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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.

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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)

What Is Man, Part 1

Have you ever stopped to think about yourself? Where did you come from? Where are you going? Why were you born? Human beings have a self-awareness no other member of God’s creation has, and this makes him ask such questions. For the Christian, the answers are found in the Bible, and they are surprising.

what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. (Psalms 8:4-5 | NIV84)

Thanks to what the New Testament book Hebrews tells us, we know that Psalm 8 is referring to Jesus Christ, but the point of the psalmist can’t be missed. Man has God’s attention – God is “mindful” of human beings to the point, in fact, where His Son became their representative in Heaven.

Another psalm says this:

O Lord, what is man that you care for him, the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow. (Psalms 144:3-4 | NIV84)

Again we see that God cares for man; that God thinks about man. That’s an astonishing fact, and made all the more astonishing by the fact of man’s frailty: he is like a breath – there one moment and gone the next. Yet somehow and for some reason, the weak, impermanent man has God’s eternal attention. The Bible paints a pathetic picture of humanity: Created to be the greatest of God’s creative achievements, yet utterly dependent upon on Him.

Anthropology is the doctrine of man and theological anthropology deals with man in relation to his Creator, while scientific anthropology deals with man as a physical and psychological being in relation to natural history. In this series of studies, we’ll examine different aspects of ourselves in the light of what the Bible has to say.

The origin of man

Ever since man was first able to look up into the night sky and see the stars and faraway constellations, he was confronted with the mystery of his origin. Over the centuries, man has set his mind to figuring out where he came from. Charles Darwin, the unfortunate originator of the theory of evolution wrote this:

Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on the matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.

The idea of “theistic evolution” is not a new one, but it is an incorrect one. The Bible teaches very clearly the doctrine of special creation, meaning that God, the Creator, made every creature “after his kind.”

So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” (Genesis 1:21-22 | NIV84)

With the utmost care, the Lord created all the various species of animal life on earth and in the seas and then let them develop and progress (we might even use the word “evolve”) according to the laws that govern their being.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:24 | NIV84)

This wasn’t the case with man, however. Of man’s creation, we read something very different:

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)

Only man was created in God’s image. And this why Christians cannot accept any version of the theory of evolution. It takes a personal Creator out of the picture. The theory of evolution and its proponents attempt to link man with animals, yet the Bible clearly states that man is linked to God through his creation. Though sin ruptured that link, Jesus Christ came into this world to re-establish man’s eternal link to His Creator by re-creating or repairing the marred image of God in human beings.

The sinister side of evolution is that human nature is gradually evolving; ever so slowly becoming more and perfect or divine. Again, this is as far from Biblical teaching as you can get. The Bible teaches that the opposite is occurring. Man without God, left up to his own devices, is getting worse and worse, not better and better, and that man progresses spiritually, physically, culturally, and in every other way, not by his own efforts but by the work of God in Him.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4 | NIV84)

The nature of man

In Genesis, we read this:

the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 | NIV84)

Clearly there’s more to man than meets the eye. He is a physical being, having been constructed from “the dust of the ground,” but God added something to that physical part of man: a soul. The soul – whatever it is – adds life to the body, and when the soul is taken from the body, the body dies.

Yet there’s more to it than that. The New Testament expands our knowledge of man’s two sides:

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 Thessalonians 5:23 | NIV84)

For the word of God is living 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. (Hebrews 4:12 | NIV84)

So are human beings a dichotomy or a trichotomy? Are we made up of two parts or three? Theologians, who will argue over how many angels can sit on the head of pin, are divided. Some say we are made up of just two parts: the body and the soul/spirit. Others say we are made up of three parts: the body, soul, and spirit. In fact, in spite of the contention between the two camps, both are correct. The soul and the spirit represent the immaterial, or non-physical side of man. They are separate, as we see in Hebrews, since they may be separated by the Word of God, but they are not separable. They are “wound around each other” so tightly that words “soul” and “spirit” are used interchangeably sometimes in Scripture.

But each part has its own function. The “soul” is “the self.” It’s the part of man that makes him aware of himself, his surroundings, and of other people. The soul of a man makes him who he is, with all of his brilliance and his foibles and fears. The soul includes such things as the intellect, the emotions, and the will. We could say that the soul governs man entire personality.

The “spirit” is different. Man is not a “spirit,” but he possesses a spirit that was put in him by his Creator, and it is his “spirit” that sets man apart from all other created beings. Our “spirit” is that part of us that connects us to the spiritual world. It is that part of us that is conscious of God’s Spirit and Presence in us and in the world around us.

When Paul wrote a letter to the Ephesians, he described the spiritual state of man without God:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…. (Ephesians 2:1 | NIV84)

Obviously, when Paul said his friends were “dead,” he wasn’t referring to their bodies or their souls – they ability to read the letter, after all! He was referring to their “spirits.” Unsaved man is spiritually dead. He’s physically alive, and he’s able to think and laugh and do all sorts of great things, but he’s dead with respect to God. The human spirit is unable to relate to God in any way. Part of God’s gracious gift of salvation is the complete restoration of man’s spirit: the Holy Spirit (God’s Spirit) enters man and renews man’s spirit, bringing that man to a higher level of living and giving him the capacity to relate to God; giving him the capacity of love God.

So you can see that man without God is a mess; he’s not a whole person. He’s a pathetic shadow of what he was created to be. And the truly sad part of man without God is that somehow, deep down inside, he knows something is terribly wrong. That’s why human beings, left up their own devices, will spend a lifetime and thousands and thousands of dollars looking to be made complete and whole, never realizing it is God they need, because they are dead to Him and He is dead to them. Brown Bannister captured sinful man’s sad state like this:

One I was dying, my soul was crying,
Trying to find the nature of Love.
I thought I found it,
But I just walked around it,
Looking for the nature of Love.

That’s when You seized me,
And now You have released me,
To know You are the Nature of Love.
Your Spirit found me,
And now Your Love surrounds me,
I know You are the Nature of Love.

That’s what God does for sinful man; something he could never, ever do for himself. How man ended up in this predicament – as a broken, hurting being – we will cover that next time as we continue to look at God’s most amazing creation:  Man

God’s Best Gifts, Part 5

As defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, the noun “gift” means a few things. First, a “gift” can be present given from one person to another. It may also mean “something that is surprisingly easy or cheap.”  For example, “I can’t believe how easy that test was! It’s like a gift.”

But a “gift” may also refer to a talent we posses. We often speak of a “gifted piano player,” for example.

As good as the Cambridge Dictionary may be, it falls a tad short in the spiritual realm. “Gifts” are also things that our Heavenly Father gives us, His children. They may be special talents. They may be fortuitous abilities that a church member is given supernaturally for the time their church needs a person with those abilities. God also gives us spiritual gifts for our benefit and for the benefit of other believers. Yes, our God is a very generous God who knows what we need, why we need it, and the best time to give it to us. God is a giver in every sense of the word.

The apostle Peter, in his second letter, very briefly mentions another precious gift from God to us:

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4 | TNIV)

God has, apparently given us some “very great and precious promises.” Just are those promises? What did Peter have in mind when he wrote that sentence? How can any promise help us to be more like God? Let’s find out!

Why a second letter?

We don’t always know what occasioned the writing of New Testament letters, but in the case of Peter’s second letter, he tells exactly why he wrote it:

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. (2 Peter 3:1 | TNIV)

Really, Peter has done Bible students a great favor, because in that single verse he has told us why he wrote two letters: “to stimulate [his readers] to wholesome thinking.” Both letters were “reminders.” In other words, the content of both Peter’s letters was not unique or the result of some kind of special revelation from the Heavenly realms. Peter’s letters are jam-packed with stuff his readers already knew about but needed to be reminded of. It’s important to for Christians to be taught and re-taught the same things over and over and over again. Repetition helps to reinforce essential truths that sometimes get lost in our Memory Palaces.

But what did Peter mean by “wholesome?” It’s a Greek word that refers to that which is “pure,” “uncontaminated,” and “good.” Plato used the same word to describe thinking or reasoning that was uncontaminated by the senses. So “wholesome thinking” to Plato was thinking that was completely objective. Paul’s concept of “wholesome thinking” is best summed up like this:

Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. (Philippians 4:8 | TNIV)

Peter knew full well that Christians needed to be reminded from time-to-time about the things they already knew. And wholesome thinking – thinking correctly – is vitally important because what’s in the mind will eventually work itself out in the world in the forms behavior, actions, and attitudes. Everything we do and feel starts out as a thought. How important is it to think wholesome thoughts, then?

More and more grace and peace

So this letter, then, was mailed to Jewish and Gentile Christians in northern Asia Minor; that is, “to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (I Pet. 1:1). In between the writing of the two letters a change of circumstances had taken place among Peter’s friends. Whereas the first letter had been written to prepare them for suffering, perhaps at the hands of an unfriendly government (1:7; 2:12-15; 3:14-17; 4:3-4, 12-16; 5:8-10), the second letter warns against the encroachments of false teachers (2:1-3, 10-15, 19-22; 3:3-7, 15-17). In each case, though, the believer’s best offense against either a hostile government or the bad theology of false teachers is knowledge. But not just any kind of knowledge! Knowledge of God’s Word.

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2 | TNIV)

This is actually a prayer. When was the last time you prayed that “grace and peace would be” somebody’s “in abundance?” That was Peter’s prayer for those reading this letter. He was asking the Lord to super-multiply “grace and peace” in the lives of his friends. But what’s particularly interesting here is that this request of God is followed by what is essentially instructions to the reader on how to make it happen: “through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” In other words, if you, as a believer, can create the necessary conditions – which involves acquiring more knowledge of God and Jesus – God will super-multiply grace and peace in your life!

The word translated “knowledge” here is one of Peter’s favorites; he uses it some 13 times in his letter. It does not refer to cold, academic knowledge. It’s not knowledge gained second hand from listening to a  teacher or from reading a book. This kind of knowledge is experiential knowledge; firsthand knowledge of God and Jesus gained through a relationship with them through the Holy Spirit and through the Word of God. It’s knowing God and Jesus as they really are, not how some theologian says they are. It’s a personal knowing. That’s what you need if you want more and more “grace and peace” in your life.

Miraculous provision

Here are two very powerful verses full of deep spiritual truths:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3, 4| TNIV)

When you think about what Peter is claiming in these verses, it’s truly an extraordinary claim. In fact, had anybody else said what Peter said, I’d say they were insane. But the man is writing from personal experience. Peter had seen the power of Christ calm the stormy sea and enable him to walk on the water (Matthew 14); he had heard the resurrected Christ make the claim that all power was given to Him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28); he had received the power of Christ into his life by the sanctifying baptism of the Spirit of Pentecost (Acts 1, 2); and he knew, along with his friend Paul, this simple fact:

but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:24 | TNIV)

If anybody knew how beneficial the power of God and the promises of God operating in the life of a Christian can be, it certainly was Peter. These two verses give us everything we need to live a successful Christian life.

Power. The Greek word for “power” is dynamis, which looks like our word “dynamite.” It refers to a self-contained, inherent power that is steady and dynamic. The exact same power that God exerted in raising Christ from the dead is in every believer. Stop and think about the implications of that statement. That supernatural power is now housed in you, enabling you to live a life of righteousness, live a positive and uplifting life that is a powerful witness in your community. This provision – or gift, if you will – is activated and assisted by our knowledge of God. No matter what, it seems like you can’t get away from knowledge of God!

A verse like verse 3 compels us to ask the question: How important is knowing God to me? Is getting to know God a priority to you? It’s sad but when looking around at the state of the average Christian life, it seems as though knowing God isn’t a priority. It’s more of a convenience. How to be a top notch Christian is no mystery. The first step is simply getting to know God more – not gathering more information about Him, but getting to know Him as a person through a living relationship with Him. Don’t get me wrong. You have to know about God. You have to know the facts of God; you should be curious about Him, and that curiosity should lead you to the Bible. But knowing God as the Person He is involves something supernatural that the Holy Spirit is involved in. This supernatural, intimate knowledge of God and Christ enables us to access that “resurrection power” whereby we can live a supernaturally empowered life that glorifies God and keeps the spigot of His blessings open.

When we come to Christ, the power is given to us, and as we learn how to access it and allow it to work through our whole being, things like this happen:

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 | TNIV)

A lot of Christians want that provision without realizing that God has already met that need through the “resurrection power” in you!

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9, 10 | TNIV)

As a Christian, you have everything you need – everything – for spiritual growth. That’s what’s indicated by the word “fullness.” It’s all in you, like a gift waiting for you to unwrap it.

Promises. Not only has God given us His supernatural “resurrection power,” He has given us some very special promises. We don’t know which promises Peter had in mind when he wrote verse 4. But we may speculate. Maybe he was thinking of these:

The promise of forgiveness of sins – past, present, and future sins.
• The promise of adoption as sons and daughters of God.
• The promise of the Holy Spirit’s help in living life and spiritual growth.
• The promise of comfort during life’s darkest moments.
• The promise that all of our needs will be met.
• The promise of eternal life in Heaven after we die.
• The promise of bodily resurrection when Christ returns.
• The promise of reigning with Christ in His kingdom.

Chuck Swindoll came up with that list, and I think he was on to something. Those promises, in addition to things like the promise of abundant life in Christ and Christ’s ongoing presence in our lives through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, enable us to live victoriously in the face of things like, in the case of Peter’s readers, false teachers.

Fellowship

Ultimately, though, the purpose of God’s power and promises in our lives is to make us “partakers of the divine nature.” That’s referring to perfect fellowship with God the Father and God the Son through the God the Holy Spirit. Peter used Greek words, of course, but also Greek phrases, like “divine nature.” He could have simply used “fellowship with God,” but remember his audience; they would have been very familiar with phrases like the “divine nature.” The Greeks, not unlike Christians, viewed the world as corrupt, but to them, the only way to overcome the corrupt world was to become a god – to assume a “divine nature.” Peter twists the Greek philosophy and straightens it out. Man can escape the corruption of the world, not by becoming a god, but by fellowshipping with the only true God.

God has given His people great gifts. Here, in Peter’s letter, we have the gifts of God’s power and of God’s promises. These are marvelous gifts that too many Christians leave unopened.

God’s Best Gifts, Part 4

If you are a Christian, then you enjoy the blessings of the Lord. Yes, you! You walk in His blessings, everywhere you go, every day of the week. All the time, God is giving you good things. And, of course, because they come from God, you know that you don’t really deserve them. You may be wondering what blessings I’m referring to. I guess it really all depends on your perspective. Consider this:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17 | NIV84)

Let’s take a closer look at this oft-quoted verse. Every word is literally dripping with meaning and importance. In fact, you need to read the verse directly preceding it to grasp its full meaning. Verse 16 is short, but important:

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. (James 1:16 | NIV84)

When you read a verse like that, you should be asking yourself, “Who’s being deceived about what?” The “who” bit is easy. James is writing to Christians, his “dear brothers.” But what are the brothers being deceived about, anyway? James had been writing to his “dear brothers” about negative things. Things like the way life often treats us. It’s not fair. There are people who have, and people who don’t. There are Christians who are being persecuted on account of their faith in Jesus Christ. That’s hardly fair. Reading parts of James 1, we are reminded of the lament of the psalmist:

For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. (Psalm 73:3 – 5 | KJV)

Some of James’ “dear brothers” must have been feeling that way, so he gives these discouraged believers some good advice:

The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. (James 1:9-10 | NIV84)

In other words, regardless of their lot in life, believers need to have a God-centered perspective; a perspective that places God and God’s will right in their view of everything. So, whether you have much or hardly anything, you should be content, at least to the extent that you don’t blame God for your state. Another way to think about verses 9 and 10 would be take the view the apostle Paul adopted regarding life. If any Christian had an up-and-down life, it was surely Paul:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 | NIV84)

That’s a God-centered worldview right there. No matter how good Paul had it or how long the next rough patch would last, Paul just knew that God would give him strength to see him through. And it’s this attitude that James wanted his “dear brothers” to have. Sure, they were suffering some, but it was important for them to not be deceived. Rather than blaming God for their current state, they needed to see God as the source of all that is good, not bad. God doesn’t make bad things happen to the people He saved and loves. God doesn’t manipulate your life so as to cause you to sin. He doesn’t operate like that. If you believe that kind of nonsense, then you are, to use James’ word, “deceived,” that is, you aren’t thinking straight!

Far from being the source of hard times, God only gives good things, as verse 17 tells us. In fact, that phrase, “every good and perfect gift” is vitally important. It tells us something of God’s blessings. First, anything beneficial that comes into the life of the believer comes from God. That’s the implication of the word “every.” It’s an all-inclusive term. Regardless of the apparent source of the good thing, it ultimately came to you from God. A good verse to keep in mind that will help you understand what James is getting to is this one:

A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just. (Proverbs 13:22 | KJV)

You are “the just,” if you are a Christian, so regardless of where your blessing seems to come – a check from the IRS or a bonus from work – the wealth of the world is yours. Or rather, God has a right to funnel it to His people, for their benefit.

That brings us to the next word, “good.” God’s gifts are “good,” a word that means “useful,” “beneficial,” and “profitable.” In other words, if a thing comes to you that helps you out in some way – solves a problem or gets you out of a jam – then it came from God. The other word James used to describe God’s gifts is “perfect.” That’s a wonderful word that means “complete,” and “lacking nothing.” God gives us just what we need, when we need it, and what He gives will always work and there will always be enough of it.

And you can count on God to be this generous and thoughtful all the time because He doesn’t change. He’s always the same.

Long before James wrote to his persecuted, frustrated friends, there was a group of Jews in a particularly bad state.

Not forgotten

History tells us that around 586 BC, the Jewish exile to Babylon began. Jew would tells us it began a little earlier, around 597 BC, but without regard to exact date of the exile, it lasted 70 years. During this time, Jerusalem and the temple lay in ruins. Much of Judah was steam rolled by Nebuchadnezzar when he plowed through the land not once but three times, taking citizens back to Babylon and resettling them there. In those intervening seven decades, the Jewish population in Babylon grew and grew and while they would eventually prosper to some degree while in exile, and while many of them remained utterly faithful to the beliefs of their forefathers, there was a sense that some day they would return to Jerusalem. This had been promised to them by the prophets, and many – though not all – clung to those promises and passed them on to their children.

The day came when a small group of Jews returned to Jerusalem, tasked with rebuilding the wall and the Temple. What they saw when they got close to the old home town was, to say the least, devastating. There was almost nothing left. A pile of overgrown rubble.

It was a big job, but the builders got to it and at last the project began to take shape. There was a lot rejoicing when the foundation was laid. At last, in spite of all the odds, the small group of expatriates was getting it done. But, not everybody was happy.

But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. (Ezra 3:12 | NIV84)

So, it was a time of mixed emotion, and it’s understandable that the older folks weren’t as excited as the young people. This new Temple was a shadow of Solomon’s Temple. The young people had never seen that one. But the memories of its grandeur were emblazoned on the minds of the elderly. They were sad, not glad.

The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem and of the Temple. By the time we get to Nehemiah 8, the Temple had been rebuilt and many homes in Jerusalem had been rebuilt and other towns and cities were being resettled. From Nehemiah 8 on, we read about a “back to the Bible moment,” or a mass religious revival.

The priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers and the temple servants, along with certain of the people and the rest of the Israelites, settled in their own towns. When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns…. (Nehemiah 7:73 | NIV84)

The cusp of revival

But, they didn’t stay in there towns. And Nehemiah, with his job done, could have returned to his job back in Susa. He was not really an architect or a builder, but a cup-bearer to king Artaxerxes. He had a comfortable life to which he could have returned. But he didn’t because t here was more to be done:

all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:1-3 | NIV84)

Nehemiah’s big concern was for the spiritual well-being of the Jews. He, a cup-bearer from Susa, along with Ezra, the spiritual leader of the returning exiles, ministered to the spiritual needs of the people by teaching them the Law, celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles, and by leading the people in rededicating themselves to the Covenant.

It might be difficult for you, a 21st century Christian (assuming you are a 21st Christian), to understand how reading the books of the Law, not exactly a crackling read, could induce a religious revival. And yet it did. From the Exodus to the Crucifixion, the believing Israelite’s relationship with God was governed by the Mosaic Covenant. The written code didn’t create a relationship between God and Israel, but it did serve to regulate it. That spiritual relationship was by faith, even back then.

When Ezra opened the book, something remarkable happened:

Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. (Nehemiah 8:6 | NIV84)

The “amen” was shouted in agreement and faith with the prayers that had been prayed and then the people, as one, bowed low in worship. This was no show. This was a heartfelt, sincere expression of their humility before their awesome God.

Power of the Word

And then it happened.

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:8-9 | NIV84)

The Word of God wasn’t just read aloud, but it was “preached,” it was expounded upon so as the people could understand not just the words but the meaning behind the words. This clear exposition of the Word moved the people – it convicted them of sin in their lives and that resulted in repentance.

This is a valuable lesson for us to learn. In our day, so much preaching and so many elements of church service are based on feelings and emotions. This isn’t a diatribe against those things, by the way. God gave us feelings and emotions for reasons, so they are part of who we are. The powerful exposition of God’s Word often brings about a deep conviction of sin. Repentance, though, must not be an emotional response only. That’s self-centered and that kind of remorse is not acceptable to God. Rather, it’s important to note what Ezra and the Levites did when the people emoted. Essentially, they told the people to stop it. Instead of making repentance all about how you feel, it should be about how wonderful God is and how profound His forgiving goodness is. That’s why they were told to do the exact opposite to what they were doing.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10 | NIV84)

This verse is remarkable on a couple of levels. First, following the reading and teaching of the Word, a spiritual awakening occurred – people were moved to repentance and worship. But that’s not where it ended. If the Word of God means anything to you, it will make you want to DO something for others. It will make you want to serve God. Here, Nehemiah made sure all the people enjoyed a great feast, even those who were unprepared. It was like a massive potluck dinner! Nobody was left out.

But second, and of great import, was that because this particular day was sacred to God, the people needed to stop grieving – stop feeling sorry for themselves – and rejoice. They probably didn’t feel like rejoicing – they were grieving and mourning – but those are self-centered emotions. Rejoicing occurs when a person makes a determined effort to take their eyes off of themselves and look to God. When you do that, you can’t help but rejoice. And here’s the kicker: the joy of the Lord is your strength. In other words, His joy is IN you and that joy makes you strong. When you don’t feel like rejoicing, God gives you His joy, which gives you strength to rejoice. This was something Paul knew all-to-well:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 | NIV84)

Rejoice in the Lord always. Always, no matter how you feel or what’s going on around you. Rejoice in Him and you will be strong. And you will make the world a better place. Dennis Prager, in writing about happiness, wrote something very profound. Happiness and joy are not quite the same things, but what he wrote of happiness certainly applies to joy:

For much of my life, I, like most people, regarded the pursuit of happiness as largely a selfish pursuit. One of the great revelations of middle age has been that happiness, far from being only a selfish pursuit, is a moral demand.

When we think of character traits we rightly think of honesty, integrity, moral courage, and acts of altruism. Few people include happiness in any list of character traits or moral achievements.

But happiness is both.

Happiness — or at least acting happy, or at the very least not inflicting one’s unhappiness on others — is no less important in making the world better than any other human trait.

Just imagine what the world would be like if Christians, who ought to be happiest people on earth anyway, did that? And we can, because God gives us the strength to do just that. Rejoice in Him and marvel at how other people respond.

The Word of God brings you joy. John wrote about this:

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:3 | NIV84)


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