Speech #3 of The Antithesis: Godly Living in Ungodly Times
Prof. Herman Hanko
The antithesis, as the previous speakers made clear, is that work of God, sovereignly executed, by means of which God reaches down into this world of sin and darkness, seemingly under the control and power of Satan, and, through the salvation of His people, causes the light of His truth and holiness to shine. Satan has made his attempt to seize control of this creation and of the human race, but God does not relinquish His world to Satan. God stakes His claim to the world by the testimony and lives of His people. The world says, “We serve Satan. We will take God’s world from Him and make it ours to do with it as we please.” Over against that loud boast, God says, through His people, “This creation is mine. I made it. I will redeem it. I will glorify it and accomplish my own eternal purpose in making it. I will punish with everlasting destruction those who claim it for their own.”
The antithesis, therefore, has its deepest cause in the eternal counsel of God, specifically in the decree of election and reprobation. The antithesis has its power in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, by which sacrifice Christ paid for the sins of His people and earned the right for them to represent God’s cause in the world. The antithesis has its reality in the work of grace in the hearts of those for whom Christ died. The ascended Christ sends His Spirit into the hearts of His people to regenerate, convert and sanctify them. By this work of grace, Christ’s people are enabled to live the life of the antithesis here in this sorry world.
Christ’s rule is universal, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings. In the Father’s name, Christ rules over the entire creation of God – over heaven and the angels and over earth and all men in it. Christ’s rule is, however, sharply antithetical. He rules over the wicked sovereignly so that the wicked in all their rebellion serve the cause of God. The kings of the earth may take counsel against Christ to cast His yoke from them, but He that sits in the heavens laughs, for God has set His King on the holy hill of Zion (Psalm 2). But Christ rules His people by His Spirit, by whose work He sets up the throne of His kingdom in their hearts and sways the sovereign scepter of His rule over their lives. By that rule, Christ’s people become willing, joyful and obedient servants of Christ, bowing before Him as their Lord and Master to whom they belong. When Christ’s rule is sovereignly exercised in the hearts of His people, that rule of Christ is of such a kind that it cuts through their entire lives. Nothing in their life is untouched; nothing remains unchanged. These people are now His subjects in the whole of their life. They are obedient and willing subjects who love their Lord. While the lives of Christ’s servants are still sinful in many respects, and while the battle which God’s people wage begins in their own sinful flesh, yet they are different, strangely changed, marvelously renewed, so that Christ’s work touches everything they do.
Both wicked and righteous laugh; but in entirely different ways and for entirely different reasons. Both the wicked and the righteous weep, but no similarity exists between the righteous who weep, but not without hope, and the wicked who weep with despair. Both marry, but the wicked marry to satisfy their own personal urges, while the righteous marry to enjoy the intimacy of an institution which points to Christ and His church, and in that intimacy, to bring forth the seed of the covenant. You will find wicked and righteous in the shop, both operating a drill press, both changing tires on a truck. But the antithesis is present in the shop. The wicked work to use the fruit of their labor for pleasure; the righteous use the fruit of their labor for the support of the causes of God’s kingdom. And so it is in the whole of their life.
The Antithesis and the Covenant
The subject we discuss is living antithetically in an age of immorality. Immorality is sexual perversion of all kinds. Sex has to do with marriage. It is a part of it and limited to it. The subject with which we deal, therefore, has to do with marriage and its important sexual aspect. Because marriage is an institution of God which, purified and sanctified by grace, pictures the heavenly relation of Christ and His church, marriage has to do with God’s covenant. Perhaps the antithesis shines more brightly at this point, and the lines of the antithesis appear more sharply in this part of life than anywhere else in all man’s activities. At this point especially the relation between the antithesis and God’s covenant comes sharply into focus.
The relation between God’s covenant and the antithesis is taught clearly in II Corinthians 6:14 through II Corinthians 7:1. In that passage Scripture exhorts us to live antithetically, but does so on the basis of God’s covenant with His people.
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?
Then comes the covenantal description of God’s relation of fellowship with His people.
For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Then the admonition to covenant people to live antithetically.
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing.
Again, the promise of the covenant.
And I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
Again the admonition.
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
The antithesis means that God’s people are a covenant people. As a covenant people they walk in this world as members of the family of God. They walk as sons and daughters of their Father in heaven – in a world in which most walk as children of their father, the devil (John 8:44). Having fellowship with God and confessing that God is their God and they are His people, they represent God’s covenant in the world. When the world hates God and the cause of Christ, they proclaim in their words and life that Christ is their King and that God’s cause in their cause. Nothing in all life expresses this as clearly as marriage. God’s covenant with His people in Christ is a spiritual marriage consummated in Christ with whose body the people of God become one flesh. Our marriages are pictures of that heavenly marriage (Eph. 5:22-33).
An important part of marriage is sexual activity. This activity is touched, sanctified and made holy by God’s grace. This activity is a covenantal activity. This activity has been brutally corrupted by the world in which we live.
The World’s Immorality
It is better not to sing the exceedingly sad song of the terrible sins of immorality in our world today. It is better to heed the warning of Paul in Ephesians 5:12: “It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” We ought to take that warning seriously. Nevertheless, some aspects of the present immorality of are age must be noticed.
One hundred years ago or so divorce was a shame and was discouraged by the laws of the land and the courts. Even in a wicked world where marital problems abounded, wicked people rarely sought escape from marriage in divorce. Today divorce is common. Over half the married population in our country has been divorced and remarried at least once and many have been divorced and remarried frequently. Divorce and remarriage is immorality, for our Lord makes clear that one who is separated from his/her spouse and marries again commits adultery. Adultery is immorality.
One can see how closely this sin relates to God’s covenant. Scripture teaches that the covenant which God establishes with His people in Christ is an unbroken covenant which endures into eternity. Marriage is also an unbreakable covenant which only death can dissolve. Covenant conscious people, out of gratitude to God for His covenant mercies, maintain the earthly picture of that covenant in their married life.
Yet, not only has the world so loosened the laws concerning marriage that any book, newspaper column or marriage counselor quickly advises divorce and remarriage as the solution to any problems which people think they face in the marriage state, but the evangelical church joins with the world. The church approves divorce; the church approves remarriage. It is a rarity in any church circles to find anyone who still holds sacred the God-instituted bond of marriage. The Protestant Reformed Churches have become the objects of ridicule and scorn because of their stand opposing divorce (except for fornication) and remarriage. Our churches have been accused of lack of sympathy for people in bad marriages, lack of love to those who are unhappy, lack of willingness to help those who encounter serious and difficult marital problems. This almost universal approval of immorality is new.
It is also new that marriage is no longer considered necessary for two people who live together in the intimacies of marriage. Fifty years ago such a practice was called “shacking up.” Today it is approved and encouraged. The argument is even made that it is good for people to experiment with marriage and with living together before finally entering the marriage state. Even to have children is not considered wrong. The Grand Rapids Press recently carried an article in which, to my astonishment, current figures showed that slightly over half of couples living together were not married. This practice is gross fornication and dreadful immorality. How can such a practice reflect God’s covenant?
The law of this “Christian” nation promotes divorce and remarriage not only, but increasingly, under the pressures of feminism and the homosexual lobby, supports open homosexuality. Laws are being passed sanctioning homosexual marriages and the raising of children by homosexual people. Not only does the law promote these terrible sins, but builds a wall of protection around them to prevent anyone from condemning this heinous crime. In other countries, and increasingly in our own, criticism of homosexual practices is labeled a hate crime and makes the one who witnesses to the truth liable to punishment. One can be put in jail for saying what the Scriptures say. And, if that all were not bad enough, churches throughout the country approve homosexual practices not only but ordain into Christ’s sacred offices in the church those who commit such dreadful sins.
While once sexual perversion was kept secret, today every form of sexuality is openly discussed and frequently taught children from early years in the schools. All this is done under the guise of teaching children to use the gift of sex properly and wisely; but sex education is only an excuse for sex-crazed teachers and sexual perverts burning with lust to drag young children into the net of fornication.
We are bombarded with sex on every side. If one turns off his TV because it makes him gag at the foul debauchery found even in advertisements, one must be on guard when turning on the computer. If one’s spam detectors and filters screen out pornography, one must cautiously go through almost every secular and news magazine that comes into the home to see whether it is fit for the children to page through. The news tells us that over eight million pornographic sites can be accessed on the web, and that pornography is readily available in public libraries to anyone who wants such material.
That which is most holy, most sacred, almost of sacramental importance within the God-ordained bonds of marriage is made vile, filthy, corrupt to an extent unimaginable in past centuries. The picture of Christ and His church has become a toy, a plaything, an instrument for self-seeking pleasure, a recreation used freely. The perversion of sexual practices is beyond belief. No judgments of God upon man of sexually transmitted diseases has the least impact on man’s degradation, and one who dares to say that AIDS is God’s judgment upon the sinner runs the risk of public condemnation. Paul, in Romans 1, calls homosexuality the punishment of God upon man for the sin of idolatry. Man calls homosexuality his right and punishes the one who dares speak of God’s judgment upon the sin. The Dutch have an expression (zo’n groot geest, zo’n groot beest.), which translated means, “The greater the spirit, the greater the beast.” Even animals are not guilty of the perversions common among men.
It has become literally impossible for a godly person to escape the perversion of sex. The whole world has become a sewer, filled with filth and excrement, in which today’s generation delight to swim. The world has found its pleasure in drinking the water in a septic tank. How does this sad state of affairs call upon the people of God to live antithetically in such a world! Be ye holy, for I the Lord your God am holy! (I Peter 1:16).
The theory of common grace has done more to destroy the antithesis than any other single doctrine in the history of the church. Common grace insists that the wicked world is capable, by the grace of God, to produce good people who do good deeds. Common grace finds “redeeming elements” in everything man does. Common grace tells us that there are broad areas of life in which, because of the good found in all men, there is much room for cooperation between Christ and Belial, between righteousness and unrighteousness. And, with regard to the subject of marriage and sex, common grace would have us believe that a cup of water taken from the wrong side of a filtration plant is good to drink. Or, if I may change the figure, common grace says that although there is a certain bad smell to the river of life which flows through the world, one finds also a delightful perfume.
The Antithesis in Marriage
To live an antithetical life requires that we live in two dimensions as it were. The one dimension is life in this present evil world; the other dimension is the life of heaven, firmly planted in our hearts, which is a principle of our calling and life as citizens of the kingdom of Christ. Such being the nature of the antithesis, the child of God is called by His heavenly Father to live a no/yes life: that is, to live a life in which he must say No! to sin and Yes! to God. It is quite impossible to say Yes to God without saying No to sin. It is equally impossible to say No to sin without saying Yes to God. Already in Paradise Adam was called to say No to the forbidden tree and Yes to the tree of life.
The servant of Jesus Christ says his loud No to all the corruption in marriage and sex. But he must say Yes to God. Marriage is wonderful institution of God. It is a relationship of life where man and woman become one flesh in a very real, but also profoundly spiritual sense. Becoming one flesh is so sublime, so pure, so beautiful that God has said it is a picture of the transcendent relation of Christ and His church. In the heavenly marriage, as well as in our earthly marriages, Christ and his people become one flesh; we are the body of Christ, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, very really, more fully than the earthly can imagine. God made woman from the flesh of man; in marriage they once again become one flesh. Such great blessedness belongs to those who marry in the Lord and live holily in the marriage state.
Marriage is the fundamental institution of society. God married Adam and Eve and thus created the institution of marriage. It is the only institution of life God created with the original creation. The rest of life’s institutions develop organically from marriage: the home with children, the church, the school, the shop, government, and the public square. Marriage, after the pattern laid down by God in society, produces a well-regulated, crime-free, holy society with holy institutions. When marriage is corrupted, the home is corrupted, schools are failures, government becomes itself a decayed institution from which little good can come, disorder reigns in society at large. Governments appoint blue-ribboned committees who spend millions studying how crime in society, deterioration of education, and sexually-transmitted disease can be overcome. Usually the answer from committee after committee is: More money needs to be spent. No one mentions that the home is to blame for all society’s ills and no improvement anywhere will be made until marriages are reformed.
One has some trouble understanding Satan’s strategies. He is not stupid. He knows, perhaps better than we do, that the home is fundamental to society and that if the home is wrecked, society will be destroyed. Yet he and his fellow demons have launched an unprecedented attack against the home and have enlisted the aid of sinful men in their determination to destroy the home. These demons, under Satanic leadership, are committing suicide. They are destroying the very world they want to steal from God. They want to drive the owner from his premises (so they can live there); but in doing so, they burn down the house to attain their goals.
Is this stupidity on Satan’s part? Does he not know what he is doing? Do not the wicked with him sense the futility of their plots? Yes, they really do. The trouble is not ignorance; the trouble is hatred of God and His creation. The wicked are bent on destroying marriage (though through success they destroy society) because marriage is an institution of God and their hatred against God is so intense that they will destroy themselves in order to destroy God.
To live the antithesis means that the believer says in word and deed: “No. We understand you, Satan. We know what you are up to. We want no part of your plots.” It also means that we say, “Yes, Lord. We will be faithful to Thy covenant in the world no matter what the cost to us, and no matter what suffering may be our lot. We will maintain our marriages and build our homes upon the foundation of Thy Word. We will fight to maintain the sanctity of Thy glorious institution, made heavenly in Christ. We will live in holiness and purity.”
To live the antithesis means that we continue to condemn divorce and remarriage. We continue to warn against its evils and its evil consequences. We continue to strive to maintain our marriages as pictures of Christ and His church.
To live the antithesis means that we understand that marriage is a union of love, of life and of joy. Husband and wife love each other not only when a handsome and strong man stands with his beautiful wife before the minister in marriage, but also when each of them has become old and decrepit, wrinkled and disabled, worn and dying. Love for each other within marriage reflects the love of God that pervades all of married life. Husbands and wives are gifts of God to each other, for they are not only husband and wife, but brother and sister in Christ. They are given the blessedness of spending their earthly years in the joys of marriage, and they will spend eternity in the joys of a greater, higher, more blessed marriage when they are with Christ.
To live the antithesis means to thank God for the privilege of having children. It is to use the sanctity of that mysterious wonder of sex, that marvelous gift of God, to bring forth the seed of the covenant. It is to believe that God will be our God and the God of our children through all the generations of time. It is to lay hold on God’s promises that God in mercy uses us to bring forth those whom He has elected from eternity and redeemed with the great price of His own Son.
When children come in a home, to live the antithesis is to protect, as much as possible, the home from the attacks of Satan. It is to make the home a harbor of safety, of peace, of love, a place of tranquility and serenity, a place to flee from the terrors and horrors of the world. No longer can the home be protected from the perversity of fornication and moral degradation. To live the antithesis is to show children their calling before God to live lives of purity. This can only be taught children when husband and wife are joined in a common effort to live lives of purity themselves. Then homes, too, will be reflections in this life of the family of God’s everlasting covenant of grace.
Our Bodies, Temples of the Holy Spirit
We are told that marriage is a picture of the heavenly and covenantal relation between Christ and His church. The question is: How does the earthly picture become a reality in the profoundly spiritual sense of the word? How do we and Christ become one flesh?
Christ Himself works this by His Spirit when He sends His Spirit into the hearts of His people. By the in-dwelling of the Spirit, we are united to the body of Christ. In its discussion of the Lord’s Supper and the mysterious spirituality of eating and drinking Christ, the Heidelberg Catechism (question and answer 76) tells us that to eat the body of Christ and to drink His blood means “not only to embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, . . . but also . . . to become more and more united to his sacred body by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both in Christ and in us; so that we, though Christ is in heaven and we on earth, are notwithstanding ‘flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone’; and that we live and are governed forever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul.”
It is because we are united to Christ that our bodies are, as Paul expresses it in I Corinthians 6:16, where he warns against fornication, the temples of the Holy Spirit. It is terribly wrong to become one flesh with a harlot when the Holy Spirit dwells in our bodies.
The meaning is this. First, although the apostle speaks only of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, he does not mean to exclude our souls. Our souls (our minds, wills, emotions) are also part of the Temple of the Spirit. Paul emphasizes the body especially because it is with our bodies that we commit fornication. And so, with respect to the matter of fornication, we must be especially careful of our bodies. How we use our bodies will be determined by how we use our minds and wills. If our wills burn with an unquenchable fire of lust, we will use our bodies to fulfill our lusts. If our minds are filled with pornography and all sorts of sordid sexual corruption, our bodies will become instruments of fornication. But if our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, this will be because our minds are filled with the Word of God and our wills made obedient to the will of Christ.
Second, when our bodies are the temples of the Spirit, Christ dwells in us, for the Spirit unites us to Christ and makes us one with Him. When Christ dwells in us, we have fellowship with Christ and through Christ, with God. We are, in other words, brought into fellowship with God through the indwelling of the Spirit. The apostle uses the word “temple” to describe our bodies. The temple was the place where God dwelt with Israel in covenant fellowship.
Third, to use our bodies for perverse sexual behavior is to make the temples of the Holy Spirit whorehouses. When we use our tongues for dirty jokes and sexual innuendo, we use part of the Spirit’s temple as a house of prostitution. When we engage in sex outside of marriage, we use our bodies to commit whoredom. And activity with perverse sexual implications is tantamount to turning the Spirit’s temple into a place for all the sexual sins associated with heathen idolatry to be practiced.
But our bodies will be used as temples of the Holy Spirit when our minds and hearts are filled with thoughts of God.
Jesus taught a parable once. It is not usually considered to be a parable, and perhaps is not according to the precise definition of parable. But in it Jesus illustrates what I have in mind. He speaks of a man who owned a house which was filled with an unclean spirit. He expelled the unclean sprit and cleaned up the house. He remodeled, refurbished, scrubbed and polished until the house looked like new. But he made a mistake. He left it empty. And the result was that the evil spirit which had been expelled could find no rest. And so he returned to the house from which he had been expelled, found it empty and moved in. But he took seven other unclean spirits with him, and so the house was in worse shape than it had ever been.
The meaning is clear. If you are weary of fornication, you may expel the devil of lust and try to be done with it. You may say, “I am not going to have anything to do any more with pornography. I am not going to let my body be used for such evil.” But what if you leave your mind and body empty? When our whole being is filled with the things of God and of His Word, then there is no room for the devil of immorality. That is the antithesis. That is saying No to Satan and Yes to God. A No, no matter how emphatic, is not enough. A Yes to God is essential.
The battle against immorality starts therefore, in our own sinful natures. It starts in that fierce battle to make our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit. It starts with the fight against the power of sin within us. And from our own struggle with sin and the conquest of sin within us, the battle spreads to our marriages, then to our homes; and, by God’s grace, to our churches, our schools, our whole lives in the world. The festering wound of immorality will prove fatal in us, in our marriages, in our homes, schools and churches unless we fight against the swelling tide of immorality around us.
Antithesis Means Warfare and a Pilgrimage
Scripture uses different ways to describe the life of the antithesis. Sometimes Scripture defines this life in terms of warfare. The people of God are an army. We have spiritual armor and spiritual weapons. Jesus Christ is the Captain of our salvation. We are therefore in this world to fight. Most of us, it seems, think that this world is a playground, with sex as one of our toys. But it is a battle, a fierce battle, a battle to the death. It is a battle that from every earthly point of view is hopeless, for the powers of evil are strong. But it is a battle in which the victory is certain. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world, for faith puts us in union with Christ and Christ has overcome the world for us. Our strength is in His cross and our victory in His rule at God’s right hand. Let us then fight; fight for our marriages, for our homes, for sanctity in our own lives. Let us not lack courage, for we shall be victorious.
Sometimes Scripture speaks of the antithesis in terms of a pilgrimage. Peter does this in his first epistle. It is a marvelous epistle and no minister could do better in this evil day than preach a series on this book. There are two ways, two roads on which one may walk. There is a wide, double-laned, divided highway that is smooth and broad, easy to travel, crowded with people who are laughing and joking. They are enamored with pleasure, earthly pleasure, pleasure that satisfies the yearning of sinful hearts. But the way leads to hell. The child of God, because of his sinful nature, is never out of sight of that easy way. On it there is no suffering to speak of, no difficulty on the journey, no loneliness, for many people travel it.
But the other way is quite different. It is a dirt, rocky, narrow trail. It is rugged and steep and requires constant exertion. It is a trail on which are a few people, and for the most part, they are weeping. It sometimes leads through dark and swampy ways, but sometimes over cold snowy peaks where icy winds blow. On each side lurk ogres and strange creatures bent on devouring the few travelers that pass. It is a way that Jesus characterizes as one of self-denial and cross-bearing, a way of suffering and pain, a way of persecution and affliction, a way in which the joys are not earthly pleasures but simply obedience – obedience to God.
This road goes to heaven. The difficulties of that way are enormous, but the end of it is what John Bunyan called “The Celestial City.” It is the way of the fulfillment of all God’s covenant promises. It is the way to that heavenly city where we shall see Jesus face to face. It is the way to the home of that host of elect who are now in the company of just men made perfect, and to the home of the angels.
What road are you on? What road do you want to be on? I know everything in our flesh says, “Not the hard way. I want to enjoy life. I want the treasures and pleasures of this present time. I fear self-denial and cross-bearing.” But by the grace of God we do not want that way at all, though our flesh craves it. We want the way to glory, no matter how difficult.
I am on that way. Come with me. We will travel together. We will face the cruel jeering of the world and the hatred of the ungodly. There is pleasure on this way, though it be difficult to walk. It is the pleasure of God’s favor and love. We will stumble on that way and sometimes fall. We will grow desperately weary on that way and think sometimes that we cannot go on. But, though we bear a cross, it will remind us of the cross of our Savior on which He earned for us everlasting salvation. And to His cross we will run with haste to find forgiveness for our sins and strength to go on. By the power of His cross we will stagger forward and onward as we wend our way home. There will be blessedness forever, rest from our labors, joy unspeakable. There the battle is over and the journey completed. There we will be with Christ. It is the Celestial City.
This lecture was hosted by the Evangelism Committee of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Holland. For an audio copy, please contact us.
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