“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5NIV).
This verse is part of David’s prayer of confession for his sins (adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah). The prayer demonstrates the parallelism and figurative language of Hebrew poetry. Some of the figures of speech are related to how he wanted his sin to be removed: “blot out”, “wash away” and “cleanse” (v. 1-2); “wash” with hyssop so he is “whiter than snow” (v.7); “hear joy and gladness” (the effect is substituted for the cause), and “let the bones (body) you have crushed rejoice” (v. 8).
In verse 5 he makes the parallel statements, “Surely I was sinful at birth” and “sinful from the time my mother conceived me”. This is an example of hyperbole, where the writer exaggerates to make a point. Hyperbole is used commonly in the Bible to grab our attention and cause us to stop and think about what is being said. In this case it’s a colorful way of saying, “I’ve been sinful all my life” or “I’ve always been a sinner”. As such it is figurative and not literal.
David begins to use hyperbole in this prayer when he says, “my sin is always before me” (v.3). Was it on his mind 24 hours a day? No it wasn’t, but it filled his mind. He continues to use hyperbole in the next verse, “against you (God), you only, have I sinned” (v.4). What about his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah? He leaves them out because these sins were less important that his sin against God. The pattern of hyperbole continues in the next verse, “Surely I was sinful at birth” and “sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (v.5). Had David sinned from the time of his conception? No he hadn’t, but he feels so guilty it’s as if he’s been sinning all his life.
David also has similar thoughts in Psalm 58 where he asked God to punish unjust rulers. He uses hyperbole to describe them:
“Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies” (Ps. 58:3).
This a clearly figurative language because babies don’t spread lies from birth (they can’t communicate using words). In this case it’s a colorful way of saying, “they’ve been sinful all their lives”. Had they gone astray from birth? Of course not. Had they spread lies from birth? Of course not. As such it is figurative and not literal.
There are other figures of speech in the next verse where the unjust leader’s speech is described as “venom”, which is probably a metaphor for slander (v.4). This metaphor is extended to them being like a deaf snake, which implies they are deaf to the voice of God.
It would be wrong to use this Hebrew poetry in Psalms 51 and 58 to develop a theology of when sin starts in a child’s life. That topic isn’t being addressed in these verses.
Does this mean that babies are innocent? No and yes! On one hand they already have a sinful nature which is a characteristic of humanity (Rom. 3:10, 23; Eph. 2:1-3), but on the other hand, they are not yet accountable for their sin (Dt, 1:39; Is. 7:14-14; Jon. 4:11). Sinful behavior comes naturally. No one has to teach a child to lie or be selfish. No one is sinless (1 Jn. 1:7).
So when interpreting a passage in the Bible, we need to be careful to note its genre (is it prose or poetry?) and the occurrence of figures of speech.
Written, February 2015
Also see: If an infant dies, do they go to heaven?
What Should Be Our Attitude Toward Money And Wealth?
In the first part of this series we looked at the positives of money and wealth; now we’ll consider the negatives – the bad news and warnings in the Bible about our attitudes toward money and wealth.
I live in an affluent country abounding in material goods. Our consumer society views greed as good, particularly for the economy. A recent newspaper editorial said, “Longer working hours and higher levels of debt mean that Australians are working more to own more and consume more.” We are very busy improving our standard of living. Money is a measure of success.
In Haggai’s prophecy (520 BC) the temple was in ruin and needed rebuilt. He questioned the people: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin? … Each of you is busy with his own house” (Hag. 1:4,9). They were using the same cedar paneling in their houses as that which was to be used in the temple (1 Ki. 7:3,7). They were looking after themselves, but neglecting God’s things. The song, “Revive us, O Lord” says it this way: “Idols have captured our land/We worship the works of our hands/Lord for too long we have built/Houses on sand.”
Greed Is Sinful
Paul wrote: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:9-11). From the context we see that those who wanted to be rich were not content with what they had, and were determined to increase their standard of living; they were opposite to those who were content with their physical circumstances (6:8). This desire to have more is also called “greed” or “covetousness.” The Greek words to describe this are “pleonexia” (“a desire to have more” in a bad sense), and “philarguros” (money-loving).
This passage says that greed is destructive because it leads to dishonest behavior and becomes a dangerous habit. Is money evil? No! It’s the love of money (or greed) that results in evil. Greed brings anxiety and a wasted life. It is a sin associated with many kinds of evil. It causes people to neglect their spiritual life and wander from the faith. Greed does not buy happiness. We should flee from the love of money and develop Christian character instead (6:11).
Jesus said this to His disciples: “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Lk. 12:29-31). What a warning! We live in a world that runs after money. The tenth commandment says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife … manservant or maidservant … ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Ex. 20:17). It’s sinful to desire what God doesn’t intend for you to have. Greed is as serious as murder, adultery, stealing, lying and idolatry which are also in the Ten Commandments. Paul himself was convicted of this sin (Rom. 7:7).
The Bible lists greed with other serious sins (Mk. 7:21-23, Rom. 1:29-31; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:9-10; Eph. 5:3-5; Col. 3:5; 2 Tim. 3:2-5), and says that it defiles us and makes us unacceptable to God. Yet our society sees greed as acceptable, respectable, even desirable. We have a problem.
Greed Is Idolatrous
When a man asked Jesus to help him obtain his inheritance Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk. 12:15). Is success measured by how much we own? When we judge people by their income, clothes, cars and housing, we’re acting like pagans. Are possessions the principle things in life? Will life be better when we make more and get more? Such thoughts don’t come from God; they come from advertisements.
Jesus told the story of a rich man who was devoted to gaining wealth, but who died before he could build bigger barns for his good crop (Lk. 12:16-21). Instead of using his abundant crop to help the needy, he greedily stored it up for himself so he could retire early. Jesus also said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Mt. 6:24, Lk. 16:13). Money and things can be false gods. Paul said that greed is idolatry, because the greedy want things more than they want God (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). They are more devoted to money than to God.
The Fruit Of Greed
Greed is associated with the following behaviors.
Hoarding: Jesus condemned the hoarding of money. He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21). James condemned the rich for hoarding their wealth instead of putting it to work for the benefit of others (Jas. 5:3). Hoarding is the opposite of giving.
Self-Sufficiency: The church in Laodicea felt self-sufficient. They said, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing” (Rev. 3:17). However, although they were materially rich, they were spiritually poor. Likewise, the rich were warned not to put their hope in wealth (1 Tim. 6:17). James told them, “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter” (Jas. 5:5) or judgment. The greedy are like cattle that continue to fatten themselves, unaware that they are destined for slaughter. They are spending on themselves when there are many in need.
Indifference: Greed can also lead to indifference to others’ needs. The rich man who “was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day” didn’t care about Lazarus, the diseased beggar, who lay at his gate (Lk. 16:19-21). Because of his selfishness and lack of faith, he suffered eternal punishment. Paul told Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant” (1 Tim. 6:17). The wealthy are likely to look down on those who do not have as much money.
Worry: Jesus told His disciples not to worry about the future, about food and clothes, but to “seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33; Lk. 12:31). A desire for wealth and an obsession for maintaining one’s wealth leads to a life of worry instead of peace. We worry about money when we have it, and when we don’t have it.
Waste: Selfish people can really waste money. In the parable of the prodigal, the younger son asked for his share of the inheritance and then traveled to a distant country and “there squandered his wealth in wild living” (Lk. 15:13).
Dishonesty: James condemned acquiring wealth by dishonesty. His example was failure to pay proper wages. He said that God was aware of this: “The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” James rebuked harsh treatment of others, particularly employees (Jas. 5:4-6). In this case the rich exploited their employees by underpaying and overworking them.
Ananias and Sapphira were punished for dishonesty when they lied about the amount of money received from the sale of property (Acts 5:1-11). Another example of wealth from a sinful enterprise was Demetrius who made silver shrines of Artemis (Acts 19:24-25). He made money promoting idolatry.
Barrier To Heaven
Jesus said that the invitation of eternal life was like an invitation to a banquet (Lk. 14:16-24). But the invitation was rejected by those who were devoted to the things they had bought, to their business and occupation. They didn’t get to taste the banquet. A greedy attitude for material wealth is a barrier to heaven.
The rich young man who asked what to do to get eternal life shows that coveting wealth is an obstacle to trusting Christ (Mt. 19:21-22; Mk. 10:17-22). Living for money and possessions makes it difficult to follow Christ. Jesus said it was hard for a rich man to enter heaven (Mt. 19:23-24).
Hindrance To Spiritual Life
Greed can be the downfall of the godly. Greed ruined Lot when he moved to the plain of Jordan (Gen. 13:10-11). In the parable of the sower, a farmer scattered seeds. Some seeds fell among thorns which choked the plants so they did not mature and bear grain (Mt. 13:7). Jesus explained that this is like those who hear the Word, “but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the Word making it unfruitful” (Mt. 13:22; Mk. 4:18-19; Lk. 8:14). Because of their greed they become preoccupied with making money and lose interest in spiritual things. There is no fruit for God in their lives. Material prosperity can often lead to backsliding, as it can choke one’s spiritual life like weeds spoil a crop. This is because wealth gives a false sense of self-sufficiency, security and well-being.
The Futility Of Greed
Even if greed brings wealth, it’s so unreliable that one shouldn’t trust it (1 Tim. 6:17). Economic depressions, unemployment and disasters can destroy wealth. Jesus warned the rich: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Lk. 6:24). Those who fail to use their wealth to benefit others have already received their reward, the gratification of self. Like flowers, wealth only lasts awhile (Jas. 1:10-11).
In the story of the selfish farmer, “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:20-21). When he died he lost everything. Jesus warned His disciples about the temptation of getting rich: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Mt. 16:26). Greed can lead a man to miss out on eternal life. Although a winner in life, he’s a loser in death. The fruit of greed is all around us. How can we live in a money-loving world and not serve the god of money?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be rich – God’s way. He wants us to be spiritually rich: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Here the Greek verb “to be rich” is a metaphor for salvation. The materially rich need to become spiritually rich: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich” (Rev. 3:17-18). True wealth consists of being “rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21; 2 Cor. 6:10). Our heavenly inheritance will endure for eternity (1 Pet. 1:4; Heb. 10:34).
A New Way Of Thinking
How can we know God’s will about riches? Instead of copying the world’s greedy behavior we need to let God transform us by changing the way we think (Rom. 12:2). We need to be aware of the spirit of greed in society and dare to be different. We need to reject the world’s endless desire for a higher standard of living. Are our hearts set on seeking God or money? Do we provide so lavishly for ourselves that there’s little left for God’s work?
The Bible tells us to watch out for greed, flee from it and kill every greedy desire (Lk. 12:15; Col. 3:5; 1 Tim. 6:10-11). Greed is a hindrance to the spiritual life (Heb. 12:1). We need to learn that life is more than money and what it can buy. Eternal life is more valuable than money and possessions. We can only flee greed by pursuing values such as “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11). Does the fruit of the Spirit counter the advertisements and lifestyle messages you see daily (Gal. 5:2-23)?
Greed can hinder our service for God. Are we willing to downsize, not live for money and possessions and be content with what we have (Mt. 6:31-32; 1 Tim. 6:8, 17; Heb. 13:5)? God knows our needs. We should practice being content with what we have and being generous in giving to others. We shouldn’t waste our money on get-rich schemes, gambling or chain letters. Instead, we should use our money to help others benefit spiritually (Lk. 16:9).
Enjoying God’s Wealth
The Bible teaches that greed is a serious sin, a form of idolatry. It has no place in the Church. Its fruit includes: hoarding, self-sufficiency, indifference, worry, waste, and other sinful behaviors. It is a barrier to heaven and a hindrance to spiritual life. Worshiping money is futile because material wealth is fleeting, uncertain, and of no benefit beyond this life. Instead, Christians should enjoy their true and lasting wealth that comes with salvation and eternal life. Our behavior should be transformed as we adopt God’s way of thinking and as we pursue godliness in all things including our attitude toward money.
Published, March 2007
See the next article in this series:
- Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 3
To recover from addiction
Addictions such as alcohol, drugs and gambling destroy people’s lives. Addicts tend to be self-centered. Recently, one said to me, “I could see that I always tried to run my life my way. It was me that was the problem; all the things that I thought would make me happy never did.”
The only way that addicts can recover from an addiction is to first realize they have a problem, then realize they cannot fix their problem themselves, and finally seek outside help for their problem. In fact, according to Alcoholics Anonymous, their recovery is dependent on their relationship with God.
Addicts often go through a twelve step program, developed by Alcoholics Anonymous, before they can be freed of their addiction. This program requires honesty, humility and determination. The first three steps they go through are:
- Admitting they are powerless over addiction and their lives are unmanageable.
- Believing that only a power greater than themselves could restore their sanity.
- Making a decision to turn their will and their lives over to the care of God.
But alcohol, drugs and gambling are just some of the sins committed by humanity. The Bible says we are all sinners and rebels against God and this is our main problem (Rom. 3:23). People are addicted to sin, selfishness and idolatry (Rom. 1:22-25; Eph. 5:5; Gal. 5:20). We are self-centered and driven by fear, self-delusion, self-seeking and self-pity. Our troubles are largely self-inflicted. The steps into our problem are evil desires, which lead to sin, and then to death (Jas. 1:13-15).
Like an addict the only way that we can recover from the problem of our sin is to first realize we have this problem, then realize we cannot fix this problem ourselves and finally seek outside help for this problem. No human power can relieve us of the problem. Fortunately, God provided the outside help through His Son, Jesus Christ. This help is outside humanity and outside the creation that is also suffering because of sin (Rom. 8:22). It is help from the divine Creator of the universe.
The steps of recovery are: acknowledge we have a sinful nature and that we need outside help; confess our sinfulness to God by naming our sins and forsaking them; and then receive God’s forgiveness as He has paid the penalty for our sins (1 Jn. 1:8-10). When we trust the infinite God rather than our finite selves, we can be freed from our addiction to sin and selfishness. This process of recovery is similar to three other steps in the twelve step program:
- Admitting to God, ourselves, and another person the nature of our wrongs.
- Humbly asking God to remove our shortcomings.
- Having a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, which leads us to carry this message to addicted people and practice these principles in our affairs.
Because those with a tendency to addiction can easily lapse into past behaviors, these recovery principles need to become a way of life. Likewise, Christians need to be aware of their sinfulness and confess their sins daily in order to maintain a relationship with God. We need to seek outside help every day by asking God to remove our selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear. So, our recovery is directly dependent on our relationship with God.
We all experience pain and disease at some time in life. Pain is the response by our nervous system to an abnormal situation; it is like an alarm. If the alarm doesn’t operate, then we can hurt ourselves without knowing it. Disease is a lack of health that is often associated with a depressed immune system. So pain and disease are reactions by our bodies to the circumstances we face.
Pain and disease began when Adam and Eve sinned and they are part of the trouble that is inevitable in the sinful world (Gen. 3:16-19; Jn. 16:33). In fact, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:22 NIV).
Job, the most righteous man on earth in his time, was a good example to his wife and to Satan when God allowed him to endure pain and disease (Job 2:6-10). Jesus is the only one with a record of power over pain and disease. He healed people who “were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed” (Mt. 4:24).
God permits pain and disease to shape believers so they become more like Him (Heb. 12:5-11). They should not grumble or be discouraged during these times (1 Cor. 10:10), but rejoice because it develops Christian character (Jas. 1:2-4,12). God is training them through the pain and disease so they might rely on Him and be able to comfort those who are suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-9).
The ultimate solution to pain and disease depends on our relationship with God, because those who trust Him go to heaven where there is no pain or disease (Lk. 16:19-31; Rev. 21:4). The eternal glory of heaven far outweighs the believer’s temporary pain and disease here on earth (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17). However, those who do not accept God’s offer of salvation will suffer for eternity.
Published, July 2006
Using the resource that God gives us
There are two natures present within believers – the sinful and the divine. The sinful nature is inherited by everyone and powered by Satan (Rom. 5:12; Jas. 3:15). In some Bible translations it is also referred to as “earthly,” “the flesh,” “the world” or the “old man.” Sin is evident every day of our lives, causing many of the struggles in the Christian life.
The divine nature is a consequence of the Holy Spirit indwelling believers, giving them a new attitude and godly behavior (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23-24). This becomes evident when one is controlled by the Holy Spirit and obedient to God (Rom. 6:16; 8:6-9). The divine nature is sometimes referred to as “godly,” “heavenly,” “spiritual” or the “new man.” The divine nature is beneficial now and for the future (1 Tim. 4:8).
Purpose Of The Divine Nature
Second Peter 1:3-11 tells why Christians should express the divine nature in their daily lives. Its development is essential for a useful life and it is God’s provision to counteract the sinful nature. He has given us “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3 NIV), so we have the resources to live a life that pleases Him.
Through God’s power and promises we should “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:4). His promises include His living among His people, in the person of the Holy Spirit, and treating us with parental care, as His children (2 Cor. 6:16-18). So, the power to express the divine nature is divine, not human (Jn. 15:5). The Greek word translated “participate” is “koinonos”, which means “partakers,” “sharers” or “having something in common,” and is described elsewhere as partners and companions. This implies that God shares His nature with us, and our active involvement (“make every effort” in 2 Pet. 1:5) is conveyed in the New International Version by expressing this as the verb “participate.”
An important reason for participating in the divine nature is that it helps us combat the sinful nature (2 Pet. 1:4). If we follow the Spirit’s guidance, we “will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Gal. 5:16). Also, replacing activities of the sinful nature with those of the divine nature helps stop giving Satan a foothold in our lives and reduces our double-mindedness (Eph. 4:22-27; Jas. 4:8). The more we participate in the divine nature the less time we’ll have for the sinful nature.
Therefore, we are exhorted “to make every effort to add to your faith goodness … knowledge … self-control … perseverance … godliness … brotherly kindness and … love” (2 Pet. 1:5-7). The Greek word for how to do this is “spoude,” meaning “eager, earnest, zealous, diligent.” We should “make every effort” to express these characteristics of the divine nature.
This is followed by a promise of effective and productive lives if these qualities are increasingly present (2 Pet. 1:8), as in our growth towards Christlikeness (Eph. 4:13-15). Failure to develop these virtues leaves us spiritually blind and forgetful (2 Pet. 1:9).
Also, there is this promise: “If you do these things you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom” (2 Pet. 1:10). The Greek word for fall is “ptaio,” meaning “to stumble.” It is used metaphorically in this verse meaning to stumble into sin. Similarly, Christ has been described as “Him who is able to keep you from falling” (Jude 24). But of course, James said, “we all stumble in many ways,” so this means that the more we are occupied with the divine nature, the less likely we are to fall into sinful behavior (Jas. 3:2).
Images Of The Divine Nature
Fortunately for a generation that thinks visually, the Bible teems with illustrations. Scriptural examples of the divine nature in believers can increase our understanding of this gift from God.
The fruit of the Spirit is well known: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Paul urges believers to clothe themselves with: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. “And over all these virtues put on love” (Col. 3:12-14). Furthermore, we are exhorted to flee sinful behavior and pursue: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness, and peace (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). Finally, the wisdom that comes from heaven is: pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (Jas. 3:17). This results in a “harvest of righteousness” (v. 18).
The symbols used in these examples provide a further impression of the divine nature. It increases, grows, sustains, protects, is a worthwhile goal, and is true wisdom. What attractive and desirable images!
Attributes Of The Divine Nature
The main features of the divine nature, summarized from the Bible, are listed at the end of this article. These are the characteristics of God and Christianity. They are seen in creation (Rom. 1:20), in Christ (Jn. 14:9-11) and should be evident in believers before a watching world. Christ told His followers to love one another so that others would know who were His disciples (Jn. 13:34-45). Fruitful lives are also evident in His disciples (Jn. 15:8). Similarly, the divine nature should distinguish believers today, as God communicates through them (2 Cor. 5:20; 1 Jn. 3:7-10).
Enough Evidence To Convict Us Of Being Christian?
Christianity changes people, transforming their attitudes, desires and values. For example, the dramatic changes to Peter and John were explained by the fact that they “had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). By participating in the divine nature, believers are changed by the Holy Spirit to become more like Christ: “transformed into His likeness” (2 Cor. 3:17-18). Then there is our final transformation: “When He appears, we shall be like Him” (Phil. 3:21; 1 Jn. 3:2).
After advising Christians to be occupied with things that are: true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, Paul urges them to put into practice what they have learned (Phil. 4:8-9). Who controls our lives is largely up to us. We can make choices on how we live our lives more often than we think. This is why we should “make every effort” to let the Spirit replace our sinful values, attitudes and desires with godly ones.
So, let’s get involved in the divine nature, making the most of every opportunity to be God’s fellow-workers, recognizing the divine nature in others and encouraging other Christians in it as well (2 Cor. 6:1; Eph. 5:16).
|The Divine Nature Is: