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Righteousness – Avoiding Anger and Lust

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Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, addresses the believer’s relationship to the law. When we look at Scripture, it is vital to keep in mind that context is king. In Matthew 5:21-30, Jesus addresses two problems present in many of His listeners. Those who listened to him had heard different things from the Old Testament, but not all had been taught correctly. There were also those who limited Old Testament commandments to external actions, not inward righteousness. Jesus reveals the true intention of the law as it regards to the heart.
Jesus begins this portion of His sermon, in Matthew 5:21-22, by clarifying the deeper meaning of the Old Testament command against murder. Christ teaches that not only is the act of murder forbidden, but the angry spirit that leads to it is wrong. We all understand that human courts punish obvious crimes. But, to few understand that God judges the hidden sins. Thus, we discover this verse in Proverbs, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit” (Prov 16:2).
It is important to note that not all anger is evil. This is evident when we see in the Bible God’s wrath, which is always holy and pure. There is such a thing as righteous anger, which should be slow to rise and quick to die down. Paul writes to the Ephesian church, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26). Jesus was angered by sin (Mk 3:1-6; Matt 21:12-13; 23:16-17). It is proper to be angry at sin but not at the sinner. We need to remember to be friendly to the person but hostile to the sin.
You may be asking, “What do I do when I feel bitterness rising or know someone is holding something against me?” Jesus answers this question as He continues in Matthew 5:23-26, moving from his lesson on anger to a fitting one on reconciliation. Christ begins by presenting an example where you are presenting an offering at the altar and are reminded of an unreconciled issue between yourself and another. Jesus says, stop what you are doing and go reconcile with that person. Then, He gives another example where you have a conflict with an adversary. He says, do not delay; reconcile quickly. Here’s the biblical principle, if we are to obey the moral law of God, we must not only avoid the negatives but also pursue the positives by living reconciled with others. John Stott summarizes this a bit for us when he writes, “If we want to avoid committing murder in God’s sight, we must take every possible positive step to live in peace and love with all.”
Then, Jesus continues, in Matthew 5:27-28, by clarifying the real meaning of lust. The culture Jesus spoke to is not much different than our very own. We find it all too easy to narrowly define sexual sin and conveniently broadly define sexual purity. Christ teaches that not only is the act of adultery forbidden, but the lust that leads to it is wrong. Most people understand that adultery is a sin, but so is inward lust.
It is important to be clear here. There is a difference between looking and lusting; there is a difference between glancing and gazing. The temptation to commit adultery develops not only from exposer to a desirable person but from a person’s inner lustful self. We need to remember that deeds of shame are proceeded by fantasies of shame. Jesus urged disciplined thoughts so that weaknesses might not lead to sin.
Clearly, the question arises, “How do we deal with sin?” Christ concludes this portion of His sermon in Matthew 5:29-30 answering this question. He emphasizes the seriousness of sin by using hyperbole. He uses a graphic image of mutilation but does so to explain that mortification is the path to holiness. Mortification is taking up the cross to follow Christ; it’s rejecting sinful practices so resolutely that we die to them or put them to death. Here is the biblical principle, we deal with sin by getting rid of anything that causes us to sin.
In this portion of His sermon, Jesus is continuing His teaching on the believer’s righteousness, which is found in Christ. We learn that Christ’s followers are to avoid anger, be quick to reconcile, and avoid lust. Our culture has so much to offer us. Technology is amazing but can be dangerous. Therefore, it is better to accept some denial of what the culture provides than fall into sin. Such thinking is countercultural. The world says be open-minded and live life to the fullest. But, it is essential to remember, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death (Prov 14:12).
The biblical ethic understands that eternity is more important than temporary happiness. Sin promises you the world, but in the end, it corrupts your soul. Satan would like to use sin to distance you from God; the Spirit would like to give you the power to overcome sin, the humility to ask God for forgiveness when you fall, to bring you closer to the Lord. John Stott rightly challenges us with these words,  “We have to decide, quite simply, whether to live for this world or the next, whether to follow the crowd or Jesus Christ; live for self or for our Savior.” There are three crucial questions we all must answer to Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5:21-30. What is my response? What is my next step? Am I willing to take it with Jesus? Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Righteousness – Christ, the Believer, and the Law

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Jesus, in His sermon, which we call the Sermon on the Mount, describes the righteousness of the believer by looking at His relationship to the law as well as that of His followers (Matt 5:17-20). What is meant by righteousness? Righteousness is an attribute of God.  It is His uprightness of person, standards, and judgments. God, Himself is perfectly righteous, as are His ways in creation, providence, salvation, and consummation. In Deuteronomy, we read, “The Rock [God], His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He” (Deut 32:4). As righteous Himself, God establishes moral standards that reflect His nature, and He requires conformity to those standards. It is these standards that Christ addresses in His sermon.
We discover in Matthew 5:17-20 three truths relating to Christ’s fulfillment of the law and how this reality directly impacts the Christian’s relationship to the law. Christ begins by declaring, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (v. 17). The first truth is that Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets. In other words, He fulfilled the demands of the law. He did this by living a perfect life of obedience to the law (Heb 4:15) and taking the law’s punishment for our sin (Gal 3:13). Jesus also did this by fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies (Lk 24:25-27, 44; John 5:39-40). Lastly, Jesus fulfilled the law by revealing its true meaning (Rom 13:9-10).
The second truth we discover in verses 18-19: “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Here Jesus affirms the continuing authority of the law. The word of God stands forever (Isa 40:8; Matt 24:35; 2 Peter 3:18), and every part of the law matters (2 Tim 3:16; John 10:35). In other words, as revealed through His Word, no part of God’s will for His people will ever change. Therefore, we must practice and teach all of the law (Matt 28:20; John 14:15). Law here describes the revelation about God, salvation in Christ, and the path He calls His children to walk in the Bible.
The third, and last truth, is found in verse 20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus proclaimed the need for a greater righteousness. The righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law was self-serving (Matt 23:5-7), incomplete (Matt 23:23), and merely external (Matt 23:25-28). The righteousness Christ calls the believer to is greater than the Pharisees because it is deeper, being a righteousness of the heart. The Pharisees were content with their external, incomplete, and self-serving righteousness. Jesus teaches in His sermon a more radical demand of God of His children. The righteousness that God calls believers to is an inward righteousness of mind and motive.
We will never be perfect on this side of paradise but are to be perfecting into greater Christlikeness. Jesus asks for a deeper obedience from the heart that is only possible when we receive Christ as Savior and Lord. When we receive Christ, we are gifted His Spirit, and when we cooperate with Him, we partner in His work of making us more like Christ (sanctification). This righteousness, Christ’s righteousness, only becomes ours when we receive Him as Savior and Lord, partnering with His Spirit to grow in becoming more and more like Him. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus was our sin offering [He died in our stead], reconciling us with God by removing our sin. In His death on the cross, He took our punishment for our sin so that we might be forgiven. When we receive Him, the righteousness of God becomes a reality in our lives.
The Pharisees observed the law, in part, but often rejected God’s will and failed to show genuine love towards God and others. Such hypocrisy and legalism are not acceptable to God. We are called to accept Christ in this life and walk in His Spirit from today into eternity.
It is easy to cheapen grace by lessening or even disliking the law. For sure, we are saved by grace, but this does not mean that we don’t desire to love God with everything and others with the love He has poured into us (Mk 12:28-34). This, after all, sums up all of the law. We need to be mindful that the believer must never set law against love.
In short, the greater righteousness Jesus calls His followers to is testified to by the law and prophets and fulfilled in Christ (Rom 3:21). It is credited to us by faith in Christ (Phil 3:9). It is worked in us by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:4) and is the only righteousness that will get you into heaven (Matt 5:20). It is this righteousness Christ requires, provides, and works in those who choose Him. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Influence of the Believer – Salt & Light

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In Matthew 5:13-16, in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches how believers are to be influencers. He makes it clear that Christians are meant to be different from the world as kingdom ambassadors. In other words, believers are not to be thermometers, merely reflecting the temperature of culture, but thermostats positively impacting the culture for Christ.
Jesus teaches in His sermon:
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:13-16).
Jesus uses two metaphors, salt, and light, to describe the influence of believers for good in the world. Believers are to live, by the power of Christ, in such a way that their lives exemplify Christ; their mouths profess Christ and His teaching, drawing people to the Lord. Simply put, Christians are to point people to Christ.
Jesus also warns believers to not compromise their faith, losing their saltiness. The church needs to remain salty, not contaminated by the world. Further, if salt can lose its saltiness, the light in us can become dark. God calls us to be honest about who we are. We are saved and being sanctified. We are not, yet, perfect, but being perfected. However, God calls believers to be willing for their Christian walk to be visible to others. We are to be our growing honest selves described in the Beatitudes, not ashamed of Christ, and not contaminated by the stuff of earth.
I have heard people say, “That person must be a Christian because they are so nice.” I want to be careful but honest here. I have known many nice Christians. I have known many who are nice and are not Christians. I have even met some who claim to be Christian but aren’t really nice. With that said, I believe the picture we get from these metaphors goes beyond mere kindness. We are supernaturally indwelt by the Spirit of God. As salt and light, in our imperfect yet, perfecting journey with Christ, we are to be a God-sized witness to the world in which we live.
We learn a couple of lessons from this passage. The first lesson is that there is a distinctive difference between what God calls us to as Christians and the lives of those yet to receive Christ, between the church and the world. Due to the Spirit’s work in the life of a believer, this passage assumes that Christians are different. John Stott sadly notes, “Probably the greatest tragedy of the church throughout its long and checkered history has been its constant tendency to conform to the prevailing culture instead of developing a Christian counter-culture.” God’s church is to be in the world, not avoiding it, but not of the world, directing others to Jesus.
The second lesson is that the believer, the church, must accept the call God places upon her to the Christian distinctive. Sanctification, becoming like Christ, is not automatic. We must choose to focus on Christ and, by His power, follow the Spirit’s leading in our lives. We must not lose confidence in the power of the gospel of Christ. We have Christ, His teachings, and His power to be salt and light to the world if we so choose.
As believers, we need the Spirit’s workings in our lives to grow in Christ so that we can be salt and light to the world. This can’t be done in our own strength. Stott ties Christ’s teaching on the Beatitudes and His instruction on being salt and light when he writes, “A Christian’s character as described in the Beatitudes and a Christian’s influence as defined in the salt and light metaphors are organically related to one another. Our influence depends on our character.” Christians are meant to be different from the world as kingdom influencers, and by His power, for the benefit of others, this can be a genuine reality. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Character of the Believer – Beatitudes

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Jesus begins The Sermon on the Mount with what we call the Beatitudes. They set a foundation for the rest of Jesus’ message. Beatitudes means blessedness. They set out the character of the believer. In them, eight characteristics are mentioned. Often a study of the Beatitudes looks at each of the eight characteristics separately, which has some benefit. Still, Christ did not intend for us to understand them as eight distinct groups of disciples, rather eight qualities all of His disciples are to possess.
What is the blessedness spoken of in the Beatitudes? We discover the blessedness in the second half of each Beatitude. Those believers who have the character mentioned in the Beatitudes possess the kingdom of heaven, and they inherit the earth. John Stott rightly notes, “The eight qualities Christ mentions constitute the responsibilities, and the eight blessings, the privileges, of being a citizen of God’s kingdom.”
We discover that the first four Beatitudes describe the Christian’s relation to God. The second four layout the Christian’s relations and duties to other people. Look at the first four Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt 5:3-6). Remember, the first four Beatitudes deal with the Christian’s relation to God.
We discover in these Beatitudes a spiritual progression. To be “poor in spirit” acknowledges our complete spiritual bankruptcy before God. We are to “mourn” over our sin, coming to God for forgiveness. We are to be “meek,” humble, and gentle towards God and others. Then, we are to “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” After all, what is the use of confessing and contrition of our sin, acknowledging the truth about ourselves to God and others, if it does not lead us to want God’s will and desire to walk in His ways, while we call others to do the same?
Now, remember, these last four Beatitudes deal with the Christian’s relations and duties to others. Jesus declares, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:7-12). Christ teaches that the genuine follower of Christ lives in community with others. They walk with God without withdrawing from society. They are not insulated from the world’s pain. Rather, they show mercy to those battered by sin and life. They are sincere in word and deed, living in integrity towards God and others. They live at peace with God and are peacemakers. For all of this, they are at times persecuted. These are those who are “blessed,” who have the approval of God and rest in His comfort, power, and joy.
Here’s how Christ begins His sermon. Those who have the character mentioned in the beatitudes possess the kingdom of heaven, and they inherit the earth. No doubt, the ways of God and the Bible can cause great confusion to people yet to receive Christ as Savior and Lord. God exalts the humble and humbles the proud. He calls the first last and the last first. He honors the servant and sends those who live as overlords home empty-handed. God declares the meek to be His heirs. The culture of the world and that of Christ stand in direct opposition to one another. All of heaven applauds those who receive Christ as Savior and Lord and are living like it. Christ calls such people, His people, “blessed.”
Here are the characteristics of a believer, the character of a Christian. Remember, we will not be perfect until Christ returns, but this does not excuse us from partnering with the Lord in our journey of being perfected by Him. God has a fantastic work He desires to do in and through you. In response to this truth and the Beatitudes, there are three crucial questions we all must answer: What is my response? What is my next step? Am I willing to take it with Christ? Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

What is the Sermon on the Mount?

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The Sermon on the Mount is a message of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5-7. It’s probably the best know part of Jesus’ teaching. John Stott explains, “It is the nearest thing to a manifesto that Jesus ever uttered, for it is His own description of what He wanted  His followers to be and do.” In the sermon, Jesus presents a picture of Christian culture that is very different than what our society offers.
In its context, the sermon describes repentance, the change of mind, and righteousness that belongs to the kingdom and, therefore, the believer. It explains what life looks like when Jesus is recognized and received as Savior and Lord. Within its teaching, we discover the most complete description in the New Testament of genuine Christian culture.
The sermon is introduced to us in Matthew very simply, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying…” (Matt 5:1-2). Picture the setting with me. A large crowd is following Jesus. He “went up on the mountain,” which is a large hill known as Karn Hattin, located near Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee. Numerous scholars have compared the “mountain” here to Mount Sinai, where God through Moses first taught His ethics by delivering the Law.
Jesus “sat down,” assuming the posture of a rabbi [teacher] and “His disciples came to Him,” to listen to His teaching. We read in verse two, “Jesus opened His mouth and taught them.” We, like them, are to listen to the instruction of Christ. To listen to Jesus is to hear, yield, and follow. After all, a disciple of Jesus is one who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus.
How do we listen to Jesus? To rightly listen to the instruction of Christ, we must be willing and prepared to listen and receive. It would be worth your time to explore the parable of the sower recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Matt 13:3-8, 18-23; Mk 4:3-8, 14-20; Lk 8:5-8, 11-15). The good news is that God has given us the ability to choose how we will respond to His instruction.
To rightly listen to the instruction of Christ, we must also listen with an understanding of His purpose (see: John 17, Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer). Christ’s purpose for coming, teaching, and dying on the cross was to glorify the father by pointing to the way of salvation and living the joy-filled life promised to all who receive Him as Savior and Lord. The basics of Jesus’ teaching are profound yet simple enough for a child to understand. Jesus taught that He is the fulfillment of messianic prophecy, is the promised One. Salvation is found in Him and Him alone. Here it is in a nutshell; Jesus came to die in our stead for our salvation and taught us how to be saved and live as believers.
Lastly, to rightly listen to the instruction of Christ, we must listen determined to obey (see: Matt 21:28-31). It’s not enough to know God’s word and go to church; genuine believers follow Christ by living in obedience to the Lord. Our following may not be perfect, but our intent can be as we become more and more like Christ.
The culture and righteousness that Christ describes in the Sermon on the Mount is an inner righteousness demonstrated outwardly and visibly in words and deeds. Such a life can only be lived when found in Christ, receiving Him as Savior and Lord, filled, empowered, and led by His Spirit. Oswald Chambers explains:
“If Jesus is a teacher only, then all He can do is to tantalize us by erecting a standard we cannot come anywhere near. But if by being born again from above we know Him first as Savior, we know that He did not come to teach us only. He came to make us what He teaches we should be. The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is having His way with us.”
I really like those last words of Chambers, “the Holy Spirit having His way with us.” I challenge you to take some time to read through The Sermon on the Mount. Before you do, let me encourage you to take a moment to pray and commit yourself to listen to God with a willing spirit, understanding heart, and a mindset determined to listen and obey. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Biblical Truth in a Changing Society

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The Bible is an incredible book. It is one unified book made of 66 individual books, written by more than 40 inspired authors, in three different languages, over a period of 1,500 years. It has been given to us “to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). The Scriptures, inerrant and infallible, are inspired by God and useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).” As John Wesley stated, “If there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth.” The teachings of Scripture are so crucial to humankind that God the Spirit clarifies the truths within the sacred text to the believer. We call this special work of the Spirit illumination. Both the inerrant Word of God and illumination by the Holy Spirit work together to allow the Christian to understand God’s Holy Word and apply its teachings.
Scripture teaches that illumination does not occur in the unbeliever (1 Cor 2:14). We also see in Scripture that illumination is promised to Christians (1 Cor 2:9-10). Illumination is taught in the Bible to occur in relation to the maturity of the believer (1 Cor 3:1-3). God’s Word then teaches that illumination is the Holy Spirit working in the believer to understand Scripture. Nowhere in the Bible are we taught that illumination is taking that with error and revealing truth. Illumination is taking that which is inspired by God and making its truths known to a believer that is rendered dysfunctional due to sin.
It is also important to note that the Bible is inerrant. At the center of the conviction in an inerrant, infallible Bible is the testimony of Scripture itself (2 Tim 3:16). Throughout the Bible is the teaching of its authority, and this requires inerrancy (Matt 5:17-20; John 10:34-35). Historically through the testimony of the Church, inerrancy of the Bible has been firmly held. Augustine of Hippo wrote, “I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error.” This belief in the inerrancy of Scriptures has been seen from the biblical writers to Luther, Calvin, B.B. Warfield, and present-day Conservative Evangelicals. Epistemologically speaking, inerrancy guarantees the incorruptibility of every statement of Scripture. Therefore, the contents of Scripture can be objects of knowledge.
All of this is of great importance to the believer today. The Bible offers timeless truth in an ever-changing world. Amazingly the principles found in Scripture offer as much a light to follow on our path of life as when they were written (Psalm 119:105). This is due to it being the very Word of God. God is never-changing, all-knowing, perfect, and infinite. He knows the beginning from the end, although He has neither. This I write to explain that although societies change (not always for the better), God has given us timeless truths that can be applied to our lives today.
Society may want to believe it has somehow evolved beyond the Scriptures. But, it is foolish to think that we can live apart from God’s truth and experience the abundant joy-filled life offered to Christians. After all, a Christian, a disciple of Christ, is a person who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus. Following Jesus is the believer’s way, and we learn to follow Him through His Word, the Bible.
The Bible is an incredible book and a marvelous gift given to us by God. Its truth is needed in our ever-changing society. It applies to our current society as it always has been and always will be to the societies of humanity. The Bible as timeless truth is the underlying principle based upon God’s perfect and never-changing character, and the truths of Scripture can and should be applied just as readily today as in the many years past. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Spiritual Warfare

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When the topic of spiritual warfare comes up, there seem to be two extremes often present. Either there is a denial that such warfare is taking place or an over-emphasis in the devil and his workings. Both are detrimental to the believer or anyone else, for that matter. C. S. Lewis writes in his creative work, Screwtape Letters, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” One of the challenges of the Christian life is to live in the center of biblical tension. A believer needs to be aware that a spiritual battle is waging, but not live in fear or obsessed with the devil’s workings.
As we explore the Scriptures, we discover that a life of victory is the normal experience God intends for every believer. The term “victory” implies a context of challenge, struggle, and danger. This is why, over and over again, the Bible uses the metaphor of “warfare” when referring to the Christian life. When the Christian seeks to know God and make Him known, being a disciple, following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus, spiritual warfare will most definitely be encountered.
In each of the synoptic gospels, Satan appears as the tempter of Jesus (Mark 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). From beginning to end, Satan is presented as an enemy of God throughout the Bible and, subsequently, an enemy of God’s people. Although Satan and his demons are finite in power and knowledge, their capacities far exceed those of humans. In the battle, Satan takes advantage of our selfish, sinful nature (“the flesh”) and of the force of each of our sin-filled cultures (“the world”). There is little doubt Satan often successfully draws men and women into sin and away from Christ by glamorizing the desires of the flesh and the allure of the world.
Spiritual warfare is not a yin and yang thing. It is not a battle between equals. Satan is in no way equal to God. God created him to glorify and serve Him. Satan allowed pride to rage within himself, and he desired to be worshiped and exalted like God. As a result, he declared war on God, and one-third of the angels joined his army to oppose the Lord. Judged by God for his sin, Satan was cast down to earth (Isa 14:11-23); Ezek 28:1-19). Upon the earth, Satan appeared as a serpent to tempt Adam and Eve by lying and taking God’s word out of context (Gen 3:1-24). After successfully tempting Adam and Eve to sin, he was judged and cursed by God for his sin and told that Jesus would ultimately come to completely defeat him, though Jesus would suffer physical harm in their conflict (Gen 3:14-15).
The gospel proclaims that Jesus, in His death and resurrection, not only purchased forgiveness for our sins and reconciled us to the Father, He also decisively triumphed over Satan and his forces. Having won the ultimate victory, Christ provides the grace we need to live our daily lives in consistent victory. The indispensable means by which God extends His grace to us are His Word (the Bible), prayer, and fellowship of believers (the Church). As we live in obedience to the Word and walk in the power of the Spirit, following His promptings, we need not fear the challenges and temptations of the enemy because Christ leads us to victory.
How do we fight the spiritual battle and walk in Christ’s victory? We need to acknowledge the adversary. We need to realize that Satan is real. I recently saw a study that showed that just over 40% of Christians in America do not believe Satan is real. This is a tragic mistake since Peter tells us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). The enemy is real, and the battle is real. We need to accept Christ’s authority. We walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we remain focused on Christ, clothed in the armor of God. Paul writes of this spiritual armor in Ephesians 6:11-17. The armor pieces are truth, righteousness, Gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God. We put on this armor by coming to faith in Christ, walking and growing in Christ, sharing His love and message with others.
Often the battle occurs in our mind. Our thoughts can propel us to victory or serve to halt our progress. When we get thoughts from God, we call it inspiration. When we get thoughts from Satan, we call it temptation. This is why it is crucial to fill our minds with the Word of God (the Bible). The Spirit uses the Word of God we know, not the Word of God we don’t know, to lead us into the victorious Christian life, a life of trusting God no matter what the circumstances.
When all is said and done, we are called to focus on Christ. We need to avoid distractions. We need to keep the main thing the main thing. Indeed, we are not to deny that the enemy exists, and spiritual warfare is real. However, our focus is not to be on the enemy but on Christ. The battle is real, but Christ provides the victory. We are called to focus on Him and walk in the power of His Spirit while resisting the enemy. After all, as John writes, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The indwelling Holy Spirit is the secret of the believer’s victory over the devil who controls the world of sinful people. There is a battle, and believers find victory in Christ. Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone)!

The God of the Old & New Testament is the Same God

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Sometimes I have heard people after they have read through the Bible, ask, “Is the God of the Old Testament and New Testament the same God?” The reason for the questions is the apparent difference in God’s interaction with people, as revealed in both testaments. At the heart of this question is a misunderstanding of what both the Old and New Testaments tell about God’s nature.
Some see the God of the Old Testament as a God of wrath and the God of the New Testament a God of love. Perhaps, in part, the progressive revelation of God in the Bible through historical events and relationship with people has led some to this misconception of comparing the Old and New Testament’s revelation of God as two different Gods or a changing God. However, a careful reading of the Bible as a whole, both Old and New Testaments give evidence of God’s wrath, and love is revealed through the whole of Scriptures in both testaments.
Let me give you an example from the Old Testament. In an interaction between God and Moses, it is revealed that “God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). Fast forward nearly 1,400 years, and we find recorded in the New Testament the loving-kindness of God more fully revealed. We read in John, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
Throughout the Old Testament, we see how God related to Israel as a loving and caring father would parent his child. When they sinned, He disciplined them, but He also delivered them when they repented. Similarly, this is how God deals with Christians in the New Testament. The Hebrews writer proclaims, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb 12:6).
We also discover throughout the Old Testament God’s judgment, and wrath poured out on sin. This is also seen in the New Testament. We find in Romans, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18). It is apparent that God is not different in the Old and New Testaments. In fact, God by His nature is unchanging or immutable (Heb 13:8, Mal 3:6, James 1:17).
The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is one unified book made of 66 individual books, written by more than 40 inspired authors, in three different languages, over a period of 1,500 years. Incredibly, we see a never-changing God from beginning to end, Who is progressively revealed to us. Throughout the Bible, we see that God deals with sin with judgment and wrath. However, He is also the great deliverer to those who turn to Him in repentance. He is a God of love who offers care who not only says He loves us but demonstrated it on the cross, where He died for our sins and bore His very own wrath in our stead. He died so that we can live as we receive Christ as Savior and Lord.
In the Old Testament, God provided a sacrificial system whereby atonement could be made for sin. However, this sacrificial system was only temporary. It merely looked forward to the coming of Jesus Christ, who would die on the cross to make a complete substitutionary atonement for sin. The Savior who was promised in the Old Testament is fully revealed in the New Testament. Only foreshadowed in the Old Testament, the ultimate expression of God’s love, sending His Son Jesus Christ, is shown in all its glory in the New Testament. All of this to say that the Bible as a whole, Old and New Testaments, was given “to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). When we study the Testaments, the Bible as a whole, we discover that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The God of the Old and New Testaments is the same, never-changing God. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Enjoying the Stuff of Earth Without Being Worldly

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Many a believer has asked, “How to enjoy the stuff of earth without being worldly?” Worldly is relating to, or devote to, the temporal world. It’s being concerned with worldly affairs, especially to the neglect of spiritual things. Let me share a biblically oriented definition of being worldly. Being worldly is pursuing the stuff of this earth, bent on selfish gain, replacing God as Lord of one’s life and the focus as one’s greatest love.
Paul equates worldliness with spiritual immaturity (1 Cor 3:1-3). Worldliness is acting in a childish, un-Christlike manner. Worldliness acts contrary to Christlike love, living in pride, anger, self-will, and a heart bent away from God. Paul strongly urges the Corinthians to grow up and mature in the faith so that they will cease worldly behavior. Here’s Paul’s point, growing up and maturing in Christ leads to eliminating worldliness.
A tension all followers of Christ must navigate in their life is embracing a single-minded devotion to Christ while enjoying the wonderful, beautiful, and delightful things, such as people, hobbies, and everything else. The challenge for believers is to keep Christ as the supreme love of their lives while enjoying the things the Lord has brought into their lives. Let me share a couple truths and dangers. The first truth, God is to be first in our life with no close rival. Back in the Old Testament book of Exodus, we read, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exo 20:3). We are to worship the one true God and nothing or anybody else. In fact, Christ, asked about the greatest commandment, answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Lk 10:27a). We are to give our total devotion to God. We are to love God with all that we have above everything else.
The second truth, there is nothing inherently evil with relationships, hobbies, and stuff. Remember, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). He also declared, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen 1:18) and created Eve. God even said after His creative work, “This is very good.” Sin has marred what God has declared good. We sometimes pervert what God has proclaimed as good (relationships and stuff). However, there is nothing inherently evil with relationships, hobbies, and stuff.
Now, let’s look at two dangers. The first danger, People, hobbies, and stuff can lead to idolatry. Idolatry is worshipping anyone or anything in place of God. It’s when we allow the things of earth to be too precious to us and love them too much. Paul writes to his young protégé Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs [sorrows]” (1Tim 6:10). Paul is not saying that desiring wealth is wrong. He does warn that such a pursuit comes with particular temptations. Money is not evil. The “love” of money “is a root of all kinds of evil.” Money, things, hobbies, and relationships as not bad, but our desire for them can lead to trappings that bring sorrow. A fulfilled life does not consist in the abundance of things but in faith and godliness – for both rich and poor alike.
The second danger, the way we relate and prioritize relationships, hobbies, and stuff, can lead to ingratitude. Ingratitude is failing to recognize the kindness and favor of God in providing someone or something. It is a lack of thankfulness to God as the ultimate provider of all things. Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus, “…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:20). James instructs us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (Jas 1:17a). Consider this psalm, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psa 107:1)! We need to be mindful of God’s good character. See all that we have as gifts from God. We are never truly self-sufficient. We are God’s creation, living in God’s creation, enjoying His creation. All that we have is on loan from God. We need to look at all God has given us to enjoy with a heart of gratitude towards Him.
How, then, do we enjoy the stuff of earth without being worldly? In order to enjoy the stuff of earth without being worldly, we must ask a simple question that directs our steps. Do the things, such as people, hobbies, and everything else in our life point me toward God or away from God? God sometimes uses His gifts to us, the stuff of earth, to lead us to know God more fully. The goal of the Christ follower is to joyfully embrace God’s good gifts to us without letting them become worldly distractions that steal our affection from Him. We are called to enjoy everything in God and enjoying God in everything. I believe the Scriptures teach us that God created the earth and everything in it for our pleasure. God wants us to enjoy all the beauty and wonder that He has made. However, we must hold onto God’s gifts with open hands and open hearts. We must be willing to let go whenever God decides to take away one of those gifts, whether it be an object, a loved one, or anything else.
God may call you to live with less. God may be calling you to live with abundant blessings as a witness of His goodness to your neighbors, friends, and family. If you daily and earnestly seek the Lord, He will lead you in how to rightly handle your possessions, relationships, and hobbies. Trust Him with your hands wide open, palms titled up in praise for His gifts, always offering them back to Him, believing in your heart that He is good, and desiring to live in His will for you. How do we enjoy the stuff of earth without being worldly? We come to know God and love Him with everything. Having done that, we establish in our very souls that God is supreme. We love Him above all. Then, we receive the stuff of earth as a gift and enjoy them for His sake. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

God’s Judgment & Grace

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I have heard people ask, “Is God a God of judgment or of grace?” The answer is both. God is a God of judgment and grace. I understand the question. For instance, it is easy early in our walk with God to feel like the New Testament is a book of love and the Old Testament is a book of judgment. I will not tackle the unity of the Bible as a whole or God’s revelation throughout the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. I will point out that The Old Testament mentions mercy three times more often than the New Testament. Also, there is equal treatment to God’s grace and faithfulness in both Testaments. Both testaments also deal with God’s judgment. All of this to say, God is always the same. Therefore, God is a God of grace and judgment.
Let’s look at an account from Scripture that I believe deals so wonderfully with this topic of God’s judgment and grace. Jesus is having a conversation with a spiritually curious man by the name of Nicodemus. Jesus shares that, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:14-17). Notice the passage uses the word condemned instead of judgment. Jesus did not come to “condemn the world,” but that He “might” “save” the world. This is an interesting picture of judgment and grace.
There is also a sacrificial picture presented to us in John 3. God “gave His only Son” to offer salvation to us. Let’s look back to the sacrifices offered in the temple. When a Hebrew came to the temple with a sacrifice, he did so to deal with the guilt of sin in his life. When, for instance, he came with a lamb, he was not “innocent,” rather the sacrifice of the lamb paid the penalty in his place. Therefore, he was not condemned. God offers grace by sending Christ. When we receive Christ, we are not condemned. This speaks of the substitutional sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. He bore our judgment.
To understand more fully the judgment and the grace of God and our choice, we need to go back to the account Jesus references in our text. Jesus tells Nic, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). What is Jesus talking about here? We have to go back to the original account that is recorded in numbers.
In Numbers 21, we read, “Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Numbers 21:6-9). What was causing the people to die? The snakes. However, if you look at the context, the snakes were sent as a judgment for sin. It’s fascinating that God tells Moses to have them look at a representation of what was making them die. Perhaps, this account teaches us that we must look at and take seriously and confess our sins. The first step to salvation (receiving God’s grace) is to face and confess our sins (admitting we deserve judgment).
Look back to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That is the Gospel in a nutshell. God gave His Son by sending Him into the world and by giving Him over to death. Jesus humbled Himself by coming with the purpose to die for our sins. He died in our stead. We deserved to die due to sin. He did not. He paid a price He did not owe, for each of us who had a price we could not pay. When we “believe” in Him, receiving Him as Savior and Lord, we are given “eternal life.” The believer receives this life now and will enjoy it for all eternity. We either choose to face our sins and be saved by grace, or we prefer to remain in sin and reject Jesus. God is a God of judgment and grace. However, He desires for all of us to choose grace.
In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, specifically Revelation 14, we read about the message for those who live at the end of days. We discover. Judgment is coming. The proper response to this impending judgment is to be in a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Choose grace.
Here is the gospel truth, a judgment is coming, and we deserve it. The good news is that Jesus offers us an escape from condemnation. Jesus is the lamb of God who has died for our sins. If we face our sins by confessing and repenting, we receive salvation, grace, and eternal life. Judgment or grace? The choice is yours! God is a God of judgment and grace, and we have a choice. We deserve judgment but can choose grace because of the extreme act of love of Jesus dying for our sins and being resurrected for our salvation (Rom 4:25). The bad news, we deserve judgment. The good news, we can choose grace. I hope you will choose grace. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!