Sin & Man's Eternal Purpose
A summary of the doctrine of...
“SIN and MAN’S ETERNAL PURPOSE”
by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand
Temptation is part of Satan’s crafty plan that appeals to our “NATURAL DESIRES” (flesh) in an attempt to cause division between us and God; hence, it is an invitation to live a self-serving life that leads to rebellion against God. Temptation is Satan’s invitation to give into his kind of life and give up on God’s kind of life. Satan tempted Eve to doubt God’s goodness, implying that He was stingy and selfish for not wanting Eve to share His knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:1-7). Satan made Eve forget all that God had given to her, and instead got her to focus on what was prohibited. We fall into trouble too, when we dwell on the few things we don’t have rather than on the countless things with which God has blessed us.
Temptation generally hits hardest in our “AREAS OF WEAKNESS.” For all his wisdom, King Solomon had numerous weak spots – he couldn’t say “no” to compromise or lustful desires. You may have strong faith, but you also have significant weak spots. All of us do. The three major areas of temptation categorized for us in Satan’s temptation of Jesus are: 1) Physical needs and desires; 2) Possessions and power; and 3) Pride (Matt 4:1-11; 1 Jn 2:15-16). Jesus was tempted in every way in which we are tempted, but He did not give in to temptation – He knows firsthand the difficulties of temptation; as such, He sympathizes with us and wants to help us in our struggles (Heb 4:15-16). The devil often tempts us when we are most vulnerable – when we are under physical or emotional stress – but he also tempts us where we think we are strong, where we are most susceptible to pride. That is why the believer must be on guard at all times against his attacks.
Without exception, sin results when temptation strikes a sympathetic chord in “OUR HEART.” Because it operates in the realm of “feelings” (wants, desires, lusts), that’s what makes it so difficult. The reason all of us sin is that “we feel like it” / “we want to” – if we didn’t feel like it or want to, we wouldn’t sin. The simple truth is this: “our flesh is not a paragon of virtue!” Obviously, feelings can be extremely difficult to overcome – it is the main reason people “divorce” each other… they no longer have “feelings” for each other. Society’s number one message is that we should do what we “feel” like doing – it places an inordinate emphasis on feelings rather than oughts. The dynamic of the flesh is “feelings,” and the dynamic of the Spirit is “faith” – so either you live your life according to how you feel (flesh), or you live your life according to the truth (faith). By the way, nowhere in the Bible does God ever command us to feel anything, because we cannot directly control our feelings – feelings in large measure are a byproduct of our thoughts; hence, the need to control our thoughts.
To pray that God would take away a particular temptation is to ask God to take away our “FEELINGS” – that is not going to happen. Let me illustrate it: If you are physically attracted to someone outside your “eligible arena of candidates”… and you pray about it… do you think God is going to remove the God-given attraction He placed within you in the first place? No. That’s absurd. We are all naturally attracted to some members of the opposite sex – that is not the problem; the pro-blem is our “corrupt flesh” seeks to take advantage of that attraction and express it in a manner that is inconsistent with God’s will. Furthermore, for us to pray that God would remove our feelings, essentially is to ask God to remove our flesh – our sin disposition. Again, that is not going to happen. Yet, that is precisely the way most believers pray! Why would God remove the very thing that He uses to “mature us” in our faith? Our problem is we are not into this spiritual warfare stuff and fighting the fight of faith! Trial and temptation is the “primary method” God uses to accomplish His sanctifying work in us, to build our faith and spiritual character (Jam 1:2-3, 12-16). Incidentally, the words trial and temptation are the same word in Greek – peirasmos – this word literally means to test, try, prove, or tempt; thus, inherent in every trial is the temptation to do evil.
Some “PASSIONATE FEELINGS” can be very difficult to overcome – anger, lust, jealousy, and hatred can be brutally tough at times – because when they arise in our hearts, we tend to fan the flame before we even think about trying to extricate ourselves from them. Feelings can grow in intensity very quickly, and oftentimes we do not begin to fight against them until we have a raging inferno inside of us! To feed “inappropriate feelings” in our minds only “fans the flame” – so the battle is one that is “lost” in the mind. Feelings always follow “thoughts” – what you think causes you to feel the way you do. Adam and Eve opted for the satisfaction of “desire” rather than for “obedience” to the commandment of God. It should be noted, there are only these two ways of living – the feeling-oriented life of desire that is oriented toward “self”... and the commandment-oriented life of holiness that is oriented toward “God.” The first is motivated by feeling, and the second is motivated by obedient faith in God. Satan got to Adam and Eve through “desire” – all sin grows out of the desire-oriented life. Again, we all sin because we desire or want to sin! Many Christians say they just can’t control their “thoughts” – yes, you can! it may not be easy! but God commands it! (Mt 22:37; Rom 8:6; 12:2; 2 Cor 10:5; Eph 4:23; Phil 4:8; Col 3:2, 16; 1 Pet 1:13; Prv 4:23; 23:7). Without a disciplined mind the flesh will rule… an undisciplined mind is the devil’s workshop… a disciplined mind is not a spiritual option.
The two most common GOALS for most believers are these:
1. That they not sin – which is certainly a noble goal to have, but completely unrealistic.
2. That they enjoy life – that is, that they have a happy “feel good” life; another unrealistic goal.
Obviously these are qualities of life every believer would “like” to have – by the way, they are also the qualities of unbelievers as well. But these qualities cannot be the “number one desires” of our lives – because the number one desire for the believer must be to exalt God by living a life of faith and righteousness that pleases Him (Mt 6:33; 1 Cor 10:31; Phil 1:21; Heb 11:6) – anything less than that is to embrace an anti-God position of “self-centered living.” The self-centered individual says, “To heck with God, I’m doing what I feel like doing! I don’t want anybody telling me what to do! It’s my life and I’ll live it the way I feel like living it!” This worldview completely misses out on the “Creature/Creator” relation-ship –man was created by God, for an intimate relationship with Him (Rom 11:36). To reject intimacy with Christ is like rejecting “the love of your life” for a ten dollar spending spree at some supermaket! or trading an “incredible jewel” worth millions for a little plastic ring out of a bubble gum machine! How warped and perverted can we be? Obviously, there is no way to adequately contrast the com- parison – because we are talking about something of eternal value vs. temporal value.
The number one goal for every believer must be that of “cultivating an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ” – which is vastly superior to having a goal of simply refraining from sin (as noble a goal as that may be). By concentrating on the “sin issue,” the believer becomes consumed with a “performance behavioral-oriented life” – as such, he has a “self-focus” rather than a “God-focus.” Living righteously and not sinning are byproducts of “walking intimately with Christ” or “walking in the Spirit.” When you make the byproduct the goal of your life – you are placing the cart before the horse; such a goal will result in certain failure. Therefore, when you make “not sinning” the goal, you will sin – often! Study the teaching of Jesus about the Vine and the branches – the essence of abiding in Christ is walking intimately with Him (Jn 15:1-11). Once again, the “preeminent focus or goal” of every believer’s life must be that of “cultivating an intimate relationship with Christ!”
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THE “SIN PRINCIPLE” WITHIN
The “sin principle” is referred to by theologians and Scripture as the sin nature, the old nature, the flesh, the sin disposition, and human nature – in short, it is weak, low, debased, inclined toward evil, and tends toward ungodliness and vice (Mt 7:11; 15:19; Rom3:9-10; 5:12,19; 7:14-17, 21; 8:3, 5, 6; Eph2:1-3; 2Tim 2:26). Nothing good dwells within the flesh (Rom 7:18). The propensities of the sin nature (“fruit of the flesh”) are immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, and carousings (Gal 5:19-21). Each of these qualities reside in each of us, and these cravings and fleshly desires incite to sin (Mt 26:41; Mk 14:38; Jam 1:14-15). So the flesh of man is inherently corrupt, diabolical, and fully against the rule of God in a person’s life (Gal 5:17) – God and the flesh are diametrically opposed to each other, and they “both” have taken up permanent residency in our lives.
Because the “sin principle within” has some degree of freedom to operate in our minds, its influence at times seems to overwhelm us to the extent that our inner man “strongly identifies with its passions and cravings.” This exerting influence causes some believers to “feel” as though they are not just a “little corrupt,” but “fully corrupt to the core;” as such, they are prone to question whether or not they are really “new creations in Christ” – after all, how could a believer think such sinful thoughts? (a typical questioning strategy of Satan). When “fleshly thoughts” enter our minds, many of us have such a strong tendency to identify with those thoughts, that we actually feel as though “those thoughts” express the essence of who we really are – Satan works at trying to convince us of such. Because the “flesh” is so influential in our minds and hearts, many of us try to “transform our old sinful natures through religious regimen” – but the flesh cannot be transformed, no matter how hard we may try to change it! The truth of the matter is our flesh is actually becoming more corrupt every day! (Eph 4:22), so forget trying to change it! The lack of success in trying to transform it causes many of us to conclude that we (our spirits) are “not being transformed into the image of Christ.” It is extremely important that the believer understands that the flesh and the spirit are “two distinct entities” co-existing within us; and these entities are in direct opposition to each other – complete opposites. We are called to “identify with the spirit” – not the flesh (Rom 6:3-11) – so that our lives are Christlike rather than ungodly (Rom 6:4).
As a believer, what are you to do to combat this problem? First, you have to come to the point where you accept the fact that “your sin nature” is going to accompany you all the way through life, yet you have to realize that “it is no longer the real you” that is now a child of God. Your sin nature is that “sin principle” in you that continually tries to influence your life for evil. The sin nature is extremely stubborn and persistent, and it will never lay down its arms; it operates like a “heat-seeking missile” – when it sees something in your life it wants to hone in on, it fires one of its missiles, and the battle is on! As a believer, you need to be able to look at your-self from outside yourself, in a sense, and see that your sin nature is that part of you that is “really not you;” though you accept the fact that it is still present in your life… spiritually speaking, your sin nature is no longer the real you (Rom 7:17). So, when it rears its ugly head, you don’t have to think “that’s the real me,” because it is not! We are not playing games with language here. Knowing this fact should cause you be tremendously grateful that it indeed is “no longer you!” It is now just an ugly sinful voice within you that is screaming for attention. On the one hand, the transparent admission that “sin dwells in you” is very humbling; on the other hand, it causes you to give God all the praise (Rom 7:25). By the way, for you as a believer to think that your flesh is not going to “desire to do evil” is ludicrous – it is going to! That’s the reality of the sin disposition. Your flesh is like another person (a totally sinful person) who is going to walk beside you throughout your entire life; he is going to talk to you almost non-stop expressing his desires. The good news is, you no longer have to obey your sin nature…or strive to transform it…or be embarrassed by its corruptness... or grieve over how diabolical it is! You are no longer to identify with “the sin nature” within you – because it is no longer YOU! It is just a part of the total package that will accompany you as a participant in the cosmic battle of which you are now a part. If God didn’t want it in your life – it wouldn’t be there! If He didn’t want you to have to deal with it – He would remove it! This concept will be more fully developed throughout the remainder of this chapter.
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So, the Christian life is about having a “Christ focus” rather than a “Self focus” – If your focus has anything to do with “your performance,” you’re on the wrong track! Get off that train, and get on the right one! The train you are on is the one Satan wants you on, and it will make you as miser-able as you can possibly be! You are going in the wrong direction! This perspective is essential for the believer’s emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being. Many believers are experiencing “spiritual paralysis” – bewilderment, disillusionment, discouragement, and depression – because the life of faith (being all God wants you to be) seems out of reach for them. If you are on the “perfor-mance track,” you’re right, it is out of reach! If you are on the performance track, your problem is that you have a “wrong focus” – self, behavior, performance, not sinning – “fix your eyes on Christ, the Author and Perfecter of your faith!” (Heb 12:2). Stop fixating on the problem (sin), and start focusing on the solution (Christ) – cultivate intimacy with Him! Is it easy to cultivate intimacy with Christ? No. Not at all… but it does bring substantial peace and joy to your life in the midst of the journey! Cultivating intimacy with Christ is God’s lifelong call upon our lives as His children (Phil 3:10; 2 Pet 3:18; Jer 9:23-24; Mic 6:8) – trying to refrain from sin is not the life we are called to. Achieving intimacy with Christ is difficult because we inhabit “sinful flesh;” the resultant effect of living with the flesh, is that it continually insists on having its way in our lives – therefore the battle oftentimes gets heated! That is the norm! Expect it! Prepare yourself for it! Furthermore, this battle is won by faith… by believing God! Yes, it is a battle — it is the mother of all battles! (Eph 6:10ff; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7).
Following are some thoughts on SIN from the viewpoint of an ‘ole Master Practioner – Me. I am approaching 70 years old; I have served in the ministry for nearly 40 years; and I have been an ardent student of the Word for every one of those years; all told, I have more than 11 years of college and seminary education under my belt... and I have struggled with the issues of temptation and sin just like every other believer. Those who say they don’t struggle with temptation and sin are either lying, fooling themselves, or they are not a believer – this stuff is common to every believer... no man on planet earth walks on water. Personally, I have been as exasperated and frustrated with “my walk” at times as all of you have been – you are not alone – eventually, we are all subjected to spiritually dark seasons in life, and the experience can oftentimes be downright debilitating. Rest assured, even during those times, God is very active in your life. The fact is, those spiritually gut-wrenching times cause us to do some serious thinking and questioning – which is good – though we never discover all the answers, we do discover significant pieces of the puzzle that confirm in our minds the miraculous work God is doing in our hearts... and with that comes a deep abiding peace. God has wired me with a spiritual DNA that “demands answers” – like some of you, I am always asking the “why questions.” Those of us with this particular DNA probably experience a frustration level a little higher than the majority. God simply won’t let me rest with simple little spiritual clichés that we all seem to learn on our journey with Christ – such answers don’t satisfy the excessively obsessed soul. I hate temp-tation and sin with a passion – can’t imagine too many believers out there hating it much more than I do... though I may be wrong on that point. If I had my choice – clearly I don’t – I’d opt for a far easier road to spiritual maturity than the one I have traveled. But that is not the “divine economy” under which we live – God did not design an “easy way” to make us like Christ... He could have – He is God – but He chose not to. He could have designed a system of salvation whereby He would not have had to go to the cross – but He did not. Why? A part of the answer to that question is found in Scripture. Let me share a little of it with you. Lord willing, it will help answer some of the questions of your heart, like it has mine. Let me begin by first presenting to you the following thesis statement –
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Think carefully with me about what that statement above really means – that statement explains your primary purpose for existence – you are to be a participant in the cosmic battle between good and evil. Your purpose is not to live on this beautiful planet, seeking out all of its pleasantries, and enjoying them to the max; nor is it to accrue as many toys as you can for yourself, or indulge in all the pleasures this world has to offer – those are not your God-ordained reasons for existence. As believers in Christ, you and I play an integral role in the battle of all battles – we are all to be combatants in a war of cosmic significance against the forces of darkness and evil... you may not like the fact that you have been designated to be a part of that war, but if you are a believer, you have been; so stop trying to create a Disneyland experience out of your life – put on your armor and become an active participant with the forces of light in defeating the forces of darkness (Eph 6:10-17). Remember what Jesus said, “Either you are for Me, or you are against Me” (Mt 12:30) – there is no neutral or middle ground (that is a sober reality) – “You cannot serve two masters; you cannot serve God and yourself” (Mt 6:24). Either you choose to live for “self,” or you choose to live for “God.” Admittedly, that is not an easy choice. Your old sinful nature and your new godly nature are arch rivals, and they are continually fighting against each other to control your life. That is why it is called “spiritual warfare.”
The big picture involves a “COSMIC BATTLE” between good and evil. Paul exhorts us as Christians to “put on the full armor of God that we might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil... [and to be mindful of the fact that] our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and powers and spiritual forces of darkness” (Eph 6:10-12; Eph 2:2; Col 1:13). Conversely, Peter tells us that “Jesus bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet 2:24). “Shall we continue in sin as believers because God is gracious?” Paul asks. “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:2). Since we died with Christ, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts and desires… but present the members of your body to God as instruments of righteousness” (Rom 6:12-13). “Fight the good fight!” (1 Tim 1:18-19; 6:12; 2 Tim 2:3f).
So what is the “biblical context” for the BIG PICTURE? Let’s go all the way back to the day God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the “Garden of Eden.” The word “Eden” in Hebrew literally means “delight” – obviously, the Garden of Eden was a place of perfect delight; nothing was lacking that could contribute to man’s legitimate joy, fulfillment or happiness. God placed Adam in charge of the garden, making him His delegated authority; i.e., God’s “regent” on earth (Gen 1:26-30). The duties that fell to Adam’s lot seem to have been entirely satisfying and enjoyable, while at the same time not too taxing or onerous. There are, however, a number of questions the creation account raises—
Why did God create “MAN” in the first place? What is the purpose of human history? Is there any relationship between the events of eternity past and human history? Why were humans, a lower creature than angels, created “after” God had already created angels? In order to answer all of these questions, all we can do is chronologically reconstruct the complete testimony of Scripture and see where that leads us. The Bible tells us some very interesting things that occurred “prior” to creation that help us connect the dots and provide us with some significant insight.
When you ask Christians why they exist, most respond with the typical answer: “Humanity exists for the glory of God,” and they quote a number of passages that support that statement (Ps 19:1; Is 43:7; Rom1:20). The Book of Proverbs tells us that God created everything “for His own ends”(Prv16:4; cf. Rom11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16); that all creation is an “expression of His will, His wisdom, His power” (Rev 4:11). So, according to the Bible, we see that human beings were created for “God’s glory.” But that raises another question: “Why did God need glory?” If He is God, doesn’t He have enough glory? Surely God is not so ego-centric that He needs us to reassure Him – right? Or did something occur in the history of the universe prior to the Genesis account of creation, that precipitated His creating man? Was that something instrumental in bringing about the creation of humanity? Again, we need to go to Scripture to see if it indeed has anything to say about “events” that may have occurred in eternity past.
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SIN AND SALVATION
On the “Temple to Apollo” in Greece, an inscription summed up the wisdom of that day – “Know Thyself.” Those two words embodied the deeply held conviction that “the chief study of mankind is man;” that our wisdom consists in the accuracy and depth of self-knowledge. On one level Christianity has no quarrel with that analysis, so long as it corresponds with a personal knowledge of God, and our intrinsic need for salvation. What Christianity does deny is that we can know ourselves apart from God – though it is true that we can know much about man, we cannot know man as he is in himself apart from God’s revelation. That is why Reinhold Niebuhr says, “Man has always been his own most vexing problem.” Nothing explains the “nature of man” except the truths of Christianity.
According to the book of Genesis, God placed man in the Garden of Eden to be His vice regents on earth. He gave them maximum freedom, authority, and dominion over all the earth (Gen 1:28). There were no apparent restrictions on how they were to do it, except one – they were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). The fruit was a tangible symbol of the fact that the man and woman were God’s creatures – they were not God – as such, they were responsible to Him: “for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen 2:16-17). A contra-diction of the veracity of God’s Word is the issue in Satan’s temptation of Eve – “you shall not die” (Gen 3:4-5). Here, then, is the first revelation of sin’s nature and of what is basically wrong with mankind: 1) Sin is unfaithfulness – it is to doubt God’s goodness and truthfulness, leading inevitably to an act of outright rejection; 2) Sin is apostasy – it is rebellion against that sublime nature and destiny God made for man; and 3) Sin is pride – in the woman’s case, it was the conviction that she knew what was better for herself and her husband than God; incidentally, this was the original sin of Satan (Is 14:14). So man’s sinful nature is characterized by the fact that it is faithless, rebellious, and full of pride; sin is everything within our being that is contrary to the expressed will of God (Rom 3:20; 4:15; 7:7; Jam 4:12, 17). The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is always “against God,” whatever the sin may be (Ps 51:4).
The questions arise, “How bad is man? How bad is sin?” Some believe man is only “slightly flawed,” that he is just “sick” – observers differ over how sick he is: acutely, gravely, critically, or mortally. The Bible says man is “dead” (Eph 2:1), that he is “totally flawed.” Furthermore, the tragedy of human existence is overwhelmingly visible to anyone who will honestly view the mounting starvation, suffering, hatred, selfishness, and indifference on our planet. The fall affected every part of man – his spirit died, for his fellowship with God was broken. . . his soul began to die, for he began to lie and cheat and kill. . . his body eventually died, for God had said, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). So man is now alienated from God. . . and that, says John Stott, “is the most dreadful of all sin’s consequences.” The threefold result of man’s alienation is expanded upon by the apostle Paul in Romans 3:10-12 –- 1) “No one is righteous, not one;” that is the essence of the moral side of every man. 2) “No one understands;” sin has also polluted our intellect and our spiritual understanding. 3) “No one seeks for God;” this is the area of our will – we have no desire to come to God; instead we make gods of our own making, in the hope that they will fill the spiritual vacuum in our lives. As Luther says, “We are wholly given over to sin” – we are enslaved to sin (cf. Rom 6:6, 17, 20); therefore, the only proper thing for us to do is to humbly acknowledge our sin, and call upon the eternal God for mercy.
What does “sin” really look like in the heart of man? According to Scripture, man is totally corrupt, and has placed his own interests above all other interests; hence, man is fully “self-centered.” His entire life is totally oriented toward himself – man loves himself; as such, God com-mands him to “love others!” (Mt 22:39). The sum of all the command-ments is “love” – thus sin in its nature is egotistical and selfish; self is put in the place of God (Rom 15:3; 1 Cor 13:5; 2 Tim 3:1-2; 2 Th 2:3-4). By the way, “self love” is one of the signs of the last days (2 Tim 3:2). Ultimately, men have their own self-interests at stake in everything they do; in some way, their intent is always to satisfy and gratify them-selves. Paul writes, “Don’t merely look out after your own personal interests, but also look after the interests of others” (Phil 2:4) – why does Paul say this? Because we “naturally” have a self-focus in life, and we need to be reminded to focus on others. Since our number one concern is “us,” everything we do in life is to make us feel good and gain the approval of others; it is natural (that’s the essence of “flesh”) to want others to “like us,” so we behave in ways that elicit favorable responses from others. When people don’t like us, or respond negatively toward us, we become angry, dis-couraged, depressed, or hurt – because our own “self interests” have been impinged. Remember, every human being operates this way; even the so-called “lovely people” of this world – they are just more disciplined in their behavior than others – the fact is by “nature” we are all sinful and self-centered.
When we became Christians, we obviously experienced a “radical transformation” within us. Scripture tells us that we were “saved from something” and we were “saved to something.” According to the Bible, we have been “saved from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2); sin is no longer our master, and eternal death is no longer our destiny. The Bible also tells us we have been “saved unto eternal life” – we have been “made alive in Christ,” and we will live and reign with Him forever (Jn 3:16; 10:10; Rom 6:4, 11, 23; 8:9; Eph 1:5; 1 Jn 5:13). If you are a child of God, you are a new creation (Jn 3:3; Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15); your sins are forever forgiven (Rom 6:23; 8:2-3; Jn 5:24; Eph 4:32); though your sins were as “scarlet,” they have been “white” as snow! (Isaiah 1:18). You have been made righteous with the righteousness of Christ – the very DNA of Christ Himself has been given to you (1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5: 20-21). You are now indwelled by the Holy Spirit, that you might walk in newness of life (intimacy with Christ), just as God intended at the day of creation. As believers we have been re-created! (Jn 14:16-17, 26; 16:13; Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 6:19-20). By the way, though you stumble and mess up over and over and over again, as all of us do, and though you are even faithless at times, God will never abandon you, or give up on you, because You are now “His possession!” (Jn 6:37, 39; 10:11, 14; 1 Cor 6:20; 2 Tim 2:13; Tit 2:14; 1 Pet 1:18-19; 2:9), and He has promised to see the transforming work in your life through to the end! (Ps 138:8; Prv 24:16; Rom 8:28-31; Phil 1:6; 2:12-13; 1 Th 5:24; Heb 13:5; Jam 3:2).
Now, if the foregoing is indeed the case, that He bought you in the slave-market of sin and made you His own, you should be an excited, rejoicing, exuberant follower of Christ. . . and fully engaged in the work of Christ in the world! If you are not fully engaged – why? Are you ashamed of the gospel? (Mk 8:38; Rom 1:16; 2 Tim 1:8, 12, 16; 1 Cor 1:18). If it embarrasses you – study the “cross” – you have lost your focus! If you are disappointed or discouraged in your faith, or are seemingly too weak to fight the good fight or stand for Christ in your area of influence, you have taken your eyes off of Christ, and are once again preoccupied with “yourself.” If that is the case, it is only natural that the things of this world consume you, and the destiny and concerns of others, essentially, are irrelevant issues to you. The remedy for your problem? Stop focusing on yourself! and get your focus back on Christ! (Heb 12:2; 1 Jn 3:3). By the way, this is a very common problem for believers. The fight of faith must be intentionally fought – we must be intentional about eliminating all the clutter and noise in our lives, find a quiet space, still our hearts before God, and actively pursue intimacy with Him. There is no such thing as “spiritual cruise-control” in the Christian life – either you are progressing or you are regressing. Embrace the spiritual disciplines with renewed vigor and regain your focus. Reflect again upon what the Scriptures have to say – James writes, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jam 4:8); Jeremiah puts it, “You will find Me when you seek Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13). Jesus said, “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you” (Mt 7:7 – the present tense verbs in this verse emphasize the importance of “continually” asking, seeking, and knocking; spiritual growth is not something that occurs at just “one moment in time” – it is a process that continues throughout your entire life; hence, it is a lifestyle of daily drawing near to the Lord Jesus). God has made our whole-hearted movement toward Him a condition of His drawing close to us – though God is ultimately the “First Cause” in our becoming like Christ, the process includes our cooperation, participation and obedience (Phil 1:6; 2:12-13; Heb 11:6).
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Scripture tells us of the creation and fall of the most “magnificent creature” to ever come from the hand of God – LUCIFER. In Ezekiel 28:11-19, the magnificent nature of this creature is mentioned during a section of Scripture in which Ezekiel excoriates the king of Tyre for his arrogance and compares him to Satan, as he predicts the fall of this king. The passage reads --
Thus says the Lord God, “You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering... the workmanship of your settings and sockets was in you. On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire” (probably a reference to the ‘wall of fire’ that surrounded the throne room of God and point to Satan’s unfettered access to God’s presence as the guardian cherub). “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, until unrighteousness was found in you. By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God and I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground…. By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade, you profaned your sanctuaries. Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you; it has consumed you, and I have turned you to ashes on the earth in the eyes of everyone. All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you; you have become a horror, and you will be no more.”
Lucifer’s fall is described in a section of Scripture where Isaiah denounces Babylon, the center of power and false religion during his ministry to Israel. Isaiah 14:12-17 reads –
How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” Nevertheless, you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit. Those who see you will gaze at you and ponder, “Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a wilderness and overthrew its cities?”
Lucifer in his original rebellion had “REFUSED TO SUBMIT” to the authority of God and had declared himself “independent of God.” In the Genesis account of creation, Adam (in this new form of the kingdom of heaven) was being “tested” to see whether he would submit to the authority of God out of recognition of God’s right to rule, or whether he, like Satan, would reject God’s right to rule and declare himself to be independent of God’s law. Just how long Adam and Eve remained in a state of obedience and continued as citizens of the kingdom of heaven on earth, we don’t know, but the time came when their obedience was “tested by Satan” (Gen 3). Would man properly execute God’s delegated authority, or would he succumb to the temptation to be “like God” and appropriate the arrogance of Satan in his moral fall? Scripture tells us that man ultimately fell, succumbing to Satan’s luring lies... and ended up giving dominion over the earth to Satan. Therefore, Satan ultimately succeeded in transferring a third of the angelic realm and all of God’s human creation into his domain (Rev 12:4; Jude 1:6). The earth then became a province of Satan’s kingdom. The earth’s government changed from a theocracy to a satanocracy. This is the reason Jesus called Satan “the prince of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and Satan had authority to offer all the kingdoms of this world to Jesus (Lk 4:5-6). In addition, some of the angels of Satan are called “the world rulers of this darkness”(Eph 6:12). Paul called Satan “the god of this age” (2 Cor4:4).
Instead of becoming “completely independent” as a result of his choice, Adam was brought under the dominion of a new king – SATAN. His original King was a loving, benevolent Ruler who offered him life, peace, happiness, and fulfillment in return for willing obedience – his new king was a hard, selfish taskmaster who offered him death, sickness, conflict, grief, and frustration in return for service to him. Adam was transferred from membership in the kingdom of God to membership in the kingdom of Satan (Eph 2:1), from the kingdom of Light to the kingdom of Darkness. Instead of improving himself by rebelling against God, Adam prevented himself from obtaining the fullness of his original potential. Adam’s rebellion had confirmed him so strongly in his tragic predicament that he was rendered totally incapable of rescuing himself from it. Nothing short of supernatural, divine interven-tion would be able to save him (and his future offspring) from the predicament he had brought upon himself and his progeny by his own choice (Is 43:11 – Showers, What on Earth is God Doing? pp. 16-17).
From the passages in Isaiah&Ezekiel, we have an understanding of the nature of “Satan’s fall” at a point in eternity past, as well as the judgment that was pronounced upon him at the time of his fall. Obviously, the execution of his sentence is still in the future since he has not yet been cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:10). The delay between the pronouncement of the sentence and the execution of the sentence is the span of time equal to “human history.” This fact establishes the relationship between an angelic conflict and human history. A careful reading of the biblical account of Satan’s fall certainly allows for there to have been a “period of unspecified duration” between the moral fall of Lucifer and the creation of the universe, including earth. After human history has run its course and the decisions of billions of humans have been made, God will have demonstrated His attributes. In addition, a lower creature, man, will have vindicated the integrity of God’s essence every time the lower creature responds positively to God’s holy requirements. From the beginning of creation to the conclusion of the Great White Throne Judgment, human history will serve as permanent evidence of the integrity of God’s essence. In their observation of humans, angels will witness proof after proof of Satan’s own culpability, and proof after proof of God’s perfect justice (Job 1:6; 2:1-3; Lk 15:7, 10; 1Cor 4:9; 11:10; Eph 3:10; 1 Tim 3:16; 5:21).
HERE’S THE ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE: The great, governing cherub (Lucifer) became the “malignant enemy of God” and war was declared. God (being God) was neither surprised nor aston-ished, because He knew before it happened that it would happen, and He had His perfect plan ready to be put into effect. Although God had the power to destroy Satan with a breath, He chose not to do so. It was as though an edict had been proclaimed in heaven – “We shall give this rebellion a thorough trial... we shall permit it to run its full course. The universe shall see what a creature, though he be the ‘highest creature’ ever to spring from God’s Word, can do apart from Him. God’s entire creation shall watch this experiment, which shall take place during a brief interlude between eternity past and eternity future – a period called “time.” In it the spirit of independence will be allowed to expand to the utmost. And the wreck and ruin which shall result will demonstrate to the universe – and forever – that there is no life, no joy, no peace apart from a complete dependence upon the Most High God, Professor of heaven and earth” (Barnhouse, p. 51). The course of God’s purpose in creation, it seems, is to make a sufficient and final trial of every claim of His adversaries; and when this age, with all its developments, shall have passed by, every mouth will be stopped, and the whole world and Satan will know their own failure and sin before God. They will stand “self-condemned,” and nothing could accomplish this but the testing – by actual trial – of all the self-sufficient claims of Satan and man (Chafer, p. 24).
Satan and a third of all angels “did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode” (Jude 1:6; Rev 12:4); they rebelled against God in eternity past. Scripture discloses that Satan has an organizational structure for his angelic forces that consists of principalities, powers, and rulers of the darkness of this age” (Eph 1:21; cf. 6:12; Rom 8:38). Satan governs a portion of the angelic realm and that governance will continue until Satan’s trial is concluded at the end of human history at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:10-15). Human history will have served its God-intended purpose of demonstrating to all creation that God is love, and the only absolute righteousness and sovereign authority. Human history will have established the integrity of God’s essence as a fact not ever again subject to challenge. Satan’s challenge of God’s essence in eternity past as documented in Isaiah 14:11-17 and Ezek 28:12-19 will have been answered with irrefutable evidence for all eternity. Once the evidence of human history has been completely presented, the Only Sovereign over all creation will never again be subject to question or doubt.
Angels were already in existence when God created the material universe – they “shouted for joy” as they observed what was being made (Job 38:4-7). They were fascinated “observers” when God was laying the foundations of the earth. The fact that there is a strong interest in human history on the part of God’s angelic creation is strongly supported throughout Scripture (note the following activities by His heavenly angels – Job 38:4-7; Lk 15:10; Act 1:10; 7:38, 53; Gal 3:19; Lk 2:13; Mt 4:11; 13:37-39; 24:31; 25:31; 28:2-4; 2 Th 1:7-8; Rev 14:9-10). All these passages, and many others not listed, attest to a keen interest in the affairs of human history on the part of the angelic realm. This fact raises an important question: Why? Why are angels interested in the outcome of human history? Why would human history be a focal point of attention and activity from such a superior creature as angels? Why were humans (significantly lower creatures) created after angels anyway?
Satan’s case, and that of his followers, has already been adjudicated and his ultimate fate pronounced. At the conclusion of human history, Satan will face the execution of his sentence (Rev 20:10; Is 24:21-22), a verdict adjudged before human history began. Why the delay in judgment? Why didn’t God simply plunge the devil and his minions into the fires of hell immediately after their just condemnation? The answer to all such questions is intimately bound up with God’s creation of another species of morally responsible creatures – MAN. Until the fires of hell receive Satan and his followers, God grants them a degree of “freedom” – and during this interlude of time, Satan goes about the earth in search of believers whose defenses are down, seeking to destroy them (1 Pet 5:8). The creation of MAN is meant as a response to Satan’s rebellion, a living refutation of the devil’s slanderous lies against the character of God. When all is said and done, God’s righteousness will have been affirmed before all creation, and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt through the merciful salvation of believing mankind. Human beings who choose to reject God’s gracious gift of Jesus Christ, will share the fate of the devil and his followers in the lake of fire (Rev 20:11-15); and everyone, whether rebellious or regenerate, will eventually bow before the God of all creation and acknowledge His majesty and righteousness, and confess that Jesus Christ is LORD to the glory of God the Father (Rom 14:11; Phil 2:9-11). Everyone will be present on that day.
So the TRIAL OF EVIL is the ultimate reason for the MAN’S EXISTENCE – Evil is on trial right now – that is what our existence is all about. Let’s return again to the biblical account of creation – Adam and Eve were in the most idyllic setting imaginable... a place of absolute perfection and beauty. Nothing could have been added to make it a better, more enjoyable place. Consider this – in this beautiful setting God placed the serpent, Satan! Obviously, that was intentional; he just didn’t happen to show up; God purposely placed him there. And then God gave a “moral charge” to Adam, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat – in the day that you do eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen 3:16-17). God’s plan was now set in motion – He had created a new species –MAN– and placed him in a perfect Garden with Satan. The “moral charge” was given, and the inevitable occurred – Adam disobeyed God! Was God surprised? Absolutely not. God knew the end from the beginning. Furthermore, God’s purposes were now about to be executed. The story of man’s creation and fall, and his subsequent redemption, was the plan of God from all creation (Is 46:9-11; 55:11; Jn 1:13; 7:30; Act 2:23; Eph 1:4-6; Rev 22:13) – “Christ was slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8). God planned the end from the beginning. There are no surprises with God – He is in absolute control of all things; nothing happens outside of His divine providence.
The issue most believers struggle with is how God could include “sin” in His divine economy for the universe. After all, how could a “perfectly holy God,” who admittedly “cannot look upon sin,” incorporate it into His plan? That’s a fair question, and one most students of Scripture have asked. Perhaps one of the keys to answering this issue is to understand that “God did not create sin” – that is, He is not its author – but that “He did create the potential for sin,” by not programming His creatures to choose only that which is good. Furthermore, because God created the potential for sin, and included it in His divine plan, obviously it has a “purpose” in His economy. Think about this for a moment: the “worst sin” ever committed – the crucifixion of Christ – purchased our salvation, and brought the greatest glory possible to our Savior in heaven (Phil 2:5-11; Heb 2:9; Eph 1:18-23). That in itself is an astounding thought. Therefore to think that God could not possibly bring glory out of “some sin we might commit” is ludicrous – if God was glorified through the horrible sin of crucifixion, how much easier is it for Him to be glorified through our sins? Consider this: every time you and I sin as His children, we turn toward our heavenly Father and tell Him we “fully agree with Him regarding our sin” (that’s confession); in doing so we denounce our sinful behavior, and glory in the blood of the cross of His Son. The response in heaven every time we confess? All the angelic host “rejoice!” So every time we sin, we ultimately (through confession) put another “stake” in the corpse of evil! God has multiple purposes for including sin in His plan – sin causes us to turn to Christ (2 Cor 7:9)… it causes us to see how utterly sinful we really are (how else would we ever learn that?), thus keeping us humble before God… it causes us to trust God more (as we repeatedly sin and confess our sins over and over again, our faith in Christ is built up and strengthened)… it helps us see how great and wonderful and loving and forgiving God really is (how would we ever come to know the unfa-thomable riches of His grace and love were it not for our repeated sinning and His repeated forgive-ness). By “continually experiencing the forgiveness of God,” we learn that He loves us with an everlasting love – there is absolutely no end to it! (Ps 100:5; 106:1; 118:1-4; 136:1-26; Jer 33:11; Mt 18:22). Though “sin” is a big issue in the sight of God (He sent His Son to the cross for it!)… the fact is “God’s love and grace” are far bigger issues to Him! (Rom 5:20; 8:35-39).
Always remember, God is “GOD” – there is no other! (Is 40:13-18, 25-26; 43:1, 7, 10-13, 25; 44:6, 22; 45:5-7, 22-25; 48:10-11; 50:2; 53:5-6; 55:8-11). History is “His story!” The unfolding of “His plan!” All that happens is according to “His will!” Think of it this way – if God never wanted “sin” to exist, it would never have come into existence. Never. To think that God somehow “lost control” in the process of bringing about the created order, is ludicrous. If He lost control, then He is not the omniscient, omnipotent God of the Bible. Clearly, “sin” was not an accident. Nothing is so high that it is above God’s providence (Jer 32:17, 27); nothing is so bad but that God cannot draw good out of it (Gen 50:30); and nothing is so wisely plotted that God cannot disappoint it (2 Kg 19; Mt 2:13). Richard Sibbes in his book The Soul’s Conflict writes: “God’s divine providence cannot but bring incredible security to the believer’s soul; to know that in all variety of changes and intercourse in good and bad events, HE hath a disposing hand… whatever befalls us serves His eternal purpose…. The most casual and disordered things are all subject to divine providence. It is important for believers to know that they are ‘under a providence’ that is above their own” (Sibbes, Conflict, pp. 144-151). Humanity is prone to question God’s dealings, as we see in Gideon, Asaph, Habakkuk, and others – “If the Lord be with us, why then has all this happened to us?” (Judg 6:13). After some struggling between the flesh and the spirit, the conclusion will be (however matters go), “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart!” (Ps 73:1; Rom 8:28). God’s ways often seem to us full of contradictions, because His course is to frequently bring things to pass by “contrary means.” “God works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11). Thus David yielded himself up to God: “Here I am, let the Lord deal with me as seemeth good unto Him” (2 Sam 15:26). Even the Lord Jesus prayed, “Father, not My will but Thine be done” (Lk 22:42; Acts 21:14). Out of our inferior reasons we may desire that God remove the cup; but when we look to the supreme reason of reasons – the will of God – here we must stoop and kiss the rod, and humble ourselves under His mighty hand. Whatever our condition and lot in life let us echo the words of Richard Sibbes: “If Thou wilt have me serve Thee in this condition I am in, I will gladly do so; it is enough to me that Thou wouldst have it so. I desire to yield readily, humbly, and cheer-fully to Thy disposing providence” (Sibbes, Conflict, pp. 151-159). Rejoice in the fact that God is GOD!
Return with me to the story of CREATION – Scripture begins with Satan in the garden (Gen3:1), and it ends with Satan being thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:10). The bookends of “human history” involve SATAN. Why? He was the very reason for man’s existence. It was his actions in eternity past that precipitated God’s plan of creation and redemption. The book of Genesis tells us that man was “created in the image of God” (Gen1:26). When man fell, that image was defiled. God’s plan of redemption was the miracle of recreation – “creating us in the image of Christ” (Rom8:29; Gal 4:19; 1 Cor 15:49; 2 Cor 3:18; Eph 1:3-6; Phil 1:6; 3:21). John writes, “Beloved, we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be… we know that when Christ appears we shall be like Him (emphatic!), because we shall see Him just as He is”(1 Jn 3:2). As redeemed sinful humanity, we shall one day be like the perfect, sinless Son of God who took our sin upon Himself in order that we might share not only His righteousness! but His glory! (Read Jn 17:22; Rom 8:21, 29-30; 9:23; 1 Cor 15:43; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:17; Eph 1:3-6; Col 1:27; 3:4; 2 Tim 2:10; Heb 2:7, 10; 1 Pet 1:7; 5:1, 10). Think about it – sinful creatures sharing God’s glory! It is beyond human comprehension! So, what flows from the work of Jesus Christ is not only forgiveness and right standing with God, but a systematic reversal of everything that was lost because of sin. As “new creations” we now share the very DNA of GOD! (2Cor 5:17).
In closing, the incredible news of God’s Salvation is that He has made us “CO-HEIRS with CHRIST.” Unbelievable as it may sound, God’s Spirit now resides in us as His children (Rom 8:9; 2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13-14), and is “transforming us into the image of Christ” (2 Cor 3:18). By the way, this work is assured! Guaranteed! No matter how lousy you may be performing, or how much you may doubt it, God says “He will complete the work He has started in you!” (Phil 1:6). If you want to enjoy the journey, then cooperate with Him! (Phil 2:12-13; Gal 5:22). The believer’s source of incomparable glory is GOD – who has adopted us as His own children... and made us heirs with His Son (Mt 25:34; Rom 8:17; Eph 1:11; Col 3:24; Heb 6:12; 9:15; 1 Pet 1:4) – as John Wesley would say, “How can this be!” It is mind-boggling! God appointed Jesus Christ to be the “heir of all things” (Heb 1:2), and because we are “fellow-heirs with Him,” we are destined to receive all that He receives! Every adopted child of God will receive the “full inheritance” with Christ, and everything that Christ receives by divine right, we will receive by divine grace! That is why it is called Amazing Love! Amazing Grace!
As believers, we will one day enter into the “ETERNAL GLORY” of our Master (Mt 25:21; Jn 17:22), “who for the sake of the joy before Him endured the cross... and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). As believers we will one day sit on the heavenly throne “with Christ” and rule there with Him forever (Rev 3:21; 20:4; Lk 22:30), bearing forever His very image (1Cor 15: 49; 1 Jn 3:2). Writes the apostle John, “Everyone who has this hope [think about that certain reality] fixed on Christ purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 Jn 3:3). The hope and expectation of sharing in God’s glory should motivate every believer to dedicate himself to living purely while here on this earth. One day every believer will “obtain an inheritance that is imperishable and undefiled, and will not fade away” – this inheritance is reserved in heaven for us! (1 Pet 1:4).
Imagine with me what it must have been like for God’s heavenly hosts to look down upon God’s new creation and watch the events of human history unfold. Can’t you just hear them say, “What in heaven’s name is going on?” In the fullness of time they see the Sovereign God of the universe enter into human history in the person of Jesus Christ! They cry out, “How can this be? This is incredible! How can God empty Himself of His divine glory and take on the form of a bondservant? and be made in the likeness of a lowly human being? (Phil 2:6-7). What is He doing? Can this really be happening?” And then, they are stunned when they watch Christ subject Himself to the abuses of sinful humanity! They are aghast! “What in the world is God doing? This can’t be! He is GOD!” And when the climax of human history unfolds, and God lets these despicable sinners crucify Him on a cross! (Phil 2:8), they are overwhelmed! completely speechless! “How can this be!!!” Then they are told that “God loves humanity so much, that He was willing to absolve them of all their guilt by going to the cross and paying the penalty for their sin!” (Jn 3:16). “Who is like our God!? How can He be so loving and gracious to such ‘sinful creatures’! This doesn’t make any sense!” And then they’re completely blown away when they learn that the Sovereign God of the universe is actually making them “HIS OWN SONS!” & “FELLOW-HEIRS WITH CHRIST!” Not even the angels of glory are His heirs!!! (Rom 8:15-17; Gal 4:7; Jam 2:5; Rev 21:7). And they never violated God’s law or His love!!! And then they finally learn that this was God’s response to the rebellion in heaven of Lucifer that they had all witnessed before this new era of creation began. GOD’S PLAN was to demonstrate the deplorable nature of sin and the glorious majesty of His love and grace! Completely overwhelmed at all they had witnessed… with one voice the angelic host of heaven then shouted aloud before all creation –
“Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power!” (Rev 4:11)
“Great and marvelous are Thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty!” (Rev 15:3)
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God!” (Rev 19:1)
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns!” (Rev 19:6)