Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook
Life, Death, and Eternity - Part 1

Life, Death, and Eternity - Part 1

October 16, 2021

God creates life. He created angelic life (Psa 148:2, 5; cf. Col 1:16), animal life (Gen 1:24-25), and human life (Gen 1:26-27; 2:7). People reproduce biological life, but God continues to impart soul life (Psa 100:3; Eccl 12:7; Zec 12:1), and this occurs at conception (Psa 139:13; Isa 44:2, 24). Furthermore, God has decreed the time and place of our birth (Acts 17:26), as well as the length of our days (Psa 139:16). He knows each of us personally (Jer 1:5; Gal 1:15), and is intimately familiar with us (Psa 56:8; 139:1-4; Matt 10:30). He is always present (Psa 139:7-10), is aware of our needs (Matt 6:8; 31-34), and asks us to trust Him as we journey through life (Pro 3:5-6; Heb 10:38; 11:6).

 

God knows how frail we are, “He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psa 103:14). David courageously asked the Lord, “Make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days short in length, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Psa 39:4-5). Job too perceived the brevity of his life and declared, “I will not live forever…for my days are but a breath” (Job 7:16), and James wrote, “you are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jam 4:14b). And the Lord is caring concerning the death of His people, as the psalmist wrote, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psa 116:15).

 

What we do in life is what matters to God and others. Every moment of every day is our opportunity to walk with God who gives meaning and purpose to life. And such a life is marked by truth, prayer, humility, love, kindness, gentleness, goodness, selflessness, and those golden qualities that flow through the heart of one who knows the Lord and represents Him to a fallen world. Furthermore, those who love God are naturally concerned with touching the lives of others, especially as they approach the end of life. As Moses was nearing death (Deut 4:22-23; 31:14; 32:48-50), he gave a farewell address to the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy was his farewell message to the Israelites who were about to enter the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. Moses left them what was important, what would guide and sustain and bring them blessing, if they would accept it (Deut 11:26-28). He left them the Word of God. David too thought this way; for as “his time to die drew near” (1 Ki 2:1), he gave a charge to his son, Solomon, saying, “I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn” (1 Ki 2:2-3). Our Lord Jesus, on the night before His death, spent His final hours offering divine instruction to His disciples (John 13:1—16:33). Jesus’ message was motivated by love, as John tells us, “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Jesus opened His instruction with a foot-washing-lesson on humility and serving each other (John 13:3-17). Here, the King of kings and Lord of lords became the Servant of servants when He laid aside His garments and washed the disciples’ feet. Jesus’ display of humility was followed by a command to love, saying, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). He then comforted His friends, directing them to live by faith, and to look forward to His promise of heaven. Jesus said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus went on to offer additional instruction on how to know the Father, to love, pray, what to expect in the future, and how to live godly in a fallen world (John 14:4—16:33). He then prayed for them (John 17:1-26). Afterwards, Jesus went to the cross and died for them. He died for their sins, that they might have forgiveness and eternal life. What a loving Savior we serve!

Where Satan is Attacking in America - Part 2

Where Satan is Attacking in America - Part 2

September 19, 2021

     God’s Word reveals there’s a divine drama unfolding, and the actors consist of angels and people, both good and bad, who operate in interlocking realms that are invisible and visible, both affecting the other. Failure to grasp this biblical truth limits our ability to understand what is transpiring in the world and what role we play. God desires that we live in reality, and His revelation is the blessing that provides insights we could never know except that He has spoken. What we do with that revelation determines whether we’re a force for good or evil. When believers know and live in God’s Word, it affords them the opportunity to make good choices that can bring blessing to those near them. But the opposite is true, that believers living outside of God’s will can bring suffering to those in their periphery. This was true of Jonah who was in disobedience and others suffered because of it (Jonah 1:11-12). But when Jonah obeyed God, many with positive volition were blessed and God’s judgment upon a nation was stayed (Jonah 3:1-10). As Christians, we should play our part well, sharing the gospel of grace and communicating God’s Word as best we can. But we must always keep in mind we’re not the only actors, and that Satan and his forces are at work, trying to weaken individuals, groups and nations. It is the work of Satan in America that motivates the writing of this article. Full article is here: https://thinkingonscripture.com/2021/09/11/where-satan-is-attacking-in-america/ 

Deuteronomy 15:19-23 - And Christian Spiritual Sacrifices

Deuteronomy 15:19-23 - And Christian Spiritual Sacrifices

September 4, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses returns to the subject of animals and what should be offered to God in sacrifice. In typical fashion, Moses repeats himself to his audience in order to drive a point. Moses’ emphasis is that firstborn male animals were to be devoted to the Lord and should be eaten only at the place God prescribed. The meal was to be eaten annually in the presence of the Lord at the place He would prescribe and the whole household was to participate in this meal.

     Moses opens this pericope, saying, “You shall consecrate to the LORD your God all the firstborn males that are born of your herd and of your flock; you shall not work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock” (Deut 15:19). The word consecrate translates the Hebrew verb קָדָשׁ qadash, which means to sanctify, declare as holy, or set apart for a special purpose. The causative verb stem (hiphil) expresses conscious intentionality on the part of the offeror to consecrate the firstborn male of the herd or flock to God (cf. Ex 13:2, 12; Deut 12:6, 17; 14:23). Israelites were to set apart the best of their herds and flocks for God, for He was the cause of all their blessings. The Lord had blessed them by giving them the land of Canaan (Deut 4:1; 9:6), which included cities, houses, wells and vineyards (Deut 6:10-11), the ability to produce wealth (Deut 8:18), and blessed their labor so they would be fruitful (Deut 7:13; 11:13-15). The Lord had been very good to them, and He deserved their very best.

     The annual sacrifice of the unblemished firstborn animal looks back in history to when the Israelites were brought out of Egyptian captivity and their firstborn sons were spared from the angel of death (Ex 13:1-15). But the unblemished firstborn animal also looked forward to Christ, who is our Passover lamb (John 1:29; 1 Cor 5:7), who shed His precious blood on Calvary as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Peter explained we were redeemed from the slave-market of sin with “precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18-19).

     The firstborn male of the herd or flock was to be eaten by the offeror and his family. Moses stated, “You and your household shall eat it every year before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses” (Deut 15:20). This was an annual meal eaten at the place God would choose, which first was at the tabernacle and later at the temple. Furthermore, in addition to the immediate members of the family, the animal was to be eaten by the servants and Levites (cf. Deut 12:17-18).

     However, Moses instructed them, saying, “But if it has any defect, such as lameness or blindness, or any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God” (Deut 15:21). To offer a defective animal would be an afront to God (cf. Deut 17:1), for it would not represent the very best of the herd or flock. Unfortunately, this is what Israelites were doing in Malachi’s day (Mal 1:6-9). Moses explained the lame animal could be eaten by the Israelites, saying, “You shall eat it within your gates; the unclean and the clean alike may eat it, as a gazelle or a deer” (Deut 15:22). The firstborn male animal that was lame could be eaten by the owner, his family and servants, as well as the Levite who relied on the kindness and goodness of others to help provide for him and his family.

     And the animal, like all others, was to have its blood drained before it could be consumed. Moses stated, “Only you shall not eat its blood; you are to pour it out on the ground like water” (Deut 15:23). Remember, the animal’s blood represented its life, and this was to be treated in a special way and not eaten (Deut 12:23; Lev 17:10-14). Israel was to understand that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev 17:11a) and was to treat it with respect in all situations. The blood symbolized life, which God has given to all creatures. If the animal was killed at home, the blood was to be drained before eating. If the animal was brought to the tabernacle or temple, the blood was to be drained beside the altar. In those ritual offerings the priests would catch some of the blood and sprinkle it on the altar, or on the mercy seat atop the ark of the covenant on the Day of Atonement. In this way they treated the blood of the animal as special.

Present Application:

     As Christians, we do not offer animal sacrifices, nor do we worship at a prescribed location as Israel did. We do not gather at a temple, rather, “we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16; cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17). And we do not bring grain or animal sacrifices, but “offer up spiritual sacrifices” to the Lord (1 Pet 2:5). But like Israel, what we offer to the Lord should represent our very best, for God has done His very best for us by sending His Son into the world to be our Savior. God the Son added perfect sinless humanity to Himself (Isa 9:6; Luke 1:26-35), lived a perfect and sinless life (Matt 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and went to the cross as a willing sacrifice (Mark 10:45; John 10:11, 17) and paid our sin debt (Col 2:13-14; 1 Pet 2:24). In Christ we have forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), eternal life (John 10:28), imputed righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9), and have been rescued from Satan’s “domain of darkness” and transferred “to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son” (Col 1:13). We received these blessings from God at the moment we accepted Christ as our Savior, believing He died for our sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). Now saved and part of the Royal family of God, we are to serve as “ambassadors for Christ” to a lost world (2 Cor 5:20), and “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called” (Eph 4:1). As Christians living in the dispensation of the Church age, God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). And these blessings enable us to live the Christlike life that honors God and blesses others. It is a life of humility, love, service, and sacrifice for the benefit of others. As Christians, we are called to offer sacrifices to God, and these sacrifices include:

  1. The continual giving of the body for service to the Lord (Rom 12:1-2).
  2. Confessing our sins directly to God (1 John 1:6-9).
  3. Sharing the gospel with others (Rom 15:15-16).
  4. Offering praise to God (Heb 13:15).
  5. Doing good works and sharing with others (Heb 13:16; cf. Phil 4:18).
  6. Giving our lives for the benefit of others (Phil 2:17; cf. Phil 1:21-26; 2:3-4).
  7. Walking in love (Eph 5:1-2; cf. 1 Pet 1:22).

 

The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper

August 21, 2021

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

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

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

     The elements of the Lord’s Supper include unleavened bread and red juice. The unleavened bread symbolizes the sinless humanity of Jesus (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5). The red juice symbolizes the “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). Throughout the church age, there have been four major views concerning the elements of the Lord’s Supper: 1) The Roman Catholic viewTransubstantiation—teaches that the bread and red juice, without losing its form or taste, becomes the literal body and blood of Christ. 2) The Lutheran viewConsubstantiation—holds that Christ is present in and with the bread and red juice in a real sense. 3) The Reformed viewSpiritual—teaches that Christ is spiritually present in the bread and red juice. 4) The Evangelical viewSymbolic—sees the bread and red juice as symbols that point to the body and blood of Christ. The first three views see Christ actually present in the bread and juice, whereas the last view sees the elements as symbols that point to Christ. The last view is similar to how one understands the sacrificial lamb in the OT, which sacrifice did not actually contain Christ, but rather pointed to Him and His atoning work on the cross. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper does not actually contain Christ, but points the believer to His sacrificial life and substitutionary death. 

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

Summary

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

How to Test a Prophet

How to Test a Prophet

July 25, 2021

     The word prophet translates the Hebrew word נָבִיא nabi (Grk. προφήτης prophetes), which means “speaker, herald, preacher,”[1] and refers to one who served as the spokesman for another. For example, נָבִיא nabi was used of Aaron who was the spokesman for Moses (Ex 7:1-2). When called of God, the prophet communicated a message directly from the Lord. Sometimes the prophet engaged in forthtelling, in which he addressed sinful behavior within a community, calling God’s people to stop their evil practices and turn to righteous living. But sometimes the prophet engaged in foretelling, in which he revealed the future actions of God, either for judgment or salvation (i.e., The Exodus, the Rapture of the Church, the Tribulation, Millennial Kingdom, etc.). The prophets were primarily men, but did include women such as Miriam (Ex 15:20), Deborah (Judg 4:4), Huldah (2 Ki 22:14), and Anna (Luke 2:36). God’s prophets received His revelation directly and then communicated it to others (Ex 4:12; Jer 1:9; Amos 1:3), and sometimes they served as intercessors to God (Gen 20:7; Ex 32:10-14; 1 Sam 12:17, 19). Throughout Scripture there were true prophets to be obeyed (Deut 18:18; 34:10-11; 1 Sam 3:20; 2 Ch 25:15; 28:9; Hag 1:13; Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-11) and false prophets to be ignored (Deut 13:1-5; 18:21-22; Neh 6:12-13; Jer 23:25-28; Matt 7:15; 24:24; Acts 13:6; 2 Pet 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-3; Rev 2:20). In the NT, the gift of prophecy was for the edification of others, as Paul wrote, “one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation” (1 Cor 14:3).

     It is important to understand that prophetic revelation always originates with God, as the prophet is merely the mouthpiece of the Lord. The Lord told Moses, “I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say” (Ex 4:12). To Isaiah the Lord said, “I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand” (Isa 51:16a).  And He told Jeremiah, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (Jer 1:9b). We’re not exactly sure how this happened; however, what is clear, is that the words the prophet spoke originated with God. The apostle Peter stated, “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:21; cf. 1 Sam 10:6; 19:20). The word moved translates the Greek word φέρω phero, which means “to bear or carry from one place to another.”[2] Luke used the word φέρω phero to refer to ship that were propelled by a wind (Acts 27:15, 17). Paul wrote, “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 Th 2:13). Prophecy that was written became Scripture. And the prophets who wrote were not robots who merely dictated what God revealed, but maintained their personality, literary style, emotion, and volition.

     In the OT, Moses knew there would be false prophets that would arise and seek to lead God’s people away from their covenant agreement with the Lord. Concerning the false prophets, God said, they “are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds” (Jer 14:14; cf. Jer 23:16, 21). This deception derives from Satan and his demons who are active in the world and constantly seeking to subvert God’s activities and programs. God, in His sovereignty, permits Satan to have his way for a time. Ultimately, false prophets are agents of Satan and can appear as messengers of light (2 Cor 11:14-15). But God has equipped His people to be able to identify false prophets so they can be rejected. In Deuteronomy, Moses gave two objective tests that could be applied to the person who claimed to be a prophet and said, “Thus says the Lord.”

     First was the doctrinal test. In this test, there would appear someone who claimed to be “a prophet or a dreamer of dreams” (Deut 13:1), and would even perform a miraculous sign or wonder (Deut 13:2a). The miraculous sign or wonder performed by the false prophet functioned as a means of persuading others. However, the ability to perform a sign or wonder by itself proves nothing. When Moses was executing God’s plagues upon Egypt, it is recorded three times “the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts” (Ex 7:10-11; cf., 7:21-22; 8:6-7). Jesus warned, “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24:24). And Paul spoke of the coming Antichrist, “whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Th 2:9-10).

     Though able to perform a supernatural act, the deceiver would reveal himself as a false prophet by his words, saying, “Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them” (Deut 13:2b). When the self-proclaimed-prophet teaches something that clearly violates God’s written Word, he/she reveals the source of their connection. To call God’s people to serve other gods is in violation of the first commandment, which states, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Deut 5:7), as well as the great commandment which states, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:5). Moses said, “you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 13:3). Here is a test of allegiance. Those who love God will remain loyal to Him (Deut 13:4). Because Israel was a theocracy, and God was their Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isa 33:22), He directed His people to execute the false prophet or dreamer of dreams (Deut 13:5a), “because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you” (Deut 13:5b). Only those who know God’s Word and live by it will guard themselves against the deceiving power of false miracle workers.

     Second was the short-term-fulfillment of a prophecy. On another occasion, God spoke about “the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak” (Deut 18:20a). Like the previous example of a false prophet, God prescribed the death penalty for such an action, saying, “that prophet shall die” (Deut 18:20b). Naturally, the Israelites would ask, “How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?” (Deut 18:21). The Lord’s answer was, “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deut 18:22; cf. Jer 28:9). Apparently, the prophet would be able to predict a short-term event that everyone could see for themselves and verify. Once the short-term prophecy was fulfilled in exact detail, the prophet’s long-term prophecies could be accepted and relied upon as valid. Jesus adhered to this test, providing short-term prophesies that came to pass (Mark 11:12-14, 19-20), which validated His long-term prophecies which are still pending (Matt 24:3—25:46).

Example of a True Prophet:

  • "Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, while Jeroboam [King of Israel] was standing by the [pagan] altar to burn incense [to false gods; cf. 1 Ki 12:28-33]. 2 He [the true prophet] cried against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the [bones of the dead] priests of the high places [pagan worship centers] who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you [fulfilled 300 years later; cf. 2 Ki 23:15-20].’” 3 Then he gave a sign the same day [proving to everyone he was a true prophet], saying, “This is the sign which the LORD has spoken, ‘Behold, the altar [used by King Jeroboam] shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out.’” 4 Now when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” But his hand which he stretched out against him dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. 5 The altar also was split apart and the ashes were poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD." (1 Ki 13:1-5)

In this example of a true prophet, we see where he spoke against the worship of false gods in agreement with written revelation (Deut 13:1-5; cf. Ex 20:1-5a), and validated himself by performing an observable short-term prophecy for others to witness (Deut 18:22).

Beware of False Prophets:

  • "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you [in the Church], who will secretly introduce destructive heresies [false doctrines], even denying the Master who bought them [attacking the Person of Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on the cross; cf. 1 John 4:1-3], bringing swift destruction upon themselves.  2 Many [in the church] will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned [outsiders will spurn Christianity]; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you [to get your money] with false words [πλαστοῖς λόγοις plastois logois – lit. plastic words, easily molded to accommodate the hearer]; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." (2 Pet 2:1-3)

     False prophets/teachers will arise in churches and will seek to introduce false doctrines alongside true ones (2 Pet 2:1a; cf. Acts 20:28-30). These false prophets will attack the incarnation of Jesus Christ (2 Pet 2:1b; cf. 1 John 4:1-3), as well as His redeeming work of the cross (2 Pet 2:1). On this basis we know Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are cults. Unfortunately, many in the church will be misled by false teachers, and this will cause the Christian way to be maligned (2 Pet 2:2). The motivation of false prophets is greed, in which they will exploit others for money (2 Pet 2:3a). Their power lies in their false words which they employ to subjugate their hearers. But these false prophets/teachers have not escaped God’s notice, and their judgment is coming (2 Pet 2:3b). Exposure to false teachers is inevitable; however, the Christian mind is guarded and remains stable as the believer continually learns and lives God’s Word (Matt 7:24-27; 2 Cor 10:3-5; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). Some false teachers may be won to Christ (Acts 8:9-13), but others are to be resisted or avoided (Gal 2:4-5; Phil 3:2; 2 John 1:9-11).

     There are some Christians today who believe God continues to reveal Himself directly to His people. However, other Christians believe God reveals Himself today only through nature (general revelation), the Bible (special revelation), and providentially through circumstances. The Bible is the only source of special revelation, and God’s providential acts are only discernable by the Christian mind saturated with Scripture. Concerning faith and practice (orthodoxy & orthopraxy), the Bible is the only dependable source of divine revelation, and the Christian does well to know it from cover to cover. Christians are instructed to know God and His will through Scripture (Eph 4:11-16; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2), and the believer who knows and lives God’s Word will prove to be a blessing to others.

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 661–662.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1051.

Angels and Demons - Part 14 - Satan’s Strategies
Angels and Demons - Part 13 - Satan’s Strategies
Angels and Demons - Part 10 - The Christian Armor
Angels and Demons - Part 9 - The Sin Nature - Satan’s Inside Agent
Angels and Demons Part 6 - Satanology
Angels and Demons Part 5 - The Sons of God and Genesis 6
Angels and Demons - Part 2
Angels and Demons - Part 1
Biblical Self-Talk

Biblical Self-Talk

March 13, 2021
  • "Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." (2 Cor 10:3-5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Faith Strengthening Techniques

Faith Strengthening Techniques

March 13, 2021
  • "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Pro 3:5-6)

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

  1. Live in God’s Word – Scripture is the starting point for the Christian faith, as “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17 KJV). As Christians, we are to “have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor 5:9). God states, “my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). Those who consistently live in God’s Word find stability for their souls (Psa 1:1-3; Jer 17:5-8). Scripture reveals that only God and His Word are absolutely true (Psa 119:160; John 17:17), and never fail (Matt 24:35; Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18). In contrast, we learn that people fail (Jer 17:5; cf. Pro 28:26), money fails (Psa 62:10), the government fails (Psa 146:3), and the creation fails (Matt 24:35).
  2. Look up to God – When believers encounter a stressful situation, the first action should be to place our focus on God for help. David wrote, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?” (Psa 56:3-4; Ex 14:1-14; Deut 20:1-4; 31:1-8). When Abraham considered God’s promise that he would have a son (Gen 15:1-6; 17:6), yet knew in his old age that neither he nor Sarah could produce an heir by human effort (Rom 4:18-19), “he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Rom 4:20-21). The proclivity of people is to look inward, outward, and downward; whereas God calls us to look to Him. Isaiah wrote, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock” (Isa 26:3-4). And Paul wrote, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2).
  3. Look back on God’s faithfulness –When facing a large population and military in Canaan, Moses told his people, “If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?’ You shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and the wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid” (Deut 7:17-19; cf. 8:1-4). And Jeremiah, when lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of his people, found hope by recalling God’s faithfulness. Jeremiah wrote, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam 3:21-23).
  4. Look forward to God’s future promises – On two occasions Jesus knew His disciples were struggling with fear and He sought to strengthen their faith by instructing them to focus on eschatological certainties. In the first occasion (the one we just studied), they were to focus on God’s future judgments, as Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). Those who kill the body do so in time, whereas God is able to destroy both body and soul at the future judgment seat of Christ (Rev 20:11-15). On another occasion Jesus instructed His disciples to focus on His promise concerning their future place of residence in heaven, saying, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
  5. Live in God’s love – John wrote, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). God is perfect, and so is His love and care for us (Rom 8:28-39). As we walk with God, our immature love develops and grows strong, becoming like His love. When this happens, fear fades away, and we can be courageous and loving toward everyone, even those who identify as our enemies and seek our harm.
  6. Fellowship with growing believers – Paul wrote, “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours” (Rom 1:12). When writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul said, “Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith” (1 Th 3:1-2). Growing believers are marked by love for each other as we seek to encourage each other to love the Lord and to serve Him in humility and faithfulness.
How to Advance Spiritually - Part 2

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 2

February 7, 2021

     God desires that we advance to spiritual maturity which glorifies Him and blesses us and others. This advance assumes one has believed in Christ as Savior and has spiritual life (John 3:16; 20:31; Acts 4:12; Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 1:3, 23).[1] To be clear, salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Only Christ’s atoning work at the cross is sufficient to save, and no works performed before, during, or after salvation are necessary. Though good works should follow our salvation, they are never the condition of it. The information taught in this lesson applies only to the Christian, for “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14 NET; cf. John 8:43-44).

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

  1. Be in submission to God. Scripture tells us to “Submit to God” (Jam 4:7), and “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Submission is a will surrendered to the will of another. Being in submission to God is a sign of positive volition that we’ve prioritized our relationship with Him above all else, and that we trust Him to guide and provide in all things. Like a good friend, He is naturally in our thoughts, and we live every day conscious of Him, being sensitive to what may offend, and making every effort to please Him through a life of faith. When we yield to God, His Word opens up to us, as Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17; cf. Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14; 1 John 5:20).
  2. Continually study God’s Word. Ezra, the priest, was one who “had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezr 7:10). The growing believer is one whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). As Christians, we understand that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). We cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. From regeneration onward, we study God’s Word in order to grow spiritually, that we might reach Christian maturity. God has helped the church by giving Pastors and Teachers (Eph 4:11), “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature person, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13). Christians have the individual responsibility of studying God’s Word in order to live the best life and grow to maturity (Deut 8:3; Jer 15:16; 2 Tim 2:15; Heb 5:12-14; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18).
  3. Live by faith. Living by faith means we trust God at His Word. The writer to the Hebrews states, “But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38; cf. Heb 3:7—4:2), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). It is possible to learn God’s Word and not believe it. For example, the Exodus generation heard God’s Word and understood it; however, “the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb 4:2). Our faith is effective when God’s Word is more real than our experiences, feelings, or circumstances.
  4. Restore broken fellowship with God through confession of personal sin. All believers sin, and there are none who attain perfection in this life (Pro 20:9; Eccl 7:20; 1 John 1:8-10). For this reason, familial forgiveness is necessary for a healthy relationship with God. David understood the folly of trying to conceal his sins, which resulted in psychological disequilibrium and pain; however, when he confessed his sin, God forgave him (Psa 32:2-5). John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God forgives because it is His nature to do so, for He “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15; cf. Psa 103:8-14). And He is able to forgive because Christ has atoned for our sins at the cross, satisfying the Father’s righteous demands regarding our offenses (1 John 2:1-2). The challenge for many believers is to trust God at His word and accept His forgiveness and not operate on guilty feelings.
  5. Be filled with the Spirit. Paul wrote to Christians, “don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit” (Eph 5:18 CSB). If a believer consumes too much alcohol, it can lead to cognitive impairment and harmful behavior. But the believer who is filled with the Spirit will possess divine viewpoint and manifest the fruit of godliness, worship, and thankfulness to the Lord (Eph 5:19-20). Being filled with the Spirit means being guided by Him rather than our own desires or the desires of others. The Spirit’s guidance is always according to Scripture. Being filled with the Spirit does not mean we have more of Him, but that He has more of us, as we submit to His leading.
  6. Walk in the Spirit. Paul wrote, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). In this passage walking is a metaphor for daily living, which can be influenced by God (Deut 5:33; 10:12), other righteous persons (Pro 13:20), sinners (Psa 1:1; Pro 1:10-16; 1 Cor 15:33), or one’s own sin nature (Gal 5:17-21). To walk in the Spirit means we depend on His counsel to guide and power to sustain as we seek to do His will. The Spirit most often guides us directly by Scripture (John 14:26), but also uses mature believers whose thinking is saturated with God’s Word and who can provide sound advice.
  7. Accept God’s trials (Deut 8:2-3). Paul wrote, “we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom 5:3-4). James said, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (Jam 1:2-4 CSB). The Lord uses the fire of trials to burn away the dross of our weak character and to refine those golden qualities consistent with His character. The growing believer learns to praise God for the trials, knowing He uses them to strengthen our faith and develop us into spiritually mature Christians.
  8. Pray to God. Prayer is essential to spiritual growth as we need to have upward communication with God to express ourselves to Him. Prayer is the means by which we make requests to God, believing He has certain answers ready for us, and that we just need to ask (Jam 4:2). Scripture directs us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17), and “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18; cf. Jude 1:20). To pray in the Spirit means we pray in the power of the Holy Spirit as He directs and energizes our prayer life.
  9. Worship and give thanks to the Lord. The writer to the Hebrews stated, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15). And Paul wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, saying, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18). To give thanks (εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo) is to have a daily attitude of gratitude toward God for His goodness and mercy toward us. Part of this attitude comes from knowing God is working all things “together for good” (Rom 8:28), because “God is for us” (Rom 8:31).
  10. Fellowship with other believers. The writer of Hebrews states, “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Spiritual growth ideally happens in community, for God expects us to exercise our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (see Rom 12:10-13; 14:19; Eph 4:32; Phil 2:3-4; 1 Th 5:11-15).
  11. Serve others in love. We are part of the body of Christ and God calls us to love and serve each other. Paul wrote, “you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13), and “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). Peter states, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10). As Christians, we are told, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phi 2:3-4).
  12. Take advantage of the time God gives. Time is a resource we should manage properly. Paul writes, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). Solomon wrote, “Whatever you find to do with your hands, do it with all your might, because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, the place where you will eventually go” (Ecc 9:10 NET). God has determined the length of our days, as David wrote, “in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for my life when as yet there was not one of them” (Psa 139:16). Every moment is precious and we must make sure our days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word and living His will, and walking in love with those whom the Lord places in our path.

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

 

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

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 1

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 1

February 6, 2021

     God desires that we advance to spiritual maturity which glorifies Him and blesses us and others. This advance assumes one has believed in Christ as Savior and has spiritual life (John 3:16; 20:31; Acts 4:12; Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 1:3, 23).[1] To be clear, salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Only Christ’s atoning work at the cross is sufficient to save, and no works performed before, during, or after salvation are necessary. Though good works should follow our salvation, they are never the condition of it. The information taught in this lesson applies only to the Christian, for “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14 NET; cf. John 8:43-44).

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

  1. Be in submission to God. Scripture tells us to “Submit to God” (Jam 4:7), and “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Submission is a will surrendered to the will of another. Being in submission to God is a sign of positive volition that we’ve prioritized our relationship with Him above all else, and that we trust Him to guide and provide in all things. Like a good friend, He is naturally in our thoughts, and we live every day conscious of Him, being sensitive to what may offend, and making every effort to please Him through a life of faith. When we yield to God, His Word opens up to us, as Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17; cf. Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14; 1 John 5:20).
  2. Continually study God’s Word. Ezra, the priest, was one who “had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezr 7:10). The growing believer is one whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). As Christians, we understand that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). We cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. From regeneration onward, we study God’s Word in order to grow spiritually, that we might reach Christian maturity. God has helped the church by giving Pastors and Teachers (Eph 4:11), “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature person, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13). Christians have the individual responsibility of studying God’s Word in order to live the best life and grow to maturity (Deut 8:3; Jer 15:16; 2 Tim 2:15; Heb 5:12-14; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18).
  3. Live by faith. Living by faith means we trust God at His Word. The writer to the Hebrews states, “But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38; cf. Heb 3:7—4:2), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). It is possible to learn God’s Word and not believe it. For example, the Exodus generation heard God’s Word and understood it; however, “the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb 4:2). Our faith is effective when God’s Word is more real than our experiences, feelings, or circumstances.
  4. Restore broken fellowship with God through confession of personal sin. All believers sin, and there are none who attain perfection in this life (Pro 20:9; Eccl 7:20; 1 John 1:8-10). For this reason, familial forgiveness is necessary for a healthy relationship with God. David understood the folly of trying to conceal his sins, which resulted in psychological disequilibrium and pain; however, when he confessed his sin, God forgave him (Psa 32:2-5). John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God forgives because it is His nature to do so, for He “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15; cf. Psa 103:8-14). And He is able to forgive because Christ has atoned for our sins at the cross, satisfying the Father’s righteous demands regarding our offenses (1 John 2:1-2). The challenge for many believers is to trust God at His word and accept His forgiveness and not operate on guilty feelings.
  5. Be filled with the Spirit. Paul wrote to Christians, “don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit” (Eph 5:18 CSB). If a believer consumes too much alcohol, it can lead to cognitive impairment and harmful behavior. But the believer who is filled with the Spirit will possess divine viewpoint and manifest the fruit of godliness, worship, and thankfulness to the Lord (Eph 5:19-20). Being filled with the Spirit means being guided by Him rather than our own desires or the desires of others. The Spirit’s guidance is always according to Scripture. Being filled with the Spirit does not mean we have more of Him, but that He has more of us, as we submit to His leading.
  6. Walk in the Spirit. Paul wrote, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). In this passage walking is a metaphor for daily living, which can be influenced by God (Deut 5:33; 10:12), other righteous persons (Pro 13:20), sinners (Psa 1:1; Pro 1:10-16; 1 Cor 15:33), or one’s own sin nature (Gal 5:17-21). To walk in the Spirit means we depend on His counsel to guide and power to sustain as we seek to do His will. The Spirit most often guides us directly by Scripture (John 14:26), but also uses mature believers whose thinking is saturated with God’s Word and who can provide sound advice.
  7. Accept God’s trials (Deut 8:2-3). Paul wrote, “we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom 5:3-4). James said, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (Jam 1:2-4 CSB). The Lord uses the fire of trials to burn away the dross of our weak character and to refine those golden qualities consistent with His character. The growing believer learns to praise God for the trials, knowing He uses them to strengthen our faith and develop us into spiritually mature Christians.
  8. Pray to God. Prayer is essential to spiritual growth as we need to have upward communication with God to express ourselves to Him. Prayer is the means by which we make requests to God, believing He has certain answers ready for us, and that we just need to ask (Jam 4:2). Scripture directs us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17), and “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18; cf. Jude 1:20). To pray in the Spirit means we pray in the power of the Holy Spirit as He directs and energizes our prayer life.
  9. Worship and give thanks to the Lord. The writer to the Hebrews stated, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15). And Paul wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, saying, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18). To give thanks (εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo) is to have a daily attitude of gratitude toward God for His goodness and mercy toward us. Part of this attitude comes from knowing God is working all things “together for good” (Rom 8:28), because “God is for us” (Rom 8:31).
  10. Fellowship with other believers. The writer of Hebrews states, “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Spiritual growth ideally happens in community, for God expects us to exercise our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (see Rom 12:10-13; 14:19; Eph 4:32; Phil 2:3-4; 1 Th 5:11-15).
  11. Serve others in love. We are part of the body of Christ and God calls us to love and serve each other. Paul wrote, “you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13), and “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). Peter states, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10). As Christians, we are told, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phi 2:3-4).
  12. Take advantage of the time God gives. Time is a resource we should manage properly. Paul writes, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). Solomon wrote, “Whatever you find to do with your hands, do it with all your might, because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, the place where you will eventually go” (Ecc 9:10 NET). God has determined the length of our days, as David wrote, “in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for my life when as yet there was not one of them” (Psa 139:16). Every moment is precious and we must make sure our days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word and living His will, and walking in love with those whom the Lord places in our path.

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

 

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

The Life of Faith

The Life of Faith

September 20, 2020

     Living by faith is the Christian way. God expects us to trust Him at His word, which is plainly understood, believed, and applied. Studying the Bible and applying it to life are comparable to breathing in and breathing out, as both are necessary for living. Much of our mental and social stability depends on how well we know the Word of God and apply it to life. The Lord states, “My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38).[1] And we know that “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). Scripture reveals that only God and His Word are absolutely true (Psa 119:160; John 17:17), and never fail (Matt 24:35; Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18). In contrast, we learn that people fail (Jer 17:5; cf. Pro 28:26), money fails (Psa 62:10), the government fails (Psa 146:3), and the creation fails (Matt 24:35). As we look at the Greek New Testament, we see how the word faith is used three ways:

  1. Faith, as a verb (πιστεύω pisteuo),[2] means “to consider something to be true and therefore worthy of one’s trust.”[3] It means to believe, trust, or have confidence in God (Heb 11:6; cf. Rom 4:3), Jesus (Acts 16:31; 1 Pet 1:8), and Scripture (John 2:22). Unreliable people should not be trusted (Matt 24:23, 26; John 2:24).
  2. Faith, as a noun (πίστις pistis), often refers to “that which evokes trust and faith…the state of being someone in whom confidence can be placed, faithfulness, reliability, fidelity.”[4] The word is used with reference to God who is trustworthy (Rom 3:3; 4:19-21), and of people who possess faith (Matt 9:2, 22; 21:21), which can be great (Matt 15:28; cf. Acts 6:5; 11:23-24), small (Matt 17:19-20), or absent (Mark 4:39-40; cf. Luke 8:25). It is also used of Scripture itself as a body of reliable teaching (i.e. Acts 14:22; 16:5; Rom 14:22; Gal 1:23; 2 Tim 4:7).
  3. Faith, as an adjective (πιστός pistos), describes someone “pertaining to being worthy of belief or trust, trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring trust/faith.”[5] The word is used both of man (Matt 25:23; 1 Cor 4:17; Col 1:7; 1 Tim 1:12; 2 Tim 2:2; Heb 3:5), and God (1 Cor 1:9; 10:13; 2 Tim 2:13; Heb 10:23; Rev 1:5).

Biblical facts about faith:

  1. Faith demands an object (Acts 16:30-31).
  2. Faith is exercised with a view to receiving a benefit (John 3:16).
  3. The object of faith gets the credit (Rom 4:19-21).
  4. Salvation comes by faith in Jesus (Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Gal 3:26; Eph 2:8-9).
  5. Faith is the only thing that pleases God (Heb 11:6).
  6. God expects us to live by faith (Rom 1:17; Heb 10:38).
  7. Faith is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
  8. By faith we apply the word of God (Matt 7:24-25; John 13:17; Jam 1:22).
  9. By faith we claim promises (Heb 6:11-12; 2 Pet 1:4).
  10. It is possible to have God’s promises and not benefit from them (Heb 4:2).
  11. Our faith will be tested (1 Pet 1:6-7).
  12. Our faith overcomes fear (Deut 31:6-8; Isa 41:10-13).
  13. Trusting God produces mental stability (Isa 26:3; Phil 4:6-11).
  14. Faith can be strengthened by others (Acts 14:21-22; 16:5; Rom 1:12)

     Faith in God results in a change of attitude and actions about everything. By faith, “we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb 11:3). By faith we have confidence that God controls the circumstances of our lives, that He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Even the trials we face help to produce humility (Dan 4:37; Matt 23:12), and develop the character of God in us (Rom 5:1-5). James wrote, “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 perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam 1:2-4). Such a faith response makes us better rather than bitter. By faith we obey God’s commands to love and serve (Gal 5:13), be tolerant (Eph 4:2), kind, tenderhearted and forgiving (Eph 4:32), and to regard others as more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3-4).

     Satan, and his world-system, will strive to get the believer to rely upon anything and everything other than God and His Word. If the believer falls into this trap, he will experience worry, frustration, anxiety, and eventually a deep-rooted sense of despair. God wants us to have mental stability (Isa 26:3), love (1 John 4:16-17), contentment (Phil 4:11-13), and every other attitude that brings an abundant life (John 10:10). Only through a life of faith can we know the blessings that belong to every Christian.

 

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

[2] Though I’m looking at the Greek, it should be noted that the Hebrew אָמַן aman carries the same basic meaning as πιστεύω pisteuo. In fact, the LXX translates Genesis 15:6—a passage quoted by NT writers (Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6; Jam 2:23)—by using the Greek verb πιστεύω pisteuo.

[3] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 816.

[4] Ibid., 818.

[5] Ibid., 820.

Advancing Toward Spiritual Maturity

Advancing Toward Spiritual Maturity

August 29, 2020

     The purpose of this lesson is to help us realize we’re not neutral nor helpless concerning the culture in which we live, and that right-living not only helps to curb divine judgment, but can also bring blessing to others. Our objective as Christians is to advance to spiritual maturity which glorifies God and blesses those around us.

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

  1. Be in submission to God. Scripture tells us to “Submit to God” (Jam 4:7), and “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Being in submission to God means we desire the Lord’s will above all else. When this happens, God’s Word opens up to us (John 7:17).
  2. Continually study God’s Word (Psa 1:1-2; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). As Christians, we cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. Therefore, from regeneration onward, we study God’s Word in order to replace a lifetime of worldly viewpoint with divine viewpoint.
  3. Live by faith (Rom 10:17; Heb 10:38; 11:6). Learning God’s Word becomes effective when mixed with our faith as we apply it to all aspects of our lives. Our faith is effective when God’s Word is more real than our experiences, feelings, or circumstances. The writer to the Hebrews states, “But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6).
  4. Accept God’s trials (Deut 8:2-3, 16; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 3:17; 4:12-13). God uses trials to strengthen our faith and develop us spiritually. Often, we don’t like hardship, but we must learn to accept it as necessary. For the Lord uses it to burn away the dross of our weak character and to refine those golden qualities consistent with His character. The growing believer learns to praise God for the trials, knowing He uses them to advance us spiritually (Rom 5:3-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Heb 12:11; Jam 1:2-4; 1 Pet 4:12-13).
  5. Be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). Being filled with the Holy Spirit means being controlled by Him. It means we follow where He guides, and His guidance is always according to Scripture. Being filled with the Spirit does not mean we have more of Him, but that He has more of us, as we submit to His guidance.
  6. Walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:16-21). Walking in the Spirit means we depend on Him to sustain us as we seek to do His will according to Scripture.
  7. Restore broken fellowship with God through confession of personal sin (1 John 1:5-9). The confessed sin is directed to God, who faithfully forgives every time (1 John 1:9).
  8. Fellowship with other believers (Acts 2:42; Heb 10:24-25). Spiritual growth does not happen in isolation, as God expects us to exercise our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (see Rom 12:10-13; 14:19; Eph 4:32; Phil 2:3-4; 1 Thess 5:11-15).
  9. Serve others in love (Gal 5:13). We are part of the body of Christ and God calls us to love and serve each other. Peter states, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10).
  10. Take advantage of the time God gives (Eph 5:15-17; cf. 1 Pet 1:17; 4:1-2). Paul writes, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). The believer does not reach spiritual maturity overnight, and since we have only a measure of time allotted to us by God (Psa 139:16), we must make sure our days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word and living His will.

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

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