Living By Grace

     Each time I approach the biblical subject of grace I’m repeatedly uplifted by it, for God has shown me great grace. When I think of my life I’m reminded of Hannah’s prayer, where she says of God, “He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor; for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and He set the world on them” (1 Sam. 2:8). I am that poor and needy one He has lifted. My life is full of blessing, and it is the Lord’s goodness toward me. I am in constant need of God’s grace, and He provides it.

     Grace is a characteristic of God. The Father is called “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10), the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29), and Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). As Christians, when we approach God, we approach Him as One who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16); that is, One whose sovereign rulership is marked by grace. What a wonderful blessing.

     Though there are different nuances to the word grace (Heb. חֵן chen, Grk. χάρις charis), the most common understanding is that it refers to “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill.”[1] The basic idea is that a gracious benefactor freely confers a blessing upon another without thought of merit or worthiness (Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 11:6; Eph. 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5-7; Heb. 4:16). The kindness here is by no means obligatory, but rather, finds its source in the goodness, abundance, and free-heartedness of the giver.

     The Bible distinguishes between common grace and special grace. Common grace is that goodness God shows to everyone without exception. The Lord Jesus spoke of the Father’s grace, saying, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). Sinner and saint both enjoy the blessings of God’s grace in the everyday provisions that sustain life. Special grace is that expression of God wherein He provides forgiveness of sins and eternal life to those who trust in Christ as their Savior (Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Grace and works stand in opposition to each other; for if one can, in any sense, merit what is received, then it cannot be said to be of grace (Rom. 4:1-5; 11:6).

     As believers in Christ, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24; cf. Eph. 2:8-9), and once saved, “the grace of God” instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:11-12). Grace should mark our words and actions toward others. Paul writes, “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), and Peter says, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10; cf. Eph. 4:7-11; Rom. 12:6; 2 Cor. 9:8). In all things, the believer is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). 

     be-graciousI want to be gracious like my heavenly Father is gracious. I want to extend grace to others. This includes believers, unbelievers, family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and people in society. I want to be gracious because of who I am and not because of the other person. I want to love the unlovely. I want to help the needy. I want to be open-handed with the resources God has given to me. Will people abuse my kindness? Yes. I’ve learned to expect it, and I’m okay with it. In fact, I want to manifest grace to those who deserve it the least. Is there a possibility that others may mistake grace for weakness and fail to grasp what is being extended to them? Yes. I cannot help that. My being gracious must rest upon my relationship with God and what He provides, not upon the worthiness of others. 

     So what does grace look like? It means helping the needy and expecting nothing in return (Luke 14:12-14), showing godly love (1 Cor. 13:4-8a), forgiving those who don’t deserve it (Eph. 4:32), loving our enemies (Matt. 5:44), blessing those who persecute us (Rom. 12:14), never returning evil for evil (Rom. 12:17), not retaliating when others hurt us (Rom. 12:19; cf. 1 Pet. 2:23), using our freedoms to serve others (Gal. 5:13), and speaking words that edify (Eph. 4:29). This is by no means an exhaustive list, but is a good starting place. I pray God will teach me how to live by grace.

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

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[1] 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), 1079.

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The Characteristics of a Christian Leader

A Christian leader will have certain characteristics that guide his/her actions.  I would argue that the believer’s good character is born out of his/her walk with God and this requires knowing God’s word in order to live God’s will. 

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! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. (Ps. 1:1-2)

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. 3 He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend. (Ps. 15:1-3)

The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them. (Prov. 11:3)

In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. (Tit. 2:7-8)

A Christian leader is marked by how he/she serves and treats others.  The biblical teaching is that one who wishes to lead must make himself/herself a servant to others.  This requires a biblical mind and an attitude of humility. 

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28)

“You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. 17 “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:13-17)

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Gal. 6:9-10)

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Col. 3:12-14)

A Christian leader may reprove others, but only because he/she cares about what is right and wants to promote justice.   

You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. (Lev. 19:17-18)

Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you. (Prov. 9:8)

Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isa. 1:17)

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. (Matt. 18:15)

A Christian leader will be known by the words he/she uses when speaking to others.  Rude and offensive words reveal a corrupt heart, whereas wise and gracious words reveal a good heart. 

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. (Ps. 37:30)

The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. (Prov. 16:21)

Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him (Eccl. 10:12)

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)

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim. 2:24-25)

A Christian leader will have a calm disposition and be slow to anger.

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute. (Prov. 15:18)

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)

He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Prov. 17:27)

A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. (Prov. 19:11)

A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back. (Prov. 29:11)

A Christian leader will know how to handle the pressures of life.  Pressures are inevitable, but worry is optional, because God has provided certain promises that help the Christian remain relaxed in the midst of adversity. 

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread? (Ps. 27:1)

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)

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:6-7)

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

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God the King Maker

     Stress levels can be high during an election season.  Political parties, and their constituents, tend to be sharply divided.  The biased media often manipulates information in order to shape public opinion in favor of a particular political candidate.  Because of a short attention span, most people prefer sound bites rather than substantive arguments.  At times, the whole process can seem unstable and corrupt. 

     God Controls the WorldThe Christian is called to a biblical worldview, which means he/she sees all of life from the divine perspective, including the political process.  God is never neutral.  He meddles in the affairs of mankind, political or otherwise. His unseen hand works behind all the activities of mankind, controlling and directing history as He wills. “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6).  Ultimately, it is God “who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan. 2:21a), for “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:14).  God delegates authority to those whom He appoints as rulers, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1; cf. John 19:11). God controls the process of selecting a leader, whether that process is by family descent or democratic vote. 

     Because this is true, we might ask why an oppressive or divisive ruler comes into office and causes pain and suffering to a nation? Biblically, there were times when God appointed oppressive rulers over His people to punish them for their rebellion and sin.  For example, when Judah rebelled against God, He declared, “I will make mere lads their princes, and capricious children will rule over them” (Isa. 3:4; cf. vs. 12).  Even after divine discipline, God’s people continued in their sinfulness and the Lord declared, “You who have forsaken Me,” declares the LORD, “You keep going backward. So I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am tired of relenting!” (Jer. 15:6).  Because Judah continued in their rebellion, God eventually raised up Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan-king, whom He called “My servant” (Jer. 25:9; cf. 27:6; 28:14), whom the Lord used to punish His people and to lead them into captivity (see Jer. 20:4-5; 29:4; 1 Chron. 9:1).  After God’s people humbled themselves, the Lord raised up Cyrus, king of Persia, whom He called “My shepherd” (Isa. 44:28), and used him to be a blessing to Judah and to restore their land (2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-3; 7-8; 5:11-13).  This was all accomplished according to God’s sovereign rulership.

     America is under God’s sovereign control and our destiny is ultimately determined by His will.  As Christians living in America, we can strive to make our nation great by learning and living God’s word in all aspects of our lives, whether in politics, business, family, recreation, or whatever else is common to the activities of mankind.  And, when given opportunity, we should be sharing Christ with others and praying for our nation. 

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

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What is Integrity?

     In his book, Christian Theology, Millard J. Erickson writes about God’s integrity.  He states that integrity is a “matter of truth.”  Erickson explains, “There are three dimensions of truthfulness: (1) genuineness—being true; (2) veracity—telling truth; and (3) faithfulness—proving true. Although we think of truthfulness primarily as telling truth, genuineness is the most basic dimension of truthfulness.”[1]

  1. Genuineness means that God is true concerning who He is. “In a world in which so much is artificial, our God is real. He is what he appears to be. This is a large part of his truthfulness.”[2]
  2. Veracity means that God’s words are true and accurate. “Divine veracity means that God represents things as they really are. Whether speaking of himself or part of his creation, what God says is accurate.”[3]
  3. Faithfulness means that God keeps His word and can be trusted. “If God’s genuineness is a matter of his being true and veracity is his telling of the truth, then his faithfulness means that he proves true. God keeps all his promises.”[4]

     I believe this has practical application for believers who are walking with God and daily drawing closer to Him.  As we learn more about God, we’ll be challenged to conform our lives, words, and actions to His character.  Spiritually mature believers will desire genuineness (or authenticity) of character, honesty of speech, and faithfulness to our promises (both to God and others).

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

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  1. Walking with God  
  2. The Virtue of Humility  
  3. What Does it Mean to be a Man? 
  4. Christians in America  
  5. You Fight like you Train  
  6. Overcome Evil with Good  
  7. An Ambassador for Christ  
  8. Marriage Vows  
  9. Choose Righteous Friends  
  10. Love your Enemies  
  11. Learning to Live by Faith  

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Books, 2000), 316.

[2] Ibid., 316.

[3] Ibid., 316.

[4] Ibid., 317.

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The Basics of Grace

The Greek word χάρις charis appears 155 times in the New Testament[1] and most often refers to the undeserved favor or kindness that one person shows to another.  The favor or kindness can be from God to undeserving persons, or it can be from one person to another.  Grace derives from the bounty and open-handedness of the giver, can be very costly to the donor, but is always free to the beneficiary.  Here are four uses of Grace in the New Testament:

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) can refer to “a winning quality or attractiveness that invites a favorable reaction, graciousness, attractiveness, charm.”[2] Grace is here presented as that quality about a thing or person that makes it beautiful or attractive to others (see Luke 4:22; Eph. 4:29; Col. 4:6).

And all were speaking well of Him [Jesus], and wondering at the gracious [χάρις charis] words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22)

Let your speech always be with grace [χάρις charis], as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Col. 4:6).

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) also refers to “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill.”[3] Here, a gracious benefactor freely confers a blessing upon another without thought of merit or worthiness (Matt. 4:44-45; Rom. 11:6; Eph. 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5-7; Heb. 4:16).  The kindness here is by no means obligatory, but rather, finds its source in the goodness, abundance, and free-heartedness of the giver. 

“If you love those who love you, what credit [χάρις charis] is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit [χάρις charis] is that to you? For even sinners do the same. “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit [χάρις charis] is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. “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. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) also refers to the “exceptional effect produced by generosity.”[4] Grace here is the divine enablement God gives to people that they might do His will.  (Rom. 15:5; 15:15; 1 Cor. 3:10; 2 Cor. 12:9).

And He has said to me, “My grace [χάρις charis] is sufficient for you [to bear this difficulty], for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Cor. 12:9)

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) was also used as a “response to generosity or beneficence, thanks, gratitude.”[5] Grace means giving thanks (1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Tim. 1:3; Heb. 12:28).

But thanks [χάρις charis] be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:57)


Facts about grace:

  1. Because Christ voluntarily went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sin (1 Cor. 15:3-4), God freely bestows on us all the wonderful blessings associated with salvation (Eph. 1:3; 2:8-9). Grace is sometimes referred to as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.[6]
  2. Grace must be learned. The Christian does not automatically think in terms of grace and must learn it through the regular study of God’s word.  The ignorant believer—being devoid of God’s word—gravitates either toward legalism or asceticism.  Either activity stems from pride.  God is “opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). 
  3. Grace eliminates pride (Rom. 3:27). Some people have great difficulty accepting God’s kindness toward them, or even the kindness shown by others.  Pride dissipates when one learns to accept the gracious acts of others.
  4. Grace is given to the undeserving (e.g. Barabbas; Matt. 27:15-26; cf. Rom. 5:6-8). We bring to God our helplessness (Rom. 5:6), sin (Rom. 5:8), and death (Eph. 2:5), and in return He gives us forgiveness (Col. 1:13-14), righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and eternal life (John 10:28).  Faith is non-meritorious and the only way to receive God’s grace (Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8-9).
  5. It is by grace that we are able to draw near to the throne of God (Heb. 4:16) and never by works (Dan. 9:18-19). The person who rejects the gospel rejects the “Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29).
  6. Grace is not a license to sin (Rom. 6:1-2); rather, the grace of God instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” (Tit. 2:11-14; cf. Jude 1:4).

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

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  1. Spiritual Blessings in Christ
  2. God’s Great Grace   
  3. God’s Grace to Save  
  4. Believe in Jesus for Salvation  


[1] The apostle Paul is the foremost proponent of grace and uses the word 130 times in his writings. 

[2] 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), 1079.

[3] Ibid., 1079.

[4] Ibid., 1080.

[5] Ibid., 1080.

[6] I heard this phrase originated with John Stott. 

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The Plain Interpretation of Scripture

     We live our lives on the assumption that language—whether written or spoken—serves as a reliable vehicle for the expression of ideas.  Our survival and success depends on the plain use of language whether we’re reading the words on highway signs, food packages, or work documents.  A nonliteral reading of the instructions on a medicine bottle could be fatal and we could suffer greatly if we failed to take plainly the words on tax documents, legal papers, or instructions on how to use a chain saw. 

     The Bible is a collection of sixty six books written by nearly forty human authors spanning approximately sixteen hundred years.  The authors originally wrote in Hebrew and Koine Greek (some chapters in Daniel were written in Aramaic).  Behind each human author was the divine Author who communicated His thoughts through them and superintended their writings (2 Pet. 1:20-21) so that what they wrote reveals His mind, His work in creation, His will for mankind, His plan for history, and His provision of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.  The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those whom the Holy Spirit illumines (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:3-4).  

     The Bible is divinely inspired.  Though there are different views of inspiration, verbal plenary inspiration best fits what Scripture says about itself.  Verbal plenary inspiration teaches that Scripture originates with God (inspired – 1 Cor. 2:12-13; 2 Pet. 1:21), pertains to the very words themselves (verbal – Matt. 5:17-18; cf. Gal. 3:16), and extends to all of Scripture (plenary – 2 Tim. 3:16).  The apostle Paul regarded his letters as divinely inspired when he wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, saying, “when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). 

     Several English translations accurately communicate the original meaning of the biblical author (such as the ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NET, NAS, RSV), and most people read the Bible plainly as they would any other book, understanding the words and phrases according to their contextual usage.  There are some passages in the Bible that are difficult to comprehend, but most of it is simple to understand.  The Bible consists mostly of historical narrative which reveals how God acted in the lives of people.  Other biblical genres include law, prophecy, psalms, proverbs, poetry, parables, and epistles.  These literary genres require a literal reading in order to identify how the author is communicating so we can know what he is saying.  Liberal teachers advocate a nonliteral, non-grammatical, non-historical reading of the Bible, which opens the floodgates of speculation and allows the imagination of the reader to make the Bible say whatever he/she wants it to say.  Ironically, those who advocate a nonliteral reading of the Bible expect their words to be taken literally.  A plain reading of Scripture protects the reader from fanciful interpretations.  “If one does not use the plain, normal, or literal method of interpretation, all objectivity is lost.”[1]  

When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, and literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise.[2]

    A normal reading of the Bible is commonly called the grammatical-historical method of interpretation.  The grammatical-historical method of interpretation means the Christian reads the Bible in a plain manner, paying attention to the normal rules of grammar and the meaning of words as they were commonly used in their historical setting.[3]  A normal reading also considers each word and verse in the light of its immediate context, as well as the larger context of the book, and the whole Bible.  

     In summary, the Bible is God’s inerrant and enduring written revelation that tells us who He is and what He’s accomplished in time and space.  It was written by approximately forty human authors spanning nearly sixteen hundred years.  The human authors—without forfeiting their personal literary style—wrote under the direction (Ex. 17:14; 34:27; Isa. 30:8; Jer. 30:2; 1 Cor. 14:37; Rev. 1:11) and superintending care of God the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21), so that what is written is the inerrant and infallible “word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13; cf. Ps. 12:6-7; Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 3:16).  Some of the various literary styles include historical narrative, law, poetry, psalms, proverbs, parables, epistles, and apocalypse.  It is best to read the Bible plainly, literally, according to the grammatical-historical approach in which the reader pays attention to the normal meaning of words as they were commonly used in their historical setting.  

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

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[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, Ill. Moody Press, 1995), 82.

[2] David L. Cooper, The God of Israel (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1945), iii.

[3] For further reading on the subject of hermeneutics, I recommend Basic Biblical Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck, and Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm. 

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Religious Syncretism

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

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

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

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.  

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