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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

Posted in Biblical Exegesis, Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Psalms, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Being the Good Boss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

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

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

Posted in Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Leadership, Marriage, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Chasing After Donkeys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Here’s the audio lesson:

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

Related Articles:

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Choosing the Faithful Way – Psalm 119:25-32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary:

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

 

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

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

Posted in Biblical Exegesis, Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Psalms, Righteous Living, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Social Justice from a Biblical Perspective

Thus has the LORD of hosts said, “Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” (Zec 7:9-10)

Social Justice     The phrase social justice is commonly used in America today in connection with socialism; and though the term is good, socialism is not.[1] Many of the passages cited in this article are from the Mosaic Law and properly describe God’s expectation of Israel toward the poor, widows, orphans, and aliens in their community, which was a theocracy. Though there are no theocracies today, the OT passages nonetheless reflect the heart of God toward the poor, needy, and most vulnerable in society. From a biblical perspective, social justice refers to the divinely bestowed rights that God legislates concerning vulnerable persons in society; specifically, the poor, widows, orphans, and sojourners. These rights were theirs by divine law in which God commanded those blessed with resources to provide for the needs, protection, and just treatment of the vulnerable. Blessed Israelites were theologically obligated by God to help the less fortunate. In God’s theocratic kingdom, the dependent could expect the powerful and wealthy to help meet their needs and defend their rights. Solomon wrote, “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, the wicked does not understand such concern” (Pro 29:7).[2] The “righteous” are those who have regard for God and His laws and are “concerned for rights of the poor” (cf. Isa 10:1-2). Those who disregarded God’s laws concerning the vulnerable could expect to be judged by Him, as Moses wrote, “Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow” (Deu 27:19). God’s written law was the basis for “the justice due” to the vulnerable in Israel. According to God’s law:

  1. If a person became poor and had to sell his land, it could be purchased back by a near relative, or by himself if able. However, if there was no one to buy the land, it was automatically returned to the owner in the Year of Jubilee, which came once every fifty years (Lev 25:23-28).
  2. The poor could expect those whom God had blessed to be open-handed toward them and to give generously (Deu 15:7-11).
  3. If a poor person sold himself as a slave to a fellow Israelite, he was to be set free in the seventh year, and sent away with abundant resources. But if the slave chose, he could stay with his master forever (Deu 15:12-17; cf. Lev 25:39-42). Moreover, slaves were to be treated fairly, as God declared, “You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God” (Lev 25:43).
  4. If a poor person gave their cloak as a pledge, it was to be returned to him at sunset so that he would not get cold during the night (Deu 24:10-13).
  5. If one of God’s people hired a poor person to perform labor, he was to be paid the same day (Deu 24:14-15).[3] This is because the poor person relied on that money to eat.
  6. Sojourners, widows and orphans were free to eat the remnants of a crop after harvest (Deu 24:19-21).
  7. Levites, sojourners, widows and orphans were to enjoy the tithe of produce that came every third year (Deu 14:28-29).

     God called His people to be righteous, honest, truthful, protective and open-handed toward the less fortunate in society. Sadly, there were times when kings, princes, judges, wealthy, prophets and priests behaved wickedly and abused the poor.[4] For this reason, God raised up prophets such as Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Zechariah and others who called for His people to “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, [and] plead for the widow” (Isa 1:17). This call for obedience was rooted in the ethics of the Mosaic Law, which God’s people were to follow. And the prophets were functioning as prosecuting attorneys and not merely as social reformers as liberation theologians would have us believe. Unfortunately, God’s prophets were ignored or mistreated and the vulnerable continued to be exploited. When God’s people would not turn back to Him, He administered retributive justice, which brought about national discipline and eventual destruction (see Ex 22:21-24; Deu 10:17-18; Mal 3:5; Jer 21:12). God used both the Assyrians and Babylonians as His disciplinary agents to dispense retributive justice in Israel.

     In the Church age, governmental leaders—both Christian and non-Christian—serve as conduits of God’s grace to help care for the needy in society. In this case, tax dollars are used for basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Scripture teaches us to think of government as a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:4), and to regard rulers as “servants of God” who do His will (Rom. 13:6), and to pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We realize there is a legitimate sense in which the governmental leaders of this world accomplish God’s purposes by keeping harmony and promoting justice (Rom. 13:2-4; 6-7). Christian leaders who have a healthy walk with the Lord are ultimately directed by His Word. Non-Christian leaders are influenced directly by God who controls their hearts (Pro 21:1), their consciences (Rom 2:14-15), and through the influence of godly believers in their periphery (Dan 3:28-29; 6:25-27).

     As Christians, we use the phrase social justice within the context of God’s moral absolutes. We agree with the laws of man when those laws reflect God’s laws. As a result, we are to advocate for the poor, widows, orphans, and all who are vulnerable to exploitation. In many cases, we are the proponents who affect that blessing as we open our hands to the destitute. This was true of the early church, “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:44-45). There is no model for socialism here, whereby the state acts as the mediator who takes from one and gives to another. Instead, these Christians willingly sold “their property and possession” to help others, and this was done freely in order to help “as anyone might have need.” James writes, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jam 1:27). Individual Christians are to be open-handed when helping the poor, widows and orphans.[5] This can be done directly, or through the agency of others, including organizations that help the needy and defend their rights. We are called to be good stewards of God’s resources, and this means compassion for others should be governed by wisdom from God’s Word.

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

     Lastly, there will be no utopian government nor lasting social change until Jesus returns and establishes His millennial kingdom. At that time, “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this” (Isa 9:7; cf. Jer 33:15). During that time “He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth” (Isa 11:4). 

When our Lord returns He will take the reins of government and rule the nations of this world as a benevolent dictator (Rev. 19:15). Then and only then will the world experience a time of righteousness, justice, social welfare, economic prosperity, and spiritual knowledge. He will show Himself to be King of kings and Lord of lords in the same arena where man’s rebellion against God took place.[6]

Summary:

     When Israel was a theocratic kingdom, God legislated certain benefits to the poor, widows, orphans and sojourners in order to meet their daily needs, and these were to be given by those whom He’d blessed with abundance. God instructed His leaders to uphold and defend the rights of the vulnerable, knowing there would be wicked persons who would seek to exploit them. Sadly, much of Israel’s history was marked by a breakdown among His people, as the leaders and wealthy in the land exploited the poor they were called to defend. Now, in the Church age, God provides care for the needy in society through human governments, as well as through individual Christians and local churches. Lastly, perfect government will come in the future when Jesus Christ returns and establishes His kingdom on earth and provides righteous reign and care for all.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Here’s the audio lesson.

Related Subjects:

  1. The Gospel 
  2. Christians in America 
  3. What Does it Mean to be a Man? 
  4. Honor the Lord from Your Wealth 
  5. Treating Others with Dignity 
  6. Helping the Poor  

[1] Socialism is little more than thievery, in which governmental leaders extract wealth from one class of citizens—often the honest and hardworking—and redistributes it to others in order to create outcomes of equality. Socialism has brought nothing but social and economic ruin wherever it has been implemented.

[2] Solomon’s mother planted seeds of righteousness in the garden of her young son’s mind, hoping someday the landscape of his thinking would beautifully display the richness of God’s Word. She instructed her young son, saying “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy” (Pro 31:8-9). Oh, that mothers would instruct their children in the ways of the Lord; that children would grow up with godly values that instruct them to care for others and to help the less fortunate. That children would grow up to represent the highest and best within society and not the lowest and worst.

[3] The Bible promotes a strong and honest work ethic. In fact, God’s expectation of compensation for work performed is so strong, it even extended to animals, as Moses wrote, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” (Deu 25:4). The animal that works has the right to benefit from its labor. In contrast, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat” (2 Th 3:10).

[4] The wicked are described as those who “slay the widow and the stranger and murder the orphans” (Psa 94:6), who “deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of My people of their rights, so that widows may be their spoil and that they may plunder the orphans” (Isa 10:2). In addition, “They are fat, they are sleek, they also excel in deeds of wickedness; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor” (Jer 5:28).

[5] Not all widows were eligible for support from the church, but only those who met the age requirements and displayed a life of humility and service to others (1 Tim 5:9-10). And, if a widow has children, they are to care for her (1 Tim 5:4). Younger widows were to seek remarriage and a godly life (1 Tim 5:11-14). And if a young woman has a dependent widow, she must care for her and not expect the church to do it (1 Tim 5:16).

[6] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 316.

Posted in Biblical Worldview, Christian Theology, Church, Hot Topics, Leadership, Living by Faith, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

When God Gives Us a Test

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Virtue of Humility  
  2. God’s Grace is Sufficient 
  3. Walking with God  
  4. God Wrestled with Jacob  
  5. Psalm 23  
  6. The Value of Suffering  
  7. Thoughts About Spiritual Growth  
  8. I am Barabbas  
Posted in Christian Theology, Hot Topics, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

God’s Grace is Sufficient

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

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

     When Paul came to understand God’s grace and how it worked in his life, he responded properly, saying, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9b). Paul’s weakness, which ebbed and flowed, was always matched by God’s power to do His will. Paul learned to depend on God, day by day, hour by hour, and moment by moment, as the need required. Because God’s grace is always sufficient for the need, Paul could actually boast about his afflictions and weaknesses, for when he was weak, God would supply His strength. Weakness is a blessing if it teaches us to look to God more and to ourselves less. Paul applied this to all of his situations, saying, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Our weakness and God’s power are simultaneously at work in us, much like they were in Christ when He faced the cross, or in Paul, as he dealt with his thorn in the flesh. “The greater we sense our weakness, the more we will sense God’s power (cf. Eph 3:16; Phil 4:13).”[1]

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Basics of Grace  
  2. God’s Grace to Save  
  3. Not of Works  
  4. Living by Grace  
  5. God’s Favor Toward His People  
  6. Why Believers Show No Grace 

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

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

Posted in Christian Theology, God's Grace, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

How to Deal with Jealousy

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

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

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

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

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

How to Deal with Sinful Jealousy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message  
  2. Reasons why we Obey God  
  3. Steps to Spiritual Growth  
  4. Learning to Live by Faith  
  5. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When God Uses Evil Actions for His Good

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 (Rom. 8:28).

    All Things for GoodWhen I read this verse I’m reminded of Joseph, the son of Jacob, who at a young age was sold into captivity by his brothers who hated him (Gen. 37). Joseph was carried to Egypt by slave-traders where he was sold to a man named Potiphar. After a short time, Potiphar’s wife also treated Joseph unjustly and lied about him, which resulted in his incarceration for several years (Gen. 39). But the Lord was with Joseph and orchestrated his release from prison and promotion to the right hand of Pharaoh (Gen. 40-41). God then blessed Egypt with seven years of agricultural prosperity before sending seven years of famine upon the land. These events set the stage for God to move Joseph’s brothers geographically into Egypt and to bring them directly to the feet of Joseph (Gen. 42-45). Once there, Joseph’s brothers were afraid of him, fearing he would retaliate for the evil that was done to him. But Joseph interpreted the events of life—including the evil actions of his brothers—from the divine perspective, and this gave him the spiritual capacity to respond to his brothers with love rather than hate, with grace rather than revenge. Joseph told his brothers, “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:5-7). And later he 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 operated from the divine perspective, whereas his brothers operated merely from their human viewpoint. From the divine perspective, Joseph realized God had orchestrated all the events of his life for a specific purpose and had incorporated the evil actions of his brothers to help develop his character and to strengthen his faith. Joseph’s divine perspective and strong faith enabled him to stand in God’s will and to show love and grace to those who sought his harm.

     Through Scripture, God gives His people the capacity to see all of life from His vantage point. Having God’s perspective allows us to rise above the daily grind of life and the petty actions of others and realize there is a sovereign God who rules over His creation and directs the activities of mankind—even evil activities—for His own good and the good of His people. For this reason, we can understand Paul’s words and know “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Let’s face the day with God in mind and let faith rise above our circumstances and feelings.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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Alexander the Coppersmith

    Alexander the CoppermsithThere are times when it’s necessary to specifically name a person as hostile in order to warn others to avoid unnecessary harm. This was true of the apostle Paul, who warned his friend, Timothy, about a man named Alexander. The warning came at a time when Paul was in prison (2 Tim. 1:8, 16) and wrote to his friend Timothy, saying, “Make every effort to come to me soon” (2 Tim. 4:9). Paul informed Timothy his support of friends had diminished for various reasons, saying, “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia” (2 Tim. 4:10), and “Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus” (2 Tim. 4:12). He informed Timothy, “Only Luke is with me” (2 Tim. 4:11a). Knowing that Timothy would come to visit him, he requested, “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Tim. 4:11b), and “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13).

     Then, Paul’s tone quickly changed, saying, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching” (2 Tim. 4:14-15). Why this comment by Paul? It seems likely Paul imagined the route his friend Timothy would take as he navigated through the streets of Rome to get to him and realized the possibility that Timothy might encounter this dangerous man, so he warned him to be on guard. Because Alexander was a common name, Paul carefully identified him by his profession, as the coppersmith.[1] Paul informed his friend that Alexander “did me much harm” (2 Tim. 4:14a). Paul did not state what the specific harm was, but clearly he’d been marked by his encounter with Alexander and carried the memory of the hurt. As a Christian, Paul did not seek personal vengeance against Alexander, but rather, put the matter in the Lord’s hands, saying, “the Lord will repay with him according to his deeds” (2 Tim. 4:14b).[2] Because God is the one who dispenses justice, we are commanded, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Paul knew God would deal with Alexander in His own time and way and that the punishment would be equitable payment for the harm done to him.

     Though Paul did not seek retaliation, neither did he desire another hostile encounter with the man who hurt him. More so, Paul sought to warn his friend, Timothy, who was coming to him, lest he suffer unnecessary hostility. Paul told Timothy, “Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching” (2 Tim. 4:15). The word guard translates the Greek verb φυλάσσω phulasso, which means to guard, watch, or protect. The form of the verb tells us that Timothy is to act now (present tense), that he is to act in his own interests (middle voice), and that the action is mandatory (imperative mood). Like all God’s enemies, Alexander was hostile to the teaching of Christianity and sought to harm those who carried its message. He’d certainly left his mark on Paul, who was concerned that others might be hurt by him as well.

     As Christians, we realize there are times when it’s valid to specifically name a person as hostile in order to warn others to avoid unnecessary harm. And, as God’s children, we are not to seek revenge when hurt by others (Rom. 12:19), but realize God is righteous and will dispense equitable justice upon those who hurt us (Ps. 62:12; 2 Thess. 1:6).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] The word coppersmith translates the Greek word χαλκεύς chalkeus, which literally means a worker of metal and perhaps points to Alexander’s profession as a manufacturer of idols. One cannot be dogmatic here, but it makes good sense to understand that Alexander was connected with the idol industry, for “he vigorously opposed” Paul’s teaching (2 Tim. 4:15b), which teaching forbid the manufacture of idols and idol worship (Ex. 20:3-5; 1 Thess. 1:9-10), identifying it as the worship of demons (1 Cor. 10:20-21). We should realize that theology is never neutral and touches matters social and economic. Paul’s teaching would have directly threatened Alexander’s profession and income, for as people turned to Christ as Savior, they would have stopped worshipping idols and even influenced others to turn from that wicked practice as well.

[2] The word “repay” translates the Greek verb ἀποδίδωμι apodidomi, which means to give up, give back, or repay. The verb is in the future tense and anticipates imminent action by the Lord, who always dispenses the proper judgment at the proper time. As Christians, we are never called to seek revenge upon those who have hurt us, but rather, to put the matter in the Lord’s hands. Scripture teaches that God repays people according to their actions, as David writes, “For You [God] recompense a man according to his work” (Ps. 62:12b; cf. Prov. 24:12; Jer. 15:15), and to the Christians at Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thess. 1:6).

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Submission to Authority – Part III

    submitThis is my third and final article on the subject of submission to authority. The first article addressed God’s sovereign authority over His creation, as well as those persons to whom He’s delegated authority on earth to serve as administrative overseers to others; and these administrators can be believers or unbelievers. The second article addressed Satan, as well as his counterfeit leaders, who seek to lead others outside of the will of God; and these leaders are to be resisted. This third article will address submission to persons in authority, who may at times behave harshly, but neither commit sin, nor command their subordinates to commit sin. This article, like others, is subject to revision.

     Submission is based on the legitimate authority that has been delegated to a person despite their personality or character flaws. There are examples in Scripture of persons who are in a position of authority and who behave harshly toward subordinates, but their harsh behavior is not sinful, nor are they demanding those under their supervision to commit sin. The account of Sarai and Hagar in Genesis 16 provides a good example.

     The account opens, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar (Gen. 16:1). A decade earlier, God had promised a son to Abram (Gen. 12:2; 13:15-16; 15:5), and though they’d tried to produce an heir, Sarai was not able.[1] Because of impatience, Sarai proposed Abram marry her servant, Hagar, as a solution to their problem. “Sarai said to Abram, ‘Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (Gen. 16:2). And, “After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife” (Gen. 16:3).

In the legal custom of that day a barren woman could give her maid to her husband as a wife, and the child born of that union was regarded as the first wife’s child. If the husband said to the slave-wife’s son, “You are my son,” then he was the adopted son and heir. So Sarai’s suggestion was unobjectionable according to the customs of that time. But God often repudiates social customs.[2]

     What Sarai proposed to Abram was socially acceptable in their day; however, there’s nothing in Scripture that reveals they’d consulted the Lord about the matter, and we know from other Scripture that it was not God’s will, and that Ishmael would ultimately be rejected as Abram’s heir (see Gen. 21:1-12). Hagar’s status had been elevated from servant to servant-wife, and Abram “went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight” (Gen. 16:4). Promotion is not always easy to handle, and it’s possible that Hagar became prideful about her new place, and for this reason despised Sarai and treated her disrespectfully. “Hagar became a slave wife, not on equal standing with Sarai. However, if Hagar produced the heir, she would be the primary wife in the eyes of society; when this eventually happened, Hagar become insolent, prompting Sarai’s anger.”[3] Sarai got upset and said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me” (Gen. 16:5). Sarai felt jilted by Hagar after she’d conceived, and she brought her complaint to her husband, Abram. At this point is appears Abram returned Hagar to servant status, saying to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight” (Gen. 16:6). Having been reduced to a servant again, we learn that “Sarai treated her [Hagar] harshly, and she fled from her presence” (Gen. 16:6).

     Hagar was probably hurt and confused over all that had happened to her and we can understand why she ran away. God, who is very compassionate, extended grace to Hagar and appeared to her while she was running away from her troubles. “Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur” (Gen. 16:7). The “angel of the LORD” is later identified by Hagar as God Himself (vs. 13). And the Lord said to her, “where have you come from and where are you going?” And she replied, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai” (Gen. 16:8). God then said, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority” (Gen. 16:9). The command to return translates the Hebrew verb שׁוּב shub (Qal imperative), which is used of someone “who has shifted direction in a particular way and then shifted back from it in the opposite way. As long as there is no contrary factor the assumption is that such persons or people will turn back and reach the original point from which they departed.”[4] God expected Hagar to return to Sarai, and once there, to submit to her authority. Submit is a rendering of the Hebrew verb עָנָה anah, which commonly means to be bowed down, afflicted, or humbled. The verb form is imperative which means it’s a command, and the stem is reflexive (Hithpael), which means that Hagar is to act upon herself; in this case, to humble herself. No one is forcing Hagar into submission, as she must to do it to herself in compliance with the divine mandate. To obey the will of God she must submit herself to Sarai’s authority. Lastly, the word authority translates the Hebrew noun יָד yad, which is the word for hand. “The phrase ‘into (or ‘under’) someone’s hand’ conveys authority involving responsibility, care, and dominion over someone or something.”[5] Here the word denotes the authority Sarai has over Hagar. It is possible that submission to Sarai’s mistreatment could be in view, hence the CSB translation, “You must go back to your mistress and submit to her mistreatment” (Gen. 16:9). It is likely that Sarai’s anger was not born out of a deep-seated hatred of Hagar, which might result in long lasting mistreatment of her; rather, it seems to be the anger of the moment which will pass with time.

     The command for Hagar to return and submit to Sarai’s authority was God’s will. God strengthened Hagar by telling her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count” (Gen. 16:10), saying further, “Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has given heed to your affliction” (Gen. 16:10-11). The name Ishmael (יִשְׁמָעֵאל Yishmael) means, God hears, and speaks of the compassion God had for the cries of Hagar, who was suffering unjustly. God then described Ishmael, saying, “He will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers” (Gen. 16:12). This description by God reveals that Ishmael, unlike his mother, would be free to live where he pleased. “The prophecy is not an insult. The wild donkey lived a solitary existence in the desert away from society. Ishmael would be free-roaming, strong, and like a Bedouin; he would enjoy the freedom his mother sought.”[6] These would have been very encouraging words to Hagar. Operating from divine viewpoint, Hagar stated, “You are a God who sees” (Gen. 16:13). Knowing that God was aware of her plight, and promised to bless her in the midst of her suffering, Hagar was internally strengthened and sustained by God’s Word as she returned to Sarai and submitted to her authority. Hagar’s return was an act of faith as she obeyed God’s Word. With every harsh word or action against her, Hagar could think of her son and rejoice in God’s blessing, which outweighed any hardship she would endure. The historical account closes with the statement, “So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him” (Gen. 16:15-16).

     Submission to harsh authority is never easy, and like Hagar, we might feel tempted to run away. But as Christians who seek God’s will above all else, who desire to submit to His authority, we must be willing to subordinate ourselves to those whom He’s placed over us, even if those persons are at times harsh. And, like Hagar, we know God is a God who sees and that He will strengthen us to endure the hardships of life.

     In the New Testament, the apostle Peter addressed the subject of suffering under harsh leadership. He wrote to Christian-servants who were dealing with harsh masters, saying, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable” (1 Pet. 2:18).[7] We do not have servants and masters like those to whom Peter was writing, but certainly an employee and employer might serve as a suitable analog. The word servant is a translation of the Greek word οἰκέτης oiketes[8] which refers to a household servant, as over against the general term for slave (δοῦλος doulos). The term master translates the Greek word δεσπότης despotes which refers to “one who has legal control and authority over persons, such as subjects or slaves, lord, [or] master.”[9] The word master is used both positively and negatively, depending on the character of the individual. In fact, the word is used of God (Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24) and Jesus (2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 1:4). Biblically, some masters were recognized as good and gentle, while others were unreasonable. We’re always pleased to submit to a good and gentle boss who is thoughtful, kind and generous; but the unreasonable boss is a challenge. The word unreasonable translates the Greek word σκολιός skolios, which was used in secular Greek literature “of rivers and roads…also to the movements of snakes, and may refer, too, to a labyrinth or to ringlets or matted hair.”[10] In this passage it refers “to being morally bent or twisted, crooked, unscrupulous, [or] dishonest.”[11] It is likely the unreasonable boss is one who lives by a worldly ethic and is selfish, overbearing, controlling, and perhaps dishonest. It is only natural that we would recoil and rebel against such a person, except that we are governed by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. “Obedience should not vary according to the temperament of the employer. Anyone can submit to an employer who is good and gentle. Believers are called to go beyond that and be respectful and obedient to the harsh, overbearing boss. This stands out as distinctly Christian behavior.”[12] Submitting to a harsh employer does not mean obeying illegal or sinful commands, for this would be wrong. “This submission is not in the sense of carrying out devious activities but in the sense of complying with a crooked master who demands legitimate actions. Such obedience is the evidence of grace in an individual’s life.”[13]

     It is natural to ask why the Christian is to submit to an unreasonable boss, especially if the boss is hostile toward an innocent worker. Peter answers, “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly” (1 Pet. 2:19). The phrase, “For this finds favor,” communicates the idea of what is commendable in the sight of another; and in this instance, the other person is God. “The reason we should behave this way is that this behavior is God’s will (cf. vv. 13, 17). The fact that this is how God wants us to behave is sufficient reason for compliance. Our conscious commitment to God should move us to do what is right resulting in a clear conscience.”[14] Christians are to operate according to divine viewpoint, which means God’s Word defines our reality and serves as a filter through which we interpret our experiences and bring our will into alignment with the will of God. Scripture serves as a divine guide to help us respond to various situations as God would have, and to operate according to the ethical standards He prescribes. The answer, Peter tells us, is a matter of “conscience toward God” for the Christian who works under a difficult boss. Peter goes on to say, “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God” (1 Pet. 2:20). Certainly there’s nothing commendable about those who patiently endure harsh treatment, when such treatment is the result of being disobedient and doing wrong. However, it is commendable in the sight of God when His child patiently endures unjust suffering from the hand of an unreasonable supervisor.

Christian employees must never take advantage of Christian employers. Each worker should do a good day’s work and honestly earn his pay. Sometimes a Christian employee may be wronged by an unbelieving coworker or supervisor. For conscience’ sake, he must “take it” even though he is not in the wrong. A Christian’s relationship to God is far more important than his relationship to men. “For this is grace [thankworthy]” to bear reproach when you are innocent (see Matt. 5:10–12). Anybody, including an unbeliever, can “take it patiently” when he is in the wrong! It takes a dedicated Christian to “take it” when he is in the right. “This is grace [acceptable] with God.” God can give us the grace to submit and “take it” and in this way glorify God.[15]

     Biblically, there is no greater example of dealing with unjust suffering than the Lord Jesus Christ, and Peter points this out to his readers, saying, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). The phrase, “For you have been called for this purpose” means that suffering is a part of the Christian life (Matt. 10:38, 16:24; Luke 14:27; Acts 14:22), and it is purposeful (Rom. 5:3-5; Jam. 1:2-4). Peter then points to Jesus, saying, “Christ also suffered for you.” Jesus suffered for doing good—which resulted in our salvation—and becomes our example for suffering while doing what is right. The word example translates the Greek word ὑπογραμμός hupogrammos, which occurs only once in the Bible (a hapax legomenon), and means to write under. The word was used of a writing template that a child would use as a guide to practice proper writing or drawing. Here, the word is used of Christ, who is our model of example that we are to pattern our lives after. We are to copy Jesus and follow in His steps, even when it leads us to suffering.

     Jesus did not suffer as one who deserved punishment; rather, Peter describes Him as one “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and 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. 2:22-23). We know from Scripture why Jesus suffered and died, and we rejoice that He did, for without His sacrifice, we would be lost in sin and forever damned. But the suffering and death of Christ affects more than just our salvation, as it also serves as a template, a paradigm, for the believer to endure unjust suffering at the hands of harsh leaders. And as our example, Jesus did not revile or threaten His persecutors, but presented His case before the Supreme Court of heaven, “to Him who judges righteously.” Likewise, Christian servants, while living holy lives, free from the lust and tyranny of self-vindication, can submit to harsh supervisors, and do so with kindness, never seeking retaliation, but trusting that God sees and will judge righteously.

     We’re not always given the reason why we suffer unjustly at the hands of those who are in authority over us, but we know that God is sovereignly in control of all things, “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” (Rom. 8:28). Sometimes God uses difficult people or circumstances to shape our character to be more like the character of Christ. In this sense we can rejoice, because even though the suffering is difficult, it is purposeful, as God is using it to shape us into the people He wants. He has our best interests at heart, and the trials we face serve as a vehicle to transform us into better persons (Rom. 5:3-5; Jam. 1:2-4). We must always remember that God is more concerned with our Christian character than our creaturely comforts, and our behavior should always be motivated by a desire to please the Lord above all else.

Summary

     Christians will, at times, suffer unjustly at the hands of those whom God has placed in authority over us, like the suffering Hagar experienced at the hand of Sarai. And, the harsh or immoral character of leaders should never dictate our response; rather, we should be governed by God’s Word, as we look to Christ as our example of unjust suffering. Lastly, we should obey those in authority over us, doing what they command, so long as they do not command us to sin.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] It appears God intentionally created a dilemma in which Abram and Sarai were helpless to produce a son, so that it would be obvious in the end that what God had promised them, only He was able to execute (cf. Rom. 4:18-21). This leads to the principle that a promise delayed is not a promise denied.

[2] Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 56.

[3] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 16:3.

[4] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1429.

[5] Ralph H. Alexander, “844 יָד,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 362.

[6] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 16:12.

[7] Concerning slavery in the first century, the NT writers were not called to reform society, and so their letters were not written to governing officials who might affect political, economic, or social change. Rather, their sphere of authority was to the Christian church, and so they wrote to those who were members of those churches (husbands, wives, children, masters, slaves, free person, rich, poor, etc.), directing their values and behavior within the church. This is important to understand, because NT writers, though acknowledging the institution of slavery—which was very different than the American form of slavery—did not address the evils of that institution or its creators and managers. Slavery was common to the Roman world, and as many came to faith in Christ and were added to the church, it was proper that they should be addressed as equals, like all members of the body of Christ (Gal. 3:26-28). In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul addressed both slaves and masters who had believed in Christ as Savior, and made it very clear they both have one Master in Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:9). And, when writing to his friend Philemon concerning the return of his runaway slave, Onesimus, Paul instructed Philemon to receive Onesimus “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (Phm 1:16). However, there were times when a Christian-servant did not have a Christian-master, and submission to authority was strained.

[8] The word is used four times in the NT (Luke 16:13; Acts 10:7, Rom. 14:14, 1 Pet. 2:18).

[9] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 220.

[10] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 1046.

[11] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 930.

[12] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2264.

[13] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 349.

[14] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Pe 2:19.

[15] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 406.

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Submission to Authority – Part I

    submitThis is the first of three articles on the subject of submission to authority. These articles are born out of a previous article I wrote titled Twelve Ways to Deal with a Bad Boss. The first article will address submission to God and legitimate human authorities. By definition, authority refers to the right that one person or group has to make decisions, give orders, or demand obedience from another. God’s authority is intrinsic, whereas human authority is delegated. Human authorities include politicians, police officers, teachers, parents, employers, and so on. The second article will address Satan’s counterfeit systems of authority, to which the believer is not to submit. Corrupt leaders—like Satan himself (Gen. 3:1-7)—seek to lead people into sin, and these must be resisted. The third article will address the command to believers to submit to human authorities that may be harsh and unreasonable, though not sinful. Though it is difficult for us to understand, there are times when God will place us under harsh leaders, and we are required to submit to their authority. I’ll address this more in that section. Like all my articles, these are subject to revision as I consider the subject more and more.

     First and foremost, we must understand that God’s authority is supreme and He sovereignly rules over all. Scripture reveals, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all”[1] (Ps. 103:19), and “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6). Daniel wrote, “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21), and “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan 4:17; cf. Dan 4:34-35; 5:21; 1 Chron. 29:11-12; Rom. 13:1-2). God has established the governmental systems of the world to promote law and order. This means He has delegated authority to persons and groups who serve as administrative overseers to others. When functioning properly, government produces harmony by establishing and enforcing laws in society, and by restricting and punishing wrongdoers and promoting and rewarding those who do good.

     Paul wrote to Christians in Rome, saying, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Rom. 13:1-2), and to his friend Titus, he wrote, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Tit 3:1-2). And Peter wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Pet. 2:13-14). Of special note is the fact that the king—or emperor—in Paul’s and Peter’s day was none other than that rascal Nero, who wrongly blamed Christians for starting a fire that burned much of Rome, and who, according to church tradition, had Paul beheaded and Peter crucified.[2] Based on Paul’s and Peter’s statements, we can say: 1) governing authorities exist by divine placement, 2) to resist those authorities is to resist God Himself, 3) to subject to rulers and authorities means being obedient, and 4) that we can generally expect punishment from the same when we do wrong, and praise when we obey and do what is right.

     The word submit is a translation of the Greek verb ὑποτάσσω hupotasso which means “to subject oneself, be subjected or subordinated, obey.”[3] The idea is of “submission involving recognition of an ordered structure…of the entity to whom or which appropriate respect is shown.”[4] Submission means that we subordinate our will to the will of another. New Testament examples of submission include: the young Jesus submitting to Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:51), God the Son submitting to God the Father (1 Cor. 15:27-28), the church submitting to Christ (Eph. 1:22), believers submitting to God (Heb. 12:9; Jam. 4:7), believers submitting to their pastor (1 Pet. 5:5; Heb. 13:17), Christians submitting to governmental authority (Rom. 13:1, 5; Tit. 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:13-14), the Christian husband submitting to Christ (1 Cor. 11:3[5]), and the Christian wife submitting to her husband (Eph. 5:22, 24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1; 5-6). We submit to authority because it produces harmony in our relationships with those God has placed over us.

     As Christians, we hold dual citizenship. We are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), and citizens of whatever country we live in. Our first allegiance is to God, and then to those whom He has placed over us. God’s commands are found in only in Scripture, which is the basis for the Christian’s faith and conduct. This means: 1) our thinking is theocentric, not anthropocentric, 2) that our values are derived from God, not ourselves, or any other source, and 3) that we consciously submit ourselves to do God’s will at all times and in all situations. Ultimately, we can say that all submission is to God, Who commands us to obey Him directly, as well as to obey those whom He’s placed in authority over us.

     Worldly-minded persons seek to live independently from God and to establish their own rules and laws, which they arbitrarily create because they fit their personal values for the moment. These persons operate horizontally and not vertically. That is, God is not in their thinking (or is only included to the degree they permit), and this is often intentional, for they seek to be a law unto themselves. These persons are best described by the word autonomous, which comes from two Greek words that mean to be self-governed (autos = self + nomos = law). Though to some degree we are self-governed (for God made us rational and volitional creatures), we are never totally free from God or from the authoritarian structures He’s placed around us. Even if we were to flee from human governmental structures and live in the wilderness, we’d quickly learn there are laws there as well, even a hierarchical structure among the animals, and so we are never totally free to live as we please.

     God delegates authority in all aspects of society, including political officials, military officers, police, pastors, teachers, coaches, parents, employers, etc. Human authority is limited to certain persons, for a certain period of time, and harmoniously interlocks with other laws and systems of authority. For example, the authority of a mother is only over her own children and not neighborhood children (Eph. 6:1-3), and only for the duration they reside in the home. Additionally, her authority operates harmoniously with her husband, who is in authority over her (Eph. 5:22, 24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1; 5-6). The wife’s submission is to her husband’s godly and loving leadership (Eph. 5:25-33), as he submits himself to Christ who is his authority (1 Cor. 11:3). As a good Christian, the husband is to lead his wife into God’s will, and his authority is never divorced from Scripture. The wife is to reject her husband’s leadership if/when he seeks to lead her into sin, or subject her to violence. This same thinking can be applied to governing officials, police, pastors, teachers, coaches, employers, etc. We submit to human authority, whether saved or lost, until we are commanded to act contrary to God’s authority as it is revealed in Scripture, and then we must disobey, albeit respectfully.

     Lastly, we are to pray for those whom God has place in authority over us, in order that we might live godly lives and pursue righteousness. Paul wrote, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Summary

     God is the supreme Ruler of His creation, and He has established human governmental authorities to promote law and order. This means He has delegated authority to persons and groups who serve as administrative overseers to others. As Christians, we are commanded to submit to those in authority over us, whether it is the president, state governors, local city officials, police officers, employers, parents, teachers, etc. Failure to submit to human authority is regarded as failure to submit to God, Who has placed those persons over us. Though human leaders may fail in their character and commands, this does not invalidate their authority or right to rule. The believer is to reject those commands that direct his/her behavior to sin. At this point, the believer says “no” to human authority only because he/she is saying “yes” to God’s authority. Lastly, we are to constantly pray for our leaders that they may be governed by God’s wisdom and character and that we may live peaceful and godly lives.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

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

[2] Both Paul and Peter knew governmental authorities could abuse their power for selfish ends; however, the occasional abuse of power does not necessarily mean their authority is diminished in any way. Paul and Peter called Christians to submit to Rome’s emperor as well as those officials he placed in office to serve as overseers and administrators to Roman citizens.

[3] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1042.

[4] Ibid., 1042.

[5] The word ὑποτάσσω hupotasso does not appear in 1 Corinthians 11:3, but the concept is certainly present.

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The Faithfulness of the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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

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

Posted in Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Spirituality, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Choice of Blessing or Cursing

Thus says the LORD, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. 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. 17:5-8)[1]

     The prophet Jeremiah lived in a day when the majority of persons in society, starting from the leadership down, trusted in human alliances and idols when they should have been trusting in God. The Lord Himself declared, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD” (Jer. 17:5). The word cursed translates the Hebrew verb אָרָר arar, which means, “to bind with a curse.”[2] The form of the verb is passive, which means a curse is received by the person who trusts in others rather than God. The one who does this starves himself of the spiritual nutrients necessary for spiritual health and strength, and “he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant” (Jer. 17:6).

     The troubles of life are constant, and the natural inclination of people is to look to self and/or others for solutions when problems arise. This is not always bad, except when God clearly calls us to look to Him and live by faith on a regular basis (Heb. 10:36-39). The growing believer trains his mind to look to God for divine solutions rather than to people for human solutions.

    Choose the BlessingGod then declares, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD” (Jer. 17:7). The word blessed translates the Hebrew verb בָּרָךְ barak which means to be “blessed, filled with strength, [made] full.”[3] In the Old Testament the word basically means “to endue with power for success, prosperity, fecundity, longevity, etc.”[4] Do you want to fail as a believer? Then think about life from a purely humanistic perspective and make it your regular practice to look merely to yourself and others for the solutions to life’s problems. Do you want to succeed as a believer and enjoy God’s blessings? Then learn divine viewpoint by studying Scripture and discipline your mind to look to God for guidance and strength for the trial. Learn to trust God and obey His Word. The word trust, both in Jeremiah 17:5 and 7, translates the Hebrew verb בָּטַח batach, which means, “to feel secure, to trust…to be confident.”[5] Whereas the one who trusts merely in himself and/or others will live a barren life (vs. 6), the one who trusts in God will find spiritual nourishment and grow strong, and “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. 17:8).

Such a person would experience a constantly growing and fruitful life. He would enjoy stability, confidence, mental health, freedom from anxiety even in trying times, and a consistently radiant testimony before others (cf. Ps. 1:3). An essential difference between a bush and a tree is its root system. A tree can outlast a drought and continue to bear fruit whereas a bush cannot (cf. Matt. 13:6, 21).[6]

     The value and blessing that comes from trusting in God is tremendous. Those who trust in the Lord will find “He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him” (2 Sam. 22:31; cf. Ps. 34:8), for “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him” (Nah. 1:7). And, “How blessed is the man who has made the LORD his trust, and has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood” (Ps. 40:4), for “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man” (Ps. 118:8).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

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

[2] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 91.

[3] Ibid., 159.

[4] John N. Oswalt, “285 בָּרַך,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 132.

[5] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 120.

[6] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Je 17:8.

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Twelve Ways to Deal with a Bad Boss

     The purpose of this article is to provide several tools for the Christian who is struggling under a bad boss, and these are given at the end of this presentation.

     The Bible does not directly address the subject of bosses and employees; therefore, much of what is set forth in this article is an extrapolation of truths related to good and bad leaders, whether kings, princes, governors, or any who are in positions of authority. And, some points are drawn from the practical wisdom of everyday life.

     I write this article as a Christian who has spent the vast majority of my life in the secular workforce (since 1983), which is primarily governed by worldly philosophies and values rather than according to God’s Word. The challenge for me as a Christian, whether as an employee, or supervisor, has been the daily application of Scripture with my coworkers. Where Scripture is silent on a work related issue, I seek the Lord in prayer, as well as the counsel of godly persons who can help me work through a matter. Before I provide some biblical coping mechanisms, I’d like to take a moment to briefly describe some of the differences between a good and bad boss.

Characteristics of a Good Boss

     The good boss has integrity (Ps. 78:72). This means he is not artificial, but is genuine in character, honest in speech and faithful to his promises. David writes of the man with integrity, and describes him as one who “works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart” (Ps. 15:2). Furthermore, he is one who “does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend” (Ps. 15:3; cf. Prov. 11:3; Tit. 2:7-8). He studies God’s Word (Ps. 1:2; 119:1), does not associate with people of low moral character (Ps. 1:1; 26:4), prays often (Ps. 4:1; 17:6), seeks to govern wisely (Prov. 8:15-16), listens to wise counsel (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6), and brings stability to those under his care (Prov. 29:4). He associates with honest and gracious persons (Pro. 22:11), searches to find the facts of a matter (Pro. 25:2; cf. 18:13), preserves the rights of others by clear thinking (Pro. 31:4-5), and educates and delegates responsibility to trusted persons (read Ex. 18:13-26). He is selfless, humble, gentle, patient, compassionate, kind, and truly appreciates others (Eph. 4:1-2; Phi. 2:3-4; Col. 3:12). He encourages and builds others up (Eph. 4:29; 1 Thess. 5:11), and pursues peace rather than strife (Rom. 14:19). He recognizes his authority and uses it to serve others, not to tear them down (Matt. 20:25-28; John 13:1-17). He may, at times, criticize bad behavior (1 Thess. 5:14), but this is done to make the other person better, because he sincerely desires their success (Prov. 9:8; Isa. 1:17). He is slow to anger (Prov. 15:18; 16:32; 17:27; 19:11; 29:11), uses wise and gracious words (Ps. 37:30; Prov. 16:21; Eccl. 10:12; Col. 4:6), is not argumentative (2 Tim. 2:24-26), cares about justice (Lev. 19:15; Mic. 6:8), and the needs of the poor, orphans, and widows in the community (Isa. 1:17; cf. Ex. 22:22; Deut. 10:18; 15:11; 24:17-22; Prov. 14:21).[1]

     On a day to day basis, he is one who will listen to you, stand up for you, trust you and not micromanage every aspect of your work. He communicates clearly, constantly, and in a collaborative manner. He seeks your advice, listens to your concerns, and consults you on the best solutions for success. He sets high expectations and encourages you to be the best you can be, operating according to agency standards, and striving for new heights of excellence. He also cares about your life outside of work and wants you to have good physical, social, and mental health. Lastly, the good boss can be tough when needed. He lives in reality and knows there are some who will not respond to his leadership, and, he may be required to use his authority to reprimand and/or terminate staff; however, this is always his last recourse if all other positive strategies have failed.

Characteristics of a Bad Boss

    The bad boss refuses to listen to God and His Word (Ex. 5:2), is concerned about himself rather than others (1 Ki. 12:1-15), oppresses his staff (Prov. 28:15-16), listens to lies (Prov. 29:12), abuses his authority (Mark 10:42), does not follow the guidance he gives (Matt. 23:2-3), places heavy burdens on others but doesn’t offer to help (Ex. 5:6-19; Matt. 23:4; cf. Prov. 29:2), oppresses the helpless for personal gain (Prov. 14:31; 22:16), likes to be noticed by others and to sit in places of honor (Matt. 23:5-7), and may outwardly appear righteous, but is dishonest (Matt. 23:28).

    Bad BossThe bad boss can be threatening, unpredictable, hostile, and irrational. He generally feels insecure and does not like the thought of being out of control. This leads to a totalitarian style of leadership, which hinders optimal performance, while making staff feel undervalued. The bad boss is arrogant, and arrogant people rarely see their own faults, they only see the faults of others. He generally lacks the ability to introspect and does not care that others are damaged by his leadership. Once the bad boss does not like you, almost anything you say or do, no matter how great, will be viewed critically and devalued. He seeks to tear you down, only to defeat and destroy you. He cares little about you or your growth or success. He communicates very little, or provides misleading information, is hostile, and will criticize you on a personal level rather than discuss your work. Sometimes the bad boss won’t fire you; rather, he’ll work to make your environment so toxic that you’ll get frustrated and leave.

     The advantage of suffering under a bad boss is that you’ll have a clear picture of how NOT to behave if/when you ever become a boss to others. It can also teach you coping skills you’d otherwise never develop. Just like going to the gym builds muscle, so enduring difficult people can develop our character, if we learn the right coping skills and consistently employ them.

Twelve Tools to Help the Christian Who is Working under a Bad Boss

     Suffering under a bad boss can be a real challenge, especially when I feel trapped with no way out. Often I pray about my difficult situation, but I realize what God does not remove (as I desire), He intends for me to deal with. Below are some biblical coping mechanisms that help me deal with a bad boss and still be successful on the job. These are as follows:

  1. Live by faith. The Christian life starts and ends with faith, which provides stability for the soul during difficult times. “My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb. 10:38), and “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1), and “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8), and “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me” (Ps. 119:50).
  2. Know that God is for you. God desires our best, and He works all circumstances for our good, to teach us and to develop our character. “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” (Rom. 8:28), and “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
  3. Make sure your character and work is excellent. As Christians, we are to live an excellent life and work hard. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl. 9:10a), and “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23; cf. 1 Thess. 4:10-11).
  4. Don’t give yourself over to complaining. It’s easy to start complaining when under attack, especially if we feel it’s unjust. But we must be careful, for if we start down this road, it becomes more and more difficult to turn back, and complaining does not solve problems. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phi. 2:14), and “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Pet. 4:9). The solution for this is found in the first point.
  5. Pray for those in leadership. We should always be praying for leaders in positions of authority. “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
  6. Submit to authority. We should be willing to submit to those in authority and follow orders. “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Tit. 3:1-2). An exception to this is when that authority seeks to lead us outside God’s will, and then we must resist (Acts 5:27-29).
  7. Respect leadership, even when the leadership is unreasonable. This can be challenging, especially if we realize those in positions of leadership may not operate according to the same ethical standards that direct us. It helps to understand that respect does not mean approval. “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly” (1 Pet. 2:18-19).
  8. Realize that God may be using difficult circumstances—and people—to develop our character. “…We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:3-5), and “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam. 1:2-4).
  9. Avoid trouble when possible. “A shrewd person sees danger and hides himself, but the naive keep right on going and suffer for it” (Pro 22:3). It is valid, when possible, to avoid the attacks of abusive leaders. David twice fled when Saul tried to kill him with a spear (1 Sam. 18:11; 19:10), and refused to retaliate, even when he had opportunity (1 Sam. 24:4-6). Obadiah hid one hundred prophets of the Lord from the hostile attacks of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Ki. 18:1-4). Jehosheba hid Joash from the attacks of Athaliah, “So he was hidden with her in the house of the LORD six years, while Athaliah was reigning over the land” (2 Ki. 11:3). Twice it is recorded that Jesus “hid Himself” from some of the hostile Jewish leadership who wanted to kill Him (John 8:59; 12:36).
  10. Defend yourself against wrongful attacks when necessary. Some leaders are very abusive, and there may be times when legal action is required as a means of self-protection. The apostle Paul used legal force against his attackers by exercising his rights as a Roman citizen to protect him from a flogging that might have killed him (Acts 22:25-29), and on another occasion appealed to Caesar, the highest court in the land, because he felt he was not getting a fair trial (Acts 25:7-12).
  11. Let God deal out retribution. Do not seek revenge if you feel you’ve been wronged. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘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. 12:17-20).
  12. Take time to rest and pray. “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind” (Eccl. 4:6). Taking time to care for yourself is very important, as it’s easy to let the pressures of work and life overwhelm you. Even Jesus, during His time of earthly ministry, found time to get away by Himself to rest and to pray. “After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone” (Matt. 14:23), and “Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray” (Luke 5:16), and “He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] This list is by no means exhaustive, but representative of the qualities of good leadership as found in Scripture.

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The Wrath of God

     The Wrath of God-1When reading through the Bible, one encounters the subject of God’s wrath in numerous places (Num. 16:46; Deut. 9:7-8, 22; 29:23, 28; Ps. 7:11; Nah. 1:2; Matt. 3:7; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Rev. 6:16-17; 15:1; 16:1, 19). Scripture reveals, “God is a righteous judge and a God who shows His wrath every day” (Ps. 7:11), and “A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; the LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies” (Nah. 1:2). The apostle Paul states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). “More than twenty different words occurring about 580 times express the wrath of God in the Old Testament (2 Kings 13:3; 23:26; Job 21:20; Jer. 21:12; Ezek. 8:18; 16:38; 23:25; 24:13).”[1] The most common of these Hebrew words are אַף aph (210 times), חֵמָה chemah (115 times), קֶצֶף qetseph (28 times), חָרוֹן charon (33 times), and עֶבְרָה ebrah (24 times). The two Greek words are ὀργή orge (34 times) and θυμός thumos (18 times). “Orge conveys a more settled anger (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Eph. 2:3; 1 Thess. 2:16; Rev. 6:16), while thumos indicates a more passionate anger (Rev. 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1; 19:15). Together they clearly convey the divine hostility against sin in a personal way.”[2]

A Definition of God’s Wrath

     God’s wrath refers to His intense hatred of sin. God’s hatred of sin is primarily born out of His attributes of righteousness and love.[3] Righteousness and love are eternal attributes, but wrath is not. God’s wrath is the natural response to that which is contrary to His righteousness and love. God loves righteousness and He loves His people. Concerning His righteousness it is written, “For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face” (Ps. 11:7), and “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the lovingkindness of the LORD” (Ps. 33:5), and “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (Ps. 45:7).[4] Concerning His people Israel, He says, “you are precious in My sight, you are honored and I love you” (Isa. 43:4), and in another place He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer. 31:3). And of the church, it is written, “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2), and to John it was revealed that Jesus Christ “loves us and released us from our sins by His blood” (Rev. 1:5).

     To perpetually act contrary to God’s righteousness will eventually bring a response of anger, and to attack that which God loves—His people—will bring about divine retribution (Rom. 12:19; 2 Thess. 1:6; Rev. 6:9-10; 19:2). Good parents understand these concepts, for they love their children and desire that they live morally according to the righteous standard of God’s Word. Virtuous parents seek to protect their children from unhealthy values that will corrupt their minds and behavior, because they know this can destroy their life, and loving parents will rise in fury if anyone should seek to harm their children.

Examples of God’s Wrath

     A few examples of God’s wrath in the OT include the worldwide flood (Genesis 6-9), the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19), the defeat of the Egyptians (Ex. 15:7), the suppression of the rebellion of Korah (Num. 16:1-50), the Assyrian destruction of the ten tribes of Israel (2 Ki. 17:1-23), and the Babylonian destruction of the two tribes of Judah (2 Ki. 24:1-4; Jer. 25:1-11). A few examples in the NT include Jesus’ anger at the hard-heartedness of religious leaders (Mark 3:1-6), His anger at the money changers in the Temple (John 2:13-16), God’s wrath during the Tribulation (Rev. 6:16-17; 14:9-10; 15:7; 16:1), at the second coming of Jesus (Rev. 19:2, 15), and at the Great White throne judgment where unbelievers are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15).

The Reasons for God’s Wrath

     God’s wrath is kindled against those who are disobedient to His revelation (2 Ki. 22:13; 2 Chron. 24:18-19; 36:15-16; Ps. 78:21-22; Jer. 32:31-33; Rom. 1:18; 2:5). When writing to the Romans, Paul states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). God’s revelation, both natural and special, reveals He is not friendly toward those who reject Him and perpetuate sin, especially the sin of idolatry (Deut. 28:21-25; 2 Ki. 22:17; Ps. 78:58-59; Jer. 7:17-20; 44:5-6; Rev. 9:20; 14:11). In another place Paul writes, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5). Whenever God pours out His wrath, such as during the Tribulation, He is always declared to be righteous and true, and those who receive His righteous anger deserve what they get.

And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” (Rev. 16:5-7)

God’s Patience Delays His Wrath

     God’s anger is never rash. In fact, many biblical passages reveal God is very patient and slow to anger. Scripture reveals, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Ex. 34:6), and “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Ps. 86:15), and “You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Neh. 9:17; cf. Ps. 103:8; Jon. 4:2). God’s patience allows people time to humble themselves and turn to Him before judgment comes. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Though God is patient, He is not patient forever, and there eventually comes a time when His judgment comes, both in time and in eternity.

God’s Wrath at the Cross

     God’s righteousness demands punishment for sin. We produce sin, but are helpless to deal with it. God alone solves our sin-problem, and the cross of Christ is that solution. At the cross God satisfied every demand of His righteousness by judging our sin in the substitute of His Son, Jesus, who bore the wrath that rightfully belongs to us (Isa. 53:6-12; Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8-9; 1 Pet. 2:21-24; 3:18). As a result, God is propitiated by the blood of Christ (Rom. 3:21-26; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and extends grace and love to undeserving sinners (John 3:16-18; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-9; Tit. 3:5). Those who reject Christ as Savior continue under God’s wrath (John 3:18, 36; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Thess. 2:14-16; 5:9-10). Those who trust Jesus as their Savior receive forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14), eternal life (John 10:28), and the imputation of God’s righteousness (Rom. 5:17-18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). Furthermore, we are reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:22), have relational peace with Him (Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:20), will never know eternal condemnation (Rom. 8:1, 31-39), and will be spared from the wrath to come (Rom. 5:8-9; Eph. 2:1-7; 5:1-10; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 5:9-10).

     It should be noted there is a difference between wrath and discipline. The Christian who falls into a lifestyle of perpetual sin may know God’s discipline (Heb. 12:5-11), even to the point of death (1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16). But discipline is born out of God’s love for the believer, not His anger, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Heb. 12:6), and “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Rev. 3:19).

Should Believers Get Angry?

     Is it alright for God’s people to get angry? The answer is yes and no. There is a sinful anger that God’s people must avoid (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Titus 1:7); however, there are times when we will experience injustice, and it is natural and valid to be angry when this happens. The most common reasons for human anger are hatred, jealousy, fear, or injustice. Because we have such limited or faulty perceptions of circumstances or behaviors, as well as the causes and/or motivations behind them, we are often told not to get angry, as it can result in sin on our part (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Titus 1:7).

     When writing to Christians at Ephesus, Paul stated, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:26-27). Anger is wrong when it leads us to sin (i.e. revenge, lying, gossip, murder, etc.). Because we are prone to sin, we should always be slow to anger. Scripture states, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29), and “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute” (Prov. 15:18), and “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Prov. 16:32), and “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11), and “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam. 1:19-20). As Christians, we must be careful with anger, for sin crouches near the one who harbors it, tempting us to retaliate and exact revenge upon the offending party. Personal revenge is not the Christian way, for Scripture directs us, “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). More so, we are to love and pray for our enemies (Luke 6:27-29), and to bless them (Rom. 12:14; 1 Pet. 3:8-9), if perhaps God may grant them saving grace (2 Tim. 2:24-26). Though God promises to avenge the innocent (2 Thess. 1:6-7; Rev. 6:9-11; 19:1-2); there may be times when He surprises us by showing grace and mercy to those who don’t deserve it, such as the grace shown to Paul when he was persecuting the church (Acts 9:1-6; Gal. 1:15-16), or the grace shown to us while we were sinners (Rom. 5:6-10).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 339.

[2] Ibid., 339–340.

[3] Other attributes may be involved as well, such as holiness and jealousy, but I will focus mainly on these two.

[4] This last verse shows the contrast between that which He loves and hates. To love something is to hate the opposite. To love righteousness is to hate sin. Jesus echoed similar language of antithesis when He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). And to the church at Ephesus, He states, “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev. 2:6).

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Babylonianism

The Building of the Tower of Babel (oil on canvas)

Marten van Valckenborch (1535-1612) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

     Babylon is named after the city of Babel, which was founded by a descendant of Noah named Nimrod, who is described as a “mighty hunter before the Lord” (Gen. 10:9). Moses tells us that Nimrod founded several cities, namely, “Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar” (Gen. 10:10). Shinar is in the region of what is today known as Iraq. Moses wrote about the origin of Babylon, with its values and practices.

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen 11:1-4)

     In this passage we observe these early descendants of Noah all spoke the same language and chose to settle in the land of Shinar contrary to God’s previous command to “fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). After settling, they began to use God’s resources of volition, intelligence, language, and building materials to build a city for themselves, as well as a tower into heaven. All of this was done to make a name for themselves, rather than to obey and glorify God. Their big plans and big tower were small in the sight of God, who “came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built” (Gen. 11:5). No matter how big their tower, it would never reach heaven, and the Lord condescended to see their production. Of course, the Lord knew all along what they were doing, and this satirical language helps us understand the work of men from the divine perspective. Because it was God’s will for them to fill the earth, He confused their language and scattered them over the earth (gen. 11:6-9).

     Babylon is the birthplace of organized rebellion against God, in which people used the Lord’s resources in defiance of His will. Babylon is mentioned over three hundred times in Scripture, and in several places is identified for her pride (Isa. 13:19), idolatry (Isa. 21:9; Jer. 51:44), sorceries (Isa. 47:13), and tyrannical form of government (Dan. 1:1-8; 3:1-22). By the time we get to the book of Revelation, Babylon is seen both as a city and a system that promotes religious, political, and economic agendas that are antithetical to God. Babylon is described as a great harlot who influences all of humanity with false religions (Rev. 17:1-5), is guilty of persecuting and murdering prophets and saints (Rev. 17:6), is a dwelling place of demons and unclean spirits (Rev. 18:2), with whom “the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality” (Rev. 18:3), and she sees herself as a queen that will never know mourning (Rev. 18:7). Eventually, Babylon is completely destroyed just prior to the Second Coming of Christ (Rev. 18:2, 10, 21).

     Babylonianism is a philosophy of human autonomy that permeates all aspects of society including politics, economics, business, entertainment, academic institutions, and culture at large. The philosophy is communicated through literature, music, art, television, radio, news channels, and everyday discussions. It is a system of values that start and end with man, and is embraced by the vast majority of people who assign no serious thought of God to their discussions, plans, or projects, and who seek to use His resources independently of His wishes. Babylonianism is also the mother of all world religions, which provide people a system of beliefs and rituals whereby they can work their way to heaven by human effort. There is even a Babylonian form of Christianity, which undermines the grace of God and convinces people they are saved by good works.

     Biblical Christianity is not a religion, whereby people bring themselves to God through ritual practices or good works. Rather, it presents the truth that people are totally helpless to save themselves (Rom. 4:1-5; 5:6-10; Gal. 2:16; Tit. 3:5), and that salvation is a work of God alone, apart from any human effort (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-9). The gospel message is that God provided a way for helpless sinners to be saved, and this is through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3-4), who died in our place on the cross and paid the penalty for our sins (Rom. 5:6-8; Heb. 10:10-14; 1 Pet. 3:18). The simple truth of Scripture is that we are saved by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9), through faith alone (John 3:16), in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), whose substitutionary death provides forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14), eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28), and the gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).

     Biblical Christianity is more than just a way to be saved. It also provides a structured philosophical framework that tells us why everything exists (i.e. the universe, mankind, evil, etc.) and helps us to see God sovereignly at work in everything, providing purpose for our lives, and directing history toward the return of Christ. This gives us hope for the future; for “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). When properly understood and applied, Scripture guards us from harmful cultural influences (Phil. 4:6-8), and directs and enriches our lives (Ps. 119:14, 111). Jeremiah wrote, “Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts” (Jer. 15:16). Biblical Christianity sets us free to enjoy God’s world and to pursue righteousness and goodness (Rom. 6:11-13; Tit. 2:11-14).

     As Christians, must be careful that we do not fall into Babylonianism, either by following the lead of those who seek to silence or pervert the voice God, or be enticed by pleasures or activities that lead us to trust in people or things instead of Him. We are not to be taken “captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). Rather, we must consciously place God at the center of our lives and pursue His glory, actively and graciously insert His word into our daily discussions, and humbly serve others above our own self-interests (Phil. 2:4-8).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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Posted in Biblical Worldview, Christian Theology, Hot Topics, Living by Faith, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders

A leader is one who influences the thoughts and actions of others in order to achieve a specific outcome. The Bible differentiates between good and bad leaders, between the righteous and the wicked. Bad leaders exclude God from their daily thoughts and activities and selfishly pursue their own desires, even if it means harming others. Below are some qualities that describe bad leaders:

  1. They trust in human resources rather than God. “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!” (Isa. 31:1).[1]
  2. They are open to lies. “If a ruler pays attention to falsehood [i.e. intentionally listens to lies], all his ministers become wicked” (Pro. 29:12).
  3. They make people groan. “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, people groan” (Pro. 29:2).
  4. They oppress others. “Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days” (Pro. 28:15-16).
  5. They are sometimes described as beasts that are empowered by Satan. “Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea…and the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority” (Rev. 13:1-2; cf. 7:1-8).
  6. They openly attack God and His people. “And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God…It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them” (Rev. 13:6-7).

In contrast, the good leader is first and foremost a follower of God who wears a crown of humility and derives his values and strength from the Lord. Below are some of the qualities of a good leader:

  1. He is a servant to others. When Solomon died, his counselors advised his son, Rehoboam, “If you will be a servant to this people today, and will serve them and grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kings 12:7; cf. Matt. 20:25-28; John 13:13-17; Phil. 2:3-4).
  2. He seeks God’s righteousness as his rule for judging others. “Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king’s son. May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice” (Ps. 72:1-2).
  3. He cares about the poor and needy. “He [the king] will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save. He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, and their blood will be precious in his sight.” (Ps. 72:12-14).
  4. He governs with integrity and skill. Of David, it is written, “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands” (Ps. 78:72).
  5. He rules by wisdom. “By me [biblical wisdom] kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly” (Pro. 8:15-16).
  6. He displays impeccable judgment. “A divine decision is in the lips of the king; his mouth should not err in judgment” (Pro. 16:10; cf. read Deut. 17:18-20).
  7. He brings stability by adhering to justice. “The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it” (Pro. 29:4).
  8. He governs by loyalty and truth. “Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness” (Pro. 20:28).
  9. He governs in righteousness. “It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, for a throne is established on righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and he who speaks right is loved” (Pro. 16:12-13).
  10. He should be honest. “Excellent speech is not fitting for a fool, much less are lying lips to a prince” (Pro. 17:7).
  11. He punishes the wicked. “A wise king winnows the wicked, and drives the threshing wheel over them” (Pro. 20:26).
  12. He associates with honest and gracious persons. “He who loves purity of heart [i.e. has honest intentions] and whose speech is gracious [i.e. kind speech], the king is his friend” (Pro. 22:11).
  13. He searches to find the facts of a matter. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Pro. 25:2; cf. 18:13).
  14. He preserves the rights of others by clear thinking. “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (Pro. 31:4-5).
  15. He surrounds himself with wise counselors. “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Pro. 11:14).
  16. He educates and delegates responsibility to trusted persons. When Moses began leading God’s people, Israel, he overextended himself and began to burnout. Scripture states, “It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening” (Ex. 18:13.). Moses’ father-in-law saw what was happening and said, “Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” (Ex. 18:14). Moses explained the people were coming to him and that he felt compelled to help them (Ex. 18:15-16). Moses’ father-in-law answered, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone” (Ex. 18:17-18). He advised Moses to educate God’s people concerning His statutes and laws and then select honest men who would serve as judges to the people. He said, “You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace” (Ex. 18:19-23). It is said of Moses, he “listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said” (Ex. 18:24).

As believers, we are always to pray for those in leadership positions. Paul writes, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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

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Faith or Regeneration – Which Comes First?

Faith or Regeneration     I’ve been teaching through the Gospel of John at the federal prison near my house over the past few months. As with any expositional study, certain theological issues will naturally arise, and the issue of election has been popping up in our discussions. One of our conversations got a little heated one evening regarding the ordo salutis, or the order of salvation. The discussion focused primarily on whether regeneration precedes faith, or faith precedes regeneration. I was pleased to see them struggling with the issue and trying to work it out in their thinking. After nearly forty-five minutes I brought the discussion to a close, not because we’d resolved the matter, but because I needed get back to the expositional presentation of the Gospel of John, which is what the class is about. After I went home that evening, I spent a few hours writing this article, which I delivered to the inmates the following week. Though I take a position on this subject, I try to present both sides fairly.

     It’s important to keep in mind that there are good and loving theologians who stand on either side of the debate. Some believe regeneration precedes faith in Christ, and others that faith in Christ precedes regeneration. These are not dogmatic on the issue, stating the possibility that faith and regeneration may occur at the same time. Careful study through the Bible does not yield a step by step order concerning God’s salvation process in the life of His elect; rather, many of the arguments are predicated on logical reasonings. Below are a few quotes from top scholars who fall on either side of the debate. Though there are more teachers I could have chosen, I selected a few strong representatives from each side in order to keep the discussion focused and brief. A few opening remarks are important.

In view of the fact that the Bible does not specify the exact order that applies in the application of the work of redemption, there is naturally considerable room for a difference of opinion. And as a matter of fact the Churches are not all agreed as to the ordo salutis. The doctrine of the order of salvation is a fruit of the Reformation. Hardly any semblance of it is found in the works of the Scholastics. In pre-Reformation theology scant justice is done to soteriology in general.[1]

We should be flexible as to what goes into the ordo and what does not. The Bible itself doesn’t use the phrase ordo salutis any more than it speaks of an order of the decrees. And Scripture does not include anywhere a list of all the events theologians typically include under that label. Myself, I think that the ordo is mainly a pedagogical device.[2]

In the Reformed statement of the ordo salutis, regeneration precedes faith, for, it is argued, a sinner must be given new life in order to be able to believe. Although this is admittedly stated only as a logical order, it is not wise to insist even on that; for it may as well be argued that if a sinner has the new life through regeneration, why does he need to believe? Of course, there can be no chronological order; both regeneration and faith have to occur at the same moment. To be sure, faith is also part of the total package of salvation that is the gift of God (Eph. 2:9); yet faith is commanded in order to be saved (Acts 16:31). Both are true.[3]

A definition of regeneration:

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration [παλιγγενεσία paliggenesia = regeneration, renewal] and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5)

And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration [παλιγγενεσία paliggenesia = regeneration, renewal] when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19:28)[4]

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [γεννάω gennao + ἄνωθεν anothen = born again, or born from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

     The word “regeneration” occurs only twice in the Bible (Matt. 19:28 and Titus 3:5). In both places the Greek word used is παλιγγενεσία paliggenesia, which means the “the state of being renewed… [the] experience of a complete change of life, rebirth of a redeemed person.”[5] Dr. Charles Ryrie states, “The word, used only twice in the New Testament (Matt. 19:28; Titus 3:5), means to be born again. To be born from above (anothen) occurs in John 3:3 and probably includes the idea of being born again also (see the use of anothen in Gal. 4:9). It is the work of God that gives new life to the one who believes.”[6] Dr. Paul Enns would agree, saying, “Succinctly stated, to regenerate means ‘to impart life.’ Regeneration is the act whereby God imparts life to the one who believes.”[7] The Greek word ἀναγεννάω anagennao can be added as well. The word appears twice in Peter’s first epistle (1 Pet. 1:3, 23). The basic meaning is, to begat again, and is translated born again in both instances and has the idea of imparting new life.

The argument that regeneration precedes faith in Christ:

     There are many Christians who believe that regeneration precedes faith in Christ. The reasoning is that an unregenerate person has no ability within himself to do anything, and even believing is made possible by means of the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit. J.I. Packer states, “Jesus’ point throughout [John 3:3-8] is that there is no exercise of faith in himself as the supernatural Savior, no repentance, and no true discipleship apart from this new birth.”[8] In this formula, Packer places faith in Christ after regeneration. At another point he states, “Regeneration is a transition from spiritual death to spiritual life, and conscious, intentional, active faith in Christ is its immediate fruit, not its immediate cause.”[9] Discussing John 3:3-8, Dr. Wayne Grudem takes the same view as Packer, stating:

Using the verses quoted above [John 3:3-8], we have defined regeneration to be the act of God awakening spiritual life within us, bringing us from spiritual death to spiritual life. On this definition, it is natural to understand that regeneration comes before saving faith. It is in fact this work of God that gives us the spiritual ability to respond to God in faith. However, when we say that it comes “before” saving faith, it is important to remember that they usually come so close together that it will ordinarily seem to us that they are happening at the same time. As God addresses the effective call of the gospel to us, he regenerates us and we respond in faith and repentance to this call. So from our perspective it is hard to tell any difference in time, especially because regeneration is a spiritual work that we cannot perceive with our eyes or even understand with our minds.[10]

Dr. John Frame argues that regeneration is the first act in our salvation, saying:

When God calls us into fellowship with Christ, he gives us a new life, a new heart. Regeneration is the first effect of effectual calling. And regeneration is the first item on the list that occurs inside of us. The presupposition of Scripture is that apart from God’s grace we are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1–3), as we saw in chapter 8. That means that in and of ourselves, we can do nothing to please God. Just as conception and birth bring new physical life, so the work of regeneration brings new spiritual life. Through the new birth we gain new desire and new ability to serve God.[11]

Arguing that the new birth precedes faith in Christ, Frame further states:

So, the new birth comes before our faith, bringing it about. People sometimes say, “Believe in Jesus, and you will be born again.” This expression is biblically inaccurate. It is true that believing in Jesus is the path to blessing. But the new birth is the cause of faith rather than the other way around. Again, you cannot give birth to yourself, even by faith. Rather, God gives new birth to you and enables you to have faith. It is always God’s sovereignty, isn’t it?[12]

The argument that faith in Christ precedes regeneration:

     Regeneration is completely a work of God, for fallen persons have no ability to produce spiritual life. Dr. Lewis S. Chafer believes regeneration is a work of God alone, in which God the Holy Spirit produces new life in the believer, completely apart from any human merit or worth, and occurs at the moment of faith in Christ.

On the basis of this text [Tit. 3:5], the word “regeneration” has been chosen by theologians to express the concept of new life, new birth, spiritual resurrection, the new creation, and, in general, a reference to the new supernatural life that believers receive as sons of God. In the history of the church, the term has not always had accurate usage, but properly understood, it means the origination of the eternal life which comes into the believer in Christ at the moment of faith, the instantaneous change from a state of spiritual death to a state of spiritual life.[13]

     Dr. John Walvoord argues that regeneration is completely a work of God, saying, “Regeneration by its nature is solely a work of God. While sometimes considered as a result, every instance presumes or states that the act of regeneration was an act of God.”[14] And he comments again, “As the word itself implies, the central thought in the doctrine of regeneration is that eternal life is imparted. Regeneration meets the need created by the presence of spiritual death.”[15] Further, Dr. Walvoord states clearly that eternal life is received by faith, saying:

The important fact, never to be forgotten in the doctrine of regeneration, is that the believer in Christ has received eternal life. This fact must be kept free from all confusion of thought arising from the concept of regeneration which makes it merely an antecedent of salvation, or a preliminary quickening to enable the soul to believe. It is rather the very heart of salvation. It reaches the essential problem of the lack of eternal life without which no soul can spend eternity in the presence of God. Regeneration supplies eternal life as justification and sanctification deal with the problem of sin specifically. It is a smashing blow to all philosophies which hold that man has inherent capacities of saving himself. Regeneration is wholly of God. No possible human effort however noble can supply eternal life. The proper doctrine of regeneration gives to God all glory and power due His name, and at the same time it displays His abundant provision for a race dead in sin.[16]

     Dr. Charles Ryrie writes concerning the means of regeneration, stating, “God regenerates (John 1:13) according to His will (James 1:18) through the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) when a person believes (1:12) the Gospel as revealed in the Word (1 Pet. 1:23).”[17] Ryrie then defines faith, saying, “Faith means confidence, trust, to hold something as true. Of course, faith must have content; there must be confidence or trust about something. To have faith in Christ unto salvation means to have confidence that He can remove the guilt of sin and grant eternal life.”[18] And finally, addressing the necessity of faith, he states, “Salvation is always through faith, not because of faith (Eph. 2:8). Faith is the channel through which we receive God’s gift of eternal life; it is not the cause. This is so man can never boast, even of his faith. But faith is the necessary and only channel (John 5:24; 17:3).”[19] Dr. Paul Enns would agree, saying:

John 1:13 indicates the new birth is not effected by the will of man. Regeneration is an act of God, not a cooperative effort between God and man. That is not to say, however, that faith is unnecessary in salvation. It may be suggested that although regeneration and faith are distinct, they occur simultaneously. The two are set side by side in John 1:12–13. In John 1:12, at the moment of receiving Christ (believing), the person becomes a child of God; in John 1:13 it indicates that at that very moment the persons have been born of God. Surely there is a mystery here that surpasses human comprehension.[20]

     I find myself more in agreement with Lewis Chafer, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, Paul Enns, and many others who teach that regeneration occurs either just after faith in Christ, or at the same time. This discussion is not intended to resolve the issues surrounding the ordo salutis. Though I love and appreciate the writings of theologians such as R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, J.I. Packer, John Frame, and many others, yet I am unconvinced—at least at this time—by their arguments that regeneration precedes faith in Christ. My current position is based more on the evidence of Scripture rather than well-crafted theological arguments.

     Biblically, there are numerous passages that place faith as the necessary prerequisite to having new life, or regeneration. It is written, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), and “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 6:40). In these and other instances, “eternal life” is given after we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Faith is never the cause of our salvation, but rather, the means by which we receive it. Scripture clearly 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).

     I would also like to say in closing that I do not consider this theological issue as central to the Christian faith; therefore, disagreement on this issue is not a basis for breaking fellowship. I agree with the statement: in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, love.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel in Two Minutes  
  2. Not of Works  
  3. Soteriology – The Study of Salvation   

Cited Sources:

[1] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 417.

[2] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 183.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 376.

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

[5] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 752.

[6] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 376.

[7] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 338.

[8] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 157–158.

[9] Ibid., 158.

[10] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 702.

[11] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, 185.

[12] Ibid., 186.

[13] Lewis Sperry Chafer; Major Bible Themes (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 2010), 97-98.

[14] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapds, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1977), 130.

[15] Ibid., 131.

[16] Ibid., 132.

[17] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 376.

[18] Ibid., 377.

[19] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 377.

[20] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 340.

Posted in Christian Theology, Hot Topics, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

What is the Church?

[This article is included in the book: What is Dispensationalism?]

     The church refers to the body of Christ which began on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. It is comprised of Jews and Gentiles who have accepted Jesus as Savior. The church exists universally as an organism, the global presence of Christians who form the body of Christ. The church also exists locally as an organization, a nearby assembly of believers who gather together for Bible study, worship, fellowship, and the practice of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Christian church is a mystery not revealed in the Old Testament and is separate from Israel, having a different identity and purpose.

The Meaning of Ekklesia

     ChurchThe term church is a common translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which means called out ones, assembly, congregation, or community of Christians.[1] The New Testament writers use the word both in a general and technical sense. When used in a general sense, the word refers to any assembly, such as an assembly of residents in a city (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). It is interesting that the assembly mentioned in Acts 19 refers to pagan worshippers of the Greek goddess Artemis and does not refer to believers at all (Acts 19:34-35). The word ekklesia is also applied to Israel as a general assembly or congregation (Matt. 18:17; Acts 7:38; Heb. 2:12). In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus addresses the subject of discipline within the fellowship of a community (ekklesia); however, the evidence of the passage favors a Jewish assembly (i.e. a synagogue) and not the Christian church.[2] In Acts 7:38 Stephen is speaking to a Jewish audience and mentions “the congregation [ekklesia] in the wilderness.”[3] Stephen’s use of the word ekklesia simply refers to the assembly of Israelites who were brought out of Egypt by Moses. In Hebrews 2:12 the writer quotes Psalm 22:22, in which the Septuagint[4] has the term ekklesia, again, used in a general way of an assembly or congregation of Jewish people.

     When applied to Christians in the New Testament, ekklesia takes on a technical meaning and refers to those who have been joined to the spiritual body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22-23) by means of personal faith in Jesus as Savior (Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 2:8-9). The first reference to the Christian church occurs in Matthew 16:18 after Peter had confessed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), and based on the rock-solid truth of Peter’s statement, Jesus said, “I will build [future tense] My church [ekklesia]; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus’ future tense statement reveals a church that was not in existence when He spoke. The Christian church began on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit began His baptizing ministry of placing believers into the body of Christ. Concerning this work of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Gal. 3:26-28). “The Holy Spirit of God is the primary agent who identifies the believer with other believers. Each one is a member of the body, and each member is united with the other members and with Christ (Rom. 6:1–4).”[5] The comparison of Acts 1:4-5 with Acts 2:1-4 and 11:15-17 make a compelling case for the church’s origin in Acts 2. It is mainly in the writings of Paul that the Christian church is identified as the body of Christ. Note the following Scriptures:

And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:22-23)

For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. (Eph. 5:23)

And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Col. 1:18)

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church. (Col. 1:24)

     Several times in the New Testament Jesus is referred to as the Head of the body, the church. The Greek word soma, translated body, occurs 142 times in the New Testament and is used most often of physical bodies; however, it is used “sixteen times to refer to the church, the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:13; Eph. 1:23; 2:16; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15). With the exception of Eph. 5:28, in Ephesians it is always used metaphorically as a reference to the body of Christ, the church.”[6] Paul first learned about this identification when he, as an unbeliever, encountered the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus when he was persecuting Christians and putting them in prison. While on the road, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a bright light, which caused him to fall to the ground, and then a voice said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Act 9:4; cf. 22:7; 26:14). When Paul asked, “who are You Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). Paul learned that an attack on Christians is an attack on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “The question, ‘Why do you persecute Me?’ (cf. Acts 9:5) is filled with significance for it shows the union of Christ with His church. The Lord did not ask, ‘Why do you persecute My church?’ The reference to ‘Me’ gave Saul his first glimpse into the great doctrine of Christians being in Christ.”[7] When a person believes in Jesus as Savior he/she is united to the body of Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. This is a new designation in which ethnic, social, and gender identity are all secondary to the believer’s new identity of being in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-28).[8]

The Universal Church

     The New Testament church is understood both in a universal and local sense. The universal church refers to the global existence of the body of Christ. This is the organic church as it exists all over the planet. Several passages in the New Testament communicate the idea of a universal church, such as when Paul said, “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32), and “God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:28), and “He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23; italics added). What is noticed in these and other places in Scripture is the use of the term church without a specific location (Matt. 16:18; Acts 8:3; 9:31; 20:28; Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:10, 21; 5:23, 32; Col. 1:18, 24). Robert Lightner comments on this:

There are a number of usages of ekklesia that do not seem to refer to a local assembly of believers. Instead, they speak of that company of believers formed on the day of Pentecost into the body of Christ, which has been growing ever since as sinners trust Christ alone as Savior and are added to it. This company of the redeemed is called the church without consideration of whether or not those who are a part of it are members of local churches.[9]

     The universal church exists all over the earth. When the rapture of the church occurs, all believers, wherever they are on the planet, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18). That is, the church, as it exists globally, will be removed from the earth and taken to be with Christ. Also, whenever we meet another Christian, we are meeting someone who belongs to the global body of Christ, whether they belong to a local assembly or not.

The Local Church

     The word church is also used to refer to a local assembly of those who regularly meet at a specific location (1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:2; Rev. 2-3). Luke mentions “the church which was at Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), and “the church that was at Antioch” (Acts 13:1). Paul mentions “the church in Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1), “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2), “the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” (Phil. 1:1), and “the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse” (Col. 1:2) (italics added). The apostle John wrote the book of Revelation to churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Revelation 2-3). These were all local churches that existed in ancient cities, where Christians lived and worked. However, we can narrow the local church down a little further and say that Christians met in the homes of specific church members within each city. The first church—which was Jewish—met “in the temple” in Jerusalem, as well as “from house to house” (Acts 2:46). As the church grew, and included Gentiles, the home continued as the primary meeting place for believers. Luke records Paul’s ministry to Christians in Ephesus and explained that he taught “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Paul mentions several home churches such as the one run by Aquila and Priscilla and “the church that is in their house” (1 Cor. 16:19), and about “Nymphas and the church that is in his house” (Col. 4:15), and “to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house” (Phm. 1:2) (italics added).

     Who were the members of these local house churches? From several writings in the New Testament we get a demographic breakdown of church members, which consisted of men and women (Eph. 5:22-23), parents and children (Eph. 6:1-4), slaves and free persons (Eph. 6:5-9), rich and poor (1 Tim. 6:17-19; Jam. 2:2-5), spiritual and carnal (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Gal. 6:1), mature and immature (1 Cor. 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:2). We can also surmise that home churches generally had few members because of the size of the homes (probably not exceeding 50 people) and the fellowship probably tended to be personal, with an emphasis on learning God’s Word and enjoying Christian fellowship. Luke gives us a snapshot of some of the values and practices of the early church in which he tells us “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

     We also know the first century church had problems. Churches then, like churches now, are no better or worse than the people who make up their fellowship. Christians who were immature, carnal and selfish tended to cause trouble. Churches struggled with problems such as jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21), relationship conflicts (Phil. 4:2), and legalism (Gal. 5:1-12). But God expected all to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), and to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16), manifesting “the fruit of the Spirit”, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). In the church, Christians were to learn Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:2), grow in grace (2 Pet. 3:18), advance to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), seek the interests of others over self (Phil. 2:3-4), love one another (1 Cor. 13:4-8a; 1 Thess. 3:11-12; 4:9; 1 Jo. 4:7-11), pray for one another (Jam. 5:16), encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), edify each other (Rom. 15:1-2; Eph. 4:29), be kind and forgiving (Eph. 4:32), serve one another (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:10), and do good works (Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:11-14). These Christian qualities made the church attractive and productive.

     The primary purpose of the church is to glorify God. Paul states, “we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:12), and “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever” (Eph. 3:21; cf. Rom. 11:36; 16:27; 1 Pet. 2:5). Other purposes of the church include evangelizing the lost (Matt. 28:18-20), edifying believers through biblical teaching so they might advance to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-16), praying for one another (Jam. 5:16), and showing love (John 13:34).

A Divided Understanding of the Church

     One of the dispensational distinctives is that Israel and the church are separate. The church, which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), is a company of believers, made up of Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:32), who have been spiritually united with Christ by means of the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-28). The church, as the body of Christ, was revealed to the apostles only in the New Testament (Eph. 1:22-23; 3:1-12; 5:32; Col. 1:24-27). However, covenant theologians see the church existing as one people of God, a single group of people that goes all the way back to Genesis. Covenant theologian Wayne Grudem states, “The church is the community of all true believers for all time.”[10] And John Frame comments, “Israel was the church of the old covenant; the New Testament church is the Israel of the new covenant, what Paul calls ‘the Israel of God’ (Gal. 6:16).”[11] Covenant theologians such as Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, Louis Berkhof, Edward Young, J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John Piper, and many others argue that Israel is the church and the church is Israel; they are the same. Though I have a great love for covenant theologians and am profoundly thankful for much of their writings, I respectfully disagree with their understanding of the church.

     When one reads back through the Old Testament there were basically two groups of people on the earth: Jews and Gentiles. This distinction began with the call of Abraham, when God called him into a special relationship and promised to bless the world through him (Gen. 12:1-3). Biblically, a Jew is a Jew because he/she is a biological descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:5; 17:7, 19; 22:15-17; 28:13-14; Ex. 2:24-25). “The biblical basis for defining Jewishness lies in the Abrahamic Covenant which promised that a nation would descend from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis 12:2a; 13:16; 15:5; 17:1–2, 7; 22:17; 26:4, 24; and 28:14; from which a simple definition of Jewishness can be deduced.”[12] A Gentile is anyone who is not a Jew. And a Gentile, no matter how hard he/she tried, could never be a biological Jew. Certainly Gentiles could participate in the Jewish blessings if he/she embraced God. Rahab and Ruth believed in God, but, though saved and in the line of Christ (Matt. 1:5), they were never regarded as biological Jews. Ruth continued to be called a Moabitess, even after her conversion (Ruth 2:2, 21; 4:5, 10). The Jew and Gentile distinction continued for millennia until the formation of the Christian church. Now, in the church age, there are three groups of people: Jews, Gentiles, and the church. This is why Paul makes the comment, “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32; italics added). The church is now a third group that consists of Jews and Gentiles who have trusted in Christ as their Savior and been joined to the body of Christ.[13]

     Though both Israel and Christians are the people of God, the Christian church is distinct from the nation of Israel. Several observations from the New Testament provide a compelling case. First, the term Israel occurs 73 times in the New Testament (30 times in the Gospels, 21 times in the book of Acts, 19 times in the Epistles, and 3 times in the book of Revelation), and not once does it refer to the church.[14] “The term Israel is either used of the nation or the people as a whole, or of the believing remnant within. It is never used of the Church in general or of Gentile believers in particular.”[15] The fact that Israel is still called Israel, even after the church is formed, argues that Israel is not the church. Second, the word Jew occurs 186 times in the New Testament (84 times in the Gospels, 76 times in the book of Acts, 24 times in the Epistles, and 2 times in the book of Revelation), and refers to anyone who is a biological descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The word Jew is never used of Gentiles or the church. The fact that these distinctions continue throughout the New Testament make a compelling case that Israel and the church are separate groups of people.

The distinction between Israel and the church is verified by several facts. (1) In the New Testament natural Israel and Gentiles are contrasted after the church was clearly established (Acts 3:12; 4:8, 10; 5:21, 31, 35; 21:19). (2) Natural Israel and the church are clearly distinguished, showing that the church is not Israel (1 Cor. 10:32). The apostle’s distinction would be meaningless if Israel were the same as the church.[16]

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

     In the New Testament, there are Jewish unbelievers (Acts 14:2; 19:8-9), and Jewish believers (Acts 10:45; 14:1). This is what Paul referred to when he said, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). That is, one could be a biological Jew and not belong to the remnant of saved Jews who accept Jesus as Messiah. In addition, there are Gentile unbelievers (Acts 14:2-7), and Gentile believers (Acts 13:48; 21:25). Both Jews and Gentiles are distinguished in several passages (Acts 4:27; 9:15; 14:2, 5; 21:11, 21; Rom. 3:29; 9:24), as well as Jews and Christians (Gal. 2:11-14), Gentiles and Christians (Acts 11:1), and all three at once (Acts 14:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:32). In the book of Galatians, Paul draws a distinction between Gentile and Jewish believers, where he states, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them [Gentile Christians], and upon the Israel of God [Jewish Christians]” (Gal. 6:16). Covenant theologians commonly reference Galatians 6:16 to argue that the church and Israel are the same; but this fails to consider the language of the text. “The first group is the them, the uncircumcision, the Gentile Christians to and of whom he [Paul] had devoted most of the epistle. The second group is the Israel of God. These are the circumcision, the Jewish believers who, in contrast with the Judaizers, followed the rule of salvation by grace through faith alone.”[18] These distinctions in the New Testament make a compelling argument that Jews, Gentiles, and Christians are seen as separate groups.[19]

     God’s current plan in human history is being worked out through His church. However, we should never draw the conclusion that God is finished with Israel. He is not. Israel as a nation is under divine discipline (Matt. 23:37-39; Rom. 11:25-27), but God has a future plan to restore them and to bless the world through them. God’s covenant promises to Israel are still in effect (Gen. 12:1-3; Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1-2), which promises point to a future regathering of the nation of Israel in the Promised Land (Isa. 14:1; 60:21; Jer. 30:3; Ezek. 11:17; 20:42; 37:12; Amos 9:14-15), a King and kingdom (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; Luke 1:31-33; Matt. 6:9-10; 19:28; 25:31), and a righteous rule (Isa. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5-6; Rev. 11:15; 19:11-16), which will last for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6). Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham, and He will inherit the throne of His father and rule on earth.

Summary

     The church is distinct from Israel and Gentiles. The church, which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), is a company of believers, from Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:32), who have been spiritually united with Christ by means of the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-28). More so, the church exists both in a universal and local sense, globally as an organism and locally as an organization. Once the church is caught up to heaven at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18), God will resume His plan with national Israel and fulfill all the promises made to them through the covenants (Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1-2; 25-27).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 303-304.

[2] There are several reasons Matthew 18:17 does not refer to the Christian church: Firstly, the Christian church did not come into existence until after the resurrection of Jesus. To make Matthew 18:17 refer to the Christian church is to have the church in existence before the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit, which is how believers are joined to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Acts 1:5; 2:4; 11:15-16). Secondly, Jesus cites the Mosaic Law as the rule for judging the brother in Matthew 18, and this would have been expected of those living under that code (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Currently, Christians are not living under the Mosaic Law (Rom. 6:14), but under the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2; cf. Rom. 8:2; Jam. 1:25; 2:8). Thirdly, if the brother refuses to listen to the assembly, he is to be treated “as a Gentile” (Matt. 18:17), a term which would make no sense for the Christian church, since Jewish and Gentile identity is subservient to the greater identity of being united with Christ (Gal. 3:26-28).

[3] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).

[4] The Septuagint, or LXX, refers to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, which was translated circa 250 B.C.

[5] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 229.

[6] Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House, 2002), 290.

[7] Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 375–376.

[8] Prior to this transfer, every person is identified positionally as being in Adam (1 Cor. 15:21-22). However, at the moment of faith in Christ, the believer obtains a new identity and is said to be in Christ Jesus (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ). Paul stresses this positional identification several times in the New Testament (Rom. 8:1; 16:3; 1 Cor. 1:2, 30; Gal. 3:14, 26, 28; Eph. 1:1; 2:6, 13; 3:6).

[9] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review, 228.

[10] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 853.

[11] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 235.

[12] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 748.

[13] In one sense, Jews and Gentiles retain their ethnic and cultural identity, even after believing in Christ as Savior. However, in another sense, their new identity as a Christian, which is part of the body of Christ, supersedes whatever identity they had before (Gal. 3:26-28; Col. 3:9-11).

[14] The term Israel is used to refer to the biological descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, both saved and lost (Matt. 2:6; 9:33; 10:6; 15:24, 31; 27:9; Mark 12:29; Luke 1:16, 54, 80; 2:25, 34; 4:25, 27; 22:30; 24:21; John 1:31; 3:10; Acts 1:6; 2:22, 36; 3:12; 4:10; 5:21, 31, 35; 7:23, 37, 42; 10:36; 13:16-17, 23-24; 21:28; 28:20; Rom. 9:4, 6, 27, 31; 10:19, 21; 11:1-2, 7, 25-26; 1 Cor. 10:18; 2 Cor. 3:7, 13; 11:22; Gal. 6:16; Eph. 2:12; Phil. 3:5; Heb. 8:8, 10; 11:22; Rev. 2:14; 7:4; 21:12), the God of Israel (Matt. 15:31; Luke 1:68), Jesus as the king of Israel (Matt. 27:42; Mark 15:32; John 1:49; 12:13), the land of Israel (Matt. 2:20-21), the cities of Israel (Matt. 10:23), and in contrast with Gentiles (Matt. 8:10; Luke 2:32; 7:9; Acts 4:27; 9:15).

[15] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 699.

[16] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 462.

[17] A mystery (musterion) is something “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5). Paul then states what that mystery is, “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).

[18] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 691.

[19] A Christian can be a spiritual descendant of Abraham by exercising faith in the same God as Abraham (Rom. 4:11; Gal. 3:29), but this should not be confused with the covenants and promises of God which are promised to national Israel (Rom. 9:1-5).

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A Brief Analysis of the Millennial Kingdom

     The Millennial KingdomThe Bible reveals two aspects of God’s rule over His creation. The first is His universal rule in which He sovereignly decrees whatsoever comes to pass and “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). There are times when God accomplishes His will immediately without the assistance of others (such as in the creation), and other times He chooses to work mediately through creatures, both intelligent (angels and people), and simple (Balaam’s donkey). Concerning God’s universal rule, Scripture reveals, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19), and “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6). Daniel writes, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth” (Dan 4:34b-35a; cf. 5:21; 1 Chron. 29:11-12).

     The second is God’s earthly rule in which He governs through a human mediatorial administrator. The first account of such a rule is found in Genesis where the Lord assigned Adam and Eve to rule over the whole world (Gen. 1:26-28). Theirs was a mediatorial kingdom, which may be defined as “the rule of God through a divinely chosen representative who not only speaks and acts for God but also represents the people before God; a rule which has especial reference to the earth; and having as its mediatorial ruler one who is always a member of the human race.”[1] However, through an act of disobedience (Gen. 3:1-7), Adam and Eve forfeited their rulership to Satan, a fallen angelic creature, who rules through deception (2 Cor. 11:3, 14; Rev 12:9; 20:3, 8), blindness (2 Cor. 4:3-4), and enslavement (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13). Since the fall of Adam and Eve, Satan has had dominion over this world and is called “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30; 16:1), “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), and “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4). When tempting Jesus, Satan offered Him “the kingdoms of the world” (Matt. 4:8-9), and they were his to give. However, the Bible also reveals that Satan has been judged (Gen. 3:15; John 16:11), and in the future will be cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:7-9), confined for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3), and eventually cast into the Lake of Fire forever (Rev. 20:10). It must always be remembered that God sovereignly permits Satan a limited form of rulership for a limited period of time, always restraining him and his demonic forces, if they seek to transgress the boundaries He’s established for them (Job. 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Mark 15:1-13; 2 Pet. 2:4).

     Subsequent to Adam and Eve, God has worked to reestablish His kingdom on earth through the promises and covenants offered to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), the nation Israel (Ex. 19:5-6; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; Jer. 31:31-33), and king David (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37). When Jesus came, He repeatedly offered the earthly kingdom to Israel (Matt. 3:1-2; Matt. 4:17; 10:5-7), a literal kingdom they could physically enter into (Matt. 5:20; 6:10; Luke 19:11; Acts 1:3-6). But they rejected Him and His offer (Mark 15:12-15; John 19:15); therefore, the earthly kingdom was postponed for a future time (Matt. 21:43; cf. Matt. 19:28; 25:31; Luke 22:28-30; Acts 1:3-6; Rev. 20:4-6).

     We are currently living in the church age, which will come to an end when the church is raptured to heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Afterward, there will be a period of time known as the Tribulation, which will begin when the Antichrist signs a seven year peace treaty with Israel (Dan. 9:24-27; cf. Revelation chapters 6-18). The time of Tribulation will come to an end when Jesus returns to earth to put down rebellion (Rev. 19:11-21) and establish His kingdom (Matt. 25:31; Rev. 11:15; 20:1-6). After His second coming, Jesus will rule the whole earth, from Jerusalem, on the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-15; Dan. 2:44; 7:14, 27; Matt. 6:10; Luke 1:31-33; cf. Mark 11:9-10), He will rule absolutely with “a rod of iron” (Ps. 2:9; Rev. 19:15), and His reign will be marked by righteousness and peace on the earth (Isa. 11:1-9). Also, we know from Scripture that the earthly kingdom will last a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6), and afterward will become an eternal kingdom (Dan. 2:44; 7:27; 1 Cor. 15:24). The word millennium is derived from the Latin words mille which means “thousand” and annum which means “year”. The word millennium translates the Greek word χίλιοι chilioi, which occurs six times in Revelation 20:1-6. The millennial kingdom will see Jesus seated on the throne of David, in Jerusalem, ruling over the world. He will rule the nations in righteousness, advocating for the poor and weak, as well as suppressing wickedness and rebellion (Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-15). Satan will be bound during the reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-3), and a new worship system will be implemented (see Ezekiel 40-46).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Alva McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, Ind. BMH Books, 2009), 41.

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A Brief Analysis of Israel in History and Prophecy

     Israel in History and ProphecyThe history of Israel starts with God who chose the nation to be His representatives from eternity past. Israel was created by God (Isa. 43:1, 15), and He loves them with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:1-3). God chose them because of who He is, not because of any greatness or goodness in them (Deut. 7:6-8). Israel began with a unilateral covenant which God made with Abraham, promising “I will make you a great nation” (Gen. 12:2). The Abrahamic covenant was later expanded with the Land Covenant (Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10), the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37), and the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). Though Abraham had children by different women (Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah), the Abrahamic promises were restated only through Isaac (Gen. 17:19-21) and Jacob (Gen. 28:10-15). Because of a crippling encounter with God, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means “he who wrestles with God” (Gen. 32:24-30). The sons of Israel (i.e. Jacob) went into captivity in Egypt for four hundred years as God had foretold (Gen. 15:13), and remained there until He called them out through His servants Moses and Aaron (Ex. 3:1-10). God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage through a series of ten plagues that destroyed Pharaoh and the nation (Exodus chapters 5-14). Then God entered into a bilateral covenant relationship with Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:1-8), and gave them 613 commands—which comprise the Mosaic Law—and these commands are commonly divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial codes. Under the Mosaic Law, Israel would know blessing if they obeyed God’s commands (Deut. 28:1-15), and cursing if they did not (Deut. 28:16-68). The nation of Israel remained in the wilderness for forty years while God tested and humbled them (Deut. 8:2-5). After Moses died, God brought the Israelites into the land of Canaan (i.e. the land promised to Abraham) under the leadership of Joshua (Deut. 31:23; Josh. 1:1-9), and there the land was divided, giving a portion to each of the descendants of Jacob. After Joshua died (Josh. 24:29-31), Israel repeatedly fell into idolatry and suffered divine discipline for their rebellion (read Judges). This went on for nearly 300 hundred years as Israel fell into a pattern of idolatry, after which God would send punishment, then the people would cry out to God, Who would relent of His judgment and send a judge to deliver them, then the people would serve God for a time, and then fall back into idolatry. The period of the Judges is marked by people who did not obey the Lord, but “did what was right in their own eyes” (Judg. 17:6; 21:25). Samuel was the last of Israel’s judges, and then the people cried for a king because they wanted to be like the other nations (1 Sam. 8:4-5). God gave them their request (1 Sam. 8:22), and Saul became the first king in Israel (1 Sam. 10:1). Though Saul started well, he quickly turned away from the Lord and would not obey God’s commands. Saul reigned for approximately 40 years and his leadership was basically a failure (1 Sam. 13:1; cf. Acts 13:21). Later, God raised up David to be king in Israel (1 Sam. 16:1-13), and David reigned for 40 years and was an ideal king who followed God and encouraged others to do the same (1 Ki. 2:10-11). God decreed David’s throne would be established forever through one of his descendants (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4), and this is Jesus (Luke 1:31-33). Solomon reigned for 40 years after David (1 Ki. 2:12; 11:42-43), and though He was wise and did many good things (ruled well, built the temple, wrote Scripture, etc.), he eventually turned away from God and worshiped idols (1 Ki. 11:1-10), and the kingdom was divided afterward (1 Ki. 11:11-41). The nation was united under Saul, David, and Solomon.

     Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, ruled over the two southern tribes (Judah) and Jeroboam ruled over the ten northern tribes (Israel). Israel—the northern kingdom—had 19 kings throughout its history and all were bad, as they led God’s people into idolatry (i.e. the “sins of Jeroboam” 1 Ki. 16:31; 2 Ki. 3:3; 10:31; 13:2). The ten northern tribes came under divine discipline because of their idolatry and were destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Judah—the southern kingdom—had 20 kings throughout its history and 8 were good (some more than others), as they obeyed God and led others to do the same (they were committed to the Lord like David, 1 Ki. 15:11). However, Judah repeatedly fell into idolatry—as the 10 northern tribes had done—and were eventually destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The dispersion of Israel was promised by God if they turned away from Him and served other gods (Deut. 28:63-68). Since the destruction by Babylon, Israel has been under Gentile dominance (Luke 21:24; Rom. 11:25). After a temporary regathering under Ezra and Nehemiah, Israel continued under Gentile dominance with the Medes & Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Because of their rejection of Jesus as Messiah, God disciplined Israel again in A.D. 70, and the Jews were scattered all over the world (Jam. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1). Israel’s current state is one of judgment (Matt. 23:37-39), and a “partial hardening” (Rom. 11:25).

Israel Present

     For nearly 1900 years God has faithfully kept His word to disperse Israel because of their idolatry (Deut. 28:63-68) and their rejection of Jesus as Messiah (Matt. 23:37-39). Now, since 1948, Israelites are back in the Promised Land; even though the majority of them are atheists who reject God. This could be a fulfillment of prophecy in which God has regathered His people before the time of the judgment of the Tribulation (Ezek. 20:33-38; 22:17-22; Zeph. 2:1-2). Logically it makes sense that God will regather Israel as a nation (Ezek. 36:22-24) before He regenerates them and gives them a new heart (Ezek. 36:25-28). Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum argues two regatherings of Israel. The first is a regathering of Jews in unbelief, which sets the stage for the Tribulation. The second regathering is in belief, which prepares them for Messiah, who will rule over them during the millennium.

First, there was to be a regathering in unbelief in preparation for judgment, namely the judgment of the Tribulation. This was to be followed by a second worldwide regathering in faith in preparation for blessings, namely the blessings of the messianic age. Once it is recognized that the Bible speaks of two such regatherings, it is easy to see how the present State of Israel fits into prophecy.[1]

     As Christians, we are glad to see Jews returning to the Promised Land and support the nation of Israel. This support is by no means a blanket endorsement of all Israel does, for the nation may behave immorally like any other nation. However, we recognize that God is working to set the stage for prophetic events, and that Israel being in the Promised Land is a part of that.

Israel Future

     Israel has a future hope because of the promises and covenants God made through the patriarchs and prophets (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:15, 17; 15:18; 17:8; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:33-37; Jer. 31:31-33). Though unbelieving Israel is currently under divine discipline (Matt. 23:37-39), and subject to a “partial hardening” (Rom. 11:25), God’s covenants and promises are still in effect (Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1), and will remain in force until Jesus returns and is accepted as their Messiah. Once Jesus returns, Israel will possess all of the land that was promised to them, and they will possess it forever.

     Covenant theologians often argue that God has already fulfilled His promise to Abraham that his descendants would possess the land (see Josh. 21:43-45; 1 Ki. 4:21; Neh. 9:8). God was faithful to bring Abraham’s descendants into the Promised Land, and though they eventually came to control much of it under the reign of Solomon (1 Ki. 4:21-24), they did not possess it all, and this seems plain from other biblical passages where Israelites had to fight the old residents still in the land (Josh. 23:5-7; Judg. 1:21, 27-28).

     “The first chapter of Judges, recording events which took place after the death of Joshua (1:1), records how various tribes failed to take the land allotted to them (1:19, 21, 27, 29, 30, 31–32, 33, 34–36). Never in Old Testament history did Israel possess, dwell, and settle in all of the Promised Land. Nor did it ever happen in Jewish history since.”[2] In fact, several of the prophets who lived after Solomon wrote about Israel’s future possession of the Promised Land (Isa. 14:1; 60:21; Jer. 30:3; Ezek. 11:17; 20:42; 37:12; Amos 9:14-15)

     Furthermore, it was stated in Scripture that Abraham personally would possess the land, and that he and his descendants would possess it forever. Several times God said to Abraham, “For all the land which you see, I will give it to you [Abraham] and to your descendants forever” (Gen. 13:15), “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you [Abraham]” (Gen. 13:17), and “I will give to you [Abraham] and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Gen. 17:8). Yet, Abraham has never possessed the land that was promised to Him. In fact, Stephen makes this very point in his speech in Acts, where he says, “But He [God] gave him [Abraham] no inheritance in it [the land], not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him” (Acts 7:5).

     During his lifetime, Abraham did not possess the land God promised to him. But God will keep His word to Abraham and his descendants. God will, in the future, through resurrections, give both Abraham and Israel possession of all the Promised Land, and they will possess it forever. In addition, Israel will benefit from all the blessings of the New Covenant which are stated in Scripture (Jer. 31:31-34). Lastly, the nation of Israel will be blessed when Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, will be seated on His throne in Jerusalem, ruling over them “forever” (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Luke 1:31-33; cf. Matt. 19:28; 25:31).

     Both Covenant and Dispensational theologians agree that God made promises to Abraham of land, seed, and blessing (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:13-17; 15:17; 17:26; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:33-37; Jer. 31:31-33). The difference lies in that Covenant theologians believe that God has fulfilled all those promises to Abraham, whereas Dispensationalists believe God will fulfill those promises in the future.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 716.

[2] Ibid., 632.

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Not of Works

     One of the things I emphasize when presenting the gospel is that salvation is completely the work of God and not the work of people. We are saved by what Jesus accomplished for us at the cross and not by any good works we produce. Good works should follow salvation, but they are never the condition of it. The following Scriptures reveal that good works have no saving merit before God.

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (Rom. 3:28)

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom. 4:5)

Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)

For 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)

who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity (2 Tim. 1:9)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5)

     The Bible reveals that we are helpless to save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3), and human works, however noble or great, have no saving merit in God’s sight. How then are we saved? We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward us. Grace is sometimes used as an acronym for God’s riches at Christ’s expense. This is correct. God richly provides our salvation through the death of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18). There is nothing we bring to God to be saved. He is completely satisfied with what Jesus did for us at the cross. By faith we trust in Christ alone to save us from our sins and eternal separation from God (John 3:16-18; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14). The challenge for us is to stop trusting in human works to save us and to cast ourselves completely on Christ as our Savior.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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Reasons why we obey God

Reasons why we obey God     As a Christian, I want to serve the Lord and do His will, but I find myself caught in a battle, pulled by various desires from within and pressures from without. Sometimes I have the support of others who encourage me to do God’s will, and sometimes I’m alone. Though I’ve had failures over the years (too many to count), I’ve learned that relapse does not have to mean collapse, for there is forgiveness after my failure as I come before God’s “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16) and confess my sin and am restored to fellowship (1 John 1:9). That being said, I would rather succeed as a Christian and walk in God’s will than fail as a disobedient child. But I ask myself, “Why should I obey God? What’s my motivation to do good?” I ask myself this because I find that motivation drives much of my behavior, good or bad. I also find that some motivations are more powerful than others, as love is a greater motivator than fear. Below is a list of reasons why believers obey God.

  1. Fear of divine punishment. Scripture teaches, we are to “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Eccl. 12:13; cf. Heb. 10:26-27). And, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever” (Ps. 111:10). In many instances the word fear ( יָרֵא yare) means fright or distress, because we know God may discipline us if we continue in sin (Heb. 12:5-11). In other instances the word communicates His awesome character and ways (Deut. 7:21; 10:17; Ps. 66:3).
  2. It brings us joy. Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy [Grk. χαρά chara] may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:10-11; cf. John 13:1-17). Worldly joy depends on circumstances and feelings, whereas God’s joy is found in doing His will. Jesus had joy even while suffering on the cross (see Heb. 12:2).
  3. It pleases God. Scripture directs us to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). And, “do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb. 13:16).
  4. We want God’s blessing. “You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you” (Deut. 5:33). And, “Be careful to listen to all these words which I command you, so that it may be well with you and your sons after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God” (Deut. 12:28).
  5. We desire future rewards. Jesus said, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35; cf. 1 Cor. 3:10-15). And Paul wrote, “Instruct them [rich believers] 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).
  6. In response to God’s love for us. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). And, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Eph. 5:1-2). Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). And Paul wrote, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

     This list is by no means exhaustive, but touches on those major motivations mentioned in Scripture as to why we obey God and seek to do His will above our own. In my opinion, the greatest motivation to serve God is love—love in response to His love for us. But this motivation assumes we’ve read our Bible and learned something about who God is and what He’s done for us (hint hint).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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A Commitment of the Heart

     A Commitment of the HeartGood and evil reflect a commitment of the heart, and this commitment determines our values and actions, either good or bad. It was said of king Rehoboam that “He did evil because he did not set his heart to seek the LORD” (2 Chron. 12:14). Rehoboam was a person, made in the image of God, with the capacity to think and act. The text tells us he did evil (Hebrew רָע ra) which means he acted contrary to the will of God and in a way that was harmful to himself and others (read 2 Chron. 12:1-13). The Hebrew particle כִּי ki, translated because, is used here to introduce a causal phrase, explaining that one thing caused another.[1] In this case, it’s explained that Rehoboam acted in an evil way because “he did not set his heart to seek the LORD.” What does it mean to set the heart? The word set translates the Hebrew verb כּוּן kun, which here means to “be intent on, be firmly resolved.”[2] That is, Rehoboam firmly resolved in his heart that he was going to do as he pleased without regard for what God required of him. Biblically, this is always a recipe for disaster. Any time we choose our will above God’s will, we act like the little child that reaches for the flame because it’s pretty, not realizing the harm it will cause. The passage also speaks of Rehoboam’s heart (Hebrew לֵב leb) which refers to his inner core; the very seat of his life, from which he controls his thoughts, feelings, and actions. The heart is the pilot seat where one guides his/her life. It is from this seat that we choose our course, either for or against God. Similar language of setting the heart is used in a positive sense of king Jehoshaphat, to whom it was said, “there is some good in you, for you have removed the Asheroth from the land and you have set your heart to seek God” (2 Chron. 19:3), and king David said, “My heart is steadfast [כּוּן kunfirmly set], O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!” (Ps. 57:7). Concerning this comment by David, Dr. Allen P. Ross states:

The word “steadfast” means established, fixed, firm, secure; and the fact that it is his heart that is steadfast means that he is firmly established in his faith so that his affections and actions are loyal to God. This quality of steadfastness is what the penitent prayed for in Psalm 51:10, a steadfast spirit, for without it he would waiver in his faith and make the wrong choices. Here the psalmist has an unwavering faith in the LORD.[3]

     Similar statements are found in the New Testament of people who turned away from God because of a choice that started with an orientation of the heart, a decision to love something or someone other than the Lord. For example, John tells us that Jesus came as the Light into the world, but most people rejected Him because they “loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). The word love translates the Greek verb ἀγαπάω agapao, which expresses a strong commitment to something; in this case, the darkness they hope will hide their evil deeds. A little later in His Gospel, John describes some Jewish rulers who believed in Jesus; however, they were afraid to publicly confess Him, “for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:42-43). John uses the same Greek word, ἀγαπάω agapao, to describe the choice these men made, which choice was based on fear rather than faith.

     In summary, the direction of the heart determines our values and actions, either good or bad. Jeremiah described those who reject God and His Word, saying, “they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward” (Jer. 7:24). In contrast, Jesus spoke of those who receive God’s Word, saying, “these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15). Who are you? Are you one who has set your heart to turn away from God and live as you please? Is your will more important than His? Or, are you one who has an honest and good heart that welcomes God and His Word and who submits yourself to doing His will? I hope it’s the latter. Your words and actions will show it.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] John N. Oswalt, “976 כִי,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 437–438.

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

[3] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: Mich. Kregel Publications, 2013), 288.

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When God Said “Do Not Pray”

     There are two instances in Scripture—that I’m aware of—when God told someone not to pray, for He would not hear their prayer. Moses is the first example, for though he’d been faithful to God most of his life, he was told by the Lord he’d not enter the land promised to Israel because of his disobedience as a leader when he struck the rock (Num. 20:8-12). Moses pleaded with the Lord, saying, “Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon. But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the LORD said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter’” (Deut. 3:25-26). God’s decision concerning Moses was final. Moses would not enter the Promised Land, for the Lord said, “Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan” (Deut. 3:25-27; cf. Deut. 1:37; 31:1-2). God explained to Moses why He would not hear his prayer, saying, “because you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel” (Deut. 32:51). No amount of prayer would change God’s mind, so He told Moses to stop praying about it.

     Do not pray-2The second example is the prophet Jeremiah. God told him not to pray for his fellow Israelites. Three times God told Jeremiah, “do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you” (Jer. 7:16; cf. 11:14; 14:11). The reason behind God’s command was that He had decided to judge and punish His people (Jer. 7:20) because they’d repeatedly broken their covenant with Him by disobeying His commands and pursuing other gods, which He had forbidden (Ex. 20:2-4; cf. Ezek. 20:4-24).[1] Israel’s idolatry was terrible in Jeremiah’s day and included human sacrifice, as many caused their children to be burned alive (Jer. 19:4-5; cf. Ezek. 16:20-21; 20:25-26, 31). Over and over again, Israel disobeyed God’s commands and would not change their behavior (Jer. 7:21-26; 11:1-13).[2] Though Jeremiah had repeatedly spoken God’s Word to them for over two decades (Jer. 25:3), the people openly defied His message, telling him, “As for the message that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we are not going to listen to you!” (Jer. 44:16). Their hearts were hardened to God’s Word. If Israel had listened to God and turned back to Him from their idolatry, God would have reversed His discipline and provided blessing instead (Jer. 7:3-7). Until they changed their ways, no amount of prayer was going to change their situation. God would not be moved by their pleas, or the petitions of His prophets.

     The New Testament teaches that God will discipline His disobedient people (Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19; 1 Cor. 11:32), even to the point of death (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:27-30, 1 John 5:16-17). However, there are no examples in the New Testament of God telling anyone not to pray. Instead, we are commanded to be “devoted to prayer” (Rom. 12:12; cf. Col. 4:2), to “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18), and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17; cf. Luke 18:1). This means the believer is to look to God always for wisdom and strength to do His will, lifting others before His throne of grace, requesting He will intervene as we ask, for His glory and their benefit.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] God had formed a covenant (בְּרִית berith) with the nation of Israel after He’d delivered them from Egyptian captivity (Ex. Chapters 3-14). The nation of Israel became a theocracy, and God gave them a total of 613 commands that were to guide their relationship with Him and others. God promised to bless Israel if they abided by the stipulations of the covenant (Deut. 28:1-14), and He promised to curse them if they did not (Deut. 28:15-68). God was being faithful to His word.

[2] The sin of idolatry was widespread in Jeremiah’s day, including Israel’s king, princes, and elders (Jer. 44:17), down to the basic unit of society, the family (Jer. 7:18). It’s an evil thing when parents lead their children away from righteousness and into gross immorality.

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The Basics of Prayer

     Pray to the LordThere are two statements I hear people make about prayer that are incorrect: 1) there’s power in prayer, and 2) prayer changes things. Both statements give undue authority to the one who prays. Biblically, the power lies in the One who answers the prayer, and He alone reserves the right to change things if He wills. God answers prayer, but He does so according to His sovereign will.[1] Sometimes He says yes, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. It is good to remember that a prayer delayed is not necessarily a prayer denied. Sometimes we just need patience.

     Prayer is discussion with God. It is motivated by different causes and takes different forms.[2] Most often prayer is an appeal to God to change a difficult or helpless situation. Sometimes God changes our situations as we request (i.e., concerning employment, health, finances, family matters, etc.), and sometimes He leaves the difficult situation and seeks to change our attitude (2 Cor. 12:7-10). When God does not remove a difficult situation as we request, then He intends for us to deal with it by faith (Jam. 1:2-4). God uses difficult situations to remove pride (Dan. 4:37; 2 Cor. 12:7-10), and to develop our Christian character (Rom. 5:3-5). It’s almost always the case that we prefer God change our circumstances rather than our attitude; and yet, it seems both biblically and experientially that God prefers to do the opposite. Though the Lord is concerned about our difficult situations, He’s more concerned with developing our Christian character than relieving our discomfort. However God chooses to answer, He has His reasons and they always glorify Him. A challenge to us is to trust that His plan is better than ours, wherever it happens to lead us, or however difficult the journey becomes.

     Prayer is for believers, for one can address God as Father only as a member of the family of God (John 1:12; Gal. 3:26).[3] Jesus prayed often, both publicly and privately (Matt. 11:25-26; 14:23; 19:13; 26:36; Mark 6:46; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:28; 10:21; 22:41-42; John 11:41-42; 12:27-28; 17:1-26), and His prayer life was so noticeable, that His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1-4; cf. Matt. 6:9-13). For the Christian, prayer should be directed to God the Father (Matt. 6:6; Luke 11:2; Eph. 5:20; 1 Pet. 1:17),[4] in the name of Jesus (John 14:13; 15:16), and in the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:18; Jude 1:20). Praying in the name of Jesus is not a magic formula that makes our prayers acceptable to God; rather, it means our request is consistent with Jesus’ character and will (1 John 5:14-15). Praying in the Spirit means we pray as the Spirit leads according to Scripture.[5] It is interesting to note that both God the Holy Spirit and God the Son offer intercessory prayers for us to God the Father (Rom. 8:26; Heb. 7:24-25).

     Some of the different types of prayer found in Scripture include: request (Phil. 4:6; Eph. 6:18), thanksgiving (John 11:41; Phil. 4:6), submission (Luke 22:41-42), faith (Jam. 5:15), imprecation[6] (Ps. 58:6-8; 69:23-28), and intercession (Acts 12:1-5). The best prayers seek to glorify God above all else. Moses provides a model prayer in Exodus 32:7-14 where he prayed on behalf of His people, Israel, that God would not pour out His wrath on them because of their idolatry (Ex. 32:1-6). Moses’ prayer to God starts by identifying Israel as “Your people” whom He had rescued from Egyptian bondage (Ex. 32:11). Israel was not just any people, but God’s chosen nation, who had already tasted of His great grace and compassion.[7] After citing God’s deliverance, Moses then argued with God to withhold His wrath for two reasons: First, if God destroyed Israel, then His reputation among the pagan nations would be tarnished (Ex. 32:12). Moses sought to protect God’s reputation in the eyes of others, even unbelievers, and to uphold His glory above self-interest. Second, if God destroyed Israel, He would be in violation of the promises He’d made to Israel’s forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Ex. 32:13). Moses did not want others to see God as one who fails to keep His promises. Moses’ prayer was heard and God relented of the judgment He intended to bring on His people because of their sin (Ex. 32:14).

When God Does Not Hear Our Prayers

     There are some things in life that God conditions on prayer (Jam. 4:2), but praying is no guarantee He’ll grant our request. Being a righteous God, He only hears the prayers of those who seek to know Him and do His will. The apostle Peter writes, “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer. But the Lord’s face is against those who do evil” (1 Pet. 3:12). The apostle John writes, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14-15).

    Biblically, there are several reasons why God does not answer the prayer of believers: lack of faith (Jam. 1:5-8), worship of other gods (Jer. 1:16; 11:12-14), failure to take in Bible teaching (Prov. 1:24-31; 28:9; Zech. 7:11-13), selfishness (Jam. 4:2-3), carnality (Ps. 66:18; Mic. 3:4; Isa. 1:15; 59:1-3), lack of harmony in the home (1 Pet. 3:7), pride and self-righteousness (Job 35:12-13), and lack of obedience (Deut. 1:43-45; 1 John 3:22; 5:14). All of these failings can be corrected as the believer learns God’s Word and lives obediently by faith. Failure to learn God’s Word and/or apply it results in self-harm, much like a child who will not listen to her parents, but repeatedly keeps reaching for the hot flame because it’s pretty. God’s commands are designed to bring blessing, either by teaching us to avoid that which is harmful, or to pursue that which is helpful.

     The apostle Paul reveals a situation when God refused to answer his prayer. Paul was struggling with something he called his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). We don’t know what it was, except that it caused him great hardship. Paul asked God to take it away, saying, “I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me” (2 Cor. 12:8). Paul uses the Greek verb παρακαλέω parakaleo, which in this context means “to make a strong request for something.”[8] Paul was pleading with God to remove his problem, but God said no. The Lord had a reason for it to be there, and He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9a). Paul did not like being weak. He did not like feeling helpless about this thing that caused him discomfort. But Paul’s thorn, however difficult it was to him, kept him close to God, and that’s what God wanted. It’s as though God were telling Paul, “Paul, I know you don’t like your suffering, but the very thing you don’t like is what keeps you close to me, and the strength of our fellowship is more important than the alleviation of your discomfort.” Suffering is our friend when it keeps up humble and close to God. When Paul understood this, his attitude changed, and he accepted his suffering and praised God for it. Paul said, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10). This is a faith response, for it could never be born out of our emotions.

Summary

     Prayer is a blessing we enjoy as believers as we can come before God’s throne of grace and make requests. As Christians, we are to “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18), and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17; cf. Luke 18:1; Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2). As we advance toward spiritual maturity, God will occupy our thoughts in all matters, and prayer will come more and more naturally. And, like Moses, we will seek God’s interests above our own and pray according to His will.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Scripture reveals, “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6), for “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth” (Dan 4:35), declaring, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (Isa. 46:10).

[2] The most common words in the Bible translated prayer are תְּפִלָּה tephillah (Job 16:17; Ps. 65:2) and προσευχή proseuche (Luke. 19:46; Acts 12:5), which simply speak of the act of prayer. Other words include פָּלַל palal – to intervene as a mediator (Gen. 20:7; Job 42:8), לַחַשׁ lachash – a whispering prayer (Isa. 26:16; 29:4), שָׁאַל shaal – to ask, inquire (Isa. 7:11; 45:11), עָתַר athar – a prayer related to sacrifice (Job 33:26), δέησις deesis – an urgent request (Eph. 6:18), and ἔντευξις enteuxis – simple prayer, childlike prayer (1 Tim. 2:1). The word αἰτέω aiteo is not translated as prayer, but is clearly used when making requests to God (Matt. 7:7; John 14:13).

[3] The general agreement among theologians is that God does not hear the prayers of unbelievers, for they are not God’s children but belong to Satan. Jesus said of unbelieving Jews, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). Logically, one cannot call God his Father if He is not. In another place, a man who had been healed by Jesus said to the Jewish religious leaders, “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him” (John 9:31). However, there does seem to be at least one occasion in which God heard the prayer of an unbeliever who was seeking Him for salvation (e.g. Acts 10:1-2, 30-31; 11:14). It could be that if an unbeliever seeks God for salvation, as Cornelius did, then His prayers for salvation are answered.

[4] Although there is at least one petition in the NT directed to Jesus (Acts 7:59-60).

[5] The Greek preposition ἐν can mean, “in” “by” or “with” the Spirit. Hoehner translates the prepositional phrase ἐν παντὶ καιρῷ ἐν πνεύματι as “at every opportunity or occasion in the Spirit” (Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Baker Academic, 2002, p. 856). Hoehner further states, “In the immediate context [of Eph. 6:18], praying in the Spirit may well be connected to the sword of the Spirit. The sword of the Spirit is, on the one hand, God’s spoken word to put His enemies to flight and, on the other hand, the believer’s utterance to God in prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit to aid in the struggle against the evil powers” (p. 857).

[6] Imprecatory prayers were valid under the Mosaic Law where obedient Israelites could expect God to dispense justice to their enemies (Deut. 28:7). These types of prayers are not valid for Christians because we are not under the Mosaic Law (Rom. 6:14). We are commanded to pray for our enemies that God will bless them (Matt. 5:44-45; Luke 6:28, 35; cf. Rom. 12:17-21; 1 Thess. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:9). If God dispenses judgment upon our enemies, He will do so at His discretion and not ours (Rom. 12:17-19; 2 Thess. 1:6).

[7] God’s deliverance was not based on any righteousness found in Israel, for He describes them as a “stubborn” and “rebellious” people who keep defying Him, in spite of His goodness (Deut. 9:6-7).

[8] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 765.

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The Meaning of Sin

     The MeaningThe word sin is found throughout Scripture, and both the Hebrew and Greek share the same basic meaning. The Hebrew word חָטָא chata means “to miss the target, or to lose the way,”[1] and the Greek word ἁμαρτάνω hamartano is defined as “miss the mark, err, or do wrong.”[2] In Judges 20:16 the Hebrew word is used of skilled soldiers who do not miss their target, and in Proverbs 19:2 of a man who hurries and misses his way.[3] Sin is when we transgress God’s law and depart from His intended path.[4] The apostle John states, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). “Sin may be comprehensively defined as lack of conformity to the law of God in act, habit, attitude, outlook, disposition, motivation, and mode of existence.”[5]

     Divine laws are a reflection of the righteousness of God. The righteousness of God may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates. God’s character is the basis upon which all just laws derive; either divine laws from God Himself or human laws which conform to His righteousness.[6]

The underlying idea of sin is that of law and of a lawgiver. The lawgiver is God. Hence sin is everything in the disposition and purpose and conduct of God’s moral creatures that is contrary to the expressed will of God (Rom. 3:20; 4:15; 7:7; James 4:12, 17). 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).[7]

     God permits sin, but is never the author of it. Sin is the expression of a creaturely will that is set against God. The sin we commit may be mental, verbal, or physical. It may be private or public, impacting one or many, with short or lasting results. Below are biblical examples of sin:

  1. Lucifer sought to place himself above God (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-18).
  2. Adam and Eve disobeyed the command not to eat the fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-7).
  3. Lot’s daughters got him drunk and had sex with him (Gen. 19:30-38)
  4. Aaron led the Israelites to worship an idol (Ex. 32:1-6).
  5. Moses struck the rock when the Lord told him only to speak to it (Num. 20:8-12).
  6. Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg. 16:1-4).
  7. David had an affair with Bathsheba and conspired to have her husband, Uriah, murdered (2 Sam. 11:1-21).
  8. Solomon worshiped idols (1 Kings 11:1-10).
  9. Peter tried to prevent Jesus from going to the cross (Matt. 16:21-23).
  10. Peter publicly denied the Lord three times ( 26:34-35; 69-75).
  11. The Christians at Corinth engaged in quarrels (1 Cor. 1:11), jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21). 
  12. The Apostle John twice worshiped an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).

     The above list is a just a sampling of sins in the Bible. Biblically, every person is a sinner in God’s sight. Jesus is the single exception.[8] We are sinners in Adam (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom. 7:18-21; Gal. 5:17; Eph. 2:1-3), and sinners by choice (1 Kings 8:46; Prov. 20:9; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:9-23). Sin separates us from God and renders us helpless to merit God’s approval. 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. Sadly, many people buy into the lie that they can help save themselves by doing good works. The biblical teaching is that salvation is never based on good works or adherence to law, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 16:31). Scripture states, we are “not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16; cf. Rom. 3:20, 28), for “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21).

The Good News of the Gospel

     It does no good to talk about sin if we don’t also address God’s solution. 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 (Matt. 5:17-21; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins. 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; cf. Rom. 5:6-10). Biblically, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24), and “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28; cf. 4:5), “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), for “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:5-7). 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), and given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28).

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), 305.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 49.

[3] G. Herbert Livingston, “638 חָטָא,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 277.

[4] Other Hebrew and Greek words related to sin include: evil (רָע ra – Gen. 3:5), wicked (רָשָׁע rasha – Prov. 15:9), rebellion (פָּשַׁע pasha – Isa. 1:2), iniquity (עָוֹן avon – Isa. 53:6), error (שָׁגָה shagah – Lev. 4:13), guilt (אָשַׁם asham – Lev. 4:22), go astray (תָּעָה taah – Ps. 58:3), bad (κακός kakos – Rom. 12:17), evil (πονηρός poneros – Matt. 7:11), ungodly (ἀσεβής asebes – Rom. 4:5), guilty (ἔνοχος enochos – 1 Cor. 11:27), sin (ἁμαρτία hamartia – 1 Cor. 15:3), unrighteousness (ἀδικία adikia – Rom. 1:18), lawless (ἄνομος anomos – 1 Tim. 1:9), transgression (παράβασις parabasis – Gal. 3:19), ignorance (ἀγνοέω agnoeo – Acts 17:23), go astray (πλανάω planao – 1 Pet. 2:25), trespass (παράπτωμα paraptoma – Rom. 5:15), and hypocrisy (ὑπόκρισις hupokrisis – 1 Tim. 4:2). 

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

[6] If there is no God, then there is no absolute standard for right and wrong and we are left with arbitrary laws based on manufactured values.

[7] Merrill F. Unger and E. McChesney, “Sin,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1198.

[8] Jesus, because of His divine nature (John 1:1, 14; Col. 2:9), and the virgin conception (Isa. 7:14; Luke 1:30-35), is the only person ever born without sin and who committed no sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). His perfect humanity and sinless life qualified Him to go to the cross and die in our place. Jesus said, “For even 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).

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Treating Others with Dignity

     Treating OthersWhat does it mean to treat others with dignity? Dignity most commonly refers to the honor we confer on others. Scripture directs us to “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, and honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17). The word honor translates the Greek word τιμάω timao, which means “to show high regard for, honor, revere.”[1] We honor all people because they are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).[2] We honor those in authority (i.e. the king) because they are divinely appointed ministers of righteousness (Dan. 2:21; Rom. 13:1-4). Above all, we are to honor God (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16).

     Dignity can refer to one’s character or accomplishments. Paul told his friend Titus, “in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified” (Tit. 2:7; cf. 1 Tim. 2:2; 3:4, 8). The word dignified translates the Greek σεμνότης semnotes, which refers to a pattern of moral behavior that warrants praise from others. In this sense, honor is not fitting for a fool (Prov. 26:1, 8).

     The noble woman in Proverbs 31 is described as wearing dignity like clothing. The passage reads, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Prov. 31:25-26). “Strength and dignity” are the developed attractive qualities of her character, which qualities are obvious to others who hear her words of “wisdom” and “the teaching of kindness” that flows from her lips.

     There is also a dignity we are to show to people because of their status in society. It can be the honor we give to the aged (Lev. 19:32), our parents (Ex. 20:12), widows (1 Tim. 5:3), church elders (1 Tim. 5:17), or a person in a high office, such as a king or public official (1 Pet. 2:17). Honor and respect are not the same. We may not respect the values and actions of others, yet we can honor them as parents or public officials. Dr. Thomas Constable explains this well.

Respect is not the same as honor. We may not respect someone, but we can and should still honor him or her. For example, I have a friend whose father was an alcoholic. My friend did not respect his father who was frequently drunk, often humiliated his wife and children, and failed to provide for his family adequately. Nevertheless my friend honored his father because he was his father. He demonstrated honor by taking him home when his father could not get home by himself. He sometimes had to defend him from people who would have taken advantage of him when he was drunk. Similarly we may not be able to respect certain government officials because of their personal behavior or beliefs. Still we can and should honor them because they occupy an office that places them in a position of authority over us. We honor them because they occupy the office; we do not just honor the office. Peter commanded us to honor the king and all who are in authority over us, not just the offices that they occupy…Honoring others is our responsibility; earning our respect is theirs.[3]

  1. At the most basic level we dignify people by recognizing their value as human beings who are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Being made in the image of God means people have the capacity to reason, feel, and make moral choices (Gen. 1:26-27). We honor people by appealing to their intellect with honesty and truth, being sensitive to their feelings, and respecting their right of self-determination (i.e. the right of a person to control their own life).
  2. We dignify people when we address them properly by their office (i.e. mother or father, senator, judge, etc.), title (i.e. doctor, officer, pastor, etc.), or simply as sir or ma’am. Public speech is a common way to honor others (Dan. 2:4; 6:21; Acts 26:1-3), or dishonor them (Matt. 15:4).
  3. We dignify people by showing love (Rom. 13:8), doing good (Gal. 6:10), and treating them as important (Phil. 2:3-4). The mature person demonstrates the highest form of dignity by loving his enemies (Luke 6:27-30), and blessing those who persecute him (Rom. 12:14).
  4. We dignify people when we use language that recognizes their sacrifices and courageous choices. We should offer praise for military personnel, police officers, firemen, medics, and others who place themselves in harm’s way for our protection and benefit. I’m a little biased here, but I also think we should praise those who care for the elderly, orphans, homeless, and the disabled in our communities. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1004.

[2] It is because people are made in the image of God that murder is wrong (Gen. 9:6), as well as cursing people (Jam. 3:8-10). Both murder and cursing are regarded as an attack on the image of God.

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Pet. 2:17.

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Helping the Poor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

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

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

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

Posted in Christian Theology, God's Grace, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Love, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Why Believers Show No Grace

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

     God of GraceThe 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” (Ps. 86:15). God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov. 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom. 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the love, mercy, or kindness that one person freely confers upon another who deserves the opposite (Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 11:6; Eph. 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5-7). The kindness shown is rooted in the goodness and open-handedness of the giver.[1]

     God is gracious to us and treats us better than we deserve. More so, He calls us to be like Him and to show grace to others. This means loving our enemies and being kind to those who hurt us. 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), and “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28; cf. Rom. 12:13-21). This is done by faith, not feelings. It is accomplished when we look to God and obey Him, drawing on His love and grace. John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8), and, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

Why Do Some Refuse Grace to Others?

     Some ChristiansOne would think that grace would flow from grace. That is, the one who is shown grace by God would show grace and mercy to others. Paradoxically, this is not always the case. I am amazed at Christians who welcome God’s grace, but show no grace to others. Many are mean-spirited, condescending, harsh, unforgiving, and speak with a critical spirit. This is contrary to the character of God and the teaching of Scripture. When it comes to our sin and unworthiness, the truth of Scripture is, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 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 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 (including me), 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; Ps. 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 the believer learns about God’s grace, he 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 leads 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 and maligning; badmouthing others we don’t like. Such a critical spirit lacks the capacity to show grace because everyone is guilty, and some more than others. In some ways, running others down is a subtle form of self-praise.
  4. Arrogance. Arrogant people don’t show grace. In fact, they lack the capacity because they’re so self-absorbed, consumed with thinking about themselves and their own life, they have no room in their thinking and speech to show grace to others. I’ve heard it said that “arrogant people never see their own faults, only the faults of others,” and I think there’s merit to the statement.
  5. Refusing to forgive. An unforgiving spirit makes it difficult to show grace. Forgiveness means we release someone from an offense or debt they owe us (or a debt we think they owe us). Forgiveness releases them from paying the penalty for their crime (real or imagined). Forgiveness does not mean continuing to tolerate abuse (physical, mental, sexual, etc.), but it means we continue to seek God’s best in their life by prayer and biblical discussion. By refusing to forgive, we end up harboring hatred, and there’s no room for grace in a hate-filled heart.

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] 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).

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The Noetic Effects of Sin

     The NoeticThe noetic effects of sin refers to the affect sin has on the mind of every person. Sin impacts our ability to think rationally, especially about God, Who has made Himself known through general revelation (Ps. 19:1-2; Rom. 1:18-20) and special revelation (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 5:18; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).[1] God’s revelation disrupts the mind of man, confronting wrong thoughts and inviting conformity to the mind of God. Though God’s revelation is clear, rebellious people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18), and their foolish heart is “darkened” (Rom. 1:21). When confronted with God’s revelation, the person who is negative to God either denies His existence (Ps. 14:1), or reduces Him to the status of a creature (Rom. 1:22-25).

     The biblical record of mankind is dark. It reveals that the majority of people throughout history think evil thoughts and are consumed with themselves and their own agendas rather than God’s will. Moses wrote of Noah’s contemporaries, saying, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Later, Solomon declared, “the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives” (Eccl. 9:3). And Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). One would think that when Jesus came into the world that mankind would rejoice in His light. However, the Scripture provides a different picture, telling us, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19; cf. 1:4-5). And Jesus Himself spoke of the human condition, saying, “for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matt. 15:19).

     Sin permeates every aspect of our being, corrupting the mind and will, so that the natural tendency of our heart is to think according to the ways of the world. A hostile heart may search the Scriptures to know God’s Word and yet be completely closed to accepting its message. This was the case with the religious Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day (John 5:39-40). When talking to religious Pharisees, Jesus declared, “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word” (John 8:43). This is true of all unbelievers, for “the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). Even something as simple as the Gospel message is “foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18), in whose case “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

God Has a Solution

     Sin infects us all. We can’t control it and within ourselves we don’t have the cure. Without God, we are helpless. But God has a solution for a mind damaged by sin. First, one must be born again as a Christian and given a new heart (1 Pet. 1:3, 23) before the mind can be renewed to think as God intends (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23). The new heart means we have the ability to accept what God says and the power to obey (Rom. 6:8-14). Second, is having a heart that fears the Lord. Solomon writes, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). There is both a healthy and unhealthy fear. To fear the Lord means we reverence and obey Him, turning away from evil (Prov. 8:13; 16:6), and fear His loving discipline when we sin (Heb. 12:5-11). Third, there must be a desire to do God’s will. 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). God’s revelation is understandable to the willing heart. Fourth, there must be a humble submission to the Lord (Jam. 4:7). Submission means we surrender our lives to God “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1). This is a commitment to the Lord that lasts for a lifetime. At times, the Christian may fail; but relapse does not have to mean collapse, as the Christian can confess his sin and be restored to fellowship with God (1 John 1:9) and resume a life of obedience (Rom. 6:16-18; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Pet. 1:22-23). Fifth, the Christian must embark on a lifetime of learning God’s Word. This is a daily choice to study Scripture (2 Tim. 2:16) and to apply God’s Word in order to advance spiritually (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2). Sixth, one must endure trials throughout life, seeing them as opportunities to apply God’s Word by faith to each and every situation (Heb. 11:6; Jam. 1:2-4).

     Lastly, there is a warning to Christians, for we are all born on a spiritual battlefield and throughout our lives we will face opposition to the work of God.  The enemy will use pleasure and pain, success and failure, friends and enemies, to pull us away from God in order to stifle our walk.  We will experience opposition from out 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; Jam. 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16). These three can work together or by themselves to stunt our spiritual walk and we must always be on guard against attack. Our spiritual success depends on a surrendered life to God, as we bring our thoughts and actions into conformity to the Word and character of God.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. Original Sin  
  2. When God’s People Sin  
  3. When a Believer Perpetually Sins  
  4. When Believers Hide  
  5. The Doctrine of Simultaneity  
  6. The Sin that Leads to Death  
  7. The Sin of Idolatry  
  8. The Worthless Person  
  9. The Sin Nature Within the Christian
  10. Our Enemy the Devil 
  11. Satan’s World System  
  12. The Gospel  
  13. Steps to Spiritual Growth  
  14. Learning to Live by Faith  

[1] At times God spoke directly to people (Ex. 19:9; 1 Sam. 3:1-14; Isa. 6:9-10), and at other times He revealed Himself through dreams (Gen. 28:12; 31:11; Dan. 7:1; 12:8-9), visions (Isa. 6:1; 1 Ki. 22:19), and angels (Dan. 10:10-21; Acts 27:23-24). Most specifically and clearly, He revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14, 18; 14:7; Heb. 1:1-3), and in the written Word (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 5:18; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 3:14-16).  Jesus Christ is now in heaven and therefore not subject to observation such as when He was on the earth. Though God continues to reveal Himself through nature and acts of providence, it is Scripture alone that informs and guides the Christian concerning faith and conduct.

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Original Sin

     Original SinSin is anything that is contrary to the holy character of God. The Bible teaches that everyone is a sinner (1 Ki. 8:46; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; Isa. 53:6; 64:6; Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:20-23; Rom. 3:9-23; 7:18-21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 2:1-3; 1 John 1:8-10). Sin separates us from God and renders us helpless to save ourselves (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). When the subject of sin is studied, it results in a basic threefold classification that we are sinners in Adam (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), by nature (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and by choice (Jas. 1:14-15). The focus of this article is the original sin of Adam and its impact upon humanity. 

     Original sin refers to Adam’s sin in the garden in which he disobeyed God (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-24). Adam is the head of the human race. When Adam sinned, we all sinned with him. His fallen position is our fallen position. His guilt is our guilt. The pure image of God (imago Dei) that belonged to the first couple was marred when they sinned and all Adam’s children are born with a distorted image and a proclivity toward rebellion against God (Ps. 51:5; 58:3; Eph. 2:1-3). Adam’s sin is imputed to all his offspring (Rom. 5:12-21; cf. 3:9-23), excluding Jesus, who was neither born with sin, nor committed sin. Scripture reveals Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb. 4:15), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). His sinless life qualified Him to die a substitutionary death in our place, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).

     Related to the subject of original sin is the biblical concept of total depravity, which means that sin permeates every aspect of our being. Our mind, will, sensibilities and flesh are all submerged in sin. We often think of total depravity as meaning that people are as bad as they can be; however, this is wrong. The truth is there are many moral unbelievers in the world who rely on their good works to gain them entrance into heaven. The fact of Scripture is that God declares everyone under sin, and this includes the most moral persons who have ever lived. Is there any person who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?” (Pro 20:9). The answer is an emphatic NO! The human heart is corrupt, for “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20), and “There is none righteous; not even one. There is none who understands; there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become useless. There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12; cf. 8:8). Some might argue, “What about unbelievers who live moral lives and do good? Certainly they exist. Doesn’t their morality provide something worthy in the eyes of God?” The biblical answer is NO! Even the most moral unbelievers are unacceptable to God. Scripture states:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isa. 64:6)

Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)

For 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)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

     By human estimation, even the worst person can do some good. But human estimation is lower than God’s estimation and it is God’s standards that define what is truly good. “Total depravity must always be measured against God’s holiness. Relative goodness exists in people. They can do good works, which are appreciated by others. But nothing that anyone can do will gain salvational merit or favor in the sight of a holy God.”[1]

The phrase total depravity is commonly used to make explicit the implications of original sin. It signifies a corruption of our moral and spiritual nature that is total not in degree (for no one is as bad as he or she might be) but in extent. It declares that no part of us is untouched by sin, and therefore no action of ours is as good as it should be, and consequently nothing in us or about us ever appears meritorious in God’s eyes. We cannot earn God’s favor, no matter what we do; unless grace saves us, we are lost.[2]

     Only the work of Christ on the cross satisfies God’s righteous demands toward our sin (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2), and only by faith in Jesus can we accept God’s gift of salvation (John 3:16; 14:6; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31). To be saved, we must turn from all other considerations of merit, and trust in Christ alone as Savior. At the moment of faith in Jesus, God gives us the gift of His righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8-9), which is imputed to us, ungodly sinners (Rom. 4:5), solely because of His goodness and not because of any worth in us (Eph. 2:3-9). The gift of God’s righteousness means that we are declared as perfect as He is perfect. Won’t you accept God’s free gift of righteousness by turning to Jesus as Savior and trusting that what He accomplished on the cross is sufficient to save? It’s simple; “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 253.

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

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The Worthless Person

     BelialIn several places in the Bible there are references to worthless persons (Deut. 13:13; Judg. 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam. 25:17; 1 Ki. 21:9-13; Prov. 6:12-14; 16:27; 19:28; Nah. 1:11). The term worthless translates the Hebrew בְּלִיָּעַל belial, which occurs 27 times in Scripture. The word means “Uselessness, wickedness…good for nothing.”[1] These are people whom God designates as worthless because they continually resist His will and disrupt the activities of His people. Over time, the term Belial became a name for Satan (2 Cor. 6:15), who embodies wickedness, worthlessness and trouble, always resisting God and seeking to harm those who walk with Him (1 Pet. 5:8).

     Solomon writes, “A worthless [בְּלִיָּעַל belial] person, a wicked man, is the one who walks with a perverse mouth, who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, who points with his fingers; who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, who spreads strife” (Prov. 6:12-14).  The worthless person employs all forms of communication using his “mouth,” “eyes,” “feet,” and “fingers” to advance his evil agenda. His companions understand his various forms of language and consent to do his bidding.  Solomon describes him as one “who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil.” That is, he revels in the natural inclinations of his own depravity (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-22), and in his activities “spreads strife” among men.

     Elsewhere, Scripture describes the worthless person as one who “digs up evil” (Prov. 16:27), “makes a mockery of justice” (Prov. 19:28), and “plots evil against the LORD” (Nah. 1:11). He leads others away from the God (Deut. 13:13), is given to lewd behavior (Judg. 19:22), hides from justice (Judg. 20:13), is unreasonable (1 Sam. 25:17), defies authority (2 Sam. 20:1), is willing to lie against the innocent and promote injustice (1 Ki. 21:9-13), and seeks to overpower the timid leader (2 Chron. 13:7). It should be noted that worthless persons can be born into good families, for “the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the LORD” (1 Sam. 2:12).  And, they can attach themselves to a godly leader and cause trouble, such as “the wicked and worthless men among those who went with David (1 Sam. 30:22).     

     It is a mistake to see the worthless person within the narrow context of criminals or public mischief-makers, although it certainly includes them. Rather, we must see them as permeating all aspects of society. Broadly speaking, worthless persons are males and females, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, educators and students, politicians and citizens, bosses and employees, religious and irreligious, wealthy and poor, and they live to provoke rebellion and discord wherever they are.

     Is there hope for the worthless person to turn from his wickedness and live honorably? Yes, of course there is. But this requires humility and a willingness to turn to God for salvation (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:8-9). Once saved, God generates a new heart that desires to walk with Him, and the once worthless person can be a worthy person who walks in a manner “worthy of the calling” of the Lord (Eph. 4:1; cf. Phil. 1:27; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:11-12; Rev. 3:4).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 134.

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Bible Promises that Strengthen our Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Most Scripture is taken from the NASB.

Posted in Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Righteous Living, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

God’s Righteousness in the Future

But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Pet. 3:13)

     RighteousnessGod has a plan for the future and that plan involves His righteous rule over His people, both in time and eternity.  Only a sovereign God Who possesses all the attributes of deity, such as omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and so on, can work providentially in His creation to guarantee a future righteous rule.  In one sense, God rules universally and eternally.  He is always the sovereign Ruler of all His creation (Ps. 145:13; Jer. 10:10).  Scripture reveals, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19), and “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6).  Daniel writes, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth” (Dan 4:34b-35a).  From Genesis to Revelation, God sovereignly governs the lives of people and nations.  People exist because God gives them life.  David writes, “Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves” (Ps. 100:3).  He determines the duration of each person’s life, having final control over the day and cause of a person’s death.  It is written, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Ps. 139:16).  And Hannah, in her prayer says, “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Sam. 2:6).  People live and die as God decides, “For in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28).  God controls when and where people will live in history, for “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26).  Even the great rulers of this world exist because of His plan, for “It is He who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding” (Dan. 2:21).  God has power over wealth and poverty, for “The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts” (1 Sam. 2:7).  God allows fallen angels and humans to produce sin and evil, but they never act beyond or against His sovereign will (Job 1:1-21; Ps. 105:12-15; 1 Kings 22:19-23; 2 Cor. 12:7-10). 

     It is because God is absolutely sovereign that He can providentially control His creation and the affairs of mankind and bring about His will on the earth.  God’s providence refers to His wise and personal acts, whereby He creates and controls circumstances in order to direct history according to His predetermined plan, all for His glory and the benefit of His elect.  People live in the flow of history and are moved by the circumstances God controls.  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).  By His sovereign will God created all things in heaven and earth, and sustains and directs them as He desires.  God “is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).  The Lord knows all things at all times.  He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground (Matt. 10:29), and the ever-changing number of hairs on our head (Matt. 10:30).  He knows our thoughts before we think them (Ps. 139:2), and our words before we speak them (Ps. 139:4).  He knows our wickedness (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-22), and chooses to love us by grace, in spite of our sinfulness (Matt. 5:45; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-9).  Some He elects to purpose, even from the womb (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15).  Because God is righteous, all His actions are just.  Because He is loving and good, He directs all things for His glory and the benefit of His elect.  The wicked are also under God’s sovereign control, and He uses them for His own ends (Prov. 16:4).

God’s Righteous Kingdom Promised to David

     One must distinguish God’s universal and eternal kingdom from His earthly kingdom.  God has a specific plan for the future to establish an earthly kingdom that will be centered in Jerusalem with Jesus Christ ruling on the throne.  This promise is rooted in the Davidic covenant where God promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13).  The Lord said to David, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16).  That this was a covenant promise from God to David is specified elsewhere, where God states, “I have made a covenant [בְּרִית berith] with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, 4 I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne to all generations” (Ps. 89:3-4), and He further declares, “Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David. 36 His descendants shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before Me. 37 It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful” (Ps 89:35-37).  A forever-kingdom requires a forever-Person to rule over it.  Jeremiah spoke prophetically about this King and kingdom, saying:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. 6 “In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The LORD our righteousness.’” (Jer. 23:5-6)

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth.” (Jer. 33:14-15)

     It cannot be missed that this promised descendant of David is described as “a righteous Branch” who shall “reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.”  Concerning this King, justice and righteousness will be the chief characteristic of His rule over Israel and the earth.  Daniel writes about the eternal nature of this future earthly kingdom, saying, “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44).  Earthly kingdoms come and go because their rulers die or are conquered.  However, the future ruler of God’s kingdom on earth will never die, and this explains why it will “not be left for another people” and will last forever.  It was also revealed to Daniel that God’s saints will participate in this kingdom, saying, “Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him” (Dan. 7:27).  A king has authority and subjects over which to rule.  The saints of all time shall know the righteous rule of God’s King on the earth.

Jesus – God’s Righteous King

     Up until the conception of Jesus, no one knew by name Who the King would be.  There was only anticipation of His coming.  The promise that was given to David, and reiterated by Jeremiah and Daniel, was finally confirmed to Mary, that her Son, Jesus, would sit on David’s throne and would reign over the house of Jacob forever.  Jesus is the forever-King that God has decreed to rule over His forever-kingdom.  The angel Gabriel revealed this to Mary as follows:

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

     Several things are noticed about what Gabriel said to Mary: 1) the name of her Son is Jesus, which is derived from the Hebrew Joshua, which means “Yahweh saves.”  2) Gabriel said, “He will be great,” which speaks both of Him as a Person as well as His accomplishments.  3) He would be called “Son of the Most High,” which means He is equal with God the Father.  4) God would “give Him the throne of His father, David.”  No doubt Mary would have thought of 2 Samuel 7:16 and perhaps Psalm 89:35-37, both of which reveal that God would raise a descendant of David to rule from his earthly throne in Jerusalem.  5) Jesus would “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”  The question, as one reads the Biblical text, is how did Mary understand what was said to her.  It is natural that she would have understood the words in the plainest sense possible, that her Son, Jesus, would fulfill the Biblical promises concerning the son of David who would sit on His earthly throne and rule forever over Israel and the earth.[1]

Jesus’ Offer of God’s Kingdom to Israel

     As Jesus grew into manhood, His mother knew His identity, that He is the promised King of Israel and would set up the promised kingdom.  Just before Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist came as His forerunner and proclaimed the offer of the kingdom, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2).  Jesus also proclaimed this message, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).[2]  Both “repent” and “believe” are imperatives in Mark 1:15, which imply a volitional response of obedience from those who heard.  These words are closely related and go together, like two sides of the same coin.  Israelites were called to change their mind from whatever they were trusting in (i.e. repent), and to accept Jesus’ message that the kingdom was being offered to them (i.e. believe in Him as King and His offer of the kingdom).  The concept of the Davidic kingdom was prominent in the minds of many Jews in Jesus’ day, so it’s not like He had to persuade them about His message.  Jesus simply had to communicate the offer of the kingdom and wait for Israel’s response.

This concept was familiar to the Jews of Jesus’ day. In light of Old Testament prophecy (cf. 2 Sam. 7:8–17; Isa. 11:1–9; 24:23; Jer. 23:4–6; Micah 4:6–7; Zech. 9:9–10; 14:9) they were expecting a future messianic (Davidic) kingdom to be established on earth (cf. Matt. 20:21; Mark 10:37; 11:10; 12:35–37; 15:43; Luke 1:31–33; 2:25, 38; Acts 1:6). So Jesus did not have to arouse interest in His message. His hearers naturally understood His reference to the kingdom of God to be the long-awaited messianic kingdom predicted in the Old Testament.[3]

Israel’s Rejection of the Kingdom

     The arrival of the kingdom was contingent upon Israel’s repentance and belief.  Jesus repeatedly proclaimed His offer of the kingdom (Matt. 4:17, 23; Mark 1:38; Luke 4:43; 8:1) and even sent His disciples out to all Israel to proclaim the message with validating signs (Matt. 10:5-8).  Jesus confirmed His Messianic offer of the kingdom with many miracles (Matt. 11:2-5; 14:15-21; John 9:1-7; 10:37-38), which should have resulted in Israel’s acceptance of Him as their King.  However, after much proof, Israel did not repent, and Jesus “began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent” (Matt. 11:20).  It was the sad reality that “though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him” (John 12:37).  The Light of the world had come, but “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  The leadership of Israel did not deny Jesus was performing miracles, what they denied was the heavenly source behind His miracles, saying, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (Matt. 12:24).  Israel’s rejection of Jesus as their King brought a pronouncement of judgment upon the nation (Matt. 23:37-39), but Israel’s leadership did not care, as they publicly told Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).  So they crucified Jesus on a cross and treated Him as a lowly criminal (John 19:17-19).  This was all in accordance with God’s providential plan (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).

The Postponement of the Kingdom for a Future Time

     The kingdom of God was postponed for a future time.  Though postponed, its future fulfillment is certain, for Jesus told His disciples, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28; cf. Matt. 20:20-21).  The Davidic kingdom will not arrive until the second coming of Jesus, for He says, “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne” (Matt. 25:31).  Though they knew it was coming, His disciples did not know the exact time of its arrival.  After Jesus death, burial and resurrection, His disciples asked, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).  But Jesus left them without a specific time, saying, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Act 1:7).  So, God has implemented the current church age, which is part of His eternal plan (Eph. 3:1-10; Col. 1:24-27), until such a time that He will establish His kingdom on the earth.

God Will Justly Reward Christians

     Between the first and second coming of Jesus, there is the church age, and the following seven year Tribulation.  The church age is marked by grace, whereas the seven year Tribulation will be a time of God’s wrath upon the earth.  Christians, who live in the church age, will not face God’s wrath during the Tribulation (1 Thess. 1:10; cf. Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 5:9), for God will rapture His church at the end of the church age and take those Christians who are alive at that time directly to heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-18).  Christians are not looking forward to a time of punishment upon the earth, but rather, we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit. 2:13).  After the church is raptured to heaven, God will then dispense rewards to His faithful children who learned and lived His will during their lives on the earth.  It is right for Christians to think that God will justly reward them in the future for the life of obedience they now live.  Speaking about future rewards, Paul writes:

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)

     This event will take place in heaven, after the rapture of the church, in which God will justly reward Christians.  Paul himself personally expected a reward from God, saying, “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).  “Because he had been faithful Paul did not dread dying but looked forward to seeing His Lord. On the day of rewards for Christians (the judgment seat of Christ; 1:12, 18; 2 Cor. 5:10) Paul was confident that the Lord would give him a reward that was proper.”[4]  The future appearance of Christ at the rapture is important, and those who long for it will be rewarded. 

God Will Suppress Rebellion before the Kingdom is Established

     Sin is upon the earth, and it will continue to have a negative impact because people are temporarily permitted to continue in rebellion against God.  However, Scripture reveals a time will come in which God will bring in everlasting righteousness, which will extend into eternity.  A future day will come in which God will pour out His wrath upon the earth and will suppress all rebellion, both human and demonic. 

     The Book of Revelation, chapters 6-19, reveal this time of judgment upon the earth.  In His wrath, God will put down the rebellion of Satan and his angels, unbelieving Israel, and unbelieving Gentiles.  In all His judgments, God is righteous and just, whereas men are wicked and deserve wrath (Rev. 16:6-7; cf. 19:2).  The hearts of men are corrupt, and rather than turning to God during this time of wrath, they try to flee and hide from Him (Rev. 6:15-16), they seek death rather than conform to His will (Rev. 9:6), they refuse to repent of their rebellion (Rev. 9:20-21), they rejoice and celebrate at the persecution and death of God’s servants (Rev. 11:7-10), they align themselves with the Satan (Rev. 13:3-4), they willfully blaspheme the holy name of God (Rev. 16:8-9, 11, 21), and they gather together to make war against Jesus Christ (Rev. 19:19).  During the tribulation, God will punish those who killed the saints, as John writes:

“And I heard the angel of the waters saying, ‘Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; 6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.’ 7 And I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments’” (Rev. 16:5-7). 

     We should not see the seven year Tribulation solely as a time of judgment and gloom, for God’s love and grace are also manifest.  This is obvious in the kindness He shows to the 144,000 Jews He saves and calls to service (Rev. 7:4-8), to the martyrs who have died for their faith in Jesus (Rev. 7:9-17), to the two prophetic witnesses whom He resurrects (Rev. 11:11-12), to the nations who hear His gospel message (Rev. 14:6-7), and to those who enter into His kingdom after the Tribulation (Rev. 20:4-6).

     Toward the end of the seven year Tribulation, it is recorded that God will judge Babylon, which is described as the “great harlot” that has corrupted the earth and killed His saints.  Future Babylon has both religious and commercial aspects to it.  In its entirety, future Babylon is a satanic system that unites religious and commercial practices that, at their core, are independent of God.  John writes about God’s judgment, saying, “After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2 because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her’” (Rev. 19:1-2).  God’s righteous judgment upon this great immoral system is just.  “God has indeed vindicated the injustice visited on his servants by meting out true justice on the great prostitute, Babylon. She deserves the sentence because she corrupted the earth (cf. 11:18; Jer. 51:25) and killed the saints of God (cf. 18:24).”[5]  At the close of the Tribulation, Satan will be defeated and eventually bound for a thousand years (Rev. 12:7-9; 20:1-3), all unbelievers will be defeated (Rev. 19:19-21; cf. Matt. 24:29-35:46), leaving only believing Jews and Gentiles to enter His kingdom on earth (Rev. 19:19-21; cf. Matt. 24:29-35:46).  

     At His first coming, Jesus did no come to judge the world, but to save it.  John writes, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (Joh 3:17).  Later Jesus states, “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:14; cf. Luke 19:10; 1 John 4:14).  However, at His second coming, Jesus will judge the world, and He will judge it in righteousness.  Concerning this, the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).  This teaching is not popular and frightens some.  This was true when Paul was defending himself before Felix, as Luke writes, “But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25).  The future becomes a fearful place for those who know they live sinful lives outside of God’s will.

     The end of the Tribulation marks the end of the age of the Gentiles, a period starting with the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. and culminating with the return of Christ to establish His millennial kingdom on earth.  The apostle John writes about the second coming of Jesus, saying, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war” (Rev. 19:11).  “The rider obviously is Jesus Christ, returning to the earth in glory. That He is coming as Judge is further supported by the fact that He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood (19:13; cf. Isa. 63:2–3; Rev. 14:20).”[6] 

     After Christ puts down earthly rebellion, He will then judge those that survived the Tribulation.  Matthew writes, “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous” (Matt. 13:49).  Of the wicked, it is said of them, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).  This is a judgment that must take place before Christ sets up His kingdom.  “The righteous and the ungodly will be sent away to their respective final places. There is no hint that the verdict can be changed. In concluding his teaching about the last judgment, Jesus said that those on his left hand ‘will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life’” (Matt. 25:46).[7]

There will be a Future Resurrection of the Righteous

     To be resurrected means a person who has died will receive a new body that will never experience death.  Concerning resurrections in general, Daniel wrote, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:1-2).  Daniel is writing in general and referring to the resurrection of all people, both believers and unbelievers.  However, we learn from other biblical passages that there are specific resurrections mentioned.  The first person to be resurrected is Jesus (Matt. 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rev. 1:5).  Jesus died because of our sin, and after three days in the grave, He was resurrected with a new body that will never die again.  Paul wrote, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).  After the resurrection of Jesus, there will be other resurrections.  These other resurrections are called the “first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5-6), or the “resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15).  Jesus spoke about a future resurrection of the righteous, and rewards associated with that resurrection, which should impact how the believer lives here and now.  Jesus said, “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14).  And Paul, when standing on trial before Felix, spoke about a future “resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15).  The resurrection of the righteous includes believers from all ages up to the second coming of Jesus.  There is a final resurrection that will take place at the end of Jesus’ millennial reign and consists of unbelievers only who will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.  Concerning these various resurrections, Charles Ryrie states:

The resurrection of the just is also called the first resurrection and will occur in several stages, not all at once. The dead in Christ will be raised first at the rapture of the church (1 Thess. 4:16). The redeemed of the tribulation period who die during that time will be raised before the millennium (Rev 20:4). The redeemed of Old Testament times will also be a part of the resurrection of the just. Expositors are divided over when they will be raised, some believing that it will happen at the rapture when the church saints are raised, and others holding that it will occur at the second coming (Dan 12:2—the writer prefers the latter view)…all unsaved people of all time will be raised after the millennium to be judged and then cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev 20:11–15). At their resurrection they will apparently be given some sort of bodies that will be able to live forever and feel the effects of the torments of the lake of fire.[8]

The Millennial Kingdom of Christ

     After the Tribulation and judgment of those who survived, Jesus will set up His kingdom on the earth.  This earthly kingdom was anticipated throughout Scripture (Jer. 23:5-6; Dan. 2:44-45; 7:27; Amos 4:1-4; Zech. 14:3-12; Matt. 6:10; Luke 1:31-33; Acts 1:6), and described as being ideal (Isa. 2:2-4; 11:1-9; 19:23-25; 35:1-10; 65:19-25; Amos 9:11-15; Rev. 20:1-6).  Revelation chapter 20, for the first time in Scripture, specifies the duration of Christ’s reign on the earth as one thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6).  John writes, “Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4).  Paul explains that the kingdom of Christ on the earth will eventually become an eternal kingdom.  This will be after the thousand year reign of Christ.  Paul writes of this transition, saying, “then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:24-25). 

     Jesus came to earth the first time as a suffering Servant to die on the cross to bring salvation to all men (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 53; Mark. 10:45; John 3:16-19), and will come the second time to establish His righteous kingdom on earth (Isa. 9:7; 11:3-5; 42:1-4; Jer. 23:5; Rev. 20:1-6). The return of Christ is praiseworthy news to those who are in heaven and on the earth who love Him and look forward to His coming.  However, it is bad news to those who hate him and resist His will on the earth (2 Thess. 1:3-10; Rev. 19:11-21). 

Our Lord will be a King who reigns in righteousness (Isa. 32:1). Righteousness will be the belt of His loins (11:5). With righteousness He shall judge the poor (11:4; 16:5). Zion shall be called the city of righteousness (1:26). Only the righteous shall enter the kingdom at its inauguration (Matt. 25:37), and those who thirst after righteousness shall be filled (5:6).[9]

Judgment after the Millennial Kingdom

     After the millennial reign of Christ, there will be a time of judgment in which Christ will judge all unbelievers.  This is called the Great White Throne judgment, which consists of resurrected unbelievers only, and it is to point out that they are unrighteous, not having received the gift of righteousness that is imputed to those who have trusted in Christ alone for salvation (Rom. 3:21-28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9).  Since those who stand before the throne do not have God’s righteousness within them, they are left to be judged according to their human good works, which are not sufficient to gain them entrance into heaven (Isa. 64:6; Gal. 2:16; Tit. 3:5), and the fact that their names are not written in the book of life will ensure their assignment to the Lake of Fire forever (Rev. 20:14-15).

God Promises a Future World of Righteousness

     There is much sin in the world.  However, the believer anticipates a time in the future when God will remove all wickedness and bring in everlasting righteousness.  Peter writes, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).  What promise is Peter thinking of?  Most likely the promise mentioned in Isaiah, who wrote, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind” (Isa 65:17).  This is a great hope of many Christians.  “When our Lord returns He will take the reins of government and rule the nations of this world as a benevolent dictator (Rev. 19:15). Then and only then will the world experience a time of righteousness, justice, social welfare, economic prosperity, and spiritual knowledge.”[10]

     Man, by his own efforts, cannot bring perfect or lasting righteousness into the world.  Certainly there are good and righteous people in the world, but the good they produce is often fleeting and has no lasting value.  Even good rulers are only good for the duration of their rule, and there is no guarantee that his/her successor will follow in the same pattern of goodness.  Because the nature of man is fallen and prone toward sin, the natural flow of human history tends toward corruption.  The tendency of people is to promote self and exclude God from human government and institutions, and they do this to their own harm.  However, apart from mankind’s weaknesses and failings, God has promised a new heavens and new earth, and the eternal state will be marked by righteousness.   

Summary

     God is sovereign and He rules over His creation.  The sovereign God promised an earthly kingdom to His servant, David, that one of his descendants would rule in righteousness on his throne forever.  Jesus, Who is Himself God, is that promised Son Who offered the kingdom to Israel, but they rejected Him and it.  Jesus pronounced a curse upon Israel for a time that would last until the age of the Gentiles concluded.  The Lord will reward church age believers after the rapture.  God will also reward His saints at the second coming of Jesus and He will justly judge the wicked.  Jesus will then establish His millennial kingdom on earth after He has put down all rebellion.  The earthly kingdom will become an eternal kingdom, and righteousness will go on into eternity. 

     The future is bright because there is the hope of a good and righteous King who will bring in everlasting righteousness.  This King is the Lord Jesus, the Christ, the Savior who will establish His kingdom upon the earth.  Jesus will reign forever.  Though His kingdom is preceded by a time of rebellion and judgment, He will suppress that rebellion, and once His righteous kingdom is established, it will never end.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] The simple fact of the Bible and history is that Jesus has not fulfilled these promised words.  Jesus is seated, no doubt, on a throne in heaven; but it is not David’s throne, which is an earthly throne.  In order for Jesus to fulfill the covenant promise given to David, as well as the reiteration stated by the angel Gabriel, Jesus must, at some time in the future, return and claim the throne that is rightfully His by promise. 

[2] The word “gospel” simply means good news, and the good news that Jesus preached here was that of the promised kingdom.  I’ve heard some preachers try to argue this “gospel” was the same as Paul’s and concerned the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  However, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ was foreign to the minds of those who followed Him (see Matt. 16:20; 17:22-23; 20:17-19).  No, the gospel message of Jesus and John the Baptist was the good news about arrival of the Davidic King and the offer of His kingdom on earth.

[3] John D. Grassmick, “Mark,” 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), 107.

[4] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, 2 Tim. 4:8.

[5] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 570.

[6] John F. Walvoord, “Revelation,” 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), 976.

[7] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 1104.

[8]Charles C. Ryrie, “Resurrections” A Survey of Bible doctrine (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1995), 182-183.

[9] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 594.

[10] Ibid., 316.

Posted in Christian Theology, Dispensationalism, Hot Topics, Israel, Prophecy, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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.

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A Dispensational View of God’s Righteousness

     RighteousnessGod is forever righteous and the expectation of righteous behavior from His people is a timeless truth. God’s righteousness is manifest in the laws He gives, and He always expects righteousness from His people. In one sense, God’s people are declared righteous because of the righteousness He imputes to them as a free gift (Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). Once saved, God expects His people to live righteous lives in conformity to His character and commands (Rom. 12:1-2; Tit. 2:11-14). Human righteousness is measured by one’s conformity to God’s character and commands, and though God’s character never changes, His commands for His people have changed over the millennia. God set forth commands for Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Israel, and the Church. Because God is the Author of each set of laws, one can see similarities and differences, continuity and discontinuity.

Adam lived under laws, the sum of which may be called the code of Adam or the code of Eden. Noah was expected to obey the laws of God, so there was a Noahic code. We know that God revealed many commands and laws to Abraham (Gen. 26:5). They may be called the Abrahamic code. The Mosaic code contained all the laws of the Law. And today we live under the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2) or the law of the Spirit of life in Christ (Rom. 8:2). This code contains the hundreds of specific commandments recorded in the New Testament.[1]

God’s Righteousness before the Fall of Adam

     In the Garden of Eden, righteousness meant conforming to the laws God provided to Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:28; 2:15-17).  The commandments in the Garden of Eden were basic and few according to the Biblical revelation.  The commandments were: to procreate and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28a), to subdue and rule over it (Gen. 1:28b), to cultivate and keep the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15), to enjoy the fruit of all trees (Gen. 2:16), but not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon penalty of death (Gen. 2:17).  Adam and Eve rebelled against God and disobeyed His command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:1-8), and this resulted in judgement upon the serpent who deceived (Gen. 3:14-15), upon Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:17-19), upon creation (3:17-18; cf. Rom. 8:20-22), and all humanity (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).[2]  The command to procreate is still in effect (repeated to Noah in Gen. 9:7); however, the commands to have dominion over the earth, cultivate and keep the Garden of Eden, as well as the negative command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are no longer required.

God’s Righteousness after the Fall of Adam and Before Abraham

     From Genesis chapters four through eleven, God revealed Himself and His expectations personally to others, and He held them accountable for their behavior, either to bless or curse.  In Genesis chapter four we read that Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord, “And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard” (Gen. 4:4b-5a).  The Biblical text is silent concerning how Cain and Abel knew to bring offerings to the Lord; however, it is revealed that God approved of Abel’s offering while rejecting Cain’s.  This language of acceptance and rejection reveals a standard of expectation God had for these two men, which, it is assumed, He revealed to them prior to their offering and which also served as the basis for his welcoming the one while refusing the other.  Cain apparently knew the Lord’s reaction, for he “became very angry and his countenance fell” (Gen. 4:5b).  Cain later became jealous and hostile toward Abel and “Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (Gen. 4:8).  This resulted in the Lord’s judgment on Cain (Gen. 4:9-16), which is an indication that God’s righteous expectations were known and enforced during this time. 

     Genesis chapter five is another indication of God’s righteousness on display as the record of death upon mankind is repeated over and over; first, with Adam (Gen. 5:5), and then with all his descendants (Gen. 5:8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31).  However, God’s judgment is not absolute, as we see God’s grace in the midst of His judgments, as Enoch was spared from the experience of death and this because “Enoch walked with God” (Gen. 3:22, 24).  This display of grace in the midst of judgment will be repeated throughout Scripture, culminating in the cross of Christ. 

     God’s righteousness is observed in Genesis chapter six, where the Lord disapproved of the wickedness of mankind and pronounced judgment.  Moses wrote:

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen. 6:5-7)

     God’s righteous expectations must have been known to those who lived on the earth at this time in history.  What follows in Genesis chapters six though nine is the account of the universal flood upon the world, which destroyed all mankind except for Noah and his family.  Of Noah it is revealed that he “found favor in the eyes of God” (Gen. 6:8).  Here, again, is grace in the midst of judgment.  Now, for the first time in the Bible, we see the word righteous (צַדִּיק tsaddiq) applied to Noah, of whom it is written, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9).  “By this word we learn that Noah was conforming to the requirements of the relationship he had with God.”[3]  The phrase, “Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9) means he walked in step with the Lord who was directing his life, and this was Noah’s righteousness.  God revealed to Noah that He was going to destroy all mankind (Gen. 6:11-13) and He commanded Noah to build an ark that would save only him, his family, and those animals that were brought onto the ark (Gen. 6:14-22); and so God judged mankind as His righteousness demanded.  God’s righteous commands upon Noah were particular to him and not required of any other person.  Noah was righteous because He welcomed God’s commands and obeyed them. 

     After the flood, Moses provided the genealogical record of Noah’s descendants (Gen. 10:1-32), which descendants set their wills against God and built the Tower of Babel in order to make a name for themselves (Gen. 11:1-4).  God’s righteousness was on display when He came down to see their work and to pronounce judgment upon them.  God’s judgment included confusing their language and scattering them over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:5-9). 

God’s Righteousness with the Patriarchs

     Moses then provided a genealogical account of Noah’s son, Shem, which continued down to the birth of Abram (Gen. 11:10-32), another recipient of God’s grace.  Now, in the life of Abram, we observe the Lord’s commands that Abram leave his homeland and travel to a land that God would eventually give to him (Gen. 12:1).  God also promised Abram that he would have a multitude of descendants and be a blessing to the entire world (Gen. 12:2-3); “So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him” (Gen 12:4).  Here are God’s commands and Abram’s obedience.  Later, in Genesis chapter fifteen, Moses would reveal that Abram believed God’s promise to him, and this would bring the declaration that the Lord “reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).  “Moses probably recorded Abraham’s faith here because it was foundational for making the Abrahamic Covenant. God made this covenant with a man who believed in Him.”[4] 

     God’s righteous judgments of blessing or cursing continued throughout the book of Genesis for those who obeyed or disobeyed Him.  God judged the household of Pharaoh for taking Sarai, Abram’s wife from him (Gen. 12:17).  God judged the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness (Gen. 13:10; 18:20-21), but spared Lot because of the petition of Abraham (Gen. 18:22-33).  Abraham knew God to be a righteous Judge and that it would be wrong for Him to kill Lot along with the residents of Sodom; so Abraham said to the Lord, “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Gen 18:25).  So God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and spared Lot (Gen. 19:1-25).  Throughout the rest of the book of Genesis it is observed that God directed, blessed and protected Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen. 17:19, 21; 25:5, 11), Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15; 31:3; 32:9-10), and Joseph (Gen. 32:9-5, 21-23; 45:7-9; 50:20). 

God’s Righteousness with Israel

     God then sent His people into Egyptian captivity for four hundred years, as He’d promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:13).  But the Lord also promised He would judge the Egyptians, saying, “I will also judge the nation whom they will serve” (Gen. 15:14).  God’s judgment upon Egypt would come through Moses, Israel’s deliverer.  The judgment upon Egypt further reveals God’s righteousness.  Exodus chapters three through eighteen reveal God’s judgment upon Egypt as well as Israel’s deliverance from tyranny.  In Exodus chapter nineteen Israel enters into a covenant relationship with Yahweh, Who provides a total of 613 commands that are revealed from Exodus chapter twenty through Deuteronomy chapter twenty eight.  Thus the Mosaic Law, a reflection of God’s righteous character, refers to “the statutes and ordinances and laws which the LORD established between Himself and the sons of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai” (Lev. 26:46). 

     The 613 commands stated in the Mosaic Law—which were given exclusively to Israel as His covenant people—are a reflection of His righteous character.  As Israel’s perfect Lawgiver, God bound Himself to His laws, promising blessing or cursing to His people based on whether they obeyed or disobeyed (Deut. 28).  This meant the Israelite living under the Mosaic Code could predict God’s behavior, and this provided a degree of stability for the obedient-to-the-word Israelite.  The Israelite could rely on God to always do what He promised.  There were no surprises. 

     During the dispensation of Israel, God’s laws were to be continually communicated to the whole nation.  This was made clear on Mount Sinai where the Lord told Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction” (Ex. 24:12).  Once the Mosaic Law was given, the Lord assigned the priests as communicators to His people, saying, “They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, and Your law to Israel” (Deut. 33:10a; cf. Lev. 10:11), and “the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (Mal. 2:7).  Also, Jewish parents were commanded to teach God’s Law to their children.  Moses ordered, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:6-7).  The Law of God was to permeate all aspects of Jewish society. 

God’s Righteousness with the Church

     God’s righteous expectations for Israel continued until the death of Christ, which brought the Mosaic Law system to a close (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 8:2-4; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:5-7, 11; Heb. 8:13), and a new law code was established for the Church.  Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17; cf. Deut. 4:44; 5:1; 33:4; John 7:19), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; cf. Gal. 6:2).  Because God is the Author of the Law of Moses as well as the Law of Christ, it is not surprising that He chose to incorporate some of the laws He gave to Israel into the law-code which He has given to the Church.  However, the two law-codes should be viewed separate from each other.  Paul stated the Church-age believer is “no longer under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14; cf. Gal. 5:1-4).  The New Testament speaks of “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2), the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), “the perfect law of liberty” (Jam. 1:25), and “the royal law” (Jam. 2:8).

     Concerning the Mosaic Law, Paul stated that it was intended to be temporary (Gal. 3:19), that it does not justify anyone (Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:21; cf. Rom. 4:1-5), but was intended to lead men to Christ that they may be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24).  Now that Christ has come and fulfilled every aspect of the Mosaic Law, it has been rendered inoperative as a rule of life (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 8:2-4; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:7, 11; Heb. 8:13).  “As a rule of life, the Law of Moses was temporary … [and] came to an end with the death of the Messiah.”[5]

The Mosaic Law was done away in its entirety as a code. It has been replaced by the law of Christ. The law of Christ contains some new commands (1 Tim. 4:4), some old ones (Rom. 13:9), and some revised ones (Rom. 13:4, with reference to capital punishment). All the laws of the Mosaic code have been abolished because the code has.[6]

     The closing of the Mosaic Law means a dispensational shift has occurred.  Though the Christian is not under the Mosaic Law as a rule of life (Rom. 6:14), he/she is under the Law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:31; Gal. 6:2).  “‘The law of Christ’ is basically Christ’s commandments (Matt. 28:19–20; John 13:34–35; 14:21) revealed through the New Testament writers (John 16:12–13; Gal. 6:2; James 1:25; 2:8, 12) and intended for Church-age believers (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 5:6, 18; 6:2; Heb. 8:10).”[7]  The Christian has specific commands in the New Testament that direct his/her thinking (Rom. 12:2), words (Col. 4:6), and actions (Jam. 1:22), and such commands flow out of God’s righteous character.[8]

     In order to conform to God’s righteous expectations, the Christian must learn and live in agreement with the “Law of Christ” as it is revealed in the New Testament (Gal. 6:2).  It is observed that some of the commands from the Mosaic Law have carried over into the “Law of Christ” (e.g. no other gods, honor father and mother, etc.), but most of Israel’s laws have been abrogated (e.g. slavery laws, tithing, sacrificial system, dietary laws, etc.), and there are some new commands (e.g. do not grieve the Holy Spirit, do not quench the Holy Spirit, love as Christ loved, etc.). 

The Law of Moses has been disannulled and we are now under a new law. This new law is called the Law of Christ in Galatians 6:2 and the Law of the Spirit of Life in Romans 8:2. This is a brand new law, totally separate from the Law of Moses. The Law of Christ contains all the individual commandments from Christ and the Apostles applicable to a New Testament believer. A simple comparison of the details will show that it is not and cannot be the same as the Law of Moses. Four observations are worth noting. First, many commandments are the same as those of the Law of Moses. For example, nine of the Ten Commandments are also in the Law of Christ. But, second, many are different from the Law of Moses. For example, there is no Sabbath law now (Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16) and no dietary code (Mark 7:19; Rom. 14:20). Third, some commandments in the Law of Moses are intensified by the Law of Christ. The Law of Moses said: love thy neighbor as thyself (Lev. 19:18). This made man the standard. The Law of Christ said: love one another, even as I have loved you (John 15:12). This makes the Messiah the standard and He loved us enough to die for us. Fourth, the Law of the Messiah provides a new motivation. The Law of Moses was based on the conditional Mosaic Covenant and so the motivation was: do, in order to be blessed. The Law of Christ is based on the unconditional New Covenant and so the motivation is: you have been and are blessed, therefore, do.[9]

     Though both are the people of God, there are Biblical distinctions between Israel and the Church.  For example, Israel had a priesthood that was specific to Aaron and the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:6-10), whereas in the Church age, all Christians are priests to God (Rev. 1:5-6).  Israel’s worship was tied to the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex. 40:18-38; 2 Chron. 8:14-16), but Christians gather locally, wherever they wish, and their body is the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19-20; cf. Col. 4:15).  Israel was required to offer animal sacrifices to God (Lev. 4:1-35), but Christians are called to offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5; cf. Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15).  Israelites were required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut. 14:22-23; 28-29; Num. 18:21), but God requires no tithe from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).  Under the Mosaic Law, God demanded punishment for sin and some sins were punishable by death.[10]  Sometimes God Himself executed the punishment (Lev. 10:1-3; 2 Sam. 6:1-7), and other times it was carried out by Israel’s leaders (Ex. 32:19-28).  In the Church age, God does not call Christians to put anyone to death, but has delegated that authority solely to the governments of this world (Rom. 13:1-4), or He does it Himself (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16).  These are but a few of the distinctions between Israel and Church. 

Summary

     These dispensational distinctions are important to understand.  Though one can see God’s righteousness revealed in the commands given to those who lived in the Garden of Eden, it would be wrong for someone living outside of Eden to try to live by those commands.  In fact, it would be impossible, for the commands were tied to the people and conditions of that environment.  Similarly, one can see God’s righteousness revealed in the commands given to Noah, Abraham, and Israel; however, it would be wrong—even impossible—for those living in the Church age to try to live by those commands, seeing how those commands were specific to the people and conditions of that time. 

     God is righteous and He issues commands for people to obey.  Though God’s righteous character never changes, the specific commands He gives to people and groups throughout the millennia have changed.  What God expected from Adam and Eve is different from what He expected of Noah, Abraham, Israel, and the Church, but they always reflect a righteous standard.  Though there are differences in some laws, there is also continuity, and one would expect this from a single Lawgiver.  Confusion among Christians sometimes arises because some of the commands God gave to Israel were incorporated into the commands He’s given to the Church (e.g. nine of the Ten Commandments have been restated with the Church, with Sabbath keeping set aside).  God decides which laws are restated into the new law code and which ones are abrogated.  Christians have the responsibility to learn about God’s righteousness from all of Scripture, and to obey those commands that specifically belong to them.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 351.

[2] The phrase, “and he died” occurs eight times in Genesis chapter 5.  This shows the consequence of death fell to Adam’s descendants, continuing down to the present day.

[3] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis, 193.

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

[5] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology (Tustin, CA., Ariel Ministries, 2001), 373-374.

[6] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 351-52.

[7] Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology, 1014.

[8] This writer is not aware of anyone who has catalogued all the New Testament commands for the Christian. 

[9] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 650–651.

[10] There were certain laws under the Old Testament that brought the death penalty: intentional murder (Ex. 21:12-14; cf. Gen. 9:6), attacking or cursing a parent (Ex. 21:15), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16), habitual rebellion against God (Deut. 17:12), sacrificing to pagan gods (Ex. 22:20), cursing God (Lev. 24:15-16), working on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2), being a false prophet and leading Israelites into idolatry (Deut. 13:1-5), religious human sacrifice (Lev. 20:2), the practice of divination, sorcery or witchcraft (Ex. 22:18; Deut. 18:9-14), adultery and premarital sex (Lev. 20:10-14; 21:9; Deut. 22:20-22), sex with an animal (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16), incest (Lev. 20:11-12, 14), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and the rape of a married woman (Deut. 22:25-27).

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God’s Righteousness at the Cross

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

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

Everyone is Sinful

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

     People are sinners in three ways: first they are sinners by imputation of Adam’s original sin (Rom. 5:12-21), second, they are sinners by nature (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 7:19-21; Eph. 2:3), and third, they are sinners by choice (1 Ki. 8:46; Rom. 3:9-18).  Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden is the first and greatest of them all, for he incurred the penalty of spiritual and physical death that God righteously and sovereignly promised would come if he ate the fruit from the forbidden tree.  “The LORD God commanded the man [Adam], saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’”  (Gen. 2:16-17).  Both Adam and Eve “took from its fruit and ate” (Gen. 3:6); however, Adam alone was held responsible by God for the disobedience that occurred in the Garden of Eden, for he was the spiritual head of the marriage.   Because of Adam’s rebellion against God, sin and death entered the human race (Rom. 5:12, 18-19) and spread throughout the universe (Rom. 8:20-22).  “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned [when Adam sinned]” (Rom. 5:12), for “through one transgression [of Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men” (Rom. 5:19a), and “by a man [Adam] came death, by a man [Jesus] also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).  All of Adam’s descendants are born into this world spiritually dead in “trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), “separate from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12), “alienated” from God (Col. 1:21), helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies (Rom. 5:6-10). 

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

People are Helpless to Correct the Problem of Sin

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

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

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

The Cross is a Place of Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

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

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

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

[4] Ibid., 723.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Ibid., 1079.

[12] Ibid., 117.

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

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

[15] Bracketed comments belong in quote.

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Christian Theology, Hamartiology, Inspirational Writings, Righteous Living, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Biblical Righteousness: A Word Study

A Word Study on Righteousness

Righteous [צַדִּיק tsaddiq] are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments [מִשְׁפָּט mishpat]. You have commanded Your testimonies in righteousness [צֶדֶק tsedeq] and exceeding faithfulness. (Ps. 119:137-138)

     RighteousnessA word study considers the meaning of a word.  An author determines the meaning of a word by how he uses it within a context.  The semantic range of a word is observed by its usage in various contexts.  The more times a word is used in different ways, the broader its semantic range.  The Bible, both the Old Testament and New Testament, provides a rich semantic range concerning the words righteous and righteousness.  The basic words in Hebrew are the noun צֶדֶק tsedeq, the adjective צַדִּיק tsaddiq, and the verb צָדֵק tsadeq.  The basic Greek words are the noun δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune, the adjective δίκαιος dikaios, and the verb δικαιόω dikaioo

     For God, righteousness is an attribute, an inherent quality, not the adherence to laws beyond Himself (of which there are none), or laws He has created.  “As an attribute of God it is united with His holiness as being essential in His nature; it is legislative or rectoral, as He is the righteous governor of all creatures; and is administrative or judicial, as He is a just dispenser of rewards and punishments.”[1]  The adjective צַדִּיק tsaddiq (206 times in 197 verses)[2] means “to be in the right, be right.”[3]  God is righteous; therefore, all His judgments are just.  This is why the psalmist writes, “Righteousness [צֶדֶק] and justice [מִשְׁפָּט] are the foundation of His throne” (Ps. 97:2).  The Hebrew noun מִשְׁפָּט mishpat refers to the just judgments that follow from God’s righteous character. 

     The denominative verb[4] צָדֵק tsadeq (160 times in 152 verses) most often means “to be just, righteous.”[5]  The root word “basically connotes conformity to an ethical or moral standard.”[6]  The masculine noun צֶדֶק tsedeq (160 times in 152 verses) refers to “accuracy, what is correct.”[7]  The feminine noun צְדָקָה tsedaqah (159 times in 150 verses) is translated “honesty; justice; justness.”[8]  It is observed, “The masculine ṣedeq [and] the feminine ṣĕdāqâ…do not differ in meaning, as far as we can prove.”[9] 

The Hebrew ṣeḏeq probably derives from an Arabic root meaning ‘straightness’, leading to the notion of an action which conforms to a norm. There is, however, a considerable richness in the biblical understanding of this term and it is difficult to render either the Hebrew or Greek words concerned by a simple English equivalent. One basic ingredient in the OT idea of righteousness is relationship, both between God and man (Ps. 50:6; Je. 9:24) and between man and man (Dt. 24:13; Je. 22:3).[10]

Millard Erickson adds:

In the Old Testament, the verb צָדַק (tsadaq) and its derivatives connote conformity to a norm. Since the character of the individual is not so much in view as is his or her relationship to God’s law, the term is more religious than ethical in nature. The verb means “to conform to a given norm”; in the Hiphil stem it means “to declare righteous or to justify.” The particular norm in view varies with the situation. Sometimes the context is family relationships. Tamar was more righteous than Judah, because he had not fulfilled his obligations as her father-in-law (Gen. 38:26). And David, in refusing to slay Saul, was said to be righteous (1 Sam. 24:17; 26:23), for he was abiding by the standards of the monarch-subject relationship. Clearly righteousness is understood as a matter of living up to the standards set for a relationship. Ultimately, God’s own person and nature are the measure or standard of righteousness. God is the ruler of all and the source of all criteria of rightness. As Abraham confessed, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25).[11]

     When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek circa 250 B.C., the translators chose δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune as the closest equivalent to צֶדֶק tsedeq and צְדָקָה tsedaqah and is frequently translated as righteousness or justice.  In the New Testament, the most common words denoting righteousness or justice are δίκαιος dikaios (79 times in 74 verses) and δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune (92 times in 86 verses).  The adjective δίκαιος dikaios pertains “to being in accordance with high standards of rectitude, upright, just, fair.[12]  All three Persons of the Trinity are righteous and just.  God the Father is called “righteous” [δίκαιος dikaios] (John 17:25), as well as His laws (Rom. 7:25) and judgments (Rom. 3:26; 1 John 1:9).  Jesus is called “just” or “righteous” [δίκαιος dikaios] (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. 1 John 2:1), and all His judgments are “just” [δίκαιος dikaios] (John 5:30; 2 Tim. 4:8).  And God the Holy Spirit has a ministry that promotes “righteousness” [δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune] (John 16:8). 

     The noun δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune may be defined as “the quality, state, or practice of judicial responsibility with focus on fairness, justice, equitableness, fairness.[13]  The quality of righteousness is intrinsic to the Person of God.  “Literally, the word righteous (Gk: dikaios) means ‘to be just’ or ‘right.’ Theologically, it refers to the intrinsic characteristic of God wherein He is absolutely just or right and is the ultimate standard of justice and rightness.”[14]  For God’s people, there is both a positional and experiential aspect of righteousness.  Positionally, every believer resides in a state of righteousness which is based solely on the imputation of God’s righteousness as a gift at the moment of faith in Christ (Phil. 3:9).  Experientially, the obedient-to-the-word believer learns to practice righteousness as he/she walks in conformity to God’s commands (Rom. 6:13).  The former necessarily precedes the latter. 

     The verb δικαιόω dikaioo means “to take up a legal cause, show justice, [or] do justice.”[15]  The noun δίκη dike appears briefly in the New Testament.  Once (Acts 28:4) it refers to Justice “personified as a deity”[16] and three times (Acts 25:15; 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 1:7) as “punishment meted out as legal penalty.”[17]  The noun δικαίωμα dikaioma refers to “a regulation relating to just or right action, regulation, requirement, commandment.[18]  Righteous persons conform themselves to God’s commandments (Luke 1:6; Rom. 2:26).  The requirements of the Law are met in those who walk according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4).  Jesus’ going to the cross was a single act of righteousness that secured justification for those who believe (Rom. 5:8).

     Throughout the Bible righteousness is also seen as a relationship word that recognizes established standards between a sovereign and subordinate.  A man is recognized as righteous, either before God or men, when he satisfies the legal demands placed upon him.  Any law between God and man, whether the laws in the Garden of Eden, the Mosaic Law given at Mount Sinai, or the law of Christ found in the New Testament writings to the church, establishes the ground upon which the relationship is declared a success or failure and from which blessing or discipline flows. 

The NT uses righteousness in the sense of conformity to the demands and obligations of the will of God, the so-called ‘righteousness of the law’ (Gal. 3:21; Phil. 3:6, 9; cf. Tit. 3:5). Human attainment of righteousness is at points relatively positively viewed (Lk. 1:6; 2:25; Mt. 5:20), but in the end this attainment in all men falls far short of a true conformity to the divine will (Rom. 3:9–20; Lk. 18:9–14; Jn. 8:7).[19]

     The righteousness of God [δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ dikaiosune theou] is not only the standard for divine acceptance (Rom. 10:3), but it is also that which God gives to the believer at the moment of faith in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21), which gift is the basis upon which a sinner is declared righteous and made acceptable in His sight (Rom. 4:1-5; 5:17; Phil. 3:9).  The believer is judicially declared righteous before God because of the imputation of His righteousness given at the moment of salvation.  The believer is experientially declared righteous before God because he/she conforms to God’s expectations for behavior (Rom. 6:11-16). 

     Laws are part of the fabric of humanity.  It’s our nature to label something good or evil.  The real issue for humanity is the starting point; either by beginning with God and what Scripture reveals about Him, or beginning with humanity and creating an arbitrary absolute.  Much of the Scriptural research up to this point reveals that God’s character is the basis for a relationship with Him as well as the norm upon which all just laws derive; either divine laws from God Himself or human laws which conform to His righteousness.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

[1] Merrill Frederick Unger et al., “Righteousness” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[2] The number of occurrences of Hebrew and Greek words was obtained using a search on lemma in BibleWorks. 

[3] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1003.

[4] A denominative verb originates from a noun or adjective.

[5] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 842.

[6] Harold G. Stigers, “צָדֵק,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 752.

[7] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 1005.

[8] Ibid., 1006.

[9] Harold G. Stigers, “צָדֵק,” et al, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 752.

[10] B. A. Milne, “Righteousness,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1020.

[11] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 883–884.

[12] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 246.

[13] Ibid., 247.

[14] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, 323.

[15] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 249.

[16] Ibid., 250.

[17] Ibid., 250.

[18] Ibid., 249.

[19] B. A. Milne, “Righteousness,” New Bible Dictionary, 1020.