It has been more than a little disturbing to watch a couple of stories develop in political news over the last several weeks. I'm not referring to universal health care or the aggressive behavior of North Korea, but to the marital infidelity of two political figures, SC governor Mark Sanford and the US Senator from Nevada, John Ensign.
Infidelity among politicians is no new story. It happens all the time. Sometimes it ruins the person’s career, sometimes it is merely a speed-bump. So for me it was not surprising that two politicians admitted to extramarital affairs. It was not surprising that they were both Republicans. It was not surprising that they both intend to retain their respective offices. What was surprising is that both were confessing Christians.
How does this kind of thing happen? I think there are layers of responsibility that should be addressed. First of all, the pulpits in this country have largely abandoned the doctrine of sin. Whether intentional or not, it can be no coincidence that the more offensive elements of the gospel are increasingly absent in our churches. Sin, wrath, responsibility, and hell do not get much pulpit-time outside of the more conservative denominations. Instead, preachers have majored on the love of God, grace, and the blurring of doctrinal lines for the sake of unity. There is very little appetite for the rest of the gospel. There is no understanding of the sinfulness of sin or its offense against a holy God. There is no appreciation for the daily dying required of a true disciple.
Because the doctrine of sin is not understood, the doctrine of man is not fully understood. We have allowed the world’s wisdom and psychological theory to sneak into the church in the form of the notion that man is basically good and merely needs help to be better. However, the Bible teaches that unregenerate man is absolutely depraved, unwilling and unable to believe in God, love God, love man, or turn away from sin (Rom 1:28-32; Eph 2:1-3). It is his nature to hate God and love iniquity.
Because the doctrines of sin and of man are not understood, temptation is neither understood nor respected. With no appreciation for the seriousness of sin, there is no consideration of temptation as our mortal enemy. I’m convinced that most believers are unaware that the most dangerous part of temptation is the element that resides within their own hearts: But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:14-15). If a person is to successfully fight against temptation, he must keep a careful watch on his own heart, from which flow the issues of life, with all manner of sinful thoughts and deeds, including “adulteries” (Prov 4:23; Mark 7:21-22).
Because temptation is not taken seriously, neither is devotion or accountability. The importance of the intentional pursuit of holiness is unknown. But we know that in order to run the race well, there must be the intentional killing of sin and gazing upon Christ (Heb 12:1-2). Add to that the enlistment of other brothers and sisters to help us maintain our focus and devotion (1 Thess 5:14; Eph 4:11-16).
As long as preaching is intended to draw a crowd rather than challenge and feed the believing, a lack of discernment and conviction will be the hallmark of the Christian witness in this country. Rather than being taught of the one-flesh covenant miracle of marriage, we will continue to see marriage as merely the God-given provision for our sexual appetites. The result of this kind of teaching is exactly what we’ve been seeing on the news: if ever that well runs dry, either in reality or in our own self-deception, we move on to the next well, rather than trusting in the all sufficient grace of Christ to see us through any and every trial of our lives. In this brand of Christianity, marriage is cheapened and Christ is unnecessary.
So much of the blame falls at the feet of the pastors. The rest falls at the feet of those who listen to them. Paul’s warning to Timothy seems particularly prescient of modern evangelicalism: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2Tim 4:3-4). Many today are receiving anemic teaching because that is precisely what they want. Those having their ears tickled will be held responsible right along with the ticklers, although perhaps not in the same measure. Make no mistake, we are paying a price for this and will continue to pay a price as long as truth is left outside the the doors of the local church.
Undoubtedly, there were other factors leading to the falls of Ensign and Sanford - perhaps, pride and the lust for power. But at the end of the day, these things too are free to grow unchecked in a human heart that has no appetite for truth. Where there is no truth, sin will follow along with its dire consequences.
So how do we keep from walking in the same paths as these politicians? Several things: First, we must desire truth and be satisfied with nothing less than truth. That means valuing the preaching and teaching of the whole counsel of God. Second, we must understand the deceitfulness of sin and the mechanics of temptation. We need to know and guard our own hearts. Third, we need to have relationships with other believers who can sharpen us and keep us accountable for staying after Christ.
God is gracious and He will forgive sins even as heinous as adultery. He is able to restore the sinning believer to spiritual health. But before we get to that point, why not call on God for the grace to love truth, guard our hearts, and press on to obedience today?