Shame vs. Guilt

Shame Depends on How We Believe We are Viewed by Others Due to our Behavior; Guilt Involves the Awareness of Having Done Something Wrong.

YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED that many people use the words shame and guilt interchangeably. This is regrettable because, from a psychological perspective, they actually refer to different experiences. Guilt and shame sometimes go hand in hand; the same action may give rise to feelings of both shame and guilt, where the former reflects how we feel about ourselves and the latter involves an awareness that our actions have injured someone else. In other words, shame relates to self, guilt to others.

Looking first to the dictionary definitions, we see the following:

  • Guilt. A feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
  • Shame. The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, hurtful, etc., done by oneself or another.

As noted before, in everyday language people tend to use these words more or less interchangeably. From a therapeutic perspective, the distinction can be most important and useful. Many people crippled by shame have very little capacity to feel guilt, for example. In order to feel guilt about the harm you may have done to somebody else, you must recognize him or her as a distinct individual. A person who struggles with interpersonal relationships, or who has a mental illness—such as attachment disorder, borderline personality disorder, or bipolar disorder—might not feel true guilt even if he or she were to use that word to describe a feeling.

Many people who display narcissistic behavior often suffer from profound feelings of shame, but have little authentic concern for other people; they don’t tend to feel genuine guilt. The lack of empathy found in narcissistic and other personality disorders makes real guilt unlikely since guilt depends upon the ability to intuit how someone else might feel.

When shame is especially pervasive, it usually precludes feelings of genuine concern and guilt from developing; the sense of being damaged is so powerful and painful that it crowds out one’s feelings for anyone else. In such cases, idealization often comes into play. Other people are then viewed as perfect, “the lucky ones” who have the ideal shame-free life we crave. Envy may be at the root of these thoughts.

SHAME

Shame says, “There’s something inherently wrong with me that isn’t wrong with everyone else.” It tells you that you’re worthless and incapable. Therefore, you must find some way to prove your own worth. At its worst, shame says, “I am outside the love of God.” A person with a shamed sense of identity reads the Scriptures and usually feels condemned. Unfortunately, far too many believers are feeling dirty, worthless, ashamed of themselves; convinced their offenses are beyond the reach of the cross. Having such a poisonous attitude about yourself can lead to belief that you are unclean and therefore unworthy to approach God and have the living and intimate relationship that He wants to have with you. Shame prevents us from intimacy with God because it makes us feel unworthy and distant from Him.

Shame causes us to make statements like this:

  • I often think about past failures or experiences of rejection.
  • There are certain things I cannot recall about my past without feeling guilt, shame.
  • I seem to make the same mistakes over and over again.
  • I feel inferior.
  • There are aspects of my appearance that I cannot except.
  • I am generally disgusted with myself.
  • I feel that certain experiences have basically ruined my life.
  • I perceive myself as an immoral person.
  • I feel that I have lost the opportunity to experience a wonderful life.

Healing from shame involves learning to get our sense of value and significance from God. We need to get out from behind the secrecy of this idea that we are unsalvageable because shame is grown in secrecy. Remember, we’re only as sick as our secrets. We have to start counting our blessings and develop a grateful spirit.

GUILT

There are some significant differences between guilt and shame. Guilt is what takes place when a person realizes their failure. The source of guilt—”conviction,” if you prefer— is the Holy Spirit. To be sure, true guilt is a good thing. It helps us judge our behavior against the laws, it allows for restitution, punishment, and making amends. It allows us to pay for what we have done. False guilt involves sin we’ve repented of and asked for God’s forgiveness, but where the devil still pushes us to feel unreedemed. He wants us to see ourselves as the sum of all our bad behaviors and nothing more.

With guilt, we are motivated to confess. Get it out in the open. Find a way to make amends for our actions. Shame, however, wants us to internalize. Stew in our complete badness. Feel horrible about who we’ve become, while forgetting who we now are in Christ. The goal of guilt is ultimately forgiveness. Shame would rather we feel pain and total condemnation. The end result of dealing effectively with guilt is freedom and growth. The point of shame is, quite simply, bondage. Someone who takes ownership of his or her guilt has the potential of giving their body over to God as a living sacrifice. We become open to doing good. Sharing our testimony. Preaching the Good News. On the other hand, shame owns and controls us. The cycle of shame leads to anger, bitterness, resentment, self-hatred, and depression. There is no peace with shame.

The Day Guilt Was Born

Shame and guilt did not exist initially in the Garden of Eden. But no sooner had Eve defied God and taken a bite of the forbidden fruit, these emotions fell over her like a dark shadow. Their silhouettes followed her until her dying day. She would be buried in their cold presence. And as Adam followed in his wife’s footsteps, two more shadows were born. Guilt and Shame are conceived in their rebellion. We are painfully acquainted with them today. We would love to part with them, but they won’t leave us alone. Although these two emotions are related, they aren’t identical. Guilt is typically linked to an event: I did something bad. Guilt says, “I made a mistake; please forgive me.” Shame is tied to a person: I am bad. Shame says, “Please forgive me, I am a mistake.” Guilt is the wound, whereas shame is the scar it leaves. While guilt is seeing what you’ve done, shame is seeing yourself as a complete failure because of what you’ve done. Guilt allows us to look at the sin (the offense). Shame involves focusing on a deep-seated sense of self-denigration.

Shame and False Guilt Create Strongholds

If we continue to ruminate on our past failures, it will wear us down spiritually. Satan takes over, aiming at getting us to see a distortion of who we are—especially who we have become through Christ. Satan wants us to look at our past failures so much that we begin to see ourselves as nothing but failures! He doesn’t want us to see who we truly are. He’d rather keep us thinking about all the bad behavior until all we see when we look in the mirror is a dirty sinner. The complete opposite of who and what we really are in Christ.

In fact, shame is one of those things the Bible speaks of as an imagination that must be cast down. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” An imagination is an image in your mind that is inaccurate. If you see yourself as a failure, when you’re actually a washed-in-the-blood child of God, you’ve fallen victim to an imagination that must be dealt with.

Shame is very destructive to relationships—especially with God. There is a good reason Satan wants us to feel like failures and dirty sinners who cannot be redeemed. Feeling that way keeps us from confidently approaching God’s throne and having an intimate relationship with Him. Scripture tells us that God wants us to draw near to Him with a clean conscience that has been freed from dead works. We’re not expected to forget the wrongs we’ve done, especially if such behavior led to dire consequences, such as broken hearts and destruction of relationships. Hebrews 9:14 says, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God” (NIV). Timothy speaks of this “pure conscience” (see 2 Timothy 1:3).

Shame and false guilt are based upon deception, which is the opposite of truth. So how are we supposed to worship God in Spirit and truth if there are imaginations hanging around in our minds that are contrary to the truth? But how do we defeat or overcome these bear traps? First, we need to stop dwelling on our past failures. Are you ignoring them? Am I? Not really. When we dwell on them as if they’re not forgiven and forgotten by God, we are ignoring the lie that our sin has not been adequately dealt with and washed away. In other words, we are actually meditating on ghosts! Sins that no longer exist. Micah 7:19 tells us, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (NIV).

We must deal with our shame by reminding ourselves of how God has dealt with our guilt.

Disassociate, Don’t Disavow

Why do you think God wants us to be new creations? Because He wants us to no longer be in bondage to our past. We’re to disassociate ourselves with the people, places, and things that were a part of our sinful past. Paul succinctly 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). Psalm 103:12 says, “…as far as the east is from the west, so far he has removed our transgressions from us.” Not only are we to accept that our sins are forgiven, we need to leave them there and press forward toward the things God has for us. Philippians 3:13b-14 says, “…forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (NIV).  God has been merciful toward our unrighteousness, and says “…their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12).

Coming from a past history of active addiction, and involvement in 12-step programs, I can’t help but refer to the following words contained in the Ninth Step Promises: “We don’t regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” This is especially applicable in recovery. I recall hearing from an old timer at a meeting years ago, “…we have to get to the point where we stop seeing our past as a liability and start seeing it as an asset.” Whether we’re working with others in recovery or sharing our testimony with unbelievers, our past experiences—good or bad—are tools, indeed assets, for helping others. This is a practical application of the doctrinal concept that we have become a new creation through our faith in Christ Jesus.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Because we were designed by God to feel guilt, we all should have the capacity for it. But sometimes we are not clear about its underlying motivation. If your fear of getting caught is greater than your desire to heal your relationships, then you are suffering from an unhealthy guilt and it is likely to be with you for a long time. Trust me, I’ve been there. Shame feels bad as well, but it is different from guilt. Shame is the painful feeling of disconnection from others that comes from feeling defective. You may think you feel bad because of things you have done, but shame is a bad feeling that you have about yourself, and you had that feeling long before you committed any of the things you think caused it.

Guilt and shame are strong emotions that we need to acknowledge and deal with before our relationships will go well. To manage guilt, we must do things differently. Being honest about wrongdoing, repenting of it, and seeking forgiveness are things we can do in response to guilt. To deal with shame, we must actually be different. That is, we must be vulnerable and experience what it is like to share our feelings honestly with others in ways that change us and help us be a better person.

All of us walk around with some degree of shame. We can’t talk ourselves out of it, or even have someone else explain to us why we shouldn’t feel it. No one can be cured of shame, but we all can experience healing. When we are courageous and vulnerable enough to open ourselves up to God’s grace, we will experience what it is like to feel complete acceptance down to our very core. Courage, vulnerability, and acceptance heal shame. And experiencing that with God heals it in the most powerful way.

God forgives you; you must learn to forgive yourself.

 

 

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Following Christ in an Anti-Christian Age

Unfortunately, contemporary American culture is increasingly anti-Christian. How should Christians respond to a rapidly changing American culture? Do we resign ourselves to pessimism, convinced that many of the moral foundations upon which our society once stood have collapsed and are now irrevocable? Or do we reassure ourselves with optimism, confident that we can still win the culture war if we’ll just unite together spiritually, personally, politically, and philosophically? Most likely neither pessimism nor optimism is the answer. Instead, realism is.

An Example

The Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor 570 U.S. (2013) (Docket No. 12-307)[5-4] challenges Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA): “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

The majority opinion of the Court held, “DOMA seeks to injure the very class New York seeks to protect. By doing so it violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government. The Constitution’s guarantee of equality must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot justify disparate treatment of that group. In determining whether a law is motived by an improper animus or purpose, [d]iscriminations of an unusual character especially require careful consideration. DOMA cannot survive under these principles.” The Supreme Court accused Christians who believe the “narrow” teaching of the Bible relative to marriage as bigoted.

Persecution is Worldwide

Of course, such anti-Christian sentiments are obviously not limited to America. Across the world, followers of Christ live in settings that are hostile to Christianity (many of them far more hostile than the United States). After all, Christianity was born into a culture of vehement opposition over two thousand years ago in Jerusalem, and faced tremendous persecution throughout Judea and at the hands of the Romans. The total number of Christians martyred in the early church is unknown. It has been calculated that between the first persecution under Nero in 64 to the Edict of Milan in 313, Christians experienced 129 years of persecution.

Sadly, the plight of Christians is worse today. According to Jeremy Weber of Christianity Today (January 11, 2017), for the third year in a row, the modern persecution of Christians worldwide has hit an all time high. Interestingly, the primary cause—Islamic extremism—is being eclipsed by a brand of ethnic nationalism. Principally, this is a form of nationalism wherein the nation is defined in terms of a shared heritage, which usually includes a shared language, a common religious faith, and a common ethnic ancestry. Weber notes in his article the 2017 World Watch List released by Open Doors. In 25 years of “chronicling and ranking” the political and societal restrictions on religious freedom experienced by Christians worldwide, Open Doors researchers identified 2016 as the “worst year yet.”

How should followers of Christ today live in an America or any other culture that is intentionally and increasingly anti-Christian? It seems that every professing Christian in any such culture has two clear options: retreat or risk persecution. Sure, we can retreat. But we’d be denying Christ. Peter chose this option (Mark 14:66-72). Certainly, most Christians won’t reject Christ outright and not all at once. Instead, our retreat can be slow and subtle. I see this happening in America today through “progressive” faith, “inclusive” belief, “open” minds, and “ecumenical” churches. This involves trading God’s truth for the changing opinions of the world. The signs of such retreat are already apparent here in America.

Christians might not retreat from Christ; however, they may very well retreat from society. In the face of increasing anti-Christian sentiment and social pressure, many Christians who hold a steadfast belief in the Bible may choose to hide in the comfortable confines of privatized faith. We might stand up and speak with strong conviction—but many do so in the privacy of our homes or at church. We remain silent at work or in our university classes or other public settings. When the conversation at the coffee shop switches to the topic of gender dysphoria or same-sex marriage, or the language becomes rather course, Christians often sheepishly, almost apologetically, stumble  through a vague notion of what the Bible teaches, or probably more likely, might say nothing at all.

Worse, when our boss asks what we believe and we realize that our job may be in jeopardy based on how we answer, we might find ourselves masking, or at least minimizing, our faith. On a smaller scale, I recently started a new job in retail. I completed an “availability” form indicating I was not able to work after 5:00 pm on Wednesday or before 1:00 pm on Sunday in order to attend church services. The store general manager insisted that I change my availability to all hours on those days and initial the changes in order to get hired. I gave in.

The Gospel and Culture

Clearly, the Gospel is the lifeblood of Christianity, and it provides the very foundation for countering culture. When we truly believe the Gospel, it goes from mere head knowledge to something that lives in our heart. We begin to realize the Gospel not only compels Christians to confront social issues in the culture around us; the Gospel actually creates confrontation with the culture around and within us. Of course, it is increasingly common for biblical views on social issues to be labeled insulting. Today it’s considered insulting and “backward” to an ever-expanding number of people to say a woman who is emotionally and sexually attracted to another woman should not express love for her in marriage. It doesn’t take long for a Christian to be backed into a theological corner, not wanting to be offensive yet wondering how to respond.

Culture now impacts the church. Ryan Bell, a former Seventh-Day Adventist minister, published an online article on CNN.com titled “Why You Don’t Need God.” You can read the article in its entirely by clicking here. Bell is a writer and speaker on the topic of religion and irreligion in America. In January 2014, Ryan began a year-long journey to explore the limits of theism and the growing landscape of atheism in America. Bell writes, “I had been a Seventh-day Adventist pastor for 19 years. I resigned from my pastoral position the year before, but now I stepped away from my faith altogether. It was gut-wrenching, but I couldn’t see any other way to find peace and clarity. I encountered major theological differences with my denomination and evangelical Christianity in general, including the way it marginalizes women and LGBT people.”

For many, the Gospel’s offense starts with the very first words of the Bible. “In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1). Genesis was written in Hebrew and provided the people a foundation for their faith. Certainly, Genesis was not meant to be an exhaustive blow-by-blow account of how God created the heavens and the earth. Frankly, such an account would have caused the Bible to be far too large a tome.

For many, the initial antagonism of the Gospel is that there is a God—a supreme being by, through, and for whom all things began. “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 40:28, RSV). Paul clearly stated that natural man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, “…for they are foolishness to him” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Consider the confrontation created by the reality of God in each of our lives. Because God is our Creator, we belong to him. The one who created us owns us. Honestly, does that not send a jolt through most of us? A tendency of rebellion? Nobody owns me! So we are not the masters of our own fate; the captains of our own souls.

Our Natural Reaction to God

God placed man in the midst of the Garden of Eden and granted him authority over all as keeper of the garden, charging him with naming the animals. The garden was established by God especially for man, planted in a full-grown state. God had just one command. He said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16b, 17).

Zodhiates and Baker (1997) notes that there may be purposes for the existence of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that are not clearly explained in Scripture. They do believe, however, that it functioned as a test of obedience. Adam and Eve had to choose whether to obey God or break His commandment. When they actually ate the forbidden fruit, the consequences of their actions became self-evident. They found themselves in a different relationship to God because of sin. Actually, access to such knowledge was to be based solely upon a proper relationship with God. The real questions which faced Adam and Eve are the same ones that face us today: Which path should be chosen? What kind of relationship do we want with God?

The serpent was crafty to say the least. He said to Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'” Eve said God allowed consuming anything in the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. She said God warned them, “…or you will surely die.” The serpent said, “You will not surely die… for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-6, NIV). I find the serpent’s ruse to be fascinating given he—as Lucifer—was cast down from heaven because of pride originating from his desire to be God instead of a servant of God. Although he was the highest of all the angels, he wanted more. He literally wanted to rule the universe.

Why do we run from God? John 3:20 says, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed” (NIV). The reason most people run from God is because of their love for the flesh; their tendency to live in sin. This is unfortunately not the only reason: Many run from God because of bitterness. This is often due to a tragic event, such as the loss of a loved one. We tend to place God on trial when adversity strikes. The worse the troubles, the deeper our bitterness. But it is sin that is to blame. Nothing is as God planned. From the time of the Fall, all has fallen askew of what God intended.

Nothing New Under the Sun

When we understand this first sin, we realize that the moral relativism of the twenty-first century is nothing new. Whenever we attempt to usurp (or eliminate) God, we lose objectivity for determining what is good and evil, right and wrong, moral and immoral. Today’s militant atheists are noted for claiming  that morality is merely a biological adaptation in the same manner as hands and feet, teeth and hair. Dawkins (1995) writes, “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, not any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no other good. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, And we dance to its music.”

Of course, the doctrine of the Fall offers an explanation of the imperfection of this world and God Himself, its perfect Creator. This concept does not sit well with many philosophies. Nor does it win any merit with atheists. Launder and Rowlands (2001) are rather vitriolic in their comments in Original Sin: “The term comes from Christianity’s belief that Adam, the first human created by their god, ate an apple from the tree of knowledge, and forever after, all humans have been born guilty of the crime that Adam committed. Original sin refers not just to this particular belief, but to all beliefs that man is born evil.” They argue that this belief is based “on the fallacious view that value is intrinsic.” But we’re not talking about a work of art where the value—the beauty, if you will—is in the beholder. To state that morality or ethics is based solely on interpretation is to suborn moral relativism.

Why is This So?

The Gospel answers that although God created us in His image, we have rebelled against Him in our independence. Though it looks different in each of our lives, we all are just like the man and woman in the Garden. We think, Even if God says not to do something, I’m going to do it anyway. In essence, we’re saying, “God’s not Lord over me, and God doesn’t know best for me. No! I define what’s right and wrong, good and evil.” In other words, morality is relative. This shifts our morality from the objective truth God has given us in His Word to the subjective notions we create in our minds. Even when we don’t realize the implications of our ideas, we inescapably come to one conclusion: whatever seems right to me or feels right to me is what’s right. This amounts to one thing: It’s all about me!

This is why the Bible diagnoses the human condition simply by saying, “All have turned aside, together they have all gone wrong; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12, RSV). Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “So where does that put us? Do we Jews get a better break than the others? Not really. Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners” (MSG). Some will argue that Christians are placing “ancestral guilt” on each successive generation. It’s not about being held accountable for what others did before us. Look at 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (NIV) [Italics mine].

We turn from worshiping God to to worshiping self. We probably would never put it that way. Most people don’t  publicly profess, “I worship myself. I am my own god.” The dictionary does contain hundreds of words that start with self: self-esteem, self-confidence, self-advertisement, self-gratification, self-glorification, self-motivation, self-pity, self-centeredness, self-indulgence, self-righteousness, and the like. Are these concepts bad in their own right? No. That’s not the point. I can tell you this, however: I struggled with active addiction for over forty years. Nothing I did—no self effort of any kind—set me free. When I left rehab, I thought, Oh, now I understand. I got this! Trust me, whenever an addict says, “I got this,” he or she is in denial. No human power can relieve an alcoholic or addict of their addiction. For me, there was only one true higher power, Jesus Christ, who broke the chains of addiction over my life. And even that took me letting go of self and letting God set me free.

Twenty-First Century Ambassadors

Representing the truth of the Gospel in the new millennium requires three basic skills. First, we need to grasp the basics of the message of Jesus Christ. We must fully grasp the central message of God’s kingdom and understand how to respond to the obstacles we’re bound to encounter. This is not simply a matter of memorizing Scripture to through at the “unbelievers.” Second, we need the kind of wisdom that makes our testimony clear, bold, and persuasive. In other words, the tools of a diplomat rather than the weapons of a warrior. Tactics rather than brute force.

Finally, our character can make or break our mission. My pastor once said, “The number one attraction to Christianity is other Christians; unfortunately, the number one detractor to Christianity is other Christians.” Knowledge and wisdom are packaged in a person. If we do not embody the virtues and grace of Christ, we will simply undermine our testimony. We’ll taint the message of the Gospel. It would be better that we kept silent than bring shame or doubt or controversy to the very thing that has the power to deliver us from a life of sin and death.

References

Dawkins, R. (1995). River Out of Eden. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Zodhiates, S., and Baker, W. (1997). Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

 

Forming a Christian Worldview

IMPLICATIONS OF A WORLDVIEW

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Every worldview frames how one understands the world and how one acts in that world. Understanding the phenomenon of worldviews has implications for our thinking in at least three fundamental ways: (1) understanding what happens when variant worldviews meet, (2) recognizing the degree to which worldviews are inherited, and (3) acknowledging the limited degree to which we can objectively reflect upon and alter our own worldviews. Conflict between worldviews usually stems from incompatibility at the level of our assumptions. For instance, if one assumes that the material realm is all that exists, then talk of the immaterial seems absurd. Dialog between individuals who hold differing worldviews must begin by talking about the assumptions inherent in their respective worldviews.

A second implication of the fact that we all hold worldviews is, perhaps, more troubling; it must be admitted that worldviews are less chosen than inherited. From the moment we are born, our views of the world are shaped by the culture and subcultures within which we are raised. Our families, religious traditions, educational institutions, media, and a host of other forces instill within us assumptions about the world and our place in it. We are less aware of these influences than we might imagine or wish. Most of what we know and believe has been given to us by our parents, friends, community, and society. We learn more about the world from others than we conceptualize on our own. We accept and assimilate more than we reject or deny. In short, we do not develop our own private worldviews. At most, we refine and re-conceptualize what we have learned.

The repercussions of this claim are astounding. Very few people have been able to rise above their cultural prejudices to challenge institutionalized slavery, ethnic cleansing, gender bias, or a host of other societal ills. It is humbling to consider how many incorrect beliefs we have adopted – and how many immoral actions we engage in – because of how deeply acculturated they are in our own worldviews. The fact that so many of our beliefs and behaviors are blindly accepted and ignorantly followed is alarming. We are not completely without hope because of our observation about worldview thinking: We can, to a limited degree, perceive and reflect on our worldview. Willingness to look at our assumptions with humble recognition of our own finitude and failings, though, presents an opportunity for re-examination.

FORMING A CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW

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Worldviews ask four basic questions: “Who am I?” “Where am I?” “What’s wrong?” and “What’s the remedy?” The worldview with which you were raised, modified by your personal experiences and reflection, will inevitably affect how you answer.

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Creation

A biblical understanding of Creation informs our concept of who we are, the nature of the world in which we live, and the proper ends toward which we should strive. The biblical account begins not with an anthropocentric focus centered on humanity, but with a theocentric focus centered on God. It is God who creates. It is God who gives graciously and lavishly. It is God who declares the Creation to be “good,” and after it is completed with the making of an image-bearer, it is God who declares it to be “very good.” Humanity is intimately connected to the Creation, and yet is set in a unique relationship to the rest of Creation.

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The biblical sense in which humankind is an image of God, who is given dominion over Creation, is easily misunderstood. The image of a god was a familiar concept within the Ancient Near Eastern cultural context in which Genesis was first read. Images such as idols were thought to contain the essence of a god, and human beings were thought to have been created to care for that god and his or her god-image. Politically, however, Ancient Near Eastern religions promoted social stratification, where kings and priests had more access to the gods – and hence more power – than common folk. Kings and idols were carried in front of and venerated by those who were not royalty. In Egypt, it was not uncommon for kings to claim that they had been suckled by a goddess to buttress their own claims of divinity. The blending of the god-image with the elevation of the king afforded them an incredible amount of power.

Kings ruled their provinces as the gods’ representatives – as the caretakers of the land, resources, and people belonging to a local deity. Oppressive kings created and sustained economic, political, and educational systems that favored the elite and oppressed the marginalized. In contrast to the surrounding religious cultural context, the God of Genesis reveals that all of humanity was created to bear His image. To be His representatives on earth, to do what God would do: to lovingly rule and care for the creation (including not only what we might call “nature,” but also all other aspects of God’s Creation – including societal and cultural institutions). The Judeo-Christian belief that humans are the image of God and have dominion over Creation is not one in which some people have divine right over others, nor one in which nature is to be pillaged, but rather that all of Creation (natural and cultural) is to be tended and developed in loving submission to God’s sovereign rule over all things.

Creation holds two truths in tension, first, that humans are part of the created order, and thus, in many ways similar to the other creatures, and second, that they are made in the very image of God and given a caretaker role over the realm to which they belong. We are part of Creation, and yet uniquely set over it to steward it. More importantly, we are social beings, and only through community can we reflect the image of God.  First, God created man from the dust of the ground. Then, God decided that is not good for man to be alone. God made “a helper fit for him.” Loneliness is not good. It is clear that human beings are viewed as the pinnacle of Creation, with the affirmation by God that Creation is very good coming only after the creation of humanity. David felt this, and expressed his emotion in Psalm 119:14a, “I will give thanks to you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (NASB).

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The Bible shows Creation as infused with potential. God’s creative power bequeaths power and creativity to the Creation. Humans are told to tend the garden, that is, to develop its potentials. Certainly, there is a great deal of creativity involved in tilling the earth and mining its countless treasures. The presence of the first couple in the garden creates the beginnings of social and cultural life. It is through mankind that Creation will be shaped as people bring to fruition the possibilities of development implicit in the work of God’s hands. Creation is pregnant with potential for art, agriculture, education, civil government, science, and literature, waiting to be developed by those who bear the image of God. That is, after all, the very definition of Creation.

A final point about Creation must be made: that man, a created being, is given freedom. He can name the animals. He can till and tend and shape the garden as he wishes. But this freedom is also given limits: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Genesis 2:16-17, RSV). There is a paradox in the concept of created freedom. It is the use of free will to transgress against God’s will that is the next part of the story, what theologians sometimes refer to as original sin.

The Fall

While Christianity affirms the goodness of Creation, it also teaches that this goodness is only part of the story. The next chapter in the story recounts the rebellion of the first human beings against their God-given boundaries, and a failure of their responsibility to tend the garden faithfully as God’s representatives. The result was a fundamental alteration of the entire created realm. As a result of human disobedience, pain was multiplied, relationships were damaged, the ground itself became cursed, and death entered the world (Genesis 3:14-19). From that point on, the Bible recognizes a twisted nature within the human condition: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB). Moreover, it is precisely because those who were given authority over the creation rebelled that the created realm over which they rule is subject to the curse.

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It is worth pointing out that the created realm is not just physical nature, but it also encompasses the potentials for culture and technology, and all of these things are affected by the curse. Thus, art, architecture, politics, science, commerce, and every human endeavor is now marred and easily twisted away from their proper ends – bringing glory  to God, stewarding the creation in love, and living in peace with each other and with nature.

As we read on through Genesis, we see that the sin of Adam and Eve leads in quick succession to sibling conflict and fratricide, to an antediluvian culture where God laments at how great the wickedness of the human race had become on earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time, and the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. (See Genesis 6:5,11). We are able to see sin as a corporate phenomenon. We begin to catch a glimpse of how sin becomes embedded within cultures and institutions, so that its members become blind to the sins of their culture. It’s sometimes easy to forget that evil is a feature of our existence – a certain undertow – separate from our personal choices and decisions. We are born into a world shaped and distorted by such evils as violence and abuse in families, apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, discrimination, violent jihad, sexual immorality, and the wrongful taking of life.

Throughout Scripture we see not just an individual inclination to sin, but the corporate nature of sin, such that the last five of the Ten Commandments focus on social consequences of individual sin (murder, adultery, theft, false witness, covetousness). The permanent vices and crimes of adults are not transmitted by heredity, but by being socialized. The “gospel” of individualism has taught us to see the sinfulness of every human heart, and has inspired us with faith in the willingness and power of God to save every soul that comes to Him. But it has not given us an adequate understanding of the sinfulness of the social order and its share in the sins of all individuals within it. It has not yet evoked faith in the will and power of God to redeem the permanent institutions of human society from their inherited guilt of oppression and extortion.

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While it is entirely appropriate for us to attend to individual sinfulness, doing so is incomplete unless we also focus on our participation in the social and corporate sins of our social practices and social structures. Spiritual conversion, then, is not just repenting of individual sin, but also examining our participation in collective sin, and prophetically challenging sins that become embedded within a society, including economic systems which disadvantage some and privilege others. Unfortunately, many Christian denominations tend to focus either on individual sin and the need for individual repentance or on culturally embedded sin and the need for social reform and social justice. A fully biblical picture must acknowledge and address both personal and social dimensions of sin.

We must also note that sin has widespread effects throughout the created realm. While sin itself has both individual and social dimensions, the biblical view is that sin affects the entirety of creation. God told Adam and Eve, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-20, NIV). The effects of the Fall are pervasive, and yet we often fail to notice them, because they are part of the fabric of our lives. When sin shattered a perfect creation, everything changed. It’s not just that we sin or that we are sinned against; it’s that everything is different from the way God intended it to be, and all of these differences can be attributed to the consequences of sin. There are weeds in our garden now, and in our personalities. We have mental illness, disease, discontentment, failure, and a lack of vision. Since the Fall, creation now groans with birth defects and disease and poverty. Everything around us is broken. Things are not the way they are supposed to be.

Notice that we look forward not only to individuals being released from the consequences of personal sin, as we see in Romans 8:1-2, but now we see that all of the created order is being released from the consequences of the Fall. In part, the release of Creation from the bondage of the Fall comes about when the image bearers begin to rule properly as God intended, rather than in selfishness and idolatry.

A Christian understanding of human nature affirms our created origin in the image of God, and it recognizes the reality of human sin and its pervasive effects throughout the created realm. Decay, suffering and morality are among the unavoidable realities that led the author of Ecclesiastes to remark on the seeming futility of life. While a Christian worldview insists that we acknowledge the reality of sin – both individual and corporate – the Bible also speaks of God’s continuing interest in humankind, and recognizes remnants of the splendor in which humanity was created. In the Reformed view, Creation and Fall both frame important aspects of human nature, but it is the story of redemption that speaks to the deepest hopes of humanity.

Redemption

The biblical story proceeds from Creation and Fall to the unfolding story of Redemption and Restoration. The story advances through God’s interactions with characters such as Noah and Abraham and Sarah, and to events such as the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, and the giving of the Law to God’s people. It includes the progressive history of God’s interactions with the Israelites, the proclamations of the prophets, and the rise and fall of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It reaches its climax in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It proceeds through the early church, and continues today through God’s activity in reconciling all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20). Throughout these encounters, we see Redemption cast in both individual and social terms. Individuals are called to turn from their evil ways, and the entire nation of Israel is called upon to enact justice.

Since sin has social consequences, and is corporate as well as individual, Redemption involves confronting both individual and corporate sin. Reconciliation of relationships is clearly a major focus of Christ’s redemptive work. But Redemption goes well beyond individual and social life. Colossians tells us that Christ is reconciling all things to Himself. This means that every aspect of creation is to be redeemed and restored: Art, music business, economics, politics, our caretaker role over the environment and our fellow creatures, and so forth. In every conceivable area of life, Christians are called to be agents of Redemption.

Consummation

The biblical story as discussed explains why human nature has elements of both good and evil. It explains why the world around us is subject to decay and disease. It introduces God’s desire to reconcile humanity and the entire created realm to Himself. If we were to leave the biblical narrative at this point, we would have an incomplete picture, because it has yet to address questions about our ultimate end and the final shape of God’s Kingdom. Christians believe that they live in the “now and not yet” of salvation. While a Christian has been saved from the penalty of his or her sin, the struggle with sin and the effects remain very real.

The term Consummation refers to the completion of God’s rule over the Creation that has been in rebellion against His sovereignty. The concept of Consummation is sometimes framed as re-creation – that is, that God restores the Creation from its fallen state. Fulfillment comes in the eschaton, the end of the present age, which begins when God’s rule is firmly established. Much of what the Bible has to say about this is difficult to interpret because it is often presented in apocalyptic imagery. It is also easily misunderstood, since modern, western, individualistic Christianity often focuses on the salvation of the individual rather than on the Restoration of all Creation.

Re-creation culminates in the reversal of sin’s effects on the fallen, judged Creation. The biblical account climaxes with the “new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Peter 3:13, NRSV). It is clear that this picture is not just one of individuals saved from personal sin. It is also an image of the people of God living in community where righteousness reigns. Thus, the complete reign of Christ offers the solution to both individual and social dimensions of the Fall. Moreover, Restoration involves the redemption of all created things. It is my belief that Christ intended for us to live in a manner that promotes the redemption of all things within our present circumstances.

Concluding Remarks

To hope for a better future in this world – for the poor, the sick, the lonely and depressed, for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, those who are mentally or physically ill, and in fact for the whole wide, wonderful, and wounded world – is not something else, something extra, something tacked on to the Gospel as an afterthought. And to work for that intermediate hope, the surprising hope that comes forward from God’s ultimate future into God’s urgent present, is not a distraction from the task of mission and evangelism in the present. It is a central, essential, vital, and life-giving part of it.

The whole point of what Jesus was up to was not merely saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of Creation which is God’s ultimate purpose. So, Consummation is the final outworking of what God will bring to completion, but which He is already beginning to bring about in and through His people in restoring all things to His rule.

 

Who We Believe We Are Directly Affects How We Act

We live in a country glutted with biblical material, Christian books, radio and television, but many Christians are not moving on to spiritual maturity. Additionally, there is a degree of biblical illiteracy in America today. Although surveys indicate that a majority of households report having a Bible, not even 50 percent of those who own Bibles read them regularly. Only 1 percent of young Christians read Scriptures on a daily basis.

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Sadly, we have separated the ministries of discipleship and counseling in our churches. Christian discipleship too often has become an impersonal program, although good theological material is being used. Christian counseling has been intensely personal, but often lacks good theology. We’re told that Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. It is important to note that brokenness is the key to effective ministry.

I’ve come to understand that if we really knew God, our behavior would change radically and instantly. I believe that the greatest determinant of mental and spiritual health, as well as spiritual freedom, is a true understanding of God and a right relationship with Him. A good theology is an indispensable prerequisite to a good psychology. Knowing God is key to maturity and freedom. The mind must be transformed in order that we can live by faith and grow spiritually.

WHO ARE YOU?

When we Christians are asked to identify ourselves in relation to our faith, we usually talk about our doctrinal position (Protestant, evangelical, Calvinist, charismatic), our denominational preference (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Independent) or our role in the church (Sunday school teacher, choir member, deacon, elder). Is who you are determined by what you do, or is what you do determined by who you are? If a meaningful life is the result of appearance, admiration, performance, accomplishments, status, or recognition, then spirituality would hold no inherent value. Rather, worth would be defined solely by the “stuff” we accumulate; the reputation we earn; the nature of our lifestyle; the circles we run in.

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The Book of Ecclesiastes describes the futility of humankind pursuing a meaningful life in a fallen world without God. Millions of people climb their individual ladder of success, only to discover when they reach the top that their ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. Thankfully,  wholeness and meaning in life are not the products of what you have or don’t have; what you’ve done or haven’t done. You are already a whole person and possess a life of infinite meaning and purpose because of who you are—a child of God. The only identity equation that works in God’s kingdom is you plus Christ equals wholeness of meaning.

If our relationship with God is the key to wholeness, why do so many believers struggle with their identity, security, significance, sense of worth, and spiritual maturity? Ignorance is the primary reason. The prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6). For others, it is carnality, the lack of repentance, and little or no faith in God. Others are being deceived by the Father of Lies.

THE ONLY IDENTITY EQUATION THAT WORKS

Sadly, a great number of Christians are trapped in the same downward spiral. We fail, so we see ourselves as failures. This was my self-concept for well over forty years. Constant poor decisions, two failed marriages, and four decades of active addiction seemed to inject a false sense of meaning and identity into my life. We sin, so we see ourselves as sinners, which only leads to more sin. To understand the Gospel and who we are in Christ, we need to look at the creation account and the subsequent fall of humankind.

THE EFFECTS OF THE FALL

Unfortunately, the idyllic setting in the Garden of Eden was shattered. Genesis 3 tells the sad story of Adam and Eve’s lost relationship with God through sin. The effects of their fall were dramatic, immediate, and far reaching, infecting every subsequent member of the human race.  What happened to Adam and Eve spiritually because of the Fall? They died. Their union with God was severed, and they were separated from Him. Was this a physical death? Not immediately, although physical death would be a consequence of the Fall as well. They died spiritually; they were separated from God’s presence. They were physically cast out of the Garden of Eden and a cherubim waving a flaming sword was stationed at the entrance “to guard the way to the Tree of Life” (Genesis 3:24).

Lost Knowledge of God

What effect did the Fall produce in Adam’s mind? He lost his true perception of reality, and the idea of knowing God was no longer relational. Instead, it was about accumulating data about God. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God after their disobedience. Certainly, this reveals a faulty understanding of who God is. How can you hide from an omnipresent God? Their distorted perception of reality reflects Paul’s description of the futile thinking of those who don’t understand who God is. “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts” (Ephesians 4:18, NIV). For me, I had become so lost that I didn’t even realize how lost I was.

ALL SINFUL BEHAVIOR IS A WRONG ATTEMPT AT MEETING BASIC NEEDS. THE ESSENCE OF SIN IS A MAN LIVING INDEPENDENTLY OF GOD, WHO HAS SAID THAT HE WILL MEET ALL OF OUR NEEDS AS WE LIVE OUT LIFE IN CHRIST.

When they sinned and were banished from the Garden, Adam and Eve lost their relationship with and intimate knowledge of God, which was intrinsic to that relationship. In our unregenerate state, we may have known something about God, but we didn’t know God because we had no relationship with Him. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST

Many Christians are not living free and productive lives because they don’t understand who they are and why they are here. Who they are is rooted in their identity and position in Christ. If they don’t see themselves the way God sees them, to that degree they suffer from a false identity and poor sense of worth. In other words, they don’t fully understand the Gospel and the dramatic change that occurred in them the moment they trusted in Christ. The redemptive plan of God began to unfold when Christ, the last Adam, appeared. The first thing we notice about the life of Christ is His complete dependence on God the Father. He said, “I can do nothing on My own initiative” (John 5:30). “I live because of the Father” (6:57).

Jesus Came to Give Us Life

Like the first Adam, Jesus was born both physically and spiritually alive. This was made evident by the fact that Jesus was conceived by the Spirit of God and was born of a virgin. Unlike the first Adam, Jesus was tempted in every way, but He never sinned. He never lost His spiritual life because of any sin He committed. He kept His spiritual life all the way to the cross. What Adam and Eve lost in the Fall was spiritual life, and Jesus came to give us life. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

THE WHOLE GOSPEL

Many Christians are living under half a Gospel. They may have heard that Jesus is the Messiah who came to die for their sins, and if they pray to receive Christ, they will go to heaven when they die. They know their sins will be forgiven, but they don’t see the benefit of a personal relationship with Christ. Perhaps you’ve been plagued by this unfortunate short-sightedness, as I have. What’s wrong with thinking this is all there is to salvation? It is only half the Gospel. If you came across a dead man and you had the power to save him, what would you do? Give him life? If that is all you did, then he would die again. To save the dead person, you would have to cure the disease that caused him to die.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE CHRIST’S DIFFERENCE MAKES

Believers are alive in Christ. Being spiritually alive in Him is the overwhelming theme of the New Testament. In the Book of Ephesians alone we find 40 references to being “in Christ” and having Christ in us. For every biblical passage that teaches that Christ is in you, 10 teach that you are “in Christ.” This is the primary basis for Paul’s theology. “For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17, emphasis mine).

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Here’s the thing: We weren’t born in Christ at the time of our natural birth. We were born dead in our trespasses and sins (see Ephesians 2:1). Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Physical birth gains only physical life for us. Spiritual life, the eternal life Christ promises to those who come to Him, is gained only through spiritual birth (see 3:36). The moment you were born again your soul came into union with God in the same way Adam was in union with God before the Fall. You became spiritually alive, and your name was written in the Lamb’s book of life (see Revelation 21:27). Eternal life is not something you get when you die.

New Life Brings New Identity

Salvation is not a future benefit; rather, it is a present transformation. This is what a large number of born-again Christians do not seem to grasp. Transformation occurs at spiritual birth, not physical death. Being a Christian is not just a matter of getting something; it is a matter of becoming someone new. Salvation is not just forgiveness of sins and a ticket to paradise. A Christian, in terms of his or her deepest identity, is a saint, a spiritually-born child of God, a divine masterpiece, a child of light. What you receive as a Christian isn’t the point; it is who you are in Him. It is that identity that now makes you who you are. Moreover, it is not what you do as a Christian that determines who you are; it is who you are that determines what you do.

Understanding your identity in Christ is essential for living the Christian life. People cannot consistently behave in ways that are inconsistent with the way they perceive themselves. You don’t change yourself by your perception. You change your perception of yourself by believing the truth. If you perceive yourself wrongly, you will live wrongly because what you are believing is not true. If you think you are a no-good bum, you will probably live like a no-good bum. If, however, you see yourself as a child of God who is spiritually alive in Christ, you will begin to live accordingly. Of course, the major strategy of Satan is to distort the character of God and the truth of who we are. He can’t change God, and he can’t do anything to change our identity and position in Christ. If, however, he can get you to believe a lie, you will live as though your identity in Christ isn’t true.

CONCLUSION

One of the greatest ways to help yourself grow into maturity in Christ is to continually remind yourself who you are in Him. The more you reaffirm who you are in Christ, the more your behavior will begin to reflect your true identity. In practice, we should constantly be reminding ourselves who we are. We need to learn to talk to ourselves, and ask ourselves whether we truly understand the scope and meaning of our conversion and baptism. We have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection. We no longer have to be a slave to sin. We have a new Master.

How important is it to know who you are in Christ? Countless numbers of Christians struggle with their day-to-day behavior because they labor under a false perception of who they are. They consider themselves sinners who hope to make it into heaven by God’s grace, but they can’t seem to live above their sinful tendencies. What is the believer’s hope? That you are a child of God now, who is being conformed to the image of God. The person who has this hope “purifies himself” and begins to live according to who he or she really is. You must believe you are a child of God to live like a child of God. “God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27)

 

Like a Roaring Lion, Seeking Whom He May Devour

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WHEN YOU YIELD YOURSELF to sin, you’re serving Satan, who is the author of sin. But when you yield yourself to obedience, you serve God, who is the author of righteousness.

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It’s easy to realize there are consequences (and rightly so) for what we do in everyday life, some worse than others. The impact is often multi-leveled. If you’re driving over the speed limit – something I used to do quite frequently – you could get a ticket or cause an accident. The speeding violation could cost you money and put points on your driver’s license. An accident could damage your car, other property or, worse yet, cost someone their life. Infidelity could cost your marriage, and typically leaves emotional scars on the couple and any children. Stealing a loaf of bread, even when out of necessity, puts you at risk for a criminal charge, which will blemish your record for years to come. Embezzling from your employer – one example from our local television station involved a bookkeeper taking nearly $100,000 from her employer – can land you in prison.

There’s much more to life than what we can see – the physical, natural, surface-level realm. Spiritual dynamics are constantly taking place around us. Frustration, resentment, unforgiveness – all can leave a blemish. Have you ever had a falling out with an individual, perhaps a family member? I am presently struggling with this very problem; something I brought on by my actions. It is easy to get embroiled in the dispute to the point that you cannot see your own part.  Pride goeth before the fall. Whether you recognize it or not, Satan is the one who influences us to respond in the wrong way.

Joyce Meyer, in her seminal book Battlefield of the Mind (1995), says, “How can we express the importance of our thoughts sufficiently in order to convey the true meaning of Proverbs 23:7: ‘For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.'” Frankly, the longer I serve God and study the Bible, the more I realize the importance of God’s thoughts and words. Today, I long for finding the guidance and divine influence of the Holy Spirit. It is clear that as long as we are alive on this earth we will need to study what God’s Word teaches on the the various areas of thoughts and deeds.

Clearly, the devil is a liar. Jesus called him the father of lies and of all that is false. (John 8:44) He lies to you and me. He tells us things about ourselves, about other people, and about circumstances, that are just not true! He usually will not tell us the entire lie at one time. Instead, he begins by bombarding our mind with a cleverly devised pattern of propaganda, including a hierarchy of nagging thoughts, suspicions, doubts, fears, wonderings, reasonings, and theories. He moves slowly and cautiously – after all, well-laid plans take time. He has a strategy for his warfare. He has studied us for a long time, and he knows what will trip us up.

Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message says, “Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping.” The New King James Version states, “…your adversary walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

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Because we are in a spiritual battle, we cannot afford to indulge the “luxury” of strife. God is a God of peace. (Romans 15:33; 16:20) Regarding the creation of mankind, God said, “Let us make man in our own image.” (Genesis 1:26; 2:7) He directly breathed the breath of life into man’s nostrils. Consider that God’s intent, at the moment when He breathed his breath of life into man, was to impart His image on mankind in full measure. I believe it was then and there that man became an image bearer of God. He at least hoped man would be of peace and not of strife. It is likely at this point that God transferred His agape love, His unconditional love, unto mankind with the desire that man would handle his every interaction with his fellow man in accordance with the kind of love we’re told about in 1 Corinthians 13. This is clearly the ideal.

Our life should be full of peace, not animosity and disunity. Of course I’m not saying that we (after the Fall) will ever live totally free from all wrangling and dissension, hatred and jealousy, but we should never just accept these attitudes, like it’s “game over,” nor should we promote them through our behavior. We ought to actively stand against such things and fight, recognizing that every time we get into strife a door is opened for anything the enemy wants to do in our lives. Think I’m nuts? Hey, how many times (consider the recent news events involving mass shootings) has strife or jealousy or mistrust or bigotry led to outright massacre? Too often! Satan gains access to our daily lives whenever there’s strife, and he has a giant appetite for death and destruction. He’s quite pleased when mankind turns from love and acceptance to carnage and plunder.

AN ONGOING BATTLE

Whether you realize it or not, we are at war. We’re in a fight over our souls. A battle which has the potential to end in spiritual death. Satan is walking about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. The devil is trying to destroy our lives, moment by moment, from within. This is no typical war. In this battle, the casualties are our souls. The devil desires to rip your soul right out of your chest and drag it into the darkness forever. Worse, he wants to do this to our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends. Essentially to everyone. A scary component of this war is that every man, woman and child on the planet is being dragged into combat whether they like it or not. There is no escape.

I’m not making this up. I wish I were. If you are attending a church where your pastor is not telling you about this struggle, please consider seeking a new, Bible-filled church. Our church leaders need to be talking about this. Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (NIV) Satan is ready to do battle at the drop of a hat. Peter warns us to be alert and of sober mind because the devil is on the prowl.

This is hard stuff, and I don’t find any of it particularly comforting. I will say that I lived well over 50 years in ignorance of these facts, or, worse, stupidly unafraid. The battle for my soul really went into full swing when I could not let go of anger and resentment toward my father, or anyone who would challenge me, defy me, or disappoint me. I laughed at the warnings I was given about drugs and alcohol. Surely I was bigger than addiction. I gave over to strife, opening the door just a crack, only to have mental illness, delinquency, selfishness, bitterness and active addiction claim me. We all have these types of issues, and we’re all vulnerable to conquest from the devil. Consider it a draft into servitude if you will.

IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP

Most Christians do not want to face this reality or acknowledge the stakes. Certainly, there’s a lot of wishful thinking going on; maybe the Bible is wrong. Perhaps it’s all just allegory and illustration. Perhaps we can just lethargically run out the clock and then float up into the heavens and stroll along streets of gold. When we get there, we think God will embrace us and hand us our “honorable mention” trophy or, for some of us, our “conduct above and beyond” plaque. Maybe, but what about the warning of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23 regarding those who thought they were Christians because they said so? The Scripture says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord.’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'” (NKJV)

You see, even Christians tend to sleep when their outward circumstances are most pleasant. A man doesn’t sleep when he discovers his hot water bottle has been leaking all over his bed, but when an electric blanket has warmed up his bed to the ideal temperature and he can curl up under the sheets. When all is soft and comfortable, then he will say, “Soul, soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years. Take thy rest; eat, drink, and be merry.” Admit it, you’ve been there. And while there, you’ve closed your eyes to the bad things you’ve been through, as well what’s going on around you now, and the terrible days that lie ahead. I remember all the painful, lonely, out-of-control times. The many years of active addiction. The sense that nothing would ever get better. My addiction, my brokenness, forced me to the throne of grace. I dropped to my knees and surrendered. I engaged with addictions professionals, fellow addicts and alcoholics, my sponsor, my pastor. I returned to the church of my youth, where I was saved and baptized at age 13. I made a habit of taking notes during men’s Sunday school and during the pastor’s message. I typically do not miss an opportunity today to assemble with fellow believers.

Funny, but I suddenly felt alive, relevant. I was wide awake. More spiritually engaged than I can ever remember. Few men sleep with a thunderstorm overhead and lightning striking nearby; many more sleep on a calm night. Now I’m not one to be ungrateful when given an completely new life; when renewed and rescued, set on the correct path, forgiven by God yet again, one more time. Moreover, God has called me to serve despite my decades of selfish, deliberate, sinful behavior. I start every day with enthusiasm, completely cognizant of the possibilities. It’s still fresh for me, but I know the potential remains for complacency to set in. As an alcoholic and addict in recovery, and a psychology major headed to graduate school for a master’s in professional counseling, I have at least a “head knowledge” of what happens when we get comfortable. Even as Christians. We “settle in.” We fluff our pillows and relax.

Ironically, we can get to a point where we rely on God less than when we did back when our world was crashing down around us. We tend to pray less often, and hardly ever on our knees. We claim being too busy, but we rationalize, saying to ourselves, “At least I talk to God in the shower or while driving to my next appointment.” We become less aware of God’s hand on our life. When the evening news becomes too laden with bad stories, we simply turn it off. Thankfully, I belong to a praying church. Several Sundays ago, our church held a special service. Instead of worship and a message, we held a “prayer walk.” We began in the sanctuary, then, after some basic instructions and prayer, we headed to the gymnasium of our affiliate Christian school. (Our church also operates a Christian school, grades K-12, which was founded in 1974.) Our pastor and elders had set up more than twenty individual prayer tables around the gym. Needs ranged from the missions we directly support, to missionaries in Muslim countries, our military men and women around the globe – especially those serving within harms way of North Korea – the fight against terrorism, various diseases, hurricane victims in Texas and Florida, our Christian academy, all the public schools and colleges in our region, those in the grips of active addiction, and so on.

My point? Arouse yourselves. Don’t become satisfied or complacent. Stay in the fight. Is Satan asleep? Or those powers and principalities, rulers of the darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms? Are they less dangerous than they used to be? No! There is no trial half as bad as imagining we are free from all trials. There is no defeat so great as imagining we are living lives of constant victory despite the headlines. It is often after we get confident about our status as God’s children, and rest in cliches, that we sleep; that we let our guard down. There is extreme danger in slumbering in the face of ever-present evil. We cannot defend ourselves when we’re sleeping. Nor can we stand in intercessory prayer for those in danger around us. Let’s face it: We need to arouse ourselves. There is work to be done. Did you know that Bible-believing Christians have never been so well off in this country. We have the resources to get anything done we set our minds and hearts to. We have everything we need except the will to do it.

A FINAL THOUGHT

When someone robs a bank and the police surround the building, they sometimes take a hostage. A bank typically has a great deal of security – locks, vaults, cameras, armed guards, top-notch alarm systems. One person with a gun isn’t really sufficient to go in and overpower such security measures. In spite of this, if the thief grabs a hostage and puts a gun to the hostage’s head, the thief knows his demands will be met. The people who run the bank aren’t willing to see a hostage killed just to protect a pile of money. One person with a gun and clip of ammo can challenge a multitude of police and S.W.A.T with automatic weapons simply by placing the life of one person in jeopardy.

Satan knows he can never overpower God in a direct confrontation. However, he saw how God gave Adam and Eve unconditional authority. Suppose he could get them – of their own free will – to yield their authority to him? God created the universe, and breathed life into Adam. He gave Adam a partner, a help-mate, Eve. When Adam and Eve defied God and ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God had the right and the authority to simply push the reset button and start humanity all over again. He could have destroyed Adam and Eve, the devil, and all the angels caught up in Lucifer’s rebellion. Instead, He realized that to intervene in the affairs of this world in such fashion would violate his covenant with Adam and Eve. He had given dominion over the earth to Adam and his help-mate. And he gave them free will. If God intervened, He would have violated His Word.

What was God’s answer? Redemption. That’s a powerful word. Have you ever looked at its meaning? It means (i) the act of gaining or regaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt; (ii) the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil. God had Adam’s attention. Indeed, He had his heart. He walked in complete harmony and fellowship with God. Nothing was wrong. Everything was beautiful. Exactly as God intended it to be. Then Satan took Adam and Eve hostage, plunging all of mankind into exile. Somehow, God had to regain possession of mankind. In the original Hebrew redemptio, redemption means repurchasing of captured goods or prisoners; the act of procuring the deliverance of persons or things from the possession and power of captors by the payment of an equivalent; ransom; release; as the redemption of prisoners taken at war; in theology, the purchase of God’s favor by the death and sufferings of Christ; the ransom or deliverance of sinners from the bondage of sin and the penalties of God’s violated law by the atonement of Christ.

Knowing that you were not redeemed by perishable things like silver and gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless; the blood of Christ. – 1 Pet. 1:18-19

References

Alcoholics Anonymous. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition. New York, NY: AA Worldwide Services.

Meyer, J. (1995). Battlefield of the Mind. Fenton, MO: Warner Faith.

The Gospel: Part Three – The Consummation of all Things

Consummation, from a biblical perspective, deals with eschatology. The part of theology concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul and of all of mankind. It is commonly referred to as the end of the world, or the “end times.” Of course, most modern fiction regarding this topic does not deal with the end of time, but rather with the end of a certain period of time; the end of life as it is now, and the beginning of a new period of time. Most books or films on this subject depict violent disruption or destruction of the world. Christian eschatologies show the end times as the consummation or perfection of God’s creation of the world.

The Book of Revelation is at the core of Christian eschatology. It shows God in control as life moves toward the consummation of a great goal in accordance with the purposes of His will. Man may hinder, deflect, or delay God’s plans, but he cannot destroy them. Righteousness ultimately will win out. Evil will be utterly destroyed. The God of Revelation is the Creator. All who gather around the throne proclaim, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things.” (Revelation 4:11) In Revelation 14:7, the angel says, “Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (NIV) He made us. He is with His people. He is guiding the course of human events, and His cause will ultimately be victorious.

The climax of the ages-long conflict between Christ and Satan is depicted in those scenes portraying the woman versus the dragon, the Lamb versus the beast, and Jerusalem versus Babylon. In the climax, there will be only two classes of people: those who receive the seal of God and those who receive the mark of the beast. God’s victory will give the church great assurance. Believers will be comforted and encouraged as they recall how God has upheld His faithful throughout the centuries. He has been the guard and the Great Protector of those in the church who have been loyal and true throughout the eons. He still holds the stars in His right hand. He is still the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

The last battle with be the most spectacular ever seen. Satan and his demons, indeed all his minions, will gather as an army. His opponent? The KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS. According to Isaiah 25:9, “In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.'” (NIV) The complete work of Christ is nothing less than to redeem the entire creation from the effects of sin. His purpose will not be accomplished until He has ushered in the great new earth; until Paradise Lost has become Paradise Regained. It is through a clear understanding of the doctrine of the new earth in order that we fully see God’s redemptive program in cosmic proportions. God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man’s Fall.

Old Testament prophesies speak of a glorious future for the earth. We are told that, at some point, the earth will become far more productive and spectacular than we can possibly imagine. The Old Testament views this future redemption as a restoration of life in creation. God picked the Israelites – His chosen people, the apple of His eye – to show the world how He intended it all to work. He gave the Jews specific instructions, shaping every part of their public and private lives. The Law was meant to govern their environment, their economy, their families, their society, their politics, their worship, their everything. As the Israelites submitted to the Law of God, they would show the nations how life was supposed to go. Israel was going to demonstrate to the world how walking as God’s image-bearers under explicit acknowledgment of His sovereignty and majesty, and in complete rhythm with God’s design, worked.

For those of us who know God’s Word, it is obvious Israel did not do so well in this regard. The Old Testament chronicles  their perfecting the art of failure. As they failed time and time again, the prophets among them looked forward to the day when Israel would return to their land,  repent of their sin, and live according to God’s will. In this way, Israel was meant to be a light to all nations. The prophets would speak, often at great length, about all nations being drawn into God’s kingdom until it encompassed the whole earth.  Escape from earth is not the goal. Old Testament Scripture views the destiny of mankind as inseparably linked with life on earth. Jesus affirms this view of salvation. The announcement of Him being God’s kingdom at hand must be placed in this very context.

Jesus was not trying to change Israel’s understanding of a new heaven and a new earth. Rather, the Gospel ministry of Jesus and his disciples shows Jesus operating in the framework of an Old Testament expectation of a new creation. His miraculous deeds demonstrate His healing of a broken world, revealing that the Gospel of the kingdom includes the eradication of disease, poverty, the usurping of death, and the ushering in of a new order. Jesus inaugurated this new kingdom in His first coming, but He hasn’t consummated it yet. We are living today in the tension of this already-not-yet world where Jesus has purchased reconciliation, but consummation still lies ahead. We get a glimpse in Matthew 19:28 when Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (NIV)

Paul’s understanding is also interconnected with the Old Testament’s forecast of a new creation and Jesus’ affirmation. In Romans 8:19-22, Paul relates that even the non-human aspects of God’s creation share in the destiny of God’s chosen people. The ground is cursed because of one man’s disobedience. It groans. It has been subjected to futility. This is not to say that the earth is alive in a pantheistic or paganistic manner, but only that Paul’s metaphorical language refers to the reality that the earth’s brokenness is bound up with man’s sin, and therefore the solution to the earth’s problems is bound up with man’s redemption through Christ.

It is common every day, all over the globe, to see man is suffering at the hands of extreme weather, wildfires, pestilence, famine, drought, evildoers, rampant sinfulness, sexual identity confusion, violence, rape, murder, envy, strife, drug and alcohol addiction, jealousy, theft, and any number of horrific conditions. All of creation groans in anticipation of its own liberation. Jesus is the answer to deliverance of the entirety of creation from the wages of sin. The end goal of redemption is a resurrected body on a new – resurrected – earth. Isaiah 65:17 tells us, “For behold, I create a new heaven and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” [Italics mine.] I love this verse. Having spent nearly forty years in active addiction, and having served three years in state prison, I have seen firsthand the horror of sin. Isaiah prompts me, however, to look forward and envision the day that God will create a new heaven and a new earth, and all the former things – pain, sorrow, difficulty, rebellion, hatred, deliberate infliction of emotional pain will no longer be remembered at all.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:1-2)

This is the ultimate fruit of the Gospel mission, and it is undoubtedly what Jesus was praying for when He prayed that God’s kingdom would come in such a way that God’s will would be done perfectly on earth as it is done in heaven. Jesus Himself was the answer to this prayer, inaugurating the kingdom through His earthly ministry and testifying that people who place their faith in Him alone will enjoy the blessings of the kingdom’s future consummation, when all the crooked ways are finally made straight.

 

The Gospel: Part Two

THE FALL

The world was made for God’s glory, but His glory in creation was made manifest in man and woman, bearers of His image, who were created to take dominion over creation, to be the crown jewel of the material world. So when sin entered us, it entered the world. Original sin has effects beyond humanity; it affects the world, the cosmos. “The whole creation has been groaning.” (Romans 8:22) This is not just to remind us of the seriousness of rebellion against God, but to indicate that human rebellion against God disrupts the natural order of everything. This is why the Gospel must be explicitly about the restoration of God’s image bearers and also about the restoration of the entire theater of His glory, the cosmos.

There is a vital connection between Adam’s disobedience and the Fall of the very earth itself in Genesis 3, as God pronounces the curse:

“And to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the plants of the food. By the sweat of your face, you shall eat the bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19, ESV)

The harmony that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God’s creation, the peaceful dominion they were given over it, is not broken. “Cursed is the ground because of you.” The fracture between Adam and creation reflects the fracture between God and Adam. Where Adam’s work was toil-less, it is now toilsome. While the earth was once wonderfully subdued, it now yields grudgingly. Where it was once only fruitful and abundant, it now offers the challenge of thorns and thistles. And while Adam was once bestowed with imperishable flesh, his sin limits the life span of his body. Having rejected God’s blessings, he has chosen to place his hope in the dust from which he was fashioned.

We know Adam and Eve were placed as the crowns of God’s good creation, but as the crown goes, so goes the creation. Their sin brings the curse to us all, and the curse is found far as east is from west. What Adam and Eve enjoyed before the Fall is often referred to by the Hebrew word shalom. The fullness of this word means peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. There is a sense of soundness, and an absence of agitation or discord; a state of calm without anxiety or stress. Shalom has been said to be God’s word for total satisfaction in life. This is the abundant life Jesus promised! (John 10:10)

The order God established in creating the universe and us as its inhabitants is certainly reflected in the Law – it is there summarized in the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – but it is bigger than mere legal commands. Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve were stewards of the creation God had given them in a way that accurately reflected God’s glory. The way they cultivated the garden, tirelessly drawing forth from it the very best of fruits, was a reflection of the way God drew forth Adam and Eve’s best. The whole place ran like a well-oiled machine.

Their sin, however, threw a wrench in the gears. The relationship Adam and Eve had with creation itself was broken at the precise moment their relationship with God was broken:

“Therefore the Lord sent him out from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:23-24)

Today, every person is searching for meaning, significance, and happiness. Man’s pursuit of these ideals can morph into some of the most self-centered and perverse avenues ever known. Whatever label we put on it, however we personally identify with it, we all are seeking fulfillment. And this search for fulfillment alone should tell us that there is an actual fulfillment to be had. Happiness is the driving force behind everything we do. Anything we do has the desire for happiness at its center. Even distasteful things we do are done because we see them ultimately as preferable and more conducive to happiness than the alternatives.

When sin entered the world and fractured it, Romans 1:23 tells us that you and I exchanged the infinite creator God for His creation. We settled for temporary fleeting pleasures rather than for what is eternal and soul-satisfying. Almost all of us, whether we’ll admit it or not, have bought into the philosophy that what we need to finally make us happy is more of what we already possess. This is nuts! It’s all meaningless. After all, God has put eternity into man’s heart. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) At some level, in the deepest parts of our soul, we remember what life was like before the Fall. At some really deep level, our sould has this impression cut into it by the finger of God, like the grooves on a record, encoding the memory of what it was like before sin entered into the world. We remember, at a really deep level, that at one time we were full, and at one time we were happy, and at one time there was nothing weighing us down. Our souls are outright groaning to get back there. We have a God-shaped hole in our soul.

In the end, there is nothing under the sun that brings lasting fulfillment. You have to look beyond the sun. The hole in our soul cannot be filled with the temporal. It demands eternity. Therefore, our very search for more and more, for bigger and bigger, and for better and better, is our sense that something is off, amiss, deformed, and broken. In the same sense that death, pain, insatiable searching tells us that something bigger than the earth itself is missing from our soul.

Sin isn’t just a personal thing; it’s a cosmic thing. While the Gospel shows us that depravity is very personal, that it’s inside our being, it also shows us that depravity affects earth’s very social fabric. The whole thing is messed up. The system and all its parts are lacking. There is no peace or contentment in our hearts. We are cursed; creation is cursed. We are groaning; creation is groaning. The ache is bigger than all of us. Consequently, we need a redemption bigger than all of us.

In looking at the happening and the consequence of the Fall, I cannot help but note Paul’s words in Romans 11:22: “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in His kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.” There is sin, and there is judgment, but the Good News is God sought out the sinners. Although he passed sentence, he also promised salvation to come. In many respects, Eden was a type of Canaan or Promised Land. Canaan was a place of beauty; a land of milk and honey. Possession could be had only by obedience to God. Once again, man was faced with a decision to make. What kept Adam and Eve from everlasting blessing was their desire to have pleasure at the cost of unbelief and disobedience.

We all suffer the consequences of the Fall. Our salvation is in calling upon the name of the Lord and trusting in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for our sin. (Romans 5:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18) The world groans under the curse, crying out for the relief that will come at the ultimate redemption of God’s people when Christ returns. (Romans 8:22-23) When Jesus comes for all those who have trusted in Him, God will restore all things. He will create a new heaven and a new earth to replace that which sin destroyed. (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:12-13; Revelation 21:1) Mankind will no longer be “fallen” but restored and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God. (Revelation 7:14)

Reconciliation: A New Heaven and a New Earth

When God surveys the depraved mess mankind has become, he notes Noah’s righteousness but describes the pervasiveness of sin and the repercussions of it this way: “As far as God was concerned, the Earth has become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting – life itself corrupt to the core. God said to Noah, ‘It’s all over. It’s the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere; I’m making a clean sweep.'” (Genesis 6:11-13, MSG)

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Why would God flood the whole Earth? What did the Earth ever do to God? The answer, of course, is nothing, but the destruction of all living things – save those in the ark – shows the deep ramifications of our cosmic treason against God. Because the stewards of creation are corrupt, the Earth is corrupt. We are the opposites of King Midas – everything we touch turns not to gold but to ash. The ground is accursed on account of Adam and Eve’s sin, on account of our sin, because the consequences of sin must reflect the expanse of God’s glory.

His glory is eternal; therefore, sin is an eternal offense. This is why we believe in an eternal life, an eternal hell, and a remaking of not just some things but all things. The good news is that God’s plan for redemption is scaled to His glory, encompassing all creation. What is corrupt will be declared “very good” again. At the tail end of the story of Noah and the ark, as Noah finally plants his feet on dry land again and makes a burnt offering to the Lord, God promises, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21, NIV)

God’s promise back then is actually a foreshadow of that day still to come when the curse will finally be eradicated from the earth, from pole to pole and from east to west. God’s plan of redemption is gigantic. The vision He has for the world, then, is not destruction, as many Christians have believed over the years, but redemption. Not annihilation but restoration. A new heaven and a new earth. Purified by fire. Clearly, the reconciliation God has in mind through the atoning work of Jesus Christ is both personal and global. Because all things in the earth have been corrupted by man’s fall, God will be “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19) and putting “all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Cor. 15:27)

When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, His example included the words “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) This was in essence the purpose of His ministry; to bring the kingdom of God to bear on the earth. Right now, the entire creation is out of wack. The stain of sin affects creation. The very ground we walk on is cursed on account of man’s sin. Jesus’s ministry of ultimately inaugurating God’s kingdom, with Himself as King, is not simply a mission of recruitment of subjects; it is about reversing the curse. Again, His was both a personal and a global mission. Consider the hopes of God’s people in the Old Testament: It was not just about individual salvation, but about national redemption, restoration of covenant, “real world” reconciliation.

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The Gospel of Jesus is epic. When Jesus says he saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky, He is saying that the Gospel is about the overthrow of evil itself. It’s not just about forgiveness of our sinful behavior. When Jesus casts out demons, He is demonstrating the authority of God’s sovereignty. When He heals the sick and the lame, He is saying that the Gospel is about the eradication of physical brokenness: the effects of sin. In fact, the mission of Jesus is so big that John the Baptist, in Matthew 3:3, quotes Isaiah 40:3-4. Here’s a look at that passage from Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message: “Thunder in the desert! ‘Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as God said.'”

One of the dangers of a Gospel that stays on the ground too long is that it becomes man-centered. The idea, for instance, that the Bible is God’s love letter to us has a bit of truth to it,  but this shows how easily we trade the centrality of God’s glory for the centrality of our need. Colossians 1:18 puts this man-centeredness to rest as follows: “And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the first born from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.” (NIV) The peace that is made by the blood of the cross covers everything. The scope of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross spans the brokenness between man and God and the brokenness between earth and heaven.

The cross of Christ is first and centrally God’s means of reconciling sinful people to His sinless self. But it is bigger than that too. From the ground, we see the cross as our bridge to God. From the air, the cross is our bridge to the restoration of all things. The cross of the battered Son of God is the battering ram through the blockade back to the Garden of Eden. Back to the wonders of the new covenant kingdom, of which the old was but a foreshadow. The cross is the keystone in God’s plan to restore all creation. And although we are each saved as an individual life, we are not saved to an individual life. Rather, we stand as part of God’s restoration of all things. When you and I are reconciled by Jesus Christ to God, we are brought into the covenant community of faith. Remember, we have been made members of the Body of Christ.

In Christ, we’ve also been called not just into the universal church but to the local church. I my case, I was called back to the church of my youth, where I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and was baptized at thirteen years old. This is where I became part of the work of reconciliation. I, like nearly all of us, went astray. Although I was covered by the blood, and saved by grace, I failed to participate in God’s plan of reconciliation. I discovered drugs and alcohol, and, through associating with the wrong people, and a series of very bad decisions, I ended up in state prison. There were times, even in those darkest hours, when I again participated in God’s plan of reconciliation. I organized and conducted a Bible study during free time known as “block out.” At times, as many as seven or eight prisoners joined me to study the Word of God.

Sadly, I continued to step off the narrow path, on to the wide path, which leads to destruction. It has taken me nearly four decades to return to the path God has chosen for me. Now, I am finishing my undergraduate degree in psychology at Colorado Christian University, and have applied to the graduate studies program at Lancaster Bible College for fall of 2018. I will be ministering to teens and young adults struggling with mental illness and addiction. Yes, we are awaiting the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, but of that hour no man knows. Our great commission, in the meantime, is to spread the Good News, and to bring freedom to the captives.

Sunset on green Field Landscape

God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth is about a refreshing of the earth rather than destruction of the existing earth. Dr. David Jeremiah tells of purification by fire. There will be renewal, not annihilation. 2 Peter 3:10-12 describes the heavens disappearing with a roar, and  the elements (the earth) being “laid bare” by fire. Heaven and earth will be new not in time but in quality. In other words, it is about renovation. Not something that never existed before. Something made better. Just as our bodies are redeemed and will be changed, so it will be with heaven and earth. Because the whole of creation has been affected by the curse, and further polluted by man’s sin, it is not a suitable place for resurrected, perfect people to live. How could we live among fossils, graveyards, and reminders of death, and a flood-scarred earth that bore evidence of God’s great judgment of sin? How can we live on a planet next to a sun that has a limited lifespan, or within a universe that has a build-in timer our physicists have labeled entropy?

Here is another way to look at it. Did the Great Flood destroy or annihilate the earth? No! Neither will God’s purifying fire. Just as our bodies die and return to dust, ultimately raised as new bodies that have continuity with who we were before our death, likewise the earth is fallen and will be renewed. The renewal of the earth is directly analogous with the resurrection of the redeemed in Christ. Just as we have to die before we are resurrected, the earth must be destroyed before it is renewed. It is not an ultimate or final destruction; it is a destruction that purifies and clears the way for re-creation.

Somehow we’ve managed to get away from the message of the Bible: Redeem. Restore. Recover. Return. Renew. Resurrect. Each of these words begins with the prefix re-, which means return to an original condition that was ruined or lost. God always sees us in light of what He intended us to be, and He always seeks to restore us to that design. Likewise, He sees the earth in terms of what He intended it to be, and He seeks to restore it to its original design. Realize this: If God doesn’t redeem or restore the physical world, then Satan wins, because he would have foiled God’s original purpose of Creation. The Bible promises that God will undo everything Satan did, and He will make creation even better than before. Frankly, man has an innate longing for a Golden Age; we’re homesick for the Garden of Eden. Paul tells us, “However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love Him – these are the things God has revealed to us by His Spirit…” (1 Cor. 2:9-10a, NIV)

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“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17, NIV)

The Principles of Satan’s Oppression

“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”
PSALM 9:9 (NIV)

Word Oppression in Broken Lettering

THE WORD OF GOD clearly identifies who our enemy is, how he came to be, and how he operates to attack and oppress mankind. The best way for the Christian to prepare for spiritual warfare against Satan and his forces – and to be victorious – is to thoroughly understand the principles of Satan’s oppression. We must know the enemy – understanding how he works – if we want to live a victorious life. Ignorance will keep a child of God living a defeated life.

It is crucial that we begin with a base knowledge of the authority, victory, protection, and position given to the believer over Satan and his demonic oppression through the Name of Jesus. Luke 9:1 says, “And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons, and to heal diseases.” (NASB) Accordingly, we are not to fear or defer to demons; they are not colleagues to be respected; they are not our spiritual equals, counterparts, or mere sparring partners. They have been placed under the feet of all believers, and are subject to the delegated authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. They have already been defeated!

Spiritual oppression is an attempt by Satan to make us live in fear of him and what he can do to us. It is important to remember that Satan lost all his rights and power when Jesus won victory over him at the cross. The only right to power he has today is through deception. As long as we believe he can attack us, he will be able to use fear to keep us from fulfilling the will of God for us. Satan only has power to the degree we believe his lies. Though demons can enter and possess any unbeliever, they cannot enter into the body of those who belong to the Lord.

Oppression, on the other hand, does occur, and it can lead to illness, depression, financial difficulties, phobias, marital strife, and other types of disharmony. Oppression is a series of events coordinated by the demonic realm designed to derail our faith, rob us of our prosperity, and stall our destiny. We know too well that the devil has numerous plots and schemes in his arsenal. He’s been tempting human beings since the beginning of time. (Genesis 3)

What are some symptoms of a spiritual attack? One of the first things to suffer during spiritual oppression is your prayer life. Your very commitment to God is often strained. I am fond of the word tenacity. Oppression will test your spiritual tenacity. It will make you doubt the absolute certainty you had that what God promises in His Word will transpire. Spiritual tenacity is best expressed in the statement, “Be still and know that I am God.” (NIV) It allows us to wait on the Lord. So imagine how challenging it is to be under demonic oppression to the extent that you lose touch with the certainty that God is God, and that He will accomplish that which He has promised.

During a spiritual attack, the enemy uses a variety of circumstances to oppress the mind and bring great frustration. The believer who is under siege finds himself on edge and anxious. His thinking becomes sluggish. Confusion sets in. This leads to irritability and exhaustion. It becomes increasingly difficult to make decisions. Satan hates when a Christian is on the beam, walking with God, fulfilling his calling, and making a positive impact on the world. This is precisely why he goes on the attack in the first place! In a long spiritual battle, a person is often pulled back toward negative cycles they broke free from. Satan wants to enslave them once again in the same old bondage.

As the enemy attacks the life of a believer, he begins to give them reasons to give up on the very thing that God called them to do. This is one of Satan’s greatest weapons. He releases confusion, doubt, shame, intimidation, and a myriad of vile schemes to create a cloud of uncertainty. His ultimate goal is to get the believer off his path. Once under attack, the Christian begins to reexamine decisions that were once crystal clear. It is likely, after prolonged attack, to start questioning prophetic words, spiritual breakthroughs, and significant experiences they’ve had in their life.

It is unfortunate that many Christians live their lives being troubled by evil spirits simply because they think it’s normal and consider it an acceptable form of daily spiritual warfare. Oppression is not normal in a believer’s life. Yes, it is possible for a Christian to be troubled at times by demons, but Acts 10:38 says Jesus made it clear that God’s will was not for His people to be oppressed, harassed, or troubled by evil spirits: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.” Jesus came to set the captives free. In other words, we don’t have to stay in oppression.

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)