Flesh and the Difficulty of Faith
"FLESH and THE DIFFICULTY OF FAITH"
by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand
*The Concept of Biblical Faith . . . . . . . . . . . p. 2
*The Nature of Our Flesh . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 18
*Winning the War Against Our Flesh . . . . . p. 35
*Why Believing is Hard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 44
*Why We Struggle with Our Faith . . . . . . . p. 56
*Overcoming Temptation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 70
*How God Judges People . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 88
THE CONCEPT OF BIBLICAL FAITH
As we launch into this doctrinal tenet, let’s begin by first defining this thing called “faith.” Essentially the Christian faith is believing a body of knowledge whereby one experiences redemption and enters into an eternal relationship with God. Because of Adam & Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, man became a fallen creature (i.e., a sinful creature); as such he became separated from God, because God was no longer his master and lord — he was now the master of his own life. So the resultant affect of Adam and Eve’s sin was death (both physical and spiritual), banishment (i.e., separation from God – cf. Is 6:1-5; Jer 9:1-9), the disruption of the entire created order (cf. Deut 28:1ff; 28:15ff), and the begetting of an evil progeny (cf. Ps 51:5). Because of God’s love for mankind, He sent His Son into the world to redeem sinful man and reconcile him to God through the cross (cf. Jn 3:16; Rom 6: 23); thus delivering him from the wrath to come (cf. 1 Th 1:10). When we place our trust in Christ, God makes us a brand new creature, and places His Holy Spirit in us that we might walk in the light and bring glory to God (cf. 2 Cor 5:17; Jn 14:16-17; Rom 8:2, 9-11). The Christian faith does not rest upon myths and fables, but upon the testimony of those who saw with their eyes and heard with their ears (cf. 1 Jn 1:1-3; 4:13-15; 5:20; 2 Pet 1:16; Jn 1:14; 15:27; 19:35). It might be helpful to keep in mind that every apostle, with the exception of John, was executed for his faith; that is how confident they were in the gospel of Christ unto salvation; they all refused to separate themselves from Christ and express allegiance to the Jewish world — remember, the apostles were all Jewish; so it wasn’t a matter of just a couple of them refusing to separate from Christ, but the entire apostolic world! They were so convinced of the deity of Christ that every one of them was actually willing to die for Him! Thus the Christian faith is not merely a summation of human thought; instead it is grounded in the incarnation of God through Christ, and His rhetorical revelation to man (which consists of coherent reasoning and sound empirical evidence). So according to the testimony of God and the divinely inspired writing of Scripture, faith is an indispensable prerequisite whereby one experiences salvation; contrary to what fallen man thinks, there is no other way whereby one is saved. As the apostle Paul said to a jailer when he & Silas were imprisoned in Philippi, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved” (cf. Acts 16:31); later on he wrote to the Ephesians, “We are saved by grace through faith… this is not of our own doing, but is a gift from God” (cf. Eph 2:8-9). The author of the book of Hebrews said, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6). Jesus Himself declared, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish but have eternal life” (cf. Jn 3:16). So faith denotes trusting God… believing God… and obeying God, because He is who He is, and does what He says (cf. Deut 7:9; Josh 24:14; Is 40:13-26; 43:10-13; 45:5-7). Remember, GOD is the one who initiated the salvation of fallen man; think about it, how could fallen creatures ever initiate a divine relationship with their creator? Such is not only completely antithetical to human reason, it is complete lunacy in comparison to divine thinking. As the initiator of our salvation, and the dispenser of divine truth to the human heart, God expects man to trust Him. Again, the failure of man to trust God all began with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1-7). Now since the fall of man, God is the one who nurtures and inspires man to trust Him through what He says; so faith essentially is a limited personal knowledge of God in man’s soul. Furthermore, it is God who discloses divine truth to man’s heart, and rewards and blesses him when he places his trust in Him (cf. Heb 6:13-14; 11:6). Beloved, as fallen creatures who else are we going to trust? Some arrogant human being, Satan, or the future anti-christ? If we refuse to believe divine truth, we are putting ourselves in a very difficult position… how can we possibly believe something that is completely void of reason and lacking in evidence? If one wants to argue vehemently against divine truth, then he should do so, but in doing so he needs to consider the fullness of it (incidentally, that is the premiere operative whereby public courts determine what is true and what is not true — they look at all of the evidence), and if one cannot invalidate divine truth with human thinking, then why does he reject it? Now, should one approach divine truth with a sincere desire to know what is really true, God Himself will make it evident to him; remember, it is God who enlightens the hearts and minds of men to know and understand the truth, and gives him a deep abiding conviction (Heb 11:1), and this He does to those with a humble heart — without humility of heart, one will never experience God’s grace in life (cf. Jam 1:21; 4:6; Ps 25:9; 76:9; Is 66:2); whereas the arrogant rejects divine truth (thus God hardens his heart – cf. Rom 1:18-32; Ex 7:1-5; 10:3)… the humble is open to it, so God graciously enlightens his heart. Now, with the foregoing in mind, let’s look at both the Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek terms that define faith.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “aman” denotes trusting & believing that which is reliable… and then there is the Hebrew word “yare” that is translated “fear,” and that word is the most common term in the Old Testament used to describe man’s response to God. To fear God is to believe Him with reverential awe because He is absolutely reliable and trustworthy (cf. Ps 31:19; 119:89-91; Ecc 12;13); so “fearing God” connotes submission to Him (cf. Prov 1:7; 9:10; 15:33; Ps 111:10). The reality is, we all fear or revere some-thing or someone in life, hence Joshua said: “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (Josh 24:15). To the chagrin of fallen man he actually chooses to embrace his own fallen thinking that is simply grounded in his own fleshly desires — though his thinking is completely lacking in reason and wisdom and knowledge and integrity of thought, yet that’s the road he chooses to travel. It should be noted, God does not force people to believe in Him — He shares the truth with them, and gives them the freedom to choose to believe in Him. It should also be pointed out that God does not judge men unfairly; i.e., He does not hold men responsible for embracing something of which they have absolutely no knowledge… yet God will hold them responsible for those divine truths that He has placed in their hearts (cf. Rom 1:18-32; 2:15; 3:9-19; Ps 19:1-6; Ecc 3:10-22). The reality is, God makes faith possible by providing information about Himself. Remember God’s word to the prophet Jeremiah: “He will write His law on the hearts of His people, and allow them to know Him personally” (cf. Jer 31:33- 34) — such a description reveals that to fear God is to know Him personally and please Him.
The New Testament word for faith is “pistis,” which is usually translated “faith” — it conveys the idea of trust, and a firm conviction regarding the truthfulness of someone or some claim. So faith in the New Testament continues to be a personal trustworthy response to God’s self-revelation. When faith occurs in one’s life, God has enabled him to know Him through His self-revelation to his heart… so God is the one who activates faith, and faith yields a confidence in the believer’s heart, and a sense of assurance by the Holy Spirit (cf. Heb 11:1; 1 Cor 13:9; Rom 8:13-16; Phil 3:10; 1 Jn 2:3; 3:14; 5:18-20; Gal 3:1-15; 5:25). Regarding faith in the life of the believer (i.e., in his sanctification, where he is in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ and becoming like Him – cf. Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18; Gal 4:19; Heb 12:14), God subjects his faith to “tests” in order to sanctify him; i.e., God uses “trials” to test and grow the quality of his faith (cf. Jam 1: 2-8; 2:14-26; Eph 1: 15-23). Remember, it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judg-ment (Jn 16:8). On the day of Pentecost the disciples gathered together to await the coming of the Holy Spirit — when He came, they went out into the streets of Jerusalem and Peter preached that the coming of the Holy Spirit was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel (cf. Joel 2:28-32), given to call men and women to Christ and salvation. Peter concluded his message saying: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (cf. Acts 2:36). When the house of Israel heard this, “they were pierced to the heart” (again, that conviction was God’s doing), and their response to Peter was this: “What shall we do?” Then said Peter, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Acts 2:37-38). Thus the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost convicted the people of their sin (cf. Jn 16:8) — this is why they were “cut to the heart” and asked “What shall we do?” As faith was born in their hearts, repentance followed — they wanted freedom from the sin they suddenly saw in their lives. In short, repentance is a change of heart; a change from sin toward God. So genuine repentance involves forsaking sin and being sorrowful to God for it (2 Cor 7:9-10), and surrendering to the will and service of God (cf. Mt 3:8; Acts 9:6; 26:20). Essentially repentance is to be seen as “the gift of God” (cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18; Rom 2:4) — God convicts the heart so that man will turn from his sin. So faith involves “a change of heart” where one stops trusting in himself and starts trusting in God. The reality is, when we place our trust in God, He reckons it as “righteousness,” and places it on our account (cf. Rom 4:3-5). In short, this is the essence or doctrine of “Justification” — the Greek word dikaiosis literally means to “declare righteous;” it is a divine act whereby an infinitely Holy God judicially declares a believing sinner to be righteous and acceptable before Him; because Christ has born the sinner’s sin on the cross, he has been made righteous unto God (cf. 1 Cor 1:30; Rom 3:24)… justification springs from the fountain of God’s grace (cf. Titus 3:4-5); it is not achieved by human merit or works (cf. Rom 3:28-30; 4:5; 5:1; Gal 2:16). A justified believer emerges from God’s great court room with a consciousness that Jesus Christ has born his guilt (cf. Rom 8:1, 33-34).
The renowned theologian, founder and president of “Ligonier Ministries,” R. C. Sproul, in his book “Essential Truths of the Christian Faith,” gives depth to the understanding of faith. In it he tells us that the Christian Faith is called faith because there is a body of knowledge that is believed and affirmed as truth… that the Christian Faith is not a matter of believing something that is unreasonable or some devised fable or myth (cf. 2 Pet 1:16); the reality is, the truth of the gospel is based on “historical events.” Ultimately, the Christian Faith comprises the essence of our hope for the future — therefore, “faith is the assurance or essence of things hoped for, and the convic-tion of things not seen” (cf. Heb 11:1). It is also important to remember that faith not only involves believing in God, but believing God; i.e., believing what God says and trusting Him with our lives and obeying Him (that is the foundation of the Christian faith). So saving faith not only involves believing some constructs, but relying and depending on them; thus, genuine faith involves both the will and the mind. Remember, Christians embrace divine truth not only with their mind, but with “their heart;” because it is only in believing with the heart that change takes place in a person’s life. Said Paul, “If you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness” (cf. Rom 10:9-10). In other words, believing with the heart is the essence of genuine belief (when one believes with the heart there is deep conviction; when one simply says he agrees with some con-struct, that has nothing to do with his heart), so believing is not just a matter of affirming some intellectual precept, it is a matter of completely embracing divine truth; believing is not just a mental precept, it is reality. So believing in Christ with the heart means not only believing Him intellectually, but fully submitting to Him and embracing Him as one’s Lord and Savior; remem-ber, it is only this kind of genuine faith that pleases God. As James, the brother of Jesus, said: “even demons believe and shudder” (Jam 2:19), but their faith does not move them to embrace Christ as the Lord of their lives; though they may intellectually agree with certain truths, they reject God’s authority over them and insist on being autonomous creatures who run their own lives. The truth is, when one believes in his heart, he fully embraces divine truth, and trusts in the God of divine truth, and doesn’t simply agree with some intellectual construct. Regarding the word “heart” in Scripture, it stands for the inner being of man; i.e., the seat of conscience, emotion, desire and moral character. The Lord said to His people Israel, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your heart” (cf. Deut 6:5). Prior to the flood, God saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (cf. Gen 6:5); likewise, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (cf. Ex 7:14)… David walked in uprightness of heart (cf. 1 Kg 3:6). The Lord said to His people who were in bondage in Babylon in the 7th century BC, “Behold, days are coming when I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a new heart… and I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes” (cf. Ezek 36:26-27; Jer 31:31-33). Jesus said, “The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man” (cf. Mt 15:18-19). Jesus also said, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (cf. Mt 5:8)… “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me” (cf. Jn 14:1). A certain woman named Lydia was listening to the apostle Paul, “and the Lord opened her heart to respond to what he was saying” (Acts 16:14). As Paul said, “Though we were once slaves of sin, we became obedient from the heart” (Rom 6:17). He then went on to say, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes” (Rom 10:9-10); incidentally the emboldened word “heart” in that verse is emphatic in Greek. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul said, “Slaves of Christ do the will of God from the heart” (cf. Eph 6:6). Likewise Peter said, “Love one another from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22); obviously, “it is the heart of man that defines man.” So the Christian faith is not simply a religion of rituals and divine truths… it is a relationship with God that is founded on His love and grace and trustworthiness.
Remember the words of the Lord to His spokesman Samuel: “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (cf. 1 Sam 16:7). Man is consumed with man’s physical appearance, his physical stature, his personality, and his physical attributes, but the Lord looks at the heart. The reality is, man’s life will reflect his heart (cf. Mt 12:34-35), because the center of man’s life is connected with his inner being (i.e., his thinking, his will, his affections, and his feelings). With the foregoing in mind, it is in “man’s heart” where God does His work (cf. 1 Sam 10:9; Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:26; Heb 10:16). Regarding the heart, take the time to reflect upon the following verses (cf. Ps 4:4; 14:1; 40:8; 51:10, 17; 119:11; 139:23; Prov 3:5; Mt 15:8; 19:8; 1 Tim 1:5). The fact is, genuine Christians not only believe in the God of heaven and His love for them, but submit to Him and embrace Him as their Savior and Lord (i.e., their Master) — essentially the cross of Christ is that loving act of God whereby we are made right in the sight of a just and holy God. It is important that the believer not simply embrace the cross itself (i.e., the death of Christ), but that he gives precedence to the love that resulted in the cross; it is “the love of God” that produced our salvation, not simply the cross upon which Christ died. As is often the case in many churches that give credence to certain behaviors and rituals, one should understand that such things are basically meaningless when Christ Himself is removed from it; that is not only a problem in many modern day churches, that was the problem with the ancient Jewish world (they somehow thought their actions and rituals and obedience to the law was spiritually acceptable in and of themselves) — thus the Lord said to His people, “I hate & reject your festivals… nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies; though you offer up to Me burnt offerings… I will not accept them” (cf. Amos 5:21-22; Mic 6:8). Beloved, the Christian life is about embracing Christ for who He is, and honoring Him in all that we do… it is never about some action that we take to elevate our standing before God or earn His favor. If this particular issue is a problem to you, study God’s love for you, because it is His love that transforms our lives. Remember, the Christian life is not a religion in the strict sense of the word (i.e., a system whereby people earn God’s favor through their actions & behavior), it is a relationship with God, whereby they glory in His eternal love and trustworthiness. Keep in mind, well over half of the so-called Christian world today believes in a religious life rather than a relational life, they believe in merit more than grace, and believe in their actions more than God’s actions — this is actually very common in the Christian world. Like the ancient Jewish world, “many professing Christians are like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36); it is here where a lot of modern-day preaching is erroneous — much of it is simply the thinking of men rather than God. Beloved, what we really believe is reflected in how we live our lives; though we can all talk the talk to a degree, what is crucial is that we walk the walk. God has created us for “good works;” works that He prepared before hand that we should walk in them (cf. Eph 2: 10)… the reality is, if there are no works, the person involved is not justified (cf. Lk 9:23; 6:46-49); every born-again believer does good works to some degree. Though we are not saved by good works, we are saved for good works (cf. Mt 25:14-46; 1 Tim 6:18-19; Jam 2:17-20, 26).
Since this legalistic construct is somewhat problematic to the Christian world, I thought it might be best to give definition to it. Like many spiritual issues, confusion frequently results when people don’t take the time to think through things as Scripture states them. Just because we don’t understand some divine construct, doesn’t mean we should simply disregard it; instead, we need to take the time to study what God’s Word has to say on the subject. So let’s begin by seeing what the apostle Paul had to say on this subject: “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified… man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law” (cf. Rom 3:20, 28; Gal 2:16). Remember, with the exception of Christianity, the foundation of every religion in the world is “man’s behavior” (i.e., man’s obedience to divine standards or laws), because they believe their behavior determines their acceptability by the divine power in which they believe; but compliance to some Laws does not define Christianity, because our acceptance before God rests completely upon the perfect work of Christ, and has nothing to do with our grossly imperfect works or actions. Obviously, if we had the capacity to obey God’s Law with perfect works, that would be one thing, but as fallen creatures we don’t come close to possessing that capacity; the reality is, God’s Law is absolutely pure & righteous (there is not an ounce of impurity in it, and we are fallen impure creatures). Though our actions do play a major role in our lives as Christians, they do not establish our standing before God — that is simply the result of the work of Christ on our behalf. Remember, “Abraham, the father of our faith, believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (cf. Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6); so “believing God” is the foundational issue by which we are reconciled to God… with that in mind, either we believe divine thinking on this subject (i.e., what Scripture says) or we are going to change the discourse and believe human thinking. Ultimately the issue is this — God in Christ Jesus subdued sin (i.e., conquered it); He did what the Law did not have the power to do because of man’s sin nature (cf. Rom 8:3); so Christ came into this world to ”fulfill the Law” in every aspect, that not the tiniest speck of the Law would pass from it until it was completely fulfilled. That’s right, Christ did not come to “abolish the Law but to fulfill it” (cf. Mt 5:17-20). The resultant affect was that God made Christ a sin offering to atone for our sins (cf. Rom 8:3); so Christ not only paid the price for our sin, He met every right-eous requirement of the Law.
Now with all the foregoing in mind, the Jewish world back in the first century believed that they needed to obey the Law to become a people who were accepted by God… yet since the Law is perfect in every way, fallen imperfect man does not have the ability to obey the Law as God so states (cf. Jam 2:10; Gal 5:3) — because of man’s fleshly diabolical nature his efforts are not at all righteous but sinful (man can only be who he is), thus his efforts are futile and result in sin and death (Rom 7:5, 13). Keep in mind, God is a perfect holy God who has perfect Laws that are absolute; as such, He never compromises His Laws, and fallen man is anything but perfect; the truth is, man is nothing but a diabolical mess. Now just because that particular construct is difficult for us as fallen creatures to fully understand and accept, doesn’t mean we have the right to change the discourse and make it something it is not. With the foregoing in mind, here was the Jewish world not fully embracing the thinking of their father Abraham… instead, they only made certain aspects of the Mosaic Law the foundation of their faith. Remember, “Abraham believed in the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:16). Now when Abraham was 99 years old, the Lord said to him, “You shall be the father of a multitude of nations, and I will establish My covenant with you and your descendents for an everlasting cov-enant, to be God to you and your descendents after you…. This is My covenant which you shall keep — every male among you shall be circumcised, including you, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Gen 17:1-11); essentially, circumcision was the removal of the foreskin of the male organ; incidentally, circumcision was also prac-ticed by numerous other groups in the world. In the ancient Jewish world circumcision was an “external sign” of the believer’s internal change that was effectuated by God when he placed his trust in Him (Deut 30:6). So circumcision was a sign of the righteousness of faith (cf. Rom 4:1ff). The reality is, circumcision lost its relevance for justification when Christ came into the world (Gal 5:6); no New Testament believer can be compelled to submit to it (cf. Acts 15:3-21; Gal 2:3). As the apostle Paul said, “In Christ you have been made complete, and in Him you have been circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ… when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions… it was all taken out of the way and nailed to the cross” (Col 2:9-14). Remember, the Jewish world insisted that their people be circumcised, because without being circumcised they be-lieved they were not acceptable to God. During the early years of church history in the city of Antioch, some men came down from Judea and began telling the Christian world that “unless you are circumcised, you cannot be saved” (cf. Acts 15:1); it was this teaching that ultimately prompted Paul and Barnabas to go to Jerusalem and address this subject before the apostles and elders — after having a full discussion with Peter and James and all the elders, it was clearly determined that people experience salvation simply by the grace of the Lord Jesus, be they Jews or Gentiles (Acts 15:2-19). Because “circumcision” continued to be a problem in the early church, Paul wrote the following to the Galatians: “If you receive circumcision (because you believe it is essential to experience salvation), Christ will be of no benefit to you… we must boast in nothing except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… for neither circumcision nor uncircumcision are anything; only a new creation achieved through faith in Christ counts; nothing else matters” (cf. Gal 5:2ff; 6:12-15; 3:22; also Rom 6:4; Jn 3:3; Acts 16:31; Rom 10:9-17; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 2:10; 4:24; Heb 11:6; 1 Jn 5:13). Remember, the foregoing is the inspired word of God… it is not just the opinion of a man named Paul, as some actually claim. Either you embrace divine truth as GOD so degreed in Scripture, or you embrace human thinking (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21).
With the foregoing in mind, remember what the Jewish people said to Jesus: “We are Abraham’s offspring… Abraham is our father” (cf. Jn 8:33, 39)… to which Jesus replied, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham” (cf. Jn 8:39); “the reality is, you seek to kill me because My word has no place in you” (cf. Jn 8:37); “thus you are of your father the devil, and want to do the desires of your father; and he was a murderer from the beginning” (cf. Jn 8:44); remember, Satan was the one who caused the deaths of Adam and Eve, and our subsequent death. Again, the message is this: either we believe divine truth, or we change it and make it something our flesh wants to believe — one could refer to a humanly devised faith as a “smorgasbord faith” or “buffet faith;” i.e., a faith whereby one picks and chooses what he wants to believe — obviously we’ve all eaten at buffets and smorgasbords, where we get to pick and choose whatever it is we want to eat and not eat. The reality is, our spiritual options aren’t like that; the option is, either we embrace divine truth regarding who we are (sinners) and who Christ is (God’s Son who suffered and died for our sins), or we reject it. So God has not given us the option of changing the discourse and making our faith out to be something that differs from divine truth; the reality is, we don’t have the option of picking 300 items out of 500 items, and then claim to be a people of faith. Remember, God has given us “His Written Word” (i.e., His self-revelation), and it is that revelation that we are to embrace. Now, though perfection is the goal for God’s people in life, that does not at all imply that we must attain perfection in this life to be accepted by God… our acceptance by God simply occurs when we believe in Him and place our trust in Him. Though Christ died for our sins and made us brand new creatures when we placed our faith in Him, that did not mean that we became perfect creatures… the reality is, we will not become perfect creatures until we enter into the eternal state. Again, though Christ died for our sins, He did not remove our sinfulness from us when we placed our trust in Him; He left our sinful inner-core in us (i.e., he left our flesh in us), and in so doing He asks us to wage war against it and fight the good fight of faith (cf. Rom 6:12-19; 8:10-18, 23-25 12:1-2; Col 3:5; 1 Tim 6:12; 1 Pet 2:24) — though Christ died for our sins, He asks us as His children to die to our sins, and that’s not an easy task because of the presence of indwelling sin in our lives; i.e., our flesh (cf. Rom 7:14-25; Acts 14:22; Phil 1:29; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7). Remember, God knows perfectly well that perfection is not at all possible for us as fallen creatures, because our flesh is still an integral part of our lives… though we are saved creatures, we are still sinful creatures (i.e., we still possess the sin nature we were born with). Nevertheless, as believers we must strive to do what is pleasing to the Lord and walk in the light, and this we can do to a degree because the Holy Spirit also dwells in us (cf. Rom 8:9-14; 1 Cor 3:16; Gal 4:6; 5:16-17; Col 1:27). Beloved, striving is what the Christian life is all about. Said Paul to Timothy: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness… for it is this we labor and strive” (cf. 1 Tim 4:7, 10). The author of Hebrews says we are to “strive against sin” (Heb 12:4). Take the time to read the following verses also (cf. Phil 1:27; 3:12-14; Heb 4:12; 12:4-11; Jam 3:2; 1 Jn 1:8-10; Lk 18:19; Rom 7:18). Regarding the matter of striving, perhaps one could compare “spiritual striving” to a professional baseball player — the best baseball players in the major leagues have batting averages between .250 and .300; and try though as they may to improve their batting averages, after a lot of hard work and discipline they can only get their batting average up to about .350 (that’s about the maximum); they simply don’t have the ability to bat 1.000; though Christ does, fallen man does not; imperfection simply defines the human condition. Now, spiritually speaking, the righteousness we possess is Christ’s righteousness, not our own, because we simply don’t have any; thus it is by His love and grace whereby He accepts us for who we are — He simply asks us to humbly put our trust in Him and believe divine truth rather than fallen human thinking, and then strive to obey Him (cf. Ps 52:8; Prov 3:5; Ps 52:8; Lk 18:9ff; Jn 10: 25-28; 2 Cor 1:9). Keep in mind, we do not have a right standing before God because of something we have done — our standing before God is all the work of Christ! The reality is, we are helpless creatures who have a gracious, loving, helpful God! For a believer to beat himself up because of his inability to be perfect is to be deceived by the ruler of darkness; such is simply the work of Satan in one’s inner-soul (he wants nothing more than to keep us in the dark, and keep us as frustrated as possible). With that in mind, let me encourage you to learn the significance of “striving to be the person God wants you to be” by reflecting upon the words of Paul (cf. Rom 7:14-25; Gal 5:16-17; Phil 3:12-14; 1 Tim 6:12; also 1 Pet 2:2).
It is also important to remember that the Law of Moses did not come into Israel’s existence until 400 years after the death of Abraham — by the way, the Law of Moses was a system of legislation that God gave to the nation of Israel that was to govern every aspect of their lives; yet in so doing, it also revealed their self-depravity as fallen creatures, and their sinfulness & inability to fully comply with the Law. Some of the issues the Mosaic Law addressed are these:
Ten Commandments Circumcision Sabbath
Moral Behaviors Sacrifices Festivals
Punishments Worship Inheritance
Husbands & Wives Slaves & Masters Marriages
Divine Rules Land & Property Tithing
Houses of Levites City Senates Debts
Judicial System Local Courts Judges
Ecclesiastical Ceremonies Taxation
Levites & High Priests Sin Offerings Elders
Though the foregoing items listed is not the fullness of what the Mosaic Law addresses, it does give a little insight into the majority of issues that are involved. The reality is, the ancient Jewish world during the time of Christ essentially made the Law a piece of work that they could abide by, yet in so doing they disregarded various aspects of it — for instance, they never saw their spiteful, lustful thinking as something that was sinful (cf. Mt 5:21-22; 5:27-28; 5:31-32; 5:43-44); whatever went on in the interior of their being wasn’t viewed as sinful to them; i.e., their thinking wasn’t an issue to them, in spite of the fact that the wisest man who ever lived (King Solomon) said, “As a man thinks, so is he” (Prov 23:6). Remember, the apostle Paul exhorted the believing world to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). The reality is, the Jewish world back then did not make their thinking a big issue in their lives; all that mattered to them was their external behavior, and they didn’t even properly exercise that. Said Jesus about the scribes and Pharisees: “They say things, but do not do them… they tie up heavy loads on lay them on men’s shoulders; yet they themselves are not willing to move them with so much as a finger… they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and being called ‘Rabbis’ by men” (cf. Mt 23:3-8). Jesus went on to say, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men… you are hypocrites & blind guides… you tithe mint and dill, and neglect the weightier provisions of the law (justice and mercy and faithfulness)… you clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence… you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness… outwardly you appear to be righteous, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness… you serpents and brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together… but you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” (cf. Mt 23:13-37). Keep in mind, that is what the Lord Jesus said about the scribes and Pharisees; though more was said, I have simply quoted a few things.
Remember, the premiere Law of the Lord was that they were to “love the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their might, and love their neighbor as themselves” (cf. Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18; Mt 22:36-40), yet that did not at all characterize them (cf. Mt 23:1-39); their neighbors were essentially meaningless to them. Keep in mind, our thinking reflects “our heart,” and it is the heart of man that God looks at — take the time to reflect upon the following verses, and do so with the understanding that such knowledge existed all the way back in the earliest years of man’s history; thus the Jewish world was without excuse; though some Jews did possess “true genuine faith,” the vast majority did not (cf. Deut 4:29; 6:5; 8:2; 10:12; 13:3; 30:17-20; 1 Sam 16:7; 1 Kg 8:39; I Chron 28:9; Ps 7:10; 14:1; 36:10; 51: 10; 51:17; 119:2; 139:23; Prov 3:5; Mt 5:8; 5:28; 15:8; 15:18-19; 22:37; Lk 16:15; Rom 2:5; 10:9-10; 2 Tim 2:22; Heb 10:22; 1 Pet 1:22). Obviously it is easy to change the didactic and believe what our fallen thinking wants to believe, but that is not at all acceptable to the Lord… yet to the regret of many even in the Christian world, that is precisely what they have done — though 35% of the world claims to be Christian, only about 13% are truly born-again. So this problem is not one that just exists in religions outside of the Christian world — it is the work of the devil throughout the entire world; he is the master deceiver, the premiere liar in the entire universe (cf. Jn 8:44), and there is nothing he won’t do to convince people that they are good & righteous in and of themselves; yet that is completely contrary to divine truth (cf. Lk 18:19; Rom 3:10-28). The reality is, the vast majority of people in the world will not accept the fact that they are innately sinful people; though they don’t see themselves as perfect people, neither do they see themselves as being fallen creatures in whom there is no good; thus they reject divine truth and believe fallen human thinking. Incidentally, the entire body of the Mosaic Law can basically be found in Exodus 20-31. Again, though the Jewish world made the Law of Moses the premiere issue in their lives, they did not embrace the fullness of it; they simply embraced certain aspects and disregarded other aspects. Remember, the Law was given to show man how imperfect and sinful he is (cf. Gal 3:6-14; 5:19-29; Rom 3:20; 5: 20), and how God provides forgiveness through the sacrificial offerings that He required of them (cf. Deut 4:2-3, 13-15, 22-24, 27-29, 32-34; 5:1-6, 15-19; 6:2-7, 25-30; 7:1ff). By the way, there are numerous other passages in the Pentateuch (i.e., the Torah; Genesis thru Deuteronomy) that address the issue of sin — the word “sin” appears 170 times in the Torah, and “sin offering” 98 times; so it wasn’t as if “sin” was basically a non-issue in the Mosaic Law. Incidentally, the Law of Sin Offering is covered in Leviticus chapter 4 (also cf. Ex 29:36; 30:10). “The Levites” were the tribe God chose to be responsible for the primary religious duties in the Jewish world — they were the descendents of Levi (one of Jacob’s 12 sons), and Moses was of the tribe of Levi, so when God delivered the Law to him on Mt. Sinai, He gave Moses the responsibility to guide the nation of Israel into all truth. Incidentally God made the Levites priests, singers, and caretakers in the worship of God. For hundreds of years the Israelites lived under the Levitical Law, sometimes obeying it, yet at other times not obeying it; thus the Jewish world often just embraced their own percep-tion of the law,as if that made them righteous before God. Much of Old Testament history deals with the punishments Israel received for her disobedience to the Law.
When John the Baptist came into the world as the forerunner of Christ, he came to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah; he preached “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (cf. Mk 1:4), just as Christ Himself did when He appeared: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (cf. Mt 4:17; 11:20). The essence of God’s divine message to the entire world was this: “MAN IS A SINFUL CREATURE IN NEED OF A SAVIOR!” When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, He said to them, “Repentance for forgiveness of sins is to be preached in My name to all the nations!” (Lk 24:47). The truth is, no man is ignorant of his grievous sinful nature… every man knows he is a sinful wreck! Only the arrogant and the proud of heart deny it, and deny the existence of God — Satan simply rules in their lives; said Jesus, “You are of your father the Devil” (cf. Ps 14:1-3; 36:1; 53:1-4; Lk 18:19; Jn 8:31-44-59). The reality is, Jesus sets us FREE from the Law of sin and death when we place our trust in Him (cf. Rom 8:2); what the Law could not do, Jesus did; thus He fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law (Rom 8:3-4). Therefore as believers we have been set free from the Law (Rom 8:2); as such, we are no longer under the Law; instead as believers we are now under Grace (i.e., the undeserved favor of God – cf. Rom 6:14-23). Perhaps the following will be helpful to reflect upon — think of yourself as an “adopted child” by parents who are absolutely committed to your well-being (regardless of the cost), and who will NEVER abandon or forsake you as their child, no matter how big a mess you may make of life… though you may question your parents love for you, NOTHING will ever cause them to stop loving you; not even your sinful life! (cf. Rom 8:31-39). That is precisely how you need to view God; He adopted you as a sinful diabolical wreck, and is committed to transforming your life into the image of Christ! Obviously, that kind of commitment is mind-boggling because nothing like that exists in our world; the reality is, this world is supra-intolerant and nothing but an amalgamation of anger, war, cheating and self-centeredness. Yet God is the antithesis of fallen human thinking; thus in spite of our fallenness and waywardness, He is going to completely transform our lives into the image of Christ; now in spite of the fact that it will involve a degree of pain and discipline, He is going to accomplish His divine purpose in our lives (cf. Heb 12:1-11; Phil 1:6; I Th 5:24; Ps 138:8). Remember, no matter how upset, angry or mad you may get at times, that will not at all effect your relationship with God — you are now His child, and He is going to do a work in your life that ultimately will result in your being completely transformed into the image of Christ; though that may seem a bit much for you to wrap your mind around, that is the reality, and not even your doubting it is going to change it. Beloved, “You have been bought with a price; the blood of Christ!” (cf. 1 Cor 6:10; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 2:18-19). Now with the foregoing in mind, here’s the point: our justification before God (i.e., our righteous standing before God) was effectuated by the Holy Spirit when we placed our faith in Christ; it had absolutely noting to do with some work on our part; all of the work was the work of Christ. Now regarding our sanctification (i.e., our being transformed into the image of Christ as believers), that is a cooperative work that will be “accomplished by God and us collectively;” yet God is the premiere source that will bring about our transformation. Said Paul: “We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, yet work with the realization that God is also at work in us, both to will and to do His good pleasure” (cf. Phil 2:12-13; 1:6; 1 Cor 15:10; Eph 1:11; Heb 13:21). Though some Christians are less cooperative than others, every believer is cooperative to a degree, because God has the wisdom and power to move us in a godly direction by the indwell-ing presence of the Holy Spirit… and that He often does by subjecting us to trials and afflictions and discipline. Remember God’s words to the psalmist David: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Do not be like the horse or the mule who has no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check” (Ps 32:8-9); the reality is, God knows how to move His stubborn children in a right direction, even if it means putting a bit & bridle on them (cf. Heb 12:4-11) — Keep in mind, God is never a non-player in our lives. Furthermore, God allows the testing of our faith in order to sanctify us and grow our faith (cf. Rom 5:3-5; Heb 12:4-11; Jam 1:2-8; 2:14-26); though trials, tribulation, discipline and the testing of our faith is not at all pleasant (cf. Heb 12:4-11; Jam 1:2-4; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 4:12-13; 5:10), such things are necessary to transform our lives. The problem for many of us is that we were not taught this early on in the Christian life, so now we are having to undergo a major transition in our faith; why this was not taught in many churches in the 20th century here in America is difficult to understand, but that is what happened. Now should your understanding of God differ from what Scripture says, you will have a difficult time reconciling reality, because you will be making God out to be something He is not — remember, God is the infinite, eternal, omnip-otent, omniscient, omnipresent God of the universe (it is only when you understand the significance of His eternality that you will be able to reconcile much of what Scripture teaches; incidentally, I will expand on that issue a little later in this study). Every believer must fully embrace what was mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs — to make light of these doctrines is to have a very remedial faith, because it won’t be fully grounded in reality. What has just been stated is not just a matter of opinion; it is the essence of divine truth as it is stated in Scripture. This is also why the subjects of flesh and faith need to be fully addressed as well.
Now, when one comes to faith in Christ, the initial experience frequently is one of great joy… but as time goes by, many believers start wondering if they really experienced a change in life. In spite of the fact they are now new creatures in Christ, they essentially seem to be the same persons they were; how is that? The same temptations are present in their life, and may even be worse… there are the same flaws of character… and even the joy they once knew seems to have evaporated… so how can they be sure they really are one of God’s children? The book of First John was written to answer that question. Though the people to whom John wrote had received apostolic teaching, some members withdrew from the church and founded a new one, believing that “their new beliefs were an improvement” on what they had known before (cf. 1 Jn 2:19). Most theologians believe this new belief system was the one known as “Gnosticism” — the Gnostics saw themselves as “the knowing ones” who insisted that salvation was acquired by knowledge… thus they denied the importance of moral conduct. Gnostics also believed that “matter” was inherently evil, and that only “spirit” was good, and that there was no way to bring the two to-gether; it was this construct that accounted for the denial of the importance of the moral life; only the spirit and mind were good — by the way, this was very common thinking in the ancient world. Now with the foregoing in mind, Gnosticism did not believe in the Incarnation of the Son of God, because if matter was evil, then God could never have taken a human body unto himself… thus the Incarnation must have been in appearance only. Obviously all of these new teachers seemed brilliant, as such many people started abandoning their old teachers. John responded to this problem that existed in the early church by stating that Christians can and should know that they do have eternal life (cf. 1 Jn 5:13; also 2:5, 13, 20, 21; 3:2, 14, 19, 24; 4:4, 13; 5:2, 18-20); as John stated, “He who has the Son has life, but he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn 5:9-12). Since some Christians aren’t really sure if they have adequately believed, doubt seems to rule in their soul. In response to this issue, John offers three practical tests that will help settle the matter for them. One of the most respected preachers here in America in the 20th century was James Montgomery Boice — in his book “Foundations of the Christian Faith” (published by InterVarsity Press) he expands upon each of these tests:
* First, there is the doctrinal test whereby people see that God is true, that Christ is the truth, and that the Bible contains true proposi-tions… though no one obviously understands all truth, it is such truths that give us the ability to see things as they really are. John develops the doctrinal test at length in two groups of verses (cf. 1 Jn 2:18-27 and 1 Jn 4:1-6). To confess that Jesus is the Christ is to confess the Christ of Scripture; however, to deny that Jesus is the Christ is complete heresy (that is the work of antichrist). For one thing, to deny the Son is not only to deny the Father, but to deny God Himself (cf. 1 Jn 2:22-23; 4:3; 4:15; 5:1). Remember, as Christians we are saved by faith & live by faith; i.e., we believe what God’s Word says, and don’t rely on some external realities. If one insists on embracing worldly thinking (Gnosticism), rather than divine thinking (Scripture), he is going to walk in the dark. When we humble ourselves before God, “we experience the assurance of things hoped for & the conviction of things not seen” (cf. Heb 11:1) — it is God who enlightens are hearts to believe His Word (cf. Heb 10:17; Eph 2:8; Jam 4:6)… but that He only does to the humble; faith is not some human consensus.
* Second, there is the moral test whereby the believing community will reflect the righteousness of Christ by the way in which they live (cf. 1 Jn 2:3-6; 3:4-10). Simply put, those who know God will love God and increasingly lead righteous lives. As John says, “He who says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (cf. 1 Jn 2:6; 4:7-8); therefore as His disciples we are to follow Him (cf. Eph 2:10).
* Third, there is the social test whereby genuine believers love one another; love is the mark by which the world may know that Christians truly are Christians (cf. Jn 13:34-35). States John, “He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still; he who loves his brother abides in the light” (1 Jn 2:9-10). A corollary of thought by the apostle Paul is this: “If I have prophetic powers, and under-stand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have the faith to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (cf. 1 Cor 13:2); those two emboldened words are emphatic in Greek. Keep in mind, love is not a benign feeling, it is an attitude which determines what we do.
Now with all of the foregoing in mind, remember “we walk by faith, not by sight” (cf. 2 Cor 5:7); i.e., we believe God’s self-revelation, and not external conditions. Our problem as fallen creatures is that we place a very high premium on “external conditions;” when the conditions of life are pleasant and seen as positives, we are encouraged in our faith — but external conditions do not determine the integrity of our faith… it is divine truth that gives definition to the integrity of our faith. Just because we may “feel encouraged” about something in our lives, doesn’t mean it is associated in any way with our faith… and just because we may “feel discouraged” about something in our lives, doesn’t mean it reveals the disenguineness of our faith. Again, the premise of our faith must be divine truth, not our feelings or the conditions of life. We may feel disappointed when things go amuck in our life, but that doesn’t mean we have a worthless faith. Beloved, our flesh is constantly expressing itself in our lives, yet its perverted diabolical thinking has absolutely nothing to do with our faith… our flesh is in opposition to the Spirit who dwells within us, and expresses itself in ways that are antithetical to the Spirit and divine truth (cf. Gal 5:17). Because our feelings and emotions play such a vital role in our lives, we frequently let them give definition to our faith; if we don’t feel forgiven when we sin, we question our faith… if we get frustrated and angry in life, we question our faith… if we don’t feel good about something, we question our faith… if we lose something in life, we question our faith; it’s as if “external circumstances” are the foundation of our faith, when in fact, these two constructs are antithetical to each other; our flesh and our faith are not at all related (cf. Gal 5:17). Our problem as believers is that we often let our feelings and external conditions influence our faith; we simply insist on experiencing a lot of positives in life and no negatives. It is important to remember that this isn’t an issue that only a few be-lievers struggle with, it’s a troubling issue to every single believer — we are all men and women of flesh, and not a single one of us has a very modest and kind flesh; so the war in all of our lives is essentially the same, and it reveals just how shallow our faith really is — again, none of us have an absolutely perfect faith (yet many believers want other be-lievers to think that they have a supernatural faith — once again you’ll notice their focus is on their faith rather than the object of their faith); the truth is none of us walk on water (God does, but we don’t). As Christians, we are all saved fallen creatures in the process of being sanctified to the glory of God — incidentally, that word “sanctified” (hagiasmos) literally means “being separated unto God” (cf. 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Th 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2); the term is also used of “being separated from evil things and ways” (cf. 1 Th 4:3). Though our sanctification won’t be completed until we enter into the eternal realm, we are to earnestly pursue it in this life (cf. Jn 17:17; Rom 8:13; Eph 3:16; Phil 2:5; 1 Tim 2:15; Heb 12:14); again, though it will not be perfected in this life, we are to pursue it in this life — the reality is, by pursuing it in this life, our sanctification will manifest itself to a modest degree. With the foregoing in mind, remember when we go before God with a “humble heart” God gives us the grace to under-stand and accept and believe that which is “true.” Let me once again quote the author of Hebrews, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (cf. Heb 11:1). You’ll notice there are three emboldened words in that particular verse; each of those words are “emphatic” in Greek; let me encourage you to carefully reflect upon what that verse says. The problem for many in the ancient Jewish world was that they were not a “humble people;” they were a very proud self-centered people… therefore, they changed the didactic to make it correspond with fleshly thinking.
Before looking at the nature of “our flesh,” let’s look again at the nature of “our faith.” Following are the prophetic words of Isaiah — “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God & afflicted” (that was a natural deduction by the Jewish world back in the first century; they believed God had smitten Him because of his own grievous sins; little did they know that He died for them and their sin – cf. Is 53:4; also Mt 8:16-17). Isaiah went on to say, “He was pierced through for our transgressions, and was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (cf. Is 53:5; Rom 4:24; 1 Pet 2:24-25). “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (cf. Is 53:6). Obviously, God created “sheep” for a very special reason, and that was to simply show man how needy he is as a fallen creature — the only reason sheep continue to exist in our world is because “man shepherds them and takes care of them;” without man taking care of sheep, they would no longer exist (that has been the case since the fall of man at the beginning of creation). Sheep are the only animals in existence that requires man to care for them, to feed them, and to protect them; without man’s doing so, sheep would no longer exist in our world (that’s how incredibly needy sheep are). The same can be said about us as fallen creatures — without God continually attending to us as His sheep, and meeting our needs, we would all pass away and suffer death (read Matt 18:12-14; 1 Pet 2:25). Beloved, this isn’t some human opinion, this is divine reality. Remember, when a large multitude came out to see and listen to Jesus during His ministry, “He felt compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (cf. Mk 6:34; Num 27:17; 1 Kg 22:17; 2 Chron 18:16; 79:13; 119: 176; Zech 10: 20; Mt 9:36 ). So down through the ages sheep symbolized people without leadership and a shepherd… straying sheep illustrate human sin… human value is con-trasted to that of sheep (cf. Mt 12:12). God’s people are His sheep enjoying His protection and listening to His voice (cf. Ps 78:52; 95:7; 100:3). The search for one lost sheep depicts God’s love for His people (cf. Lk 15). Said King David, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me besides quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the path of righteousness for His name’s sake… I fear no evil, for Thou art with me… surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (cf. Psalm 23). Said Jesus to the apostle Peter just prior to His ascending into heaven, “Shepherd My sheep” (cf. Jn 21:16; also Jn 10:7, 11, 15, 27). Obviously, a loving God seeks our highest good, but that doesn’t mean that everything is easy and pleasant in life… thus we often find it very difficult to reconcile all of the negatives we experience in life… the truth is, God does not always provide us with answers to all that transpires in our live. Remember, Job suffered greatly in life, and God never told why He had subjected him to such things. Said God to the prophet Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and neither are your way My ways; as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:8-9). The message is this — fallen man doesn’t have the ability to fully understand the ways of God… remember, we are extremely remedial creatures in comparison to God… so the question is, “Are you going to place your trust in Him, or are you going to argue with Him?”
Beloved, remember, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (cf. 2 Cor 5:7); i.e., we believe divine reason, not human reason. Naturally as human beings we all want to know why things are as they are in our lives, and why God often keeps us in the dark… we want to be able to reconcile everything that we might be able to effectuate some changes and make life more pleasant… but according to King Solomon (the wisest man who ever lived or ever will live – cf. 1 Kg 3:12), such is simply not possible. Said Solomon — “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (cf. Ecc 1:2); the reality is, making our world what we want it to be is simply not in the realm of possibility (such does not at all define reality in our world… though fallen man strives to do everything he can to make this world all he wants it to be, it cannot and will not happen, because God will not endorse their values and thinking). The result of Solomon’s investigation and research of everything under the sun is this — all is vanity; i.e., life is transitory, fleeting, useless, empty & futile; it is has no meaning; it is meaningless. Nothing that exists on this earth provides a valid goal of existence for us. So to live apart from God is nothing but vanity. The Hebrew word translated “vanity” (hebel) is used 37 times in the book of Ecclesiastes to express the many things hard to understand about life. All earthly goals and ambitions when pursued as ends in and of themselves produce only emptiness. The apostle Paul reminds us in the New Testament that the whole created order was subjected to vanity or futility as a result of the entrance of sin into our world (Rom 8:20). Solomon’s experience with the effects of the curse (cf. Gen 3:17-19) led him to view life as “chasing after the wind” (cf. Ecc 1:14, 17; 2:11, 17, 26, 4:4, 6, 16; etc.). “What profit does a man have from all his labor?” (Ecc 1:3) — absolutely none. The truth is, the only fulfilled life is one lived in proper recognition of God and service to Him; any other kind of life is simply frustrating and pointless. Though there are momentary moments of joy, nothing is lasting in this world. Thus one who lives to be satisfied apart from God will live with futility regardless of his or her accumulations. Obviously, life contains unanswerable questions (cf. Is 55:8-9), thus, as Solomon said, we simply need to “fear God and keep His commandments” (cf. Ecc 12:13-14) — that is the only reasonable response of faith and obedience to our sovereign God; remember, “God is working all things after the counsel of His own will” (cf. Eph 1:11), and is “causing all things to work together for our good” (cf. Rom 8:28). To question His will is to denigrate Him and elevate ourself; i.e., make God less than He is, and make ourselves more than we are. The book of Ecclesiastes shows us that if we perceive each day of existence, labor, and basic pro-vision as a gift from God, and accept whatever God gives, then we will live an abundant life (cf. Jn 10;10). However, as previously stated, when one looks to be satisfied apart from God, he will live with futility regardless of his or her accumulations. Though a man works hard his whole life, he ultimately gains absolutely nothing by it… in the end he dies and loses it all, and is completely forgotten (Ecc 1:1-4; 2:22; 12:8). The reality is, God wants us to accept everything He subjects us to in life, knowing that it is all for “our good,” and never without divine reason (cf. Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11; Rom 9:11). Is the foregoing hard to accept? Yes it is, because it transcends humanistic thought. In a sense this con-struct reminds me of the years I spent in the Army back in the 60s — essentially the law by which the military operated was this: “Yours is not the reason why, yours is but to door die.” In other words, when they told you to do something, you did it, and never questioned it… you simply saluted those in authority over you and said, “Yes Sir!” Likewise, when God subjects you to something, He is asking some-thing of you… you need to accept it and not question it — again, to question what God is doing in your life, is to judge things incorrectly and question the integrity of them.
THE NATURE OF OUR FLESH
Though the term “flesh” sometimes refers to the human body and the bodies of animals in Scripture (cf. Gen 17:11, 14; Ps 119:120; Rom 2:28; 1 Cor 15:39; Gal 6:13), it often refers to man’s “sinful nature” — so the flesh is a dynamic principle of sinfulness (cf. Gal 5:17; Jude 23). The unregenerate (i.e., unbelievers) are “sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), who live “after the flesh” (Rom 8:5); thus their flesh “works death” (Rom 7:5). So it is the evil human desires of man that enslaves him, and causes him to walk after the flesh (cf. 1 Jn 2:16; Gal 5:16; 1 Pet 4:2; 2 Pet 2:10; Eph 2:3; Col 2:23; Rom 7:5). The apostle Paul often used this term to describe man’s fallen human nature that makes him incapable of conforming to God’s holy expectations (cf. Rom 7:5, 18; 8:3-9; Gal 3:3); in this sense, the flesh is that which offers sin a foothold in the believer’s life (cf. Rom 8:3-4, 9; Gal 3:3; 5:16-17). Unfortunately, many in the Christian world have misunderstood Paul’s usage of the term “flesh,” and have taken the passages mentioned above to mean that our bodies are inherently evil; but nothing could have been further from Paul’s mind. Remember, Paul taught that Christ Himself came in the flesh and yet lived a sinless life (cf. Rom 1:3; 1 Tim 3:16). In addition to that, Paul referred to the believer’s body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, indicating its sacred nature and purpose (cf. 1 Cor 6:19-20). The notion that our physical bodies are inherently evil, and therefore an obstacle to spirituality, came from Plato, not from Paul — it was just such thinking that influenced Gnosticism (as was previously stated). The term “flesh” in the NT often refers to an ungodly lifestyle of selfishness and sensual self-gratification; this is evident especially in Paul’s writing in Romans 7 when he said, “I do not do the good that I want to do, but practice the evil that I do not want to do” (Rom 7:19) — none of us should have a difficult time identifying with what Paul stated, because our flesh is constantly expres-sing itself in our lives (in particular, in our minds — it is our flesh that causes us to get angry and frustrated and discouraged and unhappy and mad in life — there isn’t a man in existence who doesn’t suffer from such things… again, reflect upon what Paul said). So this battle that we as believers struggle with is “our flesh.” Now with the foregoing in mind, though all of us as believers wrestle with the flesh, we are not compelled to let our flesh completely rule in our lives (i.e., we are not forced to live nothing but a fleshly life); thus Paul encourages us as believers to “walk by the Spirit so that we may avoid carrying out the desires of the flesh” (cf. Gal 5:16-17). As Christians we must constantly refuse to let fleshly thinking & fleshly desires control our lives (cf. Rom 8:7; 1 Cor 3:1). Believers must remember that “nothing good dwells in their flesh” (cf. Rom 7:18), that they have become the recipients of a new principle of life sufficient to oust the old principle of death (cf. Rom 8:4, 9, 13; Gal 5:16-17); which is “the life of Jesus in their mortal bodies” (cf. 2 Cor 4:10-11). John also instructed believers not to behave in such a way so as to “fulfill the lust of the flesh” (1 Jn 2:16). Though we as believers have been set free from the law of sin & death (Rom 8:2), as Paul says, we must not turn our freedom into an opportunity for the flesh (cf. Gal 5:13); we must not let our fallen sinful inclination rule in our lives as believers. We have not been set free to satisfy our own selfish desires… we have been set free to walk in the light and serve others (Rom 14:1-15). Through the power & freedom of Christ believers must determine to live godly lives, and not turn the freedom they possess into an opportunity for the flesh (cf. Gal 5:13)… thus, the believer’s life should be characterized by the traits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self control (Gal 5:22-23). By the way, as you walk through life you’ll notice that “your flesh” has an incredibly strong presence in your life — not only in your actions, but in your thinking and how you feel about things; so waging war against the flesh is an absolute must for every believer; without warring and fighting against your flesh, your flesh will rule in your life. Remember your flesh is anti-God and anti-faith… whereas your faith is anti-Satan and anti-flesh. It’s important to note, just as no believer let’s his flesh completely reign in his life… no believer completely subdues his flesh in his life. Beloved, this is the war that we as believers are called to fight (cf. Rom 6:12; 8:13). We will expand upon this subject in more detail later in this study.
Now, before we continue on in this subject, it is critical that we first understand who we really are as born-again Christians — why there is so much confusion on this issue is difficult to understand, because Scripture is very clear in defining this issue. Let me begin by stat-ing it this way: As Christians, we are each two distinct persons in one… we are not just single persons, as the vast majority of Christians believe… we are dual persons with contradictory qualities — i.e., we are fleshly persons and spiritual persons. The reality is, there are “TWO ME’S” in each of us as believers— there is “the old me” and “the new me”… “the old self” and “the new self” (Eph 4:22-24); the old me is the flesh, and the new me is the spirit. In order to give personal application to this precept, let me describe it this way: my flesh is the negative in my life… and my spirit is the positive in my life — that’s right, I possess both a negative dimension and a positive dimension; I am not just a positive wonderful person. The bad side of my life is “my flesh,” and the good side of my life is “my spirit” — furthermore, the bad side of me (i.e., my flesh) hates God, and the good side of me (i.e., my spirit) loves God. Again, I am two distinct persons in one — I am a man of flesh, and a man of spirit; I am not just a single person. The problem with the vast majority of people in the Christian world, is that they are completely ignor-ant of this dichotomy in their lives; they somehow have been led to believe that they are a “single person” rather than a “dual person”… that they are not “two distinct persons.” Obviously, the foregoing is going to require that you spend significant time reflecting upon this reality, because it defines exactly who we are as believers — we are not just a single person with all kinds of stuff stacked inside of us… we possess both flesh and spirit — there is “the new us” and “the old us” — and both of them reside in us! With regard to my flesh, I despise it! The reality is, it is a very profound negative in my life — it is an ugly reality that is perverse, profane, and corrupt, and despises God! Incidentally, your flesh is no different than anyone else’s… it is absolute garbage. So, like you and every other believer, I have to live with a demonic force that loves Satan and hates God (i.e., doesn’t want to align itself with God) — remember, our flesh (i.e., our sin nature) is the product of Satan in and through the lives of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Though every believer hates his flesh with a passion and wishes it didn’t exist, it does! As such, believers have to live life constantly battling against the satanic force that is still at work in our world; however, to the praise of our God, there will come a day when the entire satanic world will be completely destroyed, and never again will we experience its horrific effect upon our lives — it’s hard to imagine such a glorious future, but that is an absolute reality that is going to occur. Like any other believer, I wish I didn’t have to con-tinue living with my fallen nature (i.e., my flesh, my old self), but that is God’s will for our lives on this planet — that is the war we are called to fight! Read the following passages (cf. Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:8-10; Rom 6:4-6; 12:2; 13:14; 2 Cor 5:10, 17; Heb 3:13; 12:1; Jam 1:21; 1 Pet 2:1-2). So as a believer there is an “old you” and a “new you” in your life, and as the apostle Paul stated, “Lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit… and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of he truth” (cf. Eph 4:22-24)… yet live with the understanding that the old self (i.e., your flesh) has a very strong presence in your life. And never forget that your old self hates God & refuses to submit to Him. Keep in mind, the real you is “the new you,” not the old you that is corrupt to the core. Said Paul, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things haves come” (2 Cor 5:17); by the way, those emboldened words are emphatic in Greek — thus as believers we are brand new creatures; we are no longer the people we were… though our flesh still dwells within us, we now have a new spirit in us that is vastly greater than our flesh. Now, because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (cf. Rom 8:9), it is only natural for us as believers to war against the flesh, and put to death the deeds of the flesh (cf. Rom 8:13); that is all the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 16:13; Phil 1:6; 2:13). Beloved, for most of my life as a believer, I only understood this dichotomy on a very remedial level; though I had questioned it numerous times (like most believers) it always seemed to be a perplexing reality to me. It wasn’t until I studied the writings of several Puritans that I began to see things as they really are… like every believer I really struggled with my flesh, but that was simply the evidence that my flesh still dwelled in me – Rom 7:18), and like many Old Testament prophets, I essentially asked God to either give me a mind to understand, and the ability to overcome it, or take my life (because I had no desire to live a life that was that perplexing). Because I did not fully understand the presence of my sinful nature (i.e., my flesh), it was very demoralizing to my faith; which is very common to most believers. Since this particular paragraph is an extremely poignant one for most believers, take the time to give very serious consideration to what has been stated. I also want to make it very clear that this reality isn’t simply a matter of my own personal opinion… not at all, it is precisely what Scripture teaches. What bothers me most about this subject, is the deceptive influence that Satan has had on the Christian world, and the fact that he has been able to keep so many believers ignorant with regard to numerous divine truths; and if there is anything a believer must desire to know, it is divine truth. Now regarding the issue we just covered in this para-graph, you must say the following to yourself over and over again as you walk through life; i.e., you must say it to yourself at least once every week of your life, because this is the premiere issue that Satan keeps using to destroy a believer’s faith. Here’s what you need to say to yourself: “There’s a part of me that loves God, that is holy and righteous, and is very God-centered in my life… yet there is a part of me that hates God, that is corrupt to the core, and is very self-centered in life.” As a believer you must be able to “differentiate” between these two realities, because they are a perfect description of who you are as a fallen creature who has placed his or her trust in Christ. If you need to read this paragraph every day for a month, by all means do so.
To continue defining this thing called “the Flesh,” perhaps most plainly it refers to that part of us that is alienated from God — it is the rebellious, unruly, and obstinate part of our inner-self that is operative all the time… it is that part of us that doesn’t want to be told what to do, and doesn’t want to have anything to do with God; so the flesh hates to be under authority, or yield to anything other than its own wishes and desires — remember, the flesh is that sinful fallen nature that we were born with, and is in direct conflict with the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:17). Charles Pope, who pastured a church in Washington D.C. and led Bible studies both in Congress and the White House, stated the following:
The flesh demands that everything be fully understandable and correlate with human thinking; thus it rejects any spiritual truths that do not coincide with its own limited view. Now if that indeed defined reality, faith would no longer be necessary, because when something is absolutely proven and plainly visible to the eyes, faith would no longer be required; remember, Paul said: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7), and “Faith is the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1).
The flesh is not willing to depend on anyone or anything outside of its own power or control; that’s why the Pharisees were a “self-righteous” people — they simply believed in a righteousness of their own that they themselves brought about with their own fleshly minds (cf. Phil 3:9).
The flesh hates being told what to do; thus the very existence of God’s Law arouses the negative passions of the flesh (cf. Rom 7:5).
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires (which ultimately results in death); but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (which results in life and peace – cf. Rom 8:5-6). The flesh is intent on loving this world and gratifying its own passions and desires (cf. Rom 12:2; Jam 4:4; 1 Jn 2:15-17; 5:19; Rev 12:9). One of the greatest Christian bishops in the ancient world around 400 AD was St. Augustine, who described the human person in the flesh as one who is “turned in upon himself;” whereas the Holy Spirit causes the believer to “look outward toward God.”
The flesh is intrinsically hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s Law (cf. Rom 8:7-8). The flesh is hostile to God because it is pridefully hostile to anyone who is deemed more important than himself; hence it despises authority or anyone who tries to tell him what to do.
The flesh demands freedom without limit; since the flesh doesn’t want to be told what to do, it demands the freedom to do whatever it wants. Essentially the flesh says — “I will do what I want to do and decide what is right and what is wrong.”
The flesh that is in us as believers is not only very demanding, it has declared war on our spirit and the Holy Spirit; as such, when we try to obey God the flesh will resist our efforts and try to sabotage the best aspirations of God and our spirit (cf. Gal 5:16-17). Remember, our flesh is the fuel within us that produces sin (cf. Gal 5:19-21).
Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives as believers to not only put the flesh to death, but bring alive our spirit by His power. And this He does by giving us the grace to understand its essence… to keep us mindful of the importance of repentance… and to get us to stop feeding the flesh and start feeding the spirit through prayer, the study of God’s Word, the teaching he receives at Church, the fellowship with other believers, and partaking in Holy Communion — and these things we must do the rest of our lives; it is not enough to simply do these things occasionally. Incidentally, the taking of communion is of critical importance for believers, not because it is a ritual we need to embrace (as some make it), but because we need to reflect upon the foundation of our faith over and over and over again in life — never is our faith so strong and wonderful that we no longer need to consider the importance of the death, burial and resurrec-tion of Christ, and its significance in our lives. Because we are fallen creature, we easily lose sight of reality. Time and again in the Old Testament God’s people are called to “remember the work God has done for them” — why’s that? because our flesh is always at work in us, moving us in a godless direction; i.e., a self-centered direction (cf. Ex 20:8; Deut 8:18; 24:9; 1 Chron 16:15; Ps 1:1-2; 63:6-8; 77:11-15; 143:5; Lk 22:17-19; 1 Cor 11:23-26). Remember, it is God who is graciously at work in us causing the flesh to die (i.e., not winning the battle) and causing the spirit to live a Christ honoring life; and this He does when His people cooperate with Him (cf. Phil 1:6; 2:12-13; 3:12-14; 4:9, 13, 19) — to not cooperate with God basically means one is deferring to his flesh; as such he will experience some very significant discipline in his life (cf. Heb 12:4-11). Again, since we were all born with a sin nature (cf. Rom 5:12), our natural predilection is to please ourselves any way we can. At salvation, the Holy Spirit moved into our repentant heart, thus making it possible for us to make choices that are of the Spirit, rather than the flesh (cf. Gal 5:16; Ezek 36:27; Rom 8:4; Col 3:5-8). As Paul said, “We are to consider ourselves crucified with Christ, and our old sin nature dead” (cf. Gal 2:20; Rom 6:2, 11)… yet the flesh does not die easily — a battle still rages within even the most dedicated follower of Christ… beloved, this is the “war” God has called all of us to fight. The apostle Paul wrote eloquently about this battle in Romans chapter seven — we are to wage war against the law of our minds that makes us a prisoner of the law of sin that dwells in us (Rom 7:21-23). Beloved, to somehow think that God never intended for His people to be troubled with their innate sinfulness is foolishness & completely unbiblical (such deductions are the product of human thought and the work of Satan in the Christian world) — remember, the reason why God created man in the first place was because of “the rebellion of Satan and the angelic world in eternity past” (i.e., “sin”); that rebellion caused one third of the entire angelic realm in heaven to turn against God and embrace demonic thought. The reality was, God then created a brand new world & made a brand new creature in His image called “man,” and He did so with the expressed purpose of “putting sin on trial;” that is precisely the reason why we exist, and why we are to align our thinking and our lives with divine truth. If this subject is foreign to you, take the time to study it; go on my website — www.thetransformedsoul.com — and read a study I did on it titled, “Sin and Man’s Eternal Purpose.” If you really don’t know why God created you in the first place, you will naturally misinterpret what it is God wants to do in and through your life. Incidentally, it was this study that opened my eyes to one of the most significant truths in the entire created realm; it completely revolutionized my thinking as one of God’s creatures — by the way, this is not a narrow-minded issue that only a few radicals support; it is the very foundation of man’s existence. Re-member, when God created man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, He also placed Satan in the Garden of Eden — that was not mere happenstance; God has a reason for doing everything He does; remember, God has planned the end from the beginning (cf. Is 46:9-10); as the New King James Version of the Bible says, “the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8). It is when we as believers understand why we exist, that we become enlightened as to its reason. Again, let me encourage you to read that particular study.
The 16th century Scottish clergyman John Knox, a leader of the Protestant Reformation who had a great zeal for God, and was considered to be the founder of the Presbyterian denomination in Scotland, had the integrity to acknowledge (as the apostle Paul did) how difficult the battle is between the flesh and the spirit. Conversely, Martin Luther said, “We must not understand ‘flesh’ as though it is only connected with unchastity, because the apostle Paul used it to describe the whole man, his body, and soul, and reason, and all of his faculties;” so Luther’s comments point out that “the flesh” equates to affections and desires that run contrary to God in every area of life. The reality is, the flesh is a diabolical inner force that was inherited from man’s fall, that expresses itself in general and specific rebellion against God and His righteousness; since the flesh is completely fallen, it can never be reformed or improved… the only hope to com-pletely escape the law of the flesh is to experience its total execution and its replacement with a glorified body in the heavenly realm (cf. Rom 8:17-18, 22-25, 28-30; 1 Cor 15:52-53; Phil 3:21; Col 1:27) — this is the incredible hope that awaits us as God’s children, “our glorification!” Obviously the deeds of the flesh are extremely evident in this world in which we live (Gal 5:19-21); consider a few sad facts taken from a recent survey on the effect of pornography in America. According to the study, every second in the U.S. $3,076 is being spent on pornography… 28,258 internet users are viewing pornography… 372 internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines… and every 39 minutes a new pornographic video is being created in the United States. The reality is, the porn industry roughly generates $13 billion annually here in the United States; that’s how poignant pornography is in our country. Regarding the various age groups: 79% of men aged 18 to 30 view pornography monthly… 67% of men age 31 to 49 view it monthly… and 49% of men age 50 to 68 view it monthly. Incidentally, according to ChurchMilitant.com, Christian men view porn almost as much as non-Christian men. Though men are more inclined to view pornography than women, a significant number of women do view it… their numbers appear to be about 40% of what men’s numbers are. Keep in mind 4.5 billion hours of porn were watched worldwide in 2015, with over 21 billion visits to certain websites. It should be noted, “every human being is a person of flesh,” thus every human being struggles greatly with his or her flesh; for a person to claim that he or she doesn’t have a problem with their flesh is absolute foolishness… to claim that you don’t have any problems with your flesh, would be akin to saying that “your flesh is not as evil or bad as other people’s flesh.” The reality is, “we are all fallen creatures, who needed the crucifixion of Christ to resolve our sinfulness;” and that won’t be fully completed until we enter into the eternal realm. That is why Jesus emphatically stated, “there is none good in this world, not one!” (cf. Lk 18:19; Rom 3:10-12). The reality is, “God shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all” (cf. Rom 11:32). As believers, we cannot change the divine discourse; what God’s Word says is “ABSOLUTELY TRUE!” As the prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (cf. Jer 17:9). Keep in mind, I expanded upon this particular subject because of its absolute dominance in our world.
Remember, it is only when we acknowledge the corruptness of our inner core (i.e., our flesh), and accept it for what it is, and war against it in the power of the Holy Spirit (i.e., by humbly submitting to Him with our heart), that we will experience God’s grace and peace in our lives (cf. Phil 4:6-7)… yet because of the profound nature of our flesh, we will not experience the fullness of God’s peace until we enter into God’s eternal presence. One thing is sure, our flesh will express itself over and over and over again in this life, and when it does God wants us to fight the good fight of faith that He has called us to fight. As you have probably surmised, where there is war there is no peace… yet after fighting the good fight of faith “it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (cf. Heb 12:11). Though most wars may only be a minute long, some may be ten minutes or an hour long… yet others may be far longer than that (though not often)… remember, Job was subjected to some extremely difficult things for a few years. The truth is, our flesh oftentimes is not easily overcome, not only because it has a very strong presence in our lives, but because we tend to strongly agree with it at times. Obviously, the more one capitu-lates and caves into some fleshly temptation, the more difficult it will be for him to overcome it, because his mind will contemplate the issue over & over again. Though overcoming some temp-tations can be very difficult, it is possible to do so when we align our thinking with God’s thinking and His Word; yet therein is the difficult issue for us as fallen creatures, because we are often occupied with fleshly thinking. Thus in the midst of the war we must humbly acknowledge the corruptness of our inner core, and humbly pour our heart out to God, and humbly meditate upon His Word (i.e., divine truth). Remember, without humility we will not experience God’s grace (cf. Jam 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5); and without God’s grace we will not overcome. Regarding the consequences of caving into the flesh, Scripture tells us not to love the world or the things in the world, or that which is of the flesh, because we will reap what we sow (cf. Gal 6:7-8; 1 Jn 2:15-17). Keep in mind, when we embrace fleshly desires, God doesn’t simply ignore that — to some degree He will cause us to reap what we sow; when and where and how, that’s up to God, but it’s not going to be a pain-free experience (cf. Heb 12:11); God’s goal is always to move us in a right direction. Remember, those who never repent of their sinful behavior (i.e., unbelievers), and simply live according to their flesh, will not only experience separation from God in this life, but in the life to come (cf. Rom 6:21; 8:13; Gal 6:7-8); that is simply what it means to be an unbeliever — they are of their father the devil (cf. Jn 8:42-45). Keep in mind, the unbelieving world is enslaved to fleshly desires — said Paul: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey? either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Rom 6:16). It should be noted, slavery to one’s flesh always leads to a destructive lifestyle & deteriorated living; as the prophet Hosea said, “Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind” (cf. Hos 8:7). Remember, as believers — Christ died for our sins; i.e., He paid the price for our sins, and in so doing He made us brand new creatures (2 Cor 5:17); yet contrary to what some people think, He did not remove our sinful flesh from us… instead He asks us to die to our sins; i.e., wage war against our sinful inner-core — that is God’s call upon our lives as His children. Sin was the problem in eternity past that ultimately brought about our creation… and warring against sin and Satan is what God has called us to do. So here we are, redeemed sinners being asked to do everything we can to destroy our sinful inner-core (our flesh), and fight against Satan and the world forces of darkness and wickedness (cf. Eph 6:10-12), in spite of the fact that we still possess a sinful nature! Is this a monumental task? Absolutely! Yet in spite of the fact that we won’t win every war, we will win a significant number of them! Let’s say we are subjected to 5,000 wars a year… though we may win 4,000 of them, we will probably lose1,000 of them (the truth is, I am probably being pretty generous with those numbers, because we each probably experience at least 20,000 temptations (wars) a year — keep in mind, that would be less than sixty a day (only three every waking hour; yet that actually seems pretty low)… well, whatever the number is, it is obviously pretty high. Remember, our fleshly self-centered thoughts often win the day in our lives; once you reflect upon the passages that are listed at the end of this paragraph, the foregoing should make more sense to you. The reality is, God died for all our sins — past, present and future — NEVER is He going to hold our sin against us, and NEVER will He deny or forsake us! To believe the contrary, essentially is to make your faith in Christ a “religion” where you earn God’s favor. God knows full well how weak we are and how difficult it is for us as fallen creatures to exercise our faith in certain situations — time and time again down through the ages God said to His people, “O you of little faith.” Why would He say that if it wasn’t true? Because we are fallen creatures who not only have “faith” but have “flesh” as well; were it not for our flesh, life would be a piece of cake, but since we are fallen sinful creatures (saved yes, but fallen none-theless), this thing called “faith” isn’t a little walk in the park; it’s a walk in very deep terrain. Following are some passages you may need to reflect upon (cf. Ecc 7:20; Prov 24:16; Ps 38:1-22; 73:26; Jer 17:9; Mt 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20; Mk 9:24; Jn 13:36-38; Rom 6:12; 7:14-25; 2 Cor 5:15; Eph 4:22-24; 1 Tim 6:6-12; Heb 4:15-16; 12:1-2; Jam 3:2; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18; 1 Jn 1:8, 10).
As I reflect upon this modern world in which we live, several things come to mind that seem to have been very destructive to the human family… though most of us have witnessed a lot of changes over the years, few people have reflected upon the damage that those changes have caused. Think with me for a moment… since Radios, Televisions, Computers and I-Phones have entered in to our world, the human family has become exceedingly self-centered & godless; as such, postmodernism now rules in the western world. Remember, Hollywood, the Media, and the Political World pretty much rule in all four of these electronic devices. Though there seems to be an upside to some of these apparatuses, ultimately they seem to be destroying the human family — think of the time people spend listening to the radio, watching television, going online with their computer, and spending time on their I-phones — according to several sources, apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger have become almost synonymous with the term “social media” — nearly 3.2 billion people in our world actively use these networks; what’s more, the internet user spends an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes every day socializing online. According to numerous sources, adults here in America spend upwards of 11 hours every day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media (according to a new study by market-research group Nielsen); that’s up from 9 hours and 32 minutes just four years ago. Regarding phone usage, the average person spends approximately 90 minutes a day using their phone… more recent research found that the average American adult spends nearly 3 hours a day on a mobile device. In 2011 the average American adult spent 46 minutes on a phone each day; six years later, that number was replaced with 3 hours and 8 minutes. While this may seem somewhat problematic, it should be remembered that smartphones now serve multiple purposes, offering an easy opportunity not only to communicate, but to conduct research, read books, and much more. Regarding television, in America there are essentially 120 million TV households — in 2017, the average consumer spent just under 4 hours a day watching TV; according a Nielsen report U.S. adults are now watching just over 5 hours of television per day — older people watch TV a little less than 50 hours a week, whereas teenagers watch it a little less than half of what older people do. Regarding the Christian world and the reading of Scripture — 13% read it daily; 22% read it weekly; 7% read it monthly; 30% read it yearly; and 28% never read it. So less than 20% of Churchgoers read the Bible daily; it is also interesting to note that basically 20% of Church-goers in churches with 500 or more congregants are actively involved in serving in some capacity, and account for about 90% of the financial giving in a church — that means only about one-fifth of Church-goers in larger churches seem to exhibit a fairly mature faith. Now, regarding the following two statements: “I desire to please and honor Jesus in all I do” and “Throughout the day I find myself thinking about biblical truths” — 64% of Church-goers strongly agree with the first statement… but only 20% of Churchgoers strongly agree with the second statement. Again, only 20% of Church-goers tend to exhibit a fairly significant degree of faith in the Christian community. Though non-givers and non-participants in ministry may truly be believers (many older people suffer from numerous physical problems and have very little income), still a significant number of Church-goers are not nearly as committed to their church as they should be. Now, though all of the fore-going statistics may not be exactly accurate (there are an endless number of studies that have been done on these subjects), collectively, they do provide us with information that is helpful to us as Christians. Regarding the fact that most believers are not highly com-mitted to studying Scripture, Ed Stetzer in an article he wrote for “Christianity Today,” said: “You simply won’t grow [in your faith] if you don’t know God and spend time in God’s Word… engaging the Word deeply matters.”
Now, with all of this statistical information in mind, can you imagine what life would be like if all of the little electronic devices listed above didn’t exist? Well, in all likelihood, the vast majority of people would be far more relationally-oriented, because they would be spending far more time relating to them rather than spending so much time focusing on that which is impersonal; thus they would live far wiser lives. I also find it interesting, since the invention of the automobile, the vast majority of people now live in the city, and don’t even know who their neighbors are (and really don’t even care who their neighbors are); so impersonal self-centeredness now seems to rule in the western world. It’s also important to note, since the vast majority of Christians spend very little time studying God’s Word; instead they spend a significant amount of time being entertained by man’s word, which just shows us how strong an influence one’s culture can have on its people. By the way, how much time do you think the average Christian spends reflecting upon divine truth & God’s Word each day? Well, obviously it’s not much; according to most studies, it is less than thirty minutes a day; yet they will spend numerous hours listening to the radio, watching television, going online, and being entertained with their I-Phone. Why is that? Because their flesh essentially dominates much of their lives. That’s why our world today is consumed with postmodern thinking; which means that God is no longer a dominant force in our culture — many don’t even know who this person called “God” is. Remember, “the fool lives as if there is no God.” As such, “all people seem to care about today is the postmodern political world;” after all, they are constantly being “fed” a very bogus self-centered understanding of reality through all of the gadgets that dominate their lives.
Now, since the foregoing is essentially “how man’s flesh functions,” people will often align their thinking with worldly thinking; therefore it’s important for believers to understand that “they are fallen creatures” (saved creatures yes, but fallen creatures none-the-less), and must take steps to fight against their fallenness… if they don’t, they will suc-cumb to fallen worldly thinking, and minimize the importance of divine thinking. Keep in mind, it was God’s will that all people ultimately be fallen creatures — regardless of whether one is a Jew or a Greek, “God shut up all in disobedience, that He might show mercy to all” (cf. Rom 11:32; also cf. Rom 3:9-30). Remember, God planned the end from the beginning (cf. Is 46:10-11); our fallenness was not mere happenstance that surprised God. As mentioned earlier, God’s reason for our existence was to “put sin on trial” (i.e., put that which is antithetical to divine truth on trial). So either we “fight the fight” that God has called us to fight (i.e., fight against evil), or we will fight to have our own wants met and succumb to the work of Satan in this dark world. The reality is, human thinking is a by-product of fleshly thinking that is grounded in our fallen sinful nature; because of its extremely strong presence in our lives we often capitulate and cave into it — remember, the temptation to do evil is rooted in our fleshly nature (cf. Jam 1:14; Rom 7:18; 8:3; Eph 4:22; Col 3:9). Regarding the battle God calls us to fight, James says: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial” (cf. Jam 1:12). Though temptation itself is not sin, it is a strong fleshly desire to sin that we must fight against; now should we yield to temptation, that is sin, and sin has consequences: it brings forth the residual effects of sin; i.e., it brings suffering into our lives, as well as the pain of guilt and evil, and ruins our fellowship with God. As Scripture emphatically states, “we reap what we sow in life” (Gal 6:7). Paul also confirms the fact that “no temptation overtakes us but such as is common to man” (1 Cor 10:13). So we’re not alone in this matter of temptation; as such, we all must learn to deal with it, knowing that our flesh will frequently win the battle in our lives (cf. Jam 3:2; Prov 24:16; Ecc 7:20); that’s how incredibly strong its presence is in our lives. Naturally, we would all like to have a pleasant wonderful little life, wherein sin and its consequences don’t exist, but that is something we will not experience until we enter into the eternal state; it is not something that any human being will experience in this life.
The reality is, each of us will experience “varying degrees of trials in this life;” though some will be subjected to greater trials than others, all of us will be subjected to them. Incidentally, the trials we are subjected to are not necessarily placed in our lives because we are more corrupt and sinful than others, thus more deserving of them… both the Old and New Testaments clearly reject that kind of thinking; nearly every great saint in the Bible suffered significantly in his life. Remember, we are called to fight a war against sin, and a part of that war involves trials, affliction and temptation. Always keep in mind, God has a purpose for everything He subjects us to, and much to our chagrin, seldom is that purpose ever communicated to us — such was the case with “Job,” one of the most blameless and upright persons in history (Job 1:1-3). God never revealed to him why He subjected him to all that He did. Though our flesh may argue with God (which is simply what flesh does), in almost every case God simply insists that we accept the difficulty we are experiencing, without fully under-standing its reason. Remember how the apostle Peter responded after Jesus’ resurrection — Jesus told him what his responsibility was to be — “You are to feed My sheep” (cf. Jn 21:15-17)… and then Jesus went on to tell Peter the kind of death he was going to experience (Jn 21:18-19)… to which Peter responded, “What about John?” (Jn 21:21). Said Jesus: “If I want John to remain until I come, what is that to you?” (Jn 21:23). The issue is always this for each of us as believers — Can we trust God and His will for our lives whatever it may be? (Beloved, give very serious consideration to what that statement says). Beloved, we don’t live in a pleasant wonderful world… as the apostle Paul said to the Romans: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed” (Rom 8:18). “Since creation has been subjected to futility, the entire created order groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now… that we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? So with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (cf. Rom 8:20-25; 2 Cor 5:7). Incidentally, all of the emboldened words in those verses are emphatic in Greek. Beloved, it is your theology that is the problem (if indeed you have a problem) — divine truth is not simply a man’s perception of reality; it is the sum total of what Scripture teaches.
Beloved, keep in mind that “God also understands our angst” — He is far more knowledgeable of our fallenness than we are; though we experience it, we don’t fully understand it, but God does… and “He actually sympathizes with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:15). Remember, “our High Priest suffered greatly and was tempted in every way such as we are” (cf. Heb 2:17-18; 4:15); i.e., because He suffered and was tempted in all ways such as we, He can sympathetically understand what we are going through and appreciate our weaknesses (which are extreme), yet He knows how important it is for us to experience it as we traverse the path of life. Because that is the case, “Let us continually approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, knowing that we might receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (cf. Heb 4:16). By the way, God even knows how we are going to respond to the negatives that He subjects us to, and why we respond the way we do. God doesn’t get ticked-off at us like fallen men do, so it’s important that we not see Him as being a creature like us, who thinks like us and responds like us… though we were created in God’s image, we no longer possess His absolute holiness… instead, we are now fallen sinful creatures; again, though we are saved creatures, nevertheless we are still fallen creatures — in this present life, we are not close to what we are ultimately going to be in the life to come (that’s not God’s purpose for us here in the now). As King David said, “God knows our frame and is mindful that we are but dust” (cf. Ps 103:14); likewise Jesus and Paul said, “In us dwells absolutely nothing good” (cf. Lk 18:19; Rom 7:18). Also keep in mind, nothing happens to us in this life that has not been approved by God or caused by God — NOTHING! And everything that He subjects us to “happens for our highest good;” remember the words of Paul, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Beloved, if the God you claim to worship is not the expressed God of heaven and all creation, you are not worshipping the God of the Bible. Don’t change the discourse.
Now, if God had an animus toward us, that would be one thing, but God is not a human being whose ways are like ours (cf. Is 55:8-9); His ways are vastly different from those of fallen man. As the Lord said to Isaiah (the prince of prophets): “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are My ways and My thoughts higher than yours” (Is 55:9); the reality is, there is no comparison between how we think, and how God thinks — we have vastly different minds; though some day in the distant future we will have the mind of God, that day has not yet come (cf. Rom 8:19-23; 1 Jn 3:2-3; 1 Cor 15:51-58; 2 Cor 3:18; Rev 7:13-17; 21:3-5). Now, because human beings often have an animus toward other people, they respond to them with negatives, but that does not define God and how He responds (not at all). God doesn’t subject His people to negatives because He has an animus against them… He subjects His people to negatives to grow their faith (which is far more shallow than people think). Fallen man is not at all like God. Since that is a very difficult construct for fallen man to understand or accept, he will often struggle greatly when he experiences negatives in life — in many cases, he will become upset and frustrated, and even angry. Remember, the goal of life for fallen man is to have a very pleasant life; i.e., make life work the way he wants it to work… that’s why he works so hard… yet when life doesn’t work the way he wants it to work, he gets upset and frustrated (that’s not a rarity among Christians; that is actually very common). Though some of the negatives we experience in life don’t bother us significantly, some negatives do; when we get one negative after another, and one problem after another, they often bother us and actually make us angry (that is simply the way our fallen flesh responds). It was precisely for this reason that many of God’s greatest servants in the ancient world “wished they had never been born” (cf. Job 3:1-26; Jer 20:14-18); negatives can be very hard to accept when they effect us emotionally and are not fully understood… and since we believe that God is on the throne and has so willed all of the negatives we are experiencing, that can also cause us to question His love, and wonder why He keeps hurting us; incidentally, the negatives we experience in life have a far higher purpose than either of those two constructs. The truth is, unless we ultimately understand what God is doing in our life, fleshly thinking will often rule in our hearts, and that can be extremely exasperating, because our flesh insists on feeling good and getting what it wants in life… and when it doesn’t it then gets angry. I find it interesting that “all believers pray for positives in their life,” in spite of the fact that they aren’t the healthiest thing for our faith; all they do is make us feel good. It’s easy to be happy when everything goes the way we want it to go, but that isn’t going to make us men & women of great faith — remember, the English word “happy” is a deri-vative of the old Norse word “happ,” from which we get our English words “happy” and “happen” — when the circum-stances we go through in life are pleasant, they make us happy; when they are not pleasant they make us unhappy. So happiness depends upon pleasant circumstances; it doesn’t exist in situations where the circumstances are unpleasant. So happiness is fully dependent upon pleasant circumstances. The question is, can we as believers be “happy” when we are being subjected to trials and tribulation? The answer is “no,” not if one is accurately defining the word “happy.” Jesus was “not happy” the night before He went to the cross, or the day He went to the cross; He was extremely troubled in His soul (cf. Mt 26:36-39; 27:45-46). How could He not be? With that in mind, let’s look at this thing called “joy” —
The word “joy” is radically different from the word “happy,” because joy can be experienced even when a person is not happy (i.e., when circumstances are difficult). Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Heb 12:2); it was the joy of our salvation that produced great joy in His life — He persevered through the cross because of the joy of our salvation that He was securing for us. The essence of “joy” for man is this in Scripture — “joy is the fruit of a right relationship with God;” joy is not something that people can create by their own efforts… it is a relationship with God that He has created through His Son… so joy is a state of delight and well being that results from knowing and serving God. Incidentally, there are several terms used in both Hebrew and Greek to convey the idea of Joy and Rejoicing; this it does nearly 500 times in Scripture. The Bible distinguishes joy from pleasure — Paul referred to false teachers as “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim 3:4). Many people think that God is a killjoy; yet nothing could be further from the truth — God Himself knows joy, and He wants His people to know joy. God rejoices over His redeemed people, because they are a joy to Him (Is 65:18). The joy of God came into focus in human history when Jesus Christ came into the world (cf. Lk 1:14, 44; Mt 2:10). The most familiar passage in Scripture was the angel’s announcement of “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (cf. Lk 2:10; Jn 15:11; 17:13). Jesus told His disciples just prior to His crucifixion that soon their sorrow would be turned into joy (cf. Jn 16:20-22; Lk 24:41, 52); shortly after the death of Christ on the cross, the disciples came to see that His death was necessary for them to experience true unequivocal joy (cf. Heb 12:2). Because of Jesus’ victory and the promise of His abiding presence, the disciples could rejoice even after the Lord’s ascension (Lk 24:52). The reality is, joy in the Christian life is in direct proportion to the believer’s walk with the Lord (cf. Phil 4:4); so joy is a fruit of a Spirit-led life (or a life of faith – cf. Gal 5:22). It is the sinful self-life (i.e., the flesh life) in a believer’s life that robs him of joy (cf. Ps 51:7, 8, 12). The reality is, when a person walks with the Lord, he can continue to rejoice even when trials and troubles come, because he understands why he is experiencing them (cf. Mt 5:12; Rom 5:3-5; Jam 1:2; 1 Pet 1:6-8). So joy in the Lord enables people to enjoy all that God places in their lives. As mentioned in a number of other studies, “we become strong physically when we exercise with heavy weights; conversely, we become strong spiritually when we experience heavy trials” — without our being subjected to heavy things in life, we will not grow physically or spiritually; incidentally, growing spiritually will ultimately cause us to rejoice in God’s work in our lives. Since trials are contrary to our flesh, they are often rejected, because the goal of the flesh is happiness, not spiritual growth.
Keep in mind, joy in the Christian life is in direct proportion to the believer’s walk with the Lord (cf. Gal 5:22; Phil 4:4); sin robs one of joy (cf. Ps 51:7, 8, 12). Now, if we are committed to “growing our faith” & “growing in Christ,” we will embrace the trials and the life that God subjects us to — that doesn’t mean our trials will make us happy, but that we will be able to accept them and handle them as God so wills. Though it may take awhile to handle things properly, the believer’s response ultimately will be as follows — “Thank you God for knowing me and understanding me and accepting me and seeking my highest good, and never turning your back on me or forsaking me… thank you for making me Your child, and being the God who You are and the God of my life.” Now if that is not your response, you will simply focus on your own fleshly understanding and desires — whereas the foregoing is a reflection of God’s will for your life, it is the essence of true abiding faith, and it is only genuine faith that results in joy and peace (cf. Prov 3:5; Jn 8:12, 31-32; 15:7, 11; Rom 14:17; 15:13; Eph 4:15; Jam 1:2; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). Keep in mind, you must initiate faith when you are troubled… God has given you the grace to do so, but you must give application to it; i.e., you must contemplate divine truth and affirm the reality of it; in so doing you will approach God with a humble heart and a sincere desire to walk in the light, and glory in God’s goodness. Perhaps it would be good to compare the unpleasant negatives we ex-perience that grow our faith as believers, with some painful surgery we go through to be delivered from some physical problem — knowing one is going to be delivered from some problem because of the surgery will cause him to rejoice in his inner-being (not groan); in spite of the fact that it may be somewhat painful. The problem most believers have is that they do not take the time to humbly and prayerfully meditate upon divine truth. Thus, when their flesh starts controlling the discourse, trials and tribulations are simply deemed unacceptable (some believers actually maintain that they are the work of Satan, and that God has absolutely nothing to do with their experiencing them; how’s that? they simply don’t believe in a sovereign God — thus they viciously reject such things — if that’s a pro-blem to you, prayerfully contemplate the following passages (cf. Job 1:1-22, Jam 1:1-18, Is 40:13-26; 43:10-13; 45:5-10; 46:8-11; Rom 5:1-4; Jam 1:2-3; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 5:10). As is stated over and over again, the greatest truth every believer must continually affirm in his life, is the truth that God loves them with an everlasting love; never does He go bonkers and throw them in the mud! You may need to read this particular paragraph several times to see the correla-tion of the various issues involved.
One of the problems with being a “fleshly creature,” is that difficulties and trials can be very disturbing emotionally in the soul; since they are not a joy-ride, they often cause us to moan and groan and get angry. Obviously, “perfection” is not a possibility for fallen man; though we may be men and women of great faith, we are still men and women with a sinful inner-core (i.e., people with a fleshly nature). So perfection is not at all possible for us as fallen creatures; such is completely out of the question. So we must learn to live with the understanding that our innate sinfulness still abides in us, and constantly seeks to satisfy itself. The reality is, our flesh constantly expresses itself in our lives — just because we are believers doesn’t mean the mouth of our flesh has been quelled; not at all, it still gives its opinion on everything we go through in life. It tells us what it wants… what it desires… how it feels… what is important… what is frustrating… what is satisfying… and what it insists upon; etc., etc. Because our flesh is closely aligned with our feelings, our feelings are often very negative in life; thus our feelings often frustrate us, and hurt us, and even dominate in the moment. As Christians, we often go to God at this point, and ask Him to quell our feelings, and give us the grace to overcome them… but frequently that does not happen. When God doesn’t respond positively to our prayers, that can be a little disturbing as well; it can bother us and eventually even make us angry. So here we are being asked to live with some frustrating emotional negatives, which is not a pleasant little walk-in-the-park. Faith seems to be relatively easy when things are going well, but when things are contrary, faith is not easy — again, when things are not going well, our flesh becomes a very loud voice in our lives, and often grabs hold of the wheel in the moment. It should be obvious, as human beings “we all want life to work;” we all want it to be pleasant and pain-free… we all want to “feel good” in life. Those are absolute musts for all of us; none of us like “feeling bad.” The reality is, there is no such thing as a little “feel good button” that we can push at any moment to resolve the problems we are going through. Thus, to the chagrin of all of us, there will never come a day in this life when life is problem free, or when our flesh no longer overwhelms us… the truth is, our flesh will always win a number of battles in our lives (that just goes with the territory). The question is, can you accept that? In other words, can you accept who you really are — a fallen sinful creature for whom Christ died (not a glorious creature)? I am reminded of the words of the eighteenth century British hymnwriter and professor at Cambridge University, Robert Robison — back in 1757 he penned the words to the popular hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” — some of it is worded this way: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.” The reality is, our flesh has a very pro-found presence in our lives, and sometimes even leads us astray… though none of us completely abandon our faith, there are times that it almost appears that that is what has occurred, because darkness seems to fill our soul at times and cause us to just walk away and look for something pleasant that is more encouraging to our inner core… in other words, sometimes life becomes so difficult and frustrating that it tends to leave us in the dark, and try though as we may to overcome it, it seems to simply overwhelm our soul. One could almost compare our flesh with the entire created order that has been cursed by God (because of the sins of Adam and Eve – cf. Gen 3:17; Rom 8:20-22) — the resultant affect of the curse is that everything is in a state of deterioration… everything is on a downward plight… everything is declining and falling apart; though it appears to happen more rapidly to some things than other things, everything that exists in the created order is under the curse — be it our houses, our furnishings, our yards, our automobiles, our bodies… nothing in existence escapes it. Though in the moment these things may appear to be okay, yet within a fairly short period of time it becomes very obvious they are not — ultimately, they are completely destroyed. I find it interesting that everything that we attend to in life (be it our bodies, houses, yards, cars, etc), only lasts for a very short period of time, and then they need to be attended to again. Well, our flesh is no different, it is corrupt to the core and under the curse, and try though as we may to quell its ugliness, we are not able to do so. As fallen creatures we must turn away from our flesh and embrace Christ and divine truth. As the apostle Paul said: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind… do not think more highly of yourself than you ought… do not be haughty in mind” (Rom 12:2, 3, 16). Remember, God is one day going to “transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (Phil 3:21); in so doing, He is going to completely remove our sinful flesh from us. It is the humble who experience God’s grace in this life (Jam 4:6); therefore in humility receive the word implanted (Jam 1:21).
Though “perfection” does not define fallen man, it does define God. Throughout Scripture, God is referred to as “being perfect” in everything He does and lacking in nothing (cf. 2 Sam 22:31; Ps 18:32; 19:7; Jam 1:17). It would be wonderful if that kind of quality charac-terized our lives, but it doesn’t. However, God does desire for us to “be perfect” (cf. Mt 5:48)… but the perfection He asks of Christians is not absolute perfection, but a state of spiritual maturity — and that is what Christians are to strive for (that is, a state of moral Christ-likeness). Due to the fact that our English word “perfect” often implies absolute perfection, many believers often struggle with the biblical concept of perfection, but that does not coincide with what Scripture teaches (cf. Lev 22:21; 1 Chron 12:38; 29:19; SS 5:2; Acts 23:1; Rom 12:2; Col 4:12; Jam 1:4; 1 Jn 2:5; 4:12)… incidentally, our English language also uses it to describe something that is reasonably perfect (not absolutely perfect). Because of sin’s presence in our world, and in our inner-core, as Christians we will not come close to reaching absolute perfection until we enter into the eternal state (heaven); but we will demonstrate a level of affection and love that vastly exceeds that of the unbelieving world. So we are to “strive for an acceptable degree of perfection in this life” — that was Paul’s exhortation for every believer, that we would “strive with God and be mature;” i.e., be what God has so designed us to be (cf. Phil 1:27; Col 1:18-19; 1 Tim 4:7-11; Heb 12:4-13). With the foregoing in mind, reflect upon the passages just listed. Said Paul: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24); i.e., when we became believers in Christ, there was a sense in which we nailed our old evil corrupt nature to the cross, and determined to no longer live by the flesh… thus we continue to strive with God and reject our flesh. Said Paul, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh” (Rom 13:14); i.e., adopt Christ’s lifestyle and strive to live as He lived, and accept Him as your guide and example. Paul also reminds us: “Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, and those who are according to the Spirit, set their minds on tthe things of the Spirit” (cf. Rom 8:5); i.e., as believers we must be occupied with the Word of God, prayer, worship, and Christian service. It should be clear, as believers we must strive daily to walk in the light to the praise of God’s glory — the Christian life is a constant fight and a constant work… it’s a life we never quit or give up on. Though as Christians we all stumble and fall over and over again in life (cf. Jam 3:2), we all get up and confess over and over again in life — those two constructs are critical for believers to understand.
WINNING THE WAR AGAINST OUR FLESH
Obviously, the flesh (i.e., our sin nature) has a very strong presence in our lives; it is not just a little negative that we tolerate, but a powerful presence that frequently overwhelms us. Because we all possess a “corrupt sin nature,” we must all learn to deal with it, and that includes “accepting it” for what it is. Let me give application to that — not long ago I drove down to my medical office in Tempe (about 13 miles from my house) to have “some lab work” done; I now do that two three times every year. When I got there I had to wait about 15-20 minutes for my name to be called… when it was called I went with the nurse into the room where they do the lab work. At that point she asked me if I had “eaten anything other than water that morning?” To which I said “Yes, I had a little breakfast cereal that morning.” She then said, “Your lab work today requires that you have nothing to eat for at least eight hours, so we won’t be able to do your lab work to-day.” Here’s how things generally work: any time fasting is necessary, they always let me know that, but this time they did not. So I had to go back home and “fast that night” and then return the next morning and have my lab work done. Now, if they had told me that when I had scheduled my lab work appointment, that would have been one thing, but since they never told me that… that’s where the rub came in. So what’s the point? Well, there are times when things like this don’t bother me (this particular time it wasn’t that big a problem, even though it was somewhat inconvenient for me because it had affected other things I had on my schedule the next day)… yet there are times when such things do bother me (just like they do most of you). Sometimes a car pulls in front of me and keeps me from making a green light… sometimes I get in the wrong line at the market or the bank, and have to wait and wait and wait to be served… a few weeks ago one of the tires on my car went flat when my wife and I were running some errands and having dinner at McDonald’s — my wife and I had to find a way to get home because we couldn’t drive the car. Sometimes various circumstances agitate me, sometimes they don’t (again, just like you). Do I like experiencing physical pain and difficult circumstances? Obviously, it all depends on the extent of them, sometimes they agitate me and sometimes they don’t. Being somewhat of a perfectionist and a fairly disciplined person (by the way, that’s the way God wired me), I naturally try to cover all my bases so that I don’t experience too many negatives in my life; but as fate has it, no matter how hard I try to keep everything positive, negatives still have a way of being an integral part of my life. Keep in mind, it’s “the flesh” that causes us to sometimes get angry when things don’t go the way we want them to go in life; though none of us “have an affection for negatives,” some negatives are easier to accept than others — think about it, there are physical ailments, different kinds of pain and suffering, the death of a loved one, relational problems, discouraging moments, trials and affliction, financial problems, sleeping problems, emotional issues, and difficult circumstances; the list goes on and on and on… and just when we think all is finally well, here comes another boat full of new negatives. Now as believers, you’ll notice most of us pray about the negatives we are experiencing in life, in hope that God will help us deal with them or remove them from our lives. Does He? Well, there are times when He does and times when He doesn’t. When He does remove them, those are very encouraging moments for us… yet when He doesn’t remove them, we tend to get frustrated and wonder why He won’t remove them. The important thing for the believer to understand is this — God doesn’t subject us to things for no reason; every negative He subjects us to has a purpose, and the purpose, ultimately, is to grow our faith. The reality is, we are not men and women of great faith; we all have significant short-comings; none of us walk on water. So over the years God puts multiple negatives on our plate to build our faith… He doesn’t simply put them there to get even with us because of some wrong we have done; He puts them there to make us more like Christ.
The apostle Paul said, “If you walk by the Spirit you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; they are in opposition to each other, so that you may not do the things you please” (cf. Gal 5:16-17). Obviously, the secret to living right in life is “learning to walk by the Spirit.” As John Piper, the chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, and the author of over 50 books says: “If the Christian life looks hard, we must remember that we are not called to live it by ourselves — we must live it by the Spirit of God.” The good news is, overcoming the flesh is not simply our work, it is also God’s work; therefore we must learn to walk by the Spirit. The apostle Paul probably got the foregoing construct from what Jesus said to His disciples the night before He went to the cross: “Abide in me, as a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. Remember, I am the vine and you are the branches; He who abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (Jn 15:4-5). The Greek word “abide” means to “remain;” just as Christ remains in us as His children, so we must remain in Him if our lives are to bear fruit — life in Christ means we must be in union with Him or we will not bear fruit; for believers to not be in union with Christ means they are living according to their own wants and the dictates of their flesh. Stated Paul, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law” (Rom 8:7); therefore it will not bear fruit. The basic characteristic of the flesh is that it is “unsubmissive to God,” because it will not submit to His authority (the flesh demands absolute autonomy in life). So it should not be surprising that there is a “war” between our flesh and our own spirit and God’s Spirit (Gal 5:17)… Believers experience a struggle in their inner core, because the guerrillas of the flesh will not lay down their weapons; thus we as believers must fight against the flesh every day. Now since Scripture says that when we walk by the Spirit we will not carry out the desires of the flesh, it is essentially saying that God-centered desires will crowd out man-centered desires. So it should be obvious to every believer, “the only way to be victorious over our flesh is to walk by the Spirit.” The question is, How does one do that? How does one simply let the Spirit control him? States John Piper, “You allow the Spirit to control you by keeping your heart happy in God;” i.e., you walk by the Spirit when your heart is resting in the promises of God. So when we live our lives with “God-consciousness,” we are ever aware of God’s presence in our lives. The reality is this: the Spirit reigns over our flesh when we live by faith in the Son of God. When we truly believe God and what He has to say about the trials we go through, the Holy Spirit will reign over the flesh… now, without believing what God has to say, our flesh will reign in our lives. As John said, “This is the victory that over-comes the world, our faith” (cf. 1 Jn 5:4; and Gal 5:5-6). According to Paul, “The Spirit does His mighty work in us and through us only by the hearing of faith” (Gal 3:5); remember, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (cf. Heb 11:6) — we cannot walk in the Spirit without faith. Said Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20). So it is only when we stop trying to fill the emptiness of our lives with a hundred pieces of the world, that we will put our souls at rest in God — and this we do when we meditate on God’s unspeakable promises day and night and rest in them (cf. Rom 15:13 & 2 Pet 1:3-4). So the fight of faith is fought with the promises of God. Obviously, I have quoted a number of very significant passages in this paragraph, so let me encourage you to carefully contemplate exactly what they say; remember, these aren’t my words, they are God’s Words!
Said George Muller, the renowned British pastor, philanthropist, and leader of the Christian Brethren movement, in his “Autobiography” (pp. 152-154): “I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord… and have my inner man nourished by the Word of God.” Muller learned the secret of walking by the Spirit by meditating on the precious truths of the Word of God until his heart was happy in God — again, that’s a very critical statement to grasp. Beloved, if you have never meditated on God’s Word, you need to take the time every day to do so in some private little area (remember, I didn’t say “read,” I said “meditate” — humbly contemplating divine truth is critical for a believer, because it becomes a significant reality in one’s heart. To not meditate on God’s Word is to cave into the flesh and let it run the show in your life — if there is one thing Satan tries to do, it is keep you out of the Word! So begin the daily meditation process by taking some printed passages from the book of Psalms, and then go into a quiet little area where you can give serious contemplation to God’s Word & align your thinking with His thinking. The mother of the two great British preachers and hymn writers John & Charles Wesley was Susanna Wesley who was actually the mother of fifteen children, and the wife of the renowned English composer Samuel Wesley. She described sin and the flesh this way: “Whatever it is that weakens your reasoning, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes away your relish for spiritual things, that is what sin and the flesh does.” Again, in order to overcome these things, one must prayerfully meditate upon God’s Word and contemplate divine truth. To somehow minimize God’s Word is to simply let your flesh govern your life. By the way, the main reason one doesn’t contemplate God’s Word, is because his flesh wants absolutely nothing to do with it. The issue is this: either you are going to defer to your flesh, or you are going to strive to walk in the light. It is as simple as that. Beloved, force yourself to take “thirty minutes” every day to walk off into some quiet little area to meditate upon divine truth, because nothing else will change your life (there is no shortcut; not even prayer). By the way, meditation is something that must strongly characterize your life; if it doesn’t, your flesh will be the premiere ruler in your soul… though highly overt evils may not define your life, self-centeredness will. Now should you decide to try this thing called “meditation,” let me encourage you to “do so for thirty days” — because that is generally how long it takes to establish a new habitual lifestyle; people don’t change their lifestyles instantly, that’s why doctors and psychologist insist that their clients do things for thirty days… whether it’s exercising, riding your bike 20 minutes a day, going to bed earlier, getting up earlier, not watching TV, or studying God’s Word… therein is the “habit-changer!”
Now, regarding this matter of overcoming the flesh… think about it: if you are being tempted, and you contemplate the temptation, you will cave into it to some degree; you cannot dwell on some temptation your flesh desires, and not cave into it… your flesh is not a weak little lollypop in your life, it is a powerful reality that often dominates in the moment. When you dwell on temptation, to some degree you will capitulate and end up gratifying what your flesh desires. Remember the words of James, “Each one is tempted when he is carried away & enticed by his own lust (desires), and when lust is conceived, it gives birth to sin” (Jam 1:14-15); so sin is not merely a spontaneous act, but the result of a process in the believers mind that brings forth deadly-results (not spiritual death – cf. Jam 1:15). James concludes this statement with these words: “Do not be deceived!” (Jam 1:16). Remember, it’s the thoughts of man that perverts people — said God to Isaiah the prophet, “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts” (cf. Is 65:2; Mt 15:18-20). As King Solomon said, “As a man thinks, so is he” (cf. Prov 23:7). Said Paul, “Let your mind dwell on these things — that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, and things of excellence” (cf. Phil 4:8). The reality is, when we dwell on fleshly thoughts, sin will rule in our hearts, and that won’t be pleasing to God (cf. Heb 11:6). So refusing to entertain fleshly thoughts (i.e., the temptations of the flesh) is a must. Is that easy? No, because your flesh insists on it, and your flesh is a part of who you are (you are not only a spiritual person, but a fleshly person; i.e., there’s the old self in you, as well as the new self – cf. Eph 4:22-24). Now regarding the old self (i.e., your flesh), it is in a constant state of being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit (cf. Eph 4:22) — the present tense verb lets us know that our flesh is constantly getting worse & worse, not better & better. Think about it, your flesh today is significantly worse than it was when you were a child… the truth is, your flesh is “getting worse” the older you get, so your flesh is in a constant state of decline. Probably the most distressing problem believers have in their lives is this — the older they get the more pronounced their flesh seems to be in their lives; though their flesh was always present in their lives, they actually thought the more they grew in their faith the less pronounced their flesh would be in their lives… but that does not define reality or what Scripture teaches; thus their ignorance on the subject may have caused them to become discouraged in their faith; the truth is, they simply weren’t told how their flesh functions and operates, or how significant a reality it is in their lives. In the early years of my ministry I was unaware of the fact that my flesh was getting increasingly worse — I thought as a believer I was not only becoming a better person, but that the presence of indwelling sin (i.e., my flesh) was actually on a downward plight… however, the older I got the more I struggled with my flesh, and the more pronounced and distressing it became to me; thus at times causing great disconcertion in my soul — the reality was, I did not fully realize my reason for existence, and the fact that I was not only to constantly war against evil, but to war against my flesh as well… but the older I got and the more I grew in my faith, the more I became aware of the diabolical nature of my inner-core, and its increasing presence in my life. It was sin in the life of a believer that caused me to study this subject in full, and in so doing I ultimately wrote a study on it called, “Sin and Man’s Eternal Purpose” — and it was that study that radically changed my life. The study is only 25-30 pages long, and you can access it on the “Additional Studies Link” of my website — www.thetransformedsoul.com — incidentally you can print a pdf copy of it by clicking on the “icon” in the upper right hand corner of the study. Beloved, this was a life-changing study for me, so take the time to read it.
The reality is, our flesh is not just a little foreign presence in our life, it is a part of who we are; thus fighting against it is not easy… war is never easy… yet it is a must when one realizes the presence of dark thoughts. Another construct to remember is this: “God disciplines us for our good” (Heb 12:5-11); though temptation always accompanies divine discipline, if we accept the discipline, as God intends for us to do, it will ultimately “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness [when we don’t capitulate and cave in to our fleshly desires]” (cf. Heb 12:11). Now, regarding all of the discipline and trials and testing we go through in life, none of them are really pleasant and joyful; instead they are unpleasant and sorrowful, yet they ultimately do serve a far higher purpose in our lives than we may think. Though we all pray for “positives” in our lives, and that God would remove some “negatives,” oftentimes God says “No, I have a purpose for this negative.” Incidentally, the older you get in life, the more negatives and difficulties you will experience — in all likelihood, there will be all kinds of physical ailments, loneliness, and even the death of loved ones. Make no mistake about it, we can all argue vehemently against such things, but such does not invalidate God’s higher purposes (cf. Is 55:8-13; again Heb 12:11). Beloved, I’m well aware that the preceding statements are very difficult to accept, but that is the way God operates in our lives… though we may often argue against them (which is the norm), ultimately God will open our eyes to understand divine truth at a level we never fully imagined. Remember your reason for existence — “sin has been put on trial, and you must learn to fight against it at all costs.” Look at the price Christ paid for your sin; He suffered greatly, and He asks us to suffer as well (read Rom 8:17-18; 1 Pet 4:1, 13, 17-19; 5:10). The apostle Paul worded it this way: “To you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (cf. Phil 1:29); by the way, those two emboldened words are emphatic in Greek… and the most significant word in that verse is the word “granted” — that word is actually a derivative of the word “grace” — so it is by grace that we not only believe, but that we also suffer (also cf. Gal 3:18). So suffering is an integral part of the Christian life, because it is through suffering whereby God sanctifies and transforms our lives into the image of Christ; without being subjected to extreme testing (i.e., trials), we would not be transformed (cf. Jam 1:3; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 4:12).
Now, though believers often stumble and embrace fleshly desires, Paul says, “Those who practice the deeds of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God” (cf. Gal 5:19-21). That Greek word translated “practice” is the key word — the tense of the Greek verb describes continual habitual action… though believers commit sin, sin is not the practice of their lives, like it is in the unbeliever’s life. By the way, that’s one of the wonderful qualities of the Greek language, it has great exactness and can say things that nearly every other language cannot say; the ancient Greek language was very exacting (not at all like other languages — that’s why the English language frequently needs to explain certain verses, and not just state them). Let’s continue on — since our natural predilection is to please ourselves any way we see fit, we must constantly be conscious of the integrity of our thinking — is our thinking fleshly in origin? or is it of divine origin? Now, without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, we would continually walk in sin (i.e., practice sin) just like unbelievers do — without the power of God we would remain self-centered creatures. Any deed not empowered by the Holy Spirit, is a work of the flesh (cf. Rom 8:8; 14:23). At salvation, the Holy Spirit moved into our repentant heart, making it possible for us to make choices that are of the Spirit, rather than the flesh (cf. Gal 5:16; Ezek 36:27; Rom 8:4; Col 3:5-8). Since all of us as believers were “crucified with Christ” (cf. Gal 2:20), we are to understand that our old sin nature is dead in that regard, yet know that it does not die easily — war still rages in the believer’s life — our spirit fights against our flesh, and our flesh fights against our spirit (i.e., our new self fights against our old self, and our old self fights against our new self – cf. Eph 4:22-24). As Paul states, “our spirit and our flesh are in complete opposition to each other so that we may not do the things that we please” (cf. Gal 5:17). It should be noted, the works of the flesh are not always as obvious as the ones listed in Galatians 5:19-21; they can even be found in Christian ministry where people try to gain popularity or self-worth under the guise of serving Christ (cf, Gal 1:10; 3 Jn 1:9); sadly, that’s not at all uncommon in the Christian world today. What pleases the Lord in our lives is not a “work,” but a “fruit” that the Spirit alone can produce. We can only avoid the works of the flesh by staying continually submitted to the Holy Spirit, and allowing Him to direct every aspect of our lives (cf. Eph 5:18; Gal 5:25). It should be extremely clear, “God consciousness” is a must for believers, if they are to live lives that are pleasing to the Lord.
With the foregoing in mind, let’s look at the essence of this thing called “the flesh” — according to Dr. Charles Stanley, the renowned Southern Baptist preacher in Atlanta, and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention back in the 20th century… he essentially stated in a devotional that was in “In Touch” magazine some twenty years ago (3-8-99) — As fallen creatures, “we need to be saved from self-absorption and self-centeredness,” because such things “stand in sinful opposition to God.” Remember, by definition, all sin is Satan-derived and is first and foremost against God. As Stanley said, “The flesh simply says I want to do what I want to do” — pride is at the root of all sin because pride’s focus is all on “self,” not on God. Again, as believers we must be consumed with “God-consciousness!” By the way, if you are not consumed with God-consciousness, what are you consumed with? Why? Perhaps it would be helpful at this point to look at the fruit of sin, Satan, and the world —
Sexual Immortality Impurity Sensuality
Sorcery Factions Idolatry
Relational Dissension Enmities Strife
Jealousy Outbursts of anger Disputes
Rivalries Divisions Envying
Drunkenness Orgies Carousing
With that in mind, there is also a list of “self-centered” things that rule in one’s flesh:
Self-willed Self-love Self-indulgent
Self-pity Self-reliant Self-satisfied
Self-made Self-righteous Self-promoting
Self-acclaimed Self-inflated Self-deserving
Self-serving Self-dependent Self-motivated
Selfishness Self-absorbed Self-indulgent
Self-interest Self-gratification Self-worship
Self-preoccupation Self-esteem Self-obsessed
A further and potentially disastrous extension of this “self” issue, is the central place that it subtly occupies in the culture war within western civilization — essentially, it is the Secular progressives vs. Traditionalists. The post-modernists (i.e., the secular progressives) want to change the social order so that all social norms are deleted or re-defined to suit them, so that they are free from guilt for the things that they love to do which are proscribed in the Bible; they basically would like to do away with the God religions which all restrain base impulses. On the other hand, Traditionalists want to maintain society’s sense of right and wrong that is grounded in Judeo-Christian biblical roots, and are the alert ones within the great majority of people who like “the old ways.” On the other hand, “secular progressives” want to redefine what activities are politically correct to them. In short, belief in Jesus opens the door to changing a person’s “thirsts,” “appetites,” and “wants” — these changes are simply a part of being “born again” into a new creation through the personal work of Jesus Christ; hence, they result in our sanctifi- cation.
Incidentally, a few short decades ago a church-going man who publicly supported the right to life, and backed laws protecting marriage, and spoke freely of Christ’s love for fallen man, was highly revered in our culture and recognized as an outstanding citizen. Essentially, he was welcomed anywhere, including the highest levels of power and government; but things today have radically changed… in America today the “progressive left” actively endeavors to destroy such a man; they will degrade him, rebuke him and lie about him. Modern American leftists do whatever they can to vilify Christians; their ultimate goal is to get people to conform to their perverse ungodly demands. Keep in mind, these progressives have co-opted every elite institution: schools, government, the media, Hollywood, the arts, and are now even getting involved in several conservative organizations. The secular left does not simply disagree with Christ and Christianity, it is dedicated to that which is diametrically opposed to Christ and Christianity — evil; it wants absolutely nothing to do with God or this stuff called divine righteousness, so they demand nothing less than the abolition of the biblical worldview, and the destruction of Christ’s followers. Obviously we live in dire times. To those of you who question what was just stated, at least take the time to prayerfully consider what Scripture teaches; this isn’t just a bunch of bogus nonsense. Remember, the Democratic party is now hostile regarding voluntary prayer in public schools, they have excised Christian history from public school text-books, and Christian themed hymns in public schools, and Christmas displays in the public square; yet they will continue to deny their prejudice during the election season in order to gain people’s votes; thus at certain times they don’t even own up to what they truly value. There is nothing they won’t say or do to get people’s votes. The truth is, it appears our world is now being prepared to embrace the coming of the Antichrist. Though that is a mesmerizing thought, that in all likelihood is the reality. In order to give contextual understanding to what has just been stated, let me briefly describe what Scripture says about the prophetic future of our world — in the not too distant future, the rapture is going to occur, and about seven years after that the second coming of Christ is going to occur… but the second coming will not happen until the world experiences something known as the Great Tribulation, which will be a seven year work of Satan in our world to destroy the Christian world and belief in the person of Jesus Christ; and the premiere source of that work will be headed up by Satan through an individual known as “the Antichrist.” According to Scripture, Satan is the one who absolutely hates Christ; as such, he is actively at work in our world even today trying to destroy Christianity, but the Great Restrainer (i.e., the Holy Spirit) is limiting his efforts to a degree, to keep him from accomplishing everything he wants to accomplish (read Job 1:1-12; 2 Th 2:3-12); as God’s Word frequently states, nothing happens in this world without God’s consent! Nothing! Again, if God is not GOD! (i.e., if God isn’t in absolute sovereign control of all things) then HE ISN’T GOD! To deny the sovereignty of God, is to embrace the thinking of men, not what Scripture says. Remember, Satan was the one who effectuated the crucifixion of Christ; that was not simply the work of men independent of Satan… and Satan is the one who is going to do all he can to destroy God’s people in the very near future… and this he intends to do through a few individuals, including one known as “the Antichrist.” Said John: “This world is passing away, and all its lusts… it is the last hour, and just as you heard that Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen” (cf. 1 Jn 2:17-18); keep in mind, the Antichrist is the great enemy of God; he is ANTI-CHRIST. According to the apostle Paul, “the apostasy (i.e., revolt against God) and the man of lawlessness (i.e., Antichrist) will come just prior to the day of the Lord” (i.e., the day in which Christ returns to this world to rule over it for one-thousand years)… so just prior to the day of the Lord, the world will undergo something known as the Great Tribulation (cf. 2 Th 2:2-3), where the Antichrist will be armed with Satanic power (i.e., by Satan himself; 2 Th 2:1-12); and God will even give him the ability to “perform extraordinary miracles” to accomplish his diabolical purposes (cf. Mt 24:24; 2 Th 2:9). Incidentally, the Antichrist is referred to in the book of Daniel as “the prince who is to come” (Dan 9:26), and in the book of Revelation as “the beast” (Rev 13:2), and his work as the abomination of desolation (cf. Dan 9:17; 11:31; Mt 24:15). For the first 3 ½ years of the Great Tribulation he will maintain relations with Israel, but during the last 3 ½ years he will not (cf. Dan 9:27); and it is then that he will move into the Temple in Jerusalem and claim to be God and demand the worship of the world (2 Th 2:5). It is as this point that those who believe in him will receive “the mark of the beast” either on their hand or on their forehead; and only those with the mark will be able to “buy or sell” and engage in daily commerce; thus those without his mark will probably be cut off from the necessities of life (cf. Rev 13:16-17; 14:9-11)… yet “those who received the mark of the beast and worshipped him, [within 3 ½ yrs] they will be thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone” (cf. Rev 19:20)… on the other hand, “those who do not worship the beast, they will reign with Christ for one thousand years” (cf. Rev 20:4). Now the Great Tribulation under the reign of Satan and the Antichrist (cf. Dan 7:25; 11:36-39; Mt 24:15-21; Rev 13:1-8) will end when Christ returns on the Day of the Lord (i.e., Christ’s second coming) when He will rule in the world for one thousand years (cf. Rev 20: 1-10); thus the time of the Antichrist takes place just prior to the Day of the Lord. So it is during the middle of the Tribulation, that Satan will be allowed to fulfill his desire to imi-tate God by indwelling a man who will perform his will — which is the consummation of evil (cf. 2 Th 2:1-12); and then will come the Day of the Lord. And when Christ does return to this world the Antichrist and his partner (the False Prophet) will be cast alive into the lake of fire, and be eternally separated from God forever (cf. Rev 19:20; 20:10). Now keep in mind, those individuals who choose to love sin and lies rather than the truth of the gos-pel, will also suffer divine recompense — God insures that He will send severe judgment upon those who persist in following Satan and His counterfeit Christ (again, cf. 2 Th 2:1-12). Beloved, I took the time to share the prophetic future with you because of the hatred that already exists for Christ and His people in our country. For those of us who were raised back in the 1940’s & 1950’s here in America, this was a completely foreign subject back then; yet here we are 60-70 years later experiencing a level of antichrist that we never dreamed was possible during our lifetime. Since some of you are not knowledgeable on this subject, and may be inclined to believe the political babble of the left, you will be shocked when God unveils it. Beloved, the end of the age is not very far off — with the amount of hatred that exists in the western world today for Christ and His people, the end cannot be that many years away. If you have a difficult time believing all that is stated in this paragraph, take the time to study it in great detail — you will be stunned at all the evidence. Let me close this section by quoting what Scripture states in the gospels of Matthew and Mark (cf. Matt 24:15-31; Mark 13:14-32) —
When you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place… flee to the mountains…. For those days will be a time of great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world… for unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short. In those days after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory… and He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet, and they will gather together His elect. When you see these things happening, recognize that Christ is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away. Obviously, I have only quoted a few select verses from the gospels of Matthew and Mark; keep in mind all of the emboldened words in those verses are emphatic in Greek.
WHY BELIEVING IS HARD
The truth of the matter is, God is often silent when we pour our heart out to Him, thus He often appears to be a very distant reality in our lives. So the questions arise: Does God not care about us? Is He disturbed with us? Why do we experience so many negatives in our lives? Have we not measured up to His standards? Have we misinterpreted some-thing? Is our faith so shallow that it simply doesn’t merit a positive response from God? The truth is, every believer experiences some very disconcerting moments in life when he begins to question God. I find it interesting that the charismatic movement believes the primary reason why God doesn’t respond to us the way we want Him to (i.e., in a positive sort of way), is that we simply don’t have enough faith — that is a very common construct by the miracle workers in the charismatic world; they often make the following assumption: “The reason people don’t experience healing is because they don’t have enough faith” — yet that does not at all coincide with how God works in our world and in our lives. Keep in mind, Jesus didn’t just heal believers when He walked on this earth, He also healed unbelievers. Remember, “God causes His sun to rise on both the evil and the good, and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45); by the way, “His sun” is emphatic in Greek. The “health & wealth doctrine” that has been preached here in North America for the past hundred years is completely lacking in biblical support. God didn’t save us and leave us on this planet to enjoy great physical well-being and have an endless supply of nickels in our pockets! God saved us in order to “make us like Christ,” and the central means by which He does that transforming work is by subjecting us to trials, trib-ulation, affliction, and difficulty. In short, the reason why Jesus performed miracles was to “validate who He is and thus substantiate His message;” conversely, the apostles who were called to proclaim the new teaching of Jesus, were also validated by God with signs, wonders and miracles just like Jesus (cf. Acts 2:22; 2:43; 5:12; 14:3). Said Paul: “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles” (cf. 2 Cor 12:12); these miracles validated their leadership, thus qualifying them to “pen the words of Scripture” so that we might confidently come to know the revelation of God (cf. 2 Pet 1:21; Lk 1:70). The apostles were men that God commissioned for a unique role in a particular time period for the birth of the Church; they never preached signs & won-ders to attract the multitudes, nor did they ever announce a signs & wonders meeting or a healing crusade, and neither did they allow signs, wonders & miracles to be amplified above their message. The miracles performed by the apostles merely attested to the validity of their apostleship, thus substantiating the truth of their message about Christ. The preaching of the Gospel was their commission, not the performing of miracles or healings. The book of Hebrews says that signs were used to “confirm” the word of God (Heb 2:3-4). Keeping the context in mind, Jesus said that these demonstrations in power were “SIGNS” (Mk 16:17-18), and Paul reminds us that signs are for the “JEWS” (1 Cor 1:22). Israel began with signs (cf. Rom 4:11; Ex 4:8, 9, 17, 23, 28, 30; 7:3; 8:23; 10:1-2; 13:9; 31:13, 17; Deut 4:34; 6:22)… Israel lived by signs (cf. Deut 11:18; Josh 4:6; 1 Sam 10:7; 2 Kg 19:29; Is 7:14; 38:7, 22; Ezek 4:3; 20:12, 20)… and Israel demanded signs from Christ (Mt 12:38; 24:3). In a word, the purpose of signs, wonders & miracles was “authentication” — Jesus demonstrated on numerous occasions that He indeed was the “Anointed of God” (i.e., the Messiah / Christ) by per-forming signs, wonders & miracles (cf. Acts 2:22). Why else would anyone have believed in Him? Thus Jesus and all of the apostles “demonstrated their authenticity” by performing extraordinary miracles (cf. 2 Cor 12:12) — thus “substantiating their message.”
Though God continues to hear and answer prayer, and oftentimes responds supernaturally (be it healing or some form of deliverance), that is not necessarily the norm — keep in mind, God is the one who heals all people in this world, and every person experiences healing again and again and again in life… yet sometimes, as human beings we don’t experience healing; in particular toward the end of our lives (whether we are believers or unbelievers). It is when we put God in a little box, and insist that He operate according to our expectations and desires, that our theology becomes very erroneous. Remember the words of the Lord to Isaiah the prophet: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways… as the heavens are higher than the earth, so our My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:8-9). The problem with fallen man, including believers, is that they often distort reality. Now with the foregoing in mind, there is no need to “authenticate” some particular individual in this age with “supernatural gifts” — God’s revelation to us (i.e., the New Testament) is now complete, and it this body of work that the Holy Spirit confirms in our hearts and minds. Following are a number of New Testament passages that help us see the “purpose” of those super-natural gifts that are identified as “SIGN GIFTS” (cf. Acts 2:22; 2 Cor 12:12; Heb 2:3-4; 1 Cor 2:3-4; 1 Th 1:5; Mk 16:20; Mt 11:2; Jn 2:11; 4:48; 10:25, 37-38; 20:30-31; Acts 14:3; Rom 15:18-19; 2 Th 2:8-10; 1 Cor 1:22; 14:22). These particular verses clearly define the PURPOSE for signs, wonders and miracles, which essentially were to AUTHENTICATE the messenger and SUBSTANTIATE his message. Obviously, there was a need for Jesus and His spokesmen to be authenticcated, because the Jewish world needed to have confidence that they indeed were God’s servants. Since the need for substantiation and authentication is no longer needed — because we now possess the fullness of God’s self-revelation, we can then conclude that these special supernatural signs are no longer needed. It is “the Holy Spirit who now opens our hearts to believe in the God of salvation and divine truth when it is spoken or revealed to us.” Beloved, if you struggle with this subject, you need to take the time to read every verse listed in this paragraph. Remember, genuine faith believes in divine truth precisely as it is revealed in Scripture; so don’t change the discourse because you have a difficult time believing some particular construct of faith. To help give contextual understanding to the foregoing, let’s look at how the apostle Paul ministered — when he was in Berea he went into a synagogue of the Jews & reasoned with them on the Sabbath about what Scripture teaches, explaining & giving evidence to them regarding the person of Jesus Christ; the resultant affect was, “many were persuaded and received the word with great eagerness, and examined the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so; thus many believed” (cf. Acts 17:10-12; also 17:1-4). Obviously genuine faith must believe what is true, and not just indiscriminately believe something that someone says; because there is so much variance in what the Christian world believes on some subjects, one needs to prayerfully & humbly reflect upon the totality of Scripture teaches on those subjects. The problem with most Christians is that they simply don’t take the time to study what Scripture teaches; either that or they claim that it is simply too complicated for them to understand.
As has been stated over and over again, “there isn’t a man in existence who walks on water!” Carefully reflect upon that statement. Philip Yancey, a popular contributing editor for the magazines “Campus Life” and “Christianity Today,” grew up with pain; his dad died when he was an infant, and he spent his childhood and teenage years in a church that he describes as unloving & racist. After graduating from Wheaton College (a strong Christian college) he became editor of Campus Life in his mid-twenties; since he had a lot of questions and doubts about his faith, many of his articles reflected that. Because of all the questions he had, Yancey started searching for answers that not only helped him, but helped direct doubters back to the love of God. It wasn’t long until he became the author of the book, “Where is God When It Hurts?” (Zondervan). When Philip Yancey left Campus Life to write books fulltime, he continued to write about the tougher side of faith, yet always with a sympathetic heart and with an eye toward a God who remains loving and caring in spite of life’s difficulties. Philip’s book “Reaching for the Invisible God” (published by Zondervan) is another honest & sensitive look at faith and doubt. If this subject is one that is extremely troubling to you, let me encourage you to buy one of Yancey’s books; his transparency, honesty, faith, and biblical wisdom are strongly embraced in the Christian community. As Yancey states, “It seems our doubts and questions come sometimes because God doesn’t act the way we expect Him to.” In answer to that statement, Yancey quotes the words to the old hymn, “I come to the Garden alone while the dew is still on the roses… And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own.” Well, says Yancy, “That doesn’t happen for me; God’s not walking with me and talking with me in the way that song implies… I’m not spending my days strolling with God in a beautiful rose garden.” The same is true for many of today’s praise songs, but that kind of intimacy often just isn’t there. So, how do we gain a more realistic view of God? To start with, we shouldn’t over-emphasize the “feeling” side of faith — though it was a present reality in many of our lives when we first came to Christ, it is dangerous to think that this feeling of closeness will always be there. Remember the words of Paul, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (cf. 2 Cor 5:7); i.e., we let God’s divine revelation dictate reality for us, we don’t depend upon something we see or feel or some deceptive perception — if we place our trust in what we experience and see, we can easily judge God differently than Scripture does… why is that? because fallen thinking frequently misinterprets reality. The children of Israel cried out to God for hundreds of years when they were living as slaves in Egypt: “God, we’re slaves, for goodness’ sake; don’t you care about us?” And nothing happened; generation after generation was born, lived and died. All of them had heard stories about the power of God, but they never witnessed it… and then God finally acted with ten plagues, the rolling back of the Red Sea, and all the miracles He performed while the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. It’s interesting to note, we seldom hear about those 400 years when God seemed silent. In the Bible, God sometimes responds in real direct, miraculous ways… and sometimes He does not. Do we simply contemplate the seemingly positive side of the story? or do we also reflect upon the seeming negative side? How do we handle negatives, when the evidence in our lives seems to scream that even if God is around, He doesn’t seem to really care about what we are going through? A good illustration in this matter is “Job” — he essentially lost everything in life — numerous children, his health, and pretty much everything he owned; God seemed silent for a very long time. His wife came to him and essentially said: “Look at all you’re going through! With a friend like God, who needs enemies? If there is a God, He must hate you! Curse Him and die!” Job could easily have come to the same conclusion his wife did… but ultimately, Job chose to believe that what he knew about God remained true no matter how much he suffered… so he chose to believe that God was trustworthy. Yet Job still struggled greatly, and became very angry, and wasn’t afraid to express it to God! Obviously, Job let God know how he felt; however, in spite of his feelings, he still didn’t give up on God… and God didn’t give up on him. In spite of the foregoing, God said Job was “a righteous man.” It is important to note that God isn’t surprised or upset by any question we may ask Him; conversely, He isn’t surprised by any doubts we may have. And He is not put off if we get angry at Him (like Job did). God knows our weaknesses and our frame and is mindful that we are but dust! (cf. Heb 4:15; Ps 103:14). If God isn’t afraid to hear painful questions or doubts, then we certainly shouldn’t be afraid to be open and honest with God. In like manner, that should define our churches; they should be a safe place for doubters. For believers to criticize other believers because they struggle greatly with God and their faith, is not at all a Christ-like thing to do; after all, none of us as believers walk on water! If believing was as simple as junior high school arithmetic, that would be one thing, but it oftentimes involves wrestling with some very difficult negatives.
One of the stories Philip Yancey wrote about in Campus Life magazine, was about a 17-year-old girl, Joni Erickson Tada, who had hopes of competing in the Olympics… but that was before a diving accident left her “almost completely paralyzed from the neck down.” When she was being interviewed by Philip Yancey, she was very upfront and honest with him and said, “You don’t realize how incredibly humiliating this is — I can’t go to the bathroom by myself… I can’t even cry by myself (someone has to wipe my eyes with Kleenex)… I can’t get dressed by myself… [to be honest with you] I can’t face the rest of my life like this!” By the way, it was our pleasure to have Joni come to our church here in Arizona, just a few years after her fall… many people were deeply moved by what she had to say. Today, nearly the entire Christian world knows Joni Erickson Tada — she has helped and inspired millions of people by her book, talks, and artwork. Her message to the Christian world today is this: “What happened when I dived into Chespeake Bay and broke my neck was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. God has used that experience to accomplish so much. The day I once wanted erased from my life was the day that paved the way to so much good.” The reality is, difficult circumstances ultimately transform our lives and our thinking, in spite of the fact that it may have made us extremely angry… transformation doesn’t happen in the moment; it takes time and a lot of trials & tribulation. Beloved, we’re all made of the same stuff, and possess a sinful nature (i.e., flesh), and such is not easily overcome — God knows that so well (cf. Ps 103:14). Though most of us will never experience what Joni or Job went through, nearly everyone of us will still face very difficult times in life. With that in mind, the most important question a believer can ask is this: “Is God a good God and worthy of our trust?” If He is not, then hang it up… if He is, however, then hang on to Him even when the evidence seems stacked to the contrary. Take a moment and think about Job — the evi-dence would indicate that God was irresponsible, uncaring, and unloving (certainly from a human perspective), but Job knew God’s character and he knew something didn’t add up; in spite of the ways things looked, Job chose to trust God. Remember, Jesus Himself struggled greatly and experienced an incredible amount of pain on His own… thus He understands everything we go through. So we do not have a God who does not under-stand our doubts and way-word thinking… but One who loves us unconditionally; thus we can believe God will see us through all things. Yes, we will grumble and groan, but God will never forsake us; without question He will see us through to the end. Beloved, just keep on keeping on no matter how difficult things may be in your life; though you may feel like giving-up, don’t! The premiere problem man has is “fallen human reason;” the great reformer Martin Luther was never one to mince words, and was not at all keen on human reason; said Luther: “Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.” That was Martin Luther — if he had given way to reason, it is quite possible we would not have seen the reformation come through this crazy German monk. As the renowned 20th century British theologian C. S. Lewis stated, “I am not some great man of faith who never wavers or doubts. I stumble most of the time, taking two steps forward and three back on my good days. I want to believe, but often find myself crying out to Jesus to increase my faith.”
And then there is the testimony of Ken Swatman, the Senior Pastor at Oregon City Christian Church in Portland. When he was 18 years old and a brand new Christian, his father had just been in a serious accident and was lying in the ICO… it didn’t look like he was going to survive. So Ken laid on the floor in the family room and clung to the words of John 14:14 – “You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it.” Ken poured his heart out to the Lord in faith, begging God to reward his faith… sadly, the next day his father passed away. For a time Ken was devastated and his faith was completely shattered. Said Ken: “How was I supposed to believe and have faith in a God that didn’t keep His promises?” The truth is, trusting and believing in a God who often seems to be inconsistent, distant, and unrespon-sive can stretch the very last spirit- ual fiber of even the most faithful, and yet that is what we are called to do. As the author of Hebrews says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God… anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (cf. Heb 11:6). States Ken Swatman: We believe and trust God, not because He makes sense, not because He is consistent (although He truly is), not because the things He asks of us in faith are reasonable. We have faith, because it is the only way to please God. Yet that doesn’t mean that faith is easy; the reality is, it is not. Man’s problem is that he lives in a “me-focused culture;” i.e., in a culture that is me-oriented — not God-oriented. Every-thing begins and ends with “me” — my needs, my desires, my will, and my agenda for my life. The problem is, we are not believing in what God wants, but what we want. For many, faith is a vehicle to provision, and when God does not respond in a way that is consistent with our values or wills, we have a “crisis” of faith. The reality is, faith is about surrendering our will to the will of our Heavenly Father. As Swatman says, “If we believe in and subsequently surrender to our God, then the following two truths must come into play:
We do not need proof to have faith — Though postmodernism seems to rule in our culture, we are still very modernistic in our thinking; i.e., we insist on understanding and explaining everything. It is not enough to know that the earth rotates around the sun; we want to know exactly why it does what it does. The same is true with regard to our faith — we continually look for ways to prove that God exists, and knows, and cares, and has a positive plan for our lives. As fallen creatures, we look for some tan-gible evidence upon which to build our thinking and our faith. The problem is, God doesn’t want to be proved, He wants to be believed. If Jesus would have come down off the cross when they mocked Him (cf. Mt 27:40-44), contrary to what the people said, that in no way whatsoever means that they would have repented and placed their trust in Him — though they would have been in “awe” of Him, that wouldn’t have had any effect upon acknowledging their sinfulness, and submitting to His lordship… they would simply have believed in Christ the way Satan and the demonic world believes. Remember, it is man’s innate sinfulness that is the problem — his autonomy is abso-lutely essential to him… never would his proud heart defer to God. Listen carefully to what is being said. If God opened the skies all the way to the heavenly realm, sinful man would be absolutely stunned and overwhelmed at what he was seeing, nevertheless he would still not embrace divine truth and submit to His Lordship; beloved, that is precisely why Satan continues to go down the path he has chosen — he will not subject himself to another person’s authority; his own personal autonomy is an abso-lute must for him. Remember, even Satan and his fallen comrades believe in God (cf. Jam 2:19), but they will not subject themselves to His divine authority. Listen carefully to this argument — knowing something physically is drastically different from knowing something spiritually… conversely, intellectual knowledge is not a co-equivalent of divine knowledge, any more than human reason is a co-equivalent of divine reason (cf. Is 55:8-9; Job 42:3). Keep in mind, God is spirit and divine knowledge is spiritual — the invisible God of creation is everywhere present and rules over all things; incidentally, that which is invisible & infinite transcends fallen human thinking; that’s why “sight” is of paramount importance to man (cf. 2 Cor 5:7). Remember, the entire created realm (space, mass & time) was cursed when sin entered into it; as such, “death” is now the most significant characteristic of the created order, and death means separation from God & the end of life. The problem with fallen man is that he refuses to believe in a spiritual existence, because that which cannot be seen does not coincide or correlate with his fallen thinking; remember, fallen man insists on reconciling everything with human thinking, thus he is an unbelieving creature — without being able to see the physical evidence of something, man has a very difficult time believing (cf. Jn 20:25-29); yet little does he know, he will not embrace holiness either, because it destroys his autonomy (which is completely unacceptable to him); either he is the god of his own life, or he will war against that which rules over him.
Literally, the biblical terms that are translated “spirit” connote the ideas of wind and breath and invisible and immaterial and powerful — though all men are spiritual creatures (because they were created in God’s image), only those who have placed their faith in Christ are alive spiritually; all unbelievers are dead spiritually — as such, they only embrace that which their fallen inner-core desires. In contra-distinction to those who are unbelievers, “believers are alive spiritually, thus they live in the Spirit and walk in the Spirit and manifest the fruit of the Spirit” (cf. Gal 5:16, 22-25) — as believers humbly and diligently study the Word and pray and obey their Master, they grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ and manifest true spirituality. Remember, prior to creation “the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (Gen 1:2); in so doing, all things then came into existence, and God saw that everything He had made was very good (Gen 1:31). But when sin entered into the created order, God cursed the entire created realm, and since then “death” has defined it (cf. Rom 8:20-22; Gen 3:17-19; 5: 29; Ecc 1:2; Jer 12:4, 11). Remember, death means “separation from God & the end of life” (everything that was cursed was separated from God, and no longer possessed divine glory). Regarding the future, the apostle Peter said, “The day of the Lord will come, and the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up… and the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat… now according to God’s promise, we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which right-eousness dwells” (cf. 2 Pet 3:10-13; Rev 21:1ff). The reality is, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). Let me first emphasize the fact that the emboldened words in that verse are emphatic in Greek (thus read it accordingly). Because divine truth (i.e., God) transcends the created realm (man can-not grasp it in and of himself), man struggles greatly with believing in Him and divine revelation — it is only when fallen man humbles himself before God that his heart and mind are opened to believe; again, in and of himself, man does not possess the ability to understand anything that transcends fallen thinking. The reality is, man does not have the capacity to understand divine truth without God opening his heart and mind to understand it and embrace it. So to surmise that this diabolical cosmic universe in which we live has the ability to determine what is spiritually true, is to embrace deceptive thinking. Again, knowing & embracing divine truth all begins with humility of thought (cf. Jm 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5), without which one will never come to know divine truth — knowing all cosmic truth is not at all sufficient for knowing divine truth. So man must humbly acknowledge his sinfulness and place his trust in Christ alone; in so doing, God will open his heart to believe and make him a brand new creature; i.e., make him spiritually alive in Christ (cf. Acts 16:14; 2 Cor 5:17). Keep in mind, without humility fallen man will never believe in divine truth. It is also important to note, believing man can-not grow his faith with cosmic evidence, as if such evidence “proves” divine truth… only God can disclose divine truth to man’s heart, and without humility that will not occur — it should also be remembered that God is the one who humbles us, and in so doing ends up blessing us.
We do not need to fully understand in order to follow — As the great reformer and 16th century theologian Martin Luther proclaimed: “Reason… is the greatest enemy that faith has.” Yet that doesn’t mean that we should throw out all common sense and logical reasoning — remember, “the wisdom from above (i.e., of God) is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good works, unwavering, and without hypocrisy” (cf. Jam 3:17; Acts 17:2; 18:4; 19:8). The Lord said to the prophet Isaiah and to the Jewish world: “Come now, let us reason together” (cf. Is 1:18). As Luther was intimating, we tend to be a pragmatic people who insist on reasoning all of the facts… but such is not possible. As King Solomon, the wisest man whoever lived or ever will live (cf. 1 Kg 3:12), said: “I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with… behold, all is vanity and striving after wind… in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain” (Ecc 1:13-18). That particular construct is one I have experienced, as have many others in the Christian world, and like Solomon, it has been a grievous task… yet fight though as I may to grow in divine knowledge, there are times when I experience great consternation in my soul — though many questions are answered when one strives to know the fullness of divine truth, many questions are also raised because one cannot reconcile everything. So for man to somehow think that he can understand the fullness of knowledge is not only illogical but irrational — if a person’s mind was large enough to hold one trillion pieces of knowledge (which it isn’t), and that there is an infinite amount of knowledge in the universe (which there is), reality tells us that he could only know an extremely small amount of knowledge in compar-ison to the fullness of it. Because we are temporal finite creatures, and God is eternal and infinite, we don’t come close to understanding the fullness of knowledge; said the Lord to Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and neither are My ways your ways… as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are My way and My thoughts higher than yours” (Is 55:8-9). Thus for man to denigrate divine knowledge is beyond foolish, and as stupid & idiotic as one can possibly be. To somehow think having an Intelligent Quotient (IQ) of about 150 is the end all on knowledge is actually mindless (but that’s how arrogant fallen man is). The truth is, the entire human family does not collectively understand “one-millionth of one percent” of all knowledge… so if there is anything fallen man must do it is this: he must humble himself before the Lord and embrace divine truth as God has so willed, in spite of the fact that he does not have the ability to fully rationalize every-thing. Incidentally, it was man’s inability to understand the genius of the created order that prompted Albert Einstein to tell the entire scientific world — “Natural law reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.” Einstein studied natural law and was so overwhelmed and mesmerized at the depth of it and the genius of it, he humbly told the scientific world that it far and away exceeds the minds of men. Since man essentially only has a very limited knowledge of this thing called “planet earth,” and has almost no understanding whatsoever of infinity or the entire created order, he frequently elevates himself and claims to be a brilliant person (which is precisely what an arrogant fool does), when in fact he is almost com-pletely mindless. For people to claim that they are far smarter than they are, is sheer foolishness — that’s how God defines it. Now with the foregoing in mind, faith also becomes hard when we put our need of understanding above our trust in God and what His will is for our life — when Abraham laid his son Isaac on the altar, he fully trusted God (Gen 22:1-18), in spite of the fact that what he was doing transcended human reason. Scripture is filled with stories of God asking something unreasonable of His people; think about it, God entered into human history in the person of Jesus Christ… He became a human being by His own will, and allowed Himself to be murdered… in dying He brought the gift of salvation to the very people who murdered Him (think about that); obviously that doesn’t make sense to fallen creatures, but thank God that’s what He did. Some of you at this point might be thinking that the people He died for were not those who killed Him — keep in mind, Christ died for sinners – all sinners – and every single person who has ever lived on this planet is a sinner; for a person to somehow think that he is more worthy of God’s love than other people are, is sheer arrogance and absolute lunacy (to hold such a position is to be completely absent-minded). Beloved, that is not a road you want to travel down! If you think you are more worthy than others (which many people do), you are not only absent minded, you are delusional; by the way, that is not at all uncommon in the Christian world (nevertheless, it is still nonsense); without humility of thought, one is going to really struggle with his faith. Faith is hard, and God doesn’t always make sense; while we focus on our contemporary circumstances, God focuses on His redemptive will for our lives. Though life doesn’t always make sense to us, and God doesn’t necessarily respond the way we want Him to, we must trust Him for who He is, and the fact that “He is causing all things to work together for our good” (Rom 8:28). As Ken Swatman said, “May we dogpaddle in the deep waters of faith together until we learn how to swim.”
As the founder and CEO of WP Films, Darren Wilson, states in his work “Questions With God” — “Many of us just want God to make things clear to us so we no longer have to doubt anything, but God continuously pushes us out of the nest and asks us to have faith in something we cannot see [or understand]. There is a hiddenness to God that is both genius, [mind-boggling], and somewhat infuriating. His hiddenness can either leave us in crippling doubt or cause us to seek harder after Him.” The fact that God is invisible is a difficult construct to deal with, because the created realm is visible… and it is that which is visible that we can best identify with. Though we can experience God at times, and feel Him around or inside us, most of us would love for Jesus to suddenly appear before us the way He did with His disciples after His resurrection. The problem with us as fallen creatures (even though we are saved fallen creatures), is that we are way better at doubting than we are at believing. Following the resurrection the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain that Jesus had designated, and when they saw Him, they worshipped Him, “but some were doubtful” (cf. Mt 28:16-17); remember, we are talking about the eleven disciples who lived with Jesus for three years, and knew Him better than anyone ever would and were His best friends. Said Jesus to His disciples —“Blessed are those who have not seen Me yet believed” (cf. Jn 20:29). As Darren Wilson said, “The battle will always be in our minds; furthermore, the disciples had way less reason to doubt than we do… they touched Him, for goodness sake, yet some of them still doubted.” One of the major reasons why most believers struggle with trusting God, is that trusting Him requires us to “stop trusting ourselves” and our own thinking. Remember, the construct of trusting God means “relinquishing control to Him”… yet in this world in which we live, it sometimes feels like it is completely spinning out of control… and we want nothing more than to take hold of something and bend it to our will so that at least we can be lord over something in our life… but God continues to ask us to let go completely — we are to have nothing before Him (cf. Mt 6:24; 16:24-26). Why are we blessed when we put our full faith in Him? Because it is the ultimate act of trust, and the ultimate way that we can show Him love. It is why God puts such a premium on faith… as hard as it may be, if you don’t trust Him, then you don’t truly love Him; and that’s the greatest of all the commandments (cf. Mt 22:36-37). Remember, there were 613 commands in the Pentateuch (i.e., in Gen, Ex, Lev, Num, Deut), but to love God is far and away the greatest of all the commandments… essentially, “man’s obligation is to love God with the totality of his being;” to love God is to give Him dominion over your life. According to the apostle John, “love is the test of authentic discipleship” (cf. 1 Jn 4:7, 8, 16, 20; 3:10-11).
The apostle Paul reminds us as believers that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). The normal man sees through his eyes and does things based on what he sees; i.e., he is governed by his senses. Simply put, he lives his life based on what he knows and is certain to be true based on evidences he can observe — “seeing is believing,” so to speak. On the other hand, the life that God calls us to live requires us to trust in what we cannot see with our natural eyes… rely on what we cannot touch physically… and believe what we are unable to observe with our senses. The life God calls us to as believers, is based on who we believe in — the Lord Jesus Christ — though we cannot see Him or touch Him, we are called to believe in Him. As the Christian journalist of Christianity Today and The Christian Post, J.B. Cachila says: “We are called to believe in something we don’t see;” nevertheless, we can be certain because “He who has received His witness has set his seal to this, that God is true” (cf. Jn 3:33). As the Christian writer, author and editor, Jim Watkins, says, “As a child I knew nothing; I was simply told things and accepted them… as I grew older I learned that some of the things I was told were not true — Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy didn’t exist… so I learned to be skeptical about what I was told and look to common sense and logic to make sense of things. I actually think this is one of the main problems many people have with faith — there just isn’t any proof.” And then there is religion — when people look at the many atrocities committed in the name of religion, they begin to question this thing called “religion.” If there is a God, why would He allow that? In addition to that, faith doesn’t seem to do much for people; i.e., they don’t seem to do better in life than people without faith, so there doesn’t seem to be any earthly reason to have faith. However, when one considers his eternal future, faith becomes a reality that now starts to make sense; so faith gives us “hope”… with-out faith we would have no hope. We would simply die and our life would be meaning-less, because there would be no existence after we die. So what’s the point? That is the grain of Watkins’ faith, that there is a point. It was such thinking that led Watkins to believe that there is a “Creator” — remember, “God has set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecc 3:11), “and has made the divine reality ‘God’ evident to their heart”(Rom 1:19). Since the world doesn’t seem to be something that came into being through a random process (it is far too beautiful for that), Watkins’ faith has grown even stronger; when he prays to the Creator, his faith is rewarded… though the rewards are not material in nature, they are very valuable. As Watkins puts it, “Faith is a step into the unknown. Once you have made that step, take a look around and take another step, realizing that it’s a journey, not a destination. Obviously, all of us as believers haven’t traveled down the same road in life, but God has used numerous things to open our hearts to divine reality and bring us to Himself. Again, there are a number of “humbling realities” that God uses to open our eyes and give us faith.
Now with Jim Watkins’ thoughts in mind, it’s important to remember that God is the one who draws us to Himself and opens our hearts and minds to divine truth… said Jesus, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (cf. Jn 6:44, also 6:39, 65; 15:16). As Paul states, “God the Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world… and predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (cf. Eph 1:4-5; 2:10; Acts 13:48; 16:14; 2 Th 2:13). Yet it is also important to remember that, God has evidenced Himself to the entire world through all that He has made… and has written His Law in man’s conscience… and has set eternity in every man’s heart (cf. Rom 1:20; 2:15; Ecc 3:11). Remember, since this is “divine truth” it is of divine origin and must be communicated to the hearts of men by God Himself. Here’s the process — when we humble ourselves before the Lord, God then opens our hearts to divine truth on a far deeper level, thus giving us the grace to believe; keep in mind, “God doesn’t cast His pearls before swine” (Mt 7:6); i.e., God doesn’t give the fullness of truth to proud diabolical creatures (cf. Jam 4:6). To give personal application to this issue — God not only chose me before the foundation of the world (just as He did all of you who are His children), His will for my life was that I be raised in a Christian home, yet experience a number of unpleasant negatives in life. To apply the words of Paul to myself personally, “I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that I should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). Let me first state that all of the emboldened words in that verse are emphatic in Greek (so read it accordingly). Now as I reflect upon God’s call upon my life that took place back in 1972, it was Pastor Guy Davidson (who became my mentor in ministry) that God used to initiate that call; that was simply the way God planned things, and the rest is history. Now after 47 years God continues to work in and through my life in ways I never dreamed or imagined (not that they are spectacular, because some of them are not; much of my life has actually been fairly difficult — I would never have chosen it). I was never a scholarly student in high school or in college, so why God chose me to be a theologian of sorts is almost questionable; apparently, He humbled me as a child to prepare me for His calling. As a child I was subjected to some very disconcerting issues in my life, including being the cause of my little sister’s death (I was eight years old & she was five years old); the resultant effect of that was extremely troubling to me, yet God was on the throne and obviously knew what He was doing. After experiencing several other negatives in my life (which I don’t see any need to share them with you), the Lord finally got me to the place He wanted me to be (just as He did Joseph in the ancient world); by the way, I’m not at all claiming to be a man who possessed the integrity of Joseph (not even close). Now with the foregoing in mind, I would never have given consent to the vast majority of those difficult realities I was subjected to; like most people, I would only have given consent to positive circumstances, not negative ones. Like numerous prophets in the ancient world, my experiences in life didn’t result in my being a happy camper; life was not at all the life I wanted it to be; yet God had obviously been working in my life to mold me into the person He wanted me to be (cf. Is 45:9; 64:8; Jer 18:6; Ps 139:13-16; Rom 9:21; Eph 2:10) — incidentally, I don’t mention the foregoing for “pity;” what in the world good would that do, other than embarrass me? If you know me at all, you know that doesn’t at all define me; actually, I would find that kind of thing very difficult to live with; so I only mention this to give contextual understanding to my life and how God works in each of our lives. Remember, “God’s ways are not our ways” (Is 55:8-9); thus we may often be inclined to question God and what He is doing in our lives. Now with the foregoing in mind, here I am today doing theological studies on various subjects that God keeps putting on my plate (incidentally, I’ve been doing this now pretty much full-time for the past fifteen years), and it is the passion in my soul that God keeps using to spur me on (much like Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, John Calvin, John Knox, Richard Sibbes, John Owen, William Tyndale, C. S. Lewis and others). As some of you may be aware, my website averages about 1,300 hits a day from people all over the world; never did I imagine that it would be accessed by people in other countries, and that people would be translating some of the studies into other languages. Again, since I am not a high-techy person, I really don’t understand how a lot of this works; yet if this is what God so wills, then so be it (again, cf. Eph 2:10).
WHY WE STRUGGLE WITH OUR FAITH
How do we overcome the fact that we are struggling with our faith? It should be noted, people struggle with their faith at different times in their lives; even the most committed and godly leaders struggle with the things God subjects them to and the way He works in their lives (just like everyone else). As stated earlier, none of us walk on water, yet some believers want you to think they border on being perfect (that’s simply the arrogance of some believers and some preachers; they can’t even fess up and be men of integrity); the reality is, we all have a strong belligerent flesh present in our soul; though some like to pretend that they don’t, that is absolute nonsense — such is pure arrogance, and that is the worst sin of all — think about it, some people actually think they are better than other people because they don’t swear and curse and steal and hurt other people, yet God calls pride & arrogance the greatest of all sins… so if the foregoing defines who you are, you better rethink your thoughts because you are traveling down a dangerous road. Incidentally, I have known a number of arrogant believers in my life; so this thing called arrogance isn’t simply limited to unbelievers. Should one argue to the contrary over this principle he is arguing against divine truth. The least thing a genuine believer can do is “be honest with himself and with God;” if he is not, he will simply live a life of self-adulation and delusion. Remember, “confession” literally means to “say the same thing about our sin & inner-core that God says about it.” So if there is one type of sin you don’t want ruling your life, it is “pride;” though we all suffer from it in limited ways, it is the one sin we must fight against with great conviction; “God vigorously opposes the proud, but is gracious to the humble” (cf. Jam 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5), and if there is anything we need in this life it is “grace” (i.e., God’s undeserved favor; that’s right, it is completely undeserved; all one must do is humble himself). Regarding this thing called faith, it essentially means to believe what one cannot see… God graciously places divine truth in the heart of the humble, who then in turn believes it (Heb 11:1; 2 Cor 5:7). Now as fallen physical creatures, we have a tendency to trust in what we experience with our senses; however, spiritual realities are not tangible and must be experienced outside of our human senses (that’s the way the Christian website gotquestions.org words it). The reality is, that which is tangible and visible can cause us to question & doubt; however, true genuine faith looks for answers beyond that which is seen (cf. Heb 11:1). Keep in mind, invisible reality greatly exceeds visible reality… and spiritual reality is far greater than physical reality… and eternal reality is infinitely greater than temporal reality… and divine thoughts vastly transcends human thoughts. The problem with many in the Christian world is that faith itself is seen as the object, rather than God Himself. Incidentally, the biblical purpose of faith is to bring people into God’s presence; “in so doing they must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (the emboldened words in that verse are emphatic in Greek; cf. Heb 11:6). According to that verse, God rewards those who earnestly seek Him and follow Him — read all the verses that follow that statement, because that is the context (i.e., read vv. 7-40). The Lord said to Jeremiah: “You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13). God doesn’t honor half-hearted attempts to know Him; so one cannot say to himself, “Well I’ll pray but I’m not sure it will do any good.” God says we must be confident that He exists, and pursue Him with a passion (yet with complete honesty and humility), because He only honors genuine faith! Don’t interpret that as meaning something that it does not; it does not mean you walk on water; it simply means if you approach God with a sincere humble heart, He will graciously respond to you.
As previously stated, God knows our frame and understands our weaknesses and the shallowness of our faith — remember, we are not men and women of great faith, we are men and women with faith in a great God! Again, are you going to focus on your faith, or the God of your faith? When Jesus was on the earth, a man came to Him wanting Him to heal his son who was demon-possessed and suffered violent convulsions since he was a little boy. Jesus said to him, “All things are possible to Him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out saying, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (cf. Mk 9:23-24). The reality is, none of us as believers have an absolutely perfect faith; thus we all struggle with our faith at times. So here was a man who humbly admitted to Jesus that he was not a great man of faith, yet he believed enough to approach Jesus and ask Him to heal his son. Jesus not only healed the man’s son, he did not rebuke him for his shallow faith; instead He honored his desire to grow in faith. Maybe that is where you are today; you have been a believer for years, and now you are really struggling with your faith… and even questioning it… and have now come to the point where you feel God has aban-doned you — beloved this is not at all uncommon… every believer experiences spiritual distress at different points in his or her life… the reason being, every one of us has a fleshly inner-core that is strongly influenced by Satan who does everything he can to destroy our faith (cross-reference the life of Job). Again, here’s the answer to just such a problem, no matter how significant you think your faith problem is, HUMBLE YOURSELF before God, and be as HONEST & FORTHRIGHT about your condition as you possibly can be (no matter how much anger, distrust, disillusionment and frustration you may be experiencing), and pour out YOUR HEART to Him with great integrity, and GOD WILL HEAR YOUR CRY AND RESPOND WITH INCREDIBLE GRACE and WIPE AWAY THE ANXIETY IN YOUR HEART AND SOUL. Beloved, that is precisely the way God works in our lives when we find ourselves in the mud spiritually; I have been down that road like everyone else, and that has been a God-send to me and countless other believers — this isn’t some strange issue that only a very few people experience… because of the presence of indwelling sin in all of our lives (cf. Rom 7:18-25), we all experience very difficult moments of faith in life. Hopefully that is not a foreign construct to you. As is commonly stated in the Christian world, “As Christians, we have all received the gift of faith (cf. Eph 2:8), thus we all have the evidence we need to obey God and walk with Him through life, but God leaves the believing up to us (that’s our responsibility)… and that only happens when we humble ourselves before Him; the reality is, transparent humility is foundational to an effective faith, because God does not honor a proud heart.” Remember, “God gives grace to the humble and opens their eyes to the truth… but He does not give it to the proud” (cf. Jam 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5; Act 16:14; 2 Chron 7:14; Ezra 8:21; Ps 10:17; 25:9; Prov 11:2; Is 66:2; Jam 4:10); it should be obvious, grace is essential for our faith to be effective… and without humility there is no grace. Remember, God is the one who effectuates our faith; without His involvement, our faith would be meaningless… we are not independent creatures who dictate reality in life; God is the one who dictates reality. Said the Lord to the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:80). It should be obvious, as fallen creatures we all need a lot of grace; the good news is, our God is an extremely gracious God! He fully understands our fallenness, our weaknesses and our needs; as such, “we have a faithful and merciful high-priest” (cf. Heb 2:17). The word “humble” literally means “to think lowly of oneself” (not highly of oneself); i.e., we are to see ourselves for who we really are, and actually accept ourselves for who we really are — let’s say you were a person who didn’t have any legs, was grossly over-weight, was almost blind, and suffered from serious stomach problems — would you be dishonest with yourself about who you are, or would you humbly admit your conditions? Though that may be an awkward way of describing ourselves physically, that is who we are spiritually; we are not anywhere near what we are going to be in the eternal realm… yet that doesn’t mean that we lie about who we are, and mumble and groan about it; it simply means that we humbly admit who we are and accept it, because that is who we are. We are fallen sinful creatures whom God has saved… how could any of us see ourselves in a different light? Keep in mind, God accepts us just as we are! We are simply by-products of the fall, who are now in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ (and that is a life-long process). All God asks of us is that we be open and honest with Him... that we be transparent with Him… that we share our heart and frustrations with him… that we confess our sins and wrongdoings with Him… and that we admit our need of His mercy and grace in our lives. Beloved, why would we ever think that we are wonderful righteous creatures who walk on water, when in fact we don’t… or that God is an intolerant, unloving, unmerciful God, when in fact those qualities do not define Him? Keep in mind, He died for us just as we are! Just because we haven’t become the wonderful persons we think we should be, doesn’t change anything — we are who we are, and God is who He is! Now, if you are going to believe the lies of Satan, you are going to be a very miserable believer, because he is going to preach perfection, and you are never going to measure up (that is simply not possible); thus you are going to be a man or woman with a very remedial faith. So stop groaning and focusing on you (that will only cause disconcertion), and start focusing on Christ!
It should also be encouraging for us to know that when we struggle with our faith, we’re in good company — Elijah the prophet experi-enced just such a struggle (read 1 Kg 18 & 19). To somehow conclude that “faith should be easy because we are believers,” is to completely misunderstand our fallenness and the foundation of our faith… it is our fallenness with which we must constantly contend — why is that? “Because our flesh is in complete opposition to the Spirit, thus we cannot simply do the things that we please” (cf. Gal 5:17); life would be a piece of cake if we simply did things that please us, but that does not define the life to which God has called us: “we are to fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12). During times of stress, trials, anger and frustration, it is easy to forget what God has done for us and misin-terpret what He is doing in our lives. Remember, God subjects us to negatives and trials to grow and test our faith… testing is not simply a matter of evidencing the genuineness of our faith, it is a matter of growing our faith (cf. Jam 1:2-3; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 4:12; Heb 11:17). Therefore when we experience “trials” in life, it is our “focus” that matters… rather than embracing fleshly thinking that wants absolutely nothing to do with trials, we need to focus on divine truth, that our faith might be positively affected… if we cannot see the divine significance of the trial, it will simply weigh heavily upon our hearts, and cause us to become frustrated and upset with it. Incidentally, we learn from some of the great heroes of the faith that God is very patient with us when we walk through life and genuinely desire to embrace Him and believe in what He says (cf. Ps 86:15; 147:11). So when we experience times of doubt and bewilderment, we must immerse ourselves in the truth of God’s Word (i.e., in Scripture). According to most biblical scholars, we can actually bolster our faith in several ways — by reading scriptural accounts of God’s work in the lives of His people… by listening to good preaching… and by reading books written by some of the most esteemed leaders in the Christian world — men like Lee Strobel, C. S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, James Montgomery Boice, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Steve Brown, Richard Sibbes, Sinclare Ferguson, John MacArthur, John Owen, Jerry Bridges, Francis Schaeffer, R. C. Sproul, Eugene Peterson, and John Stott, just to mention a few. Let me encourage you to read a couple of books by these authors every year — what they have written will greatly influence your faith. Keep in mind, the greatest power to overcome doubt comes from the Holy Spirit — “The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and teaches us all things” (cf. Rom 8:16; Jn 14:26; 16:13; Acts 16:14). Conversely, we can also cry out as the father of the demon-possessed child did: “I believe! Lord, help my unbelief!” (cf. Mk 9:24); and we can expect Him to answer. Again if you go to the Lord with a sincere humble heart, you will experience “His grace.”
Though it may sound a little strange to some of you, some people actually seem to “lose their faith,” or at least “lose the dynamic reality of their faith;” i.e., they simply start questioning the integrity of it, and wonder if it indeed is genuine, or if they have been duped. The truth is, that is not at all uncommon in the Christian world… people reach a point in life where they begin to question things, because life isn’t what they thought it was supposed to be… hence, doubt begins to set in, and they begin to wonder if God ever really accepted their faith. For me personally, it was always my understanding that God would bless me and reward me in this life if I lived for Him, and walked with Him, and served Him faithfully; but such was not exactly the way things worked out in my life… negatives ultimately seemed more prevalent than positives. Obviously, I had a lot to learn about how God functions in the lives of His people, and why He functions the way He does. As most of you will recall, one of God’s premiere laws is that “we reap what we sow in life” (cf. Hos 8:7; 10:12; Prov 1:31; Gal 6:7); though that construct is absolutely true, it is not exactly what most people think it is — rather than expanding upon it at this point however, let me take a few moments and expand upon it latter in this study. Meanwhile, let me give a little contextual understanding as to how God has worked in my life — the early years of my ministry possessed far more positives than negatives (which is what I anticipated)… however, the latter years of my ministry possessed far more negatives (which was very disconcerting); incidentally, such was the same for my mentor in ministry (Pastor Guy Davidson). The last thing that ever entered my mind, is that I would one day be subjected to some very painful negatives…it wasn’t until the negatives became too much for me to keep ignoring, that I set out to understand divine truth at a far deeper level. Ultimately it was the 16th and 17th century writings of the Puritans that God used to help shed light on divine reality for me; their integrity, transparency & honesty actually over-whelmed my thinking, and opened my eyes to a level of reality I had never heard before… naturally my immediate thought was, “Why didn’t I hear this before? Why wasn’t I taught this? After all, I had studied theology for years in one of America’s greatest seminaries, yet sin and spiritual disconcertion in the believer’s life was never a pronounced subject back in the middle of the 20th century… it simply seemed to be an issue that wasn’t that prominent in the lives of committed believers — the problem was, the vast majority of the Christian community didn’t define sin and man’s flesh as it needed to be defined — sin is not merely an overt evil, as most Christians defined it back then, it actually means to miss the mark (i.e., to not measure up to God’s perfect standards; so sin was far more prevalent in people’s lives then they thought – it not only involved external behavior but internal thinking as well – cf. Mt 5:21-22; 5:27-28). Remember, “that which is not of faith is sin” (cf. Rom 14:23). Said Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:45)… Later on He went on to say: “The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man… for out of the heart come evil thoughts, etc.” (cf. Mt 15:18-19). It should be obvious to the entire Christian community that sin has a very strong presence in all of our lives as fallen creatures, because our thinking is often controlled by our flesh… so we’re not simply talking about external behavior, we’re also talking about the internal dialogue that goes on in our hearts & minds as we walk through life. Remember, none of us walk on water; hence the need to continually be conscious of our internal wayward thinking and the demand it has on our lives; that’s why the apostle Paul said, “We are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Because of our fallen sinful nature, confession must be an integral part of our lives as we humbly walk with the Lord; remember, the word confession literally means to “say the same thing about our sin that God says about it”.
To the regret of many believers in the Christian world, 20th century preaching essentially focused on biblical positives and ignored the biblical negatives; the truth is, they simply didn’t take the time to thoroughly understand “sin in the life of the believer” (once again do not simply think of sin as “external evil”) — for some reason they thought becoming a genuine Christian meant becoming a radically changed individual in their inner-being; though a radical change does take place in true born-again believers (cf. 2 Cor 5:17), their innate sinfulness (i.e., their old-self) still exists in them, and constantly wages war with their new self (cf. Gal 5:16-17; Rom 7:18; 2 Cor 5:15; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10). The reality is, it was not at all uncommon back in the 20th century to hear something like this: “Well, there are a lot of different opinions on that subject, and we’re not really sure as to its essence, so we don’t think it is wise to expand upon it and challenge people’s thinking on that subject… that’s up to each individual to determine its significance in their life” (the foregoing essentially meant they didn’t fully understand the subject as it is clearly taught in Scripture; as long as people’s external behavior was acceptable, that seemed to resolve the issue for them). In addition to the foregoing, some people in the Christian world actually denied there was any sin in their lives at all; which is completely antithetical to what Scripture teaches (cf. Lk 18:19; Ps 14:1-3; 38:1-22; 40:12; 73:26; Prov 24:16; Ecc 7:20; Rom 3:10-18; Jam 3:2). So here was the American Christian community enjoying pleasant fellowship with fellow believers, and distancing themselves from the unbelieving world, and simply focusing on the transformation that took place in their lives when they placed their trust in Christ. As a young person I naturally bought into that kind of thinking… yet even as a child, I always questioned this thing called “sin,” because I knew it still existed in my life, and no matter how hard I tried not to sin, sin never disappeared from my life (like everyone else, sin was an integral part of my life… that was simply a matter of being honest and not trying to deceive myself). Now since the apostle John said, “No one who abides in Christ sins… and no one who is born of God sins” (cf. 1 Jn 3:6; 5:18), as a child I naturally questioned the genuineness of my faith, and try though as I did to live a perfect life, I simply couldn’t do it. Ultimately, a friend of mine’s mother told me, “Don, you’re fine! You’re a believer! You are simply making far more out of that than you need to!” Though I accepted what she told me as a junior higher, later on in my late teens I finally concluded that God must not have chosen me to be one of His children, because my life simply didn’t measure up to what I believed it was supposed to, and no matter how much I pleaded with God about it & tried to be the person I thought I was supposed to be, there was no communication whatsoever from God that resolved the problem. Since I simply could not become that person, essentially I opted out of the faith (i.e., out of the church), and determined to just live life as best I could. Little did I know, the apostle John’s words are radically different in Greek than they are in English; the present tense verb in Greek stresses the point that true born-again Christians do not live a life of on-going sin… that is, sin is not the practice of the believer’s life, like it is in the unbeliever’s life (cf. 1 Jn 3:9). Though every believer sins, no believer lives a life where he constantly walks in sin (cf. Jam 3:2; Ecc 7:20; Prov 24:16; Ps 73:26). Here’s why — the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives causes us to confess our sins and turn from them. The reality is, God sometimes places “great weight” on a believer’s soul when he stubbornly walks in sin (incidentally, every believer does that occasionally, and God lets it happen); in so doing believers turn from evil and pour their hearts out to God — remember, God is not a non-player in the believer’s life… so with the foregoing in mind, carefully contemplate all the words of David in Psalm 32 — “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever-heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide… and Thou didn’t forgive the guilt of my sin” (read all the verses in Psalm 32). Remember, David was guilty of two great transgressions — he was guilty of adultery with Bathsheba and plotting the death of her husband Uriah, and the covering up of his sins (he steadfastly refused to confess it — thus he was fighting against God; as such he became a physical wreck). Despite the horrific nature of his sins, they were buried forever in the sea of God’s forgetfulness… nevertheless, the resultant effect of these sins were monumental and extremely grievous — as such, his son through Bathsheba died… his daughter Tamar was violated by her brother Amnon; consequently Absolom his bro-ther murdered him… ultimately Absolom turned against his father David, and also suf-fered death as a result. Sometimes the repercussion of sin can be very difficult, in spite of the fact that God has forgiven the individual. Perhaps this illustration might help — let’s say you were speeding excessively with your car, and you smashed into some-thing and experienced serious injuries, including the amputation of both of your legs… now though God forgives those who genuinely confess their wrongdoing, that doesn’t mean He will give you your legs back. Are you tracking with me? The ramification of sin can have a very lasting effect upon you — if it involves someone’s death, their death is not going to be reversed. It should be noted, pretty much every believer experience the ongoing residual affects of some sin; nevertheless, God’s forgiveness is absolute. By the way, the two statements I often say to myself and to God are these: “Ekstrand, don’t go there!” and “God above, send me love!” (in other words, “God, help me!”); remember, God is not a non-player in the believer’s life (with that in mind, take the time to carefully reflect upon all David had to say in Psalm 32:1-11).
Now it wasn’t until I was in graduate school at Arizona State University in Tempe that I finally heard that the believer’s life is not a life of perfection (or anywhere near it), but a life whereby one continues to grow in his faith and love for Chris… and as a result he is increasingly being transformed into the image of Christ… and the rest is history for me. Ultimately, it was the British theologian John Stott whose writings God used to instruct my heart as to the essence of the Christian faith — his book “Basic Christianity” (by Eerdmans Publishing), was a very impactful read for me… as incredible as it may seem, within five or six months I started directing a “junior high ministry” at Grace Community Church in Tempe, Arizona… two years later I was a student at Talbot Theological Seminary in southern California, and after graduating I had the privilege of starting a “college minis-try” back at Grace (such were the greatest years of my life). Though things happened very quickly in my life when I committed my life to Christ (obviously that was God’s will for my life; apparently all of my younger years helped prepare me for the work of ministry; God sometimes does things quickly in people’s lives, and sometimes He doesn’t). Again, because the vast majority of modern-day Christian writing back in the 40s, 50s, 60s & 70s focused on the positives of the Christian faith, such became the central teachings of most American churches. It should be remembered, it was that kind of human logic that influ-enced the ancient Jewish world back in the first century when Jesus entered into it… the reality is, it’s always been relatively easy for God’s people to ignore the fullness of what Scripture teaches, and simply embrace what they feel comfortable with. Beloved, either you are going to align yourself with divine truth as it is stated in Scripture, or you will let humanistic thinking influence your theology (thus minimizing the integrity of it). By the way, to believe in Christ to a point, yet reject certain aspects of His Word might mean you have not truly been born-again. If that is a disturbing construct to you, let me encourage you to read a study I did titled “True Unequivocal Truth” — you can access it on my web-site under the Additional Studies Link at the top of the homepage; my website is this — www.thetransformedsoul.com — Let me share one more thought regarding our growing in the faith: For arguments sake, let’s say believers start their faith at 10 to 15%, and then begin to grow their faith throughout the rest of their earthly life. What is important to note is that no human being has ever grown his faith to a level as high as 65%... though some of God’s most dedicated servants may have come close to that, I seriously doubt they ever had that strong a faith. In order to understand that deduction, you will need to read the entirety of this study. Now for someone to claim that a person can achieve a near perfect faith of 95% is clearly outside of the box; remember, when you get to heaven and God glorifies you, you are going to be radically more righteous than you are today; our full transformation into the image of Christ is going to be so radical, we will all be stunned by it. If you were to ask me or anyone else today, “How much do you think you resemble Christ?” The truth is, we are no where near as good and holy as Christ is. So let’s argue it this way: I really don’t believe any human being has ever elevated his faith as high as 65%... 55% is probably the maximum ever achieved by one of God’s people, and that may even be an exaggeration. Beloved, since we all started our faith at 10 to 15%, let me encourage you to do your best to “up it one percent every two or three years,” and maybe, just maybe, you can enter into the eternal realm with a faith of about 40%; beloved, that is going to require a tremendous amount of striving on your part. Again, keep in mind, we are not men & women of great faith… we are men & women of faith in a great God. Furthermore, faith is not simply a matter of increasing one’s knowledge of the truth, it is a matter of walking in the truth; all of us as believers practice far less than we know. By the way, are you truly interested in growing your faith, or is your premiere interest in life to be happy and live a pleasant life? (keep in mind, that’s the norm for fallen man). Though living a pleasant life is tremendously important for every human being, for the believer it must be of secondary importance. Keep in mind, growing in faith only occurs when we are subjected to trials and tribulation and temptation; so growing in faith is not at all an easy road to travel… without question, it is a very difficult road as the rest of this study will attest. Now, whatever the case may be in your life, let me encourage you to never give up growing your faith! (cf. Eph 4:15; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18).
John the Baptist was the chosen forerunner of Jesus Christ in the Jewish world back in the first century… God had chosen him as a baby to be the forerunner of Christ. A couple of years prior to the ministry of Jesus in the Holy Land, John preached the need of repentance and baptism to sinful man; since his ministry had impacted a significant number of Jewish people, apparently many of them were prepared to consider the coming of the Messiah. John’s life was characterized by the graces of self-denial, humility, and holy courage… because he spoke the truth, ultimately he willingly was a victim of imprisonment and death. While he was in prison, he sent messengers to Jesus to ask Him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Why did John begin to doubt whether Jesus was the Messiah? Well, two things could have caused him to doubt: it appears as though he had been imprisoned for over a year, and more than likely knew he was about to be executed (Mt 14:1-12), and secondly, that Jesus was not being received as the Messiah by the majority of people in the Jewish world… instead Jesus was being strongly rejected by the leaders of Israel (i.e., the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Sanhedrins). Jesus responded to John’s messengers, telling them to inform John of the miracles being performed (again, the purpose of miracles was to substantiate the person, thus authenticating his message; that’s why the Jews sought “signs” – 1 Cor 1:22; 2 Cor 12:2; Jn 20:30; Acts 2:22; Mt 12:38; 16:1; 11:4-5). In response to John’s messengers, Jesus went on to praise John with these words, “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (cf. Mt 11:7-11; Lk 7:21-27). Jesus didn’t rebuke John — He knew John, and loved John, and understood the trial John was enduring. Jesus’ response to John the Baptist’s doubt is a perfect example of Matthew 12:20, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.” Beloved, none of us walk on water. True born-again Christians can lose their confidence in God when their life becomes grievous and seems excessively problematic; likewise, they can lose their faith because the life-style is simply too hard to follow… in addition to that, they can lose their faith because what they are being taught is either erroneous or too hard to understand and embrace… and they can lose their faith because they have been mis-treated by other Christians. In the gospel of John there’s an interesting exchange between Jesus and His followers: Said Jesus: “Those who eat my body and drink my blood live in Me, and I live in them” (Jn 6: 56), to which the people responded, “This teaching is hard, who can accept it?” After that, many of them stopped following Jesus, in spite of the fact that Jesus was actually speaking in spiritual terms, not physical terms. The reality is, a lot of people walk away from their faith when they become confused and don’t understand what is going on in their life. Just because one doesn’t understand some divine construct, doesn’t mean he should abandon the faith; because no one completely understands the totality of God’s revelation — the reality is, there is plenty of room for all of us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (cf. 2 Pet 3:18). Living a perfect life is also unattainable because of our fallen flesh… it simply has too strong a presence in our lives for us to completely overcome it — beloved, God is well aware of our human weaknesses and shortcomings (cf. Heb 4:15), so don’t change the discourse and make it different than it is. Just keep on striving to walk in the Spirit and walk in the Word. One might compare the life of the believer to a sport like baseball — as stated earlier in this study, the best baseball players in the world have a batting average of about 300 (not 1,000) which means they are not at all close to being “perfect!” Though Jesus can bat 1,000, no human being comes close to that! So walk through life with “humility,” and stop making the Christian life out to be something it is not. God is well-pleased with those who strive to walk in the light, and fight the good fight against evil and their flesh; so the Christian life is not just a comfort-able little downhill ride, it is a long uphill battle. As believers, we must learn to rely on Christ for guidance on the narrow path, and learn to be comfortable and accept the fact that we will not understand everything; remember what the Lord said to Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways; as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are my thoughts and ways greater than yours” (Is 55:8-9). As you grow in the faith and the grace and knowledge of Christ, you will start appreciating the depth & integrity of divine truth. The question is, are you committed to “growing in your faith,” or are you going to wait until some very disconcerting thing comes into your life and pushes you in a godly direction? That’s how God often works in our lives; He doesn’t just let us embrace the flesh without consequences (remember, we are “His children” — if God doesn’t move in our lives, that is simply an indication that we have not been born-again – cf. 1 Pet 2:2; 1 Cor 3:2; 14:20; Eph 4:14-15; Heb 5:12; Jn 17:17). Remember the words of King Solomon: “Whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father, the son in whom he delights” (cf. Prov 3:12; Deut 8:5; Heb 12:5ff). The problem with most people in the Christian world, is that they do not see God as an integral part of everything that transpires in their life; for some strange reason, many professing Christians do not believe in the sovereignty of God (as such, they do not see Him as being the premiere mover in their life – cf. Eph 1:4, 5, 11; Acts 13:48; Rom 8:28; 1 Th 5:24; Gen 60:20; Job 1:8; 2:3; Ps 138:8; 139:13-16 — also read Is 40:6-8, 13-17; 42:6-8; 43:10-13; 45:5-7; 46:9-11; 55:8-11).
The apostle Paul explains the life of the believer this way — “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). What we see here is a contrast between truth and perception; i.e., what we know and believe to be true and what we perceive to be true. This is where the believer’s struggle with a lack of faith finds its basis. The main reason why Christians struggle with a lack of faith is that they follow their percep-tions of what is true, rather than what they know to be true by faith. The reality is, faith is not belief without proof or belief despite the evidence… no, faith is a complete trust or confidence in someone or something. That trust or confidence we have in someone is built up over time as he proves himself faithful time and again. So, by definition, Christianity is a faith-based religion, that is based on faith in God and His Son, Jesus Christ. God has provided us with “His Word” (the Bible), as a testimony of His faithfulness to His people all through-out history. As Christians, we are called to believe in the person & work of Jesus Christ, to believe His message, and live in light of it. Since our perception of reality can cause us to question what Scripture teaches, our faith can be somewhat ruled by our doubts; for instance, we don’t see how faith in Christ makes us righteous before God… we don’t see how the cross can atone for our sins… and we don’t understand why sin is still such a significant reality in our lives — the truth is, we thought we were going to experience a pretty rapid transformation when we accepted Christ… furthermore, we don’t understand why God is such a distant reality in our lives — that was never something we anticipated… we don’t understand why God doesn’t reveal Himself to us in a fairly significant way… in addition to the foregoing, we don’t understand why God seems to ignore our prayers, and why life can’t be as wonderful as we were led to believe it would be. Again, God’s people struggle with believing what Scripture teaches because it doesn’t coincide with our conceived perception of reality. In spite of the foregoing, the main reason we as believers struggle with our faith is that we don’t truly know the God in whom we profess to have faith… since God is somewhat of a stranger to us, we are less likely to believe what His Word says; incidentally, the only cure for this is to spend more time in God’s Word getting to know Him as He needs to be known. One cannot make God out to be something He is not, and then think his faith is grounded in the truth — it should be obvious, truth is not what we make it, it is what God makes it… and without humility, one will never fully understand or embrace divine truth. Keep in mind, all truth is grounded in God alone; there is no truth outside of God — He is truth (cf. Ps 31:5; 89:14; 119:160; Is 65:16; Jn 1:14; 14:6); just as God is truth, Satan is a liar… to think otherwise is the antithesis of divine truth. Remember, only God is eternal — everything else is temporal (i.e., vastly limited), and in comparison with God, everything outside of Him essentially is “zero” (cf. Is 40:6-8, 17-18, 22-23; 25-26; 43:10-13; 45:5-7; 46:9-11). The premiere problem for us as fallen believers is that the world, the flesh, and the devil often distract us; such gets us to think thoughts that not only cause a lot of disconcertion in our soul, but causes us to struggle with our faith. Obviously if we do not spend significant time in the Word, and hear it being preached in the pulpits of our churches (without it being erroneously taught), our faith will never be the faith God wants it to be; the problem with many churches is that they do not feed the sheep with genuine truth, or draw a clear distinction between godliness and ungodliness. Remember, faith is believing precisely what God’s Word says, and acting upon it… not responding to human perceptions. If some of the foregoing is troubling to you, take the time to read this paragraph again.
Jesus talked to His followers about “taking up their cross… calculating the cost… and surrendering everything to God that they own” (cf. Lk 14:27, 28, 33). Said Jesus: “The way is hard & narrow that leads to life, and few there be that find it” (Mt 7:14, ESV). That word “hard” or “narrow,” depending upon the translation, is emphatic in Greek. All one must do to confirm this is look at the hard road God’s people traversed in the biblical world; why would it be any different today? Romans chapter 7 shows us that living for God is difficult for all of us. Before we came to faith in Christ, all we knew was sin; our motivation was simply pleasing ourselves. Even the benevolent acts we performed had a selfish root; we did good things to feel better about ourselves, to assuage guilt, and enhance our reputation with others. The question is, are those things still motivating you? When the Holy Spirit moved into our lives the day we placed our trust in Christ, our motivation became one of love (genuine caring) rather than guilt (read Ezek 36:26-27); i.e., we no longer let guilt rule in our lives, because God washed away all of our sins… hence He gave us a new heart and placed a new governing power in our hearts & minds (the Holy Spirit), wherein love now became the driving force in our lives (loving God and loving others). Yet in spite of that drastic change, we still face temptation from without & from within (cf. 2 Cor 7:5). Although the Holy Spirit dwells within us as believers (cf. 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19), it is up to each one of us as to how much control we are going to allow the Spirit to have. That’s why the apostle Paul said: “Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (cf. Gal 5:16, 25) — incidentally, those emboldened words are emphatic in Greek. As Paul also states, it is only by considering ourselves “crucified with Christ” (cf. Gal 2:20) that we will live by faith and walk in the Spirit; if we do not see ourselves as having been crucified with Christ, our corrupt sin-nature (i.e., our flesh) will confuse us and even cause us to question our faith. Keep in mind, Satan’s premiere goal is to remove God from the discourse that goes on in our minds… he loves it when believers are preoccupied with obedience to the Law; because rather than making God the foundation of their lives, they make their behavior the foundation of their lives. So either you will capitulate and cave into fleshly thinking, or you will insist on embracing divine thinking. Because we as believers are “in Christ” (cf. Rom 6:11; 8:1), and Christ died in our place (cf. Rom 5:6-8), we must see ourselves as having died with Christ; that is the fundamental premise of Romans six.
What is of critical importance for believers, is understanding that 2,000 years ago, all of us as believers were “baptized into Christ” — let me explain this concept of baptism: the word baptism refers to both water baptism & spirit baptism, and water baptism actually symbol-izes our spiritual baptism. The term literally refers to “immersion;” i.e., being immersed in water or Christ (depending upon its applica-tion). The ancient Greek world used the term to describe “dipping garments into water” or “dipping oneself into water” to experience cleansing. Keep in mind, every one of us as believers has been spiritually immersed into the person of Christ; i.e., every believer was spiritually placed in Christ 2,000 years ago when Christ went to the cross; thus we were united with Him (cf. 1 Cor 6:17; 10:2; Gal 3:27; 1 Pet 3:21; 1 Jn 1:3). Though that may seem a little odd to you, because 2,000 years ago you didn’t exist (at least not as you exist now), God took your spirit and placed it in His Son to accomplish His purposes in your life as a person who would eventually place your trust in Him. Now just as Jesus Christ died and was raised from the dead, we as believers not only died with Him, but we were also raised with Him (read Rom 6:3-11); since those of us who are born-again believers were united with Christ when we placed our trust in Him, His death, burial and resurrection became ours as well, thus giving us the capacity to walk in newness of life (cf. Rom 6:4). The reality is, our old sinful-self died with Christ on the cross, thus every one of us as believers actually turned away from our old sinful self when we embraced Christ as our Savior; as such, the life we now enjoy is a new divinely-inspired life that is the life of Christ Himself (cf. Gal 2:20). Without under-standing what Christ has truly done for us, and exactly what transpired in us as a result of the cross and the resurrection, our faith will actually be a fairly remedial faith, because it won’t be fully grounded in the death and resurrection of Christ. With the foregoing in mind, let me help give definition to this foundational truth — everyone of us as believers were “spiritually united with Christ both in His death and in His resurrection” — not physically, but spiritually; thus we were each spiritually baptized (i.e., immersed) into Christ and died with Him in His death, and were raised with Him in His resurrection. Now if you can visualize yourself as “spiritually being in Christ 2,000 years ago” when He went to the cross and was buried, and was subsequently raised from the dead, then you should be able to understand the significance of our identity with both the death and resurrection of Christ. Think about it, if we were “in Christ” when He died, then we died with Him; conversely, if we were “in Christ” when He was raised from the dead, then we were raised with Him. It is also important to remember as Christians, “we are not only in Christ” (cf. Rom 8:1; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:17; 1 Pet 5:14; Rom 6:3-11), “but Christ is in us” (cf. Col 1:27; 2 Cor 13:5; Rom 8:10) — obviously if you were “in Christ” 2,000 years ago (prior to your experiencing physical birth), then you not only died with Christ but was also raised with Christ (again, read the following passages: Rom 6:3-11; Gal 2:20; 2 Tim 2:11). So as Christians, “we became one with Christ in relation to sin” (remember, Christ died in relation to sin), and “we be-came one with Christ in relation to His resurrection;” therefore, just as Christ died and was raised, so we also experienced His death and His resurrection… as such, we are all members of the body of Christ. Thus what is true of Christ is true of us as Christians. Though “our union with Christ” is not an easy construct to fully understand, that is what defines us and that is how God Himself sees us as His children — “we are one with Christ” — also keep in mind, in eternity future we are actually going to be “co-heirs with Christ.” As John MacArthur says it in his “Study Bible,” “As heirs of God we will inherit eternal salvation… God Himself… glory… and everything in the universe, so all of us as God’s children will receive by divine grace the full inheritance that Christ receives by divine right” (cf. Mt 25:21, 34; Jn 17:22; Rom 8:17; 2 Cor 8:9; Gal 3:29; Eph 1:11; Col 1:12; 3:24; Titus 3:7; Heb 1:2; 6:12; 9:15; 1 Pet 1:4). To get a good grasp of the foregoing, take the time to reflect upon the various passages listed. Remember, this is a “study,” not just a casual read; if you simply make it a casual read, it won’t have much of an affect upon your faith — again, as God’s children “we must believe divine truth” in order for it to be affective in our lives.
Now, regarding Christ’s death on the cross, “since the wages of sin is death” (cf. Rom 6:23), the sentence of death was executed in the body of Christ on the cross (cf. Rom 7:4); since that is what occurred, we can live the life of Christ because we have been set free from the condemnation of the law… so no matter how much we may stumble in life, the law and the consequences of the law have absolutely no power over us. None! Now if that construct is somewhat questionable to you, then your faith will be less effective than it should be; how is that? Because your imperfections will constantly cause you to focus on your shortcomings rather than the cross of Christ. Due to the fact that our wayward flesh has such a strong presence in our lives, it continually drags us into negative thinking; so we have to con-tinually fight the good fight of faith. That’s why we must embrace divine truth and spend a significant amount of time “studying what God’s Word says about it.” Think about it, God has given us His Word for a purpose; it’s not just a little historical entertainment book… it is His self-revelation to man that gives definition to reality and what His will is for our lives — though that isn’t necessarily an easy road to travel (God never said it was), to ignore such thinking is to let fleshly thinking influence our faith. Now for someone to make the following assumption: “Well I just don’t know what to believe,” is simply diabolical thinking; yet it is a “choice” that the vast majority of people in our world believe. Remember, even the majority of professing Christians embrace that kind of thinking; i.e., they let fallen human thinking define reality in their life — thus they are not true genuine believers. Remember, though 35% of the world says they are Christians, only 13% of the world are truly born-again Christians. The reality is fallen human thinking is completely antithetical to what Scripture teaches; as Christians, we don’t have a right to simply believe what we want to believe (that is precisely what the ancient Jewish world did — they simply believed what they wanted to believe; and Christ rebuked them). The reality is, we are to embrace divine truth. Stated Peter, “Long for the pure milk of the Word, that by it you may grow with respect to your salvation” (cf. 1 Pet 2:2; 1 Cor 3:2; 14:20; Eph 4:11-16; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17). It should be clear, we all have a lot of room with which to grow, because none of us are anywhere close to perfection. The most troubling aspect of this subject is that many of God’s people are not sold out to the person of Christ; for many, Christ just seems to have a very remedial and questionable presence in their lives.
Now, as true genuine believers, we are completely united with Christ because we are “in Christ;” i.e., we are not separated from Him in any way (cf. Rom 8:1; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:17). Though this unity understandably transcends human thought, that still defines who we are as true born-again Christians — as previously stated, we are not only in Christ, but Christ is in us (cf. 2 Cor 13:5; Col 1:17); as such, we are God’s children, and He is our Father, and once we get to heaven we will actually be “co-heirs with His Son” (cf. Mt 25:34; Rom 8:17; Eph 1:11; Col 3:24; Heb 9:15; 1 Pet 1:4). Though that is a difficult construct to completely wrap our minds around because we are very small temporal creatures, that is the reality — as believers “we are in Christ and nothing can separate us from Him!” (cf. Rom 8:38-39); not even the sinful choices we make in life. That is not a maybe for us as believers; that’s an absolute reality; the reason it is hard to believe is primarily because of our innate sinfulness (i.e., our flesh; though one day we will be fully transformed creatures when God glorifies us as we enter into heaven, that day is still future); thus it is the presence of indwelling sin (i.e., our fleshly nature), that oftentimes keeps us in the dark, and causes us to focus on the negative rather than the positive. The apostle Paul essentially described his life this way: “My life is now nothing but the life of Christ, maintained by the continuation of that once-for-all act of faith in Him” (Gal 2:20). Though we all stumble often as believers (Jam 3:2), that does not mean we are no longer God’s children. Keep in mind, Jesus did not come into the world to reform our flesh, He came to crucify it (Rom 6:6-7); though our flesh’s death has not yet been fully realized at this point, neither has our physical death been fully realized… it is only a matter of time until both our flesh and our physical bodies are done away with. Obviously our flesh does not want to die, thus we have a deep desire to please ourselves and compromise with the world; so our flesh is not absent from our lives — the reality is, it does not die easily. When we cling to our own rights and opinions and our own agenda in life, WE remain the lord of our life; conversely, when we lay our will on the altar before God and humbly let go of it, WE die to ourselves — it is only then that we can be controlled by the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 4:8; 13:52; Eph 5:18), and it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can live a life that honors God… only the power of the Spirit can produce good works in us. When Jesus was on earth, the multitudes loved the free food and the miracles He performed; but when He began to talk about the hard things of the gospel, many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him (Jn 6:66). Beloved, keep in mind, we cannot serve both God and ourselves or God and mammon (cf. Lk 16:13; Mt 6:24); living for God means we make a final decision about who is in charge, and we seek God’s will over our own will every waking moment. The reason living for God admittedly is difficult, is due to the fact that our flesh refuses to accept it — the reality is, we all stumble often because of the indwelling presence of our flesh; yet in spite of the fact our flesh still dwells in us, it does not completely rule over us and make life a completely disobedient joyless experience (cf. Ps 100:2; 1 Cor 6:20; 1 Pet 4:16)… though some of the trials we exper-ience in life can be pretty long (as Job’s were), God eventually brings them to an end. Remember, God subjects us to trials to “grow our faith” — such is the premiere method God uses to do that; we grow in knowledge through the reading and preaching of God’s Word, but we only grow our faith when it is tested and we give application to the Word (cf. Jam 1:3; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 4:12; Heb 11:17)… the truth is, trials cause us to contemplate divine reality. It is also important to remember, “God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to endure” (1 Cor 10:13); incidentally, that refers to both trials and temptation; though sometimes we may question that because trials are not at all pleasant, that is the reality — God is limiting them to a certain degree, so be encouraged about what God is doing in your life. Beloved, did not Job grow in his faith when he was subjected to all of the horrific things he experienced? Yet here was a man God called “blameless, upright, fearing God, a man who turned away from evil… and the greatest of all the men of the east” (cf. Job 1:1-3); nevertheless, Job still had a lot of growing to do. It is only when we reject fleshly thinking (i.e., a human perception of reality), and embrace God’s will (i.e., divine truth), that we grow in our faith (cf. Jam 1:2-4; 1 Pet 1:6-9; 4:12-13; Lk 8:22-25; 1 Tim 6:11-12).
Essentially there are two kinds of thinking throughout the entire created order: there is holy thinking & unholy thinking… righteous thinking & unrighteous thinking… divine thinking & the self-centered thinking of all fallen creatures (be they angelic or human creatures); obviously these two lines of thought are antithetical to each other. So essentually, there are two schools of thought regarding reality; one coincides with reality and one does not… one is true and one is not. It should be clear to every believer, our actions reflect our thinking; i.e., as we think so we act… and as we think so we are (cf. Prov 23:7) — that should not be a difficult construct for any believer to understand. Furthermore, it shouldn’t be difficult to see God as truth personified; i.e., the essence of truth (cf. Ps 119:160; Is 65:16; Jer 10:10; Jn 1:14; 3:33; 8:46; 16:6; 17:;3; 17:17). As Scripture says, God is holy (cf. 1 Pet 1:16; Rev 3:7; 4:8), God is good (cf. Lk 18:19), and God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:7-8, 16); the truth is, only God is true, holy, good, and loving, so one cannot ascribe to God anything that is evil, untrue, wicked or unlovely — all such behaviors are the product of ungodly creatures. The reality is, when God’s creatures fail to embrace divine truth, they’re embracing their own fallen perception of reality… and God calls that “sin” (“hamartia” in Greek), which literally means “to miss the mark.” So when one rejects divine thinking, he embraces that which is not true and rejects God’s purpose for his life; thus he surrenders to that which is evil instead of holy (i.e., that which is sacred and pure). Incidentally, the word “evil” (“kakos” in Greek) refers to that which is “morally wrong;” thus it is the antithesis of that which is “morally right;” so that which is morally reprehensible is antithetical to the true & living God (i.e., the holy God of absolute truth). It should be noted, one of the most significant affirmations throughout Scripture is humanity’s estrangement from God, which was the result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God’s authority, because they insisted on being autonomous creatures; i.e., living their own lives the way they wanted to live them (cf. Gen 3:6). So sin essentially embraces self-centeredness — therefore fallen man is a self-centered creature rather than a God-centered creature. Where the rub is in most peoples minds, is that they believe they possess a degree of goodness (when in fact they don’t – cf. Rom 3:10-12), and that they are not an evil people (when in fact they are – cf. Rom 3:23; 11:32). Think about it, fallen man is completely alienated from God (who is divine truth), so for him to claim that he understands divine truth (i.e., ultimate reality), when he is simply an ignoramus, is a complete contradiction; that would be akin to saying that he understands all languages, when in fact he only understands one language, and he doesn’t even have a full understanding of every word in that language. Nevertheless, in spite of man’s limited thinking, God has made Himself evident to him, so that he cannot ignore God’s essence or embrace something that runs contrary to God — yet this is precisely what fallen man does. Remember what Scripture says: “That which is known about God is evident within man, because GOD made it evident to him… though he knew God, however, he did not honor Him as GOD… so his foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, man became a fool, and exchanged the truth of God for a lie…. so God gave him over to a depraved mind” (cf. Rom 1:19-28). Keep in mind, all of the emboldened words in those particular verses are emphatic in Greek — arrogant godless people all have “depraved minds.” Said the Lord to the prophet Isaiah: “The righteousness of man is like a filthy garment (or rag)” (Is 64:6); now, though none of us as fallen creatures fully understand that, that is the reality; absolute righteousness is absolutely pure, and fallen creatures do not possess purity — all purity is of divine origin and only exists in God Himself and His hea-enly angels. Because we as fallen creatures all tend to argue against that to some degree, that just shows us how corrupt our inner-core is. Remember, the thinking of men is rela-tive to what he sees and what he feels; it has absolutely nothing to do with ultimate reality (i.e., divine reality). Since fallen man is convinced that his perceptions are right, his flesh vehemently fights to defend what he believes or wants to believe. The resultant effect of man’s innate sinfulness, is that he violates God’s righteous character; which is why sin creates a barrier between God and those who do not live righteous lives.
In the Bible, sin and death are corollaries (cf. Rom 6:23) — because sin separates man from God, fallen man is “spiritually dead” and no longer lives under the lordship of Christ. However, because God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:16), He sent His Son into the world to redeem sin-ful man and make him a brand new creation through the shedding of His blood (cf. Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8; Eph 2:4-5; 1 Jn 4:9-10; Rev 1:5) — again, it should be obvious, if God was not a loving God, He never would have come to this world to die in our place and redeem us. Now in spite of all Christ did for us, I find it very perplexing that God would send His Son into the world of fallen satanic creatures, and let them crucify Him — that in itself transcends human thinking; there is no way for any of us (even believers) to fully understand that. Though Christ’s death was necessary for Him to redeem us, how was it that Satan and God’s own sinful fallen people would be the ones to crucify Him? Obviously, that is a very complex issue. In order to try and answer that question, let’s go back to man’s begin-ning and the sins of Adam and Eve, and what God said to the serpent Satan — “You shall bruise Christ’s heel, but He shall crush your head” (cf. Gen 3:15; Rom 16:20; Rev 20:10); obviously, the death of Christ and the death of Satan were forecasted; it was now only a matter of time until such things would occur. How could God permit Satan to crucify His Son? That’s an extremely profound question. Though there’s no way for us to fully understand it, yet such an action does show us what the fullness of sin looks like — it hates God with a passion! That’s right, there is nothing sin won’t do to express its hatred for God. The most mesmerizing and perplexing reality is the fact that God let sin express itself in all its fullness, and in so doing He turned that expression into an act of redemption; i.e., He actually redeemed fallen creatures through the full expression of sin against His Son — so here we have the originator of sin in eternity past (Satan), and the cause of sin in the lives of Adam and Eve, killing God’s Son through God’s own chosen people (the Israelites). Again, that’s a very perplexing construct. Sin began with Satan in eternity past, and was the ultimate cause of Christ’s crucifixion through God’s people, yet it was that horrific act that resulted in the redemption of God’s people… which transcends human thinking. So Christ through the cross purchased our redemption; i.e., He paid the entire price for our sin — “death” — remember, “the wages of sin is death” (cf. Rom 6:23), i.e., the fair wages that sin pays its servants is death (by definition, death is earned), and Christ paid that wage. Yet, interestingly enough, and to the praise of God’s glory, death could not hold Jesus… yes He did die, but due to His eternal omnipotence He overcame the fullness of death; i.e., He paid the whole price of sin, and when it was paid He arose from the dead. Because His eternal nature is incomprehensible to fallen man and the demonic world, His resurrection transcends human thought — the eternality of God and the temporality of man and all other creatures are simply incomparable (2 Tim 1:10); one cannot compare that which is finite with that which is infinite, because the difference is endless. So Jesus is greater than all our sin — far greater! Remember, Jesus was more than just a man, He was God incarnate… though He emptied Himself of some of His eternal attributes when He entered into this world (Phil 2:7); once He paid the price for sin, His eternal attributes were restored — though we are not able to fully comprehend that, that is what occurred. Remember, Christ is omnipotent (cf. Mt 8:26-27; Lk 4:38-41; 7:14-15; 8:24-25; Rev 1:8), omniscient (cf. Mt 17:22-27; Jn 4:16-18; 6:64), and omnipresent (cf. Mt 18:20; 28:20); therefore, there is nothing He can’t do, nothing He doesn’t know, and no place where He is not. In short, Jesus possesses eternal life; i.e., life that is infinite and endless (cf. 1 Jn 5:11-12, 20). Now because every creature in existence is a temporal creature (including all angelic creatures), in comparison with God they are extremely miniscule creatures — in comparison with God (the Great Eternal I-AM) their minds are tiny, their strength is weeny, and their power is mini — remember, we don’t even have the capacity to walk on water or jump ten feet in the air; yet many people still claim to be great creatures (which is simply the essence of relative thinking)… yet here we are as corrupt fallen creatures trying to understand our sinfulness and God’s perfect holiness and His eternal love for us! The truth is, such constructs cannot be fully understood by temporal creatures, in spite of the fact that God has made these things evident to man — it is fallen man’s insistence on knowing the full-ness of absolute truth that causes him to wander in the dark (that is precisely what hap-pened with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; though they knew what God had told them, that wasn’t sufficient for them, so they ate of the forbidden fruit). Since the fall of Adam & Eve in the Garden, it is man’s innate sinfulness that causes him to close the door on divine truth, because it denies him his own autonomy and what he wants in life. Now, because of fallen man’s arrogant heart very few people will embrace divine truth and experience the new birth; as such, rather than living the life God wants them to live, they will insist on living a self-centered life and ultimately experience God’s wrath (cf. Jn 3:36; Rom 1:18; Eph 5:5-6; Col 3:5-6; Rev 19:11-15; 20:11-15).
Obviously, the temptation to embrace unrighteousness over righteousness is not at all unusual for fallen man; it simply defines who he is… even as saved fallen creatures we really struggle with the concept of divine righteousness, because it simply transcends human thought (cf. Is 55:8-9). The reality is, God created us as emotional beings in His image; though in and of themselves emotions are not evil, they are evil when they are influenced by our flesh. The reality is, things that happen in our life can make us feel good or feel bad — think about it, when we fall and hurt our self, when we damage our car, when we get sick at an inopportune time, when our favorite sports team loses to its rival, when our house is damaged with some kind of storm, when we suffer from some physical problem, when we lose our job, when we are abused by someone, etc., etc.; these things cause us to have negative feelings… on the contrary, when things we like occur, we experience positive feelings. So some things make us feel good, and some things make us feel bad… though it would be nice if we always felt good, that isn’t the reality that God so wills that we experience; negatives play a very significant role in God’s economy; though they don’t appear to be positive, and certainly don’t feel good, they will ultimately have a very positive spiritual affect upon our lives; if they didn’t, God wouldn’t subject us to them. Incidentally, God’s emotions are revealed over and over again in Scripture; the reality is, God and His creatures feel love, joy, happiness, frustration, anger & disappointment. However, since we are fallen creatures our feelings have been seriously corrupted; thus the vast majority of our feelings are fleshly oriented, so fallen man is now looked upon essentially as a “feeling oriented creature.” Though our emotions are sometimes pleasant, oftentimes they are unpleasant… sometimes our emotions as believers are grounded in truth, yet oftentimes they are grounded in untruth (i.e., they are based on some false premise). The truth is, as fallen creatures our feelings govern much of what goes on in our lives, and since the vast majority of our feelings are the residual effect of fleshly thinking, we often venture into the world of unrighteousness. The reality is, when some frustration, temptation or desire enters into our mind, we imme-diately respond to it with some degree of emotion or feeling, and then we begin to reflect upon it — now should we let a fleshly thought rule in our mind and fail to shut it down, the resultant effect will be sin — take the time to reflect upon the following verses (cf. Lk 22:40; 1 Cor 10:13; Phil 4:6-7; Heb 2:18; 4:15-16; Jam 1:14-15). Ultimately the issue is this: since our emotions are essentially tainted by our fallen sin nature, we must give careful attention to them and control them. Scripture tells us that we are to be controlled by the Holy Spirit (cf. read the entirety of Rom 6; Eph 5:15-18; 1 Pet 5:6-11). So how then do we manage our emo-tions? Well, if we perceive them as being an unrighteous negative in our life, we must immediately turn from them; however, if they persist and overwhelm us, we must immediately go to God and allow Him to do His work in our hearts, and redirect our thinking and actions, which obviously means growing in our walk with God. Obviously when we fail to go to God immediately, sin will occur in our life; we cannot reflect upon some sinful thought very long without sinning (that can’t be done, because our flesh will rule in the moment). When temptation is acknowledged, it must immediately be stopped. Since our flesh frequently rules in our minds, we often capitulate and cave into it; that is not at all unusual for any believer — if you think your fallen nature (i.e., your flesh) is just a weak little wimp, you have been deluded, because our flesh is one tough animal in the interior of our being… hence the need for “transformation” (i.e., being transformed into the image of Christ). Remember, “we are transformed by the renewing of our minds” (cf. Rom 12:1-2), and the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us — it is the Holy Spirit who produces self-control in us (cf. Gal 5:23), and this He does as we humbly contemplate divine truth as it is expressed in Scripture; so the Holy Spirit and Scripture are corollaries (cf. Jn 14:26; Acts 16:14; 1 Th 1:5; 1 Jn 2:20, 22). The foregoing clearly tells us that we need to spend time in God’s Word every day, growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ (cf. 2 Pet 3:18; 1:2) and humbly sharing our hearts with God through prayer (i.e., be very open and transparent with God — there is nothing He doesn’t know); He simply wants us to humbly walk with Him through all of the ups and downs of life… though we may rant and rave at all that we are experiencing, that is simply what it means to be a fallen creature… so at least be open to God with everything you are feeling. He knows everything about us and is mindful that we are fallen creatures; even though we are saved, we still have a sinful inner-core that we struggle greatly with. Remember, “God sympathizes with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:15). Also keep in mind, God wouldn’t tell us that He sympathizes with our “weaknesses” if we didn’t have them; the reality is, as born-again Christians we are very weak spiritually… none of us walk on water! So it’s not like our flesh is just a remedial little presence in our lives; not at all, it has a very powerful presence in our lives (of which God is well-aware), and that is why we have a war to fight. Without humbly accepting reality for what it really is, we will never grow in our faith, because we won’t be dealing properly with reality. Now to the chagrin of many believers, they strongly question whether in fact God really loves them — there is not a believer on the planet who doesn’t question that at times… so let’s focus on that issue.
Beloved, God’s love is the absolute foundation of our faith… if His love for us is not unconditional, then there is no hope whatsoever for any of us; because none of us have the capacity to always walk in the light, and never walk in darkness. Since it is true that we are not worthy of God’s love, the most incredible truth of all is the fact that He loves us with an everlasting love anyway! As the Lord Jesus said, “I will never leave you or ever forsake you — NEVER!” Beloved, those emboldened words are emphatic in Greek! So NOTHING will ever separate us from the love of God – NOTHING! (cf. Rom 8:37-39; Heb 13:5). Beloved, it is that truth that you must affirm every day of your life, or darkness will often rule in your soul, because that is the one truth the devil will do anything he can to convince you that it is not true… and every believer struggles with this issue over and over again. The following questions will never come to an end in your life — “How can God love me when all I to do is constantly make a mess of things?” “Though I always wanted to be a wonderful person whom God was well-pleased with, that has never been the case in my life!” The reality is, because we don’t meet up to God’s perfect standards, at times we seriously question the integrity of our faith, and try though as we may to do everything right, we just continue to stumble & stumble & stumble. As hard as it is to believe that God loves us, that is the foundation of our faith! Why is it hard to believe? Because we are completely unworthy! And it is our unworthiness that is so mesmerizing to our faith. Why do you think Christ went to the cross and died for us? Because we are beautiful creatures who are worthy of His love? Nothing could be further from the truth! Such thinking is pure satanic thought; if that is your theology, you are denying reality, walking in the dark, and completely fooling yourself. Now, in addition to the foregoing, Christian fellowship is another extremely important part of spiritual growth, because deep abiding Christian friendships not only enrich our lives and nurture our souls, but encourages our hearts — remember, the Holy Spirit dwells in both of us, and spirit- ually works in both of us and through both of us; He is not just a dull quiet presence in our lives… and as we walk in the light, His presence is very dynamic. Though all of us as believers experience times when we feel overwhelmed in life, keep in mind, Jesus Himself was greatly troubled the night before He went to the cross; He said to His disciples at Gethsemane, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”… moments later “He fell to the ground and prayed” (Mk 14:33-35) — Jesus was completely honest about how He felt… here was absolute perfection completely overwhelmed… you’ll notice, He also solicited the help of His friends and prayed to His Father — why was that? He needed far more help than He was able to give Himself; that is precisely how God designed the human family to be, not just completely independent creatures. David also dealt with being overwhelmed in life; he said: “My spirit is over-whelmed within me… my heart is desolate. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Thy doings, and consider what Thy hands have done. I stretch out my hands to Thee… my soul longs for Thee like a parched land” (Ps 143:4-6; 61:2-3). The reality is, “God is our refuge & strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and the mountains fall into the sea…. The Lord of hosts is with us” (cf. Ps 46:1-3, 7). Beloved, those are incredible verses to reflect upon.
Regarding the matter of temptation — we all face it; it is common to man (cf. 1 Cor 10:13). Though temptation and abuse and persecution are not initiated by God (cf. Jam 1:13), we learn in the first chapter of Job that God does allow Satan to tempt and abuse us (but with restrictions; cf. 1 Pet 5:8-9). According to Scripture, the reason why God allows Satan to tempt and hurt us is “to test & grow our faith” (cf. Ex 16:4; 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16; 13:13; Jam 1:3; 1 Pet 1:6-7). Furthermore, Scripture teaches that temptation is not only the work of Satan, but the byproduct of our fallen inner-core (i.e., our flesh); said James, “We are enticed by our own personal lusts” (Jam 1:14). Sin occurs when we allow ourselves to dwell on certain fleshly thoughts. The question then arises, “How do we resist temptation?” To resolve this matter, we must take the same steps that Jesus took; and that means we must pour our heart to the Lord and embrace divine truth (i.e., what God’s Word teaches)… that is precisely what Christ did when He was being tempted. So we must “take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (cf. Eph 6:17). Said Paul, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). Said Jesus to His disciples on the night of His betrayal in Gethsemane: “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into tempta-tion; though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41) — the reality is, our minds wander when we don’t watch; i.e., if we don’t give careful attention to all that is going on in our lives, we will wander into the dark and capitulate and cave into that which is evil (i.e., do that which does not honor God). As Jesus said, our spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak — obviously our human infirmities are a problem for us, because we are not men and women of great strength… though our humanness isn’t necessarily sinful in and of itself, it must be subjected to the divine will if sin is to be avoided (it must take action, but it is often simply too lazy to do so). The problem is, we all have a propensity to sin, because our flesh desires it; i.e., it likes it (Rom 7:18-23). Our problem as fallen creatures is that fleshly thinking plays a significant roll in our inner core, thus it is very easy for us to succumb to it. That’s why we are to follow the example Jesus set; remember, in His humanity He voluntarily surrendered His will to the will of His Father (cf. Jn 4:34; 6:38; 8:29; Phil 2:8); however, since we are weak creatures, we are easily carried away by our own fleshly desires. As mentioned in the last paragraph, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that actually enables us to free ourselves from the sins and temptations we struggle with. Since we have the Spirit of Christ residing in our hearts, we already have what it takes to resist what Satan subjects us to. One of the premiere problems of the work of Satan in our lives, is the fact that he subjects us to difficulties and problems that aren’t just an inch deep or one minute long… depending upon what they are, they can be pretty painful and last for awhile… and when that is the case, we have to spend a significant amount of time sharing our hearts with God, and reflecting upon His Word. It would be one thing if all of our temptations were only a minute long, though that is the case with most temptations, that is not the case with all temptations… thus, we must learn to “fight the fight!” (cf. Gal 5:16-25; Rom 8:5-9; Jam 1:14, 21, 22). As the apostle Paul said to the Galatians: “Live by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). Likewise, the psalmist said: “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee” (Ps 119:11); again, the Spirit and God’s Word are corollaries. Remember, when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, the first thing Jesus did was quote Scripture and give definition to absolute truth (Mt 4:4-10); He did not sit there and contemplate the temptation. John said, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5:4); i.e., believing divine truth. Paul said, “Faith comes from hearing by the Word of God” (Rom 10:17); so faith is believing in the God of the Bible and what it says; i.e., believing truth (cf. Ps 27:13; Jn 17:17; Acts 16:31; Rom 4:3; 10:9, 17; Col 3:16; 2 Tim 3:16; Heb 11:6); obviously, Jesus believed the truth (i.e., He had a perfect faith) — our problem is we have a very weak faith. It should be clear to every believer, we must all be students of the Word, in spite of the fact that in this life we are never going to be perfect in our walk. Nevertheless, when armed with God’s Spirit and the truth of His Word, we are well equipped to overcome Satan’s assaults; incidentally, God’s Word and the Holy Spirit are infinitely more powerful than any of Satan’s schemes (Eph 6:10-19).
The reality is, deception plays an important part in all of Satan’s temptations — he sows the seeds of doubt, unbelief and rebellion (cf. Gen 3:13; 2 Cor 11:3). Now, temptation broadly defined is the desire to do evil — it began with Adam and Eve, and it has been passed on to all of their posterity & descendents. Temptation never stops trying to find a way into our lives; it is a trap set by the devil, and it is designed to get us to walk in disobedienc to God. Obviously, if we didn’t desire to embrace a particular temptation, we wouldn’t embrace it, so our innate desire is the problem — we aren’t tempted to do something we don’t have a desire to do… if we don’t have a desire to do something, we are not being tempted. For instance, most of us have no desire to eat rats and bugs and snails, so we’re not tempted to eat them; again, temptation involves an inward desire to have something or embrace something. Because Satan is a liar (cf. Jn 8:44), the bait he uses often appears like something we need or desire; however, when we yield to temptation, we will always find the bitter fruit of sin. Incidentally, the devil never gives what he says he will — he promises liberty and ecstasy, but he delivers bondage, guilt and shame. Now with the foregoing in mind, essentially there are three ways in which people are tempted —
The lust of the flesh — which has to do with our bodily appetites: drunkenness, drug addiction, gluttony, adultery, fornication, etc.
The lust of the eyes — which essentially is an excessive desire for the things of the world: covetousness, greed, idolatry, the love of money, financial dishonestly, etc.
The pride of life — which is the desire for glory or fame: someone who struggles with the pride of life is tempted by worldly honors, fame, reputation and position.
Scripture tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are (cf. Heb 4:15); that the devil tempted Him with the lust of the flesh (Lk 4:3-4), the lust of the eyes (Lk 4:7-8), and the pride of life (Lk 4:10-11)... and Jesus responded to each temptation by employing God’s Word (Scripture / divine truth) as the weapon. Though many believers claim that Jesus was never really “tempted” like we are; they embrace that line of thinking because Jesus did not possess fallen human flesh; i.e., that He didn’t possess a corrupt inner core that would have been problematic to Him… thus, they believe He never felt the “pressure” to succumb to what He was being tempted with. But such a deduction means that Jesus would have been tempted to do something He had no desire to do… but if that was the case, then Jesus really wasn’t tempted, because by definition “temptation means one desires to embrace something he is not to embrace.” So to say that Jesus wasn’t really tempted doesn’t coincide with what temptation really is, or what the author of Hebrews says: “Jesus our High Priest can sympathize with us because He was tempted in all things such as we are” (Heb 4:15). So the argument can be worded as follows — if Jesus didn’t feel any “urge” to embrace a particular temptation, then how could one call that temptation? That would be a contradiction of the term itself. Now exactly how Jesus “felt” about what He was being tempted to do, admittedly, there’s no way to know that, but to insist that there was nothing desirable about what He was experiencing, is to invalidate the concept itself. Let’s reconsider that passage in Hebrews: “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one was tempted in all things such as we are” (Heb 4:15). So the question arises: “How could Jesus genuinely sympathize with our weaknesses, if indeed He never experienced them?” Obviously, Jesus somehow experienced the significant pull of temptation, yet exactly how all of that transpired is completely beyond us… but of this we can be sure, Jesus knows precisely what it means to experience temptation and the sword of Satan — He knows the fullness of it… the pull of it… and the pain of it; if He does not, then how can He genuinely sympathize with our weaknesses? Remember, Scrip-ture tells us that “God sent His Son into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), and that “He was made in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7); incidentally, the words “likeness of men” are emphatic in Greek. In addition to those two verses, the book of Hebrews says: “Jesus had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest…. that He Himself was tempted in that which He suffered” (Heb 2:17-18); again, the emboldened words are emphatic in Greek. The reality is, we have a High Priest who can fully sympathize with our weaknesses, because He was made in our likeness; yet in spite of that, “He was without sin” (cf. Heb 4:15; 7:26; 2 Cor 5:21). Now because Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses, “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (cf. Heb 4:16); remember, this verse follows the previous one: “Since Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses, draw near to Him with confidence, that you may receive mercy and grace to help in time of need.” So with regard to temptation, Scripture tells us five things: we are to stand on the Word (1 Jn 5:4)… we are to be strong in the Lord (Eph 6:10)… we are not to love the world (1 Jn 2:15)… we are to resist the devil (Jam 4:7)… and we are to flee temptation (2 Tim 2:22). It ought to be pretty clear — if we don’t stand on the Word and are not strong in the Lord, we will love the world, and not resist the devil or flee temptation.
Another important aspect of temptation is this — if we do not immediately deal with it when we experience it, sin will result and the heaviness of it will weigh upon our soul. Thus when we experience temptation (i.e., the desire to let fleshly thoughts rule in our minds and hearts), we must immediately go into God and pour our hearts out to Him — we cannot just continue to let fleshly thinking rule in our minds and hearts. Remember, Jesus taught His disciples to pray so that they might not enter into temptation (Mt 26:41). Obviously as fallen creatures, we do not have the wherewithal to overcome many temptations in our own strength (though we can overcome some, there are many temptations that simply cause our flesh to rule — did you hear that?), that’s why we must go to God. Remember the words to the “Lord’s Prayer” Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount — “We are to pray that we not be led into temptation, but be delivered from the evil one” (cf. Mt 6:13). The enticement to sin oftentimes is the work of Satan (cf. 1 Pet 5:8-9; Rev 2:9; 1 Th 3:5), whereas overcoming temptation is the work of God, “who is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Heb 2:18). As stated in the last paragraph, deception plays an important part in Satanic temptation; he sows the seeds of doubt, unbelief and rebellion. Though God tests us as believers, as previously stated, He does not tempt us (cf. Ex 16:4; 20:20; Deu 8:2, 16; 13:3; Jam 1:2-4). Since Satan is our premiere tempter, and we are fallen creatures, our flesh easily sways us in an ungodly direction (cf. Jam 1:12-14; Rom 6:6; 7:16-20; Eph 4:22; Col 3:9; 2 Cor 5:17); thus, we must immediately go to the Lord in prayer and seek His help. Though temptation in and of itself is not sin, yielding to temptation is sin… and as James states, “A blessing awaits those who endure temptation” (Jam 1:12). Again, since we are fleshly creatures, anxiety is another difficult issue that tends to frequently rule in our lives — the word anxiety essentially means to have a “distracting care;” thus we are often mentally drawn in a negative direction where anxiety tends to rule… though we all want to feel good in life, anxiety often rules that out (cf. Mt 10:19; Mk 4:19; Lk 8:14; 10:41; 21:34). Said David: “I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin” (Ps 38:18). Said Solomon: “Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs it down” (Prov 12:25). Said the psalmist, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Thy consolations delight my soul” (Ps 94:19). Said David to the Lord, “Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:23-24). Said Jesus, “Do not be anxious for your life as to what you shall eat, drink or wear… your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. So seek His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (cf. Mt 6:25-34). Said Peter, “Cast all of your anxiety upon God because He cares for you” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7). Said Paul, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (cf. Phil 4:6-7). There are lot of distracting thoughts (i.e., anxious thoughts) that run rampantly in our minds; thoughts that frustrate us, that disrupt our peace, that cause distress and upset us… that is simply what the flesh does — it’s important to note, joyful, peaceful thoughts do not rule in any of our lives, because we are all fallen creatures; yet due to the fact that many believers do not take their anxious thoughts to the Lord, they may suffer a significant amount of anxiety in their lives; it all depends on what Satan & God subjects them to; though Satan is out to destroy them, little do they know, God is able to grow them through what Satan subjects them to; just as the cross was Satan’s plan to destroy Christ, God used the cross to ultimately cause Satan’s destruction. Remember, the cross disarmed the demonic powers and forged the final triumph over Satan and his hordes, forcing those spiritual forces to follow His train in a victory procession (Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 370) — thus the cross proved to be Satan’s greatest defeat (cf. Col 2:15; Rev 12:12; Jn 12:31; 1 Cor 15:23-24; Eph 3:8-11; 4:8; Col 2:10; Rev 20:1-10).
The reality is, it is God’s presence in our heart whereby we win the war against evil; i.e., it is God Himself (the Holy Spirit) who delivers us from capitulating and caving in to temptation. As the apostle Paul states, “It is the Spirit who helps our weaknesses… He intercedes for us according to the will of God; remember God causes all things to work together for good in the believer’s life” (Rom 8:26-28). As James Montgomery Boice, one of America’s greatest preachers in the 20th century, stated in his work “Foundations of the Christian Faith” — “If we face [temptations] with no clear certainty that they are controlled by God and are permitted for His good purposes… then life is a tragedy” (cf. 1 Pet 1:6ff; 4:12ff; 5:10). Again, remember what Scripture says: “Since Jesus was tempted in that which He suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (cf. Heb 2:18); incidentally, those emboldened words are emphatic in Greek. Keep in mind, “God does not allow us to be tempted beyond that which we are able to resist” (cf. 1 Cor 10:13); that’s a poignant statement so the question is, “Do you really believe that?” Now though we fight victoriously at times, at other times we capitulate and cave into the flesh; none of us walk through this world perfectly (to think elsewise is to be totally disillusioned). Now, since God knows our weaknesses and is mindful that we are but dust, nothing sur-prises Him — though all of us stumble often in life, God remains ever faithful to us; that is an awesome reality that most believers really struggle with; they just can’t fathom God being that loving and faithful — beloved, the underlying issue is this: as fallen creatures we simply don’t realize how sinful we are; the truth is we have simply been “duped;” it is only when we get to heaven that we will then understand how “fallen” we were as creatures; though Scripture clearly tells us what we are, we simply don’t see ourselves as being that sinful. Beloved, the humble is greatly received by the Lord… it’s the proud that God deals harshly with. Always be mindful of the fact that the dynamic of the flesh is “feeling,” and the dynamic of the spirit is “faith” (i.e., believing divine truth) — God has called us to “live by faith,” not by sight or feelings (cf. 2 Cor 5:7; 4:16-18; Rom 1:17; 14:23; Gal 2:20; 1 Tim 6:12; Heb 11:1). The point is, we must learn to embrace everything God says, even though it may not mesh with our fallen perception of reality… the logistical thinking of men never trumps divine knowledge… remember, “we are transformed [into the image of Christ] by the renewing of our mind” (cf. Rom 12:2), so we must spend significant time contemplating divine truth if we are going to GROW in our faith and in the grace and knowledge of Christ (cf. Rom 10:17; Josh 1:8; Ps 1:1-2; 25:5; 63:6; 119:15, 48; Jer 15:16; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). By the way, if there is one subject that believers must understand, that stands out among all subjects, it is the fact that God loves them with an everlasting love; yet saved man can hardly even fathom it — obviously to understand it, is to understand it in great depth; no other subject comes close to this one. It is Satan and are corrupt fallen minds that keep us from fully understanding and believing it. Remember the words of the great hymn by Charles Wesley — “How Can it Be that Thou My God Shouldst Die for Me?” Beloved, no other spiritual didactic comes close to this one. By the way, it is only to the degree where one believes it, that his faith is significantly impacted. Furthermore, it is not just a matter of intellect-ually agreeing with that statement, it is a matter of embracing it as the foundation of your faith (and faith means to “rest upon with all your weight” – cf. Prov 3:5; Ps 55:23; 91:2); if you make yourself the end-all on your faith, you are way out in left-field somewhere. The question is, “Do you really rest upon that eternal truth?” The significant thing for us as believers is that “we rest upon divine truth and God Him-self when the circumstances of life become very troubling and disconcerting to us.” If you are willing to spend at least 100 hours humbly studying and contemplating the sub- ject of God’s everlasting love for you, it will radically affect your faith… because it will give you a contextual understanding of all that goes on in your life; no other truth affects the believer’s life and faith like this one; all you have to do is discipline yourself to study it with a humble heart (take the time to read all of the following verses: Ps 136:1-26; Mt 22:36-37; and 1 Jn 4:7-8) — the reason humility is important, is because it is transparent and honest before God, and nothing is more pleasing to God than for one to humble himself before Him.
The problem with fallen man is that anything that transcends human thought is very difficult for him to believe. The fact that God exists is difficult for us… that God loves us is difficult… that God died for us is difficult… that God is ultimately going to take us as believers to heaven is difficult. The reality is, these things are incredibly difficult for us as fallen creatures to believe. Why is that? Because these truths are eternal in nature, not temporal in nature, and we are temporal creatures with temporal minds. Thus when it comes to divine truth, we all struggle with it… yet, God has graciously created a way whereby we can understand it to a degree, and accept it with great assurance & conviction as indeed being true (cf. Heb 11:1). And how has God done that? By placing the Holy Sprit in our lives — when we humble ourselves before the Lord (i.e., acknowledge who we really are — remedial fallen creatures), God opens our hearts to believe (cf. Jn 16:7-15; Acts 16:14; 1 Cor 12:3; 1 Th 1:5; ), and places the Holy Spirit in our lives (cf. Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16; Gal 4:6). So believing is a gift from God (cf. Eph 2:8-9), it is not the genius of men; it is God Himself who gives us the capacity to believe divine truth. And when as believers “we long for the pure milk of the Word, we will grow with respect to salvation” (1 Pet 2:2); i.e., we will grow spiritually. So why is faith so difficult? Why is it so difficult to believe and accept and obey divine truth? Because we still possess a fallen, fleshly inner-core. When we approach God with genuine humility, He gives us the grace to see things as they really are… however, when we continue to proudly give precedence to fleshly perceptions, we will not experience the grace we need to see things as they really are. Just because we are born-again Christians doesn’t mean we will walk in the light & live holy and perfect lives — according to Scripture, “the righteous live by faith” (i.e., they live by trusting God and obeying Him; they do not live according to the flesh – cf. Rom 1:17; 8:12); remember, for the believer, “to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). Keep in mind, as a believer there is a part of you that is good (i.e., holy), and a part of you that is not good (i.e., evil); so our “spirit” is constantly at war with our “flesh,” because our flesh sets its desire against the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:17). Obviously, if our flesh wasn’t such an integral part of our lives, that would be one thing, but since our flesh has an immense presence in our lives, we have an atomic war to fight. The fact that we often stumble and cave into our flesh, is very demoralizing (which is under-standable); yet God isn’t going to change the discourse and make our lives pleasant just to make us happy — that’s not why we exist. Again, read the study I did on “Sin and Man’s Eternal Purpose.” Since our flesh controls most of our feelings, we are constantly being made aware of “our flesh” and its presence in our lives. Wishing that our flesh would lose its power, or praying that God will take it away, isn’t going to change it… God left it in our lives for a purpose when we became believers. Again, don’t try to change the discourse; either we learn to live with reality, or unreality will reign in our life (which is precisely how unbelievers live). Remember, how we feel about things is monumental in our lives… all temptations are accompanied with fleshly feelings (that is simply the dynamic of the flesh). Again, if our fleshly feelings were not highly desirable, we wouldn’t be tempted; but since they are desirable, we are tempted — you’ll notice, we are not tempted to eat maggots; we are tempted to do what our flesh desires; so we have to constantly be mindful of our fleshly desires, and not entertain them when they come our way — that is how “sin” begins. The question every believer needs to answer is this: “What is the context or life principle with which you look at life?” i.e., “What didactic is it that essentially is on the throne in your life?” If the premiere goal in your life is to make life pleasant, then you will live in accord with your flesh (even though the choices you make may possess some goodness); conversely, if your premiere goal in life is to live for Christ, then you will live in accord with the Holy Spirit, and you will be committed to fighting the good fight of faith. Obviously everyone of us places a premium on “making life pleasant,” yet that must be a “secondary issue” in our lives; it must not be the primary issue of our lives — Christ and His will must be the primary issues. Don’t live life in this fallen world as if God intended it to be a pleasant little life — the last paragraph of this study will make that very clear… if you argue to the contrary, you will be letting your flesh rule in your life.
As we begin to bring this study to a close, consider the following: we all became believers in a different way… some of us were raised in a Christian home, others were not… some of us were taught that God loves them, others were not… some of us were children when we accepted Christ as our Savior, others were teenagers, and others were adults… some of us grew up in a Christian community, others did not… some of us grew up in societies that believed in God, others did not… some of us grew up in divided homes, others did not… some of us grew up in perverse cultures, others did not… some of us grew up with very few friends, others did not… some of us grew up with a lot of negatives in our lives, others were more fortunate… Why were our lives so different? Why would God permit all of that? Obviously, only God knows. So the question is, can you let God be GOD? Or will you insist on using fallen human logic to determine what ultimate reality is? Regarding our lives as believers, God is the one who ultimately determined the context of our lives in eternity past; keep in mind, God planned the end from the beginning (cf. Is 46:9-11); there are no surprises with God. If you’re a believer, you need to remember that God chose you to be one of His children before the foundation of the world and man’s creation (cf. Eph 1:4; 2:4-10; 2 Th 2:13; Jn 15:16)… it’s not like He foresaw some beautiful little creature and decided to choose you (as if His choice was dependent on your beauty or something you did); God made you the person He wanted you to be; you had nothing to do with any of that — your looks, your brain, your skill-set, your parents, your brothers, your sisters, your eyes and ears and mouth and strength, as well as your smarts, your culture, your language, the era in which you live, and the country in which you live; everything was determined by God. It is only the arrogant who insist on thinking that they are the product of their own doing. It’s also important to note, there is no such thing as sheer happenstance in God’s world; God has never said, “Oh, I didn’t anticipate that!” Furthermore, it is also important to remember that Christ was slain from the foundation of the world; i.e., the crucifixion of Christ was God’s plan from all eternity (Rev 13:8). It might be helpful to keep in mind that the eternality of God completely transcends the temporality of man… whereas God is infinite, man is finite; as such, they are not at all comparable. As the Lord said to the prophet Isaiah regarding the surrounding nations that were oppressing Israel, “All the nations are insignificant to God, they are like a drop in the bucket to Him; they are but a speck of dust, and are as nothing before Him; actually less than nothing, meaningless” (cf. Is 40:15, 17). Even mighty Babylon (by far the greatest city in the ancient world) was utterly insignificant in comparison to the Lord’s greatness and power… yet fallen man worships fallen men and fallen thinking. The reality is, GOD is on the throne, not fallen man. Perhaps it would be best to give definition to that which is eternal and that which is temporal — take a piece of paper and draw a small circle in the middle of it, and in the middle of that circle write the words “space, mass & time” (that is the essence of God’s creation — all space, all mass, and all time did not exist prior to creation)… and then outside the circle write the word “God” — you’ll notice, there is no limit to God; He goes on and on addinfinitim… he never ends; He is not limited to the piece of paper, He goes on and on and on and on… He never ceases to be. Now you’ll notice the temporal circle is extremely limited, as is every-thing that was ever created… thus compared to God, we are like a speck of dust in the universe (only visible at a very short distance; you can’t even see a speck of dust 100 yards away; so to elevate oneself into the eternal realm is sheer lunacy… we are who we are and need to accept that fact.
So the question then arises, “Why were we each subjected to the things we were subjected to in life?” The reality is: Only God knows that, and time and again that’s what Scripture teaches. So shall we complain and disapprove of what God is doing in our lives, or do we rejoice in what God is doing in and through our lives? Incidentally, that is not at all an easy construct for us to embrace when our own little world falls apart; yet in spite of the fact that life might make us angry, frustrated & aggravated, God does NOT abandon us! Remember, God is on the throne of our lives and knows full well what He is doing, and He is well aware of our weaknesses and the absolute shallow-ness of our faith (He is far more knowledgeable about us than we are). Always keep in mind, when we are glorified and enter into the eternal state, we will be radically different creatures than we are today; we won’t even resemble the fallen creatures we are now — it is only because of our own self-deceptions that we tend to argue to the contrary… none of us are glorious creatures in the here and now; that will not occur until eternity. Now with the foregoing in mind, the purpose of the negatives in our lives is to bring us to the end of ourselves, and see things as they really are; obviously, that is a very sobering reality. Like most of us, God has had me walk down this road more than once in life, and it can be an extremely exasperating experience; nevertheless, God is still GOD and is still on the throne of our lives, and will NEVER leave us or forsake us! NEVER! (cf. Heb 13:5; Phil 1:6; Rom 8:31-39). Though God’s allegiance to us may seem questionable at times, that’s only natural when human thinking controls our thoughts and we seem to be losing it. Due to the fact that we are fallen creatures with minds that oftentimes overwhelm us and put us in the dark, try though as we may to overcome it, we often stumble in the dark and our fallen thinking seems to win the day. Remember the words of Paul, “There are times in my life when I don’t practice the very things I would like to do, but end up doing the very things I hate; which simply evidences the fact that sin dwells within me” (Rom 7:14-23); likewise, James, the brother of Jesus, said: “We all stumble in many ways” (cf. Jam 3:2; and Ecc 7:20; Prov 24:16; Ps 73:26). Thus the reality is, since sin has a very profound presence in our lives (i.e., since we are also fleshly creatures), we will frequently stumble in life; to somehow think that one’s flesh is simply a remedial little issue in our lives, is to completely misunderstand the human condition. Remember, we’ve got an atomic war to fight, and if you think that’s just a simple little fight, you have been completely misinformed.
Obviously this world can be very disconcerting — think about it, every year 100,000,000 people die!… and in the next hundred years, at least 10,000,000,000 people will die! Yet the world seems to ignore that fact as if it is completely irrelevant! The only thing that matters to this world is life in the now! How mindless can fallen man be? Since most of you who are reading this study are probably believers, how do you interpret that reality? The question is, if “the now” is also the most important thing in your life, why is that? Remember, your life is going to end a lot sooner than you think. God has only allocated about 80 years to us, and those years are going to fly by very quickly; especially if you are already 40 or 50 years old. So what are you going to do? Keep striving to make life as enjoyable as possible? Is that really your goal in life? If so, what is it? By the way, as a man in the final stage of life, my life has gone by so fast it’s very hard to believe… it’s hard to believe it is almost over, and that all the little “fun times” are pretty much history. If you happen to be a young buck you need to know that life is not only short (that’s the way God designed it), but that it is not at all what most people try to make it. Remember, the end of your life isn’t going to be a pleasant little joy-ride… instead it’s going to be a very sobering time for you… a time when God gets your full attention by subjecting you to some very poignant realities… in so doing you will then need to reconcile your entire life with divine truth; again, that won’t be a joy-ride... it is then that you will need to contemplate reality and divine truth. Incidentally, the wisest creatures don’t wait until the end of their lives to start reflecting upon divine truth… rather than waiting until the end, they seek to understand the truth of God’s Word and apply it to their lives. The question is, does that define you? If not, when are you going to start reconciling everything with what God’s Word teaches, and essentially stop living a self-centered flesh-controlled life? (if indeed that is what you are doing). No doubt you’ve noticed on your spiritual journey in life that “our human perception of reality has a tendency to cloud our reasoning, and even cause us to doubt or question certain aspects of divine truth,” in spite of the fact that we are genuine believers in Christ. The question is, “Will you fight the fight of faith? or will you insist on letting your own humanistic per-ceptions dictate reality in your life? You’ll notice, faith is a fight (cf. 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7), not just a theology of thought — the Greek word for “fight” is also translated “agonize” in English; it is a term used in a military endeavor to describe the concentration, discipline, and extreme effort that is needed to win. With that in mind, the faith fight is a spiritual conflict with Satan’s kingdom of darkness — Paul was admonishing his friend Timothy to get a “firm grip” on this matter called faith, because without it his ministry for God would not be nearly as effective… and that involved pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love and gentleness (cf. 1 Tim 6:11).
Obviously, we have all experienced different things in life — some of us have suffered quite a bit, even as children; others of us seem to have been born with a gold spoon. Can you justify either of those two constructs? Furthermore, some of us have been subjected to some very painful things now that we have grown up, yet some people have not. Why is that? Is that fair? Why? Why not? How do you reconcile your answers? Most people simply make assumptions that correspond with human thinking, but that doesn’t make it right. Many people simply respond, “Well I just can’t believe that.” Yet in so doing, they are rejecting “true reality.” The issue is this, they sim-ply haven’t taken the time to go to the bottom of the issue, and rationalize it out with what Scripture actually teaches. Is that easy to do? No it’s not, but that’s not the issue; the issue is embracing that which is true, not simply satisfying one’s human oriented mind. So the question is, upon what premise do you answer that? And why is that premise right? To simply satisfy one’s innate desires, is to operate by the same system of thought by which the diabolical left operates. Reality to them simply must correlate with their desires — because they deny the existence of God, all that matters to them is what they desire (i.e., their passions); it is precisely that line of thinking that this diabolical world in which we live embraces. Now, do you always insist on defending everything with human logic? If divine thoughts don’t mesh with human logic, do you reject divine truth? Obviously, if some divine truth is difficult for you to reconcile, it’s not going to be easy for you to accept… so you will need to humbly study the issue that you might see the wisdom of it and the significance of it. Simply closing the door on an issue that frustrates you or that you don’t understand isn’t the answer; as a believer you need to seek God’s wisdom on the matter. The problem is, most believers don’t take the time to study those biblical issues that run counter to their own thinking; instead they just continue to let human thinking trump divine thinking. Remember, when Scripture emphatically defines something, we need to embrace it and not reject it… yet in embracing it, one needs to humbly study it in all its fullness that he might not only understand it but that he will accept it with great conviction (cf. Heb 11:1); that’s the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Let me state it this way — beloved, every believer needs to reconcile divine truth; it is only problematic when we continue to reject it. Keep in mind, if Scripture declares something to be true, why would you ever reject that truth? Why would you ever insist on believing a lie rather than truth? In spite of the fact that some things are hard to accept (be it suffering, illness, death, loneliness, pain, rejection, and numerous types of loss), rather than letting human thinking rule in our minds, we need to study the totality of what Scripture teaches. Though there are a hundred questions that people have, let me list just 15 of the most common questions:
Why do I doubt so much in life?
Why is faith such a difficult construct?
Why is my life so difficult?
Why is this world such a wreck?
What does this thing called “grace” mean?
What does it mean for God to be sovereign?
Why does God allow His children to be persecuted?
Why isn’t life more joyful than it is?
Why doesn’t God manifest Himself to me?
Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?
How can I know that God really loves me?
Why is there so much discrepancy in what Christianity teaches?
How do we know that Scripture is indeed true?
Why is there is so much dissention in the Christian world?
Why did God choose the Greek Language to communicate divine truth?
Each of the foregoing questions can be answered by going online to various sources like: “GotQuestions.org”… “LigonierMinistries”… “LeeStrobel.com”… “Apologetics.org”… “Bible.org”… “TrueLife.org”… “BibleGateway”… “TheGospelCoalition.org”… “Focus OnTheFamily. com”… “ChristianAnswers.net”… “Christianity.net.au”… “Christianity. com”… and “ChristianityToday.com”… obviously there are far more websites than the thirteen listed, but I thought some of these might be helpful to you. And then there is the fact that some of us as believers were not taught good biblical doctrines; thus we have a lot to learn. But is that fair? How do you answer that? Since this particular issue was a very perplexing one in my life, it is one I have reflected upon over and over again. The truth is, most believers in the Christian world have not been taught well; such was also the case with God’s people in ancient Israel; thus the Lord said: “My people are like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34). The reality is, poor teaching can have a very negative effect on one’s faith; that has been a problem for many in the Christian world down through the centuries. As a seminary student, I was confronted with several doctrines that I ultimately had to study on a far deeper level. It is one thing to let human thinking influence your theology, but quite another to let Scripture dictate divine truth; incidentally, that means studying the totality of what Scripture teaches on a given subject, and not taking things out of context. The reality is, God has had me wrestle with a number of issues down through the years… that is simply the way He has operated in my life. Since God is the one who formed my inward parts, He made me “a why man” (i.e., a person who’s always question-ing things); my entire life has been one of questioning, either because I didn’t understand something, or because something didn’t seem to mesh with reality, or because I was cur-ious about something. The demand to “know” can be quite taxing, because finding the answers can be difficult, and demand a pretty deep understanding of things; the reality is, one question often raises another ques-tion. Now some of you may be of like stripe. Though the life God has called me to has not necessarily been a pleasant easy life, that is the life God has called me to… though I probably wouldn’t have chosen this life (because it has been so taxing), yet that is the life God chose for me. One of the reasons my life has been taxing is because it is somewhat similar to King Solomon’s life (cf. Ecc 1:13, 17, 18; 8:16-17) — beloved, I’m not claiming to be as smart as Solomon J , but he has been a very poignant teacher for me. Remember, God’s plan for each of our lives “differs”, we are not all the same. Whatever your life is, you are God’s creation; He is the one who made you the person you are; though that can be a frustrating reality, that is the reality. As the psalmist David said, “Thou didst form my inward parts, and weave me in my mother’s womb… obviously, I am fearfully and wonderfully made… My frame was not hidden from Thee, when I was made in secret… Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance, and in Thy book were written all the days that were ordained for me” (cf. Ps 139:13-16). If God is truly the GOD of all things in your mind (i.e., the God of all creation), the foregoing won’t be a difficult construct for you to understand; however, if God is not the GOD of all things in your mind, then you will really struggle with that construct.
The reality is, the foundation of your faith will strongly influence your theology (i.e., ultimate reality) — with that in mind, you will probably need to identify exactly what the foundation of your faith is; such will be the premise upon which your faith exists. Keep in mind, if God is not ultimate reality in your mind, then He will simply be the sum total of fallen human thinking; though such thinking does not coincide with what Scripture teaches, that is a fairly common position that many professing Christians hold (because that is what they have been taught or have justified with human thinking). Now whether in fact God will honor erroneous thinking, and not hold people accountable for it, that is up to God… since none of us have a perfect faith with zero flaws (because of our fallen human thinking), God understands the shallowness of our faith. According to Scripture, the important thing for believers is that they “long for the pure milk of the Word that they might grow in respect to their salvation” (cf. 1 Pet 2:2; 1 Cor 3:1-3; 14:20; Eph 4:15); only God’s Word genuinely enlightens the heart & gives definition to reality. So if one simply lives with a very remedial faith, he will not grow in his faith or experience great assurance of faith… furthermore, he will not be the recipient of much reward at the end of the age (cf. 1 Cor 3:12-15; Gal 6:7-10). Said Jesus in the last chapter of the Bible: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev 22:12). For a believer to treat divine truth lightly is a very troubling construct, because in most cases that person is probably not a true believer (though that may not necessarily be the case); remember, about two-thirds of those who claim to be Christians, are not truly born-again believers, so it behooves us as true born-again Christians to take God’s Word very seriously. Remember, though the vast majority of Jews in the ancient world claimed to be God’s people, yet very few of them were; hence, the nation of Israel experienced several judgments down through the ages. Keep in mind, “without faith (i.e., without believing what God says) it is not possible to please God” (cf. Heb 11:6). It is also interesting to remember what Jesus said: “There are tares among the wheat;” i.e., there are disengenuine believers in the believing community; nevertheless, we are not to try and identify those who are not truly born-again Christians and excommunicate them from the church, because in so doing “we might root up some wheat as well” (Mt 13:29); since we are not able to easily identify all believers, we must be careful to not pass judgment on everyone who thinks a little differently than we do; remember, at the end of the age, God will pass judgment on the entire created order.
HOW GOD JUDGES PEOPLE
The question is often raised: “How does God judge those who have never heard the truth, and are relatively good people?” Obviously, that is a pretty profound question that many people ask… so let me try and give some contextual understanding to that issue; though Scripture does have a lot to say on this thing called judgment, it doesn’t necessarily state things the way some people might think. Like numerous other topics in Scripture, one needs to look at the totality of what Scripture says before arriving at some conclusion. So let’s begin by looking at what the apostle Paul had to say to the church at Rome: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God mad it evident to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes – i.e., His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (cf. Rom 1:18-20). Incidentally, the emboldened words are emphatic in Greek. The reality is, the natural world is a window through which God has shown part of Himself to man, so the created order delivers a clear, unmistakable message about God’s person (cf. Ps 19:1-8; 94:9; Acts 14:15-17; 17:23-28)… thus the cause of God’s wrath at the end of the age will be the result of man’s ungodliness and unrighteousness; i.e., embracing that which denies God and His standards. Think about it, the entire created order reveals the fact that God is the foundation of everything that exists. As Scripture states, “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (cf. Rom 11:36; Col 1:16); by the way, each of those three precepts are emphatic in Greek! Yet sheer belligerence & mindless arrogance rules in the hearts of sinful men; they actually hate God, because they want nothing to do with godly living; anything that denies them ab-solute autonomy is not acceptable to them. Now since everything that exists in both the seen and the unseen world has been created by God, and since God doesn’t make robots or mindless creatures, or force them to bow down and worship Him, they can choose to walk in the dark and live ungodly lives, yet in so doing, at the end of the age rather than blessing them, God will pour out His wrath upon them and remove all that is good from their lives — after all, why should they continue to experience God’s goodness, when in fact they hate God? By the way, the word “hate” doesn’t mean what you probably think it means. As the Lord said to the prophet Malachi, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (cf. Rom 9:13; Mal 1:2ff). That word “hate” literally means “not to have relationship with” — God had a wonderful relationship with Jacob, but He did not have one with Esau… in like manner, God has a wonderful relationship with us His children (i.e., believers), but He does not have a wonderful relationship with those who are His enemies (i.e., unbelievers). Keep in mind the two emboldened words in that verse are emphatic in Greek. Incidentally, the apostle John said to God’s people, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (i.e., God doesn’t have relationship with him)… because all that is in the world is not of the Father, but is of the world, and the world is passing away” (1 Jn 2:15-17). By the way, the emboldened words are emphatic in Greek. The reality is, those who want nothing to do with God, ultimately will be separated from God and all that is good for all eternity (remember, all that is “good” is from God). Obviously, that is extremely poignant stuff, but that defines the future of arrogant man — don’t pass judgment on God because He is a Holy God; what do you want Him to be? Unholy?
Now, though all of God’s creatures know they are not infinite creatures, they all know that God is infinite and that He is the sovereign ruler of all creation — that is a universal truth. With that in mind, reflect upon the following: when one observes the awesome beauty of creation and beholds the sun and the moon, and the beauty of the sunrise and the sunset and the stars above, and the mountains and the valleys and the oceans and the lakes and the rivers, and the trees and the forests, and all the land and aquatic animals that exist, and all the different kinds of plants and flowers and foods that grow on the earth, the amazing perplexity and awesome beauty of everything should naturally cause man to humbly shake his head in awe of all its glory. If you were to go into those regions of our world where essentially just native people live (be it here in the US, Mexico, Canada, Alaska, etc), you would see how respectful they are of the created order, and how much reverence they have for it, and how awestruck they are over it… only proud self-centered people in our world treat it lightly and ignore the magnitude of its brilliance and beauty; yet the diabolical left simply accuses such people as being too religious, uneducated, gullible and stupid, thus they believe such people simply draw silly conclusions… but nothing could be further from the truth! Back in the 20th century several studies were done on the so-called stupid tribal people of our world — remember, some evolutionists back then actually thought that some of them still possessed some animal qualities (i.e., that they still hadn’t as yet fully “evolved” into modern-day human beings); yet they ultimately discovered that that was not at all the case, and that large numbers of them were actually far smarter than they had ever suspected — whereas people in the western world only have a vocabulary of about 15,000 words, many tribal people actually have vocabularies that are two or three times that of the so-called genius western world, and that their languages are actually more complex than ours! It’s amazing at all the conclusions that men jump to without doing their homework to fully understanding things. The truth is, when Satan is your father, you are an absolute arrogant idiot (if you don’t like that expression, then argue with God about it, because how He defines such people). More truth: basically all human beings have the same brain capacities; it is only the educated in our world who like to think that they are the brilliant people — once again, absolute stupidity rules within them. The reality is, all a little education does is cause some people to arrogantly see themselves as being smarter than they are, and smarter than other people (did you hear what I said?). The problem with the so-called brilliant left, is that they have never humbly contemplated reality; their arrogance has simply kept them in the dark. That’s why God has given them over to degraded passions and depraved minds, and has called them “absolute fools!” (cf. Ps 53:1; Rom 1:21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 28; 2 Cor 3:19). Remember, they actually think they are the smartest people on the planet, when in fact they are the stupidest people on the planet! If God let them have their way (which God is going to give them for a very brief period of time), the entire created order would self-destruct. Keep in mind, when you’re an arrogant idiot you will never listen to anything that differs from your thinking. Now with the foregoing in mind, our modern world proudly claims that everything that exists is simply the result of “evolution;” i.e., that all things essentially evolved out of “nothing!” Thus they drastically minimize the significance of the created order. Take a moment and give careful consideration to the following — is it possible that beauty is simply the product of happen-stance? Or does beauty require a creator? Remember, the scientific world discovered through all of its extensive research that anything that possesses function, design or order was made… that all such qualities are not the residual effect of evolution or happenstance; according to science, that is not possible. Remember, the premiere foundation of science is the fact that we live in a cause and effect universe; which essentially is what science is all about… since science is about the art of knowing, it focuses on why things are as they are, thus determining the “cause” of everything. With that in mind, think about the following: God willed that our mornings each day start with a beautiful sunrise, and that our evenings each day end with a beautiful sunset (that in itself is a pretty amazing reality); remember, it is God who designed it all. Now, to somehow insist that such beauty is mere happenstance doesn’t mesh with reality; yet that’s what many fallen creatures here in the western world believe. Why is that? Because they simply refuse to humbly believe in a Creator — such would not only involve humility, but accountability, and those are absolute negatives to them. Anything that would rob them of their autonomy is not at all acceptable to them. Another juvenile argument they like to use is this: “beauty is in the eye of the beholder;” i.e., beauty is not a given; “what is beautiful to you may not be beautiful to me.” The remedial thinking and the juvenile logic of the diabolical left is an absolute disgrace to the human family; it simply shows how incredibly brain-dead they are. There is nothing they won’t say to slam the door on a Creator or divine righteousness.
The reality is, the diabolical left embraces its thinking so strongly, that they accuse any one who disagrees with them as being an absolute moron. So one thing is sure, one will never win an argument with the diabolical left, because humility is a negative to them, and nothing is deemed acceptable to them that contradicts what they believe (in spite of the fact that they have absolutely no proof at all as to the merits of evolutionary theory; the reason they emphatically embrace evolution is because it eliminates God from the equation — let me say it one more time, “the diabolical left hates God”). Beloved, just because someone is convinced that they are right and everyone else is wrong, doesn’t mean a hill of beans; truth is true, and is not dependent upon some human consensus. Again, without humility of heart, one will arrogantly reject anything that is antithetical to what he values; anything that denies him of his values or his autonomy (i.e., absolute control of his life), is simply not acceptable to him; so don’t think that you can develop some construct of thought that proves him wrong — if he doesn’t believe GOD, he sure isn’t going to believe another man. It is only at the end of time that God will declare his arrogance nonsense, and sentence him to his eternal destiny apart from Himself… yet prior to such individuals entering into their eternal destiny, “Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is LORD to the glory of God the Father” (cf. Phil 2:10-11); there will not be one creature in all creation (both in the angelic & human realms) who will not bow before the Creator. All we as believers can do is prayerfully share the gospel of Christ with the unbelieving world, and hope that they will humble themselves before God and place their trust in Him. Remember, salvation begins with the understanding that God is the supreme ruler of the universe, and that man is a sinful creature; i.e., that one’s life doesn’t measure up to God’s divine standards. Regarding the depth of human thinking, Albert Einstein seemed to express it this way, “When one only looks at something an inch deep, in all likelihood he will completely misinterpret reality; thus he needs to examine things in their fullness, because it is only then that he will begin to see things as they really are.” Said Einstein, “Natural law reveals an intelligence of such superiority, that compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.” The reality is Natural Law far transcends human thought; after all, Natural Law is of divine origin. So reality is not something that God’s creatures can easily grasp, because it is of God not some rinky-dink creature. So here was Einstein, not necessarily a man after God’s own heart, yet his humble thinking obviously honored God. By the way, one can apply that foregoing principle to numerous biblical doctrines… thus we should prayerfully study them in depth and not simply give remedial con-sideration to them. So don’t just listen to some preacher and buy into everything he has to say without confirming what he says with Scripture (cf. Acts 17:11); don’t put your life in someone else’s hands; not mine or anyone else’s (that is precisely why I have given you so many references in this study — so take the time to read them thoroughly, and affirm what has been stated. Keep in mind, evolution as an absolute reality that essentially only exists here in the so-called brilliant western world (i.e., America). I ex-pand upon this subject in depth in several studies I have done, including a study titled “True Unequivocal Truth” — you can access it on my website; simply go online and click on the “Additional Studies Link” on the homepage: www.thetransformedsoul.com Incidentally, the theory of evolution actually denies the scientific Laws of Thermodynamics — so the world’s greatest physicists do not embrace evolution… remember, physicists are the premiere scientists who deal with the functions and activities of all living matter, and the physical and chemical phenomena involved; nevertheless, American evolutionists are still trying to convince other people in the world that everything is simply the by-product of evolution; yet the greatest scientists all over the world deny it emphatically, and call it absolute nonsense! I find it amazing at how stubborn many of our American evolutionists are when it comes to convincing the world that “there is no god” (again, they never present one piece of evidence!). Keep in mind, evolutionists are not highly respected scientists, they are simply a group of people who are extremely opinionated, because of their innate bias against God. Sadly, many people in our culture have been blinded to reality, which is what arrogant fallen thinking does. The reality is, it is man’s arrogance that blinds him to reality (that will make far more sense to you momentarily). You can almost hear some arrogant fool saying to himself as he looks at the mountains, the valleys, the rivers and the lakes: “Yeh, it’s nice, but I wouldn’t go bonkers over it.” Beloved, it is the humility of heart and the depth of one’s thinking that causes a person to rightly define reality… we don’t live in a silly little world where dia-bolical nonsense is to be applauded and respected. God gave us minds to think, and we must humbly use them.
At the end of the age, one can almost hear God saying to the vast majority of His creatures, “I gave you a mind with which to think, why didn’t you use it? You were so pre-occupied with yourself, you didn’t even take the time to consider ultimate reality and the God of creation… though I provided for all of your needs, I never once heard you say ‘thank you’.” The truth is this: if you don’t look at the immense created order with a humble heart, you will never see the genuine significance of God’s creation… instead you will simply let corrupt fallen human thinking rule in your heart. That is precisely the reason our world is in a state of chaos, and animals have become gods, and wrong has become right, and God has become man’s enemy, and Satan has become his friend; so fallen man has become an absolute fool. Obviously the absence of truth in this world is not God’s fault; man’s proud heart has caused him to deliberately suppress it (Rom 1:18-23). Therefore the problem is not that some people have not been made aware of God… but that they have arrogantly rejected what creation teaches and what God has placed in their hearts. So God has communicated reality to the entire world, not only through that which is visible, but through that which He has placed in their hearts. When a man arrogantly looks at God’s creation, God will not enlighten his heart to divine truth; “He does not cast His pearls before swine” (Mt 7:6). Instead, “He will give them over to impurity and lies; thus they will serve and worship the creature rather than the Creator” (cf. Rom 1:20-25). Remember the words of Moses to the children of Israel as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land — “If you will seek the Lord with all your heart, you will find Him, because the Lord your God is a compassionate God” (Deut 4: 29-31); it was not a matter of proving God’s existence (they had already witnessed that)… it was now a matter of seeking the Lord with all their heart that they might appreciate Him for who He is and have a relationship with Him. The truth is, everyone who acknowledges reality & truly seeks the Truth, will find it — how’s that? because GOD will reveal it to him. Now in spite of the fact that all of the “false religions” in our world teach salvation by works (Christianity is the only religion of grace), those who identify with a false religion yet humbly cry out to God saying, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner” (Lk 18:13), there is no reason to believe that God will not respond to them with truth and grace. However, since false religions don’t necessarily embrace humble thinking, it is probably very unlikely that people who strongly identify with those religions will humble themselves before God. That word “humble” is a very significant word in Scripture; literally it means “to be brought low” or “to be lowly” (cf. Lk 1:52; Mt 11:29; Rom 12:16; Phil 2:3; Jam 4:6, 10). Keep in mind, if one arrogantly looks at this world as if he is at the top of the rock (i.e., that he is a great creature), he will not be a recipient of grace because he is completely in the dark. Since God only gives grace to the humble (i.e., favorably responds to the humble; cf. Jam 4:6), only the humble will be a people of grace. The reality is, if one does not have grace he has nothing, because only the God of creation is something. Keep in mind, God fully understands human ignorance and man’s depravity, and the genuine sincerity of a humble heart. Remember the words of Paul, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Now with all of the foregoing in mind, remember about 90% of the entire world is “religious” (not necessarily “believers in Christ”); so why are most people religious? Because God has enlightened the hearts of men to the fact that He exists, and that they are all sinners; thus every man will ultimately be held accountable at the end of the age. But sadly, fallen man has been deceived by the evil one through some false religion he has come to believe; in so doing, he proudly thinks he is able to satisfy the demands of God (which is the antithesis of what Scripture teaches – cf. Rom 3:10-30); thus he has believed a lie. Though being religious is not necessarily the greatest thing for fallen man, not being religious (i.e., not believing in a higher power) is the worst thing! It is the irreligious ones in our world that God gives over to a completely depraved mind (cf. Rom 1:18f; Ps 14:1; 53:1). Remember, it is one thing to believe false religion, but quite another to teach it (Mt 12:36); said James, “Let not many of you become teachers, because you will incur a stricter judgment” (Jam 3:1). Since the human family is easily duped by false teaching, those who propound false teaching will be judged accordingly.
It is the political left in our world that tries to tell people that the only reason so many people are “religious” is because they have been deceived by the work of missionaries in the world, but that does not at all coincide with reality. Back in the 20th century several German scientists studied all of the 7,000 people groups in our world (though that number could be as high as 12,000; for the sake of argument let’s just leave it at 7,000), and found every single group “religious!” Think about it; how is it that every people group is religious? How can that be? Because GOD has made Himself evident to the hearts of all creatures (cf. Rom 1:18-32; Ecc 3:11); thus the absence of divine truth in the minds of men is unjustifiable; the truth is, it is only the supremely arrogant people in our world who deliberately suppress the truth, because they insist on being autonomous creatures (Rom 1:18-25); i.e., creatures who insist on being the master of their own lives — obviously those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness hate God and hate religion. On the other hand, more than seven billion people in our world are religious people who believe in a higher unseen power; thus they believe in devotion to and fear of God or gods; therefore they believe in observing moral laws, and embrace a system of faith and worship (Acts 17: 22); so they believe in having an attitude of reverent dependence on some unseen power as they walk through life; as such, they embrace high moral standards, festivals, certain rituals, sacrifices, meditations, prayers and acts of mercy. Incidentally, it should be noted that thousands of these tribal groups had never been approached by any missionaries, so that had absolutely nothing to do with their being religious. With the foregoing in mind, remember, there are an estimated 10,000 distinct religions in our world, so it’s not possible to give an accurate universal descrip-tion of religion; it should also be noted that over 80% of the world’s population are affiliated with one of the four largest religions in our world — Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. In addition to that, 14% of our world is affiliated with Naturalism, Chinese traditional religion & Judaism; which means that 94% of our world are adherents of the seven religions mentioned above… therefore 6% of all the people in the world are affiliated with one of the other 10,000 religions. The premiere problem with every religion in our world (with the exception of Christianity) is that they are all “grounded on man’s behavior,” that by obeying certain laws & observing certain rites, they become people who are pleasing to the unseen power that rules in our world, but such actions and behaviors do not make people righteous (that would be akin to some ugly person wearing a mask to hide his looks, when in fact the mask doesn’t change his looks; the reality is, one’s sinful inner-core is what it is). So the problem with all false religions is that they place a premium on their own self-righteous behaviors, as if that is sufficient, and continue to live self-centered lives, which is sinful and not pleasing to God (remem-ber, the definition of “sin” is “not measuring up to God’s standard;” since man is not a holy creature, he cannot live a righteous sinless life. Now regarding true born-again Christians, they have the ability to live God-centered lives because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives; without the Holy Spirit that would not be possible). So despite the fact that all religious people believe in a God, that is not sufficient; “even the devil & the demons believe & shudder” (Jam 2:19) — keep in mind, it is one thing to believe in God, but quite another to believe God and obey Him. The deception of all false religions is this: they erroneously teach their followers that they can achieve the righteousness that God demands simply by embracing all of its religious precepts. By the way, that essentially is what characterized the ancient Jewish world; they placed a premium on all of their works, as if that made them righteous people who were acceptable to God (cf. Rom 3:9-20; 3:28; 4:3)… yet that did not at all correlate with what Scripture teaches. The important point is this: righteousness is not achieved through the works of men — it is imputed to man when he humbly believes in the only true God and places his trust in Him; so for fallen people to be proud of their own work is completely unacceptable to God, because only God is right-eous and good (cf. Lk 18:19; Rom 3:10-12). Remember, every humble human being knows deep within himself that God exists (cf. Rom 1:19; Ecc 3:11; Acts 14:15-17), and that he himself is a sinful creature; it is only those with a proud heart who deny those truths — remember what David said: “The fool says in his heart, there is no God!” (Ps 14:1; 53:1); it is just such people that “God gives over to a depraved mind” (Rom 1:21-32), which today characterizes a significant number of people in the western world; in particular, the radical left here in America who have viciously been attacking Christ and His followers for the past 15-20 years — their hatred of Christ and Christianity it is now becoming very pronounced — the elementary schools in San Francisco are now teaching their students to “hate Trump” & “hate Christians;” obviously the children are naturally embracing that teaching. It’s hard to believe that this kind of radical nonsense is actually taking place in our country today. The truth is, the Lord has given every individual a conscience to bear witness to God’s moral character, “because the work of the Law has been written in their hearts, and their conscience bears witness to that” (cf. Rom 2:15); nevertheless, the perverted left denies that. Yet the truth is, no one gets off the hook with regard to God’s judgment; God will judge every person according to the “light” God has given him; and no one shall escape it. As Romans chapter one teaches, every human being has enough knowledge about God to be held accountable before Him on the day of judgment… no one will be judged for disobeying some revelation they did not have… instead, every person will be judged according to the knowledge of the truth that God has given to him. As Christ said, “To whom much is given, much will be required” (cf. Lk 12:48). John Piper, the founder and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minnesota, and the author of more than 50 books, states it this way: “The more knowledge one has of God’s will, the more he is going to be held accountable.” Beloved, only young children, and those who happen to be mentally incapacitated will escape God’s judgment.
In order to give greater definition to this subject, let’s go all the way back to the days of John the Baptist, which was just prior to the days of Jesus’ ministry — remember, 2,000 years ago the Jewish people were scattered all over the Mediterranean world… no more than 25% of them lived in the land of Judea (i.e., Israel). The vast majority of Jews lived in Italy, Rome, Greece, Athens, Egypt, Alexandria, Asia, Macedonia, Galacia, and pretty much all of the other cities mentioned in the New Testament — remember, the apostle Paul frequently conducted much of his ministry in “synagogues” in the various cities of the Mediterranean; as such he was often persecuted by Jewish people. In spite of the fact that the Jewish world back then was a religious one, very few of them actually possessed genuine faith; it’s been estimated that less than 5% of them had true genuine faith. When John the Baptist came on the scene, many Jews repented when they heard what he had to say: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (cf. Mt 3:1-2); i.e., God’s dominion over those people who belong to Him. Remember, John the Baptist was “the forerunner of Christ” who was preparing the Jewish world for the coming of the Messiah (cf. Mt 3:1ff; Lk 1:67-80; 3:1-20). As John the Baptist declared, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I… I am not fit to remove His sandals; and He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (cf. Mt 3:11; Lk 3:16); being baptized with fire seems to refer to that judgment that awaits the unrepentant (Mt 3:10, 12). I find it interesting that the majority of the people living in Jerusalem and the land of Judea and on the Jordan River went out to hear him; the result was many of them con-fessed their sins and were baptized (cf. Mt 3:5-6; Mk 1:2-5; Lk 3:2-8). So John prepared the way for the coming of Christ (Mk 1:2-8); in so doing thousands of Jews were baptized. When Jesus began His ministry just a few years later, the message He preached to the Jewish people was essentially the same: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (cf. Mt 4:17). After about three years, Jesus Himself was crucified because most Jews found His message offensive (because it contradicted what much of the Jewish religion was now believing), and following His death, His disciples began their ministry. About 20-25 yrs later when the apostle Paul was on his third missionary journey, while he was in Ephesus he met with some disciples (i.e., followers of God), and he said to them: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit” — Paul then replied, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s Baptism.” And Paul said, “Remember, John told the people to believe in ‘Him’ who was coming after him; that is, ‘Jesus’”… when they heard this they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus; and when Paul laid his hand on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them” (Acts 19:3-6). The point is this — these people had been taught something 20-25 years earlier that was preached by John the Baptist… and now they were being taught more things by the apostle Paul. The reality was this, they were already genuine believers prior to what Paul was now telling them, and since they were believers they also believed the words of Paul. The fact was, many people in the ancient world had not heard the fullness of the gospel, nevertheless those who were genuine believers were still God’s children; they had simply not yet been told about the coming of Christ and his work on their behalf — remember, the message of the gospel wasn’t spread throughout the entire Mediterranean world until 25 to 30 years after Christ’s crucifixion; yet those who were God’s children were still God’s children… and even though some of them died prior to hearing & embracing the fullness of the gospel, they were received into heaven. The important thing to understand is this: not all of God’s children know the fullness of the truth, yet once it is shared with them they will believe it, because God will affirm it to their hearts… because all believers are humble people (remember, humility is an attitude of the heart that God honors; it is the proud heart that God does not honor – cf. Jam 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5). I mention the foregoing to help shed light on how God works in people’s lives and how he ultimately judges them — according to the amount of “light” people have, and how they respond to that light, seems to determine how God judges them.
The truth is, when this world comes to an end at the divinely appointed time, God will judge both the wicked and the righteous. It is at that point that every human being will be raised from the dead and judged accordingly. The day of judgment is referred to in Scripture as the “day of Christ” and the “day of the Lord” (cf. Phil 1:10; 2:16; 1 Cor 5:5; 1 Th 5:2; 2 Th 2:2; 2 Pet 3:10). Keep in mind, Christ is the one who will judge mankind and “recompense every man according to his deeds” (cf. Mt 16:27; 19:28; 25:31; Lk 17:24). Several passages teach that every individual will be judged on the last day (cf. Rom 2:1-16; Heb 4:13; Jam 5:7-11; 1 Pet 1:13-17); so the day of judgment will be a personal day of recompense (cf. Jer 17:5-11; 31:29-30; Ezek 18:1-32; 33:17-20; Is 1:28; 3:10-11; 10:1-4). In addition to that, the day of judgment will be a time when the angelic world will also be judged (cf. 1 Cor 6:3; Jude 1:6). Said the apostle Paul to the Athenians, “God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, and of this He has given assurance to all men by raising Him from he dead” (cf. Acts 17:31). The reality is, history has an end, and its end involves accountability — regarding it, Jesus said: “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart…. I say to you, every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it on the day of judgment” (Mt 12:34, 36). Like-wise Paul said to the Romans: “Why do you judge your brother?... for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God…. everyone shall give an account of himself to God” (Rom 14:10, 12). The truth is, the ungodly people in our world want nothing to do with a restrictive God; they simply insist on being completely autonomous creatures; for them to submit to a higher authority is simply not acceptable. So divine truth does not at all mesh with their thinking. Yet God’s Word clearly teaches that punishment is an eternal reality, and that hell is the wrath of God; i.e., a suffering torment from which there is no escape and no relief. Though fallen man has a difficult time justifying divine judgment (because it transcends human thought), that is the reality that every man is ultimately going to experience. With that in mind, even as saved fallen creatures we also have a difficult time fully reconciling a glorious heavenly realm; it is so other worldly we have a difficult time even fathoming it. The truth is, we don’t have the option of dictating reality; that’s God’s call (not ours) and His word is very clear regarding reality. The only evidential realities that our fallen world can use to better understand this reality is the presence of “death” and “disease” and “murder” and “war” and “illness” and “rape” and “hate” and “lies” and “dishonesty” and “all the corrupt behaviors” that dominate so much of our present day world — think about it, if these ugly realities characterize our fallen sinful world, how can one demean God because of His absolute hatred for such things, and the fact that He is going to judge them very harshly? You would think that would be a positive in people’s minds, not a negative… instead they question God’s existence because all of these negatives exist, and completely ignore their own shortcomings that God has made evident to them. The reality is, every human being eventually is going to “die” in this world… and many of them wish they were already dead; that’s how ugly this world is. If that’s the case, then how can one respond so lightly to the aftereffects of sin in our world, as if sin is just a little remedial issue? Beloved, this world is full of diabolical trash & rotten to the core! And here we are rejecting divine truth and arguing against it? What else can one believe that justifies man’s problem? Why are most people not open to under-standing why things are as they are in life? Why don’t people seek to understand what this thing called life is all about? and, What wisdom in this world actually correlates with reality?
Regarding the judgment of the unbelieving world & the judgment of the believing world, essentially these two judgments radically differ. The Great White Throne Judgment is the judgment of the unbelieving world, and the Judgment Seat of Christ is the judgment of the believing world. Regarding the judgment of unbelievers, the apostle John said: “I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds…. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, and if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:11-15). God has prepared an eternal fire for the devil and his angels (cf. Mt 25:41), in which they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever… not only is the permanent destruction of evil implied, but continual suffering and torment. It’s also important to remember, the eternal lake of fire is also going to be the eternal destiny of every human being whose name is not found in the book of life (Rev 20:11-15). Numerous phrases in Scripture define this thing called hell — “weeping and gnashing of teeth” and “outer darkness” (Mt 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; 13:28), and “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mk 9:44, 46, 48). Degrees of suffering and judgment are also indi-cated by several verses (Mt 10:15; 11:22, 24; 18:6; Mk 6:11; Lk 10:12, 14). God’s Word teaches that the suffering of the lost in hell is eternal, not temporary (Is 66:24; Mt 25:46; Mk 9:44, 46, 48; Rev 14:11). Jesus taught that both the soul and the body can be cast into hell (Mt 10:28). Thus, is it any wonder why “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31)? No! Hell is not only seen as eternal punishment, but everlasting destruction (2 Th 1:9), everlasting contempt (Dan 12:2), unquenchable fire (Mt 3:12; 5:22; 18:9), damnation (Mt 23:33), fiery furnace (Mt 13:42, 50), blackest darkness (Jude 1:13), and a fiery lake of burning sulfur (Rev 21:8). It is also important to note that almost all of the biblical teaching about hell comes from the mouth of Jesus. In addition to that, the punishment of the wicked dead is described throughout Scripture as “everlasting fire” (Mt 25:41); that the wicked are for-ever subject to the fury and the wrath of God for all eternity. It’s interesting to note that even the wrath of man acknowledges the perfect justice of God (Ps 76:10); the reality is, every man will know he is to blame for his punishment. Keep in mind, none of God’s creatures, be they angelic creatures or human creatures, will ever cease to exist; either they end up dwelling in heaven forever or end up dwelling in hell forever — God never simply eliminates some of His creatures from existence. Obviously, “hell” transcends human thought, just as “heaven” does. So all we can do is embrace these two realities as Scripture describes them. To the dismay of many genuine believers in the Christian world today, millions of so-called believers have actually minimized hell or have com-pletely rejected it, which is what Pope Francis has done; think about it, here are professing Christians denying what Scripture teaches simply because it seems far too radical for them to accept; thus they change the discourse. As stated numerous times, the problem with fallen man is that he lets his fallen thinking dictate reality in his life; if something doesn’t mesh with human logic, he changes it or simply rejects it… this has been done over & over again by God’s people done through the ages; time and again the Jewish people killed God’s prophets who were trying to teach them the ways of God. Now if professing Christians will do that (remember, two-thirds of the Christian world is not truly born again), is it any wonder why those who admittedly are ungodly will do that? Again, though hell is an almost unfathomable reality, Scripture declares that it exists; yet just how ugly it is is unimagineable. As believers, all we need to do is look at this ugly world in which we live — it is not at all the beautiful pleasant wonderful world most of us were led to believe as children; the truth is, it is a very unpleasant world — it is a disgustingly ugly world that is corrupt to the core and filled with hate and crime and suf-fering and pain and lies and cheating and perverse behavior and war and diseases and death; the reality is, it’s not a wonderful, sweet, happy, loving, kind, pleasant little world that has a lot of integrity… essentially it is almost a precognition of hell itself. So if this world in which we live is as ugly as it is, how can one not draw the con-clusion that hell is going to be far worse than this degenerate world in which we live? Remember, at least ten billion people are going to die in the next 100 years! So “death” has an incredible presence in our world… thus to paint this world with a lovely little brush is absolute lunacy. Beloved, hell admittedly is a very difficult construct, but so is this corrupt world in which we live; the truth is, life is so deplorable to countless millions in our world, that they actually wish they were dead… and death itself is an extremely sobering reality. Again, as ugly as this world is, how can a person reject the conclusion that hell is going to be horrifically ugly?
Now regarding the judgment of believers, every believer’s work that brings glory to God & blessing to man will be rewarded, and every believer’s work that does not bring glory to God or bless and edify man will be judged as worthless and burned up with fire (1 Cor 3:10-15). As the apostle Paul stated, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (cf. 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 14:10-12; Eph 6:8). Remember, God has so purposed that “whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (cf. Prv 22:8-9; Hos 10:12; 2 Cor 9:6; Gal 6:7-9; 1 Cor 15:58; Jam 5:7); but due to the fact that we don’t necessarily reap something instantly, men oftentimes take advantage of that and think they escaped reaping what they sowed, or they become angry because they don’t get what they think they deserved. The reality is, we don’t always reap what we sow in this life; though we usually do, especially when we do something wrong, sometimes we don’t reap until we enter into our eternal destiny. The truth is, “all behavior produces a fruit of some kind” (i.e., results in causing some kind of after-affect or by-product); that is simply normative in the created realm… were that not so, man would be less inclined to do what is right. Incidentally, if there are no conse-quences for doing wrong, how could one then justify that as being right? Paul identifies the works of believers that bring glory to God & bless man as gold, silver and precious stones, and the works that are useless as being mere wood, hay and straw (1 Cor 3:12); keep in mind, only those works that have a lasting effect unto all eternity will be rewarded. By the way, it is not as if the worthless works of a believer are evil, it is that they simply do not have an eternal value; so one needs to humble himself before the Lord and serve Him and His people from the heart. Remember, believers are not judged for their sins (Christ died for their sins); instead, they are judged for their work in the body of Christ. Remember Jesus’ commandment to His disciples the night before He went to the cross was this — “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you… by this all men will know that you are My disciples” (cf. Jn 13: 34-35; 2 Jn 1:5-8). Beloved, love is the premiere distinguishing characteristic of genuine discipleship; said Paul, “If you have not love, you have nothing!” (1 Cor 13:1-3). The Greatest Commandments for us as believers are these — love God and love one another! The apostle John said, “Those who do not love do not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn 4:7-8). Said the apostle Paul to the believers in Galatia: “You were called to freedom, only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13); the words “through love” are emphatic in Greek. Beloved, if we really don’t care for people and love them (in particular, God’s people), we won’t serve them. Keep in mind, God has “gifted” each one of us as His children for the expressed purpose of ministering to His children and serving them (cf. Rom 12:1-21; Eph 4:8-16; 1 Tim 1:12; 2 Tim 4:11; Heb 12:2-8; 1 Pet 4:10-11). Paul also said, “Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1); which essentially means “present yourselves to God and His service.” Now “since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each one exercise them accordingly” (Rom 12:6). Remember, “The Son of Man Himself did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many” (cf. Mk 10:45); likewise, God has also called us to “serve” — be it through pastoring, teaching, preaching, discipling, governing, administrating, help-ing people in need, caring for the lonely and the disenfranchised, giving of our resources, working in the church, working in children’s ministry, youth ministry, adult ministry, senior ministry, being involved in worship & music ministry, being a secretary, holding prayer meetings, keeping the church’s facility clean and neat (inside & outside), being an usher, running the sound system and other electrical systems, contacting the sick, heading up kitchen ministries, helping with outside ministries and mission trips; etc. Obviously, there are several ways to serve in the body of Christ. Remember, every believer’s deeds of service will be judged on the last day (cf. Mt 25:31-46; Jam 2:14-26), and be rewarded and revealed for what they are (cf. 1 Cor 3:1-15).
The reality is, God is GOD; i.e., God is the supreme reality and lord of all things… it’s as simple as that, and He wants us as His children to humbly delve into His Word on the deepest level with great passion (in spite of the fact that we’re temporal fallen creatures). Keep in mind, in comparison with God, we are creatures with extremely small minds, thus to somehow reject what God’s Word says is to arrogantly think we are smarter than we are and that God’s Word is not perfect (which is a grossly inaccurate deduction). Remember, God has given us “His divine revelation” (i.e., Scripture & divine truth) for a reason; it is not just a little historical book for those interested in history, yet much of the Christian world almost treats it as such. As the apostle Paul told his cohort (Timothy) in ministry: God gave us His Word for the following four reasons: “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness, that we might be adequate and equipped for every good work” (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17)… obviously, all believers need to be taught, reproved, corrected and trained in righteousness. Beloved, give careful consideration to what Paul had to say — God gave us His Word for several reasons — because we are ignorant… because we do wrong… and because we need to be transformed (i.e., changed). Remember, this is our part in our sanctification… as such, God wants us to delve into His Word (i.e., His Self-revelation to His people) that we might humbly embrace divine truth and see its significance in the created realm and in our own lives… and let God be GOD even when things sometime seem unreasonable & questionable. Though none of us have the ability to fully understand reality, God gives us the ability to understand what we need to under-stand, and the grace to trust Him with what we don’t fully understand, so that we can embrace divine truth with great assurance & conviction (Heb 11:1). Obviously, we don’t have the ability to fully understand divine thinking, so to insist on that would be to make God very small minded (because we are a people with very limited brains). The Lord said to the prophet Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and My ways are not your ways; as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are My thoughts and My ways higher than yours” (Is 55:8-9). Why that should be a stunning concept is a little bit ridiculous, because that would be akin to making God out to be a little temporal creature, not one who is in-finite, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent; remember, as human beings we are finite creatures (i.e., people who are extremely limited). Since that is true, you will naturally experience numerous things in life that you don’t understand, and some of those things are going to cause a little consternation in your soul (that was the case time & time again with some of God’s most esteemed prophets in the ancient world). So the question has always been this: are you going to believe what God’s Word says, even when you don’t fully understand it, or are you going to reject it because it doesn’t fully coincide with fallen thinking? Though we have the capacity to know and understand a lot of divine truth, there is much we cannot fully know and understand — as King Solomon, the wisest man whoever lived said, “I set my mind to know wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven; it is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men… because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain… as such I ultimately concluded that man cannot discover the work that has been done under the sun… just as we don’t know how we are formed in the womb, so we don’t know the activity of God who makes all things” (cf. Ecc 1:13, 18; 8:17; 11:5; also 1 Kg 3:12). Now in spite of the foregoing, “we are to long for the pure milk of the Word that we might grow with respect to our salvation” (1 Pet 2:2), “and grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ” (cf. 2 Pet 3:18); the reality is, “we are transformed by the renewing of our minds” (cf. Rom 12:2). So the question is, can you accept that? Or are you going to insist on defending everything with fallen human thinking? (which according to Scripture is sheer arrogance & seriously lacking in integrity and truth). Remember, Scripture is the measuring stick God has given man to give definition to his life; as previously stated, “It is inspired by God & profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” ( 2 Tim 3:16-17); again, the emboldened words in that last verse are emphatic in Greek.
In closing, the Holy Spirit enlightens our hearts and minds when we humble ourselves before Him; were it not for the Holy Spirit, we would never understand divine truth at any level. So when we humble ourselves before God, we come to understand the deplorable nature of sin, and the incredible nature of God’s love. Remember, God’s self-revelation (i.e., His written word) did not occur until after man had fallen and sin had ruled in his life. So what ultimately transpired in the created realm was this — saved fallen creatures were now embracing divine truth at a level that actually overwhelmed the angelic world in the heavenly realm. Remember, when the gospel of Christ was revealed to the world, the an-gelic world was completely overwhelmed by it… as Peter said, “It was something into which angels longed to look” (cf. 1 Pet 1:12). I expand on this subject in the study I did on “Sin and Man’s Eternal Purpose.” Think about it, one third of the entire angelic realm was thrown out of heaven when they sided with Satan… exactly how many angels that involved is not known, though it may have been billions of angels… the resultant effect was this — God made a brand new creature in His image (MAN), and He did so for the expressed purpose of “putting sin on trial.” Now when man fell in the Garden of Eden and embraced the thinking of Satan, God ultimately sent His Son into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh to redeem sinful man, which completely confounded the angelic world… here was God’s Son dying for man’s sin! Obviously Christ’s crucifixion was absolutely stunning to the entire angelic realm. Remember what Scripture has to say — “What is man that God should remember him? He is lower than the angels!” (cf. Heb 2:5-8; Ps 8:4-6; 144:3; Job 7:17). You can almost hear the angels in heaven say: “How can GOD become a human being, and die for the sins of fallen man? How can this be possible?” Of all the studies I have ever done, this particular one radically changed my life. I had simply never heard this before (not even in seminary), in spite of the fact that Scripture clearly teaches it. When God opened my heart to understand it, I found it to be an abso-lutely incredible transforming reality in my life; God had simply enlightened my heart to a foundational truth I was completely unaware of. The truth is, I never fully understood my reason for existing — I didn’t know that man was created to “put sin on trial;” like everyone else, I simply embraced what the Westminster Catechism says — “We exist for the glory of God!” Though that is true, I obviously didn’t fully understand that statement. Keep in mind, to glorify God we must wage war against the devil and sin, and that is no easy task; hence, we all struggle greatly with sin. By the way, if you are interested in reading that study (it’s only 13 pages long), you can access it on my website & either read it on-line or print yourself a pdf copy of it — all you need to do is click on the icon at the upper right hand corner of the study to access a printable pdf version. My website is: www.thetransformedsoul.com Once you go online get on to my website, then click on the “Additional Studies Link” at the top of the home page, and then go into the “Spiritual Life Studies.” To wrap up this study on “Flesh and the Difficulty of Faith,” let me quote the final words that are also stated in my study on, “Sin and Man’s Eternal Purpose” —
Beloved, God has placed YOU on the grand stage of the universe
to be a participant in the cosmic battle between good and evil!
Rejoice in that honor! and fight the good fight of faith
until God brings you into the eternal state
to reign with Him for ever and ever!