My Christian Identity and Calling

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

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

Death in Adam

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

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

Life in Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Prayer

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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

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

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

[4] Ibid., 15.

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

Advancing to Spiritual Maturity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lewis S. Chafer wrote:

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

Charles Ryrie states:

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

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

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

Charles Ryrie adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Ibid., 200.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

A Look at Grace

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

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

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

God is Gracious

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

Grace is Undeserved

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

God’s Grace Leads to Righteous Living

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

Common Grace and Special Grace

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

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

Some Christians Refuse Grace to Others

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Topics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The High Calling of God’s Servant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[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.

The Armor of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Warren Wiersbe adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid., 1952.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biblical Self-Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Video on Biblical Self-Talk

Related Articles:

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

The Human Conscience

     The Ten Commandments are the beginning of the Mosaic Law code that was given specifically to Israel as a redeemed people, and they were not given in written form to anyone else (Lev 27:34). The Ten Commandments not only revealed the holy character of God, but gave the Israelites an objective standard for right living, both before God and others. Though the Law was given specifically to Israel, there is a sense in which God’s Laws are written on the hearts of all people, even those who are not saved. Paul wrote, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rom 2:14-15). Warren Wiersbe writes:

God did not give the Law to the Gentiles, so they would not be judged by the Law. Actually, the Gentiles had “the work of the Law written in their hearts” (Rom 2:15). Wherever you go, you find people with an inner sense of right and wrong; and this inner judge, the Bible calls “conscience.” You find among all cultures a sense of sin, a fear of judgment, and an attempt to atone for sins and appease whatever gods are feared.[1]

A Moral Compass     According to Paul, God has placed His Law within the heart of every person, which Law informs us concerning God’s standard of what is right; and, God has given every person a conscience. The word conscience translates the Greek word συνείδησις suneidesis, which refers to “the inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong.”[2] Conscience is that inner voice that urges us to do right. However, because of sin’s corrupting influence, the human conscience it is not always a reliable gauge of right and wrong. It would seem that conscience functions cognitively in a judicial role, evaluating thoughts and actions and determining guilt or innocence based on moral laws. This would make sense, as Paul describes the conscience as “bearing witness” with regard to some behavior, and the mind serving as the courtroom, “accusing or defending” the action.

     Human conscience, when operating properly, serves as God’s moral compass placed within each person. People instinctively know that God exists (Rom 1:18-20), and that the Law of God is good (Rom 2:14-15). We don’t have to persuade anyone. It’s already written on their hearts. God placed it there. They know God exists, that He is good, and that actions such as murder, lying, stealing, and adultery are wrong.

1Bible-study (1)     Those who have a relationship with God and pursue a life of faith will have a healthy conscience that operates as God intends. This starts when “the blood of Christ…cleanses our conscience” so that we may “serve the living God” (Heb 9:14).[3] In the New Testament Paul spoke of the “good conscience” that was connected with “genuine faith” (1 Tim 1:5, 19; cf. Acts 23:1; Heb 13:18), and he personally served God with a “clear conscience” (1 Tim 3:9; 2 Tim 1:3). Paul also described believers at Corinth whose “conscience is weak” (1 Cor 8:7, 10, 12). These were immature believers whose consciences had been corrupted by years of sinful living before their conversion and who had not fully restored their conscience to normal operation. Learning God’s Word recalibrates our conscience, and advancing spiritually strengthens it. In a negative way, there are some who progressively turn away from God and indulge in sin, and whose “conscience is defiled” (Tit 1:15), or who have “an evil conscience” (Heb 10:22). Paul wrote of some “whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4:2). The word seared translates the Greek word καυστηριάζω kausteriazo, which means to burn or cauterize with a hot iron. Just as one’s flesh can be severely burned so that it becomes hard, without sensitivity, so the conscience can become hardened and without feeling. This is obvious in the person who lives in prolonged sin and no longer blushes at their wicked behavior. I once knew a man in prison who bore the moniker “Naughty.” I heard this man boast, with smile and laughter, of having sexually abused a helpless woman whom he greatly degraded, and he did this without any remorse. I cringed as others laughed at his stories. Here were consciences that had become seared because of sinful behavior.

     The believer, though having a conscience damaged by years of sin, can have it cleansed by means of the cross-work of Christ, and then recalibrated by means of God’s Word, which provides an objective standard for righteousness. But this will not happen quickly. Just as we exposed ourselves to many years of worldly thinking, which corrupted our consciences, so it will take time to unseat the human viewpoint and restore the conscience to normal function as God intends.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 520.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 967.

[3] The “blood of Christ” refers to Jesus atoning work on the cross, in which He bore our sin and paid the penalty that rightfully belonged to us. This was in contrast to the OT sacrificial system which could never take away sin, only cover it for a short time. When we believe in Christ as Savior (1 Cor 15:3-4), we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7), given new life (John 10:28), and gifted with God’s own righteousness (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). At the moment of salvation, there is relational peace between us and God (Rom 5:1), and we have become part of His family (Eph 2:19), will never be condemned (Rom 8:1), and made free to serve Him in righteousness (Rom 6:11-14; Tit 2:11-14). In this way, the “blood of Christ” has cleansed our conscience from any notion that religious.

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.

Related Articles:

 

[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.

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.

Related Articles:

[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.

The Lord’s Supper

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)

     The Lord’s Supper is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew (26:26-29), Mark (14:22-25), Luke (22:19-20), and by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians at Corinth (1 Cor. 11:23-34). The Lord’s Supper is also called the Eucharist, from the Greek word εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo, which means to give thanks, which is what Christ did when He instituted this church ordinance (Luke 22:19). And, it is called Communion, from the Geek word κοινωνία koinonia, which means communion, fellowship, or sharing (1 Cor. 10:15-17), because it took place during a community meal where believers fellowshipped with each other during a time of Bible study and prayer (see Acts 2:42). 

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus on the night He and the disciples were celebrating the Passover meal. This was the night before His crucifixion. The Passover meal celebrated God’s deliverance from the final plague on Egypt as the Lord passed over the homes of those who had sacrificed an unblemished lamb and placed its blood on the doorpost and lintel of the home (Ex. 12:1-51). The flawless lamb foreshadowed the sinless humanity of Jesus who is “a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Pet. 1:19), “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus is “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7), and His death paid the price for our sins (Mark 10:45; Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:22).

     Jesus’ death instituted the New Covenant which was given to Israel and will find its ultimate fulfillment in the future millennial kingdom when Jesus is ruling. Because Christ inaugurated the New Covenant, some of the spiritual blessings associated with it are available to Christians today; specifically, forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:34; Matt. 26:28; Heb. 10:17) and the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:26-27; 37:14; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).

     The elements of the Lord’s Supper include unleavened bread and red juice. The unleavened bread symbolizes the sinless person of Jesus who “gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2). The red juice symbolizes the “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Throughout the church age, there have been four major views concerning the elements of the Lord’s Supper.

  1. The Roman Catholic view—Transubstantiation— teaches that the bread and red juice, without losing its form or taste, becomes the literal body and blood of Christ.
  2. The Lutheran view—Consubstantiation—holds that Christ is present in and with the bread and red juice in a real sense.
  3. The Reformed view—Spiritual—teaches that Christ is spiritually present in the bread and red juice.
  4. The Evangelical view—Symbolic—sees the bread and red juice as symbols that point to the body and blood of Christ (held by this writer).

     The first three views see Christ actually present in the bread and red juice, whereas the last view sees the elements as symbols that point to Christ. The last view is similar to how one understands the sacrificial lamb in the OT, which sacrifice did not actually contain Christ, but rather pointed to Him and His atoning work on the cross. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper does not actually contain Christ, but points the believer to His life and death.

     When Christians partake of the unleavened bread and red juice, we are recognizing our relationship with God through the life and death of Christ. Just as we are nourished bodily by physical food, so we are nourished spiritually by the life and shed blood of Jesus who died in our place. Eating the bread and drinking the red juice is a picture of the believer receiving the benefits that have been provided by the life and death of Jesus.

     There is a vertical and horizontal aspect to the Lord’s Supper. The vertical aspect indicates one is in a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus, for the Lord’s Supper has meaning only to the one who has trusted Christ as Savior and received forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; Eph. 1:7). The horizontal aspect of the Lord’s Supper indicates one is walking in love and living selflessly towards other Christians (1 Cor. 10:15-17; 11:17-34), for it is a picture of the love and selflessness of Christ who gave His life for the benefit of others. It is a sin to partake of the Lord’s Supper while behaving selfishly toward other believers, and God will punish those who do so (1 Cor. 11:27-30). Paul instructed the Christians at Corinth to partake of the Lord’s Supper retrospectively by looking back at the sacrificial life and death of Christ (1 Cor. 11:23-25), prospectively by looking forward to Jesus’ return (1 Cor. 11:26), and introspectively by examining their attitudes and actions (1 Cor. 11:27-32). A proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper will lead to unselfish love towards others (1 Cor. 11:33-34a).

Summary

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus while celebrating the Passover meal on the night before His crucifixion. The unleavened bread symbolizes the perfect humanity of Christ, and the red juice symbolizes the blood of the New Covenant that was ratified on the cross. Christians who partake of the Lord’s Supper see themselves as the beneficiaries of the spiritual blessings of forgiveness and the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Lord’s Supper instructs us to look back to the selfless love of Christ, forward to His return, and inward to one’s values and actions.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Honor the Lord From Your Wealth

Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine (Prov. 3:9-10). 

     This wise word from Solomon was written to his son, a Hebrew living in God’s theocratic kingdom, under the Mosaic Law. Under that system, Israelites were required to pay mandatory tithes from the produce of their land.[1] Through their obedience in giving, they would “Honor the Lord” from their wealth, and the Lord would bless them “with plenty” (Prov. 3:9-10; cf. Deut. 28:1-14). For Solomon, giving to the Lord was a means of honoring Him. 

     Giving was not only to be done for the Temple and priests, but also for the needy in the community. Solomon writes, “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed” (Prov. 19:17), and “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor” (Prov. 22:9), and “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him” (Prov. 14:31). 

     Christians are not under the Mosaic Law (Rom. 6:14), and are not, therefore, obligated to tithe to the local church.[2] However, though we are not commanded to tithe, I would argue that our attitude about money is a sign of our spiritual health. The Lord is certainly very kind to us and gives graciously with an open hand, and grace-minded believers will support His work, both in the church and in the community (i.e. helping one’s neighbor, the homeless, orphans, etc.). There are examples in the New Testament of believers who gave freely to help meet the needs of others (Acts 2:42-45; 4:34-35; 11:27-30; Gal. 2:10; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-5), and this was born out of a heart of compassion.

     Paul taught the Christians at Corinth to give regularly (1 Cor. 16:1-2). The Bible certainly teaches that Christians should support their pastor financially, as Paul writes, “the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14), and “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him (Gal. 6:6; cf. 1 Tim. 5:17-18). However, though it was his right to receive compensation, on at least one occasion, the apostle Paul refused to accept financial contributions from others and supported himself in his own ministry so that his life would be example of sacrificial living.  Paul said:

I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 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 20:33-35)

     Paul, in the New Testament, wrote that believers should not “to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Paul then instructed them “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Tim. 6:18-19). Giving for the Lord’s work is legitimate. The issue for the Christian is not how much one gives, but rather, that one gives joyfully, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] There were actually three tithes the Israelites were obligated to pay: two tithes were required every year to the Temple in order to support the Levites and priests (Deut. 14:22-23; Num. 18:21) and a third tithe was taken every third year to help the poor, the alien, the orphans and the widows (Deut. 14:28-29).  For the most part, the tithes consisted of the fruit and grain that came out of the ground.

[2] See my article: Giving or Tithing?

Religious Syncretism

Religious Syncretism    Several years ago I had a strange conversation with a young woman who was in graduate school and finishing her degree in Social Work. The woman became excited when I mentioned I was in seminary and she proceeded to tell me about the Baptist church she was attending. She’d been active in her church for several years and was involved in the choir and occasionally substituted for her Sunday school teacher. The conversation took a confusing turn when she told me she follows her daily horoscope, believing it helps guide her life. Stanger yet, she began talking about how she believes in reincarnation. When I asked her why she believes in reincarnation she said, “Because I believe God is fair and gives people second chances in another life to make up for bad choices in a previous one.” She said all this with a big smile on her face. However, when I politely tried to explain the biblical teaching against astrology and reincarnation, she quickly shut the conversation down, saying, “I believe what I believe.” She then changed the subject and started talking about her work. This woman was engaging in religious syncretism. 

     Religious syncretism is the blending of the doctrines and practices of two or more religions in order to come up with something new. Religious syncretism has been going on for millennia. Modern day examples include Chrislam, New Age, Christian Science, and the Interfaith Movement. A biblical example that dates to about 1100 B.C. is found in Judges 17 where an Israelite named Micah blended the idolatrous practices of the Canaanites with the worship of Yahweh. The culmination was a monstrous self-serving religion that fostered spiritual anarchy among God’s people (see Judges 18). In Judges 17 Micah is introduced as a son who stole a great amount of wealth from his mother. He returned the wealth fearing the curse she’d uttered on the thief, and his mother subsequently blessed him the name of Yahweh (Judg 17:1-2). The historical account gets bizarre when Micah’s mother—in the name of Yahweh—used some of her wealth (silver) to create a molten image and graven image, which she gave to her son (Judg 17:3-4). Micah took the images from his mother and put them in his shrine and made an ephod (either to be used during worship, or as an object of worship; see Judg 8:24-27). He added several small household idols (teraphim) and then ordained his son to be the family priest (Judg 17:5). Micah’s house was a type of Israel during the period of the Judges, in which “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 17:6), and all of this was against God’s instruction for Israel (Ex 20:4-5; Deut 27:15). Micah then welcomed a wandering Levite (Judg 17:7-10), whom he consecrated to serve as his family priest (Judg 17:11-12). This was contrary to Scripture, for only descendants of Aaron could serve as priests, whereas Levites were to serve as priestly assistants (Num 8:19; 18:1-7). Micah falsely believed that by having a Levitical priest as the leader of his new religion that he would also have God’s blessing (Judg 17:13). This would later prove untrue (see Judges chapter 18). 

     God’s revelation in the Bible makes it clear that there is no room for religious syncretism (Ex 20:4-5; Deut 27:15; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Phil 1:27), and Christians should be mindful to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Christianity is built on certain theological essentials from which Christians cannot depart. There is room for love and grace when disagreeing on secondary doctrinal matters. There will always be false teachers who will deny the inerrancy of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the hypostatic union, Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, His death, burial, and bodily resurrection, and His second coming. Only those who are advancing toward spiritual maturity by learning and living God’s Word will find protection against false teachers (Deut 13:1-4; 18:18-22; Acts 20:28-30; 2 Pet 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1; Rev 2:2). Those who fail to grow spiritually will find themselves vulnerable to all sorts of pagan concepts. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

The Work of the Holy Spirit

The Light of God's WordThe dynamic of the believer’s spiritual walk is predicated to a certain degree on how much Bible knowledge resides in his soul. He cannot live what he does not know, and knowing God’s word necessarily precedes living His will. Knowing God’s word does not guarantee a spiritual walk, as the believer may follow the world rather than the Holy Spirit (Jas. 4:17; 1 Jo. 2:15). However, he cannot be spiritual without some knowledge of Scripture, and the more he knows, the more he’s able to surrender his life to God.

       Understanding the work of Holy Spirit in the dispensation of Grace enables the believer to live the spiritual life. The Mosaic Law system is not the rule of life for the church age believer, and sadly, too many Christians seek to live by it. How the Holy Spirit worked in the life of saints under the Mosaic Law is vastly different than how He works in the life of the believer today. For example, under the dispensation of the Mosaic Law the Holy Spirit indwelt and empowered only a few believers such as Artisans (Ex. 31:1-5), Judges (Num. 11:25-29; Jud. 3:9-10), Prophets (Ezek. 2:2), and Kings (1 Sam. 10:6; 16:13); however, in the dispensation of Grace, every believer in the church is indwelt by Him (John 14:16-17; Romans 5:5; 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19). Also, under the dispensation of the Mosaic Law, the Holy Spirit could be taken from a believer as an act of discipline (1 Sam. 16:14-16), but this cannot happen to the believer under the dispensation of Grace, as the Christian is permanently sealed with the Holy Spirit Himself (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30). Under the previous dispensation David could petition the Lord and ask Him not to “take Thy Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11); but no church age believer should pray such a prayer, since the Holy Spirit does not leave when sin is produced. The sinning Christian may “grieve” and/or “quench” the Holy Spirit when sin is accomplished, and this he is commanded not to do (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19); but the disobedient Christian does not live under threat of losing the Holy Spirit if he fails to yield to the will of God. Certainly the Lord can and does discipline the erring child (Heb. 12:6), but not with the removal of the Holy Spirit, as was true under the previous dispensation.

       Jesus communicated these differences regarding the work of the Holy Spirit and prophesied that after His resurrection the Holy Spirit would be given to all believers to indwell them (Jo. 7:37-39; 14:16-17, 26; 16:13; Acts 1:5; 2:1-4). An important note to observe is the fact that Jesus referred to the coming ministry of the Holy Spirit as future from His resurrection (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4). This shows that what the Holy Spirit is doing in the Church age is distinct from what He did in the lives of some of the saints in the previous dispensation.  The Holy Spirit is working in the lives of two groups of people: unbelievers and believers. Regarding unbelievers and the world it is stated that He is:

  1. Convicting unbelievers of “sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8-11).
  2. Restraining sin in the world (2 Thess. 2:7).

       The Christian operating on the authority of Scripture knows the Holy Spirit is working in the heart of the unbeliever to convince him of “sin, righteousness, and judgment.” This convincing work of the Spirit regarding Christ, His work, and future judgment may be suppressed by the unbeliever—like other forms of God’s revelation—but it cannot be stopped. It is not the Christian’s place to convince the unsaved person about Christ’s Person and work, but simply to present the facts of Scripture and trust the Holy Spirit to illumine and persuade. Failure to understand what the Holy Spirit is doing in the lives of unbelievers may lead an ignorant believer to assume the Holy Spirit’s convicting work, and this results in frustration since the Christian is in no way equipped or commanded to tackle this momentous task.

       It is reported in Scripture that the Holy Spirit is now restraining sin in the world until the Church is taken to heaven at the Rapture (2 Thess. 2:7; cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18). The terrible darkness that will consume the world when the restraining work of the Holy Spirit ends is manifest in the lives of those living during the time of the seven year Tribulation (Rev. 6-19; cf. 2 Thess. 2:3-12). It is obvious that there is much sin in the world now, and it staggers the imagination to try to comprehend how bad it will be after the Holy Spirit’s restraining ministry ends.

     Once a person believes in Jesus for salvation, he is then delivered “from the domain of darkness, and transferred…to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). This transference is instantaneous and permanent, and is understood as the work of the Holy Spirit at salvation. Once saved, the Holy Spirit permanently indwells the Christian (1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 1:13-14), makes him a “new creature” in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17), and gives him the spiritual capacity to live righteously (Rom. 6:11-14). The Holy Spirit then works to form the character of Christ in him, which is understood as the work of the Holy Spirit after salvation. Some of the works of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer are as follows:

At salvation:

  1. Regeneration (John 3:6; 2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 2:13).
  2. Indwelling each believer (John 14:16-17; Rom. 5:5; 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19).
  3. Baptizing into union with Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27).
  4. Sealing each believer with Himself (Eph. 4:30).
  5. Providing eternal life (John 3:16).
  6. Imputing Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).
  7. Blessing with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3).
  8. Providing a spiritual gift for the edification of the church (1 Cor. 12:4-7).

After salvation:

  1. Glorifying Jesus in the believer’s life (John 16:14).
  2. Teaching directly through the Word and gifted speakers (John 16:13-15; Eph. 4:11-16).
  3. Recalling Scripture to mind (John 14:26; 16:13).
  4. Filling (empowering and guiding) (Eph. 5:18).
  5. Sustaining spiritual walk (Gal. 5:16, 25).
  6. Illuminating the mind and making Scripture understandable (1 Cor. 2:11-13).
  7. Promoting the use of the believer’s spiritual gift (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-10, 28-30; Eph. 4:11).

       The works of the Holy Spirit at salvation are once for all, and occur immediately when faith is placed in Jesus as Savior. In contrast, the works of the Holy Spirit after salvation are regularly repeated in the believer’s life, and require a volitional response to the Spirit’s leading. The Holy Spirit seeks to guide the believer into God’s will, but does not force compliance.  The above lists of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer are not exhaustive, but are representative of the major aspects of His work.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

Restoring Fellowship with God

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light [i.e. purity and holiness; cf. John 3:19–21; 8:12; 12:35–36], and in Him there is no darkness at all [i.e. no sin; cf. John 3:19; 1 John 2:8–11]. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness [i.e. commit sin], we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another [between God and the Christian], and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin [as believers] we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins [i.e. agree with God about our sin], He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned [as God’s Word declares], we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10 NASB)

       What person can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”? (Prov. 20:9).  No one is ever free from sin in this life, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).  Sin (from the Hebrew חָטָא chata or the Greek ἁμαρτία hamartia) means to fall away or miss the mark of God’s intended will.  Sin is failure to do God’s will, and both unbelievers and believers commit sin.  “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]  The Bible teaches everyone is a sinner (Rom. 3:9).  We are sinners because of our relationship to Adam (Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), we are sinners by nature, born with a rebellious heart (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and we are sinners by choice every time we yield to temptation (Jas. 1:14-15). 

       At the moment of faith in Christ, all sins (past, present, and future) are forgiven (Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13), and the believer’s relationship to Adam is terminated as the Christian begins a new identity in Christ (Eph. 2:5-6).  At the moment of the new birth, the believer is completely justified in God’s sight, and this is by grace, because Christ died in our place and bore the penalty that rightfully belongs to us (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:6-10; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18).  Believers stand acceptable before God, not because of any righteousness of our own based on good works (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), but because of the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to us by faith (Rom. 4:1-5), “the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9).  As Christians, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).  God made Christ “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).  Christ died a death He did not deserve, that we might have a life and enjoy spiritual riches we could never earn (Rom. 5:5-10; Eph. 2:1-6).  Salvation is truly a gift from God. 

       From the moment of my spiritual birth until I leave this world for heaven, I am in Christ and all my sins are forgiven (Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 2:13).  In addition, I have a new spiritual nature (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), and the power to live righteously in God’s will (Rom. 6:11-14).  However, during my time in this world, I still possess my sin nature (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and occasionally I yield to temptation (both internal and external) and commit sin.  “Conversion does not mean the eradication of the sin nature. Rather it means the implanting of the new, divine nature, with power to live victoriously over indwelling sin.”[2]  My acts of sin do not jeopardize my eternal salvation which was secured by the Lord Jesus Christ (John 10:28), but it does hurt my walk with the Lord (1 John 1:5-10), and stifles the work of the Holy Spirit who dwells within me (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).  I sin every day, and some days more than others.  As I grow spiritually in my knowledge of God’s Word, I will pursue righteousness more and more and sin will diminish, but sin will never completely disappear from my life.  Living in the reality of God’s Word, I know three things are true when I sin:

  1. There is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).  Though I have sinned against God, my eternal security and righteous standing before Him is never jeopardized.  I am eternally secure (John 10:28), and keep on possessing the righteousness of God that was imputed to me at the moment of salvation (Rom. 4:1-5; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).
  2. I am walking in darkness and have broken fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-6).  When I sin, as a Christian, I have broken fellowship with God and stifled the work of the Holy Spirit who dwells within me (1 John 1:5-6; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).  If I continue in sin, or leave my sin unconfessed, I am in real danger of divine discipline from God (Ps. 32:3-4; Heb. 12:5-11; 1 John 5:16-17; cf. Dan. 4:37).   
  3. If I confess my sin directly to God, He will immediately forgive my sin and restore me to fellowship (1 John 1:9; cf. Ps. 32:5).  Being in fellowship with God means walking in the sphere of His light (1 John 1:5-7), being honest with Him about my sin (1 John 1:8, 10), and coming before His throne of grace in transparent humility and confessing my sin that I will be forgiven (1 John 1:9; cf. Heb. 4:16).  God is faithful and just to forgive my sins every time I confess them because of the atoning work of Christ who shed His blood on the cross for me (1 John 1:9; 2:1-2). 

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.[3]

       God’s grace compels me to pursue righteousness and good works (Tit. 2:11-14).  But since I still have a sinful nature and live in a fallen world with temptation all around, I occasionally fall into sin.  When I sin, I agree with God that I have done wrong and I confess it to Him seeking His forgiveness.  When I sin against others and wrongly hurt them, I confess my sin to them and ask for their forgiveness.  Because my sin hurts others (and their sin hurts me), there is a need for love, patience, humility, and ongoing forgiveness among the saints. 

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. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Col. 3:12-15)

       God’s grace is wonderful to me.  By grace he saves, and by grace he forgives and restores me to fellowship.  It is very simple.  Daily I confess my sins directly to God, and He faithfully forgives me and restores me to fellowship with Him.  It is all His goodness, and I am the fortunate recipient of His mercy and love.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:


[1] Merrill F. Unger and E. McChesney, “Sin” In , in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, ed. R.K. Harrison, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

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

[3] Ibid., 2310-11.

Enjoying the Spiritual Life

     The spiritual Christian enjoys life and celebrates the many wonders of God’s creation and takes pleasure in things such a walk in the woods, a baby’s smile, a beautiful sunset, a satisfying meal, and good friends.  The spiritual Christian always keeps the Creator and creation distinct in his thinking, worshipping the former while enjoying the latter.  Worldliness, however, is a mindset that perverts the enjoyment of the creation by calling men to use it in ways God never intended.  The worldly minded person, whether Christian or not, uses the creation for selfish and destructive ends, and at times will even worship it in place of God (Rom. 1:18-25).  Concerning spiritual enjoyment, Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote:

The world and “worldly” Christians turn to so-called “worldly” things because they discover in them an anesthetic to deaden the pain of an empty heart and life.  The anesthetic, which is often quite innocent in itself, is not so serious a matter as the empty heart and life.  Little is gained toward true spirituality when would-be soul doctors have succeeded in persuading the afflicted to get on without the anesthetic.  If these instructors do not present the reality of consolation and filling for heart and life which God has provided, the condition will not be improved.  How misleading is the theory that to be spiritual one must abandon play, diversion and helpful amusement!  Such a conception of spirituality is born of a morbid human conscience.  It is foreign to the Word of God.  It is a device of Satan to make the blessings of God seem abhorrent to young people who are overflowing with physical life and energy.  It is to be regretted that there are those who in blindness are so emphasizing the negatives of the Truth that the impression is created that spirituality is opposed to joy, liberty and naturalness of expression in thought and life in the Spirit.  Spirituality is not a pious pose.  It is not a “Thou shall not”; is it “Thou shalt.”  It flings open the doors into the eternal blessedness, energies and resources of God.  It is a serious thing to remove the element of relaxation and play from any life.  We cannot be normal physically, mentally or spiritually if we neglect the vital factor in human life.  God has provided that our joy shall be full.[1]

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[1] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1967), 60-61.

A Tribute to a Godly Grandmother

Jeanette Boerner O'DonnellJeanette K. Boerner O’Donnell (4/19/1893 to 12/21/1984) was the only grandparent I knew growing up in Lancaster, California, in the mid 70’s. I was 8 and she was 80 when she came to live in our home for about two years. We stood eye to eye and weighed about the same. She had a crown of silvery hair and kept her shoulders straight when she walked. Her gentle demeanor made others feel welcome. She was loved by those who knew her. 

       Jeanette K. Boerner 1930Jeanette was born in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, and lived there until she moved to California in the 1920’s to attend college (see genealogy). She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1929 and then moved to Lancaster, California, where she was involved in her church. She was gifted in music and played the clarinet, the mandolin and the piano. Her love for God as a young girl continued into her adult life and she was not shy about sharing the Lord with others she met along the way. 

       She occupied the little bedroom near the front of the house. My room was next to hers, cattycorner across the hall. I walked past her bedroom each morning as I headed to the kitchen for breakfast. Usually awake at sunrise, she had the habit of praising God before getting out of bed, and sometimes I could hear her whispering praises to the Lord. This was her habit every morning. She would hold her hands slightly above the bedcovers and count praises on her fingertips. A hundred praises before she got out of bed. She liked to start each day with worship and honor to the Lord and often had tears by the time she finished her hundredth praise; tears and a smile. Her love for God was genuine, and it flowed out of her in praise for Him and love for others. My grandmother believed in godly habits, as they led to godly character. 

open-bibleMy grandmother used to say, “Be disciplined in your life.” By discipline she meant, “do what you ought to do, whether you want to do it or not, because it’s right.” When she spoke of doing what is “right”, she often meant according to the standard of God’s Word. For her, the Bible was the guide for Christian faith and conduct. The Christian was to learn God’s Word and then live it on daily basis. She modeled her Christian faith regularly. She also taught me basic rules of etiquette. She demonstrated politeness and good manners toward others and always had good posture when standing, walking or sitting. As a family, we were very poor financially, but she explained that was no excuse for poor manners, a poor work ethic, or a poor education. Above all, it was no excuse to be poor in love. As Christians, we were to look to Christ, both as our Savior and role model. I must admit, at that time, I did not understand my grandmother, and it took nearly fifteen years of growing up before I began to appreciate her in a fuller way. That’s the way it goes in life. We sometimes learn things we don’t fully understand until later, or we don’t appreciate some people until we grow older. 

       My grandmother was an anomaly to me. She was out of place in the world that I knew. My parents, siblings and friends were consumed with their own lives and were steeped in worldly values. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes, but my grandmother sought the Lord. She was a light in a dark place. She represented the highest and best in good behavior at a time when all others around me represented the lowest and worst. It’s easy to be worldly when everyone around you is worldly, but she chose to be godly and to live by biblical values. 

       She was not afraid to share Christ with others. I was with her once in a department store when she decided to share Christ with the man standing next to her. The man was well over six feet, bearded, scruffy, and wearing a black leather jacket with writing on the back. My grandmother turned to him and asked, “Have you made the most important decision of your life?” I did not understand what she was asking him. About fifteen minutes later she was standing with him over in a corner of the store and was sharing the gospel of Christ with him. She explained that Jesus had died on the cross for his sins and was assuring him that he could receive the gift of eternal life if he would trust in Christ as his Savior. A moment later they both closed their eyes and she prayed with him. She was bold when sharing the Gospel of God’s grace. 

       I remember a conflict I’d had with her once at the house. I’d defied her one morning when she’d asked me to perform a trivial task. I remember looking her square in the eyes and saying “no”. She asked me again to do what she wanted, and again I said “no”. She said, “If you don’t do what I ask, you can spend an hour in your room.” I told her, “No I won’t.” I don’t know why I defied her. She promptly grabbed me by my ear and walked me across the living room and down the hall and put me in my bedroom and said, “stay in your room for an hour and then come out and do what I’ve asked.” I told her “no” and proceeded to wrestle with her. She walked out of the room and shut the door behind her. I grabbed the door and pulled it open, and she pulled it shut, then we tugged on the door back and forth for a few seconds until I finally gave up and sat down on my bed. I sat and read my Curious George book, angry that I was made to stay in my room for an hour. After about twenty minutes I thought perhaps she’d gone away, so I quietly snuck over to the door and gently placed my hands on the knob, and with a quick turn I pulled on the door and was surprised to see my grandmother standing on the other side. She was surprised at my attempt to escape. She quickly pulled the door shut and said, “I’ll stand here the whole hour if that’s what it takes to keep you in your room.” And that’s exactly what she did. Afterwards she let me out and I did what she asked. My respect for her increased greatly. 

       My grandmother moved away after being with us for nearly two years. Eventually she went to live with my uncle in North Hollywood. She stayed there until her death in 1984. She suffered a stroke one day at the house and died a few days later at a local hospital. My older sister Cindy was able to visit our grandmother in the hospital before she died. Cindy kissed her cheek, thanked her for her love, sang a hymn and prayed with her while holding her hand. Though limited by her stroke, my grandmother continued to pray and praise the Lord until she died. Her faith was strong to the end of her life. She was a trophy of God’s grace to all her knew her.

       In closing, there was a great spiritual void in my life after my grandmother moved away. There was no one to help me memorize Scripture or teach me right from wrong. As I grew older the ways of the world filled my soul and I fell into darkness. By the time I was 21 I’d ruined my life with drugs and was living on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada. I woke one morning to the sound of children walking past the fence near the alley where I’d slept the night before. Years of bad choices and heavy drug use had caught up with me and the few weeks I’d spent living on the streets and at a homeless shelter were enough to wake me to the despair of my situation. Worldly living had produced such a darkness within me, there were times I had considered suicide as a solution to end the misery that was my pathetic life. However, there was hope that morning on the grass. God’s voice broke through, as the influence of a godly grandmother came to my mind. I was thinking about Psalm chapter 1, which my grandmother helped me memorize when I was 8. I kept repeating that Psalm over in my mind, and it helped me focus on God rather than the despair of my situation. From that moment onward I began to look to the Lord and Scripture for guidance. My life has been an uphill climb out of the ash heap ever since then, and I thank God for His blessing me more than I deserve. I am thankful for the godly grandmother He placed in my life at a young age. The biblical seeds she planted took root and have been growing ever since. My life is richer because of her. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:


[1] The Boerner family genealogy: https://boernerfamily.wordpress.com/.  

The Filling of the Holy Spirit

       The Holy Spirit fills us to accomplish His will (Eph. 5:18).  The filling of the Holy Spirit simply means He controls, influences or directs us as we yield to Him and are willing to accomplish His will according to Scripture. 

And do not get 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 manner.  The Bible does not condemn drinking wine, but it does condemn drunkenness, in which the believer loses control of himself.  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.[1]

       As a Christian, I don’t ask the Spirit to fill me, as that’s what He already wants to do; rather, I submit to God and walk in the light of Scripture and trust the Spirit to guide and empower me. 

The work of the Holy Spirit in filling the believer may be simply defined as that ministry which is accomplished in the believer when he is fully yielded to the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Every reference to the filling of the Holy Spirit indicates a spiritual condition on the part of the person filled which is brought about by the complete control of the Spirit.[2]

       The Spirit wants to fill me and accomplish His will in my life, but I must be yielded to Him, willing to let Him guide me according to Scripture.  There must be an active submission on my part to say “yes” to what the Spirit wants to accomplish in my life, otherwise I’m resisting Him. 

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).[3]

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.[4]

       For the apostle Paul, the most obvious sign of being filled with the Spirit is the manifestation that follows.  After giving the command to be filled with the Spirit, the apostle Paul then states that Christians are to be:

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father”  (Eph. 5:19-20). 

       The spiritual Christian tends to have a song in his heart and an attitude of thankfulness toward God.  This does not mean he cannot experience genuine grief or sorrow, or at times be angry while filled with Spirit.  Certainly Jesus got angry and experienced sorrow, and He was spiritual in everything.  However, as we follow Paul’s instructions in his letter to the Ephesians, the filling of the Spirit is followed by praise and thanksgiving in the believer. (Article taken from my book: The Christian Life, pages 71-75)

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

The Filling of the Holy Spirit – by John F. Walvoord 

What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? – compellingtruth.org  


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

[2] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan Publishing, 1977), 192.

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

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

Spiritual Blessings in Christ

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 (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:5-7)

       Seated with ChristTo be in Christ is to be identified with Him in a real and personal way. Paul spoke of the many blessings that belong to the Christian who is in Christ. Some of these blessings we enjoy in time, whereas others we will enjoy in eternity. Of our new position in Christ it is stated:

  1. We are the special objects of His great love (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:4).
  2. We are made alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5).
  3. We are raised up and seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6).
  4. We are the recipients of His grace (Eph. 2:8-9).
  5. We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3).
  6. We are forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13; Heb. 10:10-14).
  7. We are children of God (John 3:6; Gal. 3:26; 1 Pet. 1:23; Tit. 3:5).
  8. We are given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; 20:31).
  9. We are made ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).
  10. We are given the gift of God’s righteousness (Rom. 4:3-6; 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).
  11. We are justified before God (Rom. 3:24-28; 5:1).
  12. We have peace with God (Rom. 5:1).
  13. We are given citizenship in heaven (Philip. 3:20).
  14. We are transferred to the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12; cf. Acts 26:18).
  15. We are all saints in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:18-19; 2:19).
  16. We are made priests to God (Rev. 1:6).
  17. We were foreknown and predestined to be God’s elect (Rom. 8:29-33; Eph. 1:4).
  18. We are the recipients of His faithfulness (Heb. 13:5; Philip. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:24).
  19. We are delivered from the power of Satan (Col. 1:13).
  20. We have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4, 10-13).
  21. We are members of the Church, the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18).
  22. We are indwelt and sealed with the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; Eph. 1:13).
  23. We are guaranteed a new home in heaven (John 14:1-3).
  24. We are guaranteed resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15:50-58).
  25. We have special access to His throne of grace (Heb. 4:16).
  26. We will be glorified in eternity (Rom. 8:18, 30; Col. 3:4).
  27. We are called to grow in His grace and knowledge (2 Pet. 3:18).

       The Christian who is advancing spiritually must, at some point, learn to live in the reality of his new position in Christ. By faith, his life experience should grow to reflect the reality of his position in the family of God. Truth, love, mercy, grace, righteousness, sacrifice, and other Christian virtues should become increasingly evident as the believer engages in his daily pursuit of God, as he seeks to lay hold of the One who in love laid hold of him and by grace saved him and displayed His wonderful riches upon him.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Steps to Spiritual Growth

     The advance to spiritual maturity is a process that takes time as the new Christian learns and lives God’s Word on a regular basis. The world—directed by Satan and his demonic forces—is always seeking to place obstacles in front of the believer in an effort to distract him and get him to think about anything and everything other than his Christian walk with the Lord. Dr. Lewis S. Chafer describes Satan’s world system as follows:

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

       The growing Christian must not allow himself to be distracted by the world, or by its pleasures or pains. The pursuit of worldly agendas, no matter how moral or noble they may appear, whether political or social, are a defeat to the Christian if they pull him away from his priority of learning God’s Word, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and walking daily with the Lord Jesus Christ. Though constant distraction is all around us, we are “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Bringing our thoughts into captivity means focusing our mind on God and His Word (Isa. 26:3; Prov. 3:5-6; Col. 3:1), and not allowing our thoughts to be bogged down with the cares of this world (Matt. 6:25-34). This requires spiritual discipline to learn and live God’s Word on a regular basis as we advance to spiritual maturity. There are at least seven things each believer must follow to reach spiritual maturity:

  1. He must have an ongoing attitude of submission to God and be willing to seek His will above all else (Rom. 12:1-2). The Christian will face temptations from the world and from his own sinful fleshly nature. The ongoing attitude of submission to God will help the Christian overcome these temptations because he will want the Lord’s will above all else.
  2. He must be in continual study of God’s Word, applying it to every aspect of his life (2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). At the moment of regeneration every Christian must begin the process of replacing a lifetime of worldly viewpoint with divine viewpoint. This is necessary if he’s to reach spiritual maturity and glorify God as a believer who effectively serves others (Rom. 12:2; Phil. 2:3-8). The Christian cannot live what he does not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will.
  3. He must live by faith (Rom. 10:17; Heb. 10:38; 11:6). 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), 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).
  4. He must be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). The Christian life is never executed in the energy of the flesh, as though the believer can fulfill God’s commands apart from God’s divine enablement. Relying on God the Holy Spirit requires a knowledge of God’s Word and daily choices to live by faith as the Christian takes God at His promises and follows His commands.
  5. He must learn to walk in daily dependence on God the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 21). Willfully walking with someone implies sensitivity, going where they go, staying in step with them, and being sensitive to their speed and movements. The Spirit guides us biblically and never by vague impressions. Where the Scripture is silent, the believer has freedom to exercise his will and live by biblical principles (i.e. love, seeking God’s glory, etc.), conscience, and trusting God to guide providentially.
  6. He must restore his broken fellowship with God through confession of personal sin (1 John 1:5-9). The confessed sin is directed to God, which is faithfully forgiven (1 John 1:9).
  7. He must take advantage of the time God gives him to learn and grow spiritually (Eph. 5:15-17; cf. Heb. 5:12; 1 Pet. 1:17; 4:1-2). The believer does not reach spiritual maturity overnight, and since he has only a measure of time allotted to him by God (Ps. 139:16), he must make sure his days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word and living His will.

       Every Christian will face ongoing worldly distractions in his spiritual life which are designed by Satan to prevent spiritual growth. The Christian has choices to make on a daily basis, for only he can choose to allow these distractions to stand between him and God. The Christian experiences his greatest blessings in life when he reaches spiritual maturity and utilizes the rich resources God has for him. However, this takes time to learn, and ignorance must give way to the light of God’s revelation found in His Word. 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. The Gospel Message  
  2. The Work of the Holy Spirit  
  3. Enjoying the Spiritual Life  
  4. Spiritual Blessings in Christ  

The Sin Nature Within the Christian

     If the devil were a broadcaster sending out his signal through the world, the sin nature in every person would be the receiver that is specifically tuned to welcome his message.   The sin nature, sometimes called “the flesh” (Gal. 5:17, 19) or “old self” (Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), has a natural affinity for Satan’s values and his world-system.  More so, the sin nature is not eradicated from the believer during his time on earth, nor is it ever reformed, as though it can be made to love God.  What person can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”? (Prov. 20:9).  No one is ever free from sin in this life, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).  Christians have a sin nature, and they do sin.  Paul tells the Christians at Rome to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:14).  He writes to the Christians at Galatia and states, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal 5:16-17).  

The Spirit and the flesh are in constant conflict. God could have removed the fleshly nature from believers at the time of their conversion, but He did not choose to do so. Why? He wanted to keep them continually reminded of their own weakness; to keep them continually dependent on Christ, their Priest and Advocate; and to cause them to praise unceasingly the One who saved such worms. Instead of removing the old nature, God gave us His own Holy Spirit to indwell us. God’s Spirit and our flesh are perpetually at war, and will continue to be at war until we are taken home to heaven. The believer’s part in the conflict is to yield to the Spirit.[1]

       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.”[2]  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.  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.”[3]

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.[4]

       Only the Christian has two opposing natures, and his spiritual growth guarantees internal conflict.  The sin nature, though crippled at the moment of regeneration, does not give up control without a fight, and only the spiritually advancing Christian can overcome the power and habits of the flesh, as he devotes himself to learning and living Scripture by means of the filling of the Spirit.  The Christian is to “lay aside the old self…and put on the new self which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:22, 24).  Such language speaks to the reality that the believer has two natures, one that is corrupt and wants to please self and one that is new and wants to please God. 

For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but [the] sin [nature] which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me [the Christian], the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man [according to the new nature], but I see a different law [of sin] in the members of my body, waging war [causing conflict] against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.  (Romans 7:19-23)

       I have pondered Paul’s struggle between his two natures on many occasions.  Every Christian who has grown spiritually and lived for any time in this world knows exactly what Paul is saying.  He writes that he wants to do good, but then finds himself doing the very opposite.  On the one hand Paul states that he “joyfully concur[s] with the law of God in the inner man” (Rom. 7:22), but that he experiences a war within because of “the law of sin” which is in his flesh (Rom. 7:23).  This is the Christian experience. 

Torn inside with desires to do that which we know is evil and new desires to please God, we experience the rage of the battle.  The internal conflict manifests itself in everyday life as the believer is tempted to sin.  The source of this conflict is the old sin nature, which is the root cause of the deeds of sin.  In the conflict the believer is not passive.  He has a vital role in determining to whom he will give allegiance—the old nature or the new nature.  From the moment a sinner trusts Christ, there is a conflict in his very being between the powers of darkness and those of light.  The one who has become a member of the family of God now faces conflicts and problems that he did not have before.[5]

       Though the Christian will struggle all his life with his two natures, he also knows the victory is already won.  The sin nature has been defeated and its strength diminished because of the believer’s union with Christ (Rom. 6:6, 11).  At his resurrection, the Christian is guaranteed a new body in heaven that is free from the sin nature as it will be just the like body of our Lord Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21). 

       Not only is the Christian commanded to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” but he is to “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:14).  He must not only choose to live according to the new nature in conformity to the Spirit’s guiding, but must also learn to starve the monster that is his sin nature.  To “make no provision for the flesh” means the Christian is to stop exposing himself to the things of the world that excite the flesh and lead to sinful behavior.  The positive action is to grow spiritually with biblical teaching, Christian fellowship, worship and prayer so that the believer grows strong (Acts 2:42; Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  It is only by spiritual growth and drawing closer to God that the Christian glorifies the Lord and learns to live in righteousness.  

Modified excerpt from The Christian Life

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1893.

[2] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2 (Colorado Springs, Col., Victor Publishing, 2001), 18.

[3] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1967), 112.

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

[5] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 1995), 206.

 

Thoughts about Spiritual Growth

       Truth is reality as God sets it forth in His Word. A plain reading of Scripture reveals that God exists, and that He is not silent. His Word reveals the origin of all things, and helps the reader to understand and orient to the world as it is. More so, the Bible reveals God’s righteous demands toward sin, the substitutionary work of His Son on the cross, and the provision of salvation to those who trust in Christ as their Savior.

       The Truth is honest, and provides a straightforward account of man as he is, with all his faults and failures. At times, Scripture pulls back the curtain on spiritual realities and gives glimpses into the angelic realm, and even the throne room of heaven. How magnificent a work is God’s revelation to man! It is complete and sufficient to help men know God. Without Scripture, it’s the blind leading the blind.

       Faith is the appropriate response to God and His word. For the unsaved person who is in danger of the Lake of Fire, he must believe in Christ for salvation. For the saved person, he must believe the promises of God found in Scripture, and strive to be obedient to God’s Word in every area of his life. The Bible speaks to every area of the believer’s life, and he should surrender himself to all God’s directives in the church age. The believer who compartmentalizes his life—only giving some of it to God—brings harm upon himself because of his lack of faith and obedience.

       Spiritual growth is a process that takes time. At the moment of salvation, the new believer knows little about God and His plan, apart from a basic knowledge of the gospel, and that too may be meager. The baby believer must begin the process of learning the Word of God and making application to his life as he grows. A lifetime of worldly viewpoint must be driven from the mind as the believer learns to renovate his thinking in conformity to Holy Scripture. As he learns the Word, he must bring his thoughts into captivity, choosing obedience to God’s revelation. Any room left for worldliness—to that degree—will produce failure and frustration in his Christian walk.

       He will face pressures as he learns to walk with God. The Lord is preparing every child for eternity, and that means removing that which is offensive, and producing that which conforms to the character of Christ. God is more concerned with Christian character than creaturely comforts in His child. God loves him, and will never leave him alone in his worldliness. He loves him enough to grow him, and that means pressure-testing over time, as he learns to walk daily in His Word. The growing believer does not turn away from pressure, but believes that God will sustain him as he strives to be obedient to His Word. Of course, sometimes the believer has no choice regarding his suffering, because God sovereignly places it there and does not remove it. The only reasonable option left to the believer is to trust in the Lord, looking to His Word, believing that the pressures of life serve a divine purpose in producing that which is Christ-like, and removing that which is not.

       The new believer needs a lot of grace to grow. Grace from God, and from other believers. Grace is needed because the new believer will invariably learn and do things that are wrong, and will need to be corrected. In fact, he will spend his entire life learning, and being challenged and corrected about many things. He will need grace, because he will fail God’s will, perhaps even denying the Lord by word or action. Sometimes the believer thinks he’s strong, such as when Peter told the Lord he’d never deny him; however, Peter’s words were untested. After the test, Peter realized—as we all do in such situations—that he was weak. Thank God for the grace that was shown to Peter by our Lord, who reached out to all the scattered disciples, and especially Peter. I wish we all would behave graciously like Christ to those whose weaknesses get exposed, and who feel ashamed after such events.

       The new believer needs to understand that he will never reach a perfect knowledge of all of God’s Word, or attain sinless perfection in his lifetime. There’s never a time when he can say “I’ve arrived; there’s nothing more to learn about God and His Word. I do not sin anymore.” Perfection, both in knowledge and choice, is not attained in this world. Only in the final phase of salvation will the believer be free from his sin nature, and the personal production of sin. Only in the eternal state will he be completely free from sin and its effects.

       Until he goes to be with the Lord in heaven, the growing believer must make good choices that help his spiritual development. Here are a few attitudes and actions the growing believer should follow:

  1. He must make a place for learning God’s Word on a regular basis. He cannot live what he does not know, and knowledge of God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will.
  2. He must be teachable and correctable. The implacable believer has ceased to grow when he is no longer open to correction in his theology, even by one who has less knowledge than himself. Hopefully the growing believer will learn from a teachable teacher, who models humility when shown to be in error about Scripture or Christian doctrine.
  3. He must be patient, knowing that God will spend a lifetime to develop the character of Christ in him. God is eternal, and He has all the time He needs to develop the Christian’s character.
  4. He must be humble, ready to do God’s will when commanded, no matter the cost. This is often challenging for the new believer who thinks in worldly ways, who is still focused on self and seeking autonomy from God and others. The sacrificial mind of Christ comes over time as the believer makes good choices to surrender his will to God on a regular basis.
  5. He must watch out for the arrogant believer who has stopped growing, and who has become friendly with the world. If the arrogant believer rejects challenges to cease his worldliness, then disassociation is in order, and purity must be maintained by the growing believer; but always with an attitude of humility, and willingness to accept the errant believer back into fellowship if he repents. Sometimes letting go of a bad relationship is a sign of growing up in the Lord.
  6. He must think in terms of grace, both for himself and others. He does well to realize that his salvation—as well as his entire Christian life—is the product of God’s grace toward him. At no time does he ever earn or deserve God’s favor. Thinking in terms of grace keeps the growing believer from becoming arrogant by looking down on other believers, or thinking more of himself than he ought to.

       Certainly there are more ingredients one might include in the above list, but these are the ones that readily come to my mind.

       As the believer grows, he will eventually encounter religious arrogance in the church. He should not be shocked when he sees it, nor suckered in to religious foolishness. I’ve seen spiritual elitism both in the church and seminary: cliques of high-minded theologians who spend their days belittling other believers who don’t agree with them, who emphasize denominational differences, or are dogmatic about doctrines not defendable from Scripture. Rather, they ought to be studying the Scriptures daily, praying, discussing the Word openly, humbly owning up to the fact that they don’t know it all, and admitting that there is room for doctrinal and behavior correction in their lives. I’ve seen little grace and love among those puffed up with biblical knowledge. It’s not from the Holy Spirit that they think or behave in such a way.

       The Lord has reprimanded me for sins of academic pride. As a result, I’m a little more gracious toward those with whom I disagree, giving them room, in the hope that I may win them to the truth by making an appeal to Scripture. And if I’m wrong in my teaching, I pray they will see it, reject it, and show me grace. Yes, show me grace, for I too am wrong on some things, even though I don’t see it now. I too need to grow in the grace and knowledge of God and His Word. I need to know the truth accurately, and have the courage to present it when given the opportunity. But I also need to show patience and kindness to those who may disagree with me, especially those who belong to the house of faith, and are growing in their relationship with God.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.