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.

A Biblical Look at Volition

Volition is something we possess, which enables us to act. That is, we have a will, and we exercise our will. Throughout this article I will use the terms volition and will interchangeably. Chafer states, “Will is that faculty in a rational, conscious being by which he has power to choose a course of action and continue in it.”[1] The will can be moved by reason (correct or faulty), affections, circumstances, or the coercion of others. Though there are various influences on the will, Christians are at their best when the will is governed by divine viewpoint. In this way, God’s truth takes priority over desires, which can vacillate between right and wrong.

Biblically, there are three categories of volition in existence: 1) God’s volition (Isa 46:8-11; cf. Gen 1:1-31), 2) angelic volition (Psa 103:20), and 3) human volition (Gen 1:26-28). God’s volition is sovereign, eternal, and absolute. God’s will is mentioned several times in the Old Testament by the use of the Hebrew word אָבָה abah (Deut 10:10; 23:5; 2 Ch 21:7), which means “to will, [or] be willing.”[2] In other passages, the Hebrew word רָצוֹן ratson is used (Psa 40:8; 143:10), 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 New Testament passages refers to “what one wishes to happen.”[4] This speaks of what God desires from people. Other passages use 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.

The Bible also reveals that “with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26). However, they are possible only to the degree that they operate in concert with His other divine attributes, as God cannot cease to be God, or be holy, just, gracious, or loving. His will is governed by His nature, for He cannot act contrary to His other attributes, nor can He will anything contrary to His promises. Because God has integrity, He “cannot lie” (Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18), as He is bound to keep His Word. Those who live by faith know this about God, and it greatly encourages them.

But there are other wills at work in God’s universe. By means of His sovereignty, God created intelligent and moral beings—angels and people—with the ability to obey or resist His directive will. It must always be remembered that God is no bully and He never forces us to act one way or another. However, He is also not to be defeated, and if some choose to act contrary to His sovereign will, then He may restrain them from acting (Gen 11:8-9; 20:6; 31:7). Theologically, God’s will can be classified as His 1) sovereign will, 2) directive will, 3) permissive will, 4) overruling will, and 5) providential will. I addressed these in another article on Knowing and Doing the Will of God.

Angelic and Human Wills

God created angels with finite features similar to Himself. God exists, thinks, feels, and acts, and He created angels with similar personal features. Ryrie states, “Commonly, the essential facets of personality are considered to involve intelligence, emotions, and will. Angels then qualify as personalities because they have these aspects of intelligence, emotions, and will. This is true of both the good and evil angels.”[6] As volitional beings, God created all angels with the ability to obey or disobey Him. Though God created all angels as holy, there was a time—millennia ago—when there was an angelic revolt in heaven in which an angel named Lucifer—of the class of cherubim—said, five times, “I will” (Isa 14:12-14), and what he willed was open revolt against the Lord of the universe. Lucifer was partially successful, as he convinced a third of the angels to exercise their volition against God, which caused a bifurcation in the angelic realm (Matt 25:41; Rev 12:7).[7] The other two thirds of the angels, being wise in their estimation of what was happening, exercised their volition to stay with God, and these continue as holy angels to do His will (Matt 16:27; 26:53; 1 Tim 5:21; Heb 1:14).

Image of GodAs humans, volition is a feature of our humanity, given to us by God who made us in His image (imago Dei). The image of God consists of mental, moral, and volitional capabilities that were originally given to Adam and Eve to enable them to walk in relationship with their Creator and to function as His theocratic administrators within the world He designed (Gen 1:27-28; 9:6). God imputed to Adam and Eve a vocabulary bank that enabled them to understand Him, each other, and the world around them. Erickson states, “The image refers to the elements in the human makeup that enable the fulfillment of human destiny. The image involves the powers of personality that make humans, like God, beings capable of interacting with other persons, of thinking and reflecting, and of willing freely.”[8] The image of God is what sets us apart from the rest of creation and makes us special. God gave us our wills and directs us to obey. Prior to their fall, Adam and Eve were completely free to know and walk with God. However, at a point in time, Satan tempted and persuaded Adam and Eve to disobey God, and this brought sin and death into the creation (Gen 3:1-8; Rom 5:12; 8:20-22), with the result that every person is born with a sinful nature and proclivity to sin (Jer 17:9; Matt 7:11; Rom 7:18-21; Gal 5:16-17; Eph 2:1-3).

Whatever the actions of intelligent and willful creatures, God’s sovereignty is never threatened, nor His eternal plans for angels and humans ever in jeopardy of failure. Though God permits angels and people to exercise their will contrary to His directive will, He also restrains them when needed. What is implied from the biblical record is that since the time of the angelic revolt, the wills of angels and demons are fixed, bent on obeying or disobeying the Lord, and this into the eternal state. There is no record of salvation for fallen angels, nor of the possibility of holy angels engaging in a new revolt. All is fixed in the angelic realm. Such a static state shall eventually be the experience of all people when God creates the new heavens and earth. Until then, people are either positive or negative to God. Also, God is by no means neutral or silent, but seeks to influence us to act as He desires, and He stands as Judge over us, to bless us when we obey and to discipline when we don’t.

The Human Mind and Will

The human will is the command center of our soul that directs our life. God intends the mind and will to work together, like a hand in a glove. The human will operates optimally when governed by a mind saturated with divine viewpoint. Of course, having divine wisdom is no guarantee we’ll live by it, for “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Jam 4:17; cf. Jam 1:22). However, because we are fallen (Gen 6:5; 8:21; Jer 17:9; Rom 7:21), and live in a world currently governed by Satan (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 1 John 5:19), there are sinful influences on our will that seek to enslave and control us; forces such as Satan (1 Pet 5:8), demons (Eph 6:12), sinful desires (Eph 2:3), other people (1 Cor 15:33), and a satanic world-system (1 John 2:15-16).

And we face constant temptations. However, temptation is not sin, but the enticement or pressure to act contrary to God’s will (Jam 1:14-15). Volition brings forth sin when we say “yes” to temptation. Volition also brings forth righteousness when we say “yes” to God by learning and living Hid Word (Rom 6:11-14). Volition tends the gate of our soul, 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 correction by means of purging 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. For those who lack spiritual objectivity by means rational biblical thought, their volition is controlled by faulty human viewpoint, other people, vacillating emotions, or circumstances. These are useful idiots, both to Satan and human leaders who operate in his world-system.

In the dispensation of the Church age, unbelievers are constantly under the convicting ministry of God the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11), Who seeks to convince them of one all important truth, that Jesus is the only Savior (John 3:18; Acts 4:12). Those with positive volition will accept Christ as Savior, and this as a revelation from God the Father (Matt 16:15-17; Luke 24:44-45; Acts 16:14).

Four Categories of Positive and Negative Volition

In Scripture, there are four categories of positive and negative volition. First, there are some who are positive to God and His gospel and advance to spiritual maturity by learning and living Scripture and staying the course until the end of their life (i.e., David & Paul – 1 Ki 15:5; 2 Tim 4:7-8). These are not sinless believers; but rather, those who handle their sin in a biblical manner (1 John 1:9). Second, there are some who are positive to God and His gospel, but then turn negative to God’s Word, preferring to follow Satan’s world-system (1 Ki 11:1-10; 1 Tim 1:19-20; 6:10). These believers will fail to have a positive influence on others because of external pressure from a satanic hostile environment (John 12:42-43; 19:38). Third, there are some who are negative to God and His gospel, but are favorable to the Bible as a moral system by which they seek to live their lives (i.e., following the Ten Commandments; Luke 18:18-27). These also engage in performing good deeds such as feeding the hungry, helping widows and orphans, and housing the homeless. However, such acts are performed as a means of trying to earn salvation, or to receive praise from others (Matt 6:1-2), both of which originate from sinful pride. Fourth, there are some who are negative to God and His gospel and who vigorously pursue Satan’s world-system and are hostile toward believers who are advancing toward spiritual maturity (John 8:47; Acts 7:51-58; 1 John 4:6). These suppress God’s truth (Rom 1:18). 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.

Humble believers with positive volition operate in submission to God. Scripture tells us to “Submit to God” (Jam 4:7), and “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Submission means 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).

BibleGod has blessed us with His written revelation, which informs us about matters we could never know, except that He has spoken, and it has been recorded in Scripture. Furthermore, as Christians, we have the Holy Spirit Who illumines us to know God’s Word and empowers us to live righteously. Chafer states, “Man’s highest end is realized when he conforms to God’s will. Even Christ came not to do His own will, but only the will of the Father. There is nothing higher for man than to find and do the will of God. Heaven always has a specific purpose for the bringing of each person into the world, and that purpose comprehends every moment of life.”[9]

Negative volition is an aspect of the Christian doctrine of total depravity. Depravity is a divine estimation of what God sees in us, not what we see in ourselves or in others. Chafer states, “Theologians employ the phrase total depravity, which does not mean that there is nothing good in any unregenerate person as seen by himself or by other people; it means that there is nothing in fallen man which God can find pleasure in or accept.”[10] Sin permeates all aspects of our being: mind, will, and desires. We are tainted throughout. Not only does sin darken the intellect, but it motivates our volition to hide from God and to expel Him from our lives.

When one turns away from God, sin will naturally gain more and more territory, much like the darkness that grows ever darker after the sun has set. A key characteristic of negative volition is to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). The one who pursues this course tends to go in one of two directions. The first denies God’s existence, as he repeatedly tells himself, “There is no God” (Psa 10:4). This is the fool. And he is a fool by choice, never by chance. The fool is not necessarily one who lacks reason, but who reasons wrongly, operating from faulty presuppositions. And the second person with negative volition pursues religion, as he “makes a god and worships it” (Isa 44:15). For the latter, this is a god of his own imagination. He has willfully “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25). And, in place of God’s wisdom, he operates by a worldly wisdom that is not “from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic” (Jam 3:15).

When God’s Word is dethroned from the mind of the believer, other forces will dominate for the worse. God’s desire for the Christian is to develop his/her character so that righteousness, goodness, grace, and love flow easily and with continuity of expression. If the character is good then the behavior will be good, for it follows that a person with an honest character will easily and consistently behave in an honest manner, and a person with a loving character will easily and consistently behave in a loving manner. But good character does not automatically occur in the life of the Christian, nor does it happen overnight; rather, it matures over a lifetime as we make many good choices to walk in step with God and let His good Word transform us from the inside out. But we should be aware that it is possible to abuse our liberty and make bad choices with the result that we weaken the will and forfeit our freedoms (the alcoholic or drug addict knows this to be true). Not only that, but bad choices and abuses of freedom bring harm to others within our periphery; for this reason, Scripture states, “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).

Unbelievers who love their moral depravity will naturally stand against those who are children of God and who love righteousness. Jesus said, “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). And the beloved apostle John wrote, “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). Those who set their wills against God will not listen to God’s message; however, they will listen to false teachers. And concerning those false teachers, the apostle John states, “They are from the world; therefore, they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them” (1 John 4:5). That is, there are those who operate from presuppositions and values that are cosmocentric, which exclude or pervert serious consideration and discussion about God, refusing to give Him any say over their lives.

Every person confronted with Jesus is either positive or negative to Him. Those who are positive accept Him, and those who are negative reject Him. The human heart is corrupt, and naturally defaults to a negative setting. Though we are not neutral and try to persuade people to believe the gospel (John 3:16; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9), each person must choose to accept or reject the offer. Those who believe in Jesus will spend forever in heaven (John 10:28; 14:1-4). And believers who pursue righteousness will be rewarded in eternity (1 Cor 3:10-15). Those who reject Jesus as Savior are free to do so (John 3:18). But actions have consequences, and they will forever be separated from God in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). Such a future is avoidable for the one who turns to Christ as Savior and believes in Him (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 16:31).

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

The Battles We Face

As Christians, 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 national citizens we should vote for leaders that promote laws consistent with God’s values (i.e., freedom, law and order, life in the womb, etc.). Just laws will align with regenerate and humble hearts. 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).

As Christians, we are called to let our light shine in this world. Paul informs us we “were formerly darkness, but now [we] are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light” (Eph 5:8). This is a daily choice we make. And Paul tells us, “The fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5:9-10). This is part of our calling, and it starts by learning God’s Word and then living His will. But know this: When we live and speak God’s Word, not everyone will want to hear it, and even though we may not agree with their choice, it should be respected (Matt 10:14; Acts 13:50-51). We should never try to force the gospel or biblical teaching on anyone, but be willing to share as opportunity presents itself.

At times this sharing will bring peace, and other times cause disruption and may even offend. In this interaction, the growing Christian must be careful not to fall into the exclusion trap, in which the worldly-minded person (whether saved or lost) controls the content of every conversation, demanding the Christian only talk about worldly issues, as Scripture threatens his pagan presuppositions. Having the biblical worldview, the Christian should insert himself into daily conversations with others, and in so doing, be a light in a dark place. He should always be respectful, conversational, and never have a fist-in-your-face attitude, as arrogance never helps advance biblical truth (2 Tim 2:24-26). The worldly-minded person may not want to hear what the Christian has to say, but he should never be under the false impression that he has the right to quiet the Christian and thereby exclude him from the conversation.

Christ-on-the-crossLastly, as we grow spiritually and walk with God, learning and living His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17), we stand in opposition to Satan’s world-system and sow the seeds of spiritual insurrection in the lives of those who live and walk in his kingdom of darkness. We disrupt Satan’s kingdom when we share the gospel, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). When anyone places their faith in Christ, trusting solely in Him as Savior, they are forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7), gifted with eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28), and given the gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; cf., Rom 4:1-5; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). And they are liberated from Satan’s enslaving power, as God rescues them from the “domain of darkness” and transfers them into “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13). The gospel is the only way a person can be delivered from spiritual slavery; “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Once saved, we seek to influence the thoughts and lives of other Christians through fellowship (Heb 10:23-25), prayer (Jam 5:16), edification (Eph 4:29), encouragement (1 Thess 5:11), love (1 Thess 4:9; cf. Eph 4:14-15), words of grace (Col 4:6), and consistent biblical teaching (2 Tim 4:1-2). As Christians, we are responsible for output, not outcomes. We control the biblical content of our thoughts, words, and actions, but the response of those who hear and see is between them and the Lord.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 309.

[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] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 143.

[7] After his fall, Lucifer became known as Satan (Matt 4:10), the evil one (1 John 5:19), the tempter (1 Th 3:5), the devil (Matt 4:1), the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10), the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2), the serpent (Rev 12:9), and the great red dragon (Rev 12:3).

[8] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 470–471.

[9] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 309.

[10] Ibid., 118–119.

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

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[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.

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.

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.

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 Lesson in the Storm

During His time of ministry on earth, Jesus was constantly teaching His disciples and developing their walk with Him. This development required testing. Some of the situations the disciples faced were turbulent, which exposed their weaknesses and provided teachable moments. Because of positive volition, Jesus’ disciples would, over time, learn His lessons and advance to spiritual maturity. A good example of testing in adversity is found in the Gospel of Matthew, which reads as follows:

When Jesus got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. 25 And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” 26 He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. 27 The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matt 8:23-27)

Jesus on the Stormy SeaIn this pericope, we observe that following Jesus did not preclude the disciples from experiencing a turbulent storm that they perceived as life-threating (Matt 8:23-24a). God, who controls meteorological conditions (Psa 135:7; Jonah 1:4), used this storm as a means of testing and developing the disciples’ faith. Jesus, who was on the boat with them, was relaxed about the storm and “was asleep” (Matt 8:24b). But the disciples, in a state of panic, woke the Lord and requested He save them, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” (Matt 8:25). To their credit, the disciples had enough faith to cry out to the Lord in their perceived crisis. But though the disciples were concerned about the storm on the sea, Jesus was not; and when He was awakened, He addressed the storm that was raging in their souls. Jesus, standing face to face with His disciples on the ship, with strong winds blowing and violent waves crashing all about, said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” (Matt 8:26a). Here was a contrast of perceived problems. The disciples thought the storm was the great issue at the moment, but Jesus thought their fear and little faith was the greater issue. Jesus’ perfect perception of the situation, which kept Him calm, was used to correct the disciples’ misperception, which caused them to fear. The implication of Jesus’ words was that if the disciples had possessed greater faith, they would not have experienced fear and panic. After Jesus addressed the true problem, “He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm” (Matt 8:26b). Just as Jesus could speak and calm the raging storm on the waters, so He could speak and calm the storm in the disciples’ souls, if they would heed His instruction. Being amazed at Jesus’ power over this great tempest, the disciples asked, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matt 8:27). Here, the disciples learn a deep Christological truth that Jesus, as the God-Man, has complete control over the universe He created.

FortressThe storm the disciples faced with Jesus on the sea would set a precedent for other problems they would face. Though the disciples failed the test at that moment—because of their little faith—they learned the lesson Jesus had for them as they witnessed His great power. Over time, the disciples would develop their faith and become some of the most courageous men in history. They would learn that faith in God and His Word produces a fortress within the soul that offers stability when life is upsetting. David understood this well and 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” (Psa 56:3-4a). And Isaiah said, “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation” (Isa 12:2).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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.

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

Faith Strengthening Techniques

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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Commitment Love

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

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

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

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

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

Warren Wiersbe adds:

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

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

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

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

But love [ἀγαπάω agapao] your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)

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

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

Emotion Follows Thought

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

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

William MacDonald adds:

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biblical Self-Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Video on Biblical Self-Talk

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