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Who Is God, Part 3

In this series on God, we have learned a couple of very important things about His nature and character. First, God is holy. This is more than just how He acts; it’s how God is. God is holy, and that means that God is separate from His creation. Every child knows this simple truth: God is in Heaven, we are on Earth. God is even separate from His children, even though we may have personal fellowship with Him through the Holy Spirit and the work of Jesus Christ, He is still “up there” and we are “down here.”

We also discovered that God is love. God not only loves, but He is love; love is part of His character. There is nothing but love about God. God loves the world – He loves all the people of the world – and He sent His only Son to save them. While God loves everybody, only some will be saved because only some will choose to choose God’s love. While God loves everybody, He especially loves those who chose to accept His invitation to become part of His family.

Speaking of that, here’s another very important thing about God: His revelation. Even though God is “up there” and we’re “down here,” God has revealed Himself to us! And He’s been doing it for a very long time. That’s the subject of this third message on the topic, “Who Is God?”

We’ll be looking at a number of verses in the anonymous letter addressed to some Hebrew Christians, but before we do, there are some verses in John’s gospel that should be looked at first.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. (John 14:6 – 11 | TNIV)

Verse six is the solution to the dilemma of all men, everywhere: Where do I go after I die? Regardless of what anybody may say, everybody fears what will become of them after their last breath has been taken. Even the atheist lives in fear of “what’s next?” Nobody wants to take a chance at death. Jesus gives the simple yet profound answer: You get to God (Heaven) through the Son of God. There is no other way to enjoy eternal life in “the good place” except through faith in Jesus Christ. Christ is the way – the only way – to God. Now, that doesn’t mean that anybody is excluded, for anybody may place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”. (John 12:23 | TNIV)

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let those who hear say, “Come!” Let those who are thirsty come; and let all who wish take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17 | TNIV)

So anybody is free to respond to the call of God to be saved. Anybody! Nobody is excluded from the invitation to believe and be saved. Nobody. Of course, God in His foreknowledge knows who will and who won’t believe, but the invitation goes out, because God is nothing if not fair and just.

The point of what Jesus was saying to Philip was simply this: God is in Him and He is in God; the two of Them are inseparable. In other words, if a person is curious about God, then he should take notice of Jesus. If a person is curious about what God thinks about this or that, they should study Jesus. The two are one.

Our Lord is the ultimate self-expression of God. In an odd way, almost everybody knows this fact of God and they acknowledge it, at least one time a year when they sing the words Charles Wesley wrote:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate deity.
Pleased with man as man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.

And, of course, we know “Immanuel” means “God with us.” So it’s not a secret, this marvelous, miraculous fact of God’s self revelation. But you may wonder, when did God start doing this? For that, we turn to the New Testament letter to the Hebrews.

God, the revealer

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways…. (Hebrews 1:1 | TNIV)

That’s how the ultra-modern, up-to-date TNIV translated the Greek, but in this case, the good old KJV comes a little closer to what that Greek really means: “at various times and in various ways.” It may seem like an insignificant difference to you, but here’s why the KJV’s rendering of the Greek is so important to know. We’re learning here not only that God spent a long time revealing Himself to His people, but that He didn’t do it all at once, or all in once place, or always in the same way. The process of this self-revelation was a continuous one, and it was a revelation that more than one person received. God, in the past (that means throughout the Old Testament) took great care to reveal bits and pieces of Himself to “our ancestors,” that is, to many, many Jews of the past. But, as we’ll learn, nobody in the past had a complete picture of God. Nobody. Not Isaiah. Not Jeremiah. Not David. Not Daniel. Not Moses. Nobody.

Throughout the Old Testament, or “in the past” according to the author of this letter to the Hebrews, God showed some important aspects of Himself to His people through the prophets and other means. Back then, God’s people learned things like this:

• God was the Creator. From His mind and power came the material universe – all that we can see, touch, and experience – and immaterial universe – the spiritual realm that we have yet to experience.
• God was the one who established the laws of morality and ethics. He set Himself up as the judge of His people’s hearts and actions.
• God made covenants or agreements with His people. And while historically His people were always reneging on their end of the covenants, God never did. He always kept His word.
• God, as awesome and transcendent as He is, is still vitally interested in the individual. He spoke to people. He appeared to people as “the angel of the Lord.” He is seen caring for people’s needs and providing even the small things for His people’s comfort.
• God is seen as forever faithful. Though He got angry with His people and judged them, God never, ever abandoned them or walked away from them.

So, in a general sense, God revealed some astounding things about Himself to His people. And He kept it up. Continuously, all throughout the centuries of the Old Testament. But then something happened, and everything changed.

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:2 | TNIV)

Contrasted with “in the past” is the phrase, “in these last days.” In concrete ways in history, God was revealing Himself. But now, in our time, something has changed. Now God is revealing Himself in His Son. Whereas in the past, God spoke through prophets, now He’s doing it through His Son. And the Son gives us a much more complete picture of the Father, because as we learned from what John wrote, and what Jesus Himself said, He and the Father are one.

That little word, “but,” that begins this second verse, tells us something important. The revelation of God throughout the Old Testament was good, BUT, with Jesus coming into the world, it’s now perfect. The revelation of God through His Son is perfect and complete. You’ll notice that now God’s revelation doesn’t come to us in “various was,” but ONE way: the Son. Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of God. Or put another way, only in Jesus Christ do we get a perfect picture of God the Father.

“In the past,” God relayed His messages through human vessels, and humans are imperfect at best. And when God intervened in nature and things like that, not everybody saw it and it could be misinterpreted. But “in the last days,” in our day today, God spoke through Jesus – the Son – directly. This is vitally important because of the next verse:

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:3 | TNIV)

Jesus is the “exact representation” of God’s being. In the Greek, that’s a startling declaration. “Exact representation” is the translation of a single Greek word, charakter, which means “expression” or “stamp.” Jesus is the exact “expression” of God. He is not an approximation of God’s character, but an exact copy or version of God’s essential character – His being – has been “stamped” onto Jesus like an image is stamped onto a coin.

So when you read the Gospels and you study Jesus’ interaction with people, you’re really reading about how God interacts with people. When you see Jesus crying at the tomb of a friend who was cut down in the prime of his life, that’s also God’s reaction to a situation full of sorrow and sadness. When you see Jesus getting angry with hypocrites, that’s how God feels about them. When you see Jesus having compassion on the sick, the lame, the hungry, that’s how God feels.

God’s revelation in Jesus is complete. You can’t learn more about God any other way. He’s not revealing anything else about Himself to anybody anymore. Jesus was and is the final, ultimate revelation of God to man.

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Who Is God, Part 2

If a Christian wants to have a complete, balanced, healthy relationship with God, then he must know God; he must make it his quest to know all that is knowable about the Lord. Since what may be known about God is only found in the Bible, it goes without saying that knowing what the Bible says about the subject is essential. Too bad so many well-meaning Christians don’t understand this simplest of truths. God is not known by singing hymns or listening to gospel songs all day. He is not known by reading books about Him, although they may be helpful. He is not known by praying, although you should pray. God is known by knowing the Bible.

It may surprise you to know that human beings actually have an innate need to know God. One of the Greek words for “man” is anthropos, which literally means, “the one looking up.” In a way, man is looking for God, though he may not know it. Because of that, man is a praying creature. Even people who have no relationship with God will utter words of prayer during some crisis, “just in case,” they would say. Man is not an animal, but he may become like one because man without God has no clue how special and dignified a creation he really is. Man is special because he alone was created in the “image” and “likeness” of his Creator. That sets man apart from all of creation and makes him the crowing creative achievement of God the Creator.

God, the Creator, is a holy God, meaning that He is separate from His creation. He is above it and beyond it. God is in Heaven and we are on Earth, so God is separated from His greatest creation, even from the people He redeemed by the blood of His Son.  God, in some respects, continues to be separate from them. We may enjoy precious fellowship with God, but He is still “up there,” and we are still “down here.” When our salvation is finally consummated and we have been ushered into the actual presence of God in Heaven, that impassable gulf will finally be breached.

God is holy, but God is also love. And that’s the subject of this second message in the series.

A statement of fact

God is love, and God also loves the people He created. The classic verses on this subject is one we all know so well, we could cited it with our Bible closed. Here it is from the KJV, the version we probably have memorized:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 | KJV)

There is no more profound verse on the love of God for sinful man than John 3:16. God loved “the world,” that is, God loved the people He created who are now lost in sin, so He offered His only Son to be their atoning sacrifice, thereby making it possible for sinful man to believe and have faith and, and a result, enjoy everlasting life with Him in glory. This verse along with a couple of others, perfectly captures the love of God for the people He created:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 | NIV84)

One of the sinners Christ died for was one Henry Moorehouse. Do you know who he is? He’s also known as “Harry Moorehouse, the English Evangelist.” He was born in Manchester and as a young man he spent considerable time in local jailhouse, and after being bailed out time and again by his very patient father, young Harry found himself a soldier in the army, where his talents for fighting and getting into trouble could be put to better use.

Upon getting out of the army, Harry happened to pass by a tent revival meeting where Richard Weaver was preaching. It must’ve been a raucous service because Harry, thinking there was a fight going on inside the tent, buttoned up his jacket and raced in, ready to fight. Of course, there was no fight, just an excited preacher. Harry, disappointed, turned to leave, but then he heard the one word that would forever change his sorry life: JESUS. Harry couldn’t leave that tent; Jesus got a hold him and wouldn’t let him go. In an instant – in a moment of time – all the rage and anger of Harry’s heart melted away and this restless wanderer became a different man. He heard about the love of Jesus and that love invaded his heart and made him a “new creation.”

You likely never heard of “Harry Moorehouse, the English Evangelist,” but you probably heard of one of his friends, D.L. Moody, the American Bible teacher and preacher who would found The Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, which is still going strong today. One of the men who influenced Moody the most was Moorehouse! Once, Moody hosted Moorehouse at his Institute, and for an entire week, The English Evangelist preached on John 3:16. An entire week’s worth of sermons featuring that single, life-changing verse.

The preaching style of Moorehouse, according to Moody, was very different from his own. Instead of preaching that God was ready to judge the sinner and execute perfect justice, Moorehouse told the congregation that God wanted every person to be saved because He loved them. Moody said of his preaching:

I didn’t know God thought so much of me. It was wonderful to hear the way he brought out Scripture. He went from Genesis to Revelation and preached that in all ages God loved the sinner.

Moorehouse ended the last sermon of the week like this:

For seven nights I have been trying to tell you how much God loves you, and this poor stammering tongue of mine will not let me. If I could ascend Jacob’s ladder and ask Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty, to tell you how much love God the Father has for this poor lost world, all that Gabriel could say is: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 | KJV)

An example from the Old Testament

In trying to understand the love of God, there are are some verses in the Old Testament that answer a lot questions on the subject. In the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, a book that a lot of Christians think is all about tithing, we read this startling verse:

I have loved you,” says the Lord.“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the Lord says. “Yet I have loved Jacob…”. (Malachi 1:2 | NIV84)

God declared to His then-backslidden people, “I have loved you,” and these people in their backslidden state, questioned that love. But God was adamant: “I HAVE LOVED you…” These people had lost their love for God, and therefore their spiritual senses had become dull; they honestly thought God had stopped loving them. As if that could ever happen! But a spiritually dull person is almost always wrong when it comes to spiritual matters.

To prove to his wayward people that He did, in fact, love them, the Lord pointed to His favored treatment of Israel (Jacob) over their ancient enemy, Edom (Esau). You’ll recall that Jacob and Esau were brothers, and Israel and Edom were the nations that descended from each of them respectively. The state of Israel – prosperous and thriving for much of its history – versus the state of Edom – always at war with somebody and always struggling to get by – proved that God preferred Israel over Edom. If their hearts hadn’t been so hardened, Israel would have remembered how God protected them historically, and fought for them, and freed them from their captivity.

In looking at the love of God for Israel, we can learn a couple of very salient points about the love of God in general.

God’s love is not earned or deserved

Looking at what the Lord said through His prophet Malachi, this what we read:

I have loved you,” says the Lord.“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the Lord says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” (Malachi 1:2-3 | NIV84)

Can God really hate? It may seem strange that in a sermon about “God is love” that we read that God hated a person is a bit shocking. God actually hates a lot things; sin, lying, pride, and other things, but here the word “hate” is used in the sense of “preference.” God preferred Israel over Edom. And His treatment of Israel proved that He preferred them over Edom. The Edomites were nasty people, just as Esau was a nasty man.

But on the other hand, Jacob wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue, either. He was a liar, a cheat, and a conniver, and con artist. Yet God preferred him over his brother? Here is a point about God’s love: Nobody can earn it and nobody deserves it. Jacob didn’t any more than his brother did, yet here we have it stated that God preferred Jacob over Esau. The choice of Jacob was God’s sovereign choice, not influenced by anything or anybody. It was a choice made in grace.

God’s dealings with us are always out of grace. We are saved by grace, we are empowered for Christian service by grace, and we are kept by grace. The fact that God loves us is an act of grace that no believer deserves, yet enjoys nonetheless.

God’s love never changes

When we speak of God’s love, we’re talking about agape love. This kind of divine love is above all other forms of love. Agape love means, first of all, that God’s love for the believer is absolutely perfect – God cannot love you more and He cannot love you less. God’s love for you is perfect. God’s love won’t lessen when you misbehave nor grow when you do something righteous. His love is perfect. His love is constant. Like the North Star; God’s love is always there.

Secondly, because His love is perfect, it never changes. In the Hebrew, the force of Malachi 3:2, 3 isn’t just “Jacob I love and Esau I hate,” rather, it’s “Jacob I loved and I continue to love.” It’s important to note this because as God spoke these words to Israel through His prophet, Israel had become a corrupt, discouraged, backslidden nation. They were lazy in their faith and treated God with contempt. Yet God continued to love them just as He always had. God’s love for His people didn’t change because of their misbehavior.

God’s love is truly amazing. It’s almost beyond comprehension that God is able to love like that. But it’s a fact; it’s in the Bible.

God loves everybody

And so we return to John 3:16 for the last point. God’s love is universal. If His love isn’t conditional, then it naturally follows that He loves “the world,” just as John said. This is what we could call God’s “merciful love.” The result of this “merciful love” is spelled out by Peter:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 | NIV84)

God wants everybody to be saved. That’s why Jesus is said to have been “coming soon” for over 2,000 years! It’s the slowest “soon coming” in history! But that’s why. God is waiting for the last possible moment to get as many sinners saved. God’s love is universal, but salvation isn’t. Not everybody is going to get saved. And therein lies the rub. Don’t confuse God’s love for the sinner with salvation. The love of God compels God to call all people to repent and believe. But the love of God doesn’t compel Him to save everybody with no corresponding actions on the part of the sinner.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Is God , Part 1

What do you know about God? How well do you understand Him? If you are a Christian, then God should be the most important Person in your life, therefore you should know Him very well and know all about Him. Sadly, a lot of Christians are blissfully unaware of even the most basic facts of God – His nature, character, His divine attributes. How embarrassing it will be for you when you stand before God and you realize you knew more about your spouse, or your kids, or your co-workers than you ever did about the God created you, saved you, and made you His child. For the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at what the Bible reveals about God so that we can all get to know Him better, and in doing so we’ll appreciate Him more and love Him with a deeper, more informed love.

Just to get us started, let’s take a very interesting verse; something that the apostle Paul wrote to his friend, young Pastor Timothy:

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10 | TNIV)

Right away your probably see something in what Paul wrote that looks a little off, given what we know about salvation: “God…is the Savior of all people…especially of those who believe.” The question that should pop into your head is, “Who else is God saving except those who believe?” What did Paul mean when he wrote, “especially of those who believe?” We’ll delve into that, and the rest this verse in detail later on in this series, but for now, I want to focus on another phrase of great import: “We have put our hope in the living God.” That’s the essence, really, of what salvation is all about: Trusting God. It only goes to reason that if you know more about God, then you’ll have more hope. Or, we could say, the more you know about God, the more hopeful you will be. And hope is an important thing:

Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. (Proverbs 24:14 | TNIV)

As we begin to learn all that we can about God, the first aspect of His Person is the foundation of all the others. God is holy. When we talk about the holiness of God, what do we mean?

Holiness of God

Let’s go back to the beginning. In the book Exodus, we read this concerning the holiness of God:

Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11 | TNIV)

That verse hints at what is involved in God’s holiness. Somehow it relates to the fact that no other god, and of course those other “gods” refer to little gods created in the minds of men, comes close to being like the true God.

This aspect of God’s character means that God is absolutely morally pure. God cannot sin nor can He tolerate sin. You may think that “holy” means things like “good” or “well behaved” or “decent,” but it may surprise you to know that the root meaning of “holy” is “separated” or “separate from.” But in what sense is God separated? First, and most obvious, God is separated from man: He is in Heaven, we are on earth. There is a distance between God and man; we don’t occupy the same time and space. But God is also separated from man in His nature and character. For example:

• God is perfect, man is imperfect;
• God is divine, man is human;
• God is morally perfect, man is sinful and corrupt;

Very simply put, holiness is the distinction that sets God the Creator apart from all that He created, including man.

And throughout the Bible, God tried to drive this point home to His people. For example, in the written words of Scripture, we read all about how God is holy. But even when He supernaturally revealed Himself to man – in visions, for example – He did so in such a way to show how holy or separate He is. There are several examples of this, but Isaiah’s vision of the transcendent God is maybe the best.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy , holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ( Isaiah 6:1 – 4 | TNIV)

What an awesome scene! No earthly king or potentate could compete with it. That’s what God was trying to impress upon Isaiah: God is NOT like anybody or anything on earth or elsewhere. That’s what the holiness of God means. And that’s what separation looks like.

Did the coming of Jesus change any of that? In other words, is God still separated from redeemed man?

Another side of God’s holiness

In John’s first letter, we read this:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. (1 John 1:5, 6 | TNIV)

You don’t see the word “holy” in those verses, but that’s what John was writing about. Instead of writing “God is holy,” John wrote, “God is light.” Of course, light has nothing to do with holiness, but John contrasts the idea that “God is light” with the fact that there is no darkness in Him. There’s that idea of separation again – light is separate from darkness. Light is not the same dark and we all know that when you turn a light on, the darkness goes away – the two cannot co-exist in the same time and space. God must forever be separate from sinful man. The two cannot co-exist. That’s essentially what John was getting at when he wrote: “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” In other words, if a person – any person – claims to be a Christian but lives a life steeped in sin, then they are lying about being a Christian. They can’t be. Now, that’s not to say that Christians are sinless. They sin. But, because they have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, they are able to have some fellowship with God. They can’t have that fellowship apart from Christ.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13 | TNIV)

This is absolutely essential for people to understand – John needed his readers to understand it. If a person wants to have fellowship with God and with the Son of God, he needs to understand what makes that fellowship possible. Because God is holy, He remains necessarily separate from sinful human beings – that’s all people, by the way. But because the blood of Christ washes away our sins, we are able to experience, to a certain degree, the presence of God on an ongoing basis.

P.T. Forsyth, in his work, “Cruciality of the Cross,” made this statement about the blood of Christ:

The blood of Christ stands not simply for the sting of sin on God but the scourge of God on sin, not simply for God’s sorrow over sin but for God’s wrath upon sin.

That’s a fancy way of saying this: Sin caused Jesus to bleed, and God caused Jesus to bleed. Sin, in the sense that our Lord was beaten up and stabbed by sinful man. God, in the sense that His Son was being punished for your sins, not His; He’s forever sinless. The Son of God bore the wrath of God the Father in His body, on the Cross. And because He did that, Christians can enjoy the presence of God. Now, it’s not a perfect presence though. Because there is still a real separation between God and even His children. He’s still “up there” and we’re “down here.” But through the work of Jesus Christ and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, we are able to be in God’s presence, wherever we are, any time.

Summary

To sum up, there are three things we need to remember when we say God is holy. First, there is a chasm or a great gulf between God and sinner.

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1, 2 | TNIV)

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (Habakkuk 1:13 | TNIV)

But not only is the sinner cut off from God, God is cut off from the sinner. Before man fell from grace, God and man walked together in the garden. Their fellowship occupied the same space and time. Now, though, that kind of unbroken fellowship is impossible.

Second, if a man wants to approach God, he must do so based on the merits of Another. No man can come into the presence of God because of his sin problem. But, thank God, Jesus came and has made that free access possible.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1, 2 | TNIV)

For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18 | TNIV)

Lastly, even though we have free access to God through Jesus Christ, we should still approach Him with reverence and godly fear.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28, 29 | TNIV)

Why fear? Because God is holy and you aren’t. So you should rightly fear being in His presence. When you understand what the holiness of God is, then you will have a right understanding of how bad sin is and what it does to you.

“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:4, 5 | TNIV)

That is an example of how we should all go into God’s presence, in an attitude of  humiliation, contrition, and of dependence.  When we see ourselves correctly, we will have a correct view of the holiness of God.

What Is Man, Part 5

Since I’ve introduced the person of Satan as the instigator of all of man’s problems with sin, it might be a good idea to deal with this Prince of Darkness. Even though the study of Satan is separate from that of man, because the influence of Satan on man is so obvious, knowing a little about our adversary would be helpful.

Probably the best non-Biblical observation on the Devil’s character comes his own mouth in Milton’s Paradise Lost:

Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.

Of course, only the Devil would so arrogant as to say such a thing, but that single sentence gives an accurate sidelight on the essential attitude of the Devil. But there is an abundance of information in the Bible about him that Christians should know about. And it’s vitally important to know as much about the Devil as possible. Sun Tzu observed in The Art of War,

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

One of the reasons why so many believers struggle against the Devil and why spiritual victories seem few and far between is simply a matter of ignorance. As Sun Tzu wrote, a victorious fighter knows both himself and his enemy.

Origins

Where did the Devil come from, anyway? God certainly didn’t create him; that would go against God’s nature. Besides, there are verses like these that prove God could not have created Satan:

I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deuteronomy 32:3, 4 | TNIV)

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone…. (James 1:13 | TNIV)

As far as what the Bible says about the origin of Satan, or the Devil, there are two main sources found in the writings of the prophets.

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit. (Isaiah 14:12 – 15 | TNIV)

Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ” ‘You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more. ‘ “. (Ezekiel 28:12 – 19 | TNIV)

If you take the time to read both of those references in context, you’ll notice that in neither case is the Devil being addressed directly. In fact, two earthly kings, of Babylon and of Tyre, are being addressed. It’s obvious, though, that while the prophets were dealing with two earthly kings, their words went beyond those two kings to speak of something else. The background of the kings of Babylon and Tyre would be helpful. Both were proud, arrogant rulers who demanded complete loyalty from their citizens and that they be worshipped as gods. God, speaking through His prophets, was warning these kings by showing them how He treated the blasphemous pride of His own angel. If Lucifer, the greatest angel ever created by God, was punished for blasphemy, how could these kings think they would get away with it?

Lucifer, the beautiful angel became Satan, a word that means “the adversary.” Primarily, Satan is God’s adversary, yet he is also our adversary by extension. The picture of Satan as a hideous demonic-looking creature with horns, cloven hooves, a long tail, holding a pitchfork, could not be further from what he appears like.

And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Corinthians 11:14, 15 | TNIV)

And so Lucifer was cast out of Heaven to the earth, along with all the angels that sided with him.

Now, you may wonder where the name “Lucifer” came from. It’s only found in the KJV’s translation of Isaiah 14:12 –

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

Modern translations, like the TNIV, don’t see “Lucifer” as a proper name. It’s a word that simply means “morning star” or “day star.”

Satan’s character

The most information we have as to Satan’s character comes from his various names. As I stated earlier, the word “Satan” means “adversary.” That’s a very apt name because it describes his essential character. Satan is one who opposes God; he stands in opposition to everything God wants. From the beginning, in the Garden for example, Satan was against God’s plan of redemption. This is hinted at with Genesis 3:15 –

From now on you and the woman will be enemies, as will your offspring and hers. You will strike his heel, but he will crush your head.”. (TLB)

That’s the Lord pronouncing a curse of the serpent, but ultimately the curse finds it mark. Satan will attempt to destroy Jesus Christ (the “offspring” of the woman here) but will fail. But even before history gets around to Jesus, we can see Satan attempting to corrupt the whole family of Adam and Eve, through which the final “offspring” of the woman would come. Cain killed a brother. Seth would produce the line that would result in the birth of mankind’s deliverer. He was godly, but even he eventually became corrupt. In fact, by the time of Noah, many generations on from Adam and Eve, the whole population of the earth had been engulfed in sin and moral depravity. Only Noah and his family remained untainted by sin. One family out of many. But it was Satan’s doing; in corrupting the whole human race, he had hoped to thwart God’s plan to save it. He was determined to make it impossible for God to fulfill His promise to send a deliverer.

Noah’s son, Shem, would become Abraham’s ancestor, from whom would descend God’s chosen people, through whom God would save the world. It’s astounding to study the history of Israel. It’s the history of one persecution after another. This is true today, and it was sure true in the Old Testament. Ishmael opposed Isaac, Esau tried to kill Jacob, and Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrews.

Satan is also determined to destroy another chosen people, the Church of Jesus Christ. He does this via:

False teachers within the church –

But the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some in the church will turn away from Christ and become eager followers of teachers with devil-inspired ideas. These teachers will tell lies with straight faces and do it so often that their consciences won’t even bother them. (1 Timothy 4:1, 2 | TLB)

Persecution from outside the church –

Stop being afraid of what you are about to suffer-for the devil will soon throw some of you into prison to test you. You will be persecuted for ‘ten days.’ Remain faithful even when facing death and I will give you the crown of life-an unending, glorious future. (Revelation 2:10 | TLB)

The Devil means “slanderer,” and he certainly does slander God and God’s people. He slandered God in the Garden and all you have to do look around at what secular America thinks about born again Christians and the evangelical church to know that he spreads lies about us.

In Revelation 9:11, Satan is referred to as Appollyon and Abbadon (Greek and Hebrew words), which are words that mean “destroyer.” This is another aspect of his character: The Devil exists to destroy everything God has done and to destroy God’s people, the Jews and the Church.

Also in Revelation 12:9, Satan is called the serpent. Not only does this bring our minds back to what he did in the Garden, but what comes into your mind when you think about a snake or a serpent? I suspect nothing good!

In a couple of places in the New Testament, Satan is referred to as “the god of this world.”

The time of judgment for the world has come-and the time when Satan, the prince of this world, shall be cast out. (John 12:31 | TLB)

If the Good News we preach is hidden to anyone, it is hidden from the one who is on the road to eternal death.  Satan, who is the god of this evil world, has made him blind, unable to see the glorious light of the Gospel that is shining upon him or to understand the amazing message we preach about the glory of Christ, who is God. (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4 | TLB)

Satan holds sway over most of the world, making sure most people live lives outside of God’s will. That there are wars, poverty, corruption, and other nasty things in abundance, proves how evil and potentially dangerous the world is to man, and especially to believers.

We know that we are children of God and that all the rest of the world around us is under Satan’s power and control. (1 John 5:19 | TLB)

It’s understandable that Satan hates God so much, but why does he hate man so much? In particular, why does Satan hate Christians so much? He hates the image of God in all human beings. Satan’s domain is the Earth and he is surrounded by creatures that look like God, the Person responsible for his exile. He hates the destiny of man, because man is destined for eternal bliss and happiness, something Satan can never know. The Devil hates us for a thousand reasons and he is so envious all human beings.

An ancient Jewish thinker wrote this:

But for the envy of the devil, death came into the world, and they that follow him are on his side.

What Is Man, Part 4

Man today is not exactly how God created him. Man today is the result of sin. God didn’t create sin and the sin nature that exists inside every human being isn’t there because of anything God did, but rather man’s sin nature is there because man became a sinner.

The fact of sin can’t be denied. Just watch or listen to the news: murders, wars, rapes, and other crimes against humanity are all there. Though sin can’t be denied, that doesn’t stop certain groups from trying to do so:

Atheism denies God, therefore it denies sin also. Atheists may, and often do, decry moral violence and even immorality, but that’s as far as it goes with them. They view sin as a shortcoming or a failure of man, caused by the human condition. In fact, sin is committed against God, which is why atheists are wrong.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (Psalms 51:4 | NIV84)

Determinism teaches that free will is really only an illusion; that man acts (sins) in accordance to his inner impulses or his circumstances. In other words, poverty is what causes wrongdoing. People who believe this believe that if man’s circumstances could be improved, his behavior would also. Or they think that evil in a man can be educated out of him.

Hedonism is another way to reason sin out existence. This idea is perfectly illustrated by an adulterous spouse who excuses their sin by reasoning, “God wants me to be happy.”

There are all kinds of ways concocted by man to dismiss the idea of sin, but they all refuse to acknowledge the nature and character of God. Sin is not a shortcoming or a mistake or an illness or anything like that. Biblically, sin is an outright act of rebellion against God.

The origin of sin, Genesis 3

Genesis 3 details how sin entered the world and entered man. In all, there are several aspects of sin that are worth thinking about.

Temptation

If Genesis 3 shows how sin came into the world and into man, then the stage is set one chapter back.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:8-9 | NIV84)

God made a place – a garden – for man to live in, and by all accounts it was perfect for him. Man had everything he needed, thanks to God’s thoughtful provision. But in the middle of the garden were two special trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What was the purpose of these two “trees of destiny?” It’s all speculation, of course, but it seems likely to view these trees as a visual means by which God was trying to teach man a very simple lesson. From anywhere in the Garden, man would see these trees and be reminded of two things: his life came from God and that his life depended on choosing to listen to and pay attention to what God says.

Long after the Fall, God was still trying to get this very simple concept through to His people, but this time it was in the form of words:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. (Deuteronomy 30:15-18 | NIV84)

A lot of Bible readers wonder why God would do that; why would God take a chance like that with the people He created? The answer lies in the fact of man’s free will. I have always called “free will” the second greatest gift God gave human beings. A loving God would want the people He created to choose Him willingly and out of love. God wouldn’t have wanted a bunch of robots loving Him. Therefore, the trees would have represented a test – a way for man to continually be reminded of God’s provision and his own obligation.  But a lot of Bible readers get a little confused. The trees weren’t the source of temptation. The temptation to sin came from somewhere else.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 | NIV84)

The source of temptation was the serpent – the devil. The serpent, before the Fall, was probably a beautiful creature. When it spoke to Eve, she held a conversation with it, she didn’t run away. The serpent was what Satan used to get man’s attention. Satan had fallen from grace long before God created man. That’s why he is referred to as an ancient evil in Revelation:

The great dragon was hurled down–that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Revelation 12:9 | NIV84)

We don’t know when Satan, then called Lucifer, was cast out of Heaven, but it was long, long before the events of Genesis 3.

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit. (Isaiah 14:12 – 15 | TNIV)

Satan is a spirit, and he always works through an available agent. In the Garden, he worked through a serpent. In the New Testament he worked through Peter, who had no idea what was going on.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”. (Matthew 16:22, 23 | TNIV)

We can learn a lot about the nature of temptation by looking at how Satan tempted Eve. Here’s the account:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’? ” The woman said to the serpent, “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.’ ” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”. (Genesis 3:1 – 5 | TNIV)

Satan is the master of the subtle deception. In Genesis, he’s called “crafty.” Over in the New Testament, we read this:

And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Corinthians 11:14, 15 | TNIV)

And he’s subtle; he actually used God’s own words, although he twisted them to get Eve’s attention. He got Eve’s attention, and she actually tried to reason with Satan, and that was her big mistake. She was hooked from the get-go. Then he made it all about God, not about her. Satan got her mind off herself and onto God and the “unfairness” of it all. The temptation seemed to be, “eat the forbidden fruit and become like God,” but really the temptation was to think badly about God; to think that God was actually withholding something good from the people He created and gave everything to!

Guilty conscience

The moment Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened. Satan was right: The fruit gave them more knowledge, but it wasn’t the kind of knowledge they were hoping for. They realized they were naked. Instead of become Godlike, they saw their own state and were embarrassed and afraid. That’s a guilty conscience. And like the child who tries to hide a broken vase, Adam and Eve tried to hide from God because they knew that they had done wrong.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8 | TNIV)

That’s a significant statement: “…they hid from the Lord among the trees of the garden.” In other words, Adam and Eve hid among God’s blessings and provision. That’s exactly what Christians do today; we sin and then we hide among what God has given us. But nobody can hide from God; He sees all. And though judgment for sin may be long in coming, make no mistake: It’s coming. Nobody “gets away with it.”

Adam and Eve knew they had done wrong and not only did they try to hide from God, but they tried to cover up their sin by making some clothes to wear. They sewed some leaves together. It was a wholly inadequate covering though and in an act of grace, God made the couple some clothes:

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21 | TNIV)

Of course, the lesson there is that man’s sin can only be “covered” or dealt with by a work of God and the sacrifice of another. In the case of Adam and Eve, an animal or animals had to be sacrifice so that their sin could be covered, and in the case of mankind since then, the sacrifice was the Son of God, who gave His life and shed His blood to wash away sin.

Consequences of sin

When Adam and Eve sinned, they brought upon themselves the personal consequences of sin. Immediately their close relationship with God was ruined. Though God still communicated with them and worked with them, He no longer “walked” with them in garden. They had alienated themselves from their Creator.

The consequences of sin came in the form of curses from God. These curses, though, weren’t just on Adam and Eve (and the serpent). They touch every single descendent of the first human couple. We call this “original sin,” which is simply the inclination to sin that is present in every single human being. Innocence was lost. Adam’s “original sin” resulted in the corruption of every baby born since, with the exception of Jesus Christ, who was and is sinless.

To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you. ” To Adam he said, “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.”. (Genesis 3:16 – 19 | TNIV)

But if you look closely at those curses, you’ll see that even nature was adversely affected by human sin. Adam and Eve’s sin had dreadful and far reaching consequences that are felt to this day, and will be felt until the Lord returns and makes things right, with both man and nature.

So then, sin originated in the free choice of man. Rather than trusting God and believing in His Word and living in obedience to His will, the first humans willingly chose another way. But in choosing to go their own way, Adam and Eve’s relationship with God was ruptured. And all human relationships, which should come as easy as breathing, became corrupt and almost impossible to maintain. What happened between Cain and Abel proves this.

What Is Man, Part 3

In our study of man, we’ve discussed one of the most profound and significant verses in all the Bible:

what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (Psalms 8:4 | NIV84)

To me, that is just a remarkable verse; far more remarkable than so many of the things theologians and so-called Bible scholars like argue about. The very fact that God – the Creator of all – takes time to give us, sinful human beings, a thought is staggering enough, but that He is actually “mindful,” watching us carefully and paying attention to us and our circumstances, is, as they say, mind-blowing. But there it is: God is mindful of human beings. He does indeed pay attention to us, and sometimes, in startling ways and in ways so subtle we don’t even notice, the Lord steps into our stream of history and intervenes to change things; to move us along in the direction He wants us to go in.

We’ve also looked at the fact that God created human beings in His “image” and “likeness.” That is, men and women have a rationality, morality, spirituality, and personality missing in lower forms of life. We are able to relate to God and people all the while being the masters of all of creation.

Human beings are the highest forms of God’s creation. All other parts of creation are for the purpose of serving man, just as man’s ultimate, best purpose is to serve God. Man, unlike animals, is theocentric. Whether he knows it or not, or whether he acknowledges it or not, man was created to have his Creator at the center of his life. Man has a built-in desire to worship God, but because of sin, unredeemed man wanders around his whole life, finding other, sinful ways to satiate that desire. Therefore, he ends up worshipping gods of his own making: his job, his family, his hobbies, power, money, sex, and so on.

As far as the two (there are only two, by the way) sexes go, God created them to be equal. While men and women are different and are capable of doing things unique to their particular sex, they are equal since they were both created in ONE image and likeness: God’s. Sin has seriously damaged that equality, so that without God, it seems as though the sexes are not equal. That’s a result of sin; human beings brought that inequality on themselves. Of note, though, is that “in Christ,” there is neither male nor female. In Christ, that equality is completely restored.

And we considered the immaterial, spiritual side of man: his soul and spirit. All living beings have a soul, but the soul of animals is an “earthly soul,” while man’s soul is animated by his spirit, which was breathed into him from Creator. The human soul and spirit are different; they are separate yet inseparable.

The soul and the body

How is your soul related to you body? There are three ways:

First, the soul may be called “the holder of life.” That’s why, for example, the word “life” is interchanged with “soul” in the Bible. The soul seems to infuse the body with life, so that when the soul is gone, the body dies – it no longer exists. When the soul leaves the body, all that remains is a lifeless husk – a bunch of material pieces and particles in a state of even more rapid decay.

Second, the soul inhabits every part of the body and influences all off its parts. That’s why we read odd things like this:

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered…. (Psalms 73:21 | NIV84)

Without pity, he pierces my kidneys and spills my gall on the ground. (Job 16:13 | NIV84)

My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad;16 my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right. (Proverbs 23:15c-16 | NIV84)

Finally, it is through the body that the soul interacts with the physical world. The senses inform the soul. All the thinking, feeling, willing, and other acts are things the soul does, with the help of the body. It’s your soul that does the sinning with the help of the body.

Sin and the fall of man

When Adam and Eve sinned and man fell from grace, everything changed. The whole of God’s creation was changed, in both subtle and obvious ways. Especially changed was man, created in God’s image. God’s image in man wasn’t completely lost when sin entered the world:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. (James 3:9 | NIV84)

That image, though, was severely damaged. For example, consider this verse in light of the world as we know it today:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28 | NIV84)

Clearly, the earth isn’t subdued and it’s a bad idea for any man to attempt to exercise dominion over a charging elephant or a roaring lion! Man’s relationship to nature has been completely changed because of sin and the resultant curses upon both man and and nature.

As it is with nature, so it is his fellow human beings. Because of sin, the ability to live at peace and harmony with other people no longer comes easy, if at all. If healthy relationships with other people is all but impossible due to sin, it’s totally impossible to have a relationship with God apart from Jesus Christ and His work on the Cross. Why? Because sinful man is dead to God and forever alienated from Him.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3 | NIV84)

And, maybe worst of all, even if an unredeemed person gets it into his head to “clean up his act” and “do good deeds,” because of his unredeemed, sinful state, those good things do him no good at all.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6 | NIV84)

What was the big deal about Adam and Eve’s sin? Why did it cause all of God’s creation to become corrupt? It’s because of the nature of sin; particularly that of the first human couple. Theirs was no “moral lapse” or “an error in judgment.” Their sin was an outright rebellion against God. It was a conscious turning away from God and a rejection of Him. So serious was their sin that the moment they committed it, they began to die spiritually, which would very soon lead to the corruption of the body and to physical death.

In addition to spiritual and physical death, many were the consequences of that first sin. Paul touches on the subject in some of his writing:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…. (Romans 1:18 | NIV84)

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:20 | NIV84)

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…. (Romans 5:12 | NIV84)

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. (Romans 5:18 | NIV84)

The wrath of God, futility of good works, death, condemnation, all those things resulted from one rebellious act. But perhaps the greatest – or the saddest – result of the first sin was what it did to the human will.

Sin and human nature

When sin entered the world, the will of man – that of all human beings – became corrupt and his nature sinful. People act in accordance to their nature; nobody acts contrary to his nature. Another way to look at it is this: Righteous acts flow from a righteous nature; acts of corruption from a corrupt nature. It can never be otherwise. That’s not to say that  an unsaved person can’t perform a good deed; he can. Maybe his life is full of good deeds.  But he will always, without fail, return to his bent of corruption.

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. (John 8:33-34 | NIV84)

Jesus said it better than anyone ever could. If you sin, then you are a slave to sin.

This corruption of our will or the fact that our once godly nature turned sinful, has had a devastating effect upon our relationship to God. Once, we had the nature that God wanted us to have, but when Adam sinned, we inherited HIS now-corrupted and sinful nature, not the one God gave to him originally.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…. (Romans 5:12 | NIV84)

What that means is this: Even the nicest citizen you can think of, if they haven’t been redeemed, then their nature is necessarily hostile toward God, even as Adam’s act of rebellion was hostile toward God. This hostile nature has made that nice citizen estranged from God.

The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (Romans 8:6-8 | NIV84)

Man’s new nature, what we call “the human nature,” is totally corrupt, and that makes all unsaved people dead to God. Being totally corrupt doesn’t mean that human beings only do evil things all the time. It means that without being rescued from our sins by Jesus Christ, we will never be as good as we can be, and we are unable to do anything that God recognizes as righteous. Our day-to-day lives, decisions, and actions will always be affected by sin. We can, and sometimes do, make free and rational decisions that are good and decent, but those choices will always be influenced by our sinful nature.

The nature of sin

We know how and why sin entered the world, but a question that has nagged at philosophers and theologians and those who love Trivial Pursuit, is: How did evil enter the world in the first place? I’m going to skip the various teachings of Greek philosophers and the writings of Neibuhr and Marx.

What needs to be understood is that sin not a “thing.” Sin does not have “substance.” If sin were a “substance,” or a “thing,” it would have had to have been created by God, since He created everything. Even though sin is not a thing, it is real. It is more than just a defect. Sin is an active force that is destructive and corrupts all it touches.

Sin originated in the abuse of one of the greatest gifts God gave man: freedom. Man was created free, and he used that freedom to disregard the glory, will, and Word of God. So, evil is a matter of relationship; it leads one to disobey God and break away from a relationship with Him.  As a matter of fact, thanks to sin, man finds it hard to have a relationship with his fellow man.  Thoughts of jealousy, bitterness, hurt feelings, and so on, always complicate every single relationship we have with other people.  What’s worse, is that thanks to sin, man can’t even have a healthy relationship with himself!  Just think of all the self-destructive things a man does every day of his life.  He eats the wrong foods, he drives too fast, he takes pills to make himself fall asleep and pills to stay awake.  He abuses alcohol and drugs and even other people just to make himself feel better and to dull the mind-numbing pain of loneliness, of a broken heart, and of a futile existence.  This person is in the worst kind of rut, and he needs Jesus to lift him up and out.  Jesus, and only Jesus, can cure the curse of sin.

 

What Is Man, Part 2

Man is not an animal. He was created with great care and deliberation by God in a way unlike the way He created the animals. Man is a soul, he possesses a spirit, and lives in a body. Animals have souls, too, but theirs is an “earthly soul,” which lives only as long as their body lives.

Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth? (Ecclesiastes 3:21 | TNIV)

Man’s soul is completely different because it is animated by a spirit put in him by God. Just looking at animals and people makes it obvious how different they are. Men can do things animals cannot do, no matter how “intelligent” an animal may appear to be. Their intelligence comes from their instinct, not from reason. For example, both animals and people can build homes, but only people can build great cathedrals and skyscrapers. Animals seem to chatter and communicate with each other, and sing, and even say words like the parrot, but only human beings can produce works of art and literature, write symphonies, and come up with all kinds of brilliant inventions.

Something else about the soul is that it is something only humans possess. Angels, for all their amazing powers and abilities, do not have souls. Man became a living soul, but angels are merely spirits. While it’s true that God is also a Spirit, He is different from angels. He is eternal and perfect, but angels are not necessarily eternal, since they may be judged and destroyed.

Some people wonder where the soul comes from. Genesis teaches that God breathed man’s spirit into his body, but what of his soul? Bible scholars seem to be divided on this issue. On one side, there is the group that teaches that each individual soul is an immediate creation from God. According to this theory, the individual soul does not come from our parents but was created by God. There is some Scriptural support for this view. Consider:

I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me—the very people I have created. (Isaiah 57:16 | TNIV)

…and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7 | TNIV)

Moreover, we have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! (Hebrews 12:9 | TNIV)

A prophecy: The word of the Lord concerning Israel. The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit in human beings… (Zechariah 12:1 | TNIV)

On the other side, there is a group that teaches that the soul comes from our parents. They point to, among other things, the sinful nature human beings received directly from Adam. Obviously we didn’t get that from God! They also look at similarities between the personalities and temperaments of children and parents and conclude that all of those characteristics are passed from parents to offspring. They offer Scriptures like these in support of their view:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12, 13 | TNIV)

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned… (Romans 5:12 | TNIV)

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22 | TNIV)

So, which group gets it right? Did we get our souls from God or our parents. A good rule of thumb in trying to determine such matters is this: If the Bible isn’t dogmatic about something, then we shouldn’t be, either. In the case of the soul, it seems reasonable to view it as a co-operative venture of both God and parents. When a new life is conceived, it is the result of an act of God and human beings. Paul made a profound observation, which he passed on to the egg heads in Athens:

For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:28 | TNIV)

God is ultimately in control over all aspects of our world, and nothing happens without His being involved, including how new human beings come into the world. Everything happens according to the laws He set in place.

Ultimately, though, where life comes from will always remain a mystery, at least on this side of Heaven. We’d be wise to avoid going too far in our speculations of such matters.

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. (Ecclesiastes 11:5 | TNIV)

What we do know for certain is that the creation of man marked God’s crowning creative achievement. Of all the marvelous, wondrous things God created – from the universe to the most delicate of flowers – man was and remains the greatest of His creative work. Of man’s creation, we read this:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 | NIV84)

There are two important words that need to be considered. They are: “image” and “likeness.” Most Bible readers skim over those two words without giving them a second thought, but they are important and mean two very different things.

Image and likeness

The first word, “image,” comes from the Hebrew word tselem. It’s a word that has reference to statutes or models. It implies that something in man reflects something of the nature of His Creator. The second word, “likeness,” is the Hebrew word demuth, signifying a pattern or form representative of something else. It suggests that there is something like God about man. But the real interesting aspect of these words is that they suggest man, as great a creation as he is, isn’t quite finished yet; further development will take place. In other words, Adam and Eve were not created perfect, but that they were created to grow. That’s not to say there was something imperfect about their creation, but their “perfection” was like the perfection of a seed, rather than the plant it would eventually become.

As God created each sex, there is complete equality between men and women. In the Creation account, neither sex is given prominence of the other. This makes complete sense since both men and women have been created in God’s image. Interestingly enough, in our “re-creation,” that equality, which was destroyed by sin, is restored.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 | TNIV)

It goes without saying, however, that the Bible teaches a natural distinction between the sexes; each sex has certain functions and responsibilities carried out by men and women (see Genesis 2:18 – 25).

In spite of the greatness of man; in spite of how much like God he is, he is not God and can never be God. Man will always be dependent upon His Creator; that is how it should be. Our Lord once said this:

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. (John 5:26 | NIV84)

That’s total dependency. We have eternal life only as long as Christ’s life is in us.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 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.” (John 15:1 – 6 | TNIV)

Since God is a Spirit, He does not possess a body, therefore the image of God in man doesn’t refer to a physical resemblance. God’s image in man involves a natural and moral image.

Natural image

Human beings possess something animals do not, but God does: a personality. This includes things like sensibility, will, intellect, and things like that. Human beings, like their Creator, are able to build civilizations, think deep thoughts, and engage with one another on in intellectual and emotional level. Our ability to think and reason and come to conclusions based on all available information are things we have in common with God.

Moral image

God created man to be a free moral agent. Unlike animals that operate on base instincts, man is able to exercise the power of self-determination. It is that part of man that makes it possible for him to have fellowship with God and to communicate with Him.

The moral likeness between man and his Creator is obvious when it comes to something is deep and profound as love.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8 | TNIV)

God is love. He doesn’t just love; He IS love – it’s part of His essential nature. This is something we get from God – the ability to love. We first love God, and while it is a commandment, it is also the natural response to His great love towards us.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5 | TNIV)

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19 | TNIV)

And this also enables us to love others.

This moral likeness to our Creator also gives man the ability to act righteously and justly. It helps us to distinguish between good and bad. When Adam and Eve were created, they were created with genuine holiness of heart. They had a true inclination toward God, but sin ruined that and now man inclines away from God, not toward Him. But the moral likeness is still there in man, so man, even without God, can still do good, helpful things, but unfortunately, those things can also be turned into something evil.

But through the work of Christ in man, that moral image is restored.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22 – 24 | TNIV)


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