Not of Works

     One of the things I emphasize when presenting the gospel is that salvation is completely the work of God and not the work of people. We are saved by what Jesus accomplished for us at the cross and not by any good works we produce. Good works should follow salvation, but they are never the condition of it. The following Scriptures reveal that good works have no saving merit before God.

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (Rom. 3:28)

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom. 4:5)

Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity (2 Tim. 1:9)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5)

     The Bible reveals that we are helpless to save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3), and human works, however noble or great, have no saving merit in God’s sight. How then are we saved? We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward us. Grace is sometimes used as an acronym for God’s riches at Christ’s expense. This is correct. God richly provides our salvation through the death of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18). There is nothing we bring to God to be saved. He is completely satisfied with what Jesus did for us at the cross. By faith we trust in Christ alone to save us from our sins and eternal separation from God (John 3:16-18; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14). The challenge for us is to stop trusting in human works to save us and to cast ourselves completely on Christ as our Savior.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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Reasons why we obey God

Reasons why we obey God     As a Christian, I want to serve the Lord and do His will, but I find myself caught in a battle, pulled by various desires from within and pressures from without. Sometimes I have the support of others who encourage me to do God’s will, and sometimes I’m alone. Though I’ve had failures over the years (too many to count), I’ve learned that relapse does not have to mean collapse, for there is forgiveness after my failure as I come before God’s “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16) and confess my sin and am restored to fellowship (1 John 1:9). That being said, I would rather succeed as a Christian and walk in God’s will than fail as a disobedient child. But I ask myself, “Why should I obey God? What’s my motivation to do good?” I ask myself this because I find that motivation drives much of my behavior, good or bad. I also find that some motivations are more powerful than others, as love is a greater motivator than fear. Below is a list of reasons why believers obey God.

  1. Fear of divine punishment. Scripture teaches, we are to “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Eccl. 12:13; cf. Heb. 10:26-27). And, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever” (Ps. 111:10). In many instances the word fear ( יָרֵא yare) means fright or distress, because we know God may discipline us if we continue in sin (Heb. 12:5-11). In other instances the word communicates His awesome character and ways (Deut. 7:21; 10:17; Ps. 66:3).
  2. It brings us joy. Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy [Grk. χαρά chara] may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:10-11; cf. John 13:1-17). Worldly joy depends on circumstances and feelings, whereas God’s joy is found in doing His will. Jesus had joy even while suffering on the cross (see Heb. 12:2).
  3. It pleases God. Scripture directs us to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). And, “do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb. 13:16).
  4. We want God’s blessing. “You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you” (Deut. 5:33). And, “Be careful to listen to all these words which I command you, so that it may be well with you and your sons after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God” (Deut. 12:28).
  5. We desire future rewards. Jesus said, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35; cf. 1 Cor. 3:10-15). And Paul wrote, “Instruct them [rich believers] to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Tim. 6:18-19).
  6. In response to God’s love for us. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). And, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Eph. 5:1-2). Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). And Paul wrote, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

     This list is by no means exhaustive, but touches on those major motivations mentioned in Scripture as to why we obey God and seek to do His will above our own. In my opinion, the greatest motivation to serve God is love—love in response to His love for us. But this motivation assumes we’ve read our Bible and learned something about who God is and what He’s done for us (hint hint).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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A Commitment of the Heart

     A Commitment of the HeartGood and evil reflect a commitment of the heart, and this commitment determines our values and actions, either good or bad. It was said of king Rehoboam that “He did evil because he did not set his heart to seek the LORD” (2 Chron. 12:14). Rehoboam was a person, made in the image of God, with the capacity to think and act. The text tells he did evil (Hebrew רָע ra) which means he acted contrary to the will of God and in a way that was harmful to himself and others (read 2 Chron. 12:1-13). The Hebrew particle כִּי ki, translated because, is used here to introduce a causal phrase, explaining that one thing caused another.[1] In this case, it’s explained that Rehoboam acted in an evil way because “he did not set his heart to seek the LORD.” What does it mean to set the heart? The word set translates the Hebrew verb כּוּן kun, which here means to “be intent on, be firmly resolved.”[2] That is, Rehoboam firmly resolved in his heart that he was going to do as he pleased without regard for what God required of him. Biblically, this is always a recipe for disaster. Any time we choose our will above God’s will, we act like the little child that reaches for the flame because it’s pretty, not realizing the harm it will cause. The passage also speaks of Rehoboam’s heart (Hebrew לֵב leb) which refers to his inner core; the very seat of his life, from which he controls his thoughts, feelings, and actions. The heart is the pilot seat where one guides his/her life. It is from this seat that we choose our course, either for or against God. Similar language of setting the heart is used in a positive sense of king Jehoshaphat, to whom it was said, “there is some good in you, for you have removed the Asheroth from the land and you have set your heart to seek God” (2 Chron. 19:3), and king David said, “My heart is steadfast [כּוּן kunfirmly set], O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!” (Ps. 57:7). Concerning this comment by David, Dr. Allen P. Ross states:

The word “steadfast” means established, fixed, firm, secure; and the fact that it is his heart that is steadfast means that he is firmly established in his faith so that his affections and actions are loyal to God. This quality of steadfastness is what the penitent prayed for in Psalm 51:10, a steadfast spirit, for without it he would waiver in his faith and make the wrong choices. Here the psalmist has an unwavering faith in the LORD.[3]

     Similar statements are found in the New Testament of people who turned away from God because of a choice that started with an orientation of the heart, a decision to love something or someone other than the Lord. For example, John tells us that Jesus came as the Light into the world, but most people rejected Him because they “loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). The word love translates the Greek verb ἀγαπάω agapao, which expresses a strong commitment to something; in this case, the darkness they hope will hide their evil deeds. A little later in His Gospel, John describes some Jewish rulers who believed in Jesus; however, they were afraid to publicly confess Him, “for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:42-43). John uses the same Greek word, ἀγαπάω agapao, to describe the choice these men made, which choice was based on fear rather than faith.

     In summary, the direction of the heart determines our values and actions, either good or bad. Jeremiah described those who reject God and His Word, saying, “they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward” (Jer. 7:24). In contrast, Jesus spoke of those who receive God’s Word, saying, “these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15). Who are you? Are you one who has set your heart to turn away from God and live as you please? Is your will more important than His? Or, are you one who has an honest and good heart that welcomes God and His Word and who submits yourself to doing His will? I hope it’s the latter. Your words and actions will show it.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] John N. Oswalt, “976 כִי,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 437–438.

[2] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 465.

[3] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: Mich. Kregel Publications, 2013), 288.

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When God Said “Do Not Pray”

     There are two instances in Scripture—that I’m aware of—when God told someone not to pray, for He would not hear their prayer. Moses is the first example, for though he’d been faithful to God most of his life, he was told by the Lord he’d not enter the land promised to Israel because of his disobedience as a leader when he struck the rock (Num. 20:8-12). Moses pleaded with the Lord, saying, “Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon. But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the LORD said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter’” (Deut. 3:25-26). God’s decision concerning Moses was final. Moses would not enter the Promised Land, for the Lord said, “Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan” (Deut. 3:25-27; cf. Deut. 1:37; 31:1-2). God explained to Moses why He would not hear his prayer, saying, “because you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel” (Deut. 32:51). No amount of prayer would change God’s mind, so He told Moses to stop praying about it.

     Do not pray-2The second example is the prophet Jeremiah. God told him not to pray for his fellow Israelites. Three times God told Jeremiah, “do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you” (Jer. 7:16; cf. 11:14; 14:11). The reason behind God’s command was that He had decided to judge and punish His people (Jer. 7:20) because they’d repeatedly broken their covenant with Him by disobeying His commands and pursuing other gods, which He had forbidden (Ex. 20:2-4; cf. Ezek. 20:4-24).[1] Israel’s idolatry was terrible in Jeremiah’s day and included human sacrifice, as many caused their children to be burned alive (Jer. 19:4-5; cf. Ezek. 16:20-21; 20:25-26, 31). Over and over again, Israel disobeyed God’s commands and would not change their behavior (Jer. 7:21-26; 11:1-13).[2] Though Jeremiah had repeatedly spoken God’s Word to them for over two decades (Jer. 25:3), the people openly defied His message, telling him, “As for the message that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we are not going to listen to you!” (Jer. 44:16). Their hearts were hardened to God’s Word. If Israel had listened to God and turned back to Him from their idolatry, God would have reversed His discipline and provided blessing instead (Jer. 7:3-7). Until they changed their ways, no amount of prayer was going to change their situation. God would not be moved by their pleas, or the petitions of His prophets.

     The New Testament teaches that God will discipline His disobedient people (Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19; 1 Cor. 11:32), even to the point of death (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:27-30, 1 John 5:16-17). However, there are no examples in the New Testament of God telling anyone not to pray. Instead, we are commanded to be “devoted to prayer” (Rom. 12:12; cf. Col. 4:2), to “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18), and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17; cf. Luke 18:1). This means the believer is to look to God always for wisdom and strength to do His will, lifting others before His throne of grace, requesting He will intervene as we ask, for His glory and their benefit.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] God had formed a covenant (בְּרִית berith) with the nation of Israel after He’d delivered them from Egyptian captivity (Ex. Chapters 3-14). The nation of Israel became a theocracy, and God gave them a total of 613 commands that were to guide their relationship with Him and others. God promised to bless Israel if they abided by the stipulations of the covenant (Deut. 28:1-14), and He promised to curse them if they did not (Deut. 28:15-68). God was being faithful to His word.

[2] The sin of idolatry was widespread in Jeremiah’s day, including Israel’s king, princes, and elders (Jer. 44:17), down to the basic unit of society, the family (Jer. 7:18). It’s an evil thing when parents lead their children away from righteousness and into gross immorality.

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The Basics of Prayer

     Pray to the LordThere are two statements I hear people make about prayer that are incorrect: 1) there’s power in prayer, and 2) prayer changes things. Both statements give undue authority to the one who prays. Biblically, the power lies in the One who answers the prayer, and He alone reserves the right to change things if He wills. God answers prayer, but He does so according to His sovereign will.[1] Sometimes He says yes, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. It is good to remember that a prayer delayed is not necessarily a prayer denied. Sometimes we just need patience.

     Prayer is discussion with God. It is motivated by different causes and takes different forms.[2] Most often prayer is an appeal to God to change a difficult or helpless situation. Sometimes God changes our situations as we request (i.e., concerning employment, health, finances, family matters, etc.), and sometimes He leaves the difficult situation and seeks to change our attitude (2 Cor. 12:7-10). When God does not remove a difficult situation as we request, then He intends for us to deal with it by faith (Jam. 1:2-4). God uses difficult situations to remove pride (Dan. 4:37; 2 Cor. 12:7-10), and to develop our Christian character (Rom. 5:3-5). It’s almost always the case that we prefer God change our circumstances rather than our attitude; and yet, it seems both biblically and experientially that God prefers to do the opposite. Though the Lord is concerned about our difficult situations, He’s more concerned with developing our Christian character than relieving our discomfort. However God chooses to answer, He has His reasons and they always glorify Him. A challenge to us is to trust that His plan is better than ours, wherever it happens to lead us, or however difficult the journey becomes.

     Prayer is for believers, for one can address God as Father only as a member of the family of God (John 1:12; Gal. 3:26).[3] Jesus prayed often, both publicly and privately (Matt. 11:25-26; 14:23; 19:13; 26:36; Mark 6:46; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:28; 10:21; 22:41-42; John 11:41-42; 12:27-28; 17:1-26), and His prayer life was so noticeable, that His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1-4; cf. Matt. 6:9-13). For the Christian, prayer should be directed to God the Father (Matt. 6:6; Luke 11:2; Eph. 5:20; 1 Pet. 1:17),[4] in the name of Jesus (John 14:13; 15:16), and in the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:18; Jude 1:20). Praying in the name of Jesus is not a magic formula that makes our prayers acceptable to God; rather, it means our request is consistent with Jesus’ character and will (1 John 5:14-15). Praying in the Spirit means we pray as the Spirit leads according to Scripture.[5] It is interesting to note that both God the Holy Spirit and God the Son offer intercessory prayers for us to God the Father (Rom. 8:26; Heb. 7:24-25).

     Some of the different types of prayer found in Scripture include: request (Phil. 4:6; Eph. 6:18), thanksgiving (John 11:41; Phil. 4:6), submission (Luke 22:41-42), faith (Jam. 5:15), imprecation[6] (Ps. 58:6-8; 69:23-28), and intercession (Acts 12:1-5). The best prayers seek to glorify God above all else. Moses provides a model prayer in Exodus 32:7-14 where he prayed on behalf of His people, Israel, that God would not pour out His wrath on them because of their idolatry (Ex. 32:1-6). Moses’ prayer to God starts by identifying Israel as “Your people” whom He had rescued from Egyptian bondage (Ex. 32:11). Israel was not just any people, but God’s chosen nation, who had already tasted of His great grace and compassion.[7] After citing God’s deliverance, Moses then argued with God to withhold His wrath for two reasons: First, if God destroyed Israel, then His reputation among the pagan nations would be tarnished (Ex. 32:12). Moses sought to protect God’s reputation in the eyes of others, even unbelievers, and to uphold His glory above self-interest. Second, if God destroyed Israel, He would be in violation of the promises He’d made to Israel’s forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Ex. 32:13). Moses did not want others to see God as one who fails to keep His promises. Moses’ prayer was heard and God relented of the judgment He intended to bring on His people because of their sin (Ex. 32:14).

When God Does Not Hear Our Prayers

     There are some things in life that God conditions on prayer (Jam. 4:2), but praying is no guarantee He’ll grant our request. Being a righteous God, He only hears the prayers of those who seek to know Him and do His will. The apostle Peter writes, “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer. But the Lord’s face is against those who do evil” (1 Pet. 3:12). The apostle John writes, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14-15).

    Biblically, there are several reasons why God does not answer the prayer of believers: lack of faith (Jam. 1:5-8), worship of other gods (Jer. 1:16; 11:12-14), failure to take in Bible teaching (Prov. 1:24-31; 28:9; Zech. 7:11-13), selfishness (Jam. 4:2-3), carnality (Ps. 66:18; Mic. 3:4; Isa. 1:15; 59:1-3), lack of harmony in the home (1 Pet. 3:7), pride and self-righteousness (Job 35:12-13), and lack of obedience (Deut. 1:43-45; 1 John 3:22; 5:14). All of these failings can be corrected as the believer learns God’s Word and lives obediently by faith. Failure to learn God’s Word and/or apply it results in self-harm, much like a child who will not listen to her parents, but repeatedly keeps reaching for the hot flame because it’s pretty. God’s commands are designed to bring blessing, either by teaching us to avoid that which is harmful, or to pursue that which is helpful.

     The apostle Paul reveals a situation when God refused to answer his prayer. Paul was struggling with something he called his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). We don’t know what it was, except that it caused him great hardship. Paul asked God to take it away, saying, “I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me” (2 Cor. 12:8). Paul uses the Greek verb παρακαλέω parakaleo, which in this context means “to make a strong request for something.”[8] Paul was pleading with God to remove his problem, but God said no. The Lord had a reason for it to be there, and He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9a). Paul did not like being weak. He did not like feeling helpless about this thing that caused him discomfort. But Paul’s thorn, however difficult it was to him, kept him close to God, and that’s what God wanted. It’s as though God were telling Paul, “Paul, I know you don’t like your suffering, but the very thing you don’t like is what keeps you close to me, and the strength of our fellowship is more important than the alleviation of your discomfort.” Suffering is our friend when it keeps up humble and close to God. When Paul understood this, his attitude changed, and he accepted his suffering and praised God for it. Paul said, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10). This is a faith response, for it could never be born out of our emotions.

Summary

     Prayer is a blessing we enjoy as believers as we can come before God’s throne of grace and make requests. As Christians, we are to “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18), and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17; cf. Luke 18:1; Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2). As we advance toward spiritual maturity, God will occupy our thoughts in all matters, and prayer will come more and more naturally. And, like Moses, we will seek God’s interests above our own and pray according to His will.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Scripture reveals, “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6), for “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth” (Dan 4:35), declaring, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (Isa. 46:10).

[2] The most common words in the Bible translated prayer are תְּפִלָּה tephillah (Job 16:17; Ps. 65:2) and προσευχή proseuche (Luke. 19:46; Acts 12:5), which simply speak of the act of prayer. Other words include פָּלַל palal – to intervene as a mediator (Gen. 20:7; Job 42:8), לַחַשׁ lachash – a whispering prayer (Isa. 26:16; 29:4), שָׁאַל shaal – to ask, inquire (Isa. 7:11; 45:11), עָתַר athar – a prayer related to sacrifice (Job 33:26), δέησις deesis – an urgent request (Eph. 6:18), and ἔντευξις enteuxis – simple prayer, childlike prayer (1 Tim. 2:1). The word αἰτέω aiteo is not translated as prayer, but is clearly used when making requests to God (Matt. 7:7; John 14:13).

[3] The general agreement among theologians is that God does not hear the prayers of unbelievers, for they are not God’s children but belong to Satan. Jesus said of unbelieving Jews, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). Logically, one cannot call God his Father if He is not. In another place, a man who had been healed by Jesus said to the Jewish religious leaders, “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him” (John 9:31). However, there does seem to be at least one occasion in which God heard the prayer of an unbeliever who was seeking Him for salvation (e.g. Acts 10:1-2, 30-31; 11:14). It could be that if an unbeliever seeks God for salvation, as Cornelius did, then His prayers for salvation are answered.

[4] Although there is at least one petition in the NT directed to Jesus (Acts 7:59-60).

[5] The Greek preposition ἐν can mean, “in” “by” or “with” the Spirit. Hoehner translates the prepositional phrase ἐν παντὶ καιρῷ ἐν πνεύματι as “at every opportunity or occasion in the Spirit” (Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Baker Academic, 2002, p. 856). Hoehner further states, “In the immediate context [of Eph. 6:18], praying in the Spirit may well be connected to the sword of the Spirit. The sword of the Spirit is, on the one hand, God’s spoken word to put His enemies to flight and, on the other hand, the believer’s utterance to God in prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit to aid in the struggle against the evil powers” (p. 857).

[6] Imprecatory prayers were valid under the Mosaic Law where obedient Israelites could expect God to dispense justice to their enemies (Deut. 28:7). These types of prayers are not valid for Christians because we are not under the Mosaic Law (Rom. 6:14). We are commanded to pray for our enemies that God will bless them (Matt. 5:44-45; Luke 6:28, 35; cf. Rom. 12:17-21; 1 Thess. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:9). If God dispenses judgment upon our enemies, He will do so at His discretion and not ours (Rom. 12:17-19; 2 Thess. 1:6).

[7] God’s deliverance was not based on any righteousness found in Israel, for He describes them as a “stubborn” and “rebellious” people who keep defying Him, in spite of His goodness (Deut. 9:6-7).

[8] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 765.

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The Meaning of Sin

     The MeaningThe word sin is found throughout Scripture, and both the Hebrew and Greek share the same basic meaning. The Hebrew word חָטָא chata means “to miss the target, or to lose the way,”[1] and the Greek word ἁμαρτάνω hamartano is defined as “miss the mark, err, or do wrong.”[2] In Judges 20:16 the Hebrew word is used of skilled soldiers who do not miss their target, and in Proverbs 19:2 of a man who hurries and misses his way.[3] Sin is when we transgress God’s law and depart from His intended path.[4] The apostle John states, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). “Sin may be comprehensively defined as lack of conformity to the law of God in act, habit, attitude, outlook, disposition, motivation, and mode of existence.”[5]

     Divine laws are a reflection of the righteousness of God. The righteousness of God may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates. God’s character is the basis upon which all just laws derive; either divine laws from God Himself or human laws which conform to His righteousness.[6]

The underlying idea of sin is that of law and of a lawgiver. The lawgiver is God. Hence sin is everything in the disposition and purpose and conduct of God’s moral creatures that is contrary to the expressed will of God (Rom. 3:20; 4:15; 7:7; James 4:12, 17). The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves (Gen. 39:9; Ps. 51:4).[7]

     God permits sin, but is never the author of it. Sin is the expression of a creaturely will that is set against God. The sin we commit may be mental, verbal, or physical. It may be private or public, impacting one or many, with short or lasting results. Below are biblical examples of sin:

  1. Lucifer sought to place himself above God (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-18).
  2. Adam and Eve disobeyed the command not to eat the fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-7).
  3. Lot’s daughters got him drunk and had sex with him (Gen. 19:30-38)
  4. Aaron led the Israelites to worship an idol (Ex. 32:1-6).
  5. Moses struck the rock when the Lord told him only to speak to it (Num. 20:8-12).
  6. Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg. 16:1-4).
  7. David had an affair with Bathsheba and conspired to have her husband, Uriah, murdered (2 Sam. 11:1-21).
  8. Solomon worshiped idols (1 Kings 11:1-10).
  9. Peter tried to prevent Jesus from going to the cross (Matt. 16:21-23).
  10. Peter publicly denied the Lord three times ( 26:34-35; 69-75).
  11. The Christians at Corinth engaged in quarrels (1 Cor. 1:11), jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21). 
  12. The Apostle John twice worshiped an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).

     The above list is a just a sampling of sins in the Bible. Biblically, every person is a sinner in God’s sight. Jesus is the single exception.[8] We are sinners in Adam (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom. 7:18-21; Gal. 5:17; Eph. 2:1-3), and sinners by choice (1 Kings 8:46; Prov. 20:9; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:9-23). Sin separates us from God and renders us helpless to merit God’s approval. We are helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa. 64:6; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. Sadly, many people buy into the lie that they can help save themselves by doing good works. The biblical teaching is that salvation is never based on good works or adherence to law, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 16:31). Scripture states, we are “not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16; cf. Rom. 3:20, 28), for “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21).

The Good News of the Gospel

     It does no good to talk about sin if we don’t also address God’s solution. God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph. 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:18). God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt. 5:17-21; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins. The gospel message is that “Christ 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).  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). Biblically, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24), and “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28; cf. 4:5), “for by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9), for “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:5-7). In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), and given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 305.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 49.

[3] G. Herbert Livingston, “638 חָטָא,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 277.

[4] Other Hebrew and Greek words related to sin include: evil (רָע ra – Gen. 3:5), wicked (רָשָׁע rasha – Prov. 15:9), rebellion (פָּשַׁע pasha – Isa. 1:2), iniquity (עָוֹן avon – Isa. 53:6), error (שָׁגָה shagah – Lev. 4:13), guilt (אָשַׁם asham – Lev. 4:22), go astray (תָּעָה taah – Ps. 58:3), bad (κακός kakos – Rom. 12:17), evil (πονηρός poneros – Matt. 7:11), ungodly (ἀσεβής asebes – Rom. 4:5), guilty (ἔνοχος enochos – 1 Cor. 11:27), sin (ἁμαρτία hamartia – 1 Cor. 15:3), unrighteousness (ἀδικία adikia – Rom. 1:18), lawless (ἄνομος anomos – 1 Tim. 1:9), transgression (παράβασις parabasis – Gal. 3:19), ignorance (ἀγνοέω agnoeo – Acts 17:23), go astray (πλανάω planao – 1 Pet. 2:25), trespass (παράπτωμα paraptoma – Rom. 5:15), and hypocrisy (ὑπόκρισις hupokrisis – 1 Tim. 4:2). 

[5] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).

[6] If there is no God, then there is no absolute standard for right and wrong and we are left with arbitrary laws based on manufactured values.

[7] Merrill F. Unger and E. McChesney, “Sin,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1198.

[8] Jesus, because of His divine nature (John 1:1, 14; Col. 2:9), and the virgin conception (Isa. 7:14; Luke 1:30-35), is the only person ever born without sin and who committed no sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). His perfect humanity and sinless life qualified Him to go to the cross and die in our place. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

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Treating Others with Dignity

     Treating OthersWhat does it mean to treat others with dignity? Dignity most commonly refers to the honor we confer on others. Scripture directs us to “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, and honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17). The word honor translates the Greek word τιμάω timao, which means “to show high regard for, honor, revere.”[1] We honor all people because they are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).[2] We honor those in authority (i.e. the king) because they are divinely appointed ministers of righteousness (Dan. 2:21; Rom. 13:1-4). Above all, we are to honor God (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16).

     Dignity can refer to one’s character or accomplishments. Paul told his friend Titus, “in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified” (Tit. 2:7; cf. 1 Tim. 2:2; 3:4, 8). The word dignified translates the Greek σεμνότης semnotes, which refers to a pattern of moral behavior that warrants praise from others. In this sense, honor is not fitting for a fool (Prov. 26:1, 8).

     The noble woman in Proverbs 31 is described as wearing dignity like clothing. The passage reads, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Prov. 31:25-26). “Strength and dignity” are the developed attractive qualities of her character, which qualities are obvious to others who hear her words of “wisdom” and “the teaching of kindness” that flows from her lips.

     There is also a dignity we are to show to people because of their status in society. It can be the honor we give to the aged (Lev. 19:32), our parents (Ex. 20:12), widows (1 Tim. 5:3), church elders (1 Tim. 5:17), or a person in a high office, such as a king or public official (1 Pet. 2:17). Honor and respect are not the same. We may not respect the values and actions of others, yet we can honor them as parents or public officials. Dr. Thomas Constable explains this well.

Respect is not the same as honor. We may not respect someone, but we can and should still honor him or her. For example, I have a friend whose father was an alcoholic. My friend did not respect his father who was frequently drunk, often humiliated his wife and children, and failed to provide for his family adequately. Nevertheless my friend honored his father because he was his father. He demonstrated honor by taking him home when his father could not get home by himself. He sometimes had to defend him from people who would have taken advantage of him when he was drunk. Similarly we may not be able to respect certain government officials because of their personal behavior or beliefs. Still we can and should honor them because they occupy an office that places them in a position of authority over us. We honor them because they occupy the office; we do not just honor the office. Peter commanded us to honor the king and all who are in authority over us, not just the offices that they occupy…Honoring others is our responsibility; earning our respect is theirs.[3]

  1. At the most basic level we dignify people by recognizing their value as human beings who are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Being made in the image of God means people have the capacity to reason, feel, and make moral choices (Gen. 1:26-27). We honor people by appealing to their intellect with honesty and truth, being sensitive to their feelings, and respecting their right of self-determination (i.e. the right of a person to control their own life).
  2. We dignify people when we address them properly by their office (i.e. mother or father, senator, judge, etc.), title (i.e. doctor, officer, pastor, etc.), or simply as sir or ma’am. Public speech is a common way to honor others (Dan. 2:4; 6:21; Acts 26:1-3), or dishonor them (Matt. 15:4).
  3. We dignify people by showing love (Rom. 13:8), doing good (Gal. 6:10), and treating them as important (Phil. 2:3-4). The mature person demonstrates the highest form of dignity by loving his enemies (Luke 6:27-30), and blessing those who persecute him (Rom. 12:14).
  4. We dignify people when we use language that recognizes their sacrifices and courageous choices. We should offer praise for military personnel, police officers, firemen, medics, and others who place themselves in harm’s way for our protection and benefit. I’m a little biased here, but I also think we should praise those who care for the elderly, orphans, homeless, and the disabled in our communities. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1004.

[2] It is because people are made in the image of God that murder is wrong (Gen. 9:6), as well as cursing people (Jam. 3:8-10). Both murder and cursing are regarded as an attack on the image of God.

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Pet. 2:17.

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