A few years ago we made a photo collage of all the members of our church. Everyone’s face was in it. For various reasons some of these people no longer come to our church. More would be missing if we had photos taken 10, 20, or 30 years ago. I wonder how many of these are still following Jesus today. Unfortunately some people who seem to start well in the Christian faith, don’t finish well. There is a danger of turning away from God. Today we are looking at two life lessons from king Saul. One is an example to follow and the other is an example to avoid.
Saul followed God
Until he met Samuel the prophet, Saul was an ordinary guy who worked for his father by doing jobs, like searching for lost donkeys. This changed when Samuel told Saul that he was chosen to be the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 9:27 – 10:1). Saul changed to follow God. The Bible says that he was changed into a different person because he received power from God; God was with him and changed his heart (1 Sam.10:6, 7, 9). He was now up with the prophets instead of down with the donkeys. The people were so amazed when he prophesied with the prophets, they exclaimed “Is Saul among the prophets” (1 Sam. 10:10).
After Saul was declared to be their king, the people celebrated and shouted, “Long live the king” (1 Sam. 10:17-24). Saul had many military victories. After they defeated the Ammonites, there was a great celebration and the people renewed their allegiance to God and confirmed Saul as their king (1 Sam. 11:14-15).
So Saul was called by God and he followed God’s leading. What a great example for those who have been called to trust in the salvation provided by Jesus Christ. The Bible says “each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them” (1 Cor. 7:17). We are not kings, but God has placed us in situations where we can serve Him daily.
God used Samuel to call Saul and He uses the Holy Spirit and the gospel message to call us to follow Him today (1 Th. 1:5; 2 Th. 2:14). During this period of his reign he served God faithfully. And faithfulness characterises those who follow the Lord as it is listed in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
All is going well so far for Saul. But life is a marathon, not a sprint. We now turn to the next stage of Saul’s life.
Saul turned away from God
Samuel told Saul to wait for him at Gilgal and Samuel would come and offer sacrifices to God (1 Sam. 10:8; 13:7-15). When Saul became impatient, he disobeyed Samuel and God by offering the sacrifices himself and Samuel rebuked him. Only Levites were allowed to offer sacrifices and Saul was a Benjamite. It was the first of several sins that resulted in him being replaced by David as king of Israel.
Next Saul disobeyed God again by keeping the best animals and sparing the king when they defeated the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:3, 9, 20). Then he proudly set up a monument in his own honor instead of acknowledging God (1 Sam. 15:12). The Bible says that he turned away from God (1 Sam. 15:10). He reverted. Instead of being up with the prophets, he was back down with the donkeys. Because he rejected God, God rejected him as king (1 Sam. 15:23).
After David defeated Goliath, Saul became extremely jealous of David and tried to kill him several times (1 Sam, 18:8-11, 28-29; 19:9-24). Then Saul chased him all around the land of Israel (1 Sam 18-26). During this time he had 85 priests killed, including the high Priest, because they helped David to escape (1 Sam. 22:6-23).
So Saul went from bad to worse. When he was afraid of the Philistines, he consulted the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:3-20). Finally when Saul was critically injured in battle he killed himself (1 Sam. 31:1-4). Saul didn’t finish well.
What does the Bible say about those who turn away from God?
The Galatians turned against the gospel by following Jewish legalism (Gal. 1:6; 4:9-11). They deserted God to follow a false gospel. False teaching and false teachers can deceive us. The Ephesians stopped loving the Lord and were told to repent and do the things they did at first (Rev. 2:4-5). The Corinthians tolerated sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13). They were not concerned and carried on as though it didn’t matter. The churches at Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea were urged to repent and turn around to follow God once again (Rev. 2:16, 21; 3:3, 19).
Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Ti. 4:9-10). It looks like Demas deserted Paul because he feared imprisonment and he loved this sinful world more.
The Bible says sin is the source of turning away from God. And the cure is confession of the sin and turning back towards God in repentance. David and Hezekiah and good examples of this.
Lessons for us
The two life lessons from king Saul correspond to the two stages of his reign. The first was faithful and fruitful, but the second was unfaithful and unfruitful. In the first he was godly and obedient, but in the second he was ungodly and wicked. In the first he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but in the second he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord. Although Saul’s reign started well, it didn’t finish well. Solomon followed the same pattern.
Let’s follow Saul’s good example. Let’s follow God faithfully like the first period of his reign. Let’s serve the Lord in the daily circumstances that He has given to us.
Also let’s choose to not follow his bad example. Don’t turn away from God like the second period of Saul’s reign. Keep living up here, not down there because turning away from God ruins our Christian testimony. If we have wandered from the Lord, it’s good to know there is a way back. We can always turn around to follow the Lord once again. We can be restored like the prodigal son.
When we sin we don’t have to turn away from God because He has provided a way to turn back to Him. Let’s be loyal to the Lord and finish well.
Written, September 2013
How many people continue to follow Jesus as their life progresses? Unfortunately some people who seem to start well in the Christian faith don’t finish well. What does the Bible say about those who turn away from God?
A backslider stops following the Lord and falls back into a previous sinful way of life. They desert the Christian faith and are unfaithful and unfruitful. It’s the opposite of repentance and conversion which is turning towards God. It’s also different to apostasy, which is when unbelievers become enemies of Christ after they were associated with the Christian faith (1 Tim. 2:19; 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 3:1-13; Heb. 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 2 Pt. 2:20-22).
Let’s look at how we can avoid backsliding and recover from backsliding in our Christian life.
King Saul had some natural advantages in life: he was handsome and a head taller than anyone else (1 Sam. 9:2). When Saul was looking for his father’s lost donkeys, he met Samuel the prophet. At this time Samuel privately anointed Saul as king of Israel (1 Sam. 10:1). After this he received power from God and prophesised – He gave God’s message to the people (1 Sam. 10:6, 9-11). Then Samuel summoned the nation and went through a selection process until Saul was publicly declared to be the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 10:17-24). The people celebrated and shouted, “Long live the king”.
When Saul heard that the Ammonites had besieged the city of Jabesh Gilead, he organised an army of 330,000 men and defeated them (1 Sam. 11:1-11). Then the Israelites celebrated again and renewed their allegiance to God and confirmed Saul as their king (1 Sam. 11:14-15). This was the pinnacle of Saul’s life.
Samuel told Saul to wait for him at Gilgal and Samuel would come and offer sacrifices to God (1 Sam. 10:8; 13:7-15). When Saul became impatient, he disobeyed Samuel and God by offering the sacrifices himself and Samuel rebuked him. Only Levites were allowed to offer sacrifices and Saul was a Benjamite. That was the beginning of his backsliding. It was the first of several sins that resulted in him being replaced by David as king of Israel.
Saul had many military victories, but when he foolishly told his troops not to eat food, the enemy Philistines escaped (1 Sam. 14:24, 26, 47-48). Then Saul disobeyed God again by keeping the best animals and sparing the king when they defeated the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:3, 9, 20). Then he proudly set up a monument in his own honor instead of acknowledging God (1 Sam. 15:12). The Bible says that he turned away from God (1 Sam. 15:10). Because he rejected God, God rejected him as king (1 Sam. 15:23).
After David defeated Goliath, Saul became extremely jealous of David and tried to kill him several times (1 Sam, 18:8-11, 28-29; 19:9-24). Then Saul chased him all around the land of Israel (1 Sam 18-26). During this time he had 85 priests killed, including the high Priest, because they helped David to escape (1 Sam. 22:6-23).
When he was afraid of the Philistines, Saul consulted the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:3-20). Finally when Saul was critically injured in battle he killed himself (1 Sam. 31:1-4).
So we have seen the rise and fall of king Saul because he turned away from God.
The same happened to king Solomon who turned away from God to idolatry after he married foreign women (1 Ki. 11:1-13). It says “Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord” and “The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord”. Both kings started well, but didn’t finish well. And this is shown in the graph of their spiritual state against time.
Kings of Judah
Some of the kings of Judah also began well, but didn’t finish well.
Joash ruled for 40 years from the age of seven years. While his uncle the High Priest was alive, he followed God (2 Chron. 24:1-16). During this time he repaired the temple. But after Jehoiada died Joash forsook God and worshipped idols (2 Chron. 24:17-27). When they were rebuked by the new High Priest, Joash had him killed. Then they were defeated by their enemies and Joash was assassinated. So his reign had two periods, one of godliness, followed by one of wickedness. And this is shown in the graph of his spiritual state against time.
His son Amaziah who reigned for 29 years followed this pattern. In the good years “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chron. 25:1-13). During this period he obeyed God by dismissing the troops he had hired from the kingdom of Israel and defeated his enemies. But then he “turned away from following the Lord” and worshipped idols, attacked Israel and was defeated, and was assassinated (2 Chron. 25:14-24). So his reign had two periods, one of godliness, followed by one of wickedness.
His son Uzziah who reigned for 52 years also followed this pattern. In the good years “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chron. 26:1-15). But afterwards “his pride led to his downfall” and he disobeyed God by taking a priestly role and was punished with leprosy and was banished from the palace for the rest of his life (2 Chron. 26:16-21). So his reign also had two periods, one of godliness, followed by one of wickedness.
Asa who ruled earlier for 41 years also followed this pattern. In the good years “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Ki. 15:11-15). Later he relied on a foreign king instead of on God, he imprisoned the prophet who rebuked him and he oppressed the people (2 Chron. 16:2-12). So his reign also had two periods, one of godliness, followed by one of wickedness.
All these kings of Judah started well, but didn’t finish well as shown in the graph of their spiritual state against time. They turned away from following the Lord.
Backsliding also occurred in New Testament times. The Galatians turned against the gospel by following Jewish legalism (Gal. 1:6; 4:9-11). They deserted God to follow a false gospel. False teaching and false teachers can deceive us. The Corinthians tolerated sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13). They were not concerned and carried on as though it didn’t matter.
Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Ti. 4:9-10). It looks like Demas deserted Paul because he feared imprisonment and he loved this sinful world.
The cause of backsliding
Backsliding is when we stop following Christ. In this world, we’re all prone to failure. We all sin. Saul’s sin of disobedience was the beginning of his turning away from God. Sin is the source of backsliding. Sin is attractive, but it separates us from God.
Backsliding is a gradual process (a sliding back to a previous sinful condition). Remember Lot liked the fertile plain, then he settled near the city of Sodom, but he eventually moved into the city and became a city councillor. It was a gradual process.
The consequences of backsliding
Backsliding has a great impact on people’s lives and their family. Compare the lives of Lot and Abraham. God used Abraham and his descendants greatly, whereas Lot’s family were doomed. If we turn away from God we lose our personal relationship with the Lord (1 Jn. 1:6) and peace and joy and the assurance of God’s presence and His answer to our prayers (Ps. 66:18). It can also result in sickness and death (1 Cor. 11:30-32). There can be severe ongoing consequences even though a sin has been forgiven. For example, David’s grief with the death of Bathsheba’s baby son. And when we get to heaven we miss out on being rewarded by the Lord for our faithfulness (1 Cor. 3:15; 2 Jn 8).
Jesus said, “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (Jn. 15:6). The sin of backsliding ruins a person’s Christian testimony and witness. Instead of remaining in touch with the Lord and demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit and bearing fruit, there is sinfulness and people ridicule them and their God.
These consequences are the dangers of backsliding.
The cure of backsliding
Like Saul, David failed when he sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 11). But he did something about it. Not all sin leads to backsliding and turning against God for an appreciable period of time. David confessed and repented (Ps. 32:1-5; 40:1-8; 51:1-19). He called out to God, acknowledged all the wrong things that he had done and turned around to follow God once again.
“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Ps. 32:1-5). David experienced God’s mercy of forgiveness (v.1-2). He suffered when he refused to acknowledge his sin (v.3-4). But there was relief when he confessed his sin (v.5).
Likewise king Hezekiah repented of the sin of pride (2 Ch. 32:25-26). This contrast between Saul who backslid and David and Hezekiah who repented is shown in shown in the graph of their spiritual state against time. David and Hezekiah were restored to fellowship once again. Saul was not.
David said, “I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Ps. 40:1-3). “I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:8). His path was corrected and his relationship with God was restored. What a contrast to Saul who turned far away from God.
We will now look at the steps in the process of restoration, which will be illustrated in a diagram.
Conviction. The first step is to admit our sins instead of excusing them. Peter was convicted after he denied the Lord three times. The Bible says he wept bitterly (Mt. 26:75).
Confession. The next step is to confess our sin (1 Jn. 1:9). David said “I have sinned against the Lord” (12 Sam. 12:13).
Repentance. The next step is to change direction and turn around to follow God one again. It involves completely changed attitudes and behaviour. It is more than confessions or remorse. The Bible says it’s having a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 18:30-32). The churches in Revelation were urged to repent (Rev. 2:5, 16; 3:3, 19).
Forgiveness. After we are convicted and confess and repent, God offers forgiveness. He has great mercy. David was told “The Lord has taken away your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13). There are three kinds of forgiveness mentioned in the Bible.
God’s judicial forgiveness. God is a judge of all those who have never trusted in Him. This forgiveness removes the barrier to heaven. It is when an unbeliever comes to faith in Christ. If we acknowledge our sinfulness and believe that Jesus paid the penalty for us, then we are viewed as God’s children. Have you experienced this kind of forgiveness? If not, why not start following the Lord by confessing your sins and trusting Christ as Savior?
God’s parental forgiveness. God is a father of all those who have trusted in Him. This forgiveness restores a believer’s fellowship with God after it has been severed by sin. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
Christians need to do this regularly. For example, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves” (1 Cor. 11: 28-29). This says we need to examine ourselves before participating in the Lord’s supper. It means admitting our sins and confessing them so our relationships can be restored with each other and with God. When they came together in Corinth, they were being selfish by discriminating against the poor (1 Cor. 11:20-21, 30-32). Their judgment was sickness and premature death, which was the Lord’s discipline. If we examine ourselves and get right with God, we will not come under His discipline. That’s why the Christian life should be full of confession. So our relationship with the Lord can be restored. The Christian life is full of restarts. Each of these involves conviction of sin, confession of sin and repentance to put things right.
Forgiving one another. This restores fellowship between believers. God cannot forgive us when we are unwilling to forgive one another (Mk. 11:25; Lk. 6:37). We are to forgive others when they acknowledge their wrongs (Mt. 18:15-17; Lk. 17:1-10).
After a backslider has been sorry for their sins and repented, then as God has forgiven them they should be forgiven and restored to Christian fellowship (2 Cor. 2:5-11).
Restoration. Once we are forgiven, we are restored to following Christ once again. This should be a time for celebration, like when the prodigal son returned home (Lk. 15:22-24).
Lessons for us
We have seen how to get right with God and how to stay right with God. How to draw near to God. How to be close to the Lord. And they are the same!
What does the graph of our spiritual state against time look like? Have we started by following Jesus in the first place? If yes, have we turned away from Him? Have we responded by taking the steps to restoration?
James encourages us to pray for backsliders like Elijah prayed for the kingdom of Israel who worshipped idols (Jas. 5:16-20). Such people wander from the truth and commit many sins. If someone helps them to confess their sins and repent by turning around to follow the Lord once again, then their sins will be forgiven and they will be saved from dying prematurely under God’s judgment. “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”. Paul also urged us to help restore a believer “caught in a sin” (Gal. 6:1-2).
Let’s be aware of our sinfulness. The Israelites were warned that when they became prosperous they would become proud and forget the Lord (Dt. 8:10-14). That is a big risk for most of us because we have food, houses, money and possessions. We are well off compared to most people in the world.
Saul’s backsliding began with an act of disobedience which led to a life of sinful behaviour. Sin is dangerous. It grows. Let’s respond to sin like David and practice conviction, confession and repentance. If we have wandered from the Lord, it’s good to know there is a way back. We can always turn around to follow the Lord once again. We can be restored like the prodigal son.
When we sin we don’t have to backslide because God has provided a way to turn back to Him.
Let’s be loyal to the Lord and finish well.
Written, Sep 2013
As there will be people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” in heaven, it seems that some of these would not have heard about Jesus before they died (Rev. 5:9-10). I believe that infants go to heaven when they die because they are not accountable for their sin. We will look at other people in two categories, those who lived before and after Christ.
The Bible says that those who trusted God in Old Testament times go to heaven. Although most of the promises they were given were physical, they also had a heavenly hope. They realised that this earth was not their final home: “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” (Heb. 11:13NIV). Instead they were looking towards heaven: “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16a). We are told that God “has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16b). In particular, Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).
These people are commended in Hebrews as those who lived by faith. The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The Jews were told, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). This faith was based on a revelation from God.
“Enoch walked faithfully with God” (Gen. 5:22, 24). So did Noah (Gen. 6:9). This means they obeyed God. “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22). “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). Job repented after God revealed His power through nature (Job 38-41; 42:6).
So those who trusted in God’s revelation to them before the formation of the Israelite nation go to heaven. In their case, God usually spoke directly to them.
God spoke to the Israelites “at many times and in various ways” (Heb. 1:1). It is stated that Moses accepted “disgrace for the sake of Christ” (Heb. 11:26). But as Moses lived about 1,450 years before Christ, this seems to be a figure of speech. It means that Moses choose to be loyal to God and to associate with his fellow Israelites. The reason given is that “he was looking ahead to his reward”. As Hebrews was probably written about 65AD, the writer knew that the Messiah was the one through whom God guaranteed their promised future.
So the Israelites who trusted in God’s revelation to them in Old Testament times go to heaven. In their case, the revelation was usually miracles and the law given through Moses.
We know God revealed Himself to the Israelites as they were His people during this period of time. But what about the Gentiles? The Israelites were told to follow the laws that God gave them through Moses so that other nations would come to know God: “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Dt. 4:6-8).
Rahab is a Gentile who trusted God (Heb. 11:31). She told the Israelite spies, “I know that the Lord has given you this land … for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Josh. 2:9-11). Because of what she had heard of the Exodus and the defeat of the Amorites, she realised that the God of the Israelites was greater than the Canaanite gods. So she rejected the Canaanite gods to follow the God of the Israelites.
Also Ruth the Moabite told her Israelite mother-in-law, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Likewise, she rejected the gods of the Moabites to follow the God of the Israelites. God’s interest in the Gentiles is shown in the book of Jonah where Jonah was sent to Nineveh with a message of God’s judgment and the people repented of their sin (Jon. 3:1-10).
So the Gentiles who trusted in God’s revelation to them in Old Testament times go to heaven. God revealed Himself to them through the Israelites when they heard about their law and the miraculous preservation of their nation.
All the above are examples of people who go to heaven without hearing about Jesus. But the Bible says the following about Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12NLT). And Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). This means that the only way to get into heaven is through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Before Christ’s death people were saved according to their acceptance of God’s revelation to them. It was based on the future work of Christ. So those who trusted in God’s revelation in Old Testament times go to heaven because their faith in God was equivalent to faith in Jesus Christ. They were saved on credit. “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom. 3:25). In this way God overlooked the sins of those who trusted in Him before Christ’s death and resurrection.
In Romans, God reveals that we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23) and we can only get to heaven through trusting in Christ’s sacrifice for us (Rom. 3:22-26). But it also says that people are judged according to God’s revelation to them: “All who sin apart from the law (Gentiles) will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law (Jews) will be judged by the law” (Rom 2:12). The two main ways that God reveals himself to people who haven’t heard about Jesus are creation and conscience.
Firstly, the physical world demands a Creator. Its design requires a Designer. The laws of nature require a Lawmaker. By looking at our universe, anyone can know that there is a creator God. “The truth about God is known instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:19-20NLT). Enough of God is revealed in His creation that there is no excuse for not believing in Him. Those who reject this revelation follow idols and practice sinful behaviour and suffer God’s judgment (Rom. 1:18-32).
Nature is a testimony of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4). Also, Paul said “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, He let all nations go their own way. Yet He has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:15-17).
So if people haven’t heard about Jesus, they can be judged according to their response to the revelation of God in creation. If they turn from idolatry and seek the true God, then God may give them additional revelation. For example, Cornelius was a Gentile who sought God. So God sent Peter to tell him about Jesus and salvation (Acts 11:14). God can appear to people in many ways throughout their lives. He can send people to inform them (Rom. 10:14-15). Because God doesn’t want anyone to perish in hell and wants everyone to repent of their sin, we must trust that He has made a way for those people (2 Pt. 3:9).
Secondly, everyone is born with a conscience. We all have an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong. For example, most people know it is wrong to lie, steal, and commit adultery and murder. The Bible gives God’s standards for humanity. But for those who are ignorant of this it says: “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Rom. 2:15NLT). Anyone who has not heard about what the Bible says will be judged according to their conscience. God will say, “What did you think was right and wrong?” The next question is, “Did you always do the right and not the wrong?” By that standard, of course, everyone fails. The conscience proves that we are sinners like the law does for the Jew.
The issue is their response to a guilty conscience. If they were sorry for their behavior and would repent then they would probably go to heaven. This reasoning is based on the fact that God is just and wants all to be saved. He has made a way for all, but few accept it.
Like those who lived before Christ, the issue is whether they responded to God’s revelation to them. So through the creation and our conscience, God gives everyone the opportunity to turn to Him and be saved from the penalty of their sinfulness and go to heaven.
Lessons for us
Like the Israelites, a Christian’s behaviour can influence an unbeliever to repent and follow God and go to heaven. “Live such good lives among the pagans (your unbelieving neighbors, NLT) that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pt. 2:12).
Although people can to be saved without hearing about Jesus, it isn’t likely to occur in very many instances. The usual way to go to heaven is to respond to hearing about Jesus. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14). That’s why it’s important to tell people about Jesus as much as possible and support others in this work.
Based on a message given at my mother’s funeral on 3 April 2013
A funeral usually involves memories and reflections of the life of the person who has died. But the funeral of a Christian can also look ahead in anticipation of what lies ahead.
Help from God the Creator
The source of a Christian’s help and protection throughout life is described in Psalm 121NIV.
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm— He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
When this song was written about 3,000 years ago, God’s people knew that the only reliable help and protection comes from the God who made the universe – “the Maker of heaven and earth”. In this context the Hebrew word for “heaven” means the atmosphere and the stars and galaxies. A God with the intelligence and power to create the universe and populate it with living plants, animals and people was surely able to help them! The Bible says He was the source of life on earth whereas all other gods and philosophies are the product of the human imagination.
Unfortunately in our modern world we have largely lost this knowledge and this confidence. We have forgotten about God the Creator. Even though we have wonderful technology, science can’t explain how matter was created from nothing or how life originated, and we often replace God the Creator with the idea that things created themselves.
So when we struggle in life where does our help come from? Some people go to counsellors for help who encourage them to get help from outside themselves. Because people usually can’t solve their own problems, they need to get help from someone else. In a similar way, we all need “outside help” to sustain us and God the Creator is the ultimate outside help!
Psalm 121 ends with, “The Lord will watch your coming and going both now and forevermore”. Here those who trusted God the Creator were promised that God would protect them throughout life and into the future. They could live with assurance and confidence that God would continue to help them. Likewise Christians can have the assurance that God will sustain them during their life and afterwards.
A different world
You may ask if God created everything in the beginning, why is there so much suffering in the world? The world today is very different from the one God made originally. We live in a different world. In the beginning it was a perfect world with harmony between God, people and the natural environment. But when people turned against their Maker, it changed and sin, evil, suffering and death came into the world. This change was caused by people like us. We live in a world with consequences – an act has a consequence and an effect has a cause. Because people turned against God our relationships have been ruined. We ignore God and are separated from Him, we can’t get along with other people, and we exploit the natural environment. Another consequence is that the Bible says we are destined to eternal punishment. Because we are the cause of this problem, we need outside help. Because each of us is guilty, we can’t help each other. The only reliable help available outside humanity is God the Creator.
Help from God the Lifesaver
Fortunately, God didn’t only create the universe and the laws of nature in the beginning, but He also continues to sustain it. He is not only incredibly powerful, but He is also incredibly loving. We remember His special act of love at Christmas and Easter when we celebrate the unique birth and death of Jesus Christ. God knew that mankind was doomed to eternal punishment unless He provided them with outside help. He did this about 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ lived on earth and died and came alive again. Jesus was unique; He was God living as a human being. He showed His power over our world by the miracles He did. When He died by crucifixion, He took the eternal punishment that we deserve. If we turn towards God by being sorry for our behaviour and accepting the fact that Jesus has taken the penalty for our sin, then He promises eternal joy instead of eternal punishment. This is called eternal life. So Jesus is like a lifesaver – He can rescue us from the eternal consequence of our selfish behaviour. In this way God is making a new creation and He gives us the choice of being a part of it. Although we spoilt God’s original creation, and there is now sin, evil, pain, suffering and death, these will be absent in God’s new creation. Instead we can be reconciled with God, we can love one another and we can look forward to the restoration of creation like it was in the beginning.
Because a Christian has accepted Jesus as their Savior they can have an inner assurance, joy and peace.
What happens when a person dies? Not only do the lungs stop breathing and the heart stops pumping. The Bible says that at death a person’s invisible soul and spirit is separated from their body. If they trusted in Jesus the Savior, their soul and spirit goes immediately to be with God in heaven. After death they are enjoying a perfect place. That is why Paul could say, “To die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and that he preferred to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). So they are in a better place. Their death is a loss for us, but a gain for them.
But there is more! On Easter Sunday we recall that the body of Jesus was raised back to life after being buried in a grave. The Bible describes a coming day when the bodies of believers, who trusted in Christ the Savior will also be raised back to life:
“What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:50-57NLT).
This is also described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. As part of God’s new creation they will have new bodies which won’t wear out and die (1 Cor. 15:42-49; Phil. 3:21; 1 Jn. 3:2) and they will be transported to be with God in heaven – spirit, soul and new body. This will be a great victory over the sin, suffering and death of our world. That’s why Christians can look forward confidently to the coming resurrection. There’s victory ahead!
The hymn, “How great Thou art”, summarises the greatness of God and the reasons for our Christian faith.
The first verse is about God the great Creator and source of life on earth. It says “Your power throughout the universe displayed”. Do we see God’s power in His creation?
The third verse is about Jesus Christ the great Lifesaver and source of eternal life. It says “On the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin”. When we stand before God, will He be like a lifesaver or like a judge? If we turn towards God by confessing our sins we can be ready to meet Him.
The last verse is about the great resurrection when the bodies of those who have trusted in Christ will be raised and changed to be with Him forever. It says “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home – what joy shall fill my heart”. Are you ready to experience this joy?
Written, April 2013
Although sin separates us from a holy and sinless God, we can be grateful that our sins can be forgiven and forgotten (Ps. 32:5; 130:3-4; Heb. 10:17). Before answering the question, we should realise that there are two main types of confession and forgiveness in Scripture. One is when an unbeliever comes into faith in Christ and the other is when they confess sins committed subsequently as a believer.
In the first case, we face Jesus Christ as the judge and the penalty of our sins is spiritual death, which leads to hell. When this person confesses their sins they are forgiven by God because Christ’s death paid the penalty for their sinspast, present and future. Their destiny changes from hell to heaven and they can enjoy daily fellowship with God. This can be called judicial, unconditional or positional forgiveness, which happens once in a believer’s life (Rom. 8:1-2; Heb. 10:14).
In the second case, the person has sinned, but is spiritually alive. This is the situation in the case of the question. As part of God’s family on earth, they are separated from God the Father in terms of daily fellowship, but they are not separated from going to heaven as the penalty for their sin has already been paid. When this person confesses their sins they are forgiven by God because Christ’s death paid the penalty for all their sins and their daily fellowship with God our Father is restored. This can be called parental, conditional or practical forgiveness, which should occur regularly in a believer’s life (1 Jn. 1:5-2:2). This is the kind of forgiveness that the Lord’s disciples were to practise: “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt. 6:12, 14-15NIV). It includes forgiving others: God cannot forgive us when we are unwilling to forgive one another (Mk. 11:25; Lk. 6:37). If we fail to forgive one another, we will miss being rewarded when we get to heaven (Mt. 18:35).
The two types of forgiveness were illustrated when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (Jn. 13:2-10). As they wore open sandals, the disciples needed to wash their feet regularly after walking on dusty roads even though they may have bathed recently. The bath was like judicial forgiveness and the feet washing was like parental forgiveness.
William MacDonald summarized the differences between the two types of forgiveness as follows:
|Judicial forgiveness||Parental forgiveness|
|Person’s status||Sinner (unbeliever)
|Child of God (believer) (1 Jn. 3:2)|
|RelationshipTo God||Judge (Ps. 96:13)||Father (Gal. 4:6)|
|Result of sin||Eternal death (Rom. 6:23)||Broken fellowship (1 Jn. 1:6)
Prayers hindered (Ps. 66:18)
|Role of Christ||Savior (1 Tim. 1:15)||High Priest (Heb. 4:4-16)
Advocate (1 Jn. 2:1)
|Means of forgiveness||Faith (Acts 16:31)||Confession (1 Jn. 1:9)|
|Consequence averted||Hell (Jn. 5:24)||Discipline (1 Cor. 11:31-32)
Loss of reward (1 Cor. 3:15)
|Outcome||New relationship (Jn. 1:12)||Renewed fellowship (Ps. 32:5)|
|Frequency||Once (Jn. 13:10)||Many times (Jn. 13:8)|
Therefore, although a Christian’s unconfessed sins affects their relationship with God, they are still a child of God whose ultimate destiny is heaven.
Written, February 2012
God’s Word is the Key
In Old Testament times the Jews were God’s special people. He promised them many things, but some of these were conditional on their obedience (Ex. 15:25-26; 23:25-26; Dt. 7:12-16). If they worshipped idols, they were told: “The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you” (Deut. 4:27NIV). Because the Jews were unfaithful and followed idols instead of the true God, they were overrun by the Assyrians and Babylonians and Jerusalem was plundered and destroyed.
However, after 70 years of captivity in Babylon, some returned to their homeland. This journey of about 1500 km took them 4 months to travel (Ezra 7:8). They returned in three phases: Zerabbabel rebuilt the temple, 80 years later Ezra led a spiritual revival, and 13 years later Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Although there was opposition from the surrounding nations, they persisted and there was a spiritual revival when they turned back to worshipping the only true God. Let’s look at the key steps in their revival.
The main character is Ezra, who was a devoted student and a teacher of the Scriptures (Ezra 7:10). He was instrumental in a spiritual revival after Nehemiah rebuilt the city walls. One day all the Israelite men and women gathered together and Ezra “read it (the books of Moses) aloud from daybreak till noon” (Neh. 8:3). The people listened for 5-6 hours! That’s a long time! Thirteen Levites helped by “making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” (Neh. 8:8). As Aramaic was the language at the time, they probably translated it from Hebrew into Aramaic. On the next day Ezra taught the leaders, priests and Levites from the Scripture (Neh. 8:13). When they discovered that they had not been celebrating the Festival of Shelters, they celebrated it with joy. On every day of this 7-day festival, Ezra read from the Scripture (Neh. 8:18).
Three days later the people gathered together to confess their sinful ways. They “read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for 3 hours, and spent another 3 hours in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God” (Ezra 9:3). They prayed one of the longest prayers in the Bible, which traces God’s faithfulness across history despite the Jews unfaithfulness (Neh. 9:6-37). After this they wrote a binding agreement that they would obey the Lord and follow the Scriptures (Neh. 9:38 – 10:39). So the sequence of events was: they read the Bible (Neh. 8), they confessed their sins (Neh. 9), and they obeyed the Lord (Neh. 10).
This pattern is similar to the Jewish revival under king Josiah. After he was informed of God’s message in Scripture, “he tore his robes” and wept in anger and sorrow acknowledging their disobedience, and then promised “to follow the LORD and keep His commands” and acted to remove all the idols in the land of Israel (2 Ki. 22:8 – 23:20; 2 Chr. 34:14-33).
Read the Bible
What can we learn from this? Revival begins with God’s word. Did you notice how often they read the Scripture? The Bible showed them how they had failed. The bible is our spiritual food: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16). It helps us learn God’s perspective on our world including what is right and what is wrong (“teaching”); where we are on the wrong track (“rebuking”); how to get back onto the right track (“correcting”); and how to live a godly life (“training in righteousness”).
Confess our sins
After they read the Bible, they felt guilt and shame. This led to confession of sin in prayer to the Lord; they were honest with God. After God speaks to us in Scripture, we need to respond in prayer. This is necessary to keep in touch with God: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). Although the penalty of our sins has already been paid, they affect our relationships in the family of God. If we confess our sins to the Lord, He promises to forgive them and enable these relationships to be restored. If the sin is against another person, we should confess to them so that they in turn can forgive us (Lk. 17: 3-4; Jas. 5:16).
Follow the Lord
After they confessed their sin, there was repentance and obedience; they acted to get back on track. Signs of being in fellowship with the Lord and with believers in the family of God are that we “keep His commands”, obey “His word”, and “live as Jesus did” (1 Jn. 2:3-6). This means obeying Christ’s teachings, doing what pleases Him, and letting Him live His life through us. Paul said, “I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Christ left an example for us to follow, and said “learn from me” and “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt. 11:29; 16:24; 1 Pt. 2:21).
Lessons for us
So let’s read and meditate on the Bible and apply it to our lives. This is the key to the three steps of spiritual revival: read the Bible, confess our sins, and follow the Lord.
Written, June 2011
Written, July 2004
Temptation and its consequences
The first human beings, Adam and Eve lived as husband and wife in the garden in Eden. They were innocent and felt no shame. There was no sin and nothing to be ashamed about. God told them, “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 of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17NIV). In this article we look at the next episode in the early history of mankind in Genesis 3:1-19.
Here we see a new character introduced, which is “nachash” in Hebrew (v.1). Is this a mythical creature, or an animal called a snake or someone that was like a snake? The words associated with “nachash” in Genesis 3 are “wild animals” and “livestock”, which refer to animals (v.3,14); and “you will crawl on your belly” and “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”, which could refer to snakes as we know them today (v.14,15).
“Nachash” occurs in six other verses written by Moses. The descendants of Dan are likened to a snake in a metaphor (Gen. 49:17). A staff became a snake when Moses and Aaron visited Pharaoh, and Moses made a bronze snake to heal the Israelites who had been bitten by venomous snakes (Ex. 4:3; 7:15; Num. 21:6, 7,9). So, Moses used the word in both a literal way and a symbolic way and he seems to make the meaning clear in each instance.
Paul treats it as a real historical event and not an allegory: “Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning” (2 Cor. 11:3). The only other occasion he used the Greek word for serpent “ophis”, was when he said the Israelites “were killed by snakes” (1 Cor. 10:9). Therefore, the meaning for the Israelites to whom Genesis was written was an animal called a snake. But this was a talking animal! Now that is unusual, but according to the Bible, God caused Balaam’s donkey to speak and Peter accepted this as truth (Num. 22:28-30; 2 Pt. 2:16). So, some amazing things have happened in the past!
John helps us to understand what is going on when he described Satan metaphorically as a serpent (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). In fact, snakes have become the universal symbol of Satan. So Satan appeared in the garden in Eden as an animal that talks. We don’t know what he looked like, but Eve was not afraid to have a conversation with him. This animal was more cunning than any other creature God had made (v.1). It was Satan in disguise, as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). God allowed Satan into the garden and allowed him to tempt Eve because God made mankind with a free will to make moral choices. This was a part of being made in the image of God.
The tempter asked Eve a question, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (v.1). He was trying to get her to doubt God’s word and distrust God’s love by thinking that such a command was not fair. She answered, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (v.2-3). Then the tempter said, “You will not surely die” (v.4). This is a lie; it is opposite to what God told Adam (Gen. 2:17). But he is cunning because it relates to a future event which she couldn’t verify herself. Of course, she could have checked with Adam or God, but she was deceived when the tempter backed up the lie with a distorted truth, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v.5). He mixed truth and error. Their eyes would be opened, but it would be to sin and shame. Also, they would know good and evil, but it would be through the harsh experiences of life lived apart from dependence upon God. The tempter implied that they would have great knowledge be able to see things like God does and do whatever they wanted to. He also questioned God’s motives for the command not to eat the forbidden fruit. With this in her mind, Eve looked at the tree and “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (v.6). Here we see that she was mixing up what God had told them and what the tempter had told her (Gen. 2:6; 3:5). She was seeking knowledge and wisdom outside the boundaries that had been established by God. Satan had infiltrated her mind.
As she looked at the fruit of the tree she must have thought. It’s good for food and I’m hungry. It’s beautiful and pleasing to the eye, a pleasure to experience, so it must be good (Heb. 11:25). It’s desirable for gaining wisdom. Then “she took some and ate it” (v.6). The thoughts sown in her mind by the tempter resulted in an action; she ate some of the forbidden fruit. She acted independently of her husband and God. She should have consulted with them before acting on such an important matter. Where was Adam at this time? If Adam was with her during her temptation, he should have spoken up and taken his leadership role. It’s always more difficult to resist temptation when we are alone. But evil can triumph if another is silent.
Then “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (v.6). It seems as though Adam ate the forbidden fruit when he was given it by his wife; he was not deceived by the tempter—“Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived” (1 Tim. 2:14). We don’t know what she told him, but the fact that he “was with her” implies that he knew what had happened. He deliberately disobeyed God’s command and acted independently of God. This is the origin of sin. We are all sinners because we are descendants of Adam.
Now we see a radical change in their world. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (v.7). But they had always been naked (Gen. 2:25). Something happened inside them. They felt naked, guilty and ashamed, so they fashioned some clothes out of fig leaves. This was the beginning of self-consciousness and clothing.
God visited the garden to talk with Adam and Eve (v.8). What a privilege for them to converse with the great Creator! But now they were so guilty and ashamed that they hid from God among the trees of the garden. Fancy trying to hide from the one who made themselves and the trees! It was impossible. This was not a game of hide and seek, it was a garden where joy and fellowship with God had changed into shame and fear and hiding from God. This is the first description of the human conscience.
Now we see how God addresses the situation, He takes the initiative. First He asked Adam, “Where are you?” (v.9). As God would have known their location, this was a rhetorical question. They had moved away from their position of close communion with God. God was asking the head of the human family to consider his new position. Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (v.10). He was now afraid of God. God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (v.11). So, God traces the source of their guilt and fear to their disobedience. Then Adam said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (v.12). This is called blame someone else, or pass the buck! He blames God and Eve. But he did acknowledge that he had eaten the forbidden fruit. Then God asked Eve “What is this you have done?” (v.13). She said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate”. This is called ditto – blame someone else, or pass the buck once again! Here we see that when called to account by God, sinners excuse themselves. In this case they both ultimately blamed God, who allowed them to be tempted. But, like Adam, Eve did acknowledge having eaten the forbidden fruit.
Now that Adam and Eve have failed the test and acknowledged this to God, what will God do? After all, He had promised that they would surely die, although the tempter had denied this. Now we see some changes in His creation that was originally said to be “very good”. He addressed each of the characters in turn and described what life will be like for them.
God said to the tempter, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (v.14-15). God said that the tempter was the ultimate cause of the fall into sin. This curse can be taken at two levels. Firstly, the snake, which is symbolic of Satan, will crawl on the ground. That is the animal as we know it today. The implication is that previously it didn’t crawl on the ground. Eve would have hated this animal because of how Satan had used it to deceive her. This would have been the beginning of conflict between snakes and people. People often fear snakes and seek to kill them by crushing, while snakes generally attack the lower parts of the body. So, this was the beginning of conflict and hatred on earth.
Secondly, Satan and people who follow him will be the enemies of those who follow God. I believe that Eve followed God so she would have hated how Satan had deceived her. Here we have the first promise of the Messiah and a description of the battle between God and Satan. Christ’s victory over Satan is evident in “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”. The suffering and death He endured is like Satan striking at His heel. But Christ’s death and resurrection is said to crush Satan’s head, which indicates a decisive victory. Now the genealogies in the bible usually trace descent through men, not through women. The “he” in v.15 was a man who was the offspring of the woman. Jesus Christ was the offspring of Eve in special way; He had a virgin birth. This first prophecy would have only been known in general terms by the Israelites it was written for. But for us today, it sums up the gospel message of the Bible.
Then God said to Eve, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (v.16). He brings consequences in two areas of her life. Firstly she will experience pain in childbirth. It may also imply that bringing up her children would be painful at times. So, this was the beginning of pain on earth. Secondly, the relationship between husbands and wives seems to be clarified. It states that the husband is to “rule” over the wife. The Hebrew word is “masal”, which means to have dominion. The same word is used to describe mankind ruling over the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26,28). It means that the husband is to lead the wife and the family in a benevolent way. This is a responsibility that husbands should take seriously.
Then God said to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of 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” (v.17-19). Here we see that Adam neglected his leadership role. He listened to his wife when he should not have taken notice. Only take notice when she gives good advice, but not otherwise! God made Adam accountable and spelled out what he had done which led to two consequences. Firstly, God cursed the ground. Adam’s work changed; now it would take painful toil and sweat to make a living. Nature changed and cultivation would be more difficult with the introduction of weeds such as thorns and thistles. This is the beginning of the “bondage to decay” and “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” in “the whole creation” (Rom. 8:21,22). It is a fallen universe. Secondly, mankind would die. This is the beginning of death for the animals and people of the earth.
How temptation can lead to sin and death
Like Adam and Eve, we are always tempted to go beyond the limits that God has placed upon us. James described the strategy that Satan uses when he tempts mankind: “… each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:14-15). Sin brings death, including the eternal spiritual death of being separated from God. (Rom. 5:12, 14; 6:23).
God does not tempt us to sin. He will test us (Gen. 2:16-17; 22:1, Deut 8:2), but it is Satan who tempts us (Mt. 4:1; 1 Cor. 7:5, 1 Th. 3:5). In fact Paul called Satan “the tempter” (1 Th. 3:5). Of course he disguises himself and makes the temptation seem to be something good rather than something bad. It begins with our feelings (evil desire). Then James uses the illustration of conception and birth. The pattern is: a temptation (an evil desire based on our feelings) is planted like a seed in the mind, it grows and develops like a baby and leads to the birth of sin, which in turn leads to death. So the evil desire influences the mind and leads to an action which results in death. When the emotions are aroused first, we rationalize instead of thinking rationally. We don’t think properly, for example thinking of an immediate need but not a long term consequence. This is what happened in the garden in Eden and what happens to us as well. We all face temptation and battle the desire to yield to it. Then when we fail once again, we feel guilty.
How to handle temptation
Where is the battle lost? At the beginning, when the temptation is planted in the mind. Eve was defeated after Satan’s first question when she accepted the possibility that God could not be trusted. But God provides a way out for believers, “… He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
After 40 days of fasting in the desert, Jesus was tempted by Satan who tried to get Him to use His supernatural powers for selfish reasons (Lk. 4:1-13). Satan said: “tell this stone to become bread” – get food for yourself; If you worship me, all the kingdoms of the world will be yours – become a king without going to the cross; and, throw yourself down from the highest point of the temple – attract public attention. On each occasion Jesus answered with Scripture. He said: we should rely on God for spiritual nourishment; God is the one we should worship; and do not test God. To do this we must know the bible, so that the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind when we need it. God “has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pt. 1:4).
Fortunately God is greater than Satan and “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18; 1 Jn. 4:4). We should occupy our mind with good things and call on God to help in times of temptation. (Prov. 18:10; Phil. 4:8).
Lessons for us
The fall into sin is the ultimate explanation for our struggles in life. This pattern of the temptation and the fall into sin occurs daily both individually and collectively. It is the ultimate explanation for the tensions, sickness, suffering, sorrow, heartache, misery, tragedy, fear, guilt, and death. Here is the reason for addictive behaviour, for the passion for power and the lure of wealth and the enticement of immorality. It is the key to understanding humanity and ourselves.
The fall into sin has made us sinners. We are victims of emotional urges. That is a part of human nature. Only God can open our eyes and help us distinguish between right and wrong (Rom. 6:23). We are either slaves to sin or slaves to God. If we stay sinners then death is the outcome, eternal separation from God. But if we accept God’s gift of Jesus Christ, then we have eternal life. So our destiny is either eternal life or eternal death.
In Eve’s case the tempter was a being outside herself as she was sinless and she began with no urge to do wrong. Since the fall into sin, the tempter is within our human nature and we always face the urge to do wrong. We carry a tempter within us wherever we go, he has access to us continually.
Like Adam and Eve, we have real choices in life. God gives us limits and boundaries as well. Are we willing to accept them? We often try and relieve our guilt by blaming someone or something by saying, “It wasn’t my fault; I’m a victim of circumstance”. We don’t like taking responsibility for our behaviour. As the ideal environment of the garden did not prevent the entrance of sin, we shouldn’t blame the surroundings or our situation on our problems. Instead, we need to take responsibility for our responses and behavior.
So, let’s be aware of Satan’s ways of temptation so he does not outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11). Follow Jesus and use the resources God has given us, such as the Bible.
See the next article in this series:
– In the beginning. Part 4: Living in a dying world
God’s promises in Romans 8
When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, in 56 AD, Rome was a great center of power and influence in the Mediterranean world. His letter contains the main doctrines of the faith, because the Christians there needed this basic instruction. Paul begins with the good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then goes on to describe how to live the Christian life – the subject of Romans 8.
Struggling with sin
Messages in the Bible should be interpreted in context. In this case the context is Romans 7, often titled “Struggling with sin.” God gives Christians the Holy Spirit and a new divine nature, but they still have the old sinful nature (Rom. 7:25). The struggle between these two natures frustrates and discourages us. We want to please God, but fail. So did the Romans – and Paul. Here’s what he wrote: “I do not understand what I do … For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:15-24 NIV).
Those at Rome needed to know how to deal with this inner struggle, and so do we. And that’s in Romans 8, which has three main themes: living by the Spirit’s power, the future glory of God’s people, and God’s love. The secret to overcoming our sinful nature and living the Christian life is to live according to the promises in Romans 8, particularly those relating to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit and our sin nature are in constant conflict: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Gal. 5:17).
Beginning with the promise of “no condemnation” and ending with the promise of “no separation,” Romans 8 contains at least 14 additional promises for Christians: We are not condemned to be punished (v. 1); we have been freed from the power of sin (v. 2); we have life and peace (v. 6); we are led by the Holy Spirit (v. 14); we have fellowship with God (vv. 14-16); we have an inheritance (v. 17); we will receive new bodies (vv. 11, 23); the Holy Spirit helps us and prays for us (vv. 26-27); God is in control, and working for our good (v. 28); we will be transformed to be like Christ (v. 29); we are justified and will be glorified (v. 30); God is for us, and no one can accuse, condemn or defeat us (vv. 31-34); God will give us all things (v. 32); nothing can separate us from God’s love (vv. 35-39).
Romans 8:1states that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul found the answer to his struggle with sin in Jesus Christ: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25). All believers are sinners who have been forgiven. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross, so we are free from sin’s dominion. This is important to remember when we face accusations, criticisms, feelings of guilt and worthlessness. To be “in Christ” means that God now sees us united with Jesus: “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). We need to remind ourselves of this truth and apply it by not putting ourselves down and by accepting other believers just as Christ accepted us (Rom. 15:7).
Empowered by the Spirit
Romans 8 describes how Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit in our struggle with sin: “The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” (v. 11). The consequences of the Spirit’s presence are described in Romans 8.
First, the Spirit has set us free from the power of sin (v. 2). Second Corinthians 7:13 confirms this: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Isn’t that our desire? God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving His Son as a sacrifice for our sins (v. 3). Jesus came to earth “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15). Satan is defeated, but because we still have the sinful nature, our victory over sin will not be complete until we are with the Lord (Rev. 21:4).
Second, the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that Christians are on the way to eternal life and peace (v. 6; Gal. 6:8). Both come through Christ’s sacrificial death (Rom. 5:1; 6:23). We already have what many desire: a future to look forward to and assurance that God controls everything.
Third, we are led by the Spirit, who guides us into all truth (v. 14; Jn. 16:13). Christians are to “live by” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16-25). The Spirit told Philip to go to the Ethiopian’s chariot and stay near it. After the Ethiopian was baptized, the Spirit suddenly took Philip away (Acts 8:29-39). Also, the Spirit told the church at Antioch to commend Barnabas and Saul as missionaries (Acts 13:2). The Spirit leads us through various means such as the Bible, prayer and other believers.
Fourth, we have fellowship with God: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (v. 14). We are children in God’s family; the Spirit confirms this (v. 16). God is so close to us that we can call Him “Abba” (“daddy” in Aramaic). Slaves were forbidden to address the family head this way. Children shouldn’t fear their parents, we should not fear God.
Fifth, we have an inheritance: “If we are children, then we are heirs” (v. 17, Gal. 4:6-7). Shouldn’t the prospect of an inheritance excite us? The Bible calls us “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” This is amazing when we realize that God owns everything! We will reign with Christ (Rev. 20:6). All creation looks forward to the time when our relationship with God is revealed. We have the Spirit as a foretaste of future glory. This is a great promise for those who suffer (vv. 17-23). But we don’t have to wait to experience God’s generosity. He has already given us His Son, the greatest gift, “will He not also … graciously give us all things” (v. 32).
Sixth, we will receive new bodies (vv. 11, 23). Just as He raised Christ from the dead, at Christ’s return the Spirit will resurrect and change the bodies of all believers (1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Th. 4:13-18). We can look forward to bodies that will never wear out.
Finally, the Spirit helps us and prays for us (vv. 26-27). Jesus said that the Spirit would be a helper who is always with us (Jn. 14:16). The Greek word describing the Spirit, “paraclete,” means a legal advocate, comforter or counselor. The Spirit understands our difficulties when we can’t even express them, and prays for us: He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). So we should pray to the Father guided by the Spirit and in His power (Eph. 2:18; Jude 20). When we are feeling weak, fearful or inadequate, remember that the Holy Spirit pleads for us.
God works for our good
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (v. 28). This verse does not say that all things are good or that we will be wealthy, healthy and safe from tragedy. It says that God is in control, and is at work in our lives to bring about His good purposes. Whatever the situation, God will bring good out of it. Of course, we may not always see it.
What does “His purpose” mean? In verse 29 we see that it means “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.” Whatever God allows in our lives is designed to make us more like Christ. Our lives are not controlled by the stars, chance or luck, but by a loving God who is working for us. This promise applies to “those who love Him” – to Christians. Those who do not have such a relationship with God have no hope and no one to turn to. For them life can seem futile. We should encourage others to accept Jesus as their Savior so God can work in their lives.
We will be transformed
God is in the business of making us like Christ (v. 29). As the Spirit works within us, we become more like Him in character, attitudes, responses and priorities. Our behavior will show more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). God knows all about us and is working to bring us to maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:14-19). This process will be complete when Christ returns and we will be transformed – free from sin, and with resurrected bodies: “When He appears we shall be like Him” (1 Jn. 3:2; Phil. 3:21). The power for this transformation “comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). We need to allow the Spirit to make us more like Christ. Meanwhile, we experience frustration because we’re not there yet. Along with the rest of creation we groan until God’s purposes are fulfilled (vv. 22-23).
Paul writes that we are justified and will be glorified (v. 30). We are righteous before God and fit for His presence – free from the guilt, penalty, and power of sin. This is an outcome of Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 4:25). Furthermore, we will share His glory. This is so certain that it is written in the past tense – as already done! This is true for all believers in Christ, showing that each believer has a wonderful destiny.
God is for us
Because God is for us, no one can accuse, condemn or defeat us: “If God is for us, who can be against us” (v. 31). What difference does it make who is against us? With God on our side, any opposition ultimately faces defeat. If someone accuses us, we can tell them that our sins have already been forgiven, and the penalty has already been paid on the cross (1 Jn. 1:9). God has promised victory for His people amidst adversity (Mt. 16:18). We are victorious because Christ has died for us, has been raised from the dead and is now at God’s right hand pleading for us. With the all-powerful God helping us, no lesser power can interfere. We have God on our side.
The final section of Romans 8 emphasizes that nothing can separate us from God’s love (vv. 35-39). People can be separated from each other by all sorts of trouble. Instead of separating us from Christ’s love, these things draw us closer to Him. Paul was convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love: Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither today’s fears nor tomorrow’s worries, not even hell’s power can keep us from God’s love. Nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus (vv. 38-39). The conclusion is that we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Through Christ we have overwhelming victory (v. 37).
What a great list of promises to help us in our struggle with sin! Coming from God, they are more than promises, being privileges and truths to enjoy. God has given us everything we need to live for Him. We should be Romans 8 Christians, using the promises and resources He has given us. The Holy Spirit is our greatest ally in the struggle against sin. We are forgiven and freed from the power of sin; the Holy Spirit guides us and guarantees eternal life and peace; as children in His family, we have fellowship with God and a great inheritance; God works for our good in everything; we will be transformed and receive new bodies; we have been made fit for God’s presence and will share His glory; God is for us, so no one can accuse, condemn, or defeat us; nothing can separate us from God.
God empowers us through the Spirit to put to death the misdeeds of the sinful nature (vv. 12-14). This means daily turning away from all known sins. We may need to help one another by confessing our sins to and praying for each other (Jas. 5:16). We should read the Bible each day to renew our mind (Rom. 12:2). Paul said think about “whatever is true … noble … right … pure … lovely … admirable … excellent or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). What a striking metaphor! Our selfish feelings and desires have been killed.
Living in the Spirit means consulting with God about our priorities and not trying to do it on our own. This liberates us from the demands and expectations of others. Living in the Spirit involves both submitting to God and resisting sinful desires (Jas. 4:7) And thank God we have His power to do it!
Published, May 2002
Our church often makes reference to the 7 deadly sins. What are they? Why are they called deadly? What does the Bible say about them?
The medieval Church recognized the following as seven deadly sins: pride (excessive self-esteem), envy (jealousy), gluttony (over-consumption), lust (excessive sexual desires), wrath (excessive anger), greed (excessive desire for wealth, status or power), and sloth (laziness). This list of sins was used to educate and instruct Christians concerning humanity’s tendency to sin in an era when most people couldn’t read the Bible for themselves. They were called “deadly sins” because it was believed that they threatened eternal damnation in hell. And because they were viewed as being the most serious sins, they were also called “capital” or “cardinal” or “mortal” sins.
God’s standards are clear in Scripture. They not only include the Ten Commandments and the Law, but the Bible also tells us that “there are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes (pride), a lying tongue (dishonesty), hands that shed innocent blood (murder), a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies (perjury) and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers (family discord)” (Prov. 6:16-19 TNIV).
The Bible says that “all wrongdoing is sin” and “whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (Jas. 2:10; 1 Jn. 5:17). Therefore, it is wrong to link the degree of sin with salvation. Everyone has sinned against God and every sin is serious because the penalty for sin is death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). In this sense, every sin is “deadly.” If it is not forgiven, it leads to eternal punishment in hell. Since in the Bible there is no categorization of sins with respect to salvation, the “deadly” sins do not threaten eternal damnation in hell any more than any other sin, even minor sins.
Fortunately, God has provided a remedy so we can avoid going to hell (Isa. 1:18; Rom. 5:8). When He was executed on the cross, Jesus Christ took upon Himself the punishment that we all deserve. The deadliness of sin was erased through the death and resurrection of Christ. The confession of our sins leads to our forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9). However, if we do not accept what God has offered, then every sin we commit will be “deadly” (Jn. 3:16-18).
Are there any sins which can’t be forgiven? The Jewish religious teachers committed an unpardonable sin when they attributed Christ’s miracles to Satan (Mt. 12:31-32; Mk. 3:22, 29-30; Lk. 12:10). His miracles were done in the power of the Holy Spirit. Such blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is probably not applicable today because Christ is not physically on earth.
The sin of apostasy, which involves publicly rejecting that Christ was the Son of God, is also unpardonable (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26; 2 Pet. 2:20-22; 1 Jn. 2:19). In this case a person who had been associated with the Christian faith, but never was a true believer, abandons Christianity and becomes an enemy of Christ. This is probably the “sin that leads to death” which John seems to apply to the Gnostics (1 Jn. 5:16). This is where the idea of “mortal sins” possibly comes from, but the verse refers to apostasy, not the seven deadly sins.
Other passages that have been used to justify mortal sins are: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5 and Revelation 22:15, which say that people who regularly practice these sins are not Christians; Galatians 1:8-9, which addresses those preaching a false gospel; and Hebrews 10:16-17, which addresses apostasy. All those described in these passages are destined to hell. This is also the case for all sinners who have not repented and sought Christ’s forgiveness.
Degrees of sin
In the Old Testament, God assigned different penalties to different sins; the punishment matched the crime (Ex. 21:23-25; Deut. 25:2-3). As the penalty in hell will be “according to what they had done”, there will also be degrees of punishment in hell (Lk. 12:47-48; Rev. 20:12-13). This means that the degree of punishment of an unbeliever in hell will be in accordance with the degree of their sin. The degree of punishment in hell is also in accordance with one’s awareness (Mt. 11:20-24; Lk. 12:47-48; Jn. 15:22, 24; Heb. 10:29; 2 Pt. 2:20-21). The more known about God’s plan of salvation, the more accountability and the greater punishment for those who reject God.
But for those who have accepted Christ’s offer of forgiveness (Jn. 3:16), their eternal destiny is heaven not hell. Regardless of the seriousness of their sins, the penalty has been paid by the Lord and they can anticipate degrees of reward in heaven rather than punishment in hell (Mt. 16:27; 1 Cor. 3:12-14).
If you have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins, then all your sins are pardoned, including those in the list of deadly sins, and you are on your way to heaven.
Published, November 2011
What does the proverb “Pride goes before destruction” have to do with the fall of man? A friend said it refers to the first sin.
The Bible contrasts pride and humility: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud” (Prov. 16:18-19TNIV). This proverb says that although pride may have some advantages, its leads to destruction. The principle that pride leads to destruction is repeated elsewhere (Psa. 18:27; Prov. 11:2; 15:25; 18:12; 29:23; Isa. 13:11; Ezek. 21:26; Mt. 23:12; Lk. 14:11). And there are several examples of this proverb in Scripture.
Pride was the first sin in the universe. Because of pride and selfish ambition to be like God, the Archangel Lucifer was cast out of heaven (Isa. 14:12-17; Ezek. 28:12-18; 1 Tim. 3:6). Goliath despised David, his opponent, because he was only a boy; but then he was killed by a stone from David’s sling (1 Sam. 17:42- 44, 48-50). Haman was proud that he was the only person invited to a banquet with the king and queen, but two days later he was executed (Est. 5:12; 7:9-10). Israel’s pride caused it to be conquered by the Assyrians (Amos 6:8-14). Jewish religious leaders sought recognition and honor, but were hypocrites who would be punished (Mt. 23:1-12; Lk. 20:45- 47). Pride is sinful and hated by God (Prov. 6:17; 2 Tim. 3:2). We are not to be proud because it is incompatible with God’s love (Rom. 12:3,16; 1 Cor. 13:4).
Now, what about the sin of Adam and Eve? Their first sin was to disobey God’s specific command not to eat from the forbidden tree (Gen. 2:17; 3:6). They acted independently of God instead of listening to Him, which is a form of pride. Pride led them to think they knew better than He (Gen. 3:5, 6, 22); they listened to Satan and their own reasoning. The fall of man is an example of the truth that “Pride goes before destruction.” While Proverbs 16:18 does not specifically refer to the first sin, it does describe a universal principle that applies from the beginning of time until today.
Published, July 2011
Our attitude towards illness and healing
We all experience ill health from time to time! What should be our attitude about it? Does God promise good health? Will He always answer prayers for healing?
Healing In The Early Church
The gift of healing was evident in the early Church (1 Cor. 12:9,28,30), and when crowds gathered around Peter, Stephen, Philip, Paul and Barnabas, the sick were healed. Even when they were touched by Peter’s shadow and Paul’s handkerchief or apron, they were healed (Acts 5:15-16; 19:11-12). Dorcas and Eutychus were brought back from the dead (Acts 9:36-42; 20:9-10). Everybody knew about these healings and were astonished (Acts 4:16; 8:13).
In this context Luke wrote: “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” (Acts 5:12 NIV). And Paul asserted that such “signs, wonders and miracles” characterized the apostles (2 Cor. 12:12). They helped to confirm that the gospel message was divine (Acts 14:3; Heb. 2:3-4), and that the apostles were empowered by the Holy Spirit. In particular, the Jews were more likely to believe something associated with a miracle (Jn. 4:48; 1 Cor. 1:22). How else could the apostles prove that Christ had sent them? These miracles confirmed the gospel message.
When God’s People Get Sick
I’ve heard people say that Christians should never suffer illness because Jesus has already suffered for us. They are wrongly using Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24, because these verses tell us that the Lord suffered for our sins, not our sicknesses. Let’s look again at the New Testament epistles to see what they say about healing today.
Paul wrote this to those in Galatia: “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn” (Gal. 4:13-14). Paul, the man that God used to write much of the New Testament, suffered illness. This shows that godliness did not keep him from getting sick, nor will it keep us from getting sick.
After he saw a vision of heaven, Paul wrote: “To keep me from becoming conceited … there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). The Lord didn’t heal Paul of his “thorn,” which may have been an eye disease (Gal. 4:15; 6:11). God does not always heal us either.
Paul left Trophimus, a coworker, sick in Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20). And he wrote this about another coworker, Epaphroditus: “He was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:27). Here we see that healing is a mercy, not a promise that we should expect or demand.
In the case of Paul and Epaphroditus, while their spiritual condition was good, their physical condition was not so good. This shows that healing does not depend on the strength of our faith or the lack of it. Paul prayed three times about his “thorn,” and then accepted it. God doesn’t remove all our pain, and He doesn’t fix everything. In fact the Bible promises suffering for believers (Jn. 16:33). We should pray like Christ: “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Lk. 22:42).
Paul told Timothy to “stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Tim. 5:23). Timothy was often ill, maybe because of a weak stomach, so Paul’s advice was to use a little wine. He wasn’t told just to pray about it, but to do something. And wine was a commonly prescribed medical treatment to help heal stomach ailments.
Paul wrote to Gaius: “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 Jn. 2). It seems as though Gaius was not well physically. Paul prayed that his physical health would match his spiritual health.
We can see the following four things from these examples: sickness is not necessarily a result of one’s sin; we can’t gauge a person’s spiritual state from his physical state; if a person isn’t healed, it’s not due to a lack of faith; and no promise of physical healing is given to the Church. Although we should pray for healing, there is no guarantee that healing will come. After all, if the Lord doesn’t return to rapture us, we will all eventually die.
Confession Of Sin
James wrote this about sickness and sin: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (Jas. 5:14-16).
This passage connects physical sickness, prayer, sin, forgiveness and healing. Was this person sick as a direct result of some sin? The elders were called to pray over him anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. As oil was traditionally used to dedicate people and things to God’s service (Ex. 30:30; 40:9), it may symbolize dedicating the sick person to the Lord’s care. People today can pray for recovery as God promises healing under these circumstances.
In Corinth, the sin of selfishness – “not recognizing the body of the Lord” at their love feasts – brought sickness and sometimes death (1 Cor. 11:30). This example links our physical and our spiritual health. For our health, we need to confess sins – such as selfishness, worry, anger, jealousy, pride and gluttony – and develop selfcontrol in these areas of our life. Selfcontrol is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and a significant aid to good health.
How God Uses Illness
The Bible gives five examples of how we can actually benefit from illness.
1. It reveals God’s power. After Paul prayed to have his “thorn” removed, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul wrote, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9). God gives strength to suffer because His power is more evident when we’re weak.
2. It helps us rely more on God. Paul claimed that his troubles “happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). Here we see that the allpowerful God will give us the strength to endure through suffering.
3. It gives us a reason to give thanks. According to Paul, “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Cor.1:10-11). The Corinthians prayed for Paul when he was in trouble, and their prayers were answered.
4. It gives us experiences that can help others. Paul said that God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:4). People are encouraged when we empathize with their situation. They see that someone understands. How we suffer illnesses can be an example for others.
5. It develops our spiritual character. Paul wrote that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Enduring sickness can develop perseverance (2 Cor. 1:6), just as exercise develops physical strength. God uses suffering to mold character and help us realize that He’s working in us.
Paul wanted to participate in Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10-11). He wanted to live like Christ did. It takes divine strength to suffer for Christ. God uses illness to draw us closer to Him, to teach us lessons we would learn in no other way and to provide us with new opportunities to help others.
We have no choice about when we will experience the pain of illness and injury, but we have a choice in how we respond. To give up, complain or wallow in selfpity in tough times, stumbles weak believers who are watching us (Heb. 12:12-13). Instead, we should encourage those that are weary (Isa. 50:4) by accepting pain and sickness as being God’s will for us, and live a life of perseverance, patience and endurance (2 Th. 1:4; Heb. 12:7-11; Jas. 1:2-4,12; 5:7-11). The Bible teaches that God uses difficult times for our growth.
Lessons For Us
Although there were many miraculous healings in the early Church, today healing is a mercy, not a promise. Remember, Paul was not healed of his thorn in the flesh. When God does not heal, it’s not because of our lack of faith. Instead, He wants us to persevere in sickness and pain so that His power may be revealed, that we may rely more on Him, that there will be prayer and thanksgiving, that we can use our experience to help others, and that we can develop our Christian character.
God is more concerned about our spiritual health than our physical health (1 Tim. 4:8). This doesn’t mean that we should neglect our physical health, but as our bodies wear out, they should wear out while serving Him. Let’s get our priorities right. God wants us to be spiritually healthy, and looking forward to that time when sickness and suffering are no more.
Published May 2010
See the other article in this series:
– Does God heal all our sicknesses? Part 1
Our attitude towards illness and healing
I recently read an article in a Christian magazine that said, “God heals all our sicknesses,” and it referenced Exodus 15:26 and 1 Peter 2:24. Because people have different ideas about the topic of healing, let’s look at what else the Bible says about it.
There are differences between God’s promises in the Old Testament and those in the New Testament. Abraham was promised a great reputation and the land of Canaan for his many descendants (Gen. 12:1-3; 17:8). Obedient Jews were promised a long life, prosperity, and victory over their enemies (Dt. 6:1-2; Ps. 128:1-2; Isa. 38:1-8). Most of the promises given to the Jews in the Old Testament were for physical or material blessings.
On the other hand, in the New Testament, God’s promises to believers in the early Church were eternal life, the Holy Spirit, peace, and the return of Christ (Eph. 1:13; Phil. 4:7; Heb. 10:36-37; 1 Jn. 2:25). All are spiritual blessings, not physical ones (Eph. 1:3). We should be careful not to apply to New Testament Christians promises of physical blessings given to the Old Testament Jews.
HEALING IN OLD TESTAMENT TIMES
The Bible teaches that all genuine healing comes from God (Ps. 103:2-3; 107:17-20; Hos. 11:1-3). The Hebrew word rapa means “to heal” or “to restore to normal.” But because bodily processes diminish due to aging, there is no such thing as perfect health, especially as we get older.
In the Old Testament God gave conditional promises to the Jews that He would protect them from disease and heal them. The condition was that they had to keep God’s commands, do what was right in His eyes and not follow pagan gods. He also promised that there would be no miscarriages, no couples unable to have children, no animals unable to bear young, and their enemies would be inflicted with the diseases that they were protected from (Ex. 15:25-26; 23:25-26; Dt. 7:14-15). We find no such promises in the New Testament.
Exodus 15:26 – which says, “I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you” – was quoted out of context in the magazine article I read. This verse applies specifically to the children of Israel traveling from Egypt to Canaan, but not to us today. Otherwise, we could still claim God’s promise to collect manna for daily food!
There are many instances of miraculous healing in the Old Testament. For example, when King Hezekiah was sick and about to die, he prayed and God allowed him to live for an additional 15 years (2 Ki. 20:5-6).
JESUS, THE HEALER
When He was on earth, the Lord healed all who were brought to Him (Mt. 8:16-17). Jesus said that this had been prophesied by Isaiah (Isa. 53:4). These miracles displayed His divine power (Mt. 11:2-5; Jn. 20:30-31). The Lord still heals all kinds of illnesses, and therefore we should acknowledge God in every case of healing. In the future when He returns to rule over the earth during the Millennium, the Bible tells us that the Lord will heal all diseases (Isa. 33:24; Jer. 30:17). But that is for a future time, not today.
With reference to the Lord, Peter quoted from Isaiah in his first letter: “By His wounds you have been healed” (Isa. 53:5; 1 Pet. 2:24). This type of healing – described in the next verse as, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:25) – is spiritual, between sinful people and God. Also, it is in the past tense, not the present tense. This verse means that Christ suffered on the cross and died as our substitute so that our sins could be forgiven and we could have a restored relationship with God. It has nothing to do with physical healing; it would be wrong to tell a seriously ill Christian that by Christ’s wounds he has been physically healed. First Peter 2:24 was also quoted out of context in the magazine article mentioned earlier. This verse is about spiritual, not physical healing.
Our bodies have been amazingly designed to heal themselves of most injuries and illnesses. Living cells are being replaced continuously. If we cut a finger the wound heals itself. Broken bones grow back together. Doctors know that many complaints are better by morning. Our immune system can automatically fix mild colds and throat infections. One prominent physician wrote, “Most coughs are self-curative usually within 1-3 weeks with or without treatment.” David wrote, “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14).
THE BIG PICTURE
In Genesis 1-2 God created a perfect world where there was no sickness, pain or death. It was utopia, but it didn’t last long. When sin came into the world (Gen. 3), our world changed completely. Not only are we spiritually separated from God because of sin, we now live in a decaying world of disease, suffering, injustice and death.
Fortunately that’s not the end of the story. God had a rescue plan for mankind that involved sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to restore our relationship with God. The outcome of this plan will not be finalized until the end of time. Christians are already redeemed or healed spiritually, but not yet physically. Today we live in a world whose suffering Paul described this way: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:18-23).
Paul’s “present sufferings” are contrasted to “the glory that will be revealed in us.” Like Paul, we suffer from sicknesses and these will not be totally healed until our bodies are resurrected, which is the final phase of our salvation – our deliverance from suffering. We look forward to God’s promised deliverance from sin and its effects.
Paul persevered in suffering because he had the hope of the resurrection: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Although the process of physical decay was going on continuously in Paul’s life, his suffering was not the most important thing in his life. Instead he focused on the unseen things like the resurrection body, the splendor of heaven and the triumph of the Lord at the Second Coming. The pattern for Christ was suffering at His first coming, and glory, honor and praise at His second coming. Likewise, the pattern for believers is present suffering and future glory.
LESSONS FOR US
Let’s always be careful when interpreting the Bible, especially in matters of health. It is not a collection of verses to be selected by topic and understood in isolation. Instead, start with what the Bible says and then consider the context by asking who the passage was written to, and what the surrounding verses say. When we do this we find that most of the promises given to the Jews in the Old Testament were physical or material blessings, while those given to Christians in the New Testament were spiritual blessings.
Although believers have been redeemed spiritually, they will experience sickness until death or the redemption of their bodies at the Rapture (1 Cor. 15:35-58). God’s emphasis now in the New Testament is on saving people by healing them spiritually, not physically. And isn’t this what is most important?
Let’s be like Paul and acknowledge that believers will suffer due to illnesses and injuries, and let’s accept these as being insignificant when compared to being liberated from sin and its effects.
Published April 2010
See the other article in this series:
- Does God heal all our sicknesses? Part 2
Many think that Satan is a myth, but we know he is real. That is why we must stay awake and be on our guard against him.
Satan is our enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8 NIV). In a battle it helps to know the enemy. For example, when playing a computer game, advice from someone who has already played it can be a great help. After we have experience and know what to anticipate, we are more likely to be successful at the game.
In this article we’ll look at Satan’s power, his objectives, his strategies and our defenses against him. This is important because if we are not aware of his schemes he will outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11).
Although Satan has been cast from God’s presence, he is still powerful. He is the ruler of demons (Mt. 12:24). The demons are fallen angels who follow Satan and who oppose believers (Eph. 6:12). Satan is a great power in the unseen spiritual world. He is the ruler of the sinful world system (Jn. 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). He dominates unbelievers: “The whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). He has his own kingdom, a vast sphere of influence in our world. He is respected by angels. The archangel Michael “did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’” (Jude 9). Likewise, we should take Satan seriously; he is no myth or joke.
Fortunately, Satan’s power is limited by God. In Job’s case, God controlled what he could and could not do ((Job 1:12; 2:6). Jesus prayed that God protect his disciples from “the evil one” (Jn. 17:15), so the devil can’t touch believers without God’s permission (1 Jn. 5:18). He has power, but God’s is greater.
Satan has a major influence in the world. His main objective is to oppose God and oppose God’s purposes. This started in the beginning and has continued through history. Even though Christ is victorious over Satan, he is still opposing God’s purposes in this world. His character is the opposite of God’s. He’s full of darkness, not light (Acts 26:18); he promotes hate, not love (1 Jn. 3:7-15); he brings death, not life (Heb. 2:15).
When we hear about the “forces of evil” in the world, undoubtedly Satan is still active today. Here are three of his more specific objectives. First, he works to deceive nations (Rev. 20:3,7). Apparently, he has been successful in this as he was able to offer Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” (Mt. 4:8-9). In fact, he “leads the whole world astray” (Rev. 12:9). Second, he works to control unbelievers. Satan uses his power to control unbelievers by trapping them and keeping them captive (Acts 26:18; 2 Tim. 2:26; 1 Jn. 5:19). Meanwhile, these people are deceived and unaware of his activities. Third, he works to destroy believers and Christianity. We do not fight against a human enemy, but against Satan and his demons in the unseen world (Eph. 6:12). Our enemy is the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to attack (1 Pet. 5:8). He wants believers to be ineffective.
Satan uses three strategies in his battle. First, he attacks God’s character and His control. From the beginning Satan misquoted God when he asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Gen 3:1-5). Then he denied that God had said they would surely die. He has denigrated God, Christ and the Bible throughout history.
Second, he prevents acceptance of the truth. Satan prevents others from accepting the truth by blinding their minds: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18). In the parable of the sower, Satan “takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Lk. 8:12). He gives unbelievers a false sense of security. He is like an evil man who drugs his victims (Lk. 11:21).
Third, Satan promotes sin within our world. He “has been sinning from the beginning” (1 Jn. 3:8). Here are some of his weapons:
False beliefs: Satan deceives people so they believe lies, such as atheism, agnosticism, humanism and evolution (2 Th. 2:11). These often deny the reality of sin and evil.
False religions: In addition to denying the truth, Satan also promotes false religions, such as idolatry, the occult (Rev. 2:14) and all faiths not consistent with the Bible.
False lifestyles: Satan tempts people to follow the world’s sinful ways, including a self-centered lifestyle of pleasure, possessions, position and power (Mt. 13:22; 1 Jn. 2:15-17).
Demonic leaders: Satan uses powerful rulers for his ends. The Roman emperor Nero persecuted believers in the early Church. Some nations persecute Christians today. The anti-christ will persecute them in the future (2 Th. 2:3-12).
Destabilized society: Satan works to destabilize God’s plan for government, law and order (Rom. 13:1-2). He also works to breakdown marriages and families. God hates his activities (Mal. 2:16).
Satan also uses many strategies to divert believers from following the Lord (Lk. 14:27). Here are some of them: discrediting the Bible (Lk. 4:1-13); tempting them to lie, to lust, to seek human wisdom (Acts 5:3; 1 Cor. 7:5; Mt. 16:23); pride (1 Pet. 5:5); doubt (Gen. 3:1-5); discouragement and depression (1 Pet. 5:7); denial (Lk. 22:31,57); division (Eph. 4:3; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:4; 6:6-7); false doctrine (1 Tim. 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:1); false leaders (2 Cor. 11:13-15); persecution (2 Cor. 11:23-25). Satan reminds God of our sins and imperfections (Rev. 12:10). But Christ, “speaks to the Father in our defense” (1 Jn. 2:1).
Christians are told to “put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:9-10). To withstand Satan we need to do four things: recognize, remember, resist and respond.
First, we need to recognize that our struggle is not against humans but against Satan and his demons in the unseen world (Eph. 6:12). We are warned to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:9). Many think that Satan is a myth, but we know he is real. That is why we must stay awake and be on our guard against him.
Second, we need to remember that while Satan and his demons are always on the prowl, Christ is already the victor. He is all powerful and has already defeated and judged Satan. He controls all things and cares for us. We also need to remember our position: seated with Him in heaven (Eph. 2:6). His work is finished and we are secure. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). And Christ prays for our protection from Satan (Jn. 17:15).
Third, we need to resist Satan and his tricks. “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes … stand your ground … stand firm” (Eph. 6:11,13,14). “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Our resistance needs to be active. This is war! Satan wants us to have a false sense of peace, but we are really on the front line. If we sleep, Satan will have us for breakfast!
Fourth, we need to respond, not with physical weapons, but with “divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). Our spiritual weapons are listed in Ephesians 6:13-18. “Put on the full armor of God … the belt of truth … the breastplate of righteousness … your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace … the shield of faith … the helmet of salvation … the sword of the Spirit. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” to headquarters. To overcome the enemy, we need to be in constant communication with our Leader.
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
See the other article in this series:
– Satan. Part 1: Knowing our enemy