The Gospel of Jesus Christ
THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST
by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand
The “gospel of Jesus Christ” is the joyous proclamation of God’s redemptive activity to bring salvation to sinful humanity. The Bible is the story of God’s counteroffensive against sin. It is through the preaching of the gospel that men become enlightened as to God’s plan of salvation (Eph 3:7-12). The greater one’s knowledge of this truth, the more he will adore God for who He is and what He has done for him. If you are not a Christian, my prayer is that you will carefully consider the “good news” of Jesus Christ and how it can radically change your life… if you are a Christian, my prayer is that this study will give greater clarity to all God has done for you. Following is a “theology of the gospel.” As C. S. Lewis says in his book The Joyful Christian, “Any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available.” With that thought in mind, my goal in this study is to present a more complete understanding of the gospel than has been commonly preached in the majority of our churches. The “gospel” (euangelion in Greek) is mentioned more than 100 times in the New Testament, and 60 of those are found in the letters of the apostle Paul whose ministry was distinctively that of the propagation of the gospel to the Gentile world — his divine commis-sion (Rom 1:1; Eph 3:7) had created a sense of urgency that caused him to cry out, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16; Eph 6:19). For the sake of the gospel Paul was willing to become all things to all people (1 Cor 9:22-23); no sacrifice was too great, because eternal issues were at stake. Regrettably, many in the Christian world today have begun to rely upon their own feelings, Christian tradition, the opinions of men, or their own experience when it comes to understanding what the “gospel” is really all about. Gratefully, God has stated in His infallible Word (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20-21) precisely what the “good news” is; so there should be no uncertainty as to the signi-ficance of what it means.
As you work your way through this study, I would strongly encourage you to do so with your Bible in hand, because I have included a number of “biblical references” to help expand upon the various thoughts expressed. I would suggest that you use one of the more contemporary translations of the Bible, because they employ a more up to date, modern vernacular — that is not to suggest that more dated translations are inaccurate, they are just a little more difficult to understand at various points. There are several modern translations that I would recommend — the New International Version… New American Standard Version… New Century Version… the New King James Version… or the New Geneva Bible. Essentially, a translation is done by a group of scholars who seek to say in English what the Bible says in Hebrew, Aramaic & Greek (the languages in which it was originally written). Since all languages have their own unique characteristics, the translators are faced with the task of “expressing the original thoughts” in the vernacular of the language in to which they are translating it. If you should read all of the translations, you would discover they are remarkably close in what they are communicating — the truth is, translating something from one language to another is a monumental task when you are trying to be as “exact and accurate” as possible. Let me illustrate that: the word parakaleo in Greek means to encourage, to comfort, to strengthen, to console, to entreat, to exhort — if you carefully consider each of these terms, you’ll see they all have “much in common;” to encourage someone is to comfort them, to strengthen them, to console them, to entreat them, to exhort them… so all translators would not necessarily select the same term in conjunction with all the other words that are included in a particular context (this is a matter of doing “syntactical” analy-sis); yet they are each essentially communicating “the same idea.” As a student of theology, I am always amazed at how incredibly precise each of these translations are. With that in mind, you can read your Bible with uncompromising confidence, because thousands upon thousands of theologians have wrestled with every word of it and have significantly contributed to these trans-lations — every theologian has greatly benefited from the tireless labors of those who traveled this road before them. In this study you will notice I have italicized and underlined and emboldened a number of words and statements — this was done in order to give “extra emphasis and focus” to the various words chosen and thoughts expressed.
The study you are about to read was written with three goals in mind: One, to answer the question of why salvation is so necessary… two, to share the wonderful news of salvation through Christ with those who have not yet accepted Him as their Savior… and three, to describe the redemptive activity of God in detail with those who already believe, but may be struggling with various aspects of the salvation message. Essentially, the “gospel message” has been reduced in much of the Christian world today to the following ideas — “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life… He wants to forgive you of all your sins, and come into your life and make you the person He wants you to be… and after you die, take you to heaven to be with Him forever.” Obviously, those are all wonderful aspects of the salvation message, but there are a number of significant truths that have not been mentioned in that description (for one reason or another), that are at the very foundation of the gospel message. Christians in America today are increasingly com-promising the truths of Scripture — they have a tendency to minimize those issues they are not completely comfortable with or able to justify in their own minds, and reject other issues that run contrary to what they feel; hence, they are traversing a very slippery slope spiritually. It is no wonder that the faith of most Christians is so shallow… that their lives lack spiritual focus… and that their hearts become increasingly discouraged when trials and temptations come their way; which by the way are the “proving grounds of faith;” i.e., the developmental grounds (cf. Jn 16:33; Jam 1:2-3; 1 Pet 1:6-9, 13; 4:12-13, 4:17-18; 5:8-10). Believers cannot compromise the teachings or the integrity of Scripture, and expect to experience the joy of God’s presence in their lives — that would be like a chef leaving several key ingredients out of a recipe and expecting to cook a spectacular meal… or an athlete neglecting his daily training regimen and expecting to be a “gold medal” winner — the two positions simply do not mesh with reality.
Some today are guilty of substituting a “rigid piety” (an attractive option that has even captured the minds of some of my associates) for “doctrinal integrity” — when we misinterpret and mis-understand the fullness of the message, either by taking away from it or adding to it, we pervert the gospel… so those of you who pride yourselves on being men and women of faith (Lk 18:11), make sure your beliefs fully concur with the truth — a rigid piety is either the result of a proud heart or an insecure faith. Remember, rigid piety is not only a false witness, it is an unattractive witness. The Bible is God’s infallible Word to us; when we trust in the integrity of it, and refuse to mix it with untruth, and refuse to lean on our own understanding when doubts fill our minds (which is the nature of the flesh), “God will make our paths straight” (Prv 3:5-6); should we not trust in it, we will reap accordingly (Gal 6:7). Let me repeat my last point: “rigid piety is no substitute for truth.” The late British theologian C. S. Lewis says in his book Mere Christianity, “All life long you are slowly turning [yourself] into a heaven creature or into a hellish creature; either into a creature that is in harmony with God… or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God… and with [yourself]…. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” With that in mind, it is incumbent upon each of us as believers to steadfastly align our lives with the teachings of Scripture (Ps 1:1-3; 119:1-3, 11, 34, 67, 71, 89, 105, 114, 133, 165; Rom 12:2; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 1:20-21; Rev 22:18-19)… when we do, “God will make all grace abound to us” (Rom 16:25; 2 Cor 9:8; Eph 3:20; Jer 15:16). Many of you may need to read through this study more than once, because “different thoughts” are expressed at “different junctures” throughout the course of this study… thus going through the material a second time will help bring closure to some of the issues that may have been troubling to you. Again, let me encourage you to be sure and read the various Scripture references — this is a “reflective study,” not just a casual read.
Creation and God’s Divine Economy
The Bible begins with these words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). Prior to His creating both the seen and the unseen worlds, nothing existed except God Himself (the Eternal Transcendent Reality); therefore God exists outside the created order (the cosmos); i.e., He exists outside space, mass and time — the human mind cannot fully understand eternal realities because it is finite in nature. Scripture teaches that the entire created order came into existence through God: “apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (emphatic! Jn 1:3). So everything that exists outside of God is temporal in its sphere of existence and owes its existence to God alone. To compare the entire created order (which is totally temporal) with the Creator (who is totally eternal) is not possible; that would be like comparing a tiny drop of water with all the water in the ocean, or a spec of dust with all of the dirt on earth; by the way; even those comparisons are far more reasonable than comparing something to the God of infinity (Is 40:17), because He is infinitely greater than everything else that exists; even Satan is “less than nothing” when compared to God (contrary to popular opinion, he is not in strong competition with God; if God breathed on him he would vaporize!). The Lord Himself asked the children of Israel, “To whom would you compare Me?” (Is 44:6-7)… to which He responded — “I know of nothing!” (Is 44:8). The idea that God is eternal and transcends the created order is simply beyond human comprehension; we don’t have the capacity with our temporal minds to comprehend anything that is eternal… it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to believe eternal truths with conviction (Jn 14:26; 15:26; Acts 16:14; Heb 11:1), and that only happens when we acknowledge our sinfulness and humble ourselves before Him (Jam 4:6; Eph 2:8). It should be noted, everything that exists came into existence because “God spoke it into existence” (Gen 1:1-31; Is 43:13; 44:6; 45:5-7; 45:22-23; 46:9-11; 55:6-11; 66:1-2); again, such power is beyond human comprehension. Remember, God is omnipotent (all power belongs to Him; the power creatures have is simply “on loan” to them and is extremely limited; the moment God decides to “recall” any power He has given out, He will — in the final analysis all power belongs to God; that’s why He is often referred to in Scripture as “God Almighty!” Second, God is omniscient (there is nothing that God does not know; why? because He is the source of all knowledge). Third, God is omnipresent (there is no place where God is not present). Hence in a word, God is “Eternal!” The great “I am!” (the ever existent One! Ex 3:14). The sovereign GOD of the universe! (1 Tim 6:15).
It should also be remembered that “everything exists exclusively for God” (Rom 11:36; 14:11; 1 Cor 8:6; Phil 2:10; Col 1:16; Is 42:8; Rev 22:12-13, 17-19). I find it interesting that even the deductive reasoning of the great philosophers of human history arrive at that same logical conclusion; by definition, nothing in all creation exists “for itself” (again, that is just a common sense deduction); yet it is this principle that causes consternation in the souls of men, because as fallen human beings, in their minds they are completely autonomous creatures (thus “self-centered creatures”)… but the truth is, humanity is not autonomous… he was created by the Architect of the universe, who alone has established the ground rules for existence (Job 38:4; Is 40:13-17, 22-26; 43:13; 45:5-7, 22; 55:6-11; 66:1-2)… and it is our obligation as thinking creatures, created and owned by God, to give Him the honor and glory that is due to Him… and to acknowledge His authority over us (in spite of the fact that our stubborn flesh argues to the contrary). As His creatures, we are to ascribe ultimate worth to the One who made us; to worship Him and not ourselves! We are made by Him… we are owned by Him… and ultimately we are accountable to Him! (a reality that every human being strongly objects to because of his sin nature). Thus we are to reject the power of darkness in our soul that says — “I am my own man; nobody is going to tell me what to do; I am at the center of my own private little world, and I am going to run my own life!” Some of you might be wondering — “What does this have to do with the gospel?” Everything! Keep reading…
When God created Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden, and gave him dominion over everything on earth (Gen 1:26-28), He said to him, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely, but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:16-17). Human beings were made to live in fellowship with God, to walk with God, to reflect the character and the glory of God, and to exist as God’s holy creatures. Ultimately, however, the lure to live independently of God was more than Adam could resist, so he ate of the forbidden fruit (Gen 3:1-7); and the resultant effect was that he died both physically and spiritually. Death entered into his body and he ultimately returned to dust (Gen 2:7; Ps 90:3; 103:14; Ecc 3:20)… conversely, the moment he ate of the forbidden fruit, he died spiritually; that is, he became “spiritually separated from God” (Rom 6:23; Eph 2:1); no longer did he experience the joyful communion and fellowship he had previously known with God. Furthermore, as a result of Adam’s choosing to sin, all of his offspring are now “born in sin” (Ps 51:5; 58:3; Rom 3:23; 5:12; Eph 2:3) and are spiritually separated from God (they live in absolute darkness); thus all men naturally rebel against His rule in their lives — there is no reverence for God or fear of God in them (Prv 1:7; 9:10; 14:27; 15:33; 16:6; 19:23; Ecc 8:11-12; 12:13-14; Rom 3:18). The sobering conclusion is that all humanity will one day stand before the Eternal Judge and “give an account for the way in which they lived their lives” (Mt 16:27; Rom 2:6; 3:19; 14:12; Heb 9:27; Jam 2:13; 4:12; 1 Pet 4:5; 2 Pet 2:9; 3:7; Jude 1:14-16, 20-21; Rev 20:11-15). Eternal judgment is a frightening reality; it is so disturbing to the minds of men that many even in the church today are looking for ways to “explain it away,” thinking that theologians must have somehow misunderstood God… that “a loving God” simply could not send unbelieving people to hell; as if “their limited humanistic thinking” is actually capable of passing judgment on God by declaring that any such action is simply too inhumane.
Here’s a thought you might consider: God is permitting all of the vulgar atrocities that are taking place in this world, including the slaughtering and beheading of children in front of their parents — think about that — obviously, such behaviors are completely out of bounds to normal human thinking… yet God permits it! Now if you and I were God we would never permit it! because we (apparently) are more humane than God is! and love people more than He does! Oh? would you die for sinful man? or could it be that the universe is full of all kinds of incongruities that are simply beyond our understanding? (Is 55:8-9). The reality is, we don’t see the whole picture — we are not God! If it brings any solace to your mind, remember what God said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay!” (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30) — does that truth also trouble you? Don’t forget, our temporal finite minds are not capable of understanding eternal truths (Is 55:6-11). If you’re really a believer with a few miles under your belt, you should have learned long ago “not to try and refute or disavow God’s Word with human logic” — your brain is simply not capable of doing so. Insisting that you be able to justify all eternal truth with your little 150 IQ brain is utter nonsense (Job 42:1-3), so don’t go down that road; that’s the road the atheist travels (Ps 14:1). Humble yourself before God, my friend, and graciously accept what He has disclosed in His word. If you should not choose to do so… you need to realize that with your fallen fleshly mind, you are making “yourself” the ultimate authority of what is true and what is not true — and that is God’s divine prerogative alone! The sober reality is this: if you refuse to acquiesce, you will reap accordingly (read Rev 22:18-19). If you are rejecting the truths of Scripture, I beg you to humbly bow in submis-sion to the Author of life.
The truth of the matter is, God is not only the loving, eternal, transcendent One who is the source of everything that exists, He is absolutely HOLY! Of all God’s attributes, Scripture tells us the most significant one of all is the fact that God is HOLY! Most people have no problem at all thinking of God as loving and compassionate — that’s been the primary message of Christianity here in the West since the middle of the twentieth century… but if we are going to understand just how glorious the gospel of Jesus Christ is, we have to understand that this loving and compasssionate God is also holy and righteous, and that “sin” is an intolerable evil that must be expelled from universe. The prophet Isaiah recounts a vision he had of the King of kings sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple… and one of the Seraphim who stood above Him said to another, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts!” (Is 6:1-3; Rev 4:8). Incidentally, that statement is the most emphatic one in all of Scripture — in the original lang-uages in which Scripture was written (Hebrew, Aramaic & Greek), when a word was stated twice (that is, when a word was redundantly used), that meant that which was being written or spoken was “emphatic.” Jesus frequently employed this technique in His teachings when He would preface His remarks with the expression, “Truly, truly, I say to you” (cf. Jn 1:51; 3:3; 3:5; 3:11; 5:19; 5:24; 5:25; 6:26; 6: 32; 6:47; 6:53; 8:34; 8: 51; 8:58; 10:1; 10:7; 12:24; 13:16; 13:20; 13:21; 13:38; 14:12; 16:20; 16:23; 21:18); notice Jesus did not just say, “Truly, I say to you.” By using this redundant grammatical construction Jesus was essentially saying, “Let there be no uncertainty about what I am saying, these words are absolutely true!” When the Seraphim declared the “holiness of God,” he repeated the word “holy” three times; thus making it the most emphatic statement in all of Scripture. The Bible lays great stress upon the holiness of God (read Ex 15:11; 1 Sam 2:2; Ps 71:22; 99:9; 111:9; Hab 1:12; and Rev 15:4). The word “holy” when used of God describes His complete separation from all that is unclean, common, sinful, impure and imperfect; and His absolute consecration to that which is divine, sacred, and pure. So the perfection of all moral laws have their eternal and unchangeable basis in God’s own nature — He is the one in whom these eternal sanctities reside, and is the one who is the root and foundation of them all. By the way, the Spirit is called “THE HOLY SPIRIT!”
The Fall of Man and the Repercussions
The apostle John emphatically states that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5; Jam 1:17). In his letter to Timothy, Paul said — “God is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light (emphatic!); whom no man has seen or can see (emphatic!). To Him be honor and eternal dominion!” (1 Tim 6:15-16). The prophet Habakkuk said “God is so pure He cannot even behold evil” (Hab 1:13); His holiness demands that He turn away from it because it is completely offensive in an absolute sense. Therefore when God looked down from heaven and saw His Son bearing the sin of the world, in that awful moment He turned away in intolerable revulsion at the darkness of it, and forsook and abandoned His own Son (Mt 27:45-46); it was then that Jesus cried out to the Father, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” The truth is, man in his deplorable condition would be vaporized were he to behold God’s glorious splendor — God told Moses, “No man can see Me and live” (Ex 33:18- 20). The problem with fallen man is that he neither sees the depth of his depravity nor the splendor of God’s glory. Every cult makes man out to be vastly better than he really is, and makes God out to be far less glorious than He really is. Such is the work of Satan in the hearts of men (Jer 17:9; 2 Cor 4:4). Because of the presence of the flesh (“indwelling sin”), we completely distort reality. The reason we don’t see ourselves as sinful as we really are, is that all we have known in life is “sin in all its masked forms;” should the reality of it be revealed to us in all its fullness, the darkness of it would crush us. Even as believers “we minimize our sinfulness;” the truth is, we have no idea how sinful we really are (Rom 7:18), because our flesh governs so much of our thinking — we are inclined to think that the wrongs we have done are simply isolated little mistakes: that we have just driven too fast at times, lied a little too often, said some unkind words, cheated on a few exams, stole a few things, got angry when things didn’t go the way we wanted them to go, and cheated a little bit on our taxes… other than that, we essentially believe “we are actually pretty good people” (Lk 18:19), and don’t understand how God could go off the deep end and be that upset with us. Again, that’s the argument of our flesh, and our former partner in crime (dark thinking and dark behavior), Satan.
When death entered the human family at the fall, it brought tragic spiritual, physical, and social deprivation to the entire human race. Genesis 3 contains the record of the fall in stark simplicity. The issue before Adam & Eve was this: would they submit to God’s will, or would they assert their own will independently of the Creator? By the way, you should ask yourself that same question. Seduced by Satan, Eve was struck with ambition, pride, and the quest for self-realiza-tion apart from God — the lure was too great and she along with Adam chose to forge their own future independently of God; in doing so, they violated God’s divine command, and death (separation from God) entered the human family. Immediately following their willful transgres-sion, they experienced guilt (Gen 3:7), and their efforts to hide themselves from God’s presence reveals the breach that now exists between God and the human race (Gen 3:8) — where man was once “alive to God,” he is now “dead to God” — he no longer walks in the light, but now walks in darkness (Rom 1:21; Eph 2:1-2; 4:17-18; 6:12; Col 1:13)… God is no longer his Lord and companion in life; he is now estranged from God, and has made his master the evil one (Jn 8:44; 1 Jn 3:8). When interrogated by God, Adam & Eve responded to Him by casting blame on others (Gen 3:12-13); this further illustrates the depravity that had overcome their hearts. As a result of the fall, “sin” (self-rule) now characterizes the entire human family (Rom 1:21-32; 3:9-18, 23; 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22) — henceforth, women now give birth with great pain (Gen 3:16), and men now have to toil for their food because the ground now offers resistance to all their cultivation efforts (Gen 3:17-19). The effects of the fall are also cosmic in scope and impinge upon God’s inanimate creation as well; the apostle Paul taught that since the fall of man the entire material universe now languishes in a state of dysfunction (Rom 8:20-22). According to scientist all over the world, the entire universe is in a state of continual deterioration; it is described by “the second law of thermodynamics” (the law of entropy), and is all the result of the curse of all creation at the fall. It should be remembered, one day God is going to “create a new heaven and a new earth… the first heaven and the first earth are going to pass away” (Rev 21:1, 5; 2 Pet 3:10, 13), “and nothing unclean (unholy) shall ever come into it… only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev 21:27)… “and there shall no longer be any curse” (Rev 22:3)… “these words are faithful and true” (Rev 22:6)… “blessed are those who heed the words of the prophecy of this book” (Rev 22:7)… “and cursed are those who add or take away from the words of this prophecy” (Rev 22:18-19).
Due to some incorrect assumptions and misunderstandings regarding the matter of “sin,” let me expand upon it from a biblical perspective. The word translated “sin” in the New Testament is the Greek word hamartia, which literally means to “miss the mark;” it is the most comprehensive term for moral obliquity in Scripture. GOD has established all the “standards of behavior” — when we fail to achieve them, we sin. So sin can be pictured as an archer shooting an arrow at a target, but missing it. The Bible speaks of the universality of sin in terms of missing the mark of God’s glory (Rom 3:23) — in actuality, when we sin against God, we do violence to His holiness. To say “nobody’s perfect” or “to err is human” is to acknowledge the universality of sin. Sin is much more than a transgression of some divine ordinance (law)… it is also a state of sinfulness into which human beings are born as a result of the Fall (Rom 5:12). With that thought in mind, the Bible describes sin as a state of alienation from God (Col 1:21); a state of enmity with God (Rom 5:10; Jam 4: 4); a malignant power that holds humanity in its grasp (Eph 2:1). Scripture says that sin is inherent in man’s fallen human condition (Rom 3:10, 23); that is, it is a spiritual infection that is mysteriously transmitted through reproduction — therefore we are born with a propensity toward sin (Ps 58:3; 51:5).
The dynamic principle of man’s sinfulness is described in the New Testament as “flesh” (i.e., man’s sin disposition); the unsaved are governed by their “sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3)… they live “according to the flesh” (Rom 8:5)… and they produce the “deeds of the flesh” (Gal 5:19-21; 1 Pet 4:2; 2 Pet 2:10; 1 Jn 2:16). Jesus taught that sinful acts have their origin in a “corrupt heart” (Gen 6:5; Is 29:13; Jer 17:9; Mt 15:19; Mk 7:21). Scripture goes on to say that “no one is righteous, not one person” (Rom 3:10, 23; Ps 14:3; Prv 20:9; Ecc 7:20; Is 53:6), and that sin cannot be overcome through human effort (Rom 3:28; 1 Cor 1:30-31; Eph 2:9). Sin can only be overcome by faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross; it is through the atoning work of Christ that man is set free from his sin — He takes man’s retribution of sin upon Himself (1 Pet 2:24). This deliverance does not affect a change in the sinner’s life until the Holy Spirit awakens a “divine-inspired faith” in his soul… so the outpouring of the Spirit completes the salvation activity of Christ in the believer (Jn 3:5; Titus 3:5). The deepest mean-ing of the cross is that God out of His incomparable love chose to identify Himself with man’s plight and affliction (Jn 3:16; Eph 2:1-5; 1 Jn 4:10). Thus the essence of salvation is that the merits of Christ are transferred to the deficient sinner by the Holy Spirit when we place our trust in Him. Refusing to repent or believe in the work of Christ is the result of “hardness of heart” (Ps 95:8; Heb 3:8, 15; 4:7), and results in “eternal condemnation” (Mt 25:31-46; Rom 8:1; 1 Cor 11: 32; Rev 20:11-15). Whereas the intrinsic nature of sin is unbelief and hardness of heart, the chief manifestations of it are pride, sensuality, fear, selfishness, self-pity, greed, and jealousy… and the effects of it are moral and spiritual bondage, guilt, death, and hell (Jn 3:16, 36; Rom 6:23; 8:5-8; Gal 6:8; Jam 4:4).
Now that sin reigns in the human heart, man is governed within by his fallen nature, which is primarily by “his fleshly feelings” and “what seems to be right to him.” As King Solomon told his sons, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prv 14:12; 16:25); outside of God, man is not capable of right thinking, and with his sinful mind he completely distorts reality (Jer 17:9; Ps 139:23-24). It is important to remember, the dynamic by which the flesh operates is “feelings,” whereas the dynamic by which the Spirit operates is “faith” — by and large, these two dynamics are antithetical to each other (Gal 5:17). “Feelings” not only rule in the hearts of unbelievers, they frequently rule in the hearts of believers as well — why? because our fleshly feelings always insist on getting their case presented in the court of our minds, thus causing us to capitulate more often than not — you cannot listen to the voice of Satan or your flesh and not succumb to it in some degree (Gen 3:1-6; Jam 1:14-15). God has called us to live by faith (Rom 1:17); that is, to live according to the truth as He has expressed it in His Word… and therein is the human dilemma — such living is anything but easy because we inhabit sinful flesh — therefore God commands us to diligently and prayerfully study His Word, the foundation of faith (Ps 1:1-2; 119:11; 119:105; 119:165; Act 17:11; Rom 12:2; Eph 6:10, 11, 17; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2), and to humbly walk accord-ing to the Spirit (Gal 5:16)… when we fail to do so, we end up following the dictates of our flesh. Sadly, few believers diligently and prayerfully study God’s Word… and then wonder why they have so little faith (Rom 10:17). The two points I attempted to make in the last few paragraphs are these: there is no darkness in God whatsoever, and there is nothing but darkness in the soul of man (Rom 7:18). To deny these truths is to embrace some twisted, diabolical philosophy that is clearly in opposition to what Scripture teaches. When Moses was confronted with the holiness of God in the “burning bush,” the Lord told him to “take off his sandals because he was now standing on holy ground” (Ex 3:2-5). In many eastern cultures the removal of one’s shoes was a confession of personal defilement and conscious unworthiness to stand in the presence of unspotted holiness… by contrast, here in the west we remove our “hats” as an expression of reverence when we worship God. Therefore, to those of you who may have changed your mind about what you once professed to believe (the gospel in all its purity), turn again from your dark thinking once and for all, and humbly come completely naked (literally or figuratively) into God’s presence.
To shed a little more light on the waywardness of our flesh (even the flesh of the believer), I have compiled a list of various “sinful thoughts” that permeate so much of our thinking (it’s located after the next paragraph)… it should be noted, each of these dark ways of thinking constitute “a lack of faith in Christ in the moment,” and the influence our flesh continually has upon our thought-life. Each of us as human beings are predisposed to thinking sinful thoughts, because of the presence of sin within (flesh) — whereas sinful thoughts are natural, righteous thoughts require intentionality and a conscious effort to walk in faith and the Holy Spirit (carefully reflect upon that reality). To the dismay of most believers righteous thinking is far from easy, and that is precisely what is so disturbing to them. Central to the thought-life of the believer is the fact “he is to consciously glory in the fact that God really loves him” (1 Cor 4:7; 2 Cor 10:17; 12:9), no matter how undeserving he knows that he is. With that in mind it is important that the believer never forget that “all glory belongs to God! because He alone is our righteousness!” (Is 6:3; 42:8; 66:19; Mt 6:13; Rom 3:23; 5:2; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 1:14; 1 Tim 1:17; 1 Pet 4:11; Jude 1:25). If you are tempted to glory in your own goodness — you have none (Lk 18:19; Rom 7:18; 10:12); it takes some believers a long time to realize that fact. Until you can accept the two truths listed above, you are really going to struggle with growing in Christ, because life will be about you and your performance, not about Christ and what He has done and continues to do in your life. Essentially, the thought-patterns I have listed below characterize the average believer’s thinking most of the time throughout the course of a day… and all of the unbeliever’s thinking; ultimately, the foundation for all of the unbeliever’s thoughts and actions is his “sinful self”… and it is frequently this way for the believer as well. With that in mind, consider the biblical principle King Solomon shared with his sons — “as a man thinks, so is he” (Prv 23:7)… and the apostle Paul’s injunction to believers to intentionally think on those things that are true and honorable and right and pure and lovely and of good repute (Phil 4:8) — intentionality is absolutely essential if we are going to dwell on righteous thoughts rather than sinful self-centered ones.
Dr. Caroline Leaf, one of the world’s leading authorities on the cognitive neuroscientific aspects of the brain at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, says the average person thinks more than 30,000 thoughts a day (that’s an astounding number) The truth is, our minds never rest while we are awake. Think about that number with the understanding that most of our thoughts have a fleshly origin. Everything we see, hear, or read has the potential to shape our thinking, says Leaf… and what we think about affects us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Dr. Leaf is a strong believer in Christ — her message to both the Christian and secular worlds is that they detox their brains by consciously controlling their thought lives — this means engaging interactively with every single thought we have, and analyzing it before deciding to accept or reject it — it is the things people “tell themselves” that psychologists focus upon (that is, “their self-talk”). Leaf’s message parallels that of the apostle Paul — “Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). As the late Catholic priest and renowned author Henri J. M. Nouwen states in his book The Living Reminder — “We must walk in the presence of the Lord… in such a way that all our desires, thoughts, and actions are constantly guided by Him. This is what is meant by a prayerful life…. [i.e.,] a life in which nothing, absolutely nothing, is done, said, or understood independently of Him who is the origin and purpose of our existence.” Keeping that in mind, carefully reflect upon the fleshly nature of much of your thought-life — remember, each of these thought-patterns below reveal a lack of faith and a failure to trust God in the moment… though sometimes hell roars in the soul, at other times it is a cunning, subtle voice that simply demands a respectable hearing in the court of our minds —
Selfish Discouraging Debilitating Grumbling Dissatisfaction
Depressing Despairing Critical Anxious Embitterment
Uncaring Angry Self-pity Envious Stubborn
Worrying Judgmental Lustful Impure Impervious
Impatient Slanderous Malicious Unloving Greedy
Unkind Cruel Insensitive Arrogant Condescending
Discontented Spiteful Immoral Unbelieving Demeaning
Vengeful Irritable Frustrating Destitute Jealous
Hopeless Hostile Deceptive Hateful Egocentric
Job of old reminds us that “man is born for trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7), and that “life is short and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). The fleshly human heart gravitates to sinful thinking because the “control center” of our minds is bent toward evil (Jer 17:9), and stubbornly persists in having its own way. It is only through repentance and faith that the “spirit of grace” descends into our souls that we might focus on growing in holiness and sanctification. The 15th century mystic, Thomas a Kempis, reminds us that “God is our hope and refuge in the hour of trouble, and that He alone can set us free from our evil passions and heal our hearts of inordinate affections” (Ps 9:9; 46:1; 145:18). In Christ we have been given the remedy for sin, and the strength and the power to live in purity and truth; He alone can make our lives shine like lights in this dark world. The renowned pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, is often regarded as the greatest preacher of the twentieth century — concerning the matter of “commun-ing with God,” he taught that you have to learn to “start yourself”… he personally found “reading a quality devotional” of great help (as have I). He believed it was important to first “warm” your spirit, and get rid of the “coldness” within; therefore he said you have to learn how to “kindle a flame in your spirit” to get yourself started. He likened it to a “choke” on an old car — when old car engines were cold, you needed to pull out the “choke” that was located by the ignition on the dash board; essentially it was a “valve” that partially closed the air intake to the carburetor, so that you could enrich the fuel mixture to help ignite the engine — those of you who are not familiar with a choke, this may sound a little odd; modern engines don’t have them. By the way, the oldest cars were started by using a “crank” in the front of the engine to turn it over… this progressed to a “starter peg” on the floorboard that you would push with your foot… and finally to the “key controlled” starter to which we are accustomed today. Martyn Lloyd-Jones compared reading a quality devotional to a “spiritual choke” (a spiritual starter) — it’s really a good way to describe it if you understand its significance. With that said, find a “quality devotional” that you can prayerfully reflect upon to warm your heart. The one I am using at the moment is “A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants” — it was published in 1983 by The Upper Room (Nashville, Tennessee). It is important to understand that such devotional reading requires solitude, quietness of heart, and serious reflection.
Back to the issue of “sinful thinking” — I often tell people, “The only problem I have is that I sin,” and such words usually elicit a very puzzling look on people’s faces; Lord only knows what they are thinking, so let me expand on that statement. The Bible says, “that which is not of faith is sin” (Rom 14:23); therefore the only problem I have is that of “failing to trust God.” The truth is, the issue of “faith” is no easy matter… we come to Christ by placing our trust in Him unto salvation, but living a life of faith after having received Christ as our Savior, is a different matter altogether. Paul told Timothy that faith is a “fight!” (1 Tim 6:12)… that it is a “battle!” (1 Cor 9:27)… when all is said and done, “faith is the mother of all battles!” Over and over again in Scripture we are reminded “how small our faith is” (cf. Mt 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; Lk 12:28) — we are not “faith giants!”
Remember, no one ever said the Christian life was “a walk in the park!” — more than 43,000,000 Christians have been martyred for their faith since the first century church; that startling reality is always disquieting to my soul. In the light of that fact, how do you measure “your faith”? As the South American evangelist Luis Palau said to a small group of us years ago, “It is only by the grace of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit that we are able to stand in the hour of severe testing, because in and of ourselves we simply don’t have the strength to stand;” obviously, these thoughts are very humbling. In a devotional I recently read by Carlo Carretto, the leader of an Italian youth movement known as “Catholic Action” (a movement that inspired and mobilized thousands of young people during and after World War II), and who later joined the “Little Brothers of Jesus” movement in the Saharan Desert, where he gave himself to prayer and the study of the Word — he recounts a time in his old age when the little community in which he was living was nearly out of coffee… he worried about not having any that morning because it was so helpful to him in his old age. Because of his need for it, he decided to go down to the kitchen early before anyone else, and drink the black, bitter remains that were left. After feeling guilty all day because of his shameful, sinful behavior, he confessed to others what he had done. “It seems a tiny thing,” he said, “yet in that cup of coffee, taken and not shared with my brothers, is the root of all the evil which disturbs us… the poison of all the arrogance which selfishness, riches, and power create. The difference between me and Jesus is this [he said]: He would have left the coffee for His brothers…. No, it isn’t easy to live with hearts like ours: let us confess it” (“The God Who Comes” by Carlo Carretto). The follower of Christ needs to “seriously commit himself to the work of sanctification.” We are not called to a life of comfort and ease that all of us would prefer… “so watch over your heart with all diligence” (Prv 4:23; 6:9; 13:4; 21:5; 24:30-34; Phil 2:12; 2 Pet 1:3-11); remember, the enemy of your soul is on the prowl (1 Pet 5:8). Jesus said, “we cannot serve two masters” (Mt 6:24) — we much choose who it is we are going to serve (Josh 24:14-15). I’ve done a study on the subject of sin in the life of the believer called “The Game Changer!” It articulates those liberating truths that changed my life and radically transformed my thinking. You can check it out on my website at — www.thetransformedsoul.com
God’s Plan to Redeem Sinful Man
When Eve was called to account by God, He said to her, “What is this you’ve done?” She responded, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.” As a result, the Lord cursed the serpent to everlasting degradation, disgrace and defeat. God’s judgment against Satan was as follows: “I will put enmity (bitter hatred) between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He (Christ) will crush your head, and you (Satan) will bruise His heel” (Gen 3:15). In short, this verse gives the first inkling of the gospel in all of Scripture — it prophesies of the perpetual hostility between Satan and the woman (representing all mankind), and between Satan’s seed (his agents) and her Seed (the Messiah). The woman’s Seed will crush the Devil’s head; that is, Satan will suffer a mortal wound (interminable damnation) that will spell total defeat — this was accomplished at Calvary when the Savior decisively triumphed over the Devil, and will be fully and permanently executed at the end of the age when he will be cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev 20:10)… but this prophesy also tells us that Satan would bruise the Messiah’s heel — though the Messiah would suffer greatly, His injury would only be temporary, because He would be raised from the dead following His crucifixion. Little did Satan know that “God’s Anointed” (the Christ) was actually being “bruised for our iniquities” (Is 53:5); so ultimately His suffering on the cross was purchasing the salvation of those whom Satan had deceived! God has a way of extracting “good” even out of evil!
The apostle Paul gives the Bible’s most extensive definition of the gospel in the first four chapters of his letter to the believers in Rome. He tells them, “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16) — that is, it tells how God by His power saves everyone who believes in the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son (Rom 3:24, 28; 5:1-2). As an instrument of the Holy Spirit the message of the gospel convicts (1 Th 1:5) and converts (Col 1:6). To those who reject the simplicity of its message (because it does not include their own self-righteous works), it is rendered foolishness and a stumbling block (1 Cor 1:18-31) — they argue in their heart, “How can one be saved without being a good person?” Yet, that is precisely what the gospel teaches, because none of us are good (Lk 18:19; Rom 3:12; 11:32). According to Scripture, “God’s wrath will one day be poured out against all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). Since no man has any righteousness of his own (Rom 3:10) — his works are regarded by God as “filthy rags” (Is 64:6) — all men will be subject to God’s wrath (Rom 2:5; 5:9; Eph 2:3). The Bible says, “men suppress the truth; thus they worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:18, 25). Unrighteousness is such an integral part of man’s fallen nature that every person has a natural, compelling desire to suppress and oppose the truth; therefore God gives them over to uncleanness (Rom 1:24), vile passions (Rom 1:26), a debased mind (Rom 1:28), and all forms of unrighteousness (Rom 1:29-31). How so? Human beings refuse to retain the knowledge of God in their thinking (Mt 7:13); it is natural for them to distance themselves from God because of their fallen natures; since they are predisposed to being their own god and master, they choose to believe in evolution, because it removes a holy God from consideration.
Think about it, if you eliminate God as the answer to man’s existence, the only other option is that of evolution – no God – those are the only two possibilities in the minds of men, and one of them is wrong. The truth is, men know that if they accept the fact that the God of the Bible exists, they are morally responsible to Him (as many secular philosophers have posited over the years). The theory of evolution was first presented to the populace of Christian Europe in the mid 1800s… at the time there was a strong movement toward “unspirituality” in the establishment, and many in the Christian community had begun to speak out against this “spirit of unspirit-uality”… and then along came a new paradigm – evolution! – to reinterpret the human experience. When powerful voices of the establishment began attacking the moral teachings of Scripture, many people began to question the eternal realities of the Bible. Up until that time, the existence of God, creation, and biblical morality were commonly accepted realities in the life of Europe. When the underlying moral obligation inherent in these eternal realities finally came into question, many people chose to opt out of the Bible’s standard of ethics… and before long “naturalism” soon became the foun-dation of morality in society, thus causing its moral fabric to subsequently wane.
Many “scientists with an evolutionary bias” have elevated that theory to a “fact,” and now regard it as the only intelligent explanation of life and the development of the universe — they don’t see their position as a philosophical one; they simply see it as “reality.” On the other hand, “scientists who are committed to pure science” insist that all physical realities be supported with “bona fide evidence” and be subjected to the scientific method for verifiability; as such, they refuse to accept evolution as a “fact of reality.” The case in point is this: “there is no hard evidence to support the theory of evolution.” If science were to “prove” evolution as an “unequivocal fact,” then the teaching of Scripture would be rendered “invalid,” and its writings mere “ancient literature” — but such is not the case. By choosing to only believe selected pieces of information and reject contrary pieces of information, a person can easily become a “quasi-science evolutionist” (an accurate portrayal of today’s hard-nosed evolutionary scientists). Because many of you may not be familiar with the thoughts of the world’s most “preeminent scientists,” let me share some of their thinking with you. Though I would like to comment on each of their statements, the primary emphasis of this study precludes my doing so, because it would make for a far longer study… therefore, simply ponder each of the following statements. Albert Einstein said, “The scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation… His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which 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 World Treasury of Religious Quotations;” NY: Garland Books, 1966, p. 898). Steven M. Stanley — “No human has ever seen a new species form in nature… in fact, the fossil record does not convincingly document a single transition from one species to another” (“The Evolutionary Timetable” by Stanley, p. 73). David B. Kitts — “Evolution requires intermediate forms between species, and paleontology does not provide them” (The Book “Evolution” by Kitts, Vol. 28, Sept 1974, p.467). Lynn Margulis — “I have seen no evidence whatsoever that these [evolutionary] changes can occur through the accumulation of gradual mutations” (Science, Vol 252, Apr 19, 1991, p. 379). David S. Woodruff — “Fossil species remain unchanged throughout most of their history and the [fossil] record fails to contain a single example of a significant transition” (Science, Vol 208, May 16, 1980, p.716). British physicist Paul Davies, though not a Christian, forthrightly admits that the Big Bang is “the one place in the universe where there is room, even for the most hard-nosed materialists, to admit God” (“The Edge of Infinity” by Paul Davies, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1982, p. 169).
Noted Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, an outspoken evolutionist, says: “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils…. We fancy ourselves as the only true students of life’s history, yet to preserve our favored account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study…. [And surprisingly] new species almost always appeared suddenly in the fossil record with no intermediate links to ancestors in older rocks of the same region” (“Natural History,” Vol 86, No. 5, May 1977, p. 12-14). Gould clearly acknowledged that “the absence of fossil evidence for intermediary stages between major transitions in organic design… has been a persistent and nagging problem for gradualistic accounts of evolution” (“Evolution Now” by John Maynard Smith, San Francisco: Freeman, 1982, p. 140). Dr. Niles Eldredge, an invertebrate paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History stated that “the smooth transition from one form of life to another, which is implied in the theory… is not born out by the facts…. No one has yet found any evidence of such transitional creatures…. [Since] it is not the fossil record which is incomplete, it must be the theory” (Manchester Guardian, The Washington Post Weekly, Vol 119, No. 22, Nov 26, 1978, p. 1).
The renowned French scientist Pierre Grasse, who wrote the book “Evolution of Living Organisms,” closed it by stating that “biology is powerless to explain the origin of living things… it may have to yield to metaphysics, or possibly to the concept of supernatural creation of some kind” (Theodosius Dobshansky, Evolution, Vol 29, 1975, p. 376-387). He argued that the “explanatory doctrines of biological evolution do not stand up to an objective in-depth criticism” (“Evolution du Vivant” by Pierre Grasse, NY, Academic Press, 1977). The French scientist Louis Bounour, director of research at the French Natioinal Center of Scientific Research, startled many of his scientific colleagues when he declared, “Evolution is a fairy tale for grown-ups. This theory has helped nothing in the progress of science. It is useless” (quote of Prof. Bounour in “The Advocate,” Mar 8, 1984, p.17). I find it interesting that scientists outside the US are not as strongly wedded to “evolution theory” as we are. Perhaps the following will help shed light on that — In 1981, the British Museum of Natural History in London opened a new exhibit on “evolution” to mark its one hundredth anniversary. One of the world’s leading scientific journals, Nature (an American publication), ran a critical editorial in response to the museum’s suggestion that evolution by natural selection was only one of a number of possible explanations. Two weeks later, twenty-two members of the museum’s distinguished staff of biologists wrote the following letter to the editor of the journal: “Sir, as working biologists at the British Museum of Natural History we were astonished to read your editorial…. How is it that a journal such as yours that is devoted to science and its practice can advocate that theory be presented as fact? This is the stuff of prejudice, not science, and as scientists our basic concern is to keep an open mind on the unknowable…. Are we to take it that evolution is a fact, proven to the limits of scientific rigor? If that is the inference then we must disagree most strongly. We have no absolute proof of the theory of evolution” (Nature, Vol 290, Mar 12, 1981, p. 82 — And “Foolish Faith” by Judah Etinger, Master Books, 2003).
With all of the foregoing in mind, it is disturbing to think that the public educators of our country insist that “evolution” be taught to our children as an “unequivocal fact,” when there is no evidence to substantiate it. No teacher intentionally wants to deceive his or her students… but due to a lack of integrity at the highest level in the field of “evolutionary science,” that is precisely what is happening. This is a dubious breach of scientific integrity. A few years ago I had the opportunity to address the issue of “evolutionary bias” at one of the local colleges here in Arizona as a guest lecturer in a science class — several science teachers from other schools were in attendance that day… by and large, they were not only hostile, but derisive in their response to what was presented; it was as if I was a mindless idiot attacking some sacred cow — none of them were willing to acknowledge any merit for the concept of “creation.” In a sense they were telling God to “take a hike” and sell His nonsense to someone else — they simply “closed their ears” to anything that was said (Mt 13:15). I realize some of you may be struggling with what I am saying at this point as well; if that is the case, I would simply ask that you hear the arguments presented before closing the book on this subject altogether… and at least consider it an “educational exercise.” From my perspective, there appears to be such “hatred for God” in the establishment (not sure why) that they will even “compromise scientific integrity,” because the alternative is simply unacceptable to them. Since “the world’s preeminent scientists” agree that the theory of evolution “lacks bona fide evidence,” the question naturally arises — “Why can’t there at least be an “openness” on the subject where all the facts can be discussed? The problem is this: when you are taught that something is true, and it is reinforced by respected leaders in society over and over again, you buy into that logic and accept it as “fact” because you are unable to refute it. The American statesman and orator, Daniel Webster, used to tell people that one of the most difficult things to do was to get a “new idea” into someone’s head; and as difficult as that is, he said, it is far more difficult to get an “old idea” out of someone’s head. Once you “wed” yourself to an idea, it is extremely difficult to divorce yourself from it; therefore the problems of prejudice & bias are extremely difficult to overcome. Another problem is this: there is enough information out there in the world to “satisfy your ignorance on any subject” (think about that) — all you have to do is “selectively choose” to embrace that body of information that coincides with your bias, and ignore all other information that runs contrary to it… the truth is, there is enough data out there on “the information highway” to HATE democrats or republicans, black people or white people, Asians or Mexicans, Jews or Muslims, evolutionism or creationism, Christianity or atheism, etc. If you question that, go online and find out for yourself. At some point, all of us as individuals “should desire truth in the inner man,” and not simply live our lives according to some unfounded bias — admittedly that’s not easy, because it means being willing to look at the whole body of knowledge on a particular subject before passing judgment on it. Again, that is not easy… but that is what God requires of us; especially when it comes to spiritual truth. So spiritual maturity does not come easy.
The sober truth is, “that which is known about GOD is evident (emphatic!) within man; because God made it evident to him” (Rom 1:19-20; Ps 19:1-6; Jer 5:21-25; Acts 14:15-17). Thus one must deny the “voice of reality” in his soul to disbelieve that God exists. Paul goes on to say — “all human beings are deserving of death and are without excuse, even the self-righteous moralists” (Rom 2: 1-3; 3:10). As such, “All men are storing up God’s wrath for themselves in the day of judgment” (Rom 2:5; Rev 20:11-15), when “God will render to every man according to his deeds” (Mt 16:27; Rom 2:6)… and “He will not show partiality” (Rom 2:11). The concept of “eternal judgment” is repre-hensible to men for two reasons — first, they live according to the dictates of their sinful nature, where “self” is the ultimate determinant of truth… and second, eternal judgment completely rejects any of man’s self-acclaimed personal goodness, of which Scripture says he is totally lacking (Rom 3:12; 11:32).
The gospel is the joyous proclamation of God’s redemptive activity in Christ Jesus on behalf of humans enslaved to sin (self). When an angel of the Lord appeared to a few shepherds out in the fields of Bethlehem nearly two thousand years ago, he said to them: “I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David (Bethlehem) a Savior (emphatic!) ,who is Christ the Lord!” (Lk 2:10-11). Why is the gospel said to be “good news”? Because it is the everlasting deliverance and salvation of people who are enslaved to sin and bound for hell — they are saved from eternal death, and saved unto eternal life (Jn 3:16; Rom 6:11; Eph 2:5; 1 Jn 3:14). Furthermore, they are not only saved from death, but guilt and estrangement, bondage to vice, despairing of self, a troubled soul, ignorance of the truth, and a life without meaning… and along with eternal life, they are given a deep abiding peace and joy, life in all its abundance, and access to God’s favor and presence through the person of the Holy Spirit. It is man’s “sinful, self-centered orientation toward life” that is his problem, and for which Christ came to this world to remedy — remember, we are God’s creatures, not the autonomous self-centered creatures as we insist on being… God made us to be holy and righteous creatures who exalt Him and live to the praise of His glory — not our glory. So life is about “God” (not us)… it is about “God’s will” (not our will)… and every time we pray God wants us to be mindful of that fact; that’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “not my will, but Thy will be done” (Mt 6:10; cf. Lk 22:42; Acts 21:14). Why? because Jesus knew what our inherent problem was; that our sinful flesh would constantly be seeking “it’s will” in our lives, and that we would have to “die to it” over and over and over again every day (Mt 16:24-25; Lk 14: 27-28; Rom 6:12-14; 1 Cor 10:31; 15:31; Gal 2:20; Eph 4:22-24). The reality is, saying “yes to God” means saying “no to self.” Christ went to the cross to die for our sinful self that we would no longer be enslaved to it (Rom 6:6, 17; 7:14).
The means by which God provided salvation was “the death of His own Son [on the cross] for the forgiveness of sins” (1 Cor 15:3; Jn 3:16). So “Christ crucified” becomes the summation of the Christian message (1 Cor 2:2) — the cross of Christ is the supreme demonstration of the love God has for sinful man (Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8; 1 Jn 4:10). My friend, if God didn’t really love you, He never would have gone to the cross and die for you. In Jesus’ death, God deals concretely with our sin problem which offends His holiness and separates us from Him (Gen 2:17; Is 59:2; Rom 6:23; 8:38-39) — the condemning legal demands against us were “canceled” when they were nailed to the cross (Col 2:14; 1 Pet 2:24). So it is through the cross of Christ that a sinner is reconciled or reunited to God (Rom 5:10; 2 Cor 5:18-20; Col 1:19-22); that is, his relationship with God becomes what it was before the fall; therefore as believers, we are now in the process of being “re-created” into the image of Christ (read Gen 1:26; Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18). The reality is this — we have been “justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24) — to be justified means to be “made righteous,” and therein is “the great exchange!” — we inherit “Christ’s righteousness,” and He takes “our sinfulness” upon Himself (Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 2:24). That my friend is as good a news as there is in all the universe! (Rom 7:24-8:1; Col 1:13-14).
The process whereby the believer is “delivered from the domain of darkness, and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son” (Col 1:13) is this — the Holy Spirit effectuates the work of Christ on the cross for us by “baptizing us into Christ” (Rom 6: 3); that is, He spiritually places us “in Christ” (Rom 6:3). The resultant effect of Spirit baptism is this: when Christ died on the cross, we died with Him (Rom 6:4, 6), and when Christ was raised from the dead, we were raised with Him (Rom 6:4-5). Keep in mind these are “spiritual realities,” not physical ones… but they are literally true! Picture yourself as being “in Christ,” and then reconsider all of these truths again (as stated in Rom 6:1-11). Hence, we spiritually experienced both the death and resurrection that Christ experienced, and in so doing we became “united with Christ” (Rom 6:5; 1 Cor 6:17; 12:13; Jn 17:21, 23; Gal 2:20; 3:28; Eph 2:6; Col 3:3). So if you are a believer, you are now “one with Christ;” as the apostle Paul puts it, you are now “in Christ” (Rom 6:3, 11; 8:1; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 3:28; Eph 1:1; Phil 1:1; Col 1:2, 28), and “the life of Christ now lives in you” (Col 1:27; 2 Pet 1:4); by the way, this reality does not depend upon how you feel, or even what you think — it is simply a fact! and nothing you do will ever change that fact! Your salvation is now completely in God’s hands, so nothing could be more sure… even though Satan keeps trying to convince you to the contrary! Never forget, we don’t stand in our own righteousness…we stand in the righteousness of Christ! So rejoice in all God has done and is doing for you! (Phil 1:6; 2:13; Heb 7:25; 1 Pet 5:10; 1 Jn 5:13).
The question every believer asks is this: “If this is all true, if I really died with Christ on the cross and was really raised with Him, why then do I still struggle so much with sin?” Great question. We all ask it over and over again, because we tend to learn very slowly. Though we as believers are now “dead to sin” (Rom 6:11; Col 3:3; 1 Pet 2:24), and possess the “life and righteousness of Christ” (1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 4:24; 2 Pet 1:4), we are now in the “spiritual growing stage of life” where we are called to “work out the salvation we possess with an attitude of reverence and sensitivity toward God” (Phil 2:12), and do so with the understanding that “God is also at work in us, accom-plishing His will and His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13)… in other words, as believers we are now in the “process” of being transformed into the image of Christ “practically” (2 Cor 3:18) — becoming in practice what we are in reality (Gal 4:19). Let’s use a “baseball metaphor” to further explain this truth — God has drafted you on to His team, in spite of the fact that you are a poor player, so He is now going to train you to become a good player; and as incredible as it may seem to you, He is going to succeed at it! Thus you are now becoming “in practice!” what you already are “in reality!” Though we are now “righteous children of God” and “all of our sins are completely forgiven” (even those sins we will commit in the future), we are now seeing the incredible work of Christ on the cross become “practically worked out in our lives.” We have to learn to love and be patient and be kind and be forgiving, and accept the difficult circumstances that frequently enter our lives (Jn 16:15; 1 Pet 1:6; 4:12, 18; 5:10) — such kinds of behavior don’t automatically happen just because we’re believers; the “old man” still lives in us, and righteous responses are anything but easy. Living holy lives is something we learn to do by depending upon the Holy Spirit (Gal 5: 16-23; Phil 4:11). Our condition is like this — we experienced “spiritual birth” the day we accepted Christ (Jn 3:3)… and we are now in the process of “growing up and maturing in Christ” — inci-dentally, that process involves “cooperating” with the work the Holy Spirit is doing in our hearts and lives (cf. Ezek 36:26-27). This is the “life of faith” to which we as believers have been called (Rom 1:17). Is it a struggle? Absolutely. Because the “old self” (our sinful flesh) is still present in us and insists on having its own way (Rom 7:18; Eph 4:22-24). In spite of the struggles we go through, however, “our final destiny is absolutely sure!” because the God of heaven is going to accom-plish His transforming work in us! in spite of the fact that we often compound the problem by resisting it! (Rom 8:28-30; Phil 1:6; Heb 7:25; 1 Pet 5:10; Is 46:10; 55:11). The truth is, if God was not at work in us, not a single one of us would make it through to the end (2 Cor 10:17; 12:9; Eph 3:16; Phil 4:13).
Remember, we have been “born again” and are now in the “training stage” (Heb 12:5-11). We are still sinners, but we are now “saved sinners” who are in the God-inspired process of becoming like Christ. Our future glory is “sure” because our salvation is the work of God (Phil 1:6). Scripture actually speaks of our future glory in the past tense, as though it has already happened (see Rom 8:30), and it is that “absolute surety” that gives the believer a deep abiding peace in his heart… obviously if you question it or don’t believe it you will not experience such peace; the truths of Scripture must be embraced by faith (by believing them to be “the true realities they are”)… though our flesh will constantly “raise questions of doubt in our minds,” we must learn to counter these responses by “affirming the truth” — that is a major part of what it means to walk with God in Christ Jesus (Ps 1:1-2; 119:1-2, 11, 71, 105, 133, 165). Never forget the following two inexorable truths: “God loves you!” and “your future in glory is absolutely certain!” Every believer needs to affirm these truths every day, because Satan will never stop sending messages to the contrary! (this is critical stuff, so read that last sentence over and over again!). Due to the fact that we know the final outcome we can live victoriously and enjoy the process! Have you ever watched the re-run of a football game that you know you already won? If so, the fumbles and bumbles and being down by three touchdowns at some point aren’t nearly as painful because you know what the outcome is! (Jn 14:1-3). If you’re not confident in the final score, however, then it can be a very frustrating and painful experience. In summary, becoming a Christian is only “the beginning of a process of spiritual growth,” and this process involves increasing in the knowledge of God… obeying His Word… and understanding His will (2 Pet 3:18; 1 Pet 1:22; Eph 5:17); if you do not give yourself to growing in truth, however, the entire process is going to be very difficult and painful. Reflect upon the words of the Lord to David — “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you — do not be like a horse or a mule who has no understanding, whose trappings include a bit and a bridle to hold him in check” (Ps 32:8-9). The point is this: God will do whatever is necessary to conform us to the “image of His Son” (Rom 8:28-29; 2 Cor 3:18; Heb 12:5-11). If He needs to lovingly discipline us or put a spiritual bit and bridle on us to keep us walking uprightly before Him, He will do that… one thing is absolutely certain — God is going to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29-30; 1 Pet 5:10), and see us through to the end no matter how much we may stubbornly resist at times! (Phil 1:6). Though the process has its challenging and painful moments (Jn 16:33), “the sufferings we go through in life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will one day be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18; 1 Pet 4:12, 18; 5:10).
Man’s Response to God’s Mercy
The gospel of Christ is “God’s good news to the world” in that it provides forgiveness of sins to all who “believe in Him” (Jn 3:16; Eph 1:7; 1 Jn 1:9). Since the beginning of time when Adam and Eve sinned, mankind has been under God’s condemnation (Lk 23:40; Rom 5:18; 8:1); because everyone is guilty of sin (Rom 3:23), everyone will be judged for it (Rom 6:23; Lk 12:2-9)… and since the penalty of sin is death (Rom 6:23), either we accept the redemptive work of Christ as payment for our sins — “He bore all of our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet 2:24; Gal 3:13; Col 1:14; 1 Pet 1:18-19) — or we reject Christ’s work and end up paying the penalty ourselves. The punishment is “death,” which is eternal separation from God (Mt 25:46; Rom 6:23; Rev 20:15); the Bible refers to this as “the second death” (Rev 20:14). According to Scripture, we accept the redemptive work of Christ on our behalf “by faith” (Jn 6:29); when we turn from our sin (that’s repentance) and trust in the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross for us (that’s faith) we experience salvation (Mk 1:15; Lk 13:3; Jn 1:12; 20:31; Acts 10:43; 17:30; Rom 3:22; Eph 1:13; Heb 11:6; 1 Jn 5:13). It is also important to note, when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior we receive His righteousness (Rom 4:5-6; 5:19; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9), and are made “holy unto the Lord;” i.e., saints (hagios – Rom 1:7; 8:27; 1 Cor 1:2; Eph 4:12; Phil 1:1). As mentioned earlier, the Greek word translated “righteous” (dikaios) is the same as the word “justified;” so when Paul says, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through Christ” (Rom 5:1)… he is literally saying, “Having been made righteous through faith in Christ, we now have peace with God.” Incidentally, that word “peace” literally means “joining together that which has been separated” — so rather than remaining an enemy of God (Rom 5:8-10; Jam 4:4), the believer becomes a friend of God (Jn 15:15)… rather than continuing to be estranged from God (Ps 58:3; 51:5), he now has fellowship with God (1 Cor 1:9; 1 Jn 1:3).
Let me expand more upon the idea of “faith” at this point — faith is concerned with the estab-lishment of “some particular reality” as indeed being trustworthy and true… faith does not make a particular reality true, it simply gives the force of reality to the truth that is believed. In short, the Christian hopes to one day be perfectly free from sin, be admitted to heaven, and enjoy ever-lasting happiness. Under the influence of faith the believer allows these things to control his mind as if they are certain future realities (which they are). The first century Jewish philosopher Judaeus Philo said this: “The only infallible and certain good thing is that faith which is faith towards God… it is the solace of life and the fullness of good hopes” — for the believer those hopes are not mere wishful thinking, they are certain future realities. The Old Testament word for faith is built on a word which means to be true, reliable, and faithful. The New Testament term conveys a movement of trust going out to, and laying hold of, the object of its confidence (which is God). The nature of faith according to the New Testament, rises out of testimony authenticated by God (Jn 10:25, 37, 38; Acts 2:22; Rom 15:18-19; 2 Cor 12:12; 1 Th 1:5; Heb 2:4); it has the revelation from God as its foundation — it is not a leap in the dark. So faith rests upon the acceptance of that testimony, and lives accordingly — faith and life are intimately connected in the New Testament.
There are four major tenets of biblical faith; they are as follows — First, biblical faith involves a right belief about God (Gen 1:1; Ps 136:1-26; Is 43:13; 45:5-7; 55:6-11; Col 1:16-17; 1 Tim 1:15; Heb 1:1-3, 10-12; 11:6; 13:8… second, faith rests upon divine testimony (Mt 4:4; Rom 1:20; 2 Tim 3:16-17; Heb 2:5; 11:1; 2 Pet 1:21; 1 Jn 1:1-3)… third, faith is a supernatural divine gift (Ps 119:18; Acts 16:14; Rom 10:17; 2 Cor 4:6; Eph 2:8; Heb 12:2)… and fourth, faith must be appropriated to be effective (Prv 3:5; Rom 1:17; 5:1; 12:3; Gal 2:20; 1 Tim 6:12; Jam 2:14-20; 1 Jn 5:4). It’s important that a believer accept and understand all four of these tenets. Furthermore, faith is not contrary to reason, nor is it given to those who mock and spurn it. The foundation of faith is the wisdom of God (Jam 3:17), not the wisdom of men (2 Pet 1: 20-21), and it is only imparted by the Holy Spirit to those who humble themselves before God (Jn 14:16, 17, 26; Acts 16:14; 1 Cor 2:14; Jam 4:6)… thus faith is the “firm assent of the soul” to every part of the divine rev-elation that it is true — without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life, there would be no such confidence. Remember, the Holy Spirit is the agent of transmission and communication, and the divine author of faith and Scripture ( 2 Tim 3:16; Jn 5:37-47; 14:26; 15:26; 16:13; Acts 16:14; Rom 15:4; Heb 12: 2 ; 2 Pet 1:20-21; 1 Jn 2:27); without His agency, we would neither come to “understand” nor “respond” to Him in faith. Humbly read the 119th Psalm as a devotional with quietness of heart, solitude and reflection — as the Holy Spirit ministers divine truths to your heart, you will then experience “a firm assent of the soul to those truths” (Jn 4:24). Feeding upon divine truth must be a daily exercise in the believer’s life if he is to grow in faith (Jer 15:16; Ps 119: 1-2; Ezek 3:1-3) — it’s our “daily bread and spiritual manna” (Jn 6:35; Rev 2:17).
A question that is often posited by believers is this, “Why do some people respond to the gospel when they hear it, and others do not?” As stated above, the “Holy Spirit” is the agent of faith — when we humble ourselves before God and agree with Him about our sinfulness, God’s Spirit gives us the grace to understand and believe the message of the gospel when it is presented to us (Ps 25:9; Is 66:2; Jam 4:6; Mic 6:8) — “He opens our hearts to respond to it” (Acts 16:14; 10:17); thus, faith is a “gift from God” (Rom 12:3; Gal 5:5; Eph 2:8; 2 Th 2:13; Heb 12:2). The apostle Paul states in his letter to the Corinthians that “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God — they are foolishness to him; he cannot understand them because such things are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor 2:14). Ultimate truth is not discernible to the sinful mind; it requires the Holy Spirit to be understood; so when an unbeliever without humility hears the Word, it appears to him to be nothing but some kind of strange rhetoric written by some religious mystics (the product of mere men), and it simply fails to strike a chord with him in his soul. Keep in mind Jesus’ words to His disciples — “God does not cast His pearls before swine… lest they trample upon them” (Mt 7:6); that is, He does not impart His precious truths (jewels) to those who have no regard for them and belittle them; they are insensitive to them. Jesus did not give all of His teaching to everyone who happened to be listening: on one occasion He prayed to the Father: “I praise Thee Father, that Thou dids’t hide these things from the wise and intelligent [those who pride themselves in their own wisdom], and dids’t reveal them to babes” (Mt 11:25). On another occasion He told His disciples, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them (those who are insensitive to spiritual things) it has not been granted… though seeing they do not see, though hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Mt 13:11, 13). Why is this so? “because they have closed their own eyes and ears to the truth, lest they be healed [saved]” (Mt 13:15). “God is opposed to the proud and only gives grace to the humble” (Jam 4:6; Prv 16:5; Is 2:12). Beloved, don’t disparage the truth, or impugn the wisdom of God, or approach His Word with a closed mind… and don’t ascribe the sanctities of God to some crazy human genius; when we address the issue of Scripture, we are talking about the inerrant, intelligible communication of the omniscient Creator of the universe! So don’t trifle or distort divine truth, because you will never be able to offer a defense for doing so on judgment day; you won’t be able to preface your response to God with the words like, “I thought!” (read Is 45:22-24; Rom 14:11). Beloved, I fully understand what it means to “question the veracity of God’s Word” — to err is human! and I’m human! but at some point on your spiritual journey you have to come to that point where you “bury your flesh and defer to the Author of life!”
Scripture tells us that only those who “humbly place their faith in Christ” will go to heaven when they die; conversely, those who “proudly reject Him” will go to hell (Mt 25:31-46; Jn 3:16; Acts 4:12; 2 Th 1:9). Admittedly, the subject of hell is a difficult one; we all have an aversion to the concept; that’s universal. Why? because Satan does everything he can to keep hell a contemptible subject in the minds and hearts of people… this is “his trump card” to keeping humanity questioning the integrity of the gospel (Gen 3:4; 2 Cor 4:4). It is interesting to note that the vast majority of people everywhere believe in some kind of “heaven” or “life after death”… but far fewer people believe in “hell.” The uncompromising force within the soul of man (that diabolical entity called “the flesh”) is a powerful one — it simply refuses to accept such a reality. The truth of the matter is, Jesus spoke far more about hell than He did about heaven. The word “hell” occurs twelve times in the Gospels, and eleven of them are from the lips of Jesus. Scripture affirms an “eternal, conscious torment” for all those who reject Christ and His gospel; the operative word in that statement is “reject.” It is important to note that the idea of “ignorance” is never implied. “Unbelief” is to have knowledge of something, and to “reject” or “disbelieve” it — thus, the common designation “unbeliever.” The Bible tells us that every human being possesses “a degree of light regarding eternity and moral realities” (Ecc 3:11; Rom 2:14-15), and that they are accountable for the light that has been given to them (Rom 1:18-22; Lk 12:48). The Bible says that all people have “God’s moral law written on their heart;” thus “their conscience alternately accuses or defends their actions and thoughts” (Rom 2:15) — if this knowledge did not exist in men’s hearts, they would never be found guilty for violating such laws (Rom 4:15), nor would sin ever be imputed to them (Rom 5:13; Jam 4:17). People are not unfairly judged nor are they convicted for that which they do not know. Additionally, Scripture tells us that God is neither a capricious or unfair judge, and neither does He show partiality; rather He “executes justice with perfect righteousness and equity” (Ps 9:8; Is 11:1-5; Rom 2:11); thus all divine punishments are merited and fully deserved (read Lk 23:39-41; Acts 2:9-11; 10:41; Jam 2:13).
Though every human being has a degree of light in his heart, the fullest manifestation of light is found in the person of Jesus Christ (Jn 8:12; 1 Jn 1:5), and those who humbly respond to the smallest degree of light would naturally respond to the fullest degree of light, because all light and truth have their source in God (Jn 14:6). Therefore no one can say that he believes in the light that God has placed in his soul (regarding morality and eternity), but does not believe in the Author of that light (Jesus Christ)… if you humbly believe in the light of truth that has been given to you, should someone then share the good news of Christ with you, you would naturally embrace the fullness of that truth (Acts 18:24-26); there are no incongruities to these two positions (they are fully analo-gous to each other). To believe in the truth (light) God has placed in your heart, yet disbelieve in the deity of Christ, would be like believing in ice but not believing in water — the two realities are one and the same. All truth and light are imparted to us by God (He is their author); impartation of truth to the hearts of men is one of the primary ministries of the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:7-15). With that said, it is important to remember that God’s revelation is progressive from a human perspective; thus we are to continually grow in the knowledge of God/Christ (1 Cor 14:20; Eph 4:15-16; Phil 2:12; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). Let me illustrate it this way — some of you may have 5 feet of divine knowledge… others 10 feet… and still others 50 feet… whatever your level may be, you are not to retire at that level! We have been commanded to “keep on growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ!” (2 Pet 3:18), and in so doing, “keep on growing in the likeness of Christ!” (2 Cor 3:18; Gal 4: 19). Since the vast majority of people don’t take the amount of light they’ve been given seriously (because of their sinful flesh), God has decreed that the “body of Christ” throughout the world proclaim the fullness of the truth (the good news of Christ) to people everywhere in the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15; Jn 17:18; Acts 1:8; Eph 4:11-16). That is one of the reasons I put this study together — it is a proclamation of the truth. If the words of this study resonate in your mind and heart, it is God’s Spirit that is making His Word alive in you. If the content of this study is not resonating with you for some reason, humble yourself before God and ask Him to make its message alive in your mind and heart (be sure to read the various accompanying references). When the eighteenth century theologian John Wesley came to faith in Christ at a church service in London, he described it this way — “My heart was strangely warmed by what I heard.”
In the parable of the sheep (believers) and the goats (unbelievers), you’ll notice that Jesus uses the same adjective when talking about both eternal life and eternal punishment (Mt 25:31-46); so if “life in Christ” is going to be eternal, then “life without Christ” is also going to be eternal. Note Jesus’ words — “The unrighteous will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Mt 25:46). Following are a number of other “word pictures” that Scripture uses to describe hell — it is referred to as “everlasting destruction” (2 Th 1:9); “unquenchable fire (Mt 3:12; 5:22; 18:9); “fiery furnace” (Mt 13:42, 50); “damnation” (Mt 23:33); “everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2); “blackest darkness” (Jude 13); “fiery lake of burning sulfur” (Rev 21:8); and “a place prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41). “Fire” was a symbol of the Lord’s presence and the instrument of His power in Scripture, either in the way of approval or of destruction (Ex 14:24; Num 11:1). God showed Himself as “fire” to several people in the Bible — Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel & John (Ex 3:2; 19:18; Is 6:4; Ezek 1:4; Rev 1:14), and will appear in such fashion at His second coming (2 Th 1:7). God is compared to “fire,” not only because of His glorious brightness, but on account of His anger against sin, which consumes sinners (Deut 32: 22; Is 10:17; Ezek 21:31). The author of the book of Hebrews calls God “a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). Sin is the moral cancer of the universe that God is going to one day completely eradicate from existence (Rev 20:11-15; 21:8, 10, 27).
It is important to remember that “God’s character” is reflected in everything that He does and in all of His Laws (Jam 4:12); therefore all of His Laws reflect His infinite goodness, holiness, love and mercy. So when we break one of God’s Laws, we are breaking “the moral code of God,” which is a reflection of His infinite goodness — there is nothing bad or evil in God (1 Jn 1:5; 1 Tim 6:16; Jam 1:17). Scripture very clearly teaches that when one of His laws are broken, the penalty must be paid; the soul that sins must die (Rom 6:23); he experiences separation from God. There-fore, every living person today who has not placed his trust in Christ is “dead in his sin” (Eph 2:1, 4-5); separated from God. But God, because of His great love for us, sent His own Son to this world to pay the penalty for our sin (He suffered death for us), and offer us eternal life (Jn 3:16) — in effect He was saying to us: “Here is My Son, receive Him, so that you might have eternal life and not enter into hell.” Hell actually brings glory to God because it is the ultimate condemnation of sin and evil, and the ultimate expulsion of it from the universe — basically it is a reflection of the fact that God takes sin, wrongdoing and evil seriously; He will not tolerate it at any level. By the way, how can we impugn God’s righteousness because of His intolerance of evil, when we condemn things like the intolerance of homosexuality or adultery (which are sin)? And have the audacity to reason that “our values are righteous!” and that His intolerance of sin is evil! Note the words of God to the leaders of Israel — “Hear now, heads of Israel, is it not for you to know justice? You who hate good & love evil?” (Mic 3:1-2). Such judgments reveal just how diabolical and perverse the human mind really is — remember, there is absolutely “nothing good in sin;” it is destructive, vile, and wicked in its very root. The problem with man is that he does not see how diabolical sin is… it just doesn’t seem that bad to him; why? “because his fleshly mind is totally sinful and corrupt.” There isn’t a man alive who doesn’t think that he is actually a “pretty good person”… that is why the Lord said, “The heart is more deceitful than all else; it is desperately sick; no one can understand it” (Jer 17:9); and that is also why the “Holy Spirit must confirm truth in the heart of man” — without His activity in our soul we would never come to that realization. Remember, God’s Spirit only gives understanding to those who are humble at heart… not proud (Jam 4:6). Humbly ask God to give you “eyes” to see… “ears” to hear… and a “mind” to under-stand (Jn 9:30-31, 39; Acts 16:14). If you truly desire to know truth in the inner man — God will open your heart to understand.
The problem even most Christians have is that they have not yet been convinced of the depth of their depravity or how invasive sin is in their hearts (Rom 7:18) — they know they are sinful, but they still think there is a reasonable amount of goodness in them (Lk 18:19)… it is only after years of experiencing debilitating failures, because of the presence of “indwelling sin” (flesh), that we come to the realization that “the old man within” (the flesh) is totally corrupt. It is because our flesh is completely sinful (Rom 7:18) that we don’t recognize how corrupt and evil it is. Obviously, a holy God cannot overlook sin or simply ignore it; therefore, He is committed to eliminating it from all creation. Judging sin for what it is actually brings unspeakable glory to God because it reveals how majestic and holy and loving He is; He is committed to having all of us as His children live forever in a “sin-free universe.” To reject this truth, by impugning the integrity of it, is to reveal your commitment to living a life of sin (self-centered separation from God)… and making “yourself” the final authority of truth. Each of us make a decision in life that has eternal ramifications: we either choose to believe the truth (Christ), or we choose not to believe it. If you are not yet a believer, I ask you to humbly reflect upon the wonder of God’s love for you and the salvation He is offering you through His Son, Jesus Christ (God incarnate) — life is short, my friend, so don’t put this decision off. God wants to wipe the slate clean in your life (and only the blood of Christ can do that), and forgive you of all your sin (no matter how sinful you may be). He wants to come into your life and make you a brand new person, and bless you in ways you never dreamed possible (Jn 10:10) — simply admit your sinfulness to Him, and ask Him to come into your life. It is as simple as that. In doing so you are placing your trust in Christ as your Savior (that’s faith). As the apostle Paul said, “You have been saved by grace through faith — salvation is not of yourselves — it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). There is nothing we can do to attain salvation… Jesus Christ did it all for us on the cross… that means salvation is ours by the grace of God…all He asks us to do is place our trust and faith in Him.
The apostle Paul reminds us that “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature… old things have passed away, and new things have come” (emphatic! 2 Cor 5:17). Therefore when someone becomes a child of God, he becomes a “new person” (Jn 3:3; Eph 2: 1-5; 1 Pet 13); he is no longer the same… the old life with its old value systems, priorities, beliefs, loves, and plans are gone… a “new life” has begun! Though evil and sin are still present within us, we now see these things from an entirely new perspective… our new spiritual perception of everything is now a “new reality” — eternal values now displace temporal values… eternal realities now replace earthly realities… know-ledge from a worldly point of view now gives place to knowledge from a divine point of view (2 Pet 1:4; Rom 6:4; 12:2; Col 3:2, 9-10). God is now the supreme reality in our life. The principal area of change in our life is that our attitude toward Christ and other people becomes radically different. God plants new desires, loves, inclinations and truths in our heart, that we might live life with an altogether “new perspective.” As this new perspective is nourished and developed, it helps us gain victory in the battle against sin and conform us to the image of Christ (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23; 1 Jn 5:4).
Let me close this study with this admonition — it is critically important that a believer “find a good Bible believing church” that he can make his church home, because it needs to be an integral part of his life and his weekly worship experience (Heb 10:25). Keep in mind the word “church” means “called-out ones” — so the church is not a building; rather it is a “body of believers” who are committed to Christ and to each other for the purpose of accomplishing God’s work in this world and in each other’s lives. If you don’t know where to find a good church, go to the local Christian bookstore in your area and have them direct you to a couple of good churches — attend each one of them and ask God to give you peace regarding that particular church He would have be “your church.” It is also important to recognize that as a “babe” in Christ, you now need to “grow” in your faith (1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). If you are a young believer in Christ, let me encourage you to read one of the two books I have listed at the end of this study — they both give a very clear presentation of the Christian faith. The first book I read when I committed my life to Christ was the one by John Stott; it was a great starting point for me. These two books are the most recommended books for young believers in the Christian world today —
Basic Christianity by John Stott — he was a tremendous teacher of biblical truth.
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis — he was a master at presenting truth to the world.
God’s Best to You.