Mark Minnick—Preserving the Truth Conference Plenary Session, 10 am

These notes are a little late, too, but since the sermon is available for free here I felt that posting the notes now wouldn’t hurt.

J.C. Ryle has said that those who are not true Christians have always refused to come out of the world. And some prominent evangelicals are saying this of evangelicalism.

It was when we were dead in our trespasses and sins that we walked in accordance with the world. But Christ "gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father" (Gal 1:4 KJV). Pure religion means keeping ourselves unstained from the world (Jas 1:27). It is adultery to be a friend of the world (Jas 4:4). We are not to love the world (1 John 2:15). Whatever is born of God does just what Ryle said, it overcomes the world (1 John 5:4).

It is hard to get from theory to practice in separating from the world. Dr. Bauder has just told us that nearly every arena in life is something to which Christian people can be called. Dr Bob Jones Sr believed that every calling is a sacred calling, all ground is holy ground, and every bush is a burning bush. Dr Bob Jr was known for putting the red carpet on the sawdust trail. BJU has trained people for every dimension of Christian service, and this is part of a fundamentalism worth saving.

But what is this thing that the Bible is warning us about? We’re coming against the problem of definition. There are two words, κόσμος and αἰών, in the verses just cited. It’s a universality: if someone asks where the world is, it’s everywhere. If someone asks when it is, it’s all the time. But still to differentiate it from the institutions and activities of which we are necessarily a part is difficult. Evangelical authors (Minnick cited Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisited) have the same problem of distinguishing the world we all live in from the world the Bible tells us not to love.

What everyone wants is a formula that always works. Many people would love to have a definitive list of contemporary applications: Don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t run with girls who do. Lists have their place for the training of immature people. But the Scripture itself doesn’t define the world. Fundamentalists need to champion the concept that the Bible does not give us formulas for ironclad definition. In the wisdom of God, He didn’t do this. Culture is plastic, and it is always shifting and changing. The Scripture says the fashion of the world is transient.

So what is needed is not the development of lists or formulas but of discernment. This is what the apostle prayed for his converts. One of the outstanding statements of this is in Phil 1:9-11:

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

How do we attain this discernment? We’ll use the same passage that Calvin used to begin his theology of the Christian life, Romans 12:1-2. The point of this passage comes in the tail: do these things so that you can approve the will of God. There will be prescriptions and proscriptions, but most instruction will be principial. These verses are here for the very purpose we’re focused on this morning, developing discernment about personal separation from the world. There isn’t just a grab-bag out there in every conceivable situation. God does have a will for me when it comes to these decisions, and it is possible for me to develop the ability to know what it is.

Likewise, Paul says to the Thessalonians, using the same word, "Prove everything carefully" (1 Thess 5:21). Are any of us known by that? Are any of us known for holding fast to that which is good but abstaining from every form of evil? What does it mean to walk as children of light? Proving everything that is pleasing to the Lord (Eph 5:8-10).

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2)

In order to get to discernment, we have to sacrifice ourselves. Calvin heads his section on the Christian life with the title "A Summary of the Christian Life. Of Self-Denial." Is there anyone who has the right to speak on this topic whose life is not characterized by self-denial?

In Christ we are perfect. Nevertheless as justified people we can be pleasing or displeasing in our lives. And there is a danger today that is more and more being expressed in loose talk that gives all of the weight to the first half of Paul’s epistles—in glorying in our position Christ. This is a recovered note for us. But if we’re not careful, our legacy to the next generation will be that they’ll need to recover the second half of Paul’s epistles! Even as a justified believer, as perfect positionally in God’s sight as I could be, I can grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30). I need to be a sacrifice, and that is pleasing to God.

What am I presenting as a sacrifice? My body. The entirety of myself. But by referring to us as bodies, the Holy Spirit is drawing attention to our outer man, whereas we would be inclined to start with the inner man. Is God primarily concerned with externals; is He the original legalist? There are two scriptural answers to this question.

  1. First, we need to realize that by this point in the book of Romans the state of my inner man is assumed. By this point in Romans it’s assumed that I have a new heart, that I am a new creature in Christ Jesus. It is assumed that with my heart I do believe that God raised Christ from the dead and that I meant my confession of Christ as Lord. So God is not emphasizing the external here and ignoring or dismissing the inner man or the heart.
  2. My body is the means by which I display who my master is. How is anyone supposed to know that what I’m confessing with my mouth—Jesus is Lord—is the reality? It’s through the medium of my body that the new man displays his new Master. That’s why Rom 12:1 begins the way it does.

Think, too, of Romans 6:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Rom 6:12-13)

A scriptural theology of conversion has at its heart the teaching of a radical change of masters. It could be that one of the reasons that we find such resistance in our converts to the doctrine of personal separation and its call for unreserved sanctification is because our theology of conversion has not been as radical as that of Scripture. So we’re running up against the resistance of unregenerated people.

Sacrifice of my body is the first step in reaching discernment of what the will of God is in what my hands, eyes, and feet do.

Ill: A young man wrote, "I made a solemn dedication of myself and all that I had to God to be for the future in no respect my own to act as one who had no right to himself in any respect and to take God for my whole portion and happiness." That was Jonathan Edwards.

Ill: A young woman wrote, "Lord I give up all my plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes [take that into the mall!] and I accept thy will for my life. I give myself, my will, and my all utterly to be thine forever." That was Betty Stam, in words copied down into the Bible of an eleven-year-old girl, Elisabeth Elliot.

Separation is not just negative, then. It’s separation to God. It’s an act of worship that is first and foremost to the Lord. This is what fundamentalism must emphasize, that personal separation is first of all to the Lord. You are showing the posture and spirit of your heart toward God by what you do with this subject of personal separation. The ability to discern what God’s will is comes from making yourself a living sacrifice. This is only reasonable considering what God has done for you. Your whole body was on its way to hell, but your whole body was redeemed. We are no longer our own. Therefore we must glorify God in our bodies and in our spirits, which are God’s.

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." These two verses (12:1-2) could be coordinate, on the same level with one another. Or verse 2 could be subordinate to verse 1, and this is more likely. When I ask, "Lord, what does it mean to sacrifice myself, including my body, what does it mean beyond writing out ambitions and goals like Jonathan Edwards did?" Verse 2 is telling me what it means, what is required, the ways in which I actually make this sacrifice.

I must refuse to be shaped by the age. We’re living in the information age, a fruit of the age of Enlightenment. Whatever our age is, we must resist being shaped by it. Right away we run into the difficulty with which this message began: how do we distinguish what is legitimate from what is worldly? We may make a sanctified use of what much of the age offers (if you use the world, don’t abuse it, Paul says in 1 Cor 7). Paul does give some principles. Not everything is profitable or expedient; not everything edifies.

In general, the current of the age is going in the wrong direction. It runs counter to God’s interests. It is hostile toward God. Wall Street—is this the world? Yes. Can a Christian work on Wall Street? Yes. But is the current of Wall Street in general counter to the interests of God? Yes. Can a Christian work in a mall or purchase items in a mall? Yes. But would you agree that in general the current of the mall is running against God’s interests? Or is the atmosphere of a mall neutral? I can assure you that millions of dollars have been spent to ensure that it’s not neutral!

What is the current age in general doing with digital technology? What is it doing with telecommunications, with its increased knowledge of the universe, with stem-cell research, with the democratization of the nations? A century ago there were few democracies. Now most nations are at least headed that way. But what is the world doing with this?

Why is the current of the age always contrary to the interests of God? The Bible has an answer to this, but it requires that you believe in the supernatural. It won’t make the evening news, and if it did it would only be as a laughingstock.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1-3)

How does the devil spawn, influence, and exploit everything humanity does? The devil is the spirit who energizes the sons of disobedience. This force gets up a head of steam and takes a shape. There’s technology, leisure, travel, cosmetics, fabrics—things that were never available to people of the past. How will human lusts use these things?

What is my world wild about? What does it crave above everything? It may be an innocent thing, but how can I discern the right approach? Not without self-sacrifice, and not without determination that I won’t be shaped by this.

How often would Jonathan Edwards have heard music of any kind? How often would he have heard secular music? How often would we have heard music deliberately crafted to communicate and encourage anger, bitterness, carelessness, disillusionment, hostility, sensuality? How many professional musicians had he ever heard? What if someone had suggested that a good preliminary to his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” would be some of that music? Today, any wretched scene of unspeakable shame is available at any moment. There is more unimpeded lust available in the little devices in our pockets in this room this morning than all generations of believers have had in the history of the world.

We need more Edwards-type resolutions and not less if we are to stay unspotted from the world. When John Bode wrote in 1868, "The world is ever near me/I see the sights that dazzle,/The tempting sounds I hear," he could never have imagined what we face today.

Anyone who wants to have credibility before God when he sits at the stable of discussion about necessary separation from the world needs to make himself a living sacrifice and guard himself from being shaped by the age.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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