The Meaning of Christmas

Nativity Figures     Christmas is a man-made holiday (or holy day) which has both religious and commercial meaning. The season often comes with good food, cheery colors, happy tunes, and pleasant greetings of “Merry Christmas.” Most people I know seem joyful during the holiday season, in spite of the commercialism or occasional protester (who ridicules anything related to Christianity).

     Christmas—for the Christian—is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Savior, into a needy world (Luke 1:26-38). For me, the birth of Jesus evokes wonderful emotions. This is because I see His birth as the beginning of something larger, which included His whole life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. If we look only at the birth of Christ, we miss the larger theological message of the Gospels. We should keep in mind that only two chapters mention the birth of Christ, whereas thirty eight chapters mention His death.

Baby in MangerChristmas is about the gift of God to a fallen world. Nearly 2000 years ago, God the Son added true humanity to Himself (hypostatic union; John 1:1, 14), was supernaturally conceived in the virgin Mary (parthenogenesis; see Luke 1:26-38), the mother of His humanity (christotokos – bearer of Christ), and was born a son of Abraham, in the line David (Matt. 1:1). Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:40, 52), and lived a sinless and righteous life before God and man (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 3:5).

cross     Christmas is about love and sacrifice. On April 3, A.D. 33, Jesus willingly laid down His life and died a substitutionary atoning death on a cross (Mark 10:45; John 3:16; 10:11, 17-18). He died a death He did not deserve, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus’ death forever satisfied every righteous demand God had toward our sin (Rom. 3:24-25; Heb. 10:10-14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and is the basis for forgiveness and reconciliation to God (Rom. 5:1-2; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14; 20-22). To those who believe the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4), God freely offers the gift of eternal life and the imputation of His righteousness (John 3:16; 10:28; Rom. 5:17; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:18).

     Christmas is about a future hope. After His crucifixion, Jesus was buried and resurrected bodily on the third day (Matt. 20:18-19; Acts 10:39-41; 1 Cor. 15:3-4), never to die again (Rom. 5:9), ascending to heaven (Acts 1:9-10), with a promise of a physical return for His own (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Tit. 2:13). Following His return, the King of kings and Lord of lords will reign in righteousness (Rev. 19:11-16; 20:1-6), and afterward, will create a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13; cf. Rev. 21:1).

     Christmas is about all that is marvelous in Christ, from birth onward, who provides blessing and hope to those who cast themselves upon Him. May we all find joy in the Savior, who loved us and gave Himself for us. Amen

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

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A Christian View of Death

       Once, when I was working in jail ministry, I met a Christian man who told me about his older brother’s death.  The incident, he said, had occurred several years earlier.  He and his brother were drinking and arguing one afternoon when a fist fight erupted and the older brother fell backwards onto a metal pipe that pierced his heart.  The man did all he could to save his brother, but the wound was fatal.  His brother, whom he loved, was suddenly gone, and for years he carried the image of his brother’s lifeless body, held in his blood-soaked hands.  Tears rolled down his face as he recalled the event.  Over time he was able to resolve some of his grief, but while talking with me, he expressed a lingering concern about his brother’s eternal destiny.  He was not sure if his brother would spend eternity in heaven or hell.  The Light of ChristThough his brother claimed to be a Christian, and family and friends spoke well of him at the funeral, the reality was that his brother’s life never reflected the virtues of Christ.  Though I could not offer any assurance about his brother’s eternal destiny, I encouraged him to live his life in such a way that when he died, he would not leave his loved ones with any question about the place of Christ in his own life. 

       Often we do not know how or when we will die, and if the Lord tarries in His return, we will all face death, in some form or another.  Death is an uncomfortable subject, but for those who trust in the Lord, it need not be.  God knows how frail we are, “He is mindful that we are but dust” (Ps. 103:14).  David courageously asked the Lord, “Make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days short in length, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Ps. 39:4-5).  Job too perceived the brevity of his life and declared, “I will not live forever…for my days are but a breath” (Job 7:16), and James wrote, “you are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jam. 4:14b).  Leaving this world is inevitable; where we spend eternity is optional.  God loves us and sent His Son into the world that He would provide eternal life for us. 

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:16-17)

       Death was introduced into God’s creation when the first human, Adam, sinned against God.  Adam’s sin immediately brought spiritual death (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-8), and later, physical death (Gen. 5:5).  Though Adam was made spiritually alive again (Gen. 3:21), his single sin introduced death, in every form, into the world (Rom. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).  The universe itself groans, being effected by sin, waiting for its redemption (Rom. 8:20-22; cf. 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1).  Death means separation.  Three major kinds of death are mentioned in Scripture:

  1. Spiritual death, which is separation from God in time. Spiritually dead people continue to live until they die physically (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-8; 5:5; Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13).
  2. Physical death, which is the separation of the soul from the body (Eccl. 12:7; 2 Cor. 5:8). According to Scripture, “death is not the end of human existence, but a change of place or conditions in which conscious existence continues.”[1] 
  3. Eternal death (biblically called the “second death”), which is the perpetuation of physical and spiritual death into eternity (Rev. 20:11-15).

       All persons born into this world are physically alive, but spiritually dead, separated from God, because of Adam’s sin.  The Bible reveals, “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned [when Adam sinned]” (Rom. 5:12), and “in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).  Children and those who suffer from an intelligence deficit disorder are the exception, as they are not held responsible for Adam’s sin, and are assured heaven as their home (see Heaven Belongs to Little Children).  Though we are all dead in Adam, God offers new life when we turn to Christ as Savior, reconciling us to Himself through the death of His Son (Rom. 5:1-2).  Adam’s sin brought death, and Christ’s death brings life.  In Adam I am guilty, in Christ I am righteous. 

       I am the resurrection and the life - squareFor the Christian, death is not the final victor in eternity.  God created the soul to be forever united with the body.  Therefore, God will resurrect each body that has died and will reunite it with each human soul.  Every person, whether saved or unsaved, will receive a resurrection body that will live forever.  “For the saved it involves eternal life or endless union and fellowship with God. For the unsaved it involves eternal existence in separation from God.”[2]  Only those who are born again—by the Spirit of God—have eternal life and will spend forever in heaven (1 Pet. 1:3, 23).  Eternal life is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).  We receive eternal life by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, believing the gospel that He “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  Eternal life “involves the endless continuance and perfection of blessedness and communion with God entered upon by the saved on the earth (cf. John 3:15–16; 6:40; 17:3; Rom. 2:7).”[3]  When the believer dies, he immediately goes into the presence of God.  “Jesus promised the repentant thief on the cross that He would see paradise the very day of his death (Luke 23:43). Paul teaches that, for believers, being absent from the body means being present with Christ (2 Cor. 5:8).”[4]

       Scripture reveals God is sovereign over all His creation, either causing or permitting whatsoever comes to pass (see God’s Providence).  From eternity past, God knows all things, and because He is sovereign, there are no accidental people or events in history.  God creates life (Gen. 2:7; Job 1:21; Ps. 100:3; Acts 17:24-25; Rev. 11:11) and controls death (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-8; 6:17; 1 Sam. 2:6; 2 Kings 5:7; Luke 12:20; Rev. 1:18).  The Lord declares, “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal” (Deut. 32:39).  God holds final control over our life, from beginning to end, and preordains our days on the earth.  David writes, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Ps. 139:16).  God’s sovereign control over life and death includes our responsible choices as volitional creatures.  He desires that we think and act in conformity with His revealed will, but in many cases He permits us to act, either good or bad, and to reap the consequences of our choices.  At physical death, all of life’s decisions are fixed for eternity, and what we do with Christ determines our eternal destiny (John 3:16-18; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 2:8-9).  It has been said that procrastination is the thief of time, and when one procrastinates about the gospel, it becomes the thief of souls.  I encourage you not to delay concerning the gospel message, and to trust Christ as Savior today. 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

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

[2] Merrill F. Unger, “Life”, in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, ed. R.K. Harrison, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Russell D. Moore, “Death”, in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 406.

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Walking with God

Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. (Gen. 5:22-24)

       footstepThe genealogical record of Genesis chapter 5 is repetitious: men lived and died.  The repetition is broken with one man, Enoch, as Moses wrote, “God took him” (Gen. 5:24).  God decided His friend, the one who “walked” with Him, would not see death, so the Lord took him directly to heaven.  “The word walk implies a steady, progressive relationship and not just a casual acquaintance. To walk with God is the business of a lifetime, and not just the performance of an hour.”[1]  It is written in the New Testament, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God” (Heb. 11:5). 

…“Enoch walked with God and he was not; for God took him.” The phrase is full of meaning. Enoch walked with God because he was His friend and liked His company, because he was going in the same direction as God, and had no desire for anything but what lay in God’s path. We walk with God when He is in all our thoughts; not because we consciously think of Him at all times, but because He is naturally suggested to us by all we think of; as when any person or plan or idea has become important to us, no matter what we think of, our thought is always found recurring to this favorite object, so with the godly man everything has a connection with God and must be ruled by that connection. When some change in his circumstances is thought of, he has first of all to determine how the proposed change will affect his connection with God—will his conscience be equally clear, will he be able to live on the same friendly terms with God and so forth. When he falls into sin he cannot rest till he has resumed his place at God’s side and walks again with Him. This is the general nature of walking with God; it is a persistent endeavor to hold all our life open to God’s inspection and in conformity to His will; a readiness to give up what we find does cause any misunderstanding between us and God; a feeling of loneliness if we have not some satisfaction in our efforts at holding fellowship with God, a cold and desolate feeling when we are conscious of doing something that displeases Him. This walking with God necessarily tells on the whole life and character. As you instinctively avoid subjects which you know will jar upon the feelings of your friend, as you naturally endeavor to suit yourself to your company, so when the consciousness of God’s presence begins to have some weight with you, you are found instinctively endeavoring to please Him, repressing the thoughts you know He disapproves, and endeavoring to educate such dispositions as reflect His own nature. It is easy then to understand how we may practically walk with God—it is to open to Him all our purposes and hopes, to seek His judgment on our scheme of life and idea of happiness—it is to be on thoroughly friendly terms with God.[2]

       Walking with God starts with a relationship.  It is a relationship in which we are rightly related to God by faith (John 3:16), and one that continues in faith (2 Cor. 5:7), trusting Him in all things (Prov. 3:5-6).  To “walk with God” is the ideal standard for a believer (Lev. 26:3-12; Gal. 5:16, 25; Eph. 4:1; Col. 2:6-7; cf. Rev. 3:4).  It does not mean a life of sinless perfection; rather, it means that when we sin, we handle it in a biblical manner with humility and confession (e.g. 2 Sam. 12:1-23; cf. 1 Kings 11:4; 1 Jo. 1:8-10).  Walking with God means we go in the same direction He is going, and like a friend, we are glad to share in His fellowship (1 Jo. 1:1-10).  It means God is regularly in our thoughts, and we live every day conscious of Him and His will for our lives (Rom. 12:1-2; Col. 3:16-17).  Walking with God means we are open and honest with Him about everything, and agree to let His light shine in our lives, not fearing what it exposes (1 Jo. 1:5-7).  It means being sensitive to what may offend Him, and making every effort to please Him through a life of faith (2 Cor. 5:9; Heb. 11:6).  May we all learn to walk with the Lord.

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

[1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 38.

[2] Marcus Dods, The Book of Genesis (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1893), 51-53.

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Is Self-Defense Biblical?

Are Christians biblically justified to use force for self-defense?  Depending on the situation, the answer is sometimes yes, and sometimes no.  Killing a thief is both justified and unjustified, depending on the situation (Ex. 22:2-3).  In Scripture there are examples of believers who at one time defended themselves or others, but then at other times fled and/or suffered for their faith.  David, who killed Goliath (1 Sam. 17:48-51), twice fled when Saul tried to kill him with a spear (1 Sam. 18:11; 19:10), and refused to retaliate, even when he had opportunity (1 Sam. 24:4-6).  Paul, who at one time took a beating with rods (Acts 16:22-23), later used legal force against his attackers by exercising his rights as Roman citizen to protect himself from a flogging that might have killed him (Acts 22:25-29), and eventually appealed to Caesar, hoping to gain a just trial (Acts 25:7-12).  Christians can certainly use the legal system as a means of protection.  My understanding is that there is a time to fight, and a time not to fight, “a time to kill and a time to heal” (Eccl. 3:3), “a time for war and a time for peace” (Eccl. 3:8). 

Briton Riviere - Daniel in the Lions DenScripture provides examples of believers who, when faced with hostility, did not defend themselves, but trusted God and suffered for Him, even to the point of death.  Three Hebrew teenagers opposed a religious tyrant and accepted the possibility of death by fire (Dan. 3:1-30).  Daniel chose a den of lions rather than cease his prayers to God (Dan. 6:1-24).  Peter defied the command to stop preaching in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18-20; 5:28-29), and rejoiced after being flogged (Acts 5:40-41).  Stephen offered prayers and forgiveness for those who stoned him to death (Acts 7:54-60).  Paul avoided a murder attempt by escaping through an opening in a city wall as he was lowered to safety in a basket (Acts 9:23-25), and also accepted unjust persecutions, beatings and imprisonment for Christ (2 Cor. 11:23-30; 2 Tim. 2:8-9).  Even Jesus did not fight against His accusers and attackers (Matt. 26:51-53; John 18:10-11; 1 Pet. 2:21-23), but willingly laid down His life (John 10:15, 18; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25), and died a substitutionary death on a cross for our sins (Mark 10:45; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18).  When asked about His kingship and kingdom, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews” (John 18:36a).  When Peter drew a sword to defend Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10), Jesus stopped him and said, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).  The Son of God had the means to defend Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, for He declared, “do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53).  Twelve legions of angels (approximately 72,000) would have been more than adequate to fight against Jesus’ attackers.  However, it was not the Father’s will that Jesus be defended, either by angels or men, but that He suffer and die for our sins.  This was for the Father’s glory and our benefit (John 12:28; 32-33; 17:1).  The world is not worthy of those who suffer and die a martyr’s death for the cause of Christ (Heb. 11:36-40).

       There are Christians who love the Lord Jesus and take His words seriously when He says, “do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matt. 5:39).  Paul stated, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:17-18), and “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).  There are times when believers need to trust God more than their instinct for self-preservation, and if the Lord decides it’s better for the Christian to suffer and die, then so be it.  His purposes and glory override our comfort and safety.  God’s children should expect unjust persecution and suffering (John 15:18-19; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 1:12; 1 Pet. 3:14, 17), and when attacked because of our faith, should not retaliate (Rom. 12:17-21; 1 Pet. 2:23), but trust God that He will deliver if He chooses (Dan. 3:17-18; 6:21-22; Acts 5:19-20; 12:6-7). 

       As previously stated, there are biblical examples of believers who used force as a means of protecting themselves and others.  Abram fought against Chedorlaomer to defend the innocent and restore stolen property (Gen. 14:1-24).  David blessed God for the military skills he’d received, saying, “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle” (Ps. 144:1; cf. Ps. 18:34).  David was in God’s will when he stood on a field of battle and killed his enemy (1 Sam. 17:46-51), and later when he rescued his family and belongings from Amalekites who destroyed and plundered the city of Ziklag (1 Sam. 30:1-20).  When soldiers approached John the Baptist with questions about their conduct, he did not tell them to abandon their profession, but said, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14).  Soldiers can serve God’s will, when they promote His righteousness and justice. 

       Killing is not the same as murder, and Scripture sanctions the use of force to protect property and life.  Murder is the taking of a human life for unjustified reasons (Ex. 21:12-14; Lev. 24:17).  God authorized the taking of human life when He told Noah, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen 9:6).  Under the Mosaic Law, a thief could be killed if breaking into a man’s home at night (Ex. 22:2).  Toward the end of Jesus ministry on earth, He told His disciples, “whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one” (Luke 22:36).  It can be said, “while Jesus forbade His disciples from using a sword for spiritual purposes (Mt 26:52), He urged His disciples to buy a sword if necessary for protection (Lk 22:36–38).”[1]

…biblical arguments for total pacifism are flawed. For example, Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek (Mt 5:39) refers to a personal insult (like a slap in the face), not to bodily harm. Indeed, even Jesus refused to turn His cheek when smitten unjustly (Jn 18:22–23). The exhortation to love our enemies does not preclude the use of force to restrain them from killing us (cf. Paul’s instigation of government intervention for his protection in Acts 23).[2]

       It appears there are times when it’s valid to defend oneself against unjust persecution.  Because each situation is different, and the believer must exercise good judgment, it’s best to try to think through scenarios in advance of an emergency.  As a Christian, I am a citizen of heaven (Phil. 3:20), and my first allegiance is to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I am also an American citizen, and enjoy unprecedented freedoms and prosperity (some of which are based on biblical principles).  When there is a conflict between Christian and American values, I should always choose Christ first.  I wish I could say I always make the right choice, but sometimes I fail, as we all do.  Some biblical choices are clear and easy to make; but some are not, and I am forced to wrestle with the decision.  Christian liberty gives me freedom to make many personal choices, so long as those choices are governed by wisdom (Prov. 4:7; 19:8), love for others (Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 13:4-8a; 16:14), and bring glory to God (Rom. 11:36; 16:27; 1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 1:6, 11-14). 

Sig-P239I think law-abiding responsible persons should be prepared to protect and defend themselves when attacked.  As an American, I own a firearm for self-defense, which is my constitutional right according the Second Amendment of the United States of America, which declares, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”  I celebrate this right of self-protection.  I carry a gun for self-protection with the understanding that force is sometimes necessary to stop violent persons who are bent on stealing or causing physical harm.  Carrying a gun creates a heightened sense of awareness and personal responsibility.  If I’m ever compelled to draw my firearm around others, I want to be seen as the good guy; so I make it a point to behave and dress in a non-offensive manner.  Because my actions can harm others, I need to I know what I’m doing before I make the decision to draw my weapon.  Before I act, I need to know that my life or the life of an innocent person is in danger.  I should also resolve in advance that I’m ready to take action that could harm an attacker if I feel my life or the life of an innocent person is in danger.  Above all, I need to know my intentions and actions are right before God; for I know a day will come when I stand before His throne and give account for my life (2 Cor. 5:9-10).  If a person does not like guns as a means of self-defense, then by all means have some protection, whether pepper spray, a pocket knife, or an alert mind that tries to avoid trouble altogether.  For most criminals there’s a risk verses reward mentality, and they are often deterred from committing crime if the risk of being caught and punished exceeds the prospect of reward.  This assumes some rational thinking, and I realize some criminals engage in harmful behavior without thought or fear (perhaps because they’re impaired by drugs or just arrogant).  Prevention is better than confrontation when dealing with criminals.  As a means of home protection I used to post signs that read beware of dog, property under camera surveillance, and beware of owner (with a picture of a handgun).  These were intended to dissuade potential criminals who may have targeted my home.  There was reality behind the signs, for I had a dog, there were cameras, and, if necessary, I would use force as a means of protection.  My hope was never to encounter a criminal, and if a psychological deterrent worked, then property and life were preserved. 

       police-officersLastly, the governments of this world—though comprised of sinful men—are under God’s sovereign control and serve as ministers for good and justice.  When doing God’s will, governmental rulers are to be respected and obeyed, as God has granted them the authority to kill for just reasons.  Scripture states, “for it [government] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing” (Rom. 13:4a).  The sword is a picture of capital punishment, which God sanctions by means of the governments of this world.  Having an army or police force is necessary to restrain evil.  If a Christian is called into police or military service, then he may be the one who wields the instrument of punishment to accomplish God’s will.  In this case, he needs to be the best police officer or soldier he can be; and this for God’s glory.  Certainly there are rulers who abuse their power for sinful purposes, and at times need to be resisted (with wisdom and courage).  However, for the most part, governments serve as “a minister of God” (Rom. 13:4), and for this reason, we submit ourselves “for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Pet. 2:13-14).  We submit to rulers in authority, “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:2).  I prefer a tranquil life so that I may pursue my spiritual walk with the Lord and do good (Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:11-14). 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

[1] Norman L. Geisler, “Does the Bible Support a Just War?” In , in The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal, Chad Owen Brand, E. Ray Clendenen et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 995.

[2] Ibid., 995.

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The Providence of God

       God’s providence refers to His wise and personal acts, whereby He creates and controls circumstances in order to direct history according to His predetermined plan, all for His glory and the benefit of His elect.  People live in the flow of history, and are moved by the circumstances God controls.  God is good and “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11; cf. Ps. 103:19; 135:6; Dan. 4:35), and “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).  By His sovereign will God created all things in heaven and earth, and sustains and directs them as He desires.  The wicked are also under God’s sovereign control, and He uses them for His own ends (Prov. 16:4).  “To be sure, evil has entered the universe, but it is not allowed to thwart God’s original, benevolent, wise, and holy purpose.”[1]

Providence is normally defined in Christian theology as the unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill (Ps. 145:9 cf. Mt. 5:45–48), he upholds his creatures in ordered existence (Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), guides and governs all events, circumstances and free acts of angels and men (cf. Ps. 107; Jb. 1:12; 2:6; Gn. 45:5–8), and directs everything to its appointed goal, for his own glory (cf. Eph. 1:9–12). This view of God’s relation to the world must be distinguished from: (a) pantheism, which absorbs the world into God; (b) deism, which cuts it off from him; (c) dualism, which divides control of it between God and another power; (d)indeterminism, which holds that it is under no control at all; (e) determinism, which posits a control of a kind that destroys man’s moral responsibility; (f) the doctrine of chance, which denies the controlling power to be rational; and (g) the doctrine of fate, which denies it to be benevolent.[2]

       God’s providence is seen throughout the Bible.  God brought Joseph to Egypt, by the evil actions of his brothers (Gen. 37:23-28), and later used Joseph to deliver the very ones who betrayed him (Gen. 45:5-8; 47:11, 27-28; 50:20).  This was done to fulfill a promise given to Abraham (Gen. 15:13; 47:11, 27-28).  It was God’s providence that drove Saul to chase after his father’s donkeys, and then be led to the prophet Samuel and anointed king of Israel (1 Sam. 9-10).  It was God’s providence that directed Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, so the baby Jesus would be born at the appointed time and place (Mic. 5:2; Luke 2:4-6; Gal. 4:4).  Later, Joseph and Mary were compelled to go to Egypt, in order to preserve the baby Savior (Matt. 2:13-15).  It was God’s providence that forced Aquila and Priscilla out of Rome by the emperor Claudius’ decree, only to meet the apostle Paul in Corinth and join him in Christian ministry (Acts 18:1-3; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19).  It was God’s providence that put the Lord Jesus on the cross to be crucified by the hands of godless men (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).  Jesus died a substitutionary death, even for those who crucified Him (Rom. 3:25; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).

       God’s sovereignty, expressed through His providential control, produces confidence in His children.  The growing believer knows “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).  Where the Bible is silent, the believer seeks to discern God’s will through His providential direction as He directs people and circumstances as He pleases.  God controls all of life (Gen. 2:17; Job. 1:21; Ps. 104:29–30; Eccl. 12:7; Dan. 5:23), human birth and calling (Ps. 139:13-16; Jer. 1:4-5; Gal. 1:15), nature (Ps. 147:8; Jonah 1:4; Mark 4:39-41), plagues (Ex. 7–11; 12:29; Rev. 16:10-11), the roll of dice (Prov. 16:33; cf. Ps. 22:18; Matt. 27:35), health and sickness (Deut. 28:27-30; 2 Chron. 21:18; Ps. 41:3; Acts 3:16), prosperity and adversity (1 Sam. 2:7; Job 2:10; Isa. 45:5-7), suffering (Ps. 119:71; Heb. 12:5-11), and the development of Christian character (Rom. 5:2-5; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Jam. 1:2-4).  The growing believer takes great delight in knowing his good, loving and wise God is in control of His creation and is directing all things according to His providential plan. 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

[1] Henry Clarence Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 122.

[2] J. I. Packer, “Providence” in New Bible Dictionary, ed. D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard and D. J. Wiseman, 3rd ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 979-80.

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Trust in God – Charles H. Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon

“Now on whom dost thou trust?”

— Isaiah 36:5

Reader, this is an important question. Listen to the Christian’s answer, and see if it is yours. “On whom dost thou trust?” “I trust,” says the Christian, “in a triune God. I trust the Father, believing that he has chosen me from before the foundations of the world; I trust him to provide for me in providence, to teach me, to guide me, to correct me if need be, and to bring me home to his own house where the many mansions are. I trust the Son. Very God of very God is he—the man Christ Jesus. I trust in him to take away all my sins by his own sacrifice, and to adorn me with his perfect righteousness. I trust him to be my Intercessor, to present my prayers and desires before his Father’s throne, and I trust him to be my Advocate at the last great day, to plead my cause, and to justify me. I trust him for what he is, for what he has done, and for what he has promised yet to do. And I trust the Holy Spirit—he has begun to save me from my inbred sins; I trust him to drive them all out; I trust him to curb my temper, to subdue my will, to enlighten my understanding, to check my passions, to comfort my despondency, to help my weakness, to illuminate my darkness; I trust him to dwell in me as my life, to reign in me as my King, to sanctify me wholly, spirit, soul, and body, and then to take me up to dwell with the saints in light for ever.” [1]

Posted by Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

[1] Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings, “October 7”, Complete and unabridged; New modern edition. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006).

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The storm that drives us to God – Charles H. Spurgeon

charlesspurgeon

“On mine arm shall they trust.”

— Isaiah 51:5

In seasons of severe trial, the Christian has nothing on earth that he can trust to, and is therefore compelled to cast himself on his God alone. When his vessel is on its beam-ends, and no human deliverance can avail, he must simply and entirely trust himself to the providence and care of God. Happy storm that wrecks a man on such a rock as this! O blessed hurricane that drives the soul to God and God alone! There is no getting at our God sometimes because of the multitude of our friends; but when a man is so poor, so friendless, so helpless that he has nowhere else to turn, he flies into his Father’s arms, and is blessedly clasped therein! When he is burdened with troubles so pressing and so peculiar, that he cannot tell them to any but his God, he may be thankful for them; for he will learn more of his Lord then than at any other time. Oh, tempest-tossed believer, it is a happy trouble that drives thee to thy Father! Now that thou hast only thy God to trust to, see that thou puttest thy full confidence in him. Dishonour not thy Lord and Master by unworthy doubts and fears; but be strong in faith, giving glory to God. Show the world that thy God is worth ten thousand worlds to thee. Show rich men how rich thou art in thy poverty when the Lord God is thy helper. Show the strong man how strong thou art in thy weakness when underneath thee are the everlasting arms. Now is the time for feats of faith and valiant exploits. Be strong and very courageous, and the Lord thy God shall certainly, as surely as he built the heavens and the earth, glorify himself in thy weakness, and magnify his might in the midst of thy distress. The grandeur of the arch of heaven would be spoiled if the sky were supported by a single visible column, and your faith would lose its glory if it rested on anything discernible by the carnal eye. May the Holy Spirit give you to rest in Jesus this closing day of the month.[1]

Posted by Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

[1] Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings, “August 31”, Complete and unabridged; New modern edition. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006).

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