Children grow up from infancy, to childhood, to adolescence and then to adulthood. At the beginning they are totally dependent on their parents and are not held accountable for their behavior. But as they grow up, they are trained to be responsible and accountable. The Bible teaches that everyone is answerable to God (Mt. 12:36-37; Rom. 3:19; Heb. 9:27). But when are children accountable to God?
The Bible says that both Christians and non-Christians are accountable to God. At the end of their lives, Christians “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10NIV) when “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Rom. 14:12). This is used to determine their rewards in heaven (1 Cor. 3:12-15). Non-Christians are “judged according to what they had done” at the “great white throne” (Rev. 20:11-15). This is used to determine their punishment in hell.
Is this fair? God has revealed Himself to everyone in at least two ways. First the natural world demands a Creator – complicated things, like animals and plants and people, don’t make themselves (Rom. 1:19-20). Second, we all have a conscience and so can know instinctively what is right and wrong and feel guilty when we do wrong (Rom. 2:14-15). If someone hasn’t heard about how God revealed Himself in history (in the Bible), then they are judged according to their response to these more general revelations of God. So God is fair and “people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
The Bible teaches that we are sinful from birth (Gen. 8:21; Ps. 51:5; 58:3). We are all sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). So children are never innocent in the sense of being sinless. This is serious because spiritual death leads to eternal separation from God (Jn. 3:16; Rom 6:23).
The Bible also teaches that because they do not yet know the difference between right and wrong or good and evil, infants are not accountable for their sin (Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:31; Isa. 7:14-16; Jon. 4:11). They are not yet aware of their sinful condition or God’s cure.
So very young children are not accountable for their sin. Their minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong. But what about when they grow past this stage of life?
The Bible makes two types of statements about the sins of parents and children. First, with regard to the commandment given to the Israelites against idolatry, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Num. 14:18; Dt. 5:9). As they lived in households that extended to three or four generations, this means that the temporal judgment for their rebellion against God was on themselves and their households. The Bible gives examples of households that experienced the consequence of God’s judgment of the sins of their patriarch (Num. 16:31-35; Josh. 7:24-25). Likewise, today the consequences of a parent’s behavior can impact others in their household.
When the Jews used this statement to say that they were suffering for their ancestors’ sins, Ezekiel corrected them writing “The one who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:4, 20). This is an example of the second type of statement, which relates to the death penalty. “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin” (Dt. 24:16; 2 Ki. 14:6; 2 Chron. 25:4). So in the Israelite legal system, a penalty was to be imposed only on those who committed the crime, and not on those who were innocent. This meant that after children reached the age when they knew the difference between right and wrong, they were accountable for their behavior. Likewise, today when children are old enough to respond to their conscience they are responsible to God for their own behavior.
So the statement that everyone is accountable to God doesn’t apply to young children or those whose minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong.
But those who have grown past this stage of life and can understand these things are accountable to God. They have no excuse. That’s why it’s important to know that our sinful ways separate us from God, but Jesus died to take the punishment that we deserve (which is hell) and reconcile us to God. We need to take responsibility for our behavior and confess our sins, because God cannot forgive our sin until it is confessed.
Written, May 2014
What does it take to change your mind about something? Did you know that Jesus’ bothers changed their mind about Him? They did a u-turn from opposition to attraction.
Jesus had at least four brothers (James, Joseph, Simon and Judas) and at least two sisters (Mt. 13:55-56; Mk. 6:3). They had the same mother, but not the same father. It was a Jewish family, Mary is a shortened form of Miriam, Jesus’ Hebrew name was Joshua, James’ Hebrew name was Jacob, and Judas’ Hebrew name was Judah.
Jesus was popular and many people followed Him, but His brothers thought he was insane and mentally ill (Mk. 3:21-22). This is consistent with others who thought He was demon possessed (Mk. 3:22; Jn. 10:20). After crowds came when he healed many people, His brothers travelled from Nazareth to Capernaum “to take charge of Him” (Mk. 3:21). They may have thought he brought shame and embarrassment to the family. John said that “even His own brothers did not believe in Him” (Jn. 7:5). They didn’t believe He was the promised Messiah. Instead they were deeply offended and refused to believe in Him when He preached (Mt. 13:57; Mk. 6:3-4). So He was rejected in His hometown of Nazareth and in His own home.
Even at His death Jesus entrusted the care of His mother, Mary, to His disciple John instead to His half brothers (Jn.19:26-27). It seems as though the brothers still didn’t believe in Him at this time.
The next reference in Scripture to Christ’s brothers is after His resurrection when the believers who gathered together to pray included, “Mary the mother of Jesus, and … His brothers” (Acts 1:14). Here we see that the brothers had changed their mind about Jesus and had joined His disciples. What caused the change?
Look at what happened before this time: Christ had died, was buried, resurrected back to life and ascended to heaven. The Lord had appeared to the disciples twice after His resurrection (Jn. 20:19-23, 26-29). The “disciples” present at this time behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders may have included the women and the Lord’s brothers. Also, a special appearance by Jesus to James would have impacted James (1 Cor. 15:7).
After this the Lord’s brothers were preachers like Paul and the apostles (1 Cor. 9:5). James became an elder in the church at Jerusalem and wrote the book of James (Gal. 1:19; Jas. 1:1) and Judas probably wrote the book of Jude (Jude 1).
So Jesus’ brothers changed their mind radically about Him when they understood who He was and what He had done. Have we?
Written, February 2014
Last time we looked at “Facing trials”. This time it’s ‘“Facing temptations”. The difference between the two is that trials come from an external source, whereas temptations come from within us. Trials test our Christian faith and can produce Christ-likeness, whereas temptations can lead to sinful behaviour and loss of fellowship with God and other people.
We all face temptations from time to time. The Bible says that God doesn’t cause temptations. We shouldn’t blame God for them. Instead they come from the human mind.
The source and process of temptation is described by James: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (Jas. 1:13-14NIV).
Temptation begins as an “evil desire” in our mind. Jesus said that “evil thoughts” lead to sin (Mt. 15:18-20). Since the fall of humanity into sin we have a tendency towards evil desires. We are now self-centred.
Satan is called the tempter (Mt. 4:3; 1 Th. 3:5). He tempts us in order to make us fail (1 Cor. 7:5). He entices us like a fisherman entices fish with bait or a lure. Satan is deceitful and seductive. He is our enemy (1 Ti. 5:14; 1 Pt. 5:8).
We are all tempted. That’s why the Bible warns, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16). Satan uses what we see. We are selfish. We choose to please ourselves instead of pleasing God.
We can respond to temptation in two ways.
The first is to yield to temptation like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-13) and like when David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed (2 Sam. 11:2-5).
If temptation is not resisted immediately, it leads to sinful behaviour. If we think about a sin long enough, we will carry out that sin. It’s inevitable just like sexual intercourse can lead to the birth of a child. The Bible says, “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas 1:15).
The other response is to resist temptation like Joseph with Potiphar’s wife (Gen 39:7-12) and Jesus with Satan (Mt. 4:1-11).
Jesus said, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Mk. 14:38). We are weak and prone to sin. Do we pray for God to help us not to fall into sin by yielding to temptation? The Lord’s prayer says, “Don’t let us yield to temptation” (Lk. 11:4 NLT).
We are told to put on God’s armor so we can stand against Satan’s temptations (Eph. 6:10-18). And the Israelites knew, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). The truths of Scripture in our mind can protect us from yielding to temptation.
We have a choice. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Do we submit to God or Satan? Do we resist Satan or God?
Look for God’s way out. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; 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 endure it” (1 Cor. 10:12-13).
Lessons for us
So, don’t blame God for temptation. Temptations come from Satan and our sinful nature.
Because the Lord is stronger than Satan, with His help we can resist Satan’s temptations.
Our mind is important. What do we think about? This has a strong influence on our speech and behaviour. Don’t dwell on evil thoughts. Instead, replace them with, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Are the truths of Scripture planted in our mind?
Written, Sep 2013
We are often unaware of the unseen invisible component to our world. I sometimes picture this as being like an extra dimension. For example, if we lived in a flat 2-dimensional world and someone visited us from a 3-dimensional world, then we would only see their footprints.
According to the Bible the unseen world is made up of various personalities: the divine God comprised of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; God’s angels who help believers; Satan who opposes God; and Satan’s demons who are rebellious angels. We are only partially aware of these personalities; like the footprints of a 3-dimensional being in a 2-dimensional world. Let’s look at the human spirit and soul which is another part of the unseen world that can be influenced by these divine and satanic personalities.
The Bible describes human beings as being comprised of spirit, soul and body: “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:23NIV). The meanings of these Greek words are given below and their relationship is shown in the schematic diagram.
‘Pneuma’, which means ‘wind’, something which is invisible, is used to describe the spirit. The human spirit enables our conscience, intuition, God consciousness and communication with God (Mk. 2:8; Jn. 4:24; Rom. 8:16; 9:1). It is the spirit which distinguishes us from animals; they do not have such an eternal spirit. It is a way in which people are “made in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27; Jn. 4:24). We can view the human spirit as our innermost world.
‘Psuche’ (the origin of the English word ‘psyche’), which means ‘breath’, something which is invisible, is used to describe the soul. It is our self consciousness, personality and ego. It includes the mind (our intellect, Acts 14:2, 22), the will (our desires, decisions and morals, Mt. 22:37) and the emotions (our feelings). We can view this as being between our spirit and our body. However, it can be difficult to distinguish between the spirit and the soul (Heb. 4:12).
‘Soma”, which means the body. It is sense consciousness, which relates to the physical world. We can view the spirit and soul as living within the body.
The processes of death and resurrection reveal important aspects of the components of human beings. The Bible describes these aspects as the body (which is visible) and the spirit and soul (which are invisible). At death, the visible and invisible aspects are separated: the spirit and soul leave the body and go to Hades or paradise, while the body decays to dust (Eccl. 12:7; Lk. 23: 43,46; Acts 7:59; 2 Cor. 5;8; Jas. 2:26). After death the spirit and the soul are fully conscious with feelings memories and emotions (Lk. 16:23-31). Also, Paul was fully conscious when he was translated to paradise (2 Cor. 12:2,3). So death is not the end of a human being. The Bible teaches that all the dead will be resurrected back to life. Resurrection is the opposite of death, being the reunion of the spirit and soul with a new body (Dan. 12:2; Jn. 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:5,6,13).
The first people, Adam and Eve were each created as a body in union with a soul and spirit. All these parts interrelate and depend on each other; this is essential for healthy physical life. For example, the brain (part of the body) is like computer hardware and the mind (part of the soul) in like computer software that programs the brain. People need both. You only have one without the other in death.
Adam and Eve’s soul and spirit were in union with God. They freely spoke with God in the Garden of Eden. They were in paradise on earth where there was safety and security (all their needs were catered for); significance (they ruled over the creation); and authority (Adam named the creatures). They had a sense of belonging, with fulfilling relationships with God and with each other.
The fall into sin
Adam and Eve’s rebellion and disobedience began in their mind (Gen. 3:5-6). Satan sowed doubt in their mind and they desired more knowledge and wisdom. This led to a radical change in our world (Gen. 3:8-4:9). Some of the consequences in our unseen world are described below.
Their spirit was dead to God. They lost their close relationship with God and came under Satan’s influence. They died spiritually when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). Consequently, they were banished from the Garden and lost their safety and security and their sense of belonging (Gen. 3: 23,24). Just as we have inherited physical life from our first parents, we have also inherited this spiritual death from them (Eph. 2:1-3). Today the unbeliever is without God and separate from Christ (Eph. 2:12; 4:18).
Their mind lost knowledge of God. They thought they could hide from God (Gen. 3:8). They were the first example of the ungodly who “are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts” (Eph. 4:18).
Their will made a wrong choice. They failed the first test of obedience (Gen. 2:17). They refused the rule of the spirit and became the slave of the body (Gal. 5:16-17). All choices have consequences. The choices made by the ungodly affect all areas of their lives.
Their emotions were characterised by negative feelings. Adam hid because he was afraid (Gen. 3:10). They felt shame and guilt and Cain was angry and depressed when his offering was not accepted by God (Gen. 3:7; 4:5). The ungodly are characterised by “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (Gal. 5:19-21).
The Bible describes unbelievers as being “psuchikos”, which means “governed by the soul” (1 Cor. 2:14; Jude 19). As there is no adjective for “soul” in English that is equivalent to this Greek word, some have suggested we call it “soulish”. This means that that they are largely driven by their minds and emotions. But what influences their minds and emotions? As they are spiritually dead, it is not God. The only other active personalities in the unseen world are Satan and his demons. This results in “soulish” behaviour such as jealousy and selfish ambition (Jas. 3:14-16).
“Psuchikos” is also used to describe our bodies (1 Cor. 15:44,46). This means that we were born with a body that is governed by the soul and not by a spirit that is alive to God.
The spiritual believer
God’s plan of salvation is to restore His relationship with people that was destroyed by their fall into sin. This begins at conversion when the human spirit changes to become united with God’s Spirit. This is like a new creation, which changes the soul (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). It leads to the following changes within a believer, who is described as being spiritual, not soulish (1 Cor. 2:15).
Their spirit is alive to God. Their spirit has been made alive by the Holy Spirit, the Lord is with their spirit and they live according to God in regard to the spirit (Jn. 3:6; 2 Tim. 4:22; 1 Pt. 4:6). They are “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18). This is associated with forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38), safety, significance and belonging because they are accepted as children of God (Rom. 8:16; 15:7).
Their mind is renewed and transformed. They should be transformed by the renewing of their mind (Rom. 12:2). They have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) and should be single-minded thinking of things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8).
Their will chooses to live by the Spirit. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). Now we face many choices each day: whether to pray or not, read the Bible or not, go to church or not, talk to another or not, and follow God or not.
Their emotions are the fruit of the Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).
The spiritual believer is the ideal, the model of maturity to which we should be growing. Of course, Satan opposes the believer’s growth to maturity. Some Scriptures use the words “soul” and “spirit” in similar senses, which can be confusing. Maybe this is because in the mature Christian the spirit should be ruling and leading the soul. So in a sense they are similar.
The soulish believer
Unfortunately this is not always the case in practice because when we become a Christian the “clear” button in our brain is not always pressed: our mind is not completely renewed. We have ingrained “soulish” habits and patterns of behaviour that still appeal to our mind to operate independently of God. This is because Satan and sin are still around in our world. As shown below, this can affect all the parts of our being.
Their spirit is alive to God, but quenched. The Holy Spirit indwells all believers, but He can be quenched. Paul wrote “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Th. 5:19).
Their mind is double-minded and selfish. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (Jas. 1:5-8). We can be caught between God’s plans and our plans when we are not following God’s Spirit. Our plans can be influenced by sinful habits and Satan.
Their will chooses sinful behavior. They will not always be walking after the Spirit but choosing to be involved in sinful activity.
Their emotions are unstable and they rely on their feelings. They are plagued with negative feelings of guilt, worry, doubt, inferiority, insecurity and inadequacy. If fear is controlling our life, then faith is not.
In this case, their life is not being controlled by the indwelling Spirit of God. Instead, as shown below, the soul is governing the life through the mind, will and emotions. It is self-centred. We can only tell which is controlling their lives by its fruits (Mt. 7:16-17).
The soulish mind, will and emotions
The mind. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual (‘psuchikos’ or ‘soulish’), demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (Jas. 3:13-16). In this case the human mind is being influenced by Satan. It is characterised by selfish ambition and rivalry and leads to disorder and evil. It is a great contrast to the spiritual believer who is peace-loving, considerate and impartial (Jas. 3:17-18).
The will. “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings” (1 Cor. 3:3-4)? They are described as being “sarkikos” (v.3), which means “of the flesh” (or body) rather than being spiritual. Here we see that people were following other people rather than the Holy Spirit within them. Those with strong wills and strong personalities can dominate others. This can lead to jealousy, quarrelling and factions within the church (Jude 19).
The emotions. We should live by faith, not by feelings. Emotions should not dominate our life. We should follow the Holy Spirit and not attempt to lead the Holy Spirit by our emotions. Are we always seeking spiritual experiences? Do we always need to feel the presence of God with us?
Our mind and our emotions are important parts of our being. We need to use them for God. Who ever influences our mind, influences our whole person. The Bible is the best influence as “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Here the word “heart” means the “seat of thoughts” (Vine), which is the mind.
Lessons for us
Each of us is a spirit who has a soul and lives in a body. Let’s not fall into Satan’s traps, but let God direct our ways so that we can be strengthened with power through His Spirit in our inner being and renewed inwardly day by day (2 Cor 4:16; Eph. 3:16). Finally, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:23).
1 In Scripture, the Greek word ‘pneuma’ (spirit) is also used for evil spirits or demons (Mk. 6:7; Acts 19:16). Words convey a variety of meanings; the context determines a word’s meaning.
2 In Scripture, the Greek word ‘psuche’ (soul) is also used for ‘life’ (Mt. 16:26) and the will (Mt. 22:37).