What About This Man Called Job?

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

CURSE GOD AND DIE. Withhold your praise and adoration, for He has assailed you without reason. You did nothing wrong. Are you not righteous? Do you not seek His face daily? Have you not repented, turning from your wicked ways? Did you lie today? No! Did you steal from others today? No! Did you willfully or callously sin today? No! Have you put God before all things today? Well, probably. Did you willingly accept whatever He put before you today without complaint? Yeah, I guess. Did you judge anyone today? Now wait a minute! That guy was wrong. Completely out of line! So that would be a yes, then? You don’t have to answer. Have you ever cursed the day you were born, shaking your fist at God, and asking Him to end your life of nonstop despair and misery? Did you lose sight of the horizon, deciding the darkness of the moment will never end? Never mind. I withdraw the question.

Spiritual-darkness-e1524259521247

Darkness is a terrible foe. Devoid of all light, it keeps us from seeing even a tiny speck of hope. Early in my many attempts to break free from the bondage of active addiction, my uncle said, “Your problem is you can’t see the horizon.” Darkness, by its very nature, blinds us to our circumstance. Close your eyes for a moment and try to remember exactly where everything is in the room where you’re sitting as you read this. Without peeking, make a mental picture of every inch you can recall. Angles, colors, position of furniture, which magazines lay on the cocktail table unread, books you forgot to put away last night, the location of your TV remote, where you placed your box of tissues. Then open your eyes and see how well you did. This exercise speaks of two things: it is impossible to see without light; and, we are often unaware of our surroundings or predicament.

The Man

Job was a man who lived in Uz. He was honest inside and out, a man of his word, who was totally devoted to God and hated evil with a passion. He had seven sons and three daughters. He was also very wealthy—seven thousand head of sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred teams of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and a huge staff of servants—the most influential man in all the East (Job 1:1-3, MSG).

Job Before God

We are given a glimpse of Job’s character, which is presented in the simple and direct style of a patriarchal narrative. Although not an Israelite, Job is a worshiper of the one true God. Job is a blameless and upright man—e.g., he is beyond reproach but not sinless and perfect. Job acts as a true patriarch of his family, offering daily sacrifices to God on behalf of each of his children. The Book of Job was likely written by Job, and is one of the more ancient books in existence. The fortitude and patience of Job, though not a small thing, gave way in his severe troubles. However, his faith remained focused on the  coming of his Redeemer, giving him steadfastness and constancy. He did not curse or blame God for the troubles that stalked him.

Matthew Henry wrote, “Job was prosperous, and yet pious.” (1) We can see from his routine sacrifices on behalf of himself and his family that he understood the sinful state of man and the need for dependence on God’s mercy. Although his afflictions began at the hand of Satan, the LORD gave permission for Job’s persecution for wise and holy purposes. Henry said, “There is an evil spirit, the enemy of God, and of all righteousness, who is continually seeking to distress, to lead astray, and, if possible, to destroy those who love God.” (2) When Satan appeared in the presence of God to accuse Job, the LORD asked, “Whence have you come?” Satan answered Him, saying, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” (Job 1:7, NRSV). We know the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour (1 Pet. 5:8), and this is precisely what he was doing that day in Uz.

The story of Job provides us with a unique opportunity to study man’s slow burn when besieged with persistent trials and tribulations. Satan asked permission from God to oppress Job in order to prove Job’s faith and righteousness was contingent upon his wealth and prosperity. Satan said, “But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face” (1:11). Putting aside the fact that God knew exactly how Job would respond, He permitted the devil to attack Job (1:12). In essence, God said to Satan, “We’ll see! Go ahead, do want you want with all that he has.” It’s important to note that God protected Job’s life, telling Satan to not lay a hand on him.

Satan’s attack came on all at once. Job was having a meal when a servant came to tell him, “The oxen were plowing and the asses feeding beside them; and the Sabe’ans fell upon them and took them, and slew the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you” (1:14-15). Before this man could finish presenting Job with the bad news, another servant burst in and told him lightning struck his flock of sheep, killing every head and all servants except him (1:16). A third man told Job the Sabe’ans had returned and took all his camels and killed every servant but him. Another servant arrived, telling Job his children were killed when a strong wind caused the house to fall on them as they ate supper. In each instance, the devil allowed a servant to witness these calamities and survive to inform Job.

It was not until several of Job’s friends arrived that he seems to have noticed how far he’d fallen during this onslaught. When they arrived, they barely recognized Job. Crying out in lament, they ripped their robes, dumped ashes on their heads as a sign of their grief, and sat with Job on the ground for seven days. No one spoke. It is likely that during this week of silence Satan continued to assault Job’s beliefs by planting doubt in his mind. Henry wrote, “These inward trials show the reason of the change that took place in Job’s conduct, from entire submission to God’s will, to the impatience which appears here and in other parts of the book.” (3)

Job cried out:

Obliterate the day I was born. Blank out the night I was conceived! Let it be a black hole in space. May God forget it ever happened. Erase it from the books! May the day of my birth be buried in deep darkness, swallowed by the night. And the night of my conception—the devil take it! Rip the date off the calendar, delete it from the almanac. Oh, turn that night into pure nothingness—no sounds of pleasure from that night, ever! Why didn’t I die at birth, my first breath out of the womb my last? Why were there arms to rock me, and breasts for me to drink from (Job 3:3-7, 11-12, MSG)?

Eliphaz, one of the friends, says that although Job often comforted other people, he now demonstrated that he never actually knew their pain. Eliphaz believed Job’s pain must be due to some sin he committed and he told Job to seek God’s favor. Bildad and Zophar agreed that Job must have performed evil to provoke God’s justice and argued that he should attempt to manifest more innocent behavior. Bildad supposed that Job’s children brought their deaths upon themselves. Even worse, Zophar suggested that whatever wrongdoing Job has done he likely deserved more suffering than what he had experienced.

Although Job cursed the day he was born, he did not curse God. I imagine he was later ashamed of these utterances. As I read these words this morning, I was reminded of my past and the countless times I shouted at God, cursing Him for not helping me, and wishing I had never been born.  On more than one occasion I shook my fist at heaven and said to God, “Either cure me or kill me!” The longer I toiled under mental illness and addiction, the more I was convinced my life was meaningless. Each time I would stop using drugs and alcohol and head back to treatment, I was highly motivated. I wanted to learn from my mistakes. During these moments, I felt blessed to be alive, and I was grateful that I could use my horrific past to help counsel others. Then it would start over again, worse than the last time.

Job had lost his way and was without any prospect of reprise or hope of better days. Certainly, we all contemplate our misery when in the thick of it, and for those whose trials appear to have no end there seems to be no reason to go on. According to the American Psychological Association, the suicide rate in America rose 33 percent from 1999 to 2017. Suicide ranks as the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 35 to 54, and the second for ages 10 through 34. It remains the 10th leading cause of death overall. (4) Pinpointing the reasons that suicide rates rise or fall is challenging in part because the causes of suicide are complex. During those when moments I considered suicide, I’d lost all hope that things in my life would ever change. I was tired of letting people down. I became convinced I was a hopeless, helpless hypocrite.

His Accuser

Satan retorted, “So do you think Job does all that out of the sheer goodness of his heart? Why, no one ever had it so good! You pamper him like a pet, make sure nothing bad ever happens to him or his family or his possessions, bless everything he does—he can’t lose! But what do you think would happen if you reached down and took away everything that is his? He’d curse you right to your face, that’s what” (Job 1:9-10, MSG).

Satan the Accusing Serpent

We learn a great deal about Satan from his conversation with God about Job (1:6-12). He is accountable to God. His power over Job was limited. All angelic beings, good and evil, are compelled to appear before God. An evangelist friend of mine puts it this way: Satan appears in the “Court of God” daily, accusing us of wrongdoing, asking God to judge and punish us accordingly. God knew Job would eventually persevere through faith. Satan, of course, is not able to see the future. Moreover, although he wages spiritual battle against us through our thoughts, he cannot read our minds or know what we will do. If he could, he would have known his temptation of Job was futile. What, then, was the reason for his attack on Job? First, it shows us Satan is alive and well on earth, roaming about seeking those whom he can destroy. Second, no matter the circumstances—or our initial doubt and frustration—we can overcome the wiles of the devil through the Word of God and prayer.

Why was Satan in God’s presence along with all the angels at the beginning of this story? As an angel, Satan is obligated to give an account for his actions in the world. He told God he had been going to and fro on the earth, walking up and down on it. Notice the implication: Satan strutting about, boasting of his power as ruler of the earth, tempting and dominating whomever he wants. He attacked Job’s motives, saying that Job was blameless and had integrity only because he had no reason to turn against God. Satan wished to prove that Job worshiped God because God had given him so much, not because he truly loved and revered God. Truly, many Christians are “fair weather” believers, following God only when everything is going well, or seeking whatever they can get. Such superficial faith often falls on its face when confronted with adversity—especially if the believer perceives his or her hardship as unfair or undeserved.

Satan essentially slanders Job before the Court of God. Of course, Christians should dread nothing more than living as hypocrites. This was my fault for many years. When my brother said, “I hate you, and you are nothing but a hypocrite,” I was devastated. Not angry; just sad that he was right. When in active addiction, I would do or say whatever it took to get me out of hot water. To convince others I was fine. I wanted to be left alone. This was not Job’s problem. He genuinely meant what he said. There is nothing worse than being called out as a hypocrite when it is not true!

The devil undertook to expose Job as a hypocrite by afflicting him; and Job’s friends concluded he was a hypocrite because he showed marked impatience during his afflictions. Job’s friend Eliphaz says, “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:7-8). In other words, Job, what did you do to bring this calamity down upon you and your family?

His God

As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause; who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: he gives rain upon the earth and sends waters upon the fields; he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety (Job 5:8-11).

Hands To Heaven

Regardless of Job’s self-righteous spirit, the LORD watched over him with the affection of a wise and loving father. God is fully aware of every attempt by Satan to bring suffering and difficulty upon us. God might allow us to suffer for a season, but there is always a reason. The apostle Paul wrote, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, NRSV). God suffered Job to be tried, as he suffered Peter to be sifted. Jesus and his twelve had gathered in the upper room for a Passover dinner. In Luke 22:21 Jesus said, “But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.” This prompted much murmuring: Who could it be? Not, I, I would never do such a thing! The twelve argued about who among them loved Jesus more.

Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (22:31-32) (italics mine). Let’s not miss the amazing prophetic lesson this represents. Only hours after being told that he would be a ruler in Christ’s kingdom, Peter is going to crash. From the heights of joyful anticipation and confidence to the pit of failure and bitter weeping in one night. We know Peter denied Christ three times just before dawn, before the rooster crowed twice, as Jesus had predicted. It is clear from the scene in The Passion of the Christ that Peter was mortified, if no outright frightened for his salvation.

Despite this egregious offense, Peter is the first to preach the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit under the New Covenant. He proclaims  a resurrected Jesus to the Jews, converting many to the gospel. He is later directed by God to bring the gospel to non-Jews as well. Despite Peter’s denial of Christ, Jesus made him the rock upon which He would build the Body of Christ. His ministry dovetailed nicely with Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. When Jesus said and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren, he was speaking of the good that would come from Peter’s repentance.

Ultimately, God is in control. Today’s New Atheists enjoy charging God with the heartless and purposeless infliction of violence and despair on undeserving people. It’s the typical argument, If God is a God of love, why does He permit evil in His creation? Regarding Job, it is extremely important to notice that not once did Job blame God or curse Him for the suffering being poured out on him and his family. I had to re-read the Book of Job to be certain of this, but it’s true. Job cursed his own life, even the day he was born. In fact he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (1:21). It seems Job was more willing to assume blame for what was happening to him than blame his beloved LORD.

Although Job essentially said If God is not responsible, who is? he expressed hatred for his life and not for God. He remarked, “[H]ow can a man be just before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times. He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength—who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?” (9:2b-4). He continued: “How then can I answer him, choosing my words with him? Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser” (9:14-15). Henry provides a wonderful analysis of this rant. He writes, “Job is still righteous in his own eyes, and this answer, though it sets forth the power of God, implies that the question between the afflicted and the Lord of providence is a question of might, and not of right.” Henry notes, “[W]e begin to discover the evil fruits of pride and of a self-righteous spirit.” (5) Job did not believe he was without sin; reflecting on God’s goodness and justice, he tried to determine what had brought God’s disfavor upon him. Rather than blame God for his troubles, he wracked his brain to determine why he’d been singled out.

Not once did Job say to God, Why are you doing this to me? Nor did he curse God or recant his faith. Instead, he admonished his so-called friends and decided to take his case directly to God. It is important to note that Job says, “I’ll take whatever I have coming to me” (13:13). He asks God to remove his afflictions (The terror is too much for me!), but he does not accuse God of improper treatment. Remaining humble, he asks, “How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin” (13:23). Maybe Job was beginning to see how his pride and complacency brought him to this moment in his life. Eliphaz had essentially accused him of lacking empathy. Perhaps additionally he recognized a sense of entitlement that he thought should prevent such attacks as he was presently facing.

Concluding Remarks

The story of Job is one of the finest examples we have of Romans 8:28. Persecution is the yardstick by which our sincerity as Christians is measured—it tends to separate the true believer from the hypocrite. Unsound hearts pretend in prosperity, but fall away during tribulation (Matthew 13:20-21). Because of their immaturity, imposters cannot sail in stormy weather.  God often uses adversity to publicly gauge the genuineness of a man’s faith. As I noted earlier, suffering times are often sifting times. Job said, “When I am tried I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). He had the type of faith that can’t be destroyed by fire. A Christian who is truly born of God, no matter what he loses, will hold fast his integrity (Job 2:3).

 Job was unsure about why he was being attacked, but he chose to keep seeking God. Aware that he had not intentionally or maliciously sinned, he ignored the chastisement of his friends. He had confidence in the goodness of both his cause and of his God; and cheerfully committed his cause to Him.  It is during times of trouble that fervent prayer is most important. God knows us better than we can ever know ourselves. This is why we can be sure that if we love God every detail in our lives is worked into something good. When we grow weary, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us through.

Job presents his “closing arguments” in 31:1-40. Ultimately, he clears himself of the charge of hypocrisy:

Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! let the Almighty answer me!) Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary! Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me as a crown; I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him. If my land has cried out against me, and its furrows have wept together; if I have eaten its yield without payment, and caused the death of its owners; let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley (31:35-40a).

It is only through humility and reverence that we can hope to learn from our errors, and turn trials and hardship into victory. Even though Satan must seek permission to challenge our faith, we are not expected to stand against his wiles alone. It is through the Name of Jesus that we can defeat the enemy, grown in stature, and glorify God through or every word and deed.

Footnotes

(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 415.

(2) Henry, 415.

(3) Henry, 418.

(4) Kirsten Weir, “Worrying Trends in U.S. Suicide Rates,” American Psychological Association, Vol. 50, No. 3 (March 2019), URL: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/03/trends-suicide

(5) Henry, 425.

Why Can’t I Follow My Heart?

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45, RSV).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

LATELY, I HAVE BEEN obsessed with whether I have a heart for God. It is a critical question for all of us. Unbelievably, there are many Christians in the church today who don’t question their heart. An assumption is made: “I go to church. I believe in God. I trust in Jesus Christ. I’m saved so I’m good.” There is a huge danger to having this illogical thought. Whenever we assume anything when it comes to our salvation or our theology, we risk loosing our way. It’s as if we’ve decided to “think” of ourselves as “Christian,” and then walked out the door to go about our lives.

This thought started pestering me in 2009 when my sponsor in a 12-step program told me, “You need to get God out of your head and into your heart.” I was puzzled. It made absolutely no sense. But I’m “saved,” I thought. How can God not be in my heart? When I became a young Christian at thirteen, I was told that Jesus had “come into my heart.” So if He did this, then He must still be there, right? I was later told by my then-current pastor in 2011, “I don’t think you have a heart for God.” Whoa, what? Rather than see a pattern, I became defensive. I was so mortified that I cannot remember the rest of the conversation. It’s as if I decided on the spot that my pastor was wrong. He wasn’t!

What it Means

What does it mean to have God in our hearts? It is important that we know and understand this if we hope to grow in Christ. First, to grow in Him involves allowing Him in us; but this means to allow Him to become greater while we become less. Yeah, I know; that sounds ridiculous, right? Why would we think less of ourselves? It is a matter of humility. Something I have never come to naturally. I am one of those who, for whatever the reason, has to build myself up. Make myself worth something. In doing so, I have led a life of duplicity. Lacking the power to overcome, and the “armor” with which to protect myself, I chose to lie about my feelings of inadequacy. I hid my failures. I permitted life-limiting habits to rule over me. The moment I did that, I chose to live the life of a hypocrite. 

If we’re going to live according to a Christian worldview, we must decide to surrender all of our heart and let God have access to every room in our “house.” This should be an exciting proposition because something greater is coming. It presents us with the opportunity to “clean” our house. Jesus warns us, however, that if we clean house (ask Jesus to come into our heart), but let the rooms remain empty, we are putting ourselves at great risk. Matthew wrote in his Gospel that Jesus said, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Matt. 12:28-29). Jesus then adds, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. So shall it be also with this evil generation” (Matt. 12:43-45).

Can you imagine someone choosing a life of failure on purpose? Does that make any sense at all? What could possibly be at the root of deciding, time after time, to fail? To make choices that risk your life, your health, or your career? That destroys marriages and breaks the hearts of everyone in your family? That costs you countless tens-of-thousands of dollars in lost income and other financial losses? That shuts you off from the very God you claim to love and worship? Why would a “Christian” who is born-again and has invited God into his heart willfully disobey the God he loves? Why choose to be cut off from the Sunlight of the Spirit, going it alone? Why would a theist, especially a Bible-believing Christian, risk (or maybe unconsciously choose) to spend eternity in Hell? The answer to these questions is both complex and simple. Complex because we make it so; simple because the Word of God is clear about why. These were difficult questions to ask myself, but I could no longer put off asking them.

Where Your Treasure Is

I am sure most Christians have heard Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” One reason I rejected the comments of my sponsor and my pastor is because I did not think about this verse for one second. I responded intellectually and pridefully, taking “offense” rather than advice. A huge part of my reaction had to do with a complete lack of humility. I was clueless how prideful I was being. Humility, after all, does not mean thinking less of ourselves; it means thinking of ourselves less often. Throw in a pinch of IQ and an ounce of denial, stir in two-parts manipulation and one-part of shifting blame, and you’ve got a recipe for the most sour peach pie you’ve ever tasted. Metaphor aside, it’s a plan for ultimate failure and self-destruction. My self-destruction came in the form of addiction.

One of my most favorite biblical study tools is Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Regarding the section of Matthew 6:19-24, He says, “Worldy-mindedness is a common and fatal symptom of hypocrisy, for by no sin can Satan have a surer and faster hold of the soul, under the cloak of a profession of religion.” [1] If we confess Christ with our mouths, yet take no action to assure we are walking as He has called us to walk, we become the very hypocrites He warned about. Our soul chooses what it will look upon as the “best thing,” and then go after that thing with our whole heart! This “object” of our heart will most likely have intense pleasure, and, perhaps, offer us some reward we find most appealing above all else. It becomes the very thing we’re living for. Perhaps more accurately, it is something we’ve become dependent upon to live. This is what Christ refers to as a “master.” Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). Trust me, when it comes to serving a master that delivers great fleshly rewards, we will not even realize we are enslaved!

Matthew 6:20-21 discusses the “treasures in heaven,” indicating they are forever exempt from decay and theft. Luke tells us, “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Luke 12:23). This is what Matthew is discussing in chapter six. Whatever is of good and eternal significance comes out of what we do here on earth. Doing righteous deeds, suffering for Christ’s sake (which includes denying ourselves and taking up the cross), dealing truthfully and faithfully with one another, forgiving one another, being kind, willing to share—all of these things have the promise of reward. These become the treasures stored in heaven. Conversely, consistent unrighteous, disobedient behavior stores up much judgment and wrath. For the unbeliever, it ultimately leads to damnation. For the believer, Paul says, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor. 6:9-10).

When we fail to see the basic biblical truth of Matthew 6:22-23, as I did for decades, we see life with “bad eyes,” walking in darkness. These verses tell us such darkness is all the more disastrous and defeating because we fail to recognize it for what it is. This has metaphorical implications; the “eye” can be considered equal to the “heart.” Psalm 119:10-11 says, “With my whole heart I seek thee; let me not wander from thy commandments! I have laid up thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Here we see the tremendous benefits of Scripture. Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. When we hide Him in our heart, we hide that which He embodies, including the commandments of God the Father. Doing this allows us to watch our feet; the path we’re on. Christ becomes the Light by which we walk.

The psalmist says in Psalm 119:9-16 that we are to pray and meditate on God’s Word. When we do this, we are able to participate in the judgment and discernment of God. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Matthew 6:24 is saying the results of our choices are being stored in Heaven for the day we stand before Christ. We have to ask ourselves if we are storing up treasures in Heaven. That depends on our actions, which are directly influenced by where we decide to set our eyes. How we see the world, ourselves and others, and what we choose to do. It’s really that simple.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). When church leaders challenged Jesus, asking “Are we also blind?” He said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (9:41). In other words, knowing the truth, they chose to ignore it and decide for themselves what was true. This is what Jesus referred to when He said we cannot serve God and mammon (John 6:24). This is a rather strange phrase. In the Greek, mamona, which is a literal translation of the same word in Aramaic, can refer to virtually anything of value: “wealth,” “property.” The root in both Aramaic and Hebrew (mn) means that in which one has placed their confidence or reliance. Both of these are compared—God and “other than God”—not as employers but slave owners. In other words, either God is served or “other than God” is served.

A Hard Lesson to Learn

We now see clearly the vital importance of Matthew 12:22-30. When we’re under Satan’s power and led captive by sin, we are blind to the things of God. Divided loyalty does not merely lead to a partial commitment to discipleship; it is an indication of deeply-rooted commitment to idolatry. Admittedly, this has been a very hard lesson for me. It made no sense during my active addiction that I was actually choosing to serve “other than God.” In this instance, my “god” or “idol” was alcohol, oxycodone, cannabis, cocaine, benzodiazepines. Because we “see” out of the abundance of the heart, my life of active addiction amounted to a continual walk in darkness, even while attending church, reading Scripture, teaching Bible study at two county prisons, sharing at 12-step meetings—sadly, even during much of the early years of this blog. Pride and fear has kept me from admitting this those of you who follow my blog, or anyone else. Walking in darkness also caused me to mistake the path I was on. This is precisely why my sponsor and my former pastor were absolutely correct. I did not have God in my heart. More tragically, my siblings were correct when they said I was being a hypocrite. I could be nothing less at that time, for I was putting on the appearance of being a Christian while walking in denial and disobedience.

What I was failing to see is that when we meet Christ, at a time predestined by God Himself, we will be held accountable to Him (from the day of our salvation) for every word and deed. Take a second and read that last sentence again. Yeah, I know! So let’s get this straight. Becoming “born-again” is not a get-out-of-judgment-free card. I have grown in Christ considerably over the past five or six months. Still, it was not until God put this lesson on my heart this morning that I was able to get to this moment, right now, when I saw a glimpse of what it’s going to feel like staring at His scars, remembering what the last twelve hours of His life were like, having to give an answer for every sad, dirty, low-down, manipulative, deceitful act I’ve done from the moment of my salvation, when I was given the power to dwell in the Holy Spirit and grow in the righteousness of Christ, until the day I draw my last breath. And there is nothing I can do to escape it.

So Now What?

First, anyone in this position must realize that when we finally decide to stop, drop, and roll, putting out the fire that is consuming us, we need to repent and turn over to Christ everything we’ve done. But that’s not the end of it. I have come to see the importance of “letting it go” (allowing the past be the past) and forgiving myself as I have been forgiven. If we fail to do this critical step, we will never be able to consistently see ourselves as a new creation. We will not be capable of seeing ourselves as God the Father sees us: clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Of course, the true “180” must come first or any degree to which we “shine” in Jesus will be dulled by sin and guilt. It is impossible to change if we live in shame. We’ll talk to ourselves with condemnation, forgetting there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1).

After settling the matter in our hearts that we are regenerated in Christ, we must then pray and meditate on God’s Word, learning everything we can about who we’ve become. It is crucial to remember a fairly universal warning: Satan will not let go willingly. The finest example we have regarding resisting temptation is presented to us in Matthew 4:1-11. Satan appeared to Christ in the dessert and essentially attacked His “Sonship.” This is quite accurate to what Satan tries to throw in our faces, but he is far more subtle and crafty with us. He challenged Jesus by saying, If you truly are the Son of God then change stone to bread; throw yourself down from the top of the temple and let the angels save you; renounce God and the universe is yours. Does this not sound a lot like what happens in our lives once we accept Christ and confess we are the sons and daughters of God?

There is only one way to defeat these challenges, which is exactly what Christ did. He knew the Scriptures because He had them hidden in His heart. Yes, He was part man and part God, likely giving Him a greater moral infrastructure than we have; however, He defeated temptation by saying what the Scriptures say. Then, standing firmly on the Word of God, He told Satan who He truly was and shouted, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written, serve the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (Matthew 4:10). Decide for yourself who you believe you are, seek proof in the Scriptures, turn from your old path, and walk toward the Light of the World. The only way to change our sinful behavior is to see the path we’re on with open eyes and decide to go in an entirely new direction.

***

 I want to start encouraging more feedback so we can open a dialog. Presently, in order to leave a comment you need to scroll back to the header and click on LEAVE A COMMENT, but I’m in the process of figuring out how to move the COMMENT bar to the end of each post. Thanks for reading. God bless.

Footnotes

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 868.

 

Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Works of Christ

The following is a summary of my most recent lesson in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University concerning the “Work” of Jesus.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

Grudem joins most Evangelicals in affirming that the penal substitutionary theory is the primary theory and most important way to understand Jesus’ atoning work. But after sampling other biblical images and biblically based theories, pick one image or theory other than penal substitutionary and “defend” it as your new favorite: What is the full scope communicated via this image or theory? Why is it especially meaningful to you?

The lesson this week gives us much to consider regarding the “work” of Jesus Christ, i.e., His sacrifice on the cross. I’m sure most of us realize the importance of “threes” in the work of Christ. First, it is a three-day event. Jesus was taken into custody sometime around midnight (Thursday into Friday) and brought before the Sanhedrin and Roman officials for a series of “trials.” He was crucified on Friday and, after defeating death, He rose from the dead on the third day. Looking at the “work” of Christ in greater detail, “three” shows up several more times. There are three “stages” to the event itself: (1) death; (2) burial; (3) resurrection. Further, each of these stages addresses separate issues regarding atonement. In the first stage, Jesus shed His innocent blood, which correlates with the axiom “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” In the second stage, Jesus suffered actual (physical) death. This stage satisfied our moral debt. The third stage allowed our “sentence” to be served by proxy.

K.M. Kapic provides a wonderful explanation of the work of Christ on the cross. “Taken together, the images on this colorful canvas can help us see the full portrait of atonement: in Christ, God saves us as our mediator, sacrifice, redeemer, justifier, substitute, king, victor, and healer.” [1] Arguably, a key component of the work of Jesus on the cross is His taking our punishment (penal substitutionary). For this week’s discussion, I wish to focus on 1 Peter 2:24. Jesus bore our sins. However, I believe it is only because of His death and resurrection that we have been given the means through which we can “die” to sin—resist its dominion over our lives, especially the “practice” of habitual sin—and live unto righteousness in Christ. Kapic does not believe Christ paid a “ransom” to Satan. I concur. Mankind was enslaved to “sin,” not to the devil. Release from the domination of sin carried a price tag: the death of Jesus Christ.

We see in Christ’s earthly ministry many examples of His beginning to “reverse sin’s curse,” especially regarding how to stand up to temptation, the critical importance of love, submitting to the will of the Father, self-sacrifice (even unto death), and restoration. These activities point to what righteousness should look like. Human sin is in stark contrast to righteousness. Not only does sin seek its own appeasement, it causes a “failure to ‘render unto God his due honor.’” [2] God cannot overlook man’s abject disloyalty. However, I digress. Let’s stay on the matter of Jesus providing the means by which we can resist sin and seek righteousness.

Grudem defines atonement as “The work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation.” [3] Although this is slightly vague on its surface, I agree. But I must add that the term “salvation” is very comprehensive and includes deliverance from sin’s power and effects. The Hebrew language indicates some synonymous terms for salvation: freedom from constraint; deliverance from bondage or slavery; preservation from danger. From a New Testament point of view, Christ’s atonement provided release from habit and vice, a growing emancipation from all evil, increasing spiritual perfection (maturity), liberty, and peace. R.E.O. White says Jesus did not die to “win back God’s favor” for us. We had it all along. Rather, the work of the cross enabled us to move from a life of rebellion to a childlike willingness to trust and obey. [4]

I see a vital application of this aspect of the work of Christ to my life. I was subjected to severe “corporal” punishment growing up, which only served to make me fearful and angry. I was not empowered to handle anger, express love, or socialize with others, which led to rebelliousness, sin, addiction, self-centeredness, and a lack of social consciousness. While in active addiction, I fed my sin nature and ignored God’s initial call on my life. My coping mechanisms included those typically associated with addiction: denial, rationalization, blame, escape through physical pleasure. I lacked respect for authority.

Although I tried to stop drinking and getting high numerous times, this was not possible until I began to see how far out of balance my overt behavior was to the Christian worldview I claimed (pretended?) to have. I had to stop seeing myself as the “failure” my father constantly alluded to and, instead, see who I am in Christ because of His work on the cross. This allowed me to love myself and my neighbor. Eventually, I was also able to forgive and begin to love my enemies; what I call my “worst critics.” Not surprisingly, the result was an increasing alignment of my will with God’s will, which led to recovery from addiction. No human power (including mine) could ever break me free from the bondage of sin and addiction. I am convinced that without the all-encompassing benefits of “salvation” we cannot stand up to sin and put on the righteousness of Christ. The work of Christ on the cross allowed me to be forgiven and escape just punishment for my sins; however, it also provided my emancipation from the bondage of sin.


Footnotes

[1] K.M. Kapic, “Atonement,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 97.

[2] Ibid, 97.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 568.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 769.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Person of Christ

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University regarding the Divine/Human Aspect of Jesus Christ.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I found information under the heading Biblical Perspective—Jesus Christ: Both God and Man to be a great springboard for this discussion. Indeed, one of the great mysteries in Christianity involves discerning how the two natures of Jesus (divine and human) relate to each. In fact, Paul tells us in Philippians 2:6-7, “[W]ho, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (RSV). Reading further, we also see that Jesus (while in human form) humbled Himself and became obedient to the will of the Father even unto death on the cross. To me, it seems counter to Christian doctrine to argue, as Arianism does, that Jesus was begotten by God the Father at a point in time as a being distinct from the Father and, consequently, subservient to the Father. Further, Arianism states that Jesus was the first creation of God. Interestingly, the heresy of Jehovah’s Witnesses would support this belief. In fact, it is for this very reason Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate the birth of Christ. JWs are essentially rationalists who reject the Doctrine of the Trinity and, accordingly, much of the teachings and miracles of Jesus Christ.

Arianism bases its belief, at least to some degree, on Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” Accordingly, I will begin with this biblical verse. Quoting from a transliteration of the Greek, Colossians 1:15-16 says, “In whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of (our) sins; who is an image of the God—invisible, firstborn of all creation, because in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things through him and for him have been created; and he is before all things and all things in him consisted.” [1] My interpretation of this passage is that Jesus is considered the “firstborn” because of His divine actions regarding creation itself. It refers to Jesus as the cause of creation. It does not refer to the creation of Jesus. Matthew Henry provides a helpful interpretation. Regarding Jesus, Henry states, “He was born or begotten before all the creation, before any creature was made; which is the Scripture way of representing eternity, and by the eternity of God is represented to us” [emphasis mine]. [2] Henry continues by explaining that all fulness dwells in Jesus; a fulness of merit and righteousness, of strength and grace for us. This seems to fly in the face of Arianism’s claim that God created the Son at some point in time.

To help support my opposition to Arianism, please consider the commentary of Finis J. Dake. The Greek word prototokos, translated “firstborn” and “first begotten” is used of Jesus to mean the firstborn child of Mary (Mt. 1:25). [3] To me, this refers to the firstborn in God’s family as it relates to God born into humanity and not to deity. Acts 13:23 says, “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised” (NIV). Acts 13:33 says, “He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.” It would appear this refers to God sending Jesus to earth (as God incarnate) which set in motion the plan through which all of mankind can become adopted sons and daughters. The Nicene Creed would seem to muddy the waters regarding this critical doctrinal question with the wording: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; begotten from the Father; only-begotten—that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God.” However, the Creed specifically states, “Begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father.” [4] In fact, homoousion to patri refers to the Father and the Son being “of similar substance” or “of like being,” and does not indicate that God the Father created God the Son.

D. J. Treier, in his treatise “Jesus Christ,” notes the biblical history of Jesus’s earthly ministry and inauguration of a “new humanity.” This is the very essence of the “good news.” Concerning whether Jesus was “begotten” of the Father, it is important to note that Jesus has always been, and He was with God and “was God” at the creation. Perhaps it is best to consider the remark “today I have begotten thee” to be the beginning of the Christology of Christ; the start of His earthly mission. Treier notes, “The Bible’s Christological foundation begins with the ‘incarnational narrative.’” [5]

We must also remember that Jesus said He existed before Abraham (John 8:58). Also, He claimed that He and His Father are one (John 10:30), that He is equal with the Father (John 5:17-18), and that He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit were present (together as separate beings) at the moment of creation (Genesis 1; John 1:1-3). And we must not forget that Jesus (the man) was born in the flesh through Mary as conceived by the Father. This is the only manner in which we can rightly state that Jesus was born of the Father; however, it is the incarnate (physical) birth of Jesus we’re speaking of in this instance and not His creation as God the Son. Moreover, God has always existed as a three-in-one being, consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Consider the word “trinity” (tri-unity or three-in-oneness): meaning three and unity. I heard it expressed this way a few years ago: not one-plus-one-plus-one equals three, but one-times-one-times-one equals one.

Footnotes

1. Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 791

2. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1164.

3. Finis J. Dake, The Dake Annotated Reference Bible (Lawrenceville: Dake Publishing, 2008), 389.

4. Alister McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, 5th ed. (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 11.

5. D.J. Treier, “Jesus Christ,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 442.

 


Footnotes

[1] K.M. Kapic, “Atonement,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 97.

[2] Ibid, 97.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 568.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 769.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Calvin vs. Arminius

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University. 

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy.

For the purposes of this exercise, and not necessarily as a reflection of what you really believe, assume the stance of either an Arminian or a Calvinist. From the point of view of your chosen perspective, present and develop two ideas: (1) the one which is most convincing to you about the Calvinist or Arminian perspective and (2) the one with which you struggle the most regarding that perspective.

Concerning the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, we must remember these schools of thought address two distinct issues: (1) free will and ability to choose one’s actions; and (2) election, or God’s choice, as to whom He saves. Calvinism and Arminianism both support the idea of the total depravity of man, to include an inability to choose how to behave. We cannot be saved by the Law. Rather, the Law merely informs us of our inability to “behave” ourselves into righteousness. Arminianism supports universal redemption (general atonement) and conditional election, whereas Calvinism believes in limited (definite) atonement and unconditional election. Calvin is best noted, of course, for adherence to “predestination.” After the Fall, man stood condemned before God. God chose and called “some” who would be saved.

Arminians believe God’s election depends on man’s free will because it is based on His foreknowledge. God does, in fact, see all time at the same time as noted by Grudem. [1] The apostle Peter said we are “chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:2, RSV). Paul wrote, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Arminians are clear that individuals must accept God’s calling to be saved. It is not a matter of being predestined or chosen “ahead of time.” It is interesting to note, however, that this doctrine (universal salvation) is not necessarily supported by Scripture. Since Jesus died for all, Arminians argue that all will be saved. First Corinthians 6:9-11 says the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God; further, only those who are washed (sanctified, justified) by the blood of Jesus will be saved.

Taking the position of Calvinism, I would have to believe the “call” of God on our lives is resistible—we can reject Jesus or accept Him. However, once we accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord, the internal leading of the Holy Spirit is all-powerful, achieving God’s purpose in our lives and giving us a measure of grace to be able to choose. We can stand on the belief that God works out everything for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). We’re made “spiritually alive” with a new ability to see God’s plan for our redemption and the place of Jesus in that plan. This call is so wonderful and appealing that it becomes impossible to say no to God. This is not a violation of our free will because we didn’t really have it in the first place; our will was corrupted by original sin. Martin Luther believed even the most excellent of men—endowed with the Law, righteousness, wisdom, and all virtues—is nonetheless ungodly and unrighteous. Due to the innate nature of sin, man cannot consistently choose to act righteously, if at all. [2]

Paul gave the example that many Jews were without faith who were most wise, most religious, and most upright. He said they had a “zeal” for God yet were transgressors of the Law. He wrote in Romans 3:9-10 that the Jew was no better than the Gentile; both are under the power of sin. No one is righteous on their own. This fits well with Paul’s remark that we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities; rulers of the darkness of this world (Eph. 6:12). Because we all are Adam, we need salvation. Adam’s offense comes to us not by imitation, nor necessarily by anything we do (although we do sin, sometimes habitually); rather, we receive our sin nature by birth. Luther believed original sin “does not allow ‘free-will’ any power at all except to sin and incur condemnation.” [3] Therefore, he rejected the notion of free will. He believed this conclusion is well supported by Scripture, especially in the writings of John and Paul.

Grudem quotes Peter, who called Jesus, “a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Pet. 2:8, emphasis added). Peter says in verse 10, “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” Grudem says in a footnote related to verse 8, “The ‘destining’ in this verse is best taken to refer to both the stumbling and the disobedience. It is incorrect to say that God only destined the fact that those who disobey would stumble.” [4] Grudem notes that Calvin gives some room for man’s “free” acts and choices. Calvin admitted, however, that this statement is a bit confusing, causing him to avoid using it. Instead, man has “this sort of free decision, not because he has free choice equally of good and evil, but because he acts wickedly by will, not by compulsion.” [5]

For me, this idea of “will” can mean only one thing: man acts wickedly by deciding to reject the Light of Christ and remain in darkness. He is compelled by his sin nature to act the only way he can—in an ungodly and unrighteous manner. Admittedly, some men choose to act justly or “God-like” at times, but no man is capable of decidedly obeying the Law and acting righteously in a consistent manner. He is not compelled or tempted to do so by God. James said, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:13-14, NIV, emphasis added).

Grudem notes that God has made us responsible for our actions, reminding us that our actions have real and eternal consequences. He notes that Adam blamed Eve for his own disobedience, saying, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). Scripture, as Grudem notes, never blames God for sin. Regardless, He accomplishes all things (no matter their impetus) according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). In the case of Job, God pulled back and allowed Satan to attack Job in any manner He chose (including wiping out his livestock, killing his wife and children), but He would not allow the devil to kill Job. This type of issue gives me pause. It is easy, at least in my human intellectual capacity, to think God willed (therefore, caused) evil on Job’s animals and his family. Innocent people died for God’s point to be made. However, when I consider the horror and evil inflicted upon Jesus during the last twelve hours of His life (what we consider the “passion”), and when I play it out to the end, seeing that mankind could only be redeemed through the shedding of the blood of Jesus, I have an easier time understanding what is meant by God using whatever happens to accomplish His will.

Grudem says, “In response to the claim that choices ordained by God cannot be real choices, it must be said that this is simply an assumption based once again on human experience and intuition, not on specific texts of Scripture.” [6] Note that Grudem uses the term “ordained by God,” and does not say God performed the evil act itself. This speaks of the means through which He achieves His intended result. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We’re made in such a way, however, that God ordains all we do. The Calvinist would endorse the theory that God does not sin but brings about His will through secondary causes, including the immorality of others. We should accept that whatever God ordains is within His purview and His authority.

Calvin distinguishes between “necessity” and “compulsion.” He notes that unbelievers necessarily sin. Scripture supports this, as does Martin Luther. There is, however, no “Godly compulsion” to sin. There is simply God’s ability to use whatever happens to further His will and promote His glory. What I find most difficult to grasp regarding Calvinism is the idea that God “predetermined” who will be saved and who will not. Perhaps this is a gross misinterpretation of “predeterminism.” The concept that, before the foundation of the world, God predestined a plan of redemption is about the plan and not a prior decision who He will accept and who He will reject. In addition, because God sees the past, the present, and the future all at once, He already knows who will be saved. The responsibility still remains with each individual to either accept or reject the sacrificial death of Jesus as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

Bibliography

Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 1994.

Luther, Martin, The Bondage of the Will, trans. By James I. Packer(Old Tappan, NJ:       Fleming H. Revell Co.), 1957.

 


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), p. 168.

[2] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will. (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), p. 275.

[3] Ibid, p. 298.

[4] Grudem, p. 327.

[5] P. 330.

[6] P. 343.

For This Very Reason

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

THE APOSTLE PETER CONFIRMS our calling and election as members of the Body of Christ. He tells us that faith unites the weaker believer to Christ in the same manner that it does the stronger and mature believer. Every sincere believer is by his or her faith justified in the sight of God. This is the only means by which each of us are justified. There are no “favorites.” Upon belief in the life, sacrificial death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, we all become clothed in the righteousness of Christ. As we grow in Him, our faith must work toward godliness—if you prefer, toward becoming more like Christ.

satan-in-silhouette-e1569902468622.jpg

Satan tries daily to pull us away from Christ, dragging us back to a life of sinfulness and self-centeredness. He attachs detritus and filthiness to our spirits in an attempt to blot out the righteousness of Christ with which we have been clothed. This is theologically impossible, of course, but we must remember to choose right thinking and proper acting every day—walking in a manner that truly demonstrates our repentance and exemplifies the new creation we have become in Christ. If we’ve truly done a 180, as they say, we will be less likely to habitually practice sin and unrighteousness. We cannot willfully choose disobedience. At the very least, when we are pulled back toward our old sinful ways, we must go kicking and screaming, fighting the tide of regression. Truly, we should resist the devil at every turn. When we do, he will flee.

James 4:7-10 says, “So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet” [MSG]. I am amazed by the number of Christians who don’t seem to grasp the power we have in Christ to stand against the wiles of Satan. Our authority over the devil is established by the work done by Christ on the cross.

Ephesians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (RSV). The same power that created the universe resides within us. Accordingly, Satan has no true power over us. He cannot force us to sin, nor can he possess us. This is not to say that he cannot oppress us, deceive us, or draw us away from the presence of God. That would be remarkable, but it would fly in the face of God’s primary gift to us other than our very salvation—He has given us free will.

The Building Blocks

As my friend Wally Fry wrote in his blog Truth in Palmyra,

We add these things Peter lists to our faith. Faith is always the starting point; however, it is not the endpoint. Faith never marks the end of our Christian lives, but only the beginning. Another thing to note is that this list Peter provides is not some sequential check-off list of Christian to-dos; it is to illustrate the totality with which we are to apply ourselves to progress in maturity.

Thank you Wally for providing this very profound truth we must all grasp as believers in Jesus Christ. Peter tells us that Jesus has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. He says, “For this very reason add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. There is a necessary progression here. Each attribute on Peter’s list is fully dependent on the prerequisite quality that precedes the new one. Peter adds, “The more you grow like this, the more you will become productive and useful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8, NLT).

In his commentary on 2 Peter 1:5-8, Matthew Henry (1997) writes,

Faith work[s] godliness, and produces effects which no other grace in the soul can do. In Christ all fullness dwells, and pardon, peace, grace, and knowledge, and new principles, are thus given through the Holy Spirit. The promises to those who are partakers of the Divine nature, will cause us to inquire whether we are really renewed in the spirit or our minds; let us turn all these promises into prayers for the transforming and purifying grace of the Holy Spirit (p. 1240).

The New Living Translation expresses 2 Peter 1:5-8 thusly: “In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Please note, the more we grow in this fashion, the more likely we will have genuine unconditional love for everyone. Faith has to be more than mere belief—head knowledge, a mere collection of intellectual concepts or, if you prefer, mere “information.”

Belief, Faith, Behavior

Christian theology consists of three pertinent parts: belief (the cognitive decision-making that underlies our granting intellectual acceptance to its doctrines); faith (the inner state whereby we accept with complete trust and confidence—in our hearts rather than in our heads—the symbolic efficacy of those doctrines, grounded in spiritual apprehension rather than empirical evidence); and outward living or behavior (or, if you prefer, works). Religion provides us with a set of mental, symbolic, practical, and behavioral tools with which to approach the task of interpreting and living in our world according to our individual worldview. Christianity grounds this concept in the deity of Jesus Christ.

Faith Black and White Image

Our faith must be more than mere belief in a set of principles or doctrines. That’s just the jumping-off point. It must ultimately result in action; growth in Christ-likeness (character); and the practice of moral discipline—again, belief, faith, works. James 2:14-17 says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (NIV). This supports the comment that we are saved for our good works. Indeed, the world should be able to recognize Christ in us. Jesus told the disciples “by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20, NIV) [italics mine].

Accordingly, a true life of faith leads to knowing God better, an increase in self-control, patient endurance in all things, godliness, and an abiding love of others under all circumstances. First Corinthians 13, often referred to as “the love chapter,” defines God’s unconditional love (from the Greek word agape), which we must all strive to attain:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (v. 4-8a, NIV).

We simply cannot express this depth of love without first seeking from God the power it requires to do so.

When Peter wrote for this reason, he was saying “along with this,” or “by the side of your obtaining precious faith.” His remark regarding what is added to our faith amounts to a kind of spiritual arithmetic. According to the Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible, there are seven steps in spiritual mathematics. You should note from this list that we cannot have a virtue without first being well-grounded in its prerequisite:

  1. Add to your faith virtue
  2. Add to virtue knowledge
  3. Add to knowledge temperance [self-control]
  4. Add to temperance patience
  5. Add to patience godliness
  6. Add to godliness brotherly kindness
  7. Add to brotherly kindness love.

Eugene Peterson, in The Message, translates 2 Peter 1:5-8 this way, “So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books” [emphasis added]. Let me repeat that last sentiment: that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books!

A closer examination of the blessings Peter speaks of in 2 Peter 1:1-4 indicate the following:

  • precious faith (Greek, isotimos), meaning equal honor purchased at a great price
  • righteousness
  • grace
  • peace
  • all things that pertain to life and godliness
  • glory
  • virtue
  • divine nature
  • escape from corruption and lust

Saved For Good Works

Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that we are saved unto good works. Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing” [emphasis added]. The Greek word for “ordained” Paul uses in verse ten is proetoimazo, which refers to preparing us for good works through regeneration. Remember, we do not possess the capacity under our own power to love unconditionally as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. Our only hope is that through regeneration and progressive spiritual maturity we can build upon our virtue one step at a time, thereby increasing our ability—indeed, our likelihood—to begin imitating the agape love of Jesus.

It is Paul’s contention that we become Christians through God’s unmerited favor, not as the result of any effort, ability, intelligent choice, or act of service on our part. We will never be able to do enough good to overcome the pervasive sin nature that dwells in our flesh. We cannot do enough penance to secure the remission of our sins. Accordingly, out of gratitude for this free gift of redemption, we must reach out to serve others with kindness, love, and gentleness—not merely to make ourselves look good. God intends for our salvation to lead to spiritual maturity, which should include acts of service. After all, we are God’s masterpiece. Our salvation is something only God can accomplish, and even then it required the death of His Son Jesus Christ. All of us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done, are God’s masterpiece. Whenever we reach out and feed the hungry, clothe those who don’t have adequate clothing, heal the sick, or visit those who are in prison, it is as if we do these things unto Jesus (see Matthew 25:35-40).

For this very reason, we are called onto good works through progressive growth in Christian virtue and love.

References

Dake, Finis. Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Publishing, Inc., 2008.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997.

In Whom Are Hidden All the Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge

“My goal is that [you] may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that [you] may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that [you] may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3, NIV).

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

Paul’s opening statement in Colossians is what I like to refer to as very meaty. It is rich beyond what we can comprehend, containing much promise for the Colossians. It applies to us today as much as it did to those living in Colossae. Paul wanted the Colossians to grasp what was available to them as new Christians. They were to be encouraged in heart and united in love, enjoying the full riches of complete understanding. He noted that through Jesus they had access to the mystery of God. Not that they would know the mind of God, or be like God; rather, that they would begin to comprehend all the hidden treasures of knowledge and wisdom that was revealed through Christ Jesus.

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Revealed through Him? Yes. He walked in complete harmony with the Father, determined to do the Father’s will no matter what it cost. He was the embodiment of love, yielded to the will of the Father—even unto death—and exemplified compassion for the lost and the downtrodden. If Christ were to walk the Earth in the twenty-first century, I have no doubt He would teach, admonish, heal, and serve everyone no matter their personality, sexual orientation, political affiliation, denomination, afflictions, habits, or hangups. Jesus Christ came that all might know the Father through Him. He only displayed anger and disappointment when confronting the self-righteous. The Pharisees. The Hypocrites.

That’s a strange phrase: the self-righteous. In the secular world, it means “having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior” That is a rather convicting statement even without a spiritual component. I’ve known some self-righteous people in my life. Some who know me might think the term applies to me. I’ll admit I have a difficult time being humble, but I’ve never felt morally superior. On the contrary, I have often felt inferior, shameful, unable to be redeemed. I have often struggled with being trustworthy, honest, or transparent. The root-cause of these rather ugly traits are deep for me. It’s something I’ve worked hard to overcome. It has not been easy forgiving myself and shaking the sense of shame and guilt.

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It is not surprising that we cannot achieve “righteousness” on our own. Isaiah 64:6 says, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (NKJV). Eugene Peterson translates this verse as follows: “We’re all sin-infected, sin-contaminated. Our best efforts are grease-stained rags. We dry up like autumn leaves—sin-dried, we’re blown off by the wind” (MSG). That’s quite an indictment. Who can stand before God clothed in such a manner and hope to survive His judgment? No one. We can’t save ourselves, earn God’s grace, pay the ransom for sin, or escape through our own power the punishment we justly deserve.

Today’s New Atheists want us to believe God is a heavenly despot who unjustly inflicts pain and takes away life. I’ve heard it said that there is no “free will” in Christianity. These militant atheists say that because God threatens us with hellfire and brimstone (and the gnashing of teeth) if we don’t accept the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it’s as if God is holding a gun to our head, saying, “Believe in my Son or I will kill you.” These so-called scholars want to convince us that God kills with impunity. That He has no right to create a sentient being and then kill him for not believing in Him. My initial response is quite adamant: Yes He does. But beyond that, God never intended for mankind to suffer, or for His creation to be wrought with pestilence, disease, famine, disasters, wars, and death. Nothing is as God intended it to be.

I don’t believe God kills or hands out cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, COPD, diabetes, or whatever infirmity you may list. He does not condone pedophilia, rape, murder, theft, deception, or environmental crimes. When our first parents, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey God’s one command (that’s all they had to do was not eat of the forbidden fruit), man (and thus mankind) fell from grace. Because of original sin, the Garden of Eden and access to the Tree of Life was closed off to all. Any attempt to behave or earn our way back into God’s grace (back into the Garden) is doomed to fail. Our own righteousness is like filthy rags. The righteousness of Christ, however, is white as the driven snow; as pure as the wool of a young lamb. It is sad, however, that many fail to see themselves as God sees them, including me.

IN WHOM ARE HIDDEN

According to the Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible, the phrase “in whom are hidden” in Colossians 2:3 does not necessarily mean in whom, but rather in which, referring to the mysteries of verse two. In these mysteries of the Gospel are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In Romans 11:33-36, Paul wrote, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (NIV). These mysteries have been revealed by God in Christ.

Jesus knows all. He created all. He died to save all. He sustains all. When we see Him, we see the Father (John 14:9). Jesus was one with the Father and the Holy Spirit even at the moment of Creation. In fact, John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:1-3, NIV). John said that in Christ was life, and that life was the light of all mankind (v. 4). Genesis 1:26 reads as follows: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'” (NKJV).

There are three possible explanations for God’s use of the plural “Us” in this instance. First, some believe God may be referring to Himself and the angels. I don’t agree with this conclusion given the rest of Scripture’s depiction of angels as representative servants or messengers of God who are not endowed with the power to create. Indeed, Lucifer’s fall from grace was a direct result of his wanting to be equal with God. Second, this could be what scholars call a plural of self-exhortation or self-encouragement, meaning God is referring only to Himself. This would also be referred to as “the royal ‘we,'” something we see used by human kings and rulers when making proclamations or decrees. I believe the third possibility is the truth: That God is speaking as a Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. According to Scripture, the Trinity was present as a whole at Creation. Genesis 1:2 describes the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, and John 1:1–3 reveals that the Word, Christ, was active in the creation of all things.

THAT WE MAY KNOW

Jesus simply knows all things. John 16:30 says, “Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God” (NASB). The extent of Jesus’s knowledge was compelling proof of His divine origin. At the end of His time on earth Jesus pressed Peter: “The third time He said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep'” (John 21:17, NIV). Peter concluded from Jesus’s words that Jesus had knowledge of his heart. “You know all things” is a general and unqualified statement that John’s gospel presses on our minds.

The greatest thing that can be said of Jesus’s knowledge is that He knows God perfectly. We can only know God partially and imperfectly. Jesus knows Him like no one else can. He said, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27, NIV). Accordingly, our knowledge of the Father depends wholly on Jesus’s gracious revelation. But our knowledge of God is derivative, partial and imperfect. First Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (NIV).

Mankind has been endowed with a certain kind of awareness—one which animals were not given. We possess the capacity for reason, morality, language, personality, and purpose. We can ponder the wonder and meaning of life. Morality and spirituality are unique to man. Like God, we possess the capacity to experience and understand love, truth, and beauty. In this manner, we are God’s chosen image-bearers. So when we accept Christ, we become one with Him in death and in new life. This must occur in order for us to see that which is hidden in Christ.

The desire to know the hidden treasures of God is truly a gift. Not everyone believes in any theistic being at all. Many do believe but don’t buy into the Christian faith or believe in the divinity of Christ. For those who do believe in Jesus, it is not a matter of believing in something or someone that is known through external observance. Instead, it is a matter of finding and knowing the truth by way of deep and serious meditation. It is a matter of faith. But the reward for such faith is full revelation of the reality, nature, character, morality, and truth of God.

Matthew Henry (1997) says our soul prospers when we have clear knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ. We not only believe with the heart, we also are ready (when called) to make confession with the mouth. The truth is so huge we cannot contain it within our own spirit. Knowledge and faith make the soul rich. The more we know and understand the truth, the stronger our faith. These true statements are hidden from non-believers. This, of course, includes the atheist who is determined to shout from the mountaintops how irrational and backward is our faith in Jesus. They simply cannot see the truth for they have chosen to reject the truth ad hoc.

Naturally, we cannot be built up in Christ, nor can we grow in Him, unless we are first rooted in Him—founded upon Him. Once established in the faith, we are exhorted  to abound and improve in it, working out our salvation daily. The Greek word for full assurance in Colossians 2:2 (plêrophoria) actually means “full and accurate knowledge” or “full persuasion.” This implies not only knowledge, but an accurate understanding of that knowledge. We cannot achieve such a degree of certainty by our own mental capacity. Thankfully, that which Paul is speaking about is literally revealed in and through Jesus. Christ Himself is the mystery in Whom all the treasures of wisdom are hidden. Understanding this passage of Scripture allows us to better understand why no one can “know” God through application of empirical tests and measurements. The fullness of the knowledge of God is revealed by the Father through the Son.

References

Dake, J. (2008). Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Publishing, Inc.

Henry, M. (1997). Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Look for Loopholes as a Christian?

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

The standard definition of a loophole is an ambiguity or inadequacy in a system, such as a law or a set of rules, which can be used to circumvent or otherwise avoid the purpose, implied or explicitly stated, of the system. It is basically a small mistake which allows people to do something that would otherwise be illegal. Generally, the cause of a loophole is a divergence between the text of the law (how it is written) and the meaning of the law (its intended effect).

Loophole Graphics

PHARISEES AND THEIR THEOLOGICAL LOOPHOLES

Pharisee Pointing

It’s no secret that the Pharisees of Jesus’ days were typically angry over infractions of the Sabaath. This was a huge issue between them and the Lord. Interestingly, the Pharisees created a loophole that allowed them to break their own rules regarding the Sabbath whenever convenient. According to Rabbinic teaching, a Jew could take no more than 3,000 steps on the Sabbath, nor carry more weight than half a dried fig. To circumvent this law, the Rabbis designed a small wearable tent. The tent had poles that rested upon their shoulders, lifting it from the ground. A chair was fastened to their rump Accordingly, they were not technically carrying anything. They would walk 3,000 steps, sit on the stool, then stand and walk 3,000 more steps, repeating the process over and over until they arrived at their intended destination. They declared the tent to be their home each time they sat down. Their “theology” gave them a loophole for travel and manual labor on the Sabbath if they found it necessary. Technically, they were in the clear. That’s what loopholes do for us—permit us to be “technically” right while breaking the rules.

CHRISTIANS AND THEIR LOOPHOLES

When Christians look for loopholes, they change Scripture to fit their circumstances. A believer with this mindset is not concerned with what Scripture dictates; rather, they are concerned about making Scripture say what they need it to say. Individuals who are Christian “in name only” look for loopholes. True followers of Christ don’t look for an out. Unfortunately, many believers today claim certain doctrines, proscriptions, or edicts in Scripture for “back in ancient times” rather than the modern church. This is basically a form of “progressive” Christianity, which flies in the face of God’s unchanging Word. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (NIV). Ecclesiastes 3:14 says, “I know that whatever God does, It shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, And nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him” (NKJV).

PAUL

The Apostle Paul 001

Romans 7:19-21 says, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (NIV). It is important to note that Paul was not speaking about a non-believer, nor was he describing a carnal Christian. He was talking about a victorious disciple still at risk for sinful behavior. Admittedly, Paul is not speaking of the practice of sin by a believer—willfully sinning despite knowing the consequences.

Paul was leading a crucified life, putting on the righteousness of Christ (see verse 25). He delighted in the Law of God in the inward man (see verse 22). That means he was gratified by love, goodness, righteousness, and mercy. The part of his mind that was focused on serving God no longer practiced sin. His thoughts were on Jesus. He told the Christians at Corinth, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

There were several aspects of Paul’s life where he had not yet received light. In such instances, he was taken captive by the law of sin in his flesh, causing him to do things he hated (see verse 23). Someone who is willfully committing sin is not doing what he hates. His mind approves of it. When desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin. We actually consent to the desire in our mind and sin is born. James 1:14-15 says, “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (NIV). Such Christians are serving the law of sin with his or her mind.

THE LOOPHOLES OF ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOR

Addicts frequently use denial, rationalization, and loopholes to hide or downplay their abuse of drugs or alcohol. Heavy or chronic alcohol use leads to psychological and physical dependence and possible addiction. The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) says substance abuse related disorders encompass separate classes of drugs: alcohol; caffeine; cannabis; hallucinogens; inhalants; opioids; sedatives; hypnotics; and stimulants. 

Here are four common loopholes used by alcoholics and addicts:

  1. I’ve already ruined everything. Addicts try to avoid or not acknowledge the consequences of their actions—at least until these consequences are severely compounded. Whether it’s losing a job, legal trouble, homelessness, dysfunction in the household, or all of the above, addiction progressively destroys lives. Although hitting “rock bottom” causes some to seek treatment, others justify continued addiction because they focus on the perceived irreparable damage they’ve caused. 
  2. I don’t deserve a happy, healthy life. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, roughly half of all individuals diagnosed with a mental health disorder are also affected by substance abuse. Although this is a co-occurring diagnosis (often referred to in 12-step parlance as “double trouble”), it is not a loophole for addiction. Admittedly, feeling undeserving of a happy, healthy life due to mental health symptoms can be a trap. This often leads to drinking or drugging to self-medicate for chronic anxiety or depression. Accordingly, a loophole is created for continued use. 
  3. Now I can finally handle it. This justification is a loophole for relapse, as well as active addiction. When someone feels that their life is now more manageable—perhaps, due to a period of sobriety or fixing certain problems while in active addiction—they may justify drinking or taking drugs again or continuing to use. Unfortunately, the progressive nature of addiction quickly disproves this rationale. This loophole often rears its ugly head following inpatient treatment at a rehab. The individual feels he or she is “armed with” enough information to finally use safely.
  4. For me, it’s just normal life. For some, addiction is a solitary issue. For others, however, addiction may be shared with friends, family members, or partners. These individuals tend to justify their actions because they feel their behavior is part of the fabric of a relationship or social agenda. Even if someone believes their own addiction may be a problem, they can justify their dependency by referring to getting drunk or high as part of the “norms” of social life. 

MY FAVORITE LOOPHOLE

Unfortunately, I have often looked at certain habitual sins in the light of Paul’s own struggle, saying to myself, If the apostle Paul failed to resist the flesh and do what’s right, then how can I ever hope to do so? I am sure you see the hypocrisy of this conclusion. Basically, I have allowed this part of Paul’s teaching to serve as an excuse for what amounts to the “practice” of sin. Worse, the type of habitual sin that has been prevalent in my life involved deception, lying, and stealing narcotic painkillers from family members.

THE ADDICTED CHRISTIAN

Morgan Lee edited and published a provocative article in Christianity Today, called “Why a Drug Addict Wrote a Christianity Today Cover Story.” The article was written by Timothy King, a Christian who contracted very painful acute necrotizing pancreatitis. He was discharged on IV medication and given opiates for pain. Eventually, King’s doctor realized King’s reliance on narcotic painkillers was impeding his ability to eat and to recover from pancreatitis. Despite being a believer, King had become addicted to opiates.

Here is an excerpt from King’s article:

I use the term addicted. There are some medical professionals who use the word dependent because I didn’t go out and engage in behaviors typically associated with addiction. I chose to use the word addicted because it accurately describes my situation. It is a term I hope other people feel less stigma about in the future to describe their own situation. When we give the right name to something that is going on in our life, it kills its power over us. Naming something is incredibly important. Opioid addict is now tied to my name. I’ve had to think through that, but once again I have had a great community of support to encourage me about this story.

Whether deserved or not, believers struggling with an addiction are often shamed by the church rather than being provided an atmosphere for healing. Believers and non-believers alike are dying every day because of drug overdose. This should be cause for concern and a great opportunity for the church to be the church (the Body of Christ). After all, Christians are called to be a loving community of grace and healing. The church should not choose to see active addiction as a moral issue, ignoring the physical and psychological elements of the disorder. This only serves to ignore or sidestep this crisis, evidenced by believers (and some church leaders) who choose to sit on the sidelines, judging and ostracizing those who are suffering.

THE MINDSET OF A DISCIPLE

Paul answers his own question regarding his—indeed, our—struggle with sin that dwells within us. In Romans 7:25, Paul writes, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (NASB). Before Jesus overcame the power of sin and darkness, leaving us with an example to follow, it was impossible to completely overcome all sin in the flesh. But Jesus sent the Holy Spirit Who can show us our sin (convict us) and teach us the way through it. Like Paul, when we repent and begin to serve God, we have a new mindset—it is no longer our conscious, daily choice to serve sin. What comes from our flesh is not necessarily done willfully.

When we are in Christ Jesus and choose to serve God with our mind and our spirit, there is no condemnation if we absentmindedly do the things we hate (see Romans 8:1). We aren’t condemned for being tempted (thoughts or feelings that entice us to sin), nor for actions we do which haven’t passed our conscious mind first, allowing us to make a conscious choice. But in order to accomplish this, we need to walk in the Spirit, which means acting according to the light that we receive. This comes only from allowing that light to illuminate our habitual sins. We will then be able to recognize the desires of the flesh—the body of sin that is to be crucified daily through Christ. How do we accomplish this? We count ourselves dead to sin. We can then be disciples of Jesus, denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily (see Luke 9:23-24).

Disciple is another word for a follower of Christ; one who is learning to be like his Master. originally meant pupil or apprentice. Too many Christians believe they became disciples of Jesus when they accepted His death, burial, and resurrection for forgiveness of their sins. We were certainly dead in our trespasses. Thankfully, we are forgiven through Christ. He made us alive together with Him (see Colossians 2:13). However, forgiveness of sin is not discipleship. Once we have received atonement for our sins and are reconciled with God through the crucifixion of Christ, we come to the beginning of a new us. We are now instructed to start following Jesus. Emulating the examples He provided to us during His life and ministry.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, closing the loopholes of active addiction may be imperative before seeking treatment. In reality, we can rebuild our lives. But this involves realizing that addiction is progressively destructive. Further, it is important to believe we deserved to be happy and healthy, and that active addiction is not a normal, fulfilling human existence. Jesus said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, NKJV). Eugene Peterson translates this verse as follows: “A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (MSG). Living life in bondage to addiction is certainly not an abundant life.  

Second Corinthians 5:17 talks about new life in Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (NIV). When we recognize that old things have passed away, we stand a better chance of living life without resorting to loopholes. Frankly, making decisions based upon loopholes is the hallmark of an unrepentant carnal Christian. When we are truly “in Christ,” we are a new creation. Old things have passed away. This is the “abundant” life we read about in John 10:10. We cannot hope to have an abundant and glorious new life in Christ if we excuse our occasion to sin as something not even the apostle Paul could avoid.

 

 

 

The First Deception

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

I had a tough time picking a title for this post. Although I am presenting an account of the first deception in the Bible, there is also an amazing correlation between the punishment God administered for that deception—which is also the first sin—and the torture and torment suffered by Christ on the cross. A lot of deception occurs in Genesis. The Latin root for the word “deception” is decipere, which means to “ensnare.” Accordingly, this indicates man’s tendency to be caught up or carried away.

Deception can be found from Genesis to Revelation. Abraham deceived when he stated that Sarah was his sister. Isaac also stated that his wife was a sibling. Joseph’s brothers informed their father that Joseph had been killed by wild beasts when, in fact, they had thrown him into a pit and left him. Delilah deceived Samson. Herod deceived his men when he asked them to locate the baby Jesus so he might go worship him when he intended to kill him. Paul noted in Romans 3:13 that a man’s tongue practices deceit. The prophet Jeremiah said the heart is “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV). Second Timothy 3:13 tells us that evildoers and imposters go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

How It All Started

Satan beset our first parents, Adam and Eve, drawing them into sin. The temptation proved fatal for them and for the unregenerate man. The tempter was Satan, in the form of a serpent, who slithered in and accosted Eve while she walking near the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil alone. This was intentional, as temptation is difficult to resist when we’re faced with it unaccompanied. Satan’s plan was to drive a wedge between our first parents and God. Satan tempted Eve, that by her he might draw Adam into disobedience. Simply, it is the devil’s practice to send temptation through people we do not suspect and that have the most influence over us.

We know Satan is a liar and a murderer and a scoffer from the beginning (John 8:43-45). He likes to teach men first to doubt, and then to deny. This leaves us rather vulnerable to practice sin. He promises advantages from our disobedience while downplaying the punishment. In fact, he tempts us to seek elevation to a new office or authority—to be like gods. He tempted Adam and Eve with the same desire so he might ruin them as he’d been ruined. Satan ruined himself by seeking to be like God; therefore, he sought to infect our first parents with the desire to know as God knows. He continues today to bring as many of us he can along with him in his eventual doom into the pit of Hell. Simply put, misery loves company.

The Steps of Transgression

Let’s look at the steps of transgression when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. You should note this was a trending down toward the pit, not up toward heaven and eternal fellowship with God.

  1. Eve first saw. Much of our sin comes in through the eyes. We need to avoid focusing on or gazing at that which we are in danger of lusting after (see Matthew 5:28).
  2. Eve then took. It is one thing to look, but once we reach out and take that which we’ve lusted after we have reached a decision that is quite difficult to undo. Satan can tempt us, but he has no power to force us to sin, whether believer or unbeliever.
  3. Eve did eat. When she looked, perhaps she did not intend to take; or when she took, not to eat, but it ended with that. It is wise to stop the first motions of sin and to turn away before it’s too late and we end up in full-blown disobedience.
  4. Eve gave it also to her husband. Those that have done wrong are often willing to draw others in with them to do the same. This is quite prevalent in active addiction where relapse often breeds company.
  5. Adam did eat. In neglecting the Tree of Life, of which he was allowed to eat, he ate from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam chose contempt for God, disobeying God and attempting to have that which God did not see fit to provide for him. Adam chose being like God rather than enjoying fellowship with God. He would have what he wanted when he wanted it rather than wait on God.

Adam’s sin was disobedience. Romans 5:19 says, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (NIV). Interestingly, Adam had no sin nature within him in the Garden, but he had a free will. Falling to temptation, he withdrew from posterity and paradise into sin and ruin. It was too late when Adam and Eve realized the error of disobeying God. They saw the happiness and joy from which they fell, and the misery they would now experience. They realized that a loving God had provided them with everything they needed through grace and favor. That was all gone now. The contrast must have been overwhelming!

God’s Reaction to the Disobedience of Adam and Eve

In Genesis 3:8-10, we learn that Adam and Eve attempted to hide from God. This is the first incident of loss of fellowship with the Father due to unholiness. God cried out, “Where are you?” (verse 8). I truly believe this was not a question of location. God knew where they were. He is, after all, omniscient. Instead, I believe He meant for Adam and Eve to examine that they were now in a bad place, hiding and afraid to approach God as He was walking in the Garden in the cool of the day. Is this not the first examination of one’s “position” in God as a result of practicing sin?

Where were they? In the midst of broken fellowship with God. Indeed, they were now in bondage to Satan and on the road to certain ruin. They would have wandered endlessly without end, cut of from the sunlight of the Spirit, lost forever, had the good Shepherd not sought them. God always leaves the flock to look for the lost sheep. Bethel Music has produced an amazing song titled Reckless Love. The chorus includes the following lines:

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights til I’m found, leaves the 99

The message of Genesis 3:8-10 is that as sinners we must consider where we are versus where God intends us to be, and to realize that no matter what we do we will not be content until we return to God. However, like Adam, we have reason to fear God when we’ve been disobedient. This is true for two basic reasons: (i) we are ashamed for our offense; and (ii) we are fearful of the punishment or correction. Fortunately, as believers we are saints, covered in the righteousness of Christ. Adam and Eve lacked such a covering when they fell from grace and were expelled from the Garden.

Although God did not leave Adam and Eve without a “covering,” when He made clothing He made it warm and strong—in other words, adequate—but he did not clothe them in long flowing robes of scarlet. Instead, he made coats of animal skin. This clothing was coarse and very plain. It is fascinating to recognize the foreshadowing of such a “covering” for our unrighteousness. When God killed an animal to fabricate clothing for Adam and Eve, blood was spilled. There is, therefore, no covering for sin without the shedding of blood. Let’s look at the clothing Adam and Eve attempted to make for themselves. They concocted a “garment” from fig leaves, but it was too narrow to hide their nakedness. This is like the “rags” of our own righteousness. Isaiah 64:6 tells us, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (NIV). God made an adequate covering for Adam and Eve that serves as a precursor to our putting on the righteousness of Christ!

So God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden. He said they could “no longer occupy” the space they were in. This is because they were now unclean, mired by the sin of disobedience. Unrighteous at best. Doomed to toil and suffer and die at worst. God knew they’d be unwilling to leave this garden paradise, so He had to chase them out and placed cherubim as guards to the entrance. Why? Because Adam and Eve were no longer eligible to eat from the Tree of Life. That’s pretty heavy. Oh, but it gets heavier. God essentially banned all of mankind from entering the Garden of Eden. Man had fallen from grace. But here’s what this amazing grace looks like. Adam and Eve were not killed for their disobedience. Instead, they were sentenced to live under harsh conditions, to a place of toil, not to a place of torment.

A Ripple Effect

Unfortunately, the place where the Tree of Life was situated was now closed to all mankind. Adam and Eve had been shut out from the privileges of their state of innocence, yet they were not left in a place of despair with no way out. God had planned (since before the foundation of the universe) for a method of achieving salvation. It would, of course, involve the shedding of blood at Calvary. In the meantime, our first parents fell under a covenant of works. The original covenant had been broken by sin. The curse for disobedience was in full force. Man is without hope if he is judged by the Adamic Covenant, for we simply cannot obey the Law to the letter. God showed this to Adam and Eve not to discourage them or drive them into despair, but to quicken them to look for life and happiness and peace through the Promised Seed, by whom a new and everlasting covenant—an unconditional covenant wherein salvation need not be earned through works—would open the door to a better way into the holy presence of God.

We can learn from this first incident of deception and disobedience what dishonor and trouble sin will bring into our lives. It brings mischief wherever it goes, destroying our joy and comfort. Eventually, especially with habitual sin, we will feel shame and regret. This can cause us to end up forgetting our role and begin to experience contempt for God, as if God tempts man. James 1:13 says, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (NIV). Verse 14 reminds us that we are tempted when we’re dragged away from God and enticed by our own evil desires.

Not surprisingly,  when we commit deception we are more concerned with getting caught by our fellow man, and care to restore our “reputation” in this life rather than desiring to be forgiven and pardoned by God. We forget to fear the Lord. Much of our striving to cover our sins and offenses is in vain and typically frivolous. This is akin to Adam and Eve attempting to cover their nakedness (indeed, the fallout of their disobedience was shame) with fig leaves. Similarly, we all try to cover up our misdeeds and transgressions as Adam and Eve did in the Garden. Before they sinned, they would have welcomed God’s presence and would not have felt embarrassed to be naked before Him. No doubt, having fallen, they became terrified and ashamed. This is not what the serpent promised. He said they’d be like God, knowing what He knows.

Correlation Between the Wages of Sin in Genesis and the Crucifixion

We know that God passed sentence on Adam and Eve. What we tend to forget—and what today’s New Atheists don’t understand—is that when the First Adam sinned he passed on his fallen sin nature to all future generations. This may or may not sound fair to you, but God’s righteous judgment is just. For example, our willful disobedience and deceitfulness deserves the punishment that Christ accepted on our behalf at Calvary.

The devil’s instruments of deception and temptation are cunning at the very least, and are deserving of the punishment God has planned for him. Under the cover of the serpent (in the Garden), Satan is sentenced to be degraded and accursed of God; detested and abhorred of all mankind. He is to be destroyed and ruined at last by our Great Redeemer, signified by the breaking of his head. War is declared between the Seed of the woman (Jesus Christ) and the seed of the serpent. God gives a foreshadow of the promise of a Savior who will suffer in our stead. What is most amazing is that no sooner had man fallen than the timely remedy was provided and revealed. Ephesians 1:4 says, “He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ” (MSG).

Jesus, by His death and suffering, answered the sentence passed on our First Parents. Did travailing pains come with sin? We read of the travail of Christ’s soul (Isaiah 53:11) and the excruciating pain He endured on the cross. Did subjection come in with sin? Christ was made subject to the Law (Galatians 4:4). Did the curse come in with sin? Christ was made a curse for us. Galatians 3:13 tells us, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree)” (NKJV). Did thorns come in with sin? Christ was crowned with thorns for us. Did sweat come in with sin? He sweat blood for us to the point that He exuded great drops of blood. Did sorrow come in with sin? He was a man of sorrows; His soul was, in His agony, exceeding sorrowful. Did death come in with sin? He became obedient unto death.

Reconciliation

We are told in 1 Peter 1:19-21, “…but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot… He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (NKJV) [emphasis mine]. In the beginning was the Word, through whom God created the world and everything in it. We’re told that without Him nothing was made that has been made: (see John 1:1-3). Colossians 1:16 tells us, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (NIV). Jesus is the path by which fallen Creation could be reconciled with God.

The apostle Paul teaches about reconciliation, and describes examples that include siblings, litigants, lost sheep, the prodigal to his father, and man to God. Indeed, reconciliation is exemplified in Jesus’ attitude toward sinners—the truth in Athanasius’s belief that incarnation is reconciliation. He butted heads with Arius, the father of Arianism. This heretical view held that Jesus was begotten by God at a specific point in time, distinct from and not an equal of God. Arius said, “There was a time when the Son was not.” Accordingly, this blasphemy teaches that the Holy Spirit and Jesus did not always exist.

Reconciliation is certainly the central theme in Christianity. It means that God made Christ to be sin for us. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (NIV). We are in desperate need for this reconciliation as we have been alienated from God through sin. It is when our estrangement leads us to hit our knees in prayer that we begin to build a bridge back to God. This not only includes reconciliation to God, it also involves reconciliation of man to one another and to life itself. I believe this is the very foundation of restoration.

The New Testament teaches that we are reconciled through “the death of the son,” “through the cross,” “by the shed blood of Jesus Christ,” and “through Christ made to be sin” as our substitute. He was the very propitiation for our sins. It is fascinating to note that in Romans 3:25 the Greek word for propitiation is hilasterion, which refers specifically to the lid on the Ark of the Covenant. The phrase means that Christ took upon Himself the punishment we should have. This is the great work that took place on Calvary so that we might regain fellowship with God. It is important to note that there was truly no other way back to God. This was and is our only hope.

Christianity declares that God reconciled mankind to Himself through Christ. Paul wants us to realize that this action is an established fact. Romans 5:11 says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation” (RSV). Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language states the following: “Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life” (vv. 9-10).

Indeed, this amounts to coming full-circle. Adam and Eve sinned and were in need of a “covering” for their sin because of shame and guilt. They tried to hide from God, perhaps hoping He wouldn’t “find” them. Their greatest fear was his wrath. I don’t believe they anticipated that such an “innocent” act of curiosity would lead to being cut off by God and expelled from the Garden of Eden. However, I am not sure whether being armed with such knowledge would have made a difference. They were enticed by the beguiling of the serpent, through his deception and trickery, to disobey God, saying, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:3-4, NKJV). This sounded good to Eve. After all, would it not be prudent to have an eye for the difference between what is good and what is evil? Where’s the harm in that?

The consequences of that self-delusion and abject disobedience set the stage for the entire Creation to go off track. Nothing is as God intended it to be. Thanks to God we have been given the means to patch things up with the Father and be reunited with Him in fellowship. Indeed, we now have the means to participate with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit in the redemption and restoration of all of God’s glorious Creation.

References

Cory Asbury, Caleb Culver, Ran Jackson. (2017). Reckless Love [recorded by Bethel Music]. On Reckless Love [CD recording]. Los Angeles, CA: Bethel Music.

Peterson, E. (2009). The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CA: NavPress.

In Christ

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. —1 Corinthians 15:22

It is important that we know how God sees us. This can be rather difficult given our tendency to think the worst of ourselves, or to define our lives through the lens of others. One of the richest passages about identity in Scripture is Ephesians 1:7-14:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

In this passage, Paul explains the many aspects of our new identity in Christ. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing; we have been chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, lavished with grace; unconditionally loved and accepted; we are pure, blameless and forgiven; we have received the hope eternity with God. When we are in Christ, these aspects of our identity can never be altered by what we do.

Often, we feel the pressure to define ourselves through our jobs, financial status, successes, grades, appearance, what other people say about us and many other means.

As Christians, our true identity is in Christ. We are no longer who we were. Paul calls us saints, set apart by and for God, and invariably addresses us as those who are in Christ. He implores us to live our lives in Christ, as he also lives, saying, “I glory in Christ” (Romans 15:17). In his epistles he encourages us to be in Christ, in him, or in the Lord 160 times. What it means to be in Christ is exactly the opposite of what it means to be in ourselves. In other words, if we are not in Christ, we are only into us. It’s all about us and no one else.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

So what does it mean to have our identity in Christ? It’s not just a matter of claiming Bible verses for ourselves, or starting our mornings reciting key Scripture. To have our identity in Christ means placing our confidence for life and eternity in Christ alone. To be in Christ involves being formed into the image of the Lord. It means wanting others to see Jesus when they look at us. Galatians 3:26-28 says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV) [Italics mine].

To be in Christ is to be clothed in His righteousness. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation in Him. Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). Prior to conversion, Paul knew “about” Christ merely as another man. At conversion, Paul became a new creation. The old passed away, indicating the definitive change that took place at regeneration. Paul adds, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (verse 21). Being in Christ means having His righteousness. This position is made available to us as a result of God’s grace. Because we have no righteousness of our own, this is of paramount importance in order to stand before God.

According to Scripture, we die in Adam but are born again in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:22). In Adam, there is condemnation; but in Christ, there is salvation. In Adam, we receive a sin nature; but in Christ, we receive a new nature. In Adam, we are cursed; but in Christ, we’re blessed. In Adam, there is wrath and death; but in Christ, there is love and life. It’s as if there are two teams in life. We each take to the field with one of them. The decisions made by the team captains affect the entire team, for better or worse. The first team is led by Adam, and the second by Jesus. We identify with Adam and share in his defeat, or we identify with Jesus and share in his victory. In other words, are we in Adam or are we in Christ?

OUR IDENTITY AS BELIEVERS

The main theme in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is identity formation. Union with Christ gives us a radically new identity. Ephesians 4:20-24 says, “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (NIV).

The phrase “in Christ” literally changed the world and is the very essence of our identity as believers. In speaking of identity, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NIV). When Paul talks about the new I is he talking about who he was before Christ in combination with who he now is in Christ, or is he referring only to the new creation in Christ? Considering the words of Jesus in John 15:5, it seems he might be speaking of both. We are re-created in Christ, but we are not able to exist as a new creation apart from Him.

Spiritual growth in the Christian life requires a relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the fountain of spiritual life—a relationship that brings a new seed or root of life. As in nature, unless there is some seed or root of life within an organism, no growth can occur. Likewise, unless there is a root of life within the believer (i.e., some core of spiritual life), growth is impossible. There is nothing to grow! This fits nicely with the analogy of vine and branches. Frankly, this is why Paul’s theology is based solely on our position in Christ. He was brilliantly able to point out the constant struggle within himself between doing that which he did not want to do and not being able to consistently do that which he wanted to do.

NEW HEART, NEW SPIRIT

We’re told in the Bible that the center of the person is the heart. Proverbs 4:23 identifies the heart as the “wellspring of life” (NIV). In our natural state of being, the heart is deceitful above all things (see Jeremiah 17:9). Born under sin, we are conditioned by the deceitfulness of a fallen world rather than by the truth of God’s Word. In Ezekiel 36:26 we read, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (NIV). From the moment we are born again we are grafted into the vine—sanctified and set apart as children of God.

We have to believe that our new identity is in the life of Christ and commit ourselves to grow accordingly.

We read in Colossians 3:9-10, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (NIV). Biblical scholar and author F.F. Bruce says, “…the new man who is created is the new personality that each believer becomes when he is reborn as a member of the new creation whose source of life is Christ.” But exactly what does it mean to be a new man? Does it mean every aspect of us is changed? After all, we still look the same physically. Our voice sounds the same. We still have many of the same thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Our DNA does not change when we become born again. Our past, although forgiven (and forgotten) by God, is still our past. We carry emotional baggage with us well into our future even as new believers.

The Natural Person

In our natural state, we must contend with flesh, mind, will, and emotions. First Corinthians 2:14 says, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (NIV). The word flesh typically refers to the body, but theologically it can also refer to the learned independence that allows sin to reign in our lives. We struggle in the flesh with inferiority, insecurity, inadequacy, guilt, worry, and doubt. Our mind is the seat of obsessive, recurrent, distressing thoughts and images, which are often at the root of compulsive behavior, bad habits, and addiction. Our body is the situs for migraines, allergies, asthma, arthritis, heart problems, cancer, and other physical ailments. Our emotions include depression, anxiety, bitterness, anger, resentment, and many other sensitivities.

We are spiritually dead in our natural state—separated from God. Accordingly, we tend to sin as a matter of course. We have a soul, in that we can think, feel, and choose. Our mind, and subsequently our emotions and will, are directed by our flesh, which acts completely apart from God. In our natural state, we tend to believe we are free to choose our behavior. But because we live in the flesh, we invariably walk according to the flesh. Our choices reflect the “deeds of the flesh” we read about in Galatians 5:19-21. Our actions, reactions, habits, memories, and responses are all governed by the flesh.

The Spiritual Person

When we become renewed by the Spirit, we are able to crucify our flesh by recognizing we are now dead to sin. Our mind is transformed. Paul said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV). As we present ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice, our body becomes a temple of God. Our soul reflects changes brought about by our spiritual rebirth. We start receiving the impetus for our behavior from the Spirit rather than from our flesh.

Remarkably, we are now free to choose not to walk according to the flesh, but to walk according to the Spirit. When we exercise our choice to live in the Spirit, our lives exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23). I refer to this as the dichotomy of true freedom. Additionally, our bodies have been transformed. We have become the dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. We can now choose daily to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, which is our reasonable service. Our flesh is conditioned to live independently from God under the old man. Unfortunately, our flesh is still present after we’ve been born again. The difference is we’ve been given the resources to crucify the flesh and its desires daily by recognizing who we are in Christ.

BEING IN CHRIST WILL CHANGE OUR WALK

Becoming a new believer does not anoint us with magical sin-defying powers. We are still spring-loaded toward fleshly behavior. A life of fleshly habits does not just vanish. We tend to go on living according to what we know, and we don’t know much about living a Spirit-filled life. As we grow and mature in Christ, we tend to lean toward the Spirit. We occasionally make poor choices—we’re human after all. However, we are learning daily to crucify the flesh and walk by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. This walk is built on relationship, not subordination.

Freedom doesn’t just lie in the exercise of choice; it ultimately lies in the consequences of those choices.

Paul defines what it means to walk by the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-18: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (NIV). Paul is quick to note what walking in the Spirit is not a license to sin. License, in this regard, is contempt for rules and regulations constituting an abuse of privilege. Amazingly, some Christians wrongly assert that walking by the Spirit and living under grace means I can do whatever I want to do. On the contrary, walking by the Spirit means we are free (from the dominion of the flesh) to live a responsible, moral life—something we were incapable of doing when we were a bond servant of sin.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I cannot overstate how important it is that we come to understand how God sees us. We must fight the tendency to define ourselves based on our past sins and transgressions, or through the lens of others. In Christ we have redemption; we have the forgiveness of sins. Additionally, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. We are no longer who we were. We have become saints, set apart by and for God. To be in Christ is to be clothed in His righteousness. We are literally given a new identity in Christ. It is through walking in the Spirit that we are able to deny our flesh, but we must do this daily. This is only achievable when we recognize and operate in the truth of who we are as new Christians. 

As we grow and mature in Christ, we tend to lean toward the Spirit. This helps increase the odds that we make the right choices relative to behavior. Paul warns against the practice of sin. Because we still occupy a fleshly body, and still possess a mind, a will, and emotions—along with baggage and past experiences—we are prone to take the wide road rather than the harder, narrow road. Being in Christ is not merely about being forgiven and living under grace. It is not a license to sin. Rather, it is about living a responsible, moral life. It is about being free to choose righteousness over sin. It is about being in right relationship with God.