Friday, November 14, 2008

This Changes Everything, Doesn't It?

Like a lot of people, I was struck by a comment that bro. John Piper made during a video interview commenting on the then-upcoming election. He listed abortion as one of the complicating factors for him during the election, an issue we all know he cares passionately about and is defining in his voting choices.

But what struck me was the comment in response to the oft heard concern that if we don't end abortion in the U.S. then God will judge the country. Piper replied, "abortion is the judgment of God against the country."

Now, that changes everything, doesn't it?

Romans 1:18 reads, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and the wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness...." In verses 24, 26, and 28, Paul states that "God gave them over" to the sinful desires of their hearts, to shameful lusts, and "to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done." This wrath is being revealed against all godlessness and wickedness, and this wrath being revealed is the continuation in the wickedness and sin that suppresses the truth; it is God giving the unregenerate and unrepentant over to the very sins in which they delight (v. 32).

If the continuation of abortion in the U.S. and other places is God's righteous wrath being revealed from heaven, the question for me isn't which president or which judges are appointed. Not in the first place. Those things matter. But if I take seriously the truth that God's wrath is being revealed in the practice of abortion itself, the question becomes, "How do we turn back God's wrath?"

Presidential elections and the appointment of judges don't do that. Don't get me wrong. Those are necessary and important strategies in the fight. But they are secondary at best if what needs to be satisfied is the wrath of God.

If we take seriously the idea that God's wrath is being revealed in the continuance of abortion itself (and one might add, as Paul does: idolatry, homosexuality, envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice, people who are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful, disobedient to parents, the senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless), our primary strategy and activity and hopes must be expressed in a faithful ministry of intercession and gospel proclamation.

It seems to me that every time the nation Israel went off the rails, the holy men of old did two things: They prayed and they preached. They prayed and they preached.

Consider how often Moses interceded on behalf of the people when their sin rose up before the Lord (for example, Num. 11:1-2; 12; 14; 16; 21:4-9). Moses deserves to be known as "Moses the Intercessor," and we should make diligent study of his life of intercessory prayer. Or consider Ezra's prayer for the people because of their sinful intermarriage with pagan nations leading to unfaithfulness (Ezra 9). When the people faced God's hot displeasure and wrath, the godly gave themselves to intercession in recognition of the fact that only God can relent of His wrath, and only His satisfaction makes such relenting possible.

Which brings us to preaching. Of all the things we must do, preaching the gospel and sharing the gospel and writing about the gospel and praying the gospel on behalf of those perishing in God's wrath must be primary. The gospel is that message of how God himself satisfies His righteous demands and wrath by the atoning sacrifice of His Son for the sins of men. Christ Jesus propitiates the Father. He satisfies the Father's wrath. And the Father raised Christ from the dead as proof that His satisfaction was met and sacrifice accepted. Now those in Christ Jesus by repentance and faith "wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath" (1 Thes. 1:10).

Indeed, "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation"(Rom. 5:9-11).

Never again ought a Christian act as though the appointment of a human official will stay the wrath and judgment of God. Never again ought we to act as though another mediator may turn away the Father's righteous anger toward sin. I don't say that we should abandon the work of appointing officials who will protect life. But have we not in some measure been acting as though some appointments could delay or stay God's wrath against ungodliness and wickedness?

I think we have. And, forgive me for presuming, but I think we need to repent.

And we need to begin the work of broken-hearted intercession and the proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ who on Calvary's cross bore the wrath of God for all who will turn to Him in faith, fleeing the coming destruction and running to Christ our Refuge and Strength and Strong Tower and Ark of safety. We haven't nearly begun the Church-wide work of prayer and preaching that is needed to see the worldwide repentance and faith necessary to stay the coming and present wrath of God "against all the godlessness and the wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness."

I've read in a couple places Christians vowing to oppose Obama during his entire presidency. Forgive me, but I think that's misplaced energy. We need the bulk of our energy invested in beseeching the Lord of Glory to relent of His destruction upon the nation and to extend the work of His Spirit in the conversion of wicked men, including all those up to the president who have a hand in supporting this slaughter.

Our work is primarily prayer and preaching, intercession and gospel proclamation. Those alone will turn back the wrath of God. Let's get started.

7 comments:

Swordsman said...

Thanks Thabiti. I think you are spot on. As another writer said, in a democracy, our choice of leaders doesn't so much take our country in a new direction as reveal the direction we are already going. These things are judgement in and of themselves and we should be pleading with God for mercy, taking responsibility for our complicity in them - as Daniel did when he prayed for the resoration of Israel.

Betsy Markman said...

Very well said. A nation of true converts would be far better off than a nation of legislatively-controlled perverts; a nation of life-lovers better than a nation of harnessed murderers-at-heart.

I am delighted to see so many people proclaiming this vital truth now!

Brian Crawford said...

Well said, Thabiti!!! This post was indeed very encouraging.

May the Gospel of Christ always be our focus inspite of who leads this country!!!

Billy and Sarah said...

I don't know Thabiti. Your gonna have to help me work through this one. I'm having a hard time understanding how "this changes everything". Basically your saying that if Abortion is God's judgment against the US (which of course none of us could ever actually know if that statement is true) then we should not try to avert God's wrath with politics but with prayer/preaching.

First, I don't see how the conclusion is actually "different". It should always be the first priority of the believer to use prayer and the proclamation of the gospel to end sin. Were you or others under the impression that pro-life supporters understood something different. I can understand that during an election season it may feel like a lot of energy is being put into politics, but does that mean people are not praying and preaching the gospel at the same time they are trying to get pro-life politicians into office? I just don't see exactly where you suggest that we do anything new or anything we haven't been doing already as a church.

Second, this post seems to downplay any sort of state role in the struggle against sin. Now I'm pretty libertarian when it comes to the size and structure of the government. However even for me it is impossible to not see the ways in which God has used governments in the past to turn back sin. Slavery and woman's rights are two clear examples where the state was God's primary tool in ending sinful practices. What separates those issues from abortion to the point where your willing to downgrade the state's intervention to a secondary work 'at best'?

In my mind our primary goal in turning back God's wrath is, and always has been, prayer and the preaching of the gospel. However the primary goal in my role as a US citizen is to put people into office who will actually work to end injustices rather than promote them further. I don't see how either of those goals conflict regardless of the stats of a particular sin as God's judgment against us (which in and of itself is iffy because I can no less understand which sis are specifically God's wrath than I can know who is God's elect)

Help me out Thabiti because in the end I'm just not seeing how anything is different now. Maybe I'm not fully understanding what your proposing, let me know where you can clarify.

joydriven said...

Just wanted to let you know that I blogged about [you]/your T4G'08 sermon here:

JUXTAPOSITION
http://karagraphy.com/2008/11/16/juxtaposition-2/
"What do Barack Obama and Thabiti Anyabwile have in common? A whole lot more–and a whole lot less–than what you might think."

I didn't think you'd mind, but let me know if you do.
~joy mccarnan, rockford IL

Boaly said...

A very intereting & thought-provoking post Thabiti. Thanks for writing it!

FellowElder said...

Billy and Sarah,

I pray you're doing well and find yourself rejoicing more deeply in the Lord Jesus Christ than ever before.

Thanks for the good comments and questions. Let me see if I can respond in kind.

You wrote: Basically you're saying that if Abortion is God's judgment against the US (which of course none of us could ever actually know if that statement is true) then we should not try to avert God's wrath with politics but with prayer/preaching.

Well, I think we can say that continuation in unrepentant sin is judgment from God. That seems to me to be the basic point of Romans 1:18-32. The wrath of God that is revealed is God handing people over to continue in that sin which stirs His wrath.

But even if you accept that premise, you're correct to note that that doesn't mean I've said anything new. So, you wrote: I can understand that during an election season it may feel like a lot of energy is being put into politics, but does that mean people are not praying and preaching the gospel at the same time they are trying to get pro-life politicians into office? I just don't see exactly where you suggest that we do anything new or anything we haven't been doing already as a church.

I ssuspect that what you say simply "feels like" a lot of energy going into politics rather than prayer and preaching really was a lot of energy going into politics and not prayer or preaching. And I suspect--but have no way of knowing--that a lot of the prayer and preaching that was done was not for the mercy of the Lord, the staying of His wrath against sinners, the widespread repentance of men for this sin... but a lot of prayer about the election itself and a lot of preaching about abortion rather than preaching the gospel itself. My guess is that there was a lot of goal displacement for Christians. A lot. You'd only have to read the blogs of interested Christians to see that.

Now none of that is to say that pro-life Christians weren't praying or preaching. It's simply to say that there was massive distraction from the main thing. The danger to us pro-life Christians is that electoral politics and even a single-issue approach to abotion can become the main thing in our activities during elections. And I don't think there is ever grounds for those to be the main thing if they supplant gospel proclamation and prayer. Goal displacement is subtle.


To see how this works, consider this statement from your comments: In my mind our primary goal in turning back God's wrath is, and always has been, prayer and the preaching of the gospel. However the primary goal in my role as a US citizen is to put people into office who will actually work to end injustices rather than promote them further.

Perhaps this is a slip of the tongue, but you actually refer to preaching the gospel and prayer as primary goals consequent to turning back God's wrath. Actually, those are means or methods that come before, during and after the experience of God's wrath. In other words (and I know you know this, I'm just pointing out how subtle the issue is), if a person really means this statement the way you've written it, preaching and prayer give way to the goal of electoral politics because those are perceived as more immediate or necessary in the moment. That's problematic. In the first sentence, you probably mean method/strategy rather than "goal," but you see the point. Even in the language we use, we're at danger of getting things turned around. And it's not just semantic, but real for so, so many people it seems to me.

I'm not downplaying the role of the state or electoral politics. They have their place and function; but it's not an ultimate place or function or even a primary one. The gospel and prayer are. And we have to be careful we don't let those recede into secondary status.

If there is change in what I've written, it's the change that comes from more fully embracing the idea that God's wrath is presently being shown in the judgment of abortion. If you reject that premise, then you're correct, not much changes. But if you accept it and we know that it is a dreadfully terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Lord, then what it changes is our urgency in prayer and preaching the gospel for those who live every moment under the axe of God's falling judgment. I don't know about you, but I don't live anywhere near as urgently as I ought given the terrible reality of God's wrath which abides on men in their sins.

Hope that helps,
T-