than trying to live God’s way.

Fundamental to the gospel is the idea of submission. Paul expressed this attitude when he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20, ESV).

When we justify our morally questionable decisions with an argument from silence, we put the cart before the horse. Our goal should not be to do whatever we want until someone says, “No,” but to affirmatively look for ways to honor God with our lives. 

Instead of asking, “Is it okay if I do this?” we should be asking, “Does God want me to do this?”

The first instinct of a life surrendered to God is to find out what He wants, not to see if we can justify doing what we want. As Christians, everything we do should be viewed through the lens of honoring God. As Paul said, “[W]hatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).

The instinct to see what we can get away with is evidence that we don’t always want God to be in charge. We want Him to supervise and provide help when needed, but mostly we want Him to help us have fun. In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis described that view of God in this way:  

We want, in fact, not so much a father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, “liked to see young people enjoying themselves” and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, “a good time was had by all.”

The God of the Bible demands daily submission for His glory and our pleasure because He loves us and understands that our sinful desires promise joy and satisfaction but deliver neither. 

Even Jesus, who is fully God and an equal member of the Trinity, was primarily focused on what God the Father wanted Him to do. As Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).

It is folly to build our moral view of the world around what Jesus did not talk explicitly about. After all, Jesus didn’t say anything specifically about sexual assault or flying planes into skyscrapers, yet we can still know what God thinks about them. As Christians, our desire should be to think biblically about everything. Even though the Bible doesn’t provide explicit instructions on every issue or question we may encounter in life, the answers are not difficult to find if we actually want to find them.  

When considering what Jesus said and thinks, our attitude makes all the difference. Any time we find ourselves saying, “Jesus didn’t say you can’t…” is a good time to take inventory of our motives and make sure that we are really wanting what God wants and not merely trying to justify doing what we want.

Image: Carl Heinrich Bloch, “Sermon on the Mount” (1877)

What is the “Gospel”? A Deeper Look at the Historical and Literary Context Behind the Good News

by Jaelyn Morgan

September 24, 2021

When Jesus began His ministry, He proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). As Christians, our goal is to follow Christ completely. To obey Him, we must understand what He meant by the “gospel” and how it relates to the kingdom of God.

The Gospel Is Good News

The English word “gospel” comes from an Old English word godspel (god meaning “good” and spel meaning “story” or “message”). This was an English translation of the Latin bona annuntiatio, which in turn was a translation of the Greek word euangelion (“good tidings”). In ancient times, an euangelion was a royal proclamation of military victory or ascension to a throne. If a kingdom had military victory over their enemies in battle, a messenger would run back to the capital and proclaim the euangelion to the people waiting inside in the city’s walls. Essentially, the word “gospel” means “good news” and has historical connotations of a royal, victorious proclamation of one kingdom overtaking another.

The Gospel Announces God’s Kingdom

Having learned what euangelion meant in Jesus’ historical context, we must now consider the biblical, or literary, context of “good news.” In Isaiah 52:7 and 10 (emphasis mine), we read:

How beautiful upon the mountains

    are the feet of him who brings good news,

who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,

    who publishes salvation,

    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

…The Lord has bared his holy arm

    before the eyes of all the nations,

and all the ends of the earth shall see

    the salvation of our God.

This prophetic passage foretold that the good news—or the gospel—would be a proclamation of happiness announcing the reign of Zion’s God and an international salvation that would reach “all the ends of the earth.” As Jesus later explained, His kingdom, the kingdom of God, “is not of this world” (John 18:36). By calling Himself the “Son of Man,” He connected His Kingdom to Daniel’s prophecy about the Son of Man’s kingdom, which would neither pass away nor be destroyed (Dan. 7:14). This new kingdom would be unlike any kingdom people have seen before. Not only would it be multiethnic, multi-national, multilingual, and everlasting (Isa. 56:8, Dan. 7:13, Rev. 7:9); it would transform the whole world under a King who would reign for eternity (Rev. 11:15).

Every kingdom needs a king. The Bible declares that the king whom God has appointed over His kingdom is Jesus. Because of Jesus’ sinless life and atoning death, God “raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…And he put all things under his feet…” (Eph. 1:20-22). When Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,” He was heralding the incoming of God’s long-awaited kingdom as its King!

The Gospel Invites Us to Join God’s Kingdom

The proclamation of God’s kingdom and its king, Jesus, is good news for everyone because all are invited to partake in its glory. Just as every kingdom has a king, every kingdom has citizens. Citizens of God’s kingdom need to receive eternal life because God’s kingdom is everlasting (Ps. 145:13, Dan. 7:14). God has given us everything we need to become part of His kingdom. In fact, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son [Jesus]” (1 John 5:11). When we believe in Jesus, we receive eternal life and our citizenship is in heaven (John 3:36, Phil. 3:20). Jesus proclaimed, “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15) to tell us that, by these actions, we can become citizens of the kingdom of God!

So, what does the Bible mean by “repent”? The original Greek word translated as “repent” is metanoeo, meaning “to change one’s mind, i.e. to repent.” The immediate context of Mark’s gospel reveals that repentance is changing one’s mind about something in order to act in faith (Mark 1:4, 15; 6:12). Hence, it is a new mindset that results in new action. The rest of Scripture affirms this understanding of repentance. Thus, in Jesus’s call to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), “to repent” means more than just changing one’s mind; it means accepting the gospel message, turning away from sin, and turning toward King Jesus for a new way of life.

Shortly after Jesus was resurrected and returned to heaven, the apostle Peter addressed a crowd in Jerusalem, proclaiming the euangelion and the need to repent:

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when [the crowd] heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:36-42).

The Gospel Freely Justifies Us

The gospel is not only good news about the victorious kingdom of God but also the personal good news that sinful men and women can become members of God’s kingdom and be reconciled to a holy God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ! Each of us is personally invited to become citizens of God’s kingdom. We can become part of God’s kingdom when we accept Jesus as the king that He already is and trust in Him for a right standing before God. Jesus purifies anyone who believes in Him so they can have a right standing before God and be part of God’s people (1 John 3:3, Titus 2:14).

Justification (i.e., right standing before God) is given to us by God through Jesus Christ for free. As the apostle Paul explains in Romans 3:21-26, justification from God is a gift:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested…through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

As sinners, we did not have a hope in the world. But then God sent Jesus, who willingly died on the cross, for our sins, in our place. The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). This is amazing news! When there was no way, God made a way. When our sin prevented us from having a right relationship with Him, God sent Jesus. Because of God’s graciousness toward us, we are invited to “repent and believe in the gospel” and become part of God’s eternal kingdom, His people, and His family.

The Gospel Gives Us an Urgent Choice

The biblical gospel gives us an ultimatum. We can continue in our sinful state, trying (and failing) to get into heaven by our own merit, or we can accept the good news. If we repent of our old ways and place our faith in Jesus Christ as our new Savior and King, we are saved from God’s wrath against sin and saved into God’s eternal kingdom!

By sending Jesus to us, God showed that He loved us. Jesus, “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10), can be our friend, savior, and king. What will you decide? As 2 Corinthians 6:2 reminds us, do not waste another day, for “now is the favorable time” and “behold, now is the day of salvation”!

NEXT STEPS

  1. How Can I Be Saved?
  2. I Am a Christian, Now What?
  3. What Is the Christian Life?
  4. Why Should I Go to Church?

Jaelyn Morgan interned for the Center for Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council.

A Closer Look at Virtue: Chastity

by Molly Carman

August 31, 2021

According to tradition, the seven virtues of the Christian life are kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity. These character qualities embody the new self that Christians are called to put on in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). In this seven-part series, we will familiarize ourselves with each of the seven virtues, with the goal of developing new habits befitting our new selves in Christ.

This is part seven of seven. The previous installments dealt with kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, and temperance.

Properly defined, chastity is intentionally choosing to refrain from immoral sexual activity. Immoral sexual activity can be defined as physical acts with or entertaining sexual thoughts about people who are not one’s spouse. This virtue applies to married couples and singles alike.

It is important to note that virginity is not synonymous with being chaste. It is possible to be a chaste, sexually active married person; it is also possible to be an unchaste virgin. That’s because chastity is primarily concerned with respecting others and cherishing and honoring the sanctity of marriage. Chastity has less to do with whether or not someone is sexually active and more to do with their behavior in and outside of marriage.

From the first marriage of Adam and Eve in the garden, God created sexual desire to motivate men and women to enter the sacred covenant relationship of marriage, which is reserved for one man and one woman and is intended to be for life. Marriage is a good gift from God; it should be delighted in and protected. Scripture tells us, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov. 18:22). It is good, natural, and beautiful for a husband and wife to be intimately united together as one flesh (Gen. 2:24). As Paul explains, “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband” (1 Cor. 7:3).

Chastity requires refraining from entertaining sexual thoughts and engaging in sexual acts while not married, and when married, remaining faithful to one’s spouse (Job 31:1). Habits of chastity can include dressing modestly, being self-controlled in dating relationships, looking to Jesus for our ultimate satisfaction, and not using others for our physical or sexual pleasure. For those who are married, chastity includes the giving of oneself to a spouse and honoring them and God with one’s body, heart, and mind.

Chastity’s opposite is the vice of lust, and it plagues both men and women. In the final chapter of her book Glittering Vices, Rebecca DeYoung describes lust and how it distorts us, noting:

Lust makes sexual pleasure all about me. It is a self-gratification project…In lust, sexual pleasure is divorced from love and mutual self-giving. And when we lust we certainly want nothing to do with giving life and the future commitments that might bring…I want my pleasure, says the lustful one, and I want it now.

Lust wants all of the pleasures but none of the responsibility that accompanies sexual desire. Lust is unable to give of itself; it only takes. It takes away from the beauty of the unity between a man and a woman, the gift of new life, and the commitment of a covenant union before God.

The vice of lust has plagued humanity throughout history. But today, in our auditory and visually stimulated and pornography-saturated society that prizes anonymity, there are more temptations than ever to succumb to the temptations of lust. Moreover, television commercials, shows, movies, billboards, social media advertisements, and sexually suggestive songs reinforce the notion that modesty and chastity are concepts from an old-fashioned, bygone era. But for Christians who take their cues from Scripture rather than the culture, it is important to remember that God’s standard hasn’t changed. In fact, the standard of purity outlined in God’s Word is still binding on followers of Jesus (Mat. 5:28).

Unlike our secular culture, which either mocks chastity or declares it impossible, Scripture places a tremendous value on the virtue of chastity. For example, Paul says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter” (1 Thess. 4:3-6a). Lust does not honor the image of God in others or who God has called us to be as ambassadors for Christ.

Rather than indulge in the passions of the flesh, Christians are exhorted to “walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:13-14). Lust says “yes” to the old self and the desires of sinful flesh, but chastity says “yes” to the new self which is in Christ Jesus. Like all virtues, chastity requires courage to walk away, to close one’s eyes, and renew one’s mind (Rom. 12:1) for the glory of God and the honor of others.

Throughout this series on virtue and vice, we have considered what it means for a Christian to put on the new self. As we seek to become more like Christ, we must courageously resolve to fight against the vices in our lives, which represent the old self, and put on kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity, which befit the new self. “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14).

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