The Manifold Grace of God

GraceGrace is unmerited favor. It is the kindness one person grants to another who does not deserve it. Grace (χάρις charis) refers to “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, [or] goodwill.”[1] This definition speaks of the attitude of one who is characterized by grace. A gracious act is “that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”[2] Others may not understand or accept what is offered by grace, but this is not for want of attitude and action on the part of the giver, where the benefactor freely confers a blessing upon another and the kindness shown finds its source in the bounty and free-heartedness of the giver. Once grace is received, it can, in turn, lead to gracious acts to others (Matt 5:43-45; Luke 6:32-36). In this way, grace leads to grace.

The Need for Grace

Saved by God's GraceEveryone needs God’s grace, because we are all born in sin. We are sinners in three ways: 1) we are sinners by imputation of Adam’s original sin (Rom 5:12-21), 2) we are sinners by nature (Psa 51:5; Rom 7:19-21; Eph 2:3), and 3) we are sinners by choice (1 Ki 8:46; Rom 3:9-18). Adam’s sin the Garden of Eden is the first and greatest of them all. Because of Adam’s rebellion against God, sin and death entered the human race and spread throughout the universe (Rom 8:20-22). Paul wrote, “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned [when Adam sinned]” (Rom 5:12), for “through one transgression [of Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men” (Rom 5:19a), and “by a man [Adam] came death, by a man [Jesus] also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all [who believe in Him] will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:21-22). All of Adam’s descendants are born into this world spiritually dead in “trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), and are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), “separate from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12), “alienated” from God (Col 1:21), helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies (Rom 5:6-10). From a biblical perspective, we are all born totally depraved. According to Lewis Chafer, “Theologians employ also 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.”[3] Total depravity means we are helpless to save ourselves.

Grace & Judgment

God’s grace does not ignore righteousness or judgment. God is righteous and He must condemn sin. He can either condemn sin in the sinner, or in a substitute. According to Merrill F. Unger, “since God is holy and righteous, and sin is a complete offense to Him, His love or His mercy cannot operate in grace until there is provided a sufficient satisfaction for sin. This satisfaction makes possible the exercise of God’s grace.”[4] Christ is our substitute. He bore the penalty of all our sins and satisfied every righteous demand of the Father, for “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. Rom 3:24-25; 1 John 4:10). God’s grace follows from His judgment. According to Lewis Chafer, “grace is what God may be free to do and indeed what He does accordingly for the lost after Christ has died on behalf of them.”[5] God’s love for sinners moved Him to provide a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is Christ who died in our place. Once we have trusted in Christ for salvation—and trusted in Him alone—God is then free to bestow on us forgiveness and eternal life, as well as numerous other blessings that are beyond our imagination to grasp. For those who reject God’s salvation by grace, they are left to trust in themselves and their own good works to gain entrance into heaven, and this will fail miserably for those who choose this course. In the end, these will be judged by their works, and because those works never measure up to God’s perfect righteousness, they will be cast in the Lake of Fire forever (Rev 20:11-15).

Common Grace & Special Grace

There is a common grace God extends to everyone, whether they are good or evil, and this does not depend on their understanding or attitude toward God or others. God simply extends grace to all, and all receive it. Jesus said of the Father, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). Paul 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). In these passages, God’s grace is freely given to all, and this because He is gracious by nature.

However, there is special grace given to those who will welcome it. Special grace refers to those blessings that God freely confers upon those who, in humility, turn to Him a time of need. First, there is saving grace that God provides for the lost sinner who turns to Christ in faith alone (Eph 2:8-9). Second, there is a growing grace for the humble believer who studies and lives God’s Word (2 Pet 3:18). Third, there is a grace God gives—a divine enablement—to help a believer cope with some life stress (2 Cor 12:7-10). Humility and positive volition are necessary requisites for those who would receive God’s special grace, For “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5; cf. Jam 4:6).

Saving Grace

GiftGod’s grace is never cheap. Our salvation is very costly. Jesus went to the cross and died in our place and bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. He is righteous. I am a sinner. He paid my sin debt in full. There’s nothing for me to add to what He accomplished. The sole condition of salvation is to believe in Christ as my Savior. He died for me, was buried, and rose again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4), and we know “that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again” (Rom 6:9). Salvation is not Jesus plus me. It’s Jesus alone. He saves. My contribution to the cross was sin and death, as Jesus took my sin upon Himself and died in my place. Peter wrote, “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). We are brought to God solely by the death of Christ. Salvation is never what I do for God; rather, it’s what He’s done for us through the cross of Christ. All of this consistent with the character of God, for He is gracious by nature. Scripture reveals, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), and, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15). God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the love, mercy, or kindness that one person freely confers upon another who deserves the opposite (Matt 5:44-45; Rom 11:6; Eph 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5-7). The kindness shown is rooted in the goodness and open-handedness of the giver. 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).

Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa 64:6; Rom 3:28; 4:1-5; Gal 2:16, 21; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5; cf. Phil 3:4-9). 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; John 1:1, 14), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt 5:17), was always pleasing to the Father (John 8:29), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins. Jesus lived the righteous life that God demands and committed no sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and He died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins (Isa 53:1-12; Mark 10:45; Rom 5:6-10; 1 Pet 3:18; 1 John 2:2).

The Cross of ChristJesus died once for all sin. And His sacrifice on the cross was a substitutionary death in which He paid the penalty for all our sins. Unlike the Old Testament animal sacrifices “which can never take away sins” (Heb 10:11), Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” (Heb 10:12). This means there is nothing more to be offered for our salvation, for “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb 10:14). Jesus’ atoning death on the cross was a one and done event. After Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The phrase it is finished translates the Greek word τετέλεσται tetelestai, which is a perfect passive indicative of the Greek verb τελέω teleo, which means “to complete an activity or process, bring to an end, finish, complete.”[6] According to Edwin Blum, “Papyri receipts for taxes have been recovered with the word tetelestai written across them, meaning ‘paid in full.’”[7] It means whatever debt we owed to God has been paid in full, and there’s no further payment required. This is why salvation is never by our good works (Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16, 21; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). Good works in the life of the Christian should follow salvation (Eph 2:10; Gal 6:9-10), but they are never the condition of it! When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we accept His payment for our sin-debt. He gets all the glory and we get all the benefit. And “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).

In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; 20:30-31; Acts 4:12; 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). The cross is God’s righteous solution to the problem of sin, as well as His greatest display of love toward sinners. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness required, and pardons the sinner as His love desires. To understand the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save.

Christians are to Model Grace

As Christians, we display common grace to everyone and special grace to believers. Concerning unbelievers, Jesus told His disciples, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). This is done by grace, for the enemy does not deserve the love extended to them. When believers show this kind of gracious love, we are acting like our Father in heaven, for He is unconditionally good to everyone (Matt 5:45). Paul communicated both common and special in his letter to the Galatians where he wrote, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people [common grace], and especially to those who are of the household of the faith [special grace]” (Gal 6:10). And, as Christians, our speech should be characterized by grace. Paul wrote, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col 4:6). This means our speech should be biblically attractive to others, especially those who are positive to God.

Why Believers Show No Grace

One would think that grace would flow from grace. That is, those who are shown grace 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 lives 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.

How 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 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

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

[2] Ibid., 1079.

[3] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 118–119.

[4] Merrill F. Unger et al., “Grace” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 504.

[5] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol 7, 178.

[6] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 997.

[7] Edwin A. Blum, “John,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 340.

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.

The Good Man

I have a friend who is a good man. Like all Christians, he knows the evil in his heart and agrees with the apostle Paul, who said, “evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good” (Rom 7:21). Evil is always present in the heart, even the heart of the Christian. Part of what makes him a good man is that he has the power to do evil, but he chooses not to act on it. Rather, he chooses to know the Lord and walk with him. It’s not a perfect walk. It never is. And daily confession of sin is a constant (1 John 1:9). But as Christian, he has a new nature too, one that wants to please the Lord, that “joyfully concurs with the law of God in the inner man” (Rom 7:22). The struggle is real and constant, and he daily chooses to pursue good. Again, he can and does sin, but he also humbles himself and, like all growing believers, comes before God’s “throne of grace” in order that he may “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). Of course, what is written here applies to women (except for being a good husband, son, and father).

The Good ManThose who pursue good, and regularly do good, are good. Those who pursue evil, and regularly do evil, are evil. And the good are always good by choice and never by chance. Likewise, the evil are always evil by choice and never by chance. Solomon said, “A good man will obtain favor from the LORD, but He will condemn a man who devises evil” (Prov 12:2). The wicked are those who hate the Lord and devise evil against others, and they are always among us, like tares among the wheat. The wicked exploit the weak and kill the innocent. The Bible tells us “God is good” (Psa 73:1; cf. Psa 86:5). And the psalmist says of the Lord, “You are good and do good” (Psa 119:68). The Old Testament, in several places, mentions the “good man” (Heb. טוֹב tov; cf., Prov 13:22; 14:14; Eccl 9:2). Delitzsch states, “the good man is thus a man who acts according to the ruling motive of self-sacrificing love.”[1] And Waltke adds, “Whoever strives for wisdom through knowledge is a good person because he contributes to the community’s well-being out of his unfailing kindness. In the highest court of appeal, he obtains favor from the Lord, Who the source of all good (Mark 10:18; Gal 5:22; Jam 1:17).”[2] In another place the psalmist wrote, “Do good, O LORD, to those who are good and to those who are upright in their hearts” (Psa 125:4).

Jesus said that good people will manifest what fills their heart, saying, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45; cf. Matt 12:35; Rom 5:7). There are good people. They choose what fills their heart, and they act accordingly.

In the book of Acts, Luke tells us about a man named Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). When the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22), it is said that “when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:23-24).

Of some of the Christians living in Rome, the apostle Paul said, “I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another” (Rom 15:14). And to Christians living in Ephesus, he said, “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5:8-10).

Jesus Healing SickA good man, in the biblical sense, is a man who models his life after Christ. He is a Christian in the fullest sense of the word. He is, first and foremost, in a relationship with the Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, and has been born again into a new life (1 Pet 1:3). He puts on “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col 3:12), and denies “ungodliness and worldly desires” and lives “sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit 2:12). He continually studies Scripture in order to live God’s will (2 Tim 2:15; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), and strives toward spiritual maturity (2 Tim 3:16-17; Eph 4:11-16). He regards others as more important than himself and looks out for their interests (Phil 2:3-4). He is filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) and walks in the Spirit (Gal 5:16). He lives in fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-7), trusting Him to guide and sustain him in all things. His life is being transformed, to think and act less like the world (Rom 12:1-2), and to conform to the image of the One who saved him (Rom 8:29).  He does not love the world (1 John 2:15-17), but shows gracious love to his enemies who live in the world (Matt 5:43-45; Rom 12:19-21). He shows love within the body of Christ (1 Th 4:9; 1 John 3:23), and helps the needy, widows and orphans (Jam 1:27). As a son, he honors his father and mother (Eph 6:1-3), as a husband, he loves his wife as Christ loves the church, providing, protecting, and honoring her always (Eph 5:25; Col 3:19; 1 Pet 3:7), and as a father, he teaches his children the ways of the Lord (Eph 6:4; cf. Deut 6:5-7). These are not all the characteristics of the good Christian man, but they are among the most important.

We choose what enters our heart, and what fills the heart becomes manifest in the life, either as good or evil. Wisdom says, “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov 4:23). As God’s people, let us always strive to be good and do good, that we may be called good, by the Lord and those who know Him.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 6 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 182.

[2] Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1–15, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 520.

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.

When God Disrupts the World

Bible     Pastors who preach the gospel of grace and accurately teach God’s Word are dangerous men. They will disrupt your worldly thinking and cause great damage to your human viewpoint perspective. And they should. If exposed to their teaching for any period of time, you’ll experience an epistemological shift that will fundamentally shake the foundations of your metaphysical and ethical views on life. The blessed result will be a radical new way of thinking built on the foundation of God and His Word. We have Jesus to thank for such good men. Those who support these teachers through prayer, encouragement, and financial support are accomplices to their disruptive activities and will be appropriately rewarded by God, both in time and eternity.

The Tower of Babel    Biblically, God has a well-established pattern of disrupting the lives and activities of sinful people. He disrupted and dispelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden after they’d sinned (Gen 3:1-24). He quarantined Noah and His family in the Ark and then disrupted the world by means of a universal flood (Gen 6:1—8:22). He confused the languages of those building the Tower of Babel, disrupting their activity and scattering them geographically (Gen 11:1-9). He disrupted Egypt by sending severe plagues that destroyed the nation, and afterwards, His people were expelled in a great exodus (Ex 5:1—14:31). In 586 B.C., God disrupted the Judahites and drove them into Babylonian captivity for seventy years (Jer 25:11-12; 29:10), and this because they broke covenant with Him and worshiped idols and committed horrible sins, including child sacrifice (Jer 7:25-34). Disrupt and divide. That’s the pattern. Those who love God and abide by His Word celebrate His actions in the world.

When God Disrupts the World   God’s greatest disruption so far occurred when He sent His Son into the world, into Satan’s hostile kingdom of darkness, to be the Light of the world and to provide salvation to those enslaved to sin (John 1:5-9; 3:19-21; Gal 5:1, Col 1:13-14). Jesus declared “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12). When Jesus presented divine viewpoint to others, on several occasions it is recorded that “a division occurred” because of Him (John 7:43; 9:16; 10:19). As a result of His teaching, we learn that “many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him” (John 6:66). But those who were positive to His teaching stayed with Him (John 6:67-69). On one occasion, Jesus said, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three” (Luke 12:51-52). When Jesus commissioned His apostles to go into all the world, they obeyed His directive and became “men who upset the world” because of their teachings (Acts 17:6). As Christians, we are called to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3), but never at the price of God’s will or at the price of His truth.

From Darkness to Light     Today, God works through Christians to promote the gospel of grace and biblical teaching. Those who walk with God and teach His Word continue to disrupt Satan’s kingdom by calling out of it a people for God who are to mature spiritually and live in the light of Holy Scripture. By learning God’s Word, Christians can identify worldly conversations and either avoid them or disrupt them by interjecting biblical truth. Of course, not everyone wants to hear truth, and the personal choices of others should be respected. God is a perfect Gentleman and never forces Himself on anyone, and neither should we. However, this does not mean we are to conform to the world about us or surrender our biblical values for the sake of peace. Christians are to be lights in the world and this means learning and living God’s Word and interjecting His truth into our daily discussions and activities. We are not neutral.

Raptured     In the future, we know God will cause further disruptions when He removes all Christians from the world by means of the rapture (1 Th 4:13-18). Following that event, He will send great judgments upon the earth for seven years, upon the wicked who deserve it (Rev 6:1—18:24). At Christ’s second coming, the King of kings and Lord of lords will slay all who oppose Him (Rev 19:1-21), arrest and confine Satan (Rev 20:1-3), and then establish His kingdom on earth for a thousand years (Rev 20:4-6). The reign of Christ on the earth will be a time when righteousness prevails. 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). Afterwards, God will separate forever into the Lake of Fire all who have rejected His offer of salvation (Rev 20:11-15). Finally, God will destroy the current heavens and earth and create a new heavens and earth. For “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13; cf., Rev 21:1—22:21). There will be no further disruptions in the eternal state. Until then, we thank and praise God for His disruptions!

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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A Survey of Mobs and Riots in Scripture

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

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

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

Often there are corrupt individuals or groups who instigate a riot, either as a means of retaliation for some perceived injustice (real or imagined), or simply to cause disruption as a means of leveraging power within a community. For those leading the mob, it’s about intimidation and power and forcing others to submit to their demands. Because rioters are often more emotional than rational, it becomes very difficult to restrain a mob except by physical force. This is why a well-trained and properly funded police force is necessary for civil peace.[7]

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

Example #1 – Lot and Sodom (Gen 19:1-25). Lot, while living in Sodom, had received some male guests (who were actually angels) that he welcomed into his home (Gen 19:1-3). However, there were sexual degenerates in the city who came to Lot’s house and demanded he turn out his male guests so they could have sexual intercourse with them. It’s likely these men intended to rape Lot’s guests. The text tells us, “Before they went to bed, the men of the city of Sodom, both young and old, the whole population, surrounded the house” (Gen 19:4), saying, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Send them out to us so we can have sex with them!” (Gen 19:5).[9] Surrounding the house and making demands was an intimidation tactic designed to cause fear.

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

Lot SodomWhen the men of Sodom did not get what they wanted, they resorted to force and tried to break into Lot’s house. This mob would certainly have committed a great evil against Lot and his guests, but fortunately, “the angels reached out, brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door” (Gen 19:10). Since the mob was not rational, the angels were required to use force, so “they struck the men who were at the entrance of the house, both young and old, with a blinding light so that they were unable to find the entrance” (Gen 19:11). The Hebrew verb נָכָה nakah “is often used for ‘hitting’ or ‘smiting’ an object with one, non-fatal strike.”[11] Here, we witness the angels employing a measured use of nonlethal force sufficient to stop the Sodomites from advancing. Of course, this was a temporary use of nonlethal force until such a time that God could render fatal judgment on the city as a whole (Gen 19:12-25).

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

Example #2 – Gideon and Baal (Judg 6:1-31). Gideon was a Judge in Israel who was called by God to deliver His people from Midianite oppressors who were attacking and raiding the cities and taking their food (Judg 6:1-24). Gideon was also called by God to tear down a pagan altar that was being used by Israelites to worship Baal and Asherah (Judg 6:25-27). Gideon’s act of destroying the altar was a divine provocation against Israelites who had been wrongly engaging in idolatry.

gideonWhen the idolaters in the city woke the next the morning, “they found Baal’s altar torn down, and the Asherah pole beside it cut down” (Judg 6:28). After a short inquiry, the men of the city learned the altar to Baal had been destroyed by Gideon (Judg 6:29), so they went to Joash, Gideon’s father, and said, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he tore down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it” (Judg 6:30). God’s Law for Israel required that pagan altars and idols be torn down and destroyed (Ex 34:13; Deut 7:5; Judg 2:2), and those who worshipped the idols were to be put to death (Deut 13:6-10). However, this account reveals how corrupt the Israelite community had become, as many were willing to defend Baal and kill God’s servant.

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

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

Example #3 – Jeremiah in Jerusalem (Jer 26:1-24). God called Jeremiah, His prophet, to warn the people of Jerusalem that unless they turned back to God in obedience, He would destroy the temple and the city (Jer 26:1-2). Through His prophet Jeremiah, God said, “Perhaps they will listen and return—each from his evil way of life—so that I might relent concerning the disaster that I plan to do to them because of the evil of their deeds” (Jer 26:3).

As God’s people, the Judahites were under judgment because they had turned away from the Lord and were living like the pagan nations. If God’s people did not turn back to Him, as He instructed (Jer 26:4-5), then God said, “I will make this temple like Shiloh. I will make this city [Jerusalem] an object of cursing for all the nations of the earth” (Jer 26:6). The Israelites were furious with what Jeremiah had spoken, and when he finished delivering his speech (Jer 26:7-8a), “the priests, the prophets, and all the people took hold of him, yelling, ‘You must surely die!’” (Jer 26:8b). They further stated, “How dare you prophesy in the name of Yahweh, saying, ‘This temple will become like Shiloh and this city will become an uninhabited ruin!’ Then all the people assembled against Jeremiah at the LORD’s temple” (Jer 26:9). The word assembled translates the Hebrew verb קָהַל qahal which means “to assemble…call together, meet together.”[12] Though commonly used of an assembly of people (Ex 35:1; 1 Ki 12:21; 1 Ch 13:5; 15:3), it is used here in Jeremiah 26:9 to describe a mob that gathered around Jeremiah, grabbed him by force, and demanded his death (cf., Jer 26:11). Fortunately, some of the city officials heard about what was happening and “went from the king’s palace to the LORD’s temple and sat at the entrance of the New Gate” (Jer 26:10). Once there, they mediated the situation and listened to the demands of the crowd (Jer 26:11), as well as Jeremiah the prophet (Jer 26:12-13).

Jeremiah submitted to these leaders, saying, “As for me, here I am in your hands; do to me what you think is good and right” (Jer 26:14). However, Jeremiah was not passive, and he spoke up for himself, saying to the leaders, “But know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood on yourselves, on this city, and on its residents, for it is certain the LORD has sent me to speak all these things directly to you” (Jer 26:15). The leaders of Judah were persuaded by Jeremiah, and they spoke to the priests and prophets on Jeremiah’s behalf, saying, “This man doesn’t deserve the death sentence, for he has spoken to us in the name of Yahweh our God!” (Jer 26:16). Huey states, “To their credit the officials, now joined by the people, made the right decision. Jeremiah’s eloquent defense convinced them, at least for the moment, that his message was not worthy of his death. They rejected the accusation of the priests and prophets by acquitting Jeremiah of the charges.”[13] These governmental leaders defended Jeremiah, as they should have, (Jer 26:16-23), and “so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death” (Jer 26:24). Jeremiah’s life was saved from the mob that wanted to kill him.

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

Example # 4 – Jesus in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). Early in Jesus’ earthly ministry, when He was becoming more widely known, He was entering and teaching in synagogues and having discussions with His fellow Jews (Luke 4:14-15). When Jesus came to Nazareth, “As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read” (Luke 4:16). After reading from the scroll of Isaiah (Luke 4:17-20), He identified Himself as the One whom Isaiah had written about, saying, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled” (Luke 4:21). At the beginning of His address, “They were all speaking well of Him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from His mouth” (Luke 4:22). However, Jesus went on to reveal His hearers would reject Him (Luke 4:23), and that “no prophet is welcome in his hometown” (Luke 4:24). Jesus then cited two OT examples where God’s prophets—Elijah and Elisha—turned to Gentiles and demonstrated kindness (Luke 4:23-27). Jesus pointed out that Elijah had helped a Gentile widow in Sidon (1 Ki 17:8-16), and Elisha healed Naaman, a Syrian Gentile of his leprosy (2 Ki 5:1-15). This was a blow to Jewish exceptionalism, as Jesus revealed God’s goodness toward women, Gentiles, and lepers, three groups of people who were regarded by Jesus’ hearers to be at the bottom of Jewish society. Like many OT prophets, Jesus too would be rejected by recalcitrant Israelites and He would turn to the Gentiles.

This message upset Jesus’ hearers and their pride was wounded. “When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff” (Luke 4:28-29). Here was a religious and murderous mob that intended to kill Jesus, and He permitted Himself to be driven by them to a certain place. Surely, the mob handled Him roughly as they went through the town and to the edge of the hill where they intended to kill Him. However, once at the edge of the hill, He did not permit them to go any further. Luke informs us, “But He passed right through the crowd and went on His way” (Luke 4:30). It was not the Father’s time for Jesus to die, so a way of escape was provided.

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

Jesus before PilateExample #5 – Jesus Before Pilate (Matt 27:1-26). By the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we have an example of how the religious leadership in Jerusalem manipulated a crowd in order to help bring about Jesus’ crucifixion. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are informed that “all the chief priests and the elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. [And] after tying Him up, they led Him away and handed Him over to Pilate, the [Roman] governor” (Matt 27:1-2). And when Jesus was brought before Pilate, He did not defend Himself against the charges because He knew His hour had come for Him to be crucified according to the Father’s will (Matt 27:10-14; cf. John 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1; Acts 2:22-23; 4:25-28).

Pilate, knowing the Jews were operating on envy and hatred tried to dissuade the mob from demanding Jesus’ death. As a possible solution, Pilate offered to release Barabbas, a violent criminal, in place of Jesus (Matt 27:15-19). The “chief priests and the elders, however, persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to execute Jesus” (Matt 27:20). Here we observe corrupt leaders stirring up a mob as a pressure tactic to gain power. Pilate tried to defend Jesus by reasoning with the mob (Matt 27:21-23a), “But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify Him!’ all the more” (Matt 27:23).

The pressure of the mob had its intended effect, and the result was a breakdown in justice, for “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that a riot was starting instead, he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves!’” (Matt 27:24). Pilate became aware that he could not reason with the crowd and realized a riot (θόρυβος thorubos) was about to take place.

Pilate was no novice when it came to mobs and riots. Wright correctly states, “Pilate had commanded troops. He had sent them to quell riots before and could do so again. He didn’t have to be pushed around. But, like all bullies, he was also a coward. He lurches from trying to play the high and mighty judge to listening a little too much to the growing noise of the crowd.”[14] The battle of the wills was over. Pilate had surrendered to the mob. The Jewish crowd took full responsibility for Jesus’ trial and death, saying, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matt 27:25). But this was not their place to act this way, as they had no legitimate authority to make this sort of demand. However, Pilate caved in, and “after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified” (Matt 27:26).

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

Example #6 – The Stoning of Stephen (Acts 6:8—7:60). Early in the development of the Church, Luke records the account of a mob that stoned Stephen to death. Stephen is described as a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). Luke also tells us he was “full of grace and power, [and] was performing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). But Stephen had men who opposed him, “some from what is called the Freedmen’s Synagogue…came forward and disputed with Stephen” (Acts 6:9). Though these men argued with Stephen, “they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). Being immoral men, they began to tell lies about Stephen, persuading others, saying, “We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God!” (Acts 6:11). Unfortunately, these lies “stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; so they came, dragged him off, and took him to the Sanhedrin” (Acts 6:12). Stirred up (συγκινέω sugkineo) is a hapax legomenon that means “They shook the people together like an earthquake.”[15] Emotion follows thought, and here heated emotions were stirred by lies. The attackers also presented false witnesses to testify against Stephen, saying, “This man does not stop speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. For we heard him say that Jesus, this Nazarene, will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us” (Acts 6:13-14). Another lie.

How did Stephen respond to this mob and their false charges? He verbally defended himself against the false charges. Stephen gave an impromptu and selective overview of Israel’s history (recalled from memory), in which he revealed their pattern of rejecting God’s chosen leaders, referencing Joseph, Moses and finally, Jesus (Acts 7:1-50).[16] Stephen defended himself based on a biblical worldview, citing Scripture as the basis for his argument. Many of the religious Israelites of Stephen’s day presented themselves as the keepers and defenders of the Mosaic Law, yet they actually perverted it to protect their place of power and religious authority and were willing to destroy God’s true servants when their self-interest and theological presuppositions were threatened. Stephen saw past their charade and knew the real issue behind their false accusations, and speaking boldly, he said:

You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your ancestors did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They even killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it (Acts 7:51-53).

Stephen called them out on their hypocrisy and corruption, and “When they heard these things, they were enraged in their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54). But Stephen did not react in kind; rather, he committed himself to the Lord. “But Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God’s glory, with Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” (Acts 7:55-56). This further incited his audience, and “they screamed at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:57-58).

Stoning of StephenStephen did not have a way of escape, and rather than reacting with violence, he committed himself to the Lord. Luke wrote, “They were stoning Stephen as he called out: ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin!’ And saying this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59-60). Stephen’s words and actions modeled the humility and love Jesus displayed toward His enemies while being crucified (Luke 23:34, 46).[17] In this situation, God permitted this mob to have their sinful way, and used this as the means of bringing His servant home to heaven. Jesus did not rescue Stephen from death, but sustained him by means of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:10) and stood in approval of his message and welcomed him as the first Christian martyr into heaven. The record of Stephen’s life was that he was a good man, full of faith, who helped the needy and preached the gospel.

Observations: In this account, Stephen’s ministry came to an abrupt end when he was murdered for preaching God’s Word with clarity and passion. Stephen, being sustained by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, defended himself against the false charges brought against him, arguing from a biblical worldview and citing Scripture as the basis for his argument, calling out his attackers on their hypocrisy and corruption. When attacked by the mob (with no way out), Stephen committed himself to the Lord, fell to his knees and prayed for them, asking they be forgiven for their sin. In this way, Stephen modeled the humility and love Jesus displayed toward His enemies while He was crucified. It was a gross injustice that Stephen died a violent death at the hands of wicked men; however, the God of heaven stands as “Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25), and will see to it that divine retribution is rendered in His way and His time (Rom 12:17-19).

Example #7 – Paul and Silas in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40). In this pericope we have an example of a mob attacking and beating Paul and Silas because their ministry threatened the economic livelihood of craftsmen who made idols. Luke, the author of Acts, records, “Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction. She made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling” (Acts 16:16). Luke reveals the slave girl followed Paul and his companions, saying, “These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are the slaves of the Most High God” (Acts 16:17), and that “she did this for many days” (Acts 16:17a).[18]

This slave girl’s behavior irritated Paul, with the result that “Paul was greatly aggravated, and turning to the spirit, said, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out right away” (Acts 16:18). Though Paul’s actions removed the irritant, it caused another situation to arise, for “When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities” (Acts 16:19). Here is an example where “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10). The loss of their future financial wellbeing influenced them to violence, and “Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, ‘These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice’” (Acts 16:20-21). Of course, this was a lie, but they did not care about truth, only protecting their income.

Luke records, “Then the mob joined in the attack against them, and the chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them securely guarded” (Acts 16:22-23). The mob (ὁ ὄχλος) is literally the crowd; however, the context describes moblike behavior; hence, the CSB translation.

Paul in JailIt’s a sad commentary when city officials, who should have upheld law and order, actually joined the mob in their violence against innocent men. It’s interesting that God did not stop their unjust and violent behavior, but used it as an opportunity to have Paul and Silas placed into a jail where they shared the gospel with a jailer who came to faith in Jesus and was saved, along with his household (Acts 16:24-34). But the very next morning, “the chief magistrates sent the police to say, ‘Release those men!’” (Acts 16:35). And the chief jailer told Paul and Silas, “The magistrates have sent orders for you to be released. So come out now and go in peace” (Acts 16:36). But Paul refused to let the illegality of the situation go unaddressed, saying, “They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now are they going to smuggle us out secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary, let them come themselves and escort us out!” (Acts 16:37).

Paul and Silas had rights as Roman citizens and were justified in claiming those rights when treated illegally. “Then the police reported these words to the magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them, and escorting them out, they urged them to leave town” (Acts 16:38-39). The Philippian magistrates were like many who operate primarily from power and only respect those who have power themselves and are not afraid to use it.[19] Though the Philippian magistrates urged Paul and Silas to leave town, they did not do so right away, but first “came to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers, and [then] departed” (Acts 16:40). Paul and Silas stayed focused on their Christian ministry and were not deterred by the hostility of the city’s residents nor their corrupt leaders.

Observations: In this account, Paul and Silas had been falsely accused of breaking the law by residents of Philippi who were threatened economically by Paul and Silas’ ministry. The accusers, along with a mob and city magistrates, had Paul and Silas stripped, beaten with rods and thrown into jail. The next morning, when Paul and Silas had opportunity, they exercised their rights as Roman citizens, demanding the city magistrates come and escort them out. The city magistrates were then fearful, knowing they’d acted inappropriately by mistreating those who had rights under Roman Law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example #9 – Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:21—20:1). Paul had received a positive response when he preached the gospel in Ephesus and many were believing in Jesus as Savior and turning away from their idolatry. In Acts 19:21-41, we learn that Paul’s preaching had a social and economic impact, and those who felt financially threatened formed a mob and sought to harm him and his companions. Luke informs us, “During that time there was a major disturbance about the Way” (Acts 19:23). The disturbance was started by a man named Demetrius, “a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, [and] provided a great deal of business for the craftsmen” (Acts 19:24). After gathering his fellow craftsmen together, Demetrius told them:

Men, you know that our prosperity is derived from this business. You both see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this man Paul has persuaded and misled a considerable number of people by saying that gods made by hand are not gods! So not only do we run a risk that our business may be discredited, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be despised and her magnificence come to the verge of ruin—the very one all of Asia and the world adore. (Acts 19:25-27).

The appeal of Demetrius was first economic (Acts 19:25), and then theological (Acts 19:27). Money and religion are often tied together, and a threat to one is a threat to the other. Wiersbe states, “Paul did not arouse the opposition of the silversmiths by picketing the temple of Diana or staging anti-idolatry rallies. All he did was teach the truth daily and send out his converts to witness to the lost people in the city. As more and more people got converted, fewer and fewer customers were available.”[24]

Demetrius’ message had its desired effect, for “When they had heard this, they were filled with rage and began to cry out, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Act 19:28). Their rage and shouting infected others who turned to violence, “So the city was filled with confusion, and they rushed all together into the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s traveling companions” (Acts 19:29). Paul wanted to go into the amphitheater and defend the gospel message and his companions, but was prohibited by his friends (Acts 19:30). Luke records, “Even some of the provincial officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent word to him, pleading with him not to take a chance by going into the amphitheater” (Acts 19:31).

One wonders why some of these “provincial officials” did not exercise their authority and stop the mob from its violence. Perhaps they were intimidated. The riot grew in intensity, as “some were shouting one thing and some another, because the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together” (Acts 19:32). This would have been laughable, except for the possibility of serious harm that Paul’s companions faced at the hands of this angry mob.

At one point, there was a man named Alexander, who was pushed to the front of the crowd to give advice (Acts 19:33). However, when the crowd “recognized that he was a Jew, a united cry went up from all of them for about two hours: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Acts 19:34). Not only do we observe antisemitism, but more shouting from a highly emotional group. After the crowd had run out of energy, the city clerk began to reason with them (Acts 19:35-36a), saying, “you must keep calm and not do anything rash. For you have brought these men here who are not temple robbers or blasphemers of our goddess” (Acts 19:36b-37).

One can imagine Paul’s two friends, Gaius and Aristarchus, were afraid for their lives during this time and were perhaps relieved when the city clerk began to calm the crowd and reason with them, saying, “if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a case against anyone, the courts are in session, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you want something else, it must be decided in a legal assembly” (Acts 19:38-39). The matter should have been handled in the courts from the beginning. He also told them, “we run a risk of being charged with rioting for what happened today, since there is no justification that we can give as a reason for this disorderly gathering” (Acts 19:40). The word rioting translates the Greek word στάσις stasis, which primarily means a standing, but is here use to describe an “uprising, riot, revolt, rebellion.”[25] The mob had to run out of steam before reason could be applied to the situation, and then the crowd dispersed (Acts 19:41). Afterwards, Paul left the city for Macedonia (Acts 20:1).

Observations: In this situation, Paul had received a positive response to the gospel message when he was in Ephesus. The result was that many people in the city were turning from their idols and sorcery and serving Christ. However, the social and economic impact touched the local craftsmen who felt financially threatened. A leader by the name of Demetrius gathered his fellow craftsmen and stirred them up, forming a mob, and dragging two innocent companions of Paul into an amphitheater, where the crowd shouted for two hours, causing confusion, even forgetting why they had gathered in the first place. Eventually, after the crowd ran out of steam, a city clerk was able to address them reasonably, advising they bring their charges to the courts if anyone had a legal case. Because there was no strong leadership with the means to quiet the mob, the rioters had to wear themselves out before a city official could reason with the people and diffuse the situation.

Example #10 – Paul in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17—22:30). In this account Paul had returned to Jerusalem and visited with some of the elders of the church (Acts 21:17-20), who informed him there were false rumors being spread about him, that he was teaching “all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, by telling them not to circumcise their children or to walk in our customs” (Acts 21:21).[26]

Being concerned about Paul’s return and the possible problems it might cause, the church elders advised him to partner with “four men who have obligated themselves with a vow” (Acts 21:23). They told Paul, “Take these men, purify yourself along with them, and pay for them to get their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that what they were told about you amounts to nothing, but that you yourself are also careful about observing the law” (Acts 21:24). They thought this would correct any false ideas people had about Paul and assuage their fears. The elders would also advocate for Paul concerning the Gentiles who had believed, saying, “we have written a letter containing our decision that they should keep themselves from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Act 21:25).

Wanting to keep the peace, Paul complied with their request and the very next day “took the men, having purified himself along with them, and entered the temple, announcing the completion of the purification days when the offering for each of them would be made” (Acts 21:26).[27] When possible, Paul accommodated others if it created an open door to share Christ (1 Cor 9:19-23). Next, we learn, “As the seven days were about to end, the Jews from Asia saw him in the temple complex, stirred up the whole crowd, and seized him, shouting, ‘Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place. What’s more, he also brought Greeks into the temple and has profaned this holy place.’” (Acts 21:27-28)

These men stirred up the crowd with false charges and physically seized Paul. They also made some false assumptions, “For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple complex” (Acts 21:29). The result was, “The whole city was stirred up, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul, dragged him out of the temple complex, and at once the gates were shut” (Acts 21:30). This mob resorted to violence and were beating Paul, but “As they were trying to kill him, word went up to the commander of the regiment that all Jerusalem was in chaos. Taking along soldiers and centurions, he immediately ran down to them. Seeing the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul” (Acts 21:31-32). This is an example of a mob that was quelled only by the use of force. The mob violence against Paul was stopped only because they feared the Romans.

The Roman commander arrested Paul and tried to assess the situation by questioning him (Acts 21:33). But while he was trying to get information, “Some in the mob were shouting one thing and some another. Since he was not able to get reliable information because of the uproar, he ordered him to be taken into the barracks” (Acts 21:34). The mob here translates the Greek noun ὄχλος ochlos, which commonly refers to a crowd, but is used here and in verse 35 to describe violent moblike behavior. But even getting Paul out of the situation proved difficult, for “When Paul got to the steps, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the mob’s violence, for the mass of people followed, yelling, ‘Take him away!’” (Acts 21:35-36).

Paul PreachingPaul requested the Roman commander allow him to address the crowd, which he was permitted to do (Acts 21:35-40), and Paul gave a defense of his ministry (Acts 22:1-20). The crowd listened to Paul until he mentioned his ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21), and that suddenly set them off. Luke records, “Then they raised their voices, shouting, ‘Wipe this person off the earth—it’s a disgrace for him to live!’” (Acts 22:22). The Roman commander saw things were getting out of control again, and as the mob “were yelling and flinging aside their robes and throwing dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, directing that he be examined with the scourge, so he could discover the reason they were shouting against him like this” (Acts 22:23-24).

As Paul was about to be flogged—which might have killed him or crippled him for life—he defended himself by revealing he was a Roman citizen, which guaranteed his rights under Roman law (Acts 22:25-27). Claudius Lysias, the Roman commander, revealed he’d purchased his Roman citizenship by means of a large payment; however, Paul was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28).[28] Luke states, “Therefore, those who were about to examine him withdrew from him at once. The commander too was alarmed when he realized Paul was a Roman citizen and he had bound him” (Acts 22:29). In this situation, Paul defended himself by exercising his legal rights as a Roman citizen in order to avoid unwarranted suffering or premature death.[29]

Observations: In this record, Paul had returned to Jerusalem and met with the elders of the church, who advised him to go to the temple and support some local men who had taken a vow. This was done to try to alleviate some false rumors that had spread about Paul. However, some Jews from Asia spread lies about Paul bringing Gentiles into the temple courtyard, and this resulted in a riot that would have led to Paul’s death if a Roman commander had not intervened with his soldiers. Here, strong leadership and physical force were necessary to protect Paul from a violent mob. However, the same leadership decided to have Paul flogged in an effort to get information out of him as to why his fellow Jews wanted to kill him. And like other occasions, Paul defended himself by exercising his legal rights as a Roman citizen.

Summary:

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

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

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

Lastly, when sharing God’s Word with others, it’s helpful to know that not everyone wants to hear God’s truth, and even though we may not agree with them, their personal choices should be respected (Matt 10:14; Acts 13:50-51). We should never try to force the gospel or Bible teaching on anyone, but be willing to share when opportunity presents itself. At times this will bring peace, and other times cause disruption and may even offend. The worldly-minded person will often try to control the content of every conversation, leading the Christian to talk only about worldly issues, as Scripture threatens his pagan presuppositions. We must not yield to him. Having the biblical worldview, the Christian should insert himself into daily conversations with others, and in so doing, be a light in a dark place. The Christian should strive to be respectful, conversational, and never have a fist-in-your-face attitude, as arrogance never helps advance biblical truth (2 Tim 2:24-26). The worldly-minded person may not want to hear what the Christian has to say, but he should never be under the false impression that he has the right to quiet the Christian and thereby exclude him from the conversation.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid., 745.

[6] Ibid., 940.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[18] It could be the demon was trying to provoke Paul to cast it out, thus depriving the slave girl’s owners of their economic wellbeing, and prompting them to force Paul out of town by means of violence. Satan and demons surely understand human psychology and social behavioral customs such that they can instigate mobs and riots when it serves their purposes.

[19] Paul exercised his legal rights on another occasion when he was facing an unjust trial and was in danger of physical harm in which he appealed to Caesar, hoping to gain a just trial (see Acts 25:7-12).

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

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

[22] Ibid., 180.

[23] Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 401.

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

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

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

[27] This was likely a Nazarite vow, which was voluntary, temporary, and required the person to abstain from wine (and grapes and raisins), not cut his hair, and have no contact with the dead (or anyone who has). After completion of the vow, there were to be sacrifices of a lamb, ram, and grain and drink offering (Num 6:13-17).

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

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

Essentials of the Christian Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

My Christian Identity and Calling

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

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

Death in Adam

In Adam or In ChristWhen writing to Christians at Corinth, Paul said, “in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). Death is in Adam, and life is in Christ. That’s the biblical dichotomy. Dr. Mounce states, “Paul is saying that just as all of those who are in Adam are subject to physical, spiritual, and eternal death because of his sin, so all of those who are in Christ will escape the judgment of eternal death and receive instead the gift of eternal life.”[2] To be in Adam means we are born into the family of Adam, as biological and spiritual descendants of the progenitor of the human race. To be in Adam means we are born physically alive but spiritually dead. Spiritual death means we are separated from God in time. Our spiritual death is the result of Adam’s original sin. To the Christians living in Rome, Paul wrote, “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). That is, we all sinned when Adam sinned. Dr. Pentecost states, “When God views us in our position in Adam, God sees us as spiritually dead. We were born spiritually dead because the parents who begat us physically were themselves spiritually dead and could pass to us only that which they had.”[3] As Adam’s children, we are born spiritually dead in “trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), and are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), “alienated” from God (Col 1:21), helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God the Father (Rom 5:6-10). The situation is terribly bad. Furthermore, we live in a tyrannical world-system that is governed by Satan, who is “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Other Scriptures call Satan “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), informing us “that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). All of Adam’s descendants are born under “the dominion of Satan” (Act 26:18), into his “domain of darkness” (Col 1:13a). Dr. Pentecost adds, “In these passages we see the truth presented that the one who is in Adam is also under the control of Satan: he is a part of Satan’s family; he is in Satan’s kingdom; he has his citizenship in Satan’s cosmos; he is a citizen of a rebel state.”[4]

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

Life in Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Prayer

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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

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

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

[4] Ibid., 15.

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

The Christian with Integrity

The righteous man who walks in his integrity; how blessed are his children after him. (Prov 20:7)

IntegrityWords are the currency of the heart, for by them, we reveal our moral wealth or poverty. For some, a person’s word is gold. We trust what they say is true and that they will keep their promises, even at great cost to themselves. Faithfulness to keep a promise is a measure of one’s integrity. God wants us to have integrity, because He has integrity. To say God has integrity means He is honest in nature, that He always speaks truth, and that He is faithful to keep His Word. Because of who He is, God does not lie, and when He makes a promise, He always keeps it. The Bible reveals, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num 23:19; cf. 1 Sam 15:29). Elsewhere it is written that God “cannot lie” (Tit 1:2), and that it “is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18a). Scripture reveals that even “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13). This reveals the character and immutability of God as well as the integrity of His Word, which is comforting to His people, especially since there is much falsehood and many promise-breakers in the world.

As Christians, God calls us to be like Him, to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) and to keep our promises to others. Warren Wiersbe writes, “The foundations of society today are eroding because of unkept promises, whether they be official contracts, marriage vows, political pledges, or words spoken on the witness stand. We expect the Lord to keep His promises, and He expects us to keep ours. Truth is the cement that holds society together.”[1] But truthful lips and a faithful life are the fruit of a heart that is filled with God and His Word; a heart committed to walk in godly integrity.

In Psalm 15, David writes about the one “who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart” (Psa 15:2).[2] One of the characteristics of the person who walks with integrity is that, “he swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psa 15:4b). Other translations read, “he keeps his word whatever the cost” (Psa 15:4 CSB), and “he makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise” (Psa 15:4 NET), and “keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind” (Psa 15:4 NIV). This behavior describes a mature believer who has a well-developed walk with the Lord. Concerning Psalm 15:4, Dr. Allen Ross comments:

Here the psalmist is dealing with faithfulness, keeping one’s word, even if it proves costly or inconvenient. The righteous must not change their mind to avoid an unexpected painful outcome; they must keep their word even if it means they suffer loss of some kind. In fact, to take an oath and not keep it would be to take the name of the LORD in vain. It would be better not to take the oath in the first place if possible.[3]

The Christian who has a deep concern for integrity, truth, and faithfulness will keep his/her word, for honor is of more value than the pain of loss, whatever it may be. Solomon tells us, “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool” (Prov 19:1), and, “Better is the poor who walks in his integrity than he who is crooked though he be rich” (Prov 28:6). This second proverb reveals a situation where a person chose godly integrity over crookedness, even though it resulted in financial poverty.

Three closing points. First, having Christian integrity does not mean we become sinless. As Christians, we still possess our fallen natures, live in a fallen world, and face temptations and attacks from various sources that seek to undermine our walk with God. Even the godliest of saints sin (i.e., Moses, David, Peter, John, etc.).[4] The reality is there will be times when we fail to live by godly integrity, when we fail to keep our word, both to the Lord and others. But relapse does not have to mean collapse, for if there is humility, we can come before God’s “throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). And if we confess our sins to Him, “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Second, our failings, though many, do not destroy the Lord’s faithfulness to us, for though “we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13). God has blessed us with many promises (2 Pet 1:4), and He has perfect integrity, always keeps His Word and never fails. Third, God wants us to develop godly integrity so our character and life measure up to His righteous standards as revealed in Scripture. But developing godly integrity is the pursuit of a lifetime, as we make moment by moment choices to submit ourselves to God, to learn and live His Word, to be honest in who we are, to speak truth in love, and to keep our promises to others, even if the cost is great. As Christians who want to serve the Lord, may we rise to pursue such an honorable life, for God’s glory, and the benefit of others.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson on The Christian with Integrity:

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[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Counted, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 133.

[2] The believer’s walk (הָלַךְ halak) is idiomatic of his/her behavior or lifestyle. It is the fruit of life that reveals the root of the heart. In this context, righteousness (צֶדֶק tsedeq) refers to a life in ethical conformity to God and His Word. And truth (אֱמֶת emeth) denotes what is dependable or reliable, and refers to God’s absolute and unchanging Word, that should fill the heart of the believer.

[3] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms 1–89: Commentary, vol. 1, Kregel Exegetical Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2011–2013), 393.

[4] Moses sinned when he disobeyed God by striking the rock twice rather than speaking to it (Num 20:6-11). David sinned when he had an affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah (2 Sam 11:1-17), as well as when he took a census in Israel (1 Ch 21:1-8). Peter resisted Christ going to the cross (Matt 16:21-23), and later denied Him three times (Luke 22:54-61). John was rebuked twice for worshipping an angel (John 19:10; 22:8-9).

A Role Model for Believers

There’s a wonderful passage in the book of Ezra that tells us something about this righteous man that God used to bless others. We learn, “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). The Hebrew verb כּוּן kun, translated set, means “to prepare, make ready…to erect, set up…determine, to fix something.”[1] Other translations render the verb as determined (CSB), dedicated (NET), and devoted (NIV). This determination speaks of an inward decision by Ezra to do three things: 1) to study the law of the LORD, 2) to practice it, and 3) to teach it to others. Laney states, “The order is significant. A person cannot practice what he has not thoroughly studied; and he should not teach principles he has not carefully applied.”[2]

As a priest, Ezra was modeling God’s intention for him, “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (Mal 2:7). There is direct relevance for us as Christians, for Jesus “has made us to be a kingdom, to serve as priests to His God and Father” (Rev 1:6). Righteousness is a choice to learn God’s Word, to live God’s Word, and to instruct others to do the same.

Bible With PenLearn God’s Word. First, “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD.” To study the law of the LORD is simply to study His written Word. This kind of devotion and study lasts a lifetime, for one cannot adequately grasp God’s Word in a few lessons. A devoted life of studying God’s Word was held by others in the Old Testament. David writes of the godly person, whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law, he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). And the benefit of such activity is that the dedicated person “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). Another psalmist wrote, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psa 119:97). Paul told Timothy, “Study to shew yourself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15 KJV). A little further on in his letter, Paul said, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Walking with GodLive God’s Word. Second, Ezra sought “to practice” what he’d learned from God’s Word. There’s an axiom that we cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. Of course, it is possible to study God’s Word and never apply it. This is why James wrote, saying, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (Jam 1:22). Biblical wisdom is the application of God’s Word to everyday life. Jesus communicated this, saying, “everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24). Learning and doing. That’s the order. Warren Wiersbe writes, “If our knowledge of the truth doesn’t result in obedience, then we end up with a big head instead of a burning heart (1 Cor 8:1; Luke 24:32); and truth becomes a toy to play with, not a tool to build with. Instead of building our Christian character, we only deceive ourselves and try to deceive others (1 John 1:5–10).”[3]

Sharing God's WordShare God’s Word. Ezra went a third step, as he sought “to teach” other believers how to live the truth of God’s Word. If the next generation of believers are to be effective, they need to know God’s Word and how to live it. This was true in Ezra’s day, and it’s certainly true in ours. But such biblical communication should not be limited to the church pulpit or seminary classroom. Sharing God’s Word should be something practiced by all growing Christians. What’s interesting is that that apostle Paul built on what Timothy’s mother and grandmother had taught him in the home. Paul said to Timothy, “I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well…and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 1:5; 3:15).

In closing, may we all model this simple formula for godliness and success, diligently studying the Scriptures, applying what we learn as we grow, and sharing that knowledge with others. This is what Paul hoped Timothy would do, as he encouraged him to “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Tim 1:13-14). Not only was Timothy to retain and guard the treasure of God’s Word in his heart, but he was to pass it on to others, as Paul stated, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

[2] Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, The Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 169.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Heroic, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1997), 38–39.