God the Holy Spirit

     There is some confusion today among students of the Bible concerning the identity of the Holy Spirit.  Some heretical groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarians say the Holy Spirit is merely an impersonal force.  Mormons recognize the personhood of the Holy Spirit, but regard Him as a lesser deity, being conceived as the offspring of God the Father. 

     Biblical Christianity recognizes the Holy Spirit as God, as one of the three Persons of the Trinity.  Within the Trinity, there is God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14).  All three Persons of the Trinity share the same essence and are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service (Gen. 1:26; Isa. 6:8; Deut. 6:4; Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; John 10:30; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2). 

     The Holy Spirit is a PersonThe Bible reveals that the Holy Spirit is God and that He displays the volitional and emotional qualities of personhood.  When referring to the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-14), Jesus used the demonstrative masculine pronoun “He” (ἐκεῖνος), and this indicates personhood.  Scripture also reveals the Holy Spirit can be lied to.  In the book of Acts, the apostle Peter accused Ananias of lying “to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3).  In the very next verse Peter said, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).  You cannot lie to a force (such as electricity), but only to a person.  In addition, the Holy Spirit can be grieved (Eph. 4:30), quenched (1 Thess. 5:19), resisted (Acts 7:51), and blasphemed (Matt. 12:31).  These are all activities that can only be done to a Person.  Here are some further Scriptural truths about the Holy Spirit:

  1. He was involved in the creation ( 1:2).
  2. He brought about the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:35).
  3. He guided the writers of Scripture (2 Sam. 23:2; 2 Pet. 1:21).
  4. He convicts unbelievers of the sin of unbelief (John 16:8-11).
  5. He regenerates unbelievers (John 3:6; 6:63).
  6. He baptizes us into union with Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).
  7. He indwells us (John 14:16-17; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).
  8. He seals us (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).
  9. He gives us spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7-11).
  10. He glorifies Jesus in our life (John 16:13-15).
  11. He fills us (i.e. empowers) (Eph. 5:18).
  12. He sustains our spiritual walk (Gal. 5:16-18, 25).
  13. He loves us (Rom. 15:30).
  14. He prays for us (Rom. 8:26-27).
  15. He comforts us (John 14:26).
  16. He teaches and guides us (John 14:26; 16:13-15).
  17. He makes Scripture understandable (1 Cor. 2:11-13).

     When the above Scriptures are read in their biblical context, paying attention to the linguistic, grammatical and historical context of each verse, it reveals that the Holy Spirit is God and that He displays the volitional and emotional qualities of a Person.  I pray the Lord gives you understanding. 

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.  

Related Articles:

  1. Jesus is God  
  2. The Work of the Holy Spirit  
  3. The Filling of the Holy Spirit  
  4. Essentials of the Christian Faith  
  5. The Gospel Message  
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Jesus is God

     Jesus is GodDoes the Bible teach that Jesus is God?  Yes, the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is God.  He is properly identified as one of the three Persons of the Godhead, commonly referred to as the Trinity.  There is God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; 2 Cor. 13:14).  All three Persons of the Trinity are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service.  The three Persons of the Trinity are one in essence (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 18; Matt. 28:19; John 10:30; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2).

     The Bible presents Jesus as God.  In the OT, the proper name of God is YHWH (sometimes used with vowels as Yahweh) and is translated LORD, using all capital letters.  When the Septuagint was written around 250 B.C. (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT) the translators chose the Greek word kurios as a suitable substitute for the Hebrew name YHWH.  Though the word is sometimes used in the NT to mean sir (John 4:11; Acts 16:30), and master (Col. 3:22), it is also used to refer to the deity of Jesus Christ (compare Isa. 40:3 and John 1:23; or Deut. 6:16 and Matt. 4:7; cf. John 20:28; Rom. 10:11; Phil. 2:11).  The NT writers clearly saw Yahweh-God from the OT as referring to Jesus as God.  Please note the following comparison:

OT Passage about Yahweh/God

NT Passage applied to Jesus

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD [Yahweh or Jehovah] in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God [Elohim]. (Isa. 40:3)

He [John the Baptist] said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord [kurios – referring to Jesus],’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” (John 1:23)
You shall not put the LORD [Yahweh or Jehovah] your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah. (Deut. 6:16) Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord [kurios – referring to Jesus] your God to the test.’” (Matt. 4:7)
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:14) Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:58)
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. (Ps. 45:6)

But of the Son [Jesus] he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. (Heb. 1:8)

The NT reveals Jesus as God:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh [Jesus in hypostatic union], and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)

For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him [Jesus], because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:18)

“I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” 33 The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” (John 10:30-33)

Thomas answered and said to Him [Jesus], “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

For in Him [Jesus] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (Col. 2:9)

[We are] looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus (Tit. 2:13)

As God, Jesus accepts the worship of men and angels:

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matt. 4:10)

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matt. 2:2)

After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matt. 2:11)

And those who were in the boat worshiped Him [Jesus], saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” (Matt. 14:33)

And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them [the disciples]. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. (Matt. 28:9)

When they saw Him, they worshiped Him [Jesus]; but some were doubtful. (Matt. 28:17)

Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” 38 And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him [Jesus]. (John 9:35-38)

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Heb. 1:6)

As God, Jesus forgives sins:

I, even I [Jehovah], am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isa. 43:25)

And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:5-7)

     Some—such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons—see Jesus only as a man, or as a god lesser than what the Bible teaches.  The end result is that they’re trusting in a Jesus that is not the Jesus of the Bible, and are therefore putting their hope in a false Jesus who cannot save them (Gal. 1:6-9).

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

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An Ambassador for Christ

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:18-20)

     An ambassador is an official dignitary who represents the country that sent him into a foreign land, and his message is derived from the sending ruler.  The Christian ambassador represents the Lord Jesus Christ who has called and equipped him to speak on His behalf to those outside of Christ’s kingdom (John 18:36; Acts 26:17-18; Col. 1:13-14).  The Christian message is simple, that God reconciles us to Himself through the cross of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-21; Eph. 2:13-16; Col. 1:19-20; 1 Pet. 3:18), providing us forgiveness for all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14), and the gift of His righteousness which makes us acceptable to Him (Isa. 61:10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:17; Phil. 3:9). 

God does not have to be reconciled to man, because that was accomplished by Christ on the cross. It is sinful man who must be reconciled to God. “Religion” is man’s feeble effort to be reconciled to God, efforts that are bound to fail. The Person who reconciles us to God is Jesus Christ, and the place where He reconciles us is His cross.[1]

     As Christian ambassadors, “we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).  God always goes before us and providentially coordinates our meetings with others, working in their hearts to receive our message (John 16:7-11), and rescuing from Satan’s captivity those who believe the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4; 2 Thess. 2:24-26).  God never forces Himself on anyone, but neither does He leave unpunished those who reject the Christian message (Rev. 20:11-15).  Those who disregard God’s gracious offer of salvation choose to continue in Satan’s world system (John 15:19; Rom. 1:18-25; 1 John 2:15-17), selecting darkness rather than light (John 3:19-20), and choosing the path that leads to eternal destruction (Matt. 7:13-14).  As heavenly ambassadors we are responsible to present a clear biblical message, and though we may passionately seek to persuade, we are not accountable for how others respond to it.

     As an ambassador of Christ, we are to speak and act with dignity at all times.  We are to be clear in speaking God’s truth to people who are made in His image (fallen as they are).  We are to point them to Christ that they might turn to Him for salvation and be born again to a new spiritual life (1 Pet. 1:3, 23).  We are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), “with grace” (Col. 4:6), and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15-16).  There’s no place for hostility in the Christian life, for “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam. 1:20).  Scripture tells us:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26). 

     In closing, the Christian ambassador is one who adheres to the highest standards of moral excellence according to Scripture as he serves the Lord and communicates His message that God reconciles us to Himself through the cross of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-21; Eph. 2:13-16; Col. 1:19-20; 1 Pet. 3:18), providing us forgiveness for all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14), and the gift of His righteousness which makes us acceptable to Him (Isa. 61:10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:17; Phil. 3:9). 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

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[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 649.

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The Doctrine of Simultaneity

     The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, coined the Latin phrase simul iustus et peccator, which translates as, simultaneously righteous and a sinner.  Luther correctly understood the biblical teaching that we are righteous in God’s sight because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us at salvation and at the same time we continue to possess a sin nature and practice sin.  This is based on four biblical truths:

We are all born sinners with a sin nature

     Every person born into this world—with the exception of Jesus—is a sinner.  We are sinners because Adam’s original sin is imputed to us (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), we are born with a sinful nature which urges us to sin (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and we choose to sin when we yield to temptation (Jas. 1:14-15).  Sin is anything that is contrary to the holy character of God.  Sin permeates every aspect of our being and renders us separated from God and helpless to save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; 6:23; Eph. 2:1-3). 

God has provided for our salvation

     The good news of the gospel is that Jesus took our sin upon Himself and bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us (1 Cor. 1:18, 21; 15:3-4; Col. 2:13-14; 1 Pet. 2:24).  This is substitutionary atonement, in which Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Rom. 5:6-10).  Jesus paid the redemption price for our sins (Mark 10:45), and calls us into fellowship with Him (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13-14).  Salvation comes to us only as a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).  God is completely satisfied with the death of Christ, who “is the propitiation [ἱλασμός hilasmos – satisfaction] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. Rom. 3:25; 1 John 4:10).  At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires and provides us salvation as His love desires. 

We receive a new nature at the moment of salvation

     At the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior we are born again (John 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23), and we acquire a new nature that desires to do God’s will (Rom. 7:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9-10; 1 John 2:29; 3:9).  In addition, our identification with Adam is cancelled and we are immediately united with Christ (Rom. 5:14-18; 1 Cor. 15:22), we are indwelt with God the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20; Eph. 1:13-14), forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), bestowed with God’s own righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and have the power to live righteously (Rom. 6:1-13; Tit. 2:11-14). 

Christians continue to possess a sin nature after salvation

     Though we have our new nature in Christ at the moment of salvation, we continue to possess our sinful nature, and this produces internal conflict throughout our Christian life (Rom. 6:6; 7:14-25; 13:14; Col. 3:9; Gal. 5:16-17).  This reality explains why Paul tells the Christians at Rome to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:14; cf. Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), and to the Christians at Galatia to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).  Though we struggle with sin, we are assured that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), for we are “the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Rom. 5:17; Phil. 3:9).  Both are true.  We are perfectly righteous in God’s sight because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and we continue to possess a sin nature and commit sin.

Dr. Martin LutherThe person who has thus received the gift of faith Luther described as “at once righteous and a sinner” (simul iustus et peccator). Formerly he had understood this term in the Augustinian sense of “partly” a sinner and “partly” righteous. …Now, however, while retaining the paradox of simultaneity, he sharpened each of the clashing concepts into a sovereign, total realm. Luther continued to use simul iustus et peccator after 1518-19, but he did so in the sense of semper (always) iustus et peccator. The believer is not only both righteous and sinful at the same time but is also always or completely both righteous and sinful at the same time [emphasis added]. What does this mean? With respect to our fallen human condition, we are, and always will be in this life, sinners. However for believers life in this world is no longer a period of doubtful candidacy for God’s acceptance. In a sense we have already been before God’s judgment seat and have been acquitted on account of Christ. Hence we are also always righteous.[1]


     So then, as Christians, we are simultaneously righteous and sinners.  We are righteous in God’s eyes because of the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us as a free gift (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  And, we continue to possess a sin nature that continually causes internal temptation and conflict (Rom. 6:6; 7:14-25; 13:14; Col. 3:9; Gal. 5:16-17, 19).  Though the power of the sin nature is broken (Rom. 6:11-14), the presence of the sin nature is never removed from us until God takes us from this world and gives us a new body like the body of Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21).

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

  1. The Sin Nature within the Christian  
  2. I am a Saint  
  3. The Gospel Message  
  4. Soteriology – The Study of Salvation  
  5. Believe in Jesus for Salvation  

[1] Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville, Tenn., Broadman and Holman publishers, 2013), 72.

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Seven Kinds of Death in Scripture

     Throughout Scripture, death means separation, and at times it means inability to produce.  It does not mean cessation or annihilation of life.  Death is first mentioned in Genesis where God promised Adam he would die if he disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:16-17).  When Adam ate the forbidden fruit, he immediately died spiritually in that his relationship with God was severed (3:1-7), and he later died physically (Gen. 5:5).  If Adam had continued in his state of spiritual death, he would have been in danger of being separated from God forever in the Lake of Fire, which is the Second Death (Rev. 20:11-15).  Adam was made spiritually alive again when he accepted God’s provision for him (Gen. 3:21).  It was Adam’s single act of sin in the garden that brought both spiritual and physical death upon the entire human race (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22).  The term death is also used to refer to Sarah’s inability to procreate (Rom. 4:19-21), the inability to produce divine good (Jam. 2:26), the unbeliever’s positional death in Adam (1 Cor. 15:21-22), the believer’s positional death in Christ (1 Cor. 15:21-22), and the believer who is living a carnal life and is out of fellowship with God (Jam. 1:14-15).  The following list should prove helpful:

  1. Spiritual Death (separation from God in time Gen. 2:16-17; Eph. 2:1).
  2. The Second Death (the perpetuation of spiritual death into eternity; Rev. 20:12-15).
  3. Physical Death (the separation of the soul from the body; Eccl. 12:7; 2 Cor. 5:8).
  4. Sexual Death (the inability to procreate; Rom. 4:19-21).
  5. Operational Death (the inability to produce divine good; James 2:26).
  6. Positional Death: in Adam (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22), and in Christ (Rom. 6:8; 1 Cor. 15:22; Col. 3:3).
  7. Carnal Death (this is the believer out of fellowship with God, operating according to his Sinful Nature; Rom. 8:6, 13; James 1:14-15; Rev. 3:1; Luke 15:24, 32).

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

  1.  A Christian View of Death  
  2. The Sin that Leads to Death 
  3. Could Jesus Sin?  
  4. The Sin of Idolatry 
  5. Do God’s People ever Behave Poorly?  
  6. Restoring Fellowship with God  
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The Sin that Leads to Death

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin that does not bring death, he should ask, and God will give life to him– to those who commit sin that doesn’t bring death. There is sin that brings death. I am not saying he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin that does not bring death. (1 John 5:16-17 HCSB)

     It happens from time to time that a Christian will see another Christian “committing a sin.”  The apostle John distinguished two kinds of sin in the life of the Christian: the “sin that does not bring death” and the “sin that brings death” (1 John 5:16-17).  The “sin that does not bring death” is any sin the Christian commits that does not warrant physical death from the hand of God, though it may bring divine discipline if the believer continues in it (Heb. 12:5-13).  John does not specify which sin leads to death and which sin does not, as the punishment is finally determined by the Lord. 

     The sin that leads to death “denotes a sin habitually practiced by a believer, leading to God’s removing him from this life, but not taking away his salvation.”[1]  It refers to the Christian who has become so sinfully rebellious that God disciplines him to the point of death and takes him home to heaven.  There are references in the Bible where God personally issued the death penalty for one or more of His erring children who had defied His authority.  Examples include: Nadab and Abihu, who disobeyed the Lord in their priestly service (Lev. 10:1-3), Uzzah, when he touched the Ark (2 Sam. 6:1-7), Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11), and some of the saints at Corinth who were abusing the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:27-30). 

     Under the Mosaic Law, God willed that sin be punished, but only some sins were punishable by physical death.[2]  Sometimes God Himself executed the punishment (Lev. 10:1-3; 2 Sam. 6:1-7), and other times it was carried out by Israel’s leaders (Ex. 32:19-28).  In the New Testament, God does not call Christians to put anyone to death, but has delegated that authority solely to the governments of this world (Rom. 13:1-4), or He does it Himself (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16). 

Most sin does not lead to death

     It appears from reading the Bible that most sin committed by believers does not result in the Lord putting them to death, although it may bring great punishment.  It was a terrible sin when Aaron led the Israelites into idol worship (Ex. 32:1-6), but God did not call for Aaron’s death.  Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg. 16:1-4), and though he was disciplined, the Lord did not kill him.  When David had an affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah, it was a rotten sin that brought divine discipline.  The Lord told David, “I will raise up evil against you from your own household” (2 Sam. 12:11); however, the Lord also told David, “you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13).  It was evil when Solomon worshipped idols (1 Kings 11:1-10), but even here the Lord did not pronounce death for his sin.  Peter argued with Jesus and tried to prevent Him from going to the cross (Matt. 16:21-22), and later publicly denied the Lord three times (Matt. 26:34-35; 69-75), but Peter was allowed to live.  The apostle John twice worshiped an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9), but the Lord let him live and used him in ministry.  God’s grace and mercy is very prominent all throughout the Bible, and He repeatedly gives us ample opportunity to confess our sin and turn back to him.  Thank God for His great grace. 

God disciplines us for our good

     As God’s children, He expects us to live holy and righteous lives that conform to His will (Tit. 2:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).  When we sin, we can be restored to fellowship with God by means of confession (1 John 1:9).  If we fail to confess our sins, and choose a sinful lifestyle, we put ourselves in real danger of knowing God’s discipline.  The Scripture states, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6).  The wise believer accepts God’s correction.  David writes, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Ps. 119:71), and later states, “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me” (Ps. 119:75).  The foolish believer rejects God’s correction, and if he perpetuates his sin, God may administer a final act of discipline and remove the believer from this world. 

     Many Christians rightfully suffer because of their sinful lifestyle (Heb. 12:5-11), and those who persist in their sin will eventually die by the hand of the Lord.  Such death is the pinnacle of suffering in this life, but we should never conclude that it means suffering for eternity.  All believers are eternally secure in Christ.  At the moment of salvation, all believers are given eternal life and imputed with God’s righteousness (John 3:16; 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  They are forever kept by the power of God and cannot forfeit their salvation (John 10:29; Rom. 8:38-39).  This means that when a believer dies—whatever the cause—he is guaranteed heaven as his eternal home.  At his resurrection, the Christian is guaranteed a new body just the like body of our Lord Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21). 


     It is possible for a Christian to sin, and to sin as badly as any unbeliever.  However, unlike the unbeliever, God disciplines His own (Heb. 12:5-11), and, if necessary, disciplines to the point of death (1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16).  This need not be the case.  The Christian is called to a life of holiness (1 Pet. 1:15-16), and this means learning to walk with God and do His will.  Though we still possess a sin nature, the Christian knows victory because of his union with Christ (Rom. 6:6, 11-13). 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

  1. Restoring Fellowship with God  
  2. The Sin Nature Within the Christian  
  3. I am a Sinner  
  4. Do God’s People Ever Behave poorly?  
  5. A Christian View of Death  
  6. Atonement for Sins  

[1] Paul S. Karleen, The Handbook to Bible Study: With a Guide to the Scofield Study System (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 359.

[2] There were certain laws under the Old Testament that brought the death penalty: intentional murder (Ex. 21:12-14; cf. Gen. 9:6), attacking or cursing a parent (Ex. 21:15), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16), habitual rebellion against God (Deut. 17:12), sacrificing to pagan gods (Ex. 22:20), cursing God (Lev. 24:15-16), working on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2), being a false prophet and leading Israelites into idolatry (Deut. 13:1-5), religious human sacrifice (Lev. 20:2), the practice of divination, sorcery or witchcraft (Ex. 22:18; Deut. 18:9-14), adultery and premarital sex (Lev. 20:10-14; 21:9; Deut. 22:20-22), sex with an animal (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16), incest (Lev. 20:11-12, 14), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and the rape of a married woman (Deut. 22:25-27).

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The Sin of Idolatry

You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol [פֶּסֶל pesel – an idol or carved image], or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship [שָׁחָה shachah – to worship, bow down] them or serve [עָבַד abad – serve, work] them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me. (Ex. 20:3-5)

What is idolatry?

     Idolatry is the selfish sin of substitution in which we devote ourselves to worship something or someone in the place of God.  It is foremost a sin of a covetous heart that leads us to desire more than what God provides, and to trust something or someone lesser than God to satisfy our wants and needs.  Paul addresses the heart of idolatry when he writes that covetousness “is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).  Covetousness is idolatry because the covetous heart desires things and pleasures more than God.  The believer who is satisfied with God is content with what he has (1 Tim. 6:7-11; cf. Phil. 4:11), but the covetous heart is never content and always seeks more (i.e. money, success, friends, etc.) in order to feel secure or to please the flesh. 

In a general sense idolatry is the paying of divine honor to any created thing; the ascription of divine power to natural agencies. Idolatry may be classified as follows: (1) the worship of inanimate objects, such as stones, trees, rivers, etc.; (2) of animals; (3) of the higher powers of nature, such as the sun, moon, stars; and the forces of nature, as air, fire, etc.; (4) hero-worship or of deceased ancestors; (5) idealism, or the worship of abstractions or mental qualities, such as justice.[1]

What is an idol?

     Stone IdolThroughout Scripture an idol is almost always a carved image, something crafted by human hand, made of wood or stone.  An idol can be either a physical object that symbolizes a deity, or it can be an abstract concept such as greed or justice.  A physical idol is merely the work of a craftsman (see Isa. 44:9-19).  There is no life in it (Ps. 115:1-8; Jer. 51:17; Hab. 2:18-20), nor can it deliver in times of trouble (Isa. 46:5-7).   Ultimately, an idol is the thing or person we trust more than God to provide, protect, or guide us in life.  Biblically, there is only one God, and He demands that His people worship Him (Ex. 20:3-6).  The exclusive worship of God is for His glory and our benefit. 

Can God’s people engage in idolatry?

     Yes.  We can engage in idolatry.  The record of Israel’s history—with the exception of a few generations—is a record of their unfaithfulness to God as they worshipped pagan idols (Ex. 32:1-6), which at times included human sacrifice (Deut. 12:31; 18:10; 2 Ki. 21:6; Ezek. 16:20-21).  The books of Judges, 1 & 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea (just to name a few) all reveal Israel regularly committed idolatry, and this caused them to suffer greatly under God’s discipline as He faithfully executed the cursing aspects of the Mosaic Covenant (Deut. 28:15-68). 

The Adoration of the Golden Calf by Nicolas PoussinIdolatry is dangerous because it is connected with the activity of demons (1 Cor. 10:19-20), who seek to steal God’s glory and wreck our relationship with the Lord.  Many of God’s people have fallen into idolatry.  Aaron led Israel into idol worship (Ex. 32:1-6).  Solomon, by the end of his life, bowed down to idols (1 Ki. 11:6-10), and there is nothing in the biblical record that suggests Solomon ever turned back to the Lord.  The apostle Paul addressed idolatry in his letter to the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 8:1-13; 10:14-33; 2 Cor. 6:16).  The apostle John twice worshiped an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).  John knew the sinful proclivity of all Christians and I believe this is why he warns us, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). 

Why do we commit idolatry? 

     Even though we are born again believers with a new heart (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22-24; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23), we still possess a sin nature (Rom. 6:6; 13:14; Gal. 5:16-17, 19; Col. 3:9), and there is always a conflict within us (Rom. 7:19-25; Gal. 5:16-17).  We commit idolatry because we seek to satisfy our sinful desires over God and His will.  In American culture we tend to worship at the altar of self-interest, greed, personal achievement, personal security and self-satisfaction. 

How do we guard ourselves from falling into idolatry?

     First, realize our hearts are sinful and bent toward idolatry.  It is the natural proclivity of mankind to worship things and people in the place of God.  It comes very easy to us, even as Christians.  Second, be devoted to God.  Paul writes to Christians, stating, “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1).  This is a lifetime commitment to God in which we bring all of our life under His directive will.  Third, constantly be in God’s Word, letting it guide our thinking and behavior.  As Christians, we do not worship the Bible, but neither can we worship God without it (John 4:24).  The Bible is God’s inerrant and enduring written revelation that tells us who He is and what He’s accomplished in time and space.  The Bible is written in understandable language and made acceptable by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:3-4).  Our walk with God depends on rightly understanding and applying Scripture (John 17:17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  Fourth, surround yourself with Christian friends who will help you in your daily spiritual walk with the Lord.  Our fellowship with other growing believers is paramount concerning our spiritual health and growth.  The Bible is very clear when it states, “bad associations corrupt good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).  This is true in every way, and it helps us to have growing Christian friends who influence us to worship God and stay close to Him always.  Fifth, make time to worship the Lord daily, singing to Him and praising Him for all His blessings (Ps. 95:2; 105:2; Eph. 5:18-21; Phil. 4:6; Col. 3:16-17; 1 Thess. 5:18).  A heart that is satisfied with God will not seek lesser people or things to fill the void that occurs when we turn away from Him. 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

  1. Do God’s People ever Behave Poorly?  
  2. Restoring Fellowship with God.  
  3. I am a Saint. 
  4. I am a Sinner.  
  5. The Sin Nature Within the Christian.  

[1] Merrill F. Unger, ed. R.K. Harrison, “Idolatry” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

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