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.

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.

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.

Advancing to Spiritual Maturity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lewis S. Chafer wrote:

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

Charles Ryrie states:

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

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

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

Charles Ryrie adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Ibid., 200.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Psalmist’s Early Morning Devotions

Bible With Pen

So, there I was, up at 2:30 AM studying my Bible (my normal study time from 2-5 AM), when I read the words of the psalmist, who said, “My eyes anticipate the nighttime hours, that I may meditate on Your Word” (Psa 119:148). My heart leapt. I’m not alone. Praise God! I’d found an ancient soulmate; a companion whose study habits were similar to mine. Of course, I had to dig a little deeper to understand my new found friend.

The psalmist tells us he anticipates the nighttime hours when he can devote himself to thinking on Scripture. The Jews, like Greeks and Romans, commonly broke the night into military watch times (three to four hours each). The time mentioned here would have been “the last watch from two to six o’clock…[and] the plural indicates that the small hours were regularly used in this way by the psalmist.”[1] Earl Radmacher writes, “Accompanying the prevailing prayer of the psalmist was a meditation in the Word of God. Prayer and reading the Word preceded the dawning of the day and continued unto the watches of the night. That is the secret of getting a hold on God.”[2] Amen. The quiet time of the early morning, after a good night’s rest, provided an ideal time for the psalmist to study God’s Word. His mind was fresh and focused, and he could give God his best attention. His time of devotion renewed him on the inside, and transformed him into a godly character on the outside, as God’s Word was integrated into his relationships and daily activities.

Your Word has revived me

From other portions of his psalm, the writer explained that Scripture had a strengthening and revitalizing effect on him. He expressed this through repetition, saying, “My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Your word” (Psa 119:25), and “My soul weeps because of grief; strengthen me according to Your word” (Psa 119:28), and “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me” (Psa 119:50), and “I am exceedingly afflicted; revive me, O LORD, according to Your word” (Psa 119:107), and “Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live” (Psa 119:116a), and “Plead my cause and redeem me; revive me according to Your word” (Psa 119:154). The idea in these verses is that this believer recharged his battery by means of God’s Word, which is “alive and powerful” (Heb 4:12). When faced with grief or affliction, he wisely cried out to the Lord for strength. The benefit was a knowledge of God and His Word, a spiritual life recharged, and a soul set free to walk unhindered with the Lord.

Tree Planted Near River

Elsewhere, David and Jeremiah mentioned the benefits of meditating on God’s Word. Of the blessed person, David said, “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law, he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). And the profit of a life devoted to thinking on Scripture is that “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psa 1:3). The believer who is rooted in God’s Word will draw vital nourishment from its ever-flowing stream. Jeremiah used similar language (Jer 17:7-8), and adds, “and it will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jer 17:8). Here is a picture of spiritual strength and health.

May we learn from the psalmist and structure our lives in such a way that we devote ourselves to the study of God’s Word. I pray we see Scripture as the fuel that sustains the fire of our spiritual lives. And as His fire burns within, it will naturally glow for others to see, and will warm the hearts of those who need His truth, love, and goodness.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101–150 (Revised), vol. 21, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 191.

[2] Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 728–729.

Finding Strength in a Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

Example #1

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

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

Example #2

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

Example #3

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

Conclusion

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

 

The Despair of Atheism and the Hope of Christianity

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

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

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

And Bertrand Russell wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid., 170.

[6] Ibid., 145.

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

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

[9] Ibid., 1.3.3

[10] Ibid., 1.3.1

A Look at Grace

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

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

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

God is Gracious

Jesus Healing SickThe Bible reveals God is gracious, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), and, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15). God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the love, mercy, or kindness that one person freely confers upon another who deserves the opposite (Matt 5:44-45; Rom 11:6; Eph 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5-7). Jesus is an example of grace, in that He cared for others, healing and feeding many (Matt 4:24; 14:15-21), even to those who refused to show gratitude (Luke 17:12-19). He acted out of His own goodness, for the benefit of others, with a full knowledge the majority would reject Him and abuse His kindness (John 3:19; 12:37).

Grace is Undeserved

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

God’s Grace Leads to Righteous Living

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

Common Grace and Special Grace

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

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

Some Christians Refuse Grace to Others

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Topics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lesson in the Storm

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

The High Calling of God’s Servant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third, Paul says the Christian must be patient when wronged (ἀνεξίκακος anexikakos). This word is a hapax legomenon (i.e., a word that occurs only once in the Bible) that refers to someone who bears “evil without resentment, patient, tolerant.”[11] It means God’s servant puts up with the evil actions of others and does not retaliate when personally attacked. I think Paul describes patient behavior in his letter to the Christians at Rome. He instructed, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (Rom 12:17a). Paul was a realist and knew that living in the devil’s world meant there would be opponents who would treat us in an evil manner. When such situations arise, we are to place the matter in the Lord’s hands, trusting He sees what’s happening and will act as our Judge. Being patient when wronged is not easy, as the knee-jerk response is to retaliate and attack our attacker. But Paul instructs, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19). Paul goes on to say, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head” (Rom 12:20). As Christians, we must “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). Being patient when wronged means trusting God will dispense justice in His time and way.

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

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

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

Having done our part by following the Lord’s directives not to be quarrelsome, but kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, and with gentleness correcting those in opposition, we leave the matter knowing it is in God’s hands. And we know that the Lord is not willing “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9), and to those who are positive, He will “grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:25b). If the heart is willing, God will grant the person the opportunity to repent and receive salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. John wrote, for “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Repentance (μετάνοια metanoia) means “to change one’s mind or purpose.”[15] This change of mind occurs when one hears the gospel message and favorably responds to it. Paul states this positively when he speaks about “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Faith in Christ is the sole condition for salvation (John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9; Acts 16:31), and true repentance means the unbeliever turns from trusting in anything and everyone and trusts solely in Christ to save. For “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

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

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

[4] Ibid., 214.

[5] Ibid., 622.

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Ibid., 77.

[12] Ibid., 861.

[13] Ibid., 749.

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

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

Knowing and Doing the Will of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theological Categories of God’s Will

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

First, God’s sovereign will, which refers to His free and independent choices to do whatever He pleases. God declares, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isa 46:10b; cf. Psa 33:11), and “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35). “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa 135:6), and He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11b).

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

God controls who sits in positions of power, whether they hold that position by birth or democratic vote. Ultimately, it is God “who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21a), for “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan 4:17). When Israel turned negative to God, He judged them by placing weak leaders over them, saying, “I will make mere lads their princes, and capricious children will rule over them (Isa 3:4). The result was, “Those who guide you lead you astray and confuse the direction of your paths” (Isa 3:12b).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid., 182.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Christians Die

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

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

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

I implore you to turn to Christ as your Savior. Believe the gospel message, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Don’t wait another day. The Lord will forgive you all your sins and grant you eternal life. He promised, and He’ll keep His word. He has integrity and cannot do otherwise.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Where Satan is Attacking in America

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

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

But why is Satan free to oppose God and Christians? Why is he given permission to advance his agenda in the world? The truth is, God desires a loving and meaningful relationship with His creatures, and this is why He originally created angels and people with intellect, volition, and freedom. He did not create robots that function according to coded instructions. Having intellect and volition is meaningless if there is no freedom and opportunity to act. In order for people to exercise their minds and wills, God provides them opportunity to make choices. This was true of Lucifer when he was in heaven, and true for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Lucifer became prideful and corrupted his reason and produced sin and evil from the source of his own volition (Ezek 28:12-18; Isa 14:12-14). Satan also convinced a third of the angels to follow him in his rebellion (Rev 12:4, 7), and his kingdom of darkness was expanded to include the earth when he persuaded Adam and Eve to follow him rather than God (Gen 3:1-8). At the time of the fall, the first humans—God’s theocratic administrators (Gen 1:26-28)—gave Satan the title deed to the earth (Luke 4:6). This explains why Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). And other passages of Scripture call Satan “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), informing us “that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). But Satan is no benevolent dictator. Scripture reveals he rules as a tyrant who has “weakened the nations” (Isa 14:12), and currently “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9; cf. Rev 20:3). Satan rules by deception, oppression, and enslavement. And because he is a finite creature, he relies on others—fallen angels and people—to help him advance his agenda.

But the Bible also reveals that Satan does not operate with absolute freedom. Scripture reveals God is sovereign over His creation. He made it and He’s managing it; even though it’s not operating according to His original design. Obviously, God permits sin; and here one must distinguish between His directive-will, permissive-will, and overruling-will. God’s directive-will refers to His actively directing us to do what He expects. For the Christian, God’s directive-will is found in Scripture. His permissive-will refers to what He permits us to do, either for or against His directive-will. All sin falls under the category of God’s permissive-will, for He permits us to resist His directive-will in some instances. This is also true for fallen angels who are granted a measure of freedom to sin. God’s overruling-will refers to those occasions when He hinders us from sinning, or from sinning further, because His greater purposes take priority. The fall of Adam and Eve provide a good example of these categories, for God directed them not to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16-19), permitted them to disobey (Gen 3:1-7), and then drove them from the Garden of Eden, overruling their ability to go back in and eat from the tree of life (Gen 3:22-24).

Though God grants His creatures a modicum of freedom to resist His will, it should always be kept in mind that the sinfulness of fallen angels or people never threatens His sovereignty. Furthermore, God is never surprised, baffled, or frustrated by sin. According to God’s directive-will, He calls and empowers His people to live holy lives, separate from sin. In this way we are to partner with Him and help promote His solutions to this fallen world. Concerning God’s sovereignty, Louis Berkhof writes, “He is clothed with absolute authority over the hosts of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. He upholds all things with His almighty power, and determines the ends which they are destined to serve. He rules as King in the most absolute sense of the word, and all things are dependent on Him and subservient to Him.”[2] Though God is sovereign, He does not rule arbitrarily, but in accordance with His other attributes such as righteousness, justice, holiness, love, mercy, patience, and grace. As believers, we are encouraged that God is in sovereign control, for even though we experience sin, chaos, and evil (sometimes our own), we know He is directing history toward the return of Christ and His millennial kingdom, which is followed by the glorious eternal state. The Bible reveals “The LORD is King forever and ever” (Psa 10:16a). The “LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19), and He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11b). God is supreme over all His creation, for “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa 135:6), and “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35). Concerning God’s sovereignty and human volition, McChesney writes:

God is under no external restraint whatsoever. He is the Supreme Dispenser of all events. All forms of existence are within the scope of His dominion. And yet this is not to be viewed in any such way as to abridge the reality of the moral freedom of God’s responsible creatures or to make men anything else than the arbiters of their own eternal destinies. God has seen fit to create beings with the power of choice between good and evil. He rules over them in justice and wisdom and grace.[3]

sovereign-1140x760     From Genesis to Revelation, God governs the lives of people and nations. Human rulers exist because of His plan, for “It is He who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding” (Dan 2:21). And people live and die as God decides, for “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Sam 2:6; cf. Acts 17:28). God has power over wealth and poverty, for “The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts” (1 Sam 2:7). And He controls when and where people live in history, for “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). In addition to this, Scripture reveals God controls nature (Jon 1:4; Mark 4:39-41), plagues (Ex 11:1; Rev 16:10-11), famines (Gen 41:25-32), the roll of dice (Pro 16:33), blessing and adversity (Job 2:10; Isa 45:7), suffering (Job 1:1-21), divine calling (Jer 1:4-5; Gal 1:15) and the development of Christian character (Rom 5:2-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Jam 1:2-4). Lastly, God allows fallen angels and humans to produce sin and evil, but they never act beyond or against His sovereign will (Job 1:1-21; Psa 105:12-15; 1 Ki 22:19-23; 2 Cor 12:7-10). We are free to act, but only within the spheres of opportunity He creates and controls. For example, when Jesus was on trial, Pilate told Him, “I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You” (John 19:10). But Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). Pilate had opportunity and authority to crucify Jesus, but only because heaven granted it to him. Ultimately, Pilate’s actions served the Father’s greater purpose of bringing His Son to the cross.

According to Scripture, we know there is a future hope, for God will eventually bring angelic and human rebellion to an end, and this will happen when Christ returns. God the Father has promised to give Jesus the kingdoms of this world, saying, “I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession” (Psa 2:8; cf. Isa 2:1-5; Dan 2:44; 7:14). This will occur after the seven-year Tribulation; at which time it will be said, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15; cf. 20:1-3). However, until that time, God permits Satan to have his way in the world, albeit in a limited manner and for a limited time.

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

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

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

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

Angelic Warfare    In closing, we should realize our primary battle is spiritual and not physical (Eph 6:12). Our responsibility is to keep ourselves unstained by the world (2 Cor 6:14-18; Jam 1:27), to pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44), and witness for Christ that others might believe the gospel and be saved (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9). The Bible is our sword by which we destroy spiritual and intellectual strongholds, within ourselves and others (2 Cor 10:3-5). The Christian is to get along with others, showing tolerance (Rom 12:17-18), except when it comes to something that harms our walk with God, and then we must stand firm (Rom 13:13-14; 1 John 2:15-17). At times God will give us the ear of a human ruler (Dan 3:16-18; Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29; 26:1-29), and we must take that opportunity to speak God’s truth and pray He moves the heart of the hearer. As American citizens we should vote for leaders that promote laws consistent with God’s values. And we should always pray for our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-2), strive to be upstanding citizens (Rom 13:1-7; Tit 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-14), help the needy in our communities (Acts 20:35; 1 Thess. 5:14), and above all, share the gospel and preach God’s Word (John 3:16; 1 Cor 15:3-4; 2 Tim 4:1-2). Just laws will align with regenerate and humble hearts. But if the majority with the country turn from God and His values, then it’s only a matter of time before corruption leads to destruction. Considering America’s spiritual and moral decline, the abortion of more than 65,000,000 babies, our national debt, lack of authority orientation, the advancement of Socialistic and Communistic ideologies, civil unrest, the normalization of sexual perversion, the undermining of the family, attacks on Christians and churches, and other problems, it seems only a matter of time before God’s judgment falls upon our nation. My prayer is that we may yet turn our nation back to God and begin to operate on the biblical values that made America exceptional. May God help us.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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

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

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

Faith Strengthening Techniques

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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Commitment Love

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

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

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

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

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

Warren Wiersbe adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emotion Follows Thought

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

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

William MacDonald adds:

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 31 – Snapshot of an Excellent Woman

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson (22 minutes)

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When Life Gets Tough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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

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

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

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

Guard Your Heart

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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

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

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

Rejoice, Pray, and Give Thanks

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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God’s Word Sustains Us – Psalm 119:89-96

Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations; You established the earth, and it stands. They stand this day according to Your ordinances, for all things are Your servants. If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me. I am Yours, save me; for I have sought Your precepts. The wicked wait for me to destroy me; I shall diligently consider Your testimonies. I have seen a limit to all perfection; Your commandment is exceedingly broad. (NASB)

    Forever, O LORD,The psalmist opens with his focus on God, His Word, and His faithfulness to His people. He knows God’s Word is settled in heaven, and where the Word resides, there is stability (Psa 119:89). This is also true for the believer when God’s Word resides in her/his heart. Those who meditate on the Lord know He is faithful from one generation to the next (Psa 119:90a), for He “established the earth, and it stands” (Psa 119:90b). God’s Word is stable and His work is dependable; these reflect His character. Heaven and earth “stand this day according to Your ordinances, for all things are Your servants” (Psa 119:91).

The emphasis on creation’s standing is repeated in verse 91. “They stand” probably is to be interpreted with the heavens and the earth as the subject because the emphasis is on the established creation. The verb “stand” (עָמַד) emphasizes that what God created is fixed and permanent; it may also have the connotation of standing by to do the will of the sovereign, as attendants might present themselves before their king (Gen. 43:15) with the sense of becoming servants to a lord (1 Sam 16:22). This is confirmed in the second colon: “for all things are your servants.” All of creation exists because of obedience to God’s word; all of creation, therefore, exists to do his will.[1]

     Having set his mind upon the Lord and circulating divine viewpoint in the stream of his consciousness, the psalmist turns his focus on himself and his situation. His horizontal perspective becomes clear and hopeful in the light of God and His Word. He states, “If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction” (Psa 119:92). Here is delight in the midst of hardship; a delight that is rooted in God’s Word and not the circumstances of life. Furthermore, he states, “I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me” (Psa 119:93). The word forget translates the Hebrew verb שָׁכַח shakach, which connotes not keeping God’s commands. It must be remembered that the psalmist is an Israelite in covenant relationship with God. The blessings and cursings in the relationship depend, to a large degree, on his faithfulness to walk in God’s commands (Lev 26; Deu 28). The Lord told His people, “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today” (Deu 8:11). To forget God opens His people to idolatry (Deu 8:19), as well as continual fear of others and timidity of circumstances (Isa 51:12-13). But throughout the whole of Psalm 119, the psalmist repeatedly mentions that he will not “forget” God’s Word, saying “I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word”  (Psa 119:16), “The cords of the wicked have encircled me, but I have not forgotten Your law” (Psa 119:61), “Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes” (Psa 119:83), “I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me” (Psa 119:93), “My life is continually in my hand, yet I do not forget Your law” (Psa 119:109), “I am small and despised, yet I do not forget Your precepts” (Psa 119:141), “Look upon my affliction and rescue me, for I do not forget Your law” (Psa 119:153), and “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments” (Psa 119:176). By staying focused and committed to God’s Word, he experienced personal revival (Psa 119:93b).

     The psalmist also saw himself as God’s personal possession, for he states, “I am Yours, save me; for I have sought Your precepts” (Psa 119:94). He belonged to God, and to God he cried for help. His cry for help was also based on his being rightly related to God as one who sought His precepts. Though he walked with God, he also had relational problems with others, which is revealed in his statement, “The wicked wait for me to destroy me” (119:95a). All believers, at some time in their walk, encounter others who are out to cause them harm. As the psalmist had sought the Lord in the past, for guidance and strength, so he would do again, saying, “I shall diligently consider Your testimonies” (Psa 119:95b). The stability of believers is, to a large degree, predicated on the biblical content and continuity of our thinking. Though we cannot always influence the circumstances around us, we do not have to be controlled by them, as we can turn to the Lord and His Word. The psalmist closes this section, saying, “I have seen a limit to all perfection; Your commandment is exceedingly broad” (Psa 119:96). Another translation reads, “I realize that everything has its limits, but your commands are beyond full comprehension” (Psa 119:96 NET). Though there is a limit to all things created, God’s Word is boundless. In this pericope, the psalmist set his mind upon the Lord and contemplated His Word and faithfulness; and though he faced hardship, he was strengthened and sustained by learning and living God’s Word, which is boundless and never fails.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90–150): Commentary, vol. 3, Kregel Exegetical Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016), 541.

Being the Good Boss

Christian leadership is the overflow of a life dedicated to pleasing God and serving others so that we can together accomplish the purposes for which the Lord called us together.[1]

    I’ve been reading books on leadership; Christian leadership to be specific. Most of my time is spent in the Bible chasing down biblical references and reading the historical accounts of great men and women who served the Lord and others. What I’m looking for are those biblical qualities that reflect the highest and best in a leader. Not only do I want to possess those qualities and make them my own, but to exercise them daily with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and with people I happen to meet in society.

    Being the Good Boss In my pursuit, I have come to realize that good character is never automatic, but is consciously developed over many years of right learning and living in the midst of trials, storms, and conflicts. It’s an inescapable truth that strong character—like a strong body—is developed through training and trial. No pain, no gain, as the old adage goes. If we’re willing, we can see life’s trials as a means to make us better rather than bitter. We can willingly subject ourselves to the furnace of affliction that burns away the dross of weak character and develops those golden qualities that reflect the highest and best in mankind. And, in time, we can even learn to smile at the storm when it comes, because we know the One who sends it, and we accept that it comes with a purpose, part of which is to develop the good character that could not mature by any other means.

     But there are other forces at work in the world. Other value systems that are harmful and may lead me into destructive paths. Society is never neutral, and there are pressures that pull me to go with the flow. Sometimes that’s alright, but other times not. I realize any dead fish can float downstream with the current, but it takes someone who is alive and strong to swim against it. I want to be that person. I want to be that good person who desires to walk with God daily, and who helps and encourages others to do the same. God has granted me the privilege of being the leader in my marriage, in Bible class, and as a supervisor at work. I take these responsibilities very seriously, because I know that who I am and how I live influences the thoughts and actions of others. The following is a list of good character qualities that I desire to possess, and the list is by no means exhaustive. I see a good leader as one who:

  1. Submits to God. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (Jam 4:7).[2]“I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1).
  2. Resists conformity to the world. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).
  3. Lives by Faith. “But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38 CSB). “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6).
  4. Possesses integrity. God said of king David, “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands” (Psa 78:72). “He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out” (Pro 10:9). Having integrity means a person is not artificial, but is genuine in character, honest in speech and faithful to promises.
  5. Does not slander others. “The Lord states, ‘You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness’” (Exo 23:1; cf. Psa 15:3; Pro 11:3; Tit 2:7-8).
  6. Associates with wise persons and listens to their counsel. “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Pro 13:20). “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel. (Pro 12:15).
  7. Governs wisely. “By me [wisdom] kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly” (Pro 8:15-16).
  8. Does not befriend immoral persons. “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (Psa 1:1). “I do not sit with deceitful men, nor will I go with pretenders” (Psa 26:4).
  9. Prays often. “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph 6:18). “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18).
  10. Brings stability to those under his/her care. “The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it” (Pro 29:4).
  11. Cares about justice. “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev 19:15). “He has told you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8).
  12. Searches to find the facts of a matter before rendering judgment. “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him. (Pro 18:13). “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Pro 25:2).
  13. Preserves the rights of others by clear thinking. “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (Pro 31:4-5).
  14. Educates and delegates responsibility to trusted persons. “Now listen to me [Moses receives instruction from Jethro, his father-in-law]: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you” (Exo 18:19-22).
  15. Is compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving and loving. “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:12-14) “I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (Eph 4:1-2).
  16. Looks out for the interests of others. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phi 2:3-4).
  17. Encourages and builds others up. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for building someone up according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29). “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Th 5:11).
  18. Pursues peace rather than strife. “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psa 34:14). “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom 14:19).
  19. Recognizes his/her authority and uses it to serve others, not to tear them down. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mat 20:25-28; cf. John 13:1-17).
  20. Rebukes wickedness. “He who says to the wicked, ‘You are righteous,’ peoples will curse him, nations will abhor him; but to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight, and a good blessing will come upon them” (Pro 24:24-25). “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Th 5:14).
  21. Is slow to anger. “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Pro 16:32). “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Pro 17:27; cf. 15:18; 19:11; 29:11).
  22. Is not argumentative. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:24-25).
  23. Uses wise and gracious words. “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice” (Psa 37:30).  “Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him” (Ecc 10:12), and “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).

     On a day to day basis, the good leader is one who will listen to you, stand up for you, trust you and not micromanage every aspect of your work. They communicate clearly, constantly, and in a collaborative manner. They seek your advice, listen to your concerns, and consult you on the best solutions for success. They set high expectations and encourage you to be the best you can be, operating according to agency standards, and striving for new heights of excellence. They also care about your life outside of work and want you to have good physical, social, and mental health. Lastly, the good boss can be tough when needed. They live in reality and know there are some who will not respond to their leadership, and, may be required to use their authority to reprimand and/or terminate staff; however, this is always a last recourse after all other positive strategies have failed. Overall, I see the good boss as one who lives sacrificially for the benefit of others, always desiring their success as well as the success of the agency.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Christian Gospel  
  2. Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders  
  3. What is Integrity  
  4. Biblical Qualifications for the Church Elder  
  5. Twelve Ways to Deal with the Bad Boss  
  6. Submission to Authority – Part I
  7. Submission to Authority – Part II
  8. Submission to Authority – Part III

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, On Being a Leader for God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 18.

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

Chasing After Donkeys

  29332497 - donkey on natural enviornment     I recently delivered a message on God’s providence to a small church in White Settlement, Texas (the audio message is below). My passage was 1 Samuel 9:1-17, and my focus was on primary and secondary causes in the life of Saul. The passage provides an example of how God providentially controls circumstances to accomplish His will. The central idea of the pericope is that Saul went out to find his father’s donkeys, but was actually being directed by God to find a kingdom. The meeting of Saul and Samuel was divinely orchestrated, for neither of them knew each other or planned the occasion. In the passage, God is portrayed as the divine conductor orchestrating the events. What seemed like a normal, even mundane activity—searching for lost donkeys—was ultimately under God’s sovereign control, as He used the situation to guide Saul geographically to the place where he would be anointed king of Israel.

     God’s providence refers to His wise and personal acts, whereby He creates and controls circumstances in order to direct history according to His predetermined plan, all for His glory and the benefit of His people. As Christians, we live in the flow of history, and are moved by the circumstances He controls, for the Lord “does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35).

Providence is normally defined in Christian theology as the unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill (Ps. 145:9 cf. Mt. 5:45–48), he upholds his creatures in ordered existence (Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), guides and governs all events, circumstances and free acts of angels and men (cf. Ps. 107; Jb. 1:12; 2:6; Gn. 45:5–8), and directs everything to its appointed goal, for his own glory (cf. Eph. 1:9–12). (J. I. Packer, “Providence” in New Bible Dictionary, 979)

     God’s providential control is seen throughout the Bible. For example, God used the evil actions of Joseph’s brothers to bring him to Egypt (Gen. 37:23-28), and later used Joseph to deliver the very ones who betrayed him (Gen. 45:5-8; 47:11, 27-28; 50:20). It was God’s providence that drove Saul to chase after his father’s donkeys and be led to the prophet Samuel and anointed king of Israel (1 Sam. 9-10). It was God’s providence that directed Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, so the baby Jesus would be born at the appointed time and place (Mic. 5:2; Luke 2:4-6; Gal. 4:4). It was God’s providence that forced Aquila and Priscilla out of Rome by the emperor Claudius’ decree, only to meet the apostle Paul in Corinth and join him in Christian ministry (Acts 18:1-3; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19). It was God’s providence that put the Lord Jesus on the cross to be crucified by the hands of godless men, and by this act He accomplished our salvation (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).

     By God’s sovereign will He controls all the events of our lives, and the things we consider mundane are used by Him to direct us to the places and people He has predetermined. In this, we know there are no accidental events in our lives, nor chance encounters with other people, for God is working “all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11; cf. Ps. 103:19; 135:6; Dan. 4:35), and causing “all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

     It is to our benefit that we see ourselves within the context of God’s sovereignty and providential control, otherwise we’ll wrongly interpret the circumstances of our lives as accidental, or worse, fail to recognize the divine purpose of our lives and to develop the personal sense of destiny that is rooted in the God who created us. It is by learning God’s written revelation that we elevate our thinking above the experience of daily circumstances and see ourselves within the larger context of His greater plan. We learn from Scripture there are no accidental people, for it is by God’s sovereign will that we exist, for “It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Psa 100:3). To paraphrase my good friend, Francis Schaeffer, “there are no little people or little places in God’s world.” We all have value and we all have a place of purpose, because God makes it so.

     God’s sovereignty, expressed through His providential control, produces confidence in us who know He is directing all things after the counsel of His will. The growing believer knows “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Where the Bible is silent, the believer seeks to discern God’s will through His providential direction as He guides people and circumstances as He pleases. God controls all of life (Gen. 2:17; Job. 1:21; Ps. 104:29–30; Eccl. 12:7; Dan. 5:23), human birth and calling (Ps. 139:13-16; Jer. 1:4-5; Gal. 1:15), nature (Ps. 147:8; Jonah 1:4; Mark 4:39-41), plagues (Ex. 7–11; 12:29; Rev. 16:10-11), the roll of dice (Prov. 16:33; cf. Ps. 22:18; Matt. 27:35), health and sickness (Deut. 28:27-30; 2 Chron. 21:18; Ps. 41:3; Acts 3:16), prosperity and adversity (1 Sam. 2:7; Job 2:10; Isa. 45:5-7), suffering (Ps. 119:71; Heb. 12:5-11), and the development of Christian character (Rom. 5:2-5; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Jam. 1:2-4), just to name a few things. The growing believer takes great delight in knowing his good, loving and wise God is in control of His creation and is directing all things according to His providential plan.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Here’s the audio lesson:

[Part of this material is derived from another article I wrote a few years ago on God’s providence]

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Choosing the Faithful Way – Psalm 119:25-32

My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Your word. I have told of my ways, and You have answered me; teach me Your statutes. Make me understand the way of Your precepts, so I will meditate on Your wonders. My soul weeps because of grief; strengthen me according to Your word. Remove the false way from me, and graciously grant me Your law. I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame! I shall run the way of Your commandments, for You will enlarge my heart. (Ps 119:25-32 NASB)

     Twice the author describes himself in a depressed state, saying, “My soul cleaves to the dust” (vs 25a), and “My soul weeps because of grief” (vs 28a). His condition is likely the result of suffering brought on by his commitment to know and live God’s Word (see Ps 119:17-24).[1] Many godly persons have expressed their emotions openly. Joseph, when reunited with his father, Israel, “fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time” (Gen 46:29). When David learned about the death of his sons, he “tore his clothes and lay on the ground” (2 Sam 13:31). When the elders at Ephesus heard that Paul was leaving, “they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him” (Acts 20:37). The display of emotion does not necessarily mean the believer is controlled by that emotion; for even during heightened emotive states the believer may still be governed by God’s Word, which keeps her/him on the right path.

     Twice the author seeks God’s help, saying, “revive me according to your word” (vs 25b), and “strengthen me according to your word” (vs 28b). The words “revive” and “strengthen” (Piel imperatives) express an intensity to pursue and lay hold of that which lifts the soul; specifically, God’s Word. The idea in both of these verses is that the stressed-out-believer recharges her/his battery by means of Scripture (c.f. 119:107, 154), which “is living and active” (Heb 4:12) and transforms the mind and strengthens the life of those who lay hold of it.

     The psalmist also states, “I have told of my ways, and You have answered me” (vs. 26). Here he reflects on past times when he spoke to the Lord and He responded to him. God’s past faithfulness encouraged him to know the Lord even more; therefore, he states, “teach me Your statutes. Make me understand the way of Your precepts, so I will meditate on Your wonders” (vss. 119:26b-27). His return on spiritual investments motivate him to know and invest more. Dr. Allen Ross states:

If he gains more knowledge and understanding of God’s word, he will be able to make more sense of this life and renew his commitment to live faithfully in spite of the dangers. When he gains more understanding, then he will meditate (וְאָשִׁיחָה; s.v. Ps. 119:15) on all God’s wondrous works. With the increase in knowledge and understanding there will be increase in devotion and praise.[2]

     We don’t know exactly what caused the psalmist’s grief (vs 28a), but it could be related to some deception that had led to his harm. This would explain the latter clause where he asks the Lord to “Remove the false way from me, and graciously grant me Your law” (Ps 119:29). Deception can bring hurt and derail the believer’s life, but God’s Word can “strengthen” the soul (vs. 28b) and keep it on the path of righteousness. He knows God’s Word guides him in truth and is a means of grace to strengthen him during troubling times.

    Faithful WayThe psalmist is not passively sitting around waiting for life to happen. He’s a man of action who will not idly sit by and do nothing. He states, “I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame! I shall run the way of Your commandments, for You will enlarge my heart” (Psa 119:30-32). I have chosen, I have placed, I cling, and I shall run depict the human will set in motion. But he is not wandering aimlessly or just staying busy as a means of ignoring some unpleasantness. No. He’s thoughtful, focused, and decisive about his direction. He has chosen the faithful way, Your ordinances, Your testimonies and Your commandments. The faithful way is the path of faithful obedience to the Lord, and His ordinances, testimonies and commandments are the specifics of what he will follow. As the psalmist clings to God’s testimonies, he asks that he not put me to shame. Of course, the Lord will not; and in fact, cannot let this happen, for He has integrity, always keeps His promises, and will not let His reputation be tarnished. With renewed enthusiasm, the psalmist runs in God’s commandments, knowing God will enlarge his heart. The heart is the seat of understanding and volition, and greater knowledge of Scripture results in greater capacity for service.

Summary:

     Whoever this psalmist was, he expressed himself in honest ways as one who faced great distress, perhaps because of persecution for righteous living. When faced with threats, he cried out to the Lord for strength and doubled down on his commitment to know God and to run in His ways. His desire was to have enhanced knowledge of God’s Word, which would strengthen his soul and increase his capacity for righteous living. The benefit was a soul set free to run with God and a knowledge and capacity to do His will.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] The psalmist regarded himself as a “stranger in the earth” (Ps 119:19), whose soul “is crushed” (vs. 20), and was experiencing “reproach and contempt” (vs. 22). He suffered conflict with others, saying, “princes sit and talk against me” (vs. 24a), God’s “servant who meditates” on His statutes (vs. 24b).

[2] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90–150): Commentary, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016), 491.

When God Gives Us a Test

When God     God tests His people. It’s a fact that is repeated throughout Scripture (Exo 16:4; 20:20; Deu 13:3; Jud 3:1-2; Isa 48:10). He tests us with difficult situations in order to humble us, so that we will not look to ourselves for strength, but to Him. In the end, the test reveals that it is God who provides for us. In Genesis 22, Moses records an event in which “God tested Abraham” concerning his son Isaac (Gen 22:1). The Lord told Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Gen 22:2). Abraham obeyed and did as the Lord instructed, right up to the moment that Isaac lay bound on the rock, with Abraham’s hand raised, ready to slay him with a knife (Gen 22:3-11). But God interrupted and told him, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Gen 22:12). Abraham then turned and saw a ram caught in a thicket, which he took and offered to God “in the place of his son” (Gen 22:13). Abraham passed the test. He loved and trusted the Lord above all else, even his precious son, Isaac. Abraham learned that God provides for him; therefore, he named the place “The Lord Will Provide” (Hebrew יְהוָה יִרְאֶה Yahweh Yireh or Jehovah Jireh) (Gen 22:14). The writer to the Hebrews mentions this event in the life of Abraham, and states:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Heb 11:17-19)

     In another situation, God tested the Israelites in the wilderness by placing them in a situation greater than their ability to cope. Moses spoke to them, saying, “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deu 8:2). God tested them for a purpose, to humble them and to teach them something important. He wanted them to know that He is their provider. Moses went on, saying, “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deu 8:3).

     God never puts us in a difficult place, or calls us to a difficult task, without also providing the means to accomplish what He’s set before us. Our duty is to seek the Lord first, believing He will journey with us and provide for us all the way. David wrote, “they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing” (Psa 34:10). Our duty is to “seek the LORD and His strength; [to] seek His face continually” (Psa 105:4). Often, we are distracted with the everyday concerns of this life and focus more on them than on God. Jesus informs us that God knows our needs and will provide for us (Mat 6:25-34), but our concern should be to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mat 6:33). This means we should live each moment trusting God to provide. For this reason, Jesus said, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mat 6:34).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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God’s Grace is Sufficient

     God will, at times, place us in difficult situations in order to humble and teach us. This happens because it’s our natural proclivity to be prideful and to rely on our own strength and resources. When this happens, He gives us hardship so we’ll cry out to Him for strength and guidance, and He always comes through.

God’s Grace     The apostle Paul learned a valuable lesson about God’s grace, but first he had to suffer beyond his ability to cope. The incident occurred when he received special revelation from God and this led him to be puffed up with pride (2 Cor 12:1-6), and the Lord gave him a “thorn in the flesh” to humble him (2 Cor 12:7). No one knows what the “thorn in the flesh” was, but it caused Paul a great amount of suffering. He prayed three times for the Lord to take it away (2 Cor 12:8), but God refused to remove it because it served His purpose. However, the Lord did not leave Paul without the means to handle the suffering, as He told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9a). Paul wanted the thorn removed. God said no. But then He gave Paul grace that was sufficient to deal with the suffering. The word grace (χάρις charis), as it is used here, refers to divine enablement. It is the strength necessary to cope with a problem that is greater than our ability to handle on our own. God gives grace in proportion to our weakness. The greater our weakness, the more grace He gives. This is a moment by moment grace; always sufficient for the need, and the need is always changing. A problem for many of us is that we think about tomorrow’s problems from the standpoint of today’s grace. But tomorrow’s problems are different than today’s problems, and we cannot expect to deal with tomorrow’s problems with today’s grace. Today’s grace is for today, and tomorrow’s grace will be given to us tomorrow, when we need it. We simply trust the Lord that He sees our needs and will provide for us in each moment. We become relaxed when we realize and accept this.

     When Paul came to understand God’s grace and how it worked in his life, he 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). Paul’s weakness, which ebbed and flowed, was always matched by God’s power to do His will. Paul learned to depend on God, day by day, hour by hour, and moment by moment, as the need required. Because God’s grace is always sufficient for the need, Paul could actually boast about his afflictions and weaknesses, for when he was weak, God would supply His strength. Weakness is a blessing if it teaches us to look to God more and to ourselves less. Paul applied this to all of his situations, saying, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Our weakness and God’s power are simultaneously at work in us, much like they were in Christ when He faced the cross, or in Paul, as he dealt with his thorn in the flesh. “The greater we sense our weakness, the more we will sense God’s power (cf. Eph 3:16; Phil 4:13).”[1]

This grace of Christ (13:14) was adequate for Paul, weak as he was, precisely because (gar, “for”) divine power finds its full scope and strength only in human weakness—the greater the Christian’s acknowledged weakness, the more evident Christ’s enabling strength (cf. Eph 3:16; Phil 4:13). But it is not simply that weakness is a prerequisite for power. Both weakness and power existed simultaneously in Paul’s life (note vv. 9b, 10b), as they did in Christ’s ministry and death. Indeed, the cross of Christ forms the supreme example of “power-in-weakness.”[2]

     We struggle with suffering for at least two reasons: 1) because it leaves us feeling helpless and vulnerable, and 2) because it’s an affront to our pride. We don’t like to think of ourselves as weak. But suffering is our friend when it exposes our weakness and leads us to lean on Christ every moment of every day, for it’s in that hardship that our faith grows and God’s grace is greatest.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 2 Co 12:9.

[2] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 397.

How to Deal with Jealousy

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

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

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

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

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

How to Deal with Sinful Jealousy

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

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

     Second, as we study Scripture, we come to realize that we own nothing. Everything, including our own lives, belongs to the Lord. Scripture reveals, “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psa 24:1; cf. 89:11). Job understood this very well, for even when he lost his business, family, and health, he could say, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Biblically minded Christians hold nothing tightly, for we know our possessions are on loan and can be taken at any moment (this includes family members); how much more those things we acquire through sinful choices. When we come to the place where we recognize God’s sovereign ownership of our lives and possessions, we can consciously live each moment by faith, with a relaxed mental attitude, knowing He is the One who gives and takes away. And, if God decides to take something away, by faith we can accept it, deal with the sorrow, and “know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Apart from divine revelation, we’re left to invent or borrow systems of thought with no greater reference point than ourselves, which means the foundation for knowledge is based on nothing more than our finite ability to observe and reason what is. The problem is that human perception only approximates reality but never fully encompasses or understands it; therefore, all systems of human thought are limited and subject to change (reading the various publications of the DSM prove my point). Scripture tells us why things exist, why the world is the way it is, and how to live successfully in God’s will. Any system of thought that simultaneously competes with God’s Word results in cognitive dissonance, and if not resolved, will render the believer ineffective. At the moment we believe the Gospel message and are born again, we enter into our Christianity with a lifetime of human viewpoint that must be dislodged and replaced with a thorough knowledge of God’s Word. Too often, when we come to believe in Christ as Savior, we assume that God will accept our human viewpoint—which may be organized and moral—as an adequate system from which He will direct our lives. We assume He wants to rearrange the furniture in our mental home to make it more beautiful. But the reality is God does not want to rearrange the furniture in our minds; rather, He wants to tear down the entire house along with its foundation and start over. He wants to destroy all the thoughts and values that are contrary to His revealed will. But we’re required to participate in this process. We must be willing to submit to Him and begin the lifelong process of learning Scripture. This is a process that occupies all our time, every day, morning and evening, and has both defensive and offensive aspects. Defensively, we must guard our minds against worldliness that comes to us from multiple avenues such as TV, radio, music, literature, art, and conversations. Solomon tells us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Pro 4:23). Positively, we acquire divine viewpoint through the daily study of God’s Word. David writes about the godly believer, saying, “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). For, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psa 19:7’ cf. 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17).

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

The Faithfulness of the Lord

No king is delivered by his vast army; a warrior is not saved by his great might. A horse disappoints those who trust in it for victory; despite its great strength, it cannot deliver. Look, the LORD takes notice of His loyal followers, those who wait for Him to demonstrate His faithfulness by saving their lives from death and sustaining them during times of famine. We wait for the LORD; He is our deliverer and shield. For our hearts rejoice in Him, for we trust in His holy name. May we experience your faithfulness, O LORD, for we wait for you. (Psa 33:16-22)

     It is the natural proclivity of a person to look to his own resources when facing an enemy threat; for the king, it is his vast army, his war machine, his mighty warriors and strong horses. But the psalmist here challenges human viewpoint with divine viewpoint, reminding the reader of a biblical principle: that victory in life comes only from the Lord.

    Faithfulness of the LordIt is a discipline of the mind and will to trust in God during a conflict. Too often we’re tempted to look around rather than look up; yet, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do. We are to “look” to the Lord; to think on Him and His promises to us. The psalmist declares, “Look, the LORD takes notice of His loyal followers, those who wait for Him to demonstrate His faithfulness” (Psa 22:18). The phrase “The LORD takes notice” is more literally “The eye of the LORD,” which refers to His look of favor that is cast upon His “loyal followers.” And who are His loyal followers? It is “those who wait for Him to demonstrate His faithfulness.” It is those who by faith take Him at His word, believing He will do what He’s promised.

     The one who fails to look to God will instinctively look to self and others, and whatever temporary resources this failing world can offer. But Scripture instructs us, “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psa 146:3). Rather, we are to “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness” (Psa 37:3).

     God manifests His provision and protection to His loyal followers, to those who wait for him to demonstrate his faithfulness, “by saving their lives from death and sustaining them during times of famine” (Psa 33:19). Death and famine represent extreme scenarios in life, and for the psalmist, may reflect his reality. However, for those of us who do not face such extreme threats, the a fortiori rationale serves as a tool for reason and helps us to understand that if God will protect from greater dangers (i.e. death & famine), then He will certainly protect from lesser ones. At this point, we should not conclude that we won’t face trials or dangers, but rather, that God will give us the fortitude of character to withstand them, if we’ll look to Him in faith.

     And how does the psalmist respond in the midst of his trial? He responds with faith in God! Notice that he graciously includes his readers by using the plural pronouns “we” and “our” as he writes, “We wait for the LORD; He is our deliverer and shield. For our hearts rejoice in Him, for we trust in His holy name. May we experience your faithfulness, O LORD, for we wait for you” (Psa 33:20-22). The word wait translates the Hebrew verb יָהַל yachal, which means “to wait, to cause to hope.”[1] The verb is intensive (Piel stem), which means we are to focus intensely on the Lord and not the conflict at hand. There is almost always a tension in the mind, as the threat seeks to distract us from the solution.

“Hope” (יָחַל; s.v. Ps. 31:24) includes the ideas of waiting with some tension until the thing hoped for arrives (see Gen. 8:2) and of a confident expectation of trust (Ps. 42:5). It is not a last resort, a hoping against hope, as it were. Rather, it is an expectant faith, but a faith that struggles with the tensions in life. Here the object of the hope is “the loyal love” of the LORD.[2]

     The strength of the believer is in God, as we trust His Word, believing He will sustain us as we face life’s difficulties. O lord, strengthen our minds according to Your Word, and nourish our hearts that our faith may be strong. Do not let us be overcome by life’s trials, but to see them as purposeful, as the fire that burns away the useless dross of a weak character, and purifies those golden qualities that are born out of a healthy walk with You; and may Your faithfulness calm our fears and cause our hearts to rejoice.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 407.

[2] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms 1–89: Commentary, vol. 1, Kregel Exegetical Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2011–2013), 739.

Helping the Poor

     HelpingIt’s a fact of life that the poor always exist (Matt. 26:11). There are differing degrees of poverty, and some of the poorest in our society are homeless.[1] There are various reasons why a person becomes poor. Some are poor because of their own bad choices (Prov. 24:30-34; cf. 13:18; 23:21), while some are poor because of the bad choices of others (Mic. 2:1-2; cf. Jer. 22:13; Jam. 5:4).[2] Some look for a hand up, while others want a hand out. Our ability to help is sometimes hindered by our lack of resources, and other times by the recipient’s unwillingness to receive what we offer. It’s possible that giving money to the poor may harm them if it facilitates a destructive drug addiction or fosters laziness. Certainly, we don’t want to do that. Scripture promotes a strong work ethic, saying, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). This assumes that a person is able to work and that work is available, but that he/she chooses to be lazy, which is wrong. If we know the person and the situation, then certainly giving money might encourage laziness. Helping the poor in society is always a good thing, but compassion must be coupled with wisdom.

     Scripture reveals God has compassion on the poor (Ps. 72:13), helps the poor (1 Sam. 2:8; Psalm 12:5), is a refuge (Ps. 14:6), saves those who cry out to Him (Psalm 34:6), rescues the afflicted (Psalm 35:10), provides for them (Psalm 68:10), lifts them up (Ps. 113:7, and seeks justice for them (Ps. 140:12). God also works through the agency of others to care for the poor.

     Helping the poor is a demonstration of grace.[3] Being gracious to the poor means listening to their cry for help (Prov. 21:13), giving to meet their need (19:17), and defending their social rights (31:9). Such actions honor the Lord (Prov. 14:31), who “will repay him [the giver] for his good deed” (Prov. 19:17; cf. 28:27). Below are a few Scriptures that address helping the poor:

If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother. (Deut. 15:7)

How blessed is he who considers the helpless; the LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble.  (Ps. 41:1)

There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered. (Prov. 11:24-25)

He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor. (Pro 14:21)

He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him. (prov. 14:31)

One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed. (Prov. 19:17)

He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor. (Prov. 22:9)

He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses. (Prov. 28:27)

In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

     Simple ways to help the poor include: 1) spending personal time with them and treating them with respect, 2) sharing the gospel of Christ, 3) giving kind words and praying for them, 4) sharing Bible promises, 5) personally delivering freshly prepared meals or snacks, 6) giving clothes and blankets, 7) sharing information about local charities that might help them, 8) giving money, 9) volunteering at a homeless shelter, 10) offering gift cards that can be used at local restaurants such as McDonalds or Taco Bell, 11) giving to a local church that helps the poor, 12) and giving to a local charity such as Meals on Wheels or the Salvation Army. May our hearts be open to helping the poor. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] I was homeless once during the summer of 1989, living on the streets of Las Vegas for several weeks. Previously I’d stayed at a Salvation Army shelter on two separate occasions. My time of homelessness was predicated on a severe drug addiction that nearly killed me. Some of what I write about in this article is based on personal experience, some from observation, and some from a biblical perspective. Thankfully, God rescued me from the many poor choices that ruined me. 

[2] Certainly there are those who suffer a mental illness that prevents them from being lifted out of poverty.

[3] Those who have tasted of God’s grace are more likely to show grace. Sadly, there are some who show no grace to others.

Bible Promises that Strengthen our Faith

     without faith it is impossible to pleaseOne of Satan’s strategies is to get us to focus on anything and everything to the exclusion of God and His Word. Both prosperity and adversity can lead us away from the Lord. The Lord permits us to face trials in order to develop our Christian character (Jam. 1:2-4). He also gives us promises that are rooted in His character that we might learn to trust Him as we walk with Him. The tests of life are inevitable, but how we handle them is optional. Faith is not automatic in the Christian, but is a discipline of the mind and will. The growing Christian learns the Word of God and consciously applies it to his life moment by moment. As the believer studies Scripture, he learns that God has perfect integrity and always keeps His promises. The believer benefits from his study of Scripture only when he learns to trust in God and to take Him at His Word.  It’s only by faith that we receive the blessings God offers. 

     For the Christian, faith requires learning, as the Scripture declares, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).[1] Once learned, Scripture must be applied by faith, for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Learning and living is the proper order as we advance spiritually in our walk with God. Below are a few Bible promises that will stabilize the believer’s thinking in the midst of adversity.

As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. (Ps. 18:30)

Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. (Ps. 55:22)

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

The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock. (Isa. 26:3-4)

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)

The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:22-23)

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:27-28)

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)

He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5b)

     By trusting in God, we can experience confidence to face the daily pressures of life. I pray you memorize some or all the verses in this article so you can quickly draw them from memory when you need them. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Most Scripture is taken from the NASB.

The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer

     RighteousnessThe testimony of Scripture is that God is righteous (Ps. 11:7; 129:4; 145:17; Lam. 1:18; John 17:25; 1 John 2:1).  He is essentially righteous in character.  It follows that since God is righteous, He will promote righteousness and approve of those who do.  David writes of God, saying, “The LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face” (Ps. 11:7).  The verse speaks of what God is as well as what God loves.  He is righteous and He loves righteousness.  David here—and in Psalm 33:5—uses the Hebrew verb אָהֵב aheb to speak of the affection God has for righteousness and those who pursue it.  The “upright” refers to those who conform to God’s character and commands, and to “behold His face” means one is welcome into His presence with favor (cf. Ps. 17:5; 140:13).  In another place David states, “O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart” (Ps. 15:1-2).  Solomon adds, “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but He loves one who pursues righteousness” (Prov. 15:9), and “to do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice” (Prov. 21:3).  Isaiah states, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Preserve justice and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come and My righteousness to be revealed’” (Isa. 56:1), Jeremiah adds, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place’” (Jer. 22:3; Hos. 14:9; 10:12).  Paul writes, “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:13; cf. 6:19), “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22), and Peter states, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24; cf. Eph. 4:24; 5:8-10; 1 Tim. 6:11; Tit. 2:11-12; Heb. 10:38). 

God Works to Produce His Righteousness in the Believer

     God is working to produce His righteousness in us from the moment of salvation onward.  Paul writes, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).  God produces His righteousness in us to justify, sanctify, and ultimately glorify us.  First, at the moment of salvation, God imputes His righteousness to us, and this is the basis for our justification.  By imputed righteousness He is dealing with the guilt of our sin.  Of the believer, Paul states, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Rom. 5:17-18; 8:1; Phil. 3:9).  Second, by crippling the sin nature He is dealing with the power of sin in our lives (Rom. 6:1-14; 8:2; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:5).  Paul writes, “do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God “(Rom 6:13).  Third, by removing our sin nature after death He is dealing with sin for eternity (Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; 1 John 3:2, 5).  Paul writes, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20-21), and Peter writes, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).  Such a righteousness as that which will exist in the new heavens and earth means there will be no sin of any kind.  God alone, without human aid, produces the first and third aspects of our salvation (i.e. our justification and glorification), and the believer simply benefits from His action.  However, the second aspect of our salvation is not automatic (i.e. our sanctification), as God chooses to involve the believer to produce His righteousness.  That is, there is a volitional aspect to a life of righteousness, as the believer must choose to obey God’s commands and rely on the His divine enablement to carry them out.  God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing necessary to grow spiritually (Eph. 1:3), but we must lay hold of that provision and make good choices that conform to His will and character. 

How to Achieve Experiential Righteousness

     But how is the life of righteousness achieved?  What is it that each believer must do in order to be the righteous person God expects?  It does not help the believer to say he/she must be righteous if we do not also provide the necessary Biblical information to accomplish the task.  Once saved, God provides each believer a portfolio of spiritual assets that enable him/her to walk in obedience to His commands.  Those who utilize God’s provisions and obey His commands will walk in conformity to His will.  This is experiential righteousness.  For the Christian living in the dispensation of the church age, there are at least six things he/she must follow in order to produce a life of righteousness. 

     First, the Christian must be in daily submission to God.  This begins with a decision to dedicate one’s life to God.  Paul writes, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1).  Paul then goes on to say, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). 

Paul has shown that the gospel he preaches has the power to transfer Christians from the realm of sin and death into the realm of righteousness and life. But this transfer, as Paul has noted (6:11–23; 8:12–13), does not absolve the Christian from the responsibility to live out the righteousness so graciously granted in the gospel. God is working to transform us into the image of his Son (8:29), but we are to take part in this process as we work to make this transformation real in our daily lives.[1]

     The Christian is to participate in the life of righteousness to which he/she is called.  Positively it begins when we present our bodies as “a living and holy sacrifice” to God.  This presentation begins at a moment in time, in which the believer decides to follow God and not the world.  To surrender his/her life to whatever God has planned.  This is a dedicated life to God.  Concerning the believer’s dedication to God, Charles Ryrie states:

What is it that the Christian is to dedicate? The answer is himself. “Present yourselves to God” (Rom. 6:13), “present your bodies” (Rom. 12:1), “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20), “submit yourselves…to God” (James 4:7)—this is the uniform appeal of Scripture, and it concerns our bodies. If this is so, then it follows that dedication concerns the years of one’s life, since that is the only period in which the body functions. Dedication concerns the present life, not the life hereafter.[2]

     This is a surrendered life, a yielded life, in which the believer seeks the will of God above his/her own wishes or desires.  The desires of self, no matter how noble, are sacrificed in order to do God’s will above all.  This can be challenging, for the believer lives in a world that calls us to live for self, to do as we please, to live our way.  But Paul says, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). 

     Second, the believer must be in continual study of Scripture, applying it to every aspect of his/her life (2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  Regeneration does not, in itself, remove a lifetime of worldly viewpoint.  The Christian must look to Scripture in order to unseat the worldly mind, for in its pages we learn about God and what He values in life.  This requires learning.  Paul writes, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).  Later he states, “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).  The Christian cannot live what he does not know, and learning Scripture necessarily precedes living in God’s will.  It is only by Scripture that the believer receives “training in righteousness.”

     Third, the Christian must learn to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).   The Christian may be submitted to God and learning His word, but he/she must also be empowered to live as God intends.  Paul commands Christians, “And do not be drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).  When a person consumes alcohol and gets drunk, eventually it influences his thinking, words, and behavior in an obvious and often negative way.  The Bible does not condemn drinking wine, but it does condemn drunkenness, in which the believer loses control of his/her thoughts, words and actions.  Drunkenness is sin.  In contrast to being drunk, the Bible commands the believer to “be filled with the Spirit.” 

“Be filled with the Spirit” is God’s command, and He expects us to obey. The command is plural, so it applies to all Christians and not just to a select few. The verb is in the present tense—“keep on being filled”—so it is an experience we should enjoy constantly and not just on special occasions. And the verb is passive. We do not fill ourselves but permit the Spirit to fill us. The verb “fill” has nothing to do with contents or quantity, as though we are empty vessels that need a required amount of spiritual fuel to keep going. In the Bible, filled means “controlled by.” “They… were filled with wrath” (Luke 4:28) means “they were controlled by wrath” and for that reason tried to kill Jesus. “The Jews were filled with envy” (Acts 13:45) means that the Jews were controlled by envy and opposed the ministry of Paul and Barnabas. To be “filled with the Spirit” means to be constantly controlled by the Spirit in our mind, emotions, and will…But how can a person tell whether or not he is filled with the Spirit? Paul stated that there are three evidences of the fullness of the Spirit in the life of the believer: he is joyful (Eph. 5:19), thankful (Eph. 5:20), and submissive (Eph. 5:21–33). Paul said nothing about miracles or tongues, or other special manifestations.[3]

Lewis S. Chafer adds:

To be filled with the Spirit is to have the Spirit fulfilling in us all that God intended Him to do when he placed Him there.  To be filled is not the problem of getting more of the Spirit: it is rather the problem of the Spirit getting more of us.  We shall never have more of the Spirit than the anointing which every true Christian has received.  On the other hand, the Spirit may have all of the believer and thus be able to manifest in him the life and character of Christ.  A spiritual person, then, is one who experiences the divine purpose and plan in his daily life through the power of the indwelling Spirit.  The character of that life will be the out-lived Christ.  The cause of that life will be the unhindered indwelling Spirit (Ephesians 3:16-21; II Corinthians 3:18).[4]

And Charles Ryrie states:

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

     Fourth, the Christian must learn to walk in daily dependence on the Holy Spirit.  Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” and “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 25).  Walking by the Spirit means we are walking in dependence on Him and not relying on our own resources, experiences, or human wisdom.  It means we are walking in the same direction He is going, and like a friend, we are glad to be in fellowship with Him.  It means God is regularly in our thoughts, and we live every day conscious of Him and His will for our lives (Rom. 12:1-2; Col. 3:16-17).  It means being sensitive to what may offend Him, and making every effort to please Him through a life of faith (2 Cor. 5:9; Heb. 11:6).  Sin will break fellowship with God; however, the Christian can restore that fellowship by means of confession (1 John 1:8-10).  When we walk by the Spirit, we live as He directs and our lives will manifest His work (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 4:1-3).  It is important to understand that the Spirit guides us Biblically and never by vague impressions.  Walking is a learned behavior, and it gets easier with practice. 

Constant dependence on the power of the indwelling Spirit of God is essential to spiritual growth and victory.  By its very nature, walking is a succession of dependent acts.  When one foot is lifted in order to place it front of the other one, it is done in faith—faith that the foot that remains on the ground will support the full weight of the body.  You can only walk by the exercise of faith.  You can live the Christian life only by dependence on the Holy Spirit.  Such dependence will result in the Spirit’s control over the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:17-21) and the Spirit’s production of the fruit of the Spirit (vv. 22-23).  Dependence on the power of God and effort on the part of the believer are not mutually exclusive.  Self-discipline and Spirit-dependence can and must be practiced at the same time in a balanced spiritual life.  Dependence itself is an attitude, but that attitude does not come automatically; it usually requires cultivation.  How many genuine Christians there are who live day after day without even sensing their need of dependence on Him.  Experience, routine, pride, self-confidence all tend to drag all of us away from that conscious dependence on God which we must have in order to live and act righteously.[6]

     Fifth, the Christian must restore broken fellowship with God through confession of personal sin (1 John 1:5-9).  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  It is never the will of God that we sin (1 John 2:1); however, when we do sin, we break fellowship with God and grieve and/or quench the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.  Sin hinders our walk with God and halts our life of righteousness.  Paul writes in two places, commanding the Christian, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30a) and “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19).  The Spirit is a Person, and He is grieved when we sin and act contrary to His righteous character.  Grieving the Spirit occurs when we knowingly commit sin contrary to His guidance.  When the Christian commits sin, then the Spirit is grieved and His ministry is diminished, and He must then begin to work on the heart of the Christian to bring him/her back into fellowship.  “Sin destroys spirituality.  It is necessarily so; for where sin is tolerated in the believer’s daily life, the Spirit, who indwells him, must then turn from His blessed ministry through him, to a pleading ministry to him.”[7] 

     To “quench the Spirit” is to resist His will as He seeks to guide according to divine revelation.  In the early church, God provided special revelation both through His written word (Rom. 15:4), as well as through prophetic utterance (1 Thess. 5:20).  “Today, we have a completed revelation in the Word of God and there is no need for prophets. The Apostles and prophets helped lay the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20) and have now passed from the scene. The only ‘prophetic ministry’ we have is in the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.”[8]  It is only through Scripture that we possess special revelation about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and what they have provided for us and expect from us.  Scripture is our guiding light (Ps. 119:105, 130; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17), and “refusal to submit to the Word of God is quenching the Spirit, making the fullness of the Spirit impossible.”[9]

     Fellowship with God is always on His terms, not ours.  He establishes the guidelines for our relationship with Him and if we are to walk with Him, we must follow His commands.  God never follows us in our sin, but always calls us back to walk with Him in righteousness.  When the believer breaks fellowship with God through personal sin, the only solution is to seek forgiveness through confession.  Confession of sin is a common theme throughout all of Scripture (Lev. 5:5; Ps. 32:3-5; 38:18; 51:4; 2 Sam. 12:13; Neh. 9:2; Dan. 9:1-16; Luke 15:18-21; 1 John 1:9), and it is by confession that sin is forgiven.  Scripture states, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). 

According to 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  This passage, standing as it does in the center of a revelation of the basis of fellowship with God (1 John 1:5—2:2), is a message to Christians.  It avails not to the unsaved to confess their sins, as they have not accepted the Savior who was the sacrifice for sins.  For the unsaved the exhortation is likewise summed up in one word, believe.  For the Christian who stands in all the blessed relationship to God wrought by saving faith in Christ there remains the issue of maintaining fellowship.  It is this issue that is in the foreground in 1 John…The presence of sin in the life of the Christian, however, constitutes a barrier to fellowship.  While the Christian’s sonship is in no wise affected, the happy family relationship is disturbed.  On the human side, confession must come before restoration into fellowship is possible.  The cause for grieving the Spirit must be judged as sin and confessed.[10]

     Because sin is easy to produce and because most men are simple in the way they think, God had to make restoration of fellowship as simple as confession.  Just as believing the simple message of the gospel saves (1 Cor. 15:3-4), so the simple act of confessing one’s sins leads to forgiveness and restoration of fellowship with God (1 John 1:9).  There’s no need for penance, guilty feelings, or any payment on our part.  Forgiveness, like salvation, is provided to the believer because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  The simple act of confession as taught in 1 John 1:9 guarantees God’s forgiveness and restoration of fellowship.

Complete assurance is given that this approach to the sin problem is acceptable to God.  It is not a question of doing penance nor of inflicting chastening punishments upon oneself.  Nor is it a matter of leniency with the Father when He accepts the confession.  The whole act is based upon the finished work of Christ, and the question of penalty is not in view.  The price for restoration has already been paid.  Accordingly, the Father is faithful and righteous in forgiving, not merely lenient and merciful.  The Father could not do otherwise than forgive the Christian seeking forgiveness, for His own Son has already provided a complete satisfaction for sin.  The process from the human side is, accordingly, amazingly simple.[11]

     Sixth, the Christian must take advantage of the time God gives to learn and grow spiritually.  The believer does not reach spiritual maturity overnight, and since each believer has only a measure of time allotted by God (Ps. 139:16), his/her days must not be wasted on worldly pursuits, but on learning Scripture and living in God’s will.  The growing Christian, who is in pursuit of righteousness, will maximize his/her time and live wisely.  As Christians, we all start off as babes who need to feed on the milk of the word (1 Pet. 2:2; cf. Heb. 5:12), and as we grow spiritually, over time, we develop a taste for solid foods (Heb. 5:13-14).  As we grow spiritually, we will maximize our time wisely.  Paul exhorts Christians, “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).  To live wisely, according to Scripture, means knowing God’s will and having the skill to execute it.  Making the most of our time means living in God’s will and acting in accordance with His expectations.  

Three Obstacles to a Righteous Life

     There are obstacles to the Christian life; satanic impediments that hinder our walk of righteousness.  Every Christian is born on a spiritual battlefield and throughout his life will face opposition to the work of God.  The opposition will use both pleasure and pain to pull the Christian away from God in order to stifle our walk.  The believer experiences opposition from his sin nature (Gal. 5:17, 19-21a; Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), the devil (2 Cor. 11:3; Jam. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8), and the world system that is all around (Col. 2:8; Jas. 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16). 

     The first obstacle is the sin nature, sometimes called “the flesh” (Gal. 5:17, 19) or “old self” (Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), which has a natural affinity for Satan’s values and his world-system.  Paul writes, “For the flesh [sin nature] sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you [the Christian] may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17).  The sin nature is resident in every person; both saved and unsaved, and is the source of internal temptation.  “The flesh refers to that fallen nature that we were born with, that wants to control the body and the mind and make us disobey God.”[12]  Since the fall of Adam, every person is born with a sin nature, and it is this nature that internally motivates men to rebel against all legitimate forms of authority, both human and divine.  At the moment of salvation, God the Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us a new nature that, for the first time in our lives, has the capacity and desire to obey God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).  Because the sin nature is not removed from the believer after salvation, the believer begins to experience conflict within.  “The presence of two opposing natures (not two personalities) in one individual results in conflict.”[13]

The old nature (which has its origin in our physical birth) fights against the new nature which we receive when we are born again (Gal. 5:16–26). No amount of self-discipline, no set of man-made rules and regulations, can control this old nature. Only the Holy Spirit of God can enable us to “put to death” the old nature (Rom. 8:12–13) and produce the Spirit’s fruit (Gal. 5:22–23) in us through the new nature.[14]

     The second obstacle is the devil.  Before his self-induced fall, Lucifer was a wise and beautiful creature, having “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezek. 28:12).  He was an angel, called an “anointed cherub” (Ezek. 28:14).  However, this perfect angelic creature produced sin from the source of his own volition, and the Scripture states, “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you…and you sinned” (Ezek. 28:15-16a).  Concerning Lucifer’s sin, the Lord says, “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor” (Ezek. 28:17a).  Self-centered pride turned Lucifer’s wisdom into foolishness, and in his madness he sought to usurp God’s throne and rule over His creation.  Lucifer became Satan (a term meaning “the adversary”) at the time of his rebellion (Isa. 14:13-14).

The devil is a real, personal being who opposes the Christian and seeks to make him ineffective in his Christian life. He is a formidable enemy of the Christian since he is intent on devouring Christians (1 Pet. 5:8); hence, the Christian is called on to resist the devil (James 4:7). This can be accomplished through putting on the armor for a spiritual battle (Eph. 6:10–17).[15]

     The third obstacle is the world.  Since the Fall of Adam, God has temporarily granted Satan permission to govern this world (Matt. 4:8-9; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 6:12; 1 John 5:19).  Satan, and those who follow him (both demons and people), are ultimately under God’s sovereign control, and even their evil plans and actions are used for His good purposes (Gen. 50:20; Ps. 76:10; Job 1:6-12; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28; Rom. 8:28; 2 Cor. 12:7-10).  Satan governs by means of a system he’s created, which Scripture calls the κόσμος kosmos.  The κόσμος kosmos “and everything that belongs to it, appears as that which is hostile to God, i.e. lost in sin, wholly at odds with anything divine, ruined and depraved.”[16]  Satan’s world-system consists of those philosophies, values and practices that influence humanity to think and behave contrary to God and His Word.  John writes, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).  Lewis Chafer provides an apt description of the kosmos:

The kosmos is a vast order or system that Satan has promoted which conforms to his ideals, aims, and methods. It is civilization now functioning apart from God-a civilization in which none of its promoters really expect God to share; who assign to God no consideration in respect to their projects, nor do they ascribe any causality to Him. This system embraces its godless governments, conflicts, armaments, jealousies; its education, culture, religions of morality, and pride. It is that sphere in which man lives. It is what he sees, what he employs. To the uncounted multitude it is all they ever know so long as they live on this earth. It is properly styled “The Satanic System” which phrase is in many instances a justified interpretation of the so-meaningful word, kosmos.[17]

     Satan’s world-system is not changeable and cannot be modified to conform to God’s will.  At the core of Satan’s world-system is a directive for mankind to function apart from God, and when obeyed, people produce all forms of evil.  Worldly-minded persons embrace Satan’s system and love their own because they share the same values of selfishness that exclude God.  By promoting the gospel and Biblical teaching, Christians disrupt Satan’s kingdom by calling out of it a people for God.  When a person comes to Christ for salvation, they are transferred from Satan’s kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13-14), and become ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).  The lifetime of worldly thinking that shaped our values and behaviors are not suddenly eradicated at the moment of salvation.  Rather, God calls us to be transformed in our thinking by renewing our minds and living by faith in His Word (Rom. 12:1-2).  Though Christians have the capacity, we are not to love the world (John 16:33; 17:14-16; 1 John 2:15).  To love the world is to turn from righteousness, and the Christian who loves the world makes himself the enemy of God (Jam. 4:4).  Those who love God and His Word share a mutual love for each other.  By learning God’s Word, Christians can identify worldly conversations and either avoid them or disrupt them by interjecting Biblical truth.  The life of righteousness means we will invade the lives, thoughts and discussions of others with Biblical truth.  Of course, this should be done in love and grace (Eph. 4:15; Col. 4:6), not by argumentation (2 Tim. 2:24-26).  When we learn God’s Word, obey His commands, and show love to others, we are rebelling against Satan’s world-system and sowing the seeds of spiritual insurrection in the lives of those who live and walk in Satan’s kingdom. 

     These three obstacles can wreck the Christian as he/she advances toward spiritual maturity and a life of righteousness.  The sin nature is not removed during our time on earth, the devil never ceases in his efforts to attack us, and the world-system can never be reformed.  The Christian must not only be aware of these obstacles, but must always be clinging to God and His word to guide and sustain. 

Summary

     God is righteous and He calls believers to live righteously in conformity to His character and commands.  Once saved, the believer is positionally sanctified in union with Christ, and this status will never change.  However, positional sanctification does not guarantee experiential sanctification, as the believer must choose to comply with God’s righteous expectations and advance to spiritual maturity.  God has provided the believer all that is needed to live a righteous life.  The advance to such a life involves committing oneself to God for service, continual study of Scripture, learning to be filled with the Spirit and to walk in the Spirit, regular confession of sin, and time to grow.  The believer who is living the righteous life as God expects will face obstacles, which include the old sin nature, the devil, and his world-system.  The believer who keeps advancing spiritually will attain Christian maturity and prove effective for God.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Douglas J. Moo, “Romans,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1150.

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago, Ill., Moody Bible Institute, 1994), 80.

[3] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2, 48.

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

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

[6] Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life, 198.

[7] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual, 70.

[8] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 189.

[9] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan Publishing, 1977), 198.

[10] Ibid., 201-202.

[11] Ibid., 202.

[12] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2, 18.

[13] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual, 112.

[14] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, Vol. 2, 480.

[15] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology, 314.

[16] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 562.

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

God’s Righteousness at the Cross

     The subject of the cross addresses God’s righteousness, man’s sinfulness, and Jesus’ substitutionary death which satisfied God’s righteous demands toward our sin and reconciles us to the Father.  Certainly other characteristics of God are seen at the cross such as love, mercy, and grace; however, this article will primarily be concerned with His attribute of righteousness.  The cross makes sense when we see it in connection with God’s attribute of righteousness. 

     RighteousnessGod is revealed in Scripture as a “God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4); and elsewhere it is stated, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne” (Ps. 89:14a).  Because God is righteous, He can only accept that which conforms to His righteousness and He cannot approve of sin at all.  Scripture reveals, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with You.” (Ps. 5:4), and “everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deut. 25:16b).  Habakkuk states, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13), and John writes, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). 

Everyone is Sinful

     The problem between God and man is a problem of separation caused by sin (Isa. 59:2).  It’s not a problem that originates with God, for He is immutable and His righteousness is constant.  It is people who have sinned and moved away from God.  And it’s not just a few people who have sinned, but everyone.  Scripture reveals, “there is no man who does not sin” (1 Ki. 8:46), and “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).  Furthermore, “there is none righteous, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10, 23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).  The subject of sin is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments.  The Hebrew חָטָא chata and the Greek ἁμαρτάνω hamartano are the two most common words for sin, and both have the basic meaning to miss the mark.  God’s laws are a reflection of His righteous character, and when a person sins, he/she misses the mark of God’s character and will.  “The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves (Gen. 39:9; Ps. 51:4).”[1] 

     People are sinners in three ways: first they are sinners by imputation of Adam’s original sin (Rom. 5:12-21), second, they are sinners by nature (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 7:19-21; Eph. 2:3), and third, they are sinners by choice (1 Ki. 8:46; Rom. 3:9-18).  Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden is the first and greatest of them all, for he incurred the penalty of spiritual and physical death that God righteously and sovereignly promised would come if he ate the fruit from the forbidden tree.  “The LORD God commanded the man [Adam], saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’”  (Gen. 2:16-17).  Both Adam and Eve “took from its fruit and ate” (Gen. 3:6); however, Adam alone was held responsible by God for the disobedience that occurred in the Garden of Eden, for he was the spiritual head of the marriage.   Because of Adam’s rebellion against God, sin and death entered the human race (Rom. 5:12, 18-19) and spread throughout the universe (Rom. 8:20-22).  “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 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). 

     Sin permeates the thoughts, feelings and volition (i.e. will) of every person.  This does not mean that people are as sinful as they can be, but that all are equally in a state of sin and their sinful condition has completely separated them from God and rendered them helpless to save themselves.  “All are under God’s wrath and in need of salvation.  The religious and nonreligious, the educated and uneducated, the rich and the poor—all are in need of God’s saving grace and are hopelessly lost without it.”[2]  Admittedly, this dark picture of the sinfulness of mankind is difficult to accept; however, God’s estimation of mankind set forth in Scripture is true. 

People are Helpless to Correct the Problem of Sin

     The problem is not only that everyone is marked by sin, but they are helpless to correct the problem of sin.  Sin is a stain that cannot be washed away by self-effort; however, throughout history, many have tried to win God’s approval through a moral lifestyle and good works.  Scripture reveals that good works and/or adherence to laws can never win the approval of God.  In the sight of God, “all our righteous deeds [צְדָקָה tsedaqah] are like a filthy garment” which have no saving value whatsoever (Isa. 64:6).  The words translated “filthy garment” in Isaiah 64:6 literally means a “menstruation garment”[3] which conveys in strong and offensive language the “best deeds of guilty people.”[4]  If people were to gather all their “righteous deeds” and bring them to God and demand their trade-in value, the results would be rejection and eternal separation from Him in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:12-15). 

     Many unbelievers fallaciously hold to the strange notion that if they follow the Mosaic Law (or follow any system of good works) they will win God’s approval and be accepted into heaven.  This is wrong.  The Biblical teaching is that we are “not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16), for “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21).  Rather, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24), and “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28; cf. 4:5).  Salvation is “the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8b-9), for God saves us “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5).

     If human works make people righteous, then credit belongs to those individuals for the work they accomplished on their own behalf in bringing themselves to God.  But human works never save.  The credit for our salvation belongs completely to the Lord Jesus Christ because of His substitutionary atoning work on the cross.  The cross of Christ is an offense to the arrogant self-made man who must admit his helplessness and sinfulness before a righteous God. 

The Cross is a Place of Judgment

     It is true that the cross represents the love of God toward a fallen world He wishes to save (John 3:16).  However, we must also see the cross as a place of judgment, darkness and wrath.  Matthew writes, “from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour” (Matt. 27:45).  This was a physical darkness that one could see with the eye, though the spiritually blind could not see it for its true significance.  This darkness that overshadowed the cross was a picture of wrath that flowed from God’s righteousness as He judged the sin of mankind.  “Darkness in Scripture often represents judgment and or tragedy (cf. Exod. 10:21–22; Amos 8:9–10).”[5]  Christ on the cross was made to bear the Father’s wrath for our sin. 

It was during that time that He bore the indescribable curse of our sins. In those three hours were compressed the hell which we deserved, the wrath of God against all our transgressions. We see it only dimly; we simply cannot know what it meant for Him to satisfy all God’s righteous claims against sin. We only know that in those three hours He paid the price, settled the debt, and finished the work necessary for man’s redemption.[6]

     It was on the cross that God’s righteous judgment for our sin was dealt with in the Person of Jesus, for “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5).  “When the servant bore the guilt of our sins, we are saying that he bore the punishment that was due to us because of those sins, and that is to say that he was our substitute. His punishment was vicarious.”[7]  Isaiah writes, for “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a Guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10).  The cross was not forced upon Jesus, and it would be wrong to see Him as a helpless victim of His Father’s wrath.  It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went.  Jesus was willing to die in our place, as the Scripture reveals “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2).  Jesus said, “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18).  The cross would reflect injustice if Jesus were forced there against His will.  But this is not the case.  Rather, Jesus went to the cross willingly and laid down His life and bore the punishment that belonged to us.  He bore God’s wrath and died in our place. 

     Paul states that Jesus “was delivered over because of our transgressions” (Rom. 4:25), as “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Peter writes that Christ “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).  This was the time when God the Father poured out His wrath upon the humanity of Christ; for “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24).  “His body” refers to His humanity, for deity cannot bear sin.[8]  God sent Jesus to the cross to satisfy His righteous demands for our sin, and He is satisfied with the death of Christ.  We did not ask for this, nor do we deserve it.  The cross is God’s solution to the problem of sin. 

God Justifies Sinners Because of the Work of Jesus on the Cross

     God would be fully justified to condemn every person to the Lake of Fire.  However, He created a plan to satisfy His righteous demands toward sinners, and He did this without compromising His love toward those He wished to save.  The wisdom of God is seen at the cross where righteousness and love intersect.  Righteousness demands punishment for sin.  Love seeks to show grace and mercy to the undeserving.  The cross is where that happens simultaneously.  The result is that sin is judged and sinners are saved by grace through faith completely apart from any human works they might produce.  Jesus purchased our freedom with His blood that was shed on Calvary.  The Father is propitiated and sinners are justified because of the work of Christ on our behalf.  We are forgiven.  Jesus is the Hero. 

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:21-26)

     Paul uses several theologically rich words throughout this short section of Scripture such as righteousness, faith, justified, grace, redemption, and propitiation.  In the above section, righteousness refers to God’s righteousness.  It is a righteousness apart from the Law (Rom. 3:21a), but witnessed to by “the Law and Prophets” (Rom. 3:21).  It is the “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom. 3:22).  No one can, by their own efforts, merit the righteousness of God, and it is futile to try.  God’s righteousness is given freely, as a gift, to those who trust in Jesus as Savior.  The recipients are those who “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23; cf. Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3).  God’s justification of sinners comes “as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24a).  To be justified means that God declares someone is in perfect conformity to His righteousness.  The sinner who believes in Jesus as Savior is justified instantly, fully, and forever.  Justification and sanctification are sometimes confused.  “Justification describes a person’s status in the sight of the law, not the condition of his or her character. The condition of one’s character and conduct is that with which sanctification deals.”[9]  God’s justification is a “gift”, from the Greek word δωρεά dorea, which refers to something “freely given, as a gift, without payment.”[10]  Think about that.  God’s justification is a gift, freely given and freely received, without any expectation of compensation from the recipient.  This is God’s grace to the undeserving.  Grace, from the Greek word χάρις charis, refers to “the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”[11]  God justifies sinners freely, by grace, because of the work of Christ on their behalf. 

     By faith we trust that what Christ accomplished on the cross forever satisfies God’s righteous demands for sin.  We simply believe in Jesus for salvation.  A mute quadriplegic, who can never speak or act, can be forever saved because of the work of Christ.  Jesus paid it all.  No one has the means to redeem his own soul, nor the soul of another.  Jesus asked, “what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).  The answer is “nothing”!  If Jesus had not paid our sin-debt to God, there would be no hope of ever being liberated from spiritual slavery, for “no man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever” (Ps. 49:7-8).  However, Paul writes of the “redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24b), and this speaks of the payment He made on behalf of sinners.  “Redemption” translates the Greek ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrosis which means to “release from a captive condition.”[12]  Redemption refers to the payment of a debt that one gives in order to liberate another from slavery.  Jesus declared “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom [λύτρον lutron] for many” (Mark 10:45), and the apostle Paul tells us that Jesus “gave Himself as a ransom [ἀντίλυτρον antilutron] for all” (1 Tim. 2:6).  When we turn to Christ as our only Savior “we have redemption [ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrosis] through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph. 1:7; cf. Col. 1:13-14).  Because Jesus died in our place, He is able to set us free from our spiritual bondage and give us eternal life, but it is only because of His shed blood on the cross that He can do this, for we “were not redeemed [λύτρον lutron] with perishable things like silver or gold…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).  The blood of Christ is necessary, for “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). 

Redemption implies antecedent bondage.  Thus the word refers primarily to man’s subjection to the dominion and curse of sin (see Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor. 15:56).  Also in a secondary sense to the bondage of Satan as the head of the kingdom of darkness, and to the bondage of death as the penalty of sin (see Acts 26:18; Heb. 2:14-15).  Redemption from this bondage is represented in the Scriptures as both universal and limited.  It is universal in the sense that its advantages are freely offered to all.  It is limited in the sense that it is effectual only with respect to those who meet the conditions of salvation announced in the gospel.  For such it is effectual in that they receive forgiveness of sins and the power to lead a new and holy life.  Satan is no longer their captor, and death has lost its sting and terror.  They look forward to the redemption of the body (see Heb. 2:9; Acts 3:19; Eph. 1:7; Acts 26:18; 2 Tim. 2:26; 1 Cor. 15:55-57; Rom. 8:15-23).[13]

     All humanity is born into a slave-market of sin.  Jesus came into this world and took upon Himself true humanity and died upon a cross to atone for our sins.  Because Jesus died on the cross and tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9), He rendered inoperative “him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).  Those who turn to Christ for salvation can be set free from the slave-market of sin into which they were born, to which they were “subject to slavery all their lives” (Heb. 2:15).  Once we are saved, we can say with the apostle Paul, “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). 

     What was it that Christ offered as payment for sin?  The answer is His blood that He shed on the cross.  The payment of our debt occurred at the cross by the Lord Jesus, “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Rom. 3:25a).  Propitiation translates the Greek word ἱλαστήριον hilasterion which is defined as, “A sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor.”[14]  At the cross, God effected the removal of all impediments that hindered a restored relationship with Him, and this He accomplished by the blood of Christ, which is the coin of the heavenly realm that paid our sin-debt.  The blood of Christ forever satisfied God’s righteous demands for our sin. 

     The Apostle John also writes about Jesus’ death as a satisfying payment for sins.  He tells us “He Himself is the propitiation [ἱλασμός hilasmos – a satisfactory sacrifice] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. 4:10).  At the cross, God has “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14).  Propitiation means that God’s righteous wrath toward our sin has been appeased.  He is no longer angry. 

Christ’s absolute righteousness alone satisfies (propitiates) the demands of an absolutely righteous God. The Greek term “propitiate” (hilasteerion) is used only three times in the New Testament. John informs us that “He [Christ][15] is the atoning sacrifice [propitiation] for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). He adds, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice [propitiation] for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Thus, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement [propitiation], through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom. 3:25).[16]

     When God judged Christ on the cross, it was a display “of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).  God has dealt with our sin in a righteous manner.  He judged it.  Jesus was the object of that judgment, and the cross was the place where the penalty was paid.  “It demonstrates God’s righteousness, the subject of Romans, by showing that God is both just in His dealings with sin and the Justifier who provides righteous standing for the sinner.”[17]  God justifies the sinner who comes in faith, believing in Jesus as Savior (John 3:16; 20:31 Acts 4:12; 16:30-31; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  The word faith translates the Greek noun πίστις pistis, which refers to a “state of believing on the basis of the reliability of the one trusted.”[18]  Faith has no saving merit, as the sinner places all trust in the Person and work of Jesus Who has accomplished our salvation in full.  No works are required (Rom. 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).

You can be adjusted to God’s standard, because God made Christ to become sin for us.  The One who knew no sin, the One in whose lips had never been found guile, took upon Himself our sin in order that He might bear our sins to the cross and offer Himself as an acceptable substitute to God for us—on our behalf, in our place.  And when Jesus Christ identified Himself with sinners and went to the cross on their behalf and in their place, He was making possible the doctrine of reconciliation.  He was making it possible for God to conform the world to Himself, to adjust the world to His standard so that sinners in the world might find salvation because “Jesus paid it all.”  You can be adjusted to God, to God’s standard, through Christ, by His death, by His cross, by His blood, and by His identification with sinners.[19]

     Jesus’ death on the cross was substitutionary (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18), paid the redemption price for sin (Matt. 20:28; Gal. 3:13; 4:4-5; 1 Pet. 1:15), cancelled our sin debt (Col. 2:14), propitiated the Father (Isa. 53:4-6, 10-12; Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and reconciles sinners by grace through faith (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Eph. 2:8-9; Col. 1:19-20).  The result is salvation to those who accept the free gift of eternal life that was accomplished by Jesus.  In the Bible, it is always God who saves the sinner (John 3:16; Tit. 3:5).  It is God who gives the sinner eternal life and imputes to him a righteousness he does not deserve and could never manufacture on his own (John 10:28; Rom. 4:1-6; 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  The sinner never saves himself.  If the sinner could save himself, then Jesus’s death on the cross would not have been necessary.   

The word salvation is used in the Bible to indicate a work of God in behalf of man. In the present dispensation its use is limited to His work for individuals only, and is vouchsafed to them upon one definite condition. Too much emphasis cannot be placed on the fact that now, according to the Bible, salvation is the result of the work of God for the individual, rather than the work of the individual for God, or even the work of the individual for himself. Eventually the one who is saved by the power of God may, after that divine work is accomplished, do “good works” for God; for salvation is said to be “unto good works” (Eph. 2:10) and those who “believed” are to be “careful to maintain good works” (Tit. 3:8). Good works are evidently made possible by salvation; but these good works, which follow salvation, do not add anything to the all-sufficient and perfect saving work of God.[20]

     Salvation is an all-encompassing provision.  It begins and ends with the work of Christ who satisfied God’s righteous character and demands for sin.  It is all that God does for unworthy sinners because Christ was judged in our place.  He atoned for our sin by His shed blood on Calvary.  He paid the redemption price and liberated us from spiritual slavery and an eternal punishment that was surely ours.  He did this freely, in love, and provides salvation by grace to all those who come by faith, trusting in Him alone as Savior. 

Summary

     God is perfectly righteous and cannot approve of sin.  All humanity is under guilt and condemnation because of sin.  We are sinners in Adam, by nature, and by choice.  More so, we are helpless to save ourselves from the slave market of sin into which we were born.  God, in love, did for us what we could not do ourselves.  He satisfied every demand of His righteousness by judging our sin in the substitute of His Son, Jesus, Who came into the world sinless, lived a perfectly righteous life under the Law, and went to the cross as an innocent Man and died in our place, the just for the unjust.  The result is forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the gift of righteousness to those who believe in Jesus as their Savior, trusting that His work on the cross satisfied every righteous demand of the Father.  This blessing to us is an expression of God’s love and based on His grace.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Merrill Frederick Unger, R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos et al., “Sin” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1198.

[2] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 1995), 188-189.

[3] Francis Brown, et al, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon, 723.

[4] Ibid., 723.

[5] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Matt. 27:45.

[6] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, 1309.

[7] Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972), 348.

[8] Though reference is here made to Jesus’ humanity, this in no way diminishes His divine nature. Jesus is the God-Man.  He is one Person.  He is eternal God (Isa. 9:6; John 8:56-58), yet He was born of a woman in time and space (Gal. 4:4).  He is omniscient (Ps. 139:1-6), but as a boy, He grew in knowledge (Luke 2:52).  He created the universe (Gen. 1:1; John 1:3; Col. 1:15-16), but as man, He is subject to its weaknesses (Matt. 4:2; John 19:28).  We struggle to comprehend the union of God and Man; however, it is with certainty that the Bible portrays Him this way (John 1:1, 14; 20:28; cf. Luke 1:31-33; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15), and this truth is essential to Christianity.  As God, Jesus is worthy of all worship and praise (Luke 24:51-52; John 9:38; 20:28; Heb. 1:6).  As a perfect sinless Man, He went to the cross and died a substitutionary death in my place (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:6-10; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18), and bore the wrath of God that rightfully belonged to me (Isa. 53:1-12), so that I might have the gifts of righteousness and eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). 

[9] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Rom. 3:24.

[10] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 266.

[11] Ibid., 1079.

[12] Ibid., 117.

[13] Merrill F. Unger, “Redemption,” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago, Ill., Moody Press, 1988), 1068-1069.

[14] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 1252.

[15] Bracketed comments belong in quote.

[16] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, 333.

[17] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Rom. 3:26.

[18] William Arndt, et al, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 818.

[19] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine, 89.

[20] Lewis S. Chafer, Salvation (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 1.

What it Means to Follow Jesus

     To follow Jesus means we follow Him for who He is and not who we want Him to be. There is a biblical Jesus and a worldly Jesus. The worldly Jesus is the one the world sets forth. He is the ecumenical Jesus who never judges, never offends, never stands up for truth, never divides, embraces other religions, wants to improve the world rather than convert the heart, and lets everyone into heaven. There are many moral people who follow this Jesus, and the world loves them for it. In the end, this is a Jesus of their making who fits their agendas. It’s a Jesus who serves them.

     But what does the Bible reveal about Jesus? The Bible reveals Jesus is God who added humanity to Himself (John 1:1, 14; 5:18; 10:33; 20:28), and that He is worthy of worship (Matt. 2:11; 14:33; 28:9). He lived a sinless life (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5), willingly went to the cross and died in our place (John 3:16; 10:14-18), and was buried and rose again on the third day (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Concerning salvation, Jesus is the only Savior (John 14:6), and it is only by grace through faith in Him that one is eternally saved (Eph. 2:8-9). There is no salvation apart from Jesus (Acts 4:12).

     During His incarnation, there was a time when Jesus was popular with the masses because He fed them (John 6:1-14), but when they wanted to take Him by force and make Him king, He withdrew from them (John 6:15). The same crowd later pursued Jesus, not because they embraced Him or His teaching, but because they wanted another free meal (John 6:24-26) and He corrected their selfish motives (John 6:27). Jesus was kind to the sick and helpless (Matt. 8:1-3; 20:34; Luke 5:13), yet He did not hesitate to condemn the religious and powerful (Matt. 23:13-36). For the most part, Jesus was rejected by the majority of those who heard and saw Him (John 3:19; 12:37; 15:24). At times He caused division (John 7:43; 9:16; 10:19), even among His own disciples (John 6:66), as well as members of a family in the same household (Luke 12:51-53).

     Jesus called men to follow Him (Matt. 4:18-19; 9:9; John 1:43), and He had many female followers as well, several of whom funded His earthly ministry (Luke 8:1-3). To follow Jesus means to learn His teaching, obey His commands and model our life after Him. Followers of Jesus were to share the gospel (Matt. 4:19), not be bound by the world’s values (Matt. 8:19-22), treasure Jesus above one’s profession (Matt. 9:9), be committed to Jesus above family (Matt. 10:34-38; cf. Mark 1:20), and deny self and take up one’s cross daily (Matt. 16:24; cf. Luke 9:23). There is no place for personal glory or selfishness in serving the Lord, as one’s life is given for His glory and the benefit of others (1 Cor. 10:32-33; Phil. 2:3-4). To follow Jesus is a lifelong pursuit.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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