sin

The “No-Touch” Policy

When I was in middle school, the administration instituted a No-Touch policy. I can’t speak to whether or not there was some kind of increase in physical altercations or anything morally inappropriate going on among the members of the student body, but it was decided that touching should be outlawed. You might imagine how all the young folks poked fun at the dictate; I wouldn’t be surprised if the policy actually caused the reverse intended effect. Nonetheless I think there’s a lot of wisdom in such a policy; I actually wish it was something that dating Christians considered more seriously. Ah yes, the always interesting subject of what Christians in pre-martial relationships should or shouldn’t do. Care to know where I stand? Want to be challenged? Ready for a perhaps intense discussion? Whether you’re a man or woman, young or old, even in a relationship or not… I wish to present the platform that the Bible supports the idea of dating or engaged Christians not touching each other.

To touch, or not to touch?

To touch, or not to touch?

Now before diving into my points, I will answer the question that may very well be on your mind already. Yes, Christine (my wife) and I touched before being pronounced husband and wife. But before you come at me with your hypocrisy pitchforks, I readily confess it wasn’t the right thing to do. It also wasn’t exactly serious, but we did touch. Early on though we made an effort to reign in that area of our relationship. I composed a three-page document detailing what I thought were quality principles to govern ourselves by based on what the Bible teaches. Feel free to download the finished product here actually, just know that the contents are by no means perfect; we didn’t follow everything to a T, and you might even get a chuckle or two from what I came up with. I want to direct your focus nonetheless to the first Do not bullet under the first major point, which reads: [Do not…] Touch each other, at all.

dating_rule

I put this together over 3 years ago.

Christine and I praise the Lord that our purposeful compromising hardly went further than leaning on each other’s foreheads while we were doing wedding and honeymoon planning. Are you thinking, “Why’s that such a big deal?” I’ll spend the rest of this article trying to explain my case.

I was floored to read that author Kevin DeYoung agrees with me about having a no-touch [dating] policy in chapter eight of his book The Hole in Our Holiness. We both think that Christians in general don’t give the idea much thought, and especially the millennial generation. Yet the truth is ladies and gentlemen that dating is a mere commitment to find out if you will ultimately become committed. It saddens me so much to see Christians conducting their relationships in the same ways unsaved people do. They hold hands. They hug intimately. They press up against each other. They pet one another. They even kiss. And that’s just what you see in public. I shudder to consider what sometimes goes on in secret. And why is it that parents and the church seem to frown upon this conduct less and less? I suggest that we’ve allowed ourselves to be more concerned about the opinion of dating Christians than the need to hold such Christians accountable to the teaching of Scripture. It’s no secret that more and more young believers are giving themselves over to pre-marital intimacy, and the Lord is not pleased!

Perhaps the number one reason dating or engaged Christians should not touch each other is for the simple fact that they don’t belong to each other. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. Someone you’re interested in always belongs to God and is someone else’s child before they’re ever your husband or wife. And I won’t agonize over the semantics of using the terms boyfriend and girlfriend. The fact remains that beginning to date someone doesn’t suddenly make them exclusively yours. And you won’t find any support in Scripture for intimacy prior to marriage. What you do find is verses like I Timothy 5:1-2, below.

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

I know the concept of dating is nowhere to be found in what Paul wrote to Timothy. However, I believe the above verses specifically address the issue of intimacy prior to marriage since all Christians are commanded to regard each other in all purity. This is what God says. So those of you who think pre-marital, intentional touching isn’t a big deal, please explain to me how the last three words of those verses alone ever begin to condone hand-holding, hugging, kissing, or anything else along such lines for dating Christians? Unbelievers engage in those ways because they don’t have a hint of interest in doing things God’s way! But God’s redeemed are different, and thus their relationships should be. What’s more valuable…the opinion someone (Christian or not) has about purity in a dating relationship, or what God thinks of our behavior? I don’t know about you, but I’m inclined to fear the One able to destroy the soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28)!

I also can’t help but be disappointed when I hear or know of dating Christians that claim they can control themselves. Well, God speaks to the impossibility of that in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Sure, that verse is addressed to Israel, but it rings no less true for any human being…even born-again Christians. Why, when we fallen humans are so quick to rationalize our sin, do we not think there’s something terribly wrong when dating Christians are touching one another? There’s one word to describe the attitude that you can control yourself in a pre-martial relationship where touching is permitted: prideful. And you might as well toss dangerous in there too.

Another thought… Why should a Christian want on their conscience the knowledge that they were at all intimate with someone they were dating, especially if the relationship ultimately ceases? This goes for the guy and the gal. A believer’s job is to help protect the purity of whomever he/she is dating for the sake of the person that will ultimately marry him or her, not to take advantage of him or her. If it actually is you who becomes married to said person…wonderful, but what if it isn’t? Does this reality not cross our minds anymore? There’s plenty of time and opportunity to figure out intimacy after the wedding; God never tells us to try to figure out physical compatibility before-hand. And there’s a reason for that; sex is meant above all else for God’s glory, and second to bless a married man and woman (Hebrews 13:4).

I’ll point out at least one more verse about this subject, Romans 13:14.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

If you’re a Christian dating another Christian, I challenge you to explain how touching your boyfriend or girlfriend is anything other than self-gratification. Allow me to save you the time and trouble; you can’t. And yes, I regret even the forehead-leaning that Christine and I did a few times. I would have never done that with her outside of dating, and I sure wouldn’t have wanted someone else that she might have dated to do so either. Yet somehow it seems when Christians can say they’ve arrived to the point of dating someone, that somehow becomes a license for them to be licentious. It’s as though we think, “Alright, we got to the dating stage; we can do whatever we want now and act like we’re married!” Well, I think I speak for many other Christians when I say it’s great to see a believing man or woman begin dating, as it seems to be a process that more and more avoid nowadays. However, I believe with my whole heart that God isn’t the least bit impressed when couples dishonor the marriage bed by acting as though they’re already there. I don’t need to get into all the obvious physical reactions that take place when people, let alone dating Christians, touch; I’m here to simply plead that you stop if you are…or that you encourage others to stop if you’re observing it. My goal here certainly is not to condemn anybody, but simply to encourage that we get back to pleasing the Lord with our relationships…not ourselves.

My primary motivation for wanting to discuss this touchy subject is because I’ve been there. I’m responsible for making many ungodly decisions in years past, and committing many foolish sins against women. I praise God those sins are under the blood of Christ, but that doesn’t mean God suddenly reels in the necessary consequences. The details of what I’ve done aren’t important, but I understand at least somewhat how a man’s mind operates; and most others are likely similar to me as far as what they would do in the moment. Yet each of those moments in my life was a transgression against a holy God that clearly commanded me to not do what I was doing. This is an impassioned plea for you to wake up and smell the immoral coffee. A hand-hold leads to a hug. A hug leads to more physical closeness. Physical closeness leads to a kiss…and you get the picture. Go ahead and deny; assert that this doesn’t apply to everybody. But I’m not stupid; I know what the Bible teaches and what it says about the human heart. And above all else, God knows everything we do, and surely is not mocked (Galatians 6:7). If you’re dating and truly want to please God instead of yourself, I urge you to heed this warning before something awful happens!

Do you still think it is OK for dating Christians to touch? If so, why? How do you react to the Bible verses and principles I pointed out? (There could be many more, mind you.) How about those of you in a relationship? What do you think about all this? Are you perhaps observing dating Christians touching? I’d like to hear from you as well! In the end, in spite of the decisions my wife and I made prior to being married…I will always support a no-touch policy for Christians who are dating. No sin; no regrets.

How You Can Pray For Me, 2014

I’ve used my Facebook page a number of times in the past few years to present personal prayer needs, but for 2014 I’m choosing the MfC blog. The more fellow believers that know about my struggles with sin and are willing to pray for me in any frequency and capacity as a result…the greater likelihood that I’ll experience victory. This isn’t a “magic bullet” of course, but prayers are absolutely powerful and working. Based on reflections in 2013, and knowing what my besetting sins are in general, the list below is how you might intercede for me. Use the information how you deem best. If you would like to share anything that I can pray for in particular regarding the coming year, please don’t be shy and offer a responding comment.

How you can pray for me, Justin, in 2014

  • That I would develop a more consistent prayer life.
    I Thessalonians 5:17a — Pray without ceasing,
  • Scripture memorization was basically non-existent for me in 2013. That needs to change in 2014.
    Psalm 119:1 — I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
  • That I would do a much better job of putting into practice the principles I encounter in daily Bible reading.
    James 1:23-25 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
  • That my words would build up, and love.
    Ephesians 4:29 — Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
  • That I would strive for purity in all things and interactions, especially in mind.
    Psalm 119:9 — How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
    I Timothy 4:12 — Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
    Philippians 4:8 — Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
  • This is very tough for me to confess, but I need to be a much better servant-leader at home…in basically every way. If you pray for any one thing, this is a biggie! Many struggles here. Lots of selfishness. So difficult to mortify! Desperate for grace!
    Ephesians 5:25 — Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
    Colossians 3:19 — Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.

Yes, a lengthy list, because I am a filthy sinner. Suggesting anything less would be self-deception. You can choose one, or the whole lot. It doesn’t matter to me. Please just pray for something. I would be eternally grateful for your labor of intercession! And by all means, at some point in 2014 feel free to ask me how any of these sin battles are panning out. Accountability is key!

See you in 2014, and thank you for your encouragement!

In Christ,

Justin Joseph
Millennials for Christ

Christmas, Then & Now

I usually avoid the use of tired cliches and groan-worthy hyperbole like the plague when I express my thoughts in writing, but somehow this time it just seems like the right thing to do. So here we go. My 2013 Christmas was the best ever.

Here’s why.

Growing up, it was all about the stuff, stuff I could have fun with. Manipulable action figures of the cartoon characters I loved, NERF guns, electronic gadgets, video games…you know, the desires of the typical American boy. This was the case when I was seven, seventeen…and even beyond. There may have been a few years where I experienced a small twinge of extra thankfulness in my heart for the coming of Jesus Christ, and what He ultimately accomplished for me…but 99% of the time, my mind ached for the next seemingly cool thing I was about to receive, and my hands itched badly for the looming opportunity to tear the wrapping that would separate me from said cool thing to shreds. That’s how it goes for someone not walking with God.

Luke 12:15
And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

I was such a selfish child and teenager (even young adult!) in this way, one who had the very interesting ritual of anticipating the annual landing of Toy R Us’s Big Book of toys in my family’s mailbox. I poured over those publications for days when they arrived in the late fall, and circled every last thing that created the slightest hint of excitement or interest inside my material-obsessed heart. Of course I had to reduce my completely reasonable “list” from about 50 items…to around 25, then 10, and only finally, to between 3-5. Even then, there was no guarantee of anything. But hey, at least I knew what I wanted with the aid of the nation’s largest toy retailer, right?

It was further impossible for gifts to be purchased and brought home without my knowing. Being so convinced that my next stage of childhood nirvana was just around the corner on that December 25, I made sure to study when items were purchased, how they were “hidden”, and so on. The year I came into possession of the Nintendo 64 especially, I practically memorized the writing on the box before it was ever wrapped. That’s what you’re able to do during Christmas break when no one else is home!

I could tell many more goofy stories, but I think my point is well-made. And did any of those things ever truly satisfy? Well there’s a “duh”, no of course not. I don’t even have the majority of all the crazy things I received all those years, and don’t particularly care either. In fact, I’ve sold a lot of those kinds of useless things on eBay over the past couple years, and feel most liberated.

That’s work that the Lord has done on me, in my heart, and I’m now enjoying a closer walk with Christ than ever. Christmas Eve as well was most special. Though I was looking forward to exchanging gifts with my wife, and eventually other family, for probably the first Christmas I simply marveled at what the incarnation means to me. I think it’s also helped that in our evening services this month we’ve focused specifically on Jesus Christ…His Godhood, humanity, and so forth. I also loved the singing of O Holy Night as special music. You can’t listen to those words without noticing the purposeful repetition of Christ being king, a king worthy of our daily bow. And above all else, how that night changed humanity forever. It brought us a Savior. It brought me a Savior. A Savior from my sin, and its well-deserved penalty.

Without the Christmas cradle, there is no Calvary cross. Without the cross, we are simply without hope. But not only is that hope of eternal life real, it is also sure and unchangeable for the one who has faith in Jesus Christ. And most precious of all perhaps was my gaining a better understanding of how every day can and should be Christmas. You might consider that a cliche, but it’s really true. Every day we should be remembering the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our loving, humble, and gracious Savior Jesus Christ. I know I don’t, and by grace that may change. But as I sit here now about to finish this post on a vacation day, the day after formal gift exchanges took place across the world…my heart is filled with wonder, joy, and amazement knowing the greatest gift possible on a personal basis. And God’s gift was not prompted per se by the calendar. It wasn’t prompted because of anything about us, at least not anything good certainly. It was prompted because of who He is, because of His love…a love that we as believers try to discuss and make sense of but more than likely fall pitifully short of more often than not simply because that love is plainly incomprehensible. Jesus Christ, God’s gift, was given for us, for me, and in spite of us. If that hasn’t dawned on you yet, please let it start now and praise God for the incarnation of the One and only God-man Who came to seek and save the lost. I absolutely appreciate the books and running gear I received this year and will undoubtedly enjoy them, but they mean nothing in comparison to the great I AM, God with us!

Alleluia, what a Savior!

The Call to Public Confession of Sin

James 5:16
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

The above Scripture is a clear command to Christians to confess their sins to each other. Yet I don’t understand James 5:16 to apply merely to one-on-one relationships as many probably would; I believe God through the apostle is equally pushing believers into the public arena with this verse. And millennials, I think we can be leading the way in our churches.

With that in mind I ask, why do Christians avoid public confession of sin as if it was the most terrible experience imaginable? Why do Christians refuse to touch the concept with a 10-foot pole? Why do Christians treat the matter as riskier and more frightening than the stock market? I would dare say that most Christians are this way, and I think that’s very sad and unfortunate. I believe it’s also causing each and every one of those people in the body of Christ to miss out on countless spiritual blessings.

Way scarier!

Think you already know what I’ll be arguing for here? Not so fast. I don’t think that believers should air all of their “dirty laundry” every time they fellowship. That isn’t the main purpose of God’s people coming together anyway, and surely not what God is after here either.

Where I want to shine the spotlight is on the reality that Christians who avoid public confession of sin are ultimately declaring, “I’m OK everyone. I got this. I don’t need help. I have nothing to learn. I don’t need prayer. I’m content to fight sin alone.”, yet no one actually hears those words. It’s convenient, and requires little to no effort. And beyond that, is it any wonder then that Christians lose so many moment-by-moment, daily spiritual battles that don’t have to be lost? Here’s another kicker: failing to obey James 5:16 actually impacts every single Christian you associate with. Yes, that sin, whatever it is you’re refusing to confess, or don’t believe is necessary to confess. Where do I pull that from? From all over the book of Ephesians (parts of Romans too), where Paul several times over describes God’s people as members of the body of Christ, members one to another. That means whatever you do, say, and think inevitably affects your brothers and sisters. It’s easier to convince ourselves of the opposite, but it’s true.

The gravity of that truth is overwhelming no doubt! But it’s a truth that should spur us on to much greater frequencies of public confession than what I think takes place. Allow me to offer a specific illustration from Scripture, and perhaps one you haven’t considered before. Let’s take a look at some verses in Paul’s epistle to the church in Rome.

You can’t go wrong imitating Paul!

Romans 7:15-25a
15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I consider the above to be one of the most inspiring examples of the Christian confessing his sin publicly in all of Scripture. Think about it. Does it really matter that Paul was never physically with the people of this church to open his mouth and declare those words? I don’t believe that’s a pre-requisite for public confession of sin, and neither should you. Of course it would have been wonderful if Paul could be there, but that’s missing the point. Even this blog piece is public communication, is it not? Yet I’m not verbalizing any of it to you. Let’s maintain focus on Paul’s example and what he’s altogether saying. Our apostle didn’t mince a single word emphasizing that he is a terrible, terrible sinner. You might point out that he doesn’t dive into specifics, and that’s true, but the sheer fact that he chose to acknowledge the truth of his intense battle with the sin nature to hundreds, possibly thousands of Christians and non-Christians should cause us to pause and ponder. It’s pretty bold to confess the ugliness of your heart especially to so many people you don’t even know! It’s not enough to agree with Paul and relate to Him though; this should move us toward sharing our sin burdens with our Christian brothers and sisters.

What about shame and embarrassment? After all, are those not what likely hold most Christians back from publicly confessing their sin? They convince us of the falsehood that it would be so awful for sinners just like us to learn that hey, “We sin too!”, and let alone in similar fashion! God’s reputation as the Giver of grace is surely protected in this way. Oh, and we can’t possibly confess that we’re struggling with sins like lust, because…you know, that would make us seem weird or unseemly! How about the classic, “It’s no one’s business.”? To all this I say, what a bunch of spiritual baloney.

Someone took care of shame and embarrassment…

Dare I point out even the entirety of narrative Scripture? Christians could spend hours studying and discussing the sins that people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Peter, and a multitude of others freely confessed for generations later to read about and learn from. Sure, some of them didn’t know we’d be reading about their sinful acts, but I digress. Let’s even zoom in on Peter. Oh, poor Peter, typically picked on for what seems to be a lot of silly sinfulness. He rebuked God Himself to His face for crying out loud! And in spite of all these permanently recorded situations given for our benefit, we as Christians still somehow find it so difficult to help others equally benefit by acknowledging something as simple as , “Hey, I got angry at someone on the road today, and cursed them in my mind. Please pray for me.” Or, “Everyone should know that my prayer life is terrible. Please pray for me.” Perhaps, “I just don’t value relationships with my brothers and sisters as much as I should. Please pray for me.” These sins, and many others, aren’t being confessed in our local fellowships. Whatever happened to the church being an environment where broken sinners wouldn’t pretend that life is peachy?

*facepalm*

Now it’s my turn to pony up at least a couple examples of confessing my own sin. My points would be relatively moot otherwise. One that I confessed relatively recently to all in attendance during an evening service at my local church was my battle in being assured of salvation, or “unbelief”. It went something like, “For a while I’ve allowed the enemy across numerous occasions to cause me to doubt that I’m a child of God, that I’m truly bound for hell.” I was touched and encouraged by the sympathetic faces I saw in reaction to my transparency, and I know I’ve been in prayers along those lines. Those prayers work by the way (see James 5:16). Also, the first time I attended a Wednesday evening prayer service about 4.5 years ago, and in spite of not knowing a single believer in the room, I freely confessed that the Lord was giving me victory over a years-long struggle with immorality in which I fell much. I don’t really remember my words, but I asked for prayer that I would somehow learn to interact with Christian sisters in a biblical way, and be able to develop friendships with them. I’ll never forget the handshake I received from someone I now appreciate very much that night.

It discourages me to think that most Christians will never come close to opening their mouths in similar ways, to confessing their sin publicly. It discourages me because I know what they’re missing out on. They’re missing out on the very blessing of James 5:16, spiritual healing, through intercessory prayer…the most powerful tool we have to participate in others’ lives. They’re missing out on the blessing of having someone hurt because you’re hurting. They’re missing out on the blessing of relationships with those who can relate to you, or could be a spiritual help and encouragement to you. I could add to this list, but surely you get the idea by now?

Please don’t forget that I’m not demanding that Christians rise from their seats every time they gather to spell out every last sin act they committed since the last time of fellowship. What I am encouraging is that you consider whether or not you’re obeying James 5:16, and how you might be the blessing that someone else in your fellowship has been dying to hear from, but doesn’t know about because you’d rather try to hide your sinfulness. No one benefits when that’s the case, and God certainly isn’t glorified. Do you think God would rather you pretend you’re OK, believe that your sin doesn’t affect the body of Christ, or think that it’s nobler to be with your brothers and sisters week after week with them not having a clue about the sins and temptations that burden your life? I frankly want nothing to do with that misery.

I also understand however that not all church fellowships organize their services to allow for this on a regular basis. Therefore it’s up to you to decide when it is best and least disruptive. As far as how you can go about this, there isn’t much to it. If the larger Sunday crowd of your fellowship is really too scary, then choose a more discreet path. A Wednesday evening prayer service, a small Bible study, a breakfast, whatever helps you feel most comfortable starting out. And please don’t wait until your mind is free of apprehension. That likely will never be the case if this is new to you; it can and will come with practice! It would be better to start off small and grow in your boldness and transparency than to look at the ultimate scenario and give up before you do anything.

It warms my heart to say that I’ve personally known the blessings I described a few paragraphs ago. Am I perfect in my own need to confess sins publicly? Certainly not, but I’ve not regretted a single time I’ve responded to the Lord’s prompting me to do so.  Thus, to obey Jesus Christ above anything else, and to experience the blessings He’s promised to provide when you do, what struggle might you be willing to tell your local church when next you meet?

Every Christian needs it.

If you are doing this, I praise the Lord for that and urge you to do so more and more…as Paul said to the Thessalonians. If you have, but were burned by the self-righteous in the end, please accept my sympathy. That should never happen, and I’m certain it hurts, but I yet implore you to give it another chance somehow. Vulnerability can’t be sacrificed in the name of self-preservation. If you’ve never done this, I encourage you to examine your heart for a reason, or the reasons, why.

You may recall I said at the beginning that we millennials can lead the way by example. How about we do that? What is the point of waiting for someone else to take charge and get the public confession ball rolling? Our churches have enough pretenders; don’t be one of them.