Faith Strengthening Techniques

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Pro 3:5-6)

Strengthen-your-faith     Fear is part of the human experience. It is first mentioned in Genesis chapter three after Adam and Eve sinned and then encountered the presence of the Lord (Gen 3:10). Since the historic fall, there exists healthy and unhealthy forms of fear. Fear of God that leads to righteous living is good. Fear of others that leads to sinful living is bad. When we live righteously, we have no reason to fear God (1 John 4:18) or righteous rulers (Rom 13:1-4). Satan, and those who align with him, will seek to intimidate others into conformity in order to frustrate the plan of God. When facing opposition to doing God’s will, the believer must stand on truth. When fear rises among believers, there are faith-strengthening techniques we can apply to our situation that will fortify our walk with God. These techniques are all learned from Scripture and applied by faith (see video at end of article).

     First, live in God’s Word – Scripture is the starting point for the Christian faith, as “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17 KJV). As Christians, we are to “have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor 5:9). God states, “my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). Those who consistently live in God’s Word find stability for their souls (Psa 1:1-3; Jer 17:5-8). Scripture reveals that only God and His Word are absolutely true (Psa 119:160; John 17:17), and never fail (Matt 24:35; Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18). In contrast, we learn that people fail (Jer 17:5; cf. Pro 28:26), money fails (Psa 62:10), the government fails (Psa 146:3), and the creation fails (Matt 24:35).

     Second, look up to God – When believers encounter a stressful situation, the first action should be to place our focus on God for help. David wrote, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?” (Psa 56:3-4; cf. Ex 14:1-14; Deut 20:1-4; 31:1-8). When Abraham considered God’s promise that he would have a son (Gen 15:1-6; 17:6), yet knew in his old age that neither he nor Sarah could produce an heir by human effort (Rom 4:18-19), “he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Rom 4:20-21). The proclivity of people is to look inward, outward, and downward; whereas God calls us to look to Him. Isaiah wrote, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock” (Isa 26:3-4). And Paul wrote, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2).

     Third, look back on God’s faithfulness – Thinking back on God’s faithfulness will help us overcome fear and face current troubles with confidence. When facing a large population and military in Canaan, Moses told his people, “If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?’ You shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and the wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid” (Deut 7:17-19; cf. 8:1-4). And Jeremiah, when lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of his people, found hope by recalling God’s faithfulness. Jeremiah wrote, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam 3:21-23).

     Fourth, look forward to God’s future promises – Understanding and believing God’s prophetic promises will help strengthen our faith and alleviate fear. On one occasion Jesus knew His disciples were struggling with fear and He sought to strengthen their faith by instructing them to focus on eschatological certainties. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples He was leaving them (John 13:33), and this troubled them. But Jesus sought to stabilize their thinking by getting them to focus on God, Himself, and a promise of a future reunion. Jesus said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

     Fifth, live in God’s love – Abiding in God’s love will strengthen our faith and remove fear. John wrote, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). God is perfect, and so is His love and care for us (Rom 8:28-39). As we walk with God, our immature love develops and grows strong, becoming like His love. When this happens, fear fades away, and we can be courageous and loving toward everyone, even those who identify as our enemies and seek our harm.

      Sixth, fellowship with growing believers – Godly believers will encourage each other and strengthen each other’s faith. Paul wrote, “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours” (Rom 1:12). When writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul said, “Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith” (1 Th 3:1-2). Growing believers are marked by love for each other as we seek to encourage each other to love the Lord and to serve Him in humility and faithfulness.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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Commitment Love

Love is often described as an emotion, a warm feeling toward another person. Webster’s Dictionary defines love as a “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties…warm attachment, enthusiasm.”[1] This works in some ways, when the object of our affection appeals to us. But when the natural affinity is gone, or the object becomes unattractive, indifferent, or hostile, emotional love fails.

There is a higher form of love that supersedes emotion. A love that derives from the individual and has little or no regard for the appeal or worth of the object. It is a love that is born out of the bounty of one’s own goodness and is marked by stability and commitment. This love always seeks the best interests of others at one’s own expense, and is not often understood or appreciated. It is this higher form of love that is described and promoted in the Bible. The Bible reveals God loves us, and we are to love Him and others.

God revealed His attribute of love to Moses, saying, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness [חֶסֶד chesed] and truth; who keeps lovingkindness [חֶסֶד chesed] for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin” (Exo 34:6-7a). According to HALOT, the Hebrew word חֶסֶד chesed denotes “lasting loyalty, faithfulness…to show loyalty.”[2] Here, God’s loyalty means He keeps His covenant promises to His people. God is faithful to His Word (see Psa 89:1-4; cf. Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18).

Another word for love in the OT is the Hebrew verb אָהַב ahav. An example is found in Deuteronomy 6:5 where Moses wrote, “You shall love [אָהֵב aheb] the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5). Here, love is an act of the will in which Israelites were to commit themselves to the Lord wholeheartedly. Concerning the word love in this passage, Daniel Block writes:

Speaking biblically “love” is not merely an emotion, a pleasant disposition toward another person, but covenant commitment demonstrated in actions that seek the interest of the next person…Just as in marriage true love is demonstrated not merely or even primarily by roses and verbal utterances of “I love you,” but in actions that seek the well-being and delight of one’s spouse.[3]

Warren Wiersbe adds:

In the life of the believer, love is an act of the will: we choose to relate to God and to other persons in a loving way no matter how we may feel. Christian love simply means that we treat others the way God treats us. In His love, God is kind and forgiving toward us, so we seek to be kind and forgiving toward others (Eph. 4:32). God wills the very best for us, so we desire the very best for others, even if it demands sacrifice on our part.[4]

The idea of commitment-love carries into the New Testament where Jesus tells His disciples, “If you love [ἀγαπάω agapao] Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Love for Jesus means we are committed to Him above all else, and this commitment is manifest in a life of obedience to Him and service to others. Biblical love for others is not primarily an emotion; rather, it’s a choice to commit ourselves to them and to seek God’s best in their lives.

As Christians, God wants us to walk with Him and enjoy His love and blessings. Our obedience is motivated by His love for us. The apostle John set the order when he wrote, “we love [ἀγαπάω agapao], because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And God loved us when we were helpless, ungodly, sinners and enemies (Rom 5:6-10). The apostle Paul wrote, “God demonstrates His own love [ἀγάπη agape] toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Jesus tells us to love our enemies.

You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love [ἀγαπάω agapao] your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:43-45)

But love [ἀγαπάω agapao] 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. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)

This command cannot be obeyed if love is an emotion, for one cannot conjure up a warm affection for the one who hates us and causes injury. Emotions are part of what it means to be human. I like my emotions very much, although there are times they get in the way of good judgment and right decisions. The truth is, emotions are unintelligent. They never operate on their own, but are always tied to thoughts or actions. Emotion follows thought like a trailer follows a truck. The trailer goes where the truck goes.

Being unintelligent, emotion does not differentiate between reality or fiction. I can watch a TV show, or read a book, and have an emotional response that is triggered by fictional characters and events. I can even produce a story in my own mind that is completely fictional and have an emotional response. If I want to change my emotions, I need to change my thoughts or actions.

Emotion Follows Thought

Emotional love is not in view when Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Rather, it is commitment love, in which we seek God’s best in the lives of others. Warren Wiersbe states:

Jesus defined our enemies as those who curse us, hate us, and exploit us selfishly. Since Christian love is an act of the will, and not simply an emotion, He has the right to command us to love our enemies. After all, He loved us when we were His enemies (Rom 5:10). We may show this love by blessing those who curse us, doing good to them, and praying for them. When we pray for our enemies, we find it easier to love them. It takes the “poison” out of our attitudes.[5]

William MacDonald adds:

Jesus announces that we are to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. The fact that love is commanded shows that it is a matter of the will and not primarily of the emotions. It is not the same as natural affection because it is not natural to love those who hate and harm you.[6]

Now, let me be careful here. Loving our enemies does not necessarily mean we expose ourselves to their hostilities. There are clear examples in Scripture where God’s people hid themselves from their enemies. For example, Rahab protected the two spies that came to her house, for “she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof” (Josh 2:6; cf. Heb 11:31). Obadiah hid one hundred prophets of the Lord and provided food and water for them (1 Ki 18:1-4). These were true prophets, for a false prophet would not have been afraid of the public hostility of Ahab and Jezebel. There were at least two occasions when Jesus “hid Himself” from an attack by the Jewish leadership (John 8:59; John 12:36). Certainly, there was no sin in Jesus’ action.

Furthermore, it’s valid to warn others of enemies who may attack and cause unnecessary harm. When writing to his friend Timothy, the apostle Paul warned him about a dangerous man who hurt him. Paul wrote, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching” (2 Tim 4:14-15). Paul did not state what the specific harm was, but clearly he’d been marked by his encounter with Alexander and carried the memory of the hurt. As a Christian, Paul did not seek revenge against Alexander, but rather, put the matter in the Lord’s hands, saying, “the Lord will repay with him according to his deeds” (2 Tim 4:14b). Because God is the one who dispenses justice, we are commanded, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19). Paul knew God would deal with Alexander in His own time and way and that the punishment would be equitable payment for the harm done to him. There should be no hatred in the heart of the Christian. As Christians, we are never called to seek revenge upon those who have hurt us, but rather, to put the matter in the Lord’s hands. Scripture teaches that God repays people according to their actions, as Paul wrote, “it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Th 1:6).

In summary, biblical love for others is not primarily an emotion; rather, it’s a choice to commit ourselves to them and to seek God’s best in their lives. Love is manifest by prayer, sharing the Gospel with the lost, sharing biblical truth to edify believers, open handed giving to the needy, and supporting Christian ministries that do God’s work, just to name a few.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1996).

[2] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 336.

[3] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 189–190.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 46.

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 24.

[6] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1223.

Posted in Counseling, Inspirational Writings, Love, Marriage, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Satan’s Strategies to Defeat God’s People

The Bible reveals that Satan is the enemy of God and he attacks His people. Peter warns us, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8).[1] In his efforts, Satan employs strategies to accomplish his purposes. A strategy is a plan of action one creates and employs in order to achieve an objective. Satan’s major objective is to make himself like God and rule in His place (Isa 14:12-14). But there is only one sovereign God (Isa 45:5-6), and He keeps advancing His own agenda, which cannot fail, because He cannot fail. However, Satan’s desire, like his reasoning, has been corrupted by his pride (Ezek 28:17). We might say he’s mad. Because Satan cannot touch God Himself, he goes after His people, seeking to frustrate our efforts as best he can. Sometimes he’s permitted to have his way.[2] We help him when we think and act like him. But we guard ourselves against his attacks when we humbly submit ourselves to the Lord by learning and living His Word on a daily basis.

In this article, we will consider six major strategies Satan employs to attack God’s people and hinder spiritual growth and ministry. The purpose of this study is to learn how Satan attacks, “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor 2:11). Knowing Satan’s strategies of war enables us to identify an attack and to defend ourselves by putting on the armor of God. Learning God’s Word and living by faith is the key to victory. “Everybody in this world lives by faith. The difference between the Christian and the unconverted person is not the fact of faith, but the object of faith. The unsaved person trusts himself and other humans; the Christian trusts God. It is your faith in God that is the secret of victory and ministry.”[3]

Fallen angel     First, Satan promotes sinful pride. Sinful pride tempts us to think we don’t need God, believing we can operate independently of the Lord, not obeying His Word or seeking Him in prayer. God hates pride. Pride was the sin that brought Lucifer down, as we are told of him, “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; and you corrupted your wisdom on account of your splendor” (Ezek 28:17 NET). The angel, Lucifer, became Satan when he set his will against the will of God (Isa 14:12-14). Satan takes every opportunity he can to promote sinful pride in others. Solomon wrote, “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD” (Pro 16:5a), and “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Pro 16:18). Uzziah was king of Judah and God had blessed him greatly. But Scripture tells us, “when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God” (2 Ch 26:16a). When David was king, we are told, “Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel” (1 Ch 21:1).[4] From the divine perspective, we know God was angry with Israel because of some unnamed sin (2 Sam 24:1), and He permitted Satan to have his way so that the nation might be judged and humbled. Satan was glad to initiate this attack, and David’s pride was the open door for national disaster (1 Ch 21:2-7). Afterwards, David humbled himself before the Lord (1 Ch 21:8-15), demonstrating humility by obedience and sacrifice (1 Ch 21:16-30). Another example of pride is seen in Nebuchadnezzar, who was a great king, but like others, sought to live independently of God. God came to him in a dream (Dan 4:1-18), which Daniel interpreted as a revelation about the king’s downfall if he did not humble himself (Dan 4:19-27). The dream was intended to help Nebuchadnezzar realize “that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Dan 4:25). God’s revelation was a warning not to steal His glory. But Nebuchadnezzar’s pride kept him from accepting God’s message, and twelve months later (Dan 4:29), the king said to himself, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30). Afterwards, God judged him with a mental disorder that drove him to live like an animal for seven years (Dan 4:31-33). After his period of suffering, Nebuchadnezzar obtained humility and recognized God’s sovereignty, and he praised Him as He deserved (Dan 4:34-37). Unfortunately, not everyone responds to God’s corrective suffering, and there are many who die in their pride (Rev 9:20-21; 16:9-11). Humility is what God wants in His people. Humility is a lowliness of mind in which we realize our impoverished condition to function apart from God, His provision and power. The humble person seeks God and His will above all else and relies on Him in everything, praising Him for His goodness.

     Second, Satan is a liar who twists God’s Word. Jesus said of Satan, “Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44b). Satan lied to Eve and deceived her to eat the forbidden fruit, and she gave some to Adam as well (Gen 3:1-7). Falling for Satan’s lies had lasting consequences upon the creation and the human race (Gen 3:8-24; Rom 5:12; 8:20-22; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Satan still promotes lies; and his lies are intended to get us to turn from God and His will. Paul was concerned about the Christians at Corinth that they would fall prey to Satan’s falsehoods and wrote to them, saying, “I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3). Satan twisted Scripture in his efforts to lead Jesus away from the Father’s will, and three times Jesus resisted Satan by the proper use of Scripture (Matt 4:1-11). Knowing God’s Word helps us identify Satan’s lies. Applying God’s Word by faith enables us to resist Satan’s attacks. The Christian mind is the battleground, and “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).

Apostle Paul     Third, Satan uses suffering to pressure us to turn from God. Satan can, on occasion, afflict God’s people with suffering (Job 1:1-2:10; Luke 13:16; Acts 10:38); but this is only done with the Lord’s permission. Satan’s use of suffering is intended to get us to turn away from God, who is the source of life, goodness, and strength. Job is the classic example of a believer who was attacked by Satan (Job 1:1—2:10). Though Job suffered greatly, he understood his life was in God’s hands and he kept faith, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). And on another occasion he said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15a). Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). Satan’s request was granted. But the Lord also told Peter, “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Peter did return to the Lord and was strengthened (John 21:15-17). The apostle Paul knew suffering and said, “there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me” (2 Cor 12:7). Paul understood the reason for his suffering, and twice said it was intended “to keep me from exalting myself” (2 Cor 12:7). Paul prayed three times for the Lord to remove his suffering (2 Cor 12:8), but God denied his request, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9a). God refused to remove Paul’s suffering because it kept him humble and close to the Lord. Paul accepted God’s answer and, by faith, 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 12:9b-10). The key for us as Christians is to trust in God’s love and goodness when we face Satan’s attacks against our flesh. This is a faith response not born of feelings or circumstances.

sheep-wolf     Fourth, Satan masquerades as a messenger of light. Satan was created as a beautiful cherub (Ezek 28:12-14), and he retains all his outward attractiveness. Inwardly he is prideful (Ezek 28:15-16), and this is part of what makes him dangerous. Satan uses his outward appearance as a disguise to deceive others, and many of his messengers do the same. Paul wrote, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Cor 11:14-15). The Pharisees were satanic deceivers. They referred to themselves as God’s children, saying, “we have one father, God” (John 8:41b). But Jesus said of them, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father” (John 8:44a). The Pharisees were very religious. They read the Scriptures, prayed, fasted, offered sacrifices, and spent much of their time at the temple. Jesus said they had “seated themselves in the chair of Moses” (Matt 23:2). This was because they coveted positions of power. Jesus said, they “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders” (Matt 23:4), they “do all their deeds to be noticed by men” (Matt 23:5), and they “love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men” (Matt 23:6-7). But Jesus also revealed their true identity as “hypocrites” (Matt 23:13-15), “blind guides” (Matt 23:16-19), and those who “neglect justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23). Outwardly they look attractive, “but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence” (Matt 23:25), and are “like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt 23:27), and “outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt 23:28). Jesus established policy for His disciples when He told them on a previous occasion, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matt 15:14). He also warned them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16:6), by which His disciples understood leaven to refer to “the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16:12b). Knowing God’s Word helps us identify and avoid Satan’s beautiful messengers, who outwardly appear righteous, but twist Scripture and promote false doctrines.

     Fifth, Satan accuses us before God. The apostle John tells us Satan is “the accuser of our brethren”, and he “accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev 12:10). This activity goes on in heaven before God. But there’s good news, because “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Jesus continually defends us based on His shed blood (1 Pet 1:18-19), and He clothes us in a robe of righteousness (Isa 61:10; cf., Phil 3:9). When Joshua the high priest was accused by Satan in heaven as being defiled with filthy garments unbefitting a high priest (Zec 3:1-3), the Lord handled the problem directly.

He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again, he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by. (Zec 3:4-5)

God then charged Joshua to “If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here” (Zec 3:7). Paul, who wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, describes God’s great mercy and love toward us (Eph 2:4), and even though “we were dead in our transgressions, [He] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:5-6). As a result of our heavenly position in Christ, we should now live holy and righteous lives before the Lord. Paul states, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). God, who makes us right in heaven, calls us to live rightly on earth. Our performance in life should represent our position in heaven.

     Sixth, Satan empowers his false prophets to perform miracles in order to deceive. When Moses was executing God’s plagues upon Egypt, it is recorded that three times “the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts” (Exo 7:10-11; cf., 7:21-22; 8:6-7). Moses warned the Israelites who were about to enter the land that they should guard themselves against false prophets and dreamers of dreams who arise and give them a “sign or wonder”, and then seek to lead them away from God (Deut 13:1-4). Jesus warned of “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24:24). And Paul spoke of the coming Antichrist, “whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Th 2:9-10). Those who know God’s Word and live by it will guard themselves against the deceiving power of false miracle workers.

Satan desires that we turn from God and His Word and live independently of Him. He promotes sinful pride, twists God’s Word, uses suffering to pressure God’s people, masquerades as a messenger of light, accuses us before God, and empowers false teachers to perform miracles in order to deceive. Knowledge of God’s Word informs us about Satan’s strategies, and the humble believer who lives by faith will be able to stand when he attacks.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. The Sovereignty of God
  3. Standing Against the Forces of Darkness  
  4. Satan as the Ruler of the World
  5. Satan’s Evil World-System
  6. Demons and How They Influence mankind
  7. Holy Angels and How They Influence Mankind
  8. Restoring Fellowship With God
  9. Steps to Spiritual Growth
  10. The Filling of the Holy Spirit
  11. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible (The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Christians who are advancing spiritually and engaging in effective ministry pose a threat to Satan’s agenda. Naturally, he will oppose our efforts and try to hinder us. Paul wrote, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us” (1 Th 2:17-18). We’re not sure why Satan was permitted to hinder Paul and his companions. Though frustrated, Paul continued to seek the Lord and to minister where an open door presented itself (Acts 14:27). But an open door of ministry does not mean there will be no opposition. In fact, Christian ministry often means there will adversaries, as Paul wrote, “I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor 16:8-9). Jesus told the church at Philadelphia, “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name” (Rev 3:8).

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Strategy of Satan: How to Detect and Defeat Him (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996), 95.

[4] Taking a census was permitted under the Mosaic Law (Ex 30:12); but God had not instructed David to do this thing, and David’s motivation was pride, so that he would have an idea about the military strength of his kingdom (1 Ch 21:9).

Posted in Angels & Demons, Hot Topics, Living by Faith, Righteous Living, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Standing Against the Forces of Darkness

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul set forth the Christian armor which, in many ways, is a picture of the healthy Christian life. It is something we intentionally put on and use to defend ourselves when we come under attack. The assaults ultimately come from Satan who has well developed strategies of warfare and demonic soldiers to command. Satan and his fallen angels knowingly and intentionally attack. They are behind every act of terror the world has ever known, they do not relent of their activities, and they are not reformable. In addition to these fallen angels, Satan also has useful idiots—unbelievers and carnal Christians—who assist him in his efforts. These people help make up Satan’s world-system that seeks to envelop and enslave everyone it can. Satan’s system is philosophical, social, political, economic, religious, and cultural. These are all things external to us, but which are intended to penetrate our thoughts and impact our values, speech and practices. Furthermore, Satan has an inside agent within every person, which is the sinful nature which naturally resonates with all that is sinful and prideful. Warren Wiersbe writes:

As Christians, we face three enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil (Eph 2:1–3). “The world” refers to the system around us that is opposed to God, that caters to “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:15–17). “Society apart from God” is a simple, but accurate, definition of “the world.” “The flesh” is the old nature that we inherited from Adam, a nature that is opposed to God and can do nothing spiritual to please God. By His death and resurrection, Christ overcame the world (John 16:33; Gal 6:14), and the flesh (Rom 6:1–6; Gal 2:20), and the devil (Eph 1:19–23). In other words, as believers, we do not fight for victory—we fight from victory! The Spirit of God enables us, by faith, to appropriate Christ’s victory for ourselves.[1]

The apostle Paul addressed the subject of spiritual forces throughout his letter to the Christians living in Ephesus (Eph 1:21; 2:2; 3:10; 4:27).[2] He then mentions the armor available to them—and us—toward the close of his epistle (Eph 6:10-17). Paul opens his section about our spiritual armor, writing, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Eph 6:10). The word Finally (Τοῦ λοιποῦ) pertains to closing matters about how to live consistently concerning their new life in Christ. There are dangers that will threaten their walk with the Lord, and these believers need a divine perspective of the world and a divine strength to live successfully in it. Harold Hoehner writes:

From Eph 4:1 to 6:9 Paul gives practical applications for the believers concerning how to live out their new position in Christ before both believers and unbelievers. Now, in his final section (6:10-20), he describes the continual warfare of wicked forces against believers and accordingly exhorts them to be strengthened in the Lord in order to be able to stand against the wicked schemes of the devil. The struggle of believers ultimately is not a human conflict but is a battle against wicked spiritual forces.[3]

The Greek verb ἐνδυναμόω endunamoo, translated “be strong”, is a present passive imperative. The present tense relates to ongoing action, the passive voice means the subject receives what is provided, and the imperative mood means we are commanded to accept it. The prepositional phrase ἐν κυρίῳ en kurio, translated “in the Lord”, means that Jesus Himself is the sphere within which our strength is found. The strength is not in us. We are weak. It’s Him and His strength we need. We are to be strong “in the strength of His might” (Eph 6:10b). William MacDonald states:

Every true child of God soon learns that the Christian life is a warfare. The hosts of Satan are committed to hinder and obstruct the work of Christ and to knock the individual soldier out of combat. The more effective a believer is for the Lord, the more he will experience the savage attacks of the enemy: the devil does not waste his ammunition on nominal Christians. In our own strength we are no match for the devil. So the first preparatory command is that we should be continually strengthened in the Lord and in the boundless resources of His might. God’s best soldiers are those who are conscious of their own weakness and ineffectiveness, and who rely solely on Him. “God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Cor. 1:27b). Our weakness commends itself to the power of His might.[4]

Roman ArmorPaul continues, saying, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11). Put on translates the Greek verb ἐνδύω enduo which is an aorist middle imperative. The middle voice means we are to dress ourselves, thus acting in our own self-interest. The imperative mood means it’s a command that we can and should obey. The armor Paul described could refer to the armor God Himself wore as a warrior (Isa 11:5; 59:17); however, it was more likely drawn from the Roman guard that supervised his house arrest (Acts 26:29; 28:17; cf., Eph 3:1; 4:1; 6:20; Phil 1:7, 13; 2 Tim 1:8). Roman soldiers were seen most everywhere, so their attire would have been familiar to Paul’s audience. And just as a Roman soldier would not go into battle wearing only part of his armor, so the Christian must put on the full armor (πανοπλία panoplia) provided to him by God. Our enemy, the devil, is a brilliant commander who has manufactured schemes or strategies (μεθοδεία methodeia) he employs against the human race, and God’s people in particular. The same term—μεθοδεία methodeia—is used of false teachers who engage “in deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14), in order to trap immature Christians with false doctrine. “The devil has various stratagems—discouragement, frustration, confusion, moral failure, and doctrinal error. He knows our weakest point and aims for it. If he cannot disable us by one method, he will try for another.”[5] Satan has many demons and carnally minded people on his side, and he fights dirty. As Christians, we don’t go hunting for the devil; rather, we stand firm (ἵστημι histemi) against his attacks when he comes against us. This is accomplished by following God’s will. Thomas Constable writes:

From other Scripture we know that Satan is behind all of our temptations having received permission to assail us from God (e.g., Job 1–2). He uses the world system and our flesh (sinful nature) as his tools. He also attacks us directly himself and through his angelic emissaries. God has given us specific instruction in Scripture about how to combat these attacks. We are to resist the devil (1 Peter 5:8–9), flee the temptations of the world system (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; 1 John 2:15–17; 1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22), and deny the flesh (Rom 6:12–13; 7:18–24; 8:13). How do we know the source of a given temptation so we can respond to it appropriately? Satan has consistently aimed his personal attacks at getting people to doubt, to deny, to disregard, and to disobey the revealed will of God (cf. Gen 3; Matt 4). The world system seeks to get people to believe that they do not need God but can get along very well without Him (1 John 2). The flesh tempts us to think that we can find satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment on the physical, material level of life alone (Rom 7).[6]

Angelic WarfarePaul continues, saying, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). Though we live in a physical world and interact with other people—both saved and lost—our ultimate struggle is against unseen spiritual forces. In this verse, Paul ransacks the Greek vocabulary for power-words to describe a definite group of demonic forces he calls “rulers…powers…world forces of this darkness…[and] spiritual forces of wickedness.” Warren Wiersbe writes:

This suggests a definite army of demonic creatures that assist Satan in his attacks against believers. The Apostle John hinted that one third of the angels fell with Satan when he rebelled against God (Rev 12:4), and Daniel wrote that Satan’s angels struggle against God’s angels for control of the affairs of nations (Dan 10:13–20). A spiritual battle is going on in this world, and in the sphere of “the heavenlies,” and you and I are a part of this battle. Knowing this makes “walking in victory” a vitally important thing to us—and to God.[7]

It could be Paul’s classifications refer to ruling demonic forces with various degrees of authority over the world, such as Generals, Colonels, Majors, and so on, right down to frontline troops. The scope of their influence is global, and their general character is wicked. I think it can be said with certainty that these fallen angels are behind all sinful pleasures and pressures that entice or push people into conformity with Satan’s world-system. We are not able to identify these unseen forces except by their activities. When someone lies, hates, steals, murders, or is enticed or pressured to commit any sin, we know the ultimate source is from Satan, his demons, his world-system, and/or the sinful nature within each of us. A person’s words and actions reveal the ultimate source of influence.[8] To stand in opposition to these forces means we’re in for a fight. Thomas Constable writes:

If we want to obey God and resist the devil, we are in for a struggle. It is not easy to become a mature Christian nor is it automatic. It takes diligent, sustained effort. This is part of our human responsibility in progressive sanctification. This struggle does not take place on the physical level primarily, though saying no to certain temptations may involve certain physical behavior. It is essentially warfare on the spiritual level with an enemy that we cannot see. This enemy is Satan and his hosts as well as the philosophies he promotes that people implement.[9]

God has not left us defenseless against this unseen enemy. He has provided armor for our protection. Paul writes, “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Eph 6:13). As the Son of God, Jesus had the authority to deal with Satan directly (Matt 4:1-11), and we know He interacted with demons and cast them out of men (Matt 8:16). Later, Jesus delegated authority to His disciples so they could cast out demons (Matt 10:1, 8). And, the apostle Paul also cast out demons during his missionary journeys (Acts 16:16-18; 19:11-12). But we are not commanded to engage Satan and/or his demons directly; rather, we appeal to God, who handles them Himself, or sends His holy angels to do the work. The command given to us as Christians is to be aware that we have an enemy that seeks our harm (1 Pet 5:8), and that he has demonic forces that war against us (Eph 6:12).[10] We stand against Satan and his demonic forces by wearing God’s armor so that when we are attacked, we will be able to resist the assault. The word resist translates the Greek word ἀνθίστημι anthistemi, which means to stand against. We don’t search out the fight; rather, we stand against the enemy when he comes. And, as we seek to live in God’s will, the attacks will come. Paul speaks of the evil day, which is the day when evil forces attack us, trying to get us to give up ground we’ve taken for Christ. And having done everything in preparation of that day, we simply stand firm. Grant Osborne writes:

The battle has been joined, and the forces of the enemy are in attack mode, coming at us fast and furiously. Paul changes his imperative from “put on” (clothing imagery) to “take up” (weapon imagery). This is a stronger verb, often used in a military setting, that speaks of an emergency situation in a battle that is already in process. The soldiers are arming themselves one piece at a time, but they are in a hurry lest the encroaching hostile forces catch them unprepared.[11]

As Christians, we realize dark spiritual forces are at work in the world and against us. Though we live in this reality, our sphere of influence is more directly related to people around us who have been manipulated by Satan and his forces. Ours is a battle of the mind, as we pray for others and speak God’s truth in love, hoping they will turn to God and be rescued from Satan’s kingdom of darkness (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13-14). As we engage in Christian ministry, sharing the gospel and teaching God’s Word, it is our hope that “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 2:26). When people do not turn to God, but choose to follow Satan and embrace his world-system, we then focus our efforts on others, seeking their liberation from the enemy captor.

Belt of TruthPaul describes the weapons of our armor, saying, “Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Eph 6:14). Stand firm translates the Greek verb ἵστημι histemi which is an aorist active imperative. This implies a sense of urgency. The active voice means the subject produces the action of the verb. It’s our responsibility to stand against Satan and his forces. The imperative mood makes this a command. The armor is put on in order of priority. After putting on a tunic, a Roman soldier would put on a thick leather belt. This belt was used to tuck his tunic in so that his legs would be free to move about. It also helped keep the breastplate in place and held his sword. The belt of truth refers to the truth of God’s Word. The palmist wrote, “The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psa 119:160). And Jesus prayed to the Father, saying, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth (John 17:17). Biblical truth is what should govern our lives. This is the truth of God’s Word lived out daily in our thoughts, words, and actions. As we live out God’s Word, this produces Christian integrity and a life of faithfulness to the Lord and others. Warren Wiersbe states:

The girdle holds the other parts of the armor together, and truth is the integrating force in the life of the victorious Christian. A man of integrity, with a clear conscience, can face the enemy without fear. The girdle also held the sword. Unless we practice the truth, we cannot use the Word of truth. Once a lie gets into the life of a believer, everything begins to fall apart.[12]

Soldier's BreastplateIn addition to the belt of truth, we are told to “put on the breastplate of righteousness.” The breastplate of righteousness refers to the righteous life we live in conformity to God’s truth. Objectively, it is true that we are positionally righteous before God because the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us at the moment of salvation (Rom 3:21-26; 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9); however, Paul seems to be referring to our subjective righteousness; that is, our righteous lifestyle. Harold Hoehner writes:

Like the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness is likely a subjective genitive. This means it refers to the believer’s righteous lifestyle, of which the Christian has a part to play, as we make choices to live by God’s Word. As a soldier’s breastplate protected his chest from an enemy’s attacks, so sanctifying, righteous living (Rom 6:13; 14:17) guards a believer’s heart against the assaults of the devil (cf. Isa 59:17; James 4:7).[13]

And Warren Wiersbe adds:

This piece of armor, made of metal plates or chains, covered the body from the neck to the waist, both front and back. It symbolizes the believer’s righteousness in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21) as well as his righteous life in Christ (Eph. 4:24). Satan is the accuser, but he cannot accuse the believer who is living a godly life in the power of the Spirit. The life we live either fortifies us against Satan’s attacks or makes it easier for him to defeat us (2 Cor. 6:1–10). When Satan accuses the Christian, it is the righteousness of Christ that assures the believer of his salvation. But our positional righteousness in Christ, without practical righteousness in the daily life, only gives Satan opportunity to attack us.[14]

Soldier's ShoesMoving on to the next piece of armor, Paul states, “and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15). Roman soldiers had some of the best footwear in the ancient world. Their shoes were comparable to cleats that gripped the terrain. Scripture teaches the gospel that brought us peace with God (Rom 5:1-2) is to be shared with others that they might know peace with Him and peace with other people. Because Paul presents the Christian as standing against an attack (verses 11-16), it’s probably best to take his meaning as the surefootedness that comes to us in battle, knowing we have peace with God. However, it’s possible Paul also envisions this as the gospel that we bring to others as we advance in the devil’s world. Thomas Constable writes:

The gospel that has brought peace to the Christian enables him or her to stand firmly against temptation. Likewise the gospel is what enables us to move forward against our enemies (cf. Isa. 52:7). The preparation of the gospel of peace probably refers to the gospel the Christian soldier has believed that enables him to stand his ground when attacked. We must be so familiar with the gospel that we can share it with others (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).[15]

Roman ShieldPaul continues, saying, “in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph 6:16). The Roman shield was large, approximately 2 ½ feet wide and 4 feet long. It was commonly overlaid with leather, and soldiers would wet their shields during times of battle in order to help extinguish the fiery arrows their enemy would shoot at them. And, when in battle, Roman soldiers would stand side by side with their shields, like a wall of defense, making them practically impenetrable to attacks. The phrase of faith is likely a genitive of content, meaning the shield consists of faith. When we live by faith, we are able to extinguish the fiery darts that Satan throws at us, which would certainly cause damage if they got through. This faith is trust in God, His promises and commands. William MacDonald writes:

In addition, the soldier must take the shield of faith so that when the fiery darts of the wicked one come zooming at him, they will hit the shield and fall harmlessly to the ground. Faith here is firm confidence in the Lord and in His word. When temptations burn, when circumstances are adverse, when doubts assail, when shipwreck threatens, faith looks up and says, “I believe God.”[16]

Roman HelmetPaul adds, saying, “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17). The helmet obviously protects the head. Here, I believe it is designed to protect our thinking. The helmet of salvation is the confidence of present and future salvation we have in the Lord (John 10:28; 1 Th 5:8-9). At salvation, the believer is forgiven all sins (Eph 1:7), given eternal life (John 10:28), has peace with God (Rom 5:1), and will never face condemnation from the Lord (Rom 8:1). We know God is for us (Rom 8:29-36), and that “we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37). Thomas Constable writes:

Since Christians are to put this salvation on, the salvation or deliverance in view seems to refer to the present and future deliverance we need when under attack by Satan (cf. 1 Thess. 5:8). We have already received salvation from condemnation. We receive this present salvation (deliverance) as we receive all salvation, namely by calling on God and requesting it (cf. 1:15–23; Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13). This salvation is evidently similar to a helmet because deliverance involves a mental choice, namely trust in God rather than self, and obedience to Him. Confidence in God becomes our salvation and so protects our thinking when we are under attack.[17]

Roman SwordThe sword (μάχαιρα machaira) was the Roman offensive weapon. It was a short double-edged sword. Romans also carried spears, but Paul did not include that in his list of armor. Unlike the other pieces of armor, Paul tells us the sword of the Spirit is the word of God. The word (ῥῆμα rhema) refers to “that which is said, word, saying, expression, or statement of any kind.”[18] The sword of the Spirit refers to the revealed word of Scripture we use to fight back when under attack. Jesus, when under assault by Satan, cited specific passages of God’s Word which were appropriate to the specific temptations (see Matt 4:4, 7, 10). William MacDonald writes:

Finally, the soldier takes the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The classic illustration of this is our Lord’s use of this sword in His encounter with Satan. Three times He quoted the word of God—not just random verses but the appropriate verses which the Holy Spirit gave Him for that occasion (Luke 4:1–13). The word of God here does not mean the whole Bible, but the particular portion of the Bible which best suits the occasion.[19]

Praying HandsPaul closes, saying, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph 6:18). Prayer is important to the Christian life, as it is the communication channel between us and God. It’s important that we know to call out to the Lord, Who is the source of all our logistical support. Praying in the Spirit means praying in the power of the Spirit. We pray for ourselves, and we pray for God’s people, who are also under spiritual attack. Harold Hoehner states:

The manner in which a soldier takes up these last two pieces of armor is suggested by two Greek participles: “praying” and “being alert.” When the enemy attacks—and on all occasions—Christians are to pray continually in the Spirit (i.e., in the power and sphere of the Spirit; cf. Jude 20). With all kinds of prayers and requests suggests the thoroughness and intensity of their praying. And like reliable soldiers, they are to be keeping alert, literally, “in all persistence” (en pasē proskarterēsei; the noun is used only here in the NT). Their requests are to be for all the saints because of Satan’s spiritual warfare against Christ and the church.[20]

The battles we face are part of an ongoing war that will not end until Christ returns and suppresses all rebellion against Him, both demonic and human. Fighting effectively against Satan and his demonic forces requires a deep knowledge of God and His Word. Jesus had a well-developed knowledge of OT Scripture and this is what He used to defend Himself when attacked by the devil (Matt 4:1-11).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. The Sovereignty of God
  3. Satan as the Ruler of the World
  4. Satan’s Evil World-System
  5. Demons and How They Influence mankind
  6. Holy Angels and How They Influence Mankind
  7. Restoring Fellowship With God
  8. Steps to Spiritual Growth
  9. The Filling of the Holy Spirit
  10. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 56–57.

[2] In the first half of his letter, he wrote about the believer’s union with Christ (Eph 1:12; 2:6-7, 13; 3:6), the spiritual assets available (Eph 1:3), and the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers (Eph 2:11-22). In Ephesians 4:1 through 6:9 Paul provides practical application to his readers, telling them to walk in a manner worthy of their calling (Eph 4:1), to walk in love (Eph 5:2), to walk as children of light (Eph 5:8), and to walk as wise men (Eph 5:15). The subject of love is also important to Paul and he addresses it in Ephesians more than any of his other letters, using both the noun (ἀγάπη) and verb (ἀγαπάω) a total of 19 times (out of a total of 107 times throughout all his letters).

[3] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich. Baker Academic, 2002), 820.

[4] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1951.

[5] Ibid., 1952.

[6] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Eph 6:11.

[7] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 57.

[8] Examples of this are found throughout Scripture. When the Pharisees attacked Jesus, He knew the ultimate source of their words and actions, saying, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Later, when Jesus revealed to His disciples that He would go to the cross and die (Matt 16:21), this did not set well with Peter. Matthew records, “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You’” (Matt 16:22). For a brief moment, Peter—a believer—became an enemy of the cross. Satan was behind Peter, motivating him to defy the Lord. Matthew records Jesus’ rebuke, saying “But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.’” (Matt 16:23). Here, Jesus rebuked Peter for being Satan’s mouthpiece. When Paul and Barnabas were on the island of Paphos and sharing the gospel with a proconsul by the name of Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:6-7), there was a Jewish false prophet who opposed them. Luke records, “Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith” (Acts 13:8). Paul identified this man by his words and actions and rebuked him, saying, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10). The apostle John wrote, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Again, words and actions reveal the source of influence.

[9] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Eph 6:12.

[10] To this, we can also add that we live in a world that is systemically hostile to God (1 John 2:15-17), and that we have a sinful nature that influences us to walk independently of the Lord (Rom 7:18, 21; 8:5-7; Gal 5:17).

[11] Grant R. Osborne, Ephesians: Verse by Verse, Osborne New Testament Commentaries (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 227.

[12] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 58.

[13] Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 643.

[14] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 58.

[15] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Eph 6:15.

[16] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, 1952.

[17] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Eph 6:17.

[18] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 905.

[19] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, 1953.

[20] Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 644.

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Biblical Self-Talk

Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor 10:3-5)

Biblical Self-Talk     Self-talk is a mechanism of our reasoning that includes mental dialogues that can be quite complex. The dialogue can originate solely within our mind, or be influenced by external experiences or discussions. Sometimes these dialogues are pleasant, and sometimes not. And they can approximate reality, or be pure fantasy. The Bible presents a number of passages that address what today would be called self-talk (Gen 17:17; Deut 7:17; 8:17; 9:4; 18:21; 1 Sam 27:1; Psa 14:1; Isa 49:21; Jer 3:17-25; Luke 7:39; 16:3; 18:4). On several occasions, David faced pressure in life that disrupted his mental state and he took control of His thoughts and directed them to God (Psa 13:1-6; 42:1-11; 131:1-2). In these instances, David was his own biblical counselor as he applied God’s Word to his own situation and effected stability in his soul.

The mind is a busy place. As Christians, we face competing systems of thought all around us, via sources such a TV, radio, literature, daily discussions, and experiences. The brain needs to be healthy for the mind to work properly. The brain is our hardware and the mind its software. If the brain is damaged, the mind will not work properly. Or, the brain can be operational, but the mind corrupt. Volition tends the gate of our mind, determining what enters, its level of activity once inside, and the duration of its stay. For the most part, we determine what we let into our stream of consciousness. Sometimes—without our being fully aware—we accept antithetical beliefs, which result in cognitive dissonance and fragmentation. The rational mind will recognize incompatible thoughts and seek to find reconciliation, or eventual correction by means of expunging aberrant thoughts that cause trouble. Of course, this assumes a standard by which to evaluate our thoughts and values. For the Christian, the Bible is God’s special revelation to us to help us understand truths and realities we could not obtain by any other means.

Self-talk refers to our inner reflections, the mental-dialogues we have with ourselves. But self-talk is never neutral. There’s always a bias. A desire to think a certain way. Thoughts align with God and His Word, our personal desires, or the fallen world around us. Often, self-talk pertains to how something or someone impacts us, and what we can do to make sense of it and manage it along with other activities or pressures. As a Bible teacher, it’s my every intention to get into your mind, to promote God’s Word in every aspect of your reasoning so that you learn to think as He thinks and that His Word will govern every mental discussion. Others are trying to get into your mind as well. Some are helpful, others hurtful. You must choose what you allow in, and you must regulate the mental discussions you have with yourself.

Sometimes external activities or discussions with others can carry over into mental dramas and discussions we have with ourselves when alone. We create scenarios that play out an emotionally charged debate we had earlier in the day or week.[1] We do this because there’s a natural part of us that wants to make sense of what happened, so we replay the scenario in our minds, albeit imperfectly and with a bias. We might even assign a motive that may, or may not, correspond to reality. Often, real people and experiences come into our mental plays, as we set the stage and cast characters in various roles. We write the script of what each person says, how they act or react, and where the story goes. We play a part in our mental productions, either as the victim or victor. Emotions can flare during these staged productions, and this helps push the storyline in various directions, for better or worse. Often, our mental productions are an effort to anticipate how another person will act in reality, and various scenarios allow us to work out how we might respond if/when the real-life situation goes as we anticipate. Sometimes we do this with past experiences, recreating a scenario that is not true to the occasion, so that the outcome is more to our liking. The problem is that perception is never equal to reality, and sometimes we can misperceive another person’s words, actions, or motives; and when this happens, it drives our mental production into areas that might actually prove harmful.

Biblical self-talk is where we deliberately and consciously insert God and His Word into our thought processes. The purpose is to produce mental and emotional stability as we orient our thinking to divine viewpoint. This can be very challenging in a culture that excludes God and where the mind is conditioned to think about all matters from the perspective of how things relate to us. The mental stability of the Christian is predicated, to a large degree, on the biblical content and continuity of his thinking. It’s not only what we think, but the consistency of our thoughts that produce mental stability. But this is not the only factor, as our mind can be impacted—for better or worse—by things such as sleep, hydration, nutrition, exercise, and socialization. If we’re tired, hungry, and have not taken care of ourselves, then we are naturally more vulnerable to the pressures of life.

In personal trials and tribulations, I know God is at work in my life, using the furnace of affliction to burn away the dross of weak character and to develop those golden qualities that reflect His character. God wants me to grow up spiritually, and suffering is a vehicle He uses for that purpose. Suffering is like the manure that helps the plant grow; we don’t like its smell, but we understand it’s nourishing value. Joseph understood this, and even when his brothers treated him poorly, he saw it from the divine perspective and said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20). Joseph could not control how his brothers treated him; but he could control his response, which was based on divine viewpoint and the choice of faith. As a Christian, I know that “God 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). Below are some ways to strengthen the mind:

  1. Take control of your thoughts. Solomon wrote, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Pro 4:23). And Paul stated, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Your mind is your own, and you must regulate what enters and stays, and what you choose to focus on at any given moment.
  2. Spend time in God’s Word. The person who is daily in God’s Word is like a tree planted near water that constantly receives life sustaining nourishment. David writes of the righteous person, saying, “his delight is in the LORD’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psa 1:2-3). The Lord spoke to Jeremiah, saying, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jer 17:7-8). It’s only in the daily activity of biblical meditation that the Word of God begins to saturate our thinking and flow freely within the stream of our consciousness, permeating all aspects of our lives.
  3. Spend time in prayer. Jesus taught His disciples “that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1). As Christians, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17). This means our prayer life should never end, but should be ongoing, day by day, moment by moment. Life can be stressful, but we are to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phi 4:6). As Christians, we are to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).
  4. Spend time with growing believers. Scripture states we are to “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13), and “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Paul wrote, “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours” (Rom 1:12). When writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul said, “Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith” (1 Th 3:1-2). Growing believers are marked by love for each other as we seek to encourage each other to love the Lord and to serve Him in humility and faithfulness.
  5. Spend time giving thanks to God. The psalmist wrote, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name; let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad. Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His face continually” (Psa 105:1-4). Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phi 4:4a), “and “Give thanks always for all things” (Eph 5:20a), and “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18). An attitude of gratitude to God strengthens the heart of God’s people.
  6. Take care of yourself physically. Make sure you get good sleep, hydration, nutrition, exercise, and socialization. If we’re tired, hungry, and have not taken care of ourselves, then we are naturally more vulnerable to the pressures of life. When Elijah the prophet was threatened by Jezebel, he became fearful and fled for his life, even wanting to die (1 Ki 19:1-4). And God sent an angel to Elijah, not to rebuke him, but to care for him. And twice, while Elijah slept, the angel cooked a meal for him in order to strengthen him for his journey (1 Ki 19:5-8). On one occasion, Jesus told His disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while. For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.” (Mark 6:31). Sometimes, when engaging in ministry, we’re in a better frame of mind to handle those situations if we are rested and taking care of ourselves physically.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Video on Biblical Self-Talk

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[1] Emotion is connected to thought, like a trailer to a truck. One pulls the other along. We drive the truck. We determine where our thoughts go, and emotion follows. However, once in motion, the truck cannot stop easily, for when the brakes are applied, the force of the trailer pushes the truck, reducing the braking process. How far we travel to come to a complete stop is determined by how much the trailer weighs, how fast the truck is going, and the external road conditions. I’m sure the metaphor could be developed further, but you get the point. Thoughts and feelings are connected systems that either work for us or against us, but they are never neutral.

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The Sovereignty and Providence of God

As humans, we instinctively develop a mental model of the world that helps us make sense of how and why it operates the way it does (socially, culturally, politically, economically, etc.). This starts in the earliest years of childhood and, for most people, continues well into adulthood. As we grow, we’re confronted with new and complex experiences that challenge us to modify our mental framework to accommodate life’s many nuances. This constant adaptation is necessary in order to adjust and move forward. Though there is much in our understanding that needs to be developed, we also need certain unchanging absolutes to provide an anchor; otherwise, we’re constantly adrift in a sea of opinion. God and His Word provide those unchanging absolutes. Furthermore, as we study God’s Word and live by faith, we develop godly character, live productive lives, and develop a personal sense of destiny derived from our relationship with the One who has called us into Christian service. For the Christian, there is no greater honor, no higher calling, no greater purpose one can attain, than that lived by God’s children who walk daily with their Father, the King. Being part of His royal family instills in us a noble mind which demands we live by the biblical virtues expected of those who are brothers and sisters to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Much of this starts when we understand that our God is the sovereign Ruler of His universe, and that we are blessed to know and walk with Him, trusting the affairs of this life are under His control. In this article, I’ll focus specifically on what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty and how He governs providentially. My hope is that this knowledge will provide mental stability in a world that can, at times, seem chaotic.

Sovereignty of God     The Bible teaches God is sovereign over His creation. He made it and He’s managing it; even though it’s not operating according to His original design. Obviously, God permits sin; and here one must distinguish between His directive-will, permissive-will, and overruling-will.[1] Though God grants His creatures a modicum of freedom to resist His will, it should always be kept in mind that the sinfulness of fallen angels or people never threatens His sovereignty. Furthermore, God is never surprised, baffled, or frustrated by sin. According to God’s directive-will, He calls and empowers His people to live holy lives, separate from sin. In this way we are to partner with Him and help promote His solutions to this fallen world. Concerning God’s sovereignty, Louis Berkhof writes, “He is clothed with absolute authority over the hosts of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. He upholds all things with His almighty power, and determines the ends which they are destined to serve. He rules as King in the most absolute sense of the word, and all things are dependent on Him and subservient to Him.”[2]

Though God is sovereign, He does not rule arbitrarily, but in accordance with His other attributes such as righteousness, holiness, love, mercy, and grace. As believers, we are encouraged that God is in sovereign control, for even though we experience sin, chaos, and evil (sometimes our own), we know He is directing history toward the return of Christ and His millennial kingdom, which is followed by the glorious eternal state.

The Bible reveals “The LORD is King forever and ever” (Psa 10:16a). The “LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19), and He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11b). God is supreme over all His creation, for “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa 135:6), and “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35). But God is no tyrant, rather, He is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin” (Ex 34:6-7a). He is also holy and righteous, and “will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exo 34:7b).[3] For “those who turn aside to their crooked ways, the LORD will lead them away with the doers of iniquity” (Psa 125:5).

God is under no external restraint whatsoever. He is the Supreme Dispenser of all events. All forms of existence are within the scope of His dominion. And yet this is not to be viewed in any such way as to abridge the reality of the moral freedom of God’s responsible creatures or to make men anything else than the arbiters of their own eternal destinies. God has seen fit to create beings with the power of choice between good and evil. He rules over them in justice and wisdom and grace.[4]

From Genesis to Revelation, God governs the lives of people and nations. Human rulers exist because of His plan, for “It is He who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding” (Dan 2:21). And people live and die as God decides, for “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Sam 2:6; cf. Acts 17:28). God has power over wealth and poverty, for “The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts” (1 Sam 2:7). And He controls when and where people live in history, for “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). In addition to this, Scripture reveals God controls nature (Jon 1:4; Mark 4:39-41), plagues (Ex 11:1; Rev 16:10-11), famines (Gen 41:25-32), the roll of dice (Pro 16:33), blessing and adversity (Job 2:10; Isa 45:7), suffering (Job 1:1-21), divine calling (Jer 1:4-5; Gal 1:15) and the development of Christian character (Rom 5:2-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Jam 1:2-4).

Lastly, God allows fallen angels and humans to produce sin and evil, but they never act beyond or against His sovereign will (Job 1:1-21; Psa 105:12-15; 1 Ki 22:19-23; 2 Cor 12:7-10). God gives freedom to his creatures, both angelic and human, and this to varying degrees. We are free to act, but only within the spheres of opportunity He creates and controls. For example, when Jesus was on trial, Pilate told Him, “I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You” (John 19:10). But Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). Pilate had opportunity and authority to crucify Jesus, but only because heaven granted it to him. Ultimately, Pilate’s actions served the Father’s greater purpose of bringing His Son to the cross.

God’s Providential Control

God’s providence refers to His continual care over the creation He brought into existence. God continues to create and control circumstances in order to direct history according to His predetermined plan, all for His glory and the benefit of His people. People live in the flow of history, and are moved by the circumstances God controls. J. I. Packer offers this understanding of God’s providence:

Providence is normally defined in Christian theology as the unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill (Psa 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. Psa 107; Job 1:12; 2:6; Gen 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.[5]

God is holy and He never creates evil, however, He can and does control those who do. Satan, and those who follow him (both fallen angels and people), are ultimately under God’s sovereign control, and even their evil plans and actions are used for His good purposes. For example, Joseph was mistreated by his brothers and sold into slavery and taken to Egypt where he suffered greatly. Yet, later in his life, Joseph interpreted their behavior from the divine perspective, telling his brothers, “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen 45:5). And Joseph repeated himself a second time, saying, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen 45:7-8a). And later, he told them a third time, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20). 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. Peter, charging Israelites in Jerusalem concerning Jesus’s death, said, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23). And after being persecuted by the leaders in Jerusalem, Peter and John, along with others, said to God, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:27-28). In these verses we see people behaving sinfully, whether Joseph’s brothers, or human rulers who abuse their power; yet God used their sinful choices to bring about a greater good. Because God is righteous, all His actions are just. Because He is loving and good, He directs all things for the benefit of His people. The wicked are also under God’s sovereign control, and He uses them for His own ends (Pro 16:4). Evil has entered God’s universe, but it never threatens His holy purposes.

In summary, Scripture reveals God’s sovereignty and how He governs His universe, creating and controlling circumstances, and directing the lives of His people, allowing them to partner with Him to accomplish His good in the world. By learning about God’s sovereignty and studying His past providential acts, believers can create a rational filter through which circumstances can be interpreted and classified within a mental framework. The growing believer takes great delight in knowing God is good, loving, wise, and in control of His creation and is directing all things according to His sovereign plan. Those who are positive to God and operate from the divine perspective know that He “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).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] God’s directive-will refers to His actively directing us to do what He expects. For the Christian, God’s directive-will is found in Scripture. His permissive-will refers to what He permits us to do, either for or against His directive-will. All sin falls under this category, for He permits us to resist His directive-will in some instances. This is also true for fallen angels who are granted a measure of freedom to sin. God’s overruling-will refers to those occasions when He hinders us from sinning, or from sinning further, because His greater purposes take priority. The fall of Adam and Eve provide a good example of these categories, for God directed them not to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16-19), permitted them to disobey (Gen 3:1-7), and then drove them from the Garden of Eden, overruling their ability to go back in and eat from the tree of life (Gen 3:22-24).

[2] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 76.

[3] The judgment that God brings upon “the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” refers to those generations who follow in the path of their parents, who hate God and continue the pattern of sin handed down to them.

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

[5] 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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The Person and Attributes of God


Genesis - Hebrew     Scripture opens with the statement, “In the beginning God” (Gen 1:1a). The Bible does not seek to prove the existence of God, but simply acknowledges His being. The Bible teaches God has made Himself known through nature. David wrote, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psa 19:1). And Paul stated, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Rom 1:20).

And God has revealed Himself within the heart of every person. Paul wrote, “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Rom 1:19). Within each human mind is an intuitive awareness of God. John Calvin called this awareness the sensus divinitatis (sense of divinity). Calvin wrote, “there is no nation so barbarous, no race so brutish, as not to be imbued with the conviction that there is a God…Since, then, there never has been, from the very first, any quarter of the globe, any city, any household even, without religion, this amounts to a tacit confession, that a sense of Deity is inscribed on every heart.”[1] This awareness does not inform us as to the specifics of God, but merely informs us that He is. The Bible is that special revelation that informs us about the particulars of God.

The Bible reveals God exists as a Trinity (or Triunity). In the Bible we learn that there is one God (Deut 6:4), who exists as three Persons (Gen 1:26; Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2). All three members of the Godhead are co-equal, co-infinite, and co-eternal, possessing the same nature and attributes (Deut 6:4; Isa 44:6-8; John 10:30; 14:9).[2] The Trinity consists of God the Father (Gal 1:1; Eph 6:23; Phil 2:11), God the Son (Isa 7:14; 9:6; John 1:1, 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). An ancient Christian diagram illustrates the Trinity as follows:

Ancient Diagram of the Trinity

Furthermore, the Bible reveals God has specific attributes that describe who He is and explain why He thinks and acts in certain ways. What we know of God’s attributes comes to us only by divine revelation, and these attributes belong to all the members of the Trinity, who are worthy of all praise and service. Charles Ryrie states:

The various perfections of God are not component parts of God. Each describes His total being. Love, for example, is not a part of God’s nature; God in His total being is love. Although God may display one quality or another at a given time, no quality is independent of or preeminent over any of the others. Whenever God displays His wrath, He is still love. When He shows His love, He does not abandon His holiness. God is more than the sum total of His perfections. When we have listed all the attributes we can glean from revelation, we have not fully described God. This stems from His incomprehensibility. Even if we could say we had a complete list of all God’s perfections, we could not fathom their meaning, for finite man cannot comprehend the infinite God.[3]

When studying the attributes of God in Scripture, we should never seek to understand them separately from God, as though an attribute of God may exist apart from Him. More so, the attributes of God are as infinite as God Himself, and to try to understand them fully is not within the scope of our ability. A detailed understanding of God’s attributes prevents us from having an incomplete or faulty view of God, in which we see Him only in part. For example, a solitary view of God as righteous can lead to legalistic behavior, whereas a singular understanding of God as loving or gracious can lead to licentiousness. A thorough understanding of God will prove healthy for us who seek to reflect His character. The biblical revelation of God has practical application for growing Christians, for as we advance in spiritual maturity, we will take on the characteristics of God, though only a few of those characteristics may be visible to others at any given moment, depending on the situation. Below is a short paragraph listing God’s attributes with a basic meaning of each.[4]

God’s Attributes

     God is living and is the ultimate source of life (Psa 42:2; 84:2; Jer 10:10; Matt 16:16). Paul states, “for in Him we live and move and exist” (Act 17:28). He is personal, thoughtful, emotive, volitional and active. This attribute takes priority, for if God is not living, none of the other attributes are possible. God is self-existent (aseity), and His existence depends on nothing outside of Himself (Ex 3:14; John 1:4; 5:26). He has life in Himself. There is no prior cause that brought God into existence, He will never cease to be, and He depends on nothing outside of Himself. God is holy (Lev 11:44; Psa 99:9; Isa 45:5-19). This means God is positively righteous and separate from all that is sinful. Holiness connotes moral purity. Being holy means God cannot be affixed to anything morally imperfect. God is Spirit (John 4:24; 2 Cor 3:17). This means the nature of God’s being is spirit, not material. God is sovereign (Psa 115:3; Isa 46:9-11; Dan 4:35; Acts 17:24-28). This means God acts freely as He pleases, always as He pleases, and only as He pleases. God is immutable (Psa 102:26-27; Mal 3:6). This means God’s essential nature does not change. God is eternal (Deut 33:27; 1 Tim 1:17). This means God has always existed, does exist, and forever will exist. God is infinite (1 Ki 8:27; Jer 23:24). Though God exists in space, He is also beyond space, infinite in being. God is omniscient (Psa 139:1-4; Matt 6:31-33). This means God knows all things, being infinite in knowledge. God is omnipresent (Psa 139:7-10; Jer 23:24). This means He is equally and fully everywhere present. God is omnipotent (Job 42:2; Isa 40:28). This means God is all-powerful and able to accomplish all He desires. God is righteous (Psa 11:7; 119:137). His righteousness is that intrinsic moral perfection, 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 is just (Psa 9:7-8; 19:9). His justice is the outworking of His righteousness in which He justifies or condemns, blesses or curses, that which does or does not conform to His righteous character. God is true (Jer 10:10; John 17:3), which means He is genuine, in contrast to false idols. God is truthful (2 Sam 7:28; John 17:17). His knowledge and declarations define reality and help us make sense of what is. God is love (Jer 31:3; 1 John 4:7-8). Because God is love it means He is committed to us, desires our best, and gives for our benefit. God is good and He is the ultimate source of all that is good (Psa 100:5; 145:9; Nah 1:7; Jam 1:17). God is faithful (Deut 7:9; Lam 3:21-23); which means He is reliable in all He says and does, always keeping His word. God is merciful (Psa 86:15; Tit 3:5). Mercy is when God is kind toward us and does not judge us as we deserve. God is gracious (Psa 111:4; 116:5). Grace means God treats us better than we deserve.

Learning about God and His character helps us understand the fundamental nature of reality. Our complex universe is the result of a complex divine Being that chose to create. And what He created is magnificent and beautiful. In contrast to biblical theism is atheism, which is the belief that God does not exist.[5] Biblically, this is the view of the wicked and foolish, who say in their hearts, “There is no God” (Psa 10:4; 14:1). For the atheist, mankind is nothing more than a molecular accident in a material universe where everything is the product of matter, motion, time and chance. For the atheist, there is no reason for humans to exist; therefore, no given purpose for life. Our thoughts, feelings, morals and actions are simply electrochemical impulses that occur in the body and brain, and when we die, those impulses cease. Right and wrong as well as good and evil become arbitrary. Without God and Scripture to guide and give purpose, our uniqueness is lost in the universe, as we ultimately are of no greater value than what we paint on the canvass or study under the microscope. If there is no God and man is not unique (as the Bible teaches), then we are of no greater value than the tree, the rock, or the worm on a hook.  If there is no God, then we are a zero. When we die, our biological life is consumed by the material universe from which we came. Consider this view of death by the atheist John Updike:

Without warning, David was visited by an exact vision of death: a long hole in the ground, no wider than your body, down which you were drawn while the white faces above recede. You try to reach them but your arms are pinned. Shovels pour dirt in your face. There you will be forever, in an upright position, blind and silent, and in time no one will remember you, and you will never be called by any angel. As strata of rock shift, your fingers elongate, and your teeth are distended sideways in a great underground grimace indistinguishable from a strip of chalk. And the earth tumbles on, and the sun expires, an unaltering darkness reigns where once there were stars.[6]

Most who hold to atheism desire to operate independently of any authority outside of themselves, especially God’s authority set forth in Scripture. These assign no serious thought of God to their discussions, plans, or projects, but seek to use His resources independently of His wishes. But these same persons become trapped in their own system when their individual sense of good and evil, right and wrong, clashes with another person who holds to opposing moral standards. Having rejected God and moral absolutes, they have no objective final standard by which to measure values and behavior, to declare anything good or bad. These can go about their daily lives as long as the pressures of life are not too great; however, if they’re ever confronted with vicious evil that disrupts their lives, they’ll naturally seek a mechanism to control it, lest it destroy them (I’m speaking about the atheist who desires law and order rather than anarchy and chaos). If they continue to reject God, they’ll likely turn to a totalitarian government they hope is strong enough to deal with the depravity of reckless people; but in so doing, they’ll trade freedom and prosperity for slavery and the illusion of equality. In contrast, a society that acknowledges God and operates in accordance with His moral laws will tend to produce a virtuous people that can enjoy freedom and prosperity; but this must start with God and His Word.

Learning about God and applying the knowledge of who He is to our thinking results in a mental paradigm shift that changes how we see ourselves and the world around us. “In our spiritual lives, we cannot transcend the God we worship; we can rise no higher than what we believe to be the highest. Our concept of God will have a marked effect on our practical lives.”[7]

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1.44

[2] The use of the Hebrew numeral אֶחָד echad reveals, in some contexts, the idea of a complex one (cf. Gen 2:24; Ezra 3:1; Ezek 37:17).

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 39–40.

[4] Bible scholars are not entirely in agreement concerning the number of God’s attributes. I started with a basic understanding of God’s attributes back in the mid 90’s, but it has grown since then as I’ve learned more about God through His Word.

[5] There are pagan theistic views other than what is being set forth here; however, this article is written from a Christian perspective which does not recognize other claims to deity, whether Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, etc. Therefore, biblical theism is being contrasted with atheism, which seeks to deny the existence of God, and which is the dominant view among unbelievers in America.

[6] John Updike, Pigeon Feathers (New York, NY, Random House Publishers, 1975), 17.

[7] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 18.

Posted in Biblical Worldview, Christian Theology, God, Hot Topics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Call of Matthew

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 9:9-13) [Audio message at end]

     The above passage is Matthew’s personal account of being called by Jesus to be His disciple. The location of the event was probably in or near the city of Capernaum. The event occurred shortly after Jesus had demonstrated His power to forgive sins and heal disease (Matt 9:1-12). Matthew opens his account by telling us, “As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he got up and followed Him” (Matt 9:9). This Matthew is the author of the Gospel that bears his name. He is also called Levi by Mark and Luke (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27).

Money table     Matthew was identified according to his occupation as a tax collector. Tax collectors sat in booths at the entry points of cities and cross sections of commerce, collecting taxes for the Roman government, and sometimes taking a little extra for themselves. Matthew would have been regarded by many as no better than a robber. Being a tax collector for the Romans would have made Matthew despised by his fellow Jews, who would have regarded him as a traitor, an enemy of the state who took Jewish money and gave it to their overlords. Donald Hagner comments:

Tax collectors, or tax farmers, in that culture were despised as greedy, self-serving, and parasitic. They grew rich at the expense of the poor by extorting from them more than was required by their superiors in order to fill their own pockets. They furthermore often compromised regulations for purity in their handling of pagan money and their dealings with Gentiles. That Jesus should call a tax collector to be his disciple must have been in itself scandalous. We hear no objection to that here, but when in the following narrative Jesus fraternizes with tax collectors and sinners (the “lower” end of society), we do encounter a protest.[1]

     Jesus called Matthew while he was working, telling him, “Follow Me!” The word follow translates the Greek verb ἀκολουθέω akoloutheo, which means, “to move behind someone in the same direction, come after…to follow or accompany someone who takes the lead, accompany, go along with.”[2] In this context, the word connotes following Jesus as a disciple. This began Matthew’s journey as a disciple of Jesus, and Matthew would eventually be counted among the apostles (Matt 10:1-4). In an instant, Matthew walked away from a lucrative and secure job to follow Jesus. This was a radical move for sure. Though he forfeited earthly riches, he obtained new life, a greater sense of destiny, and a personal relationship with the King of kings and Lord of lords. He also secured for himself riches in heaven, which are far greater than anything this world could offer.

     Matthew recorded a big dinner he gave for Jesus, telling us, “Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples” (Matt 9:10). Luke reveals the dinner was actually a “big reception” (Luke 5:29), revealing Matthew was financially well off. The banquet included several of Matthew’s friends who were fellow tax collectors, and a group of people identified as “sinners” (Grk. ἁμαρτωλός hamartolos). Sinners were the irreligious, “who did not observe the Law in detail and therefore were shunned by observers of traditional precepts.”[3] These were the outsiders who did not play along with the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and were condemned for it. Matthew did not care. He was once classified among them, and now he’d been transformed and was ready to move on with a new life as a disciple of the One who was truly righteous. Matthew’s dinner party for Jesus was, in itself, a form of public confession concerning his new life.

Pharisees     But the antagonists soon arrived and, in typical fashion, began meddling in other people’s business. Matthew records the event, saying, “When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?’” (Matt 9:11). In the first century Jewish culture, when people fellowshipped at a table of food, it was regarded as a picture of friendship and acceptance. The Pharisees were befuddled when they saw Jesus and His disciples eating with the dregs of society. In addition, the Pharisees had a growing abhorrence toward Jesus, so their observations were filtered through a lens of hatred. This prompted them to bring a question; not for clarification, but to impugn His character. The question they asked implied guilt by association. But Jesus’ disciples did not answer the Pharisees; rather, “when Jesus heard this, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick’” (Matt 9:12). There was a common image in Jewish culture that compared teachers with physicians. These were regarded as soul-doctors who helped bring about spiritual and mental wellbeing. Of course, to need healing, one must admit sickness, and this the Pharisees were not willing to do. William MacDonald writes:

The Pharisees considered themselves healthy and were unwilling to confess their need for Jesus. The tax collectors and sinners, by contrast, were more willing to acknowledge their true condition and to seek Christ’s saving grace. So the charge was true! Jesus did eat with sinners. If He had eaten with the Pharisees, the charge would still have been true—perhaps even more so! If Jesus hadn’t eaten with sinners in a world like ours, He would always have eaten alone. But it is important to remember that when He ate with sinners, He never indulged in their evil ways or compromised His testimony. He used the occasion to call men to truth and holiness.[4]

     The Pharisees were correct that Jesus was a Teacher, and He promptly gave them something to learn. Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt 9:13). The phrase “go and learn” was a common expression used by rabbis when pointing them to a particular passage of Scripture to be considered. This was a poke at the Pharisees, for even though they regarded themselves as the experts of the Law, Jesus treated them as though they were novices. And the passage Jesus pointed them to was Hosea 6:6, which states, “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice.” Certainly, sacrifice was important to God, and there is much in the Mosaic Law that explains this, especially in the book of Leviticus. However, the activity of sacrifice, no matter how great the offering or sophisticated the occasion, meant nothing to God if the worshipper lacked the qualities of compassion, kindness, and mercy found in the One to whom the offering was brought. Hosea, and other OT prophets mentioned this repeatedly. Note the following examples:

For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psa 51:16-17)

To do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice. (Pro 21:3)

What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me? Says the LORD. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them. So, when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you, yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isa 1:11-17)

For I delight in mercy rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hos 6:6)

With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? 7 Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what the LORD requires of you: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Mic 6:6-8)

     The Pharisees, like the religious apostates in Hosea’s day, performed the outward rituals of sacrifice at the temple, but their hearts were far from God. They were careful to keep the ceremonial practices, but failed to capture the greater heart qualities the Lord expected of those who claimed to know and walk with Him. How the Pharisees treated the tax collectors and sinners demonstrated this.

     In summary, Jesus called Matthew to be His disciple, and the tax collector left everything to begin a new life with Jesus. Matthew celebrated his new life as a disciple by hosting a dinner party for Jesus and inviting other tax collectors and irreligious sinners to come and meet his new Master. The Pharisees arrived and filtered the event through their hate filled heart, and then tried to trap Jesus with a question concerning His company, which question implied His guilt. But Jesus corrected the Pharisees by pointing out He’d come to heal the sick and therefore needed to be among them. Jesus then instructed the Pharisees to learn a lesson from the book of Hosea, that God desires compassion and not sacrifice. How Jesus treated the tax collectors and sinners demonstrated His compassion, and how the Pharisees treated them demonstrated their self-righteous pride and hatred.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Message

Related Articles:

[1] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1993), 238.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 36.

[3] Ibid., 51.

[4] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1235.

 

Posted in Biblical Exegesis, Christian Theology, Hermeneutics, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Human Conscience

     The Ten Commandments are the beginning of the Mosaic Law code that was given specifically to Israel as a redeemed people, and they were not given in written form to anyone else (Lev 27:34). The Ten Commandments not only revealed the holy character of God, but gave the Israelites an objective standard for right living, both before God and others. Though the Law was given specifically to Israel, there is a sense in which God’s Laws are written on the hearts of all people, even those who are not saved. Paul wrote, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rom 2:14-15). Warren Wiersbe writes:

God did not give the Law to the Gentiles, so they would not be judged by the Law. Actually, the Gentiles had “the work of the Law written in their hearts” (Rom 2:15). Wherever you go, you find people with an inner sense of right and wrong; and this inner judge, the Bible calls “conscience.” You find among all cultures a sense of sin, a fear of judgment, and an attempt to atone for sins and appease whatever gods are feared.[1]

A Moral Compass     According to Paul, God has placed His Law within the heart of every person, which Law informs us concerning God’s standard of what is right; and, God has given every person a conscience. The word conscience translates the Greek word συνείδησις suneidesis, which refers to “the inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong.”[2] Conscience does not instruct us concerning what is good or evil, for that is determined by God; rather, conscience is that inner voice that urges us to do right. However, because of sin’s corrupting influence, the human conscience it is not always a reliable gauge of right and wrong. It would seem that conscience functions cognitively in a judicial role, evaluating thoughts and actions and determining guilt or innocence based on moral laws. This would make sense, as Paul describes the conscience as “bearing witness” with regard to some behavior, and the mind serving as the courtroom, “accusing or defending” the action.

     Human conscience, when operating properly, serves as God’s moral compass placed within each person. People instinctively know that God exists (Rom 1:18-20), and that the Law of God is good (Rom 2:14-15). We don’t have to persuade anyone. It’s already written on their hearts. God placed it there. They know God exists, that He is good, and that actions such as murder, lying, stealing, and adultery are wrong.

1Bible-study (1)     Those who have a relationship with God and pursue a life of faith will have a healthy conscience that operates as God intends. This starts when “the blood of Christ…cleanses our conscience” so that we may “serve the living God” (Heb 9:14).[3] In the New Testament Paul spoke of the “good conscience” that was connected with “genuine faith” (1 Tim 1:5, 19; cf. Acts 23:1; Heb 13:18), and he personally served God with a “clear conscience” (1 Tim 3:9; 2 Tim 1:3). Paul also described believers at Corinth whose “conscience is weak” (1 Cor 8:7, 10, 12). These were immature believers whose consciences had been corrupted by years of sinful living before their conversion and who had not fully restored their conscience to normal operation. Learning God’s Word recalibrates our conscience, and advancing spiritually strengthens it. In a negative way, there are some who progressively turn away from God and indulge in sin, and whose “conscience is defiled” (Tit 1:15), or who have “an evil conscience” (Heb 10:22). Paul wrote of some “whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4:2). The word seared translates the Greek word καυστηριάζω kausteriazo, which means to burn or cauterize with a hot iron. Just as one’s flesh can be severely burned so that it becomes hard, without sensitivity, so the conscience can become hardened and without feeling. This is obvious in the person who lives in prolonged sin and no longer blushes at their wicked behavior. I once knew a man in prison who bore the moniker “Naughty.” I once heard this man boast, with smile and laughter, of having sexually abused a helpless woman whom he greatly degraded, and he did this without any remorse. I cringed as others laughed at his stories. Here were consciences that had become seared because of sinful behavior.

     The believer, though having a conscience damaged by years of sin, can have it cleansed by means of the cross-work of Christ, and then recalibrated by means of God’s Word, which provides an objective standard for righteousness. But this will not happen quickly. Just as we exposed ourselves to many years of worldly thinking, which corrupted our consciences, so it will take time to unseat the human viewpoint and restore the conscience to normal function as God intends.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 520.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 967.

[3] The “blood of Christ” refers to Jesus atoning work on the cross, in which He bore our sin and paid the penalty that rightfully belonged to us. This was in contrast to the OT sacrificial system which could never take away sin, only cover it for a short time. When we believe in Christ as Savior (1 Cor 15:3-4), we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7), given new life (John 10:28), and gifted with God’s own righteousness (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). At the moment of salvation, there is relational peace between us and God (Rom 5:1), and we have become part of His family (Eph 2:19), will never be condemned (Rom 8:1), and made free to serve Him in righteousness (Rom 6:11-14; Tit 2:11-14). In this way, the “blood of Christ” has cleansed our conscience from any notion that religious.

Posted in Bad Behavior, Christian Theology, Hamartiology, Living by Faith, Righteous Living, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Bible as Divine Revelation

The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting (Psa 119:160).

Bible     The Bible is a self-disclosure of God to mankind. It is true in all it affirms and it stands as the absolute authority over our thoughts, values, and actions. It gives insights into realities we could never know, except that God has chosen to reveal certain things to us.[1] Certainly, there are many who approach the Bible with suspicion and doubt, believing they have sound judgment independent of any absolutes beyond themselves. Some even hate the thought of recognizing the Bible as God’s Word. The implication is obvious, for if the Bible is God’s Word, and He judges some things right and other things wrong, then we are beholden to Him in all we think and do. Rather than prejudge the Bible, we should approach it openly, letting it speak for itself. In this way, we may suspend judgment until we’ve heard its message.

     The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word βίβλος biblos which means scroll or book. The Bible is a library of sixty-six books, composed by approximately forty human authors spanning nearly fifteen hundred years. “The purpose of God in providing the Bible is that man, to whom the Bible is addressed, may be possessed of dependable information regarding things tangible and intangible, temporal and eternal, visible and invisible, earthly and heavenly.”[2]

     The Bible is God’s special revelation to mankind. God has provided both general and special revelation about Himself. General revelation refers to what God has revealed about Himself through nature, as “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. (Psa 19:1-2). And God’s attributes are revealed, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Rom 1:20). General revelation tells us that God exists, but does not reveal specifics about His mind or character. That’s where special revelation is given. God has provided special revelation about Himself both directly and indirectly (Ex 19:9; 1 Sam 3:1-14; Isa 6:9-10). Direct revelation means God spoke directly to people (Gen 8:15; Ex 6:2; 20:1-17; Matt 3:17; 2 Pet 1:17-18). For example, when God spoke to the Israelites at Mount Sinai (Ex 20:1), His voice was audibly heard in such a way that had we been there with a recording device, we could have captured those words and replayed them for others to hear.  God also spoke directly by means of dreams (Gen 28:12; 31:11; Dan 7:1; 12:8-9), and visions (Num 12:6; Isa 6:1; 1 Ki 22:19). However, God also spoke through angels (Dan 10:10-21), prophets (2 Sam 23:2; Luke 1:70), apostles (Eph 2:20; 3:5; 2 Pet 3:2), and most clearly through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14, 18; Heb 1:1-3; cf. Acts 10:9-16; 27:21-26). The writer of Hebrews states:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Heb 1:1-3a)

Bible scroll     Lastly, God has revealed Himself in writing; that is, in the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21). God, on several occasions, commanded His prophets to record what He had revealed to them. He told Moses, “Write this in a book” (Ex 17:14), and “Write down these words” (Ex 34:27). To Isaiah He said, “Now go, write it on a tablet before them and inscribe it on a scroll” (Isa 30:8), and to Jeremiah He commanded, “Write all the words which I have spoken to you in a book” (Jer 30:2). The divine revelation that was given came by means of God the Holy Spirit. On three occasions Luke makes this very claim, saying, “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus” (Acts 1:16; cf. Psa 109:8), and “the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the people devise futile things’” (Acts 4:24-25; cf. Psa 2:1), and “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers” (Acts 28:25; cf. Isa 6:9). In each of these examples, the prophets were the mouthpiece of God, reveling His thoughts and expectations to people.

     When writing to his friend, Timothy, Paul said, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The word Scripture (γραφή graphe) refers to the written word and not the spoken word. The word inspired (θεόπνευστος theopneustos) literally means God-breathed, and refers to that which originated with God and was breathed into existence by Him; namely, the Scriptures. To be near Scripture, studying and learning it, is to be near to God, close His breath. Paul’s writings originated with God, for his message was “not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor 2:13). And, when writing to the Church at Thessalonica, Paul said, we “thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Th 2:13). Paul also equated the writings of Moses and Luke as Scripture, uniting Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7, saying, “For the Scripture says, ‘you shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Tim 5:18).

     The apostle Peter expressed similar ideas about Scripture, saying, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture [γραφή graphe] is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Pet 1:20-21). Here, Scripture refers again to the written word, which is not the product of human invention. Rather, Peter tells us that Scripture was made by men who were “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21b). The word “moved” translates the Greek word φέρω phero, which means to be pulled along by another. Luke uses the same Greek word elsewhere for ships that were carried along by wind and not by their own power (Acts 27:15, 17). Peter also regarded the writings of Paul as Scripture (2 Pet 3:15-16).

     Though the Bible was written by fallible men, each was superintended by God the Holy Spirit, who guided them in such a way that what they wrote, without compromising their personal choices of words and literary styles, penned God’s inerrant Word (verbal plenary inspiration). Some of the various literary styles include historical narrative, law, poetry, psalms, proverbs, parables, and symbolism.

     There is a parallel between the written Word and Jesus, the Living Word. Just as God took a sinful woman, Mary, and supernaturally produced a sinless and perfect Person, Jesus; so God took sinful men and used them to produce a perfect book that accurately reflects His thoughts and will for mankind. The human authors wrote under the direction and superintending care of God the Holy Spirit (Ex 17:14; 34:27; Isa 30:8; Jer 30:2; Luke 1:3; 1 Cor 14:37; Rev 1:11), so that what is written is the inerrant and infallible “word of God” (1 Thess 2:13; cf. Psa 12:6-7; Rom 15:4; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20). In this way, the Bible is a dual authorship.

By the term Dual Authorship, two facts are indicated, namely, that, on the divine side, the Scriptures are the Word of God in the sense that they originate with Him and are the expression of His mind alone; and, on the human side, certain men have been chosen of God for the high honor and responsibility of receiving God’s Word and transcribing it into written form.[3]

Thye Word is Truth     The Bible is truth. The writers of Scripture regarded God’s Word as truth, saying, “Now, O Lord GOD, You are God, and Your words are truth” (2 Sam 7:28), “You are near, O LORD, and all Your commandments are truth” (Psa 119:151), “the sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psa 119:160), and Jesus said of the Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17b). The Bible, being the source of God’s absolute truth in all it affirms, communicates information we could never know independently of it. Our ability to reason, aided by the Holy Spirit, allows us to understand what is said. And, once understood, we are called to a faith response. First, by trusting in Christ as our Savior (John 3:16; 1 Cor 15:3-4), and then by reforming our thinking, values, and behavior to live in conformity with God’s will (Rom 12:1-2; Eph 4:1; Phi 1:27; Col 1:10).

     The Bible provides absolute standards for ethics. The Bible alone provides absolute standards for what is true and right. It does not address every issue in life, but what it does address is what God deems important for us to know. If God does not exist, and there is no revelation concerning moral absolutes, then we’re left adrift on a sea of relativistic thinking with no way to know anything for certain. Furthermore, we’re unfit to declare any behavior right or wrong, as every evaluation would be mere human opinion. To say we affirm or disapprove something, without an absolute standard to back it up, becomes nothing more than a personal psychology report. Francis Schaeffer understood this well, saying:

If there is no absolute moral standard, then one cannot say in a final sense that anything is right or wrong. By absolute we mean that which always applies, that which provides a final or ultimate standard. There must be an absolute if there are to be morals, and there must be an absolute if there are to be real values. If there is no absolute beyond man’s ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions.[4]

     This is deeply felt within American culture, where morals are personal and constantly shifting, which is consistent with a postmodern mindset. It’s also becoming more obvious among political leaders. The problem with many political leaders, whether Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, is they operate by no ultimate standard beyond themselves, so values are manufactured or borrowed as a matter of political expediency. “In their pure forms, both ascribe ultimacy to something other than God. Both lack transcendent norms of their own. And thus, both can lead to a variety of social, cultural, and political ills.”[5] If there are no absolutes, then we must conclude that what is, is right, and the conversation is over. But this would lead to a folding of the hands and eventual despair.

     The Bible is authoritative. Not only is the Bible informative, but it’s also authoritative, rightly commanding belief and behavior. Everyone has an ultimate source of truth and authority. For most people, it’s themselves, their reasonings, experiences, or feelings. For the growing and mature Christian, it’s God and His Word. Paul regarded his writings as authoritative, saying to the Christians at Corinth, “the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Cor 14:37).

The authority of Scripture means that it is God’s absolute standard of truth in all that it affirms. The Bible’s teachings are his criteria for all judgment and evaluation. The authority of God himself has been mediated to man in the Bible in propositions. Scripture doctrine is binding.[6]

     By faith, we accept Scripture as true, and in humility, we submit ourselves to the God who gave it. In contrast, liberal theologians exalt reason, experience, or feelings above God’s Word. When this happens, authority shifts from God to the individual. In this way, “liberalism has certainly made human reason the judge of truth and often the creator of truth. Reason becomes autonomous, governed by no higher or outside authority, but also severely limited by its finitude and fallibility.”[7] If we turn away from God and His Word as that which informs and guides us, we’re left adrift on a sea of speculation and human opinion. To disregard the Bible’s content is to do great self-harm. To acknowledge the Bible as authoritative means we are willing to submit and obey its Author.

God’s authority is unconditional and absolute (Psa 29:10; Isa 40), making Him supreme over nature and human history alike. From this intrinsic authority comes that of governments (Rom 13:1–7), employers (Eph 6:5–9), parents (Eph 6:1–4), church elders (Heb 13:7, 17), and others in positions of power. Similarly, the angels function under divine authority (Luke 1:19–20), and evil spirits are also subject to God’s power (Eph 6:11–12).[8]

     The Bible is dynamic. The Bible is effective to accomplish what God desires. As Christians, we put forth Scripture, knowing “the Word of God is alive and powerful” and able to accomplish what God intends (Heb 4:12 KJV). The Lord states:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isa 55:10-11)

     Just as rain and snow bring forth vegetation out of parched ground, so God’s Word, when it goes forth, is effective to produce spiritual life and growth in the heart that welcomes it. As Christians, we trust God and His Word will accomplish what He intends. We are to put forth the Word of God, but we do not determine its effect. We’re responsible for the clear output of Scripture, but we do not control the outcome. That’s between God and the person who hears His Word.

The Word of God is active and dynamic. Isaiah declares that it will “accomplish” that which God purposes for it to do (Isa. 55:11), Jeremiah likens the Word of God to fire and to a hammer that breaks in pieces the rock (Jer. 23:29), and in Hebrews 4:12 it is said to be “quick and powerful”—that is, living and active. Happy is he who through knowledge of the Scriptures is able to wield this living power.[9]

     God’s Word is also likened to the rays of the sun which impacts all it touches, for as the saying goes, the same sun that softens the wax hardens the clay. There is nothing wrong with the sun. It accomplishes what God intends with differing effects. Likewise, when God’s Word goes forth, it influences what it touches, and those who are positive to God will be softened by its rays, but those who are negative will be hardened.

     The Bible is beneficial to those who accept and live in its light. Not only is it truth, but it benefits those who learn and live by it. For “the law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psa 19:7), “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psa 119:105), “the unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psa 119:130), and “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). The truth set forth in Scripture provides a metanarrative; that is, an overarching account that coherently explains our world.

     Scripture is beneficial in that it reveals there is one God who exists as three distinct Persons within the Trinity (Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2): 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 are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service. The Bible also reveals the origins of the universe (Gen 1:1), mankind (Gen 1:26-27), marriage (Gen 2:18-24), sin (Gen 3:1-8), moral absolutes (Ex 20:1-17), the creation of Israel (Isa 43:1), salvation through Jesus (John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9), the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 10:32), the existence of Satan (Job 1:6-12), angels and demons (Heb 1:13-14; Rev 16:14), heaven and hell (Rev 4:1-2; 20:14-15), and the future (Rev 21-22). The Bible does not reveal all there is to know about God or His plans and actions, but only what He deems important (Deut 29:29; cf. John 21:25).

How to Read the Bible

     We live our lives on the assumption that language serves as a reliable vehicle for the expression of ideas.[10] Our survival and success depend on the plain use of language whether we’re reading the words on highway signs, food packages, or work documents. A nonliteral reading of the instructions on a medicine bottle could be fatal and we could suffer if we failed to take plainly the words on tax documents, legal papers, or instructions on how to use a chain saw. 

     The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Koine Greek (some chapters in Daniel were written in Aramaic). Behind each human author was the divine Author who communicated His thoughts through them and superintended their writings so that what they wrote reveals His mind, His work in creation, His will for mankind, His plan for history, and His provision of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those whom the Holy Spirit illumines (1 Cor 2:14-16; 2 Cor 3:14-16; 4:3-4).

To the mind that by saving grace has been rescued from the insanity of sin and is enlightened by the Spirit of God, the Bible becomes what it actually is, the very Word of God to man which imparts treasures of knowledge as marvelous as the realms of light from whence they proceed.[11]

     The Bible is divinely inspired. Though there are different views of inspiration, verbal plenary inspiration best fits what Scripture says about itself. Verbal plenary inspiration teaches that Scripture originates with God (inspired – 1 Cor 2:12-13; 2 Pet 1:21), pertains to the very words themselves (verbal – Matt 5:17-18; cf. Gal 3:16), and extends to all of Scripture (plenary – 2 Tim 3:16).

     Several English translations accurately communicate the original meaning of the biblical author (such as the ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NET, NAS), and most people read the Bible plainly as they would any other book, understanding the words and phrases according to their contextual usage. There are some passages in the Bible that are difficult to comprehend, but most of it is simple to understand. The Bible consists mostly of historical narrative which reveals how God acted in the lives of people. Other biblical genres include law, prophecy, psalms, proverbs, poetry, parables, and epistles. These literary genres require a literal reading in order to identify how the author is communicating so we can know what he is saying. Many liberal teachers advocate a nonliteral, non-grammatical, non-historical reading of the Bible, which opens the floodgates of speculation and allows the imagination of readers to make the Bible say whatever they want it to say. Ironically, those who advocate a nonliteral reading of the Bible expect their words to be taken literally. A plain reading of Scripture protects the reader from fanciful interpretations.  “If one does not use the plain, normal, or literal method of interpretation, all objectivity is lost.”[12] David Cooper writes:

When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, and literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise.[13]

     A normal reading of the Bible is commonly called the grammatical-historical method of interpretation. The grammatical-historical method of interpretation means the Christian reads the Bible in a plain manner, paying attention to the normal rules of grammar and the meaning of words as they were commonly used in their historical setting.[14] A normal reading also considers each word and verse in the light of its immediate context, as well as the larger context of the book, and the whole Bible. 

     In summary, the Bible is God’s special written revelation to mankind, it is true in all it affirms, provides absolute standards for ethics, is authoritative to command, is dynamic in its effect, and beneficial to those who accept and live in its light.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Though I will quote Bible scholars throughout this article, the main focus—and ultimate authority—will be the Bible itself.

[2] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel Publication, 1993), 105.

[3] Lewis S. Chafer, “Bibliology” Bibliotheca Sacra, 94 (1937): 398-399.

[4] Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture, 50th L’Abri Anniversary Edition. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 145.

[5] Bruce R. Ashford; eds. David S. Dockery and Trevin Wax, Christian Worldview Handbook (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2019).

[6] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 15–16.

[7] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 20.

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

[9] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, 45.

[10] A portion of this article is taken from my book, The Christian Life: A Study of Biblical Spirituality, pages 32-35.

[11] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol 8, 44.

[12] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, Ill. Moody Press, 1995), 82.

[13] David L. Cooper, The God of Israel (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1945), iii.

[14] For further reading on the subject of hermeneutics, I recommend Basic Biblical Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck, and Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm.

Posted in Biblical Exegesis, Christian Theology, Hermeneutics, Hot Topics, Living by Faith | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Something Wrong with America

We all recognize there is something wrong with the world and mankind. Our news channels never fail to keep us up to date on all that is destructive, harmful, or corrupt in society. If they are not telling us about some political scandal, they are surely informing us about the atrocities of war, crime, racism, murder, pollution, dangerous viruses, poverty, social inequality, or some other crisis that never seems to go away. And, it seems, where a crisis cannot be found, one can be artificially manufactured and perpetuated, all for the purpose of advancing some narrative that keeps ratings high. When I turn on the news I am reminded of the adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Furthermore, the ABC’s of news organizations—like all secular institutions—will offer Anything But Christian solutions. Their operating assumptions are either God does not exist (atheism), or does not care to be involved in the affairs of mankind (deism), so we are left to slug it out and find our own solutions to life’s problems. The constant internalization of negative news—albeit accurate—without some biblical context or divine solution only serves to create psychological and emotional disequilibrium, which, if left unmanaged, can cause lasting damage to self and others. Without divine revelation to provide proper context, we can become mentally and emotionally miscalibrated. The need for absolute truth as a standard of right is required if we’re to make a proper assessment of what is, and a willingness to conform to that standard if national health is to be achieved.

sheep-wolfSadly, most Americans have developed a Pavlovian response to our problems by looking to our political leaders for our solutions. However, our national problems are not first and foremost political, social, or economic, but spiritual. Much of the blame for America’s decline lies at the doorstep of the Christian church which, for decades, has been playing silly games, wasting time on selfish pursuits and superficial activities while America descends into spiritual darkness and chaos (especially the megachurches). Churches, rather than being centers of biblical learning and worship, have become places where we go for Broadway-style entertainment and motivational messages devoid of biblical content. TV charlatans teach us to regard God as a rich and powerful friend who desires to bless us if we’ll “sow a financial seed” to their ministry. Tragically, there are many fools who keep giving to these false teachers, who spend their money on lavish homes and private jets, while the Bible continues to be distorted for selfish ends and the poor and needy continue to go without. Furthermore, it seems like most of our so-called Christian seminaries and universities are producing liberal pastors who deny the inerrancy of Scripture and who preach that God is only love and peace.[1] God is love and He certainly prefers peace; however, He is also righteous and holy, and as such, He is a consuming fire to be respected. Those who fail to take God seriously will surely feel His heat.

As Christians, we bear some of the blame for the national mess we’re in (some more than others), for we have let the light of Christ and His Word grow dim in our culture. We often treat the study of God’s Word lightly, thinking what we get for one hour each week at Church (assuming we get even that) is sufficient to offset the worldliness we expose ourselves to through humanistic music, literature, and TV the rest of the week. In this way, we fail to guard our hearts from the invading darkness (Pro 4:23). Most Christians spend their days listening to secular news commentators and worldly-minded politicians rather than doctrinally sound pastor-teachers. Such a pattern is lopsided. As a result, we think our battles are political, social, or financial, when in reality, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12). Most Christian men have failed, being more concerned with earning a paycheck and advancing up the social ladder rather than sacrificially serving as the spiritual leaders in their homes, churches, and communities. And most Christian parents have abandoned their duties to raise their children in the fear of Lord, having relinquished their children to the public education system, which is little more than a humanistic indoctrination factory that churns out little socialists and communists who desire a big government because the God their parents worship is too small to guide their lives. Turning our children over to be raised by a purely secular society is tantamount to child abuse. As Christians, we have failed to communicate truth and model the virtues of biblical Christianity, and in this way, we have ceded ground to the enemy, for as goes the Christian, so goes the nation.

Key to HopeBut it’s are not over yet. It is bad, but there’s hope of turning things around if we humble ourselves and start living as we should, calling others to turn to God as well. There is an answer in the Bible, which provides us an explanation concerning why the world is the way it is, how we should respond to it, and what the future holds. Hopefully, there is enough positive volition in the country to turn things in the right direction. However, we cannot and will not affect real or lasting change without first bringing God and His Word to the center of all we say and do. This demands a commitment to learning Scripture and living by faith in all aspects of our lives, praying, and modeling Christian virtues. Without making God and His Word central to our lives, everything will continue as it is, and inevitable decline will lead to destruction. It’s just a matter of time.

Dear Father, I pray for Christians and churches across our land. I pray for revival. Shake us and wake us to the current state of affairs and to reality that we must turn to you, the God of all creation, if things are to improve. May we commit ourselves to learn your word and live your will. I pray we learn to walk humbly by faith, to live righteously, to share the Gospel with those who will listen, to pray for others, to live with an open hand to the poor and needy, and to seek your will in all matters. I ask these things in Jesus’ name, amen. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. What is the Church?
  3. The Righteousness of God
  4. Choosing Righteous Friends
  5. Improving Culture – An OT Example
  6. Improving Culture – A NT Example
  7. Righteousness Exalts a Nation
  8. Satan as the Ruler of the World
  9. Satan’s Evil World-System
  10. The Sin of Idolatry 
  11. Demons and How They Influence mankind
  12. Holy Angels and How They Influence Mankind
  13. Restoring Fellowship With God
  14. Steps to Spiritual Growth
  15. The Filling of the Holy Spirit
  16. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer
  17. Theological Categories of God’s Justice
  18. Choosing the Faithful Way

[1] I graduated from a liberal Baptist university that nearly destroyed my Christian faith. Unfortunately, there were other students who embraced the liberal way of thinking, and week after week I would hear their messages on the radio as they preached the misleading garbage to their flocks.

Posted in Bad Behavior, Biblical Worldview, Hamartiology, Hot Topics, Living by Faith | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Yahweh’s Holy War

Israel going into battle     I’m teaching through the book of Deuteronomy and the subject of Holy War came up in our discussion. The phrase Holy War is used by many to describe Israel’s conquest on the land of Canaan. I prefer the phrase Yahweh’s Holy War, since the Lord is the One who directed and empowered His people to military action. In Scripture, God is described as “a warrior” (Ex 15:3), and “the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (Deut 20:4), who is “mighty in battle” (Psa 24:8). He is, without question, “the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Sam 17:45).[1] In the book of Deuteronomy, God focuses His attention on the destruction of the Canaanites.[2] The Canaanites were a people who had become extremely corrupt by the time God brought Israel to their doorstep, and He required their total destruction, lest they become a corrupting influence in Israel and lead them to practice their abominations, which included idolatry and child sacrifice (I’ll discuss Canaanite evil later in this article).

     To be sure, there are some who are troubled by the accounts of military conquest in the Old Testament. Dr. Tommy Lane, Professor of Sacred Scripture at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary views these military actions as a “problem of innocent people suffering violent deaths by the Israelites acting under God’s orders.”[3] Dr. Lynn Jost, Professor of Old Testament at Fresno Pacific University asks, “How can Christians accept the Old Testament as authoritative Scripture when it commands such atrocities as slaughter of nonbelligerents (Deut 20:16-18), accumulation of spoil (Deut 20:14), enslavement of defeated nations (Deut 20:11), and forced marriages (Deut 21:10-14)?”[4] And Dr. Mark Bredin, former professor at Cambridge University states, “Biblical traditions often look for the violent end of their enemies. God, for example, commands Israel to seize another’s land and destroy all that is in it. The most conspicuous biblical war texts refer to ḥerem in which all defeated peoples are committed to destruction…Such often embarrass our modern sensibilities.”[5]

     Though I disagree with the above comments by liberal scholars, I appreciate the candor with which they express their understanding of God and Israel in the Old Testament; especially as it relates to Yahweh’s leading Israel into war and conquest. Though one can clearly see God’s sovereignty, righteousness and justice on display in the Old Testament passages pertaining to war and conquest, this does not mean His love, grace and faithfulness were absent. In fact, there is much material surrounding these events to adequately refute the liberal arguments.

     Biblically, God had promised to give the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates” (Gen 15:18; cf. 17:7-8). The same promise was made to Isaac (Gen 26:1-3) and Jacob (28:13-14). Because God owns everything (Psa 24:1; 50:12; 89:11; 1 Chron 29:11), any land He promises to give to a person is theirs by divine right. This is important to understand from the divine perspective, for any unauthorized occupants would be regarded as illegals, squatting on land that belongs to another. But God would not give the land to Abraham’s descendants right away. Rather, the Lord informed Abraham that his descendants would be “strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years” (Gen 15:13). This was the time of their sojourn in Egypt. Then, after the four hundred years, God told Abraham that his descendants “will return here” (Gen 15:16a). Because God is gracious and kind, He permitted the Canaanites to live on the promised land for four hundred years before calling Abraham’s descendants to take possession it. However, there is the pregnant phrase, “for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Gen 15:16b). The word iniquity translates the Hebrew עָוֹן avon which connotes “guilt caused by sin and the consequences thereof.”[6] The Amorites were representative of all the occupiers of Canaan prior to Israel’s conquest. And the phrase “not yet complete” implies the Canaanites were filling their cup with sin and, when it reached its full, judgment would come.

     After four hundred years, circa 1445 BC, the first generation of Israelites came out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. The Lord told His people, “I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD” (Ex 6:8). God was willing to fulfill His promise to His people. However, the first generation of Israelites failed to walk with God, and because of their rebellion in the wilderness, they forfeited their right to take possession of Canaan (Num 14:1-39). God said of that generation, they “shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it” (Num 14:23). Though saved, this generation of believers failed to walk with God and were described as an “evil generation” (Deut 1:35). The exceptions were Caleb and Joshua (Num 14:30), and the children of the Israelites (Num 14:31), who, under the leadership of Joshua, would take the land (cf. Deut 1:36-39). That is, the second generation of Israelites would obey and succeed where their parents had disobeyed and failed.

Canaanite Idols     When the first generation of Israelites had died off, God directed their children to “drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places; and you shall take possession of the land and live in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it” (Num 33:51-53). And this they did. In the Deuteronomic account, God Himself was personally involved in leading His people into Canaan, saying, “Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you” (Deut 9:3). This was a joint effort with God leading and His people following and doing what He said. This is important to note, for one cannot separate the obedient actions of Israel from God who led and empowered them to military victory over their enemies. In this regard, the warfare and conquest were both a divine and human enterprise in which God’s people went forth according His command and power in order to defeat His enemies. And part of the biblical reason for driving out the Canaanites by military force was “because of the wickedness of these nations” (Deut 9:5a).

     Though Canaan had become extremely corrupt, it would be wrong to think of its residents as brute barbarians who lacked intelligence and were an unsophisticated. Actually, they were very advanced technologically and culturally in many ways compared with the neighbors. But in spite of all their technological and cultural accomplishments, they were also very immoral. Merrill Unger states:

The Canaanites were talented and developed the arts and sciences early. Stout walled cities have been excavated, and their construction was much superior to that of later Israelite buildings. They excelled in ceramic arts, music, musical instruments, and architecture…The art treasures in ivory, gold, and alabaster recovered from Canaanite Megiddo demonstrate Canaanite architectural elegance. Many of the treasures from Ras Shamra-Ugarit tell the same story. However, by the time of the Israelite conquest, Canaanite civilization had become decadent and was ripe for destruction.[7]

Holy War     God was not impressed with their technological and cultural sophistication because evil dominated their nation. Now, God was ready to judge them, and Israel would serve as His agent of justice upon an otherwise corrupt culture that was not reformable. The Lord told His people, “you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you” (Deut 20:17). The words “utterly destroy” translate the Hebrew חָרָם charam, which is found in a number of passages (Num 21:2-3; Deut 2:34; 3:6; 7:2; 13:15; 20:17; Josh 2:10; 6:21; 8:26; 10:1, 35, 37, 39, 40; 11:11-12, 20-21). Leon Wood states, “Usually ḥāram means a ban for utter destruction, the compulsory dedication of something which impedes or resists God’s work, which is considered to be accursed before God.”[8] Commenting on the use of חָרָם charam in Deuteronomy 2:34, Eugene Merrill writes:

Nothing is more integral to the waging of holy war than the placing of conquered lands and their peoples under ḥērem. This noun, derived from the verb ḥāram, “to exterminate,” refers to a condition in which persons and things became the personal possession of the Lord by virtue of his inherent sovereignty and his appropriation of them by conquest. They could either be left alive and intact (Lev 27:21, 28; Josh 6:19) or eradicated (as here; cf. Num 21:2–3; Josh 6:21). In the passage at hand, it seems that the physical structures of the cities themselves were spared and that only the populations were decimated.[9]

Child sacrifice to Molech     Though the idea of holy war can be difficult for us to digest (which in this context includes putting children to death), several things should be considered. First, the command for destruction was from the Lord Himself (Deut 2:34; 7:1-2; 20:17). Because God is omniscient (Psa 139:1-6), He knew the situation completely. Because the Lord is perfectly righteous (Gen 18:25; Psa 7:11), His command was just and fair. And, because God is gracious and patient (Psa 103:8), His command to execute the Canaanites was not reckless. Divine judgment meant God had determined the Canaanite culture was corrupt and not reformable. It would be destroyed. Second, the Canaanites were by no means a sweet and lovely people who spent their days painting rainbows on rocks and playing with butterflies. Rather, they were antitheocratic and hostile to God and His people and comprised the most depraved culture in the world at that time. For centuries the Canaanites practiced gross sexual immorality, which included all forms of incest (Lev 18:1-20; 20:10-12, 14, 17, 19-21), homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and sex with animals (Lev 18:23; 20:15-16). They also engaged in the occult (Lev 20:6), were hostile toward parents (Lev 20:9), and offered their children as sacrifices to Molech (Lev 18:21; 20:1-5; cf. Deut 12:31; 18:10). God told His people, “you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them” (Lev 20:23). Third, God had been gracious to the Canaanite people for four hundred years (Gen 15:14-16), giving them ample time to turn from their sin. Though God is very gracious and slow to anger (Psa 145:8-9), this does not last forever and eventually His righteous judgment falls upon those who deserve it (Deut 9:4-5). Fourth, as Moses advanced toward Canaan, he encountered some of the Amorites who were governed by Sihon, King of Heshbon. Originally, Moses offered Sihon peaceful terms if he would let the Israelites pass through his land toward Canaan, even offering to pay for whatever food and water they consumed (Deut 2:24-29). However, Moses reveals, “Sihon king of Heshbon was not willing for us to pass through his land” (Deut 2:30a). Grace was offered one last time, but Sihon rejected it, and “God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, in order to deliver him into your hand, as he is today” (Deut 2:30b). In this regard, Sihon brought judgment upon himself and his people (Deut 2:31-36). Fifth, the Amorites could have moved out and avoided the conflict by settling in another area. Like other residents of Canaan, they’d no doubt heard about how God had delivered Israel from the Egyptians and provided for them during their forty years in the wilderness. To stand against God and His army was madness. Sixth, God could have destroyed the people Himself, like He’d done in the global flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Egypt; however, it was His will the Canaanites be removed by military means and as a test of obedience to His people. Seventh, those who turned to God would have been spared, like Rahab and her family (Josh 2:1-14). Again, here is grace and mercy on display. Eighth, the killing of the Canaanite children may have spared them from growing up in a corrupt and hostile culture, “For if the child died before reaching the age of accountability it is likely that his or her eternal destiny would have been made secure in heaven.”[10] Considering how sexually immoral the Canaanite culture had become, one can imagine pedophilia was widespread, not to mention child sacrifice was commonplace. Ninth, like the global flood, or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the destruction of the Canaanites was to be a one-time event, not to be repeated by future generations. Furthermore, Israel was specifically called to destroy only the Canaanites who illegitimately occupied the promised land (Deut 20:16-18), and to offer peace to other nations, if they would have it (Deut 20:10-15). In fact, just prior to Israel beginning the conquest of Canaan, God specifically forbid His people from attacking the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites and taking their lands, which the Lord had assigned specifically to them (Deut 2:1-23). This shows God’s judgment was precise and planned, not careless or haphazard. Tenth, destroying the Canaanites would prevent them from becoming a corrupting influence upon God’s people who were called to holiness (Lev 11:45; 19:2; 20:26). God warned His people that if they allowed the Canaanites to live, they would “teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God” (Deut 20:18; cf. Ex 23:33; Josh 23:12-13). Sadly, we know historically that Israel failed to obey the Lord (see the book of Judges), and the immoral culture spread among God’s people, who themselves began to practice all the evil things God hates (Deut 12:31), including idolatry and child sacrifice (2 Ki 3:27; 16:3; Psa 106:37-38; Isa 57:5; Jer 7:31; 19:5; 32:35; Ezek 16:20-21). Because Israel eventually became corrupt, God then destroyed and expelled them from the land by means of military defeat from their enemies. This happened when the ten northern tribes of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC and the two southern tribes of Judah fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC.

     God’s command for holy war is not applicable for Christians, for God is not working to establish a theocratic kingdom on earth as He was through Israel. Nowhere does the Bible command the Christian to take up arms in violent revolution and to conquer other lands. In this regard, the Crusades were never justified biblically. Today, in the church age, though I believe self-defense is absolutely justified biblically and according US law, God has delegated killing solely to the governments of this world (Rom 13:1-6; 1 Pet 2:13-14). Murder is wrong; and killing for self-defense is not murder. Apart from justified self-defense, Christians are commanded to “pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). The apostle 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. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Rom 12:17-19). In fact, rather than persecuting others, believers are told to expect persecution as part of their Christian experience (John 15:18-20). As Christians, we generally live submissive lives in obedience to the government as good citizens of the land (Rom 13:1-5). However, this does not mean blind submission, as we may engage in acts of civil disobedience when necessary (Ex 1:15-17; Dan 3:1-18; 6:1-23; Acts 5:27-29).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

[2] Canaanite was a general term that referred to all the residents of the land of Canaan, which primarily consisted of “the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites” (Deut 7:1).

[3] Tommy Lane, “The Concept of Holy War”, Bible, Prayer, and Homily Resources Blog, (ND, https://www.frtommylane.com/bible/ot/holy_war.htm.

[4] Lynn Jost, “Warfare in the Old Testament: An Argument for Peacemaking in the New Millennium” Direction: Vol. 27 No. 2 (Fall 1998): 177-188.

[5] Mark Bredin, Jesus, Revolutionary of Peace: A Nonviolent Christology in the Book of Revelation (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2003), 40.

[6] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 800.

[7] Merrill F. Unger, “Canaan, Canaanites,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 202.

[8] Leon J. Wood, “744 חָרַם,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 324.

[9] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, 102.

[10] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 276.

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Proverbs 31 – Snapshot of an Excellent Woman

The Woman of Excellence Proverbs 31 describes the woman of excellence. The phrase an excellent wife (Pro 31:10; Heb.   אֵשֶׁת־חַיִל esheth chayil) was first used of Ruth, who was described as a woman of excellence (Ruth 3:11, NASB) or a woman of noble character (CSB). Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, who married Bathsheba, who is perhaps the one who shared her wisdom with her son, King Solomon (Pro 31:1). If this is correct, then it’s possible Bathsheba saw in Ruth a template for the woman of noble character. A study of the book of Ruth reveals she was committed to God and His people (Ruth 1:16-17; 2:11), possessed a strong work ethic (Ruth 2:7, 17), listened to good advice (Ruth 2:8-9; 3:1-6), showed respect to others (Ruth 2:10), cared for the needy (Ruth 2:17-18), sought to marry a noble man (Ruth 3:7-10; 4:13), and was praised for her excellence and love for others (Ruth 3:11; 4:15).

According to Proverbs 31:10-31, the excellent wife is precious to her husband (Pro 31:10), and he trusts her (Pro 31:11). It is said, “She does him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Pro 31:12). She delights to work with her hands, knowing she’s providing for the good of her family (Pro 31:13, 15, 17-19, 27). She’s a smart shopper (Pro 31:14), and savvy business woman (Pro 31:16, 24), who is recognized for her work (Pro 31:31). She uses her time well (Pro 31:15, 27), is energetic and strong (Pro 31:17), cares for the poor and needy (Pro 31:20), provides for those in her household (Pro 31:21, 27), and does not neglect her own needs or appearance (Pro 31:22). As she is respected in the home, her husband is respected in the community (Pro 31:23), and both he and her children give praise for her dignity (Pro 31:28). She has an optimistic outlook on life, as “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future” (Pro 31:25). She is also noted for her wisdom, and “the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Pro 31:26). She is the ideal wife, and though many women have done nobly, she excels them all (Pro 31:29). What makes this woman so excellent? What drives her to possess all the virtues of a godly woman, for which her husband praises her? Solomon tells us. It’s not her personal charm, which is deceitful; nor her physical beauty, which is fleeting (Pro 31:30a). Rather, it’s because she is “a woman who fears the LORD” (Pro 31:30b). This one “shall be praised” by all who know and appreciate her godliness. What is prioritized is the inner qualities of godliness and virtue that make for an enjoyable, stable, and lasting marriage. Other qualities of godly women are as follows:

I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. (1 Tim 2:9-12)

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. (Tit 2:4-6)

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. (1 Pet 3:1-6)

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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The Seven Year Tribulation

     There is coming a future time of tribulation upon the earth. Its severity is without historical precedent. Concerning this time, the angel, Gabriel, told Daniel, that it “will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (Dan 12:1a). This time of tribulation is in keeping with unfulfilled prophecy given to Daniel that pertains to Israel (Dan 9:24-27). It is during this time that God’s wrath will be poured out upon the world—specifically those who are hostile to Him and His people. A brief walkthrough of Daniel’s prophecy is as follows.

Seventy weeks [i.e. 490 years] have been decreed for your people [Israel] and your holy city [Jerusalem], to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity [fulfilled by Christ as His first coming], to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place [to be fulfilled by Christ at His second coming]. 25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem [fulfilled by Artaxerxes Longimanus on March 5, 444 BC; see Neh 2:1-8] until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks [the 49 years to rebuild the city of Jerusalem] and sixty-two weeks [434 years]; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 Then after the sixty-two weeks [49 years + 434 years = 483 years] the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing [March 30, AD 33 = Triumphal entry into Jerusalem], and the people of the prince who is to come [i.e. Romans] will destroy the city and the sanctuary [August, AD 70]. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined [Josephus documented that 1,100,000 Jews were killed]. 27 And he [he = the prince who is to come = Antichrist] will make a firm covenant with the many [many = unbelieving Israel] for one week [seven years], but in the middle of the week [3 ½ years] he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering [at the third Jewish temple, yet to be constructed]; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate [see Matt 24:15]. (Dan 9:24-27)

     The present period from the day of Pentecost until the Rapture of the church is the time between the sixty-ninth and seventieth-seven. The seventieth-seven will be a time for the fulfillment of prophecy pertaining to Israel. The seven-year tribulation precedes the second coming of Jesus who is prophesied to set up His kingdom on earth (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4; 34-37; Dan 7:13-14; Luke 1:30-33; 22:28-30; Acts 1:3-6; Rev 20:4-6). The whole seven years is called a time of “tribulation” (Matt 24:9); however, the last three and half years are called the “great tribulation” (Matt 24:21; cf. Rev 7:14). Isaiah called it “the day of the Lord” (Isa 13:6-13; cf. Joel 2:1-2; Amos 5:18-20), and Jeremiah called it “the time of Jacob’s distress” (Jer 30:7). The angel, Gabriel, revealed to Daniel that it will be “a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (Dan 12:1). The tribulation is the period in which God destroys the rebellion of: 1) Satan and his angels, 2) and unbelieving Israel and Gentiles. At the close of the tribulation, Satan will be defeated and bound for a thousand years (Rev 12:7-9; 20:1-3), the Antichrist and his false prophet are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev 19:20), and all unbelievers are destroyed in judgment (Rev 19:19-21; cf. Matt 24:37-41), leaving only believing Jews and Gentiles to enter His kingdom on earth (Matt 25:31-46). In all the judgments, God is righteous and just, whereas men are wicked and “deserve” wrath (Rev 16:5-7; cf. 19:2). There is a dominant motif in all of Scripture which reveals “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5; cf. Jam 4:6). This is certainly true during the seven-year tribulation. God opposes those who:

  1. Try to hide and flee from Him (Rev 6:15-16)
  2. Seek death rather than conform to His will (Rev 9:6)
  3. Do not repent of their rebellion (Rev 9:20-21)
  4. Rejoice and celebrate at the death of His servants (Rev 11:7-10)
  5. Side with the Satan (Rev 13:3-4)
  6. Blaspheme and curse God’s name (Rev 16:8-9, 11, 21)
  7. Make war with Jesus Christ (Rev 19:19)

God’s grace is witnessed toward:

  1. The 144,000 Jews He saves and calls to service (Rev 7:4-8).
  2. The many who have been saved during the tribulation (Rev 7:9-17).
  3. His two prophetic witnesses whom He resurrects (Rev 11:11-12).
  4. The nations to whom He sends His gospel message (Rev 14:6-7).
  5. Those who enter into His kingdom after the Tribulation (Rev 20:4-6).

Burning World     The seven-year tribulation is part of God’s future history upon the world. It is the time period in which He pours out judgment upon the world because of wickedness. In all His actions He is sovereign and just. According to His sovereignty, “our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psa 115:3; cf. 135:6), for “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35). Of God’s judgments, the holy angels declare, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they [wicked unbelievers] poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it” (Rev 16:5-6). And the martyred saints agree, saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments” (Rev 16:7).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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Future Christian Rewards

Salvation is the work the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ atoning death on the cross propitiated the Father’s demands toward our sin (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2), and we come with the empty hands of faith, trusting in Christ alone to save us (John 3:16; 20:31 Acts 4:12). The gospel is the good news “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). Good works should follow salvation, but they are never the condition of it (Rom 4:1-5; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). Once saved, the Lord calls us to “be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4), and to engage in “good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph 2:10). As Christians, we are 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), for He instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit 2:12), and to be a people “zealous for good deeds” (Tit 2:14).

Our loyal obedience to God is in appreciation for all He has done for us. It’s a “Thank You” response to His grace and goodness. As an added benefit, God promises future rewards to the Christian who walks in His will. But, to be clear, not all rewards are the same, as they are given in proportion to the life of obedience. When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to His disciples (Matt 5:1-2), He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:11-12). A reward (Grk μισθός misthos) denotes “a recompense based upon what a person has earned and thus deserves.”[1] Though salvation is free and simple, eternal rewards are earned. A little later, Jesus explained that there will be distinctions in heaven based on the believer’s obedience or disobedience to His will, saying, “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:19). Being IN the kingdom of heaven connotes an end of life location, as this will be the final resting place for all believers. But the distinctions of being “least” or “great” in heaven are the result of the believer’s disobedience or obedience to God, and their instructing others to do the same.

We survived the Judgment Seat of Christ Paul taught the Christians at Corinth that we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be evaluated for our works. Paul was a “wise master builder” who shared the gospel with others and laid the foundation, which is Christ (1 Cor 3:10-11). Paul spoke of the believer who “builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw” (1 Cor 3:12). The composition of material is distinguished between what is precious and what is worthless. And a day is coming, when “each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work” (1 Cor 3:13). And if the “man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward [Grk μισθός misthos]” (1 Cor 3:14), being justly compensated for his work. However, “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss [of reward]; but he himself will be saved [eternally], yet so as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15). The phrase suffer loss translates the Greek word ζημιόω zemioo, which means “to experience the loss of something, with implication of undergoing hardship or suffering, suffer damage/loss, forfeit, sustain injury.”[2] The apostle John also taught that rewards can be lost if the believer succumbs to false teachers (2 John 1:7-8).

Jesus taught that we should look to the future and think in terms of storing up rewards in heaven, saying, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21). We all spend our time, efforts, and resources investing in something we consider will bring a good return on investment. Biblically, there is no greater investment to be made than learning and living God’s Word, and instructing others to do the same. The growing Christian thinks more and more about investing in God’s work, realizing he/she will receive an eternal reward from the Father.

After the Rapture of the church to heaven (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor 15:51-53; 1 Thess 4:13-18; 2 Thess 2:1-3a; Tit 2:13), believers will be judged for their works (Matt 5:12; Rom 14:10; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 Cor 5:10). As Christians, we are to inspect our own fruit and not the fruit of others. For this reason, Paul comments, “why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Rom 14:10). All Christians “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10). This judgment is not to determine who gets into heaven, for that problem has already been settled by Christ, who died in our place and bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. Rather, the judgment is to determine rewards for eternity. “The question is often raised how one’s sins can be forgiven and yet one’s deeds reviewed at the judgment seat of Christ. Forgiveness concerns justification; the review concerns rewards, and after the review is made there will be no sorrow or tears because there are none in heaven.”[3]

Rewards are offered by God to a believer on the basis of faithful service rendered after salvation. It is clear from Scripture that God offers to the lost salvation and for the faithful service of the saved, rewards. Often in theological thinking salvation and rewards are confused. However, these two terms must be carefully distinguished. Salvation is a free gift (John 4:10; Rom 6:23; Eph 2:8-9), whereas rewards are earned by works (Matt 10:42; cf. Luke 19:17; 1 Cor 9:24-25; 2 Tim 4:7-8). Then, too, salvation is a present possession (Luke 7:50; John 5:24). On the other hand, rewards are future attainment to be dispensed at the second coming of Christ for His own (Matt 16:27; 2 Tim 4:8). Rewards will be dispensed at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10; Rom 14:10).[4]

layingcrownathisfeet     We don’t know what many of the rewards will be. That is for Christ to determine and dispense at that time. However, we are aware of crowns that will be given to some who are faithful, such as: the imperishable crown given to those who exercise self-control in godliness (1 Cor 9:24-27), the crown of exaltation for those who bring others to Christ (1 Thes 2:19), the crown of righteousness to those who love His appearing (2 Tim 4:7-8), the crown of glory given to elders who faithfully execute their service in the church (1 Pet 5:4), and the crown of life given to those who endure testing because they love the Lord (Jam 1:12; cf. Rev 2:10). In the future, there is a heavenly description of “twenty-four elders who will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne” (Rev 4:10). These will cast their crowns as an expression of worship to the Lord, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Rev 4:11). If crowns are only given to those who live righteously, then this means some will have greater capacity for worship than others, as what we give is in proportion to what we have.

This rewarding is a display of God’s righteous character, for “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Heb 6:10). As Christians, we know our “toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58), and that we will reap what has been sown during our lifetime (Gal 6:7-8). For this reason, Paul says, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal 6:9). God graciously permits us to share in His work on earth, and then rewards us for our participation. God’s rewards are a reflection of his goodness and He is pleased to give them, like He does all good things. Eternal rewards manifest His glory in our lives, and will be manifest in the Church, the Bride of Christ, at His second coming (Rev 19:8).

OT saints will be rewarded as well (Dan 12:1-3), perhaps at the Second Coming of Jesus, alongside the saints who survive the Tribulation, whose “deeds follow with them” (Rev 14:13). These are evaluated just prior to Jesus’ millennial kingdom, in which He separates the sheep from goats (Matt 25:31-46), to determine who will enter the kingdom and reign with Him (Rev 20:4-6). Whether OT or NT saints, all believers will be judged as Jesus declares, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev 22:12). Unbelievers will be judged after the millennial kingdom, but theirs is a judgment for eternal suffering (Rev 20:11-15). And it appears from certain passages in Scripture that some unbelievers will suffer more than others (Matt 10:15; 11:20-24; Luke 12:47-48; John 19:11). Since God is just, it would make sense that punishment for unbelievers would be in proportion to the degree of how sinfully they lived after rejecting the gospel.

Summary:

Christ has secured our salvation through the substitutionary atoning death of Christ who shed His blood at the cross and propitiated every righteous demand the Father has toward us (Rom 3:25). Having trusted Christ as Savior (John 3:16), we now have peace with God (Rom 5:1). However, after salvation, God expects us to learn His Word, live righteously (Tit 2:11-14), and encourage others to do the same (Heb 11:24-25). After the Rapture of the church (1 Thess 4:13-18), all Christians will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be evaluated for how we lived our lives (2 Cor 5:9-10). This evaluation is not a judgment concerning the Christian’s right to enter heaven as the place of eternal residence, for Christ has secured our salvation and there is no fear of condemnation before God (John 3:18). Rather, it is a judgment concerning eternal rewards for the life we’ve lived in service to Christ (1 Cor 3:10-15). Apparently, we must stay the course in faithfulness, otherwise we run the risk of losing part of our reward (2 John 1:8). Those who learned God’s Word, lived His will, and taught others to do the same, will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. But those believers who disobeyed God’s Word and taught others to disobey as well will be called least in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:19).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 490.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 428.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972).

[4] Merrill F. Unger, “Rewards,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1080.

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The Rapture of the Church

The Bible reveals Jesus will return to earth; however, a distinction must be drawn between Jesus coming for His saints at the Rapture (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor 15:51-53; 1 Thess 4:13-18; 2 Thess 2:1-3a; Tit 2:13), and Jesus coming with His saints at His Second Coming to reign for a thousand years (Dan 7:13-14; Matt 19:28; 25:31; Rev 19:11-21). There are basically five views on the rapture of the church which are held by Bible scholars.

  1. Pre-Tribulation Rapture: The church is taken out of the world before the Tribulation begins (this author’s view).
  2. Partial Rapture: Only believers who faithfully watch for the Lord’s return will be raptured out of the world before the Tribulation.
  3. Mid-Tribulation Rapture: The church is taken out of the world in the middle of the Tribulation.
  4. Pre-Wrath Rapture: The church is taken out of the world before God’s wrath is greatest, just before Christ returns to establish His earthly kingdom.
  5. Post-Tribulation Rapture: The church is raptured up as Christ is returning to earth at His Second Coming.

The doctrine of the Rapture was first presented by the Lord Jesus when He provided new information to His apostles on the night before His crucifixion. After speaking of His soon departure (John 13:33), Jesus comforted them, saying, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). The place where Jesus was going was heaven. The purpose of His going was to prepare a place for them. And, at some unspecified time, Jesus promised He would come again to receive them to Himself, that they may be with Him.

Changed     Paul explained to the church at Corinth that the changing of our bodies at the Lord’s return was a mystery. Paul said, “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:51-53). The word mystery translates the Greek word μυστήριον musterion, which means “the unmanifested or private counsel of God, (God’s) secret, the secret thoughts, plans, and dispensations of God.”[1] A mystery was something “which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints” (Col 1:26). What Paul revealed for the first time—not found in the OT—pertained to the physical transformation that occurs at the Rapture, that our mortal bodies will be transformed into immortal ones.

Raptured     Paul described a time in which Christians will be raptured out of the world and taken to heaven. He explained, “the dead in Christ shall rise first [i.e. be resurrected]. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up [ἁρπάζω harpazo] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:16b-17). The meaning of ἁρπάζω harpazo is “to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control, snatch/take away.”[2] The form of the Greek verb is passive, which means the Christian will offer no resistance when the Lord removes His church in a moment, without notice, and by force.

The Latin translation of this verse used the word rapturo. The Greek word it translates is harpazō, which means to snatch or take away. Elsewhere it is used to describe how the Spirit caught up Philip near Gaza and brought him to Caesarea (Acts 8:39) and to describe Paul’s experience of being caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2–4). Thus, there can be no doubt that the word is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 to indicate the actual removal of people from earth to heaven.[3]

Some have asserted that the Rapture is not a biblical doctrine because, they argue, the word Rapture is not mentioned in the English Bible. However, the word Rapture comes from the words “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. This verse could be translated, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be raptured together with them in the clouds.” The important point is that the verse says Christ will come for believers and take them from the earth to heaven, where they will be in His presence till they return with Him to the earth to reign. The Rapture will mean that all believers “will be with the Lord forever,” enjoying Him and His presence for all eternity.[4]

Paul reaffirmed his teaching of the Rapture in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica. Apparently, someone had upset the Christians living in Thessalonica by writing a false letter, as if from Paul, that the Rapture had already occurred and their suffering was a result of entering into the time of the Tribulation. Paul said, “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him [at the Rapture], that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us [i.e. a false letter], to the effect that the day of the Lord has come [day of the Lord = seven year Tribulation]” (2 Thess 2:1-2). Paul explained the Rapture could not have occurred yet, saying, “for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first” (2 Thess 2:3a). The word apostasy translates the Greek word ἀποστασία apostasia, which is believed by the majority of scholars today to refer to a special end-time rebellion against biblical teaching. Though this departure from God’s Word will happen in the days leading up to the Rapture (1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Tim 3:1-5; 4:3-4; 2 Pet 3:3-6), it is argued—quit convincingly—by some Bible scholars that the word ἀποστασία apostasia is better understood as referring to the physical departure of the church at the time of the Rapture.[5] Dr. Thomas Ice states:

I believe that there is a strong possibility that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is speaking of the rapture. What do I mean? Some pretribulationists, like myself, think that the Greek noun apostasia, usually translated “apostasy,” is a reference to the rapture and should be translated “departure.” Thus, this passage would be saying that the day of the Lord will not come until the rapture comes before it. If apostasia is a reference to a physical departure, then 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is strong evidence for pretribulationism.[6]

The above passages, taken as a whole, argue convincingly that we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit 2:13). The appearing of Christ at the Rapture is what the Christian is looking for, since that is the next prophetic event to come. This Rapture is immanent, meaning it may occur at any time and without prior notice. All Christians who are alive at the time of the Rapture will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, will go with Him to heaven, and be spared the wrath to be poured out during the seven-year Tribulation. Our future is not one of judgment; rather, we are assured we will be spared God’s future wrath, both in time and eternity (Rom 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10; 5:9; Rev 3:10).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson:

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 662.

[2] Ibid., 134.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 537.

[4] Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 1265.

[5] Among these are Dr. E. Schuyler English, Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost, Dr. Thomas Ice, Dr. Andy Woods, Dr. Paul Lee Tan, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Dr. Dave Olander, and others.

[6] Thomas Ice, “The Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3″ (2009). Article Archives. 82.
https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/pretrib_arch/82.

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A Christian View of Death

the-light-of-christ     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. Though 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.

     As Christians, we will leave this world either by death or rapture. Excluding Enoch and Elijah (Gen 5:21-24; 2 Ki 2:11), human mortality is 100%. However, like Enoch and Elijah, we too may be spared the experience of death, if we are part of the generation of Christians that are caught up to meet the Lord in the air at the Rapture (1 Thess 4:13-18).

     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” (Psa 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” (Psa 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; 3:1-7), 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). 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; 3:1-7; 5:5; Eph 2:1-2; Col 2:13-14).
  2. Physical death, which is the separation of the soul from the body (Eccl 12:7; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23-24; 2 Tim 4:6). Though the body ceases to function, the soul moves to a new location, consciously awaiting the resurrection of the body.
  3. Eternal death (aka the “second death”), which is the perpetuation of physical and spiritual separation from God for all eternity (Rev 20:11-15).

Christ-on-the-cross     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). 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. For the Christian, death is not the final victor in eternity. Every person, whether saved or unsaved, will receive a resurrection body that will live forever. Believers will enjoy eternal union with God, but unbelievers will suffer eternal separation from Him. 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). It’s a free gift from God, paid in full by the Lord Jesus (John 19:30), who died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins, so that we don’t have to pay for them ourselves.

     Scripture reveals God is sovereign over all His creation, either causing or permitting whatsoever comes to pass. God is sovereign over all creation, which means there are no accidental people or events in history. God creates life (Gen 2:7; Job 1:21; Psa 100:3; Acts 17:24-25; Rev 11:11) and controls death (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-8; 6:17; 2 Ki 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). And, “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Sam 2:6). God holds final control over our lives, from beginning to end, and preordains our days on the earth. David wrote, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psa 139:16). God’s sovereign control over life and death includes our choices and the choices of others. 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 opportunity, and when one procrastinates about the gospel, it becomes the thief of souls. Please don’t delay. Trust Christ as Savior today and receive eternal life, 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). And, like the thief on the cross who trusted in Jesus, you can be assured your soul will immediately go into the presence of God at death (Luke 23:43; cf. 2 Cor 5:8).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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The Life of Faith

Believe Living by faith is the Christian way. God expects us to trust Him at His word, which is plainly understood, believed, and applied. Studying the Bible and applying it to life are comparable to breathing in and breathing out, as both are necessary for living. Much of our mental and social stability depends on how well we know the Word of God and apply it to life. The Lord states, “My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38).[1] And we know that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). Scripture reveals that only God and His Word are absolutely true (Psa 119:160; John 17:17), and never fail (Matt 24:35; Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18). In contrast, we learn that people fail (Jer 17:5; cf. Pro 28:26), money fails (Psa 62:10), the government fails (Psa 146:3), and the creation fails (Matt 24:35). As we look at the Greek New Testament, we see how the word faith is used three ways:

  1. Faith, as a verb (πιστεύω pisteuo),[2] means “to consider something to be true and therefore worthy of one’s trust.”[3] It means to believe, trust, or have confidence in God (Heb 11:6; cf. Rom 4:3), Jesus (Acts 16:31; 1 Pet 1:8), and Scripture (John 2:22). Unreliable people should not be trusted (Matt 24:23, 26; John 2:24).
  2. Faith, as a noun (πίστις pistis), often refers to “that which evokes trust and faith…the state of being someone in whom confidence can be placed, faithfulness, reliability, fidelity.”[4] The word is used with reference to God who is trustworthy (Rom 3:3; 4:19-21), and of people who possess faith (Matt 9:2, 22; 21:21), which can be great (Matt 15:28; cf. Acts 6:5; 11:23-24), small (Matt 17:19-20), or absent (Mark 4:39-40; cf. Luke 8:25). It is also used of Scripture itself as a body of reliable teaching (i.e. Acts 14:22; 16:5; Rom 14:22; Gal 1:23; 2 Tim 4:7).
  3. Faith, as an adjective (πιστός pistos), describes someone “pertaining to being worthy of belief or trust, trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring trust/faith.”[5] The word is used both of man (Matt 25:23; 1 Cor 4:17; Col 1:7; 1 Tim 1:12; 2 Tim 2:2; Heb 3:5), and God (1 Cor 1:9; 10:13; 2 Tim 2:13; Heb 10:23; Rev 1:5).

Biblical facts about faith:

  1. Faith demands an object (Acts 16:30-31).
  2. Faith is exercised with a view to receiving a benefit (John 3:16).
  3. The object of faith gets the credit (Rom 4:19-21).
  4. Salvation comes by faith in Jesus (Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Gal 3:26; Eph 2:8-9).
  5. Faith is the only thing that pleases God (Heb 11:6).
  6. God expects us to live by faith (Rom 1:17; Heb 10:38).
  7. Faith is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
  8. By faith we apply the word of God (Matt 7:24-25; John 13:17; Jam 1:22).
  9. By faith we claim promises (Heb 6:11-12; 2 Pet 1:4).
  10. It is possible to have God’s promises and not benefit from them (Heb 4:2).
  11. Our faith will be tested (1 Pet 1:6-7).
  12. Our faith overcomes fear (Deut 31:6-8; Isa 41:10-13).
  13. Trusting God produces mental stability (Isa 26:3; Phil 4:6-11).
  14. Faith can be strengthened by others (Acts 14:21-22; 16:5; Rom 1:12)

Faith in God results in a change of attitude and actions about everything. By faith, “we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb 11:3). By faith we have confidence that God controls the circumstances of our lives, that He “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). Even the trials we face help to produce humility (Dan 4:37; Matt 23:12), and develop the character of God in us (Rom 5:1-5). James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam 1:2-4). Such a faith response makes us better rather than bitter. By faith we obey God’s commands to love and serve (Gal 5:13), be tolerant (Eph 4:2), kind, tenderhearted and forgiving (Eph 4:32), and to regard others as more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3-4).

Satan, and his world-system, will strive to get the believer to rely upon anything and everything other than God and His Word. If the believer falls into this trap, he will experience worry, frustration, anxiety, and eventually a deep-rooted sense of despair. God wants us to have mental stability (Isa 26:3), love (1 John 4:16-17), contentment (Phil 4:11-13), and every other attitude that brings an abundant life (John 10:10). Only through a life of faith can we know the blessings that belong to every Christian.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible.

[2] Though I’m looking at the Greek, it should be noted that the Hebrew אָמַן aman carries the same basic meaning as πιστεύω pisteuo. In fact, the LXX translates Genesis 15:6—a passage quoted by NT writers (Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6; Jam 2:23)—by using the Greek verb πιστεύω pisteuo.

[3] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 816.

[4] Ibid., 818.

[5] Ibid., 820.

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God Used Jonah to Change a Culture

Assyrian Cruelty 1     God used the preaching of Jonah to change the corrupt culture of Nineveh. Around 760 BC, God sent His prophet, Jonah, to preach a message of judgment to Nineveh, a major city in Assyria. The reason for the message was, as God declared, “their wickedness has come up before Me” (Jon 1:2). As “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25), God had paid attention to the wickedness of the Ninevites, and the time was near for Him to pour out His wrath. Prior to Jonah’s preaching, the Assyrians were living wickedly and their culture was noted for its brutality. Some of their cruelty could be seen in how they treated non-Assyrians, whom they attacked. For example, “Assurbanipal, one of its rulers, was accustomed to tear off the hands and the lips of his victims. Tiglathpileser flayed them alive and made great piles of their skulls.”[1] There are ancient relief carvings that picture Assyrian cruelty, no doubt to intimidate those who may have considered opposing them. This would have been an early form of psychological warfare.

Assyrian Cruelty 3    God is very slow to anger (Exo 34:6; Psa 86:15), but His patience with the Assyrians was coming to an end and He was ready to judge the nation. His message to the Ninevites was simple, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon 3:4b). This was a message of pending destruction. However, the forty days was a period of grace in which God gave the nation the opportunity to turn from their wickedness and pursue righteousness. Surprisingly, the Assyrians displayed positive volition and responded properly to God’s message. The text reveals, “Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them” (Jon 3:5). Even the king of Nineveh “arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, [and] covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes” (Jon 3:6). The king acknowledged his sinfulness and the sinfulness of his people and called for a fast to demonstrate their humility (Jon 3:7). He reasoned that since God had not brought judgment already, there was opportunity to turn from their violent ways and avoid the Lord’s wrath. The king commanded, “let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands” (Jon 3:8). His reasoning was simple, for he thought, “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish” (Jon 3:9). Because the Ninevites humbled themselves before God, He spared them from His judgment, for “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.” (Jon 3:10). This shows the principle that “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5). Because of their humility, that generation knew God’s grace and was spared from destruction.

     Unfortunately, the following generations of Assyrians returned to their evil practices and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. And two decades later they attacked the southern kingdom of Judah during King Hezekiah’s reign (ca. 701 B.C.).[2] But God spared Judah because they humbly sought the Lord (Isa 37:1-38). Because the Assyrians turned away from the Lord and pursued evil again, God destroyed their kingdom in 612 B.C.

     What this lesson about the Assyrians reveals is that the humility and faith of one generation is merely the humility and faith of one generation, and that believing and humble parents do not guarantee believing and humble children. We are no different. God will judge America if we are wicked, and He will spare His judgment if we humble ourselves and turn to Him in faith. We all want to leave a good and lasting legacy to our children, one upon which they can build and do better than we have done. However, we cannot make their decisions for them, as they must choose to carry on what is handed to them. But if we make bad choices, our children will suffer because of our unfaithfulness.

     Personally, I blame much of America’s spiritual and moral decline on the preachers who have failed to accurately communicate God’s Word from the pulpit. False teachers and prophets have communicated a message of their own imagination and have not accurately taught God’s Word. The result is that much of the nation has slipped into moral decline and our pride has grown large as we worship at the altar of self-interest. I pray it’s not too late to turn things around.

     So, what do we do? Well, like Jonah, we should preach the righteousness of God, His judgment of sin upon the arrogant, and His grace and mercy which is available to the humble who turn to Him in faith. Hopefully Americans will listen, and there will be revival, and our nation will pursue righteousness and not evil. If we’re not going to share God’s Word directly with others, then we should at least support those ministries that do. But even once we’ve done all we can, we should realize we are only responsible for our godly output, not the outcome. That is, we control our message and personal lifestyle, but not the response of those who hear and see it. People must be free to accept or reject what is offered. In addition, we should realize there will always be some, sometimes the majority, who are hopelessly unrepentant. The Bible reveals historical events in which God judged arrogant generations, both Gentile and Jewish, because of their defiance against Him (i.e. the Noahic flood, Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Egypt, Canaan, Israel, Judah, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, etc.). Not even Jesus persuaded His generation, and they too were destroyed (Matt 23:37-40). Hopefully we can learn from the historical lessons found in the Bible.

     Let us seek the Lord, learn His Word, live righteously, and share His Word with others and support those ministries that do the same.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

[1] Gerald B. Stanton, “The prophet Jonah and His Message.” Bibliotheca Sacra 108 (April 1951) 240.

[2] Scripture informs us, “Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them” (Isa 36:1), and the king sent his military commander, Rabshakeh, to besiege Jerusalem. His message was, “Make your peace with me and come out to me, and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree and drink each of the waters of his own cistern” (Isa 36:16). If they refused, the residents of the city would be “doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine” (Isa 36:12). No doubt, worse cruelties were involved, and one can only imagine the post-traumatic stress their victims endured.

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The Gospel We Share

Christ-on-the-cross     The apostle Paul made a clear presentation of the gospel message when he wrote to the church at Corinth. He stated, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel [εὐαγγέλιον euaggelion – good news message] which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1-2).[1] The gospel is information that is communicable from one person to another, whether by spoken or written means. It is received as factual information that benefits the recipient who accepts it by faith. Paul then provided the content of the gospel, “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).

The gospel is best understood as the solution to a problem. There are two parts to the problem. First, God is holy (Ps. 99:9; Isa. 6:3), which means He is positively righteous and can have nothing to do with sin except to condemn it. The Scripture states, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor” (Hab 1:13), and “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Second, all mankind is sinful and separated from God (Rom. 3:10-23). This separation occurred when Adam sinned and brought death into the world. Scripture informs us that “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12; cf. 18-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22).[2] The idea is that Adam served as the federal and seminal head of the human race, and when he fell, we fell with him. Because of sin, every person is spiritually separated from God and helpless to change their situation (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1), and good works have no saving merit before the Lord (Isa 64:6; Rom 4:1-5; Gal 2:16; 3:21; 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. But God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph 2:4-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided His own solution to the problem of sin, and this was worked out through His Son, Jesus, who became human and accomplished what we could not.

IC1876488_l     Jesus solved both problems: 1) He lived the righteous life that God demands and committed no sin, and 2) He died for us on the cross, as our substitute, and paid the penalty for all our sins. God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35), and lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt 5:17-21). Scripture informs us that Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet He did not sin” (Heb 4:15), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). Being sinless qualified Him to go to the cross and die for us. No one forced Jesus to go to the cross; rather, He willingly laid down His life and died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). Jesus said, “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). We are redeemed, not by anything this world can offer or by anything we can do, but His “precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:19). The blood of Christ is the coin of the heavenly realm that pays our sin debt and liberates us from the slave-market of sin. But we must trust in Jesus as our Savior. We must accept His good work on our behalf. Though Jesus’ atoning work on the cross is sufficient for all (John 1:29; Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), it is effectual only for those who believe in Him (John 3:16-18; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31). If we reject Christ as Savior, the result is that we will be forever separated from the Lord (Rev 20:11-15). For “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). At the cross, He judged my sin as His righteousness requires, and saves me, the sinner, as His love desires. He did this out of His own goodness and mercy, and not because of any worth found in me. To comprehend the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save.

Salvation is completely the work of God and comes to us as a free gift (Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5), for we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14), positionally identified with Him (Rom 5:14-18; 1 Cor 15:22), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), given the gift of God’s righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9), and have the power to live righteously (Rom 6:1-13). God saves us from the penalty of sin (John 5:24; Rom 6:23; 8:1), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; 8:13; 2 Cor 5:17), and ultimately the presence of sin (Phil 3:21; 1 John 3:2). God has prepared good works to follow our salvation (Eph 2:10), but they are never the condition of it. The matter is simple: Salvation comes to us who believe in Christ as our Savior, believing He died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] The word vain translates the Greek word εἰκῇ eike, which denotes, “being without careful thought, without due consideration, in a haphazard manner” (BDAG, p. 281). The main thrust of 1 Corinthians chapter 15 concerns the resurrection of Jesus, which is an essential part of the gospel message. Yet, there were some within the church who were saying “there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:12). Paul asserts, “if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Cor 15:13-14). The point is, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; [and] you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). Denying the resurrection of Jesus meant they had believed in a Jesus that could not save them, because the object of their faith was dead, and therefore powerless to help them. Getting the gospel message right matters.

[2] Being born in Adam, we also possess a sin nature which is the source of our rebellious heart (Rom 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and we produce personal sin each time we yield to temptation (Jam 1:14-15).

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Improving Culture – A NT Example

Culture represents the values, traditions and behaviors of a society, and though culture is improvable, it is not perfectible. And even where positive change occurs, it’s difficult to perpetuate, largely because the people needed to sustain the change are few, flawed and temporary. A society’s culture is no better or worse than its leaders and the citizenry who support them; and at the heart of every problem is the problem of the heart. Apart from regeneration and a transformed mind and will, people will default to selfishness and sin, and so social problems continue. Furthermore, if we did make great improvements, we cannot guarantee succeeding generations will follow the good pattern set for them. Below is a NT example in Acts 19 of how the city of Ephesus was improved culturally from the bottom up, as a result of the apostle Paul’s preaching the gospel and biblical teaching over several years.

ai8scsonp5sri42cdgth     The apostle Paul came to the city of Ephesus, and as was his custom, “he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). Paul’s normal ministry pattern was to preach to Jews first, then to Gentiles (Rom. 1:16; cf. Acts 13:46; 17:2; 18:4, 19). However, there were some Jews with negative volition who rejected Paul’s teaching, who “were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people” (Acts 19:9a). Paul did not argue with them, nor did he try to force his teaching on them. Rather, “he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9b). It’s very possible Paul was renting a room at the school in order to host his daily Bible classes. Luke tells us, “This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). Though Paul was teaching, he continued to work with his hands to support himself and his traveling companions (Acts 20:34), and it’s possible the seven churches of Asia were started as a result of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:10; Rev. 2-3). In addition to Paul’s teaching, we learn “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out” (Acts 19:11-12). In this way, God was authenticating Paul’s apostolic authority and validating him as a true servant of the Lord. Ephesus was a city known for its occult practices, and there were some unbelievers who thought they could borrow the name of Jesus and use it to advance their own agendas. We learn there were some “Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, [and] attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, ‘I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches’” (Acts 19:13). These men were identified as “Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this” (Acts 19:14). But the results were not what they expected, as “the evil spirit answered and said to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’” (Acts 19:15). The question implied they had no authority, “And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:16). Though these exorcists tried to use the name of Jesus in the form of a verbal incantation to control evil spirits, it backfired on them and caused personal harm, and the event “became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified” (Acts 19:17). The failure of these Jewish exorcists became widely publicized and began to draw people to hear the Christian message. Furthermore, many of “those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices” (Acts 19:18). Those who “had believed” were Christians who had not completely let go of some of their pagan practices, but now they were willing. Luke records, “And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver” (Acts 19:19). Though it took nearly two years, these Christians were finally willing to let go of their past practices by burning their magic books and turning fully to the Lord. The value of these books totaled a large financial sum, as each piece of silver was probably equal to a day’s wage. “Ephesus was known for its magic, and apparently the Christians had not yet put away all such evil practices. So they brought their books and scrolls of magic and burned them as an open repudiation. Then—after the believers made their relationships with the Lord right—the Word of God grew and prevailed.”[1] The result was that people were being transformed from the inside out and Ephesian culture was positively impacted for Christ, as “the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing” (Acts 19:8-20). Here we see cultural improvement in the lives of those who were positive to gospel preaching and biblical teaching.

49Ephesians_500     These events marked the high point of Paul’s ministry in Asia. However, some pagan craftsmen who made their living selling statuettes of Artemis felt threatened by the cultural changes that were taking place (Acts 19:23-27). Acting out of rage and economic self-interest, they formed a mob and stormed the city theater, even dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, two of Paul’s traveling companions, who undoubtedly felt threatened by the uproar (Acts 19:28-29). Paganism has no real answers to Christianity, and when threatened, many will resort to violence to suppress the advance of truth. Though Paul wanted to address the mob, he was prevented by friends who were concerned about his safety (Acts 19:30-31). The riot lasted for several hours with great intensity (Acts 19:32-34), until eventually the crowd tired out, at which time a city official reasoned with them to bring their complaints to the courts, where matters could be handled lawfully and peacefully (Acts 19:35-41). These events likely occurred between 52-55 AD. We know Paul was marked by these events (2 Cor 1:8-9), and by the end of his ministry around 62-64 AD, everyone who once supported him in Ephesus turned away from him (2 Tim 1:15). By 95 AD the church in Ephesus had grown cold and lost its “first love” (Rev 2:4).

In In Acts 19:8-41 we observe that gospel preaching and biblical teaching can, over time, bring about positive cultural change. However, we must keep our focus on evangelism and biblical teaching, and not reducing Christianity to a methodological system merely for the purpose of effecting social change (i.e. a social gospel). We also observe in Acts 19 that when Christianity does bring about positive cultural change, it threatens those who love and live by their paganism, and when this happens, people may resort to violence to suppress the biblical teaching. Lastly, gospel preaching and biblical teaching does not always yield large or lasting results. Remember that Noah preached for 120 years, but only seven persons besides himself were saved (2 Pet 2:5), and Jeremiah preached for 23 years to the same group of leaders in Israel, but they refused to listen (Jer 25:3). Jesus came as the Light into the world, but the majority of those who heard and saw Him rejected His message, as they “loved the darkness rather than the Light” (John 3:19). Jesus informed us that “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” (Matt 7:13), whereas “the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt 7:14). The result is that there will continually be believers and unbelievers in the world, as the wheat and tares will grow side by side until Jesus returns and establishes His earthly millennial kingdom (Matt 13:36-42). Even Paul did not always get the same results in each city where he preached, for though he had many disciples in Iconium, Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe (read Acts 14), there were only two positive responses in Philippi, namely Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:27-34). As Christians, we are more concerned about our godly output rather than the responsive outcomes of those we interact with; for though we can control our godly life and good message, we cannot control how others will respond to it.

Lastly, we live in the reality that there will always be resistance to God’s work in every Christian ministry because the world is fallen and Satan desperately wants to keep everyone—both saved and lost—thinking and acting according to his world-system. New Christians will inevitably face many obstacles, because at the moment of salvation, their minds are not automatically filled with Scripture and their characters are not instantly changed to be like the character of Christ. The process of being transformed into the character of Christ and learning to think biblically involves many thousands of decisions over a lifetime, in which worldly viewpoint is driven from the mind as the believer’s thinking is renovated and brought into conformity with Scripture. Without regeneration and positive volition to God and His Word, biblical discussion is hindered and the appropriation of Christian values to culture is not possible. Christians who are learning God’s Word and growing spiritually will prove to be the moral fabric of any community, as they manifest the highest and best virtues within society, not the lowest and worst. And the Bible is our sword by which we destroy spiritual and intellectual strongholds, within ourselves and others (2 Cor 10:3-6), realizing true cultural change occurs through preaching the gospel and consistent biblical teaching. As Christians, we should always pray for our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-2), strive to be upstanding citizens (Rom 13:1-7; Tit 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-14), help the needy in our communities (Acts 20:35; 1 Thess 5:14), and above all, share the gospel and preach God’s Word (1 Cor 15:3-4; 2 Tim 4:1-2). As we grow spiritually and walk with God, we stand in opposition to Satan’s world-system and sow the seeds of spiritual insurrection in the lives of those who live and walk in his kingdom of darkness. We disrupt Satan’s kingdom when we share the Gospel (1 Cor 15:3-4), and influence the thoughts and lives of others through biblical discussion (Matt 28:18-20); which we do in love and grace (Eph 4:14-15; Col 4:6), not by argumentation (2 Tim 2:24-26).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Acts of the Apostles, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1961), 102.

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Improving Culture – An OT Example

Culture represents the values, traditions and behaviors of a society, and though culture is improvable, it is not perfectible. And even where positive change occurs, it’s difficult to perpetuate, largely because the people needed to sustain the change are few, flawed and temporary. A society’s culture is no better or worse than its leaders and the citizenry who support them; and at the heart of every problem is the problem of the heart. Apart from regeneration and a transformed mind and will, people will default to selfishness and sin, and so social problems continue. Furthermore, if we did make great improvements, we cannot guarantee succeeding generations will follow the good pattern set for them. Below is an OT example from 2 Kings of how the nation of Judah was improved from the top down by King Josiah, a strong leader who obeyed the Lord and led his people to do the same.

Josiah Hears the LawThe historical account in 2 Kings informs us “Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath” (2 Ki 22:1). The record of Josiah’s reign was that “He did right in the sight of the LORD and walked in all the way of his father David, nor did he turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Ki 22:1-2). When Josiah began his reign as a young boy, both he and his advisors were ignorant of God’s Word because it had been lost to the nation and no one knew its content. In his eighteenth year of reign (2 Ki 22:3), Josiah sent Shaphan the scribe to the temple, saying, “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest that he may count the money brought in to the house of the LORD which the doorkeepers have gathered from the people” (2 Ki 22:4). Apparently, there was money collected “from the people” of Judah to fund a renovation project at the temple (2 Ki 22:5-7). That there were citizens in Judah who did this thing would imply some positive volition toward God. It was during this renovation project that a copy of the Mosaic Law was found in the temple (2 Ki 22:8-9), and the book was brought to the king and read in his presence (2 Ki 22:10), and “When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes” (2 Ki 22:11). The Word of God that he heard touched his sensitive heart and he responded properly. Then the king commanded some of his servants to inquire of the Lord (2 Ki 22:12), saying, “Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us” (2 Ki 22:13). Josiah understood that Judah was experiencing God’s judgment because they had been unfaithful to abide by the terms of the Mosaic contract. Josiah’s servants consulted with Huldah the prophetess (2 Ki 22:14-15), who said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I bring evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched’” (2 Ki 22:16-17). But then she had words for Josiah, the king, saying, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Regarding the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,’ declares the LORD. ‘Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place’” (2 Ki 22:18-20). Here we observe the axiom that “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5).

Josiah Reforms     As a good king, Josiah gathered the leaders and people of Judah at the temple (2 Ki 23:1-2a), and there, “read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD” (2 Ki 23:2b). This provided the divine viewpoint on their deplorable situation and why they were experience’s God’s judgment. A good leader hears God’s Word, responds positively to it, and leads others to know and walk with the Lord. Josiah acted publicly, as he “stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book” (2 Ki 23:3). This was likely a rededication to the Mosaic Covenant, to walk in obedience to the Mosaic Law. And the people responded to his leadership, “And all the people entered into the covenant” (2 Ki 23:3). The positive leadership of Josiah encouraged the people to follow him in his covenant renewal. Josiah then commanded the temple be purged of all the idols that had been placed in it and he removed the idolatrous priests who led pagan worship (2 Ki 23:4-9). Josiah destroyed the places of pagan worship which had been built by Solomon and Jeroboam, where Judahites had sacrificed their children (2 Ki 23:10-16; cf. Jer 7:31). But Josiah honored a monument that had been erected to a true prophet of the Lord (2 Ki 23:17-18). Josiah also destroyed the high places of pagan worship in the north region in Samaria and Bethel, killing the again priests who led the people into idolatry and child sacrifice (2 Ki 23:19-20). The king sought to restore the nation’s history to them by reinstating the Passover meal (2 Ki 23:21-23), which remembered God’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage at the time of the exodus under the leadership of Moses. Even people from Israel in the north came to participate in the holiday celebration (2 Chron 35:18). And so, “Josiah removed the mediums and the spiritists and the teraphim and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD” (2 Ki 23:24). God’s Word gives Josiah a praise report, saying, “Before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him” (2 Ki 23:25).

However, though Josiah was a good king and made many good reforms and led God’s people into His will; yet, “the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath with which His anger burned against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him” (2 Ki 23:26). For the Lord declared, “I will remove Judah also from My sight, as I have removed Israel. And I will cast off Jerusalem, this city which I have chosen, and the temple of which I said, ‘My name shall be there’” (2 Ki 23:27). Josiah was killed in battle in 608 BC and was buried in Jerusalem (2 Ki 23:28-30a). The four kings who came after Josiah wrecked all he had accomplished and led Judah toward destruction and Babylonian captivity.[1]

Summary:

Josiah was a good king who reigned for 31 years (2 Ki 22:1-2; 23:24-25), and he committed himself to serve the Lord and to remove the deep-seated idolatry that had been implemented under the previous leadership of King Manasseh (2 Ki 21:1-6). Josiah was positive to God after hearing the Word of God, and his positive volition was marked by a commitment to God, a clear communication of Scripture to those under his charge, and decisive leadership to lead others to do God’s will. Josiah removed the idols in Judah, their pagan places of devotion and those who promoted their worship. He also honored godly persons and their memorials. Sadly, though Josiah worked diligently to lead spiritual and national reforms, he could not dislodge the idolatry from the people’s hearts, and they quickly returned to their evil ways after his death in 608 BC.[2] The four kings who followed Josiah did not imitate his faith, and Judah declined spiritually and morally for the next twenty-two years, until Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Judah and Jerusalem in 586 BC and brought God’s people into Babylonian captivity for seventy years.

As Christians in leadership positions we too can respond positively when we hear God’s Word, commit ourselves to serve the Lord, communicate Scripture to others, and lead those under our charge to walk with God. We can remove those pagan impediments from our homes, businesses, schools, or wherever we have authority to act. And, we can seek to lead others into God’s will, respect other godly persons, and honor the memorials of those who have gone before us. This might be as a pastor to his church, a husband to a wife, parents to children, business owner to employees, coach to team, or governmental official to citizenry. But we should be aware that our actions will be met with opposition, and though we can control our godly output, the decision to follow must be freely made by those under our supervision. Furthermore, the faith of one generation does not guarantee the faith of the next, as each generation must to choose to accept or reject what’s been handed to them.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Immediately after Josiah’s death, the people of Judah returned to their old ways and selected Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah, to reign over them (2 Ki 23:30b). Jehoahaz was an evil king who reigned for three months (2 Ki 23:31), and “He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Ki 23:32). But God brought Jehoahaz’ rule to an end in 608 BC, when God used Pharaoh Neco to imprison him in Riblah (2 Ki 23:33), before bringing him to Egypt where he died (2 Ki 23:34). Pharaoh Neco then appointed Jehoiakim as a vassal king in Judah, where he reigned for eleven years, until 597 BC. It is written about Jehoiakim, saying, “He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Ki 23:37). Toward the end of Jehoiakim’s reign, God raised up Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Judah (2 Ki 24:1-5), and Jehoiakim died (2 Ki 24:6a), “and Jehoiachin his son became king in his place” (2Ki 24:6b). Jehoiachin was eighteen when he became king and he reigned only three months (2 Ki 24:8). The record of his life was, “He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father had done” (2 Ki 24:9). Nebuchadnezzar eventually laid siege against Judah, and Jehoiachin surrendered himself and went into Babylonian captivity (2 Ki 24:10-15). Nebuchadnezzar then made Zedekiah king in Judah, where he reigned for eleven years (2 Ki 24:17-18). The record of Zedekiah was, “He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done (2 Ki 24:19). Zedekiah was deposed in 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege against Jerusalem (2 Ki 25:1-6). After capturing Zedekiah, he was taken to Riblah, and there “They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him with bronze fetters and brought him to Babylon” (2 Ki 25:7).

[2] Judah’s national instability continued for several years as the Babylonians rose to power under the leadership of Nabopolassar, who defeated the Assyrians in 612 BC, and then his son, Nebuchadnezzar, who defeated the Egyptians in 605 BC at the Battle of Carchemish. Judah became a vassal state under the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar, who took many captives to ensure their loyalty. Daniel was among the captives (Dan 1:1-6).

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Biblical Examples of Riots and How They Were Handled – Part 3

A riot is a form of civil unrest in which a group causes a public disturbance by destroying property and/or harming innocent people. Often, there are corrupt individuals or groups who instigate a riot, either as a means of retaliation for some perceived injustice (real or imagined), or simply to cause disruption as a means of leveraging power within the community (i.e. a power grab). Many within the mob are willing pawns who are manipulated to act violently. The Bible teaches, “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” (Jam 1:19-20).[1] However, because rioters are often more emotional than rational, it becomes very difficult to restrain a mob except by physical force. This is why a well-trained and supported police force is necessary for civil peace. Below are examples of riots in the Bible and how they were handled.

  1. pouli-in-ephesusPaul in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-22). Paul had received a positive response when he preached the gospel in Ephesus and many were believing in Jesus as Savior and turning away from their idolatry. In Acts 19:21-41, we learn that Paul’s preaching had a social and economic impact, and those who felt financially threatened formed a mob and sought to harm him and his companions. The text tells us, “During that time there was a major disturbance about the Way” (Acts 19:23). The disturbance was started by a man named Demetrius, “a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, [and] provided a great deal of business for the craftsmen” (Acts 19:24). After gathering his fellow craftsmen together, he told them, “Men, you know that our prosperity is derived from this business. You both see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this man Paul has persuaded and misled a considerable number of people by saying that gods made by hand are not gods! So not only do we run a risk that our business may be discredited, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be despised and her magnificence come to the verge of ruin—the very one all of Asia and the world adore” (Acts 19:25-27). The appeal of Demetrius was first economic (Acts 19:25), and then theological (Acts 19:27). Money and religion are often tied together, and a threat to one is a threat to the other. “Paul did not arouse the opposition of the silversmiths by picketing the temple of Diana or staging anti-idolatry rallies. All he did was teach the truth daily and send out his converts to witness to the lost people in the city. As more and more people got converted, fewer and fewer customers were available.”[2] Demetrius’ message had its desired effect, for “When they had heard this, they were filled with rage and began to cry out, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Act 19:28). Their rage and shouting infected others who turned to violence, “So the city was filled with confusion, and they rushed all together into the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s traveling companions” (Acts 19:29). Paul wanted to go into the amphitheater and defend the Gospel message—perhaps even preach it (John 3:16-18; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9)—but was prohibited by his friends (Acts 19:30). “Even some of the provincial officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent word to him, pleading with him not to take a chance by going into the amphitheater” (Acts 19:31). One wonders why some of these “provincial officials” did not exercise their authority and stop the mob from its violence? Perhaps they were intimidated. The riot grew in intensity, as “some were shouting one thing and some another, because the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together” (Acts 19:32). This would have been laughable, except for the possibility of serious harm that Paul’s companions faced at the hands of this angry mob. At one point, there was a man named Alexander, who was pushed to the front of the crowd to give advice (Acts 19:33). However, when the crowd “recognized that he was a Jew, a united cry went up from all of them for about two hours: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Acts 19:34). Not only do we see antisemitism, but more shouting from a highly emotionally charged group. After the crowd had run out of energy, the city clerk began to reason with them (Acts 19:35-36a), saying, “you must keep calm and not do anything rash. For you have brought these men here who are not temple robbers or blasphemers of our goddess” (Acts 19:36b-37). I can imagine Paul’s two friends, Gaius and Aristarchus were afraid for their lives during this time, and were perhaps relieved when the city clerk began to calm the crowd down and reason with them, saying, “if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a case against anyone, the courts are in session, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you want something else, it must be decided in a legal assembly” (Acts 19:38-39). The matter should have been handled in the courts from the beginning. He also told them, “we run a risk of being charged with rioting for what happened today, since there is no justification that we can give as a reason for this disorderly gathering” (Acts 19:40). The mob had to run out of steam before reason could be applied to the situation, and then the crowd dispersed (Acts 19:41). Afterwards, Paul left the city for Macedonia (Acts 20:1).
  2. 466b9aea263df2f1c1a41511ed9581ffPaul in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17—22:30). In this account Paul had returned to Jerusalem and visited with some of the elders of the church (Acts 21:17-20), who informed him there were some false rumors being spread about him, that he was teaching “all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, by telling them not to circumcise their children or to walk in our customs” (Acts 21:21).[3] Being concerned about Paul’s return and the possible problems it might cause, the church elders advised him to partner with “four men who have obligated themselves with a vow” (Acts 21:23). They told Paul, “Take these men, purify yourself along with them, and pay for them to get their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that what they were told about you amounts to nothing, but that you yourself are also careful about observing the law” (Acts 21:24). They thought this would correct any false ideas people had about Paul and assuage their fears. The elders would also advocate for Paul concerning the Gentiles who had believed, saying, “we have written a letter containing our decision that they should keep themselves from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Act 21:25). Wanting to keep the peace, Paul complied with their request and the very next day “took the men, having purified himself along with them, and entered the temple, announcing the completion of the purification days when the offering for each of them would be made” (Acts 21:26).[4] When possible, Paul accommodated others if it created an open door to share Christ (1 Cor 9:19-23). Next, we learn “As the seven days were about to end, the Jews from Asia saw him in the temple complex, stirred up the whole crowd, and seized him, shouting, ‘Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place. What’s more, he also brought Greeks into the temple and has profaned this holy place’” (Acts 21:27-28). They stirred up the crowd with false charges and physically seized Paul. They also made some false assumptions, “For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple complex” (Acts 21:29). The result was, “The whole city was stirred up, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul, dragged him out of the temple complex, and at once the gates were shut” (Acts 21:30). This mob resorted to violence and were beating Paul, but “As they were trying to kill him, word went up to the commander of the regiment that all Jerusalem was in chaos. Taking along soldiers and centurions, he immediately ran down to them. Seeing the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul” (Acts 21:31-32). This is an example of a riot that was quelled only by the use of force. The Roman commander arrested Paul and tried to assess the situation by questioning him (Acts 21:33). But while he was trying to get information, “Some in the mob were shouting one thing and some another. Since he was not able to get reliable information because of the uproar, he ordered him to be taken into the barracks” (Acts 21:34). But even getting Paul out of the situation proved difficult, for “When Paul got to the steps, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the mob’s violence, for the mass of people followed, yelling, ‘Take him away!’” (Acts 21:35-36). Paul requested the Roman commander allow him to address the mob, which he was permitted to do (Acts 21:35-40), and Paul gave a defense of his ministry (Acts 22:1-20). The crowd listened to Paul until he mentioned his ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21), and that suddenly set them off. “Then they raised their voices, shouting, ‘Wipe this person off the earth—it’s a disgrace for him to live!’” (Acts 22:22). The Roman commander saw things were getting out of control again, and as the mob “were yelling and flinging aside their robes and throwing dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, directing that he be examined with the scourge, so he could discover the reason they were shouting against him like this” (Acts 22:23-24). As Paul was about to be flogged—which might have killed him or crippled him for life—he defended himself by revealing he was a Roman citizen, which guaranteed his rights under Roman law (Acts 22:25-27). Claudius Lysias, the Roman commander, revealed he’d purchased his Roman citizenship by means of a large payment; however, Paul was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28).[5] “Therefore, those who were about to examine him withdrew from him at once. The commander too was alarmed when he realized Paul was a Roman citizen and he had bound him” (Acts 22:29). In this situation, Paul defended himself by exercising his legal rights as a Roman citizen in order to avoid unwarranted suffering or premature death.[6]

Summary:

In the first account, Paul had received a positive response to the gospel message when he was in Ephesus. The result was that many people in the city were turning from their idols and sorcery and serving Christ. However, the social and economic impact touched the local craftsmen who felt financially threatened. A leader by the name of Demetrius gathered his fellow craftsmen and stirred them up, forming a mob, and dragging two innocent companions of Paul into an amphitheater, where the crowd shouted for two hours, causing confusion, even forgetting why they had gathered in the first place. Eventually, after the crowd ran out of steam, a city clerk was able to address them reasonably, advising they bring their charges to the courts if anyone had a legal case. Afterward, Paul left the city for Macedonia. In the second account, Paul had returned to Jerusalem and met with the elders of the church, who advised him to go to the temple and support some local men who had taken a vow. This was done to try to alleviate some false rumors that had spread about Paul. However, some Jews from Asia spread lies about Paul bringing Gentiles into the temple courtyard, and this resulted in a riot that would have led to in Paul’s death if a Roman commander had not intervened with his soldiers. Here, Roman authority and physical force were necessary to protect Paul from a violent mob. However, the Roman commander decided to have Paul flogged in an effort to get information out of him as to why his fellow Jews wanted to kill him. And like other occasions, Paul defended himself by exercising his legal rights as a Roman citizen.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture citations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), Acts 19:21–41.

[3] Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has value before God for those under the New Covenant (1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:16). This is true of other matters that the Mosaic Law commanded or prohibited (such as animal sacrifices, keeping the Sabbath, dietary laws, feasts, etc.; see Rom 14:14-21; 1 Cor 8:8-13). By grace, believers could either abstain or observe the Mosaic Law. It was a matter of conscience and tradition. However, if they chose to observe the Law, they should never regard it as a means of salvation (Rom 3:28-30; 5:1-2; Gal 2:16, 20-21; 3:26), nor a way to be spiritual. Only the life of faith under the New Covenant pleases the Lord (Heb 7:19; 11:6).

[4] This was likely a Nazarite vow, which was voluntary, temporary, and required the person to abstain from wine (and grapes and raisins), not cut his hair, and not have contact with the dead (or anyone who has). After completion of the vow, there were to be sacrifices of a lamb, ram, and grain and drink offering (Num 6:13-17).

[5] Paul’s Roman citizenship—which he had by birth—was perhaps obtained by his father or grandfather who may have performed a benefit for a Roman official A born citizen carried more respect than those who purchased citizenship, because it was conferred by respect rather than payment of money. Falsifying Roman citizenship was punishable by death.

[6] Paul knew his Christian walk would be coupled with suffering (Acts 9:15-16; cf. 2 Cor 11:23-30), and he was willing to bear the marks of persecution (Gal 6:17), and was even willing to die for the cause of Christ if necessary (Acts 21:13).

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Biblical Examples of Riots and How They Were Handled – Part 2

A riot is a form of civil unrest in which a group causes a public disturbance by destroying property and/or harming innocent people. Often, there are corrupt individuals or groups who instigate a riot, either as a means of retaliation for some perceived injustice (real or imagined), or simply to cause disruption as a means of leveraging power within the community (i.e. a power grab). Many within the mob are willing pawns who are manipulated to act violently. The Bible teaches, “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” (Jam 1:19-20).[1] However, because rioters are often more emotional than rational, it becomes very difficult to restrain a mob except by physical force. This is why a well-trained and supported police force is necessary for civil peace. Below are examples of riots in the Bible and how they were handled.

  1. Stoning of StephenThe Stoning of Stephen (Acts 6:8—7:60). Early in the development of the Church, we learn about a man named Stephen, who was “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), and “full of grace and power, [and] was performing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). But Stephen had men who opposed him, “some from what is called the Freedmen’s Synagogue…came forward and disputed with Stephen” (Acts 6:9). Though these men argued with Stephen, “they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). Being immoral men, they began to tell lies about Stephen, persuading others, saying, “We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God!” (Acts 6:11). Unfortunately, these lies “stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; so they came, dragged him off, and took him to the Sanhedrin” (Acts 6:12). They also presented some false witnesses to testify against Stephen, saying, “This man does not stop speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. For we heard him say that Jesus, this Nazarene, will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us” (Acts 6:13-14). How did Stephen respond? He defended himself against the false charges brought against him. Stephen gave an impromptu and selective overview of Israel’s history (recalled from memory), in which he revealed their pattern of rejecting God’s chosen leaders, citing Joseph, Moses and finally, Jesus (Acts 7:1-50).[2] Stephen defended himself based on a biblical worldview, citing Scripture as the basis for his argument. Most of the religious Israelites of Stephen’s day presented themselves as the keepers and defenders of the Mosaic Law, yet they actually perverted it to protect their place of power and religious authority and were willing to destroy God’s true servants when their self-interest and theological presuppositions were threatened. Stephen saw past their charade and knew the real issue behind their false accusations, and speaking boldly with strong language, he said, “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your ancestors did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They even killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it” (Acts 7:51-53). Stephen called them out on their hypocrisy and corruption, and “When they heard these things, they were enraged in their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54). But Stephen did not react in kind; rather, he committed himself to the Lord. “But Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God’s glory, with Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” (Acts 7:55-56). This further incited his audience, and “they screamed at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:57-58). Stephen did not have a way of escape, and rather than reacting with violence, he committed himself to the Lord. Luke wrote, “They were stoning Stephen as he called out: ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin!’ And saying this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59-60). Stephen’s words and actions modeled the humility and love Jesus displayed toward His enemies while being crucified (Luke 23:34, 46).[3] In this pericope we observe that Stephen was martyred by a religious mob that was stirred to hatred by his biblical speech; which speech exposed the faulty theological presuppositions of his attackers and threatened their power. The Sanhedrin could not refute the soundness of his biblical presentation, and would not humble themselves before God or His revelation. Possessed with blinding religious arrogance, they covered their ears to keep from hearing his message; then, in rage, they drove him from the city and stoned him to death. Stephen’s ministry came to an abrupt end when he was murdered for preaching God’s Word with clarity and passion. In this situation, God decided it was time to bring him home to heaven and permitted his attackers to have their sinful way. Jesus did not rescue Stephen from death, but sustained him by means of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:10) and stood in approval of his message and welcomed him as the first Christian martyr into heaven. The record of Stephen’s life was that he was a good man, full of faith, who helped the needy and preached the gospel. It was a gross injustice that Stephen died a violent death at the hands of wicked men; however, the God of heaven stands as “Judge of all the earth” and will see to it that divine retribution is rendered in His way and His time (Gen 18:25; Rom 12:17-19). What matters most is that Stephen glorified God by seeking His will above all else and had the integrity to stand for God and His truth even in the face of great hostility, even modeling his behavior on the Lord Jesus, praying for his attackers that God forgive them.
  2. Paul being attackedPaul and Silas in Philippi (Acts 16:16-24). In this passage we have an example of a mob attacking and beating Paul and Silas because their ministry threatened the economic livelihood of craftsmen who made idols. Luke—the author of Acts—records, “Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction. She made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling” (Acts 16:16). Though we’re not sure about the motivation for the slave girl’s behavior, Luke tells us she followed Paul and his companions, saying, “These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are the slaves of the Most High God” (Acts 16:17), and that “she did this for many days” (Acts 16:17a).[4] This slave girl’s behavior got under Paul’s skin, with the result that “Paul was greatly aggravated, and turning to the spirit, said, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out right away” (Acts 16:18). Though Paul’s actions removed the irritant, it caused another situation to arise, for “When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities” (Acts 16:19). This is an example where “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10). The loss of the future financial wellbeing influenced them to violence, and “Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, ‘These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice’” (Acts 16:20-21). Of course, this was a lie, but they did not care about truth, only protecting their income. “Then the mob joined in the attack against them, and the chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them securely guarded” (Acts 16:22-23). It’s a sad commentary when city officials, who should have upheld law and order, actually joined the mob in their violence against innocent men. It’s interesting that God did not stop their unjust and violent behavior, but used it as an opportunity to have Paul and Silas placed into a jail where they shared the gospel with a jailer who came to faith in Jesus and was saved, along with his household (Acts 16:24-34). But the very next morning, “the chief magistrates sent the police to say, ‘Release those men!’” (Acts 16:35). And the chief jailer told Paul and Silas, “The magistrates have sent orders for you to be released. So come out now and go in peace” (Acts 16:36). But Paul refused to let the illegality of the situation go unaddressed, saying, “They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now are they going to smuggle us out secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary, let them come themselves and escort us out!” (Acts 16:37). Paul and Silas had rights as Roman citizens and were justified in claiming those rights when treated illegally. “Then the police reported these words to the magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them, and escorting them out, they urged them to leave town” (Acts 16:38-39). The Philippian magistrates were like many who operate primarily from power and only respect those who have power themselves and are not afraid to use it. Paul exercised his legal rights on another occasion when he was facing an unjust trial and was in danger of physical harm in which he appealed to Caesar, hoping to gain a just trial (see Acts 25:7-12). Though the Philippian magistrates urged Paul and Silas to leave town, they did not do so right away, but first “came to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers, and [then] departed” (Acts 16:40). Christians can certainly use the legal system as a means of protection when their rights are violated.

Summary:

In the first account, Stephen, being sustained by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, defended himself against the false charges brought against him, arguing from a biblical worldview and citing Scripture as the basis for his argument, calling out his attackers on their hypocrisy and corruption. When attacked by the mob (with no way out), Stephen committed himself to the Lord, fell to his knees and prayed for them, asking they be forgiven for their sin. In this way, Stephen modeled the humility and love Jesus displayed toward His enemies while He was crucified. In the second account, Paul and Silas had been falsely accused of causing trouble by residents of Philippi who were threatened economically by their ministry. The accusers, along with a mob and city magistrates, had Paul and Silas stripped, beaten with rods and thrown into jail. The next morning, when Paul and Silas had opportunity, they exercised their rights as Roman citizens, demanding the city magistrates come and escort them out. Those same city magistrates were then fearful, knowing they’d acted inappropriately by mistreating those who had rights under Roman Law.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture citations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers.

[2] In this context I’m reminded of the words of Jesus, who told His disciples, “Whenever they bring you before synagogues and rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how you should defend yourselves or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what must be said” (Luke 12:11-12).

[3] The apostle Peter communicates this same truth when he wrote, “For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in His steps. He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth; when He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He was suffering, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.” (1 Pet 2:21-23)

[4] It could be the demon was trying to provoke Paul to cast it out, thus depriving the slave girl’s owners of their economic wellbeing, and prompting them to get Paul out of town by means of violence.

Posted in Christian Theology, Hot Topics, Living by Faith, Righteous Living, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Biblical Examples of Riots and How They Were Handled – Part 1

      A riot is a form of civil unrest in which a group causes a public disturbance by destroying property and/or harming innocent people. Often, there are corrupt individuals or groups who instigate a riot, either as a means of retaliation for some perceived injustice (real or imagined), or simply to cause disruption as a means of leveraging power within the community (i.e. a power grab). Many within the mob are willing pawns who are manipulated to act violently. The Bible teaches, “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” (Jam 1:19-20).[1] However, because rioters are often more emotional than rational, it becomes very difficult to restrain a mob except by physical force. This is why a well-trained and supported police force is necessary for civil peace. Below are examples of riots in the Bible and how they were handled.

  1. Lot SodomLot and Sodom (Gen 19:1-25). Lot, while living in Sodom, had received some male guests (who were actually angels) that he welcomed into his home (Gen 19:1-3). However, there were sexual perverts in the city who came to Lot’s house and demanded he turn out his male guests so they could have sexual intercourse with them, and it’s likely they intended to rape them. The text tells us. “Before they went to bed, the men of the city of Sodom, both young and old, the whole population, surrounded the house” (Gen 19:4), saying, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Send them out to us so we can have sex with them!” (Gen 19:5). Surrounding the house and making demands is an intimidation tactic designed to cause fear. In this way, the sexual aggressors used this tactic to get what they wanted. Lot tried to reason with them, saying, “Don’t do this evil, my brothers” (Gen 19:7), even wrongly offering them his two daughters (Gen 19:8). But the men of the city demanded Lot get out of their way, and “they put pressure on Lot and came up to break down the door” (Gen 19:9). When the men of Sodom did not get what they wanted, they resorted to force and tried to break into Lot’s house. This mob would certainly have committed a great evil against Lot and his guests, but fortunately, “the angels reached out, brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door” (Gen 19:10). Since the mob was not rational, the angels were required to use force, so “they struck the men who were at the entrance of the house, both young and old, with a blinding light so that they were unable to find the entrance” (Gen 19:11). This was a temporary non-lethal use of force to control the situation. The next step was to get Lot and his willing family members safely out of the city. Once they were removed from the hostile situation, God then rained down judgment upon the city and destroyed it (Gen 19:12-25).
  2. Gideon and Baal (Judg 6:1-31). Gideon was a Judge in Israel who was called by God to deliver His people from Midianite oppressors who were attacking and raiding the cities of their food (Judg 6:1-24). Gideon was also called by God to tear down the pagan altars that were being used by Israelites to worship Baal and Asherah (Judg 6:25-27). When the idolaters in the city woke in the morning, “they found Baal’s altar torn down, and the Asherah pole beside it cut down” (Judg 6:28). After a short inquiry, the men of the city learned the pagan altars had been torn down by Gideon (Judg 6:29), so they went to Joash, Gideon’s father, and said, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he tore down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it” (Judg 6:30). Here was a group of violent men at Gideon’s house seeking to kill God’s servant. Like the previous illustration of Lot, surrounding the house with many people was an intimidation tactic intended to cause fear so others would do what they wanted. However, Joash was not a man to be bullied and he defended his son, standing alone against the mob, saying, “Would you plead Baal’s case for him? Would you save him? Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning! If he [Baal] is a god, let him plead his own case because someone tore down his altar” (Judg 6:31). When Joash said, “Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning!”, was, in effect, promising to kill anyone who defended Baal and tried to harm his son. In this situation it took someone with a strong personality and a blunt argument to quiet the mob. In the end Gideon was not harmed (Judg 6:32), and went on to serve as Israel’s leader to defeat their enemies (Judg 6:33—7:25).
  3. JeremiahJeremiah and the Leaders in Jerusalem (Jer 26:1-24). God called Jeremiah, His prophet, to warn the people of Jerusalem that unless they turned back to God in obedience, He would destroy the temple and the city (Jer 26:1-2), saying, “Perhaps they will listen and return—each from his evil way of life—so that I might relent concerning the disaster that I plan to do to them because of the evil of their deeds” (Jer 26:3). As God’s people, the Judahites were under judgment because they had turned away from the Lord and were living like the pagan nations. If God’s people did not turn back to Him, as He instructed (Jer 26:4-5), then God said, “I will make this temple like Shiloh. I will make this city [Jerusalem] an object of cursing for all the nations of the earth” (Jer 26:6). When Jeremiah finished delivering his speech (Jer 26:7-8a), “Then the priests, the prophets, and all the people took hold of him, yelling, ‘You must surely die!’” (Jer 26:8b). Here is a heightened emotional response in which an angry crowd wanted to kill Jeremiah. So, how was it handled? It turns out some city officials who heard about it intervened, and “went from the king’s palace to the LORD’s temple and sat at the entrance of the New Gate” (Jer 26:10). Once there, they mediated the situation and listened to the demands of the crowd (Jer 26:11), as well as Jeremiah the prophet (Jer 26:12-13), who told them, “As for me, here I am in your hands; do to me what you think is good and right. But know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood on yourselves, on this city, and on its residents, for it is certain the LORD has sent me to speak all these things directly to you” (Jer 26:14-15). The city officials defended Jeremiah, as they should have, (Jer 26:16-23), and “so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death” (Jer 26:24). Here is an example of a riot that was handled properly by governing officials who intervened and mediated the situation in an orderly and rational manner.
  4. Jesus Teaching in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). Early in Jesus’ earthly ministry, when He was becoming more widely known, He was entering and teaching in synagogues and having discussions with His fellow Jews (Luke 4:14-15). When Jesus came to Nazareth, “As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read” (Luke 4:16). After reading from the scroll of Isaiah (Luke 4:17-20), He identified Himself as the One whom Isaiah had written about, saying, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled” (Luke 4:21). At the beginning of His address, “They were all speaking well of Him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from His mouth” (Luke 4:22). However, Jesus went on to explain they would, in the end, reject Him as Messiah (Luke 4:23-27). “When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff” (Luke 4:28-29). In this situation, the murderous crowd was ready to kill Jesus, “But He passed right through the crowd and went on His way” (Luke 4:30). Here, Jesus was able to avoid the situation by walking away. Though the text does not say, it is likely there was divine intervention, either by God the Father, or Jesus Himself.
  5. Jesus before PilateJesus Before Pilate (Matt 27:1-26). By the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we have an example of how the religious leadership in Jerusalem manipulated a crowd in order to help bring about Jesus’ crucifixion. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are informed that “all the chief priests and the elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. [And] after tying Him up, they led Him away and handed Him over to Pilate, the [Roman] governor” (Matt 27:1-2). And when Jesus was brought before Pilate, He did not defend Himself against the charges because He knew His hour had come for Him to be crucified according to the Father’s will (Matt 27:10-14; John 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1; Acts 2:22-23; 4:25-28; 1 Pet 2:22-23). Pilate, knowing the Jews were operating on envy and hatred tried to dissuade the mob from demanding Jesus’s death. As a possible solution, Pilate offered to release Barabbas, a violent criminal, or Jesus (Matt 27:15-19). The “chief priests and the elders, however, persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to execute Jesus” (Matt 27:20). Here we observe corrupt leaders stirring up a crowd as a pressure to tactic gain power. Pilate tried to defend Jesus by reasoning with the crowd (Matt 27:21-23a), “But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify Him!’ all the more” (Matt 27:23). We then witness a failure of justice, for “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that a riot was starting instead, he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves!’” (Matt 27:24). In this way Pilate proved to be a weak leader who surrendered to the insane demands of the mob. The Jewish crowd took full responsibility for Jesus’ trial and death, saying, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matt 27:25). But this was not their place to do this thing, as they had no legitimate authority to make this sort of demand. However, Pilate caved in, and “after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified” (Matt 27:26). The leadership that should have defended Jesus against the mob failed, and the greatest miscarriage of justice in human history resulted in Jesus being unjustly put to death. It should be noted that God was in control of the situation surrounding Jesus’ trial and even used the breakdown of Jewish and Roman jurisprudence to bring about our salvation through the death of His Son (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28).

Summary:

     In these five examples of riots we observe people gathered in groups who caused disruption as an intimidation tactic. None of the innocent people attacked in these accounts were alone, but had others helping them. Lot was aided by angels who came to his defense and temporarily used nonlethal methods to control the mob in order to get Lot and his willing family members out of the city before they destroyed it. Gideon had the help of his father, Joash, who boldly confronted the mob that wanted to kill his son. Jeremiah had the assistance of city officials who—in that moment—modeled good government which intervened and mediated the situation in an orderly and rational manner. Jesus, when He was facing the mob in Nazareth, apparently had some divine assistance—perhaps by the Father or the exercise of His own divine power—and was able to avoid the crowd that wanted to kill Him. And Jesus, when He was tried before Pilate, was clearly in the Father’s will and was sustained by the Holy Spirit in the midst of that situation.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture citations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers.

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The Effects of Sin Upon Our World

     There was a time when I was completely lost in sin and every thought and action supported Satan and his kingdom of darkness. For a time, I added trouble to the world. But now, as a Christian, I desire to serve the Lord as a good son who walks in the light of His truth. This does not mean I don’t fail from time to time and commit sin; Lord knows I do (every believer fails, and some more than others). I also realize relapse does not mean collapse, and my occasional sin is forgiven when I turn to the Lord, confess it, and move on in my Christian life (1 John 1:9). But sin remains, and I face ongoing spiritual battles. This present article is intended is to show how the historic fall of Adam and Eve fundamentally changed the human race and the world, resulting in disease, decay and death among all living things, and that the tendency of humanity is to behave in a spiritually and morally corrupt manner, suppressing God’s truth and rejecting His solutions to life’s problems. Understanding this helps us make sense of the world in which we live and why people behave the way they do. 

     Sin is a dominant theme from Genesis chapter three to the end of the Bible, at which time God will do away with sin and its effects, creating a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13; cf. Rev 21:1). The 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 ἁμαρτάνω hamartano is defined as “miss the mark, err, or do wrong.”[2] Sin is when we transgress God’s law and depart from His intended path.[3] The apostle John states, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). “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; Jam 4:12, 17).”[4]

Sin     Sin impacts all things including family life, nature, economics, society, law, politics, science, education, etc. All sin and evil exist in connection with the willful creatures who manufacture it, and its effects can be short or long-lasting. Even the creation is cursed because of Adam’s sin, as the Lord told him, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen 3:17), to which Paul added, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom 8:20-22). Sin negatively impacts everyone and everything, and no one was impacted or hurt more by sin than God. On several occasions we read, “The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Gen 6:6), and though God loved Israel, their ongoing sin “grieved His Holy Spirit” (Isa 63:10). As Christians, we are commanded, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30). Sin ultimately cost God His Son, who came into the world and died on a cross in order to atone for it (Mark 10:45; John 3:16; 10:14-18; Rom 8:32; 1 John 4:10), and to set us free from spiritual slavery (Rom 6:6; Gal 5:1; Heb 2:14-15).

     The Bible reveals we are sinners in Adam, sinners by nature, and sinners by choice. To be a sinner in Adam means we sinned when he sinned, that his fallen position is our fallen position, and his guilt is our guilt (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-24; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22). This is commonly referred to as original sin. Since the fall of Adam, every person is born with a sin nature (except Jesus),[5] and it is this nature that internally motivates people to rebel against all legitimate forms of authority, both human and divine. More so, the sin nature is not eradicated from the believer during his time on earth, nor is it ever reformed, as though it can be made to love God. To be a sinner by nature means it’s our innate tendency to sin (Jer 17:9; Matt 7:11; Rom 7:18-21; Eph 2:1-3). To be a sinner by choice means we personally choose to act contrary to God and His revealed will (1 Ki 8:46; Prov 20:9; Ecc 7:20; Isa 53:6; Rom 3:10-12; 1 John 1:10). Cumulatively these reveal that we are totally depraved, which means sin permeates and corrupts every aspect of our being, including our mind, will, sensibilities and flesh. Though we may be moral to the best of our ability and others may applaud us for our good deeds, our best efforts are tainted by sin and have no saving merit before God (Isa 64:6; Rom 4:1-5; 5:6-10; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5).

Jeremiah 17=9     One of the major areas sin impacts us is in the mind, which theologians refer to as the noetic effects of sin. This means sin impacts our ability to think rationally, especially about God, who has made Himself known through general revelation (Psa 19:1-2; Rom 1:18-20) and special revelation (1 Cor 14:37; 1 Tim 5:18; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 3:16-17). The majority of people throughout history think evil thoughts and are consumed with themselves and their own agendas rather than God’s will. Of Noah’s generation it is said, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). Later, Solomon declared, “the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives” (Eccl 9:3). And Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). And Jesus Himself spoke of the human condition, saying, “for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, [and] slanders” (Matt 15:19). One would think that when Jesus came into the world that mankind would rejoice in His light; however, Scripture provides a different picture, telling us, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19; cf. 1:4-5). When talking to religious Pharisees, Jesus declared, “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word” (John 8:43). This is true of all unbelievers, for “the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor 2:14). Even something as simple as the Gospel message is “foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1:18), in whose case “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:3-4). The tendency of fallen people who operate on negative volition is to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18), and to operate by a worldly wisdom that is not “from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic” (Jam 3:15).

New Life in Christ     At the moment of salvation, God the Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us a new nature that, for the first time in our lives, has the desire and capacity to obey God; however, the sin nature is not removed, and so we experience ongoing internal conflict between these opposing natures (Gal 5:17; Rom 7:14-23). As Christians, we are directed to “lay aside the old self…and put on the new self which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:22, 24). Since we have been “born again” and given new life (1 Pet 1:3, 23), the sin nature no longer has domineering power over us, and we can choose a life of righteousness (Rom 6:5-13). As we grow spiritually, we will be transformed from the inside out and gradually become more and more righteous as we walk with God. Sinless perfection will not be attained until we leave this world, by death or by Rapture, and are “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29), who will “transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (Phi 3:21). Until then, we are commanded to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:14). We do this by choosing to live according to the Spirit’s guiding, and starving the monster that is our sin nature. To “make no provision for the flesh” means we stop exposing ourselves to the things of the world that excite the flesh and lead to sinful behavior. The positive action is to grow spiritually with biblical teaching (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), Christian fellowship (Heb 10:23-25), selfless living (Phil 2:3-4), prayer (1 Thess 5:17), worship (Heb 13:15), and doing good (Gal 6:10; Heb 13:16). It is only by spiritual growth and drawing closer to God that we learn to glorify the Lord and live in righteousness.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson for The Effects of Sin Upon Our World

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. Satan as the Ruler of the World
  3. Satan’s Evil World-System
  4. Demons and How They Influence mankind
  5. Holy Angels and How They Influence Mankind
  6. Restoring Fellowship With God
  7. Steps to Spiritual Growth
  8. The Filling of the Holy Spirit
  9. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer

[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] 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.

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

[5] According to Scripture, Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb 4:15), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). His sinless life qualified Him as a perfect sacrifice to go to the cross and die as a substitute for others (Rom 5:6-10; Heb 10:1-14; 1 Pet 3:18).

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Demons and How They Influence Mankind

Angels are basically classified as either righteous or evil. The former retain their holy state and service to God and are called elect angels (1 Tim 5:21), whereas the latter have defected from their original state and continue in constant rebellion against God. Satan is the leader of all fallen angels (Matt 25:41; cf. Rev 12:7, 9), which Scripture designates as evil spirits (1 Sam 16:14; Luke 7:21), demons (Matt 8:31), and unclean spirits (Mark 5:1-4). These have been operating for millennia trying to frustrate the purposes of God.

d1b252dff75424a893f6282f2bb50ee5     All angels, whether good or bad, are organized for service and effectiveness. Michael is called an archangel (Jude 1:9), a chief prince (Dan 10:13), and is assigned the task of guarding Israel (Dan 12:1). Gabriel is a messenger angel who was sent to deliver important messages to God’s people (Dan 8:16; 9:21-22; Luke 1:19; 26-38). Both Michael and Gabriel are recorded in Scripture as battling fallen angels who appear as commanders of regions of the world (Dan 10:12-13, 21). One fallen angel is called “the prince of Persia” and the other “the prince of Greece” (Dan 10:20). These no doubt function as Satan’s emissaries to promote his purposes, and are part of a larger group that Paul called the forces of darkness (Eph 6:12). Demons can possess the bodies of men (Luke 11:24-26), animals (Gen 3:1-5; Mark 5:11-13; 2 Cor 11:3), and sometimes cause physical and mental illness (Matt 9:32-33; Luke 8:27).

Demons have some freedom, but not beyond the boundaries God has established (Job 1:1-21). God sometimes uses fallen angels to accomplish His sovereign purposes (1 Sam 16:14-16; 2 Cor 12:7-10), just as He sometimes uses sinful people to bring about His will (Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28). The final destiny of Satan and demons will be the Lake of Fire, which God created as a special place of punishment for them (Matt 25:41). Those who reject Christ as Savior will join Satan in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). Those who accept Jesus as Savior are forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7; Heb 10:10-14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28), and will spend forever in heaven (John 14:1-3).

Fallen angels are involved in the affairs of mankind. The person who operates by negative volition aligns himself with Satan and his forces. Negative volition leads to idolatry, and idolatry leads to immorality (Rom 1:18-32), both individually and nationally. The worship of idols is the worship of demons (Lev 17:7; Deut 32:17; 1 Cor 10:19-21). Demons generally led the pagan nations into idolatry, which God’s people were not to practice (Deut 18:9-14). However, when God’s people mingled with them, they learned their idolatrous practices (1 Ki 11:1-8), and even created their own idols (1 Ki 12:26-33), which eventuated in human sacrifice (2 Ki 17:7-23; Psa 106:35-38; cf. 2 Ki 16:1-4; 21:1-9; Jer 32:30-35; Ezek 16:20-21; 20:31; 23:37).

When rulers turned away from God, He would use evil spirits to discipline them (Judg 9:23; 1 Sam 16:14-15). This resulted in the disciplined person experiencing mental madness and murderous behavior (1 Sam 18:10-12; cf. 1 Sam 19:9-10). God used an evil spirit to bring about the military defeat and death of King Ahab (2 Chron 18:18-22).

Some angels who were once free, are now kept in “eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day” and appear to have forfeited their freedom altogether due to some unnamed sinful violation (Jude 1:6), perhaps the account described in Genesis 6:1-5. And some very destructive angels (described as metal-like locusts) are now kept in the Abyss—a temporary spiritual prison—and will be released and led by a powerful angel whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek Apollyon (Rev 9:1-12). Four unnamed, but very dangerous angels, are said to be bound under the River Euphrates (Rev 9:13-16). These four angels will kill one third of mankind during the Great Tribulation. Other evil spirits will be used to gather world rulers and their armies together for the Battle of Armageddon (Rev 16:13-14; cf. Rev 19:11-21).

As Christians, we face social, political and religious attacks in our day, and there are dark spiritual forces at work driving much of what we see. Scripture is very clear when it says, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). These demonic forces are behind every act of terror the world has ever known, and their activity is tireless. Thankfully, God has given us armor and a weapon to protect us, which also serve to aid in the rescue and defense of others who face spiritual attacks. This is described in Ephesians 6:13-18.

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph 6:13-18).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio lesson for Demons and How They Influence Mankind

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Satan’s Evil World-System

     The Bible recognizes Satan’s world-system and warns us not to love it (1 John 2:15-16). When John writes and tells the Christian “do not love the world”, he’s not talking about the physical planet. The Greek word κόσμος kosmos as it is used by the apostle John and others most often refers to “that which is hostile to God…lost in sin, wholly at odds with anything divine, ruined and depraved.”[1] Satan’s world-system consists of those philosophies and values that perpetually influence humanity to think and behave contrary to God and His Word. This operating apart from God is first and foremost a way of thinking that is antithetical to God and His Word, a way of thinking motivated by a desire to be free from God and the authority of Scripture, a freedom most will accept, even though it is accompanied by all sorts of inconsistencies and absurdities.

The kosmos is a vast order or system that Satan has promoted which conforms to his ideals, aims, and methods. It is civilization now functioning apart from God-a civilization in which none of its promoters really expect God to share; who assign to God no consideration in respect to their projects, nor do they ascribe any causality to Him. This system embraces its godless governments, conflicts, armaments, jealousies; its education, culture, religions of morality, and pride. It is that sphere in which man lives. It is what he sees, what he employs. To the uncounted multitude it is all they ever know so long as they live on this earth. It is properly styled “The Satanic System” which phrase is in many instances a justified interpretation of the so-meaningful word, kosmos.[2]

     People who live in Satan’s world-system exclude God and Scripture from their daily conversations. This is true in news, politics, academic communities, work and home life. God is nowhere in their thoughts, and therefore, nowhere in their discussions (Psa 10:4; 14:1). The growing Christian thinks about God and His Word all the time, as “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). The contrast between the growing Christian and the worldly person is stark, as their thoughts and words take them in completely different directions.

     At the core of Satan’s world-system is a directive for mankind to function apart from God, and when obeyed, people produce all forms of evil, both moral and immoral. We should understand that Satan’s system is a buffet that offers something for everyone who rejects God, whether that person is moral or immoral, religious or irreligious, educated or simple, rich or poor. Satan is careful to make sure there’s even something for the Christian in his world-system, which is why the Bible repeatedly warns the believer not to love the world or the things in the world. We are to be set apart (Col 2:8; Jam 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16). “The world is the Christian’s enemy because it represents an anti-God system, a philosophy that is diametrically opposed to the will and plan of God. It is a system headed by the devil and therefore at odds with God (2 Cor 4:4).…It is in this wicked world we must rear our families and earn our livelihoods. We are in it, yet are not to be a part of it.”[3] It is important to understand that we cannot change Satan or his evil program; however, we must be on guard, for it can and will change us if we’re not careful to learn and live God’s Word.

From Darkness to Light     At the moment of salvation, God the Father “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13), and “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). This transference is permanent and cannot be undone. Once this happens, we are hated by those who remain in Satan’s kingdom of darkness. For this reason, Jesus said to His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:18-19; cf. John 16:33; 1 John 3:13). Love and hate in this context should be understood as accept or reject, which can be mild or severe in expression. When praying to the Father, Jesus said, “they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14b), and went on to say, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). It is not God’s will that we be immediately removed from this world at the moment of salvation, but left here to serve as His representatives to the lost, that we “may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). We are not to participate in worldly affairs that exclude God, but are to “walk as children of Light” (Eph 5:8), manifesting the fruit of the Light “in all goodness and righteousness and truth, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5:9-10), and we are told, “do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Eph 5:11).

     The growing Christian faces real struggles as Satan’s world-system seeks to press him into its mold, demanding conformity, and persecuting him when he does not bend to its values. The world-system not only has human support, but is backed by demonic forces that operate in collaboration with Satan. Scripture tells us “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). The battlefront is more than what is seen with the human eye and is driven by unseen spiritual forces. As Christians living in the world we are to be careful not to be taken “captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col 2:8). Realizing the battleground is the mind, we are to think biblically in everything, which is our only safeguard against the enemy (2 Cor 10:3-5).

     Christians face situations every day in which they are pressured to compromise God’s Word. They face difficulties at work, school, home, or other places, in which they are confronted by worldly-minded persons, both saved and unsaved, who demand and pressure them to abandon their biblical values. There is room for personal compromise where Scripture is silent on a matter; however, where Scripture speaks with absolute authority, there the believer must never compromise! “The world, or world-system, puts pressure on each person to try to get him to conform (Rom 12:2). Jesus Christ was not “of this world” and neither are His people (John 8:23; 17:14). But the unsaved person, either consciously or unconsciously, is controlled by the values and attitudes of this world.”[4]

     By promoting the gospel and biblical teaching, the church disrupts Satan’s domain of darkness by calling out of it a people for God. By learning God’s Word, Christians can identify worldly conversations and activities and either avoid them or seek to redirect them by interjecting biblical truth, which should never be done in hostility. When sharing God’s Word with others it’s proper to know that not everyone wants to hear God’s truth, and even though we may not agree with them, their personal choices should be respected (Matt 11:14; Acts 13:50-51). We should never try to force the gospel or Bible teaching on anyone, but be willing to share when opportunity presents itself. At times this will bring peace, and other times cause disruption and may even offend. In this interaction, the growing Christian must be careful not to fall into the exclusion trap, in which the worldly person (whether saved or lost) controls the content of every conversation, demanding the Christian only talk about worldly issues, as Scripture threatens his pagan presuppositions. Having the biblical worldview, the Christian should insert himself into daily conversations with others, and in so doing, be a light in a dark place. He should always be respectful, conversational, and never have a fist-in-your-face attitude, as arrogance never helps advance biblical truth (2 Tim 2:24-26). The worldly-minded person may not want to hear what the Christian has to say, but he should never be under the false impression that he has the right to quiet the Christian and thereby exclude him from the conversation.

     As we grow spiritually and walk with God, learning and living His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17), we stand in opposition to Satan’s world-system and sow the seeds of spiritual insurrection in the lives of those who live and walk in his kingdom of darkness. We disrupt Satan’s kingdom when we share the gospel, “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). When anyone places their faith in Christ, trusting solely in Him as Savior, they are forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7), and gifted with eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28), and the righteousness of God (Rom 4:1-5; 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). They are rescued from Satan’s enslaving power, as God rescues them from the “domain of darkness” and transfers them into “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13). The gospel is the only thing that will deliver a person from spiritual slavery; “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Once saved, we seek to influence the thoughts and lives of other Christians through fellowship (Heb 10:23-25), prayer (Jam 5:16), edification (Eph 4:29), encouragement (1 Thess 5:11), love (1 Thess 4:9; cf. Eph 4:14-15), and words of grace (Col 4:6).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson for Satan’s Evil World-System:

[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 562.

[2] Lewis S. Chafer, “Angelology Part 4” Bibliotheca Sacra 99 (1942): 282-283.

[3] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology, p. 206.

[4] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, Vol. 2, p. 18.

Posted in Angels & Demons, Christian Theology, Hot Topics, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Satan as the Ruler of this World

     The Bible reveals Satan was originally created a holy angel of the class of cherubim; however, because of pride (Ezek 28:11-18), he rebelled against God (Isa 14:12-14), and convinced many angels to follow him (Rev 12:4, 7). The name Satan is derived from the Hebrew שָׂטָן Satan which means “adversary, opponent…accuser, opposing party…[or] the one who hinders a purpose”[1] The Greek Σατανᾶς Satanas carries the same meaning and is used “in a very special sense of the enemy of God and all of those who belong to God.”[2] Other names for Satan include the shining one, or Lucifer (Isa 14:12), the evil one (1 John 5:19), the tempter (1 Thess 3:5), the devil (Matt 4:1), the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10), the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2), the serpent (Rev 12:9), and the great red dragon (Rev 12:3). Further, Satan is a murderer and liar (John 8:44), is compared to a lion that prowls about, looking for someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8), and one who disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14).

Fallen angel     Lucifer became Satan at the time of his rebellion when he declared, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”  (Isa 14:13-14). “The desire of Satan was to move in and occupy the throne of God, exercise absolute independent authority over the angelic creation, bring the earth and all the universe under his authority, cover himself with the glory that belongs to God alone, and then be responsible to no one but himself.”[3] Satan seeks to operate independently of God’s plan for him, and he leads others, both saved and unsaved, to do the same. Lucifer introduced sin and death to the first humans when he convinced them to turn from God and eat the forbidden fruit (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-7). At the time of the fall, Adam handed his kingdom over to Satan, who has been ruling this world since (Luke 4:5-6; Rev 11:15).

     Satan is permitted, for a time, to rule over the majority in this world. At the time when Jesus began His public ministry, He faced a series of tests from Satan, one of which was an offer to receive the kingdoms of the world without going to the cross. Satan told Jesus, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish” (Luke 4:6). Satan took possession of “this domain and its glory” by God’s permission and man’s sin, presumably, when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and follow Satan (Gen 3:1-8). Satan said to Jesus, “Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours” (Luke 4:7). Satan’s offer had to be true in order for the temptation to be real. At some time in the future, Satan will share his authority with the Antichrist, because he advances his agenda (Rev 13:1-2). Three times Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Other passages of Scripture call Satan “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), informing us “that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Satan rules as a tyrant who has “weakened the nations” (Isa 14:12), and currently “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9). He personally attacked Adam and Eve (Gen 3:1-7), Job (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-13), David, (1 Chr 21:1), Joshua the high priest (Zec 3:1-2), Jesus (Matt 4:1-11), Judas (John 13:27), and Peter (Luke 22:31-32). He continues to attack God’s people today (1 Pet 5:8), practices deception (2 Cor 11:13-15), and has well developed strategies of warfare (Eph 6:10-12). Furthermore, humanity is living in an “evil age” (Gal 1:4), under “the dominion of Satan” (Acts 26:18), whose sphere of influence is called “the domain of darkness” (Col 1:13).

     As Christians, we have victory in Christ. At the moment we trusted Christ as Savior, God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). As Christians, we have been gifted with God’s own righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9), and will never face condemnation (Rom 8:1). Furthermore, God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3), and called us to serve as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20), sharing the gospel message with others.

     God the Father has promised to give Jesus the kingdoms of this world, saying, “I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession” (Psa 2:8; cf. Isa 2:1-5; Dan 2:44; 7:14). This will occur after the seven-year Tribulation; at which time it will be said, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15; cf. 20:1-3). Satan was judged at the cross (John 12:31; 16:11; Col 2:14-15), and awaits future punishment. His judgment is very near when he is cast out of heaven during the Tribulation (Rev 12:7-12); at which time his wrath is greatest against Israel. After the return of Christ (Rev 19:11-16) and the establishment of His kingdom (Rev 20:1-6), Satan will be confined to the abyss for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-3). Afterwards, he is released for a brief time and will again deceive the nations and lead a rebellion against God (Rev 20:7-8), but will be quickly defeated (Rev 20:9), and cast into the Lake of Fire, where he will remain, with his demons and all unbelievers forever (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10-15).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio lesson on Satan as the Ruler of this World

Related Articles:

  1. The Sovereignty of God  
  2. Holy Angels and How They Influence Mankind  

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1317.

[2] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 916.

[3] J. Dwight Pentecost, Your Adversary the Devil (Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan Publishing, 1969), 25-26.

 

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Holy Angels and How They Influence Mankind

     The purpose of this article is to present what the Scriptures reveal about the reality of angels and to consider how they impact the world in which we live.

     Angels are basically classified as either righteous or evil. The former retain their holy state and service to God and are called elect angels (1 Tim 5:21), whereas the latter have defected from their original state and continue in constant rebellion against God. The existence and impact of angels is real, influencing individuals and groups in matters pertaining to social, political and moral life. Holy angels continue to serve God and advance His agenda for human history.

     Thirty-four books of the Bible teach the existence of angels. The word angel occurs approximately 275 times throughout Scripture. The word angel translates the Hebrew word מַלְאָךְ malak and the Greek word ἄγγελος aggelos, and both words mean messenger. Angels are created beings (Psa 148:2-5; Col 1:16), were present at the creation of the world (Job 38:4-7), have volition (Matt 8:28-32), emotion (Mark 1:23-26), and intelligence (1 Pet 1:12). Angels are spirit beings who help advance the gospel (Heb 1:14), are distinct from humans (Luke 8:27), have great power (Psa 103:20-21; 2 Pet 2:11), are innumerable (Heb 12:22; Rev 5:11), cannot die (Luke 20:36), and do not reproduce after their kind (Mark 12:25), which means there are no baby angels. As creatures, angels are not to be worshipped (Col 2:18; Rev 19:10; 22:8-9). Seraphim—angels with six wings—are devoted to the worship of God (Isa 6:1-3), and Cherubim—angels with four wings—are devoted to protecting the Lord’s holiness (Ezek 28:14).

     As spirit beings, angels function in an invisible realm and were only observable to people when God chose to reveal them (in theology, this is called an angelophany). For example, Elisha’s servant saw the angelic chariots of fire only when God opened his eyes (2 Ki 6:15-17), and John was permitted to see myriads of angels around God’s throne (Rev 5:11). The vast majority of us are never given the opportunity of direct observation, but rather, we learn about angels through the revelation of God’s Word.

    Angel WarriorGod used holy angels to minister to His people. For example, angels were instrumental in protecting Lot and his family before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:1-25). When Israel was in Egyptian captivity, God judged Egypt by means of “a band of destroying angels” (Psa 78:49), who were apparently involved in administering the plagues (Psa 78:43-49). When Israel was fleeing Egypt and being pursued by Pharaoh and his army, God sent His angel to protect them (Ex 14:19-20; Num 20:16). When Elijah was fearful, depressed, and running for his life, God sent an angel to provide for him and encourage him until he came to the end of his journey (1 Ki 19:1-8). When a powerful Assyrian army came against Jerusalem to destroy it, (2 Chron 32:1-19), King Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet “prayed about this and cried out to heaven” (2 Chron 32:20), and the Lord rescued them by sending “an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander and officer in the camp of the king of Assyria” (2 Chron 32:21). When three of God’s servants refused to submit to the tyranny of the king of Babylon and were thrown alive into a furnace of fire, God honored their faith and “sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him” (Dan 3:28). Later, when Daniel was persecuted and thrown into a den of lions for not following a foolish edict, God protected His servant and “sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths” (Dan 6:22). God also used an angel named Gabriel, who told Daniel, “In the first year of Darius the Mede, I [Gabriel] arose to be an encouragement and a protection for him” (Dan 11:1). It was Gabriel who announced the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, telling Mary, she had “found favor with God” and informing her, “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:30-33). Later, when the baby Jesus was facing danger, “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream” and instructed him, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him” (Matt 2:13). And afterward, “when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, ‘Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead”’ (Matt 2:19-20). After Jesus experienced fatiguing temptations from Satan, it is written that “angels came and ministered to Him” (Matt 4:11). After Jesus’ resurrection, “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it” (Matt 28:2). When some of the apostles had been arrested and thrown into prison, we are informed that “during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison and released them to continue preaching” (Acts 5:19). And when Peter had been arrested by King Herod, the church prayed for him, and God “sent forth His angel and rescued” Peter from certain death (Act 12:11).

     The book of Revelation reveals angels are instrumental in executing God’s judgments upon the earth (Rev 7:1-2; 8:1-3; 5, 8, 10, 12; 9:1, 13-14; 10:1, 5, 7-9; 15:1, 6-8; 16:1; 21:9). About half way through the Tribulation, there will be “war in heaven, [with] Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon…and his angels” (Rev 12:7), and Satan and his angels will be thrown out of heaven by force (Rev 12:9). And after the Tribulation “the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will repay every man according to his deeds” (Matt 16:27). Furthermore, God’s “angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them [the wicked] into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:49-50).

     Though we don’t see holy angels, by faith in God’s Word we know they are present and active in our lives to help protect, provide, and strengthen us as we walk with the Lord. We also know they are active in the affairs of everyday life, helping to advance God’s purposes in a fallen world.

Audio Lesson on Angels

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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The Biblical Teaching on Tithes

tithe

     I took this picture with my camera phone while passing through an apartment complex one day.  The person living in the apartment apparently thought the message important enough to stick on the front of her door for others to read as they passed by.  It certainly reveals her theology.  So, will you “tithe if you love Jesus”?

      The word tithe means “to give a tenth.” Prior to the giving of the Mosaic Law (ca. 1445 B.C.), we see an example of Abraham giving Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils of war which he had accumulated after he had defeated Chedorlaomer at the Valley of Shaveh (Gen 14:17-20). Later, Jacob made a vow to give God a tenth of his possessions if God would be faithful to protect him on a journey (Gen 28:20-22). In the accounts of Abraham and Jacob, there was no mandate from heaven for them to give a tenth, and when they did give a tenth, it appears to be a one-time act, never repeated as far as Scripture is concerned. It was not until several centuries later that tithing became mandatory for the nation of Israel when they entered into the Mosaic Covenant and came under the Mosaic Law.

     When God established the nation of Israel as a theocracy under the leadership of Moses and Aaron (ca.1445 B.C.), He gave them 613 commandments known as the Mosaic Law. This law-code was designed to regulate the values and behavior of the citizens of the nation, morally, religiously, socially, economically, etc. Within the Mosaic Law, God required Israel to pay several tithes, which was tantamount to a form of taxation.

The so-called tithe (“a tenth”) added up to far more than a simple 10% annually, because there was a second tithe annually, and a third tithe in the third and fifth years…In the Old Testament economy all the giving covered the sanctuary offerings for God, the taxes for the nation, and charitable gifts all rolled together.[1]

     The tithe consisted of produce and livestock (Lev 27:30-32), and was given to the Levites for their support for ministry (Num 18:21-24). The Levites, in turn, gave a tithe of the tithe to the Priests for their service (Num 18:25-28). Additionally, the worshipper could eat a portion of the sacrifice with his family and the Levites (Deut 12:17-19; 14:22-27). Lastly, a tithe was taken every third year to help the poor, the alien, the orphans and the widows. This tithe was comparable to a social welfare system for the most unfortunate in society.  

At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. (Deut 14:28-29)

tithe-storehouse     The tithe was to be gathered into a “storehouse” (הָאוֹצָר בֵּית – bet ha otsar; Mal 3:10), which referred to a large room where “they put the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils and the tithes of grain, wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests” (Neh 13:5). Withholding the tithe was a form of robbery to God, the Levites, and the less fortunate in society who depended on it for daily living (Mal 3:6-11).

Non-tithers-board     Sadly, some pastors have mishandled Malachi 3:8-10 and applied it to the Church, browbeating Christians to make them feel guilty for not giving money to the Church. Some tyrants have even required church members to show their annual tax returns, or publicly posted their annual contributions in order to strong-arm Christians to give. This is more an act of despotic control over one’s flock than loving leadership. Pastors who use Malachi 3:8-10 against Christians display both an ignorance of God’s Word and a spiritual immaturity in leadership. The fact is, Malachi 3:8-10 has nothing to do with the Church.

     To be clear, Israel and the Church are both God’s people, but Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:11; Gal 6:2). Israel had a priesthood that was specific to the tribe of Levi (Num 3:6-7), whereas all Christians are priests to God (Rev 1:6). Israel worshipped first at the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex 40:18-38; 2 Chron 8:14-16), but for Christians, their body is the temple of the Lord and they gather locally where they want (1 Cor 6:19-20; cf. 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15). Israel offered animal sacrifices to God (Lev 4:1-35), but Christians offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet 2:5; cf. Rom 12:1; Heb 13:15). Israel was required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut 14:22-23; 28-29; Num 18:21), but there is no tithe required from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

     To Christians, the apostle Paul mentions systematic giving (1 Cor 16:1-2), but nowhere specifies an amount. Giving 10% of one’s income is fine, so long as it is understood that it’s a voluntary action and not required by the Lord. One could easily set aside a different amount to be given on a regular basis. Certainly, the financial support of the Pastor is in line with Scripture (Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 5:17-18), although the apostle Paul supported himself in his own ministry as an example to others of sacrificial living (Acts 20:32-35). Giving systematically and giving joyfully is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament (1 Cor 16:1-2; 2 Cor 9:7).

     Lastly, we should realize all we have is on loan from God, for “the earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psa 24:1). The Lord declares, “every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psa 50:10), and “‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine’, declares the LORD of hosts” (Hag 2:8). When we give to the Lord, it’s a test of our love and loyalty to Him; for what we give is already His, and giving back to Him means we trust and support His work in the world. David captures this well when he says, “who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (1 Ch 29:14).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson on Tithing

Related Articles:

 

[1] Allen P. Ross, Malachi Then and Now: An Expository Commentary Based on Detailed Exegetical Analysis (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 156.

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The Old and New Priesthood

     A priest was one who offered prayers, sacrifices, and worship to God on behalf of others. He also offered instruction, by speech and behavior, concerning how to properly approach God in righteousness. In the OT—before the Mosaic Law—few priests are mentioned. Melchizedek functioned as the king/priest of Salem (Gen 14:18-20; cf. Heb 7:1), and Jethro/Ruel (Moses’ father-in-law) as the priest of Midian (Ex 2:16-21; 3:1). Job served as the priest over his household, offering sacrifices for the sins of his family (Job 1:5). Most people worshipped and served God as non-priests. Men such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob built temporary stone altars and worshipped God directly (Gen 8:20-21; Gen 12:7; 13:18; 26:24-25; 35:1-7). Before the Mosaic Law, it appears that sacrifice and worship were personal, simple, did not require special attire, and were not tied to a specific geographic location or facility.

     After Israel was delivered from the bondage of Egypt, God established the Hebrews as a theocratic nation among the Gentile nations of the world. God originally intended the whole nation to be a kingdom of priests, saying, “and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). However, because of the sin of worshipping the golden calf (Ex 32:1-35), God took that privilege from the nation and gave it solely to the tribe of Levi (Num 3:6-10).

     Aaron was from the tribe of Levi, and he and his descendants constituted the priestly class in Israel, and other qualified Levites helped them in their priestly duties. The distinction between priests and Levites continued into the NT (John 1:19; Luke 10:31-32). The priests in Israel were not given land (Num 18:20, 23-24), but could live in one of forty-eight cities that were assigned to them (Num 35:7). Their living was derived from the tithe (Num 18:21, 24-28), and they could eat part of the animal sacrifice (Lev 5:13, 7:31-34), along with their family (Lev 10:12-15).

     God required that Levitical priests could not have any physical defects (Lev 21:17-23), and restricted the age to twenty-five to fifty (Num 8:24-25). The Levitical priests originally served in the tabernacle, and later in the temple. Special clothing was required both for the priests and the high priest. Throughout the years of their priestly service they were required to:

  1. Be holy in their behavior (Ex 19:6).
  2. Teach God’s Law to others (Lev 10:8-11; Deut 31:9-13; 33:8-10; 2 Chron 17:7-9; Ezra 7:10; Mal 2:7).
  3. Offer sacrifices for sin to God (Lev chapters 4, 9, 16).
  4. Adjudicate legal matters (Deut 17:8-13; 19:16-17; 2 Chron 19:8-10).
  5. Preserve the tabernacle and temple (Num 18:1-7).
  6. Perform official duties in the Holy of Holies once a year (Ex 30:6-10; Lev 16).
  7. Inspect persons, animals, and fabrics to make sure they were clean (Lev 1:3; Deu 15:21; Lev 13-15).
  8. Receive the tithes (Num 18:21, 26; cf. Heb 7:5).
  9. Pronounce God’s blessing on the nation (Num 6:22-27).

     The death of Christ on the cross fulfilled the Mosaic Law and ended the OT animal sacrificial system and the Levitical priesthood (John 1:17; Rom 6:14; 8:3-4; 10:4; 2 Cor 3:1-13; Gal 5:18; Heb 8:13). Jesus is identified as a Priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Psa 110:4; Heb 7:11-19), and He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice to atone for sin (Mark 10:45; Rom 8:3-4).

The Priesthood of all Believers     Today, there is no specialized priesthood, and the Catholic Church—or any organization—is not justified in creating a priestly cast within the body of Christ. Presently, in the church age, every Christian, at the moment of salvation, becomes a priest to God. Peter writes of Christians, saying, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5), and “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).[1] This is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who “has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev 1:6), and “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (Rev 5:10; cf. 20:6). Furthermore, we do not worship at a temple; rather, “we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16; cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17). And we do not bring animal sacrifices, but “offer up spiritual sacrifices” to God (1 Pet 2:5). The basic functions of the Christian priesthood include:

  1. The continual giving of the body for service to the Lord (Rom 12:1-2).
  2. Confessing our sins directly to God (1 John 1:6-9).
  3. Sharing the gospel with others (Rom 15:15-16).
  4. Offering praise to God (Heb 13:15).
  5. Doing good works and sharing with others (Heb 13:16; cf. Phil 4:18).
  6. Giving our lives for the benefit of others (Phil 2:17; cf. Phil 1:21-26; 2:3-4).
  7. Walking in love (Eph 5:1-2; cf. 1 Pet 1:22).

     The Christian becomes a priest at the moment of salvation; however, the practice of the priesthood begins when he/she surrenders their body as a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Unlike the OT animal sacrifices which surrendered their lives once, the Christian life is a moment by moment, continual surrender to God. This spiritual service is performed by the believer “to our God” (Rev 5:10), for the benefit of others (Gal 6:10; Phil 2:3-4; Heb 13:16).

Audio lesson on The Old and New Priesthood

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. Restoring Fellowship With God
  3. The New Covenant and the Lord’s Supper
  4. What is the Church?
  5. The Basics of Prayer
  6. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer
  7. Walking with God

 


[1] Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum argues that the references in 1 Peter 2:5-9 refers narrowly to Jewish Christians, and there is merit to his argument. He also makes clear that all Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, are priests to God, and references Revelation 1:6; 5:10, and 20:6 as his prooftexts. For further investigation, read Israelology, pages 720-722.

Posted in Christian Theology, Church, Dispensationalism, Hot Topics, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Authorial Intent

What is the Meaning

     This picture is commonly used to argue that meaning is found in the reader who is free to interpret words or symbols based on his/her perspective. But this ignores what the author intended when he/she wrote the word or symbol in the first place. In everyday communication, meaning always originates with the author and the context of their writing. 

      If two people are looking at the same word or symbol and have opposing views, the first thing that should be done, if possible, is to contact the author and ask what was intended. If that’s not possible, then one should seek to orient to the word or symbol by looking at surrounding words or symbols. For example, if one sees the numbers 5 and 7 on either side of the number in question, then that means it’s a 6. If the nearby numbers are 8 and 10, then the number in question is a 9. Or, perhaps the number is in front of a building, in which case, the observer is helped by facing the front of the property. 

     Again, authorial intent and context always determines meaning. This is true when listening to a supervisor’s instruction, reading the words on a medicine bottle, following the speed limit on the freeway, paying one’s taxes, or reading the Bible. 

     If one does not have enough information to make an informed decision, then it’s best to suspend judgment rather than provide a dogmatic guess, or argue from one’s limited perspective. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Posted in Biblical Exegesis, Hermeneutics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

King David – the Good and the Bad

     The Bible describes David as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14; cf. Acts 13:22). This is a huge compliment, but what does it mean? God certainly knew David’s heart and what kind of king he would be, for He informed His prophet, Samuel, saying, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). The statement of David being a man after God’s own heart occurs within the context of Saul’s disobedience to the Lord. Samuel told Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you” (1 Sam 13:13), and again, “you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Sam 13:14). Saul had disobeyed God’s command through His prophet, so the Lord promised to take the kingdom from him and give it to one who would be more obedient. David was that man. He was an obedient king, for the most part, and subsequent kings were measured by him (1 Ki 3:14; 9:4-5; 11:4-6, 31-34, 38; 14:7-8; 15:1-5; 11-15; 2 Ki 14:1-4; 16:1-3; 18:1-3; 22:1-2). David set the bar for what it meant to be a good king, and this allowed others to have a standard to guide them. However, we should not conclude that David was perfectly obedient and kept the Lord’s will in all matters in his life. He did not. No believer ever does, for there are none who are sinless, except the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Jo 3:5). But David obeyed the Lord in important matters, and apart from a few major offences, he did not generally commit egregious sins.[1]

David_and_Bathsheba_by_Artemisia_Gentileschi     In fact, David personally acknowledged his sins, saying “my iniquities are gone over my head; as a heavy burden they weigh too much for me” (Ps 38:4). He also wrote, “For evils beyond number have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to see; they are more numerous than the hairs of my head, and my heart has failed me” (Ps 40:12). Among David’s recorded sins, the most offensive was his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah (2 Sam 11:1-17). Scripture tells us that David had slept with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, killed; and “the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Sam 11:27). What is commendable about David is that he handled his sin in a biblical manner by confessing it and seeking the Lord’s forgiveness. Concerning Uriah and Bathsheba, David said, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam 12:13; read Psalm 51 for the longer version of David’s confession). And upon his confession, the prophet Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam 12:13). Here we see God’s grace and government at work; for though David was forgiven and restored to fellowship with God, there were still consequences for his actions and the Lord dispensed judgment upon David and Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:14-18).

     On another occasion, David followed Satan’s temptation and “sinned greatly” by taking a census in Israel (1 Chron 21:1, 8), presumably because he was trusting in his military strength rather than the Lord. When God judged David for this, David confessed his sin and declared, “I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing” (1 Chr 21:8a). It is a hallmark of a mature believer to own his sin and humble himself before the Lord through confession. Not only did he confess his sin, but he also sought the Lord’s forgiveness, saying, “Please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly” (1 Chron 21:8b), and “I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are very great” (1 Chron 21:13).

images     Furthermore, David practiced the sin of polygamy contrary to the Law of Moses, which specifically commanded the king of Israel, that “he shall not multiply wives for himself” (Deu 17:17). From Scripture we know the names of eight of David’s wives: Michal (1 Sam 18:27), Abigail (1 Sam 25:39-42), Ahinoam (1 Sam 25:43), Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:24), Maacah, Haggith, Abital and Eglah (2 Sam 3:2-5). And he had other wives and concubines that are not named, as Scripture reveals, “David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron” (2 Sam 5:13a). Interestingly, the Bible says nothing about David’s practice of polygamy, and though it is a sin according to Scripture, it was apparently tolerated in David’s life, perhaps because it never resulted in his wives leading him into idolatry as it had done with his son, Solomon (see 1 Kings 11:1-11).[2]

     But doesn’t this seem unfair? That David could commit such heinous sins as murder, adultery, and polygamy and still be called a man after God’s own heart, as well as being the standard of a good king to all subsequent kings in Israel? I think there’s an answer to this, and it is found in two words; grace and humility. Grace on God’s part and humility on David’s part. There is a pattern in David’s life: when God charged David with acting contrary to His will (as His righteousness demands), David accepted it and humbled himself before the Lord, accepting whatever came to him; preferring forgiveness alone, but accepting punishment also, if that’s what the Lord decided. David knew that grace is a chief characteristic of God (Ex 34:6; Psa 86:15; Pro 3:34; John 1:14; Eph 1:6; Heb 4:16; 10:29; 1 Pet 5:10). For this reason, David could say, “the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness”, and that “He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever” (Psa 103:8-9). The Bible reveals God is gracious, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), and, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15). God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the love, mercy, or kindness that one person freely confers upon another who deserves the opposite (Matt 5:44-45; Rom 11:6; Eph 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5-7). The kindness shown is rooted in the goodness and open-handedness of the giver.

     The other word is humility. Humility is a lowliness of mind, an inward quietness before the Lord that reflects a poverty of spirit. The humble know they need God and seek Him for wisdom, guidance and strength. Humility is not a natural quality, nor does it come easily, but it is what the Lord requires of His people (Mic 6:8; Eph 4:1-2; Phi 2:3-4). The humble live with a constant sense of their weaknesses and inabilities to cope with life apart from God, and are keenly aware of their sinful nature and propensity to turn away from the Lord and befriend the world. Humility is not a sense of worthlessness, but unworthiness of the Lord’s love and blessings. The humble realize they deserve nothing good in this life, and any blessing they receive is from God’s grace. Though David had his failings, he realized God is gracious and forgiving to the humble believer, as Scripture states, “for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5). For this reason, David could say:

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psa 103:10-14).

     David was not perfect, and neither are we. But I want to close with the point that we too can be described as a person “after God’s own heart” if we walk daily with Him and prioritize His commands in our lives, and humbly accept His correction when He gives it. To be a person after God’s own heart meant David was primarily disposed to seek God’s will rather than his own, as was the case with Saul. David desired to know God’s will and walk in it, and to lead others to do the same. To be a person after God’s own heart is to love what He loves, to walk with Him in the same direction He is going, to be sensitive to what pleases Him and to obey His commands. David had this kind of heart, saying, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart” (Psa 40:8), and “make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it” (Psa 119:35; cf. 11, 24, 92).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. David – A Better King  
  2. Saul – The King who Failed  
  3. Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders  
  4. Characteristics of a Christian Leader  
  5. What is Integrity?  
  6. Walking with God  
  7. The Basics of Grace  
  8. God’s Great Grace  
  9. Living by Grace  

[1] Biblically, some acts of obedience are more important than others, and some acts of sin are more egregious than others. For example, Samuel, told King Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam 15:22). Solomon wrote, “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice” (Pro 21:3). Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23). Likewise, some sins are worse than others and bring greater judgment. Jesus told His disciples not to be like the Scribes, “who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers”, saying, “These will receive greater condemnation” (Luke 20:47). Concerning the citizens of Chorazin and Bethsaida, Jesus said, “it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you” (Matt 11:22). The apostle John, writing to believers, states, “All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death” (1 Jo 5:17). These are obvious statements that show some acts of obedience are better than others, and some acts of sin are worse than others. Furthermore, of the 613 commands given in the Mosaic Law, only 15 demanded the death penalty, namely: 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 (Deu 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 (Deu 13:1-5), religious human sacrifice (Lev 20:2), the practice of divination, sorcery or witchcraft (Ex 22:18; Deu 18:9-14), adultery and premarital sex (Lev 20:10-14; 21:9; Deu 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 (Deu 22:25-27).

[2] In fact, there was an incident in which two of David’s wives were captured by Amalekites who made a raid on the Negev and Ziklag (1 Sam 30:1-5). David sought the Lord in prayer (1 Sam 30:6-8a), and God said, “Pursue, for you will surely overtake them, and you will surely rescue all” (1 Sam 30:8b). In this account, God gave David victory (1 Sam 30:9-17), and “David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and rescued his two wives” (1 Sam 30:18).

Posted in Bad Behavior, Christian Theology, God's Grace, Hamartiology, Hot Topics, Leadership | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

David – A Better King

The shepherd     David was a good king who reigned in Israel from roughly 1010 to 970 B.C.[1] David’s life was intermingled with Saul, Israel’s first king, who failed to walk with God and do His will. David was better than Saul. He was better because he was a man of faith, and faith always pleases the Lord (Heb 11:6). This did not mean that David was sinless, for he was not; but by faith he handled his sin in a biblical manner. David was also marked by humility and knew his advancement and blessings were from the Lord. Though God had anointed David king of Israel (1 Sam 16:1-13), the promotion did not go to his head. At the time he was anointed, he did not rush in and demand the throne, but waited on the Lord to give it to him; after all, Saul was still king in Israel until the Lord removed him. An example of David’s humility is observed by the fact that he did not abandon his duties as a shepherd, for though his three oldest brothers “had gone after Saul to the battle” (1 Sam 17:13), perhaps to pursue worldly glory by being near the king and the battle, David continued “to tend his father’s flock at Bethlehem” (1 Sam 17:15). Don’t miss that statement. David’s commitment to lowly work says something about his character, for there’s certainly no worldly glory to be had as a modest shepherd caring for sheep in a lonely field. Humility does not reach for glory; it reaches for the Lord’s will, and delights to serve in it, even if it leads to lowly and unknown places, doing necessary work that others will never see. To be sure, it was in those places that God prepared David for the battles he would face throughout his life.

     God would eventually move David into the public spotlight, and He did this when He set the stage for David to slay Goliath. Jesse, David’s father, sent him to the battlefield to check on the welfare of his brothers (1 Sam 17:17-19). The text tells us, “So David arose early in the morning and left the flock with a keeper and took the supplies and went as Jesse had commanded him” (1 Sam 17:20). When David arrived, he saw Israel in battle array going out to the battlefield, and he “ran to the battle line and entered in order to greet his brothers” (1 Sam 17:22).

David kills lion and bear     When David saw Goliath mocking the armies of Israel, he questioned how the Philistine could get away with it, asking, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26). David’s comments were passed along to others until they eventually reached the ears of Saul, who sent for him (1 Sam 17:31). When questioned by Saul, David said, “Let no man’s heart fail on account of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (1 Sam 17:32). These are confident words uttered by a lowly shepherd-boy to the king of Israel. Saul could not believe what he was hearing and said, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth” (1 Sam 17:33). That’s human viewpoint at work. What Saul did not know, what no one could know, was that God had worked in the unseen and lowly places to prepare His servant, David, for this very occasion. But David knew it and answered, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him” (1 Sam 17:34-35). David then made the connection for Saul, saying, “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God” (1 Sam 17:36). What’s interesting is that David, while caring for his father’s sheep, had no idea God was preparing him for something else, something greater. As an obedient son, David was simply doing his humble job faithfully, as his father expected. God often grows and strengthens His people in the out of the way places where no one sees. But it’s those times of private growth that we’re prepared for other battles, and the faith that works in one situation easily applies to the other. For this reason, David could say to Saul, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam 17:37). And we know the rest of the story, how God used David to defeat Goliath with a sling and a stone, a shepherd’s weapon wielded by a hand of faith (1 Sam 17:38-58). In the end, it’s not human strength that wins the battle, “for the battle is the LORD’S” (1 Sam 17:47).

     Saul sought to capitalize on David’s success by bringing him into his house and making him part of his army (1 Sam 18:1-5). But this backfired on Saul, as the people he was trying to impress were more impressed by David. The text states, “It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. The women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’” (1 Sam 18:6-7). David’s success was not his own doing, but was from the Lord. However, Saul did not care about the Lord, nor did he care to recognize those whom God was blessing. Rather, Saul became fearful and irrational. The text reveals, “Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on” (1 Sam 18:8-9). If we’d been there with Saul in that moment, we might have tried to reason with him about his negative reaction to David’s success. But our words would have failed, for Saul was not a rational person; rather, he was governed by pride and fear, rather than humility and faith.

Saul tries to kill David     Saul’s mental decline created instability in his household, and one never knew what to expect from one moment to the next. Rather than rejoicing in David’s success, he sought his destruction and tried to kill him (1 Sam 18:10-11). When that failed, he tried to win him over by giving him his daughter in marriage, thus making David his son-in-law (1 Sam 18:17-27). Sin creates irrationality and fickle behavior, but submission to God is the basis for wisdom and a healthy mind, for “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; [but] fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Pro 1:7). It is often true that a person’s greatness is measured by the obstacles he overcomes, and David’s success can be measured, to some degree, by how he responded to Saul. Saul hated and tried to kill David, but David did not hate Saul, nor did he retaliate. Instead, David modeled good sense, coupled with wisdom and diplomacy (1 Sam 18:12-30). During this time of persecution, David developed a deep and lasting friendship with Jonathan, Saul’s son, who kept David informed of Saul’s plans and helped protect David when he was running for his life (see 1 Samuel chapters 19-23).

David protects Saul     For nearly seven years David fled from Saul’s murderous pursuit, as he traveled from city to city and sometimes hid in caves in the wilderness. A significant event occurred when God brought Saul and David together in a cave in the wilderness of Engedi. Saul had taken three thousand men in pursuit of David (1 Sam 24:1-2), but Saul unknowingly put himself in a vulnerable spot when he went into a cave to relieve himself (1 Sam 24:3). What Saul did not know was that David and his men were hiding in that cave, and though David had opportunity to kill Saul, and was even encouraged by his men to do so (1 Sam 24:4), he would not, for he recognized that Saul was “the Lord’s anointed” and David would not harm him.[2] David said to his troops, “Far be it from me because of the LORD that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the LORD’S anointed” (1 Sam 24:6). And when speaking to Saul directly he said, “I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’S anointed” (1 Sam 24:10). David understood that even though Saul was governed by fear and hate, he was still God’s chosen king, and only God could remove him from office. David declared that he would not harm Saul, though Saul had tried to kill him on several occasions. David simply put the matter in the Lord’s hands and chose to let Him dispense justice, in His time and way. David said, “May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Sam 24:12) and “The LORD therefore be judge and decide between you and me; and may He see and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand” (1 Sam 24:15). Saul, for a brief moment, recognized his sinfulness, apologized to David, and went home (1 Sam. 24:16-22a), “but David and his men went up to the stronghold” (1 Sam 24:22). I believe David did not return with Saul because he knew Saul would not change, and this was confirmed after Samuel died (1 Sam 25:1), and Saul again took three thousand men and went in pursuit of David to kill him (1 Sam 26:1-2). And again, David was given the advantage to kill Saul (1 Sam 26:3-7). On the first occasion, David was encouraged by his friends to kill Saul (1 Sam 24:4), and on the second occasion, David’s soldier, Abishai wanted to kill him (1 Sam 26:8), but David forbid it, saying to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?” (1 Sam 26:9). And again, putting the matter in the Lord’s hand, David said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish” (1 Sam 26:10). The Lord did kill Saul battle, as Scripture states, “Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the LORD. Therefore, He killed him and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse” (1 Ch 10:13-14). Through all his interactions with Saul, David proved to be a better man.

     After Saul’s death, all Israel came to David asking him to be their king, saying, “Behold, we are your bone and your flesh. Previously, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and in. And the LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will be a ruler over Israel’” (2 Sam 5:1-2). The leaders of Israel recognized God was the reason David was successful. “So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them before the LORD at Hebron; then they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years” (2 Sam 5:3-4).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. Saul – The King who Failed  
  2. Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders  
  3. What is Integrity? 
  4. Walking with God  
  5. Characteristics of a Christian Leader 

[1] Conservative scholarship places Saul’s reign roughly from 1050 to 1010 B.C., and David’s reign from 1010 to 970 B.C. We know David was thirty years of age when he became king (2 Sam 5:4), which would place his birthday around 1040 B.C. It is thought by many that David was about fifteen years of age when he was anointed king in 1025 B.C. This could be supported, in part, by Saul’s early description of David as a “youth”, a Hebrew word (נָעוּר naur) which commonly means boy, youth, or lad. If this is correct, it means Saul would had been king for twenty-five years before David was anointed, and then another fifteen years before David took the throne.

[2] The phrase, “The Lord’s anointed”, occurs seven times in chapters 24-26 (1 Sam 24:6, 10; 26:9, 11, 16, 23).

Posted in Christian Theology, Leadership, Living by Faith, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Saul – The King who Failed

     Saul and David were Israel’s first two kings, and though their lives crossed each other’s paths on multiple occasions, they were very different from each other, and the difference was primarily a matter of the heart. Throughout his life, Saul proved to be a terrible king who repeatedly rejected God’s will and went his own way. Without God to guide and sustain, Saul became paranoid and sought to control those around him, and those he could not control, he tried to kill. David, on other hand, was an ideal king, and though he had his sinful failings, he handled them in a biblical manner, accepting God’s punishment and returning to a life of obedience.

Samuel and the People     The story of Saul begins with a breakdown in Israel’s leadership. Samuel had been the nation’s judge for many years and he’d been faithful to obey the Lord and treat His people fairly. However, as Samuel grew old, he appointed his two sons, Joel and Abijah, to rule as judges in his place (1 Sam 8:1-2), but his sons “did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice” (1 Sam 8:3). Israel’s elders came to Samuel at Ramah (1 Sam 8:4), and said, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations” (1 Sam 8:5). There was nothing wrong with Israel having a king; in fact, God told both Abraham and Jacob, “kings will come forth from you” (Gen 17:6; 35:11), and the Lord gave Moses the qualifications for a king, as well as the basic rules that were to guide his life (Deu 17:14-20).[1] The hidden motivation of the elders was later revealed, for what they wanted was to be like the nations around them, to have a king who would go out and fight their military battles (1 Sam 8:20). The elders either did not know about the qualifications of Israel’s king, or did not care. Either way, “the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed to the LORD” (1 Sam 8:6). God said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Sam 8:7). Israel was a theocratic kingdom in which God was their King. The request for a human king was born out of a heart of independence, in which His people did not want Him as their Ruler; rather, they wanted a king so they could be like the other nations. The request was ultimately a rejection of God.

     This request by Israel’s leaders was part of a long history of defiance that could be traced back nearly four hundred years, going back to the days of the Exodus, when God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt. God explained to Samuel, “Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also” (1 Sam 8:8). Rejecting God and worshipping idols was the national proclivity of Israel. “God saw this demand as one more instance of apostasy that had marked the Israelites since the Exodus. He acceded to their request as He had done many times before—by providing manna, quail, and water in the wilderness, for example. However, He mixed judgment with His grace.”[2] For a second time God told Samuel to “listen to their voice” (1 Sam 8:9a), and then told him, “you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them” (1 Sam 8:9). Samuel warned the leadership that what they requested would result in their harm (1 Sam 8:10-18), as the king would “take” more than he’d give (mentioned six times), that he would take the “best” of what they had (sons, daughters, fields, crops, servants and flocks), and the people would eventually become his “servants” (i.e. slaves vs. 17). Over time, this would result in great oppression, and they were warned, “Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day” (1 Sam 8:18). With all this information, “the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, ‘No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles’” (1 Sam 8:19-20). Here is foolishness on display. God’s people rejecting Him and His wisdom, determined to run their kingdom their way, without Him. So the Lord granted their request and selected a Benjamite named Saul (1 Sam 9:1-2, 17), providentially directing him to Samuel (1 Sam 9:3-37), who anointed him king over Israel (1 Sam 10:1; cf. 10:24; 12:13). God gave Israel what they wanted; He gave them Saul, a king after their own hearts, and they would suffer for it.

     Saul had the outward appearance of what most people look for in a leader, for he was “a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people” (1 Sam 9:2). David was good looking too, as Scripture describes him as “ruddy, with beautiful eyes and a handsome appearance” (1 Sam 16:12; cf. vs. 18). Often when we search for a leader, we want someone who looks and talks a certain way, has the right credentials and preferably a good work history. We shouldn’t diminish those things, but simply put them in their place, as being below the things God desires, “for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).

     Before becoming king, Saul is described in positive ways as “a mighty man of valor” (1 Sam 9:1), who showed concern for his father (1 Sam 9:3-4), listened to good advice from a friend (1 Sam 9:5-6), showed respect for God’s prophet (1 Sam 9:7-9), listened to him (1 Sam 9:17-10:8), and functioned as a prophet himself (1 Sam 10:9-13). However, Saul’s admirable qualities did not journey with him into his new position as king. After his promotion, Saul’s soul became unstable and he spent most of his life looking around rather than looking up, as he was governed by fear, jealousy, suspicion and hatred of those whom God was advancing; namely David. Saul could have done well. He could have flourished as Israel’s king if he’d listened to God’s voice and walked with Him. But his kingship turned out to be a failure because he would not obey the Lord.

King Saul Offers a Sacrifice     The major turning point in Saul’s life occurred when he failed to wait on God. Saul sinned by offering a sacrifice to God (1 Sam 13:8-14), which violated a previous command given by Samuel, the Lord’s prophet, who told Saul, “you shall go down before me to Gilgal; and behold, I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings. You shall wait seven days until I come to you and show you what you should do” (1 Sam 10:8). Saul waited the seven days as Samuel instructed (1 Sam 13:8), but then took matters into his own hands and offered the sacrifices that Samuel was supposed to offer (1 Sam 13:9-10). Samuel pointed out Saul’s failure and said, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever” (1 Sam 13:13). The consequence for Saul was that God would take away his kingdom and give it to another who would obey Him. The Lord said, “But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Sam 13:14; cf. Acts 13:22). To be a person after God’s own heart means to be one who obeys the Lord’s commands. Saul’s life progressively spiraled downward from this point forward.

King Saul tries to Kill David     Saul’s turning away from the Lord was marked by numerous foolish acts that spread over his life. Saul had issued a thoughtless command that harmed his people (1 Sam 14:24-30), and disobeyed the command to destroy completely the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:3, 8-9). Furthermore, Saul was afraid of David, because God was with him (1 Sam 18:12-16, 18, 29), and twice tried to kill him with a spear (1 Sam 18:10-11; 19:10), and conspired to kill him through others (1 Sam 19:1, 11, 15; 20:30-31). Saul even tried to kill Jonathan, his own son (20:32-33; cf. 1 Sam 14:44). Later, he had eighty-five Levitical priests killed (1 Sam 22:11-18). Saul wasted many years of his life chasing after David rather than building up the nation. By the end of his life, Saul debased himself by consulting a medium (1 Sam 28:5-28), which is against to God’s will (Deu 18:10-11). Eventually, Saul committed suicide (1 Sam 31:4). By the end of his life, “Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the LORD. Therefore He killed him and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse” (1 Ch 10:13-14). David was a better king than Saul. He was a better king because he lived by faith and obeyed the Lord.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Because Israel was a theocracy, their king was to lead as a subordinate to the Lord, submitting himself to the Law of God as revealed in Scripture. The Mosaic Law specifically commanded that the king of Israel be one of their own countrymen and not a foreigner (Deu 17:15), that he not multiply horses and rely on his military strength (Deu 17:16), that he not practice polygamy, lest his wives turn his heart away from the Lord (Deu 17:17a), and that he not greatly increase silver and gold, lest he rely on his riches to save him in time of trouble (Deu 17:17b). In addition, the king of Israel was to write out a copy of the Mosaic Law and carry it with him all the days of his life that he might observe the Lord’s commands and walk in them (Deu 17:18-20).

[2] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Sa 8:4.

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When Life Gets Tough

If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? (Jer 12:5)[1]

     When life gets tough, sometimes God reassures and comforts us (Psa 23:4; 2 Cor 1:3-5; 2 Th 2:16-17), sometimes we comfort each other (Eph 6:22; 1 Th 4:18), and sometimes we comfort ourselves with His Word (Psa 119:50, 52; Lam 3:21-23). But there are times in Scripture when God does not give comfort—at least not in the way we might expect—but informs His people that things will get worse, and that they need to prepare themselves for the challenges and suffering ahead (Matt 10:16, 23; John 15:20; 16:1-2; Acts 9:15-16; 20:22-23). A good example of this is found in Jeremiah 12:1-6, where Jeremiah was experiencing suffering and went to the Lord with his complaint, seeking a solution; however, rather than comfort His prophet, He warned him that things would get worse. Let me give some background to Jeremiah’s situation before explaining the Lord’s answer to him.

     Jeremiah was a prophet to Judah, and his ministry began in 627 B.C. (Jer 1:1-2) and lasted approximately forty years until Judah and Jerusalem were destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. (2 Ki 25:1-21). Jeremiah’s ministry spanned the reign of five kings, namely: Josiah (640-609 B.C.), Jehoahaz (609), Jehoiakim (609-597), Jehoiachin (597) and Zedekiah (597-587).[2] Josiah was a good king who “did much to clear the land of idolatry, sacred prostitution, child sacrifice, and pagan altars not only in Judah but also in some formerly Israelite territory. He also reinstituted the Passover.”[3] However, after Josiah’s death in 609 B.C., the next four kings resorted back to pagan practices and the majority of Israelites followed. These were difficult times.

     Throughout his life Jeremiah walked with God and this heightened his spiritual sensitivities, making him deeply aware of the spiritual and moral decline of his nation (this is true of believers today). Most of Jeremiah’s contemporaries had shut God out of their lives—though many kept a veneer of religion (Jer 12:2)—and were desensitized to their own impiety and the sinfulness of others. Jeremiah faced constant opposition from Judah’s rulers, false prophets and corrupt priests (Jer 2:8, 26; 5:31; 6:13; 8:10; 14:18; 20:1-2; 23:11, 16; 26:7-8). The nation was spiritually corrupt, through and through, from the leadership down to the citizen (Jer 9:1-6), and idolatry was rampant (Jer 8:19; 10:8, 14; 16:18). Because of his suffering, Jeremiah has been called the weeping prophet (Jer 9:1; 13:17). In all this God was in total control, and He would raise up the Babylonians to destroy the Judahites because of their sinful rebellion against Him (Jer 5:15-17; 21:1-10).

     In Jeremiah 12:1-4 we see God as a righteous Judge in a courtroom, and Jeremiah as one who comes before Him to plead his case. Jeremiah states, “Righteous are You, O LORD, that I would plead my case with You; indeed, I would discuss matters of justice with You” (Jer 12:1a). The specific charge was, “why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?” (Jer 12:1b). What Jeremiah wanted, what he requested, was for God to act and bring justice upon the wicked. Jeremiah said:

You have planted them, they have also taken root; they grow, they have even produced fruit. You are near to their lips but far from their mind. But You know me, O LORD; You see me; and You examine my heart’s attitude toward You. Drag them off like sheep for the slaughter and set them apart for a day of carnage! How long is the land to mourn and the vegetation of the countryside to wither? For the wickedness of those who dwell in it, animals and birds have been snatched away, because men have said, “He will not see our latter ending.” (Jer 12:2-4)

Running Horses     Jeremiah wanted God to render justice, and he wanted it now. But the Lord replied to Jeremiah in an unexpected way, for rather than coddling His prophet, He informed him things would get worse and that he needed to prepare himself. The Lord said, “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jer 12:5). Another translation reads, “If you have raced with people and are worn out, how will you compete with horses? If you fall down in an open field, how will you survive in the forest along the Jordan?” (Jer 12:5 CEB). The horses are likely an allusion to the Babylonian riders that would invade the land of Judah in the days ahead, and the thicket of the Jordan was where fierce animals lived (Jer 49:19) and probably referred to Babylonian exile. If Jeremiah could not handle the difficulties of his countrymen, bad as they were, then he would not be able to handle the greater difficulties that were coming; difficulties which included the invading Babylonians who would destroy the city and temple, massacre tens of thousands and take many into captivity. What Jeremiah needed was great faith and courage in order to cope with present and future problems.

     Jeremiah could not even rely on his own family during this difficult time, for they would turn on him, as the Lord stated, “For even your brothers and the household of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you, even they have cried aloud after you. Do not believe them, although they may say nice things to you” (Jer 12:6). Jeremiah was in a spot where he had nowhere to turn but to God. The Lord’s prophet would succeed by trusting in God and not himself or others (Jer 17:5-8). Warren Wiersbe states:

As most of us do when we’re suffering, Jeremiah was asking, “How can I get out of this?” But he should have been asking, “What can I get out of this?” God’s servants don’t live by explanations; they live by promises. Understanding explanations may satisfy our curiosity and make us smarter people, but laying hold of God’s promises will build our character and make us better servants. God’s reply revealed three important truths to Jeremiah. First, the life of godly service isn’t easy; it’s like running a race. (Paul used a similar figure in Phil. 3:12–14.) Had he remained a priest, Jeremiah probably would have had a comfortable and secure life, but the life of a prophet was just the opposite. He was like a man running a race and having a hard time keeping going. Second, the life of service becomes harder, not easier. Jeremiah had been running with the foot soldiers and had kept up with them, but now he’d be racing with the horses. In spite of his trials, he’d been living in a land of peace. Now, however, he’d be tackling the thick jungles of the Jordan River, where the wild beasts prowled. His heart had been broken because of the attacks of outsiders, but now his own family would start opposing him. The third truth grows out of the other two: the life of service gets better as we grow more mature. Each new challenge (horses, jungles, opposition of relatives) helped Jeremiah develop his faith and grow in his ministry skills. The easy life is ultimately the hard life, because the easy life stifles maturity, but the difficult life challenges us to develop our “spiritual muscles” and accomplish more for the Lord.[4]

     Troubles are a part of life, and we should expect them to rise and fall. We’re all running a race, facing battles and dangers at every turn. God uses the trials of life, the injustices of this world, to develop our characters and help form us into the spiritual adults He wants us to be. At times He comforts us, but other times He gets tough with us, lest we fall into self-pity and become useless. Jeremiah’s hurt was nothing compared to God’s, whose beloved people were being given into the hands of their enemies (read Jer 12:7-12). Greater hardship requires us to maintain our spirits by laying hold of God and His promises, to walk by faith and keep our eyes on Him. As Christians, we can’t control the troubles that come our way, but we can choose how we respond to them. And, we can “run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:1b-2a).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry began in the thirteenth year of King Josiah’s reign (Jer 1:2), which was 627 B.C. Josiah was a good king who reigned for 31 years (2 Ki 22:1-2; 23:24-25), and he committed himself to serve the Lord and to remove the deep-seated idolatry that had been implemented under the previous leadership of King Manasseh (2 Ki 21:1-6). Though Josiah worked diligently to lead spiritual and national reforms, destroying the pagan altars and places of worship, he could not dislodge the idolatry from the people’s hearts, and they quickly returned to their evil ways after his death in 609 B.C. Judah’s national instability continued for several years as the Babylonians rose to power under the leadership of Nabopolassar, who defeated the Assyrians in 612 B.C., and then his son, Nebuchadnezzar, who defeated the Egyptians in 605 B.C. at the Battle of Carchemish. Judah became a vassal state under the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar, who took many captives to ensure their loyalty. Daniel as among the captives (Dan 1:1-6). Jerusalem suffered another attack by the Babylonians in 597 B.C., during which Jehoiachin and the leaders of Judah were taken captive, ten thousand in all, and only the poorest were left in the land (2 Ki 24:12-16). Ezekiel was taken into captivity at this time. Nebuchadnezzar replaced Jehoiachin with Zedekiah, who was a spiritually weak king and did evil as his forebears had done (2 Ki 24:12-16). Eventually, Judah and Jerusalem were destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., which Jeremiah personally witnessed and lamented (read Lamentations).

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Is 66:24.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Decisive, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 62–63.

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Guard Your Heart

Guard     Our life is a reflection of what fills our heart. Good in is good out, and garbage in is garbage out. We determine what fills the heart. Solomon said, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Pro 4:23).[1] Other translations read: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Pro 4:23 NIV), and “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Pro 4:23 NLT). The Hebrew concept of the heart (לֵב leb) is the total inner person; it includes the mind, the will, and emotions. It is the base of operations which determines the course of life. I believe Solomon is here talking to believers, for the heart of the unbeliever is bent only on sin (Jer 17:9; Gen 6:5; 8:21; Psa 53:1; Matt 15:19).

The text assumes that one can and should control that upon which his mind dwells. Evil thoughts must be barred or expelled. The “issues of life” are the impulses, the choices, the decisions that affect the nature of man’s existence in this world. If the heart is pure, the life will be pure. Conversely, if the heart is corrupt, the life will be corrupt. In Hebrew psychology the heart is the center of moral consciousness and the seat of the affections.[2]

     All we say and do flows out of the heart. This is true both for the righteous and the wicked. David wrote, “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip” (Psa 37:30-31). But this is not so with the wicked, for “sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts” (Psa 36:1 NLT). Jesus captured both ideas when He said, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45).

     To find and keep good mental health, I carefully select the literature I read, the music I listen to, the TV shows I watch, the conversations I engage in and the friends who will help advance me spiritually in my walk with the Lord. The condition of my heart is paramount, for what I sow is what I will reap, and this determines the outcome and quality of my life. “There is not a more portentous predictor of your ultimate end than what you expose your heart to. Above all else, guard your heart!”[3]

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.

[2] James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), 499–500.

[3] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2006), 113.

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Rejoice, Pray, and Give Thanks

     I’m generally happy; but that’s because I work at it, especially when I don’t feel like it. Being happy starts with my choice to be thankful. It is a discipline of the mind to force myself to find something to be thankful for, and to focus on that rather than the negative thing that can tear me apart inside if I let it. It is an act of faith in which I force my mind to think on Scripture, in which I am “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). The battle is constant, and I usually win; but that’s because I’ve been working at it for years, meditating on Scripture, all day, every day, and applying what I’ve learned.

     If I’m not careful, I can easily fall into a pattern of complaining, and this can prove harmful, not only to me, but those around me, for my life influences others, for better or worse. Scripture states, “Do all things without complaining or arguing” (Phi 2:14). That’s a big order. How do I do this? By an act of faith; that’s how. Though the pressure can be great at times, I consciously make the choice not to complain; instead, I choose to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; and in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you [me] in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18). In these verses Paul uses three verbs in the imperative mood, which is the mood of command. A command assumes intellectual capacity to comprehend, the ability to obey, and present or future opportunity. The verbs are rejoice (χαίρω chairo), pray (προσεύχομαι proseuchomai), and give thanks (εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo). The first two commands relate to time: rejoice always, and pray without ceasing. The third command relates to circumstances: in everything give thanks. In short, these are to be executed all the time and in every situation. And to make the commands emphatic, Paul adds, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18b). These divine expectations appear elsewhere in Scripture, as we are called to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phi 4:4a), “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Col 4:2a), and “Give thanks always for all things” (Eph 5:20a).

In Everything Give Thanks     These commands are relatively easy to accomplish when life is good, and we should certainly praise God for His many blessings. But what about those times when life is difficult; such as when we’ve lost our health, work is overly stressful, or we’re experiencing unjust persecution? Are we to rejoice, pray, and give thanks even during those times? Yes! Especially during those times. It’s in difficult moments that we need to operate by faith, not feelings. In fact, feelings can work against us when we’re experiencing difficulty. When feelings rise up, faith must rise higher. As we commit to obeying the Word, our feelings will eventually get in line. It’s only when we understand and obey these commands by faith that we rise above our difficult circumstances. Though we aren’t physically removed from the hardship, mentally we’re lifted above it and experience a joy that is free from it. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:11-12). This is exactly what the apostles did when they were persecuted and flogged, for Luke tells us, “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). And when Paul and Silas had been beaten and thrown into jail, we’re told they “were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Act 16:25). In places Paul wrote, “we exult in our tribulations” (Rom 5:3a), and “I rejoice in my sufferings” (Col 1:24). And James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (Jam 1:2). One of the reasons we can rejoice in suffering is because we know God is using it to develop our character in order to mature us spiritually (Rom 5:3-5; Jam 1:2-4).

     This may seem impossible to do, especially if we’re accustomed to living by our feelings and reacting to circumstances. However, living by faith is possible, and is the only way Scripture can be obeyed, especially in difficult circumstances. Living by faith is quit liberating, because it frees us from the tyranny of difficult circumstances over which we have no control, and from the knee-jerk reaction of hurt feelings that naturally rise up in such situations. If we stay the course of learning God’s Scripture and living by faith, we will reach a place in our spiritual development where God’s Word becomes more real than our circumstances and feelings, and this is the place of freedom and joy, as long as we remain there. 

Prayer

     Dear Father, thank You for the many blessings you have bestowed on me that have enriched my life, and thank you for the difficulties that help develop my character and advance me toward spiritual maturity. Thank you for Your Word which defines reality and equips me with the viewpoint, commands, and promises I need to walk with You; all of which liberates me from the tyranny of difficult circumstances over which I have no control.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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A Song of Ascent – Psalm 126

A Song of Ascents. When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. 2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” 3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. 4 Restore our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the South. 5 Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. 6 He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psa 126:1-6 NASB)

    This psalm of ascent is a praise, a prayer, and an expectation of restored blessing. It praises God for the return of His people back to the land; presumably from Babylonian captivity (vss. 1-3). It also requests the Lord restore even more captives (vs 4). Finally, those who struggled to cultivate the land were encouraged to be persistent, knowing they would eventually experience the joy of harvest (vss. 5-6).

     The psalm opens with a temporal clause that sets the mind on “When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion” (Psa 126:1a). Babylonian captivity is likely in view. Those who came back to Judah and Jerusalem were among the exiles who had experienced captivity and suffering, and having returned to the land, they had difficulty believing it was true and “were like those who dream” (Psa 126:1b). The result was, “Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting” (Psa 126:2a). Even the Gentile nations recognized something miraculous had happened, and they declared, “The LORD has done great things for them” (Psa 126:2b). The returned Israelites agreed, saying, “The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psa 126:3).

The Lord has intervened to restore Israel from its exile to its land (cf. Ezra 1:1–4), but more significantly the return from captivity signaled a restoration from divine judgment to blessing. This unexpected change for the captives totally amazed them so that the people of Israel felt as though they must be dreaming, as did Peter when he was delivered from prison in Acts 12:9. They had experienced the surprising grace of the Lord, who exceeded their greatest hopes, as only he could (cf. Eph 3:20).[1]

     The Psalm then shifts from praise to prayer as they ask, “Restore our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the South” (Psa 126:4). Other translations read, “Restore our fortunes, LORD, like watercourses in the Negev” (Psa 126:4 CSB), and “O LORD, restore our well-being, just as the streams in the arid south are replenished” (Psa 126:4 NET). The NASB translates the Hebrew noun שְׁבוּת shebuth as captivity, whereas the CSB and NET translate it fortunes and well-being. This is likely a request for more Israelites to return from Babylonian captivity to help with the restoration. For just as dry rivers beds could suddenly be filled with water when the rain comes, “as the streams in the South” (Psa 126:4b), so the psalmist prays the empty highways from Babylon to Judah would flow with returning Israelites.

The streams in the South of Israel, the Negev, dry up in the parched summer months but become raging torrents during the rainy season. The psalmist used these streams as a figure of what the highways from Babylon could become with God’s further blessing. They could become flooded with travelers moving back into the land God wanted His chosen people to occupy.[2]

    HarvestThe joy the Israelites knew when they’d returned from captivity did not last long, for they faced the daunting task of restoring a nation and society rooted in the Mosaic Law, with its rebuilt temple and festivals (read Ezra 3:1-13). In addition, they faced opposition and discouragement along the way (Ezra 4:1-4, 24), which delayed the temple reconstruction for sixteen years, until 520 B.C., when God raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the Israelites to finish the work (Hag 1:1, 14-15; Zec 1:1, 7). Part of the struggle the Israelites faced included cultivating the hard land which had not been tilled for decades. It is in this context the psalmist seeks to encourage his readers, saying, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psa 126:5-6). The challenge for them was to remain faithful in the routine and not let impatience or discouragement get them down. Perseverance would eventually bring reward, for the seed would sprout, the harvest would come, and the tears would be replaced with celebration.

Summary

     God’s people were amazed and filled with laughter when He restored them from captivity to the land of Judah and the city of Jerusalem (Psa 126:1-3), and they prayed the Lord would restore even more (vs 4). But the joy was dampened by the hard work of cultivating the land which had laid dormant for decades; however, they were encouraged to be persistent, knowing their labor would result in a harvest.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Daniel J. Estes, Psalms 73–150, ed. E. Ray. Clendenen, vol. 13, New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2019), 475.

[2] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Ps 126:4.

Posted in Christian Theology, Psalms | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

God’s Imputed Righteousness

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom 4:3-5)[1]

     Like most people in the world, I work for a living. I work for an agency that agrees to compensate me for my labor. Each day I work, I put the agency into debt. The agency relieves its debt every two weeks when it deposits money into my checking account. For a brief moment, my employer owes me nothing. However, when I go back to work, I put the agency back into debt, and we repeat the process. In this arrangement, my paycheck is never considered “as a favor, but as what it due” (Rom 4:4). I do the work and my employer pays me. That’s it. There’s no grace between us. My paycheck is NEVER considered a gift, but what is owed to me. Sadly, many apply this same way of thinking to their relationship with God. The assumption is that if they do good works, God will compensate them with salvation. And, as long as they continue to do good works, He keeps them saved. This is a works-salvation. There is no grace here, only the repetition of work, work, and more work. And if they stop working, the pay ceases. There’s no more salvation; only the fearful expectation of judgment.

     But there’s good news. The Bible reveals that God offers salvation, not by good works, but by grace. Paul writes, “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), and, “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 amazing truth of Scripture is, “the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom 4:5). Did you catch that? Don’t miss it. God gives something to “THE ONE WHO DOES NOT WORK.” Do you want what God has for you? Stop trying to work for it! It’s a gift. Freely given and freely received. How is it received? By faith. We simply trust God at His word. We believe God when He tells us our salvation was accomplished in Christ, who died for our sins, was buried and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). And who receives it? Not the good person, but the ungodly; the one who deserves it the least. That’s me and you. And what is given? What is credited to our account? Righteousness. God’s own righteousness is given to the ungodly person who does not work for it, but simply believes in Him. That’s grace!

The gift of righteousness     But some might raise the question: how can a holy God justify unworthy sinners? How can He give something to someone who deserves the opposite? How is this just? Well, I’m glad you asked. The answer is found in Jesus and what He accomplished for us at the cross. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires. At the cross Jesus voluntarily died a penal substitutionary death. He willingly died in our place and bore the punishment that was rightfully ours. Our guilt became His guilt. Our shame became His shame. The result of the cross is that God is forever satisfied with the death of Christ. There’s no additional sacrifice or payment needed. Jesus paid it all. When we believe in Jesus, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; Heb 10:10-14), and then God imputes His righteousness to us. The apostle Paul calls it “the gift of righteousness” (Rom 5:17; cf. 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). God’s righteousness is not earned; rather, it is freely gifted to us who believe in Jesus as our Savior.

The Meaning of Imputation

     The word “imputation” itself is an accounting term used both in the Old Testament and the New Testament (Gen 15:6; Ps. 32:2; Rom 4:3-8; Gal 3:6).[2] Moses wrote of Abraham, saying, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned [חָשַׁב chashab] it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). David writes, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute [חָשַׁב chashab] iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Ps 32:1-2). Moses and David both use the Hebrew חָשַׁב chashab, which in context means “to impute, reckon to.”[3] Moses uses the verb in a positive sense of that which God imputes to Abraham, namely righteousness, and David uses the verb negatively, of that which God does not credit to a person, namely iniquity. Allen P. Ross comments on the meaning of חָשַׁב chashab in Psalm 32:2 and Genesis 15:6:

Not only does forgiveness mean that God takes away the sins, but it also means that God does not “impute” iniquity to the penitent: “Blessed is the one to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity.”  The verb (חָשַׁב) means “impute, reckon, credit”; it is the language of records, or accounting—in fact, in modern usage the word is related to “computer.” Here the psalm is using an implied comparison, as if there were record books in heaven that would record the sins. If the forgiven sins are not imputed, it means that there is no record of them—they are gone and forgotten. Because God does not mark iniquities (Ps. 130:4), there is great joy. The same verb is used in Genesis 15:6 as well, which says that Abram “believed in the LORD, and he reckoned it (וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ) to him as (or, namely) righteousness.” The apostle Paul brings that verse and Psalm 32:2 together in Romans 4 to explain the meaning of justification by faith: when people believe in the Lord, God reckons or credits them with righteousness (Paul will say, the righteousness of Jesus Christ), and does not reckon their sin to them.[4]

     The apostle Paul cites Abraham’s faith in God as the basis upon which he was declared righteous before Him, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] to him as righteousness’” (Rom 4:3).[5] Paul uses the Greek verb λογίζομαι logizomai, which means “to determine by mathematical process, reckon, calculate, frequently in a transferred sense.”[6] Abraham believed God at His Word, and God reckoned, or transferred His righteousness to him. After pointing to Abraham as the example of justification by faith, Paul then extrapolates that we are justified in the same way, saying, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] as righteousness” (Rom 4:4-5; cf. Gal 3:6). Paul then references David, saying, “David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits [λογίζομαι logizomai] righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. ‘Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account [λογίζομαι logizomai]’” (Rom 4:6-8). 

     Paul twice uses the Greek verb ἐλλογέω ellogeo to communicate the idea of an exchange between persons (Rom 5:13; Phm 1:18). The verb ἐλλογέω ellogeo means “to charge with a financial obligation, charge to the account of someone.”[7]  Paul tells his friend, Philemon, concerning his runaway slave Onesimus, “if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge [ἐλλογέω ellogeo] that to my account” (Phm 1:18). Paul has not wronged Philemon, nor does he owe him anything; however, Paul was willing to pay for any wrong or debt Onesimus may have incurred.  

Paul is giving us an illustration of that which God has done for us in Christ Jesus. As the Apostle assumed the debt of Onesimus and invited Philemon—who had been wronged—to charge that debt to him, so the Lord Jesus Christ took the debt that we owed to the injured One—to God—and He charged Himself with our debt and set His righteousness down to our account.[8]

     In a similar way, Jesus paid for our sin so that we don’t have to, and in exchange, we receive God’s righteousness. This idea of an exchange between persons means that one person is credited with something not antecedently his/her own. Our sin is our sin, and Christ’s righteousness is His righteousness. When Jesus took our sin upon himself at the cross, He voluntarily accepted something that belonged to another, namely us. Jesus took our sin upon Himself. On the other hand, when we receive His righteousness as a gift, we are accepting something that belonged to another, namely Christ. By faith, we accept that which belongs to Jesus, namely, His righteousness. Jesus’ righteousness becomes our righteousness. Paul references the exchange that occurred at the cross when Jesus died for our sin, saying, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21), and he personally spoke of the righteousness “which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil 3:9).[9] Once we receive God’s righteousness, we are instantaneously justified in God’s sight.

Justification is a divine act whereby an infinitely Holy God judicially declares a believing sinner to be righteous and acceptable before Him because Christ has borne the sinner’s sin on the cross and has become “to us … righteousness” (1 Cor 1:30; Rom 3:24). Justification springs from the fountain of God’s grace (Titus 3:4–5). It is operative as the result of the redemptive and propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, who has settled all the claims of the law (Rom 3:24–25; 5:9). Justification is on the basis of faith and not by human merit or works (Rom 3:28–30; 4:5; 5:1; Gal 2:16). In this marvelous operation of God the infinitely holy Judge judicially declares righteous the one who believes in Jesus (Rom 8:31–34). A justified believer emerges from God’s great courtroom with a consciousness that another, his Substitute, has borne his guilt and that he stands without accusation before God (Rom 8:1, 33–34). Justification makes no one righteous, neither is it the bestowment of righteousness as such, but rather it declares one to be justified whom God sees as perfected once and forever in His beloved Son.[10]

     It is sometimes difficult to accept this biblical teaching, because our behavior does not always reflect our righteous standing before God (even princes sometimes fail to live by the royal family code). However, God’s Word defines reality, and we are justified in His sight because of His righteousness that has been gifted to our account. The righteousness of God that is credited to us who have trusted in Jesus as our Savior.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. Biblical Righteousness: A Word Study  
  2. The Righteousness of God  
  3. Theological Categories of God’s Righteousness 
  4. God’s Righteousness at the Cross 
  5. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer
  6. A Dispensational View of God’s Righteousness 
  7. God’s Righteousness in the Future 

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible (1995).

[2] Biblically, there are three major imputations that relate to our standing before God. First is the imputation of Adam’s original sin to every member of the human race (Rom 5:12-13; cf. 1 Cor 15:21-22). Every biological descendant of Adam is charged/credited with the sin he committed in the Garden of Eden which plunged the human race into spiritual and physical death. Jesus is the only exception, for though He is truly human (Matt 1:1; Luke 3:23-38), He was born without original sin, without a sin nature, and committed no personal sin during His time on earth (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Adam is the head of the human race and his fall became our fall. This is the basis for death and for being estranged from God. Second is the imputation of all sin to Jesus on the cross (Isa 53:4-6, 10; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 2:9; 1 Pet 2:21-24; 1 John 2:2). God the Father judged Jesus in our place (Mark 10:45; 1 Cor 15:3-4; 1 Pet 3:18), cancelling our sin debt by the death of Christ (Col 2:13-14; 2 Cor 5:18-19). This was a voluntary imputation on the part of Christ who freely went to the cross and took our sins upon Himself (John 1:29; 10:11, 15, 17-18). Third is the imputation of God’s righteousness to those who believe in Jesus for salvation (Rom 4:3-5; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:8-9). The righteousness of God imputed to the believer at the moment of faith in Christ results in the believer being justified before God (Rom 3:22, 24, 28; 4:1-5).

[3] Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson, et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 360.

[4] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 2011), 710-711.

[5] The translators of the Septuagint use λογίζομαι logizomai as a reliable synonym for חָשַׁב chashab both in Genesis 15:6 and Psalm 32:2. Paul then uses λογίζομαι logizomai when making his argument that justification is by faith alone in God (Rom 4:3-5; Gal 3:6).

[6] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 597.

[7] Ibid., 319.

[8] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 40.

[9] Though the word “impute” is not used in some passages, the idea is implied. Isaiah writes of the Suffering Servant Who “will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11), and of God as the One Who “has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness” (Isa 61:10). And Paul writes of “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom 3:22), and of being “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24; cf. 5:17; 9:30; 10:3-4; 1 Cor 1:30; Gal 2:16; 3:11, 24).

[10] E. McChesney and Merrill F. Unger, “Justification,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 729.

Posted in Christian Theology, God's Grace, Hot Topics, Righteous Living, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Song of Ascents – Psalm 123

A Song of Ascents. To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens! 2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He is gracious to us. 3 Be gracious to us, O LORD, be gracious to us, for we are greatly filled with contempt. 4 Our soul is greatly filled with the scoffing of those who are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud. (Psa 123:1-4 NASB)

    A SongPsalm 123 is one of fifteen songs of ascent (Psa 120 to 134), of which four are attributed to David (Psa 122, 124, 131, 133) and one to Solomon (Psa 127). The Mishnah states these psalms were sung on the fifteen steps that led up to the temple; however, it is more likely they were sung by pilgrims as they traveled up to Jerusalem, as stated in Psalm 122:1-2 and 125:1-2. Whether Jerusalem or the temple, these psalms were intended to prepare the worshiper’s mind to look to the Lord in faith. Spurgeon states, “Yet we must use our eyes with resolution, for they will not go upward to the Lord of themselves, but they incline to look downward, or inward, or anywhere but to the Lord.”[1]

     The opening verse is singular, “To You I lift up my eyes” (Psa 123:1a), whereas the second verse is plural, “so our eyes look to the LORD our God” (Psa 123:2b); this makes the prayer both individual and corporate. And where is the focus of their attention? It is to God who is “enthroned in the heavens!” (Psa 123:1b). This anthropomorphic language pictures God seated upon His throne and is a recognition of His sovereignty, for “the LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19). It is God who reigns supreme and has the authority to effect change in His creation. He cares about what happens on the earth. His people know that it is He who “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people” (Psa 113:7-8).

     These humble worshipers approach the Lord with a servant’s heart, singing, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He is gracious to us” (Psa 123:2). Here is a picture of humility and submissiveness; for just as servants cannot act on their own initiative or authority, and constantly watch for their sovereign’s gesture, so these humble believers look to the LORD their God, until He is gracious to them. And what is their desire? They twice request, “Be gracious to us, O LORD, be gracious to us” (Psa 123:3a). The repetitious appeal for God to be gracious underscores their desire to meet some pressing need. Though God is the sovereign Lord of the universe, He is no tyrant to be feared by those who are humble. These worshippers confidently approach God because they know something about Him; they know He is a God of grace. On numerous occasions the Bible reveals the LORD is “compassionate and gracious” (Exo 34:6a), “a God merciful and gracious” (Psa 86:15a), “a gracious and compassionate God” (Jon 4:2a), and “a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate” (Neh 9:17a; cf. Psa 103:8, 116:5; 145:8). This gracious disposition is true of all three Persons of the Trinity. God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the kindness and goodness that one person freely confers upon another who does not deserve it. There is a common grace that God extends to all, in which “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). This blessing is upon all people and is rooted in the goodness and open-handedness of the Giver, not the worthiness of the object. However, apart from common grace, there is special grace that God gives to the humble, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5b). God’s grace will meet their needs, and their humility is the open hand that receives it. 

     Why do they need God’s grace? Because they “are greatly filled with contempt” (Psa 123:3b). The word filled is a translation of the Hebrew verb שָׂבַע saba, which means to be sated, filled, satisfied, have enough. The word usually refers to something positive, such as being filled with food (Ex 16:8; Lev 25:19; Psa 132:15), but here it has a negative connotation of being filled with something hurtful, namely “contempt” (בּוּז buz), which refers to the despising or belittling that one person verbally casts into the ear of another. And the afflicted are described as being “greatly” filled (רָב rab), which means they are overflowing with contempt. Other translations read, “we’ve had more than enough contempt” (CSB), and “we have had our fill of humiliation, and then some” (NET). Their souls were injured by “the scoffing of those who are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud” (Psa 123:4). Those who are at “ease” (שַׁאֲנָן shaanan) live secure lives, free from the affliction that often accompanies those whom the Lord is perfecting through some trial. The “proud” (גָּאֲיוֹן gaayon) are those who see themselves as self-sufficient and who operate independently of God; they see no need for grace, and have none to give. Theirs is the hand of oppression and they cannot abstain from violence; they care little about the harm they inflict. Unfortunately, when others think little of us, we are all too quick to think little of ourselves and to reject the consolations of a friend. “Scoffing” (לַעַג laag) is the ridicule, mocking, or derisive speech they use to poison the souls of their victims. It is deeply hurtful to be regarded as unimportant or insignificant by others, and the wicked have no consideration of those on whom they trample verbally. “The reason people ridicule what they oppose, aside from it being so easy, is that it is demoralizing and frequently effective. It is effective because it strikes at the hidden insecurities or weaknesses that almost everybody has.”[2]

Summary

     These worshipers ascended, not just to Jerusalem or the temple, but to God who is enthroned in heaven. And as a watchful servant looks to his/her master, so these persecuted believers look to the Lord until He is gracious to them; and they need His grace, for the scoffing of the proud has greatly wounded them. Overall, there is intentionality in their mindset as they look to the Lord, for their natural proclivity—and ours as well—is to look anywhere and everywhere other than to the One who sustains in times of trouble.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. God’s Grace is Sufficient  
  2. Living by Grace  
  3. The Basics of Grace  
  4. The Lord is My Shepherd – Psalm 23 
  5. Choosing the Faithful Way – Psalm 119:25-32 
  6. God’s Word Sustains Us – Psalm 119:89-96 
  7. Establish Our Footsteps – Psalm 119:129-136 
  8. Seek Your Servant – Psalm 119:169-176 

 

[1] Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 3 (McLeon, Virginia, MacDonald Publishing Company, ND), 41.

[2] James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 107–150: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 1090.

Posted in Christian Theology, God's Grace, Psalms | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

They Will Suffer for Your Unfaithfulness

     I struggled with how to title this article. I prefer to be positive, but many sections of the Bible reveal things that are negative, and an honest preacher will not ignore those sections. The title is actually a partial quote from Numbers 14:33, which reveals that Israelite children suffered because their parents were unfaithful to the Lord. The article ends on a positive note and call to action, but we must look at the difficult section first.

Twelve Spies     The concept of blessing and cursing by association is biblical. When Israel was advancing spiritually, walking with the Lord, and obeying His will, they experienced His blessings which spilled over into the lives of others. But, when they failed to grow spiritually and live by faith, they became their own worst enemy and experienced suffering, which negatively touched t