Counterfeit Christians: Part 2 (1 Jn. 3:1–10)

1 John 3_1-10In my introduction to this post, we looked at the contrast between a true Christian and a counterfeit Christian. We learned a true believer does not live in habitual sin because he loves God and wants to obey his heavenly Father. As we continue our study in John’s first letter (1 Jn. 3:1–10), he gives us a third reason for living a holy life.

3. GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT LIVES IN US (3:9–10)

“Whosoever is born of God does not practice sin!” Why? Because he has a new nature within him and that new nature cannot sin. John calls this new nature God’s “seed.”

When a person receives Christ as his Savior, tremendous spiritual changes take place in him. He is given a new standing before God, being accepted as righteous in God’s sight. This new standing is called “justification.” It never changes and is never lost.

The new Christian is also given a new position: he is set apart for God’s own purposes to live for His glory. This new position is called “sanctification,” and it has a way of changing from day to day. On some days we are much closer to Christ and obey Him much more readily.

Justification means a new standing before God, sanctification means being set apart to God, and regeneration means a new nature—God’s nature (2 Pet. 1:4).

But perhaps the most dramatic change in a new believer is what we call “regeneration.” He is “born again” into the family of God. The only way to enter God’s family is by trusting Christ and experiencing this new birth. Physical life produces only physical life; spiritual life produces spiritual life. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (Jn. 3:6). Christians have been born again, “not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to convict of sin and to reveal the Savior.

We are saved by faith (Eph. 2:8–9), and “faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word about Christ” (Rom. 10:17). In the miracle of the new birth the Holy Spirit imparts new life—God’s life—to a believing sinner and as a result the individual is born into the family of God.

Just as physical children bear the nature of their parents, so too God’s spiritual children bear His nature. The divine “seed” is in them. A Christian has an old nature from his physical birth and a new nature from his spiritual birth. The New Testament contrasts these two natures and gives them various names:

Old Nature:                                                      New Nature:

“our old self” (Rom. 6:6)                                “the new self” (Col. 3:10)

“the flesh” (Gal. 5:24)                                     “the Spirit” (Gal. 5:17)

“perishable seed” (1 Pet. 1:23)                        “God’s seed” (1 Jn. 3:9)

The old nature produces sin, but the new nature leads to a holy life. A Christian’s responsibility is to live according to his new nature, not the old nature.

One way to illustrate this is by contrasting the “outer” man with the “inner” man (2 Cor. 4:16). The physical man needs food, and so does his inner or spiritual man. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Unless a Christian spends time daily meditating on the Word of God, his inner man will lack power.

A converted Indian explained, “I have two dogs living in me—a mean dog and a good dog. They are always fighting. The mean dog wants me to do bad things and the good dog wants me to do good things. Do you want to know which dog wins? The one I feed the most!”

A Christian who feeds the new nature from the Word of God will have power to live a godly life. We are to “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Rom. 13:14).

The physical man needs cleansing and so does the inner man. We wash our hands and face frequently. A believer should look into the mirror of God’s Word daily (Jas. 1:22–25) and examine himself. He must confess his sins and claim God’s forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9). Otherwise the inner man will become unclean and this uncleanness will breed infection and “spiritual sickness.”

Unconfessed sin is the first step in what the Bible calls “backsliding”—gradually moving away from a close walk with Christ into a life filled with the alien world in which we live.

God’s promise, “I will cure you of backsliding” (Jer. 3:22), implies backsliding resembles physical sickness. First is the secret invasion of the body by a disease. Then infection follows and there is a gradual decline: no pep, no appetite, and no interest in normal activities. Finally comes the collapse!

Spiritual decline works in a similar way. First sin invades us. Instead of fighting it, we yield to it (Jas. 1:14) and infection sets in. A gradual decline follows. We lose our appetite for spiritual things, we become lethargic and even irritable, and finally we collapse. The only remedy is to confess and forsake our sin, and turn to Christ for cleansing and healing.

The inner man not only needs food and cleansing, but he also needs exercise. “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Tim. 4:7). A person who eats, but does not exercise will become overweight; a person who exercises without eating will kill himself. There must be proper balance.

“Spiritual exercise” for a believer, includes sharing Christ with others, doing good works in Christ’s name, and helping to build up other believers. Each Christian has at least one spiritual gift which he is to use for the good of the church (1 Cor. 12:1–11). “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet. 4:10).

Here is a vivid commentary on this whole process of temptation and sin: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:13–15).

Temptation appeals to our basic natural desires. There is nothing sinful about our desires, but temptation gives us an opportunity to satisfy these desires in an evil way. It is not sin to be hungry, but it is a sin to satisfy hunger out of the will of God. This was the first temptation Satan hurled at Jesus (Matt. 4:1–4).

The two terms, “dragged away” and “enticed” (Jas. 1:14), both relate to hunting or fishing: the putting of bait in a trap or on a hook. The animal (or fish) comes along and his natural desires attract him to the bait. But in taking the bait, he gets caught in the trap or hooked. And the end is death!

Satan baits his traps with pleasures that appeal to the old nature, the flesh. But none of his bait appeals to the new divine nature within a Christian. If a believer yields to his old nature, he will hunger for the bait, take it, and sin. But if he follows the inclination of his new nature, he will refuse the bait and obey God. “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

Yielding to sin is the distinguishing mark of “the children of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:10). They profess or claim one thing, but they practice another. Satan is a liar and the father of lies (Jn. 8:44), and his children are like their father. “Whoever says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar and the truth is not in that person” (1 Jn. 2:4). The children of the devil try to deceive God’s children into thinking a person can be a Christian and still practice sin. “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 Jn. 3:7).

False teachers in John’s day taught a Christian did not have to worry about sin because only the body sinned and what the body did in no way affected the spirit. Some of them went so far as to teach sin is natural to the body because the body is sinful.

The New Testament exposes the foolishness of such excuses for sin. To begin with, “the old nature” is not the body. The body itself is neutral: it can be used either by the old sinful nature or by the new divine nature. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to Him as an instrument of righteousness.” (Rom. 6:12–13).

How does a child of God go about overcoming the desires of the old nature? He must begin each day by yielding his body to God as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). He must spend time reading and studying the Word of God, “feeding” his new nature. He must take time to pray, asking God to fill him with the Holy Spirit, and give him power to serve Christ and glorify Him. As he goes through the day, a believer must depend on the power of the Spirit in the inner man. When temptations come, he must immediately turn to Christ for victory.

The Word of God in his heart will help to keep him from sin if only he will turn to Christ. “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11). If he does sin, he must instantly confess to God and claim forgiveness. But it is not necessary for him to sin. By yielding his body to the Holy Spirit within him, he will receive the power he needs to overcome the tempter. A good practice is to claim God’s promise: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

A Sunday School teacher was explaining the Christian’s two natures—the old and the new—to a class of teenagers. “Our old nature came from Adam,” he explained “and our new nature comes from Christ, who is called ‘the Last Adam.” He had the class read 1 Corinthians 15:45: “So it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.”

“This means there are two ‘Adams’ living in me,” said one of the teenagers.

“That’s right,” the teacher replied. “And what is the practical value of this truth?”

The class was silent for a moment and then a student spoke up. “This idea of the ‘two Adams’ really helps me in fighting temptation,” he said. “When temptation comes knocking at my door, if I send the first Adam to answer, I’ll sin. But if I send the Last Adam, I’ll get victory.”

A true believer does not practice sin; a counterfeit believer cannot help but practice sin because he does not have God’s new nature within him. The true believer also loves other Christians, which is discussed in detail in 1 John 3:11–24.

But these words were not written so that you and I might check on other people. They were inspired so that we may examine ourselves. Each of us must answer honestly before God:

  • Do I have the divine nature within me or am I merely pretending to be a Christian?
  • Do I cultivate this divine nature by daily Bible reading and prayer?
  • Has any unconfessed sin defiled my inner man? Am I willing to confess and forsake it?
  • Do I allow my old nature to control my thoughts and desires, or does the divine nature rule me?
  • When temptation comes, do I “play with it” or do I flee from it? Do I immediately yield to the divine nature within me?

The life that is real does not pretend, but is honest with God about these vital issues. Are you?

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Counterfeit Christians (1 Jn. 3:1–10)

fake-christian3The United States Treasury Department has a special group of men whose job it is to track down counterfeiters. Naturally, these men need to know a counterfeit bill when they see it. How do they learn to identify fake bills? Oddly enough, they are not trained by spending hours examining counterfeit money. Rather, they study the real thing. They become so familiar with authentic bills they can spot a counterfeit by looking at it or, often, simply by feeling it.

This is the approach in 1 John 3, which warns us in today’s world there are counterfeit Christians—“children of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:10). But instead of listing the evil characteristics of Satan’s children, Scripture gives us a clear description of God’s children. The contrast between the two is obvious.

The key verse of this chapter is 1 John 3:10: a true child of God practices righteousness and loves other Christians despite differences. 1 John 3:1–10 deals with the first topic and 1 John 3:11–24 takes up the second.

Practicing righteousness and loving the brethren, of course, are not new themes. These two important subjects are treated in the first two chapters of this epistle, but in 1 John 3 the approach is different. In the first two chapters the emphasis was on fellowship: a Christian who is in fellowship with God will practice righteousness and will love the brethren. But in 1 John 3–5 the emphasis is on sonship: because a Christian is “born of God,” he will practice righteousness and will love the brethren.

“Born of God” is the idea that is basic to these chapters (1 Jn. 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). “No one who is born of God practices sin … he cannot practice sin because he is born of God” (1 Jn. 3:9). To “practice” sin is to sin consistently and as a way of life. It does not refer to committing an occasional sin. It is clear no Christian is sinless (1 Jn. 1:8–10), but God expects a true believer to sin less, not to sin habitually.

Every great personality mentioned in the Bible sinned at one time or another. Abraham lied about his wife (Gen. 12:10–20). Moses lost his temper and disobeyed God (Num. 20:7–13). Peter denied the Lord three times (Matt. 26:69–75). But sin was not the settled practice of these men. It was an incident in their lives, totally contrary to their normal habits, and when they sinned, they admitted it and asked God to forgive them.

An unsaved person (even if he professes to be a Christian, but is a counterfeit) lives a life of habitual sin. Sin—especially the sin of unbelief—is the normal thing in his life (Eph. 2:1–3). He has no divine resources to draw on. His profession of faith, if any, is not real. This is the distinction in view in 1 John 3:1–10—a true believer does not live in habitual sin. He may commit sin—an occasional wrong act—but he will not practice sin—make a settled habit of it.

The difference is a true Christian knows God. A counterfeit Christian may talk about God and get involved in “religious activities,” but he does not really know God. The person who has been “born of God” through faith in Christ knows God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Because he knows them, he lives a life of obedience: he does not practice sin. 1 John 3:1–10 gives us three reasons for living a holy life.

1. GOD THE FATHER LOVES US (3:1–3)

God’s love for us is unique. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 Jn. 3:1). This may be translated, “What peculiar, out-of-this-world kind of love the Father has bestowed on us!” While we were His enemies God loved us and sent His Son to die for us! (Rom. 5:8). The whole wonderful plan of salvation begins with the love of God.

“Children of God” is not simply a high-sounding name we bear; it is a reality! We are God’s children! We do not expect the world to understand this thrilling relationship because it does not even understand God. Only a person who knows God through Christ can fully appreciate what it means to be called a child of God.

1 John 3:1 tells us what we are and 1 John 3:2 tells us what we shall be. The reference here is to the time of Christ’s coming for His church. This was mentioned in 1 John 2:28 as an incentive for holy living and now it is repeated.

God’s love for us does not stop with the new birth. It continues throughout our lives and takes us right up to the return of Jesus Christ! When our Lord appears, all true believers will see Him and will become like Him (Phil. 3:20–21). This means, of course, they will have new, glorified bodies, suited to heaven.

But the apostle does not stop here! He has told us what we are and what we shall be. Now, in 1 John 3:3, he tells us what we should be. In view of the return of Jesus Christ, we should keep our lives clean.

All this is to remind us of the Father’s love. Because the Father loved us and sent His Son to die for us, we are children of God. Because God loves us, He wants us to live with Him. Salvation, from start to finish, is an expression of the love of God. We are saved by the grace of God (Eph. 2:8–9; Tit. 2:11–15), but the provision for our salvation was originated in the love of God. Since we have experienced the love of the Father, we have no desire to live in sin.

An unbeliever who sins is a creature sinning against his Creator. A Christian who sins is a child sinning against his Father. The unbeliever sins against law; the believer sins against love.

This reminds us of the meaning of the phrase so often repeated in the Bible: “the fear of the Lord.” This phrase does not suggest God’s children live in an atmosphere of terror: “The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). Rather, it indicates God’s children hold their Father in reverence and will not deliberately disobey Him or try His patience.

A group of teenagers were enjoying a party and someone suggested they go to a certain place for a good time.

“I’d rather you took me home,” Jan said to her date. “My parents don’t approve of that place.”

“Afraid your father will hurt you?” one of the girls asked sarcastically.

“No,” Jan replied, “I’m not afraid my father will hurt me, but I am afraid I might hurt him.”

She understood the principle that a true child of God, who has experienced the love of God, has no desire to sin against that love.

2. GOD THE SON DIED FOR US (3:4–8)

John turns here from the future appearing of Jesus (1 Jn. 3:2) to His past appearing (1 Jn. 3:5). John gives two reasons why Jesus came and died: (1) to take away our sins (1 Jn. 3:4–6) (2) to destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn. 3:7–8). For a child of God to sin indicates he does not understand or appreciate what Jesus did for him on the cross.

Christ appeared to take away our sins (vv. 4–6). There are several definitions of sin in the Bible: “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). “The schemes of folly are sin” (Prov. 24:9). “If anyone knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (Jas. 4:17). “All wrongdoing is sin” (1 Jn. 5:17).

But John’s epistle defines sin as lawlessness (1 Jn. 3:4). It views sin as defilement (1 Jn. 1:9–2:2) and defiance. The emphasis here is not on sins (plural), but on sin (singular): “Whosoever practices sin.” Sins are the fruit, but sin is the root.

That God is love does not mean He has no rules and regulations for His family. “We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands” (1 Jn. 2:3). “We receive from Him anything we ask because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him” (1 Jn. 3:22). “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands” (1 Jn. 5:2).

God’s children are not in bondage to the Old Testament Law, for Christ has set us free and has given us liberty (Gal. 5:1–6). But God’s children are not to be lawless, either! They are “not free from God’s law, but are under Christ’s law” (1 Cor. 9:21).

Sin is basically a matter of the will. For us to assert our will against God’s will is rebellion and rebellion is the root of sin. It is not simply that sin reveals itself in lawless behavior, but the very essence of sin is lawlessness. No matter what his outward action may be, a sinner’s inward attitude is one of rebellion.

Little Judy was riding in the car with her father. She decided to stand up in the front seat. Her father commanded her to sit down and put on the seat belt, but she declined. He told her a second time and again she refused.

“If you don’t sit down immediately, I’ll pull over to the side of the road and spank you!” Dad finally said and at this the little girl obeyed. But in a few minutes she said quietly, “Daddy, I’m still standing up inside.”

Lawlessness! Rebellion! Even though there was constraint from the outside, there was still rebellion on the inside; and this attitude is the essence of sin.

But after a person has become a child of God, born again by faith in Jesus Christ, he cannot practice lawlessness! For one thing, Jesus Christ was without sin and to abide in Him means to be identified with the One who is sinless. And even more than that, Jesus Christ died to take away our sins! If we know the person of Christ and if we have shared in the blessing of His death, we cannot deliberately disobey God. The whole work of the Cross is denied when a professed Christian practices deliberate sin. This is one reason why Paul calls such people “enemies of the Cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18–19).

“No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him” (1 Jn. 3:6). “Abide” is one of John’s favorite words. To abide in Christ means to be in fellowship with Him, to allow nothing to come between ourselves and Christ. Sonship (being born of God) brings about our union with Christ; but fellowship makes possible our communion with Christ. It is this communion (abiding) with Christ that keeps us from deliberately disobeying His Word. A person who deliberately and habitually sins is proving he does not know Christ and therefore cannot be abiding in Him.

There is more in the death of Christ on the cross than simply our salvation from judgment, as wonderful as that is. Through His death, Christ broke the power of sin in our lives. The theme of Romans 6–8 is this identification with Christ in His death and resurrection. Christ not only died for me, but I died with Christ! Now I can yield myself to Him and sin will not have dominion over me. 

Christ appeared to destroy the works of the devil (vv. 7–8). The logic here is clear: if a man knows God, he will obey God; if he belongs to the devil, he will obey the devil.

John accepts the reality of a personal devil. This enemy has many different names in Scripture: Satan (adversary, enemy), the devil (accuser), Abaddon or Apollyon (destroyer), the prince of this world, the dragon. Whatever name you call him, keep in mind his chief activity is to oppose Christ and God’s people.

The contrast here is between Christ (who has no sin) and the devil (who can do nothing but sin). Satan was once one of the highest angels, placed by God over the earth and over the other angels, but he sinned against God and was cast down (Isa. 14:9–17; Ezek. 28:12–14). Satan was not created sinful. His present nature is a result of his past rebellion.

Satan is not like God: he is not all-powerful, all-knowing, or everywhere present. However, he is assisted by an army of spirit creatures (demons), who make it possible for him to work in many places at one time (Eph. 6:10–12).

Satan is a rebel, but Christ is the obedient Son of God. Christ “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:8). Christ is God, but was willing to become a servant. Satan was a servant, but wanted to become God.

From the beginning of his career, Satan has been a sinner and Christ came to “destroy” the works of the devil. Destroy (1 Jn. 3:8) does not mean “annihilate.” Satan is certainly still at work today! Destroy, here, means “to render inoperative, to rob of power.” Satan has not been annihilated, but his power has been reduced and his weapons have been impaired. He is still a mighty foe, but he is no match for the power of God.

Jesus compares this world to a palace that contains many valuable goods. A strong man is guarding this palace (Lk. 11:14–23). Satan is the strong man, and his “goods” are lost men and women. The only way to release the “goods” is to bind the strong man and that is just what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus, in coming to earth, invaded Satan’s “palace.” When He died, He broke Satan’s power and captured his goods! Each time a lost sinner is won to Christ, more of Satan’s “spoils” are taken from him.

For many months after the close of World War II, Japanese troops were discovered hidden in the caves and jungles of the Pacific islands. Some of these stragglers were living like frightened savages; they didn’t know the war was over. Once they understood it was no longer necessary for them to fight, they surrendered.

Christians may rest in the truth that Satan is a defeated enemy. He may still win a few battles here and there, but he has already lost the war! Sentence has been pronounced on him, but it will be awhile before his full punishment is given out. A person who knows Christ, and who has been delivered from the bondage of sin through Christ’s death on the cross has no desire to obey Satan and live like a rebel.

“Little children, let no man deceive you!” Counterfeit Christians were trying to convince true believers that a person could be “saved” and still practice sin. John does not deny Christians sin, but he does deny Christians can live in sin. A person who can enjoy deliberate sin and who does not feel convicted or experience God’s chastening had better examine himself to see whether or not he is really born of God.

To be continued…

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Truth or Consequences: Part 2 (1 Jn. 2:18–29)

Ifalse-teachersn my introduction to this article, we looked at the false teacher who is controlled by the “spirit of antichrist.” We learned he departs from the fellowship and denies the faith. As we continue our study in John’s first letter (1 Jn. 2:18–29), we will consider a third mark of the false teacher.

3. HE TRIES TO DECEIVE THE FAITHFUL (2:26–29)

It is interesting to observe antichristian groups rarely try to lead lost sinners to their false faith. Instead, they spend much of their time trying to convert professing Christians (and church members!) to their own doctrines. They are out to “seduce” the faithful.

The word “seduce” carries the idea of “being led astray.” We have been warned this would happen: “The Spirit clearly says in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).

Jesus calls Satan the “father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). The devil’s purpose is to lead Christians astray by teaching them false doctrines (2 Cor. 11:1–4, 13–15). We should not accept everything a person tells us simply because he claims to believe the Bible for it is possible to “twist” the Bible to make it mean almost anything (2 Cor. 4:1–2).

Satan is not an originator; he is a counterfeiter. He imitates the work of God. Satan has counterfeit “ministers” (2 Cor. 11:13–15) who preach a counterfeit gospel (Gal. 1:6–12) that produces counterfeit Christians (Jn. 8:43–44) who depend on a counterfeit righteousness (Rom. 10:1–10). In the Parable of the Tares (Matt. 13:24–30, 36–43), Jesus and Satan are pictured as sowers. Jesus sows the true seed, the children of God; but Satan sows “the children of the wicked one.” The two kinds of plants, while growing, look so much alike that the servants could not tell the difference until the fruit appeared! Satan’s chief deception during this age is to plant the counterfeit wherever Christ plants the true. It is important you be able to detect the counterfeit and separate the teachings of Christ from the false teachings of antichrist.

How does a believer do this? By depending on the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Each believer has experienced the anointing (unction, 1 Jn. 2:20) of the Spirit and it is the Spirit who teaches him truth (Jn. 14:17; 15:26). False teachers are not led by the Spirit of Truth; they are led by the spirit of error (1 Jn. 4:3, 6).

The word anoint reminds us of the Old Testament practice of pouring oil on the head of a person being set apart for special service. A priest was anointed (Ex. 28:41), and so was a king (1 Sam. 15:1) or a prophet (1 Kin. 19:16). A New Testament Christian is anointed, not with literal oil, but by the Spirit of God—an anointing that sets him apart for his ministry as one of God’s priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). It is not necessary for you to pray for “an anointing of the Spirit.” If you are a Christian, you have already received this special anointing. This anointing “abides in us” and therefore does not need to be imparted to us.

We have seen that false teachers deny the Father and the Son; they also deny the Spirit. The Spirit is the Teacher God has given us (Jn. 14:26), but these false Christians want to be teachers themselves and lead others astray. They try to take the place of the Holy Spirit!

We are warned against letting any man be our teacher, for God has given us the Spirit to teach us His truth. This does not deny the office of human teachers in the church (Eph. 4:11–12), but it means that under the guidance of the Spirit you must test the teaching of men as you search the Bible for yourself (Acts 17:11).

A missionary was in Los Angeles with an Indian friend who was a new Christian. As they walked down the street, they passed a man on the corner who was preaching with a Bible in his hand. The missionary knew the man represented a cult, but the Indian saw only the Bible. He stopped to listen to the sermon.

“I hope my friend doesn’t get confused,” the missionary thought to himself and he began to pray. In a few minutes the Indian turned away from the meeting and joined his missionary friend.

“What did you think of the preacher?” the missionary asked.

“All the time he was talking,” exclaimed the Indian, “something in my heart kept saying, ‘Liar! Liar!’ ”

That “something” in his heart was “Someone”—the Holy Spirit of God! The Spirit guides us into the truth and helps us to recognize error. This anointing of God is “no lie,” because “the Spirit is truth” (1 Jn. 5:6).

Why are some Christians led astray to believe false teachings? Because they are not abiding in the Spirit. The word “abide” occurs several times in this section of 1 John and it would be helpful to review:

  • False teachers do not abide (remain, continue) in the fellowship (1 Jn. 2:19).
  • The word (message) we have heard should abide in us (1 Jn. 2:24).
  • The anointing (Holy Spirit) abides in us and we should abide in the Spirit (1 Jn. 2:27).
  • As we abide in the Word and in the Spirit, we also abide in Christ (1 Jn. 2:28).

We noticed this word abide earlier in John’s letter too:

  • If we say we abide in Christ, we should walk as He walked (1 Jn. 2:6).
  • If we love our brother, we abide in the light (1 Jn. 2:10).
  • If the Word abides in us, we will be spiritually strong (1 Jn. 2:14).
  • If we do the will of God, we shall abide forever (1 Jn. 2:17).

“To abide” means to remain in fellowship; and “fellowship” is the key idea in the first two chapters of John’s epistle. From chapters 3 to 5 the emphasis is on sonship or being “born of God.”

It is possible to be a child in a family, and yet be out of fellowship with one’s father and with other members of the family. When our Heavenly Father discovers we are out of fellowship with Him, He deals with us to bring us back into the place of abiding. This process is called “chastening”—child-training (Heb. 12:5–11).

A believer must allow the Spirit of God to teach him from the Bible. One of the major functions of a local church is the teaching of God’s Word (2 Tim. 2:2; 4:1–5). The Spirit gives the gift of teaching to certain individuals in the fellowship (Rom. 12:6–7) and they teach others, but what they teach must be tested (1 Jn. 4:1–3).

There is a difference between deliberate deception and spiritual ignorance. When Apollos preached in the synagogue at Ephesus, his message was correct as far as it went, but it was not complete. Priscilla and Aquila, two mature believers in the congregation, took him aside privately and instructed him in the full message of Christ (Acts 18:24–28). A Christian who spends time daily in the Bible and in prayer will walk in the Spirit and have the discernment he needs.

The Spirit teaches us “about all things” (1 Jn. 2:27). False teachers have a way of “riding a hobby”—prophecy or sanctification or even diet—and neglecting the whole message of the Bible. Jesus said we are to live by “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Paul was careful to preach “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16).

If you ignore or neglect any part of the Bible, you invite trouble. You must read and study the whole Book, and be able to “rightly divide” it (2 Tim. 2:15); that is, you must “handle it accurately.” You should discern in the Bible what God says to different people at different times; there are passages that apply specifically to the Jews, or to the Gentiles, or to the church (1 Cor. 10:32). You must be careful to distinguish between them. While the entire Bible was written for you, not all of it was written to you. False teachers, however, pick (out of context) only what they want and often apply to believers today passages that were given only for ancient Israel.

John’s second epistle gives further warning about false teachers (2 Jn. 7–11). A Christian who meddles with these deceivers is in danger of losing his full reward (2 Jn. 8).

John has now concluded his message on fellowship and is about to begin his message on sonship. He has pointed out the contrasts between light and darkness (1 Jn. 1:1–2:6), love and hatred (1 Jn. 2:7–17), and truth and error (1 Jn. 2:18–27). He has explained a real Christian lives a life of obedience (walking in light, not darkness), love, and truth. It is impossible to live in right fellowship with God if you are disobedient, hateful, or untruthful. Any of these sins will lead you out of reality and into pretense. You will have an “artificial” life instead of an “authentic” life.

1 John 2:28-29 are a “bridge” from the fellowship section into the sonship section (“born of God”). In these verses, John uses three words that ought to encourage us to live in fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

  1. Abide. This is a word we have seen before. You must recognize the importance of abiding in Christ. In fact, this has been the theme of the first two chapters of this epistle. You abide in Christ by believing the truth, obeying the truth, and loving other Christians—“the brethren.” Obedience—love—truth. If you are a believer and find yourself out of fellowship with God, it is because you have disobeyed His Word, lacked love for a brother, or believed a lie. The solution is to confess your sin instantly and to claim God’s forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9).
  2. Appear. This is the first mention in this epistle of the promised return of Christ. The epistle (1 Jn. 2:28–3:3; 4:17) merely mentions the return of Christ and a coming day of judgment. The Book of Revelation deals in detail with future events.

Not all Bible students are agreed as to the details of future events, but evangelical Christians agree Christ is returning for His church (1 Thes. 4:13–18). While Christians will not then be judged for their sins, they will be judged on the basis of their faithfulness in serving Christ (1 Cor. 3:10–15). Those who have been faithful will receive rewards (1 Cor. 4:5) and those who have not been faithful will lose rewards. This event is called “the Judgment Seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10) and is not to be confused with the “Great White Throne Judgment” of unsaved people at the end of time (Rev. 20:11–15).

The fact Jesus Christ may return at any moment ought to be an incentive for us to live in fellowship with Him and be obedient to His Word. For this reason, John uses a third word:

  1. Ashamed. Some Christians will be “ashamed before Him at His presence” (1 Jn. 2:28). All believers are “accepted,” but there is a difference between being “accepted” and being “acceptable.” A disobedient child who goes out and gets dirty will be accepted when he comes home, but he will not be treated as though he were acceptable. “So we make it our goal to please Him” (2 Cor. 5:9). A Christian who has not walked in fellowship with Christ in obedience, love, and truth will lose his rewards; and this will make him ashamed.

No matter in which direction a Christian looks, he finds reason to obey God. If he looks back, he sees Calvary, where Christ died for him. If he looks within, he sees the Holy Spirit who lives within and teaches him the truth. If he looks around, he sees his Christian brethren whom he loves; he also sees a world lost in sin, desperately needing his godly witness. If he looks ahead, he sees the return of Christ! “All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure” (1 Jn. 3:3). The return of Christ is a great inspiration for godly living!

John has written about light and darkness, love and hatred, and truth and error. In 1 John 2:29, he sums up the whole matter of Christian living in one phrase—“doing righteousness.”

The life that is real is a life of doing, not simply talking (1 Jn. 1:8–2:9) or giving mental assent that a doctrine is correct. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Christians do not simply believe the truth; they do it (1 Jn. 1:6).

A person who professes to be a Christian, but who does not live in obedience, love, and truth is either deceived or a deceiver. A child bears the nature of his father and a person who has been “born of God” will reveal the characteristics of his Heavenly Father. “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph. 5:1). “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Pet. 1:14–15).

A Sunday School class seemed to be having constant problems. Then, one Sunday morning the teacher of the class came down the aisle during the closing song of the service. “I suppose she wants to dedicate her life to the Lord,” the pastor thought.

“Pastor,” she said, “I want to confess Christ as my Savior. All these years I thought I was saved, but I wasn’t. There was always something lacking in my life. The class problems were my problems, but now they’ve been solved. Now, I know I’m saved.”

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves! Do you not realize Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5). Does your life bear the marks of obedience, love, and truth? Is your Christian life something realgenuineauthentic? Or is it counterfeit?

It is a question of truth—or consequences! If you do not face the truth, you must pay the consequences!

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Truth or Consequences: Part 1 (1 Jn. 2:18-29)

false-teacher-pic“It makes no difference what you believe, just as long as you are sincere!” That statement expresses the personal philosophy of many people today, but it is doubtful whether most of those who make it have really thought it through. Is “sincerity” really the magic ingredient that makes something true?

A nurse in a hospital gives some medicine to a patient and the patient becomes violently ill. The nurse is “sincere,” but the medicine is wrong, and the patient almost dies.

A man hears noises in the house one night and decides a burglar is at work. He gets his gun and shoots the “burglar,” who turns out to be his daughter! Unable to sleep, she has gotten up for a bite to eat. She ends up the victim of her father’s “sincerity.”

It takes more than “sincerity” to make something true. Faith in a lie will always cause serious consequences, but faith in the truth is never misplaced. It does make a difference what a man believes! If a man wants to drive from Chicago to New York, no amount of sincerity will get him there if the highway is taking him to Los Angeles. A person who is real builds his life on truth, not superstition or lies. It is impossible to live a real life by believing lies.

The Apostle John has warned the church family (“little children”) about the conflict between light and darkness (1 Jn. 1:1–2:6) and between love and hatred (1 Jn. 2:7–17). Now (1 Jn. 2:18–29), he warns us about a third conflict: the conflict between truth and error. It is not enough for a believer to walk in the light and to walk in love; he must also walk in truth. The issue is truth—or consequences!

Before John explains the tragic consequences of turning from the truth, he emphasizes the seriousness of the matter. He does so by using two special terms: “the last time” and “antichrist.” Both terms make it clear that Christians are living in an hour of crisis and must guard against the errors of the enemy.

“The last time” (or “the last hour”) is a term that tells us a new age has dawned on the world. “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 Jn. 2:8). Since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is doing a “new thing” in this world. All of Old Testament history prepared the way for the work of Christ on the cross. All history since that time is merely preparation for “the end,” when Jesus will come and establish His kingdom. There is nothing more that God must do for the salvation of sinners.

“But if it was ‘the last hour’ in John’s day, why has Jesus not yet returned?” you may ask.

This is an excellent question and Scripture gives us the answer. God is not limited by time the way His creatures are. God works in human time, but He is above time (2 Pet. 3:8). “The last hour” began back in John’s day and has been growing in intensity ever since. There were ungodly false teachers in John’s day and during the intervening centuries they have increased both in number and in influence. “The last hour” or “the last times” are phrases that describe a kind of time, not a duration of time. “The latter times” are described in 1 Timothy 4. Paul, like John, observed characteristics of his time and we see the same characteristics today in even greater intensity. In other words, Christians have always been living in “the last time”—in crisis days. Therefore, it is important you know what you believe and why you believe it.

The second term, “antichrist,” is used in the Bible only by John (1 Jn. 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn. 1:7). It describes three things: (1) a spirit in the world that opposes or denies Christ; (2) the false teachers who embody this spirit; and (3) a person who will head up the final world rebellion against Christ.

The “spirit of antichrist” (1 Jn. 4:3) has been in the world since Satan declared war on God (Gen. 3). The “spirit of antichrist” is behind every false doctrine and every “religious” substitute for the realities Christians have in Christ. That prefix anti actually has a dual meaning. It can mean both “against” Christ and “instead of” Christ. Satan in his frenzy is fighting Christ and His eternal truth, and he is substituting his counterfeits for the realities found only in our Lord Jesus.

The “spirit of antichrist” is in the world today. It will eventually lead to the appearance of a “satanic superman” whom the Bible calls “Antichrist” (capital A). He is called (2 Thes. 2:1–12) “the man of sin” (or “lawlessness”).

Our passage (1 Jn. 2:18–29) explains there are two forces at work in today’s world: truth is working through the church by the Holy Spirit and evil is working by the energy of Satan. The Holy Spirit, in Christians, is holding back lawlessness, but when the church is removed at the Rapture (1 Thes. 4:13–18), Satan will be able to complete his temporary victory and take over the world. The Apostle John has more to say about this world ruler and his evil system in the Book of Revelation, particularly 13:1–18, 16:13, and 19:20.

Does it make any difference what you believe? It makes all the difference in the world! You are living in crisis days—in the last hour—and the spirit of antichrist is working in the world! It is vitally important you know and believe the truth, and be able to detect lies when they come your way. John’s epistle (1 Jn. 2:18–29) gives three outstanding marks of the false teacher who is controlled by the “spirit of antichrist.”

1. HE DEPARTS FROM THE FELLOWSHIP (2:18–19)

“They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed none of them belonged to us” (1 Jn. 2:19). The word “us” refers, of course, to the fellowship of believers, the church. Not everyone who is part of an assembly of believers is necessarily a member of the family of God!

The New Testament presents the church in a twofold way: as one worldwide family, and as local units or assemblies of believers. There is a “universal” as well as “local” aspect of the church. The whole worldwide company of believers is compared with a body (1 Cor. 12) and with a building (Eph. 2:19–22). When a sinner trusts Christ as Savior, he receives eternal life and immediately becomes a member of God’s family and a part of Christ’s spiritual body. He should then identify himself with a local group of Christians (a church) and start serving Christ (Acts 2:41–42). But the point here is a person can belong to a local church and not be part of the true spiritual body of Christ.

One of the evidences of true Christian life is a desire to be with the people of God. “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 Jn. 3:14). When people share the same divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) and are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14–16), they want to enjoy fellowship and to share with one another. Fellowship means “to have in common.” When people have spiritual realities in common, they want to be together.

But the “counterfeit Christians” mentioned in 1 John 2did not remain in the fellowship. They went out. This doesn’t imply “staying in the church” keeps a person saved; rather, it indicates remaining in the fellowship is one evidence a person is truly a Christian. In His Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1–9, 18–23), Jesus makes it clear that only those who produce fruit are truly born again. It is possible to be close to an experience of salvation, and even to have some characteristics that would pass for “Christian,” and yet not be a child of God. The people in 1 John 2left the fellowship because they did not possess true life and the love of Christ was not in their hearts.

There are many unfortunate divisions among the people of God today, but all true Christians have things in common, regardless of church affiliation. They believe the Bible is the Word of God and Jesus is the Son of God. They confess men are sinners and the only way one can be saved is through faith in Christ. They believe Christ died as man’s substitute on the cross and He arose again from the dead. They believe the Holy Spirit indwells true believers. Finally, they believe Jesus will come again. Christians may differ on other matters, but they agree on the basic doctrines of the faith.

If you will investigate the history of false cults and antichristian religious systems in today’s world, you will find in most cases their founders started out in a local church! They were “with us” but not “of us,” so they went out “from us” and started their own groups.

Any group, no matter how “religious” that for doctrinal reasons separates itself from a local church which holds to the Word of God must immediately be suspect. Often, these groups follow human leaders and the books men have written, rather than Jesus Christ and God’s Word. The New Testament (2 Tim. 3–4; 2 Pet. 2) makes it clear it is dangerous to depart from the fellowship.

2. HE DENIES THE FAITH (2:20–25; 4:1–6)

The key question is: Who is Jesus Christ? Is Christ merely “an Example,” “a good Man,” “a wonderful Teacher”; or is He God come in the flesh? John’s readers knew the truth about Christ or else they would not have been saved. “You have an anointing from the Holy One and all of you know the truth” (1 Jn. 2:20, 27). “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ” (Rom. 8:9).

False Christians in John’s day used two special words to describe their experience: “knowledge” and “unction.” They claimed to have a special unction (anointing) from God which gave them a unique knowledge. They were “illuminated” and therefore living on a much higher level than anybody else. But John points out all true Christians know God and have received the Spirit of God! And because they have believed the truth, they recognize a lie when they meet it.

The great assertion of the faith that sets a Christian apart from others is this: Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh (1 Jn. 4:2).

Not all preachers and teachers who claim to be Christian are really Christian in their belief (1 Jn. 4:1–6). If they confess Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh, then they belong to the true faith. If they deny Christ, then they belong to Antichrist. They are in and of the world, and are not, like true believers, called out of the world. When they speak, the world (unsaved persons) hears them and believes them. But the unsaved world can never understand a true Christian. A Christian speaks under the direction of the Spirit of Truth; a false teacher speaks under the influence of the spirit of error—the spirit of antichrist.

To confess “Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh” involves much more than simply to identify Christ. The demons did this (Mk. 1:24), but it did not save them. True confession involves personal faith in Christ—in who He is and what He has done. A confession is not a mere intellectual “theological statement” you recite; it is a personal witness from your heart of what Christ has done for you. If you have trusted Christ and confessed your faith, you have eternal life (1 Jn. 2:25). Those who cannot honestly make this confession do not have eternal life, which is an ultimately serious matter.

George Whitefield, the great British evangelist, was speaking to a man about his soul. He asked the man, “Sir, what do you believe?”

“I believe what my church believes,” the man replied respectfully.

“And what does your church believe?”

“The same thing I believe.”

“And what do both of you believe?” the preacher inquired again.

“We both believe the same thing!” was the only reply he could get.

A man is not saved by assenting to a church creed. He is saved by trusting Jesus Christ and bearing witness to his faith (Rom. 10:9–10).

False teachers will often say, “We worship the Father. We believe in God the Father, even though we disagree with you about Jesus Christ.”

But to deny the Son means to deny the Father also. You cannot separate the Father and the Son, since both are one God. Jesus says, “I and My Father are One” (Jn. 10:30). He also makes it clear true believers honor both the Father and the Son: “All may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him” (Jn. 5:23). If you say you “worship one God,” but leave Jesus Christ out of your worship, you are not worshiping as a true Christian.

It is important you stay with the truth of God’s Word. The Word (or message) Christians have “heard from the beginning” is all you need to keep you true to the faith. The Christian life continues just as it began: through faith in the Bible’s message. A religious leader who comes along with “something new,” something that contradicts what Christians have “heard from the beginning,” is not to be trusted. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1).

Let the Word abide in you (1 Jn. 2:24) and abide in Christ (1 Jn. 2:28); otherwise you will be led astray by the spirit of antichrist. No matter what false teachers may promise, you have the sure promise of eternal life (1 Jn. 2:25). You need nothing more!

To be continued…

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The Love God Hates: Part 2 (1 Jn. 2:12-17)

I will followIn my introduction to this article, we looked at the person who loves “the world.” We learned Christians should not love the world because of what the world is and what the world does to us. As we continue our study in John’s letter (1 Jn. 2:12-17), we learn two more reasons why Christians should not love “the world.”

3. BECAUSE OF WHAT A CHRISTIAN IS (2:12–14)

This raises a practical and important question about the nature of a Christian and how he keeps from getting worldly. The answer is found in the unusual form of address used in 2:12-14. Note the titles used as John addresses his Christian readers: “little children … fathers … young men … little children.” What is he referring to?

To begin with, “little children” (2:12) refers to all believers. Literally, this word means “born ones.” All Christians have been born into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ and their sins have been forgiven. The very fact one is in God’s family, sharing His nature, ought to discourage him from becoming friendly with the world. To be friendly with the world is treachery! “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4).

Something else is also true: we begin as little children—born ones—but we must not stay that way! Only as a Christian grows spiritually does he overcome the world.

John mentions three kinds of Christians in a local church family: fathers, young men, and little children. The “fathers,” of course, are mature believers who have an intimate personal knowledge of God. Because they know God, they know the dangers of the world. No Christian who has experienced the joys and wonders of fellowship with God, and of service for God, will want to live on the substitute pleasures this world offers.

The “young men” are the conquerors: they have overcome the wicked one, Satan, who is the prince of this world system. How did they overcome him? Through the Word of God! “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you” (2:14). The “young men,” then, are not yet fully mature; but they are maturing, for they use the Word of God effectively. The Word is the only weapon that will defeat Satan (Eph. 6:17).

The “little children” addressed in 2:13 are not those addressed in 2:12; two different Greek words are used. The word in 2:13 carries the idea of “immature ones” or little children still under the authority of teachers and tutors. These are young Christians who have not yet grown up in Christ. Like physical children, these spiritual children know their father, but they still have some growing to do.

Here, then, is the Christian family! All of them are “born ones,” but some of them have grown out of infancy into spiritual manhood and adulthood. It is the growing, maturing Christian to whom the world does not appeal. He is too interested in loving his Father and in doing his Father’s will. The attractions of the world have no allure for him. He realizes the things of the world are only toys, and he can say with Paul, “When I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11).

A Christian stays away from the world because of (1) what the world is (a satanic system that hates and opposes Christ); (2) what the world does (attracts us to live on sinful substitutes); and (3) what he (the Christian) is—a child of God. But there is a fourth reason why Christians should not love the world.

4. BECAUSE OF WHERE THE WORLD IS GOING (2:17)

“The world is passing away!” (2:17).

That statement would be challenged by many men today who are confident that the world—the system in which we live—is as permanent as anything can be. But the world is not permanent. The only sure thing about this world system is that it is not going to be here forever. One day the system will be gone and the pleasant attractions within it will be gone: all are passing away.

What is going to last? Only what is part of the will of God!

Spiritual Christians keep themselves “loosely attached” to this world because they live for something far better. They are “foreigners and strangers on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). In Bible times, many believers lived in tents because God did not want them to settle down and feel at home in this world.

John is contrasting two ways of life: a life lived for eternity and a life lived for time. A worldly person lives for the pleasures of the flesh, but a dedicated Christian lives for the joys of the Spirit. A worldly believer lives for what he can see, the lust of the eyes; but a spiritual believer lives for the unseen realities of God (2 Cor. 4:8–18). A worldly minded person lives for the pride of life, the vainglory that appeals to men; but a Christian who does the will of God lives for God’s approval. He “abides forever.”

Every great nation in history has become decadent and has finally been conquered by another nation. There is no reason why we should suppose our nation will be an exception. World civilizations in the past have slipped into oblivion. There is no reason why we should think our present civilization will endure forever. “Change and decay in all around I see,” wrote Henry F. Lyte (1793–1847), and if our civilization is not eroded by change and decay it will certainly be swept away and replaced by a new order of things at the coming of Christ, which could happen at any time.

Slowly but inevitably, and perhaps sooner than even Christians think, the world is passing away; but the man who does God’s will abides forever. This does not mean all God’s servants will be remembered by future generations. Of the multitudes of famous men who have lived on earth, less than 2,000 have been remembered by any number of people for more than a century.

Nor does it mean God’s servants will live on in their writings or in the lives of those they influenced. Such “immortality” may be a fact, but it is equally true of unbelievers like Karl Marx, Voltaire, or Adolf Hitler.

No, we are told here (1 Jn. 2:17) that Christians who dedicate themselves to doing God’s will—to obeying God—“abide [remain] forever.” Long after this world system, with its vaunted culture, proud philosophies, egocentric intellectualism, and godless materialism, has been forgotten and long after this planet has been replaced by the new heavens and the new earth, God’s faithful servants will remain—sharing the glory of God for all eternity. And this prospect is not limited to Moody, Spurgeon, Luther, or Wesley and their likes—it is open to each and every humble believer. If you are trusting Christ, it is for you.

This world system is not a lasting one: “This world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31). Everything around us is changing, but the things that are eternal never change. A Christian who loves the world will never have peace or security because he has linked his life with that which is in a state of flux. “He is no fool,” wrote missionary martyr Jim Elliot, “who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

The New Testament has quite a bit to say about the “will of God.” One of the “fringe benefits” of salvation is the privilege of knowing God’s will (Acts 22:14). In fact, God wants us to be “filled with the knowledge of His will” (Col. 1:9). The will of God is not something we consult occasionally like an encyclopedia. It is something that completely controls our lives. The issue for a dedicated Christian is not simply, “Is it right or wrong?” or “Is it good or bad?” The key issue is, “Is this the will of God for me?”

God wants us to understand His will (Eph. 5:17), not just know what it is. “He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel” (Ps. 103:7). Israel knew what God was doing, but Moses knew why He was doing it! It is important we understand God’s will for our lives and see the purposes He is fulfilling.

After we know the will of God, we should do it from the heart (Eph. 6:6). It is not by talking about the Lord’s will that we please Him, but by doing what He tells us (Matt. 7:21). The more we obey God the better able we are to “find and follow God’s will” (Rom. 12:2). Discovering and doing God’s will is something like learning to swim: you must get in the water before it becomes real to you. The more we obey God, the more proficient we become in knowing what He wants us to do. God’s goal for us is that we will “stand firm … complete in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12). This means to be mature in God’s will.

A little child constantly asks his parents what is right and what is wrong, and what they want him to do or not to do. But as he lives with his parents and experiences their training and discipline, he gradually discovers what their will for him is. In fact, a disciplined child can “read his father’s mind” just by watching the parent’s face and eyes! An immature Christian is always asking his friends what they think God’s will is for him. A mature Christian stands complete in the will of God. He knows what the Lord wants him to do.

How does one discover the will of God? The process begins with surrender: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1–2). A Christian who loves the world will never know the will of God in this way. The Father shares His secrets with those who obey Him. “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17). God’s will is not a “spiritual cafeteria” where a Christian takes what he wants and rejects the rest! No, the will of God must be accepted in its entirety. This involves a personal surrender to God of one’s entire life.

God reveals His will to us through His Word. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light on my path” (Ps. 119:105). A worldly believer has no appetite for the Bible. When he reads it, he gets little or nothing from it. But a spiritual believer, who spends time daily reading the Bible and meditating on it, finds God’s will there and applies it to his everyday life.

We may also learn God’s will through circumstances. God moves in wonderful ways to open and close doors. We must test this kind of leading by the Word of God—and not test the Bible’s clear teaching by circumstances!

Finally, God leads us into His will through prayer and the working of His Spirit in our hearts. As we pray about a decision the Holy Spirit speaks to us. An “inner voice” may agree with the leading of circumstances. We are never to follow this “inner voice” alone: we must always test it by the Bible because it is possible for the flesh (or for Satan!) to use circumstances—or “feelings”—to lead us completely astray.

To sum it up, a Christian is in the world physically (Jn. 17:11), but he is not of the world spiritually (Jn. 17:14). Christ has sent us into the world to bear witness of Him (Jn. 17:18). Like a scuba diver, we must live in an alien element and if we are not careful the alien element will stifle us. A Christian cannot help being in the world, but when the world is in the Christian, trouble starts!

The world gets into a Christian through his heart: “Love not the world!” Anything that robs a Christian of his enjoyment of the Father’s love or of his desire to do the Father’s will is worldly and must be avoided. Every believer, on the basis of God’s Word, must identify those things for himself.

A Christian must decide, “Will I live for the present only or will I live for the will of God and abide forever?” Jesus illustrated this choice by telling about two men. One built on the sand and the other on the rock (Matt. 7:24–27). Paul referred to the same choice by describing two kinds of material for building: temporary and permanent (1 Cor. 3:11–15).

Love for the world is the love God hates. It is the love a Christian must shun at all costs!

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The Love God Hates: Part 1 (1 Jn. 2:12-17)

slide-1-638A group of first-graders had just completed a tour of a hospital and the nurse who directed them was asking for questions. Immediately a hand went up. “How come the people who work here are always washing their hands?” a little fellow asked.

After the laughter had subsided the nurse gave a wise answer. “They are ‘always washing their hands’ for two reasons. First, they love health; and second, they hate germs.”

In more than one area of life, love and hate go hand in hand. A husband who loves his wife is certainly going to exercise a hatred for what would harm her. “Those who love the Lord hate evil” (Ps. 97:10). “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9).

In my last article, we saw how John’s epistle reminds us to exercise love (1 Jn. 2:7–11)—the right kind of love. Now, it warns us there is a wrong kind of love, a love that God hates (1 Jn. 2:12-17). This is love for what the Bible calls “the world.” There are four reasons why Christians should not love “the world.”

1. BECAUSE OF WHAT THE WORLD IS

The warning, “Love not the world!” is not about the world of nature or the world of men.

The “world” named here as our enemy is an invisible spiritual system opposed to God and Christ. The world is Satan’s system for opposing the work of Christ on earth. It is the very opposite of what is godly, holy, and spiritual (1 Jn. 2:16).

Jesus called Satan “the prince of this world” (Jn. 12:31). The devil has an organization of evil spirits (Eph. 6:11–12) working with him and influencing the affairs of “this world.” Just as the Holy Spirit uses people to accomplish God’s will on earth, so Satan uses people to fulfill his evil purposes. Unsaved people, whether they realize it or not, are energized by “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Eph. 2:1–2).

Unsaved people belong to “this world” (Lk. 16:8). When Jesus was here on earth the people of “this world” did not understand Him, nor do they now understand those of us who trust Him (1 Jn. 3:1). A Christian is a member of the human world and he lives in the physical world, but he does not belong to the spiritual world that is Satan’s system for opposing God. “If the world [Satan’s system] hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (Jn. 15:18-19).

“The world,” then, is not a natural habitat for a believer. The believer’s citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20) and all his effective resources for living on earth come from his Father in heaven. The believer is somewhat like a scuba diver. The water is not man’s natural habitat; he is not equipped for life in (or under) it. When a scuba diver goes under, he has to take special equipment with him so that he can breathe.

Were it not for the Holy Spirit’s living within us and the spiritual resources we have in prayer, Christian fellowship, and the Word, we could never “make it” here on earth. We complain about the pollution of the earth’s atmosphere—the atmosphere of “the world” is also so polluted spiritually that Christians cannot breathe normally!

But there is a second—and more serious—reason why Christians must not love the world:

2. BECAUSE OF WHAT THE WORLD DOES TO US (2:15–16)

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16).

Worldliness is not so much a matter of activity as of attitude. It is possible for a Christian to stay away from questionable amusements and doubtful places and still love the world, for worldliness is a matter of the heart. To the extent that a Christian loves the world system and the things in it, he does not love the Father.

Worldliness not only affects our response to the love of God; it also affects our response to the will of God. “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn. 2:17). Doing the will of God is a joy for those living in the love of God: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” But when a believer loses his enjoyment of the Father’s love, he finds it hard to obey the Father’s will.

When you put these two factors together, you have a practical definition of worldliness: anything in a Christian’s life that causes him to lose his enjoyment of the Father’s love or His desire to do the Father’s will is worldly and must be avoided. Responding to the Father’s love (our personal devotional life) and doing the Father’s will (our daily conduct)—these are two tests of worldliness.

Many things in this world are definitely wrong and God’s Word identifies them as sins. It is wrong to steal and to lie (Eph. 4:25, 28). Sexual sins are wrong (Eph. 5:1–3). About these and many other actions, Christians can have little or no debate. But there are areas of Christian conduct that are not so clear and about which even the best Christians disagree. In such cases, each believer must apply the test to his own life and be scrupulously honest in his self-examination, remembering that even a good thing may rob a believer of his enjoyment of God’s love and his desire to do God’s will.

A senior student in a Bible college was known for his excellent grades and his effective Christian service. He was out preaching each weekend, and God was using him to win souls and challenge Christians. Then, something happened: his testimony was no longer effective, his grades began to drop, and even his personality seemed to change.

The president called him in. “There’s been a change in your life and your work, and I wish you’d tell me what’s wrong.”

The student was evasive for a time, but then he told the story. He was engaged to a lovely Christian girl and was planning to get married after graduation. He had been called to a fine church, and was anxious to move his new bride into the parsonage and get started in the pastorate.

“I’ve been so excited about it that I’ve even come to the place where I don’t want the Lord to come back!” he confessed. “And then the power dropped out of my life.”

His plans—good and beautiful as they were—came between him and the Father. He lost his enjoyment of the Father’s love. He was worldly!

John points out that the world system uses three devices to trap Christians: lust (desire) of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16). These same devices trapped Eve back in the Garden: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food [lust of the flesh], and pleasing to the eyes [lust of the eyes], and also desirable for gaining wisdom [pride of life], she took some and ate it” (Gen. 3:6).

The lust of the flesh is anything that appeals to man’s fallen nature. “The flesh” does not mean “the body.” Rather, it refers to the basic nature of unregenerate man that makes him blind to spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:14). Flesh is the nature we receive in our physical birth; spirit is the nature we receive in the second birth (Jn. 3:5–6). When we trust Christ, we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). A Christian has both the old nature (flesh) and the new nature (Spirit) in his life. What a battle these two natures can wage! (Gal. 5:17–23)

God has given man certain desires and these desires are good. Hunger, thirst, weariness, and sex are not at all evil in themselves. But when the flesh nature controls them, they become sinful “lusts.” Hunger is not evil, but gluttony is sinful. Thirst is not evil, but drunkenness is a sin. Sleep is a gift of God, but laziness is shameful. Sex is God’s precious gift when used rightly, but when used wrongly, it becomes immorality.

Now you can see how the world operates. It appeals to the normal appetites and tempts us to satisfy them in forbidden ways. In today’s world, we are surrounded by all kinds of allurements that appeal to our lower nature—and “the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). If a Christian yields to it, he will get involved in the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19–21).

It is important a believer remember what God says about his old nature, the flesh. Everything God says about the flesh is negative. In the flesh there is no good thing (Rom. 7:18). The flesh profits nothing (Jn. 6:63). A Christian is to put no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3). He is to make no provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14). A person who lives for the flesh is living a negative life.

The second device the world uses to trap the Christian is the lust of the eyes. Have you ever said, “Feast your eyes on this”? While the lust of the flesh appeals to the lower appetites of the old nature, tempting us to indulge them in sinful ways, the lust of the eyes operates in a more refined way. These are pleasures that gratify the sight and mind—sophisticated and intellectual pleasures. Back in the days of the Apostle John the Greeks and Romans lived for entertainments and activities that excited the eyes. Times have not changed very much! In view of television, perhaps every Christian’s prayer ought to be, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things” (Ps. 119:37).

Achan (Josh. 7), a soldier, brought defeat to Joshua’s army because of the lust of his eyes. God had warned Israel not to take anything from the condemned city of Jericho, but Achan did not obey: “When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them” (Josh. 7:21). The lust of the eyes led him into sin and his sin led the army into defeat.

The eyes (like the other senses!) are a gateway into the mind. The lust of the eyes, therefore, can include intellectual pursuits that are contrary to God’s Word. There is pressure to make Christians think the way the world thinks. God warns us against “the counsel of the ungodly.” This does not mean Christians ignore education and secular learning, but it does mean they are careful not to let intellectualism crowd God into the background.

The third device the world uses to trap the Christian is the pride of life. God’s glory is rich and full; man’s glory is vain and empty. The Greek word for “pride” describes a braggart who is trying to impress people with his importance. Such people are always trying to outdo others in their spending and their getting. The boastful pride of life motivates much of what they do.

Why is it that so many people buy houses, cars, appliances, or clothes they really cannot afford? Why do they succumb to the “travel now, pay later” advertising and get themselves into hopeless debt taking vacations far beyond their means? Largely because they want to impress other people—because of their “pride of life.” They may want folks to notice how affluent or successful they are.

Most of us do not go that far, but it is amazing what stupid things people do just to make an impression. They even sacrifice honesty and integrity in return for notoriety and a feeling of importance.

Yes, the world appeals to a Christian through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. And once the world takes over in one of these areas, a Christian will soon realize it. He will lose his enjoyment of the Father’s love and his desire to do the Father’s will. The Bible will become boring and prayer a difficult chore. Even Christian fellowship may seem empty and disappointing. It is not that there is something wrong with others, however—what’s wrong is the Christian’s worldly heart.

It is important to note that no Christian becomes worldly all of a sudden. Worldliness creeps up on a believer; it is a gradual process. First is the friendship of the world (Jas. 4:4). By nature, the world and the Christian are enemies: “Do not be surprised if the world hates you” (1 Jn. 3:13). A Christian who is a friend of the world is an enemy of God.

Next, the Christian becomes polluted by the world (Jas. 1:27). The world leaves its dirty marks on one or two areas of his life. This means gradually the believer accepts and adopts the ways of the world.

When this happens, the world ceases to hate the Christian and starts to love him! So John warns us, “Love not the world!”—but too often our friendship with the world leads to love. As a result, the believer becomes conformed to the world (Rom. 12:2) and you can hardly tell the two apart.

Among Christians, worldliness rears its ugly head in many subtle and unrecognized forms. Sometimes we tend to idolize great athletes, TV stars, or political leaders who profess to be Christians—as if these individuals were able to be of special help to Almighty God. Or we cater to wealthy and “influential” persons in our local church, as if God’s work would fold up without their good will or financial backing. Many forms of worldliness do not involve reading the wrong books and indulging in “carnal” amusements.

Sad to say, being conformed to the world can lead a Christian into being “condemned with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32). If a believer confesses and judges this sin, God will forgive him; but if he does not confess, God must lovingly chasten him. When a Christian is “condemned with the world,” he does not lose his sonship. Rather, he loses his testimony and his spiritual usefulness. In extreme cases, Christians have even lost their lives! (1 Cor. 11:29–30)

The downward steps and their consequences are illustrated in the life of Lot (Gen. 13:5–13, 14:8–14; 19). First, Lot looked toward Sodom. Then, he pitched his tent toward Sodom in the well-watered plains of Jordan. Then, he moved into Sodom. When Sodom was captured by the enemy, Lot was captured too. He was a believer (2 Pet. 2:6–8), but he had to suffer with the unbelieving sinners of that wicked city. When God destroyed Sodom, everything Lot lived for went up in smoke! Lot was saved so as by fire and lost his eternal reward (1 Cor. 3:12–15).

No wonder John warns us not to love the world!

To be continued…

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Living a Life Characterized by Love: Part 2 (1 Jn. 2:7-11)

Love-Never-FailsIn my introduction to this article, we saw the commandment to love is new in emphasis and new in example. As we continue our study in John’s letter (1 Jn. 2:7–11), we learn the commandment to love is new in a third way:

3. IT IS NEW IN EXPERIENCE (2:9–11)

Our passage continues the illustration of light and darkness. If a Christian walks in the light and is in fellowship with God, he will also be in fellowship with others in God’s family. Love and light go together, just as hatred and darkness go together.

It is easy to talk about Christian love, but much more difficult to practice it. For one thing, such love is not mere talk (1 Jn. 2:9). For a Christian to say (or sing!) that he loves the brethren, while he actually hates another believer, is for him to lie. In other words (and this is a sobering truth), it is impossible to be in fellowship with the Father and out of fellowship with another Christian at the same time.

This is one reason why God established the local church, the fellowship of believers. “You can’t be a Christian alone”—a person cannot live a complete and developing Christian life unless he is in fellowship with God’s people. The Christian life has two relationships: the vertical (Godward) and the horizontal (manward). Each of these two relationships is to be one of love, one for the other.

Jesus deals with this matter in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21–26). A gift on the altar was valueless as long as the worshiper had a dispute to settle with his brother. Note Jesus does not say the worshiper had something against his brother, but that the brother had something against the worshiper. But even when we have been offended, we should not wait for the one who has offended us to come to us: we should go to him. If we do not, Jesus warns us that we will end up in a prison of spiritual judgment where we will have to pay the last penny (Matt. 18:21–35). When we harbor an unforgiving, unloving spirit, we harm ourselves most.

Look, for a moment, at the contrast between “saying” and “doing” in John’s letter (1 Jn. 1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, 6). It is easy to practice a Christianity of “words”—singing the right songs, using the right vocabulary, praying the right prayers—and, through it all, deceiving ourselves into thinking we are spiritual. This mistake also ties into something Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:33–37). What we say should be the true expression of our character. We should not need extra words (“oaths”) to fortify what we say. Our “yes” should mean yes and our “no” should mean no. So, if we say we are in the light, we will prove it by loving the brethren. Many Christians urgently need to be accepted, loved, and encouraged.

Contrary to popular opinion, Christian love is not “blind.” When we practice true Christian love, we find life getting brighter and brighter. Hatred is what darkens life! When true Christian love flows out of our hearts, we will have greater understanding and perception in spiritual things. This is why Paul prays that our love may grow in knowledge and perception, “so you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9–10). A Christian who loves his brother is able to see more clearly.

No book in the Bible illustrates the blinding power of hatred like the Book of Esther. The events recorded there take place in Persia, where many of the Jews were living after the captivity. Haman, one of the king’s chief men, had a burning hatred for the Jews. The only way he could satisfy this hatred was to see the whole nation destroyed. He plunged ahead in an evil plot, completely blind to the fact the Jews would win and he himself would be destroyed.

Hatred is blinding people today too! Christian love is not a shallow sentiment, a passing emotion that we perhaps experience in a church service. Christian love is a practical thing; it applies in the everyday affairs of life. Consider the “one another” statements in the New Testament and you will see how practical it is to love one another; here are just a few (there are over twenty such statements):

In short, to love other Christians means to treat them the way God treats them—and the way God treats us. Christian love that does not show itself in action and attitude (1 Cor. 13:4–7) is phony.

What happens to a believer who does not love the brethren? We have already seen the first tragic result: he lives in the darkness, though he probably ‘thinks’ he is living in the light (1 Jn. 2:9). He thinks he sees, but he is actually blinded by the darkness of hatred. This is the kind of person who causes trouble in Christian groups. He thinks he is a “spiritual giant,” with great understanding, when actually he is a babe with very little spiritual perception. He may read the Bible faithfully and pray fervently, but if he has hatred in his heart, he is living a lie.

The second tragic result is such a believer becomes a cause of stumbling (1 Jn. 2:10). It is bad enough when an unloving believer hurts himself (1 Jn. 2:9), but when he starts to hurt others the situation is far more serious. It is serious to walk in the darkness. It is even more dangerous to walk in the darkness when stumbling blocks are in the way! An unloving brother stumbles himself and in addition he causes others to stumble.

A man who was walking down a dark street one night saw a pinpoint of light coming toward him in a faltering way. He thought perhaps the person carrying the light was ill or drunk, but as he drew nearer he could see a man with a flashlight carrying a white cane.

“Why would a blind man be carrying a light?” the man wondered and then he decided to ask.

The blind man smiled. “I carry my light, not so I can see, but so that others can see me. I cannot help being blind,” he said, “but I can help being a stumbling block.”

The best way to help other Christians not to stumble is to love them. Love makes us stepping-stones; hatred (or any of its “cousins,” such as envy or malice) makes us stumbling blocks. It is important Christians exercise love in a local church, or else there will always be problems and disunity. When we are falling over each other, instead of lifting each other higher, we will never become a truly happy spiritual family.

Apply this, for instance, to the delicate matter of “questionable things” (Rom. 14–15). Since believers come from different backgrounds, they do not always agree. In Paul’s day, they differed on such matters as diets and holy days. One group said it was unspiritual to eat meat offered to idols. Another group wanted strict observance of the Sabbath. There were several facets to the problem, but basic to its solution was: “Love one another!” Paul put it this way: “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (Rom. 14:13). He said, “If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15).

A third tragic result of hatred is that it retards a believer’s spiritual progress (1 Jn. 2:11). A blind man—a person who is walking in darkness—can never find his way! The only atmosphere that is conducive to spiritual growth is the atmosphere of spiritual light—of love. Just as fruits and flowers need sunshine, so God’s people need love if we are going to grow.

The commandment to love one another becomes new to us in our own day-by-day experience. It is not enough for us to say, “Yes, love is important!” Nor is it enough for us to see God’s love exemplified by Jesus Christ. We must know this love in our own experience. The old commandment to love one another becomes new as we practice God’s love in our daily life.

Thus far, we have seen the negative side of 1 John 2:9–11; now let’s look at the positive. If we practice Christian love, what will the wonderful results be? (1) We will be living in the light—living in fellowship with God and with our Christian brothers; (2) we will not stumble or become stumbling blocks to others; (3) we will grow spiritually and progress toward Christ-likeness.

A Christian couple came to see a pastor because their marriage was beginning to fall apart. “We’re both saved,” the discouraged husband said, “but we just aren’t happy together. There’s no joy in our home.” As the pastor talked with them and they considered together what the Bible has to say, one fact became clear: both husband and wife were nursing grudges. Each recalled many annoying little things the other had done!

“If you two really loved each other,” said the pastor, “you wouldn’t file these hurts away in your hearts. Grudges fester in our hearts like infected sores and poison the whole system.” Then, he read 1 Corinthians 13:5: “[Love] is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs.” He explained, “When we truly love someone, our love covers their sins and helps to heal the wounds they cause.” Before the couple left, the pastor counseled them: “Instead of keeping records of the things that hurt, start remembering the things that please. An unforgiving spirit always breeds poison, but a loving spirit that sees and remembers the best always produces health.”

Now, all of us must admit we cannot generate Christian love under our own power. By nature, we are selfish and hateful. It is only as God’s Spirit floods our hearts with love that we, in turn, can love one another: “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). The Spirit of God makes the commandment to love one another into a new and exciting day-by-day experience. If we walk in the light, God’s Spirit will produce love. On the other hand, if we walk in darkness, our own selfish spirit will produce hatred.

Perhaps the best thing we can do, right now, is to search our hearts to see if we hold anything against another person or if someone has anything against us. The life that is real is an honest life—and it is a life of doing, not merely saying. It is a life of active love in Christ.

Hatred makes a man miserable, but love always brings him joy. The love life is the only life because it is the life that is real!

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Living a Life Characterized by Love: Part 1 (1 Jn. 2:7-11)

I love th1 John 2_10at shirt!” “I love ice cream!” “I love my wife!”

Words, like coins, can be in circulation for such a long time that they start wearing out. Unfortunately, the word love is losing its value. It is really difficult to understand how a man can use the same word to express his love for his wife as he uses to tell how he feels about a shirt or ice cream! When words are used carelessly, they really mean little or nothing at all. Like the dollar, the word love has been devalued.

As John describes the life that is real, he uses three words repeatedly: love, life, and light. He explains they belong together and must not be separated. In our present study (1 John 2:7–11), we learn how Christian love is affected by light and darkness. A Christian who is walking in the light (which simply means he is obeying God) is going to love his brother Christian. On the contrary, those who walk in darkness practice hatred. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes this truth.

John not only writes about love, but also practices it. One of his favorite names for his readers is “Beloved.” He felt love for them. John is known as the “Apostle of Love” because in his Gospel and his epistles he gives such prominence to this subject.

However, John was not always the “Apostle of Love.” At one time, Jesus gave John and his brother James, both of whom had hot tempers, the nickname “Boanerges” (Mk. 3:17), which means “sons of thunder.” On another occasion these two brothers wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy a village (Lk. 9:51–56).

The commandment to love is not new in time, but it is new in character. Because of Jesus Christ, the old commandment to love one another has taken on new meaning. In 1 John 2:7–11, we learn the commandment to love is new in three important ways:

1. IT IS NEW IN EMPHASIS (2:7)

In the previous paragraph (1 Jn. 2:3–6), John had been talking about the commandments “in general,” but now he narrows his focus down to one single commandment: “love one another.” In the Old Testament, the command that God’s people love was only one of many, but now this old commandment to love is lifted out and given a place of preeminence.

How is it possible for one commandment to stand head and shoulders above all the others? Because love is the fulfillment of God’s Law (Rom. 13:8–10). When you love people, you do not lie about them or steal from them. You have no desire to kill them. Love for God and love for others motivates a person to obey God’s commandments without even thinking about them! When a person acts out of Christian love he obeys God and serves others—not because of fear, but because of love. In a similar way, parents take care of their children not because it is the law, but because they love them.

The command to love is new in emphasis. It is not simply one of many commandments. No, it stands at the top of the list! It stands at the very beginning of the Christian life (1 Jn. 2:7). The commandment love one another is not an appendix to our Christian experience, as though God had an afterthought. No! It is in our hearts from the very beginning of our faith in Jesus Christ. John wrote, “We know we have passed from death to life because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 Jn. 3:14). Jesus said, “By this everyone will know you are My disciples, if you love one another” (Jn. 13:35).

By nature, an unsaved person may be selfish and even hateful. As much as we love a newborn baby, we must confess the infant is self-centered and thinks the whole world revolves around him. The child is typical of an unsaved person: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (Tit. 3:3). This description of the unbeliever may not be beautiful, but it is certainly accurate! While some unregenerate persons may not display the traits mentioned here, the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19–21) are always potentially present in their dispositions.

When a sinner trusts Christ, he receives a new life and new nature. The Holy Spirit of God comes to live in him and the love of God is “poured out into his heart” (Rom. 5:5). God does not have to give a new believer a long lecture about love! “For you yourselves have been taught by God [through the Holy Spirit within you] to love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9). A new believer discovers he now hates what he used to love and loves what he used to hate!

The commandment to love one another is one of the most important commandments Christ gave us (Jn. 13:34). In fact, love one another is repeated at least a dozen times in the New Testament (Jn. 13:34, 15:9, 12, 17; Rom. 13:8; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 Jn. 3:11, 23, 4:7, 11–12; 2 Jn. 5). And there are many other references to brotherly love too.

It is important we understand the meaning of Christian love. It is not a shallow, sentimental emotion that Christians try to “work up,” so they can get along with each other. It is a matter of the will rather than an emotion—an affection for and attraction to certain persons. It is a matter of determining—of making up our mind—we will allow God’s love to reach others through us and then acting toward them in loving ways. We are not to act “as if we loved them,” but because we love them. This is not hypocrisy—it is obedience to God.

Perhaps the best explanation of Christian love is found in 1 Corinthians 13. To paraphrase, “the Christian life without love is NOTHING!”

2. IT IS NEW IN EXAMPLE (2:8)

Love one another was first true in Christ and now it is true in the lives of those who are trusting Him. Jesus Himself is the greatest Example of this commandment. When we look at Jesus Christ, we see love embodied and exemplified. In commanding us to love, Jesus does not ask us to do something He has not already done Himself. He says to us, in effect, “I lived by this great commandment and I can enable you to follow My example.”

The four Gospel records attest to the fact of Christ’s love. Jesus illustrated love by the very life He lived. He never showed hatred or malice. His righteous soul hated all sin and disobedience, but He never hated the people who committed such sins. Even in His righteous announcements of judgment there was always an undercurrent of love.

It is encouraging to think of Jesus’ love for the twelve disciples. How they must have broken His heart again and again as they argued over who was the greatest or tried to keep people from seeing their Master. Each of them was different from the others and Christ’s love was broad enough to include each one in a personal, understanding way. He was patient with Peter’s impulsiveness, Thomas’ unbelief, and even Judas’ betrayal. When Jesus commanded His disciples love one another, He was only telling them to do as He had done.

Consider too our Lord’s love for all kinds of people. The tax collectors and sinners were attracted (Lk. 15:1) by His love and even the lowest of the low could weep at His feet (Lk. 7:36–39). Spiritually hungry rabbi Nicodemus could meet with Him privately at night (Jn. 3:1–21), and 4,000 of the common people could listen to His teaching for three days (Mk. 8:1–9) and then receive a miraculous meal from Him. He held babies in His arms. He spoke about children at play. He even comforted the women who wept as the soldiers led Him out to Calvary.

Perhaps the greatest thing about Jesus’ love was the way it touched even the lives of His enemies. He looked with loving pity on the religious leaders who in their spiritual blindness accused Him of being in company with Satan (Matt. 12:24). When the mob came to arrest Him, He could have called on the armies of heaven for protection, but He yielded to His enemies. Then, He died for them—for His enemies! Jesus died not only for His friends, but also for His foes! As they crucified Him, He prayed for them: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:24). In His life, teachings, and death, Jesus is the perfect Example of this commandment to love one another. In Christ, we have a new illustration of the old truth that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

What is true in Christ ought to be true in each believer: “In this world, we are like Jesus” (1 Jn. 4:17). Jesus Christ is the standard of love for Christians. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (Jn. 13:34). Jesus repeats, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12). We are not to measure our Christian love against the love of some other Christian (and we usually pick somebody whose life is more of an excuse than an example!), but against the love of Jesus Christ our Lord. The old commandment becomes “new” to us as we see it fulfilled in Christ. The life of love is the life of joy and victory.

As we have seen the commandment to love one another is new in emphasis and new in example.

It is also new in a third way.

To be continued…

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Walking and Talking Life that is Real: Part 2 (1 Jn. 1:5-2:6)

1-John-1_9In my introduction to this article, we looked at the person who tries to cover his sins by lying or hiding the truth. We learned if we want to enjoy the life that is real, we must never cover our sins! As we continue our study in John’s letter (1 Jn. 1:5-2:6), he explains two more approaches to dealing with sin:

2. WE CAN CONFESS OUR SINS (1:9)

John gives two interesting titles to Jesus Christ: Advocate and Propitiation (1 Jn. 2:1–2). It’s important we understand these titles because they stand for two ministries only the Lord Himself performs.

Let’s begin with Propitiation. If you look this word up in the dictionary, you may get the wrong idea of its meaning. The dictionary tells us “to propitiate” means “to appease someone who is angry.” If you apply this to Christ, you get the horrible picture of an angry God, about to destroy the world, and a loving Savior giving Himself to appease the irate God—and this is not the Bible picture of salvation! Certainly God is angry at sin; after all, He is infinitely holy. But the Bible reassures us that “God so loved [not hated] the world” (Jn. 3:16).

No, the word “propitiation” does not mean the appeasing of an angry God. Rather, it means the satisfying of God’s holy law. “God is light” (1 Jn. 1:5) and, therefore, He cannot close His eyes to sin. But “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8) too and wants to save sinners.

How, then, can a holy God uphold His own justice and still forgive sinners? The answer is in the sacrifice of Christ. At the cross, God in His holiness judged sin. God in His love offers Jesus Christ to the world as Savior. God was just in that He punished sin, but He is also loving in that He offers free forgiveness through what Jesus did at Calvary (1 Jn. 4:10; Rom. 3:23–26).

Christ is the Sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, but He is Advocate only for believers: we [Christians] have an Advocate with the Father. The word “advocate” used to be applied to lawyers. The word John uses is the very same word Jesus used when He was talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16, 26, 15:26). It means, literally, “one called alongside.” When a man was summoned to court, he took an advocate (lawyer) with him to stand at his side and plead his case.

Jesus Christ is our “Advocate.” He represents believers before God’s throne and the merits of His sacrifice make possible the forgiveness of our sin. Because Christ died for His people, He satisfied the justice of God. Because He lives for us at God’s right hand, He can apply His sacrifice to our needs day-by-day. All He asks is that when we have failed, we confess our sins to Him.

What does it mean to confess? To confess sins means much more than simply to “admit” them. The word confess actually means “to say the same thing [about].” To confess sin, then, means to say the same thing about it that God says about it.

A counselor was trying to help a man who had come forward during an evangelistic meeting. “I’m a Christian,” the man said, “but there’s sin in my life and I need help.” The counselor showed him 1 John 1:9 and suggested the man confess his sins to God.

“O Father,” the man began, “if we have done anything wrong—”

“Wait a minute!” the counselor interrupted. “Don’t drag me into your sin! My brother, it’s not ‘if’ or ‘we’—you’d better get down to business with God!” The counselor was right.

Confession is not praying a lovely prayer, or making pious excuses, or trying to impress God and other Christians. True confession is naming sin—calling it by name what God calls it: envy, hatred, lust, deceit, or whatever it may be. Confessions simply means being honest with ourselves and with God, and if others are involved, being honest with them too. It is more than admitting sin. It means judging sin and facing it squarely.

When should we confess our sin? Immediately when we discover it! “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Prov. 28:13). By walking in the light, we are able to see the “dirt” in our lives and deal with it immediately.

This leads to a third way to deal with sins.

3. WE CAN CONQUER OUR SINS (2:1–3, 5-6)

John makes it clear Christians do not have to sin. “I write this to you so that you will not sin” (1 Jn. 2:1). The secret of victory over sin is found in the phrase “walk in the light” (1 Jn. 1:7). To walk in the light means to be open and honest, to be sincere.

It is unfortunate churches and Bible classes have been invaded by insincere people, people whose lives cannot stand to be tested by God’s light. “God is light” and when we walk in the light, there is nothing we can hide. It is refreshing to meet a Christian who is open and sincere, and is not trying to masquerade!

To walk in the light means to be honest with God, with ourselves, and with others. It means that when the light reveals our sin to us, we immediately confess it to God and claim His forgiveness. And if our sin injures another person, we ask his forgiveness too. Walking in the light means obeying God’s Word (1 Jn. 2:3–4). “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). To walk in the light means to spend time daily in God’s Word, discovering His will; and then obeying what He has told us.

Obedience to God’s Word is proof of our love for Him. There are three motives for obedience. We can obey because (1) we have to, (2) we need to, or (3) we want to. A slave obeys because he has to. If he doesn’t obey, he will be punished. An employee obeys because he needs to. He may not enjoy his work, but he does enjoy getting his paycheck! He needs to obey because he has a family to feed and clothe. But a Christian is to obey his Heavenly Father because he wants to—for the relationship between him and God is one of love: “If you love Me, you will keep My commands” (Jn. 14:15).

This is the way we learned obedience when we were children. First, we obeyed because we had to. If we didn’t obey, we were spanked! But as we grew up, we discovered obedience meant enjoyment and reward, so we started obeying because it met certain needs in our lives. And it was a mark of real maturity when we started obeying because of love. “Baby Christians” must constantly be warned or rewarded, but mature Christians listen to God’s Word and obey it simply because they love Him.

Walking in the light involves honesty, obedience, and love; it also involves following the example of Christ and walking as He walked: “Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did” (1 Jn. 2:6). Of course, nobody ever becomes a Christian by following Christ’s example; but after we come into God’s family, we are to look to Jesus Christ as the one great Example of the kind of life we should live. This means “abiding in Christ.” Christ is not only the Propitiation (or sacrifice) for our sins (1 Jn. 2:2) and the Advocate who represents us before God (1 Jn. 2:1), but He is also the perfect Pattern for our daily life.

Jesus Himself taught His disciples what it means to abide in Him. He explains it in His illustration of the vine and its branches (Jn. 15). Just as the branch gets its life by remaining in contact with the vine, so believers receive their strength by maintaining fellowship with Christ. To abide in Christ means to depend completely on Him for all we need in order to live for Him and serve Him. It is a living relationship. As He lives out His life through us, we are able to follow His example and walk as He walked. Paul expresses this experience perfectly: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

This is a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit. Christ is our Advocate in heaven (1 Jn. 2:1), to represent us before God when we sin and the Holy Spirit is God’s Advocate for us here on earth. Christ is making intercession for us (Rom. 8:34) and the Holy Spirit is also making intercession for us (Rom. 8:26–27). Christ lives out His life through us by the power of the Spirit, who lives within our bodies. It is not by means of imitation that we abide in Christ and walk as He walked. No, it is through incarnation: through His Spirit, “Christ lives in me.” To walk in the light is to walk in the Spirit and not gratify the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

God has made provisions for us in these ways to conquer sin. While we can never lose or change the sin nature we are born with (1 Jn. 1:8), we need not obey its desires. As we walk in the light and see sin as it actually is, we will hate it and turn from it. And if we sin, we immediately confess it to God and claim His cleansing. By depending on the power of the indwelling Spirit, we abide in Christ and “walk as He walked.”

But all this begins with openness and honesty before God and men. The minute we start to act a part, to pretend, to impress others, we step out of the light and into shadows. The life that is real cannot be built on things that are deceptive. Before we can walk in the light, we must know ourselves, accept ourselves, and yield ourselves to God. It is foolish to try to deceive others because God already knows what we really are!

All this helps to explain why walking in the light makes life so much easier and happier. When we walk in the light, we live to please only one Person—God. This really simplifies things! “I always do those things that please Him,” Jesus said (Jn. 8:29). But if we live to please ourselves and God, we are trying to serve two masters, and this never works. If we live to please men, we will always be in trouble because no two men will agree and we will find ourselves caught in the middle. Walking in the light—living to please God—simplifies our goals, unifies our lives, and gives us a sense of peace and poise.

John makes it clear the life that is real has no love for sin. Instead of trying to cover sin, a true believer confesses sin and tries to conquer it by walking in the light of God’s Word. He is not content simply to know he is going to heaven. He wants to enjoy that heavenly life right here and now. He is careful to match his walk and his talk. He does not try to impress himself, God, or other Christians with a lot of “pious talk.”

A congregation was singing the hymn, “For You I Am Praying.” The pastor turned to a man on the platform and asked quietly, “For whom are you praying?”

The man was stunned. “I guess I’m not praying for anybody. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I just heard you say, ‘For you I am praying,’ and I thought you meant it,” the pastor replied.

“Oh, no,” said the man. “I’m just singing.”

Pious talk! A religion of words! Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (Jas. 1:22). We should be doers of the Word as well as talkers of the Word. We must walk what we talk. It is not enough to know the language; we must also live the life. “If we say—” then we ought also to do!

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Walking and Talking Life that is Real: Part 1 (1 Jn. 1:5-2:6)

The life that is real hahidings an enemy and we read about it in 1 John 1:5-2:6.  This enemy is sin.  Nine times in these verses John mentions sin, so the subject is obviously important.  John illustrates his theme by using the contrast between light and darkness: God is light; sin is darkness.

But there is another contrast here too—the contrast between saying and doing.  Four times John writes, “If we claim” or “If we say” (1 Jn. 1:6, 8, 10; 2:4).  It is clear the life that is real must amount to more than mere “talk”; we must also “walk” or live what we believe.  If we are in fellowship with God (“walking in the light”), our lives will back up what our lips are saying.  But if we are living in sin (“walking in darkness”), then our lives will contradict what our lips are saying, making us hypocrites.

The New Testament calls the Christian life a “walk.”  This walk begins with a step of faith when we trust Christ as our Lord and Savior.  But salvation is not the end—it’s only the beginning—of spiritual life.  “Walking” involves progress and Christians are supposed to advance in our spiritual life.  Just as a child must learn to walk and must overcome many difficulties in doing so, a Christian must learn to “walk in the light.”  And the fundamental difficulty involved here is this matter of sin.

Of course, sin is not simply outward disobedience; sin is also inner rebellion or desire.  John warns us about the desires of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16), all of which are sinful.  Sin is also transgression of the Law (1 Jn. 3:4) or literally “lawlessness.”  Sin is refusal to submit to the Law of God.  Lawlessness or independence of the Law is the very essence of sin.  If a believer decides to live an independent life, how can he possibly walk in fellowship with God?  “Can two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” (Amos 3:3)

Neither in the Old Testament nor in the New does the Bible whitewash the sins of the saints.  In escaping a famine, Abraham became weak in his faith and went down to Egypt and lied to Pharaoh (Gen. 12).  Later, the patriarch tried to “help God” by marrying Hagar and having a son with her (Gen. 16).  In both cases, God forgave Abraham for his sin, but Abraham had to reap what he had sowed.  God can and will cleanse the record, but He does not change the results.  No one can unscramble an egg.

Peter denied the Lord three times and tried to kill a man in the Garden when Jesus was arrested.  Satan is a liar and a murderer (Jn. 8:44), and Peter was playing right into his hands!  Christ forgave Peter (Jn. 21), but what Peter had done hurt his testimony greatly and hindered the Lord’s work.

The fact Christians sin bothers some people—especially new Christians.  They forget receiving the new nature does not eliminate the old nature they are born with.  The old nature (that has its origin in our physical birth) fights against the new nature which we receive when we are born-again (Gal. 5:16–26).  No amount of self-discipline and no set of man-made rules or regulations can control this old nature.  Only the Holy Spirit of God can enable us to “put to death” the old nature (Rom. 8:12–13) and produce the Spirit’s fruit (Gal. 5:22–23) in us through the new nature.  Sinning saints are not mentioned in the Bible to discourage us, but to warn us.

“Why do you keep preaching to us Christians about sin?” an angry church member said to her pastor.  “After all, sin in the life of a Christian is different from sin in the life of an unsaved person!”

“Yes,” replied the pastor, “it is different.  It’s much worse!”

All of us, therefore, must deal with our sins if we are to enjoy the life that is real.  In this section of John’s letter, he explains three approaches to sin:

1. WE CAN TRY TO COVER OUR SINS (1:5-6, 10, 2:4)

“God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5).  When we are saved, God calls us out of darkness and into His light (1 Pet. 2:9).  We are children of light (1 Thess. 5:5).  Light produces life, growth, and beauty, but sin is darkness.  Darkness and light cannot exist in the same place.  If we are walking in the light, the darkness has to go.  If we are holding to sin, then the light goes.  There is no middle ground, no vague “gray” area, where sin is concerned.  When light shines on us, it reveals our true nature (Eph. 5:8–13).  Those who do wrong hate light (Jn. 3:19–21).

How do Christians try to cover up their sins?  By telling lies!  First, we tell lies to others (1 Jn. 1:6).  We want our Christian friends to think we are “spiritual,” so we lie about our lives and try to make a favorable impression on them.  We want them to think we are walking in the light, though in reality we are walking in the darkness.

Once a person begins to lie to others, he will sooner or later lie to himself, and our passage deals with this (1 Jn. 1:8).  The problem now is not deceiving others, but deceiving ourselves.  It is possible for a believer to live in sin, yet convince himself everything is fine in his relationship to the Lord.

Perhaps the classic example of this is King David (2 Sam. 11–12).  First, David lusted after Bathsheba.  Then, he actually committed adultery.   Instead of openly admitting what he had done, he tried to cover his sin.  He tried to deceive Bathsheba’s husband, made him drunk, and had him killed.  He lied to himself and tried to carry on his royal duties in the usual way.  When his court chaplain, the Prophet Nathan, confronted him with a similar hypothetical situation, David condemned the other man, though he felt no condemnation at all for himself.  Once we begin to lie to others, it may not be long before we actually believe our lie.

Then, the spiritual decline becomes worse: the next step is trying to lie to God (1 Jn. 1:10).  We have made ourselves liars; now we try to make God a liar!  We contradict His Word, which says “all have sinned” and we maintain we are exceptions to the rule.  We apply God’s Word to others, but not to ourselves.  We sit through church services or Bible studies and are not touched by the Bible’s teachings.  Believers who have reached this low level are usually highly critical of other Christians, but they strongly resist applying the Word to their own lives.

The Holy Spirit’s inspired picture of the human heart is devastating indeed!  A misled believer lies about his fellowship (1 Jn. 1:6); about his nature—“I could never do a thing like that!” (1 Jn. 1:8), and about his actions (1 Jn. 1:10).  Sin has a deadly way of spreading, doesn’t it?

I must discuss an extremely important factor in my experience of the life that is real.  That factor is honesty.  We must be honest with ourselves, honest with others, and honest with God.  Our passage actually describes a believer who is living a dishonest life: he is a phony.  He is playing a role and acting a part, but is not living a genuine life.  He is insincere.  What are the losses this kind of person experiences?

The first thing he loses is the Word.  He stops “doing the truth” (1 Jn. 1:6); then the truth is no longer in him (1 John 1:8), and he turns the truth into lies (1 Jn. 1:10).  “God’s Word is truth” (Jn. 17:17), but a person who lives a lie loses the Word.  One of the first symptoms of walking in darkness is a loss of blessing from the Bible.  We cannot read the Word profitably while we are walking in the dark.

The second thing he loses is his fellowship with God and with God’s people (1 Jn. 1:6–7).  Prayer becomes an empty form to him.  Worship is dull routine.  He becomes critical of other Christians and starts staying away from church: “What do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  What fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14)

A backslidden husband, for example, who is walking in spiritual darkness, out of fellowship with God, can never enjoy full fellowship with his Christian wife, who is walking in the light.  In a superficial way, the couple can have companionship; but true spiritual fellowship is impossible.  This inability to share spiritual experiences causes many personal problems in homes and between members of local churches.

A group of church members were discussing their new pastor.  “For some reason,” said one man, “I really don’t feel at ease with him.  I believe he’s a good man, all right—but something seems to stand between us.”

Another member replied, “Yes, I think I know what you mean.  I used to have that same problem with him, but now I don’t have it anymore.  The pastor and I have great fellowship.”

“What did he do to make things better?”

“He didn’t do anything,” said the friend.  “I did the changing.”

“You did the changing?”

“Yes, I decided to be open and honest about things, the way our pastor is.  You see, there isn’t one stain of hypocrisy in his life and there was so much pretending in my life that we just didn’t make it together.  He and I both knew I was a phony.  Since I’ve started to live an honest Christian life, everything is better.”

One of the problems with dishonesty is that keeping a record of lies and pretenses is a full-time job!  Abraham Lincoln said, “If a man is going to be a liar, he had better have a good memory.”  When a person uses up all his energy in pretending, he has nothing left for living; and life becomes shallow and tasteless.  A person who pretends not only robs himself of reality, but he keeps himself from growing: his true self is smothered under the false self.

The third thing he loses is really the result of the first two: he loses his character (1 Jn. 2:4).  The process starts out with him telling lies and it ends up with him becoming a liar!  At first, his insincerity or lack of truthfulness is just a role he plays.  But then, it is no longer a role—it has become the very essence of his life.  His character has eroded.  He is no longer a liar because he tells lies; he now tells lies because he is a confirmed liar.

Is it any wonder God warns, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Prov. 28:13).  David tried to cover his sins and it cost him his health (Ps. 32:3–4), joy (Ps. 51), family, and almost his kingdom.  If we want to enjoy the life that is real, we must never cover our sins!

What should we do?

To be continued…

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3 Vital Facts about Life that is Real (1 Jn. 1:1-4)

graceboast“Once upon a time …”  Remember how exciting those words used to be?  They were the open door into an exciting world of make-believe, a dream world that helped you forget all the problems of childhood.  Then—pow!  You turned a corner one day and “Once upon a time” became kid stuff.  You discovered life is a battleground, not a playground, and fairy tale stories were no longer meaningful.  You wanted something real.

The search for something real is not new.  It has been going on since the beginning of history.  Men have looked for reality and satisfaction in wealth, thrills, conquest, power, learning, and even in religion.  There is nothing really wrong with these experiences, except that by themselves they never really satisfy.  Wanting something real and finding something real are two different things.  Like a child eating cotton candy at the circus, many people who expect to bite into something real end up with a mouthful of nothing.  They waste priceless years on empty substitutes for reality.

This is where the Apostle John’s first epistle comes in.  Written centuries ago, this letter deals with a theme that is forever up-to-date: the life that is real.  John discovered that satisfying reality is not to be found in things or thrills, but in a Person—Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Without wasting any time, he tells us about this “living reality” in the first four verses of his letter.  In 1 John 1:1-4, we learn three vital facts about the life that is real:

1. THIS LIFE IS REVEALED

“The life was manifested” (1 Jn. 1:2).  This life was not hidden so that we have to search for it and find it.  No, it was manifested—revealed openly!  God has revealed Himself in creation (Rom. 1:20), but creation alone could never tell us the story of God’s love.  God has also revealed Himself more fully in His Word, the Bible.  But God’s final and most complete revelation is in His Son, Jesus Christ: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said (Jn. 14:9).

Jesus is to us what our words are to others.  Our words reveal to others what we think and how we feel.  Christ reveals to us the mind and heart of God.  He is the living means of communication between God and men.  To know Jesus Christ is to know God!  John makes no mistake in his identification of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the Son of God (1 Jn. 1:3).

John warns us several times in his letter not to listen to the false teachers who tell lies about Jesus Christ: “Who is the liar?  It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ.  Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son” (1 Jn. 2:22).  There are those who say Jesus was simply a man, but was not God.  John has no place for such false teachers!

False teaching is so serious a matter that John wrote about it in his second letter too, warning believers not to invite false teachers into their homes (2 Jn. 9–10).  He makes it plain that to deny Jesus is God is to follow the lies of Antichrist (1 Jn. 2:22–23).  If a man is wrong about Jesus, he is wrong about God because Jesus is the final and complete revelation of God to men.

As we read the Gospel records of the life of Jesus, we see the wonderful kind of life God wants us to enjoy.  But it is not by imitating Jesus, our Example, that we may share in this life.  No, there is a far better way!

2. THIS LIFE IS EXPERIENCED

Read the first four verses of John’s letter again and you will notice the Apostle had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  His was no secondhand “religious experience” inherited from somebody else or discovered in a book!  No, John knew Jesus Christ face-to-face.  He and the other Apostles heard Jesus speak.  They watched Him as He lived with them.  In fact, they studied Him carefully and even touched His body.  They knew Jesus was real—not a phantom, not a vision, but God in human form.

Some twentieth-century student may say: “Yes, and this means John had an advantage.  He lived when Jesus walked on earth.  He knew Jesus personally.  But I was born twenty centuries too late!”  This is where our student is wrong!  It was not the Apostles’ physical nearness to Jesus that made them what they were.  It was their spiritual nearness.  They had committed themselves to Him as their Lord and Savior.  Jesus Christ was real and exciting to John and his colleagues because they trusted Him.  By trusting Christ, they had experienced eternal life!

Six times in this letter John uses the phrase “born of God.”  This was not an idea John had invented; he had heard Jesus use these words: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (Jn. 3:3).  “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again” (Jn. 3:6–7).  We can only experience this “real life” once we have been “born of God.”

Eternal life is not something we earn by good works or deserve because of good character.  Eternal life, the life that is real, is a gift from God to those who trust His Son.  John wrote his Gospel to tell people how to receive this wonderful life (Jn. 20:31).  He wrote his first letter to tell people how to be sure they have really been born of God (1 Jn. 5:9–13).

3. THIS LIFE IS SHARED: click here to read, Sharing Life that is Real

The assurance we are in God’s family—that we have been “born of God”—is vitally important to all of us.  Certain characteristics are true of all God’s children.  A person who is born of God lives a righteous life (1 Jn. 2:29).  A child of God does not practice sin (1 Jn. 3:9).  A believer may occasionally commit sin (1 Jn. 1:8–2:2), but he will not make it a habit to sin.

God’s children also love each other and their Heavenly Father (1 Jn. 4:7, 5:1).  They have no love for the world system around them (1 Jn. 2:15–17) and because of this the world hates them (1 Jn. 3:13).  Instead of being overcome by the pressures of this world and swept off balance, children of God overcome the world (1 Jn. 5:4).  This is another mark of those who have been born of God.

Why is it so important we know we have been born of God?  John gives us the answer: if you are not a child of God, you are a “child of wrath” (Eph. 2:1–3) and may become a “child of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:10; Mt. 13:24–30, 36–43).  A “child of the devil” is a counterfeit Christian who acts “saved,” but has not been born again.  Jesus called the Pharisees “children of the devil” (Jn. 8:44) and they were very religious.

A counterfeit Christian—and they are common—is something like a counterfeit ten-dollar bill.  Suppose you have a counterfeit bill and actually think it is genuine.  You use it to pay for a tank of gas.  The gas station manager uses the bill to buy supplies.  The supplier uses the bill to pay the grocer.  The grocer bundles the bill up with forty-nine other ten-dollar bills and takes it to the bank.  And the teller says, “I’m sorry, but this bill is a counterfeit.”  That ten-dollar bill may have done a lot of good while it was in circulation, but when it arrived at the bank it was exposed for what it really was and put out of circulation.

So too with a counterfeit Christian.  He may do many good things in this life, but when he faces the final judgment he will be rejected: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mt. 7:22–23).  Each of us must ask himself honestly, “Am I a true child of God or am I a counterfeit Christian?  Have I truly been born of God?”

If you have not experienced eternal life, this real life, you can experience it right now!  Read 1 John 5:9–15 carefully.  God has “gone on record” in His Word.  He offers you the gift of eternal life.  Believe His promise and ask Him for His gift: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).

I have discovered three important facts about “the life that is real:” (1) it is revealed in Jesus Christ; (2) it is experienced when we put our trust in Him as Lord and Savior; (3) it is shared with others—both by the lives we live and by the words we speak.

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Sharing Life that is Real

1-john-Tag Cloud (1)Once we have experienced the exciting life in Christ that is real, we will want to share it with other people, just as the Apostle John wanted to “declare” it to all his readers in the first century.  Many people (including some Christians) have the idea that “witnessing” means wrangling over the differences in religious beliefs or sitting down and comparing churches.  That isn’t what John had in mind!  He tells us witnessing means sharing our spiritual experiences with others—both by the lives we live and by the words we speak.  As we read his 1st epistle, we will discover John had in mind five purposes for sharing:

That we may have fellowship (v. 3).  This word fellowship is an important one in the vocabulary of a Christian.  It simply means “to have in common.”  As sinners, men have nothing in common with the holy God.  But God in His grace sent Jesus to have something in common with men.  Christ took on Himself a human body and became a man.  Then He went to the cross and took on the sins of the world (1 Pt. 2:24).  Because He paid the price for our sins, the way is open for God to forgive us and take us into His family.  When we trust Christ, we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt. 1:4).  What a thrilling miracle!  Jesus Christ took on Himself the nature of man, so that by faith we may receive the very nature of God!

This is the first purpose John mentions for writing his letter—the sharing of his experience of eternal life.  The life that is real helps to solve the basic problem of loneliness, for Christians have genuine fellowship with God and with one another.  Jesus promised, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20).  In this letter, John explains the secret of fellowship with God and with other Christians.

That we may have joy (v. 4).  Fellowship is Christ’s answer to the loneliness of life.  Joy is His answer to the emptiness, the hollowness of life.  John, in his epistle, uses the word “joy” only once, but the idea of joy runs throughout the entire letter.  Joy is not something we manufacture for ourselves; joy is a wonderful by-product of our fellowship with God.  David knew the joy which John mentions; he said, “In Your presence is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11).

For the most part, sin is the cause of the unhappiness that overwhelms our world today.  Sin promises joy, but it always produces sorrow.  The pleasures of sin are temporary—they are only for a season (Heb. 11:25), but God’s pleasures last eternally—they are forevermore.

The life that is real produces a joy that is real—not some limp substitute.  Jesus said, the night before He was crucified, “No man will take away your joy” (Jn. 16:22).  “I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (Jn. 15:11).  In this letter, John is saying, “Faith in Jesus Christ gives you a joy that can never be duplicated by the world.  I have experienced this joy myself and I want to share it with you.”

That we may not sin (2:1).  John faces the problem of sin squarely (1 Jn. 3:4–9) and announces the only answer to this enigma—the person and work of Jesus Christ, who not only died for us to pay the penalty of our sins, but rose from the dead in order to intercede for us at the throne of God: “I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 Jn. 2:1).

Christ is our Representative.  He defends us at the Father’s throne.  Satan may stand there as the accuser of the brethren (Zech. 3; Rev. 12:10), but Christ stands there as our Advocate—He pleads on our behalf!  Continuing forgiveness, in response to His intercession, is God’s answer to our sinfulness.

It isn’t necessary for Christians to sin.  As we walk in fellowship with God and in obedience to His Word, He gives us ability to resist and have victory over temptation.  The life that is real is a life of victory.  In this letter, John tells us how to draw on our divine resources to experience victory over temptation and sin.

That we may not be deceived (2:26).  More than ever, Christians today need the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, between truth and error.  The notion is widespread in our generation that there are no “absolutes”—that nothing is always wrong and nothing is always right.  False doctrines, therefore, are more prevalent than at any time in history—and most men and women seem to be willing to accept almost any teaching except the truths of the Bible.

John uses a word no other New Testament writer uses—“antichrist” (1 Jn. 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn. 1:7).  That prefix anti- has two meanings: “against” and “instead of.”  There are in this world teachers of lies who are opposed to Christ and their method of “seducing” people is to use lies.  They offer a substitute Christ, a substitute salvation, and a substitute Bible.  They want to give you something instead of the real Word of God and real eternal life.

Christ is the Truth (Jn. 14:6); Satan is the liar (Jn. 8:44).  The devil leads people astray—not necessarily with gross sensual sins, but with half-truths and outright lies.  He began his career by seducing man in the Garden of Eden.  He asked Eve, “Has God really said?” (Gen. 3:1).  Even then, he did not appear to her in his true nature, but masqueraded as a beautiful creature (2 Cor. 11:13–15).

Satan today often spreads his lies even through religious groups!  Not every man standing in a pulpit is preaching the truth of the Word of God.  False preachers and false religious teachers have always been among the devil’s favorite and most effective tools.

How can Christians today detect Satan’s lies?  How can we identify false teachers?  How can we grow in our own knowledge of the truth, so we will not be victims of false doctrines?  John answers these questions: the life that is real is characterized by discernment.  The Holy Spirit, referred to by John as “the Anointing” (1 Jn. 2:27), is Christ’s answer to our need for discernment.  The Spirit is our Teacher; it is He who enables us to detect truth and error and to remain (“abide”) in Christ.  He is our protection against ignorance, deception, and untruth.

That we may know we are saved (5:13).  I have already touched on this truth in past articles, but it is so important that it bears repeating.  The life that is real is not built on the empty hopes—or wishes—based on human supposings.  It is built on assurance.  In fact, as we read John’s letter we encounter the word know more than thirty times.  No Christian, if he is asked whether or not he is going to heaven, needs to say “I hope so” or “I think so.”  He need have no doubt whatsoever.

The life that is real is such a free and exciting life because it is based on knowledge of solid facts.  “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32), promised Jesus.  “We did not follow cleverly devised stories” (2 Pet. 1:16), was the testimony of Jesus’ disciples.  These men, almost all of whom died for their faith, did not give their lives for a clever hoax of their own devising, as some critics of Christianity fatuously assert.  They knew what they had seen!  John is saying in his letter, “I want you to be sure you have eternal life.”

As we read this fascinating letter, we will discover John frequently repeats himself.  He weaves three themes in and out of these chapters: obedience, love, and truth.  In the first half of his letter, the apostle emphasizes fellowship and tells us the conditions for fellowship are: obedience (1 Jn. 1:5–2:6), love (1 Jn. 2:7–17), and truth (1 Jn. 2:18–29).

Obedience—love—truth.  Why did John use these particular tests of fellowship and sonship?  For a very practical reason.  When God made us, He made us in His own image (Gen. 1:26–27).  This means we have a personality patterned after God’s.  We have a mind to think with, a heart to feel with, and a will to make decisions.  We sometimes refer to these aspects of our personality as intellect, emotion, and will.  The life that is real must involve all the elements of the personality.

Most people are dissatisfied today because their total personality has never been controlled by something real and meaningful.  When a person is born of God through faith in Christ, God’s Spirit comes into his life to live there forever.  As he has fellowship with and is sanctified by God, the Holy Spirit is able to control his mind, heart, and will.  And what happens then?  A Spirit-controlled mind knows and understands truth.  A Spirit-controlled heart feels love.  A Spirit-controlled will inclines us to obedience.

John wants to impress this fact on us and that is why he uses a series of contrasts in his letter: truth vs. lies, love vs. hatred, and obedience vs. disobedience.  There is no middle ground in the Christian life.  We must be on one side or on the other.  This, then, is the life that is real.  It was revealed in Christ; it was experienced by those who trusted in Christ; and it can be shared today.

This life begins with sonship and continues in fellowship.  First we are born of God; then we walk (live) with God.  This means that there are two kinds of people who cannot enter into the joy and victory about which we are thinking: those who have never been born of God and those who, though saved, are out of fellowship with God.  It would be a wise thing for us to take inventory spiritually (2 Cor. 13:5) and see whether or not we qualify to enjoy the spiritual experience with which John’s letter deals.

If a true believer is out of fellowship with God, it is usually for one of three reasons: (1) he has disobeyed God’s will; (2) he is not getting along with fellow believers; (3) he believes a lie and therefore is living a lie.  Even a Christian can be mistaken in his understanding of truth.  That’s why John warns us, “Little children, do not let anyone lead you astray” (1 Jn. 3:7).

These three reasons parallel John’s three important themes: obedience, love, and truth.  Once a believer discovers why he is out of fellowship with God, he should confess that sin (or those sins) to the Lord and claim His full forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9–2:2).  A believer can never have joyful fellowship with the Lord if sin stands between them.  God’s invitation to us today is, “Come and enjoy fellowship with Me and with each other!  Come and share the life that is real!”

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The Wife of Noble Character

cropped-proverbs-31-image“A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.  Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm all the days of her life.  She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.  She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.  She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.  She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.  She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.  She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.  In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.  She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.  When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.  She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.  Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.  She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.  She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.  She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.  She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’  Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Give her the reward she has earned and let her works bring her praise at the city gate” (Proverbs 31:10-31).

Proverbs has much to say about wicked women in chapters 1–9 and about nagging wives (21:9, 25:24).  The book closes, however, with a glorious tribute to the godly woman who brings honor to God and joy to her family.  Next to making a decision for Christ, the most important decision a Christian will make in this life is the choice of a mate (Prov. 12:4, 18:22, 19:14; 1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14–18).  This chapter of Proverbs describes the “wife of noble character” and lists her fine qualities.  I am delighted to be married to such a woman!

HER LOYALTY (31:10–12)

The opening question in verse 10 implies that the reader ought to find such a wife for himself: “A wife of noble character who can find?”  This woman is trustworthy, industrious, intelligent, and kind.  She adds dignity to the family and has much foresight and prudence.

The two key words here are heart and trust—love and faith.  Marriage is a matter of the heart; there must be true love between husband and wife.  A wife has no problem submitting herself in obedience to a husband who loves her and shows it.  What kind of love should a man show to his wife?  The same kind of love that Christ shows the church (Eph. 5:25-33): sacrificial, patient, suffering, tender, constant.  Husbands need to take care that their jobs and household chores do not take them away from their wives and children.  The headship of the man does not mean dictatorship; rather it means example and leadership in love.  A happy home does not “just happen”; it is the result of hard work, prayer, and real love.  When husbands and wives trust the Lord and each other, there will be happiness and blessing.  The marriage vows are promises that must be taken seriously.  To break these vows is to sin against God and each other.

HER INDUSTRY (31:13–22)

This priceless woman is a worker.  Whether it be sewing or cooking, taking care of the children, or assisting her husband in family business, she is faithfully doing her share.  Note that she works willingly (v. 13); it is not a matter of compulsion but compassion.  She loves her husband and therefore seeks to please him.  This ideal woman does not spend the morning in bed; she is up early to do her tasks (v. 15) and if necessary, she stays up late at night (v. 18).  While there are sometimes situations that require women to work outside the home, it must be remembered that her first responsibility is to her family.

Proverbs has nothing good to say about laziness, whether it involves a man or a woman (6:6-11; 10:4, 26; 13:4; 15:19; 18:9; 19:15, 24; 20:4, 13; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30–34; 26:13–16).  In these days of “labor-saving devices,” there is still no substitute for hard work and diligence.

HER MODESTY (31:23–26)

Her husband is known among the elders; she is known for her faithfulness at home. Man and woman both have a place in the economy of God and when either one steps out of place, there is confusion and trouble.  This wonderful woman does not depend on fancy clothing to be successful, but wears “strength and honor” on the inner person (v. 25).  She is careful in her speech and has a reputation for being wise (v. 26).  How wonderful it is when the “law of kindness” rules the tongue.

HER PIETY (31:27–31)

“A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.”  This is the secret of her life: she fears God and seeks to obey His Word.  Her true beauty is within; though the years might change her body, her beauty in the Lord only grows greater.  Her praise comes from God.  How does God praise this woman?  By blessing her labors and her life.  The fruit of her life will praise her.  She will certainly reap “life everlasting” because she has sown to the Spirit, not to the flesh (Gal. 6:7–8).

Her husband and children also rise up and praise her. What a need there is today for husbands and children to show constantly their appreciation for what the wife and mother does in the home.  One of the greatest weaknesses in many homes today is that family members take each other for granted.  Husbands need to set the right example before their children by openly praising the Lord and the wife for the blessings of the home.  How often a dedicated wife sacrifices for the happiness of the home and never receives so much as a simple “thanks.”  What a sin lack of appreciation is in our homes.  This kind of appreciation must not be reserved for Mother’s Day or Christmas; rather, it must be shown sincerely all year long.  Gratitude is a wonderful Christian virtue.  It needs to be cultivated in every home.

Of course, these same qualities ought to be seen in the man of the house as well.  How often we see a godly woman patiently suffering with a carnal, worldly husband.  The Bible knows nothing of a “double standard” for husbands and wives.  In God’s gracious plan, He has ordered that both husband and wife are needed in the home, and that each one must fulfill certain ministries.  One cannot replace the other, although in some emergencies (such as death of one mate) God has given grace for a person to be both “father and mother” in the home.

Husbands and wives must constantly be on guard lest Satan move in and break up the home.  They have spiritual, material, and physical responsibilities to each other, and if these are not met, Satan goes to work (1 Cor. 7:1–6; 1 Tim. 5:8; Eph. 5:21–33; 1 Pet. 3:7).  It is especially important to be on guard after the children have grown up and left home, for then the true strength of the home is tested.  A man and woman can no longer say, “We will stay together for the children’s sake.”  May God help us all to choose the right mates in His will and to build the kind of homes that glorify His Name!

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Justice

Hseek-justice-for-the-oppressedave you ever been falsely accused or so badly hurt that you wanted to take revenge?  In this life, we may face many injustices: we may be misunderstood; we may not be appreciated by others; our work and service may not be duly rewarded; we may be overlooked and ignored.

Justice is a major theme in the book of Psalms.  Justice is more than honesty.  It is active intervention on behalf of the helpless, especially the poor.  The psalmists praise God because He is just.  They plead for Him to intervene and bring justice where there is oppression and wickedness.  They condemn the wicked who trust in their wealth and extol the righteous who are just towards their neighbors.  The psalmists do not merely wish the poor could be given what they need, but plead with God to destroy those nations that are subverting justice and oppressing God’s people.

The world often ignores the plight of the needy, crushing any earthly hope they may have, but God, the champion of the weak, promises this will not be the case forever.  He knows our needs, He knows our tendency to despair, and He promises to care for us.  Even when others forget us, He will remember!

David wrote Psalm 7 in response to the slanderous accusations of those who claimed he was trying to kill King Saul and seize the throne (1 Sam. 24:9-11).  Instead of taking matters into his own hands and striking back, however, David cried out to God for justice.  The proper response to slander is prayer, not revenge.  Words are powerful, and how we use them reflects on our relationship with God.  Perhaps nothing so identifies Christians as their ability to control their speech – speaking the truth, keeping promises, and refusing to slander.

All of us want God’s help when we are in trouble, but often for different reasons.  Some want God’s help, so they will be successful.  Others want God’s help, so they will be comfortable and feel good about themselves.  David wanted God’ help so that justice would be restored to Israel and God’s power would be displayed for others to see.  When you and I call out for God’s help, what is our motive?  Is it to save ourselves pain and embarrassment or to bring glory and honor to God?

During a time of great evil and injustice, David was grateful that God is a righteous judge.  When we are mistreated, let’s remember David’s example by asking God to take our case, bring justice, and restore our reputation.  If you ever feel that you are being treated unfairly, ask the Lord who is always fair and just to be with you.  When you feel broken, bruised, or burned, God won’t step on you or toss you aside as useless, but will gently pick you up.

When we truly follow God, He rewards our efforts.  God sees and remembers all the good we do, and it is up to Him to decide the timing and appropriateness of our rewards.  If we trust Him to vindicate us, we will experience His peace and will be free from the worry of how others perceive and treat us.

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Faulty Beliefs vs. Maturity

“WA-father-and-son-walking-007hen I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me” (1 Cor. 13:11).

Have you ever walked into the living room on Christmas morning to find your husband sitting in the middle of the floor playing with a new train set? There is nothing wrong with a grown man or woman taking a few minutes out of an otherwise physically and emotionally taxing day to have fun. But it’s another matter altogether when an adult copes with the important matters of life from the emotional standpoint of a child.

If you are married to a fifty-year-old kid, who doesn’t know when it’s time to be the father or husband, after a while the cuteness of your husband’s antics are replaced by a growing resentment that he has abdicated his role as father and husband to relive his childhood. If your wife still acts like she’s a college girl, when she is approaching her fifties or sixties, the fun of having a wife who enjoys being “young” is quickly replaced with a need for a companion who recognizes the need for maturity and intimacy in the latter years of marriage. Similar emotions are stirred in adult children who have reached greater maturity than their parents.

I am not suggesting we walk around with frowns on our faces, never letting the child inside all of us out to play. Rather, I am suggesting the need for balance. We’ve all known or lived with a proverbial child who was going on forty, fifty, or sixty. Unable to make decisions from the healthy stance of adult maturity, this person either jokes his or her way through life or pitches a temper tantrum to get his or her way. Either response is inappropriate and leaves many relationships fractured or broken because a parent or spouse was unable to assume the role of adult.

All of us have a history that is hidden by years of conditioning and grooming. It is still there, no matter how “good” we may look on the outside. Most of the time, we never see beneath the surface of those we come in contact with. It’s the same with a tree. We only see part of it. Deep beneath the surface are its roots. So too, it is with us. Deep beneath the surface is where our foundation was laid and where we will discover (if we persist) what makes us act childish instead of prudently. To the observer, the man or woman who throws a temper tantrum is a spoiled brat, but God understand what lies beneath the surface and knows we have to go deeper – to the very roots – to develop into mature sons and daughters of the living God.

When Paul told us to put away childish things, he recognized the importance of allowing God to invade our lives and mature us as His children. Acting out is the hidden enemy of love. When a man or woman holds onto a grudge, letting resentment brood until it blossoms into full-grown anger or hatred the consequence is obvious. When a person has to be first all the time, ahead of the other family members, feelings of abandonment and rejection can quickly get out of hand.

We are often emotionally disabled in adulthood because of the baggage we bring with us from the past. It would be the worst form of denial to conclude our past has no effect on our present. Paul encourages us to grow up and render our past dead to what we know is reality today.

All of us would agree that we love to see a man or woman who can get down on the floor and play with the kids – enjoying life as a family. However, it’s a different story when the man or woman has to be the center of attention and get his or her way every time. Certainly, when the little boy or little girl takes over the adult, there are major problems.

If you questioned counselors concerning the basic problem behind a person’s way of coping with life, they would give you the same answer over and over again: performance based behavior. Such a response to stress manifests itself in perfectionism; inferiority complexes; feelings of shame, failure, inadequacy, and more.

Since what we learn as children continues to influence the way we look at things in our adult years, we need to get a handle on which beliefs need to be discarded and which should be kept. Five examples of faulty belief patterns are as follows:

“I have to be perfect, so I will be accepted.”  This is perfectionism to the extreme.  I’ve seen children who are afraid to bring home a B on their report card because mom or dad won’t be satisfied.  Who is the child in that picture?  Those of us who believe our worth is based on perfection are setting ourselves up for a lifetime of disappointment that will filter into our children and grandchildren.  A perfectionist cannot allow anyone to fail, especially a family member.  It wouldn’t look right.  People who believe love is based on their ability to measure up never feel safe or secure.  It’s a tragic way to live.

“I’ll never amount to anything.”  The person who has grown up hearing that message repeated over and over again develops an inferiority complex.  The one who believes that lie is set up for a lifetime of failure, draining anyone who dares to get close.

“I’m inadequate.”  A person who believes this lie will either try to overcompensate by being “too good” or will give up completely and avoid any relationship that requires intimacy.  In a marriage, this negative attitude creates tension and defensiveness that will destroy the relationship unless both partners are committed to seeking God’s guidance through this faulty belief system.

“If I can’t have my way, I’ll throw a fit.”  Many mothers and fathers teach this attitude to their children by the way they respond to each other.  This attitude says, “If I act ugly enough, I’ll get what I want.”  This translates into adults perfecting their tantrums through silence or screaming and hitting.  Each adult who acts this way has his or her own way of getting what he wants, and she knows which way is the most effective.  Children are quick to pick up on their parents’ way of coping.  Many parents have to deal with a child who pouts until they give in, and they wonder where the child learned such obnoxious behavior.

“I must have things to be secure.”  This way of thinking is also based on performance because of the need to have material possessions.  The faulty belief says if I don’t perform well I won’t ever have the financial means to get what I think will make me secure.  That translates into a no-win situation where materialism and financial stress can quickly destroy a relationship.  Greed always demands more.

Are we holding onto any faulty beliefs that could be destroying our lives and hindering our Christian growth?

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Growing Up

In my next series of posts, I will endeagrowingupvor to put into words some of the things I have learned (and am learning) through experience and God’s Word about growing up. I am by no means claiming to have “arrived.” I am simply trying my best to live out God’s specific plan for my life and pass along whatever insights I learn along the way.

All people are unique and God has a specific plan for each of us. The right road for one is the wrong road for another. The journey of life is not paved in blacktop; it is not brightly lit like the “Yellow Brick Road.” It is a rocky path through the wilderness. It is not a linear road where we take one step after another in a straightforward progression. That is not what the road is like. Rather, it is a series of twists and turns, and there is nothing simple or straightforward about it.

Just as Adam was banished from the Garden of Eden because of his sin and could not go back, neither can we. We can only go forward. To go back would be like trying to return to our mother’s womb, to infancy. Since we cannot go back, we must grow up. We can only go forward through the twists and turns of life, making our way over parched and barren ground.

When I was a child, growing up seemed very attractive to me. Most children dream of what they will become when they “grow up.” Now that I am an adult, I recognize the value of growing up even more. There are many ways in which we must grow up. This is an extremely important truth because a great deal of our problems arise out of the attempt to get back to infancy and not grow up.

We must go forward through the desert, but that journey is hard and often painful. And so most people stop their journey as quickly as they can. They find what looks like a safe place, burrow their head, and stay there; rather than go forward through the painful desert, which is filled with cactuses, thorns, and sharp rocks. Even for those who have been taught that the process of growth is valuable, the education of the desert is so painful that they discontinue it as early as they can.

What causes the refusal to grow up? Those who stop learning and growing early in their lives stop changing. They become fixed and lapse into what psychology calls their “second childhood.” They become whiny, demanding, and self-centered. But this is not because they have entered their second childhood. They have never left their first and the veneer of adulthood is worn thin, revealing the emotional child that lurks underneath.

The same is true for Christians who do not grow up spiritually and remain immature in the faith. I know many people who look like adults, but are actually emotional and spiritual children, walking around in adult’s clothing. There are relatively few adults who come out of immaturity, who are no longer willing to tolerate their own childishness. The rest of the population never manages to fully grow up. And so we need to comfort each other on our journey as we struggle along our rocky path and our pain.

More often than not, the most healing thing that we can do with someone who is in pain, rather than trying to get rid of that pain, is to sit there and be willing to share it. We have to learn to hear and bear other people’s pain. We need to become more conscious and sensitive of their burdens and sorrows. Talking is not nearly as important as being available for those who are suffering. Those who are hurting need to be loved, just as Christ loves us.

As we grow up, we can take on more and more of other people’s pain, and then the most amazing thing happens: the more pain we are willing to take on, the more joy we will begin to feel. Jesus took on tremendous pain when He died for the sins of the world. How much pain and sorrow are you and I willing to take on out of love for one another?

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What is The Meaning of Life?

The+Meaning+of+LifeQuestion: “How can purpose, fulfillment, and satisfaction be found?  How can something of lasting significance be achieved?”

Answer: So many people have never stopped to consider these important questions.  They look back years later and wonder why their relationships have fallen apart and why they feel so empty, even though they may have achieved what they set out to accomplish.  A famous athlete once said, “I wish that someone would have told me that when you reach the top, there’s nothing there.”  Many goals reveal their emptiness only after years have been wasted in their pursuit.

People pursue many things, thinking that in them they will find meaning.  I know because I’ve been there.  Some of these pursuits include business success, wealth, good relationships, sex, entertainment, and doing good deeds.  People have testified that while they achieved their goals of wealth, relationships, and pleasure, there was still a deep void inside, a feeling of emptiness that nothing seemed to fill.

King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, discovered the futility of life when it is lived only for this world: “Meaningless!  Meaningless!  Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless” (Ecc. 1:2).  He had wealth beyond measure, wisdom beyond any man of his time or ours, hundreds of women, palaces and gardens that were the envy of kingdoms, the best food and wine, and every form of entertainment available.  And yet he summed up “life under the sun”—life lived as though all there is to life is what we can see with our eyes and experience with our senses—is meaningless.  Why is there such a void?  Because God created us for something beyond what we can experience in the here-and-now.  Solomon said of God, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…” (Ecc. 3:11).  The “here-and-now” is not all that there is.

In Genesis, we find that before mankind fell into sin and the curse of sin came upon the earth the following things were true: (1) God made man a social creature (2:18-25); (2) God gave man work (2:15); (3) God had fellowship with man (3:8); and (4) God gave man dominion over the earth (1:26).  What is the significance of that?  God intended for each of those to add to our fulfillment in life, but all of these (especially man’s fellowship with God) were adversely affected by man’s fall into sin and the resulting curse that came upon the earth (chapter 3).  With man’s fall into sin, our fellowship with God is broken, relationships with others are strained, work seems to always be frustrating, and we struggle to maintain dominion over nature.  To go through life achieving everything only to die separated from God for eternity would be worse than futile!

Fortunately, God has made a way to not only make eternal bliss possible (Lk. 23:43), but also life on earth satisfying and meaningful.  How is this possible?  The real meaning of life, both now and in eternity, is restored through Jesus Christ.  It is found in the restoration of the relationship with God that was lost with Adam and Eve’s fall into sin.  That relationship with God is only possible through Him (Acts 4:12; Jn. 1:12, 14:6).  Eternal life is gained when Christ changes us, making us new creations.  This happens when we repent of our sin (no longer want to continue in it) and put our trust in Jesus Christ by faith.  Real meaning is found when we begin to follow Christ as His disciple, learning from Him, spending time with Him in His Word, communing with Him in prayer, and walking with Him in obedience to His commands.

If you are not a Christian (or perhaps an immature believer), you might be saying to yourself, “That does not sound very exciting or fulfilling to me!”  But I can assure you from personal experience that it is absolutely fulfilling!  Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest” (Jn. 10:10b); “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25); “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).  Furthermore, the psalmist said, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).

What are all these verses saying?  We have a choice: we can continue to seek to guide our own lives, which results in emptiness, or we can choose to pursue God and His will for our lives with a whole heart, which will result in living life to the fullest, having the desires of our hearts met, and finding contentment and satisfaction.  Our Creator loves us and desires the best for us (not necessarily the easiest life, but the most fulfilling).

In Revelation, the last book of the Bible, God reveals that He will destroy this present heaven and earth, and usher in the eternal state by creating a new heaven and a new earth.  At that time, He will restore full fellowship with redeemed mankind, while the unredeemed will have been judged unworthy and cast into the lake of fire (20:11-15).  The curse of sin will be done away with; there will be no more sin, sorrow, sickness, death, or pain (21:4).  God will dwell with them, and they shall be His sons (21:7).  Thus, we come full circle: (1) God created us to have fellowship with Him; (2) man sinned, breaking that fellowship; (3) God restores that fellowship fully in the eternal state.

Finding real meaning in life is for whole-hearted disciples of Christ who have truly stopped pursuing their own desires to pursue God’s purposes instead.  They have paid the price (complete surrender to Christ and His will); they are experiencing life to its fullest; and they can face themselves, their fellow man, and their Maker with no regrets.  Have you and I paid the price?  If so, we will not hunger after meaning or purpose again.

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God of All Comfort

The_God_of_All_Comfort“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

What a marvelous title – God of all comfort!  New Testament writers use the concept comfort repeatedly.  It conveys the idea of encouraging and exhorting those who cope with defeat, doubt, and depression.  Indeed, Jesus always stands next to His people with the pledge that He will never forsake them (Matt. 28:20).  Although suffering is not eradicated, we have Someone who soothes us in the midst of it.  Often we cry for temporary relief, but the God of all comfort gives permanent consolation in the midst of excruciating pain.

Many think that when God comforts us, our troubles should go away.  But if that were always so, people would turn to Him only out of a desire to be relieved of pain and not out of love for Him.  We must understand that being comforted can also mean receiving strength, encouragement, and hope to deal with our troubles.  The more we suffer, the more comfort God gives us.  If you are feeling overwhelmed allow God to comfort you.  Remember that every trial you endure will help you comfort other people who are suffering similar trials.  Paul makes it clear that the comfort we receive from God is not for our benefit only, but also for sharing with other hurting people.

Comfort is not found in the absence of pain, but in the midst of it.  So many hurting Christians believe their walk with the Lord is not as it should be because of their intense pain.  Feeling comfortable and being comforted are two entirely different things.  The first is a nice feeling, but tends to come and go.  The second is a fact based on the Comforter, not on circumstances.  And the wonderful thing is He does not come and go: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).  When we are hurt, the God of all comfort gets out either the gentle medicine or the stronger dose to heal our wounds.  And the wonderful part is, He stays with us to comfort the pain.  The God of all comfort, by the Holy Spirit, breathes comfort in the scrapes and wounds of life.

Those who have experienced hurting or suffering know it gets tiring after a while.  The weary saint cries out with Paul to remove the thorn in his flesh.  The Lord Jesus Christ Himself also prayed for the cup to be removed.  In fact, He was so physically and emotionally weary, an angel was sent to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43).

Times of suffering are particularly difficult times, especially if the suffering has persisted.  But it is precisely at these times the Comforter is the most precious.  He is the Shepherd in the valley; the Father to His child; the Rock of ages; the Shelter in time of storm.

This should encourage those who are in pain.  The parents of a wayward child will mourn, but does that mean they are not comforted?  No!  Their parental heart might ache for years to come, but their regenerated souls will take great comfort that there is One who loves their child more than they do.

The wife whose husband has abandoned her will grieve and mourn, but does that mean she is not a victorious Christian?  No!  The victory comes when she goes to her empty bed and realizes there is One who will never abandon her.  She hurts, but her soul rests in One who is able to soothe her wounds.

The husband who takes fresh flowers to a grave weeps uncontrollably when he remembers his wife’s smile.  Are his tears a mark of spiritual immaturity?  No!  The tears are a mark of a man who dearly loved his wife.  His heart breaks, but his soul rests in the Comforter who promises he will see his wife again.

Peace is not the absence of pain.  We would not be promised a Comforter – much less need One – if the Christian life was a life of unending bliss.  The typical view of the Christian life is one of deliverance from trouble, but Scripture calls us to deliverance in trouble.  I have learned an amazing truth amidst my struggles in life: I can have a pain in my heart and a settled peace in my soul at the same time.

And so can you through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  The Comforter soothes in various ways – through Scripture, through music, through other saints (who have probably been hurt), and through other tailor-made ways that suit our particular struggles.  God is wonderfully creative, perfectly matching comfort with sorrow.  As a comforting Father, He gives strength to go on in the midst of pain.  He is the perfect parent to His children!

My prayer for you today is that you will feel the loving arms of God wrapped around you.  He is saying to those who belong to Him, “Sweet hurting child, you are so special to Me.  I hurt with you.  I’m staying right here to take good care of you.”  As He is blowing gently on the stinging wound, He is remaining close to His children.

God’s peace is often unexplainable to someone who has not experienced it.  In my life, the deeper the sorrow has been, the more indescribable the peace.  So, the next time you tell someone about Christ, listen carefully to see where the brokenness is and how Christ can put that person’s life back together.  God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.

One of the many paradoxes of the Christian life is that the grace of God is most keenly experienced not in the best, but in what seem to be the worst of times.  As much as a Christian longs for exaltation (1 Cor. 4:8), it is often in humiliation that he finds grace (2 Cor. 12:9).  It may not always be well with my circumstances, my emotions, or my personality, but it is always well with my soul!

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In The World, But Not of It

“I have given them Your Word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified…”  (Jn. 17:14-21).

Being a Christian is more than just coming to Christ.  It’s about growing and becoming more like Jesus – it’s about being sanctified.  One of the qualities or attributes of God is His holiness.  Not only is He holy, but He desires that we would also be holy.  The work of God by which He makes us holy is called sanctification.  As believers, we are sanctified – set apart for God’s use.  We are to be distinct from the world.

In our text, Jesus prayed for His disciples.  He prayed this particular prayer right after the Last Supper and right before His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.  The Lord Jesus, knowing that He would be leaving soon prayed for those who would be staying.  He prayed for three things:

First, Jesus prayed for the protection of His disciples.  The disciples were in danger because the satanic world hated them.  It hated them because they were not a part of it. The disciples, like Jesus, were strangers in a hostile world.  They had become attached to Jesus, who was “not of the world,” and the world could not accept them.  Just as the world was alienated from God and hated both the Father and the Son, so too the world hated and persecuted the disciples of Jesus.

Second, Jesus prayed for the sanctification of His disciples.  Just as Jesus was set apart from the world, the disciples were also set apart.  God set the disciples apart, so that they would do His will, not Satan’s.  Even though they were human, they did not belong to the world and did not think like the world because they were set apart from the world.  In sanctifying Himself, Jesus modeled for the disciples what it meant to be both a stranger in the world and yet committed to a mission, even to the point of death.

Jesus set Himself apart all the way to the Cross and we, as His disciples, also need to set ourselves apart to proclaim what He did.  As believers, we are sanctified—set apart for God and changed in our living in order to honor God.  Our thinking and action should be different from the worlds.  We are called to a mission of not only proclaiming God’s truth, but also of living and dying for this truth in our own sanctification.  Our growth in Christ must be understood as dying to sin: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

Not only does the death and resurrection of Christ take away the guilt of sin for the believer, but it also provides power for deliverance from the old life that characterized us before we were saved.  In sanctifying us, God is transforming us, so that we would live in harmony with His will.  Sanctification means we are being renewed in the image of God (Rom. 8:29). We are living lives that are pleasing to God.  Our sin nature is in the process of being removed.

Third, Jesus prayed for future believers.  Jesus did not stop at praying for Himself and His immediate disciples; His prayer went beyond them to those who would believe through their message.  His concern for the church’s unity is His greatest burden as His earthly mission draws to a close.

Just as the Father is active in and through the Son, so also the Son is active in and through believers.  Our unity is rooted in Jesus’ own unity with the Father.  The absolute oneness of the Father and Son is spiritually transferred to believers for a specific purpose—spiritual unity.  This unity is so compelling, so un-worldly, that our witness as to who Jesus is becomes explainable.  Unity is a means to enable the world to realize who Jesus is and what God has been doing.  The marvelous message is that God sent Jesus on an important mission to the world and that He loves not only His Son, but He also loves you and I who are fulfilling that continuing mission to the world.

As people sanctified by God’s truth and set apart from evil, we are to trust in God’s protection and witness for Christ.  God wants us to be transformed people with renewed minds, living to honor and obey Him.  God wants us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2) – daily laying aside our own desires to follow Him, putting all our energy and resources at His disposal, and trusting Him to guide us.  The reason God saved us is so that we would be sanctified.

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The Journey of a Christian

journey2 “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Do you sometimes feel as though you are not making any progress in your spiritual life?  The life of a Christian is a journey.  We have a supernatural, proficient guide and map in the Spirit-inspired Scriptures, but we face distinct temptations and trials.  We know we have been saved by faith in Christ and have heaven as our sure destination, but the intervening pilgrimage is unique.  We need God’s help.

I do not know where you are on your personal journey.  Perhaps you are exhausted and spent.  Maybe you have recently experienced significant growth, or you may have settled on a comfortable plateau because of an uncertain future.  But I do know this: God wants you and I to enjoy and complete the journey.  He has pledged Himself to finish the good work He began in us at salvation and will keep us strong until the end.

As with the Philippians, God will help us grow in grace until He has completed His work in our lives.  The God who began a good work in us continues it throughout our lifetime and will finish it when we meet Him face to face.  God’s work for us began when Christ died on the cross in our place.  His work in us began when we first believed.  Now the Holy Spirit lives in us, enabling us to be more like Christ every day.

Great confidence gripped the apostle as he thought and prayed for the body of Christ.  Paul guaranteed the believers that God would consider them “blameless” when Christ returns (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).  This guarantee was not because of their great gifts or shining performance, but because of what Jesus Christ accomplished in them through His death and resurrection.  It was God’s work, not theirs, so Paul had no question about the outcome.  All who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will be considered blameless when Jesus returns (1 Thessalonians 3:13; Hebrews 9:28).  If you have faith in Christ, even if it is weak, you are and will be saved.  All believers are justified by God’s grace and stand before Him “blameless” (“free from accusation”).

If you are feeling discouraged, remember God won’t give up on you.  If you are feeling incomplete, unfinished, or distressed by your shortcomings, remember God’s promise and provision.  Don’t let your present condition rob you of the joy of knowing Christ or keep you from growing closer to Him.  God will most certainly continue on to completion the good work He began in us!

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Breaking the Habit of Worry

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everyworry situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Can you imagine never being “anxious about anything?”  It seems like an impossibility – we all have worries on the job, in our homes, at school.  There are many times when the pressures and needs of life feel overwhelming. Surely there are many circumstances in which Christians cannot be happy, but we can always pray and rejoice in the Lord.

The busier we are, the easier it is to worry.  If we want to worry less, we need to pray more.  Prayer results in an indescribable and immediate sense of peace.  Christ’s peace allows us to continue with what we need to do, in the confidence and assurance that God will work everything out.

Unlike worldly peace, the peace of God “transcends all understanding.”  It is beyond man’s ability to comprehend.  Like soldiers assigned to watch over a certain area, God’s peace “guards the hearts and minds,” that is, the emotions and thoughts, of His children.  This peace is confident assurance in any circumstance (John 14:27).

True peace is not found in positive thinking, in absence of conflict, or in good feelings.  It comes from knowing that God is in control.  Our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom is sure, our destiny is set, and we can have victory over sin.  With God’s peace, we have no need to fear the present or the future.

The most effective way any believer can prepare for the stress of the day is to begin with God.  Spend time alone with Him and make your requests known to Him.  Tell God the issues and concerns weighing you down.  Anticipate the stressors in your schedule and ask God to give you peace in the midst of them. When stress comes, and it will, claim His promises.

Sin, fear, uncertainty, doubt, and numerous other forces are at war within us.  The peace of God moves into our hearts and lives to restrain these hostile forces and offers comfort in place of worry.  The end result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is deep and lasting peace.  Jesus says He will give us that peace if we are willing to accept it from Him.  If your life is full of stress, allow the Holy Spirit to fill you with Christ’s peace.

To break the habit of worry, Paul’s advice is to turn our worries into prayers.  It is there that we gain the perspective and peace we need to handle the stress of life without sacrificing our relationships and health along the way.  The heavier the burdens, the longer it may take, but when we give our worries to God, we will feel relieved and at peace.

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Setting Godly Priorities

“But seek first His kingdom and His rigsettingprioritieshteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

What is really important to us?  People, objects, goals, and other desires all compete for our priority.  Any of these can quickly bump God out of first place if we do not actively choose to give Him first place in every area of our lives.  To “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” means to turn to God first for help, to fill our thoughts with His desires, to take His character as our example, and to serve and obey Him in everything.

One of the biggest obstacles that all of us face is the gap between what we think should be done and what is actually done.  It is the pull between priorities and our ability to move the resources needed to attack the priorities.  We know what is important (or at least we think we do).  In our world of instant answers, we try to move directly from bright idea to action plan with little time for contemplation, feedback, and prayer in between.

Yet, I must admit that on several occasions, what I thought was the right time to solve a problem or reach a goal was not God’s perfect timing.  Sometimes, He did make me wait. In turn, this caused me to spend much time thinking and praying for God’s will to be accomplished, especially if His will was different than mine.

Although it is in our best interest to slow down, be patient, and wait for God’s perfect timing, we will only wait for Him if we have a clear basis on which to function.  For me, my main priority is my love and commitment to Jesus – knowing Him, becoming like Him, and worshiping Him.  My second priority is my love for people.  This rises directly from my commitment to Christ and includes loving my family, friends, neighbors, strangers, and even enemies.

Usually, if I appear to have a conflict, a clash between what I think should happen and what actually does happen (because of my limitations or the people involved), I need to examine my priorities to see if they are in order.  This forces me to put my love for God and other people before anything else.  If I ever find myself feeling frustrated, it is usually an indication that I have misplaced priorities.

To commit ourselves to the Lord means entrusting everything – our lives, families, jobs, possessions – to His control and guidance.  To commit ourselves to the Lord means to trust Him (Psalm 37:5), believing He can care for us better than we can ourselves.  Here are four tough questions to answer, but provide the basis for setting godly priorities:

Are our motives pure?  Why do we want to accomplish a particular task?  Will it make us look good?  Will it move us up a popularity ladder and give us more leverage?  We may frown at the idea that we could be less than sincere, but our motivations are complex.  We all struggle daily against the desire for recognition and power.  For example, the same program that will comfort the sick may also score points for the pastor.  This is where our human reasoning often fails us, so we need to ask God to search our hearts.

Does our activity fit in the Bible?  I once heard of a church that runs a bar in its parish hall.  I do not believe that fits into the teachings of the Bible, but the pastor thinks it brings people together in a social setting and contributes to the life of the church, so he is ok with it.  That is an extreme example and our issues may be subtle, but the point is that we need to examine our activity through the grid of the Bible.

Will our goals enhance the lives of other people?  The love we have naturally for ourselves—a constant tendency—should be directed equally toward others (Mark 12:31).

Are we seduced by our culture?  Has society’s worship of size, success, speed, production, promotion, and glamour influenced our evaluation of what God says is good and right?

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Secret of Contentment

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know whaKate having fun in the gardent 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).

The Apostle Paul knew something that most of us have missed.  He knew how to be content in any circumstance.  That is a bold claim.  When I think about the life of Paul, such a claim is amazing!  After only a few years of work in God’s service, he was falsely arrested and sent to a Roman prison.  There he sat, well aware that the various churches he planted needed his immediate attention and leadership, and yet content.

Notice he said, “I have learned the secret.”  The word learned implies a process.  As Paul grew in his spiritual life, he discovered the truth about contentment.  He referred to it as a “secret” because the truth he discovered is a truth that eludes so many believers.  It is a truth we search for in our own way and yet miss.

Paul learned the secret of being content in and through circumstances.  It wasn’t the secret of changing or getting God to change his circumstances.  Real contentment does not hinge on circumstances.  It goes beyond that.

Paul’s discussion of contentment closes with a verse that many of us are familiar with: “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”  Unfortunately, for many of us, no one explained the context of this popular verse.  Paul was referring to his ability to be content in every circumstance.  To paraphrase, “I can endure any circumstance without losing my peace and joy because of the strength I gain through my relationship with Jesus.”

What is the secret of contentment?  From what Paul says, it has to do with our willingness to accept three powerful truths.

First, real contentment hinges on what’s happening inside us, not around us.  We are all tempted to believe the lie that our contentment (or happiness) hinges on our ability to control what is going on around us.  We spend a great deal of energy and time trying to control our environment and the people in it.  But real contentment has to do with what is going on inside us, not around us.

Think about it this way.  When we become discontented, the first two things we lose are our peace and joy.  But the Bible teaches peace and joy are the fruits of the Spirit.  Their source is the Holy Spirit; He is producing them in us.  If we can lose our peace and joy when our circumstances turn bad, the peace and joy we were experiencing were not fruits of the Spirit; they were fruits of good circumstance.

As long as our contentment can be destroyed by a change in our environment, we can never be content in any circumstance.  Such is the fragile nature of externally oriented contentment.  For Paul, what was happening around him didn’t overwhelm what was happening in him.  His contentment was internal from start to finish.

To experience contentment, we must first begin by refusing to blame our circumstances (or the people who make up our circumstances) for our lack of contentment.  As long as we blame what’s going on around us, we will never understand what is happening in us.  When circumstances rob us of our peace and joy, we must take responsibility.  We must acknowledge that we are looking to what we cannot control to provide us with our contentment.  Only then can we begin to look in the right direction for our contentment.

Second, contentment is need, not want, oriented.  God will meet all our needs; He is going to take good care of us.  Much of our discontentment stems from not getting what we want.  God has not promised to meet all of our wants according to His riches in glory.  As long as our peace and joy hinge on getting what we want, we are on an emotional roller coaster.

God is a perfect heavenly Father.  He knows what we need.  He knows what we don’t need.  He knows what we want.  He knows what we can handle.  He is committed to doing what’s best for us.

The secret of contentment, then, includes distinguishing between what we need and what we want.  It means rejoicing over the promise of God to meet our needs.  We can stop and thank God for meeting our needs without allowing our emotions to attach themselves to our wants.

The third truth we must accept if we are to learn Paul’s secret of contentment is contentment is a matter of trust.  If we really trust God – if we really believe He loves us and has our best interests in mind – when things fall apart around us, they don’t have to fall apart inside of us.  Contentment is trusting God even when things seem out of control.

Discontentment, on the other hand, is really a lack of faith in God’s love and concern for us.  To express discontent is to suggest God has lost control or He doesn’t care.

Paul’s unshakable faith in God allowed him to say, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  He trusted God completely.  When things fell apart around him, he kept trusting.  Consequently, he was content.

The flip side of contentment, however, is discontentment.  Discontentment always causes three things to happen.

First, discontentment erodes relationships.  Discontentment usually translates into a burning desire to change the people around us.  If others would act the way we think they should act, we would be fine, right?  But as soon as we try to change others to suit our particular taste, mood, or style, we are no longer able to love them.  Love is replaced by manipulation.  Manipulation is to a relationship what fire is to paper.  While the only person you and I are responsible for changing is ourselves, a discontented person usually expresses discontentment by attempting to change others.

Second, discontentment clouds the decision-making process and makes it almost impossible to wait.  Discontented people want change – and they want it now!  Consequently, their decision-making abilities are skewed.  The emotions that accompany discontentment are so strong that they often override reason.

People in marketing and sales understand this all too well.  Part of any effective advertising campaign or sales pitch is to make potential customers discontented with their existing product.  The feelings that accompany discontentment are enough to make people buy things they don’t need or can’t afford.  Discontentment clouds the ability to make wise decisions.  Discontented people tend to make foolish decisions.

Have you ever noticed how bad your car looks when you drive it onto a new car lot?  Have you ever become self-conscious about your clothes when shopping for new clothes?  Have you ever noticed how small your house feels after visiting in a larger and newer home?  These feelings get us in trouble if we do not keep them in proper perspective.

Third, discontentment distorts our view of God.  Discontented people attempt to control God.  Worship, prayer, Bible study, and church attendance become a means to an end – getting God to change whatever they think needs changing.  Even faith is reduced to another tool to use to move God in their direction.  Discontented people reduce the heavenly Father to the status of an automatic teller machine.  Christianity becomes a lifelong attempt to find the right code to get from God what they want.  Discontented believers will never know God for who He is.  Their discontentment distorts the picture.

Like many, I struggle with contentment.  How much is enough?  Should I be satisfied with what I have or seek more?  Is ambition bad?  What kind of goals should I make?  The answers are not simple, but I believe Scripture provides the balance we need to cultivate godly contentment.  Jesus said to pray for our “daily bread” – sufficient provision for our daily needs.

The key to contentment is learning I can do everything God wants me to do through His strength.  I can establish objectives that are in God’s plan.  Ambition is all right as long as my primary aim is to glorify Christ.  I cannot do everything, but He will help me to do what He has planned for my life.  I can be content knowing that He enables me to deal with all the fluctuations of life as I depend on Him.  Contentment is something I learn by adhering to the basics – cultivating a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, living daily, and knowing that Christ strengthens me for every challenge.

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Consequences

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).

Very few things motivate us to give God our undivided attention like being faced with the negative consequences of our decisions.  Regardless of our guilt, we find the courage (or nerve) to turn to God for help and oftentimes a miracle.  We make promises to Him as if this would change His mind about our situation.  Suddenly, we’re concerned for the welfare of others.  We look for whatever leverage we can find to get God to do something on our behalf.

Many of us experience tension because we live daily with the painful consequences of sin.  Mistakenly, we thought, hoped, or were told that once we accepted Christ, God would miraculously erase our consequences.  With the daily evidence He has not taken away our consequences, some of us conclude we have not received God’s forgiveness.  If God really loves me and truly forgives me, we surmise, surely He wouldn’t allow me to suffer as I am.  We expect the financial problems that threaten our very existence to disappear once we accept God’s forgiveness.  We count on God to heal a broken marriage or return a runaway child once we accept Christ as Savior.  The person who lived a promiscuous life and is at high risk for AIDS is convinced that his relationship with God will eliminate this horrific nightmare.

Seldom is that reality.  God is under no obligation to remove the consequences of our sin.  In fact, He often allows us to live with our consequences as He faithfully loves and teaches us the lessons we would otherwise never learn.  This is very difficult to accept, but often we learn our most valuable lessons as the result of the continuing consequences for something that happened long ago.  A friend once told me in response to his consequences, “It’s just not fair!  I quit drinking six months ago and I’m still not able to get a decent job.  It’s just not fair!”  My heart goes out to him.

If we struggle to understand why God allows us to suffer the consequences of sin, it is helpful to realize that forgiveness is relational, but consequences are circumstantial.  The man who drank for so many years and develops cirrhosis of the liver knows that his disease has a direct link to his drinking.  He knows, even though he may deny the truth, that as a result of his drinking, he is experiencing the negative effect of his choice to indulge in liquor.  The woman who gave into temptation and has an affair with a coworker knows that her ruined marriage is the consequence of her choice to sow to her sinful nature.

There are many illustrations to explain this principle, but perhaps the most compelling comes from the Cross itself.  Jesus gave us an example that cannot be argued or debated.  As He hung there, dying for you and me, He was in the process of teaching us priceless truths for our lives today.  Remember the criminal who hung on the cross next to Jesus?  (Luke 23:40-43).  He was completely forgiven, yet moments later, he died a painful death.  Forgiveness and consequences stood side by side.  The criminal was forgiven; yet he suffered the full extent of the consequences of his sin.  This act of forgiveness stands as a testimony of God’s grace, while the stark reality of sowing and reaping is portrayed for all of us to behold.  Unlike many of us, who rededicate our lives at some point as Christians and vow to live as we should, that man did not have time to rededicate his life.  He died within minutes of trusting Christ as Savior.  Forgiven, yes; free of consequences, no.

It is never easy for us to face the negative consequences of our decisions, but nothing is so bad that we can’t rejoice in the grace of God and the forgiveness He offers.  Many people who have become effective in leading the lost to Christ bear the scars of consequences God has chosen not to eliminate from their lives.  We all have scars, but they have a purpose, not to cause us grief, but to be used as a tribute to God’s mercy and grace.  The way we look at our scars makes the difference in how we face the consequences of our decisions.  Whatever our consequences, whatever our scars, our attitudes will determine how we relate to the Lord.  Either we will reach a point of understanding and thank Him for the daily reminders of His grace, or we will become bitter.

If there were no consequences, as the world tries to convince us daily, where would we be?  Headed for trouble, most likely.  The negative consequences of sin have led many into quiet desperation to the throne of God’s forgiveness. It did for me.

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Waiting on God

alone-with-god“Wait for the Lord.  Be strong and take heart.  Wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

I am in a period of waiting right now. I believe God has a specific reason for telling me to wait. My responsibility is to trust Him. I need to slow down and wait on God to clearly reveal His will to me. A lack of trust is perhaps the root cause behind my decisions to jump ahead. I believe God will give me clear direction, but I must wait until He is ready to give guidance.

In this hurry-up world, waiting for anything can cause us to lose our tempers, tongues, and good senses more frequently than we care to admit. I don’t know anyone who enjoys waiting in line. We don’t like waiting at stoplights. We don’t like waiting for dinner. We don’t even like waiting for good things – like for fish to bite. We want what we want now!

Why is it so hard to wait? Perhaps we misunderstand what waiting is all about. We need to transform our thinking about waiting. The only way we can do this is to understand why God asks us to wait and learn to trust Him even when it doesn’t make sense. Waiting is one of the more difficult things in the Christian life. Waiting is valuable. It is not wasted time.

Waiting on the Lord has nothing to do with twiddling our thumbs in boredom. Waiting is not passive. It is an activity. It is quiet, active stillness. Waiting is a directed, purposeful expectancy. It is a definite directing of our attention toward God, waiting for His intervention in our circumstances and waiting for further instructions.

One way we will know God’s instructions is through His Word.  I am aware of the tendency of some to take Scripture out of context to make it fit their particular need.  That is not what I’m suggesting.  Rather, those who earnestly seek God’s leading will be tuned to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  Scripture was not made for us to prove our point, but to speak God’s truth to our spirits.

Another way we will know God’s instructions is through the changing of our circumstances.  Not all change in circumstances is instruction for the Lord, so as we study Scripture the Holy Spirit will give us discernment to know the difference.  Sometimes, we are so close to the experience we want to believe God has ordered the change in our lives – particularly if the change is for the better.  We are wise to listen to what the Spirit says to us through God’s Word and the counsel of godly friends.

God is rich in mercy.  He always has a specific reason for telling us to wait.  Our responsibility is to trust Him.  A lack of trust is perhaps the root cause behind our decisions to jump ahead in disobedience.  What arrogance to think we can work things out better than God can.  If we have ever wondered if it wise to wait, a closer look at the subject will answer our questions:

God gives clear direction only when we are willing to wait. Remember, we don’t operate like the world operates. We live in the now generation. Instant gratification defines society. But we, as believers, live differently. We belong to a different family. We live in Light, not darkness. We don’t take our cues from the world. We take them from God. He will give clear direction, whether it is guidance for making a move, changing a career, choosing a mate, or something else. But we must wait until He is ready to give direction.

The world will think we are foolish for waiting. “Take the bull by the horns,” they’ll say. “What are you waiting for? It looks to me like you’re just wasting time and sitting around!” That kind of shame has prompted many well-meaning believers to make rash decisions. Satan uses that tactic to take our eyes off God’s direction and causes us to jump ahead of Him.

We must wait until He is ready to give us counsel. I know it’s hard. I struggle at times in my life with waiting. I find the longer God takes to give direction the more He has to teach me. When things aren’t going smoothly, I have to trust His love for me and not complain. I can’t step in front of God and not get in trouble. Once in the thick of the battle, no matter how dark the clouds, how heavy the fog, how hot the fire, and how fierce the fight, I need to wait on God’s instruction. When I make it through and His direction becomes evident, I will be able to look back at my struggles as times He was able to teach me most effectively.

God uses that waiting time to get us in step with His timing. I have come to recognize the importance of being in step with God’s timing. I have a sense of peace. When I run ahead of Him, I have no sense of calm. Instead of peace, I am constantly trying to figure out how to make my decisions work. But when I am in His timing, I don’t have to worry about making it work. God wouldn’t have me do something if He had not already figured out how to see me through.

Delayed timing, from our perspective, is perfect timing from God’s point of view. Most of the time, our decisions affect others’ lives. When what we decide to do affects another person, being in God’s will is doubly important because we have more than our lives at stake. In God’s timing, He perfectly meshes it all together.

God uses the time of waiting to prepare us for the answer. God may say, “Yes, this is My plan for you, but you need to wait.” As a parent, I don’t give my children everything they ask for. Sometimes, I know the timing isn’t right. How much more our heavenly Father knows what is best for His children. It’s so unnatural to wait, but the wise person does what is best, not what feels good at the moment.

Waiting strengthens our faith. We might want to say, “God, I’ve learned as much faith as I care to. You can act now.” When we realize God is more interested in our character than our comfort, waiting becomes a lot more attractive.

God gets our attention and sifts our motives when we wait. While we are waiting and praying for the promotion at work, we have time to think through our motives. Why do we really want that promotion? Do we want it so we will have a greater platform to serve the Lord or could it be we only want it to get more money or so others will think we are powerful? If we allow God to sift through our motives the truth will surface, whether good or bad. It is amazing what we learn about ourselves through this waiting period.

We discover God’s will and purpose in whatever we’re concerned about when we wait: “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him” (Lamentations 3:25). Whether we realize it or not, God is working all things together for our good and His glory!

We receive supernatural physical energy and strength when we wait: “God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31). During our waiting on God, He supplies us with energy for the short term and the long term. Impatience will make us weary and worn, but actively waiting on God will energize us.

We win battles when we wait: “The Lord favors those who fear Him, those who wait for His loving kindness” (Psalm 147:11). How wonderful it is to have the Lord favor us and be on our side. Most of the time, we’re defeated because we do it our way, in our hurried time. Contrary to what it might look like on the surface, waiting for God will ensure our victory!

We receive answers to our prayers when we wait: “I waited patiently for the Lord;
He turned to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1). One reason we don’t see more answers to prayers is that we want the answers on our schedule and not His. We have become such an indulgent society that thinks it’s unfair to put off personal gratification. But God knows just the right timing.

We see the fulfillment of our faith when we wait: “They shall not be ashamed who wait for Me” (Isaiah 49:23). We won’t be embarrassed when others press us to forge ahead instead of waiting on the Lord. We won’t ask, “Suppose is doesn’t work out, God?” He will not let us down.

We see God working on our behalf when we wait: “God acts for the one who waits for Him” (Isaiah 64:4). Isn’t that a wonderful promise? While we actively wait, He actively works. Every single day we have the greatest Mediator working on our behalf when things go wrong and when they go right!

With all the advantages of waiting, why do we so often rush ahead as if we don’t have a trustworthy Father? We need to hit the pause button in our lives and take ourselves out of the fast-forward mode. Some of life’s greatest lessons are learned while we wait. Some of life’s hardest classrooms are waiting rooms. There are vast rewards in waiting. God graciously uses the long pauses in our lives if we let Him. God will amaze us at what He is doing!

How do we wait?  First, we wait actively. We wait where we are, doing what God says to do, until He intervenes or tells us to do something different. It is probably not a good idea to quit your job until God has led you to another one. Most of the time, God is not going to say, “Do nothing and shut down your life until further notice.”

Second, we wait patiently: “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7). We are willing to endure until He works. Waiting patiently is always easier when we’re resting in Him.

Third, we wait expectantly. This is a period of time in which we sharpen our discernment and learn to look for evidence of God working. We live in anticipation of what He is going to do.

Fourth, we wait courageously because we are standing on the Word of God: “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His Word I do hope” (Psalm 130:5). Waiting courageously is not the absence of fear, but a calmness and stability in the midst of fear, and inner sense of leaning on the arms of a perfect heavenly Father. We wait courageously claiming the promises from God’s Word that He loves us and will do what is best for us. Just because He doesn’t work as quickly as we think He should is no proof of His indifference to our needs.

God gives instructions through times of actively waiting. He may change our circumstances while we wait. He keeps us in step with Himself and prepares us for answers. He uses the time to sift our motives and strengthen our faith. He wants us to wait actively, patiently, expectantly, and courageously as we trust His Word. When we choose to wait, God rewards us by allowing us to discover His will and renews us with physical energy. He enables us to win battles and receive answers to prayer. He fulfills our faith while working on our behalf.

What are the consequences of not waiting? When we fail to wait, we get out of God’s will. Even if we do the right thing at the wrong time, it is disobedience. Running ahead of God is not obedience. When we fail to wait, we not only get out of God’s will, but delay God’s planned blessing in our lives. If God is waiting so that He can stretch our faith and we run ahead, He may have to wait longer to make sure we have learned the lesson. We only lengthen the training time!

Failing to wait also brings confusion into our lives. We feel no sense of direction because we are going so hurriedly, and we don’t take time to reflect on where we are headed. We speed through important intersections in our lives and refuse any four-way stops. This is especially disastrous because some decisions are lifetime decisions.

When we plant a garden, we put seeds under the soil, add water, and then wait. After several days of sun and rain the seeds begin to grow, and we finally see evidence of what we planted. Suppose we become impatient and dig up the seeds because nothing is happening? We would ruin our garden. That is exactly how we live at times. God sends sunshine and rain, yet we don’t want to see what He is growing in us. We get impatient and want to dig up what the Vinedresser is bringing forth (John 15:1). In the process, we ruin the fruit He is developing in our lives. Some fruit takes a long time to mature. The One who wants to bring it forth in our lives knows exactly how long we need to wait. Waiting is not wasted time. It brings forth the most luscious fruit of all.

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Worldliness

dontlovetheworld“Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

Today’s culture is saturated with tempting pleasures, endless luxuries, and ever-changing technology—flashy cars, jumbo plasma TVs, GPS gizmos, iPhones, iPods, cruise vacations.  How do we identify and resist sinful cravings, lusts of the eye, and empty boastings?  How do we pursue godliness and live in a fallen world without being conformed by it?

What does it mean for Christians—for us—to not love the world?  Does it mean we can’t watch R-rated movies?  Do we have to give up our favorite TV shows?  Is it okay to watch a movie as long as we fast-forward the sex scene?  How much violence or foul language is too much?  Are certain styles of music more worldly than others?  How do we know if we’re spending too much time on the internet?  Can a Christian try to make a lot of money, own a second home, drive a nice car, and enjoy the luxuries of modern life without being worldly?  Are we worldly if we read fashion magazines and wear trendy clothes?  Do we have to be out of style in order to be godly?  How can we evangelize the world if we don’t relate to it?  How do we know if we’re guilty of committing the sin of worldliness?

A love for the world begins in the heart.  It’s subtle, not always obvious to others, and often undetected by the people who are slowly succumbing to its lies.  If we focus exclusively on externals we’ve missed the point of worldliness.  Worldliness does not consist in outward behavior (although our actions can certainly be an evidence of worldliness).  The real location of worldliness is internal; it resides in our hearts.

The world we are forbidden to love is the world of arrogant, self-sufficient people seeking to exist apart from God and living in opposition to God.  It gratifies and exalts oneself to the exclusion of God.  The goal of worldly people is to move forward rather than upward.

What are our goals?  Do they drive us forward—to financial security, more friends, successful kids, a certain position at work?  Or do they drive us upward—to obeying and glorifying God above all else?

The world draws the heart away from God, and the more the love of the world prevails, the more the love of God decays.  The world competes for the love of Christians and we cannot both love it and the Father at the same time.  Love for the world is incompatible with love for God.  “Friendship with the world is hatred toward God.  Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4)

This may make us feel uncomfortable.  Or perhaps we think this verse doesn’t apply to us.  From all outward appearances we’re anything but worldly—a solid member of our church, an exemplary Christian who worships on Sunday and faithfully attends a small group.  We’ve never committed a scandalous sin.  Maybe because of our age, or our position in the church, or our reputation for godliness, we think we’re immune to worldliness.

So often we’re ignorant of the signs and symptoms of worldliness.  We can attend church, sing praise songs, listen to sermons, and yet still be worldly.  I know because I’ve been there.

“The cravings of sinful man . . . the lust of his eyes . . . the boasting of what he has and does” are the root issues of the sin of worldliness (1 John 2:16).  John’s first phrase, “the cravings of sinful man,” is targeting our hearts.  Although Christians have new hearts, our sinful nature still produces cravings that compete for God’s love and supremacy in our lives.  The “cravings of sinful man” are desires that have become false gods we worship.  It’s wanting too much of the things of this fallen world.  These desires include obvious sins and less obvious sins as well.

John’s next phrase: “the lust of his eyes.”  Please don’t limit this to sexual sin; anything we see can stimulate greed and idolatry in our souls.  What are you and I captivated by?  What do we think about most often?  What images have the power to arouse our interest?  If we’re more excited about the release of a new movie than about serving in church, if we’re drawn to people more because of their job title than their character, if we’re impressed by celebrities or professional athletes regardless of their integrity or morality, then we’ve been seduced by a fallen world.

John’s last phrase: “the boasting of what he has and does.”  I’m certainly guilty of this sin.  I find myself so tempted to take pride in my abilities and accomplishments.  While some of us may be too polite to boast aloud, we may secretly revel in what we have and what we’ve done.  Secretly, we think we’re significant because of our wealth and achievements, and we want others to notice.

How do you and I define ourselves?  How do our profiles read?  Are we known as people after God’s heart or are we known as people pursuing a fallen world?  Do we think of ourselves as “the guy with the impressive title” or “the most attractive woman in the room?”  Are we the person with the Ivy-League education, fancy car, or the beautifully decorated home?  Is our hobby, talent, or career the most important thing in our life?  What dominates our minds and stirs our hearts?  Is it discontentment with life?  Longings for earthly pleasures?  Does outward prosperity appeal more to us than growth in godliness?  Do we relate to God as if He exists to further our selfish ambitions or are we convinced that we exist to glorify Him?  Do we crave the approval of those around us?  Do we go to great lengths to avoid looking foolish or being rejected for our Christian faith?  These are tough questions, I know; but they are necessary if we are to discover whether we’ve been infected by worldliness.

John concludes this passage by telling us, “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (v. 17).  The verse is clear: the world doesn’t last; it passes away.  I don’t want to waste my life pursuing things that won’t last.  There’s no future in worldliness.  The world is temporary and superficial; it doesn’t satisfy.  The world sparkles and dazzles, but in the end it will leave us empty and dry.

I know because I’ve been there. And what did I discover?  The world didn’t deliver as advertised.  It deceived me.  What it did deliver were unadvertised consequences that I wasn’t informed of and didn’t anticipate.  Through all of this, I learned the things of this world are worthless.

Every moment of every day we’re making choices—whether we realize it or not between love for a world that opposes God and love for the risen Christ.  If we have succumbed to worldliness, sin does not grieve us like it once did.  Passion for our Savior begins to fade.  Affections grow dim.  Excitement lessens to serve in the church.  Eagerness to evangelize starts to wane.  Growth in godliness slows to a crawl.

James tells us how to overcome worldliness: “Submit yourselves to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and He will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:7–10).

Paul also provides advice on how to overcome worldliness “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

Maybe, as we hear these words, we realize we’re drifting.  We realize our affection for the things of this world is strong, our love for Christ weak.  There was a time in our lives when we were passionate for God, characterized by extravagant devotion and love for the Savior, but now we have fallen in love with the world.  And we feel trapped, entangled in the net of worldliness.  Despair has already set in . . . I’ll never change.  I might as well not even try.  I’m beyond hope!

I will admit resisting worldliness requires effort.  It’s an inside problem and serious heart-work is needed to effectively cut it out.  The good news is this isn’t a battle fought by sheer willpower or teeth-gritting self-denial.  We can’t overcome worldliness on our own.  We’re not sufficient.  A much greater strength is required.

Do you and I want the world to lose its appeal?  The antidote to worldliness is the cross of Christ.  Only through the power of Christ can we successfully resist worldliness.  When we fill our hearts with love for the risen Christ, we will find there is no room for the world.

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What Happens When I Die?

Question: “What exactly does the Bible say happens after we die?  Does everyone go to the same place or do we go to different places?  Is there really a heaven and hell?”

Answer: God’s Word most certainly affirms there is an afterlife in a number of biblical passages.  The Bible says there is not only life after death, but eternal life so glorious that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).  Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to earth to give us this gift of eternal life.  He took on the punishment that all of us deserve and sacrificed His life to pay the penalty for our sins: “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Three days after His crucifixion, Jesus proved Himself victorious over death by rising from the grave: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25).  The resurrection of Jesus is a well-documented event and is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.  Because Christ rose from the dead, we too can have faith that we will be resurrected.  The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate proof of life after death.

Although all people will eventually die, not everyone will go to heaven.  A choice must be made by each of us in this life, and this choice will determine our eternal destination.  Those who have been made righteous by faith in Christ will have eternal life in heaven, but those who reject Christ will be sent to everlasting punishment in hell (Matthew 25:46).  God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires all men to turn from their ways so that they can live eternally with Him (Ezekiel 33:11).

One aspect of the afterlife worth noting is that there is no intermediate state for those who die; they go directly to their eternal destiny.  For believers in Jesus Christ, the Bible says after death their souls/spirits are taken immediately to heaven because their sins are forgiven by having trusted Jesus as Savior (John 3:16-18, 36).  For believers, death is to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23).

On the contrary, for those who do not trust Jesus as Savior, death means everlasting punishment.  Hell, like heaven, is not simply a state of existence, but a literal place.  Luke 16:22-24 describes a rich man being tormented immediately after death: “I am in agony in this fire.”

The Bible devotes much less space to describing eternity than it does to convincing people that eternal life is available as a free gift from God.  Most of the descriptions of eternity would be more accurately called hints, since they use terms and ideas from present experience to describe what we cannot fully grasp until we are there ourselves.  These references hint at aspects of what our future will be like if we have accepted God’s gift of eternal life.

How can we receive eternal life in heaven and avoid eternal wrath from God?  There is only one way—through faith in Jesus Christ.  The Bible is clear on what determines our eternal destination—whether we have faith in Christ and trust Him to save us from our sins.

Salvation by faith in Christ sounds too easy for many people.  They would rather think that they have done something to save themselves.  Their religion becomes one of self-effort that leads either to disappointment or pride, but finally to eternal death.  Christ’s simple way is the only way, and it alone leads to eternal life.  Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

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Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

Question: “As I debatjesus deathe Christian theology with my Muslim friends, the issue of the cross and the atonement always seems to be a sticking point.  From their perspective they ask, ‘Why can’t Allah just unilaterally forgive my sins and cut out the middle man?’  So the question is, ‘Why did Jesus have to die?”

Answer: Muslims use much of the same terminology that appears in the Bible: sin, salvation, heaven, hell, law, and punishment.  What is missing from their lexicon, however, is the word “savior.”  The Muslim does not believe he needs a savior because he believes he alone must atone for his sin by his works.  Islam teaches that man is born sinless and, therefore, does not have a sin nature from which he needs to be saved.  His sinlessness was corrupted by external influences and can, therefore, be ‘cleaned up’ by works and efforts that please Allah.  The Qur’an tells the Muslim that his good deeds can cancel out his bad deeds (Sura 11:114), but no one knows how many good deeds are enough.  Muslims believe they can ask Allah for forgiveness from sins, but Allah may or may not forgive them.  There is, therefore, no assurance of salvation for Muslims.

Compared to Christianity, Islam has some similarities, but significant differences.  Muslims depend on Islamic faith and works—submission to Allah, belief in Muhammad’s revelation of Allah, obedience to the Qur’an and the Five Pillars—for entrance to paradise.  Muslims reject the Trinity—that God has revealed Himself as one in three Persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Muslims claim that Jesus was a mere prophet—not God’s Son.  While Muslims honor Jesus as a noble prophet, they do not understand why Allah would allow His prophet Isa (the Islamic word for “Jesus”) to die a torturous death.

Here is why Jesus had to die: the Bible speaks of the wickedness of man’s heart (Psalm 14:1-3; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:9-18), the holiness of God (Exodus 15:11; 1 Samuel 2:2; Joshua 24:19; Psalm 93:5), and His hatred for sin (Deuteronomy 25:16; Proverbs 6:16-19). As long as the Muslim believes he can atone for sin himself, the message of the gospel will be foolishness to him.  But if he comes to understand that “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law” (Romans 3:20), then the door is open for the light of the gospel to shine in his heart.

The Bible reveals that sinful man can never measure up to the holy God (Romans 3:23, 6:23). Only by God’s grace may sinners be saved through repentant faith in Jesus (Acts 20:21; Ephesians 2:8-9).  Sin is not just big things like murder or blasphemy but also includes lying, lusting, and stealing.  Even the love of money or hatred of enemies is sin, according to the Bible. Good works cannot make up for wrongs against the holy God.  Compared to His holiness, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

The Scripture explains Jesus died on the cross to bear sin’s punishment.  His death makes it possible for us to be free from both the penalty and the power of sin and to live for God (Rom. 6:2, 13).  His substitutionary death satisfies the wrath of God against sin and allows God to “overlook” our sins because they have been paid for by Christ.  The Bible shows how the death of Jesus was essential to pay for the penalty our sins (Isaiah 53:5-6).  Christ suffered so it would be possible for us to follow His example, both in suffering and in righteous living: “He himself bore our sins in His body so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).

Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).  Jesus stressed that salvation, contrary to what many people think, is not obtainable through good works.  Only one Way exists (Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5).  Jesus is the only access to the Father (John 1:1-2, 51; 3:13).  Remember, the holy God will not let sin go unpunished.  If we bore our own sins, we would suffer judgment in the flames of hell.  But God sacrificed Jesus as our perfect Substitute.  Scripture affirms that the sinless Jesus died on the cross to pay the punishment for believing sinners: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

While some misunderstandings can be cleared with Muslims, the main offense is . . . Jesus Christ! (1 Peter 2:4-8).  Islam asserts that Jesus, though born of a virgin, was created like Adam.  Many Muslims do not believe Jesus died on the cross.  Muslims reject God the Father who sent His Son to die for sinners.  Islam does not offer the things Christianity most certainly does: forgiveness for their sins, a loving heavenly Father with whom they can communicate personally, and assurance that eternal happiness awaits them beyond this life.

The Muslim believes he or she must be sorry for sin and repent of it, but the idea that payment for sin is required by a holy God is not part of Islam.  It’s important to begin with the idea that being sorry for sin will not help a man when he stands before the holy God on Judgment Day.  All men are sinners by nature and by choice.  We cannot earn our salvation through good works.  We cannot reach paradise on our own merit.  Jesus died for sinners to provide the only way to eternal life.

At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person 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.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.  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… But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:6-21).

At His death, He cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  Jesus finished paying the punishment for sin as the perfect Lamb of God.

Of course, no one comes to the knowledge of the truth solely by good apologetics.  The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit because they are spiritually discerned (2 Corinthians 2:14), and the Holy Spirit is the only one who can open the eyes of the spiritually blind.  Therefore, any witnessing efforts should be bathed in prayer that hearts and minds will be opened so that when we speak the truth in love to another person, it may please the Lord to grant him or her salvation through Jesus Christ.

Posted in Doctrine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 127 Comments

Does Jeremiah 29:11 Still Apply Today?

PlansJeremiah2911-1Question: “Can this famously quoted verse in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 29:11) be applied directly to my life today or was it only meant for Israel?”

Answer: To correctly interpret this verse (or any part of the Bible for that matter), we need to address the following questions:

First, what did the text mean to the original audience?  We need to discover the meaning “God intended” when the Scripture was originally written.  We do not create the meaning of the text, so we need to find the meaning that is already there.

Second, what are the differences between the biblical audience and us?   We are separated by differences in culture, customs, language, situation, time, and covenant.  We must recognize these differences.  To overlook them would cause us to grossly misinterpret the text.

Third, what is the theological principle in the text?  While the specifics of the passage only apply to the particular situation of the biblical audience the theological principle is applicable to all of God’s people at all times.  And this is the key to correctly interpret and apply Jeremiah 29:11.  We need to figure out how to apply the theological principle in the text.  We must grapple with how we should respond to that principle.  How does the principle apply in real-life situations?  Each of us must grasp and apply the same theological principle in slightly different ways depending on our specific life situations.

Regarding the specifics of Jeremiah 29:11, in 605 B.C. the Babylonian’s invaded Jerusalem and took the Israelites captive.  Jeremiah 29 is part of a letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent to the surviving Israelites who had been taken captive by the Babylonians.  God’s Word (through Jeremiah) to the exiles was to prepare for a long stay in Babylon.  They were to build houses and settle down.  They were also to plant gardens to sustain them during the period.  Life was to go on as normal.  The people were exhorted to marry and have sons and daughters.  Instead of hoping for Babylon’s quick demise, they were encouraged to seek its peace and prosperity.  Jeremiah even told the Israelites to pray for Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4-9).

Let’s break this down.  The restoration of the exiles would happen only when God’s 70-years of judgment were completed (Jeremiah 25:11-12).  Then, God would fulfill His gracious promise to restore the exiles to their land.  The 70-year Exile was a part of God’s plan to give Israel “hope and a future.”  The judgment prompted the exiles to seek God wholeheartedly (Daniel 9:2-3, 15-19).  Once they turned back to God, He gathered them from Babylon, where they had been banished, and returned them to their land (Jeremiah 29:10-14; Deuteronomy 30:1-10).

Moving forward, Jeremiah 29:11 still has applications for us today!  God knows the future, and His plans are good and full of hope.  As long as God, who knows the future, provides our agenda and goes with us as we fulfill His mission, we can have boundless hope.  This does not mean that we will be spared pain, suffering, or hardship, but that God will see us through to a glorious future.  My friend explains this application well.  She says, “When I am afraid, I often think of this verse.  I believe that God’s promises are for everyone; He does know the plans He has for us.  He loves us and wants us to have a future.  He will not harm us.  God’s love for us, whether Israelite or Gentile, goes through and through and I feel that His promises to care for His people then and now are forever.”

Posted in Daily Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 121 Comments

Will of God

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the reWill of Godnewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

I have been asked many questions about the will of God.  “How do I know the will of God for my life?”  “How do I know in a situation when I have two options which way God wants me to go?”  “How do I know when to change jobs?”  “How do I know which person I am supposed to marry?”  “What school should I put my kids in?”

As Christians, we believe God is interested in these decisions and that He has a plan for our lives.  We believe God has a preference as to which direction we should take.  But discovering His will can be a frustrating process.

God definitely has a will for you and me.  If we were to take a concordance and look up the phrases “will of God” and God’s will,” we would find that, in the New Testament, the phrases fall into two categories.  One category is God’s “moral will.”  The other category is God’s “personal will.”

God’s moral will in Scripture is the “do’s” and “don’ts”  “Though shalt do this.  Though shalt not do this.”  Peter says it is God’s will we obey human government.  Paul writes it is the will of God we be sanctified and abstain from moral impurity.  There are almost a dozen other instances in the New Testament where God says, “This is my will.”

The other category of God’s will we are usually interested in is His personal will, which is His personal agenda for our lives.  These are the things He has specifically designed for us to do.  Paul was “called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God” (1 Corinthians 1:1).  God didn’t call everybody to be an apostle.  That was His specific will for Paul.

Why do we even have to discover God’s will?  If we are His children and He is our heavenly Father, why doesn’t He just make His will plain to us?  Why all the mystery?  Why all the tension?  Why all the pressure?  Why all the fasting and praying?

As we read the Bible, we find that God is always more interested in revealing Himself than simply revealing details about His will for us.  God does not want to function simply as an information center for our lives.  He wants to be involved in our lives in the most intimate of ways through a relationship that revolves around faith and trust.  In times of pressure and questioning when we seek His will, God has the intention of drawing us into a more intimate relationship with Him.

Think about a time when you had to make a big decision.  You prayed diligently and finally came to a conclusion about God’s plan.  Not only did you arrive at an action plan, but you also emerged from the situation amazed at the goodness and grace of God.  You not only had more information about what He wanted you to do, but you also had an awareness of who He is and how much He loves you.

God is involved in this process of discovering His will.  And while we may simply want information, He wants us to trust Him.  The principle of discovering God’s will is couched in the context of a relationship.  He is working to reveal Himself to us because He wants us to walk away from the process with our faith greater and our relationship more intimate.

Fortunately, God has given us an incredible and practical approach to discern His will.  It is not some kind of mysterious journey.  He has given us objective markers to help us know if our decisions agree with His will for our lives.

The first marker is God’s moral will.  God will never lead us to do anything that is in conflict with His moral will.  Any decision we make or any option we are looking at that is in conflict with God’s moral will is simply not of God.  He will never lead a husband to leave his wife for a more spiritual woman.  It won’t happen.  That is not God.  He will never lead a teenager to rebel against his or her parents.  That is not God’s way.  He will never lead us to cheat on our income tax in order to give more money to the church.

God’s moral will plays another important role.  Obeying His moral will (the things that are clear) is the foundation for decision making in the more challenging area of discerning God’s personal will.  In John 14:21, Jesus put it this way: “Whoever has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me.  The one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

The man or woman who develops a lifestyle in harmony with God’s moral commands will experience God’s guidance.  When you and I live lives of obedience, we are constantly in step with God’s thoughts and God’s ways.  It makes sense that we would be able to discern His voice more easily.

The second marker to know if our decisions agree with God’s will are the principles of His Word.  The Bible is full of principles.  And here is the key: at some point in our decision making, our options will intersect with the principles of God’s Word.  God has given us His principles as a check and balance in our decision making process.

The difference between God’s moral law and His principles is this:  God’s moral law is clear commands.  “This is what you do.  This is what you don’t do.”  Principles, however, are more like equations – an equation where God says, “If a man does this, he can expect that to happen.  If a woman does this, she can expect that to happen.”

Discovering the will of God is not the result of spending hours in a spiritual darkroom.  That is not the picture.  God has made it far simpler than that.  It is not a mystical thing.  It is very practical.  God has given us principles that intersect with all the choices we must make.  God wants to renew our minds with His principles.

Principles take precedent over a sense of inner peace.  God does not want us to be slaves to vacillating feelings.  He is far more practical than that.  If we keep God’s moral law and constantly renew our minds to what is true, then as the decisions come along, we will be able to sort out the options and discern what the will of God is for us.

Do you and I spend time in God’s Word every day?  If we don’t and if we are not in some sort of systematic discipline to fill our minds with God’s principles, we are going to have a difficult time making the right decisions because the key to decision making is the principles of His Word.  Promises have a role, but they are girded by principles.

We are to meditate on the Word of God.  Scripture gives us understanding of the ways, will, and purpose of God.  Psalm 119:105 says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  As we search and think deeply on the Word of God, asking Him to speak to our hearts, God will work in such a way to help us understand His will.  The only way to know the mind of God is to know the Scriptures.  The Scriptures sift, purify, and clear up our thinking process so we are able to think after God.

The third marker to know if our decisions agree with God’s will is wisdom.  Ephesians 5:15 says, “Be very careful how you live, not as unwise but as wise.”  In light of where I want to be in the future, what kind of marriage and family I want to have, where I want to be financially, where I want to be in terms of my career, and where I want to be in terms of my ability to serve God, is this the wise thing to do?

Let’s ignore the ridiculous.  Don’t worry about what color socks you are going to wear.  That is not the issue.  We are talking about decisions in our lives that matter – who we are going to marry, how we are going to spend or invest our time, what we are going to do with our money, relationships, and family.

Sometimes God will give us wise counsel through others.  However, before we seek somebody’s counsel, first examine his or her life.  Is that person living in obedience to God?  Is his lifestyle one of submission to the will of God?  A godly counselor will tell us the truth whether we like it or not.  If somebody is committed to God’s principles, he is going to be honest with us.  Godly counselors are often God’s way of providing direction.

The Holy Spirit also has an essential role in helping us know God’s will (1 Corinthians 2:12).  One of the purposes of the Holy Spirit is to show us truth.  Remember what Jesus said in the Upper Room?  He said, “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).

There will be times when we are suddenly faced with a decision.  In that moment, we may not be certain what to do, which way to turn.  As one of His prescribed, designated, divine responsibilities, the Holy Spirit unfolds and unveils God’s will for us by interceding on our behalf with God to reveal the mind of Christ in that given issue.

However, if we have sin in our lives – willful, deliberate sin – trying to discover God’s will is frustrating.  I am not saying we will never know the will of God if there is sin in our lives, but we sure do make it difficult.  Sometimes God may show us exactly what to do, but then He will say it will never work until we deal with the sin problem.

There is danger in praying and asking for God to show us His plan in a major decision when there is willful, deliberate sin in our life.  Something is wrong in our thinking process if we are tolerating sin.  We have rationalized a given area that God says has to be dealt with.  Here is the problem: our evaluation of sin is not the same as God’s!  He hates it.  He wants it out of our lives, and He sees it as a stumbling block to His best for us.

Remember, we belong to God.  We do not have the right to make up our minds about what we are going to do and how we are going to do it independently of the will, purpose, plan, and desire of God.  We forsook that right the day we received the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior.  In that moment, He became the Lord of our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Sometimes God delays revealing His will because He is getting us ready.  He knows we are not prepared to fulfill His plan.  For example, you may lose your job and say, “Lord, what am I going to do?”  God knows that in three months He has the most fantastic job ready for you, but He is working on some character traits such as perseverance and faith in your life in the interim.

Posted in Spiritual Maturity | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 96 Comments