There’s Only One Human Race

Bible With PenBiblically, there is only one human race. The Bible reveals, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27; cf., Gen 9:18-19). The apostle Paul said that God “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). The idea of multiple races confuses and divides people in harmful ways, allowing for racist ideologies to flourish. Certainly, there are different tribes, ethnic groups, languages, and cultures, but all humanity constitutes only one race. According to Norman Geisler, “The Scriptures clearly teach that the whole human race is descended from a single pair (Gen 1:27; cf.; 2:7, 22; 3:20; 9:19). All are children of a common parent and have a common nature.”[1]

Sadly, some people wrongly discriminate against others because of the pigmentation of their skin. According to modern science, skin color is produced by the amount of melanin the body produces, not because people belong to a different race of humans. In an article on melanin, Mary Jo DiLonardo states:

Melanin is a natural skin pigment. Hair, skin, and eye color in people and animals mostly depends on the type and amount of melanin they have. Special skin cells called melanocytes make melanin. Everyone has the same number of melanocytes, but some people make more melanin than others. If those cells make just a little bit of melanin, your hair, skin, and the iris of your eyes can be very light. If your cells make more, then your hair, skin, and eyes will be darker. The amount of melanin your body makes depends on your genes. If your parents have a lot or a little skin pigment, you’ll probably look like them.[2]

Hands of Different ColorsApart from the natural melanin our bodies produce, it’s also true that exposure to the sun causes our bodies to make more melanin, which darkens our skin color even more.[3] But skin color does not indicate different races of humans. The idea of different races based on skin color is an artificial construct that has no basis in biology or genetics. Unfortunately, even the Supreme Court of the United States, according to U.S. Law Code § 1093, defines a racial group as “a set of individuals whose identity as such is distinctive in terms of physical characteristics or biological descent.”[4] This is scientifically incorrect. In an article in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Yasuko Takezawa states, “Genetic studies in the late 20th century refuted the existence of biogenetically distinct races, and scholars now argue that ‘races’ are cultural interventions.”[5] All people, whatever their skin color, are 99.99+% genetically identical. Takezawa further comments, “There are no genes that can identify distinct groups that accord with the conventional race categories. In fact, DNA analyses have proved that all humans have much more in common, genetically, than they have differences. The genetic difference between any two humans is less than 1 percent.”[6] Race, having no basis in genetics, is more an artificial social construct than a biological fact.[7]

Charles-Darwin-3000-3x2gty-56a4890a3df78cf77282ddafThough racism has ancient roots, Charles Darwin popularized it in our current culture. The original title of Darwin’s book suggests that he viewed some races as superior to others. The title of Darwin’s book is: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. But the subtitle reads: On the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The idea that there is a struggle between various human races, and that one race is favored over another (because of greater abilities), implies racial superiority. Darwin’s idea is that in the struggle for life, natural selection will filter out the weaker race, leaving the stronger race to continue. This notion has caused great harm to humanity. Henry Morris states, “Although racism is an ancient fallacy, it was Darwinian evolutionism that first seemed to give it scientific plausibility. For many decades after Darwin, the idea of different origins for the different human races seemed to have displaced the biblical doctrine of just one race.”[8] Morris further states:

There is really only one race of human beings, and this is the human race. Our primeval parents did not evolve from one or more populations of ancient primates, but were directly created by God, in His own image. God did establish at Babel distinct nations corresponding to the various languages He also established at that time, with a purpose for each nation and tribe. In that sense there is divine justification for national patriotism in a nation, but only in consistency with God’s purpose for that nation in the context of his overall purpose for all nations. There is no basis whatever — theological or scientific — for notions of “racial” superiority. These ideas have led to great suffering.[9]

Addressing the evils of racism, Norman Geisler states, “The idea that there is a superior race, of whatever color, is contrary to the most fundamental teaching of Scripture…There is only one race—the human race—and we are all part of it. There are many ethnic groups, but, again, only one race—the Adamic race, which includes all of us.”[10] John Witmer adds, “Adam is significant as the father of all humanity. Because we are all descendants of Adam, differences of skin color, culture, customs, and language are of no ultimate importance. No one race is intrinsically better than any other.”[11] According to John Piper, “The heart that believes one race is more valuable than another is a sinful heart. And that sin is racism. The behavior that distinguishes one race as more valuable than another is a sinful behavior. And that sin is called racism.”[12]

As people, we share the same physiology. Whatever a man and woman’s skin color, national origin, language, or culture, when they copulate, they produce human offspring. According to Thiessen and Doerksen, “blood can be transfused from one [person] to another, organs can be transplanted, the body temperature, pulse rate, and blood pressure are within the same limits, and there is liability to the same diseases.”[13] Furthermore, people share the same basic mental and emotional qualities. According to Louis Berkhof:

The soul is the most important part of the constitutional nature of man, and psychology clearly reveals the fact that the souls of all men, to whatever tribes or nations they may belong, are essentially the same. They have in common the same [creaturely] appetites, instincts, and passions, the same tendencies and capacities, and above all the same higher qualities, the mental and moral characteristics that belong exclusively to man.[14]

Salvation is Available for Everyone

The CrossBiblically, there is only one human race, as “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27; cf., Gen 9:18-19; Acts 17:26). All people are special, being made in the image of God (imago Dei) and should be treated with respect. Though all people are made in God’s image, the Bible also reveals everyone is marked by sin and guilty before a holy God; as “there are none righteous, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:10, 23). By God’s declaration, all are condemned in Adam, for “just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12; cf. Rom 5:19; 1 Cor 15:21-22). That is, we all sinned when Adam sinned. His guilt is our guilt. Furthermore, we are powerless to save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-2), and no amount of good works can open heaven’s door to us. Though we cannot save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3), there’s good news that God offers salvation by means of faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; Acts 4:12). Because of God’s goodness, all are savable through the work of Christ who died a substitutionary death on the cross for everyone (Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2). Jesus said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And this He did, “For while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom 5:10), as “Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). The gospel message is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).  At the moment of faith in Christ, God forgives us all our sins (Eph 1:7), gives us eternal life (John 10:28), and rescues us from Satan’s domain of darkness and transfers us to “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13). This is offered to us by grace (which means we don’t deserve it) and received by faith in Christ (and not by any good works which we might offer). Salvation is never what we do for God; rather, it is what God has done for us through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ who paid our sin debt in full (Heb 10:10-14). Paul states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Salvation is imparted when we see ourselves from the divine perspective as sinfully separated from God (Isa 59:2), dead in our “trespasses and sin” (Eph 2:1), and then turn from all human effort to save ourselves by means of good works and trust solely in Jesus as our Savior. The issue for everyone is very simple: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Act 16:31).

In closing, there is no biblical or biological basis for multiple human races, and the idea of race as a social construct is divisive. To judge people based on their skin color is wrong. However, to judge people based on their character and conduct is valid. We should praise those who adhere to biblical morality and reject those who live by selfish and sinful values. The teaching of one human race is both theologically and practically significant.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 158.

[2] Mary Jo DiLonardo, “What is Melanin?”, medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS, (WebMD, August 21, 2021). https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-melanin

[3] See The Sun’s Effect on Skin by David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/anatomyvideos/000125.htm#

[4] U.S. Code § 1093 – Definitions, as found at the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1093

[5] Takezawa, Y. I., Wade, Peter and Smedley, Audrey. “race.” Encyclopedia Britannica, November 23, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/topic/race-human.

[6] Ibid.

[7] How Many Races Are There in the World? https://blog.world-mysteries.com/science/how-many-major-races-are-there-in-the-world/

[8] Henry Morris, The Long War Against God: The Henry Morris Signature Collection (Green Forest, AZ., Master Books Publishers, 2000), 78.

[9] Ibid., 83-84.

[10] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, 454.

[11] John A. Witmer, “Adam,” ed. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, The Theological Wordbook, Swindoll Leadership Library (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, Inc., 2000), 4.

[12] John Piper, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian (Wheaton, Il., Crossway Publications, 2011), 18-19.

[13] Henry Clarence Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 159.

[14] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 189.

Is Self-Defense Biblical?

Are Christians biblically justified to use force for self-defense? Depending on the situation, the answer is sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Killing a thief is both justified and unjustified, depending on the situation (Ex 22:2-3). In Scripture there are examples of believers who at one time defended themselves or others, but then at other times fled and/or suffered for their faith. David, who killed Goliath (1 Sam 17:48-51), twice fled when Saul tried to kill him with a spear (1 Sam 18:11; 19:10), and refused to retaliate, even when he had opportunity (1 Sam 24:4-6).

In the book of Daniel, we learn about three Hebrews who opposed a tyrant and accepted the possibility of death by fire (Dan 3:1-30). Daniel chose to face death in a den of lions rather than cease his prayers to God (Dan 6:1-24). Peter defied the command to stop preaching in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18-20; 5:28-29) and rejoiced after being flogged (Acts 5:40-41). Stephen offered prayers and forgiveness for those who stoned him to death (Acts 7:54-60). Paul avoided a murder attempt by escaping through an opening in a city wall as he was lowered to safety in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). Paul also accepted unjust persecutions, beatings, and imprisonment for Christ (2 Cor 11:23-30; 2 Tim 2:8-9).

Jesus before PilateEven Jesus did not fight against His accusers and attackers (Matt 26:51-53; John 18:10-11; 1 Pet 2:21-23), but willingly laid down His life (John 10:15, 18; Gal 2:20; Eph 5:25), and died a substitutionary death on a cross for our sins (Mark 10:45; 1 Cor 15:3-4; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 3:18). When asked about His kingship and kingdom, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews” (John 18:36a). When Peter drew a sword to defend Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10), Jesus stopped him and said, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11). The Son of God had the means to defend Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, for He declared, “do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53). Twelve legions of angels (approximately 72,000) would have been more than adequate to fight against Jesus’ attackers. However, it was not the Father’s will that Jesus be defended, either by angels or men, but that He suffer and die for our sins. This was for the Father’s glory and our benefit (John 12:28; 32-33; 17:1). The world is not worthy of those who suffer and die a martyr’s death for the cause of Christ (Heb 11:36-40).

Should Christians be Pacifists?

There are Christians who love the Lord Jesus and take His words seriously when He says, “do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matt 5:39). But is this a call for Christians to practice total pacificism? Norman Geisler states, “Biblical arguments for total pacifism are flawed. For example, Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39) refers to a personal insult (like a slap in the face), not to bodily harm.”[1] I agree with Geisler on this matter. Overlooking a personal insult can be very difficult at times, but this is what we’re called to do.[2] The apostle Paul said, “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). As growing Christians, we should have a calm spirit, not be hypersensitive, exercise self-discipline, control our emotions, and learn to dismiss an insult. Solomon said, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov 19:11).

Is Killing the Same as Murder?

Killing is not the same as murder. Murder is the taking of a human life for unjustified reasons, and under God’s Law, “the murderer shall surely be put to death” (Num 35:16; cf. Ex 21:12; Lev 24:17). God authorized killing when He told Noah, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen 9:6). In fact, God Himself has killed (Lev 10:1-3; 2 Sam 6:1-7; Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor 11:27-30; cf., Deut 32:39; 1 Sam 2:6) and will kill again (Rev 9:15; 19:11-21). God’s law for Israel listed specific violations that warranted the death penalty.[3] Though these are few in number, they clearly show that killing is not wrong in God’s sight. But if an offender displayed humility, God may grant a reduced sentence.[4] God’s directive for capital punishment continues into the New Testament (Rom 13:4-6).

Good Government’s Right to Kill

When doing God’s will, governmental rulers are to be respected and obeyed, as God has granted them the authority to kill for just reasons. Scripture states, “for it [government] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing” (Rom 13:4a). The sword is a picture of capital punishment, which God sanctions by means of the governments of this world. Capital punishment is necessary to exact justice for those who have been innocently murdered and to deter future acts of evil. Killing is justified when God commands it.

Certainly, there are rulers who abuse their power for sinful purposes, and at times need to be resisted (with wisdom and courage). However, for the most part, governments serve as “a minister of God” (Rom 13:4), and for this reason, we submit ourselves “for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Pet 2:13-14). Furthermore, governments employ and empower police and military as a means of restraining evil, and this sometimes requires force, and even deadly force. Good government will adequately fund and support their police and military. And if a Christian is called into police or military service, then he may be the one who wields the instrument of punishment to accomplish God’s will. In this case, he needs to be the best police officer or soldier he can be, and this for God’s glory.

Biblical Examples of Self-Defense

Self DefenseIn Genesis, we read that Abram fought against Chedorlaomer to defend the innocent and restore stolen property (Gen 14:1-24). David used force to rescue his family and belongings from Amalekites who destroyed and plundered the city of Ziklag (1 Sam 30:1-20).[5] In the book of Esther, we learn about a man named Haman, who “sought to destroy all the Jews” (Est 3:6). By deceit, Haman convinced King Ahasuerus to pass a decree that would allow him to kill all the Jews, and the king blindly passed the law (Est 3:7-14). Later, Haman was hanged on the gallows he intended for the Jews (Est 7:10; 8:7), and afterwards, King Ahasuerus passed a second law which “granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives” (Est 8:11). When they came under attack, “the Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying” (Est 9:5). The sword was the weapon being used against the Jews, and the sword was used by Hebrews to defend themselves. This was clearly self-defense. When Nehemiah was rebuilding the city wall in Jerusalem, both he and his builders were under threat of attack (Neh 4:1-10). Nehemiah split his forces between defenders and workers, and Nehemiah said, “half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah” (Neh 4:16) And it is said of the builders themselves that “each wore his sword girded at his side as he built” (Neh 4:18). Clearly these swords were for self-defense. Jesus, toward the end of His ministry on earth, told His disciples, “Whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one” (Luke 22:36). Norman Geisler states, “while Jesus forbade His disciples from using a sword for spiritual purposes (Matt 26:52), He urged His disciples to buy a sword if necessary for protection (Luke 22:36–38).”[6]

Sometimes legal defense is the preferred course of action. Paul, who at one time took a beating with rods (Acts 16:22-23), later used legal force against his attackers by exercising his rights as Roman citizen to protect himself from a flogging that might have killed him (Acts 22:25-29). And Paul eventually appealed to Caesar, hoping to gain a just trial (Acts 25:7-12). Christians can certainly use the legal system as a means of protection.

Non-lethal Use of Force

In Genesis, we see an example of a non-lethal use of force to neutralize a threat (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 men 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). Surrounding the house and making demands was an intimidation tactic designed to cause fear.

Lot SodomLot 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). 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). When the men of Sodom did not get what they wanted, they resorted to force and tried to break into Lot’s house. This mob would certainly have committed a great evil against Lot and his guests, but fortunately, “the angels reached out, brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door” (Gen 19:10). Since the mob was not rational, the angels were required to use force, so “they struck the men who were at the entrance of the house, both young and old, with a blinding light so that they were unable to find the entrance” (Gen 19:11). Here, we witness the angels employing a measured use of nonlethal force sufficient to stop the men of Sodom 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). Though the actors in this example were angels, it still demonstrates an example non-lethal force used to neutralize a threat.

Americans and Self-Defense

Guns-Self-Defense-Law-Maryland-1080x630Law-abiding responsible Americans have the right to own a firearm for self-defense. This is our constitutional right according the Second Amendment of the United States of America, which declares, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There is no conflict between Christianity and our constitutional right as Americans to own guns for protection and self-defense. Wayne Grudem states, “A gun is the most effective means of defense in all kinds of threatening situations, especially against attackers who may be stronger or more numerous. Protection of the right to own a gun is especially important in areas of higher crime or more frequent violence.”[7]

Self-defense with a gun is not mandatory for believers, but is a matter of Christian liberty. If you don’t like guns as a method of self-defense, then by all means have some protection, whether pepper spray, a knife, taser, or whatever increases your ability to neutralize a threat. Having an alert mind that pays attention to your surroundings is your best defense. Also, it might be helpful to use psychological deterrents to keep criminals away from your home.[8]

Summary

There are times when using lethal force is justified, and other times not. God sanctions justified killing, but not murder. God has granted good governments the right to kill, both as a means of exacting justice and deterring crime. And there are clear examples of believers in Scripture who used lethal force as a means of protecting themselves from unjustified attacks. Furthermore, God Himself has killed and will kill again. And non-lethal uses of force may also be used to neutralize a threat. Lastly, law-abiding Christians in America have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms as a means of self-defense.

In closing, I would like to reference an article on guns and self defense by pastor John Piper. In his article, he states he “would personally counsel a Christian not to have a firearm.” Though I disagree with his final position, his article offers a different point of view, which is helpful when considering this sensitive subject.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

[2] As God’s children, we should expect unjust persecution and suffering in this fallen world (John 15:18-19; Phil 1:29; 2 Tim 1:12; 1 Pet 3:14, 17), and when attacked because of our faith, should not retaliate (Rom 12:17-21; 1 Pet 2:23), but trust God that He will deliver if He chooses (Dan 3:17-18; 6:21-22; Acts 5:19-20; 12:6-7).

[3] The sins that warranted the death penalty include: 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 22:22), 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).

[4] For example, in Scripture we read about David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah (2 Sam 11:1-17). The divine estimation was, “the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Sam 11:27). Biblically, both offenses warranted the death penalty under God’s law (Ex 21:12-14; Deut 22:22). 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).

[5] David was a man of war and had spent years developing his martial skills. He even blessed God for the military skills he’d received, saying, “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle” (Psa 144:1; cf. Psa 18:34).

[6] Norman L. Geisler, “Does the Bible Support a Just War?”, 995.

[7] Wayne A. Grudem, Politics according to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 211.

[8] For example, keep the outside of your house well lit, install cameras (or fake ones if you can’t afford real ones), post signs that say your property is managed by a security company, or signs that say you’ll use force if needed. For most criminals there is a risk verses reward mentality, and they are often deterred from committing crime if the risk of being caught, injured, or punished exceeds the prospect of reward. This assumes some rational thinking, and I realize some criminals engage in harmful behavior without thought or fear (perhaps because they’re impaired by drugs or a mental disorder).

Suffering that Builds Christian Character

No one likes suffering, and generally, we try to avoid it. However, some suffering is unavoidable, as there are people and circumstances beyond our ability to influence. This is part of the human experience. But we are not neutral, and though suffering is inevitable, how we handle it is optional. If we greatly fear suffering, then we may be tempted to avoid it at all costs, and the weakening instinct of self-preservation might handicap us from maturing in life. God wants us to grow up and become mature Christians (1 Cor 14:20; Eph 4:11-14), and suffering is sometimes the vehicle He uses to help get us there.

As Christians, we realize some fear is rational and healthy, and this helps regulate our words and actions. Rational fear might also be labeled as healthy caution, which is a mark of wisdom. When driving on the highway, it’s good to be slightly cautious of other drivers, as this can help us avoid an accident. And, when entering a relationship with another person (i.e., friend, business partner, spouse, etc.), a little caution can save us much heartache. Solomon tells us, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). Here, an ounce of prevention will save us from a pound of trouble.

Biblical Self-TalkSometimes, we’re the source of our own suffering, as we make bad choices that affect us physically, socially, financially, etc. The wise will learn from their bad choices—even choices done in ignorance—and be better. And sometimes our mental and emotional distress is the product of irrational fears in which we manufacture imaginary negative situations that upset us. These are the mental dramas we construct in our thinking in which we are under attack by someone or something and feel helpless to stop the assault. These self-produced mental plays can include family, friends, coworkers, or anyone we think has the power to hurt us. But we have the power to redirect our thoughts, shut the story down, change the characters, or rewrite the script any time we want. Of course, this requires introspection and the discipline to manage our thoughts. As I’ve shared in other lessons, the stability of the Christian is often predicated on the biblical content and continuity of our thinking. It’s not only what we think, but we keep on thinking that provides mental and emotional equilibrium.

As a Christian, suffering can be viewed either as a liability or an asset. A liability is a burden, a drain on one’s life and resources. However, an asset is a benefit, something that adds value to life. If we’re able to frame life’s difficulties from the divine perspective, then we can thank God for the trials He sends our way, because we know He’s using them to humble us and shape us into the persons He wants us to be. How we view the trial determines whether it makes us bitter or better. But such an attitude is a discipline of the mind.

Paul-4In Paul’s second letter to the Christians at Corinth, he recorded an incident in which he’d been caught up to heaven and “heard inexpressible words” (2 Cor 12:4). But Paul’s heavenly experience came with a price. The Lord knew Paul would become prideful because of the experience, so the Lord gave him a “thorn in the flesh” that was intended to cause him suffering and humility (2 Cor 12:7). Though Paul did not like the suffering, he eventually came to understand it was divinely purposeful. Twice he declared it was given “to keep me from exalting myself” (2 Cor 12:7). The word “exalt” translates the Greek verb ὑπεραίρω huperairo, which means “to have an undue sense of one’s self-importance, rise up, [or] exalt oneself.”[1] It means one becomes prideful. Elsewhere in Scripture we learn “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Prov 16:18), and that God “is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5b).

Paul asked God, on three occasions, to take the discomfort away (2 Cor 12:8). But God denied Paul’s request, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9a). God’s grace (χάρις charis) in this passage refers to His divine enablement to cope with a problem that He refused to remove. God’s grace was the strength necessary to cope with a problem that was greater than Paul’s ability to handle on his own. And God’s grace was in proportion to Paul’s weakness. The greater Paul’s weakness, the more grace God gave. This was a moment-by-moment grace, sufficient for Paul’s need.

ThornAs Christians, it’s legitimate that we ask God to remove our suffering; however, what He does not remove, He intends for us to deal with. This was true with Paul. God did not want to remove Paul’s discomfort because it served a purpose, and that was to keep him humble, to keep him close to the Lord. When Paul understood what God was accomplishing in him through the suffering, Paul chose to embrace it, knowing it came with divine help to shape him into a better person. Paul responded properly, saying, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9b). This was done by faith and not feelings. Furthermore, Paul said, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). The word content translates the Greek verb εὐδοκέω eudokeo, which means “to take pleasure or find satisfaction in something, be well pleased, [to] take delight.”[2] Paul was not a victim of his suffering, as he chose to frame it with a healthy biblical attitude. This also fulfills the command to “Do all things without complaining” (Phil 2:14), and to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; and in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18).

Elsewhere, Paul said, “we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:3-5). And James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam 1:2-4). Exulting in tribulations and counting it all joy when we encounter various trials is a discipline of the mind and will, in which “we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Warren Wiersbe states:

Our values determine our evaluations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to “count it all joy.” If we live only for the present and forget the future, then trials will make us bitter, not better. Job had the right outlook when he said, “But He knows the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). So, when trials come, immediately give thanks to the Lord and adopt a joyful attitude. Do not pretend; do not try self-hypnosis; simply look at trials through the eyes of faith. Outlook determines outcome; to end with joy, begin with joy.[3]

Weakness is a blessing if it teaches us to look to God more and to ourselves less. And we cease to be the victim when we see suffering as divinely purposeful. This is not always easy, but the alternative to faith is fear, and fear brings mental slavery to the circumstances of life. By framing his weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties from the divine perspective, Paul was able to see them, not as a liability, but as an asset that worked for his benefit to help shape him into the person God wanted him to be. From God’s perspective, Paul’s Christian character was more important than his creaturely comforts. And Paul needed to have a character that was marked by humility, not pride.

It is true that God desires to bless us; and of course, we enjoy this. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). But it’s also God’s will to advance us spiritually, and this means He will send us trials that are intended to burn away the dross of weak character and refine those golden qualities He wants to see in us. We trust that when God turns up the heat, that He also keeps His hand on the thermostat, regulating the temperature. And when we desire and pursue spiritual maturity as an important goal in our Christian life, then we can become content, pleased, and even find delight in the hardships, because we know God controls them and sends them our way for our good. And this is done by faith, and not feelings.

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), 1031.

[2] Ibid., 404.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 338.

Biblical Encouragement

Encourage on anotherAs Christians, we are directed to “encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Th 5:11). To encourage (in-courage) someone is to impart courage to them so they can be sustained in a difficult situation. It is to cheer them on, to build them up, to boost their morale, to strengthen them internally so they will move forward to achieve a goal. Athletes understand the power a coach or fans have when cheering them on. Words are often the most common means of encouraging others. Solomon tells us, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad” (Prov 12:25), and “The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word” (Isa 50:4a).[1] Christian courage is not the absence of fear; rather, it’s the overcoming of fear to do that which God says is right.

God’s people need encouragement on a regular basis. We need it because we’re not impervious to the pressures or frustrations of life. We need encouragement to do God’s will because we live in a fallen world with unethical people who confront us with challenges and pressures that cause fatigue and drain our battery. To discourage is to dishearten, depress, dampen, or frustrate another. Webster’s Dictionary defines discouragement as “to deprive of courage or confidence” or “to dissuade or attempt to dissuade from doing something.”[2] Dwight Pentecost writes, “Discouragement is the loss of courage. When an English word begins with the prefix dis, it simply means that the person being described has lost whatever the rest of the word suggests. The man who is discouraged has lost courage, has lost heart, has lost the will to fight; and the discouraged man is a defeated man.”[3]

Because we live in a fallen world and many are governed by sinful values, there will always be people who strive to discourage God’s people. For example, in the book of Ezra we read, “The people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:4-5). Discouraged, frightened, and frustrated all refer to the damaging psychological and emotional impact the opposition had on the Israelites who were trying to do God’s will when rebuilding their temple. Later on, the temple was rebuilt, but only after the people had received adequate support from King Darius (Ezra 6:1-22).

Discouragement Can Lead to Despair

JeremiahDiscouragement is the lack of courage. It means one has lost the will to fight. I know Christian leaders—pastors, teachers, elders, deacons—who stand or fall depending on the level of support of those around them. No one can stand alone for long. Even great men such as Moses and Elijah became discouraged and even asked to die when the pressures of life became overwhelming. Moses got discouraged with the Israelites in the wilderness and cried out to God, saying, “I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. So, if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness” (Num 11:14-15). And Elijah, when threatened by Queen Jezebel, ran for his life and “went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers’” (1 Ki 19:4).

JeremiahBoth Job and Jeremiah, when facing great pressure, slipped into severe depression and wished they’d never been born (Job 10:18-22; Jer 20:17-18). In the midst of his sadness Job said, “why then hast Thou brought me out of the womb? Would that I had died and no eye had seen me! I should have been as though I had not been, carried from womb to tomb” (Job 10:18-19). Because of his sorrow, Job saw his life as a “land of darkness and deep shadow; the land of utter gloom as darkness itself, of deep shadow without order” (Job 10:21-22a). During his time of sadness, the prophet Jeremiah wished that his “mother would have been [his] grave, and her womb ever pregnant” and in his great anguish went on to ask, “why did I ever come forth from the womb to look on trouble and sorrow, so that my days have been spent in shame?” (Jer 20:17-18).

Discouragement can lead to a loss of confidence, especially if there’s little return on our efforts, or we experience prolonged attacks.[4] Does this mean we never discourage others? Of course not. As Christians, there are times when we want to discourage sinful behavior and bad choices, as it can lead to harmful consequences, both for self and others. There is a valid place for encouragement and discouragement, as we want to encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior. Encouragement should be given to those who are doing good and need support along the way. It will help to sustain them if the struggle becomes great.

Biblical Examples of Encouragement

Just as some can be a source of discouragement, others can be a wellspring of encouragement. In the book of Judges, we learn “the men of Israel encouraged one another and arrayed themselves for battle” (Judg 20:22a). In the book of Samuel, we’re told, “Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David at Horesh, and encouraged him in God” (1 Sam 23:16). Interestingly, on one occasion, God used the angel, Gabriel, to be an encouragement to King Darius. Gabriel told Daniel, “In the first year of Darius the Mede, I arose to be an encouragement and a protection for him” (Dan 11:1). The text does not tell us how the angel Gabriel encouraged Darius, but only that he did

JoshuaIn 1405 B.C., as Moses was nearing death, the Lord gave him instructions concerning Joshua, who was to take his place and lead His people into the land of Canaan. The Lord said, “Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter there; encourage him, for he will cause Israel to inherit it” (Deut 1:38). Moses was to encourage Joshua in order to strengthen him for the task that lay before him. The word encourage translates the Hebrew verb חָזָק chazaq, which means “to be strong, grow strong, to be stronger than, to prevail over, to have courage.”[5] The form of the verb is intensive (Piel), which means to make strong or strengthen. In effect, Moses was to give something to Joshua that he needed but did not have, namely, the public conference of authority (Num 27:18-20; Deut 31:7). In this way, Joshua was strengthened to lead God’s people. In another place, the same Hebrew verb is used of the king of Assyria, in which God “turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel” (Ezr 6:22). Here, the encouragement took the form of public support as well as the allocation of resources to accomplish the task of rebuilding the temple (Ezra 7:11-28).

In 701 B.C., in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign (2 Ki 18:13), Hezekiah faced a stressful situation when “Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and besieged the fortified cities, and thought to break into them for himself” (2 Ch 32:1). Here was an extremely stressful situation for the king and all the citizens of Judah. King Hezekiah could not control the attitude or actions of Sennacherib, but he had a choice to control his response. The king proved to be a wise leader who made good choices as he rallied his leadership team and took practical steps to fortify the city and its defenses (2 Ch 32:2-5). But Hezekiah knew external fortifications would not be enough. He needed his people to be fortified in their souls, strengthened within, so they might have the courage necessary to face the opposition. We learn that Hezekiah “appointed military officers over the people and gathered them to him in the square at the city gate, and spoke encouragingly to them” (2 Ch 32:6). Here is wisdom. Here is good leadership. Operating from divine viewpoint—which strengthened his own soul—Hezekiah used his words to insert divine viewpoint into the minds of his hearers, saying, “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be discouraged because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the One with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Ch 32:7-8a). If the people of God’s kingdom were to be strengthened in their souls, they would need to place their focus on God rather than the overwhelming problem at hand. Apparently, the people had positive volition and received Hezekiah’s words. And the result was, “Hezekiah’s words greatly encouraged the people” (2 Ch 32:8b). Now they were ready to face the enemy. Now they were ready to win.

During Jesus’ time of ministry on the earth, we observe on several occasions where He encouraged others. He told a paralytic to “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt 9:2). And to a woman whom He healed of a hemorrhage, He said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well” (Matt 9:22). The Lord calmed His disciples when they were frightened during a storm (Matt 14:26), saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matt 14:27). And when He informed His disciples that they would face future tribulation (John 16:33a), He also said, “but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). When the apostle Paul faced an attack in Jerusalem (Acts 23:10), Jesus stood by his side, saying, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also” (Acts 23:11). Though many were against Paul, Jesus was with him, and that was enough. In all these instances Jesus used the Greek verb θαρσέω tharseo, which means “to be firm or resolute in the face of danger or adverse circumstances, be enheartened, be courageous.”[6] In these instances people were facing some difficulty and Jesus gave them what they needed to overcome it. In some instances what they needed was physical, and in other instances mental and emotional.

BarnabasIn the New Testament we learn about a man named Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). Here was a godly man whose words and actions were characterized by the quality of encouragement. As an example of his character, we read that the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22), and “when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God” (Acts 11:23a), he “rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord” (Acts 11:23b). Here, the word encourage translates the Greek verb παρακαλέω parakaleo, which means to “call to one’s side.”[7] The picture is that of one person who comes alongside another and provides support, encouragement, or edification that strengthens that person in their soul to accomplish a task or finish a race. In this case, it meant encouraging these Christians to press on and do God’s will. Encouraging other Christians “to remain true to the Lord” is what healthy encouragement looks like. Luke further describes Barnabas’ character, saying, “for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:24). Concerning this passage, Warren Wiersbe wrote:

Acts 11:24 gives us a “spiritual profile” of Barnabas, and he appears to be the kind of Christian all of us would do well to emulate. He was a righteous man who obeyed the Word in daily life so that his character was above reproach. He was filled with the Spirit, which explains the effectiveness of his ministry. That he was a man of faith is evident from the way he encouraged the church and then encouraged Saul. New Christians and new churches need people like Barnabas to encourage them in their growth and ministry.[8]

Later in the book of Acts we learn about two men named Judas and Silas who “encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message” (Acts 15:32). Paul described one of his companions, a man named Justus, whom he said, “proved to be an encouragement to me” (Col 4:11). When writing to the Christians in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul directed them to “encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Th 5:11). And the writer of Hebrews directed his readers to “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).[9]

Self-Encouragement

Sometimes there’s no one around to infuse us with the energy we need to face a difficulty. In those moments we must learn to harness our thoughts by looking to God and His Word. We can deal with life’s stressors by filtering them through Scripture, always making sure we’re interpreting them from the divine perspective. In those moments, we are “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5b). It’s helpful to understand the stable Christian life is predicated, to a large degree, on the biblical content and continuity of our thinking. We are never neutral and, if we’re consistently thinking divine viewpoint, can impact our own mental attitude for the better.

Personally, I know much of my life is based on the choices I make. Like a spider’s web, there are many strands and intersecting parts, and to touch one part impacts the whole. My life—whether complex or simple—is interconnected by many choices, past and present, which impact my life as a whole. It helps me greatly to be wise about the choices I make, realizing the wise are wise by choice, never by chance. I also realize God has given me a measure of control over my life and calls me to be a good steward of what He’s provided. Stewardship is a biblical concept (Luke 12:42-43; Eph 3:1-2; Col 1:25; Tit 1:7). God has given me a body, mind, will, wife, job, home, finances, and ministry to others. When I make good choices and live as He directs, it results in godly outcomes, which strengthens me internally to my daily tasks. I am encouraged when I spend regular time in God’s Word, in prayer, and in Christian fellowship. I’m also strengthened within when I properly manage my life and the resources God has given me. God designed my body—which is an extremely complex biological machine—and when I take care of it properly, maintaining adequate rest, good nutrition, hydration, exercise, and balancing my priorities of work and play, it helps me operate optimally as God intends. Good choices bring good results. Just as my car won’t drive for long if I neglect regular maintenance or put sugar in the gas tank, I will eventually pay a damaging price if I fail to be a good steward of my body, mind, and life.

It is an indicator of our spiritual maturity when we choose to be thankful for the difficulties that help us grow into virtuous persons. James said, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam 1:2-4; cf., Rom 5:3-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10). As Christians, we should expect trials (Jam 1:2-4), suffering (1 Pet 4:12-13), and persecution (John 15:20). Jesus told His disciples, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul wrote, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). Trials are inevitable, but how we respond is optional.

God directs us to “Do all things without complaining or arguing” (Phil 2:14), and to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; and in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18). This is done by an act of the will, by faith, and never by feelings. It is a discipline of the will that we do not permit the difficulties of life to poison the well of our mind. Dr. Pentecost states, “A man who is occupied with God and occupied for God cannot at the same time very well be occupied with himself. We live with ourselves so much it is easy for us to become self-occupied; and unless we are occupied with God, our minds will drift unconsciously to ourselves and our needs, problems, defeats and discouragements, and we fall in the fray.”[10]

We prefer always to encourage others to make wise choices. Of course, there’s no wiser choice than to know God and walk with Him. For non-Christians, we educate them about the gospel of grace (John 3:16-18; 1 Cor 15:3-4), and encourage them to trust in Christ as their Savior so they can be forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7), receive eternal life (John 10:28), and join the family of God with all its blessings (John 1:12-13; Eph 1:3). For those who are saved, we encourage them to learn and live God’s Word (2 Tim 2:15; Jam 1:22; 1 Pet 2:2), to advance to spiritual maturity (Eph 4:11-13), and to pursue a life of righteousness and goodness (Rom 6:11-14; Gal 6:9-10; Tit 2:11-14). To become a righteous person requires time, as years of human viewpoint is replaced with divine viewpoint, and this by means of studying and applying God’s Word.

Worldly Positivity as a Substitute for Divine Viewpoint

Fear can create an unwarranted sense of uncertainty and anxiety; which, over time, can break down our mental state and weaken our confidence. I know people who try to be positive in the face of adversity, but their positivity is predicated on nothing more than humanistic reasoning or feelings, and is completely devoid of God and His Word. Operating purely from human viewpoint, many are positive because it benefits them personally and makes them feel good. Their positivity is their strength as well as their means of coping with the pressures of life. This works for them, as long as the pressures of life are not too great.

I once knew a man who was very positive in his thinking and disposition; but he was also locked into human viewpoint thinking, which handicapped his intellect.[11] I tried to share the gospel of grace with him, but he could not get past the discussion of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness, as it was too upsetting to him. He did not like what the Bible said about his fallen state and helplessness to correct it. He could not receive God’s medicine, because he could not accept the Lord’s diagnosis of his spiritual malady. He stubbornly refused to let God’s Word get in the way of his arbitrary positivity. As a result, he remained a slave in Satan’s world-system, feeling good while traveling to hell. Sadly, others were drawn to his humanistic positivity, like a moth to a flame.

Bible With PenI too desire to be positive. It’s good for the soul to have an optimistic outlook on life as well as the future. But my positivity is rooted in God’s Word, not the faulty reasonings of fallen people. God’s Word is my reference point for reality. The Bible, plainly understood, is the ground upon which my reasoning ideally operates, as it provides an honest and true perspective on everything it addresses. It helps me to understand metaphysical issues concerning the origin of the universe (Gen 1:1), mankind (Gen 1:26-27), and that people are special because we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). The Bible teaches me about the reality of angels and demons (Eph 6:12), that everything is in a state of decay because of sin (Rom 8:30), and that God provides the only solution to sin in the person of Jesus (Acts 4:12), who offers redemption through His work on the cross (Rom 3:24; Col 1:13-14). The Bible helps me have hope for the future because I know Christ is coming back (Tit 2:13), and that He will rule the world in righteousness. Isaiah says of Messiah, “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this” (Isa 9:7; cf., Jer 23:5; 33:15; Dan 2:44). Finally, I know God will destroy the current heavens and earth and create a new heavens and earth (Rev 21:1—22:21); for “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13).

As a Christian, I want and need encouragement, but only as it lines up with God and His Word. I desire the positivity that is connected with Christianity. The positivity that is based on a relationship with God and a healthy walk in His Word. This positivity welcomes God’s corrective and perfective discipline, and even the suffering that comes from being persecuted for righteousness. This is connected with a divine joy that God gives, which operates independently of the vacillating circumstances of this life. Jesus is our prime example, as we are commanded to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Heb 12:2). The cross was bearable because of something in Jesus’ soul, namely, divine joy.

Four Ways to Help Encourage Fellow Christians

I work to be an encouragement to others who are advancing in their spiritual walk with the Lord. As a Bible teacher, it’s important to impart God’s Word to others that they might operate according to divine viewpoint. I realize that studying and teaching the Bible on a regular basis circulates God’s Word into the stream of conscious thought; both my own and others. This strengthens the soul by getting us to think divine viewpoint rather than human viewpoint. This does not mean we ignore the situation we’re in; rather, we learn to frame it in the divine perspective, which helps us see reality with hope, because we know God is on His throne, that He “works all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28), and that He is for us and not against us (Rom 8:31). Christian courage is rooted in God’s Word, which is the right standard by which a Christian should think and operate. When I am operating by humanistic standards or sinful fear, I’m spiritually miscalibrated in my walk with the Lord and need to recalibrate my thinking and behavior to align with God and His Word. When properly calibrated, my mind and will operate optimally as God intends, and faith produces courage that strengthens me in a crisis. Below are four ways we can encourage others.

  1. Share uplifting Scripture. The Bible is “alive and powerful” (Heb 4:12), and when it goes forth, it is like “the rain and the snow which come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater” (Isa 55:10). When writing to the Christians at Rome, Paul referred to the “the encouragement of the Scriptures” which give hope (Rom 15:4). And these Scriptures derive from “the God who gives perseverance and encouragement” to those who receive them (Rom 15:5). As Christians who want to help others, we offer God’s Word with the confidence that it will bless and strengthen the heart that receives it. I have worked in jail and prison ministry for years, and on many occasions, I have seen the hearts of men lifted and encouraged at the preaching of God’s Word. Some of these men have turned their lives around and are now serving the Lord as Christian ministers in their environment, and I always try to encourage them with Scripture that helps them be successful.
  2. Give honest words of praise for work performed. Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus, acknowledging their “faith in the Lord Jesus” as well as their “love for all the saints” (Eph 1:15). And to the believers in Colossae, he recognized their “faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints” (Col 1:4). And the saints at Thessalonica were praised for their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th 1:3). To his friend, Philemon, Paul wrote, “I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints” (Phm 1:5). Honest words of praise help lift the troubled soul.
  3. Offer assistance to help in ministry. Sometimes we need to give more than words. Sometimes we need to give of our abilities and time to help in whatever way is needed. When writing to his friend, Titus, Paul said, “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful” (Tit 3:14). And to the Christians living in Rome, Paul mentioned the ministry of Phoebe, saying, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well” (Rom 16:1-2). I remember a time when I became overworked as a pastor because others in the church had abandoned their post, and in short time it led to burnout. I had to step down from being pastor because of fatigue and exhaustion. I simply could not continue the pace. The rule that many hands make light work is true.
  4. Give of personal finances to support the work of others. God gives us wealth, partly for personal enjoyment, but also that we might be good stewards and help support the ministry of others. Finances facilitate ministry and make it possible, and God tests the hearts of His people to see if they will give to support His work. David understood that riches and honor come from God (1 Ch 29:12-16), and that anything God’s people give to support ministry is simply an act of giving back to Him what is already His. For this reason, David said, “Since I know, O my God, that You try the heart and delight in uprightness, I, in the integrity of my heart, have willingly offered all these things; so now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here, make their offerings willingly to You” (1 Ch 29:17). In the Gospel of Luke, we learn about some women who traveled with Jesus and His disciples (Luke 8:1-2a). What’s interesting is that Luke tells us these women were funding Jesus’ ministry. Some of them included, “Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means” (Luke 8:2b-3). The apostle Paul instructed wealthy Christians “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim 6:18). Giving to support ministry always encourages those doing the Lord’s work. However, giving should always be done with the right attitude, with a cheerful heart. It’s better not to give at all, than to give for the wrong reason. Paul said, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

In summary, God’s people need ongoing encouragement in order to strengthen them within so they can continue to do His will. God encourages us directly, through His Word, and through His people. As Christians, we can help to strengthen our souls by ongoing study and application of Scripture, as this provides divine viewpoint and a basis for faith. And, we can make conscious choices to be an encouragement to others who are struggling to do God’s will in a fallen world.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] This is likely a Messianic passage that refers to Jesus who, as a young boy, received instruction from His Father. Arnold Fruchtenbaum writes, “During His boyhood in Nazareth, every morning, Jesus was awakened by His Father in the early hours of the morning to receive instruction. In this way Jesus learned who He was, what His mission was, and how to act and react accordingly.” (Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology, Ariel Ministries, p. 51).

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

[3] J. Dwight Pentecost, Life’s Problems, God’s Solutions: Answers to Fifteen of Life’s Most Perplexing Problems (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1998), 86.

[4] I was greatly discouraged by a bully-boss who had placed a difficult project with unrealistic goals on my department. Her impossible goals produced fatigue and discouragement, which killed morale among the staff. When I tried to talk with her about the matter, she viewed my questions as insubordination and ramped up her attacks. She resorted to lies in an effort to manipulate me and control the outcome she desired. Originally, I trusted her in what she said, but her lies distorted my perception of certain people and circumstances, which had a damaging effect on me mentally and emotionally. Over time, what she could not control, she sought to destroy, and this by ongoing pokes and jabs which wore me down. Because of her unethical values and harmful practices, I lost confidence in her ability to lead effectively, and I was wounded as one who had been betrayed by a leader. I learned a painful lesson about the damage a controlling personality can have on others. It’s never valid to damage another person’s soul for the sake of self-interest and personal glory. I also learned how important it is to be honest with others, to be an encourager, to help strengthen others and build them up to do good work.

[5] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 302–303.

[6] William Arndt, et al, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 444.

[7] Ibid., 764.

[8] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 449.

[9] The form of the verb in these passages is present, active, imperative. The present tense implies ongoing action, the active voice means the subject produces the action, and the imperative mood is a command which assumes thought, volition, and opportunity.

[10] J. Dwight Pentecost, Life’s Problems, God’s Solutions, 95.

[11] Divine viewpoint must be distinguished from humanistic positive thinking. The former operates from the greatest reality possible, a reality that starts with God and factors Him and His Word into our situations. God’s perspective is reality, whether we like it or not, whether it makes us feel good or bad, whether we see it as positive or negative. God’s infinite and perfect perspective surpasses our finite and imperfect perspective.

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).

Essentials of the Christian Faith

The Bible is God’s inerrant and infallible Word. As such, it defines reality, states truth, and is authoritative on all matters it affirms. Therefore, all Scripture is essential concerning every matter it addresses and should be held in high esteem. There’s no part of Scripture itself that is nonessential. However, within Scripture, we learn that some doctrinal matters are more important than others. The apostle Paul spoke very strongly that if anyone “should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Gal 1:8). However, concerning the observance of holy days, Paul taught that “One person regards one day above another, and another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5). Certainly, the gospel message and its clear communication is more important than one’s understanding of holy days and how they are observed in the dispensation of grace. Charles Ryrie states, “Some doctrines are more important than others, so it particularly behooves us not to cut off our fellowship from those who share similar views about these important doctrines. There are few enough these days who believe in the fundamentals of the faith, and to ignore those who have declared themselves on the side of the truth of God is unwise.”[1] 

The essentials of the Christian faith consist of core doctrines taught in Scripture. To depart from one or all of these doctrines is to be outside Christian orthodoxy.[2] Christians may disagree about less-essential doctrines (i.e., spiritual gifts, the rapture of the church, tithing, baptism, church government, etc.), and still be regarded as part of the Church, the body of Christ (Eph 1:22-23). I like the statement, in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love. As an orthodox evangelical Christian, I believe there are six essential doctrines of the Christian faith, and these are: 1) The inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, 2) one God as Trinity, 3) Jesus as fully God and Man, 4) Jesus’ substitutionary penal atoning death on the cross, 5) Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead, ascension into heaven, and physical second coming, and 6) salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

BibleThe Bible – Scripture is God’s inerrant and infallible written revelation that tells us who He is, what He’s accomplished in time and space, and will accomplish in the future. The Bible does not reveal all there is to know about God or His plans and actions, but only what He deems important (Deut 29:29). God’s authority is in the text itself, and is honored by those who interpret it plainly and obey His commands as they are applicable.[3] The Bible is a library of 66 books and letters, written by approximately forty human authors spanning nearly fifteen hundred years. The human authors—without forfeiting their personal literary style—wrote under the direction and superintending care of God the Holy Spirit (Ex 17:14; 34:27; Isa 30:8; Jer 30:2; Luke 1:3; 1 Cor 14:37; Rev 1:11), so that what is written is the inerrant and infallible “word of God” (1 Th 2:13; cf. Psa 12:6-7; Rom 15:4; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20). The human authors wrote in Hebrew, Aramaic, and koine Greek. Some of the various literary styles include historical narrative, law, poetry, psalms, proverbs, parables, and symbolism. Nearly one fourth of Scripture was/is prophecy. The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those who have positive volition (Psa 25:9; John 7:17), and are enlightened by God (Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14). But God’s Word cannot be known or accepted by those with negative volition who suppress His revelation (Rom 1:18-32), nor by the spiritually dead (1 Cor 2:12-14; 2 Cor 3:14-16; 4:3-4). As believers, our spiritual sanctification depends on Scripture (Psa 119:9, 11; John 17:17), and we grow spiritually when we learn and live God’s Word (Psa 1:1-3; Eph 4:11-13; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). Christians do not worship the Bible, but neither can we worship God without it (John 4:24).

Ancient Diagram of the TrinityThe Trinity – There is one God who exists as three distinct Persons within the Trinity (Gen 1:26; 11:6-7; Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2): God the Father (Gal 1:1; Eph 6:23; Phil 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 8:58; 14:18; 20:28; Col 2:9; Heb 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor 2:11-12; 2 Cor 13:14). All three are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service. The three Persons of the God-head are one in essence (Deut 6:4; Isa 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 18). God is all-knowing (Psa 139:1-6; Matt 6:31-33), all-present (Psa 139:7-12; Heb 13:5), all-powerful (Job 42:2; Isa 40:28-29), sovereign (1 Ch 29:11; Dan 4:35; Acts 17:24-25), righteous (Psa 11:7; 119:137), just (Psa 9:7-8; 19:9; 50:6; 58:11), holy (Psa 99:9), immutable (Psa 102:26, 27; Mal 3:6), truthful (2 Sam 7:28; John 17:17; 1 John 5:20), loving (Jer 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16), faithful (Deut 7:9; Lam 3:23; 1 John 1:9), merciful (Psa 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit 3:5), gracious (Psa 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet 5:10), and eternal (Deut 33:27; 1 Tim 1:17). Cults such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the doctrine of the Trinity.

Hypostatic Union DiagramThe Deity/Humanity of Jesus – At a point in time, the eternal Son of God added humanity to Himself, simultaneously being God and man, Creator and creature, theanthropic (John 1:1, 14:18; 8:58; 20:28; Col 2:9; Heb 1:8). Jesus is the God-man and exists in hypostatic union, as a single Person with a divine and human nature (John 1:1, 14; 1 John 4:2-3), both natures being distinct and preserved, not mixed or confused, fully God and fully man. The hypostatic union is forever, from conception onward. Jesus was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary (parthenogenesis – Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23; Luke 1:26-38), who is the mother of Jesus’ humanity (Christotokos – bearer of Christ). Some see Mary as the mother of God (Theotokos – bearer of God), and though Jesus is God, His divine nature is without origin, but is eternal. This honors Mary without elevating her to a place beyond what the Scriptures teach. Jesus was a Jew, born a son of Abraham, in the line David (Matt 1:1), the promised Messiah (Matt 1:17). The baby Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:40, 52), and lived a perfectly righteous life before God and man. The biblical record is that Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb 4:15), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). In His humanity, Jesus walked in perfect conformity to God the Father’s holy character and divine revelation. Cults such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the full humanity and deity of Jesus.

Christ-on-the-crossPenal Substitutionary Atonement – God the Son became man that He might redeem fallen humanity from sin and death (Mark 10:45). The Bible reveals, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7; cf. Col 1:13-14; 1 Pet 1:18-19). In Jerusalem, on April 3, A.D. 33, Jesus willingly laid down His life and died a penal substitutionary death on a cross (John 3:16; 10:11, 17-18). That is, Jesus bore the penalty for our sin and died in our place, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). Jesus’ death forever satisfied every righteous demand God had toward our sin (Rom 3:24-25; Heb 10:10-14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and is the basis for forgiveness and reconciliation to God (Rom 5:1-2; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 1:7; Col 1:13-14; 20-22). Christ died for the sins of everyone (John 3:16; Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2), but only those who trust Jesus as their Savior will receive eternal life (John 3:16, 20:31; Acts 4:12). Salvation is never accomplished by what we do for God, but rather, what God has accomplished for us through the Person and work of Jesus Christ who died for our sins (John 3:16), and gives us eternal life and righteousness (John 10:28; Phil 3:9).

ResurrectionThe Bodily Resurrection, Ascension, and Return of Jesus – After His death on the cross, Jesus was buried and resurrected bodily on the third day (Matt 20:18-19; Acts 10:39-41; 1 Cor 15:3-4, 20), never to die again (Rom 5:9).  The resurrection of Jesus is essential for our salvation, for “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, He ascended bodily to heaven (Acts 1:3-10), with a promise of a physical return (Acts 1:9-11). Jesus will return to earth bodily at His second coming (Rev 19:11-21), and afterwards will judge all unbelievers (Rev 20:11-15), and then make a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13; cf. Rev 21-22).[4]

The Gospel of GraceSalvation by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone – Jesus is the only Savior for mankind, for “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). God’s provision of salvation from eternal death was paid in full by the Lord Jesus Christ who willingly shed His blood and died on a cross, atoning for every human sin. Because of sin, every person is spiritually dead and powerless to change their situation (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit (Isa 64:6; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). Salvation is offered to helpless, ungodly, sinners (John 3:16-18; Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-2; 8-9), and is received by grace alone (Rom 4:1-5; Eph 2:8-9), through faith alone (Gal 2:16; 3:26; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5), in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:1-4). Salvation is “the gift of God” (Eph 2:8), and is “according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit 3:5). God has prepared good works to follow our salvation (Eph 2:10; Tit 2:11-14), but they are never the condition of it (Acts 16:30-31; Eph 2:8-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5). The matter is simple: Salvation only comes to those who believe in Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; 14:6; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), 247.

[2] It may difficult to accept, but it is possible for a believer, after being saved, to depart from sound teaching and pursue a life of sin, even becoming a worshipper of idols. Such a one does not forfeit his/her salvation, but comes under divine discipline, which can eventuate in suffering and death (1 Cor 11:30; 1 John 5:16), as well the forfeiture of eternal rewards (1 Cor 3:10-15). Though possible, this is never what God wants from His children. King Solomon is a good example of such a one. Solomon was a believer, of whom God said, “he shall be My son and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever” (1 Ch 22:10b). God worked through Solomon to build the Jewish temple (1 Ch 22:10a), write Scripture (Song of Solomon, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), and lead the nation of Israel as God’s theocratic representative. However, because of sinful disobedience, Solomon eventually turned away from the Lord and worshipped false gods to the end of his days (1 Ki 11:1-8). The final word on Solomon was, “Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully” (1 Ki 11:6). However, as a believer, Solomon is in heaven today. To deny that Solomon is in heaven today, one must either say he was never saved at all, or that he forfeited his salvation because of sin. The first view might be argued by those who hold to Lordship Salvation, and the second view by those who deny eternal security, both of which are wrong (Matt 5:19; John 10:28).

[3] The historical-grammatical hermeneutical approach to interpreting Scripture is the best method, as it seeks to understand the Bible from the author’s perspective as he wrote within his particular historical and cultural setting (German sitz im libensetting in life).

[4] This writer is a classical dispensationalist who believes the rapture of the church precedes Jesus’ Second Coming and is the next prophetic event to occur in history (1 Th 4:13-18; Tit 2:13). The rapture of the church is a world-changing event in which the bodies of deceased Christians are resurrected (1 Th 4:13-18) and the bodies of living Christians are transformed and removed from the world (1 Cor 15:51-52; 1 Th 4:17), both meeting the Lord in the air and going to heaven to be with God forever (John 14:1-3). The rapture will be followed by seven years of worldwide tribulation (Dan 7:23; 9:24-27; Matthew chapters 24-25; Revelation chapters 6-18), in which Satan focuses his attacks on Israel (Rev 12:4-6). The seven-year tribulation will culminate in the triumphal return of Jesus as the King of kings, and Lord of lords (Rev 19:11-16), at which time, “when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne” (Matt 25:31). When Jesus returns at His second coming, He will put down all rebellion, both angelic and human, and will judge the nations of the world (Matt 25:32-46), and afterwards establish an earthly reign in righteousness in Jerusalem, on the throne of David (2 Sam 7:12, 16; Psa 89:36-37; Isa 9:6-7; Jer 23:5-6; Luke 1:31-33). Jesus’ reign on earth will last a thousand years (Rev 20:1-7). Afterwards, Jesus’ earthly kingdom will become the eternal kingdom, “when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24).

My Christian Identity and Calling

What I do as a Christian is based on my identity in Christ. The prepositional phrase, in Christ (ἐν Χριστῷ), is used 76 times in the New Testament to refer to the Christian’s new spiritual identity. But what does it mean? How do we get there?

Prior to my conversion, I was born and lived in a world of darkness. All my thoughts, values, and behaviors were tied to this world, and I fumbled around, not really knowing who I was or where I was going. This is the natural state of all people who are born into this world.[1] When I began to read the Bible, my perception of everything was challenged. Divine viewpoint gave me insights into realities I could never know, except that God had revealed them to me. Like others before me, He opened my eyes (Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14). I became a Christian at the moment I trusted Christ as my Savior (John 3:16). That was in 1976. And I became a Christian disciple when I surrendered my life to God and began to learn His Word and live by faith (Rom 12:1-2). That began in the Summer of 1988. Since then, I’ve been working to unseat a lifetime of human viewpoint that kept me enslaved and defeated. Learning to think biblically is vital to the Christian life. Living biblically should follow. Being consistent in both is always a work in progress.

Death in Adam

In Adam or In ChristWhen writing to Christians at Corinth, Paul said, “in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). Death is in Adam, and life is in Christ. That’s the biblical dichotomy. Dr. Mounce states, “Paul is saying that just as all of those who are in Adam are subject to physical, spiritual, and eternal death because of his sin, so all of those who are in Christ will escape the judgment of eternal death and receive instead the gift of eternal life.”[2] To be in Adam means we are born into the family of Adam, as biological and spiritual descendants of the progenitor of the human race. To be in Adam means we are born physically alive but spiritually dead. Spiritual death means we are separated from God in time. Our spiritual death is the result of Adam’s original sin. To the Christians living in Rome, Paul wrote, “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). That is, we all sinned when Adam sinned. Dr. Pentecost states, “When God views us in our position in Adam, God sees us as spiritually dead. We were born spiritually dead because the parents who begat us physically were themselves spiritually dead and could pass to us only that which they had.”[3] As Adam’s children, we are born spiritually dead in “trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), and are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), “alienated” from God (Col 1:21), helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God the Father (Rom 5:6-10). The situation is terribly bad. Furthermore, we live in a tyrannical world-system that is governed by Satan, who is “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Other Scriptures call Satan “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), “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). All of Adam’s descendants are born under “the dominion of Satan” (Act 26:18), into his “domain of darkness” (Col 1:13a). Dr. Pentecost adds, “In these passages we see the truth presented that the one who is in Adam is also under the control of Satan: he is a part of Satan’s family; he is in Satan’s kingdom; he has his citizenship in Satan’s cosmos; he is a citizen of a rebel state.”[4]

If we continue throughout our life and reject the gospel of grace, then at the moment of physical death our spiritual death becomes eternally fixed, and we experience the second death, which is “the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14b). The apostle John wrote, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). This need not happen. It’s avoidable. God offers forgiveness and new life to us who accept Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for all sin (1 John 2:2), which includes Adam’s original sin as well as the many sins we produce. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus shed His blood on the cross to pay our sin debt. His blood was the coin of the heavenly realm that purchased our freedom, and by it, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). Though Adam’s sin brought death, Christ’s death brings life, but only to those who trust in Him as Savior.[5]

Life in Christ

To be in Christ means a spiritual transference has occurred. This transference happened at the moment I trusted Christ as my Savior (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Eph 2:8-9). At that moment, I was no longer in Adam, but in Christ. Scripture states, for “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). And Paul wrote, “for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26). I am fully “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24), and “reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom 5:10). I am “a new creature” in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), and “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). I am forgiven (Eph 1:7), have eternal life (John 10:28), and possess God’s gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9).

From Darkness to LightThis also means I was transferred from Satan’s “domain of darkness” into “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13), and now my “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). And I became an adopted member of God’s royal family, a member “of God’s household” (Eph 2:19), spiritually related to “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16). And the “Spirit of God dwells in” me (1 Cor 3:16), which Spirit “testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16). I am among “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1 Cor 1:2). Yes, I’m a saint. You can call me Saint Steven. That’s me. And I am “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3), and was chosen “in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). As a result of my new identity in Christ, I will never face eternal damnation, for “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Furthermore, I know that my “God works all things together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28), and that He is for me and not against me (Rom 8:31).

My good Father calls me to renew my thinking according to His Word (Rom 12:1-2), to let “the word of Christ richly dwell” within me (Col 3:16), and to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). I know that all Scripture is profitable to me “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). God’s Word illumines my way, as it “is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psa 119:105). It is the source of my spiritual nourishment, for by it, I am able to “grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet 2:2), to live the sanctified life (John 17:17), and to advance to spiritual maturity (Eph 4:11-13).

And as I learn God’s Word, I am to apply it to my life as a “doer of the word” (Jam 1:22), to “live by faith” (Heb 10:38), and “not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7), trusting God and His Word more than my limited reasonings, fluctuating feelings, or everchanging circumstances (Prov 3:5-6). And when I live by faith, I know I am “pleasing to the Lord” (2 Cor 5:9), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb 11:6a), and when I come to Him I must “believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6).

As part of the royal family of God, I am “to walk in a manner worthy” of my new identity (Eph 4:1), and to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). I know my good God blesses me with people and things to enjoy in this life (1 Tim 6:17), but my joy and strength are always found in the Giver, even if He takes away His gifts (Job 1:21). I know that joy comes from God, “For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?” (Eccl 2:25). And because “God is love” (1 John 4:8b), I know He always seeks my best interests, which can include trials and hardships that burn away the dross of weak character and refines those golden qualities He desires to produce in me (Rom 3:3-5; Jam 1:2-4).

To know Him is to live for His glory (1 Cor 10:31), and to regard others as “more important” than myself (Phil 2:3-4). This selfless life is in character with that of Jesus, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), and who “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). I am called to “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4), and to present myself “to God as those alive from the dead” and to serve as an “instrument of righteousness to God” (Rom 6:13), as one “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph 2:10). As I consistently live the Christian life, I will advance to the place of spiritual maturity (Eph 4:13), which glorifies God to the maximum (1 Cor 6:20; 1 Pet 4:16), and edifies others for their spiritual betterment (1 Th 5:11).

As a Christian, I know there is no better life, no higher calling, no nobler pursuit, than that which I live in my daily walk with the God of the universe who called me “out of darkness and into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9; cf. Eph 4:8-9). Such a life of devotion to God and service to others keeps me from ruminating on the fallen world and my own failings, which only serve to bring me down when I consider them for too long.

My Prayer

Lord, I pray that as I continually think on these things and see myself in the light of Your Word, that I will reach the place of maturity where Your Word is more real than my feelings, frustrations, or circumstances. I pray that in all things, You will be glorified, others will be edified, and that I will develop a personal sense of destiny in connection with You and Your plan for my life. I ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] For those who reject God and His Word, they are left with humanistic systems in which people are classified by artificial social constructs (i.e., race, gender, age, socio-economic status, etc.). Such systems are not only misleading, but they tend to divide people in ways that are often harmful. Only God’s Word provides a picture of reality, by which we can orient to God and the world in which we live.

[2] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 6.

[3] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 41.

[4] Ibid., 15.

[5] The command to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation presupposes intelligence and the ability to exercise one’s volition. Children and those who are mentally disabled lack the intellectual and volitional capacity to make a decision for or against Christ; therefore, they are not held accountable for sin. An often-cited biblical precedent on this matter is found in the life of King David who lost a newborn son as a result of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. David was guilty of horrible sin, but he had a sensitive heart and was very concerned for his child.  David said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam 12:22-23). While the child was alive, David prayed to God to be gracious “that the child may live.” However, after the child died, David expressed optimism by saying “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” David was thinking of heaven, where he knew his infant son had gone. A good book on this subject is Safe in the Arms of Jesus by Dr. Robert Lightner.

Advancing to Spiritual Maturity

Christ-on-the-crossSpirituality is the life the Christian enjoys when properly living in dependence upon the Holy Spirit and walking according to Scripture. This advance assumes one has believed in Christ as Savior and has spiritual life (John 3:16; 6:28-29; 20:31; Acts 4:12; Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 1:3, 23). Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Only Christ’s atoning work on the cross is sufficient to satisfy God’s righteous demands toward our sin (1 John 2:2). No works are necessary for us to be saved. We need only Christ. When the Philippian Jailer asked the apostle Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Believing in Christ means we trust Him to do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves; to save us. It means we trust solely in Him and nothing more. Though good works should follow our salvation, they are never the condition of it.

Once we are born again, God desires that we advance to spiritual maturity, which glorifies Him and blesses us and others. The information taught in this article applies only to the Christian, for “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14 NET; cf. John 8:43-44).[1]

Walking with GodThe advance to spiritual maturity is a process that takes time as Christians learn and live God’s Word on a regular basis. There is always opposition, for we live in a fallen world and are confronted with many obstacles and distractions that seek to push or pull us away from God. Though constant distractions are all around us, we move forward by “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Bringing our thoughts into captivity means focusing our minds on God and His Word (Isa 26:3; Prov 3:5-6; Col 3:1-2), and not allowing our thoughts to be bogged down and trapped with the cares of this world (Matt 6:25-34). Biblically, several things are necessary for us to reach spiritual maturity, and these are as follows.

Be in submission to God. Scripture tells us to “Submit to God” (Jam 4:7), and to “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Submission is a will surrendered to the will of another. Being in submission to God is a sign of positive volition that we’ve prioritized our relationship with Him above all else, and that we trust Him to guide and provide in all things. Like a good friend, He is naturally in our thoughts, and we live every day conscious of Him, being sensitive to what may offend, and making every effort to please Him through a life of faith. When we yield to God, His Word opens up to us, as Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17; cf. Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14; 1 John 5:20).

1Bible-study (1)Continually study God’s Word. Ezra, the priest, was one who “had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezr 7:10). The growing believer is one whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). As Christians, we understand that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). We cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. From regeneration onward, we study God’s Word in order to grow spiritually, that we might reach Christian maturity. God helps His people by means of Pastors and Teachers (Eph 4:11), whom He has given to His church “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature person, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13). Pastors and Teachers have an obligation to communicate God’s Word accurately. Christians have the individual responsibility of studying God’s Word in order to live the best life and grow to maturity (2 Tim 2:15; Heb 5:12-14; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18).

without faith it is impossible to pleaseLive by faith. Faith as a verb (πιστεύω pisteuo) means to believe, trust, or have confidence in someone or something. It is used of trust in God (Heb 11:6; cf. Rom 4:3), Jesus (Acts 16:31; 1 Pet 1:8), and Scripture (John 2:22). Faith as a noun (πίστις pistis) often refers to that which evokes trust. It is used with reference to God who is trustworthy (Rom 3:3; 4:19-21), and of people who possess faith (Matt 9:2, 22; 21:21). It is also used of Scripture itself as a body of reliable teaching (Acts 14:22; 16:5; Rom 14:22; Gal 1:23; 2 Tim 4:7). Faith as an adjective (πιστός pistos), describes someone who is trustworthy or dependable. The word is used both of man (Matt 25:23; 1 Cor 4:17; Col 1:7; 1 Tim 1:12), and God (1 Cor 1:9; 10:13; 2 Tim 2:13; Heb 10:23; Rev 1:5). Living by faith means we trust God at His Word. Christian faith starts with knowledge, as Paul wrote, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17 KJV). The writer to the Hebrews states, “But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38; cf. Heb 3:7—4:2), 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). It is possible to learn God’s Word and not believe it. For example, the Exodus generation heard God’s Word and understood it; however, “the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb 4:2). Our faith is effective when God’s Word is more real and dominant than our experiences, feelings, or circumstances.

Satan as ruler of this worldDo not Love the World. The apostle John warns Christians, saying, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16). When John writes and tells the Christian “Do not love the world”, he’s not talking about the physical planet. The Greek word κόσμος kosmos as it is used by the apostle John and others most often refers to “that which is hostile to God…lost in sin, wholly at odds with anything divine, ruined and depraved.”[2] The world, or world-system, originated with Satan and consists of those philosophies and values that perpetually influence humanity to think and behave contrary to God and His Word. The world-system is mankind and society functioning without God, and is first and foremost a mindset that is antithetical to divine viewpoint. Lewis S. Chafer explains:

The kosmos is a vast order or system that Satan has promoted which conforms to his ideals, aims, and methods. It is civilization now functioning apart from God-a civilization in which none of its promoters really expect God to share; who assign to God no consideration in respect to their projects, nor do they ascribe any causality to Him. This system embraces its godless governments, conflicts, armaments, jealousies; its education, culture, religions of morality, and pride. It is that sphere in which man lives. It is what he sees, what he employs. To the uncounted multitude it is all they ever know so long as they live on this earth. It is properly styled “The Satanic System” which phrase is in many instances a justified interpretation of the so-meaningful word, kosmos.[3]

Satan’s world system is a spiritual darkness that envelopes and permeates the human race, influencing every aspect of thought and behavior in such a way that the depraved nature of man is magnified while God is excluded. We should be careful to understand that Satan’s system is a buffet that offers something for everyone who rejects God, whether he is moral or immoral, religious or irreligious, educated or simple, rich or poor. Satan is careful to make sure there’s even something for the Christian in his world-system, which is why the Bible repeatedly warns the believer not to love the world or the things in the world. We are to be set apart (Col 2:8; Jam 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16). Robert Lightner states:

The world is the Christian’s enemy because it represents an anti-God system, a philosophy that is diametrically opposed to the will and plan of God. It is a system headed by the devil and therefore at odds with God (2 Cor 4:4). Likewise, the world hates the believer who lives for Christ (John 17:14). The Lord never kept this a secret from his own. He told them often of the coming conflict with the world (e.g., John 15:18-20; 16:1-3; 32-33; cf. 2 Tim 3:1-12). It is in this wicked world we must rear our families and earn our livelihoods. We are in it, yet are not to be a part of it.[4]

Do not Quench the Spirit. Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica and said, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Th 5:19). The word “quench” translates the Greek word σβέννυμι sbennumi which means to “stifle or suppress.”[5] The word carries the idea of dowsing water on a fire so as to extinguish it. To “quench the Spirit” is to resist His revealed will and not follow as He leads. The Holy Spirit wants to work in our lives, but we must let Him have His way, and this means yielding, or submitting to Him on a regular basis, as opportunity permits; however, the Spirit does not force us to be spiritual, therefore He can be resisted. John Walvoord states, “Quenching the Spirit may simply be defined as being unyielded to Him, or saying, ‘No.’ The issue is, therefore, the question of willingness to do His will.”[6]

Do not Grieve the Spirit. To the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30). The Spirit is a Person, and He is grieved with us as Christians when we sin and act contrary to His holy character. Our sin hurts our relationship with Him and hinders His work in our lives. Grieving the Spirit is a willful act on our part when we think and behave sinfully. John Walvoord writes:

The Scriptures often testify to the fact that the Spirit of God is holy and that He is a person. The indwelling presence of this holy person constitutes the body of a believer a temple of God. In the nature of the case, the presence of sin in any form grieves the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, when the Christian is exhorted to “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30), it is an appeal to allow nothing in his life contrary to the holiness of the Spirit. It is clear that the one cause of grieving the Holy Spirit is sin.[7]

When the Christian is walking as he should, according to Scripture, then the Holy Spirit can work through him to touch the lives of others. When the Christian commits sin, then the Spirit is grieved and His ministry to others is diminished, and the Spirit must then begin to work on the heart of the Christian to bring him back into fellowship. Lewis S. Chafer states, “Sin destroys spirituality. It is necessarily so; for where sin is tolerated in the believer’s daily life, the Spirit, who indwells him, must then turn from His blessed ministry through him, to a pleading ministry to him.”[8]

Restore Broken Fellowship with God Through Confession of Personal Sin. All believers sin, and there are none who attain perfection in this life (Pro 20:9; Eccl 7:20; 1 John 1:8-10). For this reason, familial forgiveness is necessary for a healthy relationship with God. David understood the folly of trying to conceal his sins, which resulted in psychological disequilibrium and pain; however, when he confessed his sin, God forgave him (Psa 32:2-5). John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God forgives because it is His nature to do so, for He “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15; cf. Psa 103:8-14). And He is able to forgive because Christ has atoned for our sins at the cross, satisfying the Father’s righteous demands regarding our offenses. The apostle John wrote, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). The challenge for many believers is to trust God at His word and accept His forgiveness and not operate on guilty feelings. William MacDonald states:

The forgiveness John speaks about here [i.e., 1 John 1:9] is parental, not judicial. Judicial forgiveness means forgiveness from the penalty of sins, which the sinner receives when he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is called judicial because it is granted by God acting as Judge. But what about sins which a person commits after conversion? As far as the penalty is concerned, the price has already been paid by the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. But as far as fellowship in the family of God is concerned, the sinning saint needs parental forgiveness, that is, the forgiveness of His Father. He obtains it by confessing his sin. We need judicial forgiveness only once; that takes care of the penalty of all our sins—past, present, and future. But we need parental forgiveness throughout our Christian life.[9]

Be Filled with the Spirit. Paul wrote to Christians, “don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit” (Eph 5:18 CSB). If a believer consumes too much alcohol, it can lead to cognitive impairment and harmful behavior. But the believer who is filled with the Spirit will possess divine viewpoint and manifest the fruit of godliness, worship, and thankfulness to the Lord (Eph 5:19-20). Being filled with the Spirit means being guided by Him rather than our own desires or the desires of others. The Spirit’s guidance is always according to Scripture. Being filled with the Spirit does not mean we have more of Him, but that He has more of us, as we submit to His leading. Warren Wiersbe comments:

“Be filled with the Spirit” is God’s command, and He expects us to obey. The command is plural, so it applies to all Christians and not just to a select few. The verb is in the present tense, “keep on being filled”, so it is an experience we should enjoy constantly and not just on special occasions. And the verb is passive. We do not fill ourselves but permit the Spirit to fill us. The verb “fill” has nothing to do with contents or quantity, as though we are empty vessels that need a required amount of spiritual fuel to keep going. In the Bible, filled means “controlled by.” “They… were filled with wrath” (Luke 4:28) means “they were controlled by wrath” and for that reason tried to kill Jesus. “The Jews were filled with envy” (Acts 13:45) means that the Jews were controlled by envy and opposed the ministry of Paul and Barnabas. To be “filled with the Spirit” means to be constantly controlled by the Spirit in our mind, emotions, and will…But how can a person tell whether or not he is filled with the Spirit? Paul stated that there are three evidences of the fullness of the Spirit in the life of the believer: he is joyful (Eph. 5:19), thankful (Eph. 5:20), and submissive (Eph. 5:21–33). Paul said nothing about miracles or tongues, or other special manifestations.[10]

Lewis S. Chafer wrote:

To be filled with the Spirit is to have the Spirit fulfilling in us all that God intended Him to do when he placed Him there. To be filled is not the problem of getting more of the Spirit: it is rather the problem of the Spirit getting more of us. We shall never have more of the Spirit than the anointing which every true Christian has received. On the other hand, the Spirit may have all of the believer and thus be able to manifest in him the life and character of Christ. A spiritual person, then, is one who experiences the divine purpose and plan in his daily life through the power of the indwelling Spirit. The character of that life will be the out-lived Christ. The cause of that life will be the unhindered indwelling Spirit (Eph 3:16-21; 2 Cor 3:18).[11]

Charles Ryrie states:

To be filled with the Spirit means to be controlled by the Spirit. The clue to this definition is found in Ephesians 5:18 where there is contrast and comparison between drunkenness and Spirit-filling. It is the comparison which gives the clue, for just as a drunken person is controlled by the liquor which he consumes, so a Spirit-filled Christian is controlled by the Spirit. This will cause him to act in ways which are unnatural to him, not implying that such ways will be erratic or abnormal, but asserting that they will not be the ways of the old life. Control by the Spirit is a necessary part of spirituality.[12]

Walk in the Spirit. Paul wrote, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). In this passage walking is a metaphor for daily living, which can be influenced by God (Deut 5:33; 10:12), other righteous persons (Prov 13:20), sinners (Psa 1:1; Pro 1:10-16; 1 Cor 15:33), or one’s own sin nature (Gal 5:17-21). To walk in the Spirit means we depend on His counsel to guide and power to sustain as we seek to do His will. The Spirit most often guides us directly by Scripture. Jesus, speaking of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, said, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit helps the Christian know the Word of God, and to recall Scripture when needed for guidance. The Holy Spirit also works through mature believers—whose thinking is saturated with God’s Word—to help provide sound biblical advice for others. Warren Wiersbe states:

The New Testament calls the Christian life a “walk.” This walk begins with a step of faith when we trust Christ as our Savior. But salvation is not the end—it’s only the beginning—of spiritual life. “Walking” involves progress, and Christians are supposed to advance in the spiritual life. Just as a child must learn to walk and must overcome many difficulties in doing so, a Christian must learn to “walk in the light.”[13]

Charles Ryrie adds:

Constant dependence on the power of the indwelling Spirit of God is essential to spiritual growth and victory. By its very nature, walking is a succession of dependent acts. When one foot is lifted in order to place it front of the other one, it is done in faith—faith that the foot that remains on the ground will support the full weight of the body. You can only walk by the exercise of faith. You can live the Christian life only by dependence on the Holy Spirit. Such dependence will result in the Spirit’s control over the deeds of the flesh (Gal 5:17-21) and the Spirit’s production of the fruit of the Spirit (vv. 22-23). Dependence on the power of God and effort on the part of the believer are not mutually exclusive. Self-discipline and Spirit-dependence can and must be practiced at the same time in a balanced spiritual life. Dependence itself is an attitude, but that attitude does not come automatically; it usually requires cultivation. How many genuine Christians there are who live day after day without even sensing their need of dependence on Him. Experience, routine, pride, self-confidence all tend to drag all of us away from that conscious dependence on God which we must have in order to live and act righteously.[14]

Accept God’s Trials. Paul wrote, “we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom 5:3-4). James said, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (Jam 1:2-4 CSB). The Lord uses the fire of trials to burn away the dross of our weak character and to refine those golden qualities consistent with His character. The growing believer learns to praise God in and for the trials, knowing He uses them to strengthen our faith and develop us into spiritually mature Christians. Trials can make us bitter or better, depending on how we respond to them.

Pray to God. Prayer is essential to spiritual growth as we need to have upward communication with God to express ourselves to Him. Prayer is the means by which we make requests to God, believing He has certain answers ready for us, and that we just need to ask (Jam 4:2). Scripture directs us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17), and “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18; cf. Jude 1:20). To pray in the Spirit means we pray in the power of the Holy Spirit as He directs and energizes our prayer life.

Worship and Give Thanks to the Lord. The writer to the Hebrews stated, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15). And Paul wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, saying, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18). To give thanks (εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo) is to have a daily attitude of gratitude toward God for His goodness and mercy toward us. Part of this attitude comes from knowing “that God works all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). God does this because He “is for us” (Rom 8:31).

Fellowship with Other Believers. The writer of Hebrews states, “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Spiritual growth ideally happens in community, for God expects us to exercise our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (see Rom 12:10-13; 14:19; Eph 4:32; Phil 2:3-4; 1 Th 5:11-15).

Serve Others in Love. We are part of the body of Christ and God calls us to love and serve each other. Paul wrote, “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 5:13), and “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). Peter states, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10). As Christians, we are told, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4).

time-fliesTake Advantage of the Time God Gives. Time is a resource we should manage properly. Paul writes, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). Solomon wrote, “Whatever you find to do with your hands, do it with all your might, because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, the place where you will eventually go” (Ecc 9:10 NET). God has determined the length of our days, as David wrote, “in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for my life when as yet there was not one of them” (Psa 139:16). Every moment is precious and we must make sure our days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word, living His will, and loving those whom the Lord places in our path.

As Christians, we will face ongoing worldly distractions in our lives which are designed by Satan to prevent spiritual growth. We have choices to make on a daily basis, for only we can choose to allow these distractions to stand between us and the Lord. As Christians, we experience our greatest blessings when we reach spiritual maturity and utilize the rich resources God has provided for us. However, learning takes time, as ignorance gives way to the light of God’s revelation. Frustration is often the handmaiden of ignorance, but spiritual success comes with knowledge of God and His Word.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

[2] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., rev. and ed. Fredrick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 562.

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

[4] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 206.

[5] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 917.

[6] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan Publishing, 1977), 197.

[7] Ibid., 200.

[8] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1967), 70.

[9] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2310-11.

[10] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2 (Colorado Springs, Col., Victor Publishing, 2001), 48.

[11] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1967), 43-44.

[12] Charles C. Ryrie, “What is Spirituality?” Bibliotheca Sacra 126 (1969): 206.

[13] Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2, 479.

[14] Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago. Ill., Moody Press, 1994), 198.

Choosing a Righteous Life and Righteous Friends

BibleThe Bible repeatedly emphasizes the importance of choosing a righteous life and righteous friends. Solomon wrote, “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Prov 12:26 NIV). Elsewhere, Solomon said, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). The word walk translates the Hebrew verb הָלַךְ halak, which here refers to “a lifestyle, [or] a pattern of conduct.”[1] Our lifestyle is influenced by our friends, who reinforce our path, either for good or harm. The one who chooses wise friends will gain wisdom and be blessed. A wise person—biblically speaking—is one who fears the Lord (Prov 1:7a), whereas, “fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7b). The wise person receives “instruction in wise behavior, doing what is right, just, and fair” (Prov 1:3), and this according to the standard of God’s Word. Simply stated, the biblically wise person is the one who learns and lives God’s Word on a regular basis. Jesus said, “everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24).

There is a danger in choosing foolish friends, for the one who befriends a fool will end a fool, and this with injury. Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matt 7:26). Dwight Pentecost states, “A fool is not necessarily one who is marked by a low IQ but one who leaves God out of his consciousness…The fool is the man who does not take God into consideration in every area of his life.”[2] Merrill F. Unger adds, “The ‘fool’ is not so much one lacking in mental powers, as one who misuses them; not one who does not reason, but reasons wrongly. In Scripture the ‘fool’ primarily is the person who casts off the fear of God and thinks and acts as if he could safely disregard the eternal principles of God’s righteousness (Psa 14:1; Prov 14:9; Jer 17:11; etc.).”[3]

Path of RighteousnessAs Christians, we choose what paths we take. Biblically, there is a righteous path and a wicked path, and we must choose the former and avoid the latter. David wrote, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (Psa 1:1; cf. Prov 4:14-17). David generally made good choices throughout his life, and this meant avoiding wicked people. He said, “I do not sit with deceitful men, nor will I go with pretenders. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked” (Psa 26:4-5). Elsewhere he said, “He who practices deceit shall not dwell within my house; he who speaks falsehood shall not maintain his position before me” (Psa 101:7).

The psalmist also wrote, “I am a companion of all those who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts” (Psa 119:63). Allen Ross writes, “The psalmist’s loyalty to the LORD also finds expression in his association with other believers—he is a companion (חָבֵר) to all who fear the LORD, meaning those who keep his commandments. The tie that binds the devout together is the commitment to keep God’s commands.”[4] And Charles Spurgeon adds, “We can hardly hope to be right in the future unless we are right now. The holy man spent his nights with God and his days with God’s people. Those who fear God love those who fear him, and they make small choice in their company so long as the men are truly God-fearing.”[5]

In the New Testament we learn about the good choices Christians were making as they “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The words continually devoting themselves translates the Greek word προσκαρτερέω proskartereo, which denotes steadfast commitment and constant devotion. The two things these Christians were constantly devoted to were: 1) the apostle’s teaching, and 2) fellowship with other believers (which included a time of meals and prayer). Here is wisdom.

Christians are to live righteously, as this is consistent with our identity in Christ. The apostle Paul implores us “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (Eph 4:1-2). Here, our pattern of behavior should mirror our position in Christ. Paul uses similar language when he writes, “You were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light; for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5:6-10). Since we are called to such a high standard of living, it’s very important that we choose our friends carefully, to make sure there is mutual interest in walking with God and living as He directs.

Do not be bound together.pngFor this reason, Paul directed the Christians at Corinth not to associate with people who are committed to live by worldly values. Of the unbeliever, Paul wrote, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14). Of the worldly Christian, Paul wrote, “not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?” (1 Cor 5:11-12; cf., Jam 4:4). The general reasoning behind these directives is that “bad associations corrupt good morals” (1 Cor 15:33).

Close relationships should be developed over time, only as we get to know others, hearing their words and watching their ways, and feeling confident they are among the faithful righteous. Some of the characteristics of a righteous person include:

  1. A commitment to learning God’s Word (Psa 1:1-2; Acts 2:42; Rom 6:17).
  2. Submitting to God’s will (Rom 12:1-2; Jam 1:22).
  3. Confessing sin to God daily (1 John 1:9).
  4. Displaying Christian love (John 13:34; Rom 13:8; 1 Th 4:9; 1 Cor 13:4-8a).
  5. Seeking to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31).
  6. Living by faith in order to please the Lord (Heb 10:38; 11:6; 2 Cor 5:9).
  7. Speaking biblical truth in love (Eph 4:15, 25).
  8. Modeling humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and peace (Eph 4:1-3).
  9. Being forgiving (Matt 18:21-22).
  10. Doing good (Gal 6:10).
  11. Encouraging other believers to do good (Heb 10:24).
  12. Desiring fellowship with growing believers (Heb 10:25).
  13. Praying for others (1 Th 5:17; 2 Th 1:11; Jam 5:16).
  14. Building others up in the Lord (1 Th 5:11).
  15. Being devoted to fellow believers (Rom 12:10).

Choose the righteous life, and choose your friends wisely.

Audio Lesson

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 924.

[2] J. Dwight Pentecost, Designed to Be Like Him: Understanding God’s Plan for Fellowship, Conduct, Conflict, and Maturity (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 55.

[3] Merrill Frederick Unger, R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos et al., “Fool”, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[4] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90–150): Commentary, vol. 3, Kregel Exegetical Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016), 519.

[5] C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 111-119, vol. 5 (London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 257.

Finding Strength in a Crisis

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? (Rom 8:31)

Open BiblePerspective is critical to how we approach life and the problems we face. Invariably, we will all face difficult situations that will influence us to feel fearful; and though difficulties are inevitable, how we handle them is optional. When problems and feelings rise high, faith must rise higher, for God expects us to live by faith and trust Him (Prov 3:5-6; Heb 10:38; 11:6). We must not allow fear to overrun the command center in our soul (i.e., our volition). Though our emotions are turbulent, we must choose to be governed by wisdom and not feelings. We must operate on the principle that Christian stability is predicated, to a large degree, on the biblical content and continuity of our thinking. This requires a discipline of the mind in which we “destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). This is not always easy; especially if we’re tired, or dealing with fatigue from the pressures of life. However, the alternative means we fall victim to the situation and that our soul is overrun with crippling fear.

David kills lion and bearStable thinking occurs when we manage our thought processes and insert divine viewpoint into the stream of our consciousness (Isa 26:3; Jer 17:7-8; Nah 1:7). Having a strong sense of God’s sovereignty is helpful (Psa 10:16; 103:19; 135:6; Dan 4:35). As growing believers, we should learn to manage our own thoughts, as confidence is raised when we connect them to God and His Word. David provides a good example of a believer or managed his own thoughts during a time of conflict; when he faced his Goliath on a field of battle. Prior to facing Goliath, God had worked with David to train him for that conflict. We know King Saul doubted David’s ability to kill Goliath, telling him, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth” (1 Sam 17:33). Saul was operating purely from human viewpoint, and so his thinking was handicapped. But David, operating from divine viewpoint, said to the king, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him” (1 Sam 17:34-35). During those prior conflicts—when David was a shepherd boy—he had no idea that God was training him for a future victory. David further explained to the king, “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God…The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will also deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam 17:36-37).

Though all Israel was afraid of Goliath, David was not. The difference was perspective. David saw the giant before him as no different than the lion or bear he’d killed when defending his father’s sheep. Because the Lord had helped David in those past situations, he was able to frame his current situation from the divine perspective, and this gave him confidence in the face of adversity. In all this, David managed his own thoughts.

Ideally, we want to manage our own thoughts too. We want to think like David, who said, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?” (Psa 56:3-4). However, there are times when our thoughts are cloudy and we do not see our trials as clearly as David did. (i.e., Job, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, etc.).[1] In these moments, we are benefitted by a godly friend or leader who helps us orient our thinking in a crisis. Below are a few OT examples of difficult situations where a godly leader aided God’s people to help them frame their difficulty from the divine perspective. When the divine viewpoint was accepted, it gave courage and stabilized their fearful souls.

Example #1

Moses at Red SeaIn 1445 B.C., after the Israelite exodus from Egypt, Moses found himself standing at the edge of the Red Sea, watching as the Egyptian army approached with the intent of enslaving the Israelites (Ex 14:5). Moses wrote, “As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD” (Ex 14:10). Operating under divine orders, Moses inserted divine viewpoint into the minds of his fellow Israelites, saying, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent” (Ex 14:13-14). Fear is overcome when the solution is greater than the problem. In this situation, the problem was Pharoah and his army coming to re-enslave the Israelites. The solution was God Himself, who promised to protect His people and neutralize the threat. God kept His Word and killed Pharaoh and his soldiers (see Ex 14:22-31). The destruction of Pharaoh and his army caused Moses to rejoice, as he sang, “The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is His name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; and the choicest of his officers are drowned in the Red Sea” (Ex 15:3-4).

It’s noteworthy that there were times when God called His people to do nothing, but watch Him fight their battles. However, there were times when God required His people to take up arms and engage their enemy, and in those moments, He would fight with them, ensuring their victory. For example, David, when standing against Goliath, said, “the battle is the LORD’S and He will give you into our hands” (1 Sam 17:47). David then picked up his sling and a stone and struck his enemy with a deadly blow (1 Sam 17:48-49).

Example #2

Army Entering CanaanIn 1405 B.C., just before Moses died, he sought to strengthen the souls of Israelites who were about to enter the land of Canaan and face their enemies. These Israelites needed courage for the battles they were about to face. Like before, Moses sought to offset their fears by framing their situation from the divine perspective. Moses told them, “Do not fear them, for the LORD your God is the one fighting for you” (Deut 3:22). Because fear tends to raise its head over and over, Moses wisely repeated these words several times. For a second time, Moses said, “You shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and the wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid” (Deut 7:18-19). And a third time, Moses said, “When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you” (Deut 20:1). And a fourth time, saying, “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deut 31:8). Fear was to be the mental attitude of God’s enemies, not God’s people. Faith in God was the antidote to fear. Moses’ repetition of this truth helped God’s people adjust to the reality of their situation, and this strengthened them within.

Example #3

Assyrian ArmyIn 701 B.C., in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign (2 Ki 18:13), he faced a stressful situation when “Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and besieged the fortified cities, and thought to break into them for himself” (2 Ch 32:1). Here was an extremely stressful situation for the king and all the citizens of Judah. King Hezekiah could not control the attitude or actions of Sennacherib, but he had a choice to control his response. The king proved to be a wise leader who made good choices as he rallied his leadership team and took practical steps to fortify the city and its defenses (2 Ch 32:2-5). But Hezekiah knew external fortifications would not be enough. He needed his people to be fortified in their souls, strengthened within, so they might have the courage necessary to face the opposition. We learn that Hezekiah “appointed military officers over the people and gathered them to him in the square at the city gate, and spoke encouragingly to them” (2 Ch 32:6). Here is wisdom. Here is good leadership. Operating from divine viewpoint—which strengthened his own soul—Hezekiah used his words to insert divine viewpoint into the minds of his hearers, saying, “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be discouraged because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the One with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Ch 32:7-8a). If the people of God’s kingdom were to be strengthened within, they would need to place their focus on God rather than the overwhelming problem at hand. Apparently, the people had positive volition and received his words. And the result was, “Hezekiah’s words greatly encouraged the people” (2 Ch 32:8b). Now they were ready to face the enemy. Now they were ready to win.

Conclusion

In each of these examples, God’s Word helped His people frame their situation in such a way that they factored God into their circumstances. Their confidence came because they accepted that God would be the One who would fight with them. Divine viewpoint always gives confidence when facing difficulties, whatever they may be.

For the Christian who seeks a stable mind, we must start with Scripture, as “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17 KJV). And we must trust the Lord when He directs us into His will, or provides promises to calm us. Faith in God is the answer. The Lord tells us, “My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). God’s Word is true (Psa 119:160; John 17:17), and never fails (Matt 24:35), because He cannot lie (Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18). The proclivity of people is to look inward, outward, and downward. But God calls us to “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. [To] set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2). Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). And Peter wrote, “cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7). As those who confidence in the Lord, “we know that God works all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). And God Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Heb. 13:5b).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] See Job 10:18-19; Numbers 11:14-15; 1 Ki 19:4; Jeremiah 20:15-18; John 1:29; Matthew 11:2-3. 

 

Life, Death, and Eternity

Living GodGod has life in Himself and creates life. Jeremiah said, “the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King” (Jer 10:10). Jesus declared, “the Father has life in Himself” (John 5:26). And the apostle Paul stated, “for in Him we live and move and exist” (Act 17:28). This teaching, that God has life in Himself and is self-existent, is called the doctrine of aseity. God also exists eternally and depends on nothing outside of Himself. Everitt Harrison says that life is “the most basic reality common to God and mankind, native to God and imparted by Him to His creatures, first by creation, then by redemption.”[1] Norman Geisler states, “Theologically, to speak of God as life is to say two basic things: God is alive, and He is the source of all other life. He has life intrinsically; He is Life, while all other things have life as a gift from Him.”[2] Concerning Adam, the first created person, Moses wrote, “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). The word life translates the Hebrew חַיִּים chayyim, and living being translates the Hebrew נֶפֶשׁ nephesh, which can also be translated as soul. The most common Greek terms for life are βίος bios, ψυχή psuche, and ζωή zoe. Harrison writes:

Greek terms for life are principally bíos, psychḗ, and zōḗ. Of these, bíos is limited to the natural order…[and] is used of life span (Prov 31:12, LXX)…Psychḗ denotes self-conscious physical existence, corresponding to Hebrew nep̱eš (Acts 20:10). Zōḗ can mean lifetime (Luke 16:25). It also indicates life as the native possession of God (John 5:26) and as His gift to mankind whereby people are able to feel, think, and act (Acts 17:25).[3]

According to the Bible, God created angelic life (Psa 148:2, 5; cf. Col 1:16), plant life (Gen 1:11-12), animal life (Gen 1:20-22; 24-25), and human life (Gen 1:26-27; 2:7). People reproduce biological life, but God continues to impart soul life (Psa 100:3; Eccl 12:7; Zec 12:1), and this occurs at conception (Psa 139:13; Isa 44:2, 24). Furthermore, God has decreed the time and place of our birth (Acts 17:26), as well as the length of our days (Psa 139:16). He knows each of us personally (Jer 1:5; Gal 1:15), and is intimately familiar with us (Psa 56:8; 139:1-4; Matt 10:30). He is always present (Psa 139:7-10), is aware of our needs (Matt 6:8; 31-34), and asks us to trust Him as we journey through life (Pro 3:5-6; Heb 10:38; 11:6).

God knows how frail we are, “He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psa 103:14). David courageously asked the Lord, “Make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days short in length, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Psa 39:4-5). Job too perceived the brevity of his life and declared, “I will not live forever…for my days are but a breath” (Job 7:16), and James wrote, “you are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jam 4:14b). And the Lord is caring concerning the death of His people, as the psalmist wrote, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psa 116:15).

What we do in life matters to God and others. Every moment of every day is our opportunity to walk with God who gives meaning and purpose to life. And such a life should be marked by truth, prayer, humility, love, kindness, gentleness, goodness, selflessness, and those golden qualities that flow through the heart of one who knows the Lord and represents Him to a fallen world. Furthermore, those who love God are naturally concerned with touching the lives of others, especially as they approach the end of life. As Moses was nearing death (Deut 4:22-23; 31:14; 32:48-50), he gave a farewell address to the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy was his farewell message to the Israelites who were about to enter the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. Moses left them what was important, what would guide and sustain and bring them blessing, if they would accept it (Deut 11:26-28). He left them the Word of God. David, too, thought this way; for as “his time to die drew near” (1 Ki 2:1), he gave a charge to his son, Solomon, saying, “I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn” (1 Ki 2:2-3).

Jesus Washing FeetOur Lord Jesus, on the night before His death, spent His final hours offering divine instruction to His disciples (John 13:1—16:33). Jesus’ message was motivated by love, as John tells us, “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Jesus opened His instruction with a foot-washing-lesson on humility and serving each other (John 13:3-17). Here, the King of kings and Lord of lords became the Servant of servants when He laid aside His garments and washed the disciples’ feet. Jesus’ display of humility was followed by a command to love, saying, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). He then comforted His friends, directing them to live by faith, and to look forward to His promise of heaven. Jesus said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus went on to offer additional instruction on how to know the Father, to love, pray, what to expect in the future, and how to live godly in a fallen world (John 14:4—16:33). He then prayed for them (John 17:1-26). Afterwards, Jesus went to the cross and died for them. He died for their sins, that they might have forgiveness and eternal life. What a loving Savior we serve!

The History and Meaning of Death

Death means separation. The most common words for death in the Hebrew OT are מוּת muth and מָוֶת maveth. McChesney writes, “The general teaching of the Scriptures is that man is not only a physical but also a spiritual being; accordingly, death is not the end of human existence, but a change of place or conditions in which conscious existence continues.”[4] The most common words for death in the Greek NT are νεκρός nekros and θάνατος thanatos. The Greek word νεκρός nekros refers “to being in a state of loss of life, dead.”[5] It is used of a dead body (Jam 2:26), as well as the spiritual state of the unsaved (Eph 2:1; Col 2:13). The Greek word θάνατος thanatos basically denotes “the termination of physical life.”[6] Mounce provides a broader explanation of θάνατος thanatos, saying:

It is used in the NT to describe physical death (the separation of the soul from the body) and spiritual death (the separation of a human being from God), though these two concepts can be closely linked in Scripture. The term never indicates nonexistence, and the NT never regards thanatos as a natural process; rather, it is a consequence and punishment for sin (Rom 6:23). Sinners alone are subject to death, beginning with Adam (Rom 5:12, 17), and it was as the bearer of our sin that Jesus died on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24). Since he was without sin, it was our death that he died (cf. Rom 8:1–2).[7]

Death was introduced into God’s creation when the first human, Adam, sinned against God. Adam’s sin immediately brought spiritual death (Gen 2:15-17; 3:1-7), and later, physical death (Gen 5:5). Though Adam was made spiritually alive again (Gen 3:21), his single sin introduced death, in every form, into the world (Rom 5:12-14; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Three major kinds of death are mentioned in Scripture, and these include: 1) spiritual death, which is separation from God in time (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-7; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22; Eph 2:1-2; Col 2:13-14), 2) physical death, which is the separation of the soul from the body (Eccl 12:7; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23-24; 2 Tim 4:6), and 3) eternal death (aka the “second death”), which is the perpetuation of physical and spiritual separation from God for all eternity (Rev 20:11-15).

In contrast to the three major kinds of death mentioned in Scripture, there are three major kinds of life, which are: 1) regenerate life, which is the new life God gives at the moment of salvation (John 3:3; 1 Pet 1:3, 23), 2) resurrection life, which is the new and perfect body we receive when the Lord calls us to heaven (John 11:25-26; 1 Cor 15:42-44), and 3) eternal life, which is perpetual life given at the moment of salvation and extends into heaven and eternity (John 3:16; 6:40; 10:28; Rom 6:23; 1 John 5:11-13).

God has granted that some would not experience death, and these include Enoch (Gen 5:21-24), Elijah (2 Ki 2:11), and Christians at the rapture (1 Cor 15:51-52; 1 Th 4:13-18). However, there have been others who died and were resuscitated, only to die a second time. These include the son of the widow in Zarephath (1 Ki 17:17-24), the Shunamite’s son (2 Ki 4:32-34; 8:1), the son of the widow in Nain (Luke 7:11-15), Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:40-42, 49-55), Lazarus (John 11:43-44; cf. John 12:10), various saints in Jerusalem (Matt 27:50-53), Tabitha (Acts 9:36-40), and Eutychus (Acts 20:7-10). But for most, there is an appointed time to die (Eccl 3:2; 8:8; cf. Deut 31:14; 1 Ki 2:1), and afterwards, to meet God for judgment (Heb 9:27). For believers, this judgment is a time of reward (1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 Cor 5:10), but for unbelievers, it is a time of judgment as they face the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). Though death is inevitable; where we spend eternity is optional. God loves us and sent His Son into the world to provide eternal life for us (John 3:16-17; 10:28).

The Eternal State

What is our eternal future? Scripture reveals every person will spend eternity either in heaven with God (Dan 12:1-2; 1 Cor 15:51–53; 1 Th 4:14–17; Rev 20:4-6), or the Lake of Fire away from Him (Rev 20:11-15). Heaven is the place where God dwells, and Jesus promised we’ll be there with Him (John 14:1-3). Heaven—and the eternal state—is a place of worship (Rev 19:1-3), service (Rev 22:3), and free from tears, pain, and death (Rev 21:3-4). God loves us and desires to have a relationship with us in time and eternity (John 3:16-17; 10:28; 14:1-3). However, our sin separates us from God (Isa 59:2; John 8:24; Rom 5:12). But God, who is merciful (Eph 2:3-5; Tit 3:5), dealt with our sin once and for all when He sent Jesus as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice to die in our place and pay the penalty for our sins (Isa 53:1-12; Mark 10:45; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 10:10-14; 1 Pet 2:24; 3:18). At the cross, God satisfied all His righteous demands toward our sin (1 John 2:2; 4:10). Those who believe in Jesus as their Savior receive forgiveness (Eph 1:7; Col 2:13-14), the gifts of eternal life and righteousness (John 3:16; 10:28; Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9), and will spend eternity in heaven (John 14:1-3; 2 Cor 5:1-5; Phil 3:20-21). Those who reject Jesus as their Savior have no future hope and will spend eternity away from God in eternal punishment (John 3:18, 36; Rev 20:14-15). When we turn to Christ as our Savior, we have a bright eternal destiny assured for us in heaven (1 Pet 1:3-4).

I am the resurrection and the life - squareAll believers anticipate a future time of resurrection in which God will reunite the soul with the body. Job said, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27). The body we have is perishable, but our resurrection body is imperishable. Paul compared our body to a seed that is sown into the ground that God will one day bring to life. Paul wrote, “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42-44). Of course, Jesus makes this possible, as He told Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25). To trust in Christ as Savior guarantees us eternal life right now, and the promise of a new body that will live forever, free from sin and decay. By God’s goodness and grace, heaven is open, and the free gift of eternal life is given to those who trust completely in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Our salvation is made possible by Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. He paid our sin-debt and gives us eternal life at the moment we trust in Him.

All believers go straight to heaven when we die, and there we will live forever. God will let us in. He does not have a choice in the matter. The Lord has integrity, and He promised that whoever believes in Jesus as Savior will be forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7) and have eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28). He made the provision for salvation, and He will honor His Word. In fact, God is bound to His Word, for “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18; cf. Tit 1:2). By faith, we trust Him when He promises to do something, and we know that faith pleases Him (Heb 10:38; 11:6).

When the Christian leaves this world for heaven, her last breath here is her first breath there, and what a breath that must be! Scripture reveals, “to be absent from the body” is “to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). Though it is a sad time for us, it is an improvement for the believer, as Scripture states, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). The advantage is that the believer gets to meet the Lord Jesus Christ, face to face, in heaven; and this joyous relationship is forever!

At physical death, all of life’s decisions are fixed for eternity, and what we do with Christ determines our eternal destiny (John 3:16-18; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9). It has been said that procrastination is the thief of time and opportunity, and when one procrastinates about the gospel, it becomes the thief of souls. Please don’t delay. Trust Christ as Savior today and receive eternal life, believing the gospel that He “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). And, like the thief on the cross who trusted in Jesus, you can be assured your soul will immediately go into the presence of God at death (Luke 23:43). Don’t wait another day. The Lord will forgive you all your sins and grant you eternal life. He promised, and He’ll keep His word. He has integrity and cannot do otherwise.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Everett F. Harrison, “Life,” ed. Geoffrey W Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 129.

[2] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 254.

[3] E. F. Harrison, “Life”, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, 129.

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

[5] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 667.

[6] Ibid., 442.

[7] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 160.

Giving to Support God’s Ministers

Jesus and WomenGiving money to support those who do God’s work is a valid expression of love and worship toward the Lord. This was true of several women who traveled with Jesus and His disciples and were financially supporting them (Luke 8:1-3). Luke tells us these included, “Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means” (Luke 8:2b-3). Jesus and His disciples could afford to pay for their daily needs (i.e., food, shelter, clothing, etc.) because of the gracious contributions of these women. Their financial gifts to support Jesus and His disciples had an immediate and eternal impact on the lives of many and are still yielding results today. That’s an impressive return on investment!

It is not a sin to be wealthy, as God sometimes blesses His people with great riches. He certainly gave great wealth to Abraham (Gen 13:5-6), Isaac (Gen 26:12-14), Jacob (Gen 32:9-10; 33:11), Job (Job 1:1-3), David (1 Ch 29:1-5), Solomon (1 Ki 10:1-25), and others. Sometimes this wealth came suddenly, such as when God liberated the Israelites from Egyptian slavery (Deut 5:6), and persuaded the Egyptians to give His people vast amounts of silver, gold, and clothing (Ex 3:22). Afterwards, God gave His people the land of Canaan (Deut 4:1; 9:6), which included cities, houses, wells and vineyards for which they did not work (Deut 6:10-11). The Bible also gives wisdom on making wealth by hard work (Prov 28:19) and investment (Eccl 11:1-2). I know some whom God has gifted with great business acumen. These He has blessed with the “power to make wealth” (Deut 8:18). These same skilled men have been generous in their giving to help others, and in this way, have followed Paul’s instruction to “those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to set their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy; and to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim 6:17-18). Being wealthy can be a blessing from the Lord, but how one handles that wealth either honors or dishonors Him. And, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, and favor is better than silver and gold” (Prov 22:1).

Treasures in HeavenAs Christians, we should see ourselves as stewards of the Lord’s resources, whether that’s money, a home, car, food, clothing, etc. Biblically, we know that God owns everything, “For the earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psa 24:1). The Lord declares, “every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psa 50:10), and “The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine, declares the LORD of hosts” (Hag 2:8). When we give to support the Lord’s work, it’s a test of our love and loyalty to Him; for what we give is already His. David captures this well when he says, “who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (1 Ch 29:14). As God’s people, we are only here on earth for a short time, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave, “For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding” (1 Ch 29:15). And, as Paul wrote, “We brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1 Tim 6:7). What we do in this life touches both time and eternity. Jesus directs us to focus on heavenly investments, saying, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21). The real issue for us is to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33), and trust God that He’ll meet our daily needs (Matt 6:25-34). Giving to support God’s ministries means taking what resources He’s given to us and giving it back to Him, because we trust Him with all we have and seek His glory above our own security or self-interest. Christian ministers—whether working full or part time—need financial support to help cover the costs associated with ministry, and our monetary support is a barometer of our love for God and what He is doing through them.

Tithing is Not Required

tithe-storehouseMany Christian churches today make a big deal out of tithing (giving ten percent of one’s income). Though tithing was mandatory for Israel, it is not required of Christians. Under the Mosaic Law, there were actually three tithes the Israelites were obligated to pay to the priests and Levites to support them for their ministry (Num 18:21-24). Two tithes were required every year to the Temple (Num 18:21; Deut 14:22-23), and a third tithe was taken every third year to help the poor, the alien, the orphans and the widows (Deut 14:28-29; 26:12). This last tithe was comparable to a social welfare system for the most unfortunate in society. The Levites, in turn, gave a tithe of the tithe to the priests for their service (Num 18:25-28). For the most part, the tithes consisted of the fruit and grain that came out of the ground as well as livestock (Lev 27:30-32), and the Israelite worshipper and his family could eat a portion of the sacrifice that was brought to the tabernacle/temple (Deut 12:17-19; 14:22-27). Failure to bring the produce of one’s crop or herd was a violation of God’s law (Mal 3:8-10).

Tithers BoardSadly, some pastors have mishandled Malachi 3:8-10 and applied it to the Church, browbeating Christians to make them feel guilty for not giving money to the Church. Some tyrants have even required church members to show their annual tax returns, or publicly posted their annual contributions in order to strong-arm Christians to give. This is more an act of despotic control over one’s flock than loving leadership. Pastors who use Malachi 3:8-10 against Christians display both an ignorance of God’s Word and a spiritual immaturity in leadership. The fact is, Malachi 3:8-10 has nothing to do with the Church. Biblically, the Church is not Israel, and Christians are not under the Mosaic Law as the rule for life, but under the Law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2 – see my article: The Law of Moses and the Law of Christ).[1] As such, Christians are not required to tithe a portion of their income, but to give voluntarily (see my article: The Biblical Teaching on Tithes).

Grace-Giving

A Cheerful GiverGrace-giving means we give with an open-hand, from the bounty of our own resources, to help advance God’s work in the lives of others. The apostle Paul was supported financially by Christians who gave to his ministry (2 Cor 9:1-15). Paul explained that giving of one’s finances needs to be done with the right attitude, for “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). It is better not to give at all than to give “grudgingly or under compulsion.” As part of God’s Word, a pastor should teach people about money and giving to support ministry, always with the hope that they are gracious and open-handed. However, a pastor should never seek to manipulate or coerce people to give, as he violates the Word if he does. The pastor who resorts to gimmicks or pressure tactics to get his congregation to give is, ultimately, concerned more about money than people. In this way, a pastor is no better than Judas, who was “not concerned about the poor”, but about the “money box”, and this because he was dishonest and “used to pilfer what was put into it” (John 12:6). Giving should be done with the right attitude, and in proportion to what a person has (Acts 11:29; 2 Co 8:12). The one who has little can give little (Luke 21:1-4), and the one who has much can give much (1 Tim 6:17-18). But attitude matters, for God is watching the heart as well as the hand.

God’s Ministers Should be Supported

It is biblical that Christian ministers be supported financially for the work they do. Paul said, “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” (1 Cor 9:11), and went on to say, “the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). Elsewhere Paul wrote, “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him” (Gal 6:6), and in another place said, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing’, and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Tim 5:17-18). In this way, believers help support their pastors for the work they do.

God’s ministers should be humble when receiving the kind contributions of others. I was blessed years ago to learn a valuable lesson from a wise preacher. He recounted a story in which he offered money to a young seminarian to watch his house while he was out of town for a few weeks. When the preacher offered the money, the seminarian tried to turn it away, thinking it was too much for what he was doing. (To be honest, it did seem like a lot of money at the time). But the preacher quickly straightened him out, saying (paraphrase), “young man, you’re going into ministry, and others are going to want to show you kindness for the work you do, and this will, at times, come in the form of a financial gift. You’d better learn to accept their kindness and not turn it away. Just say, ‘Thank you’, and move on.” That was good for me to hear, for I’ve often struggled over the years to accept the kindness of others, especially when it comes in the form of a monetary gift (I know it’s my pride). On another occasion, the same preacher helped me understand there are times when God the Holy Spirit is working in the hearts of others to teach them to be kind and giving, and that I may be the object of their lesson. If I turn away their gift, I may be hindering the work of God in their life, and that’s no good. God’s been working on me and I’m getting better. I think of the preacher almost every time someone blesses me with a gift, and I’ve learned to say “Thank you” and just move on.

God Blesses Those Who Give

Sowing and ReapingThe Bible teaches that those who give to support God’s ministers will themselves be honored and blessed by the Lord. The apostle Paul commended the Christians at Corinth for their “participation in the support of the saints” (2 Cor 8:4), and went on to say, “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:6-7). Furthermore, Paul said, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor 9:10-11). Sowing and reaping is a biblical concept. Ryrie states, “Generosity will be rewarded by additional grace. This undoubtedly includes sufficient material provision for the giver as well as development of his character. In other words, God gives or ‘begraces’ the giving Christian with sufficient money and character in order that he may continue to want to and be able to give.”[2]

Beware of False Teachers

Sadly, there are false teachers in the church today who, through their ministries, rake in tens of millions of dollars, live in luxurious mansions, and fly around the world in private jets. These give a bad name to Christianity because of their greed and false messages that mislead people. Peter warned Christians that just as “false prophets arose among the people”, that “there will also be false teachers among you” (2 Pet 2:1a). Peter said these false teachers “will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned” (2 Pet 2:2), and “in their greed they will exploit you with false words” (2 Pet 2:3a). Many of these false teachers try to bring Christians back under the Mosaic Law—or at least portions of it—because it serves their own greedy agenda. Tithing becomes a whip they can use against their flock. These false teachers are driven by greed, not truth or love or faith, and their Bible teaching—if it can be called that—serves their own evil agenda.

The Minister’s Choice

Paul PreachingHowever, a wise pastor may refuse financial compensation if he thinks it’s an impediment to ministry. Paul is a good example, for he wanted to give “no hindrance to the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:12) to those he preached to in Corinth, so he forfeited his right to compensation and presented “the gospel without charge” (1 Cor 9:18). He repeated this in his second letter to the Corinthians, reminding them he “preached the gospel of God to you without charge?” (2 Cor 11:7). And when Paul preached the Word in Ephesus, he told the Christians there, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me” (Acts 20:33-34). And to the Christians living in Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (1 Th 2:9), and in his second letter to them, said, “we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example” (2 Th 3:8-9). I think much of this is born out of Jesus’ instruction to His disciples when He told them to preach to the lost sheep of Israel, saying, “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give” (Matt 10:7-8). That is, Jesus’ disciples were to preach and engage in ministry to others freely, without charge.

Apostle PaulChristians who receive free teaching from their Pastor-Teacher should also freely offer their support for the work he does. But if they don’t, the Pastor is obligated to continue his ministry, and that because he is under divine orders to “preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2). Like Jonah (Jonah 1:1), and Jeremiah (Jer 1:5), Paul was commissioned by the Lord to preach His Word to others (Acts 26:16-17; Gal 1:15), and this without charge. Understanding his divine commission, Paul said, “I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). Paul’s marching orders were to preach, even if others did not recognize his calling or support him. And Paul faced many hardships, saying, “To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (1 Cor 4:11-13). Paul was committed to his ministry calling, no matter his circumstances. By faith, he even trusted and worshipped God when in jail (Acts 16:25). It is ironic to me that pastors will tell others they are “called by God” to preach His Word, but then condition their ministry on the financial support of others. Such men are no better than the corrupt priests and prophets in Micah’s day who “instruct for a price” and “divine for money” (Mic 3:11; cf. Jer 6:13). Nonsense! Preach the word! Have faith! God will provide!

The pastor who does not like to hear this should check his attitude, for he who teaches others to be content with “food and covering” (1 Tim 6:8), should himself be content with the same. If he teaches others not “to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17), he should himself be the role model of this attitude to others. This does not mean a pastor cannot or should not enjoy support and prosperity if the Lord gives it, but that his commission as a minister should not rest on it. Paul said, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:11-12). A pastor can and should make ministry needs known, which affords others the opportunity to give their support freely. This is valid. However, he must never condition his ministry on the financial support of others. In addition, he must never resort to pressure tactics such as guilt or shaming, as this coerces people to give grudgingly or by compulsion, and that is wrong.

The ShepherdUnfortunately, good shepherds are in short supply these days. The requirements to be a good pastor are high, and most are unwilling to put in the time and study necessary to be properly trained. The reality is that a good Bible teacher is the product of many great sacrifices. Once he responds to the call of ministry, he forfeits a more lucrative career for that of a Bible teacher, which often does not pay very well, and he accepts this. The good teacher will spend years of time in Seminary studying God’s Word, learning the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, ancient history, philosophy, hermeneutics, theology, and invest a great amount of personal time and money toward his academic training and library. My own education, which includes a Bachelor of Science, Master of Divinity, and Doctorate, cost me about $105,000 (which does not include my investment in books and electronics). I come from a very poor family, so I had to work a regular job (waiter, welder, trash truck driver, etc.) in order pay for school. Thankfully, God is good and provided work for me, and also blessed me with some scholarships that helped along the way. Currently, I work a full-time job as a Case Manager for a local nonprofit that helps the infirmed and elderly in my community, and then in the early morning hours devote myself to studying God’s Word so I can teach it on the weekends, or write articles for my blog. My ministry, for the moment, is strictly voluntary. I have no student debt (paid off in 2020), and no major expenses except my mortgage, and I’m content to serve the Lord in my current place until such a time that He opens up something more for me. I have Paul as my example, for had a tentmaking profession that earned him money (Acts 18:1-3), until God made other resources available (Acts 18:5; 2 Cor 11:9; Phil 4:15-16). I also appreciate Peter’s words when he wrote to church elders, directing them to “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under [human] compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness” (1 Pet 5:2). To shepherd the flock of God voluntarily should be at the heart of every preacher, who performs his ministry according to the will of God.

In summary, it is valid to support God’s ministers who are helping to do His work in the world. Though such giving is not obligatory, it is a barometer of our love for God and appreciation for those who are doing His work and who should be compensated for their labor. God has blessed us by grace, and our giving to support His work is also done by grace, and God will bless those who give, either in this lifetime or in the eternal state. But we must beware of false teachers who seek to exploit us with false words and avoid them. Lastly, a minister may refuse compensation if he feels such compensation may be a hindrance to his ministry; and he should always be willing to serve the Lord and others voluntarily, according to God’s will, and not for profit. He is thankful when others give to support him, but does not condition his teaching or ministry on it.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] There are biblical distinctions between Israel and the Church. For example, Israel was a nation (Ex 19:6), but the church is not a nation (Rom 10:19). God’s program for Israel focused on the land promised to Abraham (Gen 12:1; 15:18; 17:8), whereas the church is called to go out to many lands (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Israel was mentioned throughout the Old Testament and recognized by other nations (Num 14:15; Josh 5:1), but the church was a mystery not known in the Old Testament (Eph 3:1-6; Col 1:26-27; cf. Rom 16:25-26). Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2). Israel had a priesthood that was specific to the tribe of Levi (Num 3:6-7), whereas all Christians are priests to God (Rev 1:6). Israel worshipped first at the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex 40:18-38; 2 Ch 8:14-16), but for Christians, their body is the temple of the Lord and they gather locally where they want (1 Cor 6:19-20; cf. 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15). Israel offered animal sacrifices to God (Lev 4:1-35), but Christians offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet 2:5; cf. Rom 12:1; Heb 13:15).

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, The Grace of God (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1963), 64.

The Despair of Atheism and the Hope of Christianity

world-view-eyeAs we grow and develop mentally, we develop a worldview, which is a biased perspective on life. A worldview is a mental framework of beliefs that guide our understanding of what is. It’s the assumptions we employ to help us make sense of the world, ourselves and our experiences. Early in life—when our perception of the world is being shaped—we are influenced by the worldviews of family, friends, and surrounding culture. As we grow older, we are confronted with different and opposing worldviews via religious and educational institutions, literature, movies, music and art. At some point in our development—it’s different for each person—we choose what we believe and why. Our worldview is important because it’s the basis for our values which influence our relationships, money habits, social and political decisions, and everything we say and do. At its core, there are basically two worldviews a person can have. Either one is a theist or an atheist. Choices have consequences, and the worldview we adopt has far reaching ramifications. The biblical worldview offers value, purpose, and hope. The atheistic worldview—when followed to its logical conclusion—leads to a meaningless and purposeless life that eventuates in despair.

The atheist’s worldview denies the existence of God and believes the universe and earth happened by a chance explosion billions of years ago. Rather than intelligent design, he believes in unintelligent chaos, that the earth, with all its complexity of life, is merely the product of accidental evolutionary processes over millions of years. His worldview believes everything is merely the product of matter, motion, time and chance; that we are the accidental collection of molecules; that we are nothing more than evolving bags of protoplasm who happen to be able to think, feel, and act. The conclusion is that we came from nothing significant, that we are nothing significant, and we go to nothing significant. Ultimately, there’s no reason for us to exist, and no given purpose to assign meaning to our lives. We are a zero. Some have thought through the logical implications of their atheism and understand this well. Mark Twain wrote:

Mark TwainA myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle for bread; they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other. Age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; shames and humiliations bring down their prides and their vanities. Those they love are taken from them and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. The burden of pain, care, misery, grows heavier year by year. At length ambition is dead; pride is dead; vanity is dead; longing for release is in their place. It comes at last – the only unpoisoned gift ever had for them – and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence; where they achieved nothing; where they were a mistake and a failure and a foolishness; where they have left no sign that they have existed – a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever. Then another myriad takes their place and copies all they did and goes along the same profitless road and vanishes as they vanished – to make room for another and another and a million other myriads to follow the same arid path through the same desert and accomplish what the first myriad and all the myriads that came after it accomplished – nothing![1]

And Bertrand Russell wrote:

Bertrand RussellMan is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hope and fears, his loves and beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruin – all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy that rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built [bold added for emphasis].[3]

No God means we live in a purely materialistic universe. Logically, materialism leads to nihilism which teaches that life is meaningless. If there is no God, then each of us are nothing more than the accidental collection of molecules. All our thoughts, desires, passions and actions can be reduced to electrochemical impulses in the brain and body. We are nothing more than a biochemical machine in an accidental universe, and when we die, our biological life is consumed by the material universe from which we came. But this leaves us in a bad place, for we instinctively search for meaning and purpose, to understand the value of our lives and actions. This tension leads to a sense of anxiety, what the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, called angst. Angst and fear are different, for fear has a direct object, whereas angst is that innate and unending sense of anxiety or dread one lives with and cannot shake. The French Existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre understood this worldview and the despair connected with it. Sartre proposed that individual purpose could be obtained by the exercise our wills, as we choose to act, even if the act is absurd. Francis Schaeffer wrote:

[Sartre] held that in the area of reason everything is absurd, but nonetheless a person can authenticate himself by an act of the will; everyone should abandon the pose of spectator and act in a purposeless world. But because, as Sartre saw it, reason is separated from this authenticating, the will can act in any direction. On the basis of his teaching, you could authenticate yourself either by helping a poor old lady along the road at night or by speeding up your auto and running her down. Reason is not involved, and nothing can show you the direction which your will should take.[4]

John SartreI would argue that most atheists really don’t want to talk about the logical conclusion of their position, and choose to go about their daily lives ignoring the issue altogether, as it’s too painful to consider. This is why Sartre abandoned reason and advocated that we seek for meaning in the choices we make, even if those choices are irrational. Aldous Huxley proposed using psychedelic drugs with the idea that one might be able to find truth and meaning inside his own head. “He held this view up to the time of his death. He made his wife promise to give him LSD when he was ready to die so that he would die in the midst of a trip. All that was left for Aldous Huxley and those who followed him was truth inside a person’s own head.”[5]

But there is another implication to an atheistic worldview, and that’s in the area of morals. If there is no God, then there is no moral Lawgiver outside of mankind, and no moral absolutes by which to declare anything ethically right or wrong. There is only subjective opinion, which fluctuates from person to person and group to group. We’re left to conclude that if there are no moral absolutes, then what is, is right, and the conversation is over. Morality becomes a matter of what the majority wants, or what an elite, or individual, can impose on others. Francis Schaeffer wrote:

If there is no absolute moral standard, then one cannot say in a final sense that anything is right or wrong. By absolute we mean that which always applies, that which provides a final or ultimate standard. There must be an absolute if there are to be morals, and there must be an absolute if there are to be real values. If there is no absolute beyond man’s ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions.[6]

Ironically, when the atheist states “there is no truth”, he is making a truth claim. And when he says “there are no absolutes”, he is stating an absolute. Logically, he cannot escape truth and absolutes, without which, reasoning and discussion are impossible. The biblically minded Christian celebrates both truth and absolutes which derive from God Himself, in which He declares some things right and other things wrong (e.g., Ex 20:1-17), and this according to His righteousness (Psa 11:7).

Charles-Darwin-3000-3x2gty-56a4890a3df78cf77282ddafThe atheistic view regards mankind as merely a part of the animal kingdom. But if people are just another form of animal—a naked ape as someone once described—then there’s really no reason to get upset if we behave like animals. A pack of wild lions in the Serengeti suffer no pangs of conscience when they gang up on a helpless baby deer and rip it to shreds in order to satisfy their hunger pains. They would certainly not be concerned if they drove a species to extinction; after all, it’s survival of the fittest. Let the strong survive and the weak die off. Evolution could also logically lead to racism, which is implied in Charles Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species, which original subtitle mentions the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Ironically, we teach evolution in public schools, telling children they are just another animal species, but then get upset when they act like animals toward each other. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t logically teach atheistic evolution and simultaneously advocate for morality. It’s a non sequitur. If there are no moral absolutes, then one cannot describe as evil the behavior of Nazis who murdered millions of Jews in World War II. Neither can one speak against the murder of tens of millions of people under the materialistic communistic regimes of Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, or Pol Pot.

It’s interesting that people cry out for personal and social justice because they’re naturally wired that way. But for the atheist, such inclinations are either a learned behavior based on arbitrary social norms, or a biological quirk that developed from accidental evolutionary processes. Again, we’re left with no moral absolutes and no meaning for life. Naturally, for the thinking person, this leads to despair. For this reason, some seek pleasure in drugs, or alcohol, partying and/or sexual promiscuity in order to deaden the pain of an empty heart. Others might move into irrational areas of mysticism and the occult. The Burning Man events are a good example of this. The few honest atheists such as Twain, Updike, Russell and others accept their place of despair and seek to get along in this world as best they can. But they have no lasting hope for humanity. None whatsoever.

Bible With PenBut the Christian worldview is different. The biblically minded Christian has an answer in the Bible which gives lasting meaning and hope; and this allows us to use our reasoning abilities as God intended. The Bible presents the reality of God (Gen 1:1; Ex 3:14; Rev 1:8), who has revealed Himself to all people (Psa 19:1-2). The apostle Paul argued this point when he wrote, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).[7] This is called general revelation in which God reveals Himself through nature. God has also revealed Himself to the heart of every person, for “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Rom 1:19). John Calvin referred to this as the sensus divinitatis, which is an innate sense of divinity, an intuitive knowledge that God exists. Calvin wrote, “there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity.”[8] He further states, “All men of sound judgment will therefore hold, that a sense of Deity is indelibly engraved on the human heart.”[9] Part of Calvin’s argument is based on God’s special revelation in Scripture. But part of his observation is also based on human experience. Calvin wrote, “there never has been, from the very first, any quarter of the globe, any city, any household even, without religion, [which] amounts to a tacit confession, that a sense of Deity is inscribed on every heart.”[10] The problem is not with God’s clear revelation, but with the human heart which is negative to Him. For those possessed with negative volition have, as their habit, to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). The problem lies in the sinful heart that suppresses that revelation from God in order to pursue one’s sinful passions. Paul wrote:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (Rom 1:21-23)

However, God is a perfect gentleman and never forces Himself on anyone. People are free to choose whether to accept Him or not. But if they reject what light God gives of Himself, He is not obligated to give them further light, as they will only continue to reject it. Of those who are negative to God, three times it is written that He “gave them over” to “the lusts of their hearts” (Rom 1:24), and “to degrading passions” (Rom 1:26), and “to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper” (Rom 1:28). Once God permits a person to operate by his sinful passions, he is given a measure of freedom to live as he wants, but not without consequence.

God does not render final judgment upon the rebellious right away. Rather, God extends to them a common grace, which refers to the undeserved kindness or goodness He extends to everyone, regardless of whether they are righteous or unrighteous, good or evil. God’s common grace is seen in His provision of the necessities of life (i.e., sun, rain, air, food, water, clothing, etc.). This grace depends totally on God and not the attitude or actions of others. Jesus said of His Father, that “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). Paul affirmed this grace, saying, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways [in rebellion]; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). Here, God’s grace is most obvious, in that He provides the necessities of life and even blesses those who are unsaved and hostile toward Him. His love and open-handedness toward the undeserving springs completely out of the bounty of His own goodness. Part of the reason God is gracious and patient is that He “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). However, grace ends when the unbeliever dies, and if he has spent his life rejecting Christ as Savior, then afterward, he will stand before God’s judgment seat, and if his name is “not found written in the book of life”, then he will be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15), where he will be for eternity. This final judgment is avoidable, if Jesus is accepted as one’s Savior. The Bible reveals:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16-18)

To the heart that is positive to God and turns to Christ as Savior, He has revealed Himself in special ways in His Son, Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-3), and in Scripture (1 Th 2:13; 2 Tim 3:16-17). God’s special revelation gives us insights into realities we could never know on our own, except that God has revealed them to us in His Word in propositional terms (see my article: The Bible as Divine Revelation). As we read the Bible in a plain manner, we come to realize that God exists as a trinity (or triunity), as God the Father (Gal 1:1; Eph 6:23; Phil 2:11), God the Son (Isa 7:14; 9:6; John 1:1, 8:58; 20:28; Col 2:9; Heb 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor 2:11-12; 2 Cor 13:14). And that all three persons of the trinity are co-equal, co-infinite, and co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and honor and glory. The Bible also reveals that God personally created His universe and earth in six literal days (Gen 1:1-31; Ex 20:8-11). That He created the first humans, Adam and Eve, in His image, with value and purpose to serve as theocratic administrators over the earth (Gen 1:26-28). We have the ability to reason because we are made in the image of God, who also gave us language as a means of communicating with Him and each other (Gen 2:15-17, 23). God also created a host of spirit beings called angels, but one of them, Lucifer, rebelled against God and convinced other angels to do the same (Isa 14:12-14; Ezek 28:12-17). Fallen angels are called demons and belong to Satan’s ranks (Matt 25:41; Rev 12:7-9), and they influence the world of people in many ways in their thinking, values and behavior (1 Tim 4:1; Rev 16:13-14). Lucifer came to earth and convinced the first humans to rebel against God (Gen 3:1-7), took rulership over the earth (Luke 4:5-7; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2 1 John 5:19), and expanded his kingdom of darkness to include all unbelievers (Matt 13:36-40; John 8:44; Acts 26:18; Col 1:13-14). Adam and Eve’s sin brought about spiritual death (i.e., separation from God) and God cursed the earth as a judgment upon them (Gen 3:14-19). God’s judgment also explains why everything moves toward decay and physical death (i.e., the second law of thermodynamics). But God, because of His great mercy and love toward us, provided a solution to the problem of sin and spiritual death, and this through a Redeemer who would come and bear the penalty for our sins (Gen 3:15; Isa 7:14; 9:6; Matt 1:23; Luke 1:26-35; Gal 4:4; Heb 10:10, 14; 1 Pet 2:24; 3:18; Rev 1:5). This Redeemer was Jesus Christ, God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity who became human (John 1:1, 14), who lived a sinless life (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), willingly died on a cross (John 10:17-18), was judged for all our sin (Heb 10:10, 14), and was buried and raised to life on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4, 20), never to die again (Rom 6:9). After His redeeming work, Jesus ascended to heaven, where He awaits His return (Acts 1:9-11; cf. John 14:1-3; 1 Th 4:13-18). Jesus’ work on the cross opens the way for us to have forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), and spiritual life (Eph 1:3; 1 Pet 1:3, 23), if we’ll trust in Him as our Savior (John 3:16; 20:31).

When a Philippian jailer asked the apostle Paul, “what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30), Paul gave the simple answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Act 16:31). Believing in Christ means we turn from trusting in anyone or anything as having any saving value (which is the meaning of repentance) and place our complete confidence in Christ to save, accepting Him and His work on the cross as all that is needed to have eternal life. Salvation comes to us by grace alone (it’s an undeserved gift), through faith alone (adding no works), in Christ alone (as the only One who saves). Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). God also promises us an eternal existence with Him in Heaven (John 14:1-3), who will eventually create a new heavens and earth, which will be marked by perfect righteousness (2 Pet 3:13), and be free from sin and death (Rev 21:1-5). God has already begun this restoration process, and this starts with the restoration of lost sinners to Himself, and progressing toward the complete and perfect restoration of the universe and earth.

If we accept God and His offer of salvation, we have a new relationship with Him, and this means we are part of His royal family. God also gives meaning to our lives and calls us to serve as His representatives in a fallen world. To reject God and His offer is to choose an eternal existence away from Him in the Lake of Fire. This is avoidable, if one turns to Christ as Savior, believing the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). Won’t you trust in Christ as your Savior and begin this new and wonderful life? I pray you do.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Mark Twain, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, edited by Michael J. Kiskis (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, WI, 2013), 28.

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

[3] Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship” from Mysticism and Logic (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1917).

[4] Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture, 50th L’Abri Anniversary Edition. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 167.

[5] Ibid., 170.

[6] Ibid., 145.

[7] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, published by the Lockman Foundation.

[8] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997), 1.3.1

[9] Ibid., 1.3.3

[10] Ibid., 1.3.1

A Look at Grace

“Let your speech always be with grace” (Col 4:6)

The Bible teaches us about the concept of grace. The Hebrew noun חֵן chen appears 69 times and is commonly translated as favor (Gen 19:19; 32:5; 33:8; 34:11; 47:25; Ex 33:12-17). Mounce states, “grace is the moral quality of kindness, displaying a favorable disposition.”[1] The Hebrew verb חָנָן chanan is used 56 times and is commonly translated gracious (Gen 43:29; Ex 22:27; 33:19; 34:6). Yamauchi states, “The verb ḥānan depicts a heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one who has a need.”[2] God’s loyal or faithful love, חֶסֶד chesed, is used in connection with His demonstrations of grace (Psa 51:1-3). A loving heart tends toward gracious acts.

grace-rock-blueThe Greek word χάρις charis appears 155 times in the New Testament and most commonly refers to the unmerited favor that one person shows toward an underserving other. It is noteworthy that Paul uses the word 130 times. According to BDAG, grace refers to “that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”[3] Chafer adds, “Grace means pure un-recompensed kindness and favor. What is done in grace is done graciously. From this exact meaning there can be no departure; otherwise, grace ceases to be grace.”[4] The word χάρις charis is also used to express thanks (1 Cor 15:57; 2 Cor 9:15), or attractiveness (Luke 4:22; Col 4:6). The greatest expression of grace is observed in the love God shows toward underserving sinners for whom He sent His Son to die in their place so they might have eternal life in Christ (John 3:16-19; Rom 5:6-10). Thank God for His wonderful and matchless grace to us!

God is Gracious

Jesus Healing SickThe 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). Jesus is an example of grace, in that He cared for others, healing and feeding many (Matt 4:24; 14:15-21), even to those who refused to show gratitude (Luke 17:12-19). He acted out of His own goodness, for the benefit of others, with a full knowledge the majority would reject Him and abuse His kindness (John 3:19; 12:37).

Grace is Undeserved

The Gospel of GraceGrace is given to the helpless and undeserving (e.g., Barabbas; Matt 27:15-26; cf. Rom 5:6-8), and it cannot exist where there is the slightest notion that people can save themselves, or think they deserve God’s blessing. Grace is all that God is free to do for people based on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. I think it was Stott who described grace as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Man-made religion rejects grace and seeks to earn God’s approval through works of the flesh. In grace, God does all the work and unworthy sinners receive all the blessing (Eph 3:7). In man-made religion, people do all the work, and it is falsely supposed that God is pleased with their efforts (Luke 18:9-14). According to Scripture, we are totally unable to save ourselves or others, for “No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever” (Psa 49:7-8). Concerning salvation, grace and works are opposite to each other; for “to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due” (Rom 4:4). But if salvation “is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom 11:6). Biblically, we are helpless and ungodly (Rom 5:6), sinners (Rom 5:8), enemies of God (Rom 5:10), and “dead in our transgressions” (Eph 2:5). Furthermore, our own righteousness has no saving value in God’s sight (Isa 64:6; Rom 8:3-4; 10:3-4; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 2:11; 3:5-7). As having any saving merit, Paul regarded his own righteous efforts as filthy dung (Phil 3:8).[5] But God, because of His great mercy and love (Eph 2:4), sent His Son into the world to die in our place and bear the punishment for our sins on the cross (Rom 5:8). Peter wrote, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). And John stated, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

God’s Grace Leads to Righteous Living

Grace is boundless, and though it covers all our sins (Rom 5:20-21), it does not mean the Christian is free to sin. To draw such a conclusion fails to understand what the Bible teaches about grace, and more importantly about the righteous character of God. Grace never gives believers a license to sin (Rom 6:1-2), but rather instructs us to deny ungodliness, to live righteously, and to look forward to the return of Christ Jesus who is our blessed hope (Tit 2:11-14; cf. Jude 1:4). Grace teaches us to produce good works which God has previously prepared for us (Eph 2:8-10; Tit 3:5-8). As a system of law, the Christian is under the Law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2) and not the Law of Moses (Rom 6:14; 7:6; Gal 5:1-4). As Christians, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), who instructs (John 14:26), and strengthens us to do God’s will (1 Th 4:7-8; Jude 1:20-21). We are directed to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), to walk by means of the Spirit (Gal 5:16), and to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). Divine commands are compatible with grace, so long as they do not become a substitute for it.

Common Grace and Special Grace

Common grace refers to the undeserved kindness or goodness God extends to everyone, regardless of whether they are righteous or unrighteous, good or evil. God’s common grace is seen in His providing for the necessities of life (i.e., sun, rain, air, food, water, clothing, etc.). This grace depends totally on God and not the attitude or actions of others. Jesus said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:44-45). Paul said, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways [in rebellion]; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). Here, God’s grace is most obvious, in that He provides the necessities of life and even blesses those who are unsaved and hostile toward Him. His love and open-handedness toward the undeserving springs completely out of the bounty of His own goodness. And this behavior is what God expects of His people, commanding us to love our enemies and pray for those persecute us. This is accomplished by faith and not feelings.

Special grace is that particular favor God shows to those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9). Christian theologians have recognized other categories of special grace, but our salvation is the most notable.[6] Paul states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Faith is non-meritorious and the only way to receive God’s grace, as Paul wrote, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:28). When we trust in Christ as Savior, accepting that His death, burial, and resurrection forever satisfied God’s righteous demands concerning our sin (1 Cor 15:3-4; 1 John 2:2), then we receive forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), eternal life (John 10:28), and God’s gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). Furthermore, we are said to be “in Christ” (Rom 8:1; cf. 1 Cor 15:22), having been “rescued us from the domain of darkness” and transferred “to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13), and blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). Once saved, God’s special blessings cannot be forfeited. However, though we are positionally righteous before the Lord, He directs us to surrender our lives to Him (Rom 12:1-2), to learn and live His Word (2 Tim 2:15; Col 3:16), to grow to spiritual maturity (Eph 4:15; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), and to live righteously as He directs (Tit 2:11-14). But our sanctification requires humility, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5).

Some Christians Refuse Grace to Others

grace_7One would think that grace would flow from grace. That is, those who are shown grace and mercy by God would show grace and mercy to others. Paradoxically, this is not always the case. I am amazed at Christians who welcome God’s grace, but show no grace to others. Many are mean-spirited, condescending, harsh, unforgiving, and speak with a critical spirit. This is contrary to the character of God and the teaching of Scripture. When it comes to our sin and unworthiness, the truth of Scripture is, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psa 103:10). God has not treated us as we deserve. In fact, He treats us much better than we deserve; but again, that’s grace. The Lord is a God who loves, forgives, and shows great compassion toward the undeserving and has done so toward us. Yet some believers refuse to give grace to others, who are themselves undeserving. Jonah, for example, was a prophet of God who became angry when the Lord showed grace to Israel’s enemy, the Ninevites, and withheld judgment when they humbled themselves and repented of their sin (Jonah 3:1-10). Jonah became angry at God’s display of grace, saying, “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2). The contradiction is that Jonah personally enjoyed God’s grace, but then selfishly wanted God to withhold it from others. I also think of the story Jesus told about a servant who owed a great debt, and when the man could not pay, he pleaded with his master, who felt compassion and graciously forgave his debt (Matt. 18:23-27). However, the man who had received forgiveness from his superior, later refused to forgive another man who owed him a very small amount (Matt. 18:28-30). The man who was shown grace refused to show grace to others, and the Lord called him “wicked” (Matt 18:32). I’ve often pondered why some, who rejoice in God’s grace, refuse to show grace to others? I think there are several reasons.

  1. Ignorance of God and His Word. Some believers fail to understand grace as a characteristic of God (Ex 34:6; Psa 86:15; Prov 3:34; John 1:14; Eph 1:6; Heb 4:16; 10:29; 1 Pet 5:10), and that He directs His people to be gracious and loving to others (Matt 5:44-45; Luke 6:27-28; Col 4:6). Grace is not automatic in the Christian life. It must be learned and actively applied. As believers learn about God’s grace, they can then actively share it with others.
  2. A legalistic mindset. Legalism is the belief that one can earn God’s favor through religious practices and good works. This mindset prevents people from experiencing God’s grace because they don’t think they need it. Why would they? Their religious life and good works lead them to think they’ve earned God’s favor. But this has consequences in relationships with other people. If we earn God’s favor, then naturally we’ll only show favor to those we feel have earned it too.
  3. A judgmental spirit. It seems as though some people come out of the womb with a judge’s gavel in their hand. These stand in the place of God rendering judgment on others according to their own arbitrary standards and expectations. Often this judgmental spirit takes the form of gossip, maligning, and badmouthing others. Such a critical spirit lacks the capacity to show grace because everyone is guilty, and some more than others. In some ways, running others down is a subtle form of self-praise.
  4. Arrogance. Arrogant people don’t show grace. In fact, they lack the capacity because they’re so self-absorbed, consumed with thinking about themselves and their own life, they have no room in their thinking and speech to show grace to others. I’ve heard it said that “arrogant people never see their own faults, only the faults of others,” and I think there’s merit to the statement.
  5. Refusing to forgive. An unforgiving spirit makes it difficult to show grace. Forgiveness means we release someone from an offense or debt they owe us (or a debt we think they owe us). Forgiveness releases them from paying the penalty for their crime (real or imagined). Forgiveness does not mean continuing to tolerate abuse (physical, mental, sexual, etc.), but it means we continue to seek God’s best in their life by prayer and biblical discussion. By refusing to forgive, we end up harboring hatred, and there’s no room for grace in a hate-filled heart.

Bible With PenHow do we overcome these obstacles to grace? First, it starts with knowing what the Bible teaches about the gracious character of God. We cannot live what we do not know, and knowledge of God’s character and Word necessarily precedes living His will. We show grace only as we learn and experience it ourselves. Second, we must learn to see everyone from the biblical perspective, as undeserving of God’s grace and love. Then, with eyes open, we choose to love the unlovely and show them grace. We treat them better than they deserve. We seek God’s best in their lives. Third, learn to discipline the mind and the will daily to think and act in grace. As we encounter unpleasant people, or those who have hurt us (i.e., family, friends, co-workers, etc.), we can consciously extend grace to them by showing love, kindness and mercy. Fourth, be ready to be hurt. Showing grace can be very difficult because it places us in a vulnerable spot where we may be hurt, sometimes on an ongoing basis. By faith we’re okay with absorbing the pain others inflict, much like our Lord (1 Pet 2:21-24). We know God is with us, to shield and sustain us as we do His will (Psa 18:30; 55:22; Isa 41:10; Phil 4:6-7; Heb 4:16). Since we’ve tasted of the grace of God, let us also be gracious to others.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Topics:

[1] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 937.

[2] Edwin Yamauchi, “694 חָנַן,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 302.

[3] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1079.

[4] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Grace (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 4.

[5] Paul referred to his own righteous works as dung, which translates the Greek word σκύβαλον skubalon, which means fecal matter. It would appear that Paul used this word for its shock value, in order to contrast human righteousness as a mean of salvation with God’s gift of righteousness (Phil 3:9; cf., Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21).

[6] Biblically, there are other categories of special grace in addition to saving grace. First is prevenient grace, which refers to the preparatory work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the one who will believe in Christ for salvation (John 16:8-9). Prevenient grace precedes saving grace. Second, provisional grace, which is the provision of God for His children so they might advance to maturity and fully live the spiritual life (Eph 1:3). Third, growing grace, which is the opportunity to learn and apply biblical truths and principles to the situations of life (2 Pet 3:18). Fourth, cleansing grace, which is the kindness God shows His erring children in forgiving their sin after salvation and restoring fellowship (1 John 1:9). Fifth, enabling grace, which is the provision of God that enables the believer to face adversity (2 Cor 12:9-10). Sixth, dying grace, which is the strength God gives His children as they face death (Psa 23:4). Seventh, the rule of grace, which means grace becomes the operating principle that governs our beliefs and behaviors (Tit 2:11-14; cf. Gal 5:4).

The High Calling of God’s Servant

As Christians, we are to consider ourselves as God’s ambassadors who represent Him in a foreign land. At the moment of salvation, God rescues us from Satan’s “domain of darkness” and transfers us “to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13).[1] Furthermore, we have a new identity “in Christ” (1 Cor 1:30), a citizenship “in heaven” (Phil 3:20), and a tremendous portfolio of spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3). But once saved, God does not immediately pluck us from the devil’s world. Rather, it is God’s will that we continue to live in the world under His protection (John 17:15), to be sanctified by means of Scripture (John 17:17), and to serve as His divinely appointed representatives (John 17:18). And we know He provides all our needs while we’re here (Phil 4:19).

The Christian who properly represents the Lord Jesus Christ will possess certain qualities that are useful to the Lord, and these are developed over time. We are to be aware that many people are hostile toward God, and will naturally be hostile toward His representatives. Jesus said “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:19). Though we cannot control the attitudes and actions of others, we must not allow ourselves to be controlled by them. This can be difficult. Rather than react to the sinful behavior of others, we are to respond as God directs. As Christians, we are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), “with grace” (Col 4:6), and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15-16). There’s no place for hostility in the Christian life, for “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:20). This is how the Lord Jesus conducted Himself, for “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet 2:23). Paul handled himself this way too, saying, “When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we respond graciously” (1 Cor 4:12-13 CSB). The bar of Christian behavior is set very high, as it should be.

I must confess, learning to behave as the Lord directs has been an ongoing challenge for me. Though my grandmother led me to faith in Christ at age eight, there was little Christian education that followed. The ensuing thirteen years of my life were completely immersed in the ways of the world. Eight of those years were spent living in Las Vegas, which provided every opportunity for sin. By the summer of 1988, my lifestyle had eventuated in being homeless and suicidal. But the God who saved me at a young age humbled me through divine discipline (Heb 12:5-11), for “He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Dan 4:37). Though I was a reckless son for a period of time, I responded positively to His discipline (Psa 119:71), and like the prodigal son, He graciously welcomed me back (Luke 15:11-24). God is good. In the summer of 1988 I surrendered to Christ, and my Savior became my Lord. I’ve been studying and learning God’s Word since then, working to unseat a lifetime of human viewpoint and replace it with divine viewpoint. But learning and living God’s Word takes time. Practicing God’s Word is where the rubber hits the road. It means applying His directives to my life on an ongoing basis.[2] A key passage of Scripture that has helped me over the years is found in Paul’s second letter to his friend, Timothy. Here, Paul writes about the conduct of the Lord’s servant, saying:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:24-26)

1054792All that follows in this article is an exposition of Paul’s statement. The Lord (κύριος kurios) is none other than Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, who added humanity to Himself and became the God-Man (John 1:1, 14). Jesus was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, and was “born of a woman, born under the Law (Gal 4:4). Throughout His life Jesus lived perfectly in the Father’s will (Matt 5:17-18). Scripture reveals Jesus lived His entire life “without sin” (Heb 4:15), that He “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21a), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). By the end of His life on earth, Jesus said to God the Father, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). Jesus then went to the cross and laid down His life as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice for us (Mark 10:45). Jesus “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). In this way, He was the “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). After His death, Jesus was placed in a grave where He remained for three days, but afterwards was resurrected (Luke 24:1-7), seen by hundreds of people (1 Cor 15:3-8), and afterwards ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9), from where He currently directs His children until the time of His return (1 Th 4:13-18). Those who trust in Christ as Savior become His servants here on earth. We are those who carry out His will, live honorably as He expects, preach the gospel to the lost, and teach fellow Christians to live righteously.

Paul uses the term bond-servant (δοῦλος doulos), which is used here in a positive sense of “one who is solely committed to another.”[3] In this sense, it refers to one who is surrendered to the will of another. In this passage, it is the Lord Jesus Christ that we serve, and it is an honorable place of service to the King as we adhere to His royal standards of conduct. The title of bond-servant was held by such notables as Moses (2 Ki 18:12), Joshua (Judg 2:8), David (2 Sam 7:5; Psa 89:3), Elijah (2 Ki 10:10), Paul (Rom 1:1), James (Jam 1:1), and Peter (2 Pet 1:1).

Paul follows the designation of bond-servant with the verb must (δεῖ dei), which means “to be under necessity of happening.”[4] The word denotes compulsion, obligation, duty. And what is the Lord’s servant obligated to do? Paul states one negative directive followed by four positive ones. The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, and with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition to the Lord and His people. This behavior is not something that comes naturally to the Christian, otherwise these directives would be superfluous. But the directives are helpful.

First, the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome (μάχομαι machomai). This word is used of physical combat in Acts 7:26, but here Paul uses the word to describe someone who argues with others, who verbally engages “in heated dispute.”[5] To be clear, rebuking another is biblical (Luke 17:3; 2 Tim 4:2), but quarrelling is not. Even when addressing a trespass in another Christian, Paul instructs, “you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1). Sadly, many in the world operate by a fist-in-your-face attitude that seeks to destroy the other person, but this is not the Lord’s way. As Christians, we live in a fallen world and it is natural that we will encounter others who operate by different values.[6] Satan, the current ruler of this world,[7] has his values and modes of operation, and these include sinful acts of violence which are intended to silence the opposition. This division of humanity will continue until Christ returns (Matt 13:36-43). Living in a fallen world, the Lord’s bond-servants must be willing to engage others in conversations of disagreement. However, we must resist the temptation to engage worldly-minded people by the practices they employ against us. The Lord’s servant is a diplomat, a royal ambassador who represents the King of kings and Lord of lords, and as such, must be characterized by His noble qualities.

Paul then shifts to four positive qualities that should mark the Lord’s servant. The first is to be kind to all. To be kind (ἤπιος epios) means to be “gentle, mild, kind…soothing, assuaging.”[8] Elsewhere, the word “was frequently used by Greek writers as characterizing a nurse with trying children or a teacher with refractory scholars, or of parents toward their children.”[9] And Paul states we are to be kind to all (πρὸς πάντας), which in this context pertains to our opponents. As Christians, we are to stand firm on God’s truth and not abandon our position; however, unlike our opponents who operate with hostility, we are to be kind. Speaking God’s truth is vitally important, and so is the attitude and delivery, which God uses to break down Satan’s strongholds in the minds of those held captive by him.

Second, Paul states the Lord’s servant must be able to teach (διδακτικός didaktikos). This word refers to someone who can handle God’s Word correctly and is “skillful in teaching.”[10] It is normal that Christians will encounter others with heterodoxical views (i.e., contrary to sound biblical teaching), and to be influential, the Christian must be able to communicate the truth of God’s Word accurately, and in a clear and concise manner. Of course, being able to teach does not guarantee a positive response from the hearer. Remember, while on the earth, Jesus communicated perfect truth with love, however, the majority of those who heard Him rejected His message (John 3:19), even though He verified His claims with miracles (John 12:37). Sadly, the majority of those who saw and heard the Lord rejected Him and His message. These will someday pay a price. In teaching, the emphasis is always on biblical content clearly presented. And though a teacher may be passionate, he/she should avoid histrionics.

Third, Paul says the Christian must be patient when wronged (ἀνεξίκακος anexikakos). This word is a hapax legomenon (i.e., a word that occurs only once in the Bible) that refers to someone who bears “evil without resentment, patient, tolerant.”[11] It means God’s servant puts up with the evil actions of others and does not retaliate when personally attacked. I think Paul describes patient behavior in his letter to the Christians at Rome. He instructed, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (Rom 12:17a). Paul was a realist and knew that living in the devil’s world meant there would be opponents who would treat us in an evil manner. When such situations arise, we are to place the matter in the Lord’s hands, trusting He sees what’s happening and will act as our Judge. Being patient when wronged is not easy, as the knee-jerk response is to retaliate and attack our attacker. But Paul instructs, “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 goes on to say, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head” (Rom 12:20). As Christians, we must “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). Being patient when wronged means trusting God will dispense justice in His time and way.

Fourth, the Lord’s servant must respond to opponents with gentleness (πραΰτης prautes). The term may be defined as “gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, [or] meekness.”[12] The opposite of gentle is harsh, brutal, or rough, and this we should not be. Unfortunately, many in the world see gentleness as weakness, but this is wrong. Remember, the Lord Himself was “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt 11:29), yet all the power of divinity was readily at His disposal. It’s not that the believer is in any way deficient in power or strength, but that he/she voluntarily forfeits the use of it, knowing that harsh behavior is nothing less than a bully tactic, which fails to recognize the other person’s right of self-determination. God does not force Himself on others, and neither should we. Others may not agree with our message, and we can shake the dust off our feet when we leave (Matt 10:14; Acts 13:51), but we have no right to ram, cram, or jam our message down their throats. Being gentle means we maintain composure in the face of opposition, mainly because we realize the opponent actually stands against God, the One we represent. We are to represent the Lord openly, accurately, and with dignity, but we do not have to defend Him any more than a mosquito needs to defend an elephant. We are to be gentle, knowing God will deal with His opponents as He sees fit, and the Lord tends to be very patient and gracious, until He’s not.

To correct (παιδεύω paideuo) means “to provide instruction for informed and responsible living.”[13] And who needs this divine instruction? It is those who oppose God and His people. The term for opposition (ἀντιδιατίθημι antidiatithemi) means “to oppose someone, involving not only a psychological attitude but also a corresponding behavior—to oppose, to be hostile toward, to show hostility.”[14] Experiencing opposition—even hostile opposition—should never be a surprise to the Lord’s servant. Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:18-19; cf., 1 John 3:13). Though sometimes treated with hostility, the Christian is directed to offer gentle correction to those who will listen. In most instances the opposition does not realize they are under Satanic delusion and enslavement, and the most compassionate thing we can do is to share God’s liberating Word with them. With gentleness—as well as kindness and patience—the Christian seeks to educate or guide the other person into divine truth. This instruction can include the gospel of grace (1 Cor 15:3-4) that leads to forgiveness of sins and eternal life (Eph 1:7; John 10:28), or it can refer to biblical teaching that helps the immature Christian advance as a disciple of the Lord (1 Pet 2:2).

BibleHaving conducted ourselves as noble servants of the Lord, operating under His sovereignty, we then trust that He will work in the hearts of those who have heard His Word. We know it is God’s Word that transforms others from the inside out. We know His Word is “alive and powerful” (Heb 4:12) and accomplishes what He intends. The Lord said, “My word which goes forth from My mouth will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11). As Christians, we simply communicate God’s Word accurately and in a loving way, and then let it do its work in the hearts of those who hear it. I believe it was Spurgeon who said, “the same sun that softens wax also hardens clay.” By this he meant that God’s Word, which gives light like the sun, has different effects depending on the material exposed to it. The reality is that some hearts are positive to God (wax) and these grow soft when exposed to the light of His Word, but other hearts are negative to God (clay) and exposure to His Word only make them harder. We control the output of our message, but never the outcome. What the hearers—or readers—do with God’s Word is between them and the Lord.

Having done our part by following the Lord’s directives not to be quarrelsome, but kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, and with gentleness correcting those in opposition, we leave the matter knowing it is in God’s hands. And we know that the Lord is not willing “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9), and to those who are positive, He will “grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:25b). If the heart is willing, God will grant the person the opportunity to repent and receive salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. John wrote, for “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Repentance (μετάνοια metanoia) means “to change one’s mind or purpose.”[15] This change of mind occurs when one hears the gospel message and favorably responds to it. Paul states this positively when he speaks about “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Faith in Christ is the sole condition for salvation (John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9; Acts 16:31), and true repentance means the unbeliever turns from trusting in anything and everyone and trusts solely in Christ to save. For “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).

Christ-on-the-crossThe gospel is the good news that follows the bad news. The bad news—from our perspective—is that God is holy (Psa 99:9; Isa 6:3) and demands absolute righteousness from us in order for us to spend eternity with Him in heaven. Being perfectly righteous, God can have nothing to do with sin except to condemn it (Hab 1:13; 1 John 1:5). God’s standard of righteousness is absolute moral perfection. This is bad news because we are egregious sinners in serious violation of God’s perfect standard. The Bible reveals we are sinners in Adam (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and sinners by choice (Isa 59:2; Jam 1:14-15). To further complicate the problem, we are helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa 64:6; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. But God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor 1:18). God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35), lived a perfectly righteous life (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and willingly died in our place—as our substitute—and bore the punishment for our sins. Jesus solved both problems: 1) He lived the righteous life that God demands and committed no sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and 2) He died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins (Mark 10:45; Rom 5:6-10). The gospel message is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).  Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col. 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), and receive the righteousness of God as a free gift (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). This is good news.

As the Lord’s bond-servants, we are called to a high moral standard of conduct befitting the King we represent. We are His ambassadors to a fallen world. Our hope is that those trapped in Satan’s world-system will see their faulty way of thinking and living and “may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:26). Those who accept God’s message will know freedom and eternal life. Those who reject God’s liberating truth continue as slaves to the devil, trapped as an animal in his cage, always doing his will because it agrees with their own sinful proclivities. God has opened a door of freedom for them, if they’ll respond positively to the gospel. Those who reject the gospel continue as slaves to Satan, and this by their own choice. But regardless of their choice, we are to conduct ourselves according to God’s standards of expectation. As Christians, we “must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, [and] with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Tim 2:24-25b). We are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), “with grace” (Col 4:6), and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15-16). There’s no place for hostility in the Christian life, for “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:20).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

[2] Later, when I realized I had the gift of Teaching, I began to teach God’s Word to others. I later learned this three-step practice of learning, living, and teaching was Ezra’s model, as he “had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach” it to others (Ezra 7:10).

[3] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 260.

[4] Ibid., 214.

[5] Ibid., 622.

[6] Some Christians are bothered by the fallen world and prefer hiding and pursue a monastic life of solitude. However, the Lord never calls us to hide our light, but to be in the world and let it shine so that others might see it. Jesus said, “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” (Matt 5:16). But living in a fallen world is dangerous business and can be upsetting to the sensitive soul.

[7] Three times Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Other passages of Scripture call Satan “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), informing us “that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Satan rules as a tyrant who has “weakened the nations” (Isa 14:12), and currently “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9).

[8] H.G. Liddell, A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996), 354.

[9] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 263.

[10] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 240.

[11] Ibid., 77.

[12] Ibid., 861.

[13] Ibid., 749.

[14] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 491.

[15] W. E. Vine, et al., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 525.

Knowing and Doing the Will of God

BibleKnowing and doing the will of God starts with God. Biblically, there is only one God (Deut 32:39; Isa 45:5-7; 46:9), and He created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them (Gen 1:1; Ex 20:11; Neh 9:6; Acts 17:24). Furthermore, God is not silent. He has provided general revelation about Himself through nature (Psa 19:1-2; Rom 1:20) and special revelation through His Word (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21),[1] and through His Son, Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-3; cf. John 1:1, 14, 18). Today, we have the written Word of God which provides the clearest revelation of His will. Apart from His Word, we have no clear understanding of who God is, what He is doing, or what He expects of us.

God’s will is mentioned several times in the Old Testament (Deut 10:10; 23:5; 2 Ch 21:7) which uses the Hebrew word אָבָה abah, which means “to will, [or] be willing.”[2] Also, in other passages (Psa 40:8; 143:10), the Hebrew word רָצוֹן ratson is used, which refers to “what pleases the Lord.”[3] Some passages in the New Testament specifically mention God’s will, where the Greek term θέλημα thelema is employed (i.e., Rom 12:2; Eph 6:5-6, Col 4:12; 1 Th 4:3; 5:16-18; Heb 10:36; 1 Pet 2:15; 4:19). God’s will in each of these passages refers to “what one wishes to happen.”[4] This speaks of what God desires from people. Other passages employ the Greek word βούλομαι boulomai (Matt 11:27; Jam 1:18; 2 Pet 3:9), which denotes a “desire to have or experience something, with implication of planning accordingly.”[5] The latter term sometimes refers to what God brings to pass, such as when James writes, “In the exercise of His will [βούλομαι boulomai] He brought us forth by the word of truth” (Jam 1:18a). But sometimes it refers to what God wants, but makes contingent upon a human response of faith, such as when Peter writes that the Lord “is patient toward you, not wishing [βούλομαι boulomai] for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). Context always determines the meaning of a word.

Those who are positive to God desire to know Him, His Word, and to pursue His will.[6] Jesus said to fellow Jews, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17). Jesus explained that knowing God’s Word is predicated on a desire to do (ποιέω poieo) His will. But some hearts are negative to God. And when the heart is negative, no amount of divine revelation will prove persuasive.[7] Jesus spoke to the hard-hearted Pharisees and said, “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word” (John 8:43). Jesus then gave the answer, saying, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father” (John 8:44).  They could not hear His words because they were unsaved and negative to God. These were men who “loved the darkness rather than the Light” (John 3:19). Paul described them as ones “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). Paul also spoke about the unsaved person, saying, “But an unbeliever does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor 2:14).

bible-scrollOf the one with positive volition it is said, “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). The benefit of such a lifelong meditation is that “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psa 1:3). The godly person is positive to the Lord and welcomes His Word. David said, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart” (Psa 40:8). The word delight (חָפֵץ chaphets) means, “to take pleasure in, desire…to delight in…to be willing…to feel inclined.”[8] This speaks of positive volition. God’s will (רָצוֹן ratson) refers to what pleases Him. And the word Law (תּוֹרָה torah) means teaching, direction, or instruction. Jeremiah said, “Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts” (Jer 15:16). To eat God’s Word is a picture of positive volition, as Jeremiah welcomed the divine revelation into himself. Once received, it delighted (שִׂמְחָה simchahdelight, joy, gladness, mirth) his heart (לֵבָב lebabinner person, mind, will). When the human heart is receptive to God’s Word, it transforms that person from the inside out, and this is both cognitive and experiential. David and Jeremiah wanted to know and walk with God, and His divine revelation, properly understood and applied, was the means to know and do it.

God will open His Word to the believer who dedicates his/her life to Him. Paul wrote, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:1-2). A surrendered life to God makes the Christian sensitive to the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit, who aids the believer to know God’s will. Concerning this passage, Arnold Fruchtenbaum states:

It is hard to understand what the will of God is without this act of dedication because the believer does not have the Spirit’s illumination, which is needed to determine God’s will from His Word. Dedication brings knowledge of the will of God. Having the knowledge, the logical outworking of the dedicated life is that the believer now does the will of God.[9]

God’s Word is powerful and accomplishes what He desires (Isa 55:10-11; Heb 4:12), and it lights a fire in the heart of those who welcome it. For example, Jesus, after his resurrection, walked for several miles with two disciples and gave them a Bible lesson which lasted for several hours as they traveled “to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:13). Luke records what Jesus taught them, saying, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). After His Bible lesson, the two disciples said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). The heart that is positive to God receives His Word and is excited by what is learned.

Theological Categories of God’s Will

The will of God can be divided between His secret will and revealed will. Moses wrote, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut 29:29). What God has revealed in Scripture is what He deems important for us to know. But there are secret things that belong to the Lord and He remains silent. To spend our days pursuing that which God has decreed to keep secret will result in unending frustration. If we have prayed and have studied God’s Word thoroughly and received no answer to prayer, then it’s either because God does not want us to know, or to know at this time. We may, through our daily experiences, seek to determine God’s will for us; however, such providential understanding must always be subordinate to God’s written revelation. Though we don’t know many particulars about what God is doing, we know He is in control and directing history to the return of Christ and the eternal state, and we are part of that grand plan. Concerning God’s revealed will, the following classifications are noted in Scripture.

First, God’s sovereign will, which refers to His free and independent choices to do whatever He pleases. God declares, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isa 46:10b; cf. Psa 33:11), and “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). “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa 135:6), and He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11b).

God remains in constant sovereign control, guiding His creation through history. He meddles in the affairs of mankind, and His unseen hand works behind all their activities, controlling and directing history as He wills. We know from Scripture that God possesses certain immutable attributes and that He never acts inconsistently with His nature. For example, because God is righteous, all His actions and commands are just. Because God is immutable, His moral perfections never change. Because God is eternal, He is righteous forever. Because God is omniscient, His righteous acts are always predicated on perfect knowledge. Because God is omnipotent, He is always able to execute His righteous will. Because God is love, His judgments can be merciful toward the undeserving and humble.

God controls who sits in positions of power, whether they hold that position by birth or democratic vote. Ultimately, it is God “who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21a), for “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). When Israel turned negative to God, He judged them by placing weak leaders over them, saying, “I will make mere lads their princes, and capricious children will rule over them (Isa 3:4). The result was, “Those who guide you lead you astray and confuse the direction of your paths” (Isa 3:12b).

God even controls hostile unbelievers to accomplish His purposes (Prov 16:4). When Jesus was on trial, Pilate falsely thought he had control over Him, saying, “Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” (John 19:10). Operating from divine viewpoint, Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). While praying to God, Peter and John acknowledged God’s sovereignty over the Gentile rulers, saying, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:27-28).

Second, God’s directive will, which refers to His actively guiding His people to do what He expects. For example, God directed Adam and Eve to be “fruitful and multiply” and to “rule” as theocratic administrators over His creation (Gen 1:28). After creating the garden of Eden, He directed them to “cultivate it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). He also gave them freedom, saying, “from any tree of the garden you may eat freely” (Gen 2:16), but also gave one prohibition, saying, “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Other examples include God directing Noah to build an ark (Gen 6:13-14), directing Abraham to leave his country and go to the place where God wanted (Gen 12:1), directing Moses to go to Egypt to liberate His people (Ex 3:10), and later to give them the Law so they could walk in His will (Ex 34:27-28).[10] It should be remembered that the four Gospels reveal that Jesus was born and lived under the Mosaic Law code (Gal 4:4), and during His time of ministry, He directed others to obey that code (i.e., Matt 8:1-4; 23:1-3). However, that covenant and law code has been fulfilled by Christ and rendered obsolete (Matt 5:17-18; Heb 8:13). And now, God has given commands to Christians which are found in the New Testament. The book of Acts covers the first thirty years of the Church and is generally historical information, being descriptive but not prescriptive. Specific commands for the Christian living in the dispensation of the Church age generally start in Romans 1 and extend to Revelation 3. However, Jesus’ discourse in the Upper Room (John chapters 13-17), the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19-20), and the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-2) belong to the Church.

These biblical distinctions are important, for though all Scripture is written for us, only some portions of it speak specifically to us and command our walk with the Lord. Just as Christians would not try to obey the commands God gave to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-2, or the commands God gave to Noah in Genesis 6-9, so we should not try to obey the commands God gave to Israel in Exodus through Deuteronomy. Christians are not under the Mosaic Law (Rom 6:14), but operate under the Law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2). Charles Ryrie states:

Adam lived under laws, the sum of which may be called the code of Adam or the code of Eden. Noah was expected to obey the laws of God, so there was a Noahic code. We know that God revealed many commands and laws to Abraham (Gen 26:5). They may be called the Abrahamic code. The Mosaic code contained all the laws of the Law. And today we live under the law of Christ (Gal 6:2) or the law of the Spirit of life in Christ (Rom 8:2). This code contains the hundreds of specific commandments recorded in the New Testament.[11]

Because God is the Author of both law-codes (i.e., the Law of Moses as well as the Law of Christ), it is not surprising that He chose to incorporate some of the laws He gave to Israel into the law-code which He has given to the Church. Nine of the 10 commandments are restated in the New Testament (the Sabbath is excluded because it was the sign of the Mosaic Covenant; Ex 31:13-17).[12]

1Bible-study (1)When reading through the New Testament, God provides both general and specific directives to Christians. Examples of general directives include learning God’s Word (Rom 12:1-2; Col 3:16; 2 Tim 2:15; 1 Pet 2:2), applying God’s Word (Jam 1:22), loving others as Christ has loved us (John 13:34), being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), and walking by means of the Spirit (Gal 5:16), submitting to governing authorities (Rom 13:1), paying taxes (Rom 13:6), stimulating one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24), and not forsaking our assembling together (Heb 10:25). Other examples include living by faith (Heb 10:38; 11:6), seeking godly wisdom (Jam 1:5), pursuing peace with others (Rom 12:18), being forgiving (Col 3:13), using gracious words (Col 4:6), being kind (Eph 4:32; cf. Prov 3:3-4), edifying others (Rom 14:19; 1 Th 5:11), serving (Gal 5:13), seeking the best interests of others (Phil 2:3-4), rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks (1 Th 5:16-18), and acting for God’s glory (1 Cor 10:31). Some specific commands include sharing the Gospel with others (Mark 16:15), and making disciples by teaching them Scripture (Matt 28:19-20). Pastors are to preach God’s Word (2 Tim 4:2), equip the saints for God’s work (Eph 4:11-12), and help lead them to spiritual maturity (Eph 4:13-16). The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:25; cf. Mark 10:45), and the wife is to submit to her husband’s loving spiritual leadership (Eph 5:22). Christian children are to obey and honor their parents (Eph 6:1-4). Christian employees are to obey their supervisor (Eph 6:5-8; Col 3:23-24), and Christian supervisors are to treat their workers well (Eph 6:9; Col 4:1; Jam 5:4).

Third, God’s permissive will, which refers to what He permits us to do, either for or against His directive will. All sin falls under this category, for He permits us to resist His directives in some instances. This is also true for fallen angels who are granted a measure of freedom to sin. The fall of Adam and Eve provides a good example of God’s permissive will, for after He’d directed them not to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16-19), He permitted them to disobey and to follow Satan’s leading (Gen 3:1-7). Laney writes, “God’s permissive will refers to what the Lord permits even when it is not in conformity with His revealed or prescribed will. God may permit sin, though it is not in keeping with what He prefers.”[13]

Concerning the permission of divorce, Jesus said the Pharisees, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (Matt 19:8). God’s permissive will can be observed on a national level, as Paul said, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways” (Acts 14:16). This explains much of the poor behavior we see among the nations as we study world history. God is always righteous and directs people to righteous living. However, God is no bully, as He does not force people to obey Him. When people turn negative to God, He permits them to pursue their sinful ways, though they are not free to choose the consequences of their actions. One who plays with fire will eventually get burned. Concerning those who “suppress God’s truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18), three times it is written that He “gave them over” to “the lusts of their hearts” (Rom 1:24), and “to degrading passions” (Rom 1:26), and “to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper” (Rom 1:28). Once God permits a person to operate by his/her sinful passions, they are given a measure of freedom to live as they want. These are described as “being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful” (Rom 1:29-31).

Fourth, God’s overruling will, which refers to those occasions when He hinders His creatures from acting contrary to His sovereign purposes. Throughout Scripture we observe God intervening in the actions of fallen angels and people. After God permitted Adam and Eve to disobey Him, He then drove them from the Garden of Eden and overruled their ability to go back in and eat from the tree of life (Gen 3:22-24). After Abraham lied to Abimelech and told him that Sarah was his sister, Abimelech took her as his wife. However, in order to protect Sarah, God intervened and told Abimelech, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married” (Gen 20:3). Abimelech pleaded with God and claimed his innocence (Gen 20:4-5). God, being just, told Abimelech, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore, I did not let you touch her” (Gen 20:6). Jacob served his uncle Laban for twenty years, but during that time his uncle had mistreated him, and by the end, he saw his uncle “was not friendly toward him as formerly” (Gen 31:2). Realizing it was time for Jacob to leave his uncle, he told his two wives, Rachel and Leah, “your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me” (Gen 31:7). During the tribulation, there will be hostile unbelievers who will try to flee from God’s wrath by seeking death. But God prevents them from this escape, as John writes, “in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them” (Rev 9:6).

When Satan wanted to attack Job, God granted him permission, saying, “Behold, all that he has is in your power” (Job 1:12a). But then God restrained Satan, saying, “do not put forth your hand on him” (Job 1:12b). When Satan came back a second time, God granted him permission to attack Job’s body, saying, “he is in your power” (Job 2:6a), but then told him to “spare his life” (Job 2:6b). When Job’s wife advised him to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9), he responded, saying, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). During the seven-year tribulation, demons are released from an angelic prison and “power was given them” to hurt unbelievers (Rev 9:3). However, they were restrained, as God told them, “not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months” (Rev 9:4-5a). Satan is currently active in the world (1 Pet 5:8; 1 John 5:19) and will be during the tribulation. However, God intervenes at the end of the tribulation and has Satan arrested and “bound for a thousand years” (Rev 20:2). God’s arresting angel “threw Satan into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time” (Rev 20:3).

Fifth, God’s providential will, which refers to the outworking of His sovereign will in such a way that He creates circumstances that direct our lives and destiny. Believers who understand this will make their human plans contingent on God’s sovereign plans (1 Ch 13:2; Acts 18:21; Jam 4:15). As God’s people, we know the Lord and His will for our lives because His written Word informs and guides us. The Bible is our divine pedagogical guide. In addition to Scripture, God directs us providentially as He controls the circumstances of our lives to His desired end. However, only the believer with a thorough knowledge of God’s Word can properly interpret his/her circumstances and know what God is doing. Interpreting circumstances, or divine impressions on the heart, is never as clear as knowing God’s Word. Charles Clough states:

There is a mystical element to Christianity in how the Lord leads you; and He impresses upon you different things. But you can never elevate that mystical part of your Christian life and make it equal to the revelation of Scripture, because the revelation of Scripture is the measuring stick so you can tell the difference between Christ in the heart and heart burn. How you do that is whether it fits the Scripture.[14]

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

Providence is normally defined in Christian theology as the unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill (Psa 145:9 cf. Mt 5:45–48), he upholds his creatures in ordered existence (Acts 17:28; Col 1:17; Heb 1:3), guides and governs all events, circumstances and free acts of angels and men (cf. Psa 107; Job 1:12; 2:6; Gen 45:5–8), and directs everything to its appointed goal, for his own glory (cf. Eph 1:9–12).[15]

JosephGod is holy and never creates evil, however, He can and does control those who do. Satan, and those who follow him, are ultimately under God’s sovereign control, and even their evil plans and actions are used for His good purposes. For example, Joseph was mistreated by his brothers and sold into slavery and taken to Egypt where he suffered greatly. Yet, later in his life, Joseph interpreted their behavior from the divine perspective, telling his brothers, “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen 45:5). And Joseph repeated himself a second time, saying, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen 45:7-8a). And later, he told them a third time, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20). It was God’s providence that drove Saul to chase after his father’s donkeys, and then be led to the prophet Samuel and anointed king of Israel (1 Sam 9-10). It was God’s providence that directed Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, so the baby Jesus would be born at the appointed time and place (Mic 5:2; Luke 2:4-6; Gal 4:4). Later, Joseph and Mary were compelled to go to Egypt, in order to preserve the baby Savior (Matt 2:13-15). It was God’s providence that forced Aquila and Priscilla out of Rome by the emperor Claudius’ decree, only to meet the apostle Paul in Corinth and join him in Christian ministry (Acts 18:1-3; Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19). It was God’s providence that put the Lord Jesus on the cross to be crucified by the hands of godless men. Peter, charging Israelites in Jerusalem concerning Jesus’s death, said, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23). And after being persecuted by the leaders in Jerusalem, Peter and John, along with others, said to God, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:27-28). In these verses we see people behaving sinfully, whether Joseph’s brothers, or human rulers who abuse their power; yet God used their sinful choices to bring about a greater good. Because God is righteous, all His actions are just (Psa 119:137). Because He is loving (1 John 4:8), He directs all things for the benefit of His people. Because He is good (Psa 34:8; 100:5), He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

Concerning Christian ministry, God providentially opens and closes doors of service. Throughout the New Testament, an “open door” refers to a divinely orchestrated opportunity for sharing the gospel and engaging in Christian ministry (Acts 14:25-27). On one occasion the Lord closed an opportunity for ministry (Acts 16:6-7), but then opened another (Acts 16:9-10). An “open door” for ministry can have opposition (1 Cor 16:7-9), does not remove everyday concerns about life (2 Cor 2:12-13), should be sought with prayer (Col 4:2-3), and once opened cannot be shut by people (Rev 3:8). As God’s people, we do not create occasions for Christian ministry; we simply accept those provided for us by the Lord (Eph 2:10).

In summary, knowing and doing God’s will is largely a matter of knowing His Word and walking in it. Those who are positive to God will desire His Word in order to obey it. From Scripture we know about the Lord Himself, His sovereign control over His creation, what He desires of us, His permission of sin, as well as His directing history providentially to the return and reign of Christ. Where Scripture is silent, we may try to ascertain His will through the circumstances of our life, but such understanding must always be subordinate to the clear revelation of Scripture.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] God, on several occasions, commanded His prophets to record what He had revealed to them. He told Moses, “Write this in a book” (Ex 17:14), and “Write down these words” (Ex 34:27). To Isaiah He said, “Now go, write it on a tablet before them and inscribe it on a scroll” (Isa 30:8), and to Jeremiah He commanded, “Write all the words which I have spoken to you in a book” (Jer 30:2).

[2] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 788.

[3] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1282.

[4] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 447.

[5] Ibid., 182.

[6] For the Christian, this does not mean our sin nature is removed, nor that we are free from the sinful pressures of living in a fallen world. Paul said, “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom 7:21-23). This struggle with sin continues until we leave this world and enter into heaven. Until then, it is God’s will that we remain in this world (John 17:15) as His ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20).

[7] For example, Noah preached to his generation for one hundred and twenty years, but they refused to listen (Gen 6:3; 2 Pet 2:5). Jeremiah spoke to the leaders of Israel, saying, “these twenty-three years the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened” (Jer 25:3). Preachers are responsible for the accurate output of the message, not the outcome of response.

[8] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 340.

[9] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Faith Alone: The Condition of Our Salvation: An Exposition of the Book of Galatians and Other Relevant Topics, ed. Christiane Jurik, Second Edition. (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2016), 120.

[10] God had revealed His will for Israel through the Law of Moses, and this gave them clear guidelines for how to live as God desired. Because God cares for His people, He provided them rules for living in relationship with Himself and others. If His people walked in the ways of the Lord, He promised them blessing (Deut 28:1-14). But if they turned away from His revealed will, He promised them cursing (Deut 28:15-68). The blessed life or the cursed life was always before them (Deut 11:26-28). God’s directives were communicated through Moses to God’s people (Deut 6:1-2), who were to receive them and adhere to them (Deut 6:3-6), and communicate them to their children (Deut 6:7).

[11] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 351.

[12] Additional biblical distinctions reveal that Israel is a nation (Ex 19:6), but the church is not a nation (Rom 10:19). God’s program for Israel focused on the land promised to Abraham (Gen 12:1; 15:18; 17:8), whereas the church is called to go out to many lands (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Israel was mentioned throughout the Old Testament and recognized by other nations (Num 14:15; Josh 5:1), but the church was a mystery not known in the Old Testament (Eph 3:1-6; Col 1:26-27; cf. Rom 16:25-26). Israel had a priesthood that was specific to the tribe of Levi (Num 3:6-7), whereas all Christians are priests to God (Rev 1:6). Israel worshipped first at the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex 40:18-38; 2 Ch 8:14-16), but for Christians, their body is the temple of the Lord and they gather locally where they want (1 Cor 6:19-20; cf. 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15). Israel offered animal sacrifices to God (Lev 4:1-35), but Christians offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet 2:5; cf. Rom 12:1; Heb 13:15). Israel was required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut 14:22-23; 28-29; Num 18:21), but there is no tithe required from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

[13] J. Carl Laney, eds. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, “God’s Decree and Individual Free Will” in Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 215.

[14] Charles Clough, Lesson 21 – Moral Relativism; Justification & Procedures for Holy War, (2010, 17th minute). https://www.bibleframeworkapplied.org/multi-lesson-series/deuteronomy

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

The Qualifications for a King in Ancient Israel

037097304027f2c7132ad0b259a73d7b     In Deuteronomy 17:14-20, Moses addressed Israel’s future request for a king, and then specified the requirements of that king that he might serve as the Lord’s viceregent. God knew subsequent generations of Israelites would desire a king after they’d entered the land of Canaan and He was favorable to the notion, albeit with restrictions. 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” (Deut 17:14). Being omniscient (Psa 139:1-4), God knew Israel would possess the land of Canaan, a land which He owned and controlled (cf. Lev 25:23; cf., Psa 24:1; 89:11). He also knew the Israelites would, in time, desire and request a human king to rule over them. The word king translates the Hebrew word מֶלֶךְ melek, which was used of Israel’s leaders from 1050 to 586 B.C. Having a king was not a problem, for God had promised Abraham—the progenitor of Israel—that he would be the father of many nations, saying, “kings will come forth from you” (Gen 17:6; cf. Gen 17:16; 35:11). Later, God had narrowed the kingly line to the tribe of Judah, saying, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Gen 49:10). The problem was that Israel would desire a king in order to be “like all the nations” around them. God wanted His people to be separate, distinct, and unlike the nations of the world. He said, “I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples” (Lev 20:24b). He called them to be “a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). Daniel Block notes, “In contrast to the offices of judge (Deut 16:18–20; 17:9), priest (Deut 17:9; 18:1–8), and prophet (Deut 18:9–22), the office of king is presented as optional, subject to the desire of the people.”[1]

God would grant Israel’s desire to have a king, but He set guidelines for the king, guidelines that would complement the nation’s operations and not hinder it from being holy. Moses said, “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” (Deut 17:15). God would be the One to select their king, and He did via His prophet, as was the case when Samuel anointed Saul (1 Sam 9:15-16; 15:1), and later David (1 Sam 16:1-3, 12-13). Warren Wiersbe writes:

The king was not to be elected by the people; he was to be chosen by God. Israel’s first king was Saul (1 Sam 9–10), but God never intended Saul to establish a royal dynasty in Israel. Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, but Judah was the royal tribe (Gen 49:8–10), and the Messiah would come from Judah. Actually, Saul was given to the people to chasten them because they rejected the Lord (1 Sam 8:7), for God’s greatest judgment is to give His people what they want and let them suffer for it.[2]

God knew His people well, and He knew they would be tempted to live in conformity to the pagan values of the world around them. In order to keep His people distinct from other nations, and to keep them looking to Him as their God-King, He placed prohibitions on the kings of Israel. These prohibitions included: 1) multiplying horses to strengthen the army, 2) multiplying wives for pleasure and political alliances, and, 3) greatly increasing silver and gold for financial security.

Starting with the development of the king’s army, God said, “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’” (Deut 17:16). Horses were used in military battles and pulled chariots, which were the tanks of the day. God wanted the king to look to his Lord for deliverance and not rely on military might like the pagan nations did. Egypt was a major source of horses, and God forbid His people from returning to the place where they’d been delivered from captivity.

Addressing the king’s marital life, God decreed, “He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away” (Deut 17:17a). Pagan kings in the ancient world multiplied wives as a means of securing political alliances with neighboring nations and also for sexual pleasure, which was the purpose of the concubine. Human relationships either help or hinder a believer’s walk with God, and there was no closer relationship a king could have than with his wife. God knew if Israel’s kings married women with pagan values and practices, it would only be a matter of time before they turned his heart away from Him. Wives played key roles in the lives of Israel’s kings, either for good (Prov 31:10-12) or bad (1 Ki 21:25; 2 Ki 8:16-18).[3]

And concerning the king’s treasury, God said, “nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself” (Deut 17:17b). Having wealth is essential to the economic development of a person and nation, and there was nothing wrong with the king having wealth. This prohibition pertained to the pursuit of wealth by human means, which would prove to be a consuming passion that would turn his heart away from the Lord. David said of God, “Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone” (1 Ch 29:12). God may bless His servant with riches; however, David also said, “If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them” (Psa 62:10b). Money was necessary for living, but was also unstable and could easily be lost. The rule was, “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens” (Prov 23:4-5; cf., Prov 27:24). The Lord Jesus said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Wisdom is found in the one with a temperate heart (Prov 30:7-9), who is content with what the Lord provides (1 Tim 6:8), is concerned with storing up wealth in heaven (Matt 6:19-21), pursues a life of righteousness (Matt 6:33), and if blessed with wealth, uses it for godly purposes (1 Tim 6:17-19). Daniel Block states:

These prohibitions, then, address three major temptations facing ancient rulers: lust for power, lust for status, and lust for wealth. The text does not prohibit the purchase of horses, or marriage, or the accumulation of some silver and gold. The threefold repetition of “for himself” emphasizes the ban concerning the king’s exploitation of his office for personal gain.[4]

bible-scroll     How was the king to know God’s will for himself? He was to know it by reading the book of Deuteronomy, which enriched his thinking and guided his actions. In fact, God required the king to handwrite a copy of the book of Deuteronomy, saying, “Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests” (Deut 17:18). The king did not make laws, but received them from God, who was Israel’s divine King (Psa 44:4; 74:12; Isa 43:15), as well as their Legislator and Judge (Isa 33:22). God’s laws were inscripturated and could be studied and applied by the king, or any who desired to know God and live His will (Deut 6:1-3; Ezra 7:10; Neh 8:1-3; Mal 2:7). Writing out a personal copy of the law in the presence of the Levitical priests signified this as a sacred act. It’s possible the Levitical priests, being present, would ensure the copy was wholly accurate. And the king was to carry it with him and read it all the days of his life as a manual for righteous living before his holy God. All of this assumes the integrity of language, in which the author’s original meaning was permanently infused in the words and phrases he wrote, and that language itself served as a reliable vehicle for communication. The end result was that the reader was responsible to know what had been communicated and would be blessed or disciplined based on whether they responded to it positively or negatively. Here, the integrity and authority of the written commands was to be honored by the king who subordinated himself to his God-King.

After hand writing a copy of the Law, the king was required to keep its content flowing in the stream of his consciousness at all times. This meant he was to carry the Scriptures with him all the time and read it daily. God said, “It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deut 17:19). Again, the integrity of language is assumed as subsequent kings would have an objective standard by which to guide their thinking and actions.

The daily reading of God’s Word was also intended to help keep the king humble, “that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel” (Deut 17:20). The king, like all Israel, was under God’s ultimate authority. But being the king also meant he was to serve as a spiritual leader to God’s people, and this meant he was held to a higher standard, for if the king turned “aside from the commandment, to the right or the left” it meant leading others into sin. But if the king was obedient, both he and his sons would know God’s blessing and the Lord would ensure their continuation in the land. Without question, the most important qualification for the king was to know God’s Word and walk in it. Failure at this point would result in a prideful ruler who would, by default, be governed by the inclinations of his sinful heart and the values and practices of a fallen world that is governed by Satan and his forces.

230px-Saul_1878   The king who followed these directives would serve as the ideal Israelite, not relying on self or resources, but be wholly devoted to God and guided by sacred Scripture. Later, when Samuel was leading Israel, the people came to him with their concerns and asked for a king that they might be “like all the nations” around them (1 Sam 8:4-5). This displeased Samuel greatly (1 Sam 8:6). However, when he prayed about the matter, God told Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Sam 8:7). The Lord also said, “Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also” (1 Sam 8:8). Samuel warned them about the ways of “the king who would reign over them” and the abuses that would follow (1 Sam 8:9-18). Even with the warning of tyranny and abuses, the people requested a king (1 Sam 8:19-20), and God gave them the desires of their heart by selecting Saul, a Benjamite (1 Sam 9:1-2), who did all the harm God had warned them about.

King_David,_the_King_of_Israel    Saul started out well, but in a short time He became disobedient to the Lord. Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you” (1 Sam 13:13a). As a consequence, God told Saul, “Now your kingdom shall not endure” (1 Sam 13:14a). Samuel informed Saul about the reason he lost his kingship, saying, “because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Sam 13:14c). Samuel also informed Saul about his replacement, saying, “The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people” (1 Sa 13:14b). God selected David as Saul’s replacement, and David was “a man loyal to Him” (1 Sam 13:14 CSB). Throughout his life, David sought the Lord and studied His Word (Psa 1:1-2; 25:4-5), walked with God and taught others to do the same, saying, “I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You” (Psa 51:13). David was a writer who composed 73 Psalms which instructed others in righteousness and led them in worship. And when David sinned, he handled his failures in a biblical manner by confession (Psa 32:3-5), and owning the consequences (1 Chron 21:13). Israel’s kings were sometimes compared with David (1 Ki 15:1-5; 2 Ki 16:2; 18:1-3; 22:1-2; 23:3). David also instructed his son, Solomon, to know God’s Word and to walk in it (1 Ki 2:1-3). Though Solomon knew God’s directives for kingship, he broke all three commands as he accumulated horses from Egypt (1 Ki 4:26-28; 10:26-28), wealth by oppression (1 Ki 10:14-25; 12:4), and hundreds of wives and concubines (1 Ki 3:1; 11:1-8). Solomon had great wisdom, but he failed to apply what he knew. All believers have this capacity, which is why James said, “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Jam 4:17). Being a good leader is always about learning God’s Word and doing Gods will, staying humble, staying faithful, and selflessly seeking the best interests of others.

It is true that David practiced the sin of polygamy contrary to the Law of Moses. 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). 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 negative about David’s practice of polygamy, and though it was 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 did with his son, Solomon (see 1 Kings 11:1-11).[5]

In summary, the Mosaic Law placed limitations on the role of the king in Israel because of the tendency of those in power to become corrupt, because the proclivity of the human heart is bent toward self-interest rather than God’s interests. However, if the king in Israel learned God’s Word and followed His directives, stayed humble and faithful, he and the nation would know ongoing blessing.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lecture for this Article:

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Explained   
  2. Saul – The King who Failed  
  3. Chasing After Donkeys (God’s providence to anoint Saul as king)
  4. David – A Better King  
  5. King David – The Good and the Bad  
  6. A Brief Analysis of Israel in History and Prophesy  
  7. Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders  
  8. What is Integrity? 
  9. Walking with God  
  10. Characteristics of a Christian Leader 

[1] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 418.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 118.

[3] Mothers have been influencers as well, either for good (Prov 31:1) or bad (2 Chron 22:2-3). There is merit to the statement, the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

[4] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, 419.

[5] Biblically, some acts of obedience are more important than others, and some acts of sin are more egregious than others. For example, Samuel, told 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” (1 John 5:17a). However, he drew a distinction, saying, “there is a sin that results in death” (1 John 5:16b), and “there is a sin that does not result in death” (1 John 5:17b). These are obvious statements that show some acts of obedience are better than others, and some acts of sin are worse than others.

When Christians Die

When Christians die, they go straight to heaven, and there they will live forever. God must let them in. He does not have a choice in the matter. The Lord has integrity, and He promised that whoever believes in Jesus as Savior will be forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7) and have eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28). He made the provision for salvation, and He will honor His Word. In fact, God is bound to His Word, for “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18; cf. Tit 1:2). By faith, we trust Him when He promises to do something, and we know that faith pleases Him (Heb 11:6).

When the Christian leaves this world for heaven, her last breath here is her first breath there, and what a breath that must be! Scripture reveals, “to be absent from the body” is “to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). Though it is a sad time for us, it is an improvement for the believer, as Scripture states, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). The advantage is that the believer gets to meet the Lord Jesus Christ, face to face, in heaven; and this joyous relationship is forever!

Christ our Hope in Life and DeathFurthermore, all believers anticipate a future time of resurrection in which God will reunite the soul with the body. Job said, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27). The body we have is perishable, but our resurrection body is imperishable. Paul compared our body to a seed that is sown into the ground that God will one day bring to life. Paul wrote, “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42-44). Of course, Jesus makes this possible, as He told Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25). To trust in Christ as Savior guarantees us eternal life right now, and the promise of a new body that will live forever, free from sin and decay. By God’s goodness and grace, heaven is open, and the free gift of eternal life is given to those who trust completely in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Our salvation is made possible by Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. He paid our sin-debt and gives us eternal life at the moment we trust in Him.

I implore you to turn to Christ as your Savior. Believe the gospel message, “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). Don’t wait another day. The Lord will forgive you all your sins and grant you eternal life. He promised, and He’ll keep His word. He has integrity and cannot do otherwise.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

A Divided World Until Christ Returns

We live in a divided world. I’m speaking about a division between believers and unbelievers, children of God and children of the devil. Jesus gave an illustration of this when He told the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt 13:24-30). Afterwards, when Jesus was alone with His disciples, they asked for an explanation of the parable (Matt 13:36), and Jesus said:

The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matt 13:37-43).

In this revelation we understand: 1) God the Son has sown good seed in the world, which are believers, 2) Satan has sown weeds, which are unbelievers, 3) both live side by side until Christ returns at the end of the age, 4) at which time Jesus will send forth His angels to separate out all unbelievers, 5) which unbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire, and 6) believers will enter into the millennial kingdom. We have here a picture of the current state of the world which consists of believers and unbelievers. The current state ends at the return of Christ when He renders judgment upon unbelievers and establishes His earthly kingdom.

Satan as ruler of this worldFor the present time, Satan is the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 1 John 5:19). We are all born under “the dominion of Satan” (Act 26:18), into his “domain of darkness” (Col 1:13). Our spiritual state changes at the time we turn to Christ and trust Him as Savior (1 Cor 15:3-4). At the moment of faith in Christ, we become “children of God” (John 1:12), are transferred to the kingdom of His Son (Col 1:13), forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7), given eternal life (John 10:28), the gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9), and the power to live holy (Rom 6:11-14). And, it is God’s will that we advance to spiritual maturity (Heb 6:1; Eph 4:11-13; 1 Pet 2:2), and serve as His ambassadors to others (2 Cor 5:20).

Are Christians called to make the world a better place?

As Christians, our primary focus is evangelism and discipleship (Mark 16:15; Matt 28:19-20), not the reformation of society. Christians are to be good and do good (Gal 6:9-10; Eph 2:10; Tit 2:11-14), and in this way, society is better as a result. However, the reality is we live in a fallen world that is currently under Satan’s limited rule, and God sovereignly permits this for a time. True good is connected with God and His Word, and His good is executed by those who walk according to His directives. But there are many who reject God and follow Satan’s world-system, which system is always pressuring the Christian to conform (Rom 12:1-2). A permanent world-fix will not occur until Christ returns and puts down all rebellion, both satanic and human (Rev 19:11-21; 20:1-3). Those who are biblically minded live in this reality. As a result, our hope is never in this world; rather, we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit 2:13). We are looking forward to the time when Christ raptures us from this world to heaven (John 14:1-3; 1 Th 4:13-18). This will be followed by seven years of Tribulation in which God will judge Satan’s world and those who abide by his philosophies and values (see Revelation chapters 6-19). Afterwards, Christ will rule the world for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-7), and shortly after that, God will destroy the current heavens and earth and create a new heavens and earth. This is what Peter is referring to when he says, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13; cf. Isa 65:17; Rev 21:1). Our present and future hope is in God and what He will accomplish, and not in anything this world has to offer. As Christians, we are “not of the world” (John 17:14; cf. 1 John 4:4-5), though it’s God’s will that we continue to live in it (John 17:15), and to serve “as lights in the world” (Phi 2:15), that others might know the gospel of grace and learn His Word and walk by faith. This understanding is shaped by God’s Word, which determines my worldview.

How are we to see ourselves in this present world? In the dispensation of the church age, we understand people are either in Adam or in Christ (1 Cor 15:21-22). Everyone is originally born in Adam (Rom 5:12), but those who have trusted in Jesus as Savior are now identified as being in Christ (1 Cor 1:30; 2 Co 5:17; Rom 8:1; Gal 3:28; Eph 1:3). This twofold division will exist until Christ returns. Furthermore, we are never going to fix the devil or the world-system he’s created. Because the majority of people in this world will choose the broad path of destruction that leads away from Christ (Matt 7:13-14), Satan and his purposes will predominate, and Christians will be outsiders. And being children of God, we are told the world will be a hostile place (John 15:19; 1 John 3:13). There will always be haters. Until Christ returns, Satan will control the majority, and these will be hostile to Christians who walk according to God’s truth and love.

Love your enemiesHow should we respond to the world? The challenge for us as Christians is not to let the bullies of this world intimidate us into silence or inaction. And, of course, we must be careful not to become bitter, fearful, or hateful like those who attack us. The Bible teaches us to love those who hate us (Matt 5:44-45; Rom 12:14, 17-21), and we are to be kind, patient, and gentle (2 Tim 2:24-26; cf. Eph 4:1-2; Col 3:13-14). What we need is courage. Courage that is loving, kind, and faithful to share the gospel of grace and to speak biblical truth. The hope is that those who are positive to God can be rescued from Satan’s domain of darkness. We also live in the reality that God’s plans will advance. He will win. His future kingdom on earth will come to pass. Christ will return. Jesus will put down all forms of rebellion—both satanic and human—and will rule this world with perfect righteousness and justice. But until then, we must continue to learn and live God’s Word and fight the good fight. We are to live by faith (Heb 10:38; 11:6), share the gospel of grace (1 Cor 15:3-4), disciple others (Matt 28:19-20), be good and do good (Gal 6:9-10; Tit 2:11-14), and look forward to the return of Christ at the rapture (Tit 2:13; cf. John 14:1-3; 1 Th 4:13-18).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

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[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).

A Brief Look at Slavery in the Bible

artworks-voDsm7rG4udi601g-o7odyw-t500x500Jesus 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). The offer of freedom assumes slavery, bondage, servitude. Everyone is born in sin and enslaved to Satan’s kingdom of darkness. Satan’s slave-market of sin is both positional and experiential. Jesus paid our sin debt and offers us freedom, but we must accept His offer. Jesus’ atoning death is sufficient for all, but effective only for those who trust in Him as Savior (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31; Eph 2:8-9).

Freedom is God’s ideal for humanity. Slavery is a deviation from the Lord’s original design. The first humans—Adam and Eve—enjoyed life and freedom in the garden of Eden. God created them and their world, and He endowed them with the capacity to exercise responsible dominion over the earth (Gen 1:26-28). He also created the garden of Eden, placed them in it, and gave them the task “to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). He assigned them to function as theocratic administrators. God’s directives provided the framework within which their environment and freedom was maintained. God’s directives were intended to protect their relationship with Him, as well as their blessings and freedom. Adam and Eve forfeited their freedom and blessings when they disobeyed God and followed Satan’s directive (Gen 2:19-20; 3:1-7). Satan’s kingdom of darkness was expanded to include the earth at the time when Adam and Eve fell into sin. Subsequent to the historical fall of Adam and Eve, all people—excluding Jesus—are born “slaves to sin” (Rom 6:6), under “the dominion of Satan” (Acts 26:18), who reigns over a “domain of darkness” (Col 1:13). Spiritual slavery became the norm for Adam and Eve, and new forms of slavery followed, which included anthropogenic servitude.

20120710-SlavebeatingHuman slavery has been around for thousands of years and practiced by the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. It continued throughout history in regions such as Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Comanche Indians were known to attack and kill other tribes, steal their land, and enslave some.[1] Slavery was practiced for centuries in Europe, but was formally abolished in Brittan in 1833 and France in 1848. Thankfully, slavery in America was abolished in 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, slavery continues today with more than 40 million victims worldwide and is practiced in countries such as Afghanistan, Africa, Cambodia, Iran, South Sudan, and Pakistan, just to name a few. The highest concentration of slavery today is found in North Korea.[2] Illegal human trafficking still exists in the U.S. with numbers ranging from 18,000 to 20,000.[3] Modern slavery represents a relational power structure between individuals and groups, as one seeks to control the other for personal gain, and this by means of force. The subject of slavery is extremely complex when one considers it throughout history, as not all slaves were treated the same. Even in America, some slaves gained their freedom, attained relative success, and then purchased slaves themselves. One example was William Ellison, a black slave owner who “was one of about 180 black slave masters in South Carolina at the time, most of whom were former slaves themselves.”[4] Often, we hear the ancient horror stories of forced labor in grueling conditions, rape, and early death. These stories are terrible and true. However, in some instances, slaves enjoyed protection within a family unit, married and raised children, engaged in business, and could purchase their freedom. In certain contexts, slaves had more privileges and benefits than many who were free and poor. Bartchy states:

Under Roman, Greek, and Jewish laws, those in slavery could own property, including other slaves! Some well-educated slaves bought children, raised and educated them, and recovered the tuition costs when selling them to families needing tutors. A slave’s property was entirely under the control of the slave, who could seek to increase it for use in purchasing legal freedom and in establishing a comfortable life as a freed person.[5]

In the ancient world, some became slaves when defeated in war, others were illegally kidnapped and made slaves, and many were born slaves. Again, sometimes these served in terrible conditions, whereas others were protected and cared for. In most societies, slaves were purchased to meet household needs, such as making clothes, preparing meals, tilling land, and housecleaning. More educated slaves served as tutors to household children, helping prepare them academically and teaching them social etiquette. It is historically noted that some sold themselves into slavery, and this to secure immediate clothing, shelter, and food, as well as the prospect of future freedom and social and economic advancement. Bartchy states:

Large numbers of people sold themselves into slavery for various reasons, above all to enter a life that was easier and more secure than existence as a poor, freeborn person, to obtain special jobs, and to climb socially…Many non-Romans sold themselves to Roman citizens with the justified expectation, carefully regulated by Roman law, of becoming Roman citizens themselves when manumitted. The money that one received from such a self-sale usually became the beginning of the personal funds that would later be used to enter freedom under more favorable circumstances, e.g., with former debts extinguished. Greek law also recognized the validity of self-sale into slavery, often with a contract limiting the duration of the enslavement. Such sales were frequent in the eastern provinces in imperial times. Temporary self-sale had been known in Jewish circles for centuries. Because of the reputation of Jewish owners for honoring Jewish laws calling for good treatment, many Jews who wished to sell themselves often could not find a Jewish purchaser.[6]

In the OT, slavery was practiced long before Israel became a theocracy after their exodus in 1445 B.C. Joseph was sold by his brothers to Midianite traders (Gen 37:27-28), who sold him to an Egyptian named Potiphar (Gen 37:36). Israel, as a nation, became slaves to the Egyptians (Ex 13:3, 14). Eventually, God liberated His people from their Egyptian captors (Ex 20:2; Deut 6:12; 7:8). But slavery was never abolished as an institution in the ancient world, and Israelites were permitted to purchase slaves from other nations. Moses wrote, “As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you” (Lev 25:44). Unger states, “The Mosaic economy did not outlaw slavery, which was a universal institution at the time. It did, however, regulate and elevate it, imbuing it with kindness and mercy and, like Christianity, announcing principles that would ultimately abolish it (cf. Lev 25:39-40; Deut 15:12-18).”[7]

Moses addressed a form of slavery in Deuteronomy that refers to a voluntary servitude in which a person worked for a period of six years to pay off their debt (Deut 15:12-18). In this situation, Israelites could sell themselves into the service of another for a period of time to pay off their debt. In addition to their freedom, they were to receive a generous severance package of livestock, grain, and wine, which was intended to jumpstart their own economic independence (Deut 15:12-14; cf. Ex 21:5-6). However, some made the choice to become a lifetime servant, and this occurred from a motivation of love, because their employer had been good and cared for them (Deut 15:16-17). The common Hebrew servant who surrendered his/her freedom to serve another was limited to six years labor and was guaranteed freedom in the seventh year (Deut 15:12-14; cf. Ex 21:1-2). And there were laws that protected slaves. For example, kidnapping for slavery was punishable by death under the Mosaic Law (Ex 21:16; Deut 24:7). If a slave was injured by his owner, the law demanded he be set free (Ex 21:26-27). This law would naturally limit abuse. And the Mosaic Law allowed for an Israelite slave to be redeemed by family (Lev 25:47-49a), or he could redeem himself if he acquired the means (Lev 25:49b-53). Lastly, Israelite slaves would automatically go free in the year of Jubilee (Lev 25:10, 40, 54).

Slavery continued into NT times. There were Christians who were both slaves and slave owners (Eph 6:5-9). Paul wrote, “Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that” (1 Cor 7:21). He then stated, “he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise, he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave” (1 Cor 7:22). All Christians in the early church, whether slave owners or slaves, were to regard themselves as slaves to Christ. Writing to slave owners at the church in Ephesus, Paul instructed them to “give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him” (Eph 6:9). Paul told Philemon to regard his slave, Onesimus, “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Phm 1:16).

Biblically, God does not call for Christians to reform society. This does not mean that societal transformation is not a concern for Christians. It is a great concern. However, we realize true and lasting transformation must occur from the inside out, as people are regenerated through faith in Christ and mature spiritually through learning and living God’s Word. Where Christianity prevails in a society, institutions of slavery will naturally dissolve, and freedom will be maintained by a moral and just people. John Adams knew this very well and said, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Sadly, we know from Scripture that the majority of people in the world will not accept Christ as Savior (Matt 7:13-14). Therefore, they will choose to live as slaves in Satan’s world-system where his philosophies and values will predominate until Christ returns and establishes His kingdom on earth. As Christians, we are called to share the Gospel that people might receive new life and be liberated from Satan’s slave-market. If a person rejects Jesus as Savior, then that person chooses to continue as a slave to Satan and his world-system. It’s unfortunate, but it’s their choice, and it must be respected. We cannot force them to be free.

Slavery to sin is both a positional and experiential reality. Positionally, it means unbelievers belong to Satan and are referred to as his children (Matt 13:38; John 8:44; Acts 13:10; 1 John 3:10). Experientially it means unbelievers are slaves to Satan’s philosophies and values which predominate in the world, as well as being in bondage to the sinful passions that spring from the fallen nature. Passions born of the sin nature can lead to various forms of bondage such as alcoholism, drug addition, gambling addiction, power-lust, approbation-lust, etc. Ultimately, unbelievers who reject God’s offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 16:31; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5) will spend eternity with Satan and his angels in the Lake of Fire (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10-15). Sadly, believers, who belong to Christ, can also fall victim to the passions of their sinful nature (Rom 13:14; 1 Pet 2:11; 1 John 2:15-16). Though believers are saved forever (John 10:28-30), they can forfeit their eternal rewards (Matt 5:19; 2 John 1:8). Those who are born again are saved the penalty of sin (John 5:24; Rom 6:23; 8:1), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; 8:13; 2 Cor 5:17), and ultimately the presence of sin (Phil 3:21; 1 John 3:2).

jesus-paid-it-all-jesus-21291422 The reality is we are all born into Satan’s slave-market of sin and helpless to liberate ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3). But God desires our freedom from Satan’s domain, and He sent Jesus into the world to be our Liberator. Jesus was born without sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), which meant He was born free. Furthermore, He maintained His freedom from Satan’s domain by living righteously in the Father’s will (Matt 5:17-18; Heb 10:5-8). Finally, Jesus willingly went to the cross and died a death He did not deserve. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He willingly shed His blood on the cross as payment for our sin-debt. Jesus purchased our freedom. Paul told the Christians at Corinth, “You have been bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20a; cf., 1 Cor 7:23a). Peter said our redemption was not “with perishable things like silver or gold…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18-19). We can be free from Satan’s tyranny if we accept Jesus’ payment for our sin, believing He died for our sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). Freedom belongs to those who turn to Christ as Savior and who walk in His will (John 8:36; 2 Cor 3:17; Gal 5:1, 13; 1 Pet 2:16). Our salvation and entrance into the family of God introduces us to the possibility of greater freedoms and blessings, but only if we make good choices according to God’s Word and advance to spiritual maturity. Our freedom is protected and maintained when we possess and live morally as God directs.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles: 

[1] Native American History, Comanche War Raids, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGA_18W1U0Y

[2] Helen Gibson, Modern-Day Slavery by the Numbers, https://lifewayresearch.com/2019/02/07/modern-day-slavery-by-the-numbers/

[3] The Women’s Center, https://www.womenscenteryfs.org/index.php/get-info/human-trafficking/statistics

[4] University of Richmond, Blacks Owning Blacks: The Story of William Ellison, https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/6699

[5] S. S. Bartchy, “Slavery,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 544.

[6] Ibid., 543.

[7] Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN., AMG Publishers, 2002), 130.

The Armor of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Warren Wiersbe adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid., 1952.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biblical Self-Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

In personal trials and tribulations, I know God is at work in my life, using the furnace of affliction to burn away the dross of weak character and to develop those golden qualities that reflect His character. God wants me to grow up spiritually, and suffering is a vehicle He uses for that purpose. Suffering is like the manure that helps the plant grow; we don’t like its smell, but we understand it’s nourishing value. Joseph understood this, and even when his brothers treated him poorly, he saw it from the divine perspective and said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20). Joseph could not control how his brothers treated him; but he could control his response, which was based on divine viewpoint and the choice of faith. As a Christian, I know that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Below are some ways to strengthen the mind:

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Video on Biblical Self-Talk

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