A Survey of Mobs and Riots in Scripture

[The content of this article was published in The Journal of Dispensational Theology, Volume 26, Number 72, Spring 2022. The copyright is retained by this author and published here as an article with the hope the material will reach a larger audience]

Mobs and riots have been part of the human sociological landscape for millennia. They are certainly a part of the human experience in America.[1] The purpose of this article is to review the history of mobs and riots throughout Scripture and to make observations about how they were handled.

A mob is “a large or disorderly crowd especially one bent on riotous or destructive action.”[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. A mob, though bent on destruction, may be hindered or neutralized by psychological dissuasion or the legitimate use of physical force. Both mobs and riots are found throughout Scripture. In the OT, the verb קָהַל qahal means “to assemble…to call together, meet together.”[3] Though commonly used of an assembly of people (Ex 35:1; 1 Ki 12:21; 1 Ch 13:5; 15:3), it is used in Jeremiah 26:9 to describe a mob who demanded Jeremiah’s death (Jer 26:11). Also, ἐκκλησία ekklesia, which in most instances denotes an “assembly…community, [or] congregation”[4] is used in Acts 19:32, 41 to describe a mob. The word ὄχλος ochlos refers to a crowd, but denotes riotous behavior in Acts 14:19; 17:8; 21:34-35. The compound word ὀχλοποιέω ochlopoieo, is translated “form a mob”[5] in Acts 17:5. The noun θόρυβος thorubos is used to describe a riot in Matthew 26:5; 27:24, and Mark 14:2, and the verb θορυβέω thorubeo describes moblike behavior in Acts 17:5. Lastly, the word στάσις stasis, which primarily means a standing, is used in Acts 19:40 to describe an “uprising, riot, revolt, rebellion.”[6] In each of these occurrences, context determines the meaning of the word. It’s interesting that more riots were started against the apostle Paul than any other person in Scripture, as he was attacked in Philippi (Acts 16:19-24), Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-9), Ephesus (Acts 19:28-41), and Jerusalem (Acts 21:27-35).

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 a community. For those leading the mob, it’s about intimidation and power and forcing others to submit to their demands. 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 properly funded police force is necessary for civil peace.[7]

Operating from a biblical worldview, one would be remiss to ignore the spiritual forces at work behind the human activity, as Satan and his demonic forces promote acts of evil and violence against God’s people and His divine institutions.[8] The challenge for Christians is to strive to be Christlike in word and action. And, when faced with the hostility of a mob, resolve not to bow to the enemy when they employ intimidation tactics. God always knows when a believer will face a crisis, and He is faithful to provide wisdom and grace in each situation. Below are examples of mobs and riots in the Bible and how they were handled.

Example #1 – Lot 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 degenerates 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. It’s likely these men intended to rape Lot’s guests. 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).[9] Surrounding the house and making demands was an intimidation tactic designed to cause fear.

Lot tried to reason with them, saying, “Don’t do this evil, my brothers” (Gen 19:7), even wrongly offering them his two daughters in place of his guests (Gen 19:8). Ross states, “The men wanted to exploit the visitors sexually, and Lot was willing to sacrifice his two daughters’ virginity instead. Ironically, Lot offered them his daughters to do whatever seemed “good” (ṭôb) in their eyes, but even this perverted good was rejected by those bent on evil.”[10] The men of the city then demanded Lot get out of their way, and “they put pressure on Lot and came up to break down the door” (Gen 19:9).

Lot SodomWhen 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). The Hebrew verb נָכָה nakah “is often used for ‘hitting’ or ‘smiting’ an object with one, non-fatal strike.”[11] Here, we witness the angels employing a measured use of nonlethal force sufficient to stop the Sodomites from advancing. Of course, this was a temporary use of nonlethal force until such a time that God could render fatal judgment on the city as a whole (Gen 19:12-25).

Observations: First, Lot received divine assistance, being aided by angels who came to his defense. Lot was not equipped to handle the situation on his own, and others, more capable, had to step in and act on his behalf. Second, the angels used a nonlethal method of force to control the mob. Blinding the crowd was sufficient to deter them from advancing. Third, once the threat was neutralized, the angels then acted to get Lot and his willing family members out of the city. Once Lot and his family were removed from the hostile situation, God then rained down judgment upon the city and destroyed it (Gen 19:12-25).

Example #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 and taking their food (Judg 6:1-24). Gideon was also called by God to tear down a pagan altar that was being used by Israelites to worship Baal and Asherah (Judg 6:25-27). Gideon’s act of destroying the altar was a divine provocation against Israelites who had been wrongly engaging in idolatry.

gideonWhen the idolaters in the city woke the next 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 altar to Baal had been destroyed 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). God’s Law for Israel required that pagan altars and idols be torn down and destroyed (Ex 34:13; Deut 7:5; Judg 2:2), and those who worshipped the idols were to be put to death (Deut 13:6-10). However, this account reveals how corrupt the Israelite community had become, as many were willing to defend Baal and kill God’s servant.

Like the previous illustration of Lot, surrounding the house was an intimidation tactic to cause fearful compliance. Pagan-minded Israelites were employing a pressure tactic against God’s servant. However, Gideon’s father, Joash, was not a man to be bullied. He was a man with strength of character. 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 is a god, let him plead his own case because someone tore down his altar” (Judg 6:31). Joash’s argument is solid. If Baal is a god, he should not need people to defend (רִיב rib) him and his altar so as to save him (יָשַׁע yasha) from Gideon’s attack. It could be that Joash’s argument persuaded the mob; however, it seems more likely that it was his threat of putting to death anyone who defended Baal that deterred the mob from advancing with their murderous intention against his son.

Observations: First, like the previous example with Lot, Gideon had someone come to his rescue. In this case, it was the help of Gideon’s father, Joash, who boldly confronted the mob that wanted to kill his son. Second, Joash met a threat of force with a threat of force. He said to the mob, “Whoever pleads his [Baal’s] case will be put to death by morning!” In effect, Joash was 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 rebuke to quiet the mob. Surely God, Who called Gideon to destroy the altar of Baal, used Joash as His instrument to defend Gideon. In the end Gideon was not harmed (Judg 6:32), and went on to serve as God’s leader in Israel to defeat their enemies (Judg 6:33—7:25).

Example #3 – Jeremiah 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). Through His prophet Jeremiah, God said, “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). The Israelites were furious with what Jeremiah had spoken, and when he finished delivering his speech (Jer 26:7-8a), “the priests, the prophets, and all the people took hold of him, yelling, ‘You must surely die!’” (Jer 26:8b). They further stated, “How dare you prophesy in the name of Yahweh, saying, ‘This temple will become like Shiloh and this city will become an uninhabited ruin!’ Then all the people assembled against Jeremiah at the LORD’s temple” (Jer 26:9). The word assembled translates the Hebrew verb קָהַל qahal which means “to assemble…call together, meet together.”[12] Though commonly used of an assembly of people (Ex 35:1; 1 Ki 12:21; 1 Ch 13:5; 15:3), it is used here in Jeremiah 26:9 to describe a mob that gathered around Jeremiah, grabbed him by force, and demanded his death (cf., Jer 26:11). Fortunately, some of the city officials heard about what was happening 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).

Jeremiah submitted to these leaders, saying, “As for me, here I am in your hands; do to me what you think is good and right” (Jer 26:14). However, Jeremiah was not passive, and he spoke up for himself, saying to the leaders, “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 26:15). The leaders of Judah were persuaded by Jeremiah, and they spoke to the priests and prophets on Jeremiah’s behalf, saying, “This man doesn’t deserve the death sentence, for he has spoken to us in the name of Yahweh our God!” (Jer 26:16). Huey states, “To their credit the officials, now joined by the people, made the right decision. Jeremiah’s eloquent defense convinced them, at least for the moment, that his message was not worthy of his death. They rejected the accusation of the priests and prophets by acquitting Jeremiah of the charges.”[13] These governmental leaders 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). Jeremiah’s life was saved from the mob that wanted to kill him.

Observations: First, Jeremiah, when attacked by the mob, had city officials come to his rescue. These officials modeled good government which intervened and mediated the situation in an orderly and rational manner, listening to both sides of the case before rendering judgment. Second, Jeremiah did not sit quietly, but defended himself before the city officials, declaring that he was innocent. Third, Jeremiah brought God into the discussion, saying, “it is certain the LORD has sent me to speak all these things directly to you.” Here is an example of a believer thinking divine viewpoint, and bringing God into the discussion with the city’s leaders. This made the leaders aware that whatever they did, it was not just against Jeremiah, but against God who called him.

Example # 4 – Jesus 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 reveal His hearers would reject Him (Luke 4:23), and that “no prophet is welcome in his hometown” (Luke 4:24). Jesus then cited two OT examples where God’s prophets—Elijah and Elisha—turned to Gentiles and demonstrated kindness (Luke 4:23-27). Jesus pointed out that Elijah had helped a Gentile widow in Sidon (1 Ki 17:8-16), and Elisha healed Naaman, a Syrian Gentile of his leprosy (2 Ki 5:1-15). This was a blow to Jewish exceptionalism, as Jesus revealed God’s goodness toward women, Gentiles, and lepers, three groups of people who were regarded by Jesus’ hearers to be at the bottom of Jewish society. Like many OT prophets, Jesus too would be rejected by recalcitrant Israelites and He would turn to the Gentiles.

This message upset Jesus’ hearers and their pride was wounded. “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). Here was a religious and murderous mob that intended to kill Jesus, and He permitted Himself to be driven by them to a certain place. Surely, the mob handled Him roughly as they went through the town and to the edge of the hill where they intended to kill Him. However, once at the edge of the hill, He did not permit them to go any further. Luke informs us, “But He passed right through the crowd and went on His way” (Luke 4:30). It was not the Father’s time for Jesus to die, so a way of escape was provided.

Observations: Here, a hostile crowd had taken offense at Jesus’ teaching, perhaps because it accused them of rejecting Messiah, thus wounding their pride. Rather than operate by humility and reason, they formed a mob and were ready to kill Him by throwing Him off a cliff. Jesus permitted Himself to be driven by the mob to a certain point; however, because it was not the Father’s time for Jesus to die, Jesus was able to walk away from the dangerous situation. Though the text does not say, divine intervention seems to be the reason Jesus was spared.

Jesus before PilateExample #5 – Jesus 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; cf. John 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1; Acts 2:22-23; 4:25-28).

Pilate, knowing the Jews were operating on envy and hatred tried to dissuade the mob from demanding Jesus’ death. As a possible solution, Pilate offered to release Barabbas, a violent criminal, in place of 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 mob as a pressure tactic to gain power. Pilate tried to defend Jesus by reasoning with the mob (Matt 27:21-23a), “But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify Him!’ all the more” (Matt 27:23).

The pressure of the mob had its intended effect, and the result was a breakdown in 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). Pilate became aware that he could not reason with the crowd and realized a riot (θόρυβος thorubos) was about to take place.

Pilate was no novice when it came to mobs and riots. Wright correctly states, “Pilate had commanded troops. He had sent them to quell riots before and could do so again. He didn’t have to be pushed around. But, like all bullies, he was also a coward. He lurches from trying to play the high and mighty judge to listening a little too much to the growing noise of the crowd.”[14] The battle of the wills was over. Pilate had surrendered to 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 act this way, 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).

Observations: The religious leaders of Israel acted corruptly against Jesus, their Messiah, tied Him up and led Him away to Pilate, the Roman Governor. Pilate saw what was happening and tried to quiet the mob by offering to release a corrupt criminal named Barabbas in place of Jesus. But the Jewish leadership wanted Jesus crucified, so they manipulated the mob to start shouting for Jesus to be crucified. Surprisingly, Jesus was not distracted by the hostility of the corrupt leadership, nor the demands of the mob, but remained focused on doing the Father’s will. Divine viewpoint strengthened Jesus to face his hostile attackers. Pilate, however, was moved by the pressure of the crowd and caved in to their unjust demands. In all this, God was sovereignly in control and permitted the mob to be used for His greater glory, as the breakdown of Jewish and Roman jurisprudence was used to bring about Jesus’ atoning death on the cross (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28). This was the Father’s will.

Example #6 – The Stoning of Stephen (Acts 6:8—7:60). Early in the development of the Church, Luke records the account of a mob that stoned Stephen to death. Stephen is described as a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). Luke also tells us he was “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). Stirred up (συγκινέω sugkineo) is a hapax legomenon that means “They shook the people together like an earthquake.”[15] Emotion follows thought, and here heated emotions were stirred by lies. The attackers also presented 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). Another lie.

How did Stephen respond to this mob and their false charges? He verbally defended himself against the false charges. 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, referencing Joseph, Moses and finally, Jesus (Acts 7:1-50).[16] Stephen defended himself based on a biblical worldview, citing Scripture as the basis for his argument. Many 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, 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).

Stoning of StephenStephen 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).[17] In this situation, God permitted this mob to have their sinful way, and used this as the means of bringing His servant home to heaven. 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.

Observations: In this account, Stephen’s ministry came to an abrupt end when he was murdered for preaching God’s Word with clarity and passion. 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. 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” (Gen 18:25), and will see to it that divine retribution is rendered in His way and His time (Rom 12:17-19).

Example #7 – Paul and Silas in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40). In this pericope 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). Luke reveals the slave girl 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).[18]

This slave girl’s behavior irritated Paul, 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). Here is an example where “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10). The loss of their 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.

Luke records, “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). The mob (ὁ ὄχλος) is literally the crowd; however, the context describes moblike behavior; hence, the CSB translation.

Paul in JailIt’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.[19] 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). Paul and Silas stayed focused on their Christian ministry and were not deterred by the hostility of the city’s residents nor their corrupt leaders.

Observations: In this account, Paul and Silas had been falsely accused of breaking the law by residents of Philippi who were threatened economically by Paul and Silas’ 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. The city magistrates were then fearful, knowing they’d acted inappropriately by mistreating those who had rights under Roman Law.

paul-preachingExample #8 – Paul and Silas in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). Right after Paul and Silas left Philippi, having experience mob violence there, “they traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue” (Acts 17:1). Luke informs us, “As usual, Paul went to the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and showing that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead, saying: ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah’” (Acts 17:2-3). Paul’s teaching was having a positive impact, and “some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a great number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women” (Acts 17:4).

Some of the unbelieving Jews in the synagogue felt threatened by Paul’s success in persuading people to turn to Christ and they “became jealous” (Acts 17:5a). Being motivated by sinful jealousy, “they brought together some scoundrels from the marketplace, formed a mob, and started a riot in the city” (Acts 17:5b). A mob translates the Greek verb ὀχλοποιέω ochlopoieo, a hapax legomenon, which literally means “making or getting a crowd.”[20] These Jewish synagogue leaders operated with intentionality as they picked scoundrels (πονηρός poneroswicked, evil, degenerate men) with the sole intention of starting “a riot in the city.” A riot translates the Greek verb θορυβέω thorubeo, which means to “throw into disorder…disturb, agitate”[21]

Here we see hot emotions directing aggressive behavior. The result was that the mob sought an outlet of destruction, and “Attacking Jason’s house, they searched for them to bring them out to the public assembly” (Acts 17:5c). Jason was the one hosting Paul and Silas while they were in Thessalonica. But when the attackers could not find Paul and Silas, “they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials” (Acts 17:6a). This mob assumed authority to drag Jason and others before the city council (πολιτάρχης politarches). And when they came before the city officials, they came shouting at them. The Greek verb βοάω boao means “to use one’s voice at high volume, call, shout, cry out…of emotionally charged cries”[22]

The tactic of this mob was to overpower the city officials with their sudden presence and high volume. And their argument was, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too, and Jason has received them as guests! They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king—Jesus!” (Acts 17:6b-7). The charge was that Paul and Silas were known as troublemakers elsewhere in the world, and that one of the city residents, Jason, had received them as guests, implying his guilt. The charge also included sedition, saying that Paul and Silas were lawbreakers, violating Caesar’s decree, and advocating for another king, Jesus.

The tactic of the mob worked. The result was, “The Jews stirred up the crowd and the city officials who heard these things. So taking a security bond from Jason and the others, they released them” (Acts 17:8-9). Here, the city officials failed to handle the matter properly, allowing themselves to be caught up in the emotional fervor and acting without proper investigation. Not finding Paul or Silas, the city officials took a security bond from Jason and then let them go. Toussaint writes, “Probably the bond-posting was to guarantee that Paul and Silas would leave town and not return. If more trouble arose, Jason and the others would lose their money. This may explain why Paul was prohibited from returning (1 Th 2:18).”[23]

Observations: Having previously experienced mob violence in Philippi, Paul and Silas were not deterred from their ministry and continued to advance the gospel of grace, this time in Thessalonica. As was his practice, Paul went to the Jew first and shared the gospel in the local synagogue (Rom 1:16). The result was that many were coming to faith in Christ, including Jews, Gentiles, and prominent women in the city. However, some of the Jewish leaders in the synagogue felt threatened by the exodus of members and they resorted to evil tactics to protect their remaining congregation. Their strategy was to partner with some unethical men from the marketplace and form a mob and start a riot. Creating a crisis gave them the necessary leverage to deal with the perceived threat that Paul and Silas posed. When they could not find Paul and Silas, they attacked Jason—Paul’s host—and dragged him before the city officials with false charges of sedition. Their strategy worked. The city officials forced Jason to provide a security bond—presumably a large amount of money—that guaranteed Paul and Silas would not return to the city.

Example #9 – Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:21—20:1). 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. Luke informs 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, Demetrius 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. Wiersbe states, “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.”[24]

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 and his companions, but was prohibited by his friends (Acts 19:30). Luke records, “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 observe antisemitism, but more shouting from a highly emotional 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).

One 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 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 word rioting translates the Greek word στάσις stasis, which primarily means a standing, but is here use to describe an “uprising, riot, revolt, rebellion.”[25] 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).

Observations: In this situation, 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. Because there was no strong leadership with the means to quiet the mob, the rioters had to wear themselves out before a city official could reason with the people and diffuse the situation.

Example #10 – Paul 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 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).[26]

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).[27] 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)

These men 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 mob that was quelled only by the use of force. The mob violence against Paul was stopped only because they feared the Romans.

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). The mob here translates the Greek noun ὄχλος ochlos, which commonly refers to a crowd, but is used here and in verse 35 to describe violent moblike behavior. 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 PreachingPaul requested the Roman commander allow him to address the crowd, 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. Luke records, “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).[28] Luke states, “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.[29]

Observations: In this record, 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 Paul’s death if a Roman commander had not intervened with his soldiers. Here, strong leadership and physical force were necessary to protect Paul from a violent mob. However, the same leadership 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.

Summary:

Mobs and riots are nothing new to human experience. What the Scriptures reveal is that sometimes they are the result of a larger reality that includes God, angels, demons, believers and unbelievers. Sometimes the conflicts arise when cherished but faulty theological ideas and livelihoods are threatened by the believer who advances the gospel of grace. Biblically, there is no example of a believer doing God’s will by means of forming a mob and starting a riot. Such ill behavior is indicative of those who operate on sinful values.

When encountering a mob, there may be times when God will supernaturally intervene and protect us, such as with Lot. Sometimes He will raise up another to defend us, such as with Gideon. But there may also be times we will face injury like Paul and Silas, or perhaps a martyr’s death, like Stephen. Whether God chooses to rescue us in the moment of potential harm or not, we are called to stand firm wearing the full armor of God. When possible, we should demand our rights under the law as citizens of whichever country we happen to live. It is biblical to do so.

As Christians living in a fallen world, we are under divine orders to share the gospel and biblical teaching with the hope that others will turn to God (Mark 16:15; 2 Tim 4:2). By such activity, Christians disrupt Satan’s kingdom of darkness as people respond to God’s Word and are rescued (Col 1:13-14). Biblically, we know the majority in this world will not turn to Christ (Matt 7:13-14) but will be hostile to Him and to His people (John 15:18-19). As Christians, we are called to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Luke 6:27-28).

Lastly, when sharing God’s Word with others, it’s helpful 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 10:14; 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. The worldly-minded person will often try to control the content of every conversation, leading the Christian to talk only about worldly issues, as Scripture threatens his pagan presuppositions. We must not yield to him. 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. The Christian should strive to 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.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] In 2020, the United States witnessed riots across the country in cities such as Chicago, Kenosha, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, and Portland. Social media websites have become popular platforms for online mobs—cyber bullies—whose victims are judged on worldly and rigid ideological grounds without facts or concern for outcomes.

[2] Merriam-Webster, “Mob” in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).

[3] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1078–1079.

[4] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 303.

[5] Ibid., 745.

[6] Ibid., 940.

[7] In 2020 in the United States, there was a push by many organizations to defund the police on the grounds that police organizations are systemically racist and need to be dismantled. Some who were pushing for this reduction in police are noted Marxists who appear to be using this tactic to cause disruption in order to leverage power within the community.

[8] God has designed certain institutions to serve as the basis for personal and national stability. At a minimum, these include personal responsibility (Gen 1:27-28; 2:16-17), marriage (Gen 2:20-25; Col 3:18-21), family (Gen 1:28; 4:1-2; Eph 6:1-4), human government (Rom 13:1-6), and nations with sovereign borders (Acts 17:26-27).

[9] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.

[10] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 360.

[11] Marvin R. Wilson, “1364 נָכָה,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 578.

[12] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 1078–1079.

[13] F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, vol. 16, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 238.

[14] Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 179.

[15] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Acts 6:12.

[16] 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).

[17] 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)

[18] 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 force Paul out of town by means of violence. Satan and demons surely understand human psychology and social behavioral customs such that they can instigate mobs and riots when it serves their purposes.

[19] 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).

[20] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Ac 17:5.

[21] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 458.

[22] Ibid., 180.

[23] Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” 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), 401.

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

[25] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 940.

[26] Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has value before God for those under the New Covenant (1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:16). This is also 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).

[27] 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 have no 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).

[28] 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.

[29] 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).

Great and Least in the Kingdom of Heaven – A Life of Discipleship

Sermon on the MountWhile discussing eternal rewards in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-2, 12, 46; 6:1-6, 16-18), Jesus taught there would be varying degrees of placement in the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 5:19, Jesus said, “whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” In this verse, Jesus talked about two kinds of saved people, both of which will be “in the kingdom of heaven.” This is plainly understood from what Jesus said. The first group will be believers who, after salvation, live a life of disobedience to God, rebelling against His Word, and teaching others to do the same. These disobedient-to-the-Word believers will forfeit eternal rewards and have a low status in heaven. Jesus calls them least, which translates the Greek word ἐλάχιστος elachistos, which refers to being “the lowest in status, least…being considered of very little importance, insignificant.”[1] The second group of believers will be those who live a life of obedience to God, learning and doing His Word, and teaching others to do the same. These obedient-to-the-Word believers will be rewarded by God and be blessed with a high status in heaven. Jesus calls these great, which translates the Greek word μέγας megas, which in this passage refers to being “great in dignity, distinguished, eminent, illustrious.”[2] This gradation of status in heaven is taught elsewhere by Jesus (Matt 11:11; 18:1-4; 20:20-28). To be clear, Jesus is not addressing salvation in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7); rather, He’s addressing the demands of discipleship and rewards.

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_073To explain further, let me draw a distinction between the gospel that saves and the life of good works that should follow. From the divine side, our salvation was very costly: it cost God His Son. Jesus willingly bore our sins on the cross and paid our sin debt in full (Mark 10:45; John 10:18; 1 Pet 2:24). He died in our place, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires, and saves us, the sinner, as His love desires. From the human side, salvation is very simple: believe in Christ as Savior. We obtain our entrance in heaven when we simply believe 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). God’s free gift of salvation comes to us by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5).[3] Our salvation comes only through Jesus, who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). The apostle Peter confirmed this, saying, “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).[4]

When we trust in Christ as Savior, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). No human works are required for us to be saved. Scripture reveals we are “not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16; cf. Rom 3:28). Our good works will never make us righteous before God, “for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal 2:21). Once saved, God calls us to learn and live His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 1 Pet 2:2) and to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). As His children, God wants us to grow up spiritually and produce good works (Eph 2:10; Tit 2:11-14). But pursuing spiritual maturity does not mean we’ll reach sinless perfection, as that will never happen in this life (Eccl 7:20; 1 John 1:8, 10). Rather, it means we handle our sin a biblical manner. For further information, see my article, Restoring Fellowship with God).

Salvation cost us nothing. Jesus paid it all. But discipleship will cost us everything. It’s radical. It means nothing less than turning our lives over to God and letting Him direct us in everything. Discipleship is worked out over our lifetime. It starts with an epistemological paradigm shift in which we learn to see life from the biblical perspective. The constant and careful study of God’s Word will unseat a lifetime of destructive human viewpoint and replace it with divine viewpoint. The benefit is a life of meaning, purpose, and blessing as we lay hold of the spiritual assets God has for us, for He “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). This blessed life starts at a moment in time in which we submit ourselves to the Lord (Rom 12:1-2), and continue our advance to spiritual maturity by learning and living Scripture (1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). However, just as God does not force us to be saved, neither does He force us to live in obedience to Him. Sadly, there are many believers who refuse to be the Lord’s disciples, and these choose to live in conformity with the world around them. The believer who chooses to be a “friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jam 4:4). Furthermore, he places himself under divine discipline (Heb 12:5-11), which can eventuate in physical death if his rebellion continues (1 Cor 11:30; 1 John 5:16). For further explanation of this truth, see my article, The Sin unto Death.

layingcrownathisfeetLet’s get back to the subject of rewards. As Christians, we know there will be a future time in which we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Paul said, “For we 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 seat evaluation is not to determine whether or not we get into heaven. That has already been made secure by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. This judgment seat evaluation pertains solely to eternal rewards. And these rewards are determined by how we live in accordance with God’s revealed will in Scripture. The obedient-believer will produce a life of “gold, silver, and precious stones” which all survive the test by fire and will go with us into eternity (1 Cor 3:12). The rebel-believer will produce a life of “wood, hay, and straw” which will not survive the test by fire and will be burned up (1 Cor 3:12). The quality of work produced by the obedient-believer will remain and “he will receive a reward” (1 Cor 3:14). The quality of work produced by the rebel-believer will be burned up and “he will suffer loss” (1 Cor 3:15). Though the rebel-believer has no rewards, “he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15). For more on this subject, see my article, Future Christian Rewards.

In summary, salvation is free and simple. It’s free to us because Christ paid our sin-debt in full. And it’s as simple as believing in Christ as our Savior, trusting that His death, burial, and resurrection forever satisfied God’s righteous demands toward our sin. However, after salvation, God calls us to a radical life of obedience. How we respond is up to us. If we disobey God’s Word and teach others to do the same, then we’ll experience discipline in this life, forfeit heavenly rewards, and will forever be classified as “least in the kingdom of heaven.” However, if we obey God’s Word and teach others to do the same, we shall obtain God’s approval in this life, earn heavenly rewards, and will forever be called “great in the kingdom of heaven.” I implore you as a Christian writing to Christians—choose the life of discipleship. There’s no better life to be lived, and the rewards in heaven will be worth it! Let’s be great together!

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 314.

[2] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 1207.

[3] Grace means God gives us what we don’t deserve. He is gracious and offers to forgive and save us forever, not because we deserve it, but because He is gracious and kind. Faith means we believe God at His word concerning our salvation. Faith does not save. Christ saves. Faith is merely the means by which we receive God’s free gift. In Christ alone means we trust in Jesus and no one else to save.

[4] Heaven is made possible by the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only Person to have ever lived a perfect life in the Father’s sight as He fulfilled the Law perfectly (Matt 5:17-18). There was no sin in Jesus (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5). Everyone else, without exception, is guilty before God (Rom 3:10, 23). And we are helpless to save ourselves (Rom 5:6). All who trust in Him as Savior are forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7), receive eternal life (John 10:28), and God’s gift of righteousness—His righteousness—which is imputed to them (Rom 4:4-5; Phil 3:9). At the moment we trust Christ as our Savior, we are rescued “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, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). We are saved from spending eternity in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:15).

Why God Judges Nations

sovereign-1140x760The Bible reveals “God is the King of all the earth…He reigns over the nations; He sits on His holy throne” (Psa 47:7-8). It is God “who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21), and “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan 4:17). The Bible reveals “The LORD is King forever and ever” (Psa 10:16a), and 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). As sovereign God, He judges His world in righteousness.

Fallen angel No serious student of the Bible ever questions God’s sovereign rule. But neither does the student of Scripture deny that Satan—a fallen angel—has been opposing God for millennia and has created a kingdom of darkness (Luke 4:6; Acts 26:18; Col 1:13), with subjects that consist of other fallen angels (Matt 25:41; Rev 12:7, 9), and unbelievers (Matt 13:36-38; John 8:44).[1] In a limited way God permits Satan to operate, just as He permits other fallen angels and people to resist His will in certain matters. Satan is a globalist who desires world control, and to a large degree he has it. 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), and inform us “that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Because Satan cannot force people to do his will, he operates by means of deception and temptation—like he did in the Garden of Eden—and when individuals, groups, cities, or nations follow him rather than God, they place themselves under God’s judgment. Satan’s strategies are effective on a global scale, and he “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9; 20:3). Because of his deceptions and temptations, Satan has “weakened the nations” (Isa 14:12). He has certainly been effective at weakening America.

When individuals, groups, cities and nations turn away from God, He will judge them according to His righteous character and moral laws. We know from Scripture that “the LORD is righteous, [and] He loves righteousness” (Psa 11:7), and “Righteous are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments” (Psa 119:137). For God, righteousness is an attribute, an inherent quality, not the adherence to laws beyond Himself (of which there are none). The righteousness of God may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates. Righteousness and justice are related words. The former speaks of God’s moral character, whereas the latter speaks of the actions that flow out of His character. Whatever God’s righteousness requires, His justice executes; either to approve or reject, to bless or condemn. God is “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25), and He “is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day” (Psa 7:11). It’s unimaginable to serve a God who cannot or will not judge sin.[2]

Merciful GodThough God judges, He is not One to judge quickly. It is written, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15), and “the LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psa 145:8). Peter reveals that God “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). In this way, God is quick to warn and slow to judge. But God is not patient forever, and there are multiple accounts of judgment throughout Scripture. Biblically, we observe where God judged Adam and Eve (Gen 3:16-24), the antediluvian world (Gen 6:1-7, 11-13; 7:21-24), the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9), Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24-25), the Egyptians (Deut 26:6-8; cf. Gen 15:13-14), Canaanites (Lev 18:25; Deut 9:5)[3], and Babylonians (Jer 25:11-12). The book of Obadiah was written against the Edomites (Oba 1:1), and Nahum was written as a judgment against the Ninevites (Nah 1:1). When Jesus was on the earth at the time of His first coming, He judged the religious leaders of his day (Matt 23:1-36), and pronounced judgment upon nation of Israel for having rejected Him as their Messiah (Matt 23:37-39).[4] In the future, God will judge Gentiles based on how they treat persecuted Jewish believers during the Tribulation (Matt 25:31-46). And God will judge all unbelievers at the Great White Throne judgment and will cast them into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). God has also judged Satan (John 16:11), and will punish him in the future (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10).

On What Basis Does God Judge?

As a nation, Israel was and is unique in human history, for it’s the only nation that was created by God to serve as a theocracy. Speaking to Israel, God said, “I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King” (Isa 43:15; cf. Isa 43:1). Israel was a theocracy, and God was their King, Lawgiver, and Judge (Isa 33:22). As such, God gave Israel specific laws to direct their lives (Lev 27:34). The Mosaic Law was the standard by which Israel lived rightly before God and was the basis for blessing or cursing, depending on their obedience or disobedience (Lev 26, Deut 28). Moses said, “I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known” (Deut 11:26-28). Reading through Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, First and Second Kings, and all the OT prophets, one can see a consistent pattern of God blessing or cursing His people depending on whether they obeyed or disobeyed His written laws. God was extremely patient with His people when they disobeyed, repeatedly warning them about His coming judgments, but the historical trend was that of rebellion (Jer 25:4-7). Because of rampant idolatry, human sacrifice, and other egregious sins, God eventually destroyed the ten northern tribes of Israel in 722 B.C. (2 Ki 17:7-23), and the two southern tribes of Judah in 586 B.C. (Jer 25:8-11).[5]

The Gentile nations did not possess the Mosaic Law as Israel did; however, a Gentile nation could be blessed or judged, and this depended on at least two factors. First, God would bless or curse a Gentile nation depending on how it treated Israel. God told Abraham, the progenitor of Israel, “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse” (Gen 12:3). Allen Ross sates, “Those who blessed Abram would receive blessing from God; that is, those who supported and endorsed him in his faith would actually find enrichment. Conversely, if anyone treated Abram lightly, he must be cursed.”[6] God’s promise to bless or curse was based on an unconditional covenant that started with Abraham and extended to his descendants forever (Gen 17:7; Num 24:9).[7] Concerning the curse, Arnold Fruchtenbaum states:

The first word for curse is kalal, which means “to treat lightly,” “to hold in contempt,” or “to curse.” To merely treat Abram and the Jews lightly is to incur the curse of God. The second word for curse used in this phrase (him that curses you will I curse) is aor, from the Hebrew root arah, which means “to impose a barrier,” “to ban.” This is a much stronger word for curse than the first one in the phrase…Therefore, even a light curse against Abram or against the Jews will bring a heavier curse from God.[8]

Second, a Gentile nation could be blessed or cursed depending on whether they pursued godly virtues or wickedness. Biblically, there is a sense in which God’s laws are written on the hearts of all people. 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).[9] God has placed within each person a moral sense of right and wrong. Everyone knows it’s right to be honest, kind, courteous, patient, helpful to the weak, honoring to parents, faithful to their spouse, etc. Alternatively, everyone knows it’s wrong to murder, steal, lie, commit adultery, etc.[10] Because each person possesses a moral sense of right and wrong and can choose how they behave, for this reason, “in every nation the man who fears God and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:35). And how people behave collectively has results upon their city or nation. The Lord told Jeremiah, “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it” (Jer 18:7-8). This is what happened when Jonah preached that God was going to judge the Ninevites (Jonah 1:1-2; 3:1-4), and when they repented (Jonah 3:5-9), He relented (Jonah 3:10). There is hope for any nation that has turned away from God, but only if the leadership and people turn to God and pursue righteousness in conformity with His character.

America is a Gentile nation, and as such, God will judge us like He has judged other nations. However, the principle is true that one to whom much is given, much is required. America has had a long and wonderful influence by Christians, and our nation has an abundance of Bibles and Christian literature. This means the light of divine revelation is greater in America than that of pagan nations that have not had such an influence. For this reason, God will judge us both for the light we have from conscience as well as the light of His special revelation found in Scripture. We have sinned against greater light; therefore, He will judge us more severely if we keep turning away from it. The ball is in our court. It’s up to us as individuals, groups, cities, and as a nation to turn to God and live morally as He expects. Satan will continue to entice and deceive people to sin (Gen 3:1-8; John 8:44; Acts 5:3; 2 Cor 11:3; 2 Tim 2:14), and he does this in order to weaken and subjugate that nation (Isa 14:12; 2 Tim 2:26; Rev 12:9; 20:8). If people follow Satan’s allurements and disobey the Lord, God will send judgment.

As Christians, God calls us to share the gospel of Christ (Mark 16:15; 1 Cor 15:3-4), and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20). We are never called to form a nation, and there is nothing in the NT that even hints at such a project. Rather, we are to learn God’s Word and live as He directs. In this way, God may use us to help shape a nation in godly ways, which will influence its educational, political, economic, and social views. We are, after all, to be a light to the world (Matt 5:14; Eph 5:8).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Though Christians belong to the kingdom of Christ (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13), it is possible for a believer to live carnally (1 Cor 3:1-3) and to help Satan advance his agenda by loving his world-system (2 Cor 11:3; Jam 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16).

[2] Sin occurs when we transgress God’s law and depart from His intended path. This was true of Adam and Eve (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-7), and it is true of us as well. The apostle John states, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Sin is the expression of a creaturely will that is set against God. The sin we commit may be mental, verbal, or physical. It may be private or public, impacting one or many, with short or lasting results. God permits sin, but is never the author of it. One scholar writes: “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). The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves (Gen 39:9; Psa 51:4). (Merrill F. Unger, “Sin,”, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago: Moody Press, 1988, 1198)

[3] The Canaanites were exceptionally bad people whom God had marked out for judgment (Lev 18:25; Deut 9:5) after giving them four hundred years of grace (Gen 15:16). Some of the specific sins mentioned among the Canaanites included gross sexual immorality, such as 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 Israel not to do these wicked things, for the Canaanites “did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them” (Lev 20:23; cf. Lev 18:25).

[4] God’s judgment on Israel will be removed when they accept Jesus as Messiah at the end of the Tribulation (Matt 23:39; cf. Rom 11:25-27).

[5] When Jesus was on the earth at the time of His first coming, He judged the religious leaders of his day (Matt 23:1-36), and pronounced judgment upon Israel for having rejected Him as their Messiah (Matt 23:37-38). God’s judgment on Israel will be removed when they accept Jesus as Messiah at the end of the Tribulation (Matt 23:39; cf. Rom 11:25-27).

[6] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 263.

[7] To love Israel is not a blanket endorsement of all their beliefs and behaviors. God, who loves Israel and chose them to be His people (Deut 7:6-8), also called them to be holy (Ex 19:5-6; Lev 11:45), and promised blessing or cursing, based on their obedience to Him (Deut 28:1-68). Israel can and does fail, often rejecting God’s love for them and walking in the ways of the world (see 2 Ch 36:15-16; Jer 7:25-26; 25:4-7; Ezek 16; Matt 23:1-39; Acts 7:51-53; 1 Th 2:14-16). The national rejection and crucifixion of Jesus (Matt 27:22-23; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28), Israel’s promised Messiah (Deut 18:15; Isa 7:14; 9:6-7;53; 61:1; Matt 1:1, 17; Luke 1:31-33), is their greatest failure. Did Israel act alone in crucifying Jesus, their Messiah? No! God foretold Israel’s Messiah would suffer and die (Psa 22:11-18; Isa 53); and, according to His sovereignty, He used wicked men, both Jews and Gentiles, to accomplish His will (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).

[8] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ariel’s Bible Commentary: The Book of Genesis, 1st ed. (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2008), 242.

[9] The human conscience, when working properly, serves as a moral compass. But because of willful and persistent sin, the conscience can become weak (1 Cor 8:7), callous (1 Tim 4:2), defiled (Tit 1:15), or evil (Heb 10:22). Persistent sin can damage the conscience so that it fails to operate properly.

[10] The unbeliever can live morally according to the dictates of a healthy conscience, and though not saved, can receive some blessings in this life. Conversely, a Christian can turn away from the faith and pursue wickedness, and this results in divine discipline and the forfeiture of eternal rewards.

Where Satan is Attacking in America

God’s Word reveals there’s a divine drama unfolding, and the actors consist of angels and people, both good and bad, who operate in interlocking realms that are invisible and visible, both affecting the other. Failure to grasp this biblical truth limits our ability to understand what is transpiring in the world and what role we play. God desires that we live in reality, and His revelation is the blessing that provides insights we could never know except that He has spoken. What we do with that revelation determines whether we’re a force for good or evil. When believers know and live in God’s Word, it affords them the opportunity to make good choices that can bring blessing to those near them. But the opposite is true, that believers living outside of God’s will can bring suffering to those in their periphery. This was true of Jonah who was in disobedience and others suffered because of it (Jonah 1:11-12). But when Jonah obeyed God, many with positive volition were blessed and God’s judgment upon a nation was stayed (Jonah 3:1-10). As Christians, we should play our part well, sharing the gospel of grace and communicating God’s Word as best we can. But we must always keep in mind we’re not the only actors, and that Satan and his forces are at work, trying to weaken individuals, groups and nations. It is the work of Satan in America that motivates the writing of this article.

shutterstock_157520087.0.0.1485150217.0Satan is at work in America, like he is in all the nations of the world. He is currently promoting a pseudo-spirituality and pseudo-morality which is rooted in his world-system which is antithetical to God and His Word.[1] Because of Satan’s advances, America is in decline. This is no surprise, for he is a liar, a deceiver, and a destroyer. Most world leaders help advance Satan’s agenda, and many citizens follow along, or get caught in the cultural flow. Because we are fallen and inherently sinful, the natural proclivity of our hearts is pride, and Satan’s worldly values naturally resonate with each of us. Only the humble Christian who operates by divine viewpoint has the capacity to advance to spiritual maturity and to break free from Satan’s enslaving world-system. Furthermore, the advancing Christian helps others know about God’s liberating gospel of grace and biblical truths that form the basis for stability and purpose in life. However, as we advance spiritually, we continue to live in Satan’s world, which is systemically corrupt and always enticing or pressuring us to turn away from God. Satan’s world-system cannot be reformed or destroyed, but can only be resisted by the believer who is advancing to spiritual maturity. God will render Satan and his world-system inoperative at the Second Coming of Christ (Rev 19:11-21), at which time Jesus will rule over the earth for a thousand years (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4, 35-37; Isa 9:6-7; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Luke 1:26-33; Matt 19:28; 25:31; Rev 20:1-7). After the millennial kingdom, God will cast Satan and his demonic forces into the Lake of Fire (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10), where they will never bother anyone again. However, until that time, Satan’s rule and world-system will continue, and he will employ every strategy at his disposal to render us inoperative. Satan’s tactics are employed globally, with all the nations of the world. His globalist mindset and tactics are intended to weaken nations in order to keep them under his control. America is an exception to most nations because it was founded—for the most part—on biblical values. As a result, God has blessed our country greatly. We know more freedom and prosperity than any other nation on the planet at this time. However, America is under attack, and if Satan can undermine the nation’s values, convincing the majority to turn from God and live selfishly and sinfully, then we’ll forfeit our freedoms and blessings. Much of this article will focus on those areas where Satan is attacking to undermine those biblical values that make for stability in a nation.

But why is Satan free to oppose God and Christians? Why is he given permission to advance his agenda in the world? The truth is, God desires a loving and meaningful relationship with His creatures, and this is why He originally created angels and people with intellect, volition, and freedom. He did not create robots that function according to coded instructions. Having intellect and volition is meaningless if there is no freedom and opportunity to act. In order for people to exercise their minds and wills, God provides them opportunity to make choices. This was true of Lucifer when he was in heaven, and true for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Lucifer became prideful and corrupted his reason and produced sin and evil from the source of his own volition (Ezek 28:12-18; Isa 14:12-14). Satan also convinced a third of the angels to follow him in his rebellion (Rev 12:4, 7), and his kingdom of darkness was expanded to include the earth when he persuaded Adam and Eve to follow him rather than God (Gen 3:1-8). At the time of the fall, the first humans—God’s theocratic administrators (Gen 1:26-28)—gave Satan the title deed to the earth (Luke 4:6). This explains why Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). And 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). But Satan is no benevolent dictator. Scripture reveals he rules as a tyrant who has “weakened the nations” (Isa 14:12), and currently “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9; cf. Rev 20:3). Satan rules by deception, oppression, and enslavement. And because he is a finite creature, he relies on others—fallen angels and people—to help him advance his agenda.

But the Bible also reveals that Satan does not operate with absolute freedom. Scripture reveals 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. 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 the category of God’s permissive-will, 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).

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, justice, holiness, love, mercy, patience, 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). Concerning God’s sovereignty and human volition, McChesney writes:

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.[3]

sovereign-1140x760     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). 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.

According to Scripture, we know there is a future hope, for God will eventually bring angelic and human rebellion to an end, and this will happen when Christ returns. 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). However, until that time, God permits Satan to have his way in the world, albeit in a limited manner and for a limited time.

As Christians, there is opportunity for freedom and purpose in this world right now, but only if we’ll follow God by learning and living His Word. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…[and] if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32, 36). The apostle Paul wrote, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery…[and] you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:1, 13). God offers us freedom from Satan and his kingdom of darkness. But this freedom exists only in relationship with God, and that because of the person and work of Christ who paid our sin debt and liberates us from our spiritual prison (Mark 10:45; Eph 1:7; Col 1:13-14). But for those who reject God’s way, they will continue to reside in Satan’s system. Where God directs mankind, it is always for good and not evil. Satan is a disrupter and destroyer, and his world-system is set up to attack God’s people, the gospel of grace, biblical truths and divine institutions that make for stable and productive individuals and societies. As Christians, we must realize there will be touchpoints where we are at odds with the culture around us, and there we must stand, with absolute clarity on biblical teaching. The purpose of this lesson is to set forth those areas where Satan is currently attacking in America, so that we can stand on the truth of God’s Word and know how we should respond when questioned or pressured to abandon those truths. In this way, we will be a good influence on those whom God places in our path. We will serve as lights in a dark world. The areas where Satan is attacking in America are as follows:

  1. The Bible as Divinely Authoritative. The Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God and is the basis for faith and conduct (1 Th 2:13; cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17). It teaches us how God brought the universe into existence (Gen 1:1-31), why people are special (Gen 1:26-28), how sin and evil came into being (Gen 3:1-7; Rom 5:12), how God has provided a solution to the sin problem (Gen 3:15; John 3:16; Mark 10:45; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:3-4), how to live righteously through spiritual growth and obedience to His commands (Psa 119:9-11; Rom 6:11-14; Eph 4:11-16; Tit 2:11-14), that our future is certain because Christ is coming back (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor 15:51-53; 1 Th 4:13-18; Tit 2:13), Satan and his forces will be defeated (Rev 20:1-3; cf. Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10), Christ will rule on the earth for a thousand years (Luke 1:31-33; Rev 20:4), and afterwards God will create new heavens and a new earth (2 Pet 3:13). Satan’s world is systemically corrupt and hateful toward the Bible and seeks to suppress it, or pervert its meaning, to keep people enslaved in darkness.
  2. Christian Identity. As those who have believed in Jesus as Savior (1 Cor 15:3-4), we are no longer “in Adam”, but are “in Christ” (1 Cor 15:22; cf. 2 Cor 5:17). At the moment of faith in Christ, 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 believers, we are “children of God” (John 1:12), brothers and sisters to the King of kings and Lord of lords, which means we belong to the royal family of God. In addition, we have a new citizenship in heaven (Phil 3:20), we are a kingdom of priests to God (Rev 1:6), and ambassadors of Christ who represent Him to a fallen world (2 Cor 5:20). Because of our new position in Christ, we are encouraged “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). As Christians, our spiritual identity supersedes all other forms of identity; especially those that are artificially manufactured on humanistic philosophies and values that are antithetical to biblical teaching (i.e., an identity connected with a political party, social or economic status, racial group, etc.).
  3. Devotion to God and Learning His Word. God calls us to know His Word so that we will have the knowledge necessary to live His will (Psa 1:1-3; Ezra 7:10; 2 Tim 2:15). The world will use every pleasure or pressure as obstacles to keep us ignorant of God’s Word (2 Cor 11:3), in order to keep us spiritually malnourished and ineffective in our spiritual influence.
  4. Pursuit of Spiritual Growth. God desires that we mature as Christians by living His Word in all aspects of our lives (Eph 4:11-15; 1 Pet 2:2). Spiritual growth takes time, as we make consistent choices to gather together as Christians (Heb 10:24-25), study the Bible (Acts 2:42), and encourage each other to godly living (1 Th 5:11; Heb 3:13).
  5. Sharing the Gospel. We are to share the gospel that others might believe in Christ as Savior (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:3-4). Satan seeks to blind the minds of the unbelieving (2 Cor 4:3-4), who regard the good news as foolishness (1 Cor 1:18). However, “the gospel…is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). And once saved, God rescues us “from the domain of darkness” and transfers us “to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13). Satan will promote religion, which convinces people that God requires good works to be saved. World religions—even those based on the Bible—help advance Satan’s evil agenda, because it keeps people ignorant of the gospel of grace and enslaved in his kingdom. Good works do not save. They never have and never will. Salvation is always by grace alone (Rom 3:23-24; Eph 2:8-9), and applied to ungodly sinners who, by faith alone, trust in Christ as Savior (Rom 3:28; 4:1-5; 5:6-10; Gal 3:26). Good works should follow salvation (Eph 2:10; Tit 2:11-14), but they are never the condition of it (Gal 2:16, 21; 3:11, 21).
  6. Personal Responsibility. As Christians, we are to live responsibly to the Lord (Gen 1:26-28; 2:15; 19-20; Jam 1:17; 1 Pet 4:10). Advancing to maturity begins when we own our lives and accept responsibility for the choices we make. Furthermore, we must accept those things that come into our lives by the providence of God. Some blessings and difficulties come to us, not because of choices we make, but because of God or other people. We welcome blessings, but often struggle with difficulties. Both are ultimately under God’s sovereign control (Job 2:10; Isa 45:5-7). It’s normal that we ask God to remove difficulties; however, what He does not remove, He intends for us to deal with (2 Cor 12:7-10). This requires a faith response (Heb 10:38; 11:6; Jam 1:2-4). However, we observe in American culture a victim mentality that tells us we are the products of evolution, history, culture, nature and/or nurture, and that we are not responsible for our desires, values, or behaviors. Christian maturity begins when we accept full responsibility for our lives and begin to make good choices to learn and live God’s Word on a consistent basis.
  7. Marriage as a Divine Institution. Marriage is clearly defined in Scripture as being between one man and one woman (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:6). However, marriage is being redefined and modified as though it were merely a social construct to be tinkered with. This is why we see a rise in divorce, as well as the introduction of same-sex marriage and polyamorous relationships. Some wicked people may even push to normalize pedophilia and bestiality.
  8. Family as a Divine Institution. The family is the smallest social unit intended to train succeeding generations for godliness and authority orientation (Deut 6:6-7; Eph 6:4). However, many states are undermining parental authority and responsibility for the training of children, by which Christian values are transmitted.
  9. Human Government as a Divine Institution. Human government is a divine institution with delegated authority to promote freedom, order, and to protect citizens from evil (Gen 9:5-6; Rom 13:1-5; Tit 3:1-2; 1 Pet 2:13-17). We are directed to submit to good government; however, the American government is moving beyond its legitimate authority and human freedoms are diminishing.
  10. God’s Creation of the Universe, Earth, and People in Six Literal Days. The Bible, plainly read and understood, teaches that God created the universe, earth, plants, animals, and people in six literal days (Gen 1:1—2:4; Ex 20: 9-11; Isa 45:12). Everything was created perfect and in a state of maturity.
  11. People as Made in the Image of God. The Bible reveals we are special, made in the image of God (Gen 1:27; 9:6), with the ability to think, act, and feel in ways that place us above the rest of creation. Evolutionary teaching predominates in our culture, which promotes the idea that people are the product of matter, motion, time and chance. The result is that people are seen as purely material beings, biological entities whose thoughts, feelings, identity, and aspirations can be reduced to electro-chemical impulses in the brain and body. Mankind just becomes a naked ape, an animal with no greater value than a bird, a fish, or a worm on a hook. But Scripture reveals people are special, made in the image of God, and have greater value than the rest of creation (Matt 10:29-31).
  12. One Human Race. Biblically, there is only one human race (Gen 1:27; 9:18-19; Acts 17:26). The idea of multiple races confuses and divides people in harmful ways, allowing for racist ideologies. Certainly, there are different ethnic groups, languages, and cultures, but all humanity constitutes one race. This is true for the gospel, for Christ died for all people, and this assumes everyone is part of the same human race and savable.
  13. God Created Two Genders. Biblically, there are only two genders, male and female (Gen 1:27). However, today there are teachings that gender is a matter of personal choice, and not a matter of divine design.
  14. Life Begins in the Womb at Conception. The Bible teaches that human life begins at conception (Psa 139:13; Isa 44:24; Jer 1:5), not at a later time outside the womb. This means babies in the womb are full persons, and to abort a baby is a choice to end its human life prematurely. Abortion is murder, and murder is wrong.
  15. Israel as the Covenant People of God. God created Israel when He called Abraham and entered into a unilateral covenant with him, promising him and his descendants the land of Canaan (Gen 12:1-3; Isa 43:1; cf. Gen 15:18; 17:8; Josh 1:2-4). Israel was created by God and cannot cease to exist (Isa 43:1, 15; Jer 31:35-37). Though Israel is currently under divine discipline (Matt 23:37-38), God has a future for His people and national Israel will be restored (Rom 9:1-5). Paul tells us, “a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so, all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:25b-26a).
  16. The Christian Church. The Christian Church was created by God and cannot be destroyed (Matt 16:18). The Church consists of born-again believers (Eph 1:22-23; 1 Pet 2:5), who assemble locally (Heb 10:25), have laws (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2), and leaders (1 Tim 5:17). The primary purpose of the church is to glorify God (Eph 1:12), share the Gospel (1 Cor 15:3-4), make disciples (Matt 28:18-20), edify believers through biblical teaching (Eph 4:11-16), and do good to others (Luke 6:35; Gal 6:10; 1 Tim 6:17-19). The two ordinances of the Church are baptism (Matt 28:19) and the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-34). However, the Christian Church is increasingly coming under attack by individuals, organizations, and states who desire to render it uninfluential or inoperative.
  17. Freedom. God desires that we be free, both physically and spiritually, as this provides us the opportunity to exercise our volitions in godly ways (Gal 5:1, 13; 1 Pet 2:16). However, some people prefer servitude to freedom because they fear personal responsibility and like the idea of someone else making choices for them, watching over and caring for them. This mindset opens the door for tyranny.
  18. Nationalism. God has separated the nations of the world in order to hinder the advancement of evil and human tyranny. He divided the nations by multiplying languages and confusing the efforts of defiant persons, as these tried to build the Tower of Babel by using His language and resources independently of His wishes (Gen 11:1-9). Today, many would like to see a one world government, but Christians should oppose it, realizing it’s God’s will that national boundaries exist (Acts 17:26).

As Christians, we are called to proclaim the message of Christianity and to win people with words, never social or political force. We have failed as Christians as soon as we seek to politicize our message and control others through legislative means. If Christians want to have a lasting impact on a nation, it must be done at the grassroots level through evangelization and biblical teaching, not legislation. It must be accomplished through sharing the gospel and teaching Christian virtues that are applied to all of life, not by a forced morality imposed through the halls of congress.

Historically, Christians in America have been a positive influence in society by promoting law and being charitable to the needy (Gal 2:10; Jam 1:27). They’ve built schools, hospitals, orphanages and other helpful organizations that lift man up. They’ve fed the hungry, cared for the sick, housed the homeless, provided for widows and orphans, and visited prisoners with the gospel. Christians have also promoted art, literature, music and science. Certainly, there have been abuses in the name of Christianity; however, the historical record speaks favorably about Christian service. For the most part, believers have obeyed Scripture and become law abiding citizens rather than rebels. Scripture teaches Christians to think of government as a “minister of God” (Rom 13:4), to obey leaders (Rom 13:1, 5; Tit 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-15), pay taxes (Rom 13:6), regard rulers as “servants of God” who do His will (Rom 13:6), and to pray for them (1 Tim 2:1-2). We realize there is a legitimate sense in which the leaders of this world accomplish God’s purposes by keeping harmony and promoting justice (Rom 13:2-4; 6-7). We do not blindly submit to their authority and should say no to governmental leaders when they command us to go against the commands of God (see Dan 3:1-18; 6:1-13; Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29). The Christian obeys or defies human authority only as the Bible directs. Ultimately, those who obey God’s Word prove to be a blessing that promotes righteousness within a nation. Christians who are learning God’s Word and growing spiritually will prove to be the moral fabric of any community, and this will make a nation strong. Mature Christians will reflect the highest and best virtues within a country, not the lowest and worst.

Angelic Warfare    In closing, we should realize our primary battle is spiritual and not physical (Eph 6:12). Our responsibility is to keep ourselves unstained by the world (2 Cor 6:14-18; Jam 1:27), to pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44), and witness for Christ that others might believe the gospel and be saved (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9). The Bible is our sword by which we destroy spiritual and intellectual strongholds, within ourselves and others (2 Cor 10:3-5). The Christian is to get along with others, showing tolerance (Rom 12:17-18), except when it comes to something that harms our walk with God, and then we must stand firm (Rom 13:13-14; 1 John 2:15-17). At times God will give us the ear of a human ruler (Dan 3:16-18; Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29; 26:1-29), and we must take that opportunity to speak God’s truth and pray He moves the heart of the hearer. As American citizens we should vote for leaders that promote laws consistent with God’s values. And 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 (John 3:16; 1 Cor 15:3-4; 2 Tim 4:1-2). Just laws will align with regenerate and humble hearts. But if the majority with the country turn from God and His values, then it’s only a matter of time before corruption leads to destruction. Considering America’s spiritual and moral decline, the abortion of more than 65,000,000 babies, our national debt, lack of authority orientation, the advancement of Socialistic and Communistic ideologies, civil unrest, the normalization of sexual perversion, the undermining of the family, attacks on Christians and churches, and other problems, it seems only a matter of time before God’s judgment falls upon our nation. My prayer is that we may yet turn our nation back to God and begin to operate on the biblical values that made America exceptional. May God help us.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles: 

[1] An example is found in the Pharisees who saw themselves as children of God (John 8:41b), but Jesus correctly identified them as children of the devil (John 8:44a). The Pharisees learned Scripture (Matt 23:1-6); however, their application of it was evil, as they used it as a means of salvation, which God never intended (Gal 2:16, 21; 3:11, 21). Salvation is always by grace (Rom 3:23-24; Eph 2:8-9), and applied to ungodly sinners who, by faith alone, trust in Christ as Savior (Rom 3:28; 4:1-5; 5:6-10; Gal 3:26). God’s moral laws are intended for those who are saved. Good works should follow salvation, but they are never the cause of it. Because of their pseudo-spirituality and pseudo-morality, the Pharisees were “hypocrites” (Matt 23:13-15), “blind guides” (Matt 23:16-19), who “neglect justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23), and on the inside “are full of robbery and self-indulgence” (Matt 23:25), and “all uncleanness” (Matt 23:27), and “are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt 23:28).

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

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

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 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 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.

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.

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

Related Articles:

[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.

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

Audio Lesson:

Suggested Books:

Related Articles:

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

Audio Lesson:

Related Articles:

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

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).

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 the lives of those near them. An example is found in the book of Numbers where God commanded Moses to send a dozen Israelites to spy out the land of Canaan. After forty days in Canaan the spies returned and gave an account of what they saw; but ten of the spies—who operated by human viewpoint—gave a negative report that discouraged the people (read Numbers 13:1-33). The fearful reaction lead to complaining and irrational behavior, as the Israelites concluded it would be better to return to Egypt than continue onward (Num 14:1-3). The people were ready to reject Moses’ leadership and elect new leaders, “So they said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt’” (Num 14:4). Moses, Aaron, Caleb and Joshua tried to reverse the impact of the negative report by calling the people to see the situation with eyes of faith, not fear (Num 14:5-9), but the people would not listen and “all the congregation threatened to stone them” (Num 14:10a). When God and His Word are absent in our stream of consciousness, it’s very easy for fear to set in and dominate our thoughts, and fear is very difficult to dislodge when it becomes deeply seated in the human spirit, as it leads to psychological disequilibrium, which in turn can birth irrational and harmful behavior. Unfortunately, the people chose fear, not faith, and what followed were the consequences of their choice, as the Lord appeared and pronounced judgment upon them (Num 14:10b-29). He said, “Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected” (Num 14:30-32).

     I understand God judging His people because of their sin; He certainly disciplines me for mine. But what follows in the next verse is very sobering, as the Lord states, “But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness” (Num 14:33). Choices have consequences, and those Israelites who chose to live by fear and not faith were making decisions, not only for themselves, but for their children, who would either be blessed or cursed by those decisions. The opposite would have happened if the Israelites would have lived by faith, obeyed the Lord and walked with Him; but they did not, and their children paid the penalty for it.

How should we live?

     First, understand how we live impacts the lives of others, either positively or negatively for God; not only as a model for good behavior, but with the realization that our choices bring blessing or cursing into the lives of those near us, both in the moment, and for many years to come. The Israelites who accepted the negative report from the spies chose fear over faith and brought cursing into their lives as well as the lives of their children. Joshua and Caleb chose to operate by divine viewpoint and tried to unseat the fearful choices of their contemporaries, unfortunately, without success. Though Joshua and Caleb lived by faith, and would eventually enter the Promised Land, they too had to wait forty years.

     Second, choose to live by faith, learning and living God’s Word in all aspects of our lives. As Christians, we will be confronted with negative reports and behavior, even from other believers. Though we cannot control the negativity, God expects us to choose faith over fear, obedience over defiance. In fact, this is exactly what God wants from us, to “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness” (Psa 37:3), “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Pro 3:5), and “Trust in the LORD forever, for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock” (Isa 26:4). This means we “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7), 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), and “My righteous one will live by faith, and if he shrinks back, I take no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38).

     As I wrote this brief article, I thought about my grandmother and how she blessed me when I was young. Much of her life was focused on God as she modeled right living in conformity with God’s Word, whereas all others around me were focused on themselves and advancing worldly agendas. She feared the Lord, read her Bible, obeyed His Word, prayed often, sang praises, shared the Gospel, and sprinkled Scripture into her daily discussions with others. She was not perfect, but she owned her failures, confessed them, accepted consequences, sought forgiveness and moved on. That’s integrity. She was a light in my darkness. The seeds she sowed have come to life and are bearing fruit; not only in my life, but the lives of others. I want to carry on that noble Christian legacy, realizing how I live my life touches others. It touches family, friends, coworkers, students, and people I meet along the way. I realize the greatest blessing we can give to others is a life that communicates and models faith in God. Will you live that life? Will you leave that legacy for others to follow? Please do. Please, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mat 5:16).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

How to Deal with Jealousy

     Jealousy is mentioned throughout the Bible both in a healthy and unhealthy sense. The word jealousy translates the Hebrew קָנָא qanah and Greek ζηλόω zeloo.[1] Though closely related terms, there is a difference between envy and jealousy. Whereas the envious desire what belongs to another, the jealous desire to protect what belongs to self. Scripture reveals that God is jealous. The Lord states, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exo 20:5b; cf. 34:14; Deu 32:16, 21; Na 1:2). This statement occurs within the context of God forbidding His people to worship idols (Exo 20:3-4).[2] Idolatry is thievery. It seeks to steal God’s glory, and He’ll have none of it. He declares, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isa 42:8). Likewise, God is jealous to protect His name, saying, “I will be jealous for My holy name” (Eze 39:25), which means He is jealous to protect His reputation. And, God is jealous for Israel, saying, “I am exceedingly jealous for Zion, yes, with great wrath I am jealous for her” (Zec 8:2). In this sense, jealousy means God is committed to the protection of His people.

People sometimes have trouble thinking that jealousy is a desirable attribute in God. This is because jealousy for our own honor as human beings is almost always wrong. We are not to be proud, but humble. Yet we must realize that the reason pride is wrong is a theological reason: it is that we do not deserve the honor that belongs to God alone (cf. 1 Cor. 4:7; Rev. 4:11).[3]

     But what about jealousy among people? Is it ever right? Yes. There are times when jealousy is right. Jealousy is born out of a strong sense of relationship that is intolerant of rivals and this can be healthy, if the rival is real and it threatens a godly relationship.[4] If God’s values are our values, and we regard as precious what He regards as precious, then His jealousy will be our jealousy and we will be angry alongside Him and seek to protect what He loves. Elijah the prophet said “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts” (1 Ki 19:10a). This jealousy—or zeal—in Elijah sought to protect what was good, namely God’s character and the walk of His people who were being led astray by false prophets. Elijah’s jealousy was provoked by his fellow Israelites, who “have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword” (1 Ki 19:10b). Paul too had this kind of jealousy for the church at Corinth, saying, “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Cor 11:2). Paul wanted to protect the church’s purity of devotion to Christ, as they were in danger of being led astray by false teaching and into worldly values and practices (2 Cor 11:3-4). Godly jealousy seeks to protect God’s relationship with others and naturally feels threatened by anything that would harm it.

    How to Deal with JealousyBut there is a sinful jealousy that is born out of the sin nature (Gal 5:19-20) and does not seek God’s interests or the best interests of others. Sinful jealousy desires to possess and protect what God forbids. “In contrast to righteous jealousy, the sinful perversion is based on the belief that one is entitled to something to which one has no natural right.”[5] Not having a “natural right” to something means it was acquired selfishly, apart from God’s will. This can be a relationship, education, career, or material possessions. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, except that they can be pursued and possessed purely for self-interest, contrary to God’s will. If we ignore God and His will for our life, and selfishly enter into a relationship with another person, and that relationship becomes threatened by another selfish person, or the selfish actions of our partner, then we have no biblical right to protect that relationship. Jealousy will naturally arise, but it becomes a sinful jealousy if we seek to protect what was sinfully acquired.  

     Sinful jealousy cares nothing about God or others and will seek to destroy rather than protect and edify. It is selfish, irrational, and can even lead to violence. This is what happened when Joseph’s brothers sought to kill him. First, they were “jealous of him” (Gen 37:11), and their sinful jealousy led them to harm him (Gen 37:18-28). James wrote, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth…For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (Jam 3:14, 16). It was because of sinful jealousy that the Sadducees rose up in anger and attacked the apostles and put them in prison (Acts 5:17-18). This was because the apostles’ teaching threatened their pride and pseudo authority in the community. Paul had experienced jealous men who opposed his ministry (Acts 13:45), and, at times, they attacked the innocent (Acts 17:5).

How to Deal with Sinful Jealousy

     Sinful jealousy is a beast. It rears its ugly head to protect what has been obtained by sinful choice (i.e. a relationship, job, money, etc.), it operates on irrational fear, and, if left to feed on fear, will seek to destroy what threatens. To deal with sinful jealousy, a few things need to change.

     First, it is necessary to operate from a biblical perspective.[6] God is all-knowing and all-good, and what He reveals and commands in Scripture is for our best interest. Furthermore, God’s Word defines reality and helps us to understand ourselves and the world in which we live. If we’re not thinking biblically, then human viewpoint will lead the way and all thoughts and actions will be rationalized from a purely human perspective. But this is not what’s expected of the Christian. We’re called to think biblically, in every aspect of our lives, and to make choices consistent with God’s revealed will. As we study the Bible, we realize it touches all of life, including matters related to family, social issues, education, finances, politics, science, art, etc. For example, the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24), that a Christian should only marry another Christian (1 Cor 7:39), and that the relationship between the husband and wife should be loving and respectful (Eph 5:22-33). The mature Christian learns God’s Word, and then integrates it into all aspects of her/his life. Operating from a biblical perspective allows us to differentiate righteous jealousy from sinful jealousy, and to act according to God’s expectation.

     Second, as we study Scripture, we come to realize that we own nothing. Everything, including our own lives, belongs to the Lord. Scripture reveals, “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psa 24:1; cf. 89:11). Job understood this very well, for even when he lost his business, family, and health, he could say, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Biblically minded Christians hold nothing tightly, for we know our possessions are on loan and can be taken at any moment (this includes family members); how much more those things we acquire through sinful choices. When we come to the place where we recognize God’s sovereign ownership of our lives and possessions, we can consciously live each moment by faith, with a relaxed mental attitude, knowing He is the One who gives and takes away. And, if God decides to take something away, by faith we can accept it, deal with the sorrow, and “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).

     Third, we handle sinful jealousy in ourselves by pursuing Christian love, for jealousy cannot exist where love predominates. I’m speaking here about jealousy as it pertains to personal relationships. The apostle Paul, when describing the virtue of Christian love (1 Cor 13:4-8), writes about what love is and is not, and states in plain language, “Love…is not jealous” (1 Cor 13:4). Christian love is the answer to sinful jealousy. However, it is important to understand that Christian love is never manufactured on our own; rather, it is derived from God and is part of our healthy walk with Him. It is a reflection of God’s love toward us. The apostle John writes, “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). That’s the order. And what was our state when God first loved us?  He loved us when we were sinners and in a state of hostility toward Him. Paul states, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). In another place he writes, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5). God’s great love springs from His character and not from any beauty or worth found in the object of His love. God loves because, “God is love” (1 John 4:8b). Over time, as we walk with God, His love becomes ingrained within us and overtakes our hearts, and the conditional human love we’re so familiar with—that is natural to us all—is exchanged for His greater love, which is selfless and sacrificial. And God’s love is gracious in that it seeks to meet the needs of others without compensation. Grace refers to kind acts freely conferred on others, without expectation of return, and deriving its source in the abundance and open-handedness of the giver. Jesus explained this kind of gracious love when He said, “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35). 

     God’s Word gives us the standard for love and mature believers will display it in their lives. But love does not arise automatically in the Christian life, and it is typically not the first responder in a conflict. Love is learned, and once learned, it is applied by an act of the will by Christians who choose to love others. Love is not easy, and at times can be risky because we may be hurt. This is because the objects of our love can be offensive, and at times may hurt us. Christian love is not an emotion, for we are commanded to love, and a person cannot manufacture an emotion purely as an act of the will. Emotion follows thought. We are to love others regardless of how we feel. Mature believers learn to overcome their emotions and love others according to their needs.  J. I. Packer states:

Love is a principle of action rather than of emotion. It is a purpose of honoring and benefiting the other party. It is a matter of doing things for people out of compassion for their need, whether or not we feel personal affection for them. It is by their active love to one another that Jesus’ disciples are to be recognized (John 13:34–35).[7]

     This kind of love takes time. It is the product of spiritual growth that occurs in the life of the believer who is advancing in her/his Christian walk. Those who know the Lord and walk with Him manifest His character in their lives. They love because He loves. They are gracious because He is gracious. They are kind because He is kind. They are merciful because He is merciful. Walk closely with the Lord and love will grow. Love as God loves and sinful jealousy will depart.

Summary

     Jealousy can be either healthy or unhealthy, depending on the motivation of the heart. God is jealous. He is jealous to protect His glory (Isa 42:8), His name (Eze 39:25; cf. Isa 42:8), and His people (Zec 8:2). When we love what God loves, then we’ll possess a godly jealousy, like Elijah (1 Ki 19:10) and Paul (2 Cor 11:2). But when we care little about God, then sinful jealousy will dominate our hearts, and we’ll seek to destroy rather than protect and edify others, such as when Joseph’s brothers tried to kill him (Gen 37:11-28), or when the Sadducees attacked and imprisoned the apostles (Acts 5:17-18). We overcome sinful jealousy by: 1) placing God’s Word at the center of our lives and letting it direct our thoughts, words and actions (Psa 1:2; 2 Cor 10:5), 2) realizing the Lord owns everything (Psa 24:1; 89:11), and that He is free to leave or take whatever we have, including possessions, family, or health (Job 1:6-21), and, 3) that sinful jealousy cannot exist in a heart saturated with God’s love, for “Love…is not jealous” (1 Cor 13:4).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message  
  2. Reasons why we Obey God  
  3. Steps to Spiritual Growth  
  4. Learning to Live by Faith  
  5. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer    

[1] Sometimes קָנָא qanah is translated envy, such as, “Do not envy [קָנָא qanah] a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways” (Pro 3:31), and “Do not let your heart envy [קָנָא qanah] sinners, but live in the fear of the LORD always” (Pro 23:17).  The Septuagint uses ζηλόω zeloo in both instances; however, when writing about envy, the NT writers chose φθόνος phthonos rather than ζηλόω zeloo.

[2] Asaph mentions God’s jealousy when he writes, “For they provoked Him with their high places and aroused His jealousy with their graven images. When God heard, He was filled with wrath and greatly abhorred Israel.” (Psa 78:58-59; cf. 1 Ki 14:22). God’s jealousy (and anger) rises both because of the violation of a promise, and because idolatry is really the worship of demons, which destroys those whom God loves (1 Cor 10:19-22).

[3] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 205.

[4] We must be careful not to feel threatened over an imaginary rival, for this can lead us down a dangerous road.

[5] Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 556.

[6] Apart from divine revelation, we’re left to invent or borrow systems of thought with no greater reference point than ourselves, which means the foundation for knowledge is based on nothing more than our finite ability to observe and reason what is. The problem is that human perception only approximates reality but never fully encompasses or understands it; therefore, all systems of human thought are limited and subject to change (reading the various publications of the DSM prove my point). Scripture tells us why things exist, why the world is the way it is, and how to live successfully in God’s will. Any system of thought that simultaneously competes with God’s Word results in cognitive dissonance, and if not resolved, will render the believer ineffective. At the moment we believe the Gospel message and are born again, we enter into our Christianity with a lifetime of human viewpoint that must be dislodged and replaced with a thorough knowledge of God’s Word. Too often, when we come to believe in Christ as Savior, we assume that God will accept our human viewpoint—which may be organized and moral—as an adequate system from which He will direct our lives. We assume He wants to rearrange the furniture in our mental home to make it more beautiful. But the reality is God does not want to rearrange the furniture in our minds; rather, He wants to tear down the entire house along with its foundation and start over. He wants to destroy all the thoughts and values that are contrary to His revealed will. But we’re required to participate in this process. We must be willing to submit to Him and begin the lifelong process of learning Scripture. This is a process that occupies all our time, every day, morning and evening, and has both defensive and offensive aspects. Defensively, we must guard our minds against worldliness that comes to us from multiple avenues such as TV, radio, music, literature, art, and conversations. Solomon tells us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Pro 4:23). Positively, we acquire divine viewpoint through the daily study of God’s Word. David writes about the godly believer, saying, “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). 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’ cf. 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17).

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

When God Uses Evil Actions for His Good

And we 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).

    All Things for GoodWhen I read this verse I’m reminded of Joseph, the son of Jacob, who at a young age was sold into captivity by his brothers who hated him (Gen. 37). Joseph was carried to Egypt by slave-traders where he was sold to a man named Potiphar. After a short time, Potiphar’s wife also treated Joseph unjustly and lied about him, which resulted in his incarceration for several years (Gen. 39). But the Lord was with Joseph and orchestrated his release from prison and promotion to the right hand of Pharaoh (Gen. 40-41). God then blessed Egypt with seven years of agricultural prosperity before sending seven years of famine upon the land. These events set the stage for God to move Joseph’s brothers geographically into Egypt and to bring them directly to the feet of Joseph (Gen. 42-45). Once there, Joseph’s brothers were afraid of him, fearing he would retaliate for the evil that was done to him. But Joseph interpreted the events of life—including the evil actions of his brothers—from the divine perspective, and this gave him the spiritual capacity to respond to his brothers with love rather than hate, with grace rather than revenge. Joseph told 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. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:5-7). And later he 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 operated from the divine perspective, whereas his brothers operated merely from their human viewpoint. From the divine perspective, Joseph realized God had orchestrated all the events of his life for a specific purpose and had incorporated the evil actions of his brothers to help develop his character and to strengthen his faith. Joseph’s divine perspective and strong faith enabled him to stand in God’s will and to show love and grace to those who sought his harm.

     Through Scripture, God gives His people the capacity to see all of life from His vantage point. Having God’s perspective allows us to rise above the daily grind of life and the petty actions of others and realize there is a sovereign God who rules over His creation and directs the activities of mankind—even evil activities—for His own good and the good of His people. For this reason, we can understand Paul’s words and 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). Let’s face the day with God in mind and let faith rise above our circumstances and feelings.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

Alexander the Coppersmith

    Alexander the CoppermsithThere are times when it’s necessary to specifically name a person as hostile in order to warn others to avoid unnecessary harm. This was true of the apostle Paul, who warned his friend, Timothy, about a man named Alexander. The warning came at a time when Paul was in prison (2 Tim. 1:8, 16) and wrote to his friend Timothy, saying, “Make every effort to come to me soon” (2 Tim. 4:9). Paul informed Timothy his support of friends had diminished for various reasons, saying, “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia” (2 Tim. 4:10), and “Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus” (2 Tim. 4:12). He informed Timothy, “Only Luke is with me” (2 Tim. 4:11a). Knowing that Timothy would come to visit him, he requested, “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Tim. 4:11b), and “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13).

     Then, Paul’s tone quickly changed, saying, “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). Why this comment by Paul? It seems likely Paul imagined the route his friend Timothy would take as he navigated through the streets of Rome to get to him and realized the possibility that Timothy might encounter this dangerous man, so he warned him to be on guard. Because Alexander was a common name, Paul carefully identified him by his profession, as the coppersmith.[1] Paul informed his friend that Alexander “did me much harm” (2 Tim. 4:14a). 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 personal vengeance 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).[2] 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.

     Though Paul did not seek retaliation, neither did he desire another hostile encounter with the man who hurt him. More so, Paul sought to warn his friend, Timothy, who was coming to him, lest he suffer unnecessary hostility. Paul told Timothy, “Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching” (2 Tim. 4:15). The word guard translates the Greek verb φυλάσσω phulasso, which means to guard, watch, or protect. The form of the verb tells us that Timothy is to act now (present tense), that he is to act in his own interests (middle voice), and that the action is mandatory (imperative mood). Like all God’s enemies, Alexander was hostile to the teaching of Christianity and sought to harm those who carried its message. He’d certainly left his mark on Paul, who was concerned that others might be hurt by him as well.

     As Christians, we realize there are times when it’s valid to specifically name a person as hostile in order to warn others to avoid unnecessary harm. And, as God’s children, we are not to seek revenge when hurt by others (Rom. 12:19), but realize God is righteous and will dispense equitable justice upon those who hurt us (Ps. 62:12; 2 Thess. 1:6).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] The word coppersmith translates the Greek word χαλκεύς chalkeus, which literally means a worker of metal and perhaps points to Alexander’s profession as a manufacturer of idols. One cannot be dogmatic here, but it makes good sense to understand that Alexander was connected with the idol industry, for “he vigorously opposed” Paul’s teaching (2 Tim. 4:15b), which teaching forbid the manufacture of idols and idol worship (Ex. 20:3-5; 1 Thess. 1:9-10), identifying it as the worship of demons (1 Cor. 10:20-21). We should realize that theology is never neutral and touches matters social and economic. Paul’s teaching would have directly threatened Alexander’s profession and income, for as people turned to Christ as Savior, they would have stopped worshipping idols and even influenced others to turn from that wicked practice as well.

[2] The word “repay” translates the Greek verb ἀποδίδωμι apodidomi, which means to give up, give back, or repay. The verb is in the future tense and anticipates imminent action by the Lord, who always dispenses the proper judgment at the proper time. 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 David writes, “For You [God] recompense a man according to his work” (Ps. 62:12b; cf. Prov. 24:12; Jer. 15:15), and to the Christians at Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thess. 1:6).

Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders

A leader is one who influences the thoughts and actions of others in order to achieve a specific outcome. The Bible differentiates between good and bad leaders, between the righteous and the wicked. Bad leaders exclude God from their daily thoughts and activities and selfishly pursue their own desires, even if it means harming others. Below are some qualities that describe bad leaders:

  1. They trust in human resources rather than God. “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!” (Isa. 31:1).[1]
  2. They are open to lies. “If a ruler pays attention to falsehood [i.e. intentionally listens to lies], all his ministers become wicked” (Pro. 29:12).
  3. They make people groan. “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, people groan” (Pro. 29:2).
  4. They oppress others. “Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days” (Pro. 28:15-16).
  5. They are sometimes described as beasts that are empowered by Satan. “Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea…and the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority” (Rev. 13:1-2; cf. 7:1-8).
  6. They openly attack God and His people. “And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God…It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them” (Rev. 13:6-7).

In contrast, the good leader is first and foremost a follower of God who wears a crown of humility and derives his values and strength from the Lord. Below are some of the qualities of a good leader:

  1. He is a servant to others. When Solomon died, his counselors advised his son, Rehoboam, “If you will be a servant to this people today, and will serve them and grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kings 12:7; cf. Matt. 20:25-28; John 13:13-17; Phil. 2:3-4).
  2. He seeks God’s righteousness as his rule for judging others. “Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king’s son. May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice” (Ps. 72:1-2).
  3. He cares about the poor and needy. “He [the king] will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save. He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, and their blood will be precious in his sight.” (Ps. 72:12-14).
  4. He governs with integrity and skill. Of David, it is written, “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands” (Ps. 78:72).
  5. He rules by wisdom. “By me [biblical wisdom] kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly” (Pro. 8:15-16).
  6. He displays impeccable judgment. “A divine decision is in the lips of the king; his mouth should not err in judgment” (Pro. 16:10; cf. read Deut. 17:18-20).
  7. He brings stability by adhering to justice. “The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it” (Pro. 29:4).
  8. He governs by loyalty and truth. “Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness” (Pro. 20:28).
  9. He governs in righteousness. “It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, for a throne is established on righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and he who speaks right is loved” (Pro. 16:12-13).
  10. He should be honest. “Excellent speech is not fitting for a fool, much less are lying lips to a prince” (Pro. 17:7).
  11. He punishes the wicked. “A wise king winnows the wicked, and drives the threshing wheel over them” (Pro. 20:26).
  12. He associates with honest and gracious persons. “He who loves purity of heart [i.e. has honest intentions] and whose speech is gracious [i.e. kind speech], the king is his friend” (Pro. 22:11).
  13. He searches to find the facts of a matter. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Pro. 25:2; cf. 18:13).
  14. He preserves the rights of others by clear thinking. “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (Pro. 31:4-5).
  15. He surrounds himself with wise counselors. “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Pro. 11:14).
  16. He educates and delegates responsibility to trusted persons. When Moses began leading God’s people, Israel, he overextended himself and began to burnout. Scripture states, “It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening” (Ex. 18:13.). Moses’ father-in-law saw what was happening and said, “Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” (Ex. 18:14). Moses explained the people were coming to him and that he felt compelled to help them (Ex. 18:15-16). Moses’ father-in-law answered, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone” (Ex. 18:17-18). He advised Moses to educate God’s people concerning His statutes and laws and then select honest men who would serve as judges to the people. He said, “You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace” (Ex. 18:19-23). It is said of Moses, he “listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said” (Ex. 18:24).

As believers, we are always to pray for those in leadership positions. Paul writes, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

When God Said “Do Not Pray”

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

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

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

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

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

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

The Worthless Person

     BelialIn several places in the Bible there are references to worthless persons (Deut. 13:13; Judg. 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam. 25:17; 1 Ki. 21:9-13; Prov. 6:12-14; 16:27; 19:28; Nah. 1:11). The term worthless translates the Hebrew בְּלִיָּעַל belial, which occurs 27 times in Scripture. The word means “Uselessness, wickedness…good for nothing.”[1] These are people whom God designates as worthless because they continually resist His will and disrupt the activities of His people. Over time, the term Belial became a name for Satan (2 Cor. 6:15), who embodies wickedness, worthlessness and trouble, always resisting God and seeking to harm those who walk with Him (1 Pet. 5:8).

     Solomon writes, “A worthless [בְּלִיָּעַל belial] person, a wicked man, is the one who walks with a perverse mouth, who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, who points with his fingers; who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, who spreads strife” (Prov. 6:12-14).  The worthless person employs all forms of communication using his “mouth,” “eyes,” “feet,” and “fingers” to advance his evil agenda. His companions understand his various forms of language and consent to do his bidding.  Solomon describes him as one “who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil.” That is, he revels in the natural inclinations of his own depravity (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-22), and in his activities “spreads strife” among men.

     Elsewhere, Scripture describes the worthless person as one who “digs up evil” (Prov. 16:27), “makes a mockery of justice” (Prov. 19:28), and “plots evil against the LORD” (Nah. 1:11). He leads others away from the God (Deut. 13:13), is given to lewd behavior (Judg. 19:22), hides from justice (Judg. 20:13), is unreasonable (1 Sam. 25:17), defies authority (2 Sam. 20:1), is willing to lie against the innocent and promote injustice (1 Ki. 21:9-13), and seeks to overpower the timid leader (2 Chron. 13:7). It should be noted that worthless persons can be born into good families, for “the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the LORD” (1 Sam. 2:12).  And, they can attach themselves to a godly leader and cause trouble, such as “the wicked and worthless men among those who went with David (1 Sam. 30:22).     

     It is a mistake to see the worthless person within the narrow context of criminals or public mischief-makers, although it certainly includes them. Rather, we must see them as permeating all aspects of society. Broadly speaking, worthless persons are males and females, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, educators and students, politicians and citizens, bosses and employees, religious and irreligious, wealthy and poor, and they live to provoke rebellion and discord wherever they are.

     Is there hope for the worthless person to turn from his wickedness and live honorably? Yes, of course there is. But this requires humility and a willingness to turn to God for salvation (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:8-9). Once saved, God generates a new heart that desires to walk with Him, and the once worthless person can be a worthy person who walks in a manner “worthy of the calling” of the Lord (Eph. 4:1; cf. Phil. 1:27; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:11-12; Rev. 3:4).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 134.

When a Believer Perpetually Sins

Can the true believer live in perpetual sin     The purpose of this article is to show that a child of God can simultaneously surrender some areas of his life to God and other areas not. Like train tracks that run parallel, a believer may be obedient in one thing and disobedient in another. David and Solomon are my biblical examples. Both men were believers, were appointed by God to serve as kings in Israel, received direct revelation from the Lord, wrote Scripture, and are in heaven today. Yet, both men directly disobeyed God’s Word, not just on occasion, but on a continual basis throughout their lives (Solomon especially). To be clear, sin is when we transgress God’s law and depart from His intended path. Sin is not only acting contrary to God’s command, but contrary to His righteous character. The failure of both men pertained to their kingship. In order to understand their ongoing failure, we must start with what God commanded of the kings of Israel. Moses wrote:

“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’ 15 you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman. 16 “Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never again return that way.’ 17He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself. (Deut. 17:14-17)

     God wanted the kings of Israel to be servants who trusted in Him. God had proven He could deliver His people by His might (Ex. 14-15), so He forbid the kings to multiply horses, wives, silver and gold because these would tempt them to turn away from the Lord and seek human solutions to their concerns. The natural inclination of the human heart is to trust in self and worldly wisdom rather than God and His Word. Multiplying horses meant the king would rely on his military power to deliver rather than the Lord. Kings also acquired wives as part of political alliances to keep their borders safe. And the accumulation of gold and silver would influence them to pursue pleasure and rely on wealth to solve their problems. There’s nothing wrong with horses, marriage, or wealth; except that these can, when increased, be impediments to our walk with God. When given the opportunity, most people will not intentionally place themselves in a weak and vulnerable place. Yet, it is often in the place of weakness that God’s wisdom and strength is magnified (see 2 Cor. 12:7-10).

     One of the things I love about the Bible is that it shows people as they really are, having both good and bad qualities, successes and failures. For example, Scripture reveals David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14), was chosen by God to be king over Israel (1 Sam. 16:12-13; cf. 1 Chron. 28:4), defeated Israel’s enemies (1 Sam. 17:1-58), and authored Scripture (73 Psalms). However, David was not without his faults. David sinned when he had an affair with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, murdered (2 Sam. 11:1-17), and later he failed as a father when he would not deal with the rape of his daughter, Tamar (2 Sam. 13:1-39), and again when he sinned against the Lord by taking the census in Israel (2 Sam. 24:1-15). 

     Like David, Solomon had his successes and failures. Solomon did well in the early part of his kingship. In humility he sought the Lord for wisdom (1 Ki. 3:4-15; 4:29), executed wise judgment among God’s people (1 Ki. 3:16-28; 10:9), ruled over a large area (1 Ki. 4:21), was chosen by God to build the temple in Jerusalem (1 Chron. 28:6), and wrote several books of the Bible including Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. However, we know that Solomon sinned when he broke God’s code for the kings of Israel by multiplying gold (1 Ki. 10:14-15, 23), horses (1 Ki. 4:26; 10:26), and wives (1 Ki. 11:1-3).[1] This eventually led to a complete turning away from God. The final days of Solomon’s life were given over to worshipping idols (1 Ki. 11:4-8).

     But what does the Bible say about David and Solomon’s perpetual sin? By perpetual sin I mean continuous, uninterrupted sin that lasts for many years. Both David and Solomon’s perpetual sin was polygamy. They both multiplied wives throughout their kingship in spite of God’s clear command (Deut. 17:17), and they never turned from it. David had eight wives that we know by name: 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 other wives that are unnamed (2 Sam. 5:13).[2] Solomon’s kingship started with a political marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter (1 Ki. 3:1). By the end of his life, Scripture reveals Solomon “had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away” (1 Ki. 11:3). God permitted Solomon to sin in this area of his life, and it eventually ruined his walk with the Lord. Solomon eventually worshipped idols (1 Ki. 11:4-10), and this brought God’s anger. God said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant” (1 Ki. 11:11). God punished Solomon for his sin, but He punished him as a son and not an unbeliever. In spite of David and Solomon’s sin, God used them both to accomplish great things. Eventually, Jesus, the promised Messiah, was born in their family line (Matt. 1:6-7, 17).

     Today, there is a battle that rages concerning whether a believer can sin perpetually and still be a true believer. The answer is yes; he can. However, the believer who disobeys God’s Word and abandons his walk can expect the Lord to discipline him, perhaps severely (Heb. 12:4-11), even to death (Lev. 10:1-2; 2 Sam. 6:1-7; Acts 5:1-10; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16-17). The believer who dies by the hand of the Lord goes to heaven (John 10:28), but because of his sin, he forfeits eternal rewards (1 Cor. 3:10-15). This need not happen. The sinning believer can turn from his rebellion and humbly seek the Lord through confession (1 John 1:9), and once restored, can pursue a life of righteousness, as God expects.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Tit. 2:11-14)

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Nehemiah dealt with pagan influence in his day, as foreign women did not convert to Judaism, but rather, turned the hearts of God’s people toward idolatry.  Nehemiah compared the situation in his day to that of Solomon, who sinned against the Lord.  Nehemiah said, “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin” (Neh. 13:26).

[2] As far as I can tell, David married only women within the Israelite community and he cared for his wives.  In one biblical account, two of David’s wives, Abigail and Ahinoam, had been taken captive (1 Sam. 30:5), and David prayed to God concerning the matter.  God provided David victory so that he could reclaim his two wives as well as many possessions (1 Sam. 30:6-18).

Seven Kinds of Death in Scripture

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

The Sin that Leads to Death

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

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

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

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

Most sin does not lead to death

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

God disciplines us for our good

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

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

Summary

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

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

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

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

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

When God’s People Sin

     Do God’s people every behave poorly?  Yes.  There are times we behave poorly.  As a Christian, there are times I behave poorly toward God by refusing to do His will (James 4:17).  There are times I behave poorly toward other Christians by not modeling the love or grace or truth that should characterize a growing believer.  And, there are times I behave poorly toward unbelievers by not modeling the love or grace or truth that reveals God to them.  Though I have eternal life by faith in Christ (John 3:16; 10:28), and am among the Lord’s righteous (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), I still sin (1 John 1:8, 10).  As a believer, Solomon understood “there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).  There are numerous biblical examples of believers who behaved poorly. 

Old Testament examples include:

  1. Lot’s daughters got him drunk and slept with him (Gen. 19:30-38).
  2. Judah slept with Tamar, assuming she was a prostitute (Gen. 38:13-18).
  3. Aaron led the Israelites in idol worship (Ex. 32:1-6).
  4. Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg. 16:1-4).
  5. David had an affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah (2 Sam. 11:1-21).
  6. Solomon ended his life worshipping idols (1 Kings 11:1-10).

New Testament examples include:

  1. James and John (nicknamed Boanerges, or “Sons of Thunder”; Mark 3:17) wanted to call fire down from heaven to kill the residents of a Samaritan city (Luke 9:51-55).
  2. The mother of James and John requested special treatment for her sons, that they might have a place of prominence seated on thrones to the right and left of Jesus (Matt. 20:20-21). This upset the other disciples (Matt. 20:24).
  3. The disciples tried to send away a woman who had come to Jesus for help with her demon possessed daughter (Matt. 15:21-23).
  4. The disciples tried to prevent a man from doing the Lord’s work (Luke 9:49-50).
  5. The disciples argued amongst themselves as to who was greatest in the kingdom (Luke 9:46).
  6. Peter argued with Jesus and tried to prevent Him from going to the cross (Matt. 16:21-22). The Lord reproached Peter sharply (Matt. 16:23).
  7. Peter denied the Lord three times (Matt. 26:34-35; 69-75).
  8. Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement that resulted in their separation as friends in ministry (Acts 15:36-39).
  9. The Christians at Corinth were guilty of quarrels (1 Cor. 1:11), jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21). 
  10. Peter engaged in hypocrisy and was publicly rebuked by Paul (Gal. 2:11-14).
  11. The Apostle John was twice corrected for worshipping an angel (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). John knew the depravity of his own heart and how easy it is to fall into idolatry, and he cautioned other Christians to “guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). 

Five of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3 behaved poorly by not doing God’s will, and the Lord Jesus reprimanded them. 

  1. Church at Ephesus – “you have left your first love” (Rev 2:4).
  2. Church at Pergamum – “you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality” (Rev 2:14).
  3. Church at Thyatira – “you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” (Rev 2:20).
  4. Church at Sardis – “I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God” (Rev 3:2).
  5. Church at Laodicea – “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot” (Rev 3:15).

     Though there are numerous examples of believers, both in the Old and New Testament, who behaved poorly toward God, other believers, and unbelievers, this is never what God expects from us.  As His children, God calls us to live holy and righteous lives (Tit. 2:11-14), to manifest love (1 Thess. 4:9), grace (Eph. 4:29), and truth to others (Eph. 4:15).  When we fail, we should humbly confess our sins and move on (1 John 1:9), as we keep striving to know God and walk in His will (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

Video:

Characteristics of a Controlling Personality

     Generally, a controlling person is self-absorbed, insensitive towards others, pushes to get his own way, and manipulates circumstances and people to achieve his own agenda. He cares mainly about himself and sees others as a means to an end. When feeling threatened, he may resort to unethical behavior to destroy his opponent. He does not understand or appreciate freedom and grace. 

The Controlling Personality     Controlling others involves breaking them down, destroying their self-worth, degrading them psychologically and emotionally, even resorting to social and physical abuse in some instances. In many cases, the controlling person lacks the capacity to enjoy a mature loving relationship, because his thoughts are consumed with self, and he does not know how to love sacrificially for the benefit of others. He does not know how to love graciously, freely, with an open hand, expecting nothing in return. He gives only to get. He may use the word love, but it’s only as a means to an end, to serve his own selfish program and not the wellbeing of the other person. People are seen as objects to be manipulated, not individuals to be loved. 

     These are my observations as I’ve dealt with controlling people over the years. I have no one person in mind. A controlling person can be male or female, religious or irreligious, old or young, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, and belong to any ethnic group. A controlling person may fit some or all of characteristics below. I’ve modified the list a few times, and may make corrections in the future. 

  1. The controlling personality operates primarily from a base of power, not reason. This first point is very important to understand, for what follows is based on it. Often, we don’t understand the reasoning behind a controlling person’s behavior, when in fact, there is no consistent reason, because reason is not the base of operations; power is. Reason is employed as it benefits him and advances his power. Remember: rational words only work with rational minds, and the controlling personality is not always rational.
  2. A controlling person often likes a position of authority (politician, professor, doctor, CEO, pastor, etc.). Being in control of others makes him feel important, powerful and secure (authority is legitimate, but arrogant people abuse their authority and hurt the innocent). The problem with arrogant people is that they rarely see their own faults, but only the faults of others. Their hubris prevents them from being open to genuine discussion about change. A humble person does not abuse his position of authority, but sees himself as a servant-leader, open to discussion, correction, and willingly makes sacrifices for others (Phil 2:3-4).
  3. A controlling person often will try to destroy your confidence through subtle criticisms that keep you on the defensive, making you feel self-conscious all the time and walking on eggshells. The gradual chipping away at your self-esteem leaves you deflated, feeling insignificant, and eventually makes you feel like you have no value at all (criticism can be valid, if it is followed with loving correction that builds the other person up). Scripture teaches we are to encourage one another (1 Th 5:11, 14; Heb 3:13), and build each other up (Rom 14:19), but the controlling person prefers only destructive criticism.
  4. A controlling person will sometimes recruit others to help coerce or control you. Sometimes other people are unsuspecting participants and may not know they are being used to cause harm.[1]
  5. A controlling person will sometimes use your past, or even your weaknesses against you. This is unfortunate, because in any relationship there must be trust, and this means sharing things about your past and perhaps areas where you may struggle. The controlling person will exploit these areas to his own advantage, either to keep you in his grip, or to assassinate your character with others.
  6. A controlling person will often refuse to allow you to leave the relationship, demanding you conform to his way of doing things. There’s often no grace or freedom to think or act on your own. His personality leaves little room for your personality.
  7. If threatened, a controlling person will at times seek to cut off your friends (isolate you), or try to discredit or destroy your reputation in order to keep you under his controlling influence. The general rule is that what he cannot control, he will seek to destroy (psychologically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and in some cases physically).
  8. A controlling person is often concerned with his own appearance and with the appearance of those within his grip. This helps him try to control the perception of others beyond his grasp (it’s good to be well dressed, but emphasis should be on loving character more than appearance).
  9. A controlling person sometimes wants to associate with important people because this adds to his own image of importance. Relationships are a means to an end, and this should always be kept in mind (sometimes we will know socially important people, but it’s wrong to flaunt our relationship with them for personal gain).
  10. A controlling person will rarely admit he is wrong, even when evidence is provided. This is important because arguing becomes an exercise in futility and frustration (a humble man will readily admit his faults and be open to loving correction).
  11. A controlling person rarely changes (since this requires humility), so it’s better to quietly leave the relationship if possible (especially if you’re in danger of harm). When leaving a controlling relationship, don’t worry about explaining yourself, as he will most likely not understand your words or actions. He will not be happy with your choice, but he’s not happy anyway, so you might as well be free from the controlling influence and seek more mature relationships.

     It is okay, and sometimes best, to avoid the controlling person altogether. However, don’t be rude if/when you encounter him. The Apostle Paul says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom 12:17-18). Treat him with grace and love, even though he does not show it to you. Seek to grow and be more than what he is to you. Try to love graciously, freely, with an open hand, expecting nothing in return. For coping skills, please see the related articles below.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. A Primer on the Doctrine of Separation  
  2. The Characteristics of a Christian Leader 
  3. What Does it Mean to Be a Man? 
  4. Twelve Ways to Deal with a Bad Boss  
  5. Why Believers Show No Grace  
  6. The Value of Suffering  
  7. Mature Christian Love  
  8. Bible Promises that Strengthen our Faith  
  9. Dealing with Fools  
  10. Choosing Righteous Friends  
  11. Choose a Christian Spouse  
  12. Love your Enemies  

[1] This happened to me back in 2002 when I was pastoring a Southern Baptist Church in Central Texas. The head deacon was disturbed that I did not perform traditional altar calls at the end of the church service (they are not biblical) and argued with me for hours, trying to force me to comply (it was a very unpleasant experience). When I politely refused, he quietly and quickly spread lies within the congregation and engaged in character assassination. After winning over many unsuspecting church members, he inspired a coup d’etat, and within a few days I was unjustly and forcefully voted out of the church. The control-freak won and the church lost its pastor and a third of the members walked out of the morning service. I was deeply hurt by the matter and still bear scars. Over the years I’ve had other—less traumatic—experiences with controlling church leaders.